I want to be sitting on the floor of this recording studio thinking about being 33 again…
I want to be sitting on the floor of this recording studio thinking about being 33 again…
I have just returned from a trip to visit my family; including notably my father, and my soon to be sister-in-law. I had more than one reservation about returning home this time. First, my brother has spent the last threee months travelling with her, they are very close, and it seems this trip has cemented that considerably. She is much older, my age, and my brother and I have twelve years between us. So I did harbor some doubts and reservations. In retrospect, those reservations were reflections of how I interpret peoples reaction to me; am I constantly being judged, no it would be vanity to think so. Am I where I should be professionally, personally, emotionally? How would I interact with another woman my age who is in love with my (not so) little brother. I think a small part of me was still shouldering the role of protective older sister, because I had not moved past that static state since my mother died. Suffice it to say I had my moments where I was completely taken aback by their affection. I think she said it best, and in a way that brought me to a better understanding of my brother as a person. With him, the sum of the parts, is exponentially greater than the whole. Such a compliment to who he has become as a young man, it allowed me to let go of some things to know that.
Second; it was my own selfish intention to get to the bottom of my mothers’ controlling behavior, and to get some clarity from my father about some events and actions that steered my course through young adulthood. At first it was pretty funny, I recounted things I had wanted to do; surfing, skateboarding etc and my father told me that he never disapproved of me doing these things, which is what my mother said. So strange to think that she was so worried and afraid for my safety that I escaped young adulthood with no broken bones and a minimum of trips to the emergency room. So, in an effort to reclaim some of that personal energy, I went surfing, and I had the most ridiculous cheering squad ever, including my step-mom who jumped up and wrapped me in a towel with a huge smile when I finally pulled myself out of the water. So fun, so self affirming, I felt myself smiling almost the entire time. The “mom said” game only lost its playful edge when I was recounting to my dad that I had applied for several colleges, and while I had gotten into my preferred school, I was told my Dad wanted me to attend his alma mater, and that San Francisco was “too big” of a city for me. I don’t even recall the details of that conversation, just the stern admonishon that I would go to Seattle instead. I didn’t expect that story to hit my dad sideways but it did. A few minutes later he was teary eyed and said that he would never have stopped me from going to SF, he had lived there himself and thought it was a great city. I felt bad then, like I had played some divorced child card “but mom said”. But the revelation was good for both of us.
Years later after that college conversation, my mother made some offhand comment about the concern that San Francisco had too many gays, and that I was too easily influenced and that was the real reason I didnt go to college there. How on earth does a closeted person miss an opportunity like that, screaming key to emancipation? Unready, too blind to recognize an opportunity when its being handed to you wrapped in disapproval. So I closed the door to the closet again, and left it closed til the day she died. So many lucid moments this trip, wrapped like gentle unjudgemental gifts. Some so simple “you are good, beyond your talents, you are just good.” These things emancipated me from myself, and the pain I sometimes endure wondering at my own loneliness and fear.
I feel much more peaceful, more at ease knowing that my intuition wasnt wrong, only my need to please, and be accepted. So I feel like this year will bring me some measure of growth I have waited years for, and I am finally unafraid.
I saw an amazing movie tonight….Step up to the Plate was a tale of a father and son coming to terms the transition of a restaurant. Imbedded in the story is their truth, mostly Sebastien’s struggle with what makes him a Chef, and the formative flavors that define his palate. The story is slower than an american tale, with scenes of the farmland of France, with two chefs, Father and Son, who both find running to be a reprieve from their chaotic demanding lives. I identified with the tale in so many ways. The way they both thought very carefully about how to evolve their skills. The way that life in the kitchen was not viewed as inescapable but rather wholly desirable. And finally the way that they reflected on the landscape and terroir and how your own personal sense of place is the building block for everything; your life, your loves, how slow or fast you move through the world. While watching the movie I thought of a Brene Brown TED talk where she talks about the western need to find calamity in every impending situation. I think we expect danger around every corner, and we’re taking a new corner every minute.
I cannot hold myself still for less than a moment and believe that this is normal. This state of emotional emergency married a low grade emotional detachment. And yet, this is. normal. It is so sad that we have moved from a society where we view normal as the calamitous and that fatalism is the norm. I myself doubt joy and happiness. The last woman I fell in love with, even during the initial stages I was waiting for the disaster, so much so, I created my own storm. We are not content with joy, and in the shadow of that, we feel entitled to ignore or pull away from the powerful sadness that can engulf us while teaching us and humbling us.
Without great loss there can be no great joy. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity, of faith.”
Even though joy and despair seem so opposed…they spring from the same well…and without our whole hearts we cannot truly feel either.
Today is an auspicious day numerically. It is 10-11-12, which, if you are asian or prone to liking numbers, or into numerology is kind of a big deal. If you are gay however, it may make you remember the first time you came out, to the people truly important to you.
I came out in stages, and for some people that I have met of late, it makes me feel like a fraud. Like I should have just jumped on the nearest rooftop and told EVERYONE that I was gay. For me however, that was not my way, or my path. I realize now that I did not choose the wrong way to come out, only the way best for me.
I knew at 9 years old that I was gay, I told my closest peers that I had an affinity for women. Now at nine it doesn’t quite come out that way, but it looked and felt like the beginning of my truth. In high school and college that trend continued but it wasn’t until I was completely sure that I couldn’t stand hiding the the closet anymore that I told my brother, and then my father. Today, when I talked with a new friend I felt like waiting until I was ready left me subject to the opinion of my community. Like I had done them I huge disservice by waiting until I was able to tell the one person who could finally tell me “it was ok”. My father when I finally told him, not so subtly, was not floored, or disapproving….only surprised, and probably only because I had waited after knowing for such a long time. Such a sad thing, to deny your loved ones the opportunity to truly know and understand you, out of fear of their disapproval. How can someone truly love you, if they do not know who you truly are. How can YOU love you if you do not know, or accept who you truly are? I denied myself this gift for 38 years, when most of my friends and closest lovers had known and told their families during their tender teenage years. It seems such a simple revelation, to know that your truth can set you, and everyone around you free, but so hard to get to when you are stubborn, lost, or loyal to all the wrong things.
And so it goes….We try to make new friends and connections and find the one who will truly understand us. Along the way, people who judge us are even more illuminating. Such a shame to be judged by your own community, for not coming out sooner. I once was that girl, judging other women for not finding themselves sooner, not divulging their secrets or finding themselves while they coped with house and home and husband. I once was the wife with a husband, however briefly.
Today, when I told this woman my story she asked me “so do you think you are straight, gay, or bi” For a minute I found her question somewhat offensive, as if my story/my truth could be interpreted any other way than gay….but I realized I would never judge another woman coming into the fold at any age, it is our right…and if I feel entitled to take my place in the community after 38 years of waiting for my father to tell me to “be happy” then I should be the one at the gate….telling them to be happy too!
I officially hate October. I had a strong dislike for October when my mother passed away on Oct 31st 2009. In just over 15 months my mother was diagnosed, treated for and then died from an aggressive form of cancer. I had just moved back to Seattle, jobless and depending on the generosity of a loved one to keep a roof over my head until I found work. Within a month I had moved, packed a small carry on bag and then left for Texas for the summer. Try as I might, that summer was unsalvageable. I tried to be positive, keep everyone in the house positive and keep them fed, as sane as possible, and somehow eke an organized calm demeanor out of myself. It tested my limits, I had more panic attacks than I could count. While I had a safe place to call home up north, I was in a house of quicksand, with finances dwindling, medical bills building and we two very desperate children trying to give their already depressed mother some sort of hope. Everyone in my life was dealing with a crisis, two without work, one home lost in a short sale, and another home headed for foreclosure. By the time I left my mother in September to take a job back home, my adrenal system was pretty much fried. I descended straight into survivor mode exercising almost every day and sleeping less than when I had insomnia in my 20s. Every day brought another, harder challenge….My blood ran cold, often.
When my mother was well into her first round of chemo, I took her across town to get her haircut, it was time, it was falling out in clumps and everyone said it was better to do it soon and get a wig, and so we did. I tried to be stoic, the stylist was testy with me when I wasnt more emotional and supportive. I swore if I ever held anyone close again who went through this I would cut my hair off in solidarity.
This summer one of my best friends was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had it removed, and after a bit of an internal struggle, opted to go through the chemo. We talked about THE haircut, what it would look like, when would she do it, would I be there. I told her I would cut my hair too. I cut my hair fairly short three weeks ago in anticipation. I did not think today would come so soon. She is one of the strongest and softest women I have ever known. She is the one I can always be a total crybaby with. She has always held me, comforted me, and most recently cajoled me for trying to be stronger than I am ready to be…all while balancing her own struggle with this fucked up circumstance. I want to be there with her right now, to rub her now cornsilk short hair and hold the one side of her not in too much pain. I can only get there as soon as I can. It doesnt seem like soon enough.
Today I went to therapy, almost forgetting today was the haircut, my therapist and I relived the end of my mother’s story, and the other stories wrapped up in that story, my lover’s, my brother’s, my own. For this is October, the third one, almost as if the first 36 I had never existed. I cried a lot, measured tears by carefully type-A folded tissues as I retold the story for the fourth, fifth, or sixth time. I cannot remember, but as I get further away from that date, it hurts more, not less. It travels through my organs, stalls in my heart like barbed wire and then wells and bursts out of my eyes like fire. We did not find an antidote today, only ways to isolate what it is that makes it so hard, and ways to reshape the wire so it sits more compactly in its soft and tender home. I am made of tougher stuff, I know this, I know that the barbed wire is one of the best parts of me, but it should be on the outside, not sutured into my softer bits.
I am good at surviving, less skilled at the graceful dance we must do while offering our hearts to those we love so that they know that there is hope, that we hope, that we care, “see, my heart is right here for you, exposed.I am right here“
I sometimes wish I was that girl before all this happened, the one capable of falling in love unjaded. I see her in the rearview, her eyes ask why she was left behind….as if her wholeheartedness was a burden I no longer could bear. She does not deserve this, she is capable of calming the fears of the girl I am now….if I would let her. Its time I let her hold my hand, while I get my haircut.
I live and breathe young people. I work with them all day, most of them under 30 and when I go home my housemates are all in that same demographic. They recently told me that I don’t act my age, no surprising since I don’t feel my age either. Perhaps its because I stalled at 19, which is to say that I never left that place emotionally because I didn’t want the world to see the gay woman who was not ready to venture into the world. It seemed such a hard prospect, coming out, telling my very conservative asian family, the possibility of rejection, the disassociation from the possibility that I could be normal, the star child, the one that set the standard.
I should preface this by saying that I started my journey with my family by being told that my paternal grandfather didnt accept me because I did not look like an asian, I was adopted, the tagalong, the one to be tolerated. It wasnt until I was in college that my father told me that my grandfather judged all of us, my cousins and my sibling against what I had done. By this I mean, I was always the outsider and yet I went to college, got 2 degrees in 5 years, despite being kicked out after a year on academic probation. He would always defer to me at a meal, called me the “expert” and gave me a raft of crap every time we shared a meal. That was his way, and I miss him, curmodgeony old bastard. He once told his “ladyfriend”, that he shouldnt have to apologize for anything, he was too old. I get that now.
So back to the fountain of youth….I bring all this up because I am less than a year away from 40, it weighs heavily on my mind these days. This is the story of the first time I “outed” myself.
I met a boy, he was interesting, I was fascinated by something, his damage, his rebellion, something. When we decided to date I confessed to him that I loved women. It felt awkward and strange to tell someone finally, after knowing since I was nine that I would never want to be a mans wife and that every woman I had ever been very close with was because I loved them in a very intimate heartfelt way. There is that closeness you have with women when you are a teen, and then…there was this. I wanted to give them flowers (and did), to sleep at their houses, and to act out the dynamic that is reserved for your teenage years. I was such a top then, explaining to my little girlfriends that I was going to be the boy, and that it was going to be this romantic “sweep you off your feet” sort of thing, with lots of kissing.
When I told my college boyfriend his response: cool, you can be bi and we can still be together. But the further we moved down the road, the more I think he saw in me that I was dead fucking serious about wanting to be with a woman. It made him jealous, irrational, we broke up time and time again and I would wander off with a woman, and fear the craziness of two identical polarities and run back to him. Stupid I know. I told my first therapist, and it was my very first memory as a lesbian….” I don’t want to be that couple screaming and crying in front of the bar, I saw that at 19, and knew that I couldn’t handle a woman being that upset with me”. My towns iconic lesbian bar was 2 blocks from campus, I saw it on the daily walking home from work or study sessions. I had no role models, no motivation, no.real.first.love.
My mother and I struggled with who got to determine my identity once I left home….I was expected to be the good first asian daughter and when I wasnt, and we fought, I told her to fuck herself and stopped talking to her for a year. I should have just told her I was gay….it would have been much easier.
I am sitting here quietly on a Sunday morning after a long undisturbed sleep. So long it almost equals the sleep I have gotten all week after an extremely tenuous workweek. I can’t compare busy times in my life…they all take my total focus and demand all of my energy. From the days when I was a spry line cook/sous chef just working on being good and fast til now where I am required to demonstrate a multifaceted approach. Chef/teacher/runner/dishwasher/pinchhitter.
So now as I sit here admiring the sunrise…it is fall again. The time of year when the sun and I rise later together, and I worry over simmering pots and drink tea. I adore fall the most I think, perhaps because I was born into it…that time of year that crackles with the last final bursts of summer sun and moodily vacillates into crispy leaves and smoky air. The almost and everything season. Fall gets a bad rap sometimes…coming after summer. She makes us put on more clothes, move more slowly, limbs becoming heavier days getting shorter. She still has so much to offer, apples, pumpkins, roadtrips to the ocean and the occasional night by the fire with red wine and loved ones.
I do love a Sunday morning in fall…what a luscious present. I like it best with a few close friends and loved ones, coffee, slow slow machinations towards breakfast and then cajoling each other into a lazy drive. No agenda except the pleasure of that day.
For a minute or two before this lazy weekend began I remembered what it felt like to be that girl again…the one filled with wonder untouched by grief and just happy. It came and went quite quickly but to know that it’s in there and I can still feel it gives me hope.
Its time for more coffee…the sun and I need to chat.