Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Song of the Week: Where Soul Meets Body

I was rifling around in the (inaccurately named) glove compartment and I found this old friend. I turned it all the way up and liked thinking about this particular intersection, where traffic will someday be less blocked.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope Week is All of the Panics, the Parkway Is all of the Violated Places

***Please note: I would like to acknowledge a bout of empty-womb sorrow that informs the general frustration of this post.***

Geez, this is a lot of dark topics lately for a happiness blog, you might be thinking, but sometimes, there’s anger, sometimes you have to dig through three thousand porta potties of shit to unearth joy, or in this case, get to God.

Here’s what I see when I see the “Welcome, Pope Francis” signs everywhere, including at my own usually-liberal Unitarian Society:

Welcome, institutionalized rape.

Welcome, marriage and childbirth as coercion.

Welcome, only being worthwhile as a woman if you serve a husband and have lots of children.

Welcome, only being worthwhile as a man if you own a woman and have lots of children.

Welcome, birth control as sin and overpopulation murdering the planet.

Welcome, narrow definition of love that doesn’t apply to me.

Welcome, my ex-wife and I being told we’re sinners at most family weddings.

Welcome, even babies have inherent sin.

Welcome, the thought is as bad as the deed.

But the thing that makes me angriest is how Catholicism taught me that some of the best things about myself are what keeps me separated from God. My questioning, my strength, my sexuality—not even queer sexuality but the very fact of out-of-marriage desire; that these things kept me from feeling entitled to a relationship with God make me feel enraged. God made me this way, and the Church separated me from God.

I happen to be in a phase right now where I’d like a more openhearted relationship with the divine, where I want to come out and come to terms with my not-atheism. I’m not a cool agnostic, and I’d like to find some ways of expressing it. I do believe in a benevolent force that loves me. I do want to be grace-filled and joyful and accept that love. But right now all I can feel is anger for how long I was told I didn’t deserve that connection, that god belonged to more straight and well-behaved girls. I know it’s my fault for not realizing it sooner.

Mostly, like all things are to me, it’s personal. I am angry on behalf of child me, as is way-too-often the case. An example is this: When I was fourteen, I had sex for the first time. I did it right then because I was feeling sad and ugly and I thought I might never have the chance again. I thought it would make some sort of connection with the guy but he treated me like a stranger afterwards. It was so sad as to seem like a cliché.

I told my aunt, my favorite confidante. That evening, we were in church and I mentioned that someone had on my (recently deceased) Great Grandmom’s perfume. “Maybe she’s telling you she forgives you.” said my beloved aunt.

Here is what she should have said, and I’ll say it to myself now—

You are worthy and good and there is so much happiness and love in your future. Sex is yours and you will have it in the happiest, most playful, most exuberant, most loving ways. You can and should expect more from partners, and you have so much in body, soul, and heart to offer them in return.

Being shamed about sex, believing somewhere inside that it’s something for which I need forgiveness, has caused me so much pain and loss that at 41, I’m still working to heal the consequences.

Welcome Pope Francis, chip in on my therapy bills.

So, during Pope Weekend, I will do every kind thing for myself. I’ll pray for everyone who was hurt in large and small ways by the Church. I will take the opportunity to stay home and work on my sex memoir, so that this woman, at least, will continue to have a voice, so I can honor the hot-pants spark inside me that IS God, and it will be, loved, celebrated, and will know it never needs to be forgiven, that it was born forgiven. My family’s faith may have hampered their ability to raise me (and themselves) with love, but I can still raise myself, and still find my own path to God.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Songs of the Week: Two for Profile-Updating

It's the part of the getting-over-it wherein I belt out lots of songs and write a more honest OKCupid profile. There's a fair amount of moping, but I feel my inner Minaj taking care of it.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Thoughts After a Romance (Heart Inventory Continued)

When I wrote my birthday heart inventory, I happened to be in the early part of a relationship, the part where one is expected to be reticent, lighthearted, tentative, (none of those my strong suit even a little) as though one were trying to convince a woodland creature to eat from one’s hand. (Some comedian said that, it isn’t mine but it’s apt.)
So I left some things out.

I’m so glad I decided to let him in, to let myself hope. It was wonderful to think that we might actually be going someplace together. He was supposed to stay over on Saturday and then go to church with me on Sunday. I haven’t attended church with a boyfriend since the summer before eleventh grade, when I knelt beside my unbelievably sweet first boyfriend in the front pew of my Aunt Connie’s church. The idea of sharing a faith with a partner, of harboring a spiritual connection, made me so joyful that I thought I might explode. Sunday was the Water Ceremony at my church, where we were supposed to bring water from our summer and join it with everyone else’s water. I’d asked him if he would want to contribute some water from his pool, where we’d shared some perfect moments, and to my great delight, he said yes.

I keep a one-sentence journal, and Saturday’s entry reads: “I think he really likes me—our date is at 3pm and at 10 am, he’s already put the water in his car to remember to bring it for church.” This news was accompanied by a photo of his morning glories, which are purple like most of mine. Maybe he did really like me.

That morning, I felt so open and festive, like the best possible version of myself. It was, he was, a special occasion. I walked over to the co-op to get flowers to put by the door, and of course they were a rainbow. I felt playful, and loving, and generous, and there were definitely special underpants.

And it was a magical afternoon and evening, full of laughter and what I would’ve called closeness. It doesn’t matter what went wrong in the night, but I will say this: Usually I can sift though any bad match and find what I did wrong, but in this case I am wholeheartedly sure that that guy had won the person lottery, and he severely mishandled his luck.

I still went to church, cried the whole way there and was glad I remembered where they keep the stash of wedding/funeral tissues. One of my favorite friends joined me in the pew and we laughed about the patheticness of my I-had-to-spill-the-special-pool-water-down-the-sink story. She’d forgotten her water so I lent her my drinking bottle while I spilled in some ocean water from the family beach. It was an absolutely meant-to-be breakthrough morning with my friend, who also happens to be a creative coachee.

But home alone, sobbing in front of “Up in the Air,” I had to admit to such loss, such longing. Before I met him, it was mostly possible to ignore a big part of what’s missing in my life, or I’d just been enjoying a nice break from worrying about it: Though my day- to-day life is pleasant and good, I want to fall in love and have a family more deeply than it feels safe to say.

A few months ago, one of my favorite friends in the world had a baby after a long, hard struggle. I was so relieved and happy for her and saw it as proof that even the most enormous and terrifying-to-want dreams can come true. But also I was inconsolable. I cried so hard that I thought my heart would fall out. I felt so much envy and pain and grief and loneliness with each successively more adorable picture: I eventually had to just unsubscribe.

Normally one would just take that to mean, duh, I want a baby, but that honestly seems supercrazy for me to want—I’m sensitive, anxious, single, and (though I know I have  fertile genes) likely too old to try.

And yet.

The wide, vast, chasm of pain that opened up from my friends facebook and from the loss of a guy who just wasn’t right means that I do very dearly, in the most raggedly vulnerable way, want to have my own family.

The guy, while he has qualities of his own, also has two adorable sons. He once texted me a picture of them on a picnic by a pond. And I let myself imagine it—how I might someday meet them, how I might someday heap them all in love. Even without having (thank goodness) met the kids, I knew that the three of them needed me, needed the ocean of love that’s in me, and I let myself hope I could someday give it to them.

So now I’m in a position of being no longer able to ignore a thing I can’t really do anything about. I’m afraid I’ve lost my chance, not with him (he was not the chance) but with my someday family, like we’ve all missed our connection somehow. The idea that it might be to late is a heavy thing to carry around, knowing I may eventually have to just grieve the lost chance.

But the thing is, I let myself believe in the possibility of love, of letting someone in. I let myself go as far as the current of romance could take me, and that was a good and brave choice. And although it is famously lightning-strike foolish, I have to believe that my guy and my family are still out there waiting for me, or maybe the impossible will happen before it’s too late. I have so much love, so much everything to give a family. However they come, whoever they are, let them get here. I miss them so much.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Friday Love Poem: Daniel McGinn!

Daniel, fourth from left with his deardear wife Lori, back when I lived blessedly near them.
This week's poet is a favorite influence, a wonderful friend, and one of the best all around humans there is. He and Lori just celebrated their 39th anniversary, so it seems a little odd to mark the occasion with a poem about me--but who could resist?

Explaining Jane

“Jane Cassady has been informed that you cannot be a post-modernist and call
yourself a post-modernist at the same time, so she now refers to herself
as post- structuralist.”

-Ben Trig, Poetry Host


Open to her eyes peering out the mail slot—
the sound of one pink polished nail
tap tap tapping in the brass lip.
Let us assume she is on her knees,
Holy Mother of God, she wonders aloud
When will the postman arrive?

Jane knows what she means to say
but today
she is closed like a door
with a mouthful of letters.


What shall I say?
My lips are just meat.
My heart but a subject
open for interpretation.

The state of my soul?
This is California, you say
but it is never the same to you.
We communicate alone, don’t we?

One does not even understand odd.
Knowing people is a matter of time
and space. Consider space.
Who among us is able to do the math?


Lesson One, says the teacher,
is that there is no Lesson One.

Maybe it’s raining out.
Maybe the teacher is crying.
But hey, who are we to judge the teacher?

Jane raises her hand,
waving it like a flag on a minivan,
a silent hand but important,
like a white flag
snapping smartly over a massacre.

Jane says to the teacher,
What about the post??
The teacher sees lumber
And tries to build his argument.

No, Jane says,
it’s not about the male men anymore,
it’s about the postal persons.

The teacher sees machine guns.
Jane sees love letters.

Daniel McGinn's work has appeared numerous anthologies and publications. His full length collection of poems, 1000 Black Umbrellas was released by Write Bloody Press. He had five chapbooks published as part of the Laguna Poets chapbook series. Daniel has an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He and his wife, poet Lori McGinn, are natives of Southern California. They have 3 children, 6 grandchildren and a very good dog.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Birthday Heart Inventory: More for Age 41

Probably “more” has been my keyword for all of the years, but now in particular I want to expand, to think a little bigger, to feel like I deserve the hopes and dreams hanging around the notebooks of my extraordinarily blessed everyday life.

Yesterday as I was getting in the car to drive to work, I had the music turned up and this song shuffled on. A grumpy man across the street glowered at me and I gave him the biggest grin and decided it would be my song of the year. I would like to say goodbye permanently to guilt and shame, to my tendency to apologize for my existence, to false good-girl compliance, and embrace being maladjusted, both in the Dr. King sense and in the regular way. So:

Forty was the year of friends. I realized my dream of being best friends with Amy, and while that may not be the move-oniest thing, it is certainly a source of joy and my favorite pleasant work boredom. I’ve gotten closer to my church friends, made poetry part of my life again in a small but significant way, and had the best friend-life since probably middle school. There was a spate where all of my friends lived in other cities and though I still love my far-flung family of pals, I’m glad to have expanded to those who can just barge in or, as my next-door neighbor did this morning, surprise me with spontaneous festiveness.

This was also the year that I truly loved being single, where getting in my own little world has been the best and happiest treat, whether I’m writing, painting, organizing the shelves, or just snoozing on the couch rewatching Gilmore Girls again.

And for making my own little world so pretty, the MVP award definitely goes to my apartment. The story of how I got it is how I want to let life be more often: One Sunday morning I was all grumpy because my divorce apartment was filled with cigarette smoke from the creepy downstairs neighbor. I was so crabby I couldn’t even deal with finding a parking spot at church, so I came up to the prettiest street around to take a walk. I overheard my now-landlord talking about showing the place and I stopped, butted into her conversation, and came up the driveway to see. The walls were painted a hideous pumpkin orange, but she said I could have any color, and she got my robin’s egg blue exactly right.

This is the first place that ever really felt mine, the place I most truly belong. In the mornings, I open the door and let the cool air in, stand there with Frannie and see how many morning glories bloomed. It’s a still and safe place that reminds me of the countryside I grew up in, but with an independent bookstore three doors down.

The apartment became the home of Fun and Games Poetry Class, which was definitely the biggest and happiest accomplishment of the year. That I made money for praising wonderful writers and helping them bring out their best work feels like such an incredible gift. I’ve written them so many thank you notes already, but the curiosity, generosity, and imagination at the heart of my poet pals is a force of nature and I’m honored whenever I’m in their presence.

The same goes for my made-up creative coaching careers. That my friends have trusted me with something as personal and delicate as their creativity, that I get to foster breakthroughs and encourage indulgence and celebrate expression at my own kitchen table is a dream come true, and I would love to see it expand in the coming year.

I’ve already said a lot about the year’s losses, but they need a little paragraph. It still hurts that classroom teaching didn’t work, that I’m not able to work for justice in the way that I wanted to. The harsh, tenacious, beautiful lives of my students still haunts me, will never leave me, and I hope that I can honor them in this new life. As soon as one more clearance comes in the mail, I’ll be back writing poetry with the library kids, so that’s a start. Though the panics of school haven’t left me yet, I know I’m getting stronger.

And okay, I’ve put off writing about him long enough, there’s a guy. It’s too soon to tell what we’ll be to each other but he is a man. He makes plans, he takes me out on real dates, he remains unfazed when the darkest parts of me come out. He lights me up. I don’t want to say more or I’ll jinx it, but it’s nice to be hanging around with someone who makes sense for me—it was a long way to get here.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Talking With My Childhood Self About Bill Cosby

Photo by my Uncle Steve

Before I get to the soul searching, I want to say that I think Hannibal Buress is a hero for bringing the reality Bill Cosby’s victims into the public consciousness, but I really wish that women were taken as seriously on the same set of topics—Jen Kirkman has been censored and Julie Klausner vilified for pointing out similar allegations  and hypocrisies, (about Louis C. K. and R. Kelly respectively) and I would very much like to live in a world that isn’t trained to dismiss women’s point of view, especially on this particular matter.

For a lot of my adult life, I’ve been a trusting, open, jump-in-with-both-feet kind of person. I made friends and became devoted to them instantly (okay, I still do that) got crushes on poets and wrote reams about them, greeted nearly every person and new situation wholeheartedly.  I’ve never been afraid to walk alone at night and I’m still not, but in the past few years, I’ve ended up seeing the world through rape-colored glasses, seeing facets of coercion and exploitation everywhere. The problem with this lens is not that it isn’t true, but that it isn’t helpful; it’s not taking me where I want to go.

I want to slay those dragons and really start to live knowing I have agency and hope. The personal reasons that I tend to see the world this way are well-documented; they’re private and complex, but the psychological impact, the pulling-the-rug out-from-under-me that Cosby-as-rapist has wrought matters.

Like probably so many little girls, I LOVED Bill Cosby. This is not an overstatement like “Oh, I love Netflix,” but real, abject human love of a child for an adult man who seemed more than deserving of that love. My dad had all of his records and my brother and sister and I listened to them so much that it was almost like we were the siblings in those stories.

But The Cosby Show. It was one of the few shows we were allowed to watch—somehow that Thursday night block was highbrow enough for my dad (who before long would give into the slippery slope of Growing Pains and Perfect Strangers) (Mike Seaver didn’t do much in the not-letting-me-down department either, did he?) so we watched it as a family every Thursday night, like everyone.

Was there ever a more appealing paragon of manhood than Cliff Huxtable? He danced with his wife. He goofed around with the kids. He lovingly and hilariously laid down the law when necessary. And sometimes, as I think was pointed out once on Community, an entire episode could be about making a sandwich with his daughter. He was a perfect picture of what it means to be a man in a family, exactly the beautiful grownup my ten-year-old self needed.

There are a lot of factors that combine to make me generally skittish, but the shift from what I felt about Cosby then to what I know now exacerbates the feeling I have sometimes that if I relax for one second, if I trust for one second, the world will turn upside down and I will be completely fucked. But I certainly don’t want to approach the world that way.


Dear Little Self,

What you loved was a story, and that story is still true. Everywhere there are families with singing and laughing—you’ve lived in one for a long time. Everywhere there are men, dads and brothers and friends and strangers who wish you and everyone nothing but love, safety and happiness.

You can grieve for Cliff Huxtable and be mad that Kurt Cobain was such a creep to that girl in high school and still be pretty peeved about that one episode of Buffy. I will always be mad with you and on your behalf. I will always be on your side.

But let’s look for other, better examples, and allow them to be true. I’ll do my best to keep you safe, if you’ll do your best to let it go. Take all the time you need.


Grownup You