The year started with such promise: A new president and one I worked hard to elect, and a new majority in Congress, sadly none of them from Utah. Yes, there was all the horrendous economic news, but we knew that at the very tail end of the eight horrible Bush years. So, no matter how bad the job market is, you only have GWBush to blame for that. It will be a slow slog to get out of that one, espeicially if the Republicans stonewall repowering the country with new Green jobs. The party of NO seems to want us all to suffer a few years longer so they can blame the suffering on President Obama. I hope we're not so stupid as to let them get away with that one.
Sadly for me this year will be defined by the loss of my friend, Zelita. Everything about her illness and death was shocking. So I remain in a state of sad shock. I'm not the sort of woman to have scads of friends and losing my closest friend leaves a hole in my life that will leave the grament of my dialy life in tatters. Her death has left me feeling old and frail, as if at any moment, I could be the next to go. I've always assumed I'd die young. But now I'm old. How did that happen?
But on the good news side, my only male friend, Nick is taking me to see the new Clooney move next week, and my friend Tracy, who lives three houses up the street, is taking me to lunch at one of our favorite Mexican Diners next week. I am not without friends. And then there are those of you who've been stopping by for the past couple of years and though I may never see you in real life, I count you as my friends.
We've had a gawd awful month of sub-freezing temperatures and inversions creating dangerous air quality in Salt Lake, but today is gorgeous. It snowed all night and all day yesterday, but this morning is sunny and air is clear again.
But the best news of all for me is that I've finished writing the novel, which I've re-titled The Narcissist. I did a major rewrite. Now I just need to do a readthrough to see if it's clean and free of typos or odd tense changes. Then it's on to writing a query letter. So, all in all, I'm starting the new year hopeful, and that's amazing in itself.
Roscoe loves groming Cyrus. Cyrus rarely leaves his bed so Roscoe leans over my bed and gives the top of Cyrus' head a good lick. Cyrus seems to greatly enjoy these sessions. Who am I to judge? Love knows no gender.
It's been a very trying holiday season. My best friend died just before Thanksgiving. It was very hard to find anything to be thankful for.
I lost a tenant the last day of November, so December has been a month of scarcity. If I'm going to be able to finish paying property taxes and utilities this next month, I'm going to have to get a loan. And the weather has been dreadful. The temperatures have remained below 25 degrees for our highs most of the past month. We are sitting in a bowl of worsening air quality each day the temperatures stay that low. We are close to 0 degrees every night. It's too cold to walk dogs and the air is dangerous to breathe. The elderly (that would be me) and those with chronic conditions (that would also be me) are warned to stay indoors. The dogs and I are getting cabin fever.
Today I have to make a grocery run or the dogs will be out of food. So like it or not, I have to scrape ice off my car and hope to hell it starts, and like it or not, I have to scrape up some money for dog food. Fortunately when times were not quite so dire I put some things in the freezer. I'm slowly emptying it out. I qualify for food stamps, but haven't the energy or gumption to jump through the hoops necessary to actually get them. Maybe I can talk someone into helping me navagate the food stamp paperwork, the standing in line, the having to tell my hard luck story. It's awful being down and out. Well, maybe not "out" quite yet. I'm pissed off about so many things I can do nothing about, but I have been able to use this time to write.
I have visited a few of you over the last few days and found that most of you are making the best of difficult times. Maybe I'll learn something new this year that will make coping one of the tools in my skill set.
And Cyrus is just maintaining. He keeps getting abscesses but I'm just keeping him on antibiotics so they don't get quite so horrifying. Aside from the abscesses he still has a good apatite and still manages to haul himself out of bed to go outside at least three times a day. But Cyrus's days are numbered. I see that. I just don't want to think about it.
The one bright sopt in this bleak picture is the novel. I have embarked on rewriting the novel in a whole new way and it's working. I can see the finish line and I think I'll be ready to begin grappling with a query letter sometime in January.
This is Suzanne Horne
I did not know Suzanne, but she gave me two awards. I didn't deserve them. She was so beautiful. Her site, Liquid Illusion, was stunningly gorgeous. It was sumptuous. Languid. Lovely. I could have been kinder, more generous, encouraging, but I did not know... And I think I should have.
I have been visiting her vacant, abandoned site obsessively this evening. I go back to look at her loveliness over and over. She was a poet, but I didn't comment often. I admired her, but I did not tell her enough. I know I couldn't have saved her, but I could have been kinder. I could have been generous with my words. She was a very talented photographer. She deserved more of life than this. She killed herself on Christmas Eve. A woman in her prime. Only forty two.
These are her words
If I have been a bad girl..........
It may well have depended on the situation at hand.
If I have acted out in a bad way......
I'm sure you know the conditions I was forced to act under.
If I was sneaky........
You'll know I had no choice in the matter.
(No rules in love and war, right?)
If I had bad thoughts dancing in my head.........
like really bad thoughts.....
you'll notice I didn't act upon those.
I just allowed them to dance for awhile.
If I was naughty.............
I was good at it.
Just requests for more.
If I seemed cruel and heartless...........
I just evened the score!
If you see me dressed somewhat like you on Christmas Eve.......
Please take no personal offense.
Consider it a "treat" for someone who has been REALLY good.
Oh, and if you saw me dip the cat's feet in red paint and toss her onto the trampoline.....
Well, you've got me there!
These are the words of Suzanne Horne, Liquid Illusion
Suzanne was a blogger who wrote lovely poetry and was a photographer with an incredible eye. She was beautiful. She had children. She was bipolar, and like so many of us, had a hard time dealing with Christmas. She killed herself Christmas Eve last year. It was about this time last year I found out about Suzanne's death, so it's now I think about her, like a lovely melody I can't quite name, or a line of poetry I can't quite place. I will always think of her during the holidays, and like many of you, I'll always wonder if there was something I could have said or done that could have kept her with us.
One of these days I'll be through with this god damned book. But until that time, unless I really need to get something off my chest, I'll be back at Word trying to put this book to bed. I lost one chapter writing on blogger so, for now, I'm elsewhere. Then I'll be agonizing about a query letter or a cover letter or a bit of biographical information. That's when it will really get hard.
I'm sleeping twelve hours a night, if you call the hours between 8:00 and noon part of the night. I hate Xmas and more so this year than most. I lost my best friend November 18th. I have another friend who has MS and needs help with errands. My old dog Cyrus has had a series of abscesses on his muzzle that scare me and make me think he isn't long for this world. Now he's on a mega dose of antibiotics that might keep the next abscess at bay as it heals the last one. I'm typing with my fingers crossed.
I've lost a tenant and Ms M and I are having a hard time finding a replacement. This has cut my income in half for December, but nobody told my creditors my income isn't what it used to be. I'm living $500 dollars beneath the poverty level. I qualify for food stamps but I'm too depressed to make the effort to jump through the bureaucratic hoops to get them. Filling out forms seems to be one of the things my brain is no longer able to do without a helper. Waiting in line with other depressed and poor people is more than I can handle right now. I'm old in a way that shocks me. My body tells me so every early AM when I have to get out of bed and hobble to the bathroom. I walk like the very old, shuffling along with every joint aching.
I've always hated Xmas. It was the one holiday my atheist parents seemed to take special pleasure in fucking up for me. I always think of the Charlie Brown cartoons where Lucy holds the football for Charlie to kick and then pulls the football away at the last second when I think of the way my mother dealt with Xmas wishes. She would insist on my naming the thing I wanted. Early on it required dictating a letter to Santa, and I would wake to find that Santa felt the thing I wanted wasn't possible that year. No tricycle this year. No doll, no Teddy bear, no, no, no. There was always a reason Santa wouldn't make my wish come true, and it had nothing to do with my being bad. Santa had philosophical reasons for denying my wishes. By the time I was six I found out there was no Santa, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy, and it was my mother who wanted to make sure I got the point that my dreams would never come true as long as she was in charge of fulfilling wishes. But for god's sake do not neglect thanking her profusely and with convincing sincerity for the new underwear or the new winter coat, whatever it was I needed. This was where I got my acting chops. I learned to fake gratitude. I learned to fake a lot of things. And I began to dread all events that required gift giving and I never trusted hope.
This kind of conditioning lasts. It sets up a biochemical event in the brain. All relationships become substitutes for the one who made it a tradition to hurt, disappoint, and require fake gratitude. Now receiving gifts just makes me feel unworthy and guilty or sad. I have, over the years, begged friends to please, please, please not give me Xmas gifts. Perhaps I am depriving them of an opportunity to express their joy in the season, but I feel nothing but guilt that I haven't matched or surpassed their impulse to give. And frankly, Xmas the retail holiday, just makes me tired. I've worked in retail sales. Believe me, there is no other holiday that's harder on sales people who are trying to help you desperate hordes shopping at the last minute to find one perfect gift for Xmas. It's not their fault you waited until all the good stuff is gone.
We were a middle class family. Poverty wasn't ever the reason wishes weren't granted. It was my mother's own brand of tough love. It was her belief that granting wishes spoiled the child. In reality it was the perfect way to make every celebratory event something to dread. So here we are sixty years later and this well-learned dread still grips me. Merry Xmas. Just don't expect a gift.
I saw the moviePrecious this past Thursday with Nick. I came out of the theatre sobbing and when I calmed down enough to tell Nick that yes, the performances were stunning and powerful, but it was my resemblance to Precious, the wounded child, that made me so sad, my experience of childhood in an upper middle class white family of extremely attractive people, where I was a sexual object at six for my mother's husband, my adoptive father, son of a well known surgeon, member of the Country Club, where no one saw the pain, the isolation, the destruction going on in full view of everyone. Nothing ever disturbed my families picture perfect outward appearance, but my parents pathology certainly did create madness in me. They did pass it on. I was not impregnated by my father, but if I had been, my grandfather would have quietly made that little problem go away. It was an educational opportunity that got me out of my family home when I was seventeen, a bit like Precious, only I got to skip my senior year of high school and go to the University of Utah and live in the dorms. Otherwise I'd have probably been a run-away living on the streets of San Francisco.
A lot of men think the stories of my childhood are hyperbolic and too lurid to be believable. I promise you that when I was in group therapy in Santa Barbara in a group of fifteen women who all had been sexually abused as children, some of us had children who had also been sexually abused, we were all white. Some of us were the well educated progeny of well off parents, but the cost to each of us had been sanity, safety, any sence of security, a profound saddness, and a series of suicide attempts. Many of these women had lives far more brutal than mine, yet we all felt worthless.
I'm writing a novel about the life of one such woman. You know what they say: write about what you know. So that's what I'm doing. If writing my story makes only one woman feel less alone, I'll feel like a success.
A woman I greatly admire, Melissa Harris Lacewell, has written an article for The Nation called Bad Black Mothers. I think it's important to our understanding of each other that we pay close attention to all these stories. The one thing they all have in common is the bad or absent father who is never mentioned, never blamed for the aftermath, never suffers the real consequences for the destruction he causes. No, we as a society blame the mother and/or the child. More of our famous Family Values.
Every time I hear someone on the Right claim that their political party is all about “Family Values,” I want to scream, “Whose Family?” Certainly not mine. Family Values is “Christian” code for “Exclusion.” Like “Pro-Life” is code for “Anti-Choice.” Embedded in the code of “Family Values” is the idea that there is only one “right” kind of family.
Since the 1950’s the family has undergone radical change. We are mobile and very often live far from extended families. There are now blended families, which have evolved over the past fifty some years, and now children may have more than one “mother” or “father.” Children today may have more than two sets of grandparents. They may have aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews from marriages that ended in divorce and began anew with new marriages to people who already had children from their past marriages. It is a little like the polygamist marriages so common in Mormonism. After awhile it becomes difficult to sort out who is a cousin or an aunt or a niece to whom. And so it seems to me that “Family Values” is a meaningless term, merely code for “no marriage benefits for gay couples.” I don’t know a single family today, with it’s multiple marriages, and all the children raised in these temporary marriages, that does not have at least one gay child within it. This fact implies that we don’t love all our children equally. That some of our children do not deserve the legal rights and privileges that our other children deserve. And this is a Christian value? If it is, then Christianity has undergone the same kind of radical shift in “values” that is apparent in all families.
Fundamentalist Christians believe the word of God, as set down in the Bible, is absolutely the “Truth.” If this line of thinking is taken to it’s logical conclusion, we would be stoning adulterers, we would be literally taking an eye for an eye. I would be able to say to any “Christian” who complains about the content of our mass media, “If thine eyes offend thee, pluck them out,” and would have a reasonable expectation that there would be a lot of one eyed “Christians” walking around out there. Women are exhorted from almost every pulpit in the land to “obey” their husbands, who are the moral authority, the rulers of their families. They seem to believe that it is their right (these old white men) to take away my rights as well a the legal rights of every female and gay person. They are about to strip our reproductive rights in the guise of Healthcare Reform. The Stupak Amendment and the Nelson Amendment are designed to make it impossible for women to make the choice to terminate a pregnancy. This has been a legal right since Roe versus Wade. If they succeed in taking away my rights as a woman, then they can take away your rights as an African American, and your rights as a Latin American, and your rights as a………. Where will this end? It will end in fascism. We will have no rights at all.
Identity is a complex process of often painful evolution. But we have developed over the short span of eight years an identity, as a nation in a world of other nations, as bullies and thugs. That is a big part of the Bush Legacy. Thank you Carl Rove, thank you Vice President Chenney, thank you Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Condoleezza Rice, and Alberto Gonzales. I could go on and on with the kudos, but if you’d been paying the slightest attention over the eight long Bush years, you know the cast of characters. Second raters, one and all. Mean and greedy. It’s hard for me to believe that these people all had reasonable credentials—good schools, a history of public service, business, law. What happened along the way that made them all so cynical and mean and greedy? What was in it for them besides wealth? Is wealth enough of an incentive to work so hard to wreck a country? Did they plan the economic collapse when it seemed a woman or a black man would be taking over to lead the sinking ship of state? Was the banking collapse a well improvised explosive devise planted to sabotage and guarantee failure for their successor? And did Dick Chenney always plan to stick around and needle the next administration?
We are learning things about ourselves and our government that are horrifying to me. That C Street has been doing its subversive secret work since the 1930s directing the legislative agenda of Congressmen, both Democrat and Republican, is only now becoming widely known. That we became torturers and that conservatives (both Republican and Democrat) believe this is a good thing is profoundly depressing. That lobbyists for corporate America are driving the agenda and funding the conservatives of both parties to stop reform of our Healthcare and Financial Industries and just might well succeed, and indeed have succeeded in keeping reform from happening at all, makes me want to leave this country and live in a country less enamored of greed and repression, less invested in fundamentalist religious doctrines, less willing to strip women of rights long ago fought for and won.
Mom met Andrew in 1981 when he came to pick me up for our blind date. Her pronouncement on him later that night, after he'd delivered me to my door was, "What an arrogant son-of-a-bitch."
The first time he came to pick me up, when his kids were visiting for that first summer, she made a point of saying, "Good thing you've got girls. I can't stand little boys." Thank God, he'd left the girls in the car. We were utterly speechless, and simply left. The girls liked me, and after dinner and the movie, the girls invited me to come home with them and sleep over. I accepted. When I called Mom from Andrew's to tell her not to worry, I was sleeping over, she said, "I thought you were both very rude to me when you left. You didn't even say goodbye." "I guess we didn't know what to say to your comment about little boys. Andrew does have a son. He lives with his mother, Andrew's first wife." "That doesn't explain anything." "Sorry. I'll see you sometime tomorrow." "What time?" "Don't worry about it. I have a key."
She complained as time went on and I spent more and more time living with Andrew and the girls, about our never giving her an invitation--like his family got. So next time we had a family get together she was included. She walked up to Andrew's youngest brother Curt and asked, "Have you ever had sex with an animal? I'm taking an informal survey, and want to know if it feels any different than sex with a human." Curt, who was an investment banker, newly married with a pregnant wife, stared expressionlessly at her face and then said, perfectly deadpan, "No, have you?" When Mom was out on the deck, feeding peanuts to the squirrels with the grandparents and the girls, Curt looked at Andrew and cocked one eyebrow. Then he raised his glass to Andrew and said, "Good luck. You're going to need it."
When I was invited to my first family Christmas Eve celebration hosted by Curt and his wife Amy, I was conflicted. It was my mother's family's tradition to celebrate Christmas very late on Christmas Eve. Sleeping in on Christmas day was the motivation for that ritual I'm sure. But I felt guilty about telling my mother I was choosing to spend the night with Andrew's family. I asked him if he thought Curt would mind inviting her.
"Do you think she can behave herself? There might be little boys there." "I'll ask her to be nice." "Won't that be like waving a cape in front of a bull? My father's a Republican and I'll bet she knows it." "I'll tell her she can't talk politics." "In your dreams." "It's Christmas for Christ's sake. How can I abandon her? Please." "Merry Christmas."
The Hoffman Christmas tradition was a crab-leg feast. The house was beautifully decorated. There was a big traditional tree, a fire in the fireplace, and one of the grandchildren (a boy) was banging out Silent Night on the piano. Andrew's older sister and her husband were there with their teenaged son. Helen, Curt's pregnant wife's family was in attendance. It was a big party. Their large dining room table was close quarters.
There were lots of plates and hot pots of melted butter, many wine glasses. Baskets of bread at both ends of the table, red sauce here and there, a huge salad bowl. But the thing that dominated the table were the two huge platters heaping with big steaming crab legs. I had never seen so many at one time. Chairs were crammed so tight around the table there would be no elbowroom.
Mom was seated between Andrew's mother, Marta, and his sister-in-law, Helen. We were across the table. Andrew's father was at one end and his brother, Curt, the host of the party, was at the other. Right there we had the possibility that Mom would start some sort of patriarchal diatribe concerning the archaic seating that placed men in those arbitrary positions. But Mom looked innocent and was behaving herself, so far. I began to breath again.
There was a lot of chatter as people began to pass platters and baskets. Wine bottles went the rounds and toasts were made. My mother raised her glass (I held my breath) but she only thanked everyone for inviting her. Again I could breathe. I was beginning to shiver and tried to concentrate on eating. I love sweet crabmeat dipped in melted butter.
Things went along pretty well and the meal was almost over. There was still dessert and coffee, but I was beginning to relax. I even left the room to help the older children clear dinner dishes from the table in preparation for dessert and exchange dirty wine glasses for coffee cups and brandy snifters. But by the time I got back to the table, Andrew's mother was leaning away from my mother and saying to Henry, her husband , "What is she talking about? Is this all right for the children to hear? I mean, isn't she talking about artificial insemination?" The last sentence is delivered in a loud stage whisper but I was just setting Harvey's coffee cup in front of him and I couldn't help overhearing. Oh shit. I'm in trouble now. She's off and running and there will be no stopping her.
I look down the table scanning for damage. Mom has her arm around Helen's brother's chair, leaning in front of Andrew's youngest daughter who is six. Mom is tugging on the sleeve of the the other brother-in-law sitting next to Andrew's oldest daughter who is nine. Helen's brother looks puzzled, but not horrified. But the man next to him is getting red in the face. I can hear Mom when she leans in front of Helen's brother to continue her conversation with the red-faced man. "You're a lawyer, you must at least have a legal opinion if you can't form an ethical or political opinion." Wap! The sound of the gauntlet being thrown.
"Mother, what are you talking about?" "Artificial insemination. There was a very interesting article in Ms. Magazine this month. It's about the moral question concerning the rights of the children of sperm donors to know their genetic heritage versus the right to privacy of the donor." "It's Christmas, and there are children at the table. Could we talk about something else, please?" "No one else is complaining. Who are you, the Christmas Nazi?" As I was about to respond, she turned back to the red-faced man and said, "Well?!"
Andrew's father, Harvey, stood and called for less conversation and said, "Could we please sing some carols? How about Deck the Halls?" Mom rolled her eyes and then pinned me with a withering look. I had spoiled her fun.
She never got another invitation to Curt's Christmas party.
When it came up the next year I told her why she hadn't been included. "You insisted on discussing a controversial topic that's inappropriate for children. We were eating dinner and artificial insemination seemed tasteless. Nobody wanted to talk about it. You were trying to start an argument. I don't understand why you'd want to do that, but it was embarrassing to me."
"Oh, so now I embarrass you. That's rich. They were so boring, so stuffy and dull. I was just trying to keep from dying of boredom. Well, if that's where you want to spend Christmas Eve, go. I'll have more fun alone. I won't have to spend the evening with the Christmas Nazi"
Men have quite complicated plumbing. Some men get breast cancer. Yes, I know. It seems so unfair that your flabby little man boobs can have all the same bad things happen to them as your wife/girlfriend's lovely plump breasts, but bad things can happen to man boobs too. Then think of all the complicated parts of a penis. What about your prostate? Ignore your throbbing prostate and you may end up prostrate. How are your Seminal Vesicles? I capitalize that because if those puppies go south you'll be in a world of hurt. I know. I was married to a man who had seminal vesicle problems. He was constantly in the hospital in agonizing pain. Men have a trickier relationship with their colons than women, statistically speaking, and they tend to wait longer than women to go to a doctor when they do have problems. Men are touchy about their nether-regions and not in a good way. I've known a lot of men and they all had a horror of having their bummy holes looked at. Just saying.