Tag Archive | life

Transforming Otters and Traveling Trees

The terra cotta otter planter that survived many winters in Ballard didn't do so well at our new place, so now she's garden art.

The terra cotta otter planter that survived many winters in Ballard didn’t do so well at our new place, so now she’s garden art.

As autumn settles in, I’ve been taking care of winterizing tasks, which included transplanting some thing from our planters to other locations. Living in an apartment, we don’t have quite as much winterizing to do as some people, but there is still work to do. Fans and the a/c unit get taken down and put away, for instance. I put away some of the summer clothes and pull out warmer clothes. Our wooden folding table out on the veranda (our third-story deck) needs to be rubbed down with oil (I used butcher block oil and butcher block conditioner) to keep it waterproof for another year. The grill needs to be cleaned and covered. Things like that.

This year that also meant that a tree need to be transported. Not long after we moved to this place last year, I noticed an unfamiliar plant growing in the very smallest of the flower pots that used to sit on our porch at the old place. Once the leaves reached full size, I identified it as a Turkish Filbert (also know as a Eurasian Hazel), which is a relative of the American Hazel from which we get hazelnuts. In our old neighborhood one house up the street from us had a Turkish Filbert in the front yard, and I was used to seeing the distinctive filbert seed pods on the sidewalk each fall. I realized that the neighborhood squirrel had buried one of those seeds in my flowerpot.

Over the years we’d lived there, I was used to finding rotted peanuts and the occasional chestnut in the flowerpots whenever I put in new spot color flowers. This was the first time, as far as I know, that the squirrel gave us a filbert. And it was the first time one of the nuts buried in our flowerpots sprouted.

I took it as a sign that a squirrel god wanted us to grow the tree, and had thought I might be able to keep it going in a planter for a few years before needing to find it a forever home. It only grew to about 8 inches tall during our first summer, after all. Of course, it was also in the tiniest flowerpot I owned at the time.

A final time measuring the height of the filbert before send it to its new home.

A final time measuring the height of the filbert before send it to its new home.

After it’s 9 leaves turned yellow and fell off last year, I transplanted the entire contents of the pot into a larger planter–one of four large ones I got to grow the irises I had salvaged from the flower bed we’d been allowed to use at the old place. I should have realized that the bigger planter, having a lot more room for roots, would mean that the tree would grow a lot faster in its second summer.

The filbert in its new home.

The filbert in its new home.

Fortunately, our friend Jeri Lynn was amenable to trying the filbert in her new yard, so we had planned this fall to move it.

Before we got to that point, I had other work to do with the planters. Another of the pots that had come with us from the old place was this very cute terra cotta planter int he shape of a sea otter. I’d been growing pansies and violas and dianthus and similar annual flowers in it for years sitting either on our concrete porch at the old place, or sometimes on the concrete walkway or sitting in one of the flower beds.

Since the structure I call our veranda is a deck sticking out the side of an apartment building, and there are neighbors with their own decks below us, all of my flower pots and such are either completely contained, or they have catch basins under them, to prevent overflow from watering sending muddy water down on the neighbors. I’d found a gorgeous, ocean-colored glazed dish that was big enough for the otter and left the otter in the dish over the winter. I didn’t think about how, during the rainiest part of the winter, this meant that the otter was sitting in at least an inch of water. Which means that the potting soil inside the otter was constantly 100% waterlogged. So when temperatures dropped below freezing, the otter was broken. Badly broken. So broken that in the spring I couldn’t get water to stay in the potting soil long enough to sustain the flowers.

My husband found me a new otter planter, which I have now placed in the glazed dish on little lifts that keep the pot above any water in the dish.

But what to do with the old otter? I couldn’t bring myself to putting it in the trash. So I suggested to my husband (who is slightly less sentimental than me) that he should wait until sometime I was gone, and he could dispose of the otter, and I could pretend she has swum away.

When I mentioned this on line, our friend Katrina asked why I couldn’t transform the otter into art by burying it in a large planter, so the otters head and forepaws (which are still mostly intact) was visible above the soil, and plant a bunch more of the irises around it, so it looked like the otter was in a bed of seaweed.

Which was absolutely brilliant.

I finally found a planter that would work, and I did exactly that a couple of weeks ago. The irises you can see in the photo above came out of the planter with the filbert. I planted 9 iris rhizomes in that planter with the tree, and by the end of summer I had 18 iris plants in the planter (the other three planters didn’t double, but all of the planters had at least some new irises by the fall). So I dug up about of third of them from the end furthest from the tree (figuring their roots were less likely to be tangled with the tree’s root), and put them in the new planter.

Saturday night, after our monthly writers’ meeting, we carried the planter down to our friend Matt’s truck, and he transported it to Jeri Lynn’s. Then on Sunday I drove up, helped them transplant the filbert and the remaining irises, then took the planter back home.

There, I filled the planter with all the remaining unplanted rhizomes (there were a lot of irises at the old place), and covered them with potting soil. It’s a lot denser that I’d packed them in any of the planters last year, but I figure they’ve been sitting in a box for two growing seasons, and a lot of them probably aren’t viable.

Don’t get me wrong, every one of them might sprout and I have dozens of irises coming up in that planter next year. And I won’t mind a bit!

I just hope that some of the irises in the other planters actually bloom next year. I assumed that this year they were in a recovery mode from being dug up in the spring, rather than fall as you’re supposed to, and so on.

Wish me luck!

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More confessions of a guy who likes the rain

Picture of a person under an umbrella in heavy rain, labeled Tourists. Below, a man stands in the rain, head tilted up, eyes closed, labeled True Washingtonians.

(Click to embiggen)

Thursday evening, as I was turning out lights and otherwise getting ready to climb into bed, rain started pounding the roof, hard. It had probably been raining for awhile, but I hadn’t noticed the sound until then. We’ve been getting a lot of drizzly days the last couple of weeks, but this was the first time in a long, long time that I’d heard that kind of really hard rain. So I pulled on my slippers and a shirt (since I was just wearing my fleece Seahawks shorts and ankle socks), went out on the veranda, stepped up to the rail, and held out my arms to let the rain fall on my for a few minutes.

It was the first time that evening that I had felt good.

I didn’t realize that I was sick on Thursday until about an hour after getting home from work, when the cough started. I have hay fever for at least ten months of the year, and weather transition periods are one of the times that my symptoms get really bad. And the previous two weeks, while we had had some drizzle and scattered showers with temperatures in the 60s, we’d also had at least one day each week when clouds all vanished and the temp edged up passed 80. So lots of transitions.

My hay fever almost never includes coughing. Congestion, sinus headache, sometimes achey/itchy eyes, and yes lots of sneezing, but not coughing. And if the hay fever has been severe for a few days in a row, I also start feeling really run down.

So all day Thursday I had felt like I had no energy, I had to work hard to stay focused on tasks at work (it was one of the few times I was glad that I had nearly half the day in meetings). My sinuses were very painful to the point that my throat was feeling it. I was in denial that it was an actual cold right up until that cough.

And a funny thing about when I’m in denial that I’m sick: the moment I admit that maybe it might not be hay fever, I notice that every symptom I have is worse. It’s like the denial sets up a dampener that cuts out half the pain signals coming in? I realized that in addition to the coughing, my throat was more acutely sore than I had thought, and my sinus headache was worse, et cetera.

I took some cold meds right away, but the coughing kept going, and it seemed like each coughing fit made my whole body more miserable.

So that moment of standing in the rain and really, really enjoying it was great.

Friday had already been scheduled as a work from home day, so I hunkered down with coffee and tea and got through it. We had to cancel weekend plans with friends—not just because I was miserable, but also because we don’t want to infect anyone. The two times that I had to leave the house, I wore a mask and did a handwash before leaving the house. I already had a doctor appointment scheduled for Tuesday morning where (along with periodic blood work) I was supposed to get my flu shot, so I figured if the cold hadn’t begun to get better by then, I’d see what the doctor thought.

He doesn’t think I have the flu, but I do have an upper respiratory infection. So! Antibiotics for me!

At several points during the weekend I took comfort in opening the windows so I can hear the rain coming down. I started having the chills on Saturday, so I haven’t been going out on the veranda except briefly to refill the bird feeder, but I can hear the rain just fine with the windows open, and even feel the cool, moist rainy breeze on my face occasionally.

I love Seattle weather when it’s rainy or just cool and overcast.

I love it so much that I get cranky at people complaining about the weather when it arrives in the fall, or when it lingers into June. I try not to say disparaging things to them when it comes up, because I have been know to gripe and whine about the heat during the seven-ish weeks of real summer weather we get most years. But in my head I think of the folks who gripe about our weather as anti-rain trolls—particularly the ones who wax rhapsodic about the great hiking trails or the beautiful mountains that they love to ski or snowboard on.

All that snow? It’s what happens to the rain storms after they pass over us and get to the mountains. All those gorgeous hiking trails? There’s a reason we call most of the forested area of the Olympic Pennisula a rain forest. Yeah, we have pine trees (and other conifers) instead of a tropical plants, but it’s still a rain forest and all those lovely hiking trails wouldn’t exist if we didn’t have all the rain.

So, welcome to one of my favorite times of year! Let me enjoy the rain in peace. I’ll try to whine less about being sick. And I will continue to try to keep my griping about the heat each summer to a minimum. Deal?

Hurricane Maria Killed More People Than Katrina and 9/11 Combined

I have a few sci fi related posts and some writing posts half written, and so much gets said about the 9/11 attacks on every anniversary that I wasn’t sure I wanted to add to the pile on. But so much of what is said is used to justify discrimination, oppression, and bigotry, so I shouldn’t be silent when I could counter some of that. We, as a nation, learned the wrong lessons from 9/11. The terrorists won—because we have given up many freedoms for an illusion of security. The massive waste of time and money that is the modern airport screening process doesn’t guarantee that there will be no more attacks; at best those measures reduce the probability of certain types of attacks by an infinitesimal fraction of a percent. We used the attacks as a pretext to invade a country that had nothing to do with them (Iraq), in the process kicking off a sequence of events which made it super easy for radical terrorist groups to recruit thousands of people who would otherwise have been peacefully living their lives. We have been bogged down in Afghanistan, a country the previously bogged down the British for decades in unwinnable war, and then the Russians for more decades in an equally unwinnable war, and now, 17-fucking-years later we are similarly bogged down with no achievable objectives and an eternally-changed timeline for getting out.

We’ve spent trillions of dollars (let alone the thousands of military personnel killed or maimed in the process) an accomplished nothing more than radicalizing who knows how many people who would otherwise might have been allies.

Meanwhile, we have ignored and inadequately responded to other disasters closer to home: Hurricane Maria Killed More People Than Katrina and 9/11 Combined: Harvard Study “4,645 people probably died after Hurricane Maria struck the island last September.” We continue to act as if 9/11 was the worst disaster ever to hit this country, while we ignore the pain and suffering of the American citizens in Puerto Rico. We should be ashamed.

If we are going to talk about 9/11, we should talk about some of the heroes: Remembering 9/11 Hero Mark Bingham Mark Bingham, a 6’4″ tall gay man who had the nickname “Bear Trap” was one of the passengers of United Flight 93 who stormed the cockpit of their pilot, preventing the hijackers from crashing the plane into the intended fourth target that day. Mark and the other passengers died as the plane crashed into a field, instead.

Read about the other, often erased, queer heroes here: The Stories of 9/11’s LGBTQ Heroes.

Confessions of an absent-minded misplacer, part 2

You have to respect the honesty…

I lose things all the time. I wind up spending an embarrassing amount of time searching for misplaced eyeglasses, or the mug of coffee I had just a minute ago, or the bookmark I was using and I just want to set the book down long enough to get some more coffee, or the headphones I was wearing five minutes ago. So I’ll be retracing my steps, trying to remember what I did and was thinking about. I used to constantly lose my keys and wallet, and only slightly less often my badgeholder with my bus pass. And of course my phone. I was logging into Find My Phone at least twice a week to make the phone ping so I could find it. Now I have tiles attached to the keyring, badgeholder, and wallet. I can use an app on my phone to ping them. If I misplace the phone, I usually have my watch on and can use it to ping the phone, but I have also used the feature of the tiles where you can squeeze it’s button to make the phone you usually use to track them play the Find My Phone tone.

Misplacing things while moving around the house doing things is one category of lost possessions, but it isn’t the only one. No, far worse are those times when one I have to say the phrase, “I remember thqt last time I was using it I said to myself, ‘I need to put this somewhere that I won’t forget…’” Because I only utter that phrase after I have looked in the places where I thought I had put it way and now I can’t find it.

Part of it is about how my brain categorizes things. Let’s say I’m looking for the spray bottle with the stain remover in it. I’m putting my shirt in the hamper, and notice that I’ve spilled food on it earlier in the day, so I want to spray the stain with the soapy stuff before tossing it in the hamper in hopes of preventing a stain. And I go to the hall closet where the laundry detergent is, expecting to find the bottle there, but it isn’t there. And it isn’t in the bedroom by the hamper where I probably used it last time. This means that at some point while I was doing something completely unrelated to laundry, I noticed the spray bottle out where it shouldn’t be, and instead of putting it in the hall closet, I put is somewhere else. It might be in the cabinet under the bathroom sink, for instance, because a lot of soap-like things are kept there. Or I might have put it in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, because a lot of cleaning supplies are there.

Why not back to the closet? Because I probably found the bottle where it didn’t belong while I was in the middle of another task. And I didn’t want to lose track of the other task, but I also wanted to put the bottle away, and my silly brain instead up popping up with the location of the closet where the laundry detergent is, suggested some other place where other cleaning things are.

Maybe.

Or maybe the task I was in the middle of was getting ready for work and get out the door, and the next thing I had meant to do was assemble my lunch, so I carried the bottle with me as I go to assemble my lunch. Assembling the lunch involves getting some things out of the pantry. When I got into the pantry I reached for soup=in-a-cup, which involves opening a box and selecting one of the cups and realized I was still holding the bottle of stain remover so I set it on the lower pantry shelf to free up my hand and get the soup, then walk back out into the kitchen to get on with lunch. And because that lower shelf has a lot of bottles of varying sizes and a variety of colors of labels, and the pantry is only dimly lit, it just blended in and neither of us noticed it for two weeks.

But yes, one other time I found it under the bathroom sink. Another time under the kitchen sink. Both of those were found the same day I noticed it missing. The time it was left in the pantry it took longer.

Then there is the topic of important papers. Maybe I have a folder of instructions from the doctor for a procedure scheduled a couple of months out. I read through it all once, but I’ll need to consult it again a few days before, because I had dietary restrictions the day before. So it needs to be put away somewhere where it is out of the way, but I will find it when I need to.

So I take it into the computer room and I put it in a standing sorter near my desk where a bunch of other important papers are. Or at least, that’s what I thought I did, but of course when I go looking again it isn’t there. So if I didn’t put it there, where else did I put it? The drawers under the stand-up thing where a lot of other papers are? Maybe. Or maybe the bin where the bills to pay are kept. That’s a pile of papers I go through frequently and I always know where it is, so maybe that’s where I put it. Or maybe it’s in the filebox where a bunch of other important papers are kept… or…

So I spend a couple hours searching everywhere I can think of, and it’s getting late and I just resign myself to having to call the doctor’s office the next morning before I go to work. I begin the going to bed routine and I grab my nighttime meds… and that’s when I notice a familiar-looking folder stuck behind all the prescription bottles and vitamin bottles and the blood pressure thing and so forth. There wedged in besides the receipts from the pharmacy that I save so that every few months I can scan them in and fill out the only form and get re-imbursed for the co-pays.

I put it with other papers that I save, all right. And they’re even medical papers! But somehow making that decision got mangled in my memory as the location in the computer room.

It made sense at the time, but darned if I’ll remember a week afterward…

Listen, buddy, there is no pumpkin in pumpkin spice, and if you don’t like cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and such in your food or beverage, then don’t order it…

“I think people who hate on pumpkin spice but praise bacon are hypocrites. The only difference is that bacon is seen as 'manly' and pumpkin spice is seen as 'girly.' Both groups want to put it on everything, but only one gets shamed for it.”

“I think people who hate on pumpkin spice but praise bacon are hypocrites. The only difference is that bacon is seen as ‘manly’ and pumpkin spice is seen as ‘girly.’ Both groups want to put it on everything, but only one gets shamed for it.”

I love bacon. I love a good martini. I love nice olives. I love a my husband’s homemade chicken soup1. I like sampling different kinds of winter ales/holiday beers. I love cooking a big pot of chili to eat while watching a football game. I love the many variants of Earl Grey tea. I love coffee. I love beef stroganoff (both making it and eating it). I love sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, pear and ginger pie, or any homemade fruit pie even though I can almost never eat pies any more. I love lamb stew. I love my husband’s solstice cake2. I love homemade vanilla and the many wonderful things I can make with it. I love cooking veal scallopini (and not just because when I open a bottle of wine to cook with I need to drink the rest of the bottle). I love very rare steak. I love a nice Old Fashioned made with really good bourbon. I also love a lot of what some people call froo-froo cocktails. I love homemade ginger bread.

And yes, sometimes, I like to spice things with a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspace, and cloves. Because those spices tastes incredibly delicious on many foods.

As autumn approaches in the Northern Hemisphere, we see the unveiling of the many snarky and condescending memes and social media posts about pumpkin spice. And one of the things that really amuses me about them are the large number of them who seem to think that the drinks and foods and such are pumpkin flavored.

Pumpkin spice lattes do not taste like pumpkin. They taste like coffee, steamed milk, and cinnamon. It’s not pumpkin, guys, it’s pumpkin spice, specifically, the spices that are traditionally used in pumpkin pie. It’s spices—you know, those substances whose entire existence in our culture is to be added in small quantities to various edible things to make them taste better? It isn’t something weird or new-fangled or unnatural. They are spices.

If you don’t happen to like cinnamon and so forth, that’s fine. But there is no reason to go hating or shaming other people who do. And I find it particularly irritating when I see it being done by the kinds of guys who are really into craft beers, or who want bacon on everything, or who buy up the various winter ales/holiday beers as soon as they show up in stores. All of these foods and beverages are things that some people really like, other people could take or leave, and other people dislike. It’s no big deal.

I know that you don’t think you’re being an asshole. You think your clever meme about guys dressing up in pumpkins to attract the ladies is funny. I totally get it. There are foods and drinks that I despise, and sometimes I describe my dislike for them in rather extreme terms4. But just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean that it is inherently inferior to other things.

But your hating on pumpkin spice and your shaming of people who like it? That totally makes you an asshole. If you make fun of other people for liking cinnamon, you are a douche, an idiot, an asshole, and a petty insecure hypocrite.

You don’t have to buy any of the pumpkin spice things on the market. Their existence neither hurts you nor causes you harm. So chill. Relax. Let it go and stop hating on some spices. Unless you like being known widely as a prick.


Footnotes:

1. He makes the most amazing soup. One time when word got out that he was making chicken soup for a writing meeting we were hosting, one pair of friends changed their travel plans so they can attend for the soup. That’s how good it is.

2. It’s a cake he invented when he was tired of people always hating on fruit cake, so he concocted a way to turn pineapple, apricots, figs, and a bunch of fruit into a puree and then cook it in a way that people think they are just eating fluffy golden sponge cake. One year he made a bunch of them that we served at our Christmas party, took to some other people’s gatherings, and he took two into his work. The cakes were so good, that two of the people at his workplace got into a literal fist fight over the last slice of the cake. And the company instituted a rule that Michael couldn’t bring in home baked good any more, for fear it would happen again3.

3. Just more proof that I am the luckiest person in the world, because that amazing man is my husband!

4. For instance, raisins. I hate them5. I often call them Satanic Fruit.

5. Seriously, they taste so vile that I almost vomit with I get some in my mouth. It took several years to get to the point where I could stop that reaction and just find a napkin to put the the stuff in6.

6. And I have a history of this. When I was a toddler, the doctor wasn’t happy with some of my blood tests, and told my mom to feed me something like an ounce of raisins a day for nutritional purposes. My poor mom tried. I violently spit them out, cried, pushed her hands away, et cetera. She tried hiding them in other foods, soaking them in water, soaking rhem in apple juice, cooking them in various ways, and so forth. And every time I spit out the raisins. I would eat the other stuff around them, but I spit out the raisins again and again. Finally, Mom called the doctor’s office to say that I absolutely refused to eat the raisins. They started listing other foods that would take care of the nutritional deficiency they were worried about. When they got way down on the list and mentioned liver, Mom interrupted: “Liver! Why didn’t you say so, he loves liver!7” And she hung up the phone and headed to the store.

7. She knew I loved liver because my dad also liked liver, so just about every pay day they would splurge on some liver and Mom would cook up a mess of liver and onions for my dad. And at some point Dad offered me some and I gobbled it down and wanted more8.

8. I know lots of people hate liver, and that’s fine. May taste buds are different from yours. Raisins probably don’t make you gag because your taste buds are different. That’s okay. You can have my share of the world raisin supply. I’ll take your share of the world liver supply. We’ll all be happy, right?

A great man died this weekend… farewell, Neil Simon

Just a few facts about playwright Neil Simon.

Just a few facts about playwright Neil Simon.

I’m not going to be talking about the politician who passed this weekend. Plenty of people are whitewashing that sepulchre already. When I do write about that guy (and I will, later this week) I will try to be civil, but I will only write the truth. No, today I am mourning a great writer: Neil Simon (1927-2018): The King of Stage Comedy – The playwright, whose ‘Lost in Yonkers’ won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991, died on Saturday at age 91.

Neil Simon is probably most famous for writing The Odd Couple in 1965. The original production won 5 Tony awards (including one for Simon). It was adapted into a very successful movie (Simon was nominated for an Oscar for his screenplay), three different television series (one of which was nominated three times for an Emmy and won three Emmys and one Golden Globe for the leads), and a cartoon. Simon reworked the play twice over the next several decades: once with gender bent characters, and one just to update the dialogue and situations which had become a bit dated.

(click to embiggen)

But he wrote a lot of other plays and movies. A few were autobigraphical (The trio of Bright Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, and Broadway Bound, for instance, which were all later turned into movies). Most of his plays and movies were comedies, yes, but many dealt with serious interpersonal issues, sometimes in heart-wrenching ways. On the other hand, he could write incredibly zany comedy. For example, the 1965 movie After the Fox was an over-the-top parody of every caper/heist film ever. While 1976’s Murder By Death is an equally mad parody of every murder mystery movie and novel ever.

As Playbill noted:

‘Simon also made his mark as a creator of original screenplays, writing the scripts for the 1972 critical hit The Heartbreak Kid, which was directed by Elaine May; The Out-of-Towners, starring Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis as hapless visitors comically victimized by New York City; Murder By Death, a spoof of the detective genre; and the 1977 romantic comedy The Goodbye Girl, which starred his then-wife Marsha Mason and helped to make Richard Dreyfuss a star. He was nominated for an Oscar for the latter, as well as for the films of California Suite, The Sunshine Boys, and The Odd Couple. He won a Golden Globe for The Goodbye Girl, and was nominated for The Sunshine Boys and The Heartbreak Kid.’

I’ve only gotten to see stage versions of two of Simon’s plays (The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park, both by community theatre companies), but because he wrote many original film screenplays and adapted a lot of his plays to movies, I’ve seen a lot of his work. And one thing that I have always envied about his writing is how much he could convey with just dialog. The dialog is always witty and sharp. When it’s funny, it is hilariously so. But he also had a knack for placing a dagger of human frailty into the dialog, so that you are laughing, and then brought up short as a character’s pain or fear is laid bare.

For a few decades, Simon really ruled the American theatre stage in comedy. Don’t believe me? The promotional campaigns of most movies focus on the lead actors or the director, right? When movies were made from Simon’s plays and screenplays, the promo’s led with the author. It was “Neil Simon’s California Suite” or “Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys” or “Neil Simon’s The Out-of-Towners” and so on.

His plays worked because the characters in them, no matter what circumstances we met them under, felt real. Their fears, their hopes, their drems, their foibles, and most importantly their relationships always rang true. He was a master at dialog, but his dialog worked because he made us believe in the characters speaking his lines.

It’s an accomplishment every writer longs to achieve. Simon honed his craft during years of writing for radio and television. It took him years of hard work, careful observation, and then fighting to make each line count. When he hit his stride, he made it look easy.

So join me in raising a glass to Neil Simon, the playwright who taught us that life is weird, and that’s why we love it.

“You get attached to the way you write, and I'm attached to notebooks. That's where I really write the plays. Just two or three pages at a time, then I transfer to the typewriter and rewrite while I type. —Neil Simon”

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Anger is better than fear — confessions of a militant fairy

“I am NOT afraid!!! Queer Nation”

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I was astonished, after I had been out of the closet for a bit, to look back on my previous life and realize how much of time and energy had been spent living in fear. Fear of being found out. Fear of being rejected by family and friends. Fear of being physically assaulted. Fear of living a life without love. Fear of dying alone. Fear of what would happen if the preachers were correct and a lake of eternal fire awaited me.

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power”

“You only gave us rights because we gave you riots. Queer Power” (Click to embiggen)

All of those fears were based on real experiences. My dad’s most angry beatings were all accompanied with him calling me worthless, a faggot, and a cocksucker. And for several years I didn’t know what those last two words meant. The kids at school who bullied me (which often involved physical attacks) always called me a sissy or pussy while doing it. The teachers who verbally bullied me called me a sissy or faggot while doing so. In high school, a classmate I knew well was jumped by a group of jocks who were convinced he was gay (he wasn’t—years later he’s married to a great woman and they have two wonderful kids and we still chat online) and was in the process of being beaten up until a group of us found them and broke it up. Another classmate who I didn’t know very well was beaten so badly he was kept in the hospital for a few days. Again, it was because a group of guys at school thought he was gay (he was—last I heard, he and his partner of several years were living in Boston). A couple of other classmates who were outed in embarrassing ways were kicked out of their homes by their parents, and wound up living with relatives far away. One of my uncles (the same one who insisted that I was such a sissy because my parents let me own an action figure) said he would kill any of his sons if they turned gay.

So it wasn’t just anxiety. It wasn’t all in my head. The danger was real.

“Being gay is not a sin. Neither is being lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. The Bible never claims that it is. Christians should stop saying it—because it's killing people.” Johnpavlovitz.com

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And because I’d been raised Southern Baptist, and I was the kind of nerdy kid who read the Bible all the way through on my own at least twice, I spent many, many hours begging god to take these feelings away from me. I spent a lot of time studying the guys that never got called out like I did, trying to figure out how to act more like them.

And while for many queer kids the world is a more tolerant place than it was for me in the 60s and 70s, thousands of teens in the U.S. are still thrown out on the streets every year by parents whose religion teaches it is better to drive the kid out than to “encourage their lifestyle.” Hundreds of children and teens still commit suicide every year because of bullying by people who suspect they are queer.

All the bullying, anxiety about being rejected, and so forth affects us. Studies show that most adult queers bear at least some of the neurological markers of PTSD—just like domestic abuse survivors. Coming out and finding communities that accept us doesn’t make that go away. We are always on the lookout for the next potential threat.

This is another variant rainbow flag that's been around longer than the More Colors Flag.

This is another variant rainbow flag that’s been around longer than the More Colors Flag.

There were always moments when I would get angry because of the way I was treated. But particularly when I was a young kid, anger was never useful. I was physically unable to stand up to the bullies (for instance, the middle school bully who was enough bigger than me that he held me upside down for many minutes while his buddies kicked and spit on me).

Over the course of several years anger began replacing fear. There are many moments I can point to, but one that sticks out came in my early 20s. I was sitting in a church pew in a church where the musical ensemble I was directed had performed several songs for to support a revival meeting. The visiting preacher had delivered an unusual message for a revival: he had talked about unity and finding common ground among fellow Christians who didn’t always agree with us on every detail. It was conciliatory, rather than a fiery call to fight evil, which was a much more typical revival tone.

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn't a straight pride movement, be thankful you don't need one.”

“Gay pride was not born out of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride movement, be thankful you don’t need one.”

And then one of the pastors from the local church gave the closing prayer. That how I found myself with head bowed and eyes closed and suddenly shaking in fear as the pastor thank god for sending the scourge of AIDS to wipe out the evil homosexuals from the face of the earth. Oh, he went on and on about it. And because as far as I knew I was the only homo (very closeted) in that room, I half expected people to pull me aside for an intervention afterward. Or maybe that I would be jumped and beaten to within an inch of my life somewhere.

I realized some time later that the pastor wasn’t targeting he was arguing with the visiting pastor, using the passive-aggressive platform of a public prayer. But over the following days and weeks, as I realized that no one was targetting me, I began to get angry. And the more I thought about how that pastor had used a prayer to spew such hate, the more angry I became at the entire system.

That may have been the final nail in the coffin of my membership in the Baptist denomination—if not all of Christianity together.

“The only choice I made was to be myself.”

“The only choice I made was to be myself.”

There are many people who will tell you not to become an angry, militant advocate for anything. They will urge you to try to find middle ground, to compromise, to make peace with those you disagree with you. The problem is that there isn’t an acceptable middle ground between the propositions: “I want to live” and “you deserve death.” And the people who thank god for AIDS, who tell parents to kick their queer children out on the street, who argue that transitioning treatments are not medically necessary, and who argue we shouldn’t have marriage rights (which legally include the right to make medical decisions for one another and so forth)—they are all implying, if not outright saying, that queers deserve death.

Seriously, the only middle ground is that some queers deserve death. How is that a morally acceptable position for anyone?

“Love is a terrible thing to hate.”

“Love is a terrible thing to hate.”

So, yes, I am frequently an angry, militant queer. But all of the people on the other side are arguing in favor of murdering at least some queer people (or, I suppose you could argue that they are simply willing to allow some or most of us to die). That means that what I feel is righteous indignation. And if you don’t feel it at least a little bit on behalf of those kids bullied to death, the murdered trans people, and so on, well, I’m sorry to say, that means you’re on the side of the hateful murderers. I’m sure you have some rationalizations for why your position isn’t that, but you’re wrong. If you don’t believe our outrage is justified, then you’re not one of the good guys.

If that realization makes you unhappy, well, you have the power to fix it. Come over to the Light Side. Join the fight for justice, love, and life.

Confessions of a bad son, part 2

“Just because you deny the abuse doesn't mean that I will forget it.”

“Just because you deny the abuse doesn’t mean that I will forget it.”


It’s impossible at this time of year to avoid all the spam, emotionally manipulative articles, targeting advertising, saccharine memes, and heartfelt testimonials about fathers. This is fine (maybe even great) for people who have admirable dads and are happy to be reminded about how marvelous a good father can be. It is not so good for people whose fathers have died (especially recently), making all this hype a reminder of their grief for the father they loved. It’s not a delight for those of us who had terrible fathers.

I was lucky enough to have two incredible, wonderful, and loving grandfathers as well as an incorrigible (but still loving) great-grandfather who were all three very involved in my life throughout my formative years. I’ve written about my two grandpas on this blog: Rinse, don’t wash and What do you mean, real father?. I’ve mentioned my great-grandpa many times, but haven’t written about him. I need to do something about that.

“If you need violence to enforce your ideas, your ideas are worthless.”

“If you need violence to enforce your ideas, your ideas are worthless.”

But not today. This blog post is for all the people who, like me, had a terrible father. Please note my use of the past tense. One of the few bright spots to this holiday is that since he has died, I don’t have relatives (sometimes those who almost never contact me otherwise) trying to guilt me into calling him, or sigh disapprovingly when I tell them I haven’t talked to him in a long while. Two Father’s Days ago I did get a lot of cringeworthy messages from well-meaning relatives trying to offer me comfort in the grief that they assumed I must be experiencing. I was spared that last year, and so far I have been spared it this year.

It’s one thing when people who don’t know me very well express condolences when they learn he is dead. I can accept those sorts of things fine—especially after one friend made me practice saying “We weren’t that close; we’d hardly spoken in forty years.” But it is another thing altogether when it comes from the people who knew he was a physically and emotionally abusive man, who terrorized his wives and children, who regularly spouted racist and misogynist beliefs often phrased with the foulest slurs, who sneered at religious or liberal expressions of compassion for the downtrodden, and who never apologized to any of those he hurt.

I mentioned in an earlier post the mind-boggling series of messages I got from some relatives that all followed the same pattern right after his death:

  • Recitation of two or more anecdotes of what a sweet, loving young man he was when he first started dating my mom,
  • Reference to how excited he had been to learn he was going to be a father when mom became pregnant,
  • Skip to urging me to try to remember the good times “before the troubles began” because of reasons.

Not a single one of the extended family members who sent me messages and cards like that included any memories or examples of him being that wonderful person that occurred after I was born. And that’s the thing, I don’t remember a time in my childhood when I wasn’t deeply afraid of being alone with him. The first time he beat me severely enough that I had to be taken to an emergency room I was only four years old. I and all my younger siblings experienced at least one beating that required emergency medical care. So I have trouble believing the claims that before he became a father he was a paragon of kindness and love.

Even if they are right, most of the people on that side of the family have previously expressed a narrative of how he became the angry, manipulative, bitter man I knew. Most of them say it stemmed from a single betrayal that happened to him which involved the pastor of the church he had grown up attending. This betrayal happened when my mom was about seven months pregnant with me. The fact that she was pregnant and that this betrayal cost my father a job that he had been looking forward to as a way to properly provide for his wife and soon-to-be-born child is one of the central details in the story as they always retold it.

They claim this one single event transformed him from an angel to a monster, they know it happened before I was born, and yet, they expect me to have memories of the alleged angel.

I get it. Denial isn’t a rational process. If they consciously admit that they knew he was violently abusive for my entire childhood, they have to also admit that they stood by in silence as I, my sister, my mom, and later his second wife and my three half-siblings, were subjected to his abuse. And that is a very scary thing to face.

If they only way they can look themselves in the mirror each day is to be in denial, I guess that’s their business. But trying to erase my past in order to assuage their conscience isn’t something I am willing to enable.

I only have some inklings of what made my father tick. Maybe he was a sweet kid. But all the evidence and research out there about abusers is that they don’t just one day go from being a kind empathetic puppy to an angry beast. It’s something that happens over a long time. My maternal grandmother was an emotionally abusive and manipulative person, which I assume was a major contributing factor to Dad’s abusive personality. I also know that as an adult, Dad could be charming and friendly toward people whose approval he sought. So I suspect the sweet, kind young man my various older relatives remember was simply him being on his best behavior toward people who he had no other power over.

I try not to dwell too much on all this. As I said shortly after his death, I thought I was mostly over it. Until the moment I was told he had died, and I felt not just an incredible sense of relief and peace, but also a bit of gratitude.

I am truly happy for all the people out there who have good, loving fathers and wish them joy in celebrating their love for those fathers today. And Just as I wish comfort for those others who have lost their wonderful fathers and find today a reminder of their loss.

But don’t ask me to pretend my father was a good man. Don’t ask me to pretend to be grieving. Don’t expect me to smile and agree with any sentiments of admiration for him you may feel compelled to express. The only thing I have ever mourned with regard to my father, is that I didn’t have the good father that they want to imagine he was.

Water for the temple plants

Raindrops and ripples

A Zen master asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.

The student brought the water, and after cooling the bath, threw the remaining water over the ground.

“Think,” said the master to the student. “You could have watered the temple plants with those few drops you have thrown away.”

The young student understood Zen in that exact moment. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means drop of water, and lived to become a wise Zen master himself.

The lesson most learn from the story of the A Drop of Water is that as we struggle with the big problems and seek answers to big questions, that we sometimes forget the importance of small, ordinary moments. I often write on this blog about problems that many people face, or wrestle with questions of how to be a better story teller, or talk about great moments in history or my favorite genre. It is easy to get lost in worrying about some of the injustices in the world or dangers looming over one segment or another of the population. For me it is just as easy to get lost in my routines and personal goals. I have to get to work and finish certain things, and want to make progress on my writing, while putting my thoughts about all of those big things and many of the small things into blog posts.

I’m pretty good at hauling buckets around, but still not great with the drops.

I knew someone who seemed excellent with both the buckets and the drops. Last week she passed away. It wasn’t a surprise, she had been dealing with an illness for some time. But it was still a shock.

Ann was the mother of my good friend Kehf. I met her at Kehf’s wedding (or was it a rehearsal before?). You don’t get to know a person well under those circumstances. Mostly you come away with an impression. It was a few years later that I got to know her as someone other than that nice woman whose eyes sparkled when she smiled.

When I started an earlier version of this blog, she would occasionally comment. We might exchange a couple emails with follow up discussions. And then I started getting comments from people I didn’t know, often with someone saying something along the line of “I’m so glad Ann shared this link.” And the people who commented came from many different parts of the world, and many different backgrounds. I came to realize that Ann seemed to know everyone. Well, not literally everyone—more accurate to say she had friends everywhere.

I started to get a numerical inkling of the vastness of her network of friends when I moved this blog to WordPress. The previous hosts hadn’t given me very good statistics, but with WordPress every time I log in I see a bar graph of the hits on my blog for today and the previous 29 days. Most of the time my blog putters along with a fairly stable number of hits per day. there’s a little variation: days that I don’t publish anything new are lower than new post days, for instance. But every now and then, I will log in and see the bar for either that day or the previous day literally ten times as tall as the usual. And almost every time, it turned out to be because Ann shared that particular post.

I understand why it works. Any time Ann sent me a link (unless I recognized it as a story or blog or whatever that I had just recently looked at) I clicked on it to see what it was, and then had to send her a comment. Because she never sent me something that wasn’t interesting. Not just interesting in a general sense, but usually targeting to some of my particular interests. In the last several days as I’ve read several tributes to her, I notice how many people talk about the news and links and information she shared, with the same observation that it was always interesting or useful to the person receiving it.

She was really good at remembering what was important to every person she knew.

Relationships were her super power.

Ann was an episcopal priest. During her lifetime her church went from refusing to contemplate the ordination of women, to allowing women to be priests, then bishops, and eventually presiding bishop. It was a tough fight, but Ann didn’t back away from fights. She later brought that same cheerful determination as an ally of the queer communities in our fights. There were several times when I wrote about my frustration and fears about our fight for equality, when Ann would send me a message with words of encouragement gleaned from the fight for the ordination of women—it was worth the fight, even if it didn’t seem victory wasn’t getting closer.

I once wrote a post trying to explain my feelings about religion and spirituality, and why my particular journey had taken me away from the religion in which I’d been raised to my own variant of Taoism. I compared spirituality to water: how some people love the ocean, while others prefer rivers and streams, and others are more happy with well-maintained pools. I compared traditional churches (of any religion) to community swimming pools. They are there for those who want them, and they can be wonderful. While I’m more of a run out into the rain kind of guy.

After reading the post, Ann sent me an email: “Just call me your local community pool lifeguard!” Yes, mostly she was saying she understood what I was saying, and that her calling to be a priest was just as viable a spiritual position as my more freewheeling approach. But she was also being a bit modest. Because Ann didn’t limit herself to just ministering to the congregations of the churches she worked in. That way she had of collecting friends near and far, of remembering what was important to each of us, of sending us articles we’d find interesting, and commenting (sometimes debating) things we posted, that was another form of ministry.

And this queer ex-Christian/recovering Baptist felt extremely lucky to be at least occasionally on the receiving end of her vocation.

Rise in Glory, Ann.

One year later, way more than a few April showers

Two cats sit on a log under a propped up umbrella, surrounded by water and rain. “Noah called, he picks us up in 10 minutes.”

(click to embiggen)

I meant to write a blog post for the weekend about the fact that it has been exactly a year at the new place. But I was still sick and run down. My weekend wound up being all about sleeping, doing minimal errands, napping, a little housework, more napping, sleeping, and repeat. But I realized it’s okay that I didn’t make that post, because technically it has not been a year of us living here, yet. A year and a few days ago we signed our first lease here, and we started hauling things from the old place to the new, but it was a few weeks before we were ready for the big moving truck to do the bulk of the move. So early next month will be the anniversary of the first time we spent the night in the new place.

I was trying to remember when I moved the flower pots from the old place, because last week maintaining my collection of pots and planter included a task I didn’t have to do last spring: flood control. To be fair, this is an unusually wet April. The local National Weather Service office observed that if the rains had stopped completely on last Saturday, it would already be the fourth wettest April on record in Seattle. And it kept raining Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and a bit on Wednesday. Spring is usually quite damp around here, so I strongly suspect that even though the long range forecast is all dry, that we’ll get a bit more before the month is through.

I noticed the weekend before last that not only were all of the little catch basins under the pots full to the brim, but that several of the flower pots and planters had at least an inch of standing water around the flowers. I can’t just dump the water off. The thing I call our veranda is a 38-foot long deck at the back of the apartment, and on that side of the building we’re three stories up. There’s a neighbor with a nearly identical deck directly below us, and then the walkway for the basement apartments below that. And the lease actually has a clause about not dripping or pouring water off the decks, right?

Which is why all of my pots that have drain holes sit on a small saucer like thing, and each of those is inside a larger plastic catch basin.

I took a bucket outside, carefully lifted each pot and set it aside, poured the water from the saucer in the bucket, pouring off water from the planter itself if it had standing water, and then poured the water from the second basin into the bucket—trying my best not to spill any. I got through a third of them of them before the bucket was full and I had to carrying it away and pour it out and repeat. The bigger planters where my grandma’s irises and a few other things are planted were a bit more difficult.

I moved the pots and planters that don’t have drains away from the rail, and against the wall, so they wouldn’t keep getting rained on. Clearly until we get to the dryer part of the year, I can’t leave those out from under the roof.

That’s one way our veranda is different than those one floor down. Our deck serves as their roof, and it is as wide as their deck, so even planters put right up against the rail on those decks get a little shelter from the rain. Whereas the roof of the decks on our floor is the eave of the building, and while the deck is five feet wide, the eave only extends four feet out. I thought of this as a feature last year. The planters got plenty of water when it rained and lots of sun when it didn’t.

By the time the heaviest rain was coming down in November, most of the flowers had died back, and I just didn’t worry about the pots getting super saturated. I regretted that a bit when I discovered that the cute otter planter froze and crack in a whole bunch of places. It hadn’t done that during several winters at the old place, but at the old place it was draining into the flower bed. Similarly, the hanging pot I had last year got too heavy when it’s soil was constantly soaked all winter and the plastic hanging parts broke.

They’re all learning experiences.

I now know I need to move some of the planters under the roof during certain times of the year. I’m seriously considering replacing the small pots that don’t have drain holes. The problem is they’re both purple—which makes me want to keep them despite being a bit more work. On the other hand, I have no intention of getting rid of the larger planters. I haven’t seen many that size with drains and matching catch basins. Those few I have seen have very tiny catch basins that I suspect would wind up dripping on the downstairs neighbors during the times of year when I have to do the watering.

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