Posts Tagged ‘desire’

mary’zine #71: October 2014

October 26, 2014

 

saga d’amour conclut

When you fall in love, it’s like you get on a moving train with your lover, and you glide across the fruited plains and want for nothing. Everything is beautiful, and you believe that it will never change. Suddenly, you find yourself in the foothills, then on the dangerous mountain roads. You’re no longer on a train, and there’s no one else around. You’re alone with your simple need, one that your lover can no longer fulfill. You don’t know when—let alone why—everything changed. Despite the rarefied mountain air, you discover that Love is Flat, like the earth once felt. And you fall off the edge, as millions have done before you.

Now that the relationship is over, I risk sounding merely delusional, a victim of my own fantastical tendencies… as if I made the whole thing up, as if she was the level-headed one all along, humoring me while keeping my intense feelings at bay. There really ought to be a fairytale—told by the Grimm Sisters, perhaps—in which a Lesbian falls in love with a beautiful Princess (who is, of course, heterosexual; did you ever hear of a dyke Princess?). It’s a classic story, but, like many other women’s stories, it was never written down, or passed down orally. Ahem. This fairytale, if it existed, would not have a happy ending. And to be a bona fide fairy tale, a happy ending is a must—as is the inclusion of a Man to rescue the damsel from whatever horror results from not being with a Man. We lesbians have to rescue ourselves, or die trying.

My story doesn’t include a Man, unless you consider the male character who stands to the side of the stage, unaware of what is going on emotionally between his Woman and the never-seen Lesbian. I’m surprised Shakespeare never wrote this story. Or maybe he did and I missed it, having gotten a D in Shakespeare in college. (I had a lost year but was redeemed after I dropped out and started smoking marijuana. True story.)

There were certainly moments when it seemed that I—as the bona fide lesbian in the situation—was doomed or assumed to be the One in Love. But I know that she felt the same for awhile, which is what distinguished the relationship from my past encounters with unobtainable women. Oh sure, she was unobtainable, but there was a beautiful (delusional) time when we were together in the same matrix of wish and desire.

 

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requiem for a mad, mad, mad, mad love

When love is not madness it is not love.―Pedro Calderón de la Barca

Friendship is solid. That’s its nature. It can take many forms: years long, or situational. Situational friendship ends when the situation is over. Usually, this is understood by both parties. Situational friendship can reconstitute itself if the new situation allows it, or it can fade from lack of contact. Years-long friendship changes to love naturally, over time, but it is still solid.

Romantic love is volatile. Most such love is doomed to failure, unless both parties allow it to change its form.

Madness is volatile. If one person emerges from the madness and wants to transform the relationship into something safer, easier—into “friendship”—it won’t work if the other one is still in a state of madness.b9b1a59a30b035eddb6f7c496968a991

It’s a loop. Fantasy is volatile. Romantic love is fantasy. Fantasy is madness. Romantic love is madness, and madness is highly addictive, given the right circumstances.

With our friends, partners, relatives, we say we “love” them. When we’re mad, we say we’re “in love.”

Mad in love feels crazy, beautiful, even miraculous. It can cross boundaries with ease: marriage, sexual orientation, age, distance all become incidental… not because they are no longer true, or important, but because they have been swept away by the madness.

This old love has me bound. But the new love cuts deep.—Joan Armatrading

Mad in love is a revelation that two people could have such strong feelings for each other, even after a brief acquaintance. The spark flies, the flame is lit. But it rarely lasts. Someone comes to her senses, someone is threatened, has something to lose, is in danger of destroying another relationship that is no longer as exciting, as romantic, as mad… but is still important, a foundation that has momentarily been shaken.

She who emerges from the fantasy, the madness, is rationality personified. Friendship makes more sense (it is solid). It doesn’t threaten anything, it can coexist with the other elements. It is freer, less draining. Less hard on the heart. No longer volatile. Like taking the best parts of the attraction and eliminating the angst, the high emotion, as lovely as that was while it lasted. It’s hard to argue against friendship.

She who is still mad understands the reasonableness, is even in favor of it. Anything to stay close to the flame. She means well. But she is mad, after all. She misses the excitement, the intensity. She keeps looking for it even after it has been pronounced dead, or transformed. There is no transformation for the mad, regardless of the promises she makes, the reasonableness she thinks she can learn to live with.

Conflict becomes inevitable. One side wants reassurance, a return to the madness (even as she realizes it’s impossible), some proof that the flame is still flickering. The other side wants the madness to end—for her, the madness has ended—but doesn’t want to lose the connection.

Accusations fly, defenses are breached. Eventually, someone has to do something, because the reasonable and the mad do not mix. Someone must surrender to reality, declare a mistrial, give up the fantasy, give up the mad.

A happy ending is by no means assured. She who is still mad believes that she can’t “turn it on and off.” She who has already turned it off regards the other as immature, manipulative; she feels duped, sad, even indignant, as if she had nothing to do with any of it: the fantasy or the inevitable division and separation.

But there is no recourse. The worst must be faced. The madness will flame on for a bit longer, but she who has been clinging to the fantasy must see that it has been supplanted by the entirely reasonable-sounding “friendship.” Even then, the relationship has been built on a lie. The center cannot hold.

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Both wish that the terms could be renegotiated, the past reconstructed, as if nothing had happened. But something has happened, and there’s no going back.

It hurts, but there is also relief (surprisingly).

Farewell to the madness. Rest in Pieces.

 

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mary’zine #68: June 2014

May 29, 2014

41-burning-heart-in-flames--vector-illustration-1113tm-v1I am sick. Lovesick. I got a fever of a hundred and three. Hot blooded. Hot blooded. I wish I could tell you everything about her. But I can’t. I can only write about my own feelings. I’ll just say this one thing: She’s not “gay.” But she’s “a little bit gay for me.” It’s confusing for her, but not for me. I’m a seasoned lesbian. (Everything but cilantro.) I haven’t felt this way in a very long time.

Who knew this could happen at my advanced age? My baby sister Barb turned 60 recently, and now she signs herself, “Barbie 60.0.” That would make me Mary 67.5. Unimaginable. I first felt this way about a woman when I was a mere slip of an 18.0. “Our song”—unbeknownst to her—was “Woman” by Peter and Gordon. It was 1965, and it was the love that dared not speak its name. It was the first unconventional love I would experience, but not the last.

***

I wrote those first two paragraphs a few weeks ago. My fever has gone down slightly, but my love for (and trust of) this amazing woman has sky-rocketed. I can’t believe it.

I’ll call her “she.”

If only life were as simple as Facebook. I could just write, Relationship: Complicated.

My apologies to former lovers reading this. That was then, this is now. No comparisons. Life evolves, and sometimes we do, too. She and I feel that we were meant to get together on the playground (and workshop) of our minds and hearts. We have different—as well as similar—challenges, and we’ve already learned from each other. The banter and light verbal love play are intoxicating, but the drunkenness is fleeting. I’m learning that limitations and uncrossable boundaries can actually provide a freedom to soar above. She says she would like me to find a “complete” relationship, which she can’t give me for various reasons. I’m not interested in that. I’m much more interested in the inner life than the outer, and we are able to meet on that level. Though the screen is our palette, I am in love with the message, not the medium. She is a flesh and blood woman, proficient in the use of language, as I am. It’s amazing how much can be conveyed within that simple, seemingly colorless frame: some tears, some hearty LOLs, a few evocative icons, and the heart and intelligence to meet each other as equals and give and receive forgiveness for our failings. She believes in getting things out in the open. I’m more of a lurker. But I’m learning to love the challenge. One day there’s a misunderstanding—to be expected, since we are often typing at the same time, referring to earlier conversations or a parallel thread. She asks, “Are you playing games with me?” “No!” I stand my ground, assert my meaning. Suddenly “we can see clearly now”: Our first “fight” ends with mutual respect. I remind her what comes after a fight (make-up sex), but alas that’s not what we’re about. It’s a turning point, though, a moment of truth…. We both have trust issues, and we seem to be equally matched in guts and glory.

***

This thing started innocently enough. We were drawn to each other’s writing, and she to my paintings. I gave her a painting when I barely knew her. I could see that she was passionate about it, and the one she wanted was one I had thought no one would love but me.

Past middle age already, the body starts to fall apart. But the sexual flame can burn as hot as ever. The pounding heart when I see that she has left me a message: Priceless. It starts in the loins and progresses to the heart. On the one hand, my heart is sick with longing for what can never be. But on the other hand, I feel the simple joy of being alive and loving, not just her (in that heart-pounding way), but all my friends, and even some strangers, and humanity in general. I’m painting with my feverish heart. The images come fast and furious, and I paint them all, feel them all in my blood.

If I sound foolish, so be it. I am glad to feel this foolish, to have such a strong attraction to a woman with whom I can only relate via words on surrogate paper. I’m being here, now. Feeling what I feel as I go along. Dancing the pas de deux with a beautiful soul.

I had a new t-shirt made with the saying, “as is.” It was her idea, actually, that I would have to take her “as is.” And that’s exactly how I take her, and how she takes me. I have gained new confidence since my recent sexual escapade with an old friend… not just realizing that I’m capable of having sex, but that I want to. It’s been a long time since I even considered it. Self-confidence suffuses my being, makes me both lighter and stronger. This is true even though physical sex is not an option for us. But as I wrote in ‘zine #67, I am burning bright in myself. She is catching some of the passionate run-off, but I stake no claim on her. She’s only “a little bit gay.” Not enough to start a fire. I keep feeling like I’m borrowing Melissa Etheridge lyrics. Or Bruce Springsteen’s. Music is making me feel so full lately, so light on my feet. I dance inwardly and outwardly. We share songs that have touched us deeply. Music is the expression of sex, when sex is not on the table (so to speak). Sex is the heart’s blood. You don’t have to do it, but you can feel it, dammit… even we who live in the land where Puritans came to die.

I’m gushing. I know that. And instead of obeying the writer’s rule to “show, not tell,” I am just saying and saying and saying. And feeling and feeling. It feels good, it feels like almost too much but never quite. I am containing it, and it is pulsing within me. I am having an attack of the heart—but it’s a benign and joyous attack, like Death by Chocolate.

Besides: How can you not love someone who thinks your writing is “sublime”?

***

I love being gay, and it has almost nothing to do with sex (despite what I just said). Someday we will be completely absorbed into the larger society and it will seem odd that we were ever singled out for scorn and harassment. Society’s targets constantly change, while the methods and rationale remain the same. The Irish were the first “niggers” (A Different Mirror; Ronald Takaki). I worked with a woman direct from England who was scoffing at the idea of St. Patrick’s Day, and then she noticed that I was in the room and remembered the first 2 letters of my surname. She quickly backpedaled, but I caught the innuendo. And yet Irish Americans are, as far as I can tell, perfectly respectable now. And so will gay people be, one day.

Being gay, in the early 1970s when I came out, was difficult and awkward in many ways, but I loved living an “alternative lifestyle,” below the radar. By the way, I faced more surly looks and comments in the San Francisco Bay Area than I do here in the U.P. That probably just means that we’re still underground here, not at the top of anyone’s list of people to hate. But I’ve faced down a few men who thought they could stare and smirk and make me slink away with my vagina between my legs. One guy was sitting at the counter at the former Pat and Rayleen’s. I was paying my bill, the smirker smirked, and I stared back at him with fierce dyke eyes. Of course he backed down and looked away, what was he going to do? I happen to look more intimidating than I feel (or so I’ve been told: The enormous husband of a friend of mine thought I was going to kick his ass), so that can work for me in selected situations (daylight, public space, people around).

Back in those semi-dark ages, being gay seemed like a platinum credit card with no spending limit. We could move about, make changes, live our lives with no one being the wiser. P and I bought a house in Marin (suburb of San Francisco) when we couldn’t stand living in the cold and fog in S.F. anymore. The neighborhood was nice, the house and yard were quintessential suburbia, and the kitchen sported a counter with bar stools on one side, which perfectly matched our sense of ourselves as upwardly mobile semi-professionals. I said to P one day, “I feel like we fell through the cracks! How do they let us do this?” San Francisco was used to its “gays,” but Marin was a bedroom community that hadn’t quite registered our presence in its midst. It was like playing dress-up, or “store” or “house” in the basement when we were kids. It seemed like the ultimate payback for the discrimination we faced in other areas: “We will live like you!—not to mock you but because we watched Leave It to Beaver growing up, too, and we want nice things.” This could be the exact strategy of the baby-making gay men and lesbians who get to prove, finally, that we all have the equipment for reproduction regardless of who is paired with whom. Who knew that it would be “Adam and Steve” living in the garden? (“Ann and Eve”? I’ve never heard a female version of this meme.)

Lesbians were second-class gay citizens until we were (for some reason) included in the movement’s acronyms, LGBT and its more complicated successors; and not just included, but first! (For a handy definition of terms, see http://internationalspectrum.umich.edu/life/definitions). Now it’s de rigueur to say “lesbians and gay men,” although we’re still made to feel less than our male counterparts, because their public image is one of “slender, beautiful, and talented,” whereas ours is “fat and flannel wearing.” (Sex guy Dan Savage looks down on us for letting ourselves go. Dig a little deeper, Dan; there are reasons for that.) Men have agency. Women who don’t desire men and are not desired by them are either irrelevant or threatening to the world as men see it.

I love not being on a conventional track. I was “as good as married” for 12 years, and our break-up, though painful as any other, involved piling my VW Bug with whatever it would carry and driving 10 miles south to my new apartment. A good friend who got married when it was made legal in Massachusetts went through hell and a lot of money to get out of that contract.

***

When you’re in love, no one really wants to hear about it. Good friends will listen as they listen to any other story about your life, but there’s a limit to what you feel you can tell them. You don’t just want to give the barest details, the who, the why, the how-you-met—you want to repeat and chuckle over the endearments, the in-jokes, the “you won’t believe what she said last night”s. For some reason, it isn’t enough to laugh about this with your new love, you want to share. And we all know what sharing that sort of thing eventually turns into: too much information.

Lovers are inherently selfish. You’re delighted with yourselves, proud that someone chose you. You get giddy, adopt pet names, stay online, on the phone, or in bed (if you’re lucky) for hours. The rest of the world recedes, at least for the duration. It’s wonderful, but sometimes you feel it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing will come crashing down. The wrong person will find out, or, worse, one lover’s definition of the relationship (an unstoppable force) will meet the other lover’s quite different idea of what’s going on (an immovable object).

There is a certain amount of hubris involved in a new love relationship. You think you can change her life, just as she expects to make a few adjustments to yours. Neither plan may live up to the expectations of the other. Geography, marital status, sexual orientation, and other factors that seem like certainties may temporarily be finessed or passed over, as if the grand belief that “anything is possible” is really a solid basis for reconciling your two hearts. Yes, people can move, marriages can end, and sexual orientation can be redefined, but often these fixes are not possible or even desired.

***

I feel like I’ve gained a new lease on life and all the other clichés that say the same thing. My blood is pounding at more frequent intervals, my organs are sprucing themselves up and getting a new wardrobe, and I feel more alive and engaged than I have felt in years. I haven’t been unhappy here in the U.P.—quite the opposite. But a few years ago I felt complete, felt I had accomplished all I’d wanted to in life, and was perfectly happy to let it all go if that’s what was meant to happen. Now… I want to stick around. It was the farthest thing from my mind that I would ever fall in love again, let alone feel physically attracted to someone who returned the emotional attachment if not the full complement of sexual feelings.

But even that sexual asymmetry can work in one’s favor. It’s lovely to be loved, even if it can’t be embodied. Sex is there when we love the same song. We have been known to break out in lyrics when we’re typing onscreen. Music is in our blood. Our hot blood. My hot blood, maybe “a little bit” in hers. I’m not responsible for her blood, nor she for mine. Whatever’s happening with her is fine with me.

There are, of course, many patterns that lovers tend to play out. And maybe everyone thinks they will be different. But I truly feel that I have found someone who is able and willing to transcend the burden and complications of a physical love and living situation. When faced with limitations, you can turn them around to become advantages. We are both oriented toward the inner rather than the outer. We enjoy and are learning from each other in all the ways that matter: becoming stronger, more secure in our own beings. Working through the baggage we all carry, in whatever degree and kind. You could say it’s just cerebral, but it’s a lot more than that. She’s the only person I’ve found who is both emotionally and intellectually stimulating. Both familiar and exciting. Neither of us was looking for anything or anyone. We met under the most unlikely circumstances. And I will be forever grateful to her, regardless of what happens next.

***

Is that all you can talk about, Mare? Yeah, pretty much… for now. My heart is full, and so is my mind…. wondering at life’s sudden changes of direction. But what seems to be coming out of thin air actually has long-growing roots. A long-awaited bloom. A spring that took forever to get here but is now bursting with life.

Bring it on.

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mary’zine #65: February 2014

February 5, 2014

Well, this is awkward. I had this issue of the mary’zine all ready to go when something happened that completely changed my premise, my mood, and my confidence. But what I had written was pretty inspiring, if I do say so myself, so I am retaining some of it. I wrote about miracles, how they don’t come from outside—Jesus or “the universe”—but from deep within. What I didn’t realize was that miracles can reverse or redefine themselves. Imagine you’re savoring your cup of wine and suddenly it turns back into water. Perhaps the miracle was not the transformation of the substance but the discovery that something deeper is going on. Or you are successfully risen from the dead, only to keel over 5 minutes later from a heart attack. I can’t presume to know what deeper miracle could be at work in that case, but my point is that things are not always what they seem. Even miracles.

To be continued on the other side of my sad air travel stories.

adventure time

Adventure is just hardship with an inflated sense of self—Orange Is the New Black

This definition of adventure suits me to a tee. My trips to the West Coast certainly qualify as “hardship,” but I also have a rather inflated sense of self. Voilà: adventure. Most people who fly across the country don’t consider it adventure or hardship. But they are not me, are they?

When my alarm went off at 5 a.m. on the morning of my departure for the December painting intensive, I wished with all my heart that I could call it off. I sat there for 5 minutes hoping for an act of God, a small personal injury, or the huevos to call Barbara and simply announce, “I’m not coming—and you can’t make me!” This attitude is not much different from the feelings I had in high school when I had to get up before dawn to get ready for a long car trip to Marquette or Houghton for a debate tournament. I’ll never know why I put myself through that. As with painting, it was my choice to participate, to take those forays into the scary unknown—but the part of me that wants to hold back, stay home, stay safe has always been so strong.

I confess to having flown between Green Bay and Chicago without wearing a seat belt. I hate asking for the extension, and the flight attendants on United Express tend to be less than diligent in checking. They have virtually nothing to do on that flight… no beverage service, nothing. They drone on about what to do if the plane crashes over Lake Michigan (which they never say in so many words; they call it a “water landing,” making it sound like a fun ride at Six Flags), but they often don’t notice my lack of seat belt or the noncompliance of the person in the seat in front of me who does not return her seat back to its full upright position. With all the rude jokes about fat Midwesterners, you’d think the regional airlines would invest in seat belts that go all the way around a body. None of this is an excuse for “flying bareback,” as it were. I’m just saying it happens sometimes.

close encounters with the martinets of the airways

The TSA agents at the Green Bay airport are patient and kind. They fall all over themselves accommodating folks, even wishing us an enjoyable flight! This attitude is not known in other airports, or at least I haven’t experienced it.

Flying west, I only have to go through security in Green Bay, but on the way back, the San Francisco airport can be its own special ring of hell. You never know what you’re going to encounter, or indeed what the rules are. This is between 4 and 4:30 a.m. after driving from The City to SFO, getting past the side-by-side signs that tell you that San Bruno Ave. is this way and San Bruno (the town) is that way. San Bruno Ave. is the turnoff for the airport, but it has always been a mystery to me why they don’t do something—perhaps add “SFO” to the Ave. sign—so confused out-of-towners don’t have to make the split-second decision of which way to go. I mean, I mostly know how to get there after X number of years of doing it, but it still makes me nervous every time.

So this is after the 7-day painting intensive. Terry happens to be on my flight from SFO to Chicago, but we might as well be in different worlds, because I’m in first class and she’s back in coach. I even have a different security line to go through. Both of us had discovered at some point that we have been “pre-checked” by TSA (when did that happen, and how, and why?). The only perk I’ve noticed is that we don’t have to take our shoes off, for which small favor I am grateful in the extreme. In San Francisco this time I’ve put everything I’m carrying into the bins. I notice a TSA agent standing near the body scanner, or whatever they’re calling it now, but I don’t know or care what he’s doing there. As I start to move toward the scanner, he stops me and says, with a hefty dash of disbelief in his voice, “You didn’t take your shoes off!” I say, “I’m pre-checked.” He says, “I’ll need proof of that.” I point out that the proof—my boarding pass—is at that moment going through the conveyer belt x-ray, and he says he can’t let me through unless I take off my shoes. It is early enough, I am tired enough, and I’m just plain fucking annoyed enough to want to take this dispute all the way to the Shoepreme Court (ha). But he has been designated the interpreter and enforcer of the rules, a self-contained unit like the baby doll who can both drink water and pee it out. I have been threatened in the past with being “escorted out” for not having thrown my water bottle away, so I know there’s no room for an indignant customer to vent. We are just a few steps away from the conveyer belt, but of course the guy is not going to go over there and pull my bag out and check the boarding pass. I know it’s stupid, but I finally am granted the right to keep my goddamn shoes on, and now I have to take them off anyway? He tells me that I was told I’d have to hold on to my boarding pass. “No, I wasn’t.” “I’m sure you were.” Blah blah blah. I’m not going to say the U.S. is turning into 1930s Germany, but if it were, they wouldn’t have to change much to keep us in line. We are being schooled.

One of the most bizarre encounters I’ve ever had with a flight attendant (FA) was also on the flight out of San Francisco. Because a male passenger had condescendingly (“No, no, no, no, no…”) informed me that I couldn’t put my coat and cane in the overhead bin because he needed to put his ginormous roller bag up there (Me: “I checked MY baggage”), the FA put them up front. When we got to Chicago, we were delayed for about half an hour on the runway because another plane was sitting at our gate. I only had an hour or so to get to my connecting flight. As we’re finally inching toward the gate, the same FA gives me back my coat but not my top hat and cane. (OK, there was no top hat.) When we’re standing by the door waiting for it to open, I ask for my cane, and she says, “I told you to remain in your seat until I see your wheelchair.” (I always order a wheelchair to get me between concourses, terminals, or universes, as the case may be.) This is ridiculous. I ask her why. She says, “It’s cold out there” (in the Jetway), but what does that have to do with anything? I argue with her, and she finally changes her tack: “So what do you want to do, then?” This throws me off, because—what? She asks the same question several times—I guess I’m not responding coherently—I’m hopped up on goofballs, lady!—and reiterates that she can’t let me out until she sees my wheelchair. A male FA then reaches over several heads to hand me my cane. (Although they may be equal in rank, the male in the situation gets to make a unilateral decision. If the sexes were reversed, I don’t think the woman could have overridden the man’s demand).

So the door opens, and I huff and hobble my way up the ramp. Another employee comes out of nowhere and says my wheelchair is waiting at the top, but when I get there it’s gone. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to make it to my next flight, but I give it the old college try. I flag down a passing cart, and the very nice woman driver takes me to the other terminal. At some point Terry catches up with me, and we discover we’re stranded: All the flights leaving Chicago are being canceled because of a massive snowstorm. The last time this happened to me, I was stuck there for 3 days. This time, I’m thrilled to have the misery-loves-company. As we approach the Hilton, we have to be handed over because they can’t take us “out of the airport,” though it’s under the same roof. T kindly pays for the room, but I insist on paying for dinner in the dining room, which costs almost as much.

We are both given new reservations for our separate flights the next day—me to Green Bay, her to Hartford CT. It still looks very snowy, so I don’t have much faith that we’ll get out of there anytime soon, but past the initial delight at having the extra time together, I really want to get home so I can change my clothes. In the morning we’re given free chits for the buffet and have a decent breakfast before parting ways with such sweet sorrow.

Going through security, I make it through with my pre-check privilege intact, but then I’m told I’ve been randomly selected for special treatment. I have to go to another area, hold my hands out with my palms up, and get swabbed for… explosives. Really? I’ve been pre-checked for my shoes but not my hands? When he’s done, the guy has to tell me to put my hands down, because I am at heart a good little rule-follower—isn’t that always the way with rebels? We secretly crave security but fight against that humiliating desire whenever possible.

It’s on the United Express flight north that I don’t wear my seat belt. At Green Bay—not having had a “water landing” over a certain Great Lake—I discover that my suitcase has preceded me, so that’s a comfort. (But why does the plane carrying my luggage never get stranded like the plane carrying me?) My Jeep is covered in snow but starts right up. After my usual side trip to El Sarape, I drive the 50+ miles home, fighting sleep all the way. As always, it is bliss to get home and see my kitties, who are in a flurry, wanting at the same time to (a) bounce around me and (b) run through the house celebrating my return (or so I like to think). We end up in a pile on the big chair and ottoman and sleep like angels.

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… the delight, when your courage kindled,

And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

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Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

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the body abides

In mary’zine #62 (June 2013), I wrote about a major change in my relationship to my physical self. It happened over the course of 7 days of painting—or at least that’s when it made itself known—and at my advanced age, it felt like a miracle. One of the signs was a completely unexpected attraction to an old friend. I was burning up with it, but she was hesitant… more than hesitant… she didn’t see how it could work. So I reluctantly put those thoughts aside and tried to see that the important part of what had happened was my feeling. I was the one who had changed, I who now knew the power of long repression of the life of the body, and its release.

 

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lez iz more

The feelings returned when I saw her next, 6 months later. She still had doubts, but then “one thing led to another” (as they say), and we became lovers. She didn’t hold anything back, and neither did I. I had never felt anything like this: We were completely compatible, like horse and carriage, like love and same-sex marriage. We were not afraid, or shy. We were both completely open to each other. She came to visit me over Christmas, and it was even better than before. I learned so much about my body, my expectations, my seemingly bottomless fount of desire and satisfaction. We felt as natural and close as we ever had in our almost 30-year friendship, but now with new feelings, new expressions. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but there was a strong sense of que sera sera, at least on my part. Of course, it’s always easier to trust the Truth when it’s working out so great for you in the moment.

This was huge for me. For at least 45 years I have worked on changing myself. I’ve followed people who seemed to have the truth, I’ve read books that seemed to have the truth…. I’ve had the practice of painting which has given me many rewards over the years, but the reward that has been the longest in coming to my conscious attention is this knowledge that we change, not only from the inside out, but from deep down, below our knowing. And I’ve learned to pay attention to the subtle indications, like when I started noticing I was getting more interested in my family and my hometown, back before I had any conscious knowledge that I would ever (in a million years) want to move back here. Something inside us knows before the conscious mind does, and given time and attention it eventually shows itself. So I say now that I don’t decide what to do, I find out what to do. When the time was right to make the move back home, everything fell into place. When I was finding out if I wanted to live here, I was committed to accepting the truth when it was revealed, whatever it was. I have a confidence in myself now that’s like the dreams I have in which I’m driving a car but I can’t see where I’m going. I panic, but suddenly I can see again and I’m perfectly safe.


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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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One of the most amazing discoveries we made during the time my friend/lover and I spent together was the insignificance of orgasm. Not just insignificance: irrelevance. What we had was way better than     orgasm. More sustained, completely satisfying. I’m now spoiled for the self-induced orgasms I’ve used as my surrogate “sex life.” This is the opposite of “lesbian bed death.” This is lesbian bed resurrection, insurrection, uprising and rising and rising… a completely different way of experiencing sex.

ooh la la!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But then—life turned on another dime, and I found myself on the wrong side of the door: the door of Love. She couldn’t “emotionally commit”; it didn’t feel “completely right.” There is no way to accurately interpret what the one who turns away is saying. All the assertions that “I love you so much” and “sex with you is so wonderful” do all but make the mind implode when she says she’s “not ready” to embrace this new/old relationship.img001 copy 8

Despite my assertions about my new-found confidence, I haven’t quite gotten my head around this. I finally have the best sex of my life with someone I love very much, and it’s suddenly snatched away. (When good writers make bad puns….) But I’m quite sure I have not lost the most important thing: the capacity to express and receive love through my body. It’s just hard to know what to do with it now.

I know that life’s pain—of love, of attraction, of rejection—is the doorway. It’s hard to explain what this doorway is. What’s on the other side, and why is it important to go there? I believe that Truth is there, behind the pain, and it is not dependent on anyone outside myself, even a wonderful lover. So: My mission now is to face the Truth—no holds barred, no excuses accepted, and no explanations required.

********************
For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

—John O’Donohue (To Bless the Space Between Us)

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mary’zine #62: June 2013

June 8, 2013

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The Difference (King’s X)

 I walked through a garden
In the morning
I walked right into
A change

No words were spoken
Just a feeling
And I cannot explain
But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

Wind it comes and
It blows
Where it comes from
I don’t know

To look for a reason
Might just kill it
And I cannot explain
But I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference
I can feel the difference

And I cannot explain

 

7 days

Terry read us the above song lyric during the last sharing of the May painting intensive at the CCE Painting Studio in San Francisco. It fit my experience of the week perfectly. And now I face the challenge of using language to somehow “explain,” describe, or at least evoke it in some way.

As usual, I have lots of little things to share about my trip, some on the ground, some in the air, but one major theme has come up that doesn’t seem suited to intertwining with details about restaurants, traffic, and funny conversations. I’m not sure what to do about that. If I promise to put all that stuff at the end and call it The Lighter Side, can you stay with me here as I no doubt poorly “explain” the big thing that happened? OK, here goes.

Writing this the day after I got home, my mind is buzzing and my body is buzzing, but I don’t think they’re buzzing in the same direction. Or level. Or something. The mind is all earnest and heartfelt and wanting to share the strangeness and plumb the apparent disconnect between physicality and consciousness. Its agenda is to understand and thereby control the strange goings-on. But the body is all about the inarticulate but strongly felt sensations where old and new experiences and perceptions are stored. Far from languishing, it exerts its own control from down in the briny deep.

In the last issue of the mary’zine, I wrote about a body part that I loathe. But I have encountered new life, new blood in a region of my body that has been felt but unplumbed for a very long time. It is, for lack of a better term, the “lower region.” I would call it visceral, the “pit of my stomach,” but anatomically I don’t even think the stomach is that far down. I will just call it the “lower region”: the lower belly, just shy of the genital area but surely connected to it by plumbing (!) and magic.

So Barbara was talking about this “lower region” and about how much feeling and power is stored there. She was sitting cross-legged on the couch, and she gestured to the area on her own body, but I wasn’t sure what the perimeters were. I made her stand up and show me. I was really excited to know that something important goes on in that area, because I’ve had sensations there (rare but strong) since a young age. I couldn’t put a name to them, but I eventually came up with the words lovepityhome…. The love and pity seemed to be for my mother. I remember when I was about 12 years old she had bought me a pair of slacks for Easter. When I went into my bedroom to try them on, I had this intense sensation (quick, where’s my thesaurus?)—a short-lived piercing ache, an abyss of love closely linked to pain into which I could toss any number of words: regret? fear? guilt? the bleakness and joy of existence in this world? I wanted to escape my situation (home), but I felt inexorably tied to it, to my family whom I knew I would leave behind literally and in so many other ways. I knew my mother loved me. But her attempts to please me made me feel almost worse than her insensitivity to my feelings at other times. Her life was hard, with an invalid husband to care for and a family of five to support. She did her best, and maybe that’s why I felt that “strange brew” in my body. (The band Cream’s song “Strange Brew”—“kill what’s inside of you.”)

(I’m throwing a bunch of words on this, like sprinkling salt on a casserole. I hope it makes sense, on some level.)

I’ve had this sensation many times over the years, and I welcome it, I’m not sure why. It comes on its own, I can’t make it happen. And now that I know it’s an important part of the body’s feeling apparatus, uncontrolled by the mind—that ultimate emperor with no clothes—I want to become more aware of it and express it or follow it, or whatever will give it the freedom to flower.

I can’t believe that it took me more than a week to connect sex to this area. For almost the whole intensive, I was having strong sexual feelings, and by the last day it was clear that those feelings were being prompted by my new attention to this complicated area of my body. (“This old gray Mare still has some gas in her tank!”, I thought, or maybe that was Minnie Pearl.) I’m still not sure how sex enters into the love/pity/home theme, but I suppose it makes sense that the most difficult feelings, the ones most laden with significance and physicality, would all be related somehow.

***

During the week I had the usual feelings of disconnect between painting and life. As in the song lyrics I quoted at the beginning, painting made a huge difference but it wasn’t possible to trace the connecting lines, connect the dots, explain a damn thing. On the painting I started after the talk about the “lower region,” I painted myself standing knee-deep in a body of water, and all my attention was on what was below the water—as if my own body were a mere afterthought. Barbara and I saw this at the same time, and it was very telling. I had to focus on my body, which was difficult because I couldn’t paint my feelings literally: A black or muddied band around the lower region wasn’t going to be enough. So I just painted, and I have no idea what happened. The painting isn’t finished, but I scanned a couple parts of it to show you.

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Looking at these images now, I’m struck by two things: The “lower region” I’m talking about has an eye in it. This makes me wonder if that part of the body, an apparent storehouse of denied emotion, is more wise and sensitive than we can imagine. And the larger eyes, especially as seen in the second image, project intense power. As I was painting, I had no idea that they meant anything, and they weren’t even in the “area” I wanted to concentrate on. But looking at them now, it seems obvious.

The sexual resurgence I started to feel during the painting week has continued. Have I unleashed something—my own Pandora’s box*—only to be stymied in the face of consequences? (*According to that bastion of scholarly research, Wikipedia, the “box” was really a jar; [“I left Pandora’s box ajar”?] The mistranslation was blamed on Erasmus of Rotterdam. But I digress. No, wait, I’m not finished. Zeus gave Pandora the jar, with instructions not to open it under any circumstances. Remind you of anything? Hint: apple, snake? What is it with mythological male figures enticing women to do “evil” (assuming evil = mere curiosity) and thus bring down the wrath of the very same gods (or God). By the way, Zeus didn’t punish Pandora for disobeying him—“because he knew this would happen.” It was a set-up from the beginning!)

Since the first insight about the “lower region” struck me, I’ve been discovering layers upon layers of repercussions. One of the major ones is not just sex but Desire. Desire seeks an object. Pandora’s container is easily unhinged when Desire is on the lam. Is Pandora’s jar commensurate with desire? or merely with fantasy? Does fantasy lead to recklessness…cracking the foundation of truth by placing unearned weight on it? or balancing rickety ladders on chair rails to reach a higher understanding? Can fantasy be a means to the truth? One of my dalliances, years ago, resulted in my seeing beyond the illusion of lust to the truth that both of us were in it for ourselves. There was a lot of hot body action but no true communion of souls. Just two female animals trysting under the stars (or in my office after hours, but if this were a poem I wouldn’t mention that). But talk about being alone when you’re with someone. Selfishness (whether the driver or the result of fantasy) is isolating.

So when I got home after the intensive, I found—or imagined—an object of desire in the form of an old friend who had once been attracted to me. It surprised me indeed to open that door and find her there… as if she had been sitting on the other side, waiting patiently. It was astonishing to think that this could be real. But would my desire for her be a welcome gift? Or would it be seen as a mixed message, a mixed gift, a once-nixed gift, a gift too old to be of value?

Desire: a hard pounding in my heart, a hurt before it ever finds its happiness, and also after.

I held Desire in until I couldn’t hold it anymore: the hot potato of love. I threw it to her—made my proposition. I wanted to make a deal. I’d pick door #1, the least threatening, the least life-altering, the maximum good with the minimum cost or hazard. Sex is infinitely malleable, is it not? Couldn’t we define it, indulge in it, as narrowly or as broadly as we chose? We had a long-lasting friendship, had been through a lot together. And there are no rules for being gay (one of the best parts, frankly). Straight people have several well-worn paths laid out for them, whereas we are always, of necessity, blazing our own trails.

Unfortunately, being human does have rules. Truth has rules, as well as hard-and-fast demands. Truth will not be cheated or betrayed. Truth cannot be faked, or extended like a warranty, or cut to fit the Procrustean bed. It just is. Truth is. There is nothing else. Imagine that! We dither and debate and put our thumb on the scale to give ourselves a small advantage, but advantage does not exist, it is ephemeral, and still a cheat in the long run. Truth is. Being is. Honesty is all there is. Existence is truth, with an unyielding foundation—or none at all; which is scarier? I think truth matters but is not material. There’s not even a choice. All of our choices are imaginary escapes. To be still, silent, unreaching, unmoving, even burning with desire… Desire is a gift because it is fuel for being, and being still. It does not require tossing itself like a hot potato, hoping for another to catch it, keep it, nurture it, and pass it back and forth until the heat disperses.

If I can’t toss my hot love potato to a suitable (and willing) mate, then what is there to do? Loving, longing, lounging, logging. OK, logging won’t help, but maybe longing. What does one long for if not the unattainable? And what does one do with a lifetime of repressed power? If I let it grow and be, it will guide me. It will guide me right back to myself, because, really, it’s the only place to be. Longing is not for something, it’s an expression of self. Putting oneself out there by going nowhere. I do not long for, I just long.

At least, now, in my semi-dotage—I put myself somewhere around October 12th in the metaphor of months equaling a life—I am surely still capable of spinning golden threads of illusion, but I am also a seasoned veteran of the ineluctable Real: the stronger force—the stronger desire—which is for truth. Truth of my feeling. Truth of my lover’s feeling. Truth of relationship and loving connection whether or not the connection is the one desired in the moment. Honesty in talking about these things with openness, understanding of risk, self-awareness, love for the other even when her truth means she has to reject the offer, the longing, the desire. One knows one is loved when one is turned down so gently, almost wistfully.

A crisis of faith would be to dwell on what might have been at the expense of what is. What is true. Right here, right now. There is no other place I want to be.

 I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now
There is no other place I want to be
Right here, right now
Watching the world wake up… in me.

(“Right Here, Right Now,” sung by Jesus Jones; slight edit by Mare)

*

*

*
the lighter side!

So now I’ll tell you about my flight to S.F. At Chicago O’Hare (an airline-sponsored ring of hell) we sat on the runway for the usual unit of time (long). I dozed off, having taken the requisite Dramamine and lorazepam, and awoke as if after an entire night’s sleep to hear the pilot announce, “Ready for takeoff.” I was alarmed and asked my seat mate, a young man, “You mean we haven’t even left yet?” He looks out the window and dryly points out the obvious, that “we’re still on the ground.” I can see a large American Airlines building in the distance and, indeed, I can see ground, but in my drug-addled state I thought for a moment that I had slept all the way to San Francisco and the plane was now about to take off for somewhere else. I just said, “Oh my God” and fell back asleep. I was glad later that I hadn’t jumped up and cried, “I forgot to get off the plane!” The only other time I spoke to that guy was when I saw a flight attendant preparing the pilot’s meal. We in first class had been given the choice of spinach cannelloni or chicken cacciatore, but when the flight attendant got to me, the cannelloni was gone already and she had to give me a detailed explanation of which passengers got first choice: global, premiere, super-duper (I quickly lost track of United’s superlative brand names), front to back of cabin, most miles flown, etc. (Those last two don’t even make sense: your seat in the 6-row cabin is not determined by your customer status). So I picked at the chicken, ate a roll, and pondered how even paying for first class doesn’t guarantee you’ll get all the perks. You get a hot towel, though, and hot nuts, which impress me a lot less than they did on my first first class flight. So when I saw what the pilot was getting, I turned to my seat mate and said, with heavy emphasis, “The pilot got a baked potato.” The guy had to remove one earphone to hear me. “What?” “The pilot got a baked potato.” We chuckled in mock outrage, and I was quite proud of my brazen importuning of this perfect stranger.

I’ve noticed a difference in how I deal with strangers these days, especially during a painting intensive. Everywhere we went in the City, I felt like I was facing each person we encountered with my “front” completely undefended. It seemed so much easier than trying to shrink back and hide behind an imaginary shield of invisibility. My back, of course, was spine-sturdy, a literal back-up should things go wrong. Sensing danger or disdain, the openness shuts down quietly, like a Kindle cover clicking quietly closed (I should have gone into advertising). A case in point: I did not feel open to my seat mate on the flight back home. There was something about him, or the way he ignored me, I’m not sure what it was, but I held myself back and we didn’t say a word to each other. I wasn’t hiding from him, just self-contained. Thanks, 12 years of somatic psychotherapy!

Terry and I had a great week—with each other, with the other painters, and with the many strangers and old friends we encountered during our daily rounds of lunch, dinner, and grocery shopping. We stayed in a different house this time, in Bernal Heights a block off Mission, and enjoyed the amazing views and spacious upstairs with a beautiful long table that was our command center for eating, computing, and piling stuff. It had lots of stairs to contend with, but I’m happy to report that I had no walking-related pains during the week. I had my cane along, but I was able to get around pretty well without it. This was huge… and stood me in good stead when I had to walk/scuttle/shuffle halfway across O’Hare to make my connecting flight home when the cart driver off-loaded me far from the gate. (A not very interesting story for another day, perhaps when I publish my Stories That Don’t Fit Anywhere Else, and Aren’t That Interesting Anyway.)

Driving all over the City (and dipping down into Marin briefly) in a cramped and weak-willed Ford Fiesta, I had a few close calls in traffic, but I got us home without any major damage to ourselves or the car, didn’t I? I mean, that red arrow at the ramp onto South 101 in Mill Valley was obscured by my sun visor. And that yellow car on Mission came out of nowhere! Plus, I had no choice but to blast through the red light at Sloat and Ocean, because I was caught in the intersection and had to keep going, I couldn’t go back: “I have to! I have to!,” I cried, as T gazed in horror at the three or four lanes of traffic to our right that now had the right of way. Occasionally, I let her drive and we both felt empathy for the other’s position: She had to make the crucial decisions when there was no traffic light to legislate our stop-and-go, and I experienced the helplessness of having no control over those decisions except to say “Wait!” or “Go, go go!”

***

Yes, I’m all over the place with my stories, but though the 7 days seemed to progress in a linear fashion—night/day, night/day—the way one remembers things is not linear at all. It’s all a mishmash in there, and one thought that rises to the surface may lead to another that is not obviously related. Welcome to the human brain.

***

New restaurants. L’Avenida is gone now, a huge disappointment. We tried to go to El Toreador in West Portal, but there was a long wait. So we strolled across the street to Spiazzo at 6:30 on a Saturday night and were surprised to get seated within 15 minutes. Excellent food, too. We also had two meals at Tacos Los Altos on Cortland in Bernal Heights. I enjoyed the super veggie burrito, but the second meal of steak enchiladas didn’t meet the high standards of Mexican food that I have become accustomed to in Wisconsin. (I had lunch at El Sarape after I touched down at GRB, because, well, when in Green Bay, eat like the Green Bayans do. My favorite Mexican-American waiter there always remembers me and my sisters, so I thought I was giving him and the restaurant a compliment when I told him that I preferred the food he was serving me to what I had had in San Francisco. Too late, I realized that I was saying more about my limited palate than I was about the heavily Midwesternized meals they serve around here. The waiter said he was from Los Angeles and preferred the food out there. Yeah, OK, never mind.

The painting week was filled with good will and great conversations with Penny R, Diane L, Diane D (who didn’t paint and could only join us for dinner on Wednesday and Friday nights, but her presence was a mitzvah as always), Sandra, Carol, Kate, Linda, Kyle…. Barbara was a delight and a challenge—deeply caring, deeply trusting of her own truth, and deeply in tune with our process(es). Even when I wasn’t sure I was “feeling anything,” it was clear that “something was going on”; I think painting has made me lose my words, or at least my exacting ones. Barbara pointed out that I’m comfortable in the world of language, and that living in the body is more difficult for me. The shift confounds me, because I’ve always believed that coming up with just the right word or string of words is as good as any inchoate “feeling.” I’ve always thought I would be more comfortable as a head in a jar (but not Pandora’s), as long as I could write or speak. Maybe with Google glass and other high technical arts to remove the body’s distractions from the interface, humanity will eventually do away with the physical world altogether?  (But I would miss cats; maybe I could have a cat head in a jar next to me. Oh, now I’m just being silly.)

One day in the sharing, I relayed a true story I’d read online about a man who had been swallowed by a hippopotamus. Turns out he wasn’t actually swallowed (I’d been thinking: There are only two exits—which one did he escape from, and how?). He told it this way: “I was aware that my legs were surrounded by water, but my top half was almost dry. I seemed to be trapped in something slimy. There was a terrible, sulphurous smell, like rotten eggs, and a tremendous pressure against my chest. My arms were trapped but I managed to free one hand and felt around – my palm passed through the wiry bristles of the hippo’s snout. It was only then that I realised I was underwater, trapped up to my waist in his mouth.” Eventually, the hippo “spit [him] out.” My favorite part was the guy’s conclusion: “Time passes very slowly when you’re in a hippo’s mouth.” I thought it was quite an instructive message, raising questions as to the nature of time, perception, and WTF he was doing that close to a hippo. (Answer: He’s a river guide—a one-armed river guide at this point.)

I think the biggest laff of the week came when Barbara told us about being hugged by a neighbor who always says, “God bless you.” Barbara was unsure how to respond. “You too” didn’t seem right. Even less so: “Back atcha.” I suggested she answer her in German, in which Barbara is fluent. So Amanda pipes up: “Gesundheit?” OK, so you had to be there, but the thought of saying “Gesundheit” to someone who’s just said “God bless you” was just too hilarious. We laughed like crazy persons.

Neither Terry nor I could sleep the night before we were to leave, so we started the “day” at 2 a.m. We followed her GPS to SFO, dropped the rental car off at Hertz, and parted on the air train because we were leaving from different terminals. It was bittersweet. At security, I was astonished to find that the TSA (now CSA?) were all very kind. I never thought I’d hear the words “Have a good flight” in that corner of bureaucracy. And instead of marching me off to the side and demanding that I surrender my half bottle of water or be “escorted out,” the woman who found it in my bag merely asked if I wanted to go outside the security area and drink it or if she should toss it. Faced with this display of rationality and human feeling, I was practically speechless. In the terminal proper, I stopped at a kiosk to buy some non-bomb-containing water, and I asked the seller why everyone in the airport was so nice now: they’d never been before. She responded… nicely… that it was better than being nasty, and I told her I appreciated it. It really made everything about the airport experience more tolerable.

My flight home was relatively uneventful—I especially appreciate the jet stream, if that’s what explains the much shorter time in the air when going east—except in Chicago (hub of all airline ills) where something happened to the “auxiliary power” and we had to wait on the plane for airport maintenance to come and fix it. The delay was probably less than an hour, but I always have a heightened sense of fear when I get that close to home and face the possibility of being stranded, as I did a couple years ago.

The cats were thrilled to have me home, and for the first day and a half they didn’t let me out of their sight. I’m sure my sister Barb did a great job of caring for them—including a repeat of the lying on the floor by the bed and singing “Jesus Christ Superstar” to Luther when he thought he had found a secure hiding place. She says he eventually got out from under the bed and walked slowly away… I picture him backing slowly away, with two paws out as if to say, “That’s fine, don’t get up.”

My method of unpacking after a trip involves several days and an attempt to expend no extra energy whatsoever. If I happen to be going into the bathroom, I’m happy to pick up a used Kleenex or a plastic bottle of lotion along the way and bring it with me. If I’m going downstairs, I’ll bring along a t-shirt that needs to go in the laundry, as long as I don’t have to go out of my way. This doesn’t work for very long, because eventually I have to take active steps to empty the suitcase and organize the clean vs. dirty clothes, but it lets me feel for a short time like I’m getting away with something.

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Oh, what will become of me?

Mary McKenney

mary’zine random redux: #13, April 2001

April 12, 2009

desire → illusion → intimacy → passion

I don’t know, I may have bitten off more than I can chew this time. Desire, illusion, intimacy, passion; those are some mighty heavy topics, and I only have about 10 pages in which to wax wise. But if my eyes are bigger than my stomach (a phrase you don’t hear much anymore), well, maybe we’ll have leftovers next time.

If those words were plastic beads, you could snap them together to make a bracelet—desire into illusion into intimacy into passion into desire again—and of course you could make and remake that bracelet putting the beads in many different sequences. Indeed, you may question why I put illusion so close to desire. Hey, make your own damn bracelet. I haven’t included love in this word bracelet, because love is the background, the subtext, the raison d’être for all the others. The comparison with plastic beads doesn’t hold up that well, because all those words stand for states or experiences that are overlapping and interrelated, and each one has many different aspects. So this ‘zine bracelet is going to be idiosyncratic and incomplete. For sure, it will raise more questions than I have answers for. Are we done disclaiming yet?

During the writing of this issue, it became clear to me that desire, illusion, intimacy, and passion have been the primary themes of my several years of therapy. Therefore, I dedicate this issue to J, who has guided me through that difficult terrain with a steady hand and an open heart.

***

As soon as I finish each mailing of the ‘zine, I start thinking about what I want to write about next. It’s always a treat to be able to start over. The editing and refining process is fun, but by the time it’s done, I’m so sick of dogs, cats, or parallel universes that I just want to move on. Fragments of old stories start coming to me, along with a few words or feelings that I don’t know how to connect. It’s a lot like starting a painting—plucking images out of the air, out of the stream, dragging them up from my heart, trying to capture just the right one, the one that’s ripe, the one that “wants to be painted.” This issue in particular is like a painting, or a collage, or a pastiche, a riff on related topics and fragments and intuitions that want to be expressed… a hugely unscientific investigation into some of the secrets of the human heart.

desire

On the lazy days when I have no work, my round of errands out in the world provides the perfect amount of stimulation and human contact to offset a nice long afternoon nap. Today I make only two stops. First to Long’s for Sudafed and airmail envelopes. The checker in the express lane is a dull-looking young woman wearing an American flag pin who moves like she’s underwater. Note to Long’s management: Great idea, putting her in the express lane. I make a point of being nice to her, though she seems barely aware of me, and I wonder how many random acts of kindness are completely lost on the recipient. Do the kindness molecules of my good intentions, if wasted on her, land on more fertile soil elsewhere—or is kindness one of those things that are their own reward, like not cheating on your taxes? Actually, I’m being too generous to myself to call what I’m feeling “kindness.” I judged her from the moment I laid eyes on her, and I resent her inattention. And molecules can’t be fooled. My impatience molecules probably filled the store and spilled out into the parking lot before it even occurred to me to relabel myself as “kind.”

[That paragraph had nothing to do with desire; I’m just getting warmed up here.]

At Andronico’s, my second stop, the checker is the complete opposite of the one at Long’s: smiling, cheery, her happy wishes for a good day accompanying each shopper out of the store like an arm around her shoulder. She has great molecules, and I feel mine responding (no, not that way). This is an uncharted—or at least misunderstood—area of retail management. Don’t, like Safeway, coerce your employees into exuding fake good will and practically running customers down in the aisles to say “good morning” through clenched teeth. Make the employees happy and their molecules will do all the work. You’ll have customers humming and smiling (and buying) without even knowing why. This is good for your bottom line and good for humanity. I should write a book called The One-Minute Molecular Manager.

[I’ll be writing about desire any minute now.]

Gravitating toward the cheery checker, I unload my groceries on the conveyor belt and am a bit surprised to see that I have bought nothing but vegetables and fruit—apples, asparagus, bananas… looks like I’m shopping alphabetically. It’s a misleading indication of my diet, of course, a statistical aberration. But still an accomplishment. Getting in and out of the grocery store without being lured, Siren-like, to the popcorn and chips, the candy aisle, or the bakery is something to celebrate, even though the celebration wears a bit thin later in the day when I realize I have nothing to snack on but green bananas and the fruit that Eve inexplicably found so tempting.

The more common situation while shopping is that I’m overcome with base urges, as if I’m 10 years old again and coveting the red-hot fireballs or Hershey bars or Nehi pop, except that now I don’t have a mother to police me, and I have money in my pocket. (That’s the cruel irony of adulthood—once you’ve got the freedom and the cash, you can’t afford the calories.) But twice, recently, over the feeble protests of my conscience, when I marched over to a forbidden aisle to grab a Frappucino or a bag of popcorn before good sense and the memory of my profile in the bathroom mirror that morning brought me to my senses, the store was temporarily out of the product. And in both cases, I had a weird feeling about it. I’m standing in front of a solid wall of salty snacks, but the 4 square feet of shelf that is supposed to be filled with YaYa white popcorn is bare. (The cheese popcorn is there, but perversely, I like it too much to even consider it.)

I imagine a “Twilight Zone” episode in which everything the middle-aged shopper decides she wants is mysteriously missing from the shelf—sending her careening more and more frantically through the store as she gradually comes to the realization that her desire for something is precisely what is making it disappear! She tests her dreadful hypothesis by pretending to desire things she’d never really want, like circus peanuts or Brussels sprouts, and those are gone too! And the moral of the story, delivered in the sepulchral tones of Rod Serling, is that she has unwittingly made a bargain with the devil to keep herself on a diet, asking him to remove temptation from her path, and now she can never have anything she wants ever again! A world without cake and cookies and chips and ice cream—a tragic episode on a par with the one where the man who wants to do nothing but read finally gets his wish when everyone else dies in a nuclear holocaust, but then he breaks his glasses. Be careful what you wish for, indeed!

This fantasy tells you everything you need to know about me and desire, especially when it comes to relationships. For as long as I’ve been aware of other people as romantic prospects, I’ve been chasing the ones I can’t have—the teachers, the straight girls, the married women or men—the ones who are never really a possibility in the first place. Looking for love in all the wrong places has caused me much needless suffering. Thanks to J, I’ve come to understand that I’ll never get what I should have gotten as a child—the mother love that was so erratic and elusive as to be “Twilight Zone” material in itself. I’m pretty sure my days of lusting after the unavailable ones are over. [2009 update: Yup, it’s all gone.]

But I’m still a work in progress—it’s still hard for me to admit what I really want—or even that I want anything. I suspect that I resist knowing what I want, because then I would have to do something about getting it. So I substitute food—a commodity that, though easily acquired, necessitates much time-consuming thought and drama, the perfect distraction. This is hardly an original observation. When I went to NutriSystem several years ago to lose 20 pounds (which I did—and then they magically found their way back home), the mantra was “Don’t eat for emotional reasons.” Yeah, right. Might as well tell me not to breathe so often. Anyone can substitute a carrot for the cake that is a substitute for mother love, but it’s a temporary fix at best. Enjoy your five minutes of self-congratulation over choosing the carrot, because tomorrow you’re going to face the same choice all over again. Desire is relentless when the object of desire is a replacement for something much more fundamental. And maybe that’s all desire is, anyway—a misdirected passion. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

(p.s. Meaningless sex can act as an effective distraction, too, but I’m hardly an expert in that area. Food is from Venus; sex is from Mars.)

illusion

Love is giving something you haven’t got to someone who doesn’t exist. (Jacques Lacan)

I could write all day about how illusion has manifested in my life, but I’ve chosen just two examples that are cruelly, ironically, and instructively complementary.

When I was in high school, my senior English teacher, Ruth, almost literally saved my life by seeing me as a real person (“not a young adult, but an adult-adult,” as she put it) at a time when I felt completely unseen by anyone. She was only 29 years old, but she was the prototype for my later attachments to older women who were wry, intelligent, and completely unavailable. Former high school athletes like to relive their glory days on the football field or the basketball court; my equivalent of that was being Ruth’s prize student. Her amazement when I pointed out the obscure rhyme scheme in a Robert Browning poem (which she had never noticed) warms my heart to this day.

Ruth and I corresponded through my early college years, but my student radicalism was too much for her (according to her mother, with whom I was also friendly), and the letters tapered off. I wrote her again when I was in my mid-30s, to bring her up to date on my life, and she seemed delighted to hear from me. In her last letter to me, she confessed, “You were always my favorite.” But then she stopped writing. She was an extremely reserved person, and I thought she was probably having second thoughts about taking the student-teacher relationship to the friendship level.

In February 2000, right after I mailed out the first issue of the ‘zine, I had a dream about her:

I’m at a reunion where I meet up with some former teachers. One of them praises my writing. I wrote a story back in high school that they say I could finish now and it would be really good. Ruth is there. We’re all saying good-bye, and I ask her if she remembers that story. She doesn’t speak. I ask her why she stopped writing to me. Again, she doesn’t speak. I say, “It’s really great to see you.” We hug, but she breaks away first. As we’re leaving, I feel as if I can finish that story now.

I told my “dream counselor,” Jeremy, the dream, and he encouraged me to send Ruth a copy of the ‘zine. I realized I had nothing to lose and thought that after several years of therapy I was more capable of relating to her as another adult rather than as the figure on a pedestal where I had placed her so many years before. I sent her the first couple of issues without including a letter. When I heard nothing back, I wrote to her, making it clear that it was up to her how much, if any, contact we would have. She never responded, and the ‘zines and the letter never came back to me, so I can only assume she received them and made a conscious decision not to reply.

A few months later, I dreamed about her again:

Peggy and I go on a trip to see Ruth. I have sent her several of my writings, and she hasn’t responded. There’s a feeling of heaviness in the dream, because I’m not getting what I want from her. Ruth doesn’t talk to me directly but tells Peggy that she’s feeling pressured because of my expectations of her. Peggy says I’m like my mother, and Ruth says, “There’s nothing to be done about Mary or her mother.” This makes me feel even worse. Ruth has written a book called A Full and Complete Explanation of the Entire Universe. I read a review of it, and the reviewer ridicules the book, disputing her claim that a certain event is “seven-eighths into the history of the universe” because how can she know when the universe will end? I take the review and place it where I know Ruth will find it, so she’ll see that I know she isn’t perfect. Then I realize that this is the topic for my next ‘zine. The dream shifts, and we’re with Jan (a painter from our group who moved to Taos), and we’re about to make masks. Jan says to make plain masks, no decoration at all.

I don’t think I ever got to tell Jeremy this dream, so the nuances are lost to me; but on the simplest level, the dream was a wake-up call. I had idealized Ruth when I was at a difficult place in my life and desperately needed an adult’s respect and encouragement. But I remained emotionally 17 years old in relation to her (or 5, or whatever my real emotional age was then). Although I mourn the loss of her, or rather the loss of the illusion, I respect her for not giving me the false hope of resuming a relationship she wasn’t comfortable with. How could she ever live up to the image I’ve been carrying of her all this time? The dream is stark, with a fellow painter telling me to create a plain, undecorated mask—which I think means to face the truth. Ruth [four-fifths of truth, I just realized] did rescue me, but that was in the past, when I was a child. Such a relationship isn’t meant to survive—the child has to grow up.

Because it seemed that the dream was literally telling me to write about Ruth in the next ‘zine, I drove myself crazy trying to make it work, but it wouldn’t come together. Instead, I wrote about caffeine and food “addiction.” And maybe in a roundabout way, I was writing about her after all, or about the underlying truth of the dream, because my attachments to unavailable women were an emotional crutch similar to my use of food and coffee.

Ruth and I never hugged in waking life, though we’ve hugged many times in my dreams. She always breaks away first. I think it’s time for me to finish that story.

***

I was reminded of my “Ruth story” a couple of months ago when I got a card from a woman, A*, whom I was friends with in grade school and junior high. But in high school, I moved on to my bohemian stage, and she, to put it mildly, wasn’t intellectually inclined. We have had virtually no contact since then; the only time I’ve seen her since high school was at my mother’s wake 10 years ago. She never left our hometown, never went to college. She still runs into my sister quite often, and the last time she saw her, she asked if I was ever coming home again. My sister cheerfully replied, “Probably not.”

The grade school we both went to had a reunion last summer, and A* took pictures of the group of ex-kids and our teacher, Mr. Mayer. She sent the photos to me in a greeting card that had a sentimental message about “old friends,” along with a tea bag that I guess was meant to represent us getting together. She wrote in the card that she missed me and thought of me often. The stalker music from “Jaws” rang in my head when I read that.

I feel terrible, knowing how much she wants to recapture our childhood friendship. I want to judge her for being delusional, since I have given her no reason to think I would ever be receptive to her—but when I think of my continuing fantasy about Ruth, I wonder, what’s the difference? Well, I have Ruth’s statement of “only” about 15 years ago that I was “always her favorite.” A* has had no such statement or sign of encouragement from me. But clearly, she has made something huge out of our being Girl Scouts together in the fifth grade and is revisiting the past just like I am—only it’s a different past. I’m delusionally trying to recover an important relationship with a teacher, and she’s delusionally trying to recover an important relationship with a grade school pal. I have no intention of revisiting the past with her, as Ruth apparently has no intention of revisiting the past with me. (I can’t even write that sentence without the word “apparently”—just in case she’s been in a coma for the past year and doesn’t know I’ve been trying to contact her.)

It’s weird to be on both sides of this waiting game—to seriously consider that Ruth might want to be in touch with me again but to be incredulous that A* thinks we could go back to being 10 years old. I want to say to her, “What are you thinking? That was 44 years ago!” But then I’d have to say to myself about Ruth, “What are you thinking? That was 37 years ago!”

It’s sad. It’s sad that we keep the past alive for a lifetime, never allowing reality to reset our clocks, insisting on staying on childhood saving time forever. I haven’t answered A*’s letter, even to thank her for the photos. I feel bad about that, but it doesn’t seem like a kindness to encourage her. Ruth is apparently doing the same “kindness” to me by not encouraging me in my never-completely-extinguished high school crush.

intimacy

It seems pretty obvious what we mean by intimacy, but when you get right down to it, is it about the close contact of two separate people, or is it about the two dissolving into one? Is it the two coming together, or the One becoming ascendant? Or are those both ways of saying the same thing? Intimacy implies, at the very least, a blending of molecules, a contact that dissolves the boundary between the two people somewhat, on whatever level. This blending of molecules, as I have previously postulated, can take place between strangers and even between strangers engaged in a financial transaction over fruits and vegetables. The human heart is always available, if not always put to use.

For me, and I suspect for many people, friendship is a more acceptable source of intimacy than a “love” relationship, because it tends to have stronger boundaries—but within those boundaries you can go far into another’s heart, and allow them into yours. I’ve been blessed to have many intimate friendships as well as intimate contacts with people—especially other painters—with whom I don’t necessarily share much on the surface. Sometimes the intimacy is expressed in special moments, more often as a solid foundation that is known to both parties whether it’s spoken of or not.

Anyway, for my purposes here, I’m more interested in exploring some of the far borders of intimacy. If we say that one form of intimacy is about the One becoming ascendant, then the most intimate moment of my life was with a man I did not even like very much. It wasn’t about the two of us at all, which is the interesting thing for me, since we tend to assume that intimacy is attraction verging on merging. The “intimacy,” if that’s what it was, between me and this man was an accident but one of the most authentic experiences I’ve ever had.

I was with a group of friends, and we were all hugging and saying good-bye in a dark parking lot after a workshop we had done together. The then-object of my affections had just said something hurtful to me, and I was crying. I distractedly hugged this one friend, and before I knew it, something extraordinary happened. I didn’t know at the time that he was also suffering in a love relationship, but when we hugged, my tears and desperation must have triggered his own grief, and as I collapsed into him, he collapsed into me. The result was that we lost all barriers between us to the point where we did not exist as separate entities. I am not being metaphorical or intellectual here. It was absolutely real. Somehow, in our coincidentally self-involved suffering, the two of us merged into one sufferer. I was still aware of myself, but I knew that the “self” I was aware of was not me, it was—and I don’t quite know how to put this—more like a state of suffering or a kind of archetype of suffering before it becomes differentiated into what we think of as our individual, separate pain. Think of Life as the contents of a huge funnel, and the funnel empties into each individual consciousness-of-self through separate little tubes. This man and I were temporarily in the wide part of the funnel above where the tubes dispense the doses of “individual” suffering.

When we broke the hug, I didn’t say anything, but he said, “We were one person there for a minute, weren’t we?” So that confirmed what I already suspected, that the experience had not been just a one-sided insight. It will be terribly embarrassing if it turns out (and I only now had this thought) that this wasn’t such a unique, amazing experience after all, that it’s exactly what people mean when they say they lose themselves and merge with their partner in sex. (That has not been my experience of sex.) So if I’m being ridiculously naïve here, will someone please clue me in?

In our case, the disappearance of the self left only a pure form of suffering, as if there’s a vast reservoir out there (the funnel) that contains or embodies or expresses the aching of all the hearts that have ever suffered. We were not interested in each other, we were not “sharing,” we were not one person comforting another or even two people comforting each other. We were simply two collapsing selves disappearing for a moment into a greater reality, and in that sense, there was something comforting about it. It was like getting a glimpse of death and seeing that death is only a shifting of perception from the little “I” to the universal “I” that encompasses everything. Even when the little “I” no longer exists, something does—and it’s something huge! And yet anyone who wants to know about “life after death” wants the assurance that the little “I” will still exist and know itself. As if this limited form we inhabit is of the utmost importance—like a falling leaf worrying so much about its own death that it doesn’t even consider that the tree lives on. It’s all a question of what we identify with.

So, was that intimacy? Can you get more intimate than being One in the Greater Reality?

***

I want to talk about another unusual form of intimacy I experienced, though I’m not sure that’s the right word for it. I was not a direct participant but only a witness—but perhaps the witness becomes a participant in intimacy by the very act of witnessing, as long as her intention is not voyeuristic or exploitative.

In the early 1970s, when I was working at a small college in Minnesota, a couple of famous blues musicians—Buddy Guy and Junior Wells—played a gig on campus. After their set, they called a couple of students up on stage who played in a local band. This one boy, a short, chubby guy, got up there with his guitar and started “jamming” with the Buddy Guy band. He looked thrilled and ready to piss his pants at the same time. After he had played for a bit, Buddy Guy came up close behind him, put his arms around him so he could reach the strings, moved the boy’s hands into position, and played with him, showing him a few riffs. They made quite a contrast—the taller, muscular black man with his arms surrounding this soft white boy, pressing up against the boy from behind—and I swear, the kid was either gay already or turned gay on the spot. The shiver of ecstasy that crossed his face was the most naked expression of desire—or rather, fulfillment of desire—bliss, really—that I have ever seen.

The image of that face is impressed on my brain forever. It was such an intimate moment that I felt that I—and everyone else in the audience—was an integral part of the experience. Who knows what happened to the boy later, what disillusionment or disappointment he may have felt in the aftermath, like a hangover of the heart—every fantasy realized comes to an end, after all—but it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments.

Now clearly, this was not a story of two coming together—at least not the boy and Buddy Guy—nor was it about the One becoming ascendant. But as I watched, I felt myself merging with the boy’s deepest feelings—not in the Greater Reality sense but in the deeply human sense—and that, for me, constituted the intimacy. The intimacy was in my role as an unintended witness to another’s intense experience of himself. Instead of being “touched by an angel,” I felt I was touched by humanity—the humanity in all our hearts, expressed by one boy having his dream come true.

passion

To be nobody-but-yourself—in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. (e.e. cummings)

Throughout my therapy, J has challenged me to identify my passion. When I had a job, work was all-consuming, at least of my time, and then when I became self-employed, work was really all-consuming. I was terrified of becoming a bag lady, so my whole focus was on survival. The friends who were so confident on my behalf had no idea how hard it was for me to believe it would all work out. Emotionally, it was like being thrown back to my childhood, when I worried that we would literally have to go live in “the poorhouse.” (This idea must have come from one of my father’s colorful sayings.) While my mother worked as a clerk at Montgomery Wards, I weaved potholders and sold greeting cards and built picnic tables with my father (who had MS) to make ends meet. For a couple of summers, when he could still walk, we picked green beans out in the fields with the migrant workers—now there’s a job from hell. And speaking of hell, may one Mr. Johns of Menominee, Mich., rot there for cheating me out of a week’s wages at the end of our last summer. I can only imagine what he was doing to the migrant workers. I would never have believed, as a child, that someday I would not know to the penny how much money I had. I am unimaginably wealthy now, in comparison, but the fear of falling into poverty again is very real—as if I’ve managed to crawl halfway up the slippery slope of the middle class and have nowhere to go but down from this point on.

But I’m supposed to be talking about passion. It’s safer, in a way, to concentrate on where my next dollar is coming from than to act from a place of—what’s that new age word?—abundance. I think passion is related to abundance in the sense that you have to believe that something beyond sheer survival is worth having, worth doing, worth sticking your neck out for—and possible to achieve. I not only don’t believe that I can have abundance, but I’m afraid of it somehow. Even when I had nothing, I was always afraid of what would happen if I had too much. Like when our high school debate club needed to borrow a car to go to an out-of-town tournament—everyone else was saying, what if we don’t get one, and I was thinking, what if we get two? I know at least one other person who has this same tendency, so I know I’m not the only one.

I seem to have a fear of desire, a fear of wanting—a fear of having? I can want what I know I’ll never get. I can want the little things, the potato chips of life, but then I have to put them out of reach, too. And so goes the merry-go-round of desire and substitution and unrequited longing. It’s not worth having if I can have it. Something like that.

***

One of my better found-TV moments was coming upon a talk by Anne Lamont at Chabot College. She was talking about writing, of course, and she had good news and bad news. The bad news was twofold: (1) what you write will never be as good as what you had in mind, and (2) not everyone will like it. These are just two facts of life that you really can’t do anything about, though it can be depressing as hell. The good news, according to her, was that, after an indeterminate period of difficulty and striving, inevitably “the phone rings” and you get the recognition you so richly deserve. Her point was “never give up,” but of course it’s easy for her to say, she’s already proved herself.

On the one hand, I was encouraged that she—famous writer—has all the same insecurities as I do. She complained about getting a bad review of her last book in a Tiburon newspaper. She’d had 34 good reviews and 2 bad ones, and she was obsessing about the bad ones. It’s tempting to think, “I wouldn’t complain about a thing if I had her [fill in the blank]—talent, acclaim, success.” But of course I would, because that’s the nature of being human. That damn glass is always half-empty of something.

On the other hand, her version of “the good news” terrifies me, and I don’t know which is scarier—that the phone will never ring, or that it will—that a publisher will have seen a copy of the mary’zine on his cousin’s kitchen table and wants me to write a book. Sure, I want to be “successful,” I want to know that I’ve made a difference. That’s why I crave your responses to the ‘zine. Diane once asked me, “Do you want people to respond so you know that you are good?… or… that you exist?” And I answered: “Is there a difference? I want them to respond so I know that I am good because that is the only possible excuse for existing.” Diane purported to find this dead-on funny, but I was completely serious.

A mostly unpublished, largely unacclaimed writer can’t help but feel that if she doesn’t find a mass audience and end up in the limelight, then she has failed—not just in a small way like getting one bad review, but as a human being, as someone unworthy of her “gift.” Saying “I am a writer whether I ever get famous or not” makes me feel laid bare, like a passable trumpet player who declares that the trumpet is henceforth her life. It’s one thing for Anne Lamott to get up there and parade her honesty over her insecurities and her envy and hostility toward other writers—she can make just about any flaw sound charming—but she’s got the books and the speaking engagements to give the lie to her supposed shortcomings.

And yet, what would happen if I got all the acclaim I supposedly want, proving conclusively (supposedly) that I’m worthy of existing? Anne Lamott herself has talked about the loneliness of publication day, when your book appears in the world’s bookstores along with the thousands of others and you see that nothing has changed, you’re the same person you were before. And if anyone ever invited me to give a talk anywhere—to be shown on TV, no less—I think I would die on the spot.

Why do I think I want this acclaim, anyway? Is this just another case of chasing after something I can’t have and wouldn’t know how to deal with if I got it? I’m like a donkey following a carrot dangling from the end of a stick. I’ll never get the carrot, and if I did, I’d probably want a piece of pie instead. The point is, nothing dangling out there is worth a damn. My former teacher Ruth is dangling out there, withholding her approval—but what if it all turned out to be a misunderstanding and she actually loved the ‘zine? (“Just came out of my coma and was delighted to find….”) Then I would have from her what I already have from several other people who are just as important to me. Having the approval isn’t enough for me, I have to have it from the one who’s reluctant to give it. It’s not worth having if I can have it. Talk about setting yourself up.

The only sense I can make of all this is that my ambivalent quest for recognition is driven by desire, not passion. Passion isn’t about the response of an audience, even if that response is exciting and deeply affecting. Passion, for me, is about engaging in the creative process, whatever form that process may take. I watched part of the Academy Awards this year, and I was actually moved to tears by one of the acceptance speeches. Steven Soderbergh, who won for best director, said, “I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if it’s a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theater, a piece of music—anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us. I think this world would be unlivable without art.” To which I say, “Amen.”

For all my desire to be praised for my writing, I can honestly say that my true interest in writing this ‘zine is the experience of entering into the creative process and feeling it churn around inside me and bring me gifts to spill out on the page. The ‘zine has been a stressful but very satisfying endeavor, more suited to me (I think) than being published in a conventional way. I chose my own audience, and they get to choose me back or toss me in the circular file or pass me on to a friend. The audience for the ‘zine is incrementally increasing, but whether or not it ever reaches critical mass, I couldn’t be happier with the depth of response I get. I’d rather touch one person deeply than scratch the surface of a million. (And sure, I’d love to touch a million deeply, but that probably requires appearing on TV.)

There’s nothing I love more than to finish a mailing and feel the engine start to rev up again with images, memories, and metaphors. The finishing process can be a little dicey—do I really dare to send this newborn creature out there, so exposed, not knowing how it will be received?—but the beginning, the clean page, the fresh start when anything can happen, that’s where I get my biggest thrill. Fragments of old stories start coming to me, along with a few words or feelings that I don’t know how to connect. It’s a lot like starting a painting—plucking images out of the air, out of the stream, dragging them up from my heart, trying to capture just the right one, the one that’s ripe, the one that “wants to be painted.” This issue in particular is like a painting, or a collage, or a pastiche, a riff on related topics and fragments and intuitions that want to be expressed… a hugely unscientific investigation into some of the secrets of the human heart.

End of bracelet. Desire → illusion → intimacy → passion. I think I’ll go eat something.

[Mary McKenney]


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