Let Freedom be our focus
Tales of The Master Race This is the title of a book published some years ago by a friend, Marcie Hershman; a compelling collection of short stories set in Bavaria shortly before we entered WWII.
Growing up in Missouri – famed for compromise and sleight of hand – it was quite clear to me that humans, like animals, all had a designated definition and place. Starting with myself, I had been designated a C student by the teachers at my school. Most of the teachers had taught my ten-years-older sister, but there were two teachers new to the system. They gave me – each one – a B. I found out when we had all left. I said something off-hand about all my C’s and they both looked startled and said they had given me B’s.
I found out from them that the head of the English department had changed my grades – it had happened before! I wish I could say that in that moment all my self-flagellation came to an end – but a crack had been made.
So I would like to say that last week when DOMA was overturned by the Court, my inner freedom was assured. It will take me longer than the 25 day waiting period to achieve inner equality but I hope to reap some other benefits fairly soon!
In my own life, and through no effort of my own, I noticed that I had opportunities not given to all. I noticed that my hair and skin color, my religion, or lack thereof, and my social standing had a lot to do with being pleasing to certain groups of people. That I paid no attention merely got me labeled as a misfit and I was rewarded with books on deportment, weight loss and finding the right man.
What does this have to do with DOMA? “Perception is reality” is a concept I have lived first-hand. When I was married to a man, I was one thing and married to a woman, quite another. I remained the same throughout. Whether an A or B student, graduating Cum Laude or barely passing, being told I was not “college material,” or welcomed to graduate classes – yep, same me.
So, my question for you today is, “When did you first know you were straight? Or gay. And what did you do about it?
I’ve been quiet. I notice it’s hard for me to think what to say. This has happened before. When I am waiting for someone and something out of my control to make a decision that will change my life, I get really quiet.
A few years ago in 2004 I stood in front of a tribunal of congregates, my peers and colleagues in a Congregational church of which I was a trustee. A meeting was held among parishioners to vote whether or not Paula and I could get married in the physical body of the church. A number of parishioners turned out for discussion. Another group wrote notes and e-mails to the minister who had been preaching equality in sermon after sermon. There was a note to him mentioning that if Paula and I could marry then he could marry his grandson and keep his healthy retirement package in his family for as long as he could foresee.
And if I found that argument specious, there were more to choose, some I knew about, many I didn’t. People who knew me would ask me why I was attempting. Why was I in the church at all? The answer for me was that my daughter had asked – she later regretted it! – to participate in various church-related activities. Paula and I showed up. It’s what I say to anyone who asks – “show up, be reliable, be ready to love.” Now I’m more likely to add, “be ready to be loved,” and in its absence, vacate the space!
I didn’t come out until after Stonewall, after I had my children, after I had grown up not knowing there was “one more thing” to be different about. I appreciate that, I wasn’t ready to face the world of the 50’s with that much difference. In the spring of 1969 I was 25 with two children and as far away as I could get from my “upbringing.”
Later a lover’s mother would call my mother for support and succor. When asked how she felt about my being a lesbian my mother said, “oh, I have two other children, I don’t have to think about Pam at all.” She had said to me years before to “keep That in Boston, don’t bring It here.” I didn’t.
And that brings me to my wondering now, as we wait for DOMA, is our silence not helpful to those who would we were not here? I grew up where silence was the default for anyone not in the clear majority. When I would speak up it was assumed I was not telling the truth or that I was making it up. I truly think that today we have such “fast” change because we have been allowed the mainstream for a while. We have turned up, shown up, been counted and not made much of a difference. I used to joke when marriage was first an option that a line around the city hall in a few towns was about what people were going to see. We are not so many and our influence is not about sexual orientation. We are like everyone else. I think that’s what’s so funny to me, our perceived impact is huge compared to our mass.
The arguments against our civil rights would be funny if I weren’t dependent on them to tell me where I can stand.
What if every Thing you are given in your life, good and bad – good and bad according to you since there really is no such thing – were to open your heart and then open you up some more?
What if every time you put blame on something or someone you took away your chance to open further?
And every time you held onto the blaming of someone or some thing and made it a story, perhaps even your story, you kept yourself away from the reality of You.
What about that?
For most of my life I have felt judged so this morning as I go off to a Toastmasters club contest having signed up (well, pushed) to be a judge I am awash with thoughts, ideas and feelings.
For one thing I keep forgetting that we are not judging each other. We are judging our speeches in response to a list of good practices that have been proven to make me and everyone else more effective at getting ourselves heard.
It gets lost in the melee of life that I actually want to make myself clear and make an impact. How often have I excused myself or sputtered disproportionally passionate utterances in the face of what I felt needed my defending. How often I have quivered on the sidelines or railed at the television.
Last year I took myself in hand and drove to Great Barrington to plunge in to a world of support and fellowship far beyond any I had experienced.
This is what I found in an alley in Great Barrington and this is what I find every meeting I attend, every speech I give or listen to, every time my hand stretches out it is held. It is a sharing of ideas and energy in a safe setting that allows me to explore and appreciate what I say and what I hear. How cool is that? I’m feeling very lucky.
This photo is peaceful to me, waters flowing slower, grasses beauty in the snowy season
It is how I perceive myself when I accept where and who I am and where I’m going
which includes not always knowing
It’s fun to talk about our parents; how cool or horrid they are/were, what they’ve done, undone or not done. I used to talk about mine all the time. Truly they had a lot to do with me, my childhood, reasons I had for being who I was or wasn’t. Who I would or wouldn’t be was closely tied to who they were to me.
They have a story too. My parents were both the oldest child in their families. They both had a younger sibling – I think each by six years – of the same gender. And they were both made to toe a line their younger siblings never saw.
No one ever showed them this poster, spoke those words or intimated in any way that they could do what they wanted or were suited for.
In photos my mother is always the prettiest and most “out there,” her verve and sense of herself are well apparent.
My father could be seen instantly as the one whose face was the most contorted in a sneer, as if he perpetually smelled shit. I think he did. Laid back he was not.
Graduating from MIT at 20 he had been pushed to excel and learn in far away boarding schools – cram schools – and close to home mechanical engineering for toddlers. My grandfather was older and determined to see his son take over his business.
An instant photo of my grandfather would have seen him at 96 still holding the reins of the business, still making notes, decisions and designing the next whatever he thought was needed. He came home from the office one day, got a toothpick for his cigarette of the day (so he could smoke it to the quick) sat in his chair with the paper and his allotment of bourbon and died – after he’d had them all.
My parents met in Boston while my dad was at MIT. My aunt was driving in a convertable with several friends – remember, she was the younger, sibling with privileges – when my father saw her and yelled (he was in a convertable with his friends) to her did she have an older sister. She did and they met later at a party.
When all the hoops of the age had been jumped – my father asked her father etc. – they planned a wedding. My grandfather forbade them to marry right away. They must wait. When they did marry my grandfather found a suitable apartment for them near his home. They were to live there, dinner on Friday night, outings on the weekends and my mother spending time with my grandmother on specified days.
In my grandparents house the menu was unyielding. A two week menu, they would have the same dinner every other Tuesday. And Wednesday – and every other night of the week and week end.
This does not encourage playfulness or improvisation, nor was it meant to. So when I write about my parents trying to direct me and my rebellion of and from them – luckily they were not wholehearted in their efforts – I understand where they are coming from but don’t always explore their sides. Being the recipient of a fraction of the pressure they endured did not open my heart to compassion for them. That would happen much – much later.
You are loved, All is well.
Get this into your head! Let it be music for your soul.
Easy words, easy to spell, to say but difficult to take in. Believe. Trust. Be.
Some years ago I was in a very cool store – it might have been Neiman Marcus and I know it was in Boston – I found myself walking quickly down some stairs, I felt very young even though I was in my late 40’s, and suddenly I found myself on a landing with these large tubes made of very big – diameter – bamboo.
I reached out to feel the smooth surface, to enjoy the tone of the wood, embedded in the wood were tiny trails of dowels, I had no idea what they were for but I felt I could hear them. Then I picked one up and this amazing sound of rain happened. I looked around expecting water, a fountain above me, behind me; nothing but what was in my hands.
The sound made me so young. So tuned and gentle and ready. I was listening and touching, awakening my cells to the sheer delight of the moment.
when all is said and done
when all there is Is
there is no pain, no sorrow
no host, no guest
so what’s all this about
this storm of life, is really a tide pool
for the child of ourself, who is here
let her in, him in, let the record show
we were here, we loved and love still
let the record sing our praise.
this is a portrait of me entitled, “When I was pregnant with My Mother.”
In 2008 I was ecstatic to find myself working to elect an off-white president. As someone who has a degree in white man’s literature, it is not immediately necessary to diverge to a specific color, race or creed. Much as those who do not want something built near them – “anywhere but here” – I wanted something different. Almost anything.
And now the difference between the president of 2008 and the current president is opening places in me that have never been expressed, hardly thought. Each day of acknowledging the support I feel builds a bridge to expression inside me. When my first woman lover – my 10th grade English teacher, some years after she taught me – wanted to initiate me to the life I had entered she gave me Nightwood by Djuna Barnes. I was horrified. I didn’t want to move a muscle. I knew for sure then I was alone and I was very afraid. I went on to read Jean Genet who convinced me of my doom.
But I had always felt doomed. I loved John Keats’ poem, Hyperion, identifying with every word about the Titans and their exile. Nevermind that I had risen to no height, I was willing to fall from any.
My mother always called me a rebel without a cause, maddening me and in so doing, making her point! So all this time I have looked for causes – there are many, it’s not a hard pull. I have written and photographed and called and given and stood firm and done it again and again. I have never looked in this mirror.
For over thirty years I have studied the philosophy of authenticity. Call it Buddhist, call it Christian, Muslim, Jain, Sufi, Theosophy, all the ancients and not so ancient. Now I find a thread of myself hidden in my own view, in your view – no mystery or particularly hidden, just not expressed the way I find its expression now, today.
Today I find compassion
in the flower
Today I find meaning
in the word
Today I celebrate
freedom and integrity
Today there is enough
in life’s roundabout
And when I open my eyes
in the reading of a book
to the force of a song
I realize I am singing
I am reading
ORIGIN late 16th cent.: from Latin inaugurat- ‘interpreted as omens (from the flight of birds),’ based on augurare ‘to augur.’
The part I felt was the “flight of birds!” Never in my lifetime did I think I would hear the words I heard. Seneca. Salem. Stonewall.
A lifetime of working for civil rights and the rights of minorities and women has not prepared me for this day when my own civil rights are included. So easy to hide, to step aside, to let the forces of equality pass by, I was not prepared for the words, “gay and lesbian sisters and brothers.” I was not prepared to be counted in a national trajectory – proposed or actual.
Paula and I were surrounded by wonderful Black Women, we spent the hours of waiting defending our turf and laughing at ourselves and life in general. We all chanted Obama-USA and felt proud to belong and be included in this country. We felt the newness of it and the relief that came with exposure and acceptance.
IN 1964 I identified with Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. And later Holly Near’s song about the women’s movement. Nothing is decided about the ERA, about DOMA, climate change or racial equality, but to me it felt as if the earth changed course that day in DC when the President (POTUS) stood up and declared an intention. A dream born so many years past is given new birth.
There is much to be done, nothing is secured but the sacredness of the work ahead.
Let us go!
A friend called me and asked why I hadn’t posted for awhile. I guess I got out of rhythm and I’m having my second cataract surgery on Thursday this week. It’s “simple” but still involves my eyes so not so simple really. After the first surgery 3 weeks ago it was quite miraculous to see clearly – out of one eye! So my brain’s a bit fuddled and monovision does not a depth perceiver or a reader make. I’m looking forward to getting back to balance – literally. She suggested a fuzzy photo as a way of explanation, for me I’m just waiting to type without my face so close to the screen!
Also the election left me confused. After a lot of phone banking, hand-wringing and poll cursing I’m left with a lot of wins – confusing to this stubborn rebel looking for change. I’ve spent my life so far working to right what I consider wrongs. I grew up with signs for “coloreds only” and am used to civil wrongs and unequal lots of things. So it is exhilarating to meet with co-workers on phone banks to talk about building on the wins we’ve just won. I find myself planning to work even harder to bring sanity to what has become a polar and very parochial election process.
In the sixties I was elated to be part of a generation of iconoclasts who did I think stop the war in Viet Nam, who did open society to huge change and I’m proud of that. What I find disturbing is that more of those ideas haven’t stayed around. I find it disturbing that the battles weren’t won. Some are forgotten – who thinks of the ERA on any consistent basis. Why should we have to have the Lilly Ledbetter Act, as important as it is, when the Equal Rights Amendment would have made it unnecessary.
So, with my next lens, I want to help create news to remember, news that turns to history and policy and something the generations to follow can build on and trust. I want to see clearly to build a foundation on what we’ve done and what we will do. I want to stand next to all of you, different views, opposing positions, and varying abilities yet loyal to the larger commitment that each of us has a right to pursue happiness, peace and lives of our choice.
I hope each one of us will put down out partisan signs and put out energy and faith for all of us. We have a lot to do and it’ll be easier to work together.