Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Random thoughts about the election

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

My dad died three years ago today. That’s going to linger with me all day anyway, but especially because my dad, despite conservative leanings, was already impressed with Obama back then. I bet he would be feeling happy and proud today, and crying like a baby.

I really liked Obama’s comment during his acceptance speech that, to all those who didn’t support them, he would be their president too. I felt like that did two things really well: it suggested that he would be open to input from those outside party lines, and it also, in good managerial style, quietly affirmed his authority. Any manager who’s ever had to take over an existing team knows that you sometimes come into a situation where you don’t have consistent support and you have to play that card both ways: I’m nice, I listen well, and/but don’t even question that I’m the boss. I think that was well played.

I’m just so proud that we did it. And relieved.

Sad news about Karsten’s dad

Saturday, August 9th, 2008

Karsten’s father passed away yesterday. He was 84, and he’d been dealing with a variety of illnesses including emphysema (despite having never smoked a day in his life) and prostate cancer (which he beat — it was the treatment that led to complications). So while his death was not entirely unexpected, it was still rather sudden.

He hasn’t decided if he wants to be present for the visitation, but I think he’s leaning towards going. I’m navigating this as carefully as I can, because even though I know Karsten and his dad had a complicated relationship, I think Karsten is more affected than he expected to be.

We’ve been through so many shades of loss in the ten years we’ve been together, from the long, drawn-out, excruciating loss of my own father to the abrupt and devastating loss of Karsten’s mother, and now the sudden and emotionally puzzling loss of his father. We could really write a book. I suppose it would be more appropriate if we just wrote a song. Maybe that’s the project for this week.

Grace or casseroles? A non-believer’s musings on prayer

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” on one of my flights a few weeks ago. (It’s a wonderfully insightful and beautifully written book; I highly recommend it.) There’s a passage where the author, having recently developed a personal relationship with prayer and a self-styled spirituality, is describing an exchange with her pragmatic sister, Catherine.

A family in my sister’s neighborhood was recently stricken with a double tragedy when both the mother and her three-year-old son were diagnosed with cancer. When Catherine told me about this, I could only say, shocked, “Dear God, that family needs grace.” She replied firmly, “That family needs casseroles,” and then proceeded to organize the entire neighborhood into bringing the family dinner, in shifts, every single night, for an entire year. I do not know if my sister fully recognizes that this is grace.

Karsten and I got talking about my father’s death. My father was a popular man, loved by many in his town and with a wide circle of friends and family across the country. Many people were praying for him as he waged his fight with cancer. Some people would probably conclude that the prayers must not have been very effective since the cancer ultimately won. But even as a non-spiritual person, I think that’s an unfair characterization of the effects of that praying. I would never attempt to claim that there is no power in prayer. I just don’t think it’s the only vehicle for the conveyance of caring, and it’s loaded with religious affiliation, which has no appeal to me. But I have no trouble accepting the possibility, perhaps not as a direct result of prayer, but perhaps resulting indirectly from the quantities of people who simply told my father and the rest of his family that they were praying for him, that my father died with more awareness of how loved he was, and that we, his family, could accept his death with more comfort because we knew how loved he was.

Maybe you wouldn’t call that the power of prayer, per se. And I would agree that it’s something different, but I think — and this is a non-believer attempting to understand the minds of believers, so I may have it entirely wrong — but I think there’s something uniquely potent about prayer to a believer that is somehow not present in the offerings of “thoughts” or “good vibes” or “positive energy,” or any number of alternatives you or I might suggest.

That’s the struggle I have as a non-believer who wants to offer comfort to my loved ones. I wish I had something I could offer my cousin’s family as they’re dealing with my 17-year-old cousin battling lymphoma. I have told them I’m thinking about them, but I feel acutely that that’s not as powerful a statement as telling someone you’re praying for them. To my eyes, as a non-believer, that’s the power of prayer: a communication shortcut that says you want to intercede for someone; that you feel their situation merits grace, and you’re looking to powers bigger than yourself to provide it.

But without that communication shortcut, I guess I find myself in the role of the pragmatic sister, trying to think of when and how to make the proverbial (or literal) casseroles and hope that they are received as grace. (Here I should mention how humbling it is to have a sister who is both a praying person and a casserole maker in the most active sense — she was recently awarded Citizen of the Year in her hometown for her efforts in setting up a non-profit organization that helps the poor and needy in her otherwise well-to-do suburb. She’s a double-helping of grace.) What I lack in spirituality I make up for in plain old compassion, but how can I be of much practical use to a family hundreds of miles away? There’s a missing ingredient that could help bridge the distance, and to say “I’m thinking of you” sounds hollow.

I suppose it’s relevant in some way that I’m musing about this on Easter morning. I have no real ties to Easter: nothing about its religious implications carries weight with me, and the childhood chocolate-fest is behind me. Even the pagan traditions offer little to the pragmatic, so it’s simply a Sunday when more businesses are shuttered than usual. But there is something about the hope of renewal, the rituals of rebirth that carry through from the pagan to the Christian traditions, in welcoming spring and recognizing the cyclical nature of life — something about that does appeal to me. (Maybe it’s the gardener in me.) I know I’m looking for a chance to discover something in myself — some offering I can provide to those who need comfort that feels as powerful as prayer and does as much good as casseroles.

I don’t expect to find the answer today. But I’m asking the question, and questions are more important than answers.

Happy Easter, happy March equinox, happy Sunday, happy day. I’m thinking of you.

Wondering what to do for Valentine’s Day? (In the Nashville area, that is)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

I bet there are a lot of posts out there that offer suggestions for how to spend your chilly February 14th, and ordinarily mine would be “stay snuggled up in bed” but since my mom is going to be in town, I needed something a little better suited to mixed company. So here’s my suggestion:

Valentine Celebration
AN EVENING OF GREAT LOVE SONGS

featuring
Matraca Berg - Suzy Bogguss - Raul Malo - Gretchen Peters
with Orchestra Nashville - Paul Gambill, conductor

Grace Chapel
in Leiper’s Fork

We’re actually going to the Friday night show, and I’m sure it’ll be amazing. Gretchen, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before, lives in our neighborhood and is a fantastic songwriter. Matraca Berg is, well, only one of my songwriting heros, and Suzy Bogguss and Raul Malo are wonderful singers and songwriters whom I respect and admire very much.

And what’s even more wonderful is this: the publicist for the show has offered a 15% discount for folks using the promo code ‘honeybowtie’. Seems he saw my link posted a few weeks ago and wanted to reassure me that it would indeed be “something good to do.”

I told my mom, and she’s excited. Karsten and I can’t wait.

And I hope to see you there, too!

Thanks, Josh Ritter, for getting me ready for Monday

Saturday, November 3rd, 2007

Monday is the anniversary of my dad’s death, again. It was a reflective time for me last year and it’s looking like it will be the same this year.

I can tell because last night we went to see Josh Ritter (whom Jae has been talking about for years but I’m just catching up). There was a song he played with lyrics that said “tell me I got here at the right time” and it was bittersweet and melancholy and painted a picture of loving someone through illness, and it got me thinking about the process of caring for my dad while he was sick and the acceptance I had to come to about the possibility that in one of my trips back to Nashville, I would not be there when he died. And that’s basically how it worked out in the end — Karsten and I had just made it back to Chicago that evening and decided not to go by my parents’ house until the next morning since it was already pretty late. And my dad died that night.

Sometimes the loss hurts more because I know I could have seen him alive one more time, but more often I know I was there at the right times all the previous times.

Anyway, it’s funny how once you’re reminded of something difficult, you can see connections in the loosest ways. So all through the rest of Josh Ritter’s set, I was primed to reflect on all kinds of loss, but especially my dad. And then he played “Kathleen,” which is one of the few songs of his I knew before last night, and I like it but it’s a tough one for me, because it so heavily references the Irish standard “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen” and that’s one of the songs my dad used to sing when he was a nightclub performer and is the source of my name. Of course, Ritter’s song goes off in a different direction, but I think if you carry the connection over and think about his song in the context of its heritage, it makes his song even more intriguing. The Irish song is a plea to that song’s Kathleen to hold out hope in the narrator, to recognize that he sees she is unhappy and that he can once again bring her the happiness that she has lost. The Ritter song is a plea to its Kathleen to place some hope in the narrator, to recognize that he appreciates her and can see her clearly and can make her happy even if it’s just for one night. Each song is a kind of begging, but from nearly opposite ends of the lifecycle of a relationship — and, you could even say, nearly opposite ends of life itself.

Anyway, I thought about that while he was playing the song, but I was also just washed away in grief every time I heard the line “I’ll be the one to drive you home, Kathleen.”

And yet I walked away from the show feeling hopeful, and creatively inspired. I think there’s another post about that I need to write, because there are other factors at work there, but I definitely took away ideas from listening to Ritter’s brutal and beautiful honesty, and I intend to use them.

The amazing resurrecting lilies!

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

I didn’t think I was in the mood to do it, but I did it. I got outside right after breakfast (which, by the way, was a waffle with diced mango and kiwi along with my absolute favorite coffee, Bongo Java Kaldi’s Dog — but I digress) and got my gardening stuff all set up.

The resurrection lilies have finally emerged! 7/28/07And then went squeeing back inside to tell Karsten that the resurrection lilies had finally emerged. They grow incredibly fast — they’re already over two feet high — but I didn’t even notice them emerging before this morning.

You may recall that these are a gift from my dad. A while before he died, they were in bloom in my parents back yard and my mom cut some and put them in a vase for him to admire from his bed. I complimented him on his beautiful flowers when I came to see him that day, and he told me that he wanted me to dig some up to remember him by.

So I did. The day he died, after the day had quieted down a bit, I went out back to where the bulbs were planted. It was early November in the Chicago area and the ground was pretty hard but the digging felt good and cathartic, and eventually I managed to dug up three good bulbs. I put them in a plastic bag in my parents’ refrigerator to bring home with me a few days later. It was cold when I got back to Nashville, so I worried about putting them right into the ground, which meant that they stayed in our refrigerator until the next spring, when one day I happened to notice a little bit of green emerging from the bulbs right inside the baggie in the fridge.

So I got outside and placed them in a line of three and planted a semicircle of daylilies around them to accent them. And they continued to sprout leaves, which died back as they’re supposed to, but no flowers ever emerged that summer.

I was a little worried they weren’t very healthy after their difficult transition, but this past spring the leaves came up again and I got hopeful that they’d actually flower this year.

And there they are, beautiful as can be.

Detail of resurrection lily, 7/28/07 Detail of resurrection lily, 7/28/07 Detail of resurrection lily, 7/28/07

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have these flowers. I really can’t tell you; there are no adequate words. But perhaps you can imagine.

Detail of resurrection lily, 7/28/07

I did get my other gardening done, too, by the way — planting, weeding, transplanting, mulching, watering, oh my! — and took a bunch of pictures, which produced some of the better results I’ve gotten with this newish camera. Here’s one of the new dianthus firewitch plants, all up close and personal:

Detail of firewitch dianthus, 7/28/07

And then I wanted to sit back and admire it all, but first Karsten thought I should show you all how dirty I got and how “cute” (I say “dorky”) I look in my shade hat.

After a long day of gardening, 7/28/07

And here’s a view of the garden through the new fence:

Front yard garden, 7/28/07

Long term relationship = communication shorthand

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

him: I need to see a movie with lots of explosions and death.
me: Oh, did you call your dad?

Forgetting about Father’s Day

Sunday, June 17th, 2007

I wonder about the organizers of Bonnaroo, and whether they intentionally scheduled the festival for the weekend of Father’s Day. You have to figure that with 80,000 some attendees, there are bound to be a whole lot of arguments about missing the family cookout or whatever.

As I am not attending Bonnaroo nor is my father living nor am I within proximity of any kind of family cookout, I have no such dilemma. My dilemma pertains more to simply getting through Father’s Day with the least amount of psychological trauma.

Here, in no particular order, are a few ideas that have occurred to me thus far:

  • Stay in bed.
    Tempting. On the other hand, Karsten points out that it will be there all day. I can always keep it as a fall-back option.
  • Go for a walk in a park or other natural space.
    Good possibility. It’s especially meaningful if there are a lot of birds around, since my dad used to love to watch the birds. But it might be too hot for this to be a pleasant experience, so I’ll have to wait and see how the day shapes up.
  • Sit on the front steps and try to enjoy the beautiful day.
    Already getting a jump on this one. Sitting out here with my laptop and a pot of coffee. But again, in an hour or so, it will probably warm up to where this won’t be pleasant anymore.
  • Do day-job work.
    Yeah, no.
  • Write a song or three.
    Very probable. I did a little last night and was surprised at some of what came out.
  • Clean, tidy, organize.
    I’ll see how I feel. This would be helpful to do, but I just don’t feel motivated to do it.
  • Organize files on my computer.
    Same as above.
  • Plan the porch party.
    I need to do this, and it might be fun. So maybe this will be a good stay-inside-while-it’s-hot activity.
  • Go back to bed.
    I know, I already talked about bed. But it’s sounding like such an appealing option.

I do genuinely wish a happy Father’s Day to anyone out there to whom it applies. And I genuinely wish good alternatives for anyone who needs them.

Movie plots that scream “stay away!”

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

I honestly can’t think of a movie concept I’d be likely to enjoy less than this one.

Veterans Day ponderings

Saturday, November 11th, 2006

It’s Veterans’ Day, and it’s my niece’s birthday. Prior to last year, that was a point most often acknowledged by the joke about how, the day my niece was born, it was also Labor Day for my sister. Last year, the overlap gained new significance as my dad — her grandfather — had just died (on 11/5), and was to be buried in a veterans’ cemetary. The funeral was on 11/10. I thought a lot that day about how hard my niece’s birthday the next day would be for her. In fact, one of my most daunting challenges all that week was trying find a birthday card that said the right variation on “hope you have a happy birthday anyway.”

= = =

My dad’s service in the Army back in the ’50s was as an Arabic linguist, so his work was in Military Intelligence. We didn’t discuss it often when I was growing up, but we knew it. I’ll never forget the first argument we had after 9/11. He’d been visiting me and Karsten in Portland on 9/10 while traveling on business, and then had to go on to Vancouver, BC. Following the restrictions of 9/11, he was stuck in Canada for a few days. When he came back a few weeks later to complete his business trip, we walked along the Cumberland River and got into a heated argument about why. If I could have it to do again, I’d shut the hell up and listen to him. I didn’t have to agree with him, but he was an expert on the region (albeit with dated expertise), and I just might have learned a thing or two instead of presuming he was coming from a place of conservatism and closed-mindedness.

= = =

Here’s a bit of trivia: I almost joined the military myself; did you know that? I was all set to follow in my father’s footsteps, as a military linguist. I scored very well on the ASVAB and absolutely rocked the DLAB. Highest score ever recorded in the state of Illinois, they told me. When I told my dad, he beamed and said he’d scored the highest ever recorded in the state of Maryland when he took it, and then he hugged his little language-learning-freak daughter. Over the next few weeks, though, the Army stalked me. Recruiters called me morning and evening, recruiters tried to give me rides home from school, recruiters made a nuisance of themselves. And I felt positively cornered. So I told them to get lost. It took a lot of repeating myself to get the message across, but eventually they did give up and go away.

So, this is embarassing to admit, but on 9/11, one of my first feelings was guilt. With my score on the DLAB, I knew I may very well have been an Arabic linguist, and there may very well have been something I could have done to better prepare us as a country. I know, I know, it’s a ridiculous, arrogant thought. Like I said, it’s embarassing to admit. But it was an honest reaction, and a well-meaning one.

= = =

My boyfriend during the first few years in college was an Army Ranger. He was in the reserves, though, so after basic training, he only had to report for duty one weekend each month. He came over to see me on a break from his duty one weekend, but there was a miscommunication and no one knew where he was. He was actually AWOL, which both freaked me out (AWOL? just to see me?!) and amused me greatly. The scariest part was when his grandmother found out. She got really mad at him. The Army should have recruited her as a drill sergeant. She was terrifying.

= = =

After writing all this out, all that’s left is to sincerely thank the people who’ve actually put up with the recruiters, gone through with enlistment, and who’ve done something for our country. There are many ways to serve a concept you believe in, and the military is one dangerous way to serve the concept of the greatness of the USA. It’s a concept that we don’t always live up to, but I deeply appreciate the work of those who believe in it enough to risk their lives for.

One small year and some tiny kittens

Sunday, November 5th, 2006

Well, here it is: the day I’ve been dreading. It’s been one year since my dad died. I thought I would have a lot to say about that, but I find myself oddly quiet on the subject. The only thing I’ll say is what I wrote in an email to my sister this morning:

I still miss Dad very much, of course, but I’m also amazed at how much healing happens in the course of one year. Then again, I’m equally amazed at how much still hurts after a whole year has passed. It’s almost like time and healing can be measured in two different dimensions, on two different scales, with one exceeding my expectations and one falling so very short. Or whatever. I guess that’s why it’s easier just to say “life is funny.” ;)

Shawn Colvin already summed it up for me, anyway, with this song:


One Small Year
by Shawn Colvin

One small year
It’s been an eternity
It’s taken all of me to get here
Through this one small year

The hands of time
They pushed my down the street
They swept me of my feet to this place
And I don’t know my face

Now all through the night I can pretend
The morning will make me whole again
Then every day I can begin
To wait for the night again

One more tune
That will never be done
It’s just another one for the moon
For the days in the ruin

Just today I woke up feeling fine
Like the world was mine
I was clean
And it was a dream

Where out of the blue came you and me
The Wizard of Oz had set us free
You let me float you to your feet
Just like you believed in me
It’s like you believed in

One small year
I wonder where I’ve gone
It shouldn’t seem so long or so weird
And I was always here

It’s just one small year

Race for the Cure, Nashville, November 2006Yesterday, the Race for the Cure came through our neighborhood, and I stood outside with a cup of coffee and watched them, thinking of my dad, and how he lost his race. But it was encouraging to see how many people turned out to help raise money for the cause, so maybe someday cancer will be a thing of the past.

Speaking of raising money for good causes, last night, we went to two fundraisers. The first was for the Nashville Humane Association: Anipalooza. Heh. We went to the one last year, too, and I’m sorry to say that this year’s wasn’t as good as last year’s. Last year they had doggie speed dating, which was just about the cutest thing ever, but that was gone this year for whatever reason. The music in the main tent was also too loud, meaning you could barely hear someone shouting next to you, and you sure weren’t going to casually mix and mingle and get to know new people.

Karsten and kittens at Nashville Humane AssociationOn the plus side, there were kittens inside the shelter, which just about makes up for any shortcoming in event planning. Just like last year, Karsten was in one of the cat rooms playing with kittens most of the time we were there, and drew a crowd watching him get the kittens all excited. You should have seen these kittens crawling all over Karsten. I took pictures but they only hint at the stinging cuteness of it all.

After that, we went to back to our neighborhood for the “Heart and Soul” benefit at Werthan Lofts, for the American Heart Association. The contrast was stunning: someone there must be a professional event planner or something. They gave out wine glasses to each attendee, along with maps of the building showing the lofts that were open for the event. And then they had signs up on the hallway walls and balloons marking the entrance of each open unit to help people find their way through the somewhat confusing layout of the building. Plenty of volunteers, plenty of wine, plenty of cool people, and plenty of music ensured that it was a great party. A lot of folks were there from the Germantown neighborhood, too, which was fun.

My two favorite men in the worldA Vietnamese coworker of Karsten’s used to say: so much good, so much bad. I think of that a lot, and I consider it a victory when the bad doesn’t overshadow the good. Right now, as much as it still hurts to miss my dad, I know the good in my life — like loving and being loved so deeply by someone as wonderful as Karsten, and having a job I enjoy, and being part of a community of great people, and living in a home we have the ability to enjoy and improve, and having good friends, not to mention that I was lucky enough to have had a dad as wonderful as he was — all that good is as bright as sunlight and nothing can overshadow it. And I guess that should be enough to get me through another small year.

NaSoWriMo: Day 1

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Today it begins. You’ve probably heard of NaNoWriMo, and some of you may remember that in years past I’ve attempted my own version: NaSoWriMo. 30 songs in 30 days. Last year, as a result of the death of my father, I didn’t participate.

I’m back in the saddle this time, though, so today I will be setting some time aside to begin my challenge. Wish me luck!

Oh, I almost forgot!

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

According to the HRC, the theme of this year’s coming out day is “Talk About It.” They’ve got a “Sorry Everybody“-style collection of pictures of people posing with signs that say “Talk About It.”

I’m bisexual. But I’m also too lazy to print out a sign, take a picture of myself, and upload it, so I’ll just talk about it here instead, shall I?

Step 1: Coming Out to Myself
I started my coming out process (and it is a process, rather than one big step — and that process continues as long as you continue to meet new people) in 1991. That was the year I started college. I knew before that, in a way, that I was attracted to both men and women. What I couldn’t tell was whether those attractions made me completely normal or psychopathically deranged. Because while I had plenty of exposure to gay and lesbian people (well, plenty of exposure to gay males — it was rare that I encountered a lesbian), I had never heard of anyone who was attracted to both men and women… but I had never heard that it wasn’t possible, either, or even normal. Still, I kept it under my hat, hoping someday it would all make sense to me.

And one fine day, in August 1991, it did. I was walking around with my new roommate, Andrea, and all across campus there were informational tables set up for student groups. And that was when I first saw the word: Bisexual. It was on the banner for Pride, the GLBT student group. I could parse it right away: bi meaning two, and sexual… well, let’s just say I definitely knew what that meant. I stopped in my tracks and stared at the word. I even said it out loud. I can’t remember if Andrea looked at me funny right then, because I was too caught up in my own world. And then we moved on, and I didn’t say anything else about it for the rest of the day.

But the next day, after musing on it all night, I said to Andrea, “You know, I think I’m bisexual.” And she said, “Yeah, I know. It was obvious when you saw the Pride sign yesterday.”

Step 2: Coming Out to My Parents
I came out to my parents in 1993, just before leaving the country. At the time that felt like really smart timing, but in retrospect it gave us too much time apart with them unable to ask questions or have follow-up conversations, and in years to follow, they did their best to pretend I’d never said it. Even when I would deliberately make references to this “ex-girlfriend” or that “girl I was dating,” it was just dropped as quickly as possible.

Step 3: Coming Out to My Sister
I came out to my sister in a letter in 1996, just after I’d moved to California. She’d told me before I left that she was a good pen pal, and since we’d never been close, she indicated an interest in getting to know each better through writing letters. I included the fact that I was bi in the first letter I sent her, and I never got a response. For years, I thought this was her rejection of my queerness. It wasn’t until last year, as she and I were both giving care to our dying father, that I broached the subject. And it turned out she had never received the letter. She knew about my being bi before that point anyway, as my parents had told her, and she says she would’ve reassured me that it wouldn’t change anything. Instead, the letter that got lost in the mail was one of the causes of a 9-year rift between us.

Step 4: Coming Out to My Extended Family
I came out to my extended relatives a little bit by accident, in 1998. I’d volunteered to help coordinate a family web site, and in the process included a link to my personal web site. At the time, I was running a large, high-profile bisexual resources web site, and it was prominently linked from my home page. I didn’t worry about this, because I was under the impression that at some point, my parents had divulged this bit of information to the rest of the family, and that no one would be finding out this way. This was not the case. I received a scathing email from my uncle, who called me immature and selfish, and told me I was hurting my parents.

On the bright side of that hurtful incident, my dad came to my defense, writing a letter back to his younger brother and telling him that his response has been “extreme and totally unenlightened as well as un-christianlike” and adding that his “unfair and unkind judgment” of me was “totally unacceptable.” If my dad hadn’t already been my hero, he would have been immediately promoted based solely on that one letter.

Step 5: Not Becoming Invisible
In 1997, I met the love of my life. He happens to be male, and he happens to be straight, and initially that was hard for me. I didn’t want to limit my identity to just the “heterosexual side” (I don’t actually conceive of my sexuality as having sides, which is why I use the quotes, but it’s simplest to explain it that way). I feared that if we were monogamous, I would be defined as straight, and that felt deeply wrong. But being involved with other people has never worked out well for us, and we’ve been mostly monogamous for a large portion of the nine years we’ve been together. I’m still bisexual, I still find women attractive (just as I still find men attractive — occasionally!), and I still have major misgivings about being thought to be straight. But I have no regrets about being with Karsten, and our love is broad enough and complex enough that it makes sexual orientation a moot issue.

Step 6, 7, 8, …
And so it goes. Every time I meet new people, every time someone makes a gay joke, every time I hear someone ignore the possibility of bisexuality, there’s an opportunity to out myself. I’m less forward about it in some ways now than I used to be, partly because I live in a more culturally conservative area than I ever have before, partly because I find myself questioning how relevant it is to anyone but me, and partly because it’s just there in the background, not bothering me, not needing to be announced, not needing to be talked about.

Except for today. Today I’m talking about it. I hope it helps someone understand themselves or someone else just a little bit better.

Happy Coming Out Day, everyone.

2005 Year-End-y thingy

Thursday, December 15th, 2005

1. What did you do in 2005 that you’d never done before?

Started taking anti-depressants. Got my first single-song contract. Somehow that combination seems very rock’n'roll, so I’ll leave it at that.

2. Did you keep your New Years’ resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

My 2005 priorities were to improve my nutrition, improve my fitness, improve my finances, and improve and advance my songwriting. I stuck with those, for the most part. I think I let the nutrition and fitness slip a bit now and then when I was too depressed to pay attention, but I did pretty well on the finances and the songwriting.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No one close to me, no.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Lordy, yes. My mother-in-law in March, and my father in November.

5. What countries did you visit?

I travelled frequently between the southern and the midwestern United States. Seems to me you should need a passport or something to cross the Illinois-Kentucky line.

6. What would you like to have in 2006 that you lacked in 2005?

A pay raise.

7. What date from 2005 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

November 5th, 2005. Something tells me the loss of my father will remain a pretty significant event for me for a long time.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Getting the single-song contract, I guess.

9. What was your biggest failure?

Being unable to keep working while spending time in the Chicago area. It has cost me professionally, I fear.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

If depression counts, yes.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

It’s a tossup between my Treo 650 and my 17″ Powerbook. They’re both rockin’.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Karsten’s. He was a total trooper.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

Some of my relatives.

14. Where did most of your money go?

Into the new old house! Lots and lots and lots of money went into fixing up the house.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The house! The single-song contract!

16. What song will always remind you of 2005?

Live Like You Were Dying” written by Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, and recorded by Tim McGraw. It really is a great country-pop song, but its significance this year has partly to do with how ubiquitous it was (#1 on the charts, for, like, EVER and winner of who-knows-how-many “song of the year” awards), but also, of course, in my life, how timely it was. I just wish my dad had had an opportunity to do the kinds of things the song suggests — living an uninhibited life knowing that your death is imminent — because he was too weak to do that in any kind of physical way. But he “loved deeper” and he “spoke sweeter” (sometimes), for example, so at least some of it was true for him.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

Heh. My answers to these questions prove that the world is so not a binary place.

i. happier or sadder? More of each.

ii. thinner or fatter? Thinner but, in some ways, less fit.

iii. richer or poorer? Lower income, greater net worth.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I don’t know. Maybe cooking.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

Crying.

20. How will you be spending Christmas?

My mom is coming here the week prior to Christmas and leaving Christmas morning, so I’ll be seeing her off and then Karsten and I will probably spend the day lounging around the house with the kitties.

21. How will you be spending New Year’s Eve?

Apparently the neighborhood has a big party, so we’re going to check that out.

22. Did you fall in love in 2005?

It may be corny but I found myself falling in love with Karsten again and again.

23. How many one-night stands?

None.

24. What was your favorite TV program?

Arrested Development. (”Come on!”)

25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I’m too tired to hate. I have some pretty annoyed dislike for some people, but it’s a pretty passive dislike. Hate seems so much more active and energetic than I have the capacity for.

26. What was the best book you read?

To be honest, I did very little reading, and what I did read tended to be pretty fluffy, like “The Lucky Guide to Shopping” or “What Not To Wear.” They were both pretty good, though. ;-)

27. What was your greatest musical discovery?

Was “Garden State” this year? I can’t remember. If so, like many people, I discovered The Shins because of that movie, and I love them. Also, I think Anna Nalick debuted with “Breathe (2 AM)” in the beginning of the year, and that has become one of my favorite songs ever (although most of the rest of Wreck Of The Day doesn’t impress me much). I think Keane got most of their visibility this year, too, and I just love them.

28. What did you want and get?

A single-song contract. :-)

29.What did you want and not get?

A promotion at work. Not just for the position of manager of our group, but for the next level of seniority within my own position (from Senior Business Analyst to Consulting Business Analyst). I think the perception is that I’m just not ready since I wasn’t around much of this year to prove my value, or whatever. It annoys me because I already deserved it for the work I’d done before this year so it’s like I’m being passed over for the second time.

30. What was your favorite film of this year?

Tossup between “Garden State” and “Sideways.”

31. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

Haven’t gotten there yet, but I’ll be 32 and I’m having a pizza party with, like, two attendees. (Everyone else is going to be out of town.)

32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Oh, how could I narrow it down? I don’t know. It’s really kind of depressing to try to pinpoint.

33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2005?

I was shooting for urban professional sophistication with a twist of unexpected hip, but I probably missed entirely. ;-)

34. What kept you sane?

Now THIS I can get specific about. Karsten, for a start. Every day in some way, Karsten kept me sane. Then there were the long walks; the gardening; the cats; putting the kitchen together; Absolut Raspberri vodka & tonics; pedicures; girly-scented body washes; dying my hair burgundy.

35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I don’t think there was one, really.

36. What political issue stirred you the most?

I guess it was the lack of response immediately following hurricane Katrina.

37. Who did you miss?

Too easy. I missed my dad as he was before the strokes made him less communicative.

38. Who was the best new person you met?

I think that honor goes to nothinganything. Congratulations! I don’t think you win any prizes, but, really, isn’t my fawning admiration enough?

39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2005:

We don’t live in years; we live in moments.

40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:

I think, more than anything, it’s this from “This Woman’s Work” by Kate Bush:

I know you have a little life in you yet.
I know you have a lot of strength left.

I should be crying, but I just can’t let it show.
I should be hoping, but I can’t stop thinking

Of all the things we should’ve said,
That were never said.
All the things we should’ve done,
That we never did.
All the things that you needed from me.
All the things that you wanted for me.
All the things that I should’ve given,
But I didn’t.

It’s a long drive back to Nashville…

Saturday, November 12th, 2005

but we made it in one piece. Well, two pieces, I suppose, counting me and Karsten separately.

I’m completely exhausted. Glad to be home, but have already cried twice tonight. I’m going to try going back to work on Monday. Here’s hoping I hold it together.

We scaled the wake back to one evening instead of two, thank the powers that be. One evening of non-stop condolences was tough enough to get through. And then Thursday was the funeral services at the church and cemetery, followed by the funeral luncheon and after-luncheon gathering at my sister’s house. It was a long day to finish a long week. And then, of course, there’s the eight-hour drive today.

The wake was tough. My dad looked unrecognizable. I suppose he’s been looking stranger and stranger as he got closer to the end, but it was only once they tried to make him up to look normal that he looked so shockingly weird. Everyone seemed to feel that way, and I took to warning people when they arrived to brace themselves if they planned to approach the casket. A lot of people thanked me afterwards for the warning.

I made a slide show of photos and ran it on my laptop on the other end of the room from the casket so that people would have something positive to focus their visual attention, and a lot of people thanked me for that, too. I’m pleased that it helped other people, but just making it was cathartic for me, so I hardly needed to watch it.

Also, at the funeral service in the church yesterday, my sister and I both gave eulogies, and although we hadn’t compared notes or anything, people commented that it was nice how our statements echoed each other. I said it’s easy to be consistent when you’re telling the truth.

In case anyone would like to read it, here’s what I said in the eulogy:

It’s tempting to say that 2005 has been a bad year. I spent most of this year anxious and anticipating my father’s death. I did not, as it happened, anticipate my mother-in-law’s death. And watching my father die slowly took up the summer months and into the fall. So yes, it’s tempting to say this has been a bad year.

But you, I, my father, all of us — we don’t live in years. We don’t die in years. We live — lived — in moments. A series of moments. A collection of moments. And yes, we die in moments.

You see, during these past few months, the concept of time has become surreal to me. There was, for example, the first day we all thought would be my father’s last: the hours spent in vigil, five to ten minutes passing in silence, 20 to 30 seconds between each breath my father took. But he fooled us, and lived for weeks after that. Time is unreliable in our lives. Only moments matter.

And so I learned from this ordeal to make the most of moments. When my father was alert and talkative, I tried to use those moments to find out what he still needed in his life, what unfinished business he felt he had. And in the hours and increasingly days that passed in unresponsiveness, I learned to find comfort in the memory of past moments — a skill that I hope will comfort me for the rest of my life.

Some people live to be 104 years old. You might say they’re rich in years. Yet it’s no guarantee that they’re rich in moments. My father lived relatively few years. Yet I believe, and I suspect my mother, for one, would agree, that my father was a man rich in moments.

My dad was not the last year of his life. He was not the moment of his death. He was — and, for me, he will always be — the sum total of his laughter and love, the gifts he gave me and the extraordinary generosity with which he gave them, the lessons I learned from him, the corny jokes he told, the many kisses and hugs we shared, his accomplishments, his friendships, his ability to love and give and accept and learn and love some more.

For all of its difficulty, 2005 has given me some of my life’s most precious moments so far. And we, as a species, are blessed with memory. So I can step forward into the next moments of my life, holding close my memories of the good, the sweet, the beautiful moments this year and all the years before it, and comforted by the memory of the moments I shared with my father.

I’m often told that I resemble my father in many ways: our appearance, our love of music, our aptitude with languages, and so on — but I will be lucky if at the end of my years, I can know that I resembled him in this respect: that I lived a life abundant in love and rich in moments.

I would like to conclude these thoughts in the words of Mary Oliver, who wrote so eloquently about the illusion of time and the loss of what we love in the poem “In Blackwater Woods.”

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
that your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

When at last you reach the end, turn around and start again

Saturday, November 5th, 2005

When your cell phone rings at 2:35 AM, you can be sure it’s a call you wish you didn’t have to take.

I marveled at how calm my mother managed to sound as she said, “Your father passed.”

I took some time to completely fall apart in the hotel room, with Karsten comforting me. It’s amazing how a hurt that has ached so much for so long is still able to hurt so much more.

After a bit, I dressed and drove over to my parents’ house, where my sister, my brother and his wife, and the hospice nurse all were. They were all in the bedroom with his body when I arrived, so I hesitantly went in. You know, it’s true what they say about how you can tell when life has left the body — it just lies there looking so empty, dull, and useless after the life is gone.

When the hospice nurse asked about whether we wanted him buried with his wedding ring (incidentally, no, my mom wants to keep it) and any other personal effects, my sister mentioned that the Livestrong bracelet he’s been wearing without removing for years now should stay with him. A few months ago, my Livestrong bracelet broke and I hadn’t wanted to replace it because I wanted to forget about cancer and death whenever I could. But at that moment, I knew that wearing his bracelet would mean so much more to me. My mom loved the idea, and my sister was initially hesitant until she thought of putting a new one on him before the wake. So she and I carefully took it from his wrist, and I’m wearing it now. She’s bringing a new one for him later today.

By 5:30 AM, the funeral directors had arrived to take Dad’s body away, and we’d spent enough time with it to feel ready to let it go. He wasn’t there anymore, anyway — the best of him has been leaving us for months, and the last of him had been gone for hours.

My sister went home to talk to her kids. My brother and his wife went home. I made the first calls to a designated contact on each side of the family. The hospice nurse finished her paperwork, disposed of Dad’s medications, and left. And my mom and I went to see if we could manage to eat some breakfast.

Everyone knows the cliche about how you always hear the worst possible music at a time like this, right? Can you guess? How about Rod Stewart’s cover of “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” playing in the restaurant while we’re struggling to eat? We were crying as quietly and discreetly as we could, and I pointed out how much I hate Rod Stewart, which made my mom laugh.

Anyway, that’s about the latest. I’ll post more later, I’m sure.

Drawing to a close

Tuesday, October 18th, 2005

So I guess I haven’t posted in a while.

It’s not for lack of stuff to write. In fact, I should probably be journaling like crazy through all of this because, as I explained to over the phone a few weeks ago, I could write a freakin’ book about how weird and surreal this whole process has been — and strangely comic at times, believe it or not. But the energy to journal just isn’t there, so I’ve been skipping it.

But let me see if I can explain. No, it’s too much to explain. Let me see if I can summarize.

My dad is dying, but typical of my dad, he’s being stubborn about it. If the doctors say he has days, maybe a week, then by god, a week comes and goes and he’s smiling and having a rare good day at the end of that week. If we get the impression, as we have several times, that this day might be his last, then by god, the next day he’s alert and nearly talkative, and we’re left scratching our heads and drying our tears and just trying to ride out the emotional tidal waves.

My mom and I went to meet with the people at the funeral home a few weeks ago. Fortunately, my dad already made all his arrangements six years ago when his cancer was first diagnosed as malignant. Unfortunately, it was like a freakin’ Keystone Cops routine with these guys at the funeral home, and although I found it all absurdly funny, I know my mom didn’t see the humor in the ordeal.

If there’s one bright spot in this whole sea of darkness, it’s that my sister and I have largely reconciled. It’s a long story, but it comes down to what my coworker and friend Keith described as sounding “like a Lifetime original movie.” A significant letter that apparently never arrived at its destination, a conversation where both participants had completely different understandings of what was said, that sort of thing. And that’s the basis of what’s been keeping us distant for lo these last nine years. So although things aren’t perfect now, there are signs that our relationship may improve with time, and I think my dad has been coherent enough to realize that, which must help him feel a little more at ease, since I know the strained relations between my sister and me have bothered him terribly.

For a long time, I think my brother didn’t get the whole thing — he’s developmentally disabled, borderline retarded but still basically functional and normal-appearing — but several people within and outside of the family have made efforts to clue him in. Now he’s acting out in ways that suggest he gets it and he’s not handling it very well. He’s supposed to be on Medicare but that benefit is currently being contested, so getting him psychological help of any kind is not easy. He’s having to tough it out on his own, and I hate that for him. I sure wouldn’t want to be going through all this without the benefit of Prozac — let alone without being equipped with the emotional maturity to process even comparatively simple issues well.

And my mom is struggling hardest of all. Her husband of 40 years, her closest and dearest friend by far, and clearly the best companion the universe could have ever invented for her, is becoming — or perhaps has already become — unrecognizable to her, and she’s still feeding him, bathing him, and performing plenty of other thankless tasks out of love and duty and determination to see him die with whatever dignity is still possible at this point. Her dilemma breaks my heart every day, and as stressed out and wound-up as she defininitely is, she bears it all so much better than I can ever imagine doing myself.

And Karsten — well, what can I possibly say about Karsten that does him justice? After losing his mother seven months ago, I’m sure it’s suffocating for him to be in an environment where the reality of parental death is thick in the air. But he knows I need him with me, and he’s there for me. We’re in this together, after all, and thank whatever gods there may be for that. This man is like oxygen to me — I simply can’t imagine breathing without him. Especially not right now. And he’s consistently the one person who can relax me, who can always make me laugh, with whom I can just walk and walk and walk for hours and talk about anything or talk about nothing — and it’s the only kind of therapy that could possibly do me any good right now. He soothes my soul.

So there it is, in a nutshell. The cast of characters, the somber scene, the barely-crawling pace of it all. It’s draining as hell, and I feel like I’m in limbo no matter where I am, but I’m trying to make the best of it and find the moments of levity, the revelations of truth, the opportunities to draw closer with the people from whom I’ve moved away so many times — and trying to laugh and love as much as possible at all times. I think that’s all there is to do. I think that’s all there is for any of us to do.

Health and happiness to you all. I’ll update again when I can.

Why my dad is so great, #1,983,284,393

Wednesday, October 20th, 2004

Ever since my dad started pressuring me to go to this past weekend’s family wedding in Baltimore — and the pressure started back in August — I’ve been meaning to dig out my saved copy of this email exchange and post it for you all to read and for me to re-read. Because it’s one of the things that makes me realize how much I’m going to miss my dad. I’ll post more about the wedding itself later.

Back in October 1998, I found a web site called Familypoint.com that was supposed to be a virtual meeting place for extended families. I set up a site for my family and mentioned it to my parents just before they attended a family wedding in Baltimore so they could spread the word about it to everyone. One of my cousins who is roughly my age found my personal web site through a series of links from the Familypoint.com site and was apparently shocked, shocked I tell you, to learn that I’m bi and poly.

Her father, my uncle, promptly sent me a nasty email about it. (more…)

Protected: Sisterly love

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2003

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Random countdown & countup

Sunday, November 23rd, 2003

Milestones upcoming and past. This helps me stay aware of what a given period of time feels like.

  • Just under a month until I see my dad, maybe for the last time.
  • One month exactly until I turn 30.
  • Two months (when the music executives are all back in their offices after the holidays) until we can really get back to trying to pitch our songs.
  • Three months, maybe four, until I can pay off the heaviest credit card I now carry.
  • Four months until the system I work on is widely released.
  • Five months until the Country Music Marathon.
  • Two years until I pay off my credit cards under the new, more aggressive payment plan.
  • Two years and four months until we can buy a house.
  • Two years and eight months since we left California.
  • Almost two years since I stopped dating other people.
  • A year and ten months since we left Portland.
  • Nine months since we came to Nashville.

I don’t want to jinx it, but…

Tuesday, November 18th, 2003

My relationship with money seems to be moving into a growth phase. :-)

I billed 66.75 hours last week, and it looks like this week will be in excess of 60 hours as well. That’ll make a nice, plump overtime paycheck next month.

And the sale of kathleen.net went through this morning, so that’s some extra dough in my checking account. Actually, it’ll go right toward paying off the heaviest credit card.

Which, speaking of, I now believe will easily be paid off by the end of March ‘04.

And there’s little things, too, like a $25 credit on the phone bill just for renewing our contract. And $80 to housesit and dog-sit for my boss’ boss over Thanksgiving.

It’s all adding up, and I’m really starting to see the light at the end of this tunnel. I feel like I’m starting to be able to breathe more deeply. Is it possible I’ve been living with low-level anxiety for the past few years and have just gotten used to it? That’s what it feels like. Because even though things are still pretty rough in some ways (work is hard and I’m worried about my dad, for example), the money issue has been pretty overwhelming for a long time. And it’s really starting to look a whole lot better.

We’ve got to stick with the extremely frugal lifestyle, of course, and that’s not always easy, but knowing that we’re getting somewhere because of it certainly helps.

So, can I just? Well, here: *long, deep inhale* *hold it* *slow, satisfying exhale*

There. That feels much better.

Update on Dad from my sister

Thursday, November 13th, 2003

I hope this e-mail reaches everyone in good health, and happy! Dad finished his radiation last week in time to accompany my mom to a business conference in Galena, IL. Unfortunately, he became very ill during the time they were in Galena. Delayed effects of the radiation. My mom said it was tough to concentrate on the business matters with him being sick in the room. She, and those with her, tried to make him as comfortable as possible.
We visited with them yesterday, for [name of Kate's niece]’s 16th birthday. He is skinnier, but feeling better. In fact he will be traveling today through tomorrow for business. His first trip away in quite awhile. I asked him if he remembered how to do that, he said he thought it would come back for him.
He does not have an appointment with his oncologist until Dec. 1st. So we will eagerly await some morsels of good news upon that visit.
Again thank you for your prayers and support. That has lifted my mom and dad up to battle this disease with strength and determination. Thank you!
Peace, love, and prayers for you and your families!
[sister's name]

I’m not a religious or even a spiritual person…

Friday, October 31st, 2003

but this email from my sister choked me up.

I hope this e-mail finds all well and enjoying life!! Dad is to complete his radiation next week. So far he has done very well. No horrible effects, other than skin irritations and exhaustion. His spirits are good and he is trying to look at this as an attack on the cancer that he has to assist with strength and endurance.
Last night he and my mom went to a book signing of Bishop Jake’s book. My mom asked for a personalized signing for my dad and told the Bishop that he was battling cancer and she wanted to give him positive reinforcement, but a personalized book signing was denied by the Bishop’s assistant. My mom went over to my dad who was sitting in a chair off to the side and gave him the book and was talking to him when the Bishop stopped signing and came over to meet my dad. He introduced himself and offered his best wishes. A lady standing nearby asked if he would pray for my father. He put his hands on my father and began to pray. The bookstore was mobbed with people and immediately they all began to pray for my dad. My mom said it was the most moving experience she had participated in. After that my mom met another author that was at the bookstore - the author of “True Vines”. She asked if he would personally sign his book for my father. He was very eager to and also came over to my father and prayed with him. They called us last night so uplifted and excited. I asked if dad was trying to get my mom to treat him special since he seemed to be blessed. She said he was trying to milk the moment.
We will hope for some good news after the treatment is finished and the tests begin again.
I hope all is well with you and your family. You are in our prayers!
peace, love, and prayers to you from us!
[sister's name]

Rambling essay-type-thing

Thursday, October 30th, 2003

I scribbled out a little essay-type-thing while I was waiting in the airport in Charlottesville. It’s not elegantly written, but I can’t bring myself to revise it. It’s just first-draft raw writing, and that feels somehow right.

I am in a tiny airport on the East Coast of the United States, and I am reminded of my father. The man to my right, whom I can only see from the back, is graying and dressed like a veteran businessman on a casual day — in other words, not very casually. He is regaling the man to his right with stories of engineering errors — miscalculations in the design of aircraft — not the sort of chit-chat most travellers would find entertaining before boarding a plane. But this man clearly enjoys the absurdity and darkness of telling these stories in this circumstance.

And that reminds me of my father.

“Sadistic,” my mother always shakes her head and says. “Your father has a sadistic sense of humor.” And it’s true, he laughs at movie pratfalls, situation comedies that pit a hapless character against insurmountable odds — and then make him suffer every imaginable cruelty before allowing him, inevitably, to triumph in the end. My dad loves this style of humor.

But I think part of what he loves is the security of knowing that the good guy -will- triumph in the end, against all odds. He can guiltlessly enjoy laughing at the misery in between.

So it shouldn’t have been surprising that during these dark hours of my dad’s battle against cancer, he is still able to laugh and joke about his hallucinations, about his kidney failure, about all the details of his suffering. Nor should it have been surprising that, until recently, he expected to triumph in the end, against all odds.

It broke my heart the first time I heard him acknowledge that there was no guaranteed victory here. “I don’t think this is going to be a short-term thing,” he said miserably.

How do you watch someone make that transition without losing your will to laugh? How can anything be lighthearted anymore when death is leaning on the doorway, coolly having a smoke before coming in to claim his due?

You find a way. You find a way because life is short, death is certain, and in between, humor keeps us sane.

Here in this tiny airport, the businessman to my right has just made a joke about the plane we’re about to board. It’s dark humor, to be sure. But you have to laugh. Don’t you?