Bike at Coon Rapids Dam

bridge going across Mississippi River

I drink my sinus tea, hoping for some relief from what I call a Humidity Headache. Next I try the Netti pot. Finally, I resort to taking Sumatriptan, a migraine medication that I take when the pain is too much and I’m afraid the whole day will soon be lost.

This seems to be how a lot of my choices are made. Try the easiest most pleasant route to a goal first. If that doesn’t work, try the next best thing. And if that fails too, hit the problem with something I know will be effective but comes with some nasty side effects. This might be an apt description for how my manuscript revision is going…

A week ago, I took a half of Friday off and rode my bike home from work. The weather was perfect – mid 70s, windy but not too bad. I hoped to bike off months of stress and frustration, clear my head and reenergize myself for my manuscript revision work ahead.

An awful load of expectations for a bike to carry.

bicycle at Mississippi River park

I stopped at a park along the Mississippi River to eat half a sandwich that was left from a lunch meeting earlier in the week.

I made my second stop at the Coon Rapids Dam park. The wind caught me as I crossed the bridge across the dam. I had to lean to the right to keep from veering into oncoming bicyclists and foot traffic. But the wind and the mist from the dam felt good as I rode.

There were plenty of other people at the park – some fishing, others laying on blankets, walkers on the path and several other bicyclists. I stopped at the visitor center and sat down to eat yogurt that I’d mixed up with strawberries from our garden for desert.

I pulled out my notebook and pen to jot down a revision plan for my book and some thoughts on how I wanted to spend the summer. My brain went blank, unable to grasp what it is I’m trying to do lately or how to get to this elusive, invisible life I’d like to be living.

bike at Coon Rapids Dam

I’m tired. Just to put together this blog post felt like a monumental effort that required laying down afterwards for a nap.

I don’t know if it’s just what happens in your late fifties or if I’m not getting the right levels of vitamins and minerals or good quality sleep. Maybe it’s all the bad hormones and crap that stress can release into your body. But I’ve been stressed out before and not felt like this.

So what is the Sumatriptan in this scenario?

I have the whole week off, but that’s no magic bullet. Sometimes having lots of time to work on something is worse than being forced to grab 15 minutes here and there.

And this is a vacation… There exists an intention to relax and find the right mix of rest, inspiration, community and new creative work before I have to return to my job. I don’t want to spend all of my time at my computer.

Bike at Coon Rapids Dam

I broke open a new notebook this morning that I bought for the purpose of working through my manuscript revision. To be honest, I’m feeling a certain level of horror at getting started. I had expected that my first readers would suggest I tighten things up — maybe remove a bit of this, add a bit of that, and they did suggest those things. But they also suggested that I reorganize the story.

Reorganize?

NOOOOooooooooo!!!

So the notebook is for me to record my thoughts and emotions, especially my fears and some rather crazy hopes surrounding this work. It is a place for me to start planning the steps ahead and recording my progress.

So I’m curious… What’s your Sumatriptan for healing yourself after a big push and preparing for the next big thing? Do you give yourself a lengthy break? Or just move right on to the next project? And if you do take a break, what do you do during that time? How do you not let the break become procrastination?

Drawing by Lain Kay

Drawing by Lain Kay

All I need to do is name the place and you know what’s on my mind.

I was trying to stay away from the news reports, the commentary, the Facebook posts and Twitter feeds. Not because I can’t take any more or because I feel helpless in the wake of so much violence. But because I knew it would turn into an argument about gun control, criticism against Obama for whatever he can be blamed for, sound bites from Presidential candidates – including more talk about stopping the immigration of Muslims, and somewhere in there some people would also be the grappling with the reality that this was an attack against gays in one of the few places they could go to and feel accepted and safe.

The reason I didn’t want to get caught up in all of that was because the whole thing threatened to open up old fears for me. There are people out there who will attack and even kill people because of their sexuality.

And my son is gay.

I did pretty well at keeping that old fear and sadness contained until my son, with Orlando on his mind, texted me to tell me he loves me.

There are no words…

At least none I can form at this moment but I do want to say something. So I’m going to say it with an excerpt from the book I’m working on. I can’t speak for all parents, but this is how the fear started for this parent. This is why my thoughts right now are not as much on what or who to blame and what will stop so much pain from violence in this country.  My thoughts are filled with imagining what the friends and families of people who were shot are going through and how the survivors will be affected by what they saw and heard.

This excerpt is a bit long and maybe not the correct reaction to Orlando, but I have no other words but these.

All I Wanted and Still Want for My Child

 

All I wanted was for my child to be happy. I wanted him to have lots of friends and to do well in school. I wanted him to always believe in himself, to go out into the world with confidence and joy. I wanted him to be safe.

Being gay was not safe.  And it wasn’t easy. Not that life is ever easy, but my son had just shut a lot of doors. Friendships would be complicated. There would be bullying and hostility; there already had been.

When he was nine years old, my son crawled into my bed, tentatively easing his body, limb by limb, under my covers. After determining I was awake, he said, “I have something to tell you, mom. I’m gay.”

I was too sleepy to have any feelings of alarm or impending dread. That hadn’t become my habit yet.

“Mom, I’m gay,” Lain said again.

No nonsense, no lead up, just a thud of words in the dark.

I was quiet for a while. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing. I knew it was one of those make or break moments that would affect our relationship from that point on.

I asked, “Why do you think you’re gay?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

I suppose he hadn’t thought much beyond just getting those words out, “I’m gay.” That was hard enough. How do you explain something you just know in your gut to be true?

But I meant the question — how does someone at nine know they are gay? Why was he even thinking about this? I never thought about my sexuality at that age.

I know now why that is, I didn’t have to think about my sexuality as it was just assumed. But at the time, I didn’t understand how different things were for my son or anyone else who doesn’t identify as heterosexual.

I didn’t respond right away because I didn’t know how to respond, but as the silence grew and I worried that my silence was worse than anything I might say, I finally answered, “Maybe you just think you’re gay because of the names the other kids call you or because you aren’t interested in sports and other boyish stuff.  But if you are gay, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ll always love you.”

Oh God! That was so wishy-washy. But I’d left an opening. Lain could say something to help me understand so I would know what to say next.

But he just laid his head on my shoulder. Neither of us said anything more about it that night or for a long time afterwards.

Drawing by Lain Kay

There are mother’s who kick out their gay kid or try to ungay them. There are mothers who become activists for gay rights and march on Washington.  And then there are moms like me – the ones who simply haven’t a clue what to do.

My silence, my putting things off, was because of me, not him. I was in way over my head and didn’t know where to turn for help.

Even friends could not relate to what I was going through. My difficulty with trying to talk to anyone about my parenting issues was as frustrating and painful as it was for my son to try and talk to me.

After Lain told me he was gay, I looked for books in the library and online for parents of gay children. I found very little, but I did find the PFLAG organization – Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. (They’ve since broadened and revamped the acronym to be more inclusive of all LGBTQ people.)

I drove clear across town to attend the PFLAG monthly meetings, looking for support and guidance. But I quickly discovered that the group was filled with parents who’s children came out to them in college or in their thirties. No one had a child who declared they were gay at age nine. There was no path someone had already cleared for me to follow.

I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing as a parent in the best of circumstances. How was I supposed to be up to this challenge?

Drawing by Lain Kay

I watched other mothers at the park, shopping centers, and school events and marveled at how confident and at ease they seemed to be. Maybe it wasn’t instinct that made some mothers better at it. Maybe they had good examples they’d learned from.

What did I know about communication, and problem solving, and taking a bull by the horns and walking confidently forward?  What I knew was avoidance. I knew about being invisible and hiding from danger.

And here I was in what felt like a dangerous situation. Lying low did not sound like a good option. Not that Lain allowed himself or me to lie low for any length of time. He did have some bouts of trying to disguise himself. There was the year he cut his hair short and tried to look preppy with polo shirts, but no change in haircut or attire stopped the bloodhounds from sniffing him out.

I wasn’t sure what it was about him. His voice? Mannerisms? The way he walked? To me, he was just my son.

I talked to Lain about how kids treated him and how it made him feel. But when we did talk, that was only a small part of the conversation. What we talked most about was how he could remain safe. He needed to be careful who he talked with about being gay.

I wished for a different world, one where he could just be who he was but that wasn’t the world we lived in. It’s still not the world that we live in.

*Artwork by Lain Kay
shadow

Arizona sunset

I’m a bit behind in my writing and photography. I’ve had three topics in mind to write about and a slew of photos from my trip to Arizona to edit but I haven’t had the energy to do anything with any of it. To force my way out of this brain-dead silence and lack of caring enough to start, I am starting. No promises of brilliance or even a nice story arc from crisis to personal growth.

If I was writing in chronological order, I would start with the story of my trip to Arizona. But no, I am starting with a more recent event as it is most fresh in my mind. Given that my mind resembles cheese with mold covering it, I am picking my least moldy section of thought.

Last Friday and Saturday, I took a writing class with Lidia Yuknavitch. The Loft, which is our local Twin Cities writing haven, had invited Lidia to do a reading on Thursday night and to teach the class that I attended.

The Friday and Saturday class was called “The Erotics of Writing.” The title frightened me as much as Lidia Yuknavitch did. During the reading and class, I soon learned that Lidia was no one to be afraid of, but before meeting her, all I knew about Lidia was what was between the covers of two books of hers that I’d read — “The Chronology of Water,” which is her memoir, and “The Small Backs of Children,” which is one of her novels.

Her writing both drew me in with its imagery and rawness and repelled me with its explicitness. Her writing seemed to come from somewhere unadorned by needing to smell and look and be perceived in a certain way. Her books are not in chronological order and they don’t follow the usual formula of having everything wrap up nice and neat by the end. Isn’t that a bit more like real life? Which may be why we long for our books to be more tidy.

cactus

I won’t quote the words from Lidia’s books that ripped me open. That would reveal more about myself than I’m willing to tell. I’ll just say that her books touched a raw something in me. Like this paragraph from “The Small Backs of Children,”

“For the opening, you decide to move in slow motion and black-and-white. An excruciatingly beautiful girl gone to woman, walking. A girl who has toppled over into woman, her lips already in a pout between yes and no, her torso and ass breaking faith. Moving down a tree-lined city sidewalk. Fall. Her coat pulled up to the flush of her cheeks. Her hands stuffed down into pockets. Her hair making art in the wind.”

Not everyone will like Lidia’s writing. There were sections that I thought, “Too much” or wanted to turn away from. But I didn’t. Because there was recognition there, and I couldn’t look away.

When writing directly about something is too difficult, Lidia suggested in class that we come at it figuratively. She said that often writing that way gets closer to the truth than writing about “what happened.” For example, in “The Chronology of Water” Lidia wrote about collecting rocks to tell the story of a stillbirth. It’s a matter of looking for the sensory truth of an event instead of just describing the actions, she told us.

desert rock and plant

One of the exercises we did in class was to write about a secret our body was holding. Once we’d done that, we were to write about the secret the secret was holding. The point being that often we have blind spots right next to what we know and if we can find those blind spots and write about them, we will find the deeper story, the deeper truth.

We did several free-writing sessions during the class, responding to prompts that Lidia gave us that urged us to write from our bodies. For someone like me who doesn’t want to be in her body, whose body often betrays her with panic and pain and fatigue, this wasn’t easy. Sometimes, trying to be in my body and think from that point of view brings on shortness of breath, spasms and a coldness that makes my whole being tighten in shivers. But the thing about Lidia and the students and the space we were in — it felt safe to at least give this a try.

One of the exercises we did was to close our eyes and scan our bodies for the place that was calling for attention in some way, a place where our minds lingered. Once we had found that place, we were to write about it or write from the viewpoint of that part of the body. Lidia talked about why it’s important to bring our bodies into our writing. She said it is important to tell our story the way we see it and feel it.

shadow

When we did that exercise, it was my stomach that I landed on. It is often the place where I feel my emotions and where my muscles are drawn tight like the tension a bow feels when the arrow is pulled back.

I wrote about how I used to dare boys in the neighborhood to punch me in the stomach. It was my way of proving I couldn’t be hurt. One of the paragraphs I wrote was,

“Her mouth opened in a silent scream — a Hitchcock girl on a muted television. Then came the folding, the doubling over that forced the air out of her lungs in a woosh. Being tough was no longer the point of this game. She didn’t know it yet, but she was preparing for the rest of her life.”

We so often are told that the only way to deeply experience life is to buy our experiences. We see commercials that trigger our senses instead of going out into the world and discovering all the sensual experiences that are free for the taking. Imagine if you were in your body fully experiencing life all the time? It would be too much, so it’s probably good it’s not possible. But still, the idea of trying to do this throughout a normal day is intriguing.

Phoenix-10-3

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