Posts Tagged ‘intimacy’

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.


… 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.



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.


img001 copy 10


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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.




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)


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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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