At long last, medication

TRIGGER WARNING: There may be a little more of too much information in the following post than you want. I don’t have a lot of boundaries when I write. Some might say (Hell, some have said) I over-share. Maybe. But, you’ve been warned.

drugs-january-2017What decades of bad genetics, lousy life choices, heart breaks, betrayals and abuse by friends and family, execrable taste in romantic partners, and loss after fail after loss after fail after loss after fail after loss could not manage to do has been done by the asshat installed one torturously long week ago in the position where he has control of the nuclear codes:

I’ve agreed to take medication for my depression.

Well, technically, says my latest Physician’s Assistant (more on that later), I am suffering from an adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and conduct. I had to write it down as she said it. Three times. This diagnosis is based on a twenty minute discussion which began with me explaining my inability to go a day without sobbing since November 9, 2016, with a marked increase in tears following the inauguration and actions taken by the gop cabal of homophobic, misogynist, xenophobic, christer, ignorant, bigots since then, which daily weep-fest had now been joined by sore throat, headaches, and — for the first time in my life — hives.

The P.A. proceeded to ask me a series of questions about my sleeping, eating, energy, outlook, focus, forgetfulness, loss of vocabulary, and ability to make cogent sentences, along with an inquiry about whether or not I had increased my indulgence in risky behaviors, discussion of which made me even weepier, coda to which lamentation was my howl of, “And now, Mary Tyler Moore died.”

Thus did I snot-sob my way into a prescription for off-brand Wellbutrin.

Here’s the thing: I’ve resisted psychotropic medication for much of my adult life. I had my reasons. In general, I try not to take drugs. Discounting my youthful forays into illegal substances, I have long been an advocate of trying to heal my body and mind without screwing too much with the chemical make-up. I usually refuse antibiotics, and the prevalence of what I thought of as cosmetic pharmaceuticals — prescriptions being used to cover a problem rather than a person addressing the issues they had — seemed increasingly trendy to me. When something like 15% of U.S. adults (a near 400% increase in the last decade) are taking antidepressants, my belief was there was a bigger problem to do with over-prescribing pills to mask a problem with the make-up of a person’s life and belief system, when we ought — as a nation — be addressing the question of why so many people were depressed.

I wanted to fix my own. I wanted to think I could do it without any more help. Too, I had seen a lot of people taking psychotropics to little effect; they still hated their lives.

But, that was me being judge-y. Not, mind you, about those taking the drugs. I am all for people taking antidepressants and whatever else they need. But I had huge energy invested in believing I could fix myself by myself, without any outside interference. I had to be able to, didn’t I? I mean, I was the one who gave good advice to everyone. Who comforted everyone. Who took care of others. I was strong. And, you see, I failed at everything else. I wasn’t a successful actor or director or producer. I didn’t publish great novels. I hadn’t managed to live a life that afforded me the ability to re-purchase the family home in Libertytown and restore it. Many of my closest relationships, with people in whom I placed great trust and faith, had turned out to be shams. I was — I am — trying to make sense of my life in a world where who and what I am, my way of operating and being, is outlier.

I was making progress. I was seeing — I thought — a world expanding. Equality was becoming the norm. Fear and ignorance were giving way to love and acceptance. People were beginning to explore ways of being that didn’t have to do with acquisition of wealth and exploitation of resources human and cultural and planetary.

And then the election happened. And then the inauguration. And then the things those horrors started signing into reality and threatening. And I kept getting weaker and weaker, lower and lower, increasingly terrified and without hope.

Yes, I wanted to be able to fix myself by myself, but I couldn’t stop crying. My immune system was collapsing. I could feel it. I needed help. Admitting that was extremely difficult for me.

Typing it was difficult. Pushing publish is going to be a challenge. But, there it is. And here I am, still going, my second day on Bupropion HCL SR. I know it takes a few weeks to kick in (please, hurry) but, honestly, I feel better just taking it. There is a nasty dryness in my mouth and throat which is causing me to choke, but I am hoping that will pass, and it is probably being exacerbated by the Benadryl I keep having to take to keep the hives down when they periodically appear — which is usually if I watch the news or read my Twitter feed.

I’m grateful to my P.A. who took a great deal of time with me, reassured me, talked me into at least trying the medication, and explained that they had seen a lot of patients with new and increased anxiety issues since the election, that she, herself, was not sure she could take this administration for four years. So, she promised we’d see how things were going and make a more long-term plan on my follow-up in thirty days. Now, listen, I have a version of ACA (or, you can call it Obamacare, if you like) which is a version of Medicaid, so, there were very few practices that would accept me as a patient. This practice has an incredibly high turnover of P.A.s and Nurse Practitioners, meaning I have never seen the same person twice, even when my follow-up visits were in a matter of weeks, so, please, let’s all send a good thought to the universe asking that my competent and attentive P.A. actually is there when I go back.

And, further, let’s hope these asshats running the country don’t make it so that I can’t afford to get care when I need it, because without the ACA, I would never have had this visit, certainly couldn’t have afforded these drugs, and would — I’m sorry to admit — probably have resorted to self-harm, albeit in the shape of worrying myself to death or landing in the clutches of Mr. Goodbar.

Now, that’s enough for tonight. I need to lose myself in a good book. I need to self-care, still, because the drugs can’t do it alone. They won’t change the world, I know, but maybe they will help me be a little more at ease and hopeful in it.

Love and Light, dear ones.

 

 

 

Reading: My (Part-Time) Paris Life by Lisa Anselmo

my-part-time-paris-lifeMy (Part-Time) Paris Life: How Running Away Brought Me Home, by Lisa Anselmo, hardcover, 256pp, Thomas Dunne Books, October 2016

I saw this book on display at the library while I was perusing the new releases. Now, here’s the thing; I was there to pick up three books I had on hold, three books which have worked their way up on my have to read and to be read lists, the contents of which I get to in between tackling the piles of books I already own and need to read. All of which is to say, the last thing I need is to check-out or buy a book on a whim. I’ve really been trying to exercise self-control, limit myself to five checked-out library books at a time, no more than five on my library hold/wait list, and purchase only those books by authors with whom I interact on Twitter or whose work I know I have to own — members of which club I will never reveal to anyone but Duchess Goldblatt and my local booksellers at The Curious Iguana.

But, Lisa Anselmo’s memoir called out to me. First, I’ve a lot of experience at running away. Second, I have always wanted to do the ex-pat thing and will likely never be able to — I’ve a near dead passport I probably shouldn’t spend the money to renew as I have never once used it and likely never will; so reading about those who have followed their travel, change-my-life dreams assuages my inner-aching a bit. And third, it’s about a complicated relationship between a mother and child, and losing that mother, which is a life-event I dread and for which I am (foolishly, I know) trying to prepare myself.

So, I checked it out. I’m awfully glad I did. Here’s the synopsis from the publisher’s site:

Lisa Anselmo wrapped her entire life around her mother, a strong woman who was a defining force in Lisa’s life—maybe too defining. When her mother dies from breast cancer, Lisa realizes she hadn’t built a life of her own and struggles to find her purpose. Who is she without her mother—and her mother’s expectations?

Desperate for answers, she turns to her favorite city—Paris—and impulsively buys a small apartment, refusing to play it safe for the first time. What starts out as an act of survival sets Lisa on a course that reshapes her life in ways she never could have imagined. Suddenly, she’s living like a local in a city she thought she knew, but her high school French, while fine for buying bread at the corner boulangerie, goes only so far when Paris gives her a strong dose of real life. From dating to homeownership in a foreign country, Lisa quickly learns it’s not all picnics on the Seine, and starts to doubt herself—and her love of the city. But she came to Paris to be happy, and she can’t give up now. Isn’t happiness worth fighting for?

In the vein of Eat, Pray, Love and Wild, My (Part-time) Paris Life a story is for anyone who’s ever felt lost or hopeless, but still dreams of something more. This candid memoir explores one woman’s search for peace and meaning, and how the ups and downs of expat life in Paris taught her to let go of fear, find self-worth, and create real, lasting happiness in the City of Light.

This was a quick read, written as if a friend was sharing her life history over a few bottles of wine and a long, leisurely dinner. And there are plenty of bottles and dinners in this memoir. I loved the descriptions of Paris and her time there. That’s one part of the journey, but, too, there is a great deal of introspection and self-examination about her emotional journey. It might be difficult for some people to relate to someone who can afford to have residences in both New York City and Paris, neither of which are cheap, neither of which would ever be affordable for most people, let alone both, but reading about privileged lives doesn’t bother me. I enjoy it.

What everyone can relate to is having a parent and finding one’s own way and own voice. Growing into yourself and embracing your strengths, believing you can do and be what you’ve dreamed is a struggle for most people, and when you’ve had a less than affirming and encouraging parenting — even if approval was withheld out of the best intentions  — the journey becomes even harder, and much longer than the distance between New York and Paris, and so noisy with the voices in the head whispering (or shouting) “You’re not enough!”

I argue with those voices all the time. We all do, I am betting. So, Lisa Anselmo’s memoir is a comfort with the many moments of, “Yes, I feel that way, too!” And to have that identification and recognition of a shared experience come in the shape of a witty, warm, well-written travel and dream journal is very much a good thing.

A fast read with a happy ending, and, better, knowing we can still get out of this country and go somewhere else — right now, just what I needed. I guess I better had renew that passport, if they’ll let me, since the administration of that election-stealing, russian conspiring asshat just erased the government’s apology for past discrimination against the LGBTQ community. No doubt those gop-bigots-misogynist-homophobes are already planning on sewing the pink triangles on me and mine and gassing us.

 

 

Reading: A Perilous Undertaking: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery

perilous-undertakingA Perilous Undertaking: A Veronica Speedwell Mystery by Deanna Raybourn, 352pp, hardcover, Berkley Books/Penguin Random House, January, 2017

First of all, I really enjoyed this book, the second in a series, and I liked this one even more than the first,  A Curious Beginning, which I liked a lot.

Deanna Raybourn is a gifted stylist, an accomplished writer whose erudite prose flows  with seemingly effortless glisten, glitters with sly and subtle wit, all the while propelling clever and fast-paced plots which are full of surprises and period detail both fascinating and informative.

Veronica Speedwell, Butterfly Hunter, is an irresistible character, independent of spirit, steely of spine, with an intense appetite for life, and she does not suffer fools. Her cohort, Stoker, tattooed, eye-patched, long-haired, hot-bodied historian, is equally intriguing. Both have mysterious (though, eventually, revealed, at least to each other) heritage and stubbornly intense opinions and ethical-behavioral codes which sometimes conflict and clash, but just as often coalesce, all of which serve to confound each other and the reader — or, at least, this reader, who wants nothing more than for the two of them to finally strip naked and make Victorian whoopee.

Here is the publisher’s synopsis:

London, 1887. Victorian adventuress and butterfly hunter Veronica Speedwell receives an invitation to visit the Curiosity Club, a ladies-only establishment for daring and intrepid women. There she meets the mysterious Lady Sundridge, who begs her to take on an impossible task—saving society art patron Miles Ramsforth from execution. Accused of the brutal murder of his artist mistress Artemisia, Ramsforth will face the hangman’s noose in a week’s time if Veronica cannot find the real killer.

But Lady Sundridge is not all that she seems, and unmasking her true identity is only the first of the many secrets Veronica must uncover. Together with her natural historian colleague Stoker, Veronica races against time to find the true murderer—a ruthless villain who not only took Artemisia’s life in cold blood but is happy to see Ramsforth hang for the crime. From a Bohemian artists’ colony to a royal palace to a subterranean grotto with a decadent history, the investigation proves to be a very perilous undertaking indeed….

Like I said, I enjoyed this book immensely, but not just because of all those reasons I’ve cited. It also struck a very personal note with me. Let me try to explain as succinctly as I can.

Other than reading, one of the things I do to maintain my sanity — and I will not, here, be drawn into a debate about the success of those efforts — is to collect on Pinterest and Tumblr photos and documentation documenting and celebrating the presence of LGBTQ people throughout history.

We have always been here, we’ve just been rendered mostly invisible or, when seen, portrayed as other, perverted, criminal, outside the norm by a culture ruled in large part by a white-male-hetero-normative christian partriarchy, near fascist in its insistence on what constituted normal, what was allowed and approved.

In my youth, the prevalence and repetition from media, my church, and my community and family of the message that being not quite male enough — which later transferred into being gay — made me other and was, somehow, wrong and rare and outside the norm, distorted the way in which I saw myself, the way in which I approached life. I have always thought of myself as less than, an outlier, in danger because of who I am and how I behaved and loved; and even now (hell, especially now since November 8) I must be on guard every day, every moment, and work to remind myself I am enough.

I wish that in my youth I had had examples in media, in life, in the thousands of books I read, of queer people who were not criminal or mentally ill or villains. I wish I’d had access to a literature in which queer people were just queer people, living their lives, a part of the world not hidden or other.

We existed. Throughout history. Throughout time. And, too, so did strong, independent women with healthy appetites for life and sex and adventure. Women who made their way being strong, being themselves, and were not burnt as witches or tarred and feathered.

Deanna Raybourn has written just such a woman. And, not only that, she’s given her (and Stoker) live and let live, enlightened attitudes about queer love. In a Victorian setting. And reading it today gave me hope. Reading it today reminded me the world has always had people in it of expansive mind and attitude. Reading it today made me appreciate even more Deanna Raybourn’s gifts as writer (and human being) because she sees and writes Light. She sees and writes and makes visible the hearts and characters who have not been seen and written nearly as much as they ought to have been throughout history.

Deanna Raybourn manages to write power in a way not polemical or preachy, but simply truthful and robustly human and real. I wish I had had this to read when I was younger, and I am ecstatic that it exists now.

(I was not sent a pre-publication copy of this book; I got it for myself. While I follow Deanna Raybourn on Twitter, and she follows me, we have never met and rarely interact, in fact, often when I comment she does not reply — nor should she, that’s not a criticism, merely me letting you, the reader, know I am not a shill, just a fan of a gifted writer. Thanks for reading.)

READING: Who Killed Piet Barol? by Richard Mason

mason-richard-who-killed-piet-barolWho Killed Piet Barol, Richard Mason, 384pp, hardcover, Knopf, January 2017

Short version: In Who Killed Piet Barol?, Richard Mason effectively uses sumptuous prose for a piquant and sub rosa dissection of identity and differences, suspicions, and disrespect within and between cultures.

Now, for the longer version. Who Killed Piet Barol? resonates on many levels, one being a tale about the exploitation of a culture by a privileged interloper, a plot which feels incredibly relevant but not in a cheap, sensationalized, pulled-from-the-headlines way. Rather, this is a presentation of the history of the despoliation of hallowed ground — literally and figuratively — with the plundering of a sacred site and the accompanying dissolution of the morality of multiple characters.

Here is a synopsis from the author’s website: RICHARDMASON.ORG:

Pretender Piet Barol and singer Stacey Meadows are making a splash in colonial Cape Town but are running out of cash. With creditors at their heels, their furniture business is imploding and only a major win will save them. So Piet enlists two Xhosa men to lead him into the magical forest of Gwadana in search of precious wood.

Meanwhile the Natives Land Act has just abolished property rights for the majority of black South Africans, and whole families have been ripped apart. Piet’s charm and appetite for risk lead him far beyond the privileged white world to a land and community that sees him with new eyes.

A novel about the truth in magic and the enduring consequences of lies, Who Killed Piet Barol? is published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson in the UK (September 2016) and by Alfred A. Knopf in the US (January 2016).

It speaks to Mr. Mason’s authorial gifts that despite the repellent acts Piet Barol commits and his situational amorality, because of his ultimately inadequate attempts to “do right”, the reader can still feel sympathy for him as victim (cooperative, or not) of the prejudices and distortions of his culture. That he is neither hero nor villain is further contextualized by comparison to other characters who share his cultural milieu; his wife, Stacey Barol; their friends and clients, Percy and Dorothy Shabrill; and, finally, Frank Albemarle, corralled into the circle by Stacey to save a situation she may have cursed.

In counter-voice, there are the Xhosa natives; Ntsina Zini and LuvoYako, the two of whom are in Piet’s employ (and collude with him) as he ravages the magic forest, and Nosakhe Zini, village witch doctor; Sujude Zini, Ntsina’s father; the Jaxa clan, in particular the daughters Bela and Zandile. They, like the Piet-collection, are fully-drawn with all the charms and flaws, goodness and sinfulness, full range of shortcomings and virtues most human beings have.

While it is illuminating the way members of each culture view the other as other, the Xhosa even calling the Dutch (and others) The Strange Ones, almost any writer might have accomplished a portrait of that tension (though certainly not with the fluidity and grace of syntax and language Mr. Mason has managed.); what strikes to almost breathtaking degree about Mr. Mason’s take are the ways in which each culture is conflicted within itself — there is disunity and misunderstanding and deceit and disinformation inside each group, sowing the seeds which lead ultimately to devastating loss to and in both communities.

Too, while the human voices are by turns fascinating, witty, elegant, carnal, passionate, and intense, there is also an anthropomorphization of the sacred trees, the insects, the animals, the forest, the elements, the weather, so we hear their cerebration in equal weight with the biped thoughts. I hesitate to mention this because some might call such voicing (and some other elements of the tale) magic realism, but this reader finds that term off-putting, too often code used to describe a twee or navel-gazing tone, narcotizing and infuriatingly self-indulgent. Not the case at all here where the multiple perspectives mesh in a compelling harmony.

The novel is a literary symphony of many themes, introduced, echoed, enhanced, and amplified as they are interwoven, these individually fascinating and enchanting motifs which, finally, in ways surprising and seamless, crescendo into an arrangement of captivating discord a reader will find both beautiful and terrifying in its truth.

Who Killed Piet Barol is a unique read, wrought by a skilled charismatic of literature who is deftly able to conjure complex worlds and guide the reader on a journey which, like all the best travel, not only informs and expands one’s own reality, but leaves one with additional questions and new ways of seeing.

 

Fried Eggs and Turning 89

This is the second post of 2017, and continues the theme of how I got here, how I got to be me, and how do I go on in a world that makes no sense to me. In the first entry I talked about how I am like my dear aunt, Sissie. In this, I contemplate how I am like my dear Mom, who, unlike Sissie, is still here with me physically.

It’s Momma Day every Thursday.

momma-and-charlie-croppedI pick her up from Record Street at 10:15 and we head to Thurmont where Pam does her hair, like she has for two decades. Then, we go to lunch, which is followed by whatever adventure Momma would like to have, or, I can invent. Yesterday, over lunch at Bob Evans, my mother, who in nineteen days will have her 89th birthday, said to me, “Charlie, it looks like I might make it to ninety.”

mommy2She’s a survivor. Both of her parents had died by the time she was fourteen. She was shuffled among relatives, forced to find work to support herself, and soon married a man tortured by self-doubt and existential pain who drank his way to death, leaving her with five children and a sixth on the way, and a house in the middle of nowhere with no bathroom. It was 1962, and my pioneer feminist of a Momma insisted a woman could live alone with six children, standing up to family pressure to move in with in-laws, and re-did the house with insurance money, maintained her independence and, in order to support her family, spent years standing inside a cold, curtained booth in a factory watching eggs roll by on a lighted conveyor belt, pulling out and discarding the ones with bloody yolks. Eventually, tired of being mostly alone with six incredibly different and demanding children, she left behind the few ill-advised flings she’d managed to squeeze in on the downlow along the way and married a man who spent decades disapproving of her and her children, making her mostly miserable before he died. Along the way she saw all of her brothers and a sister buried. She suffered three miscarriages. She adjusted to living in a senior care development, came to love it and the people and activities there, and then, just a few years ago, she endured the death of a grown child, my sister, a circumstance which resulted in her having to move one more time to a different facility, this Record Street, where she is now, where she will be until she dies. Which will NOT BE ANY TIME SOON.

I said, “You’d better damn well make it past ninety. I’ve had a hellish few years and you are not allowed to die until asshat is out of office and we’ve got a Democrat back in there. Come on, Mommy, you know it’s all about me!”

She laughed. We laugh a lot. I try to make her laugh. I want to make her laugh. I want to be as resilient as she has been. As she is. She said to me, “You’re strong for everyone but you.” And I got the look on my face, prompting her to say, “Oh no, don’t cry.”

bob-evans-jan-12-2017-1I didn’t. (Okay, I did. A little.) I tucked into my lunch; a comfort grilled ham and cheese. And watched her eating her single fried egg. And I looked around at the other Bob Evans patrons, two of whom were older men, alone. Which is what I am going to be if I make it to 89. Which — it being all about me — is one of the thoughts I have every time I am with my Mom.

I am so blessed, after all she did for and put up with from her six children, that I have this opportunity — that we all have had this opportunity — to reciprocate in some small way, to be there for her on the days and times and for the events when she expects us, needs us, wants us. If Mommy didn’t have us she would likely have died by now, had nowhere to go, no one to advocate for her.

And, because as I told Momma, it’s all about me, I worry: Who will advocate for me? Who will be there for me?

Because, I am already losing words. I can feel my brain not firing synapses like it once did. My hands hurt all the time from years of writing and typing; although I love cooking, its chopping and stirring and wet hands now always result in pain. My thumbs are going. My heels hurt in the morning when first I walk. I have an increasing amount of trouble reading without falling asleep. Noise bothers me more and more; television drone, being assaulted in public by music I haven’t chosen to hear, people chatting on cell phones/headsets loudly enough so I am part of their conversation, people slamming their spoons or forks into plates or bowls to scrape food — it’s just bad breeding to make noise with your utensils people, bowl scraping is disgusting and vulgar, and please save me from repetitive sounds — foot tapping, finger twitchings, that sort of thing make me want to scream. My stomach is off and on in spasms. I’ve started getting Charlie Horses (of course I have) all over my body, including in my hands, feet, upper arms, and neck, in addition to the ones I’ve long had in my calves, but the ones that strike my diaphragm are cripplingly painful and terrifying. And, since the election, I feel like there is a two-hundred-and-fifty pound asshat sitting on my chest, crushing me, causing shortness of breath and anxiety of near-paralyzing proportion.

All of which I thought about, there, at Bob Evans, where I started crying, noticing the men alone, watching my Mom eat her fried egg. A single fried egg. Which took me to Bette Midler and her monologue before she sings Hello In There, about our fried eggs:

Oh God, don’t make me wake up tomorrow and want to put a fried egg on my forehead. And then right after that I say real fast, Oh Lord, Oh Lord, if by chance I should wake up tomorrow and want to put a fried egg on my forehead, Don’t let anybody notice. And then right after that I say real fast, I say real fast; Oh God, Oh God, if by chance I should wake up tomorrow and want to put a little fried egg on my forehead, and people notice that I’m carrying around something that doesn’t look quite right, and they want to talk about; well, let them talk about it. But don’t let them talk about it so I can hear it, you know? I mean, I just don’t want to hear about it, because, you know, as far as fried eggs are concerned,well  you can call them fried eggs, you can call them anything you like, but everybody gets one. And some people they wear them on the outside. And some people, they wear them on the inside.

bob-evans-jan-12-2017-2My Mom, what we have in common in addition to our downlow flings with unavailable and semi-seedy men in order to assuage our loneliness, is that we both wear our fried egg on the inside.

So far.

The First

sissie-3

OKAY – I know I ought to proofread this a few more times, but if I don’t post now, I never will. So, although I feel sure I will return and edit this again (and again) I am finally putting out my first blogpost of the year at 4:30 (and re-edit at 5:06, ha) on this 10th day of 2017.

My first post of the new year. I’ve struggled with this. Started and discarded many. 2016 left me in existential funk, mired in terror,  horror, anger, and depression about how little we’ve learned, mourning the backwards way in which the world seems determined to move, making the same mistakes over and over and over. So, as I do, I needed to figure out why, which I do by translating the large into the small, the all into the one — Me and my experience. To answer how WE got here, I have to understand how I got here, and where is Here, this place, where we are going. So, here goes (or, returns?)

My aunt, Sissie, stopped buying herself clothes when she was in her forties. Her friend, Helen, who lived on the opposite coast, regularly sent her boxes full of her discards, which can best be characterized as Boston Marriage toggery; flannels, plaids, and tweeds, of boxy cut and pastel shades complemented always with grays, the pieces were expensive and well made, sedate and unpretentious to the point of self-effacement.

Sissie donated most of the garments from Helen’s parcels, keeping just one or two thick, warm shirts or sweaters, and, whenever a pair was included which fit in an approximation of a Katharine Hepburn look, a gray slack.

In pictures of her when young, long before I was born, Sissie, tall and slim, was elegant, soignee, radiating sophistication. I know now in those photos she was more Frances, less Sis, still dreaming she would leave Libertytown, Maryland to make her life and her living as one of the Bohemians of New York City, her aspiration to be not unlike Edna St. Vincent Millay meets Kay Thompson, and back then, Helen would never have considered sending Frances clothes, because Frances was the fashionable one of the group, the one with éclat and elan.

Never able to leave Libertytown because she was emotionally blackmailed by a needy mother who had what would now be recognized as early-onset dementia, Frances settled into being Sis who transformed into Sissie. She didn’t live her Bohemian fantasy, but, rather, was part of an all too common narrative; a female child expected to caretake for her parents until they died, as well as catering to the rest of the family as required until she was no longer needed. She jokingly called herself the “ole made ant” and after spending the majority of her life making sure no one ailed or died alone or untended, she finished her days by herself in a room in a senior care facility feeling abandoned and cheated, blinded by malpractice and unable to indulge in her greatest pleasure: reading, and cell by cell she deteriorated, losing herself in the past, reshaped by all the anger about what she’d given up and hadn’t done and been denied, anger that commingled with her delusions and confusions about who and where and when she was.

By then, in her 80s, she had long since stopped being fashionable and taken to a wardrobe that can best be characterized as Elaine Stritch gone Little Edie-esque; decades old Helen-hand-me-down plaid-flannel shirts worn as jackets and, too, tied round the waist over pantyhose made mostly of holes doubling as slacks.

I was horrified as Sissie segued to the stumblebum look, unable to reconcile my ideation of her as a 1940s Algonquin Round Table sophisticate with the hobo-esque, near bag lady she’d become, a castaway on an island where she no longer knew the tunes from the latest musicals or the authors of the latest books, but lived in her stories, As The World Turns and Guiding Light, and boiled pans of coffee until the ancient and chipped, green-enameled pan grew black as acrid smoke-filled the kitchen.

That was then.

jan-7-17-selfie-5

Reflecting on my past and my future, asking why.

Yesterday, I nearly boiled a percolator dry and spent the day in my preferred outfit, one I change only to launder it; ten year old sweatpants with a huge hole in the seat and a sweater I found at Goodwill, already used, fifteen years ago.

jan-7-17-sweater-1

My favorite sweater, unraveling, like my reality.

Like Sissie, the first, before me, I have stopped buying clothes. Like Sissie, the first, I watched soap operas until there were none left — or, none that I could bear to watch, and like Sissie, the first, after a life of catering to the whims and wants of others, holding them up, cleaning up after and cooking for them, listening and supporting and encouraging, it seems clear and certain I, like Sissie, the first, am going to end up castaway, alone and untended, though it is likely I will actually be on the street.

In the same way I was horrified with what seemed to me at the time Sissie’s decline into dereliction of savoir-vivre, I’m sure there are some of my younger ones who I mentored and encouraged along the way who are now abashed and appalled at the Little Edie-esque mien I’ve taken on. Hell, some days, I, myself, can’t believe where and how and what and who I am.

And, if I’m repeating Sissie’s pattern, ought I be surprised the world keeps returning to old, less than affirming behaviors? Why did I — like Sissie, the first, before me — not end up living in Manhattan where my tribe is more or less centered, where it seemed (seems) so clear, as it did with Sissie, I would have been much happier? Why did I not nest where who and what and how and why I am might have better fit and thrived? Why am I not where I feel — on those occasions when I am there — as if I am, after all, finally, home?

What was I afraid of? Because it was fear that stopped me. Despite Sissie’s best efforts to make me believe I could do or be anything, that I belonged at the Algonquin, it never quite felt true to me. So, when in April of 2016 I went to New York on a birthday trip and the Marriott-policy-quoting front desk clerk tried to turn me away from my pre-paid room at the Algonquin because I didn’t have a credit card in my name, her sneering disregard and dismissal of me felt like what I deserved. Embedded in me is the belief this culture encourages that without money, without the trappings of economic success, one is less than entitled to being treated with respect and decency. She was rude and loud about it, despite me telling her I’d just spent hours on a train and had nowhere else to go. She not only didn’t give a damn, she asked me to step aside.

Eventually, the giver of the trip was reached and apparently read the clerk’s manager the riot act, for after that they were obsequious as could be, albeit with an underlying sneer. But, in many ways, my birthday beginning with that humiliation reinforced my self-doubts.

With money, you get power, and get to behave in pretty much any way you like with little consequence. While I, having no money, had my birthday begin by being subjected to public humiliation by the Marriott Corporation in the lobby of the legendary hotel which had long been part of my dream of my best self in life.

And I wasn’t angry at the hotel. I was angry at me for inviting humiliation by failing at the game of life as it is supposed to be played in this country. By not fitting in. Again. By being a have-not. Again.

But all of that life experience didn’t make me hate. Forget the news-blather about people in this country feeling as if they’ve been denied opportunity or the deck is stacked against them. That’s not an excuse for affirming hatred. Not having what is measured as success in our society didn’t make me choose to vote for a sociopath. I rejected his (and his party’s) hatred and bigotry even though I am in the bottom one per cent.

So, what makes my experience of being poor turn me into someone who wants to understand the whys of the world, to share in making sure we all thrive, while, for others, it turns them into angry, biting haters of “other”?

I don’t know. But, I want to know why.

Here’s what I do know, right now, today, in this first post of 2017: Now, in this end part of my life, I get the whole clothes-in-which-she-was-comfortable thing Sissie came to. After she had sacrificed her dream in order to make sure others had theirs,  there no doubt came a time when she had to face and let go of the regret and anger about what she didn’t get to do.  There came a time when she realized that had she been meant to be Edna St. Vincent Millay or Kay Thompson or Dorothy Parker or Mary Martin or Helene Hanff, she would have been.

It took me a long time, but I’m facing it, too.

If I had been meant to live in New York, to be a Broadway star, to be a writer; I would have been. If I had been meant to be loved by A, or anyone else, in a couple, long-term, happily ever after (some of the time) way, I would have been. So, this worn out, unraveling sweater and these sweatpants with the nearly missing ass are the clothes in which I am comfortable.

This is my life, here.

Important caveat; I spent the rest of that 2016 birthday trip with people who did make New York their lives, who didn’t let fear rule them, who are winning by the standards of the culture in which I am measured a loser (financially and career-wise) and almost all of them offered (and offer) me heart and soul embraces then (and now), so I am well aware it is not the entire world population who value wealth and power beyond anything else. I have many dear ones here and in NYC in ways and to degrees Sissie never did.

Which is important to remember. And I do remember it. It is part of what sustains me here, where I am, going. But, there’s more to figure out. Because while Sissie was the first, my model, my history, she never managed in the end to reconcile her eventual life with her early dreams, her what was with what might have been. Like me, she spent her entire life uncoupled. Like me, she was often the one to whom people turned when they were in crisis, in need, but not the person who they chose to be with all the time, for the daily stuff.

Like me, she was, I think, in part, content with being alone in that way, but also, like me, felt the nagging question of why am I disposable in the way I am?

I think we — Sissie and I — are pioneers; we have faced — because of circumstance or dumb luck or fate — the disposability with which we all must sooner or later contend, that final truth that we are, each of us, ultimately alone in a world of our own creation. It’s a truth easier avoided when one is coupled, or parenting, or responsible when the lights go out at night for another.

For me, like I believe it was for Sissie, exploring that truth of our lives takes the shape of letting go of material things. Letting go of fashions. Letting go of the dictates of society and culture about what matters, what should be. Because, when you’ve lived a life sort of outside of those boundaries, a life that doesn’t fit into any of those “should be” shapes, you can’t help but question all of them. Every. Single. One.

Which is what this blog is. Which is what my life is now. Just me, questioning. Trying to stay afloat in a world where my dream hotel tried not to let me in; where the politicians who’ve won power ran on platforms which included language declaring me less than equal; where people I have loved belong to churches and political parties that consider me disposable; where members of my own family abandoned me and chose others over me; but where I keep believing, no matter evidence to the contrary, that there is Love and Light at the center of everyone and everything.

I wanted to be the first male actor to play Fanny Brice in Funny Girl. That was a dream I honestly believed — in my teens — would come true. Sissie gave me that sort of confidence, I kept it in secret, while I was being called faggot and beaten up and targeted. It was impossible on a practical level and would have required a miracle of change. Which didn’t happen.

Yet. But I am MiracleCharlie, and although it didn’t happen for me in my lifetime, a gender-free world where the essence of the soul mattered the most, I still believe it will happen. Setbacks? Yep. Been there, had them, having some now, but, here I am, going.

charlie-january-8-2017In my comfortable clothes. Unraveled? Worn thin? Yes. But they fit. And I’m fine. And I’m not fine. And it is what it is. And it’s not what I wish it was. And it’s 2017, and though I have never in my life felt more alone and lonely, I am hanging on hard to the belief that the confidence I had about playing Fanny is somewhere in here and I can find it again.

And that, I hope, will happen in 2017. And thank heavens I have finally finished this, the first of the year, from me, proud to be the second in a line of Sissie, eager to be worthy of being the first of MiracleCharlie.

Love and Light, dear ones.