Posts Tagged ‘sex’

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 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.


… 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.


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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 #62: June 2013

June 8, 2013


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: #11 pt1 February 2001

March 21, 2009

sex, shame, and videotape

I used to think, like Tom Petty, that “the waaaiting is the hardest part….” After mailing each issue of the ‘zine, I’m on pins and needles, waiting for the responses to trickle in. I’ve never yet managed to feel confident enough about my writing that I’m—like—whatever…. But after “mary’s first porno” hit the streets (see #10 January 2001), I was especially nervous. I had great fun writing that piece, and I thought it turned out fairly light and humorous, compared with, say, The Story of O. But you never know if something that’s funny or interesting to you is going to translate to anyone else. And the responses I received to that issue tell me that the beauty (or not) of every piece of writing is in the eye of the beholder. I always thought that if only I were a good enough writer, everyone would like what I wrote. And now I know it isn’t true. What the reader brings to the page is every bit as important as what the writer puts on it. This is huge, for me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I discovered that waiting is not the hardest part. As it happened, the first response I got, two long days after mailing the first batch, was from someone I love and respect who was very uncomfortable with the porno story and said she would “never have gone there.” Instead of taking this at face value as an expression of her own feelings (which it was), I panicked. My blood ran cold, then red hot. It was my worst fear. I had crossed boundaries, broken taboos. I had offended my readers’ sensibilities. I had exposed myself, and now I couldn’t take any of it back. It felt like the biggest mistake of my life.

I didn’t know what to do. I had already mailed out most of the copies and was imagining that everyone I knew and cared about was cringing at my words and calling me a pervert. I pictured mouths dropping open across the land, one time zone after another. Why had I ventured out on such a creaky limb? What was I thinking? I planned all sorts of desperate measures. There were still eight copies to be mailed, and I thought about cutting that story out of those copies and pretending it was just a short issue. Restaurants and cats—let’s stay on safe ground from now on. I even thought of canceling my session with J that week. I couldn’t imagine facing anyone who had read that story. I spent most of the day in bed, under the covers, rigid with shame.

I tried to tell myself that people are responsible for their own feelings—that I was just the messenger bringing the message of their own shame or lack of it. But it didn’t really help. It simply wasn’t possible for me to believe that my friend’s response was hers alone. It triggered something too deep in me, too shameful, something of long standing—just as, probably, my story had done to her.

[2009 update: Recently, my friend asked me to send her the issue again, and she enjoyed it this time.]

Shame isn’t rational; it’s a powerful emotion, learned early. I can trace my earliest experience of shame (my earliest memory of it, anyway) back to the age of 4 or 5, when my cousin Donny and I—partners in pre-pre-pre-pubescent crime—were playing house. Husband comes home from work and finds wife taking a bath—naked, of course. I don’t know why we had chosen that particular scenario; we were much too young to have lascivious thoughts, and there was no touching. But I imagine kids play house in an attempt to manage feelings about the family, especially the feelings of powerlessness of being a child. And in a completely mundane sense, you don’t take a bath with your clothes on, and Daddy doesn’t come home from work naked! Anyway, when my mother came upstairs and found us like that, she completely lost it. I remember lying in bed later, banished to my room, hearing her turn away another friend who had come over to play: “Mary can’t come out now, she’s being punished.” More than the words, I felt the anger and disgust in her voice pour directly on my heart and brain, branding me. I was a tiny computer, processing the information: The body is bad. I have a body. Ergo, I am bad. (I was a tiny computer that hadn’t yet learned the classical logical fallacies.)

Back to the ‘zine. I e-mailed apologies to those I had addresses for and wrote notes to the rest. The responses have been incredibly affirming. I can’t quote from the wonderful phone calls I received, but here’s a sample of some of the mail (apologies in advance for the self-horn-tooting):

… I absolutely loved it; I laughed out loud the whole way through…. I hate thinking you spent one minute feeling you had to apologize. I guess that’s human nature though. And, just like painting, I imagine really putting yourself out there can result in major contraction and self-doubt as the mind scrambles for safe ground….


… I appreciate your writing about the taboos and daring to go somewhere most people wouldn’t dream! So keep writing!


i say hurrah for MMMMMMaaaaaarrry. you crossed a line. marched straight into the wilderness of our shames and humiliations and sang out loud in a  manner that for others like me the air opened up, creating more space for courage and play and fun. i could FEEL the fun you had writing the piece, and that was a flavor that gave me a passport to enter into a space that has been off limits to me. limits guarded by my own quivering fearful shamedness. hurrah hurray for mary….


Dear Editor w/Vulnerable Heart….. I thought your porno piece was a riot! I loved it….

No apologies needed. Your writing, as always and no matter what the subject matter, is bright, funny, touching, and engaging. You bring renewed life and validity to the inner personal world, carrying your readers through the intriguing maze of observation and reflection. How’s that for a review?! Carry on!….


I was saving my mary’zine to savor with Sunday morning coffee, but the note I received today carried the imperative to learn the nature of your distress. I was sorry to hear that one person’s reaction to your recent edition caused such remorse that you felt compelled to apologize to your readers. Then I think, perhaps the apology wasn’t directed to your entire readership. Maybe I am on the list of “questionables.” If such is the case, please edit my name from that database, as I’m a true blue Mary McKenney fan. Your stories may be unique, but the feelings, and quite often, the experiences, are universal. Please, don’t stop taking risks with your writing. Please don’t stop exploring, and please keep sharing. Always a grateful and appreciative recipient of “mary’zine”….

Now that I can hold my head up again and face my adoring public, I can see that it was a liberating experience to write that story, because I unburdened myself of one of my darkest secrets: Yes, I used to be a librarian. But seriously, folks. As I replied to the last person quoted above, “In the past few days, I’ve learned a lot about the isolation of shame, and about the beauty and generosity of people like you who have welcomed me out of that isolation.” To hear so many strong words of support was like being welcomed back into the human family, from which I had exiled myself—to my own bedroom, to lie in the dark, being punished. My mother is gone now, but the software lingers on.

To be fair, not everyone was wildly appreciative of my story. One person bemoaned the fact that I had put the image of *n*s l*ck*ng into her head for the better part of the day. Actually, it was probably the worst part of the day. She said she wouldn’t want to pass this issue along to any of her friends who have small children. I agree wholeheartedly. You must treat the mary’zine as a controlled substance. Keep it out of the hands of precocious preschoolers, nosy fifth graders, randy teens. Avoid sharing it with the frail elderly, the weak of heart, the humor-challenged. Keep it away from homophobes, right-wing fundamentalists, cat haters, the mentally unbalanced, the stark raving mad, and anyone who’s likely to come after me with a gun. Other than that, please share the ‘zine (the blog) with your friends. Do your part to make the mary’zine (the blog) an underground sensation.

See, with the mary’zine, you never know what you’re going to get—hard-hitting news, human interest stories of compassion and rollicking humor, shocking revelations. Well, not so much hard-hitting news, I guess, unless you consider it news that my cat likes tuna-flavored laxative. Oh, and by the way, he l*cks his *n*s regularly.

lost weekday

Here but for the grace of God go you.

If it had been up to my mother, I would have had all my teeth pulled when I was 13. She herself had gotten full dentures at the age of 30, so to her it was just a matter of time, and why wait? “You know,” she’d threaten, “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dr. NEM [Name Escapes Me] decided to pull them all and get it over with one of these days.” I was terrified whenever she talked like this. I thought frizzy hair was bad? I thought having pimples was bad? Try starting high school with FALSE TEETH. I lived in mortal fear of the dentist. Everyone in my family had bad teeth, but he held me personally responsible for every cavity. And the bastard did manage to pull most of my back teeth, but I escaped with the ones you could see. I had to eat like a chipmunk for years.

As an adult, I’ve had to endure countless hours in the dentist’s chair, making up for Dr. NEM’s handiwork. In the mid-‘70s, I had long bridges installed in all four corners of my mouth, and they have required continual maintenance over the years, usually involving ghastly feats of mechanical engineering. The record so far is 7 STRAIGHT HOURS in the chair as the valiant Dr. Johnson tried mightily to save a tooth by doing a root canal but had to give up eventually because it kept crumbling under the drill. By the end of the 7 hours, I don’t know who was a bigger wreck, me or her. I think we were both ready to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge—me with my mouth locked wide open, her leaning over me with the drill, making one last stab at saving the tooth.

Dr. Johnson quit the profession soon after that, I hope not entirely because of me. My current dentist, Dr. Potter, is a worthy successor. And he knows when to quit. When I went in for yet another root canal recently, he sawed off the bridge, examined the offending tooth, and declared it hopeless and pulled it instead. Unbeknownst to me, this was the high point of my day.

Dr. Potter is a great dentist and also one of the kindest men I’ve ever known, but he tends to say things like, “Let’s get Mr. Tongue out of the way” as he comes at me with yet another new contraption to stick in my mouth. I’m always on the verge of hysterical giggles when I’m there anyway, and that kind of remark doesn’t help. This time I beg him for a Valium or something to calm me down—apparently he doesn’t believe in nitrous oxide—and he gives me a pill called Atanol. I think it should be called Notatall, because it doesn’t do much—except I find it slightly easier than usual to deal with the tray of goop he puts in my mouth to take an impression for the new bridge. To keep from gagging, I have to YELL at myself (internally, of course), “Think about your nose!” for the 2 or 3 minutes it takes for the goop to set. He also gives me a high-dose “cocktail” of ibuprofen and acetaminophen before he pulls the tooth. And of course I’ve had several shots of Novocain. I neglect to tell him I have already taken two Excedrin that morning. I am better stocked than your neighborhood pharmacy at this point.

Getting on toward lunch, I start to feel a little weak, so I drink two small cartons of soy milk I have brought with me. I congratulate myself on my foresight. Dr. Potter finishes up and I leave, feeling a little sick to my stomach. The soy milk went down pretty good, but it comes up even easier in the restroom of the Sutter-Stockton garage. Also, my body chooses this moment, this place and time, to let me know that I now have urinary incontinence while barfing. Nice. My pants are soaked, so I get a plastic bag out of the trunk of my car to put on the driver’s seat. I pull out of the garage into the pouring rain, praying to make it home without further incident. I make it out of the city and through the rainbow tunnel into Marin, but by then it’s hailing, and I’m not feeling so hot. So I pull off at the Spencer Ave. exit above Sausalito and throw up in a paper bag. I look out the window and vaguely register that there is snow on the ground. I feel like I’m in a dream. A police car cruises slowly by. I wonder if they do police escorts for nauseated dental patients. I kind of hope he’ll stop and ask me if everything’s OK ma’am. I could use a knight in shining armor about now.

Suddenly, I realize the bag is leaking. I grab a newspaper to put under it, but not before my urine-soaked pants get dribbled on. Believe it or not, this sounds more gross than it felt at the time. There was a surreal quality to the whole thing, a kind of state you get into when it’s all about survival and you can’t afford to dwell on the gory details. I spend so much of my life worrying about things that could happen, and then when something does happen that I could never have anticipated, I just do what I have to do. It’s reassuring, in a way.

So I get home, throw up once more for good measure, and crawl into bed. I feel like I have had a day of chemo. Every time I get up and try to eat something—some nice hot soup, some nice hot tea—I feel too sick to finish it. Strangely, the only thing I’m able to eat all day is some leftover rice and lemon chicken at 8 p.m. Go figure. I sleep all night and get up at 5 a.m. feeling great.

I drive to Berkeley for my 9 a.m. therapy appointment. J has read the ‘zine by now, so we spend the whole hour talking about masturbation and other sexual topics. Before I wrote that story, I hadn’t used the word “masturbation” in 8 years of therapy. I have since used it approximately 82 times. It’s liberating. On my way home, I sing along with the Divinyls on the radio: “When I think about you, I touch myself.” I tell you, it’s everywhere.

I know this whole sex thing seems like a tempest in a teapot to some of you, but we don’t get to pick and choose our challenges. Sometimes it’s about telling it like it is and risking offense by “oversharing.” Sometimes it’s about enduring—improvising, surviving—when you thought you knew what the big challenge of the day was going to be. Root canal? Forget it. You’re going to spend the day losing your bodily fluids in a freakin’ hailstorm. And I have a feeling the challenges are not going to decrease as I get older. Time is accelerating—the past is bumping up against the future—and events are accumulating meaning like a snowball rolling downhill. Let’s get Mr. Tongue out of the way, shall we? It looks like it’s going to be a wild, wild ride.

[Mary McKenney]

mary’zine random redux: #10 January 2001

March 18, 2009

With this issue, I boldly go where I never thought I could go before—into the XXX Zone. I have a hard time talking about sex. I have never used the word “masturbation” in 8 years of therapy. I’m no Betty Dodson or Suzie Bright. But this ‘zine is my place to explore, and you are the lucky recipients of my intrepid findings.

Those who do not wish to enter the XXX Zone may proceed directly to Story #2, which is considerably more decorous and in which the word “nipple” does not appear even once. Ha! I dare you to skip over it now.

mary’s first porno

As I sit here at the computer, wondering where to start, I ponder the title of this story for a while, and it occurs to me that I have unconsciously made an association between sexuality and childhood—Mary’s first steps, Mary’s first word, Mary’s first porno—and I suppose that is accurate after all. Before you get too scandalized, let me just state that I’m referring to watching a porno, not starring in one (…as if…).

I had my first sexual experiences at the age of 10, at the hands of my older cousin John. It’s hard to put myself back in that time and understand why I couldn’t refuse, why I couldn’t tell anyone. But like many other things that had happened to me, this unwanted attention was like a fact of life, like a death or an illness. It wasn’t something I chose, and therefore I had no choice.

Something was awakened in me by those encounters in the woods, the basement, and our “fort” on the sand hill, but not in the sense of the handsome prince awakening the beautiful princess with a kiss. It was an awakening of fear, guilt, shame, and pleasurable physical sensation in a mixture that was most confusing. The way I found to deal with the confusion was to try to separate the pleasure from the rest of it—or to own my own body, if you want to get feministic about it.

This new awareness of my lower body morphed into inspired masturbation under the very noses of my grade school classmates and teachers. The large institutional swing set at Grant School had fine, sturdy poles, up which I climbed like the boys—humping my way slowly and deliciously to the top, then sliding down after climax—instead of the dainty swinging back and forth on the underside of the pole that the girls were supposed to do, all work and no play whatsoever. The bell to end recess would ring, the other kids would go running, and Miss Magnuson, the second grade teacher, would call up to me from the ground, “Come now, Mary!” And so I did.

When the swing set was no longer a viable option—“When I was a child, I humped like a child, but when I became a woman, I put away childish things”—it took me years to realize that there were other means to accomplish the same end and even books to help you do it. When it comes to erotic materials, I have always been more a fan of the written word than the visual image. I have had little enough exposure even to the written word (I mean, those written words). My first awareness of pornography was finding my father’s hidden copy of Nudist Holiday when I was 10 or 11. I can’t imagine why my mother let him keep it—my father lost all property rights after he got sick with MS—unless—oh, horrors—it was hers. The book was pretty soft-core. I remember the bobbing breasts of the ubiquitous volleyball players—do real nudists love this sport above all others, or is that a smutty-book and movie cliché?—but I don’t remember any big swinging members or anything that truly shocked me.

Recently I had cause to contact a woman-friendly sex appliance store in San Francisco called Good Vibrations. I found it on the Web when I was forced to replace my Hitachi Magic Wand after the cord became frayed and started emitting little sparks. An ex-girlfriend had given it to me some 13 years before, so you know it was ready for the scrap heap. Whenever I succumbed to an onanistic session—staring death by electrocution in the face—I imagined the humiliation of being found dead in my bed days later with the foot-long accidental-suicide weapon in one hand and Nancy Friday’s My Secret Garden in the other. I could only hope that my spirit would be long gone by then and wouldn’t still be hanging around the ceiling looking down on the body, watching its surprised friends and family get an eyeful. At least I don’t indulge in any really strange practices, like autoasphyxiation or dressing up in women’s clothes.

When the Wand arrived (I wonder if the Hitachi Corp. really thinks people are using this thing to massage their backs and shoulders?), I looked through the catalog that came with it and noticed that they also sell videos. I figured it was time to satisfy my curiosity about—oh, one thing and another—so I pored over the descriptions and finally settled on a bisexual video called “Curious?”:

Two attractive same-sex couples living under the same roof wonder what it would be like to succumb to their curiosity and swap partners. Enjoy steamy gay and lesbian sex, a woman learning blowjob techniques from a gay man, and a not-to-be-missed four-way in which one of the men becomes the center of everyone’s attention.

I thought, naively, that a video featuring gay men and lesbians would be kinder and gentler, more wholesome somehow, than your usual porno. Obviously, I didn’t think this through. For one thing, it doesn’t get more down-and-dirty than two guys getting it on (despite the fruity-fairy stereotypes), and I had forgotten that pornos showing women together are made to satisfy the fantasies of straight men, not your Birkenstock-wearin’ middle-aged wimmin-lovin’ wimmin. One of the women in this video was named Candy Apples, which should have been my first clue. For viewers with no imagination, the two parts of her name were tattooed on her chest, one above each… apple.

Now that I think of it, I’m not even sure who would want to watch this mishmash of gay, lesbian, and straight sex. Gay men and straight women wouldn’t be interested in the bulbously breasted women, and straight men and lesbians wouldn’t care to see the Long Dong Silvered men… leaving, I supposed, the true bisexuals and those, like me, who are indeed curious or just confused.

So why did I select the bisexual video? I am quite ambidextrous in my sexual response—it’s only emotionally that I walk the gay and narrow—so I admit I was interested in seeing some “towering columns of stiff male meat,” as the women in Nancy Friday’s books like to say. I mean, I’ve experienced my share of said columns, but it’s been awhile. Not everyone knows this, but I’ve been around the block with several penii. In the days before I knew that women were an option, I fooled around a fair bit with the boys but never found one who could begin to intrigue or attract me intellectually or emotionally the way legions, scores, and oodles of women have in my life. Talk about your Mars and Venus. I’m a same-planet girl.

[Hetero sidebar] In my 20s, I was naïve enough to believe in the so-called sexual revolution, so when I was first seeing P, I also got involved with two married male librarians. And an unmarried one, if you count my boss, the library director, who got me drunk one night and tried to seduce me, insisting that he knew “gay ways of making love.” He later fired me, but we didn’t know about sexual harassment back then. One of my fondest hetero memories (ah, I am a real woman, after all) was the night the two married men faced off like two stags in the log cabin I was living in. C drove me home after an after-hours rendezvous in the library, and J followed us from town and burst through the door in a jealous rage. I’m glad handguns weren’t readily available back then (at least to librarians). I just sat there, the helpless damsel, in my gay-liberation-button-festooned army shirt, flabbergasted and pleased at this rare display of machismo on my behalf. (No, I can’t explain why I was messing around with these guys. It was the “sixties”; we were insane.)

At the ripe old age of 40, I became temporarily enamored of an older man—a VIP in the Krishnamurti crowd in Ojai, Calif. My 12-year relationship with P had ended, and I guess I figured it was time to sow some wild oats. I didn’t realize right away that what I was enamored of was feeling “normal” out in the world. I loved being seen with a man, going to restaurants with him, walking down the street. It was like suddenly being admitted to an exclusive club. Was I imagining that I was treated entirely differently, that I was receiving the respect and nonchalant approval I had never felt as a dyke? It was a heady experience, to say the least. It almost seemed worth it to “switch,” even though this man turned out to be emotionally cruel and very conflicted about women. Also, he’d had a lifelong problem with impotence—I mean, not occasionally, but completely. I don’t think he had ever really “done it.” I figured this was fate’s way of confirming that I wasn’t meant to go down that path.

Back to the porno. As soon as the video arrived, I rushed to put it in the VCR. Frankly, I was stunned, right from the beginning. The video started out with several minutes of ads for male/male 900 numbers and lurid close-ups of men’s frontal and rearal anatomies. I still had hopes that the “story” would provide more titillation—was it too much to hope for a little subtlety, a little eroticism?—and less of an anatomy lesson.

I hadn’t really expected the acting to be any good, but I was frankly astounded to see how bad and insincere it was. They stumbled their way woodenly through the dialogue necessary to move the two guys from the top of the washing machine and the two girls from the bathtub into the joint living space where they could satisfy their “curiosity” about the mysteries of hetero love. But what shocked me was that they couldn’t even act the sex very well. They didn’t seem to be feeling anything. I’m not talking about emotionally, but sexually. The guys wore stoic (or bored) faces—presumably, they were thinking about dead puppies or stock quotes in order to keep going—and had very little dialogue, but “Yeah baby, get your lipstick all over that baby” was a mood killer for sure.

And the women were so obviously faking it, it wasn’t even funny. I mean, it was funny. It was as if they started with a crashing orgasm and then just kept it going and going—move over, Energizer bunny. But since their enthusiasm was not even slightly credible, there was nowhere for it to go. You had to wonder if they were feeling anything at all, or if they had become completely desensitized by the constant manipulation of their parts and their faked over-the-top reactions. There was absolutely nothing sexy about these women, who are supposedly the ultimate sex objects, the ones stamped and approved by scores of porno-loving men. I really had to wonder, What kind of lesbian am I? I love women’s bodies! I find them endlessly fascinating and smooth and curvy and juicy. But if the women in the video were giving and receiving any pleasure whatsoever, you could have fooled me. And it wasn’t just the “lesbian” scenes—the women in the hetero bits acted exactly the same—all over-the-top fakiness.

So if the women were laughable with their feigned horniness, the men were a turnoff because of too much information—testicles hanging out of a guy’s pants like elephant ears; a beer-can-sized penis inserting itself quiveringly into a puckering a-hole. I suppose the organs erecti were impressive enough, but somehow the microscopic detail and the zealous slurping and handling—not to mention 5 solid minutes of the same camera angle—made the action seem about as sexy as bobbing for rubber wieners.

I’m not saying I want the soft romantic lighting, the thin white curtain stirring in the breeze, a bird flying high in the sky to represent the “culmination of the act.” I’m not a prude. But for me, the visuals are just not stimulating—whereas the words—the lick, the flick, the nipple and the clit—ahh. Give me something to dream on. Are you with me, dear reader?

Now that I’ve seen “Curious?,” I no longer am—curious, that is, And I’m more in the dark than ever about who would want to see extreme close-ups of men licking each other’s anuses and gigantic-fakily-breasted women moaning over each other’s shaved mounds—not to mention switcheroos in the middle of the action, so that the women are licking the… and the men are moaning over the….

And I can’t get those images out of my head. You know how they say that if you ever see how sausage is made, you’ll never eat it again? Well, that’s how I feel… not only about the sausage but about the biscuits, if you know what I mean. Oh, and the gravy—especially the gravy. It’s as if someone waved the Magic Wand and worked its magic in reverse. The fairy dust has disappeared, and my Hitachi is once more a mundane reliever of muscle tension, not a means of self-pleasure and delightful fantasy. I cry for my lost innocence.

And now, for something completely different…

just one

For some reason, I like to take myself out to lunch or dinner after a therapy or dreamwork session. (“Take myself out” is such a quaint, romantic concept—as if I’m also going to bring myself a corsage, come around to open my car door, and kiss myself sweetly at the end of the evening.) (Given what you have just read, this might not seem so far-fetched.) It’s as if the inner work and the relationship with J or J* make me want to open to the world, or as if I’m already open and there’s nothing for it but to go out among the human, letting myself seep into their consciousness and take them into mine.

On this particular day, I’ve had a wonderful time with J*, batting back and forth the dream images I’ve offered him out of the dozens I’ve written down since I saw him last. He does most of the batting, hitting multiple home runs. (Though if we’re “batting them back and forth,” I suppose a badminton metaphor would be more appropriate here…. Oh, never mind.) He modestly calls himself a “master of the obvious,” but if so, then it’s clear that pointing out the obvious to those who would otherwise never notice it is a particular form of genius.

Both J* and his wife have become avid readers of the ‘zine, so that adds another dimension to the relationship. They are so enthusiastic, in fact, that I feel myself turning red, wanting to disavow their praise like too-rich chocolate. I ache to hear it and yet it is a bit hard to swallow. I reflexively want to turn their words away at the door, like beautifully dressed partygoers who must have the wrong house. I imagine it’s like being praised for the sweetness of intelligence of your child—you blush to be receiving all this credit for something you’re not sure you’re responsible for, but you also marvel, “So—is that how my little one is received out in the world? Honey, I barely know ye!”

It’s 5:00 when I leave the house on Pleasant Lane—aptly named, because the street feels like a veritable boulevard of pleasantness as I walk to my car, full of feeling and torn between wanting to share it and keep it all to myself. This is where the bustling café comes in—a place where I can sit with a glass of wine and a small pizza or dish of pasta and dream over the insights of the past hour and a half—but at the same time feel the pulse of connection with the world.

I decide on Il Fornaio. It’s still early, so there should be plenty of room for my party of just-one, and it’s a relatively benign environment in which to experience that peculiar luxury-slash-torture which is dining out alone.

Despite my glow from the session, I feel as false and brittle as a mannequin walking down the row of tables behind the beautiful hostess, all the eyes of the other diners seemingly on me instead of on her deserving countenance. She first tries to seat me at the table right opposite the kitchen door, but I’ve been stuck there before. When you dine out alone, you learn to be suspicious of the host’s first choice of seating. I’m there to have a sensory experience in a refined atmosphere, and the comings and goings of the waiters in all their raucous camaraderie through a constantly swinging door are not part of my plan. Instead, I successfully negotiate for a table a little farther along, where I can keep my back to the help and pretend that I am far, far above the mechanics of dinner delivery.

Throughout the perusing of the menu, the ordering of the wine and salad and pizza margherita—grateful to the Italian waiter for instantly seeing them I am a Madame and not a Sir—I feel like a new immigrant to these shores who has only learned to say one phrase, “Thank you.” The thank yous necessary when dining out alone add up to a veritable chorus of gratitude. And because you’re not conversing with another person in between, all you hear yourself say all night long is thank you, thank you, thank you—for the table, the menu, the placing of the order, the bringing of every little thing, the taking away, the bill—as if riches are being bestowed upon you in exchange for your gracious presence rather than $37.48.

When I’m alone in a restaurant, I take self-consciousness to dizzying heights. My self inflates to take up the entire, vaulted dining room—crouching at the high ceiling, pushing against the windows, seeping under the doors, seeming to need a larger venue, the Oakland Coliseum, perhaps, to contain it. It is impossible to believe—as I know must be true—that all eyes are not on me, that judgmental glances are not taking in the falsity of my nonchalance and the obvious pose of bringing along a book to populate the tabletop. It’s a good book, actually—Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life—but who can concentrate on written words when the outsized dimensions of the fearful ego are expanding to fill the vacuum that Nature and solitary diners abhor.

Thank God for the vino. I have nervously drunk almost the whole glass while waiting for my food, and the nice waiter asks if I want a second one with my meal—sparing me the humiliation of craning my neck in obvious alcoholic dependency as I wave down any passing busboy for more liquid courage.

The salad, when it comes, helps to focus my attention a bit, but then there’s the problem of how to hold the book in one hand and navigate the slippery pieces of lettuce and shaved parmesan with the other.

Slowly, slowly, I begin to deflate back to a manageable size. It’s probably the wine, but also, I’ve decided I want to write about this experience, this spiritual practice of sitting quietly in full public view, a “single,” a “just one?” among the paired and partying humans. The writer’s detachment comes in handy sometimes. No social experience is so awkward that it can’t be turned into a good story.

My neck and shoulders begin to loosen a bit, and I dare to take my eyes off my book and look around the room. I’m not interested in the couples or the parties of four (two couples—twice as uninteresting). Pairing is such good camouflage—allowing one to direct all the bonhomie and cheerful chatter at one’s disposal to a safe face sitting opposite, knowing that you have nothing to prove, you are accompanied by your own raison d’être. You each have an other, one who consented to be in your presence for the course of a meal. I’m not knocking it—I prefer eating with a friend, too, and basking in the companionship and the security of bringing along a flesh-and-blood person, nothing so obviously forced as a book.

My attention wanders farther and farther afield. I am really getting bold now. I look over to my right, and I see a young woman sitting alone at a table set for 10. Logically, she must feel 10 times as self-conscious as I do, because all sorts of questions are raised by her being there, surrounded by what seem like 20 wine glasses and a flurry of little plates. She must be waiting for the rest of her party, no? But it looks like some of the glasses have a little wine left in them, as if the party has long since disbanded and she’s frozen there in front of a half-drunk bottle of red, sipping from her glass and twisting a napkin in her lap.

At first I refuse to believe that she is anything but right in her element. She’s attractive, with shoulder-length dark hair, wearing a pretty dress; no one would ever mistake her for a Sir. She probably dines here every night—knows the owner—is married to the owner—is the owner.  But I’m intrigued by the ambiguity of the table settings. Is she coming or going? I’m sitting slightly behind and to her left, so I can gaze at her without being seen (thus confirming my own paranoia—who’s sitting just out of range watching me?).

After several minutes of idly pondering her situation, wondering if her inflated, insecure self is bobbing up at the ceiling along with mine, if she is silently praying for someone else to show up so she doesn’t have to sustain the curious looks from all the safely paired diners—or even those singles who were smart enough to bring a book—I realize that her hands that were twisting the napkin are now rubbing her thighs and making little gestures as if she’s talking to someone. Then I realize her lips are moving! Not animatedly, not like an out-and-out crazy person, but quietly. If I pretend that the rest of the table is populated with her nine companions, it looks like she’s having a conversation with someone across from her. Is she practicing a speech? Is she planning to break up with her boyfriend (under cover of a crowd) or confront a coworker? Or is she out-and-out crazy after all, having called in a reservation for 10 but with only her and nine imaginary friends to fill the chairs?

The waiter comes by and refills the woman’s glass, which she sips at nervously. Or excitedly. How can I know? I don’t. Maybe she’s as self-conscious as I am, or maybe she’s caught up in her own world. Maybe this is the happiest night of her life, and the celebration is about to begin. Or maybe I’m way off, maybe I could never imagine what’s going on with her. It’s as if I’m seeing the mechanics of projection laid bare—as if I can only “put myself in her place” (see her as my twin) or imagine her as my glamorous opposite. In both cases, I am setting myself as the standard, the known, the norm. Maybe we can never see one another true but must always supply the tint, the blush, the coloring from our own bag of makeup. I can’t believe I’m using makeup as a metaphor.

So I can’t size her up, but something about this reassures me. Maybe I’m not so transparent after all. Perhaps, like her, I am obvious only to myself. Obvious because I’m posing as a person of ease—an ugly duckling yearning to be perceived as a cool, gliding swan—like her. Yet as mysterious, in my own way, as any attractive stranger in a pretty dress. I don’t know her story, but if she had been watching me, would she have known mine?

Posing, always posing. Pretending to be OK when we’re not. Even pretending to be OK when we are! Now there’s a pose for you. I was perfectly OK that night—better than OK—but I insisted on feeling like a sore thumb—the girl from the sticks all growed up and just barely learned how to use a fork—the dyke in the telltale haircut—instead of… well, whoever I really am. The simplest lesson—free to be, you and me—seems to be the hardest to learn.

Too much thinking on a full stomach.

When it’s time to leave, I bid a silent farewell to my mysterious counterpart, realizing that I am just one of the multitudes of mysterious, obvious humans—obvious in our pretense sometimes, but mysterious at our core. Saying my last round of thank yous to the tactful waiter and the beautiful hostess, I glide out the door, swanlike, into the dark solitary night, back to my private self.

pookie’s christmas

Pookie is almost impossible to buy for. He turns up his nose at all manufactured “cat toys,” with their trying-too-hard-to-be-fun jingly bells and stale catnip. What does he care if the thing is in the shape of a mouse? It’s not a mouse. A real live spider at least has authenticity.

Pookie can be happy with a piece of cardboard large enough to hold his enormous sprawling self or, better yet, a box, with sides to contain him. Nothing, apparently, makes him feel more secure than a cardboard floor and four little cardboard walls. He is a founding member of the Simple Living movement. Often, I’ll have boxes lying around my office that are way too small for him—like an 8-1/2 x 11 stationery box—but he snuggles in anyway, with his furry flab hanging over all the sides, forcing himself to fit like Cinderella’s stepsister jamming her foot into the glass slipper. But cardboard boxes tend to come serendipitously, you don’t just go out and buy one. Besides, they take up a lot of room. A cute little toy mouse with a jingly bell at least ends up behind the couch, out of sight, out of mind. But a box big enough to hold Pookie is a piece of furniture in itself.

He also used to like chasing wine corks. I would see him crouching behind a chair in the living room, signaling his readiness, and I would throw the cork halfway up the stairs. He would run for it, batting it all the way back down, or—nine times out of ten—knocking it under the stairs, where I would have to crouch down to retrieve it, giving him the perfect opportunity to take a swat at my head from above. I’ve always suspected that that was the real point of the game. But he mysteriously lost interest in cork chasing after his male-to-whatever operation last spring. Better for me and my back, though. And I no longer have to extract stray corks from the vacuum cleaner hose.

Pookie also likes to lick plastic ribbon and lie on tissue paper. After my birthday and Christmas, I used to leave the wrappings on the floor for a few days, for him to pounce on like piles of leaves. But I have banned tissue paper from the house since the time he puked on some orange paper, and the dye stained the light gray carpet right in the middle of the floor. I now have a small round rug covering the evidence, but it’s like Poe’s telltale heart beating under the floorboards, I know it’s there.

I discovered the perfect gift for Pookie when I had to take him to see Dr. Bill because he was drooling. (Pookie, not Dr. Bill.) We never found out why he was drooling, but I had to pay the $54 anyway. And then the drooling stopped. A ruse, apparently, to get inside the doctor’s office and score himself some… tuna-flavored hairball laxative. The stuff comes in a tube, oozing out all brown and shiny, and is licked off the human finger. My human finger. I have to wash and wash my hands afterward like Lady Macbeth. After he’d gotten his first taste, he was after me 24-7 to get more. He lops off a big glob and then has to keep licking and licking the inside of his mouth, trying to get it all down. I entertain myself with the cruel thought, “Got milk?”

When T was staying with me during the painting intensive in December, Pookie would go begging to her for the tuna laxative, too. One day, I heard her talking to him in the next room. “I can’t give you laxative,” she said sweetly, “but I can give you love.”

And that’s what Pookie got for Christmas. Love and laxative, and plenty of it.

[Mary McKenney]

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