Posted in Beliefs and Practices

Blessed Be the Fruits

“Why aren’t you crying? I mean, are you even upset? Do you understand what this means?”

This was the start of the argument Hawthorne and I had the night before they died. I had just told them that RBG had passed away, and they immediately became distraught. I was sitting on the edge of the bed where they were laying. I may have had to wake them up to tell them; I don’t remember anymore. 

I sat quietly. Yes, I was upset. Yes, I understood what it meant to lose RBG, a sitting liberal justice who had championed civil rights for everyone who was not an affluent, cishet, white man. 

I was also exhausted. It was Friday night, and I was balancing working full time, doing all the driving needed, and providing the majority of care for Lucy, who was just ten months old. I reminded Hawthorne, too, that I was not the type to get emotional right away. It would hit me later, I said. This did not satisfy my wife, who was absolutely distraught. 

“They’ll kill me,” they said. “There’s nothing to stop them now.” 

I thought back to election night 2016, how awful yet different it had been. Watching the results start to roll in, 1, 2% at a time, we had snacked and gotten slowly drunk on bourbon. It was before Lucy, before Oscar. We had recently lost Clark, Hawthorne’s father, and remarked about how in a lot of ways, we were glad that those who had gone before us weren’t here to see this. I figured my mom would have been making plans to move back to Poland; Clark, were he healthy, probably headed for Canada. It had already been ten years since we lost my dad. 

Hawthorne and I had felt a lot closer. We were standing on more equal ground; both of us working; school and family plans had yet to steal attention away from each other. We talked about how we were in the best place for this eventuality to happen; Vermont would not be taken over by Trumpers. Sold to Canada, perhaps, but that was OK. We joked that maybe we could ask them politely to annex us sooner.

We knew this was more than an election; this was a regime, with a long-range agenda and the weaponry and war chest to carry it out. Obama’s Supreme Court pick had already been stymied, and the court sat at 8. We knew Trump would cater to his base, after all, he had claimed to be Christian, and the evangelicals ate that shit up and asked for seconds. As long as he was getting the kind of attention the Republican party and lobbyists were willing to lavish on him, he’d do their bidding. That included seeding the courts with anti-choice judges, and cherry-picking the perfect “moderate” justices. 

Over the next few weeks, we heard (as many of our progressive, queer, trans, and myriad of “othered” friends did as well) that it would be okay. We were overreacting. The US government had checks and balances, Trump wouldn’t be king, after all. The courts and Congress would balance things out. 

Right. 

Now here we were, four years later. We had been through the wringer. Hawthorne had come out, changed their name, their pronouns, and their body to match and reveal their true self. It was a journey that even they weren’t sure where it would lead – though we had never dreamed it would be so abruptly interrupted. 

Hawthorne was scared of what would happen; Trump had already put Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh on the bench. Ginsberg’s breath had barely left her body before the Republicans turned a wild and greedy eye on the vacancy. Their strategy had worked, and their chance had come.

I knew Hawthorne was terrified, and I understood. We had so much to lose, so much that had been decided in just the past ten years that made our family possible, and safe – and even that felt tenuous. I was upset, but not scared yet. I didn’t have the energy to be scared. I was still processing the loss of life; death has affected me much differently since losing Oscar, and I couldn’t tear my thoughts away from Ginsberg herself to focus on what was so disturbing my wife. I could only take care of the baby, tidy up a little bit, and try to get Hawthorne to calm down enough to get some sleep. 

Hawthorne had put the message out on Facebook, needing to talk to someone who was similarly emotional; I watched as they stepped outside to pace the porch and smoke while I cleaned up the kitchen and took care of Lucy. I could hear their voice rise and break at times, the deeper timbre still relatively new. They spent an hour in the cool September night out there, talking to their cousin. When they came in, they demanded to know if I had even cried yet. I hadn’t.

They died before I shed a single tear for the Notorious RBG; after that, all my tears fell for them.  

In the days since the Supreme Court leak of Alito’s draft opinion, I have thought of that last night more often that I feel like I have since their death. I have been so angry; the kind of hot, pulsing anger I keep thinking I’m done with. I’ve had more memories surface this week, none of them happy. I understand that with the traumatic events that are happening in the world it’s only natural that it would stir the painful memories first. Still, I am frustrated that it feels like the best memories still lay beyond my reach. 

I cannot help but see beyond the potential fall of Roe v Wade, however. I see this as the first in a long series of dominoes that would put my humanity, the rights associated with that humanity, back in the hands of the state courts. And yes; I live in Massachusetts, have always lived in the Northeast, and have much less to fear than most. I would be safe; my family and local friends would be, too. 

I don’t want to go back to a time where we had to wonder if we were safe – if we would be considered married still, over state lines. If Hawthorne had ended up in the hospital somewhere out of state, how would they be treated? That was somewhat of a concern, even here in New England. Bigotry and hatred don’t care about state lines or laws; they just don’t man the political wheel where we have lived. 

If Roe falls, it is only a matter of time before marriage equality – as far back as Loving v. Virginia, I fear – are back up for debate. I am utterly incensed with the court’s apparent willingness to undermine the autonomy of half the country. In a country with some of the worst maternal health statistics in the developed world, they want to force more people into risking their lives in being pregnant and giving birth. 

There has been nothing in my life that has made me more pro-choice than my experiences with pregnancy and birth. I did not recognize how endangered my life was, when my blood pressure began to rise and rise. I did realize how uncomfortable and painful things could be; how my kidneys could start emitting blood and shards of calcification, how my gallbladder could fill will sludge, how my placenta could trick my body into changing insulin production. Being pregnant is a (at times hostile) takeover of one’s body and lifeforce in the creation of another, which may or may not be healthy enough, or lucky enough, to survive the ordeal. 

I have carried my two babies, not easily. Both pregnancies were celebrated, and both were difficult. One ended when my body turned on me even more, and Lucy had to be welcomed six weeks early. The other ended with an aberrant twist of the very cord that gave my baby his life. I delivered my son, already dead, at more than a week older than my daughter at her birth. 

I would never wish that on another. I would never wish pregnancy on someone who did not want it. And I would certainly never wish anyone to be forced to go through what I have. 

There is a march today, in cities all over the country. I was prepared to go, thinking of bringing my daughter, but ended up securing a babysitter since I simply do not have the energy to wrangle a toddler in the heat and press of bodies. Either way, the plans did not come to fruition; mission aborted, as it were. It’s a hard decision. There is a part of me that still wants to find a way to go – because I believe in activism, and this is a cause that calls for action. However, most of the reason I wanted to go specifically today, goes back to that night where I never cried for RBG. And while she played a role in the events leading to today, it is the memory of Hawthorne that makes me feel most like I should go. I have to remind myself (with the assistance of beautiful friends) that I do not have obligations to dead people. Not to RBG, not to Hawthorne. 

Maybe that seems cold and unfeeling. Maybe you don’t feel the same about doing things that “they would have wanted,” whoever “they” is for you. I promise you, there is a tumult of emotions every time I think about what Hawthorne “would have wanted.” That is a storm I am very familiar with, and will continue to go through. Yet I have come to a place in my life, as a person, as a mother and friend and widow and everything I am, where I am living this life for me. Not for RBG, not for Hawthorne, not even for Oscar. My life. My body. My choice. 

To everyone marching today – your reasons are your own, your journey is your own. I raise my glass (mmm coffee) to each and every one of you; know that I am with you in spirit if not in sneakers. To everyone Roe v. Wade has affected – my heart is with you today, as well. You always have a safe space with me. To everyone worried about what this will mean for them, now and in the future – I’m with you, too. 

And to anyone who wants to deny people their autonomy on the grounds of “morality,” politics, or religion; anyone who wants to roll back civil rights for folks who have had to fight for every inch of them; anyone who wants to bring back any measures of discrimination – let me make it absolutely clear that I am not with you. 

It’s a lovely May day, don’t you think?

Posted in Beliefs and Practices, On Writing

Girl, You’ve Got to Be What Tomorrow Needs

When I woke up this morning, two things came to mind: I remembered being extremely wary of mystical readings until just a few years ago; and I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve been told I have an “old soul.” My feet hit the floor with purpose, knowing I wanted to tap into that soul today. I readied for the day, getting Lucy fed and dressed, the dog out. I did the things that needed doing; took Lucy to daycare, picked up prescriptions, called to get a repair on the car.

The sky is Oscar blue, brilliant and deep in the spring air. The maple tree extends her shade, bright new leaves reaching for the sun, a blanket of her fallen flowers in her shade. My new plastic Adirondack chair was covered thickly with samaras, helicopters that never quite touched down. I feel insulated from most of the noise of the city around me, and the tension in my shoulders finally starts to slide away. 

Since my birthday, I have had ideas knocking around my head. Essay topics, snippets of poems, ideas for long-form and short-form stories; fiction, nonfiction, memoir, academic writing. I feel surrounded by words; if this were a Disney film, my hair would catch and lift on a breeze of prose, as the words wound themselves through my animated world and the townspeople joined in my song. Je m’appelle Marjanna, et j’ai quelque chose pour dire. 

I kept my birthday very low-key this year. I had a beautiful weekend where I was more focused on myself than I had allowed myself to be before. One of the gifts I gave myself was today. I am off work today. I took the day off, on purpose; I have no appointments, no reservations. I’m not sick, and neither is my kiddo. 

I took the day off so I could write. 

Those reading it may not gasp at this thought, but I certainly did. I practically heard the record scratch. What a crazy idea, I thought. Taking a day off to write. 

I texted some friends; want to hear a crazy idea? Sure, they said. I told them. 

“Cool. So what’s the crazy part?”

I do not take days off lightly. I don’t take days off without reason. To do so, and focus on writing, on me and my craft, feels over indulgent. Who am I to think that my writing is so important that I can skip my actual job in order to focus on it? I must have some ego to think I’m good enough to justify that. 

The audacity of me. 

Self-doubt began to slither in the door that sarcasm and negative self-talk left open. It climbed like smoke, scaling the walls, winding around my body, curling tendrils around my fingers. I tapped out my thoughts on the bright screen in front of me. 

No, it’s silly. I can’t. I’m not really a writer. I’m not published, how can I actually be a writer? This is stupid.

Three dots, blinking. 

“You write, don’t you? You’re a writer. Take the damn day.”

Sometimes we need reminders of what’s true in our lives. When the night closes in and the doubts follow, it’s easy to get trapped in the sticky, negative thought spirals that can drag you down. You start to follow that path down, down, a sickly pale the only light you can see, so you follow it. 

It leads nowhere; it takes you through caves and channels you didn’t know existed, paths you thought you left behind long ago. It is the upside down; you’re not sure if it’s real, but it’s all so familiar, almost comforting. It’s easy to stay, in this dark world you know; you’re tired of fighting, tired of trying. The effort to get back is too much, why not just sink in? The darkness gets its hooks into you, a thousand tiny daggers; it feeds on you, draining you of your energy, your will. 

It is so insidious, so quick to come when you slip. It is opportunistic and cagey, using your own thoughts and words against you, twisting and distorting everything you have worked for, dismantling the structures you so carefully built. 

And it lies. 

The smoke shrank back as I pondered that answer. I write, yes, this is true; doesn’t that make me a writer? I cook, but I’m not a chef; I stitch, but I am no seamstress. What makes writing different? 

I cook to feed myself and my family, to show love and to share with them. I stitch to relax my mind and keep my hands busy, to show love and to share with friends and family. 

And I write for me. 

Me, first. I write for Oscar, and I write for Hawthorne; I write for my father, my mother. I write for all those beyond the veil, whose stories are left in limbo; and I write for those here as well. I write for my friends who can’t find the words; I write for those who hurt, for those who question. For those who wish, and want, and dream. I write for Lucy, that she may know who I have known. 

And.

I write for me. First. Foremost. Finally.

I recently was a guest on a podcast where I talked about confidence (among other things). I felt like I rambled, and the final version hasn’t hit the air yet, so I am not sure how it all worked. I enjoyed the experience so much; I loved talking to the host, and getting to dig into my interpretation and experience with confidence. A lot of my readers thus far have been friends and family; if you’ve been around some years, you know that confidence has not been something that came naturally. If you haven’t known me long, it may or may not surprise you. 

Confidence, to me, is an energy. It’s a force and a flow, something that can be harnessed or let loose. It shifts; it waxes and wanes. As with any energy, there can be disruptions, and you need to reset. On the podcast I mention those friends who help make that happen.  

No one can shake my confidence like I can, when I follow that path, when I let myself be carried by that thick gray smoke. I am a master at getting in my own way, at talking myself out of things. I flip to feeling guilty and self-indulgent very easily. It’s hard for me to see that it is an act of love to do things for myself, too, not just for others. I am learning every day how to love myself. 

I had a tarot pull for my birthday, a full-year spread to welcome 35. It’s been on my mind, daily; I’m not so skilled at reading the cards yet. My mind plays with them like Lucy with a Rubiks cube; futz around with it, shake it, chew on it a little. This is the first time I’ve had such a major pull. I have an app (which feels a bit like cheating, but I like it) for a daily card. I believe that you bring as much to the cards as they give to you. Some days it’s a BOLO, sometimes a new perspective. Some days, it’s the piece that completes the picture.

My card this morning was the Four of Wands, and the key words given were Home, Backbone, and Foundation. Not a bad omen for my first day off to pursue being a writer. 

Posted in Beliefs and Practices, Uncategorized

Witchy Woman, She’s Got the Moon in Her Eyes

I was raised Catholic by my off-the-boat Polish mother and mostly agnostic father. Every Easter, he would don his sport coat and mention converting in his soft-spoken way. He had been raised Methodist, I believe. He didn’t practice anything; he would sit in the truck reading the paper while I rolled my eyes and reluctantly attended Sunday school at the Catholic college in our hometown. I would often be rushing to finish my homework for the class right before, or on the cold dash of the old F-150 as Sunday morning country oldies played over the speakers. Because it wasn’t academic, my dad would shake his head and simply remind me to be more timely in my work before going back to humming along with George Jones. 

My mother, however, was still very much a practicing Catholic. She was a member of Holy Cross Church in our hometown and would go to Mass on Saturdays, as she enjoyed the music more; the cantor was usually Anne DiSanto, half of the couple who ran the music studio where my sister and I took lessons. While I was young enough, then my sister years later, she would go to the children’s mass on Sunday mornings, but she preferred to attend when the sky outside was dark and the candles shone brighter on the stained glass. She would sing along with the hymns tunelessly, not so much to make a joyful noise, but because it was what one did. She knew the aerobics like the back of her hand and taught me the same, the patterns of sitting and standing and kneeling. I’d be reminded that the kneelers she grew up with had no padding so I should be both grateful and still, or at least quiet. She knew the various prayers and creeds like she knew to spell her name, but still opened the hymnal and read along as if the words were somehow unfamiliar to her. She never talked about faith or religion or even Catholicism with me; church was just a simple fact of life, something routine that did not require explanation, like grocery shopping. 

When I was thirteen, I came out for the first time – I declared that I liked both boys and girls at the table with my parents in the kitchen. They were not rocked by this news; the response I got, as I sat somewhat nervously with my pre-algebra homework, was that it was a phase, followed by a complete dismissal of the subject. It didn’t come up again until after my father had passed and I came out again, as gay this time, to my mother at age twenty-one. 

Growing up Catholic, I never remember feeling the need to go to confession or being worried about going to hell for being “90% gay,” which was the best way I could think to identify, since “queer” wasn’t in my vocabulary at that point. I even went to a Catholic high school (yes, schoolgirl skirt and everything). I never worried about my soul or my education; I was never treated differently because I was out. It likely helped that I had a steady boyfriend  – who did not go to my school – but even if I hadn’t, I think my high school experience would have been just as wonderful. It was a family, a community I came to depend on quickly. When scary and terrible things happened – my father’s ALS diagnosis, 9/11 – it was where I wanted to be. I wanted, needed, those teachers and friends, nuns and clergy. I enjoyed the faith as it was revealed to me – it meant a net woven of unbelievable strength that would break whatever falls the world had in store for us. I became a member of the “God Squad,” the senior peer outreach class who helped put together the retreats for each class and served as alterfolks for the monthly masses. I still get those songs stuck in my head on occasion. I carried my faith outside school as well, becoming a Sunday school teacher as part of my senior year community service. The day I turned 18, I got my first tattoo – the rose and cross of St. Therese, chosen in part for her love of writing and nature. The Little Flower, as she was often referred to, was young and stubborn known for her convictions and passion; a strong choice for patron saint for a teenage girl.

After graduating from my close-knit Catholic high school, I went to Brandeis University, a predominantly Jewish liberal arts college outside of Boston. I felt the loss of community acutely, and half-heartedly looked around for another church. Nothing fit; I already understood that what I was looking for had nothing to do with faith or religion. I was looking for that unquestioning acceptance into a community based around ritual, attendance, and routine.

I found it years later when I started to attend Pilgrim St. Luke’s in Buffalo. By this point, I had long considered myself a recovering Catholic, being too divorced and too gay for their doctrine. I had come to learn much more of the violent history of the church, not just the glossy version presented to us in high school, but how religion has been wielded as a deadly weapon by Christians throughout the ages. I was fed up with the absolute patriarchal institution on every level; politically I was frustrated with the influence of the church in reproductive and civil rights, and personally, I had finally come to terms with my views on death, reincarnation, and the absence of heaven and hell as destinations for once-mortal souls. The Catholic church – as institution and dogma – had long since ceased to make sense; all the preaching and morality and promises of eternal life could not overcome the strata of control, power, and intolerance for it to ever be a place I felt welcome again. But Pilgrim St. Luke’s didn’t care about what the Catholic church had always taught me were sins. Instead, they were open and affirming with their motto of “God is still speaking,” and their extravagant welcome, no matter where someone was on their faith journey. 

I have not been back since my father-outlaw’s funeral service nearly four years ago. Today, I have to look up the Wikipedia for St. Therese to remember her miracles. I still carry her mark behind my right shoulder, a little faded from 15 years of summer sun. I still have to catch myself so as not to respond, “and also with you,” when people quote Star Wars, and I know that “Gloria” has 18 syllables. But what I believe has overcome my learned responses and ground me to my core. I believe in the sanctity of the natural world. I feel an undeniable connection to trees and stones and fields. If I pray, it’s to all those who have gone before me. I am not washed in the blood, but the ocean. There is no heaven I raise my eyes to, but the wind and sky. It is not the light of the world that guides me, but the fires left by the witches they could not burn. I am a child of the earth. Maybe that’s why even in high school, when I had to choose a patron saint, I chose the Little Flower. I hope she’d understand that I will always carry her with me, a wildflower through all seasons; she bows her head in prayer as I lift my face to the moon, and we meet on sacred ground.