Tuesday, November 30, 2010

To be free

One of the highlights of being a writer is doing the research. When I was younger, and I'd spoken to my dad about wanting to write, he voiced the time honoured adage: Write what you know. While that's good advice, if I'd done that, I'm not so sure anything I wrote would be terribly interesting or exciting. You don't write to pen autobiographies. Certainly not if you write fiction. And certainly not if your autobiography is yawn-inducing. So I write fiction; I make shit up. And to make that shit believable, I do research.

I've met some hugely interesting people in this way. I've learned so much. About small things, and major things. It's amazing what people will tell you, what they'll share with you, when you tell them you're a writer doing research. They want to ensure you get the facts right. And since I want to get the facts right, I pay close attention. I ask pertinent questions, and often learn far more than what I will use in my stories.

Earlier this year, one of the malls here saw the opening of an Apple store. Now, I'm fairly certain that anything I wanted to know about Apple computers I could have learned online. And sometimes I do refer to the internet for the information I need. But I had wandered into the mall, saw the new store, thought of what I needed to know...and so I ventured in.

I meandered about the store, looking at what was displayed, and the various other individuals who were present doing the same thing, though not for the same reasons as my own. Eventually, an older fellow came toward me and asked if he could help me. I explained to him what I needed, what my purpose was. When he realized I wasn't in the market to buy, but was instead researching for a novel, he brightened, and asked what information I needed.

He spent an hour with me, going over all the details I'd explained needed clarification, including such mundane things as accessories, like carrying cases, AC adaptors, battery life, and untold other details. When we'd reached the limit of what I'd so far managed to decide I needed in terms of info he suggested I look him up again if I had anymore more questions. I thanked him and left.

Two weeks later I was back, having realized I needed more information. He was again working, and I sought him out (I always remain true to a source, if they've proven helpful).When he'd answered my questions, he had one of his own.

"So you write lesbian fiction?"

I answered in the affirmative.

"So you're not homophobic then?" He peered at me closely, as if to detect whether I would evade the question.

"No, of course not," I answered, with an expression and tone that conveyed such a thought was utterly ludicrous.

He nodded, raised his head briefly to look around, and then pulled his iphone out of his pocket. Paying close attention to it, he touched the screen a couple of times, and then held it out to me.

"I wanted to show you something," he said.

I looked down at the screen and saw a picture of an attractive older woman, seated at what looked like a bar.

"Oh, hey, who's that?" I asked.

"That's me," he answered quietly.

I raised my eyes sharply to his, he met my gaze calmly; I looked at the picture again and then, once more meeting his eyes, I said, with an appreciative grin, "Wow. Very nice."

His face lit up, and he almost smiled. "You think?"

"Yes," I said with soft enthusiasm. "You do well."

He smiled and put the phone away. "Thank you," he said, and then leaned in closer without really seeming to move at all. "I just thought you were someone I could trust with that. Since you trusted me."

I realized that perhaps he thought my trusting someone with my sexuality was something I was not accustomed to doing. And that he didn't know that it wasn't about trust for me. And that his own revelation was all about trust.

"Hey, I came out over 20 years ago," I told him. "I do this all the time, it's no big deal. I'm guessing it's not so cut and dried for you, though."

He admitted it was so. "Not many people know this about me," he confided.

"Well, I'm cool with it," I reassured him. "No worries."

He seemed hugely relieved, and we then went on to talk about books (he was an avid reader), and writing, until it became clear he really had to get back to work. I took my leave, telling him I'd see him soon.

I saw him again two weeks ago; I had a few more questions, and hoped he'd be around when I visited the store once again. He was nowhere to be seen, so I contented myself with playing with an iTouch. A few minutes later I felt a presence at my left and looked up.

"Hi!" he said, so obviously happy to see me I blushed.

"Hey, there you are!" I greeted him. "How are you?"

"Hey, I'm great!" he said, and his enthusiasm was so obviously fabricated, and not reflected in his voice or expression, that I touched his arm.

"Nice try," I told him.

"Ah, you caught that." He suddenly looked very sad.

"Hard not to." I cocked my head. "What's up?"

He looked pained, pulled out his iphone, fiddled with it, then met my eyes. "My wife has given me an ultimatum."

I raised my eyebrows. "Oh?"

"Yeah. She says I have to get rid of all my outfits, all my bad habits, and be a man."

"Oh." I paused, then said, "But you're the father of three daughters (he'd shared this information with me previously), so how can she throw that in your face?"

His face fell. "She's so insecure, and so vindictive. She says if I don't stop, she'll tell everyone and I'll be a pariah. She'll leave me."

"But you've been married for 34 years (he'd shared that with me, as well). If she gives you an ultimatum, isn't that maybe what should happen?"

"I don't want that. And she couldn't live a proper life without me." He stated this with quiet emphasis.

Keeping in mind we were in the middle of a computer store, discussing hugely private things, I said, "You and I should go for a drink sometime and just talk."

His face lit up briefly, and then fell. "No. She'd never allow it."

I actually laughed out loud. "What?" I looked closely at him. "Allow what?"

He looked pained again. "You. You're a woman. She'd never allow it."

I laughed again, though softer. "But I'm gay. I'm a lesbian. It's just drinks."

He smiled sadly. "That wouldn't matter to her."

"Well, it matters to me. I'm considering you a friend." I felt myself getting impassioned. "It's up to you obviously, but she's given you an ultimatum, you have your own life to lead, and I'm not a threat, and you've told me all this for a reason."

He stood solidly where he was for a moment, and then looked at me. And smiled. "Yes," he said, "I would like to go for a drink with you. I like you. And I consider you a friend as well. Let me deal with this. Give me your email address. I'll let you know how it goes."

I did as he asked. I gave him my email address. We've kept in touch. He still won't meet me socially. And I guess I understand that.

I think why I wanted to write about this is because I feel for people who have to pretend to be other than they are. Who they are. Intrinsically. Inately. I was never closeted. When I knew who and what I was, I just put it out there and that's all there was to it. But not everyone is like me. And my patience with the section of society that refuses to allow others to express themselves, whether they are gay, transgendered, or cross-dressers, or what have you, is so limited.

I look forward to the time when this man lets me know we can meet for drinks. Because at least then I will know he has taken a step for himself, away from what restricts him, and he will be that much freer.

Freedom of self is everything.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Girl Who Trained Horses

(This is an imported post from my old blog: Oct 6, 2010)

When I was 8 years old, I met a girl who became an inspiration, and has remained so throughout my life, though it's only been the last several years that I've come to realize this.

By that time, my family had moved out of the city to the 100 acre farm my dad had bought. Within a year, he'd torn down the old red barn that was in the process of falling down anyway, done extensive landscaping, put up pole fences, and built a brand new barn, complete with three standing stalls and two box stalls, and its own paddock. He then proceeded to buy horses (and various other livestock, but I'll stick with just the horses here). He bought a 6 year old buckskin quarter horse mare, two 2 year old quarter horses (a filly and a colt), a 3 year old Appaloosa mare, and a nasty tempered Shetland pony for me, though I rarely rode it, for obvious reasons.

The 2 years olds were halter broken, but that was all. My father set about finding someone to saddle train them. Consulting with the man who had sold him the horses, he found someone. And that summer, the girl who trained horses made her appearance.

She showed up one Saturday morning in June with her father, in the rusty half ton truck they drove. When she stepped out of that truck, I was captivated instantly. Dressed in cowboy boots, worn boot cut jeans, a button down shirt, and a cowboy hat, with her dark hair tied back beneath it, she looked the epitome of a cowgirl, though at the age of 8, I doubt I even knew whether such a creature existed. She couldn't have been more than 17, but when introduced to my dad, she shook hands with him in a very mature fashion. And when the three of them headed off to the barn and the paddock to meet the horses she would be working with, I followed after quietly.

Her name was Candace, but everyone called her Candy. She was likely average height, but of course I was 8, so she seemed tall. She was lean and her face was tanned, and when she smiled she rarely showed her teeth. As we walked to the barn, she walked with purpose; long, confident strides, that I immediately tried to emulate. When she met the horses, she spent a great deal of time with them. Obviously at some point she agreed to train them, because every weekend after that she showed up on her own to work with them, until summer break, when she began coming every second or third day. And every day she showed up, I followed her to the paddock to watch her work.

She never seemed to mind my presence. I was a very quiet child, very watchful, very attentive. It was very important to me that I not make a fool of myself, that I not embarrass myself around her. We barely spoke at first. When she worked the horses on the lunge line, or was working them up to the saddle, I sat on the top rail of the fence and just watched. And when she finished working them, we would brush them (she doing most of the work), after which they would be turned loose. We would then climb back up to the top rail of the fence and watch them awhile.

Eventually, we started talking, mostly me asking questions about the horses, or about what she was doing with them, and her answering. She was always patient, and always soft-spoken. I paid fierce attention to everything she said, everything she did. Later, looking back at that time, it was obvious to me that I completely idolized her. I was a child, she was (to me) a grown up, and she was everything I wanted to be. She moved with a confidence I ached to possess, and her quiet nature was soothing, so different from what I was surrounded by in my own family environment.

I recall specifically one time toward the end of the summer, when she and her family, and my family, were all trooping out to the pasture to see the new foal birthed by our mare, that had been sired by their leopard Appaloosa stallion. They walked in two loose groupings, and I was trying to catch up to my dad, through all these people. I finally squeezed up next to her and said politely, looking up at her, "Excuse me."

She smiled down at me. "You're excused."

"Thank you," I said, smiling back.

"You're welcome," she said, still smiling.

That was it. The height of the exchange. But it has stuck with me for years, because I may have been a child, but she never treated me like one. I learned from that, as I learned many things from her that summer. I learned patience, and silence. I learned careful movements, and thoughtful observation. I learned to pay attention when children speak, and to answer their questions with respect and consideration. I learned about horses, and though I've never trained a horse (I trained dogs privately and with much success for 15 years), I know that I could.

As children, we never know how the people who enter our lives will affect us. But they do. Every single person who crosses our path has some affect, whether significant or not. As adults, we are able to look back and ascertain the merits (or not) of those encounters. Though I never saw Candace again after that summer, I have thought of her over the years, and come to realize the impact she had on my formative years. I would not be the person I am today had she not come into my life. Someday, I would like to thank her.

Someday, I will. I've found her, you see. So, yes, I will thank her.

Mothers just aren't

(This is an imported post from my old blog: Oct 8, 2010.)
I was 16 when I found out that the woman who'd raised me didn't consider me her own daughter.

I think I'd always known. It's an instinctive thing. An inherent thing. Something you know on some level, a visceral level, that you can't put into words....but you know. It hurts, yet you don't know why...you can't name it, identify it...it just hurts. You lack the words, because you don't have the words, all you know, all you feel, is the lack...

I was adopted at the age of 15 months. I was one of those who likely would have fallen through the cracks. But I didn't. My biological mother was obviously troubled. My biological father was, apparently, a convenience. I was "seized" at a very young age and housed in foster care. I apparently have 10 "biological" siblings (I made the requisite queries in time: another story to be told some time). I was the youngest, who was placed in foster care, up for adoption.

I'm being very kind here in my depiction of certain events. I have very little remembered knowledge of what happened to me during those years. I've blocked a lot out. I've asked questions, and come to know that when I was adopted at 15 months I was severely malnourished. I wasn't even on solid foods yet. Yet I was a very happy child, apparently. I laughed easily and freely. But I longed for close comfort. I'm told I cried often to be held, to be picked up. This doesn't surprise me.

I went through a very tumultuous childhood, the pivotal point of which was my adoptive mother. Again, I'm not going to get into details. But I was abused, physically and emotionally, mentally. And in that family of seven, I was the only one to be subjected to such abuse. I've discussed this within the family. It's interesting to have this kind of discussion with your own family members and have them not recall a single episode of abuse...except what you mention, where you are concerned... and they deny it.

There is one moment that stands out in my mind when I was speaking with my sister (years ago) and I told her of what I'd experienced. She said, and I quote, "Well, you must have brought it on yourself." I looked at her, appalled.
I brought it on to myself?? I was a child.Several years later, when she and I were on more level ground, she saw how wrong she'd been in her judgement, and she apologized, and she and I are now closer.

However, I digress sorely.

When I was 16, my "mother" struck me for the last time. It was over some inconsequential thing, I don't even recall...but then again, wasn't it always? And my dad was, for the first time, present to witness it. He'd never been prior.  That was the thing. He never saw  her abuse. She was very careful to do so when he was not present. He knew it happened. (I was a very cowed child...he knew something was going on...but not what.) But he'd never witnessed it. This day he did.

He struck her.

Later, she blamed me.

Much later, he told me, in complete privacy, that she'd never considered me her daughter...and never would.

And at the age of 16, I was left to wonder: And so what am I supposed to do with that?

Because I didn't know. I didn't know what to do with the information I'd been given. And he knew that. He said, "She does the best she can, and it does nothing for you, but she has done the best she can."

I don't know that I felt I'd been failed (when obviously I had been on more than one level)... but more that the woman whom I'd thought was my "mother" actually...wasn't. And never thought herself to be. I eventually disowned her...because I needed to...and because I needed some space to understand the "relationship"...or lack thereof.

As an adult now, and understanding how these things work, I'm settled and complete. She does not figure in the equation. She can't. I've eliminated that part of the equation, worked it out, and it makes sense now. Yet I will always be disturbed that the most troublesome part, the part I should have known of...I was deprived of.

I wonder how it works out for others. I wonder.

Play that music

(This is an imported post from my old blog Nov. 6, 2010.)

I was 33 when I first dj'd "professionally". As in, got a paying gig playing music.

Prior to that, I'd always wanted to play music. I'd always wanted to be a dj. To play music to people who would listen to what I wanted to play. I had visions of spinning tunes, songs I liked, connections I felt that I thought I could make others feel. I was in my 20's when this desire first struck me. I then learned that radio dj's are not allowed free license with music choice, and so I abandoned that option. Then one night, years later, I was out with a friend, on our way to the women's bar, and she said, "Let's see if they need dj's".

It was a Tuesday night. We were both slightly inebriated. It was a lark. I didn't have high hopes, but thought What the hell? When we got there, we talked earnestly with the manager and her partner. Her partner, the one who was the club dj everyone bowed down to, said she'd give us a try. I was jazzed. And incredibly nervous. What the hell was I thinking? I couldn't do this. Could I?

As it turned out, I was right to be nervous. Playing music for a crowd, playing music to set the mood, the tempo for the night, is not something to be scoffed at. It requires a level of attentiveness, and an appreciation and knowledge of current tunes and older, and an ability to segue those tunes smoothly and without seeming effort while judging the crowd's mood, that really is a skill.

I was told that my job was to make sure people drank. That I was a conduit. Well, lesbians drink. No problem there. But lesbians also want to dance. To play the music, and shift the mood, and the crowd, according to songs, really required skill. I had to watch the crowd constantly. To bring the crowd up, and then bring them down, and then back up again, to ensure there was a constant turnaround between dancers and drinkers, that took skill and attentiveness.

You might not know that. You might not know how closely a dj pays attention to a crowd. The good ones do. Song choice is key. Scanning your crowd is hugely important to song choice.

A lot of dj's are hugely self-involved. They play for themselves. Like they're in their own livingroom and the songs they play are for themselves. Which leads to a really shitty night. Ask anyone who's ever complained of the music at a club on any given night. If the dj is playing for themself, your night is gonna suck, music wise.

But when you have a dj who knows how to read the crowd, who can watch individuals, and the crowd as a whole, and spin the tunes to get almost each and every individual up at different times, now that is a good dj.

I was very good at what I did. I enjoyed what I did. Who wouldn't enjoy getting paid for doing what never seemed like work? The women's club I worked for was small (Ms Purdy's, 110 capacity), but it was well known. I actually had a following for awhile. After that 6 year gig I went private, and made good money playing gay weddings and socials.

And then I lost interest. Not because I didn't want to play music anymore. I did. I still do. But because I didn't want to play and have drunks toss insults my way, and say I sucked, and could I please play better music, and oh yeah, I sucked.

The one thing my mentor told me about being a dj is that you get instant gratification. She was right about that. When you rock, you rock hard. When you suck, you suck hard. Instant gratification was cool. The downside was getting trashed. At two o'clock in the morning...when all the drunks want to do is complain you're not playing another song for them, because they're not ready to leave. And all you want, after playing music for 5 hours in their company is to go home.

I could play music until the cows come home (and usually did)...but it's always nice not to be assaulted at the end, or during your shift. It takes skill and talent to play music for a night, to lend enjoyment to others night, and to take credit for that.

So why am I posting this? Just to say that you should know that sometimes, the one in charge of the music takes your night as seriously as you do.

That your dance is as important to her, as it to you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Absolution of self

I saw my ex today.

I haven't seen her in a year and a half. Not once. My friends have. I've received reported sightings. My queries have been monosyllabic at best. I'm not terribly interested. I don't really want to know where she was seen, what she was doing, what she looks like. It accomplishes nothing to show interest, nor to feign interest. Yet I am not a complete cad; a cursory interest does no harm, and I admit to the barest sliver of curiousity.

I don't know if she saw me. It matters not if she did. I saw her only in passing, in the entrance way to a mall, leaning against the wall, doing something with her cell phone. Just the briefest glimpse, as I registered the presence of someone to my left. I glanced that way, recognition registered, and then my eyes slid right over and past her as I continued on my way. Yet I felt myself stiffen; I surreptitiously straightened my back, my shoulders, and stepped away with a sudden determination. And was at a complete loss to explain the surge of emotion that flooded me.

I walked to the bus stop (oh yay, back to public transit), my brow furrowed, trying to sort through a jumble of feelings I couldn't name, but which felt familiar nonetheless. Oddly, for one very brief moment, I felt like going back, envisioned myself walking up to her and saying "Hi". I quickly squelched that idea, disturbed that it had actually occurred to me. On the bus, I rode in a state of distraction, keeping an eye out for my stop, but otherwise oblivious to everything around me, my thoughts focused inward. I couldn't put a single identifying label to anything I was feeling, except one: Confusion.

And one other, though I believe it's this that is confusing me. I'm not sure if it's pity, or sympathy. It may be a conglomeration of both. She was a troubled girl, perhaps still is, though I am not privy to that. Realistically speaking, I should not have gotten involved with her. But we all know what is said about hindsight. And while the relationship itself became troubled, that was not wholly her responsibility. I accept that I played my part in the fuckaroo. But that did not in any way absolve her of her infidelity. And while I tried to do the responsible thing by confronting her, and giving her an ultimatum, a choice, in the end such actions really hold no water to the final outcome. 

I have made many mistakes. I've tried to learn from them, and I believe I have. I am not a weak person. When faced with difficult or confusing situations, I try to sort through them, figure out what I'm feeling, thinking, and how to deal with it all. It is, perhaps, this need to understand, to grasp the importance, the relevance that causes me the most confusion. There is no straight line path with such efforts. It's like blundering your way through some overgrown, tangled and dark forest, when you were initially blithely making your way down a well-trod walkway. You have no idea how you got there, and now you have no idea how to get out.

Suffice it to say, I didn't go back to her and say "Hi," That would have been utterly foolish. We parted on extremely bad terms (her choice, not mine), and I have no reason to believe she feels any different today. I think it is this that is causing me confusion. Not because I have any unresolved issues over our relationship. I don't. But because some things don't change. And because I know that she holds onto grudges...and she had a huge grudge against me. Unwarranted, in my opinion, since it was her actions that resulted in my actions. But she was never interested in my explanation; she'd made her mind up I was in the wrong, and there was no altering that.

Which makes me realize there is one other emotion involved: Sorrow. It sorrows me to know that she is so inflexible, so intransigent, that I will never be allowed the opportunity to explain why I did what I did. Anyone else who knows, has absolved me, has understood. I have absolved myself, and have always understood my actions. But she never wanted to know, and her verbal refusal to even attempt to listen was venomous. I don't know or understand how anyone can be so closed off to illumination. But I'm not naive or stupid. I never pursued the issue, and never believed she would alter her stance on it.

Seeing her today merely reinforced all I have come to know, all I have felt, and still feel traces of. Which has made me realize that that's okay. It's okay to feel, and to work through those feelings, and thoughts, to better understand where I am. Not where she is. But where I am.

Because the absolute best I can do is understand myself. And go from there.