Staying Awake

I thought seriously about boycotting Starbucks until I realized that I still had money on my gift cards. I reasoned that my coffee had already been purchased, and if the boycott persisted beyond that, I wouldn’t spend my own money there.philadelphia_sbux Thanks to social media wisdom, though, I realized something important. There are thousands of black baristas, and this one shop in Philly was the problem, not Starbucks as a whole. If that sounds callous and racist, I am very sorry. But the truth is that I live in a neighborhood with lots of black people. Some are African-American. Others are immigrants, mostly from Cameroon, Nigeria, and Eritrea. Boycotting my local store might lead to cutting down on employees as they get less busy, and I am not about to contribute to it.

The plain truth is that this is not a Starbucks problem. It is the top-down system of oppression that has been in power for hundreds of years. For instance, why didn’t the police officers just laugh in the barista’s face? Why, after explaining the situation, were the men still cuffed?

There is blame to be had all the way around, and when the police were called, they had absolutely no reason to follow through. What about the barista’s story made any damn sense except the police being as racist as the barista? I don’t even have a jacket as nice as the one the man on the left is wearing, and I guarantee you I’ve looked worse in a hoodie and jeans stumbling into a coffee shop than the man on the right. This is not to say that every black person who walks into a Starbucks must be dressed a certain way. I am only making the observation that if the barista and the police were looking for people making trouble, these men weren’t it.

Memorize their faces. Memorize the man on the left looking down with his hands in his pockets. Memorize the man on the right making a pained face as if this is not the first time this bullshit has happened to him. I can’t think of any situation that makes me feel more helpless and angry…. but I have to think it through. I have to think about all the ways I, as a white woman, can use the platform I’ve been given, both here and out in the world. I am generally not assertive when things happen to me personally (like truly repulsive comments regarding watching lesbians by men, for instance), but it’s a whole other thing when my mother lion gets engaged.

I am one of those hopeful people who’s been crushed by the amount of racism in my area, because DC is overwhelmingly black (a little under 50% of the population). I mistakenly thought things like that couldn’t happen here, or at least, more rarely than they actually do. I’ve cut way down on the optimism lately, anxiety rising like bile in the back of my throat.

I am no expert on race relations in DC, but it seems as if racially mixed neighborhoods have existed forever, even before gentrification…. keeping in mind that this is not every neighborhood’s case, but more often than in, say, the rest of the South. Technically, DC and Maryland are still the South because they’re under the Mason-Dixon line, but God help you if you mention it. No one around here wants to be compared with Alabama. We’d like to think we’re more progressive than that. Racial makeup of the neighborhood ceases to matter when you’re just trying to find a place you can afford.

In some ways, we are that progressive. In others, we’re not any better; we’d like to think of ourselves as liberal and inclusive, sweeping the incidents where we’re not way, way, way under the rug. If it doesn’t fit with the image we have of ourselves, it didn’t happen, definitely not a two-way street. White people just can’t be afraid of black people in the same way. I will never be afraid that a black person is going to call the police on me for anything…. ever.

Moreover, people of color absolutely cannot be racist, because racism, again, is a top-down entrenched system of oppression. They can, however, be prejudiced, stereotyping white people because they have to. They don’t know ahead of time if a friend or foe is approaching. Prejudice exists for a reason, and for people of color, it is self-preservation…. a fear that, as white people, we are absolutely responsible for creating.

For the most part, though, when we’re all on the Metro together, the racism and prejudice is left at the station. For instance, once I was waiting for the Orange Line back to Metro Center from Landover, and one of the WMATA employees came up to me and asked me if he could give me a hug, because I had a Black Lives Matter button pinned to my jacket. We just stood there and held each other, healing energy running between both of us.

While I have trouble believing that racism will be solved in my lifetime, I definitely hope.  Interestingly enough, I think Marvel has taken it upon itself to help. Movies like Black Panther and Captain America: Civil War, and television shows like Luke Cage are challenging the status quo, because they portray black people in a way that few pieces of media do. Marvel can’t be responsible for solving every racial issue, but movies and TV shows that are popular can’t hurt. For instance, nothing did more to help the queer community be seen as regular people than Will & Grace, with Six Feet Under a close second. Progress is still slow, but it’s faster than it used to be with the help of visibility.

The difference is that I only have to be afraid for my life when I’m walking hand in hand with another woman. Alone, people can only guess that I’m a minority. There is no covering up every inch of your skin. However, I do empathize because I, too, look over my shoulder for unenlightened white people. We are definitely not in the same boat, but I often believe we’re in the same part of the ocean.

As I sip my coffee, I wonder if this entire essay is going to make me look like a basic bitch. I want my thoughts to go toward some good…. perhaps make some people think. I know it reaches me. I could spend an entire afternoon brainstorming about all the ways society needs to change and what I might be able to do in bringing it forward. The most concrete way I know for myself is challenging all the microaggressions I think I don’t have. Being white is just a series of privileges that run so far under your skin you don’t even realize you’re broadcasting it.

The one good thing I can say for myself right this moment is that I can say I have black friends without lip service. I have people to teach me when I’m being a jackass without any awareness. I am lucky that my friends are willing to attribute my flaws to idiocy and not malice, because I guarantee that in terms of staying woke, I need to pay more attention when I become “sleepy.” I am lucky to have friends that have no problem calling me out on the carpet about it, even when it’s hard…. because sometimes you want to fix the whole world, and are at a complete loss as to what would help.

Although I know that at least my infinitely small part of the world will change, as long as I’m paying attention.

Coffee helps in keeping my mind busy and my eyes open. However, I cannot stay awake forever. That’s where you come in, batting relief.

[_])

Refill?

Where the Weather Takes Us

The meetup with the pen pal went well. Let’s call her “Zoey,” because there’s a connection that goes beyond New Girl. Of course if she becomes a regular and doesn’t mind me using her real name, that’s fine. But I’m not going to “out” her on a first meeting. That’s just rude. She is just as cute and funny as me, so I think it will be a great thing to have another person to pal around with…. although perhaps not so much in the immediate future, because she’s vacationing to Peru (I think…. my memory is failing in my elder years). But I definitely see hiking in the hills and walking around town in our future. Talking makes walking so much easier, because I am not constantly enmeshed in thoughts like, “my feet hurt…. my legs are sore…. how much longer?” Talking shuts down the complaint department. Yesterday was just about spending some time together and seeing if we’d click on any level. We definitely did, starting out at Kramerbooks and when they were slammed, walking to Teaism, instead. I love tea at every moment of the day, but for Zoey, she was disappointed they didn’t have hot chocolate. So we toasted to new friends with cold water. My pot of Darjeeling went quickly, and then we walked to the Metro.

Two things about that.

I started talking about the weather with my seatmate, who said that it reminded her of Germany and Switzerland. In my head, I was thinking she must be military, because obviously Germany and Switzerland are known for their large black populations. My assumption was correct. So, I asked her what her job was in the military, and she said slyly, intel. She’d retired long ago, looking for all the world like a sweet grandmother, the type no one would look twice at while carrying sensitive documents. But perhaps she didn’t look like that, then. She was retired now, having scouted out secret documents during the Cold War. My mind was blown because this was an absolutely random encounter, exactly the kind of thing I live for in DC. I am certain that by now, there are tons of movies that talk frankly about the types of ops we pulled off during that time, most of them declassified by now. It was also very interesting that she wasn’t stapled to CIA, that smash-and-grabs for documents also happen with soldiers. I don’t know why I didn’t make that connection until last night, because I saw 12 Strong, and even though the soldiers had a CIA contact to lead them through Afghanistan to the warlord contact who was willing to team up with them to overthrow the Taliban, he left after that and the soldiers were on their own.

So, this woman and I are engrossed in conversation and before I even really had a chance to ask questions, it was her stop. I was so lost in thought that I got off at the “wrong one,” or perhaps the right one considering that I was only a couple of blocks from Busboys & Poets. I had a vegan salad and vegan mac-and-cheese, possibly the first time I’ve eaten actual nutrition that wasn’t all carbs this week. MMMM, bread.

I’m not vegan, or even vegetarian, but I truly do not eat enough plants. I have to remind myself that veggies exist.

While I was eating, though, I had a truly surreal experience, because there was a mentally ill person at the bar trying to score free fries from the restaurant. Two patrons offered to have his fries added to their tab. Then, when he got them, he would neither leave nor get a table. In Takoma Park, there are literally two governments, because part of it lies in Montgomery County and part of it is in the city of DC. I had no idea where I was in terms of that line. But what I do know is that there’s no real way to call someone regarding the mentally ill except the police, which brought up such a dilemma that I’m still thinking about it. He was definitely harassing other customers, because they didn’t offer to pay for his snacks without him strong-arming them. And yet, he was black, which said to me, no one call the police under any circumstances. This is because there was little to be done except take him to jail, because there’s no way they would have taken him to a psych ward. It’s just not in their purview. So, what to do? No restaurant wants a loiterer asking for money and, oh my God, emitting such a smell that it cleared out half the bar.

It’s hard to be compassionate when you really don’t know how. He needed more help than he could get in the restaurant, and the police couldn’t give it to him, either. I think because everyone was so sensitive to racial bias, that made it even harder. We didn’t know whether the police that showed up would show compassion or wrestle him to the ground. It’s not even equal odds at this point. None of the people in the bar were worried about racial bias on our end, because it was never about the color of his skin. It was about mental illness, full stop. But we couldn’t count on the police having an equal amount of compassion.

What he needed, in my opinion, was a few days in a psych ward to get balanced again, and then a truly safe place to stay. Neither of those things would happen unless he went to the county intake facility in Rockville, now closed for the night. Having to sleep in a jail cell might have only exacerbated the problem, contributing to putting someone in the system that can’t get back out, because he has no concrete concept of acceptable behavior.

All I could do was pray that someone would stick with him long enough to get the help he needed, because nothing was going to happen in the moment. We were all just on pins and needles waiting for him to leave, and not because we weren’t trying to help in the moment. It’s that no one could stay in the restaurant overnight, and it was kind of a scary situation because we did not know the extent of his mood and behavior quirks. For instance, when the fries were brought out to him, paid for by the other customers, he threw them on the floor and insisted that new fries be brought to him that he paid for himself, completely oblivious to the fact that he had no money.

My superpower was an out-of-body experience, where I left the situation and went back to Teaism, thinking about new adventures Zoey and I would have in the coming months (years?). There is just so much to do and see around here that it doesn’t take much to find a glorious afternoon, and great conversations that begin with the weather.

Crazy on a Cracker

Tonight I am going to meet a new friend who I hope will one day become my old friend… a great pen pal becoming real. Religion major in college, writes, and reads more in a day than I do in a week… which is very hard.

Speaking of which, I am engrossed in a new novel for review called The 11:05 Murders, by Brian O’Hare. It’s another one I thought was deserving of more than a few words written about it, and again e-mailed it to my editor… and not even selfishly because reviews might be easier when she’s also read it. Just because the book was so great I wanted to share. It is a very, very cheap way to show someone you care- and are genuinely excited to be able to provide great entertainment through e-books even when the person lives thousands of miles away.

It’s also nice to get a book that I’m genuinely jazzed to review by a polished author. That doesn’t happen very often. I’m also glad that when I’m finished with this novel, there are two others.

It’s also a nice thing that when I shop at Amazon, a small percentage of my purchase goes to Doctors Without Borders, my charity through Smile. I try to donate to them personally when I have a chance, but it’s not always possible. It makes me feel good that I can get my needs met and contribute to theirs. So much is going on in the world today that’s negative… cheering on their efforts is just one way I hope to combat it.

Not only am I thinking globally about negativity, but personally. I am still messed up over the last four years, and in some ways, I think that loss will never get better. It will become a shallower well of injury, or something that hurts more and more sporadically, but nothing will ever be the same. This is because dealing with grief over the alive and well is different than grieving the dead. Each hurts in its own special way. I am struck by the fact that other people’s lives will go on without me, and brought to my knees that I will never see my mother again.

If in saying that Barbara Bush’s death wasn’t that sad, I didn’t mean to be callous. It’s just a whole other thing when someone dies naturally after living an incredible amount of time vs. the shock of losing someone in the blink of an eye when their lives were cut short by at least 15-20 years. Some days I actually forget time has passed and am just struck dumb with the immediacy of it all. A parent dying suddenly and younger than you thought is like being in a car accident repeatedly, with the same amount of haze-inducing shock. The worst part is that I didn’t agree to this (as if one would, but stay with me, Jimbo). It just happens unexpectedly, a truly unwanted side effect. I am just blindsided all the time. I go into a space where I can’t remember anything, I can’t move, I can’t think clearly. I am just walking through life trying to nail Jell-o to a tree.

What is truly heartbreaking is knowing that my mother would never have wanted this for me. She was always so self-sacrificing that she would have done anything not to die if she could help it, and not out of self-preservation. What keeps my heart from stitching is that for most of my adult life, I lived out of state… so there are days when I regret that fact and others where I completely forget she’s dead because I’m not used to talking to her every day, anyway. I’ll reach for the phone to call her and absolutely freak. Grief then becomes extremely loud and incredibly close. What helps is not thinking about my own situation, but the thousands of other people that have also had this experience and that even when I feel like it, I am never alone. Someone on earth has felt what I’m feeling at any given moment.

There’s also the two-sided coin of losing someone suddenly. It is the combined feeling of joy that they felt no pain and the anger that comes with not being able to say goodbye. Let me be clear, though. I am not angry at her. I am angry at the situation.

It is the same with divorce… more angry at the situation and myself than I ever will be at Dana. In fact, I would go so far as to say I’m not angry with Dana at all. Everything is forgiven on that end. It’s me that needs work. I got started praying for her health and happiness early and often. It gives me something to give to her, even when it’s just sending energy into the universe. Because we’re not in contact, the chord between us (as I’ve said before) becomes a loopback, feeding me. It gives me the feeling of peace and calm that I’m somehow contributing, I guess. At this point, guessing regarding the nature of karma and the universe is about as much control as I’m allowed to have. Surprisingly, it is more than enough.

I feel like I should get into that space quickly, the one of sending good thoughts into the universe, because I am more downcast today than usual. It’s grey and awful outside, which only contributes to the storm within. Everything is making me sad, and I just feel like a disappointing excuse for a human being. Now, logically I know this is not true. I just can’t seem to make it happen emotionally. I am sure that things will look different 30 minutes after I take my anxiety medication, for which I need to make a pharmacy run. I don’t want to show up to a first impression feeling like crazy on a cracker.

Because unfortunately, that’s what grief does. It causes anxiety about just damn everything, even the things you never thought about before said loved one died. There’s so many new depths to plumb. Even the fact that people die young is something you used to know and now smacks you in the face. It’s one thing to know it, quite another to feel.

As far as I know, besides Dan, I am the first of my friends to lose their mothers. It is a comfort you would not believe that although I am incredibly sad for her, I have a person who understands implicitly the hand that I’ve been dealt. I have someone who can tell with one look that I need a hug or an arm around my shoulder. Not only am I perpetually bereft in some respects, single people do not get nearly enough contact comfort. It is such a blessing to have someone in my life who gives really great hugs without a hint of romance, because it’s not about that and never will be. I just give friendship its full due, that chosen family is everything.

The reason I believe in chosen family so wholeheartedly is that I don’t think it’s fair to the person I would date to drag them into the sideshow that is my current life. I would much rather wait until things calm down, when I am much less angry at me for the way I treated Dana and much less overwhelmed at the state of my world. The one good thing I remember about being divorced is that not only did I behave badly then and am grateful I don’t now hurt her repeatedly, I never would have wanted to subject Dana to the person I’ve become in the aftermath of grief…. and not because I think she couldn’t have handled it. I just think that it’s a pain for which she would have no frame of reference, and therefore, would not have been impressed with my need to isolate, to the point that I would have isolated myself from her, too. I can’t imagine how short I would have become with her, snippy not because she did anything wrong but because her mother is still alive. It’s a helpless place when someone is mad at you for seemingly no reason, unable to take it in that you shouldn’t take it personally- that person is mad at the whole damn world. For me, it was a lucky thing to be on my own, so that when I was literally unable to function, no one had to deal with me. I’m so much better now, but it was a long row to hoe. My entire garden just died.

And though most of the plants are still dead, at least I see shoots of green.

The Leadership Breakfast

Barbara Bush died, which really isn’t that sad if you think about it. She lived to the ripe old age of 92. I think that’s about as much as anyone should expect in terms of time on earth, and her kids were lucky to have her that long. I mean, when someone dies it’s always sad for their families in terms of not being able to communicate anymore, but 92 is close to immortal in today’s terms of longevity. No one is going to say, “dear God, they took her too soon.” As a fellow Texan, I would like to be able to regale you with a story about how we met, but unfortunately, that never happened. We did go to the same church when I was in college, so I have met her husband. That will have to do.

So, it’s Easter Sunday in about 1999 or 2000 (I am really bad with dates). The men’s group was serving breakfast before service, and the president was going around with a pitcher of coffee for warm-ups. The Secret Service guys were stationed strategically around the room, constantly talking into their wrists.

The president comes over to me and fills my cup, and when I realized exactly who I was talking to, I began gulping down my coffee as fast as I could so he would have to come to my table multiple times, early and often. I am sure he knew my game, but didn’t seem to mind. We had very good, very short talks. I wish my memory was flawless, because I’d love to tell you what they were about. I do remember telling him that I was a political science student at University of Houston, and he told me he used to be a professor at Rice (like I didn’t know that. Didn’t tell him, though……).

I don’t think I’ve disagreed politically with many presidents besides him, although I definitely have a list. I was too young to care what was going on with Reagan, and I love Clinton & Obama. It was just exciting to meet anyone who’d been leader of the free world, as well as being Director of Central Intelligence the year I was born (1977), although he left in January and I wasn’t born until September. Close enough for government work. I don’t know how you get to be DCI if you don’t have any experience with espionage, so my guess is that he was OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the modern CIA) during World War II, and as a cook, I pretend that anyone who was OSS during that time was Julia Child’s best friend.

I was a spazzbasket of excitement, information, and caffeine. At this point, I have conservatively had, like, five cups of coffee trying to talk to him. I debate going over to talk to the Secret Service as well. However, they are designed to look absolutely unapproachable. They definitely pull it off.

What I hope I didn’t pull off was being desperately impressed, because no one that well-known wants to be “on” all the time. He was just there to be part of the men’s group, and I hope I respected that. But so many of my questions just swirled in my head. Did he like Helen Thomas? What’s it like being a wartime pilot? Was he ever under cover? Did he actually know Julia Child, or is that just wishful thinking?

There are so many things I would ask him now that I didn’t think of then, like what was it like for your wife and kids while you were president? It can’t have been easy to be in the public eye, whether there were things you liked about it or not. Also, what was it like to be president when the wall in Berlin fell? Was Ronald Reagan just as funny in private life as he was on television? At the time, all that was swirling in my head was about treating him like a regular human being.

….just like he is right now, dealing with the death of his wife.

Get Off My Lawn

I am terribly cranky today.

Yesterday’s pardoning of Scooter Libby was the last straw. The guy committed treason. No punishment the USG could come up with would be good enough. When he outed Valerie Plame, it was damn lucky he didn’t get her killed. Do all intelligence employees under cover have to be afraid of their own employer now? If I was in their position, it would incense me that even people who commit crimes against national security can almost assuredly get away with murder, both literally and figuratively. Not only was Libby’s personal case a red flag, the precedent it sets is even more scary.

It’s probably against the Geneva Convention so this is absolutely a hypothetical situation, but say there was a black op to take out Assad so that citizens wouldn’t be harmed. You could absolutely argue that the ends justify the means, but someone leaks that information to the New York Times or the Washington Post while Special Ops is in country…. not only the op, but the names of the soldiers involved. How long would it take before their heads were on a spike in Damascus? If you said “10 minutes,” I would answer, just like James Comey, that it was nine minutes longer than I expected.

The most frustrating thing about this whole situation is that no one asked me what I thought (that was a joke).

No one asked me what I thought about confirming Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, either. If the confirmation goes through, we’ll have someone in charge of foreign relations that believes in the Bible more than the Constitution. His view of homosexuality is that it is a perversion, and that his belief is not wrong-headed, but a persecution of all Christians. This is not something I want broadcast all over the world, because the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatry Association disagree with that, and have since the 1980s. It is terrifying that only some people’s beliefs have progressed since then because a book that was meant to be a living document, changing over time as we understand more about medicine and science, in their view must remain literal and stagnant. It is generally believed by progressive theologians that the real abomination in the Bible concerning homosexuality was an ancient Canaanite practice of temple prostitution [by both adults and minors], tarnishing a place meant to be holy ground.

As theologian Jim Rigby once said, Jesus never mentioned homosexuality, so it cannot be essential to his teaching. Ancient desert people would never have known same sex orientation as an identity. The word homosexual was not even coined until the 1900s. It is an identity because even queer celibate people still consider themselves as such [using queer as a catch-all for the entire community and not as a derogatory term. I’m gay, so I can use it. Straight people can’t get away with it. Sorry.]. It is absolutely the last thing a follower of the Christ should embrace, because Jesus was constantly widening the net of acceptance, something that has been twisted since the New Testament, where Paul condemned homosexuality.

Paul had other beliefs that were equally toxic, like the prohibition of women speaking in church… something mainline Christians have moved past, so why is being gay different? Additionally, if you believe in one Talmudic law, you should believe all of them, so advocate for shutting down the NFL because players are consistently touching pigskin. You have to ask yourself whether someone who has an international platform should be able to hold these untranslated views, because even if you don’t support our community, do you really think it’s wise to bolster countries who still execute people for these “crimes?” Do you believe in ending lives and devastating families? The stakes are higher than you think.

In the United States, it means a disbelief of the equal protection clause in the Fourteenth Amendment. If I am truly equal to everyone else, I am a citizen who should be protected by the law, not persecuted by it.

Everything gets messy when the law goes from national to personal, because people can wrap their heads around discrimination of a group, but not their own relatives…. where, often, they fall short in making the connection.

There are still some extremists in this country that are every bit as violent toward the queer community as Sharia law, validated by people who don’t believe in internment camps and execution but aren’t vocal in speaking out about it……….

This leads me to believe that were those things to happen, it would be swift. Ten minutes at most, nine minutes longer than I expect. World issues are literally making me ill.

I am terribly cranky today.

Beautiful Music

I am writing to extraordinarily beautiful music today, some of which is new and other pieces intensely familiar. It’s a playlist I created on Amazon Music called The Mozart Big Box. It’s the name of an album, but I also added all Mozart’s choral works. I am trying to stay focused when there’s a figure that astounds me, like a melisma. Mozart is not particularly known for them, so when they happen, I have to rewind. Handel and Bach are the masters. With both of them, it’s just Abs of Steel…. provided you are breathing down to your feet and only using your stomach muscles to sing. In order to do Bach and Handel correctly, you must study vocal technique, because the accompaniment is so sparing that it points out every flaw if you don’t. Mozart is much more forgiving, because as Emperor Joseph II says in the movie Amadeus, there are simply too many notes, that’s all. If you make a mistake, the accompaniment will catch you.

Melismas are the entire reason I muscled my way into Varsity Choir at Clements. My one claim to fame in high school is that my junior year, I was in the top choir and the top band at the same time, the first to do so. Originally, the choir director put me in Junior Varsity, and I said, are you sure? I’ve done lots of major choral works with my church choir. She pulled out a Messiah book and said, prove it, and flipped to (of course) the most difficult soprano passage in the whole friggin’ work, which I’d only done for the last five Christmases. Someone could wake me up in the middle of the night and I could sing it blind.

I flat nailed it, and the choir director said, I stand corrected. You’re in. I was lucky that I spent nearly an hour warming up, because my head voice (the top of my range) was incredible that day. I am not a diva by any means. I am quite humble about my abilities. But there are just certain days where I amaze myself, like I’ve never heard myself before. The reason I felt fantastic after that audition is that I’d never sung any soprano part in a choral work all by myself. I usually needed the other sopranos in my section to be able to sneak in breaths, which is what sectional sounds are for….. To me, nailing it was not only the notes being spot on, but being able to hold my own with breath control….. which does not come easily to the anxious.

The only time being in both bit me on the ass was that tryouts for All-Region Band and All-Region Choir were on the same day. I chose band, and I think in retrospect that I chose………. poorly. In soloing with my voice, I do not get the same stomach-churning stage fright that I do when playing my trumpet. Something I nail in an empty sanctuary is painful once it’s full. I did manage to get into High School for Performing and Visual Arts with instrumental music, but I’ve never been better than that. I peaked early.

I feel as if I should have known I was a singer and not an instrumental musician, because I got into the adult choir at my church when I was in Grade 7. As an adult, the two times I’ve had the feeling of being wowed at myself were singing the Pie Jesu movement of the Rutter Requiem with full orchestra in Portland and The Lord is My Shepherd from the same work in Houston with incredible pipe organ and the first desk oboe player at The Houston Symphony. The second link is actually me. The recording of the Pie Jesu is lost to history. Despite a few flubs that only I would notice, it’s the best recording of me I have. I forgive myself completely because I was not in great voice that day. I woke up with complete laryngitis and had to sit in the shower for almost an hour before I could even talk. I was relying completely on my diaphragm to get me through, and it did not fail. Because I was so incredibly sick, as soon as the solo was over all my adrenaline ran out and I just wanted Dana to take me home and put me in bed with the remote, some orange juice, and enough Nyquil to plunge a horse into unconsciousness. It was at that moment I realized I was introducing the choir at the next service. There may or may not have been a lot of damn its and oh, fucks involved.

One of my deepest regrets is that my mother heard me sing a lot in high school because she was in choir with me at church and my accompanist everywhere else… but as an adult, either we were too far apart geographically or she had her own church job. My only hope was that she would come to DC when I was singing after she retired. The school year ended in May, and by October she was dead. I was completely dumbfounded because it happened so suddenly, and losing that particular dream knocked me down with force. We were both such serious musicians that I really can’t take it when thinking that my mother and I will never perform together again. She heard the recording in the link above, but she was never in the congregation after a year of intense private lessons, when my opera voice flipped on (link is to a clip of one of my voice lessons that still cracks me up to this day).

The memory is still precious, though, because even though my mom wasn’t there, Dana’s was. She grabbed me after the performance and gave me the biggest bear hug on record, exclaiming, that voice! Where did it come from?! My only answer was a hell of a lot of hard work, woodshedding every measure until it was perfect. My garage had amazing acoustics, and I shudder thinking that I never apologized to the neighbors, because I have a big damn voice.

Although my favorite compliment came from The Divine Mrs. B, who said I should have an oboe player follow me around wherever I go. Believe me, I could not afford that particular oboe player, and a beginner will clear your sinuses.

If there is anything negative about all this, it’s that soprano sections are very competitive, and I generally make friends with the basses because of it. Bass notes make me happy, and I would much rather ignore all the singers in my own section, just put my head down, and do the work. One of the first things that I asked my choir director in DC was, are the sopranos mean? He said he was the only one who was mean. I told him I was in.

Luckily, he turned out to be right. That being said, I haven’t sung a note in a year. Eventually, I’ll get back to it. Right now, everything about church choir brings my grief extremely loud and incredibly close. I can’t sing and panic at the same time. I know. I’ve tried it.

I do listen to great sopranos, though. Nothing makes me happier than the Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis duet, Let the Bright Seraphim (Handel). I feel like it marries the best parts of me, an intensely personal piece. Once I was driving and singing along to the recording and forgot the windows were down. I stopped at a stop light and the cop next to me with his windows down said, very nice.

Which is probably the only interaction I’ve ever had with a cop that didn’t cost $200. There are just so many things that beautiful music can accomplish.

There’s a Crazy World of E-mails in This Crazy World

I have loved e-mail since I first used it in the mid-’90s. Typing was so much easier than handwriting, and to me it had the same heft. It allowed me to “think in longhand” because e-mails felt like actual letters as opposed to text messages. I was not particularly fond of my handwriting (still not, really), and because I was also on IRC, I had to learn to type very, very fast to keep up with the conversation. Hunt and peck was so slow that by the time I hit Enter, what I was responding to was already five minutes gone. DeletedI started touch typing by watching my friend Luke. It was basically osmosis. Now I’m so fast that I can literally type an entire paragraph with my eyes closed, as long as there aren’t too many numbers. My fastest typing test was 100wpm with six errors.

Now, I hover around 74 perfectly. It’s the entire reason I carry a Bluetooth keyboard around with me everywhere. I can’t text for shit. As I was telling my Facebook friends the other day, if I don’t have a keyboard with me, you’ll be watching those three little bubbles for a half hour (and you better not be surprised if you only get back “k,” because most likely I’ve typed a paragraph and then hit something with my hand and accidentally erased it, too enraged to do it again). So, of all ways to communicate, I love the blank screen in front of me. I use Gmail exclusively, with occasional ventures into Hotmail to retrieve ancient messages. 21st century archaeology at its finest….. Hotmail is old school, but I still feel infinitely superior to those who use AOL. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. There isn’t much in this world that makes me feel superior. Let me have this one. I do, however, like the Hotmail interface, because it reminds me of old-school Outlook (before the ribbon).

I switched to the Gmail suite when I learned that ads were few and function was overwhelmingly good, even with a basic web interface. Most of the time, though, I set it up in Evolution or Thunderbird with Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar so that it catches all of my appointments, as well. However, Thunderbird does not have pop-up notifications unless it’s running, so I don’t use it for anything, but I also plug my e-mail account into Mail for Windows 10 so that Gmail is integrated into system notifications. When they go off, I then open my client of choice.

This tiny dissertation on e-mail is brought to you by the movie Love, Simon. Basically, I spent most of it saying to myself, see! E-mail does create real emotion! It was fascinating to watch feelings evolve the longer the e-mails went back and forth.

It was horrifying to see that homophobia still exists… but it’s become nicer, I suppose. For instance, coming out is still a big damn deal. Straight people don’t have to come out. Straight just is. In an ideal world, gay would be the same. But parents cry. I have no doubt that some parents wonder where they went wrong, as if it’s somehow their fault for not being harder on their sons to gravitate toward boy things and their girls to gravitate toward girl things.

It doesn’t work that way. I have plenty of lesbian friends who played with dolls, still wear a face full of makeup, and spend an hour on their hair. I have plenty of gay friends who played football and joined the military.

As a sidenote, I also know straight girls that have turned out every bit as military jackass brotard and straight men who love Broadway and tote bags. In the end, we’re all just people, and the spectrum is large.

I think, though, that gay men have it harder than lesbians, and that’s because in this society, it’s not cool to be feminine, because you’re seen as a man submitting yourself to another man. We really have to examine that prejudice, as if seeming feminine is the worst thing in the world. I think that some people are homophobic because they’re misogynistic. I could be wrong, but it’s probably a fair assumption.

I also think that since more and more people are coming out every day, straight people have this idea that you can catch homosexuality like a cold. It’s not the number of gay people that’s changed. It’s the number of people that are willing to tell you they’re gay, because they’re not afraid of you turning them in to the police anymore.

It is also my opinion that gay and straight are subsets of bisexuality, and bisexuals are mostly invisible, even though they’re the majority. People tend to base their identity on what kind of couple they’re in, but wouldn’t seem gay or straight if you looked at their behavior over multiple years. Even I, someone who looks like a 15-year-old boy, would never be uncomfortable identifying as bisexual, because I never want to make it seem as if only the women in my life matter. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that I am still mother-lion fiercely protective of my first boyfriend, and that feeling will never go away. We were the cutest couple in the history of the world, and that is a stone cold fact.

I identify as lesbian because I want a woman to be my life partner, because I can’t imagine spending my life with a man. I gave up on heterosexuality when I realized how I could utterly destroy a man’s heart with my inability to look into the future and assure myself I could still feel an attraction. It wasn’t because I didn’t care about them as a person. I just didn’t want us both to be stuck in an unhappy relationship, which I can see much more easily.

All of this is to say that there’s really no difference between being gay and straight, because we all go through the same stages in life. All couples talk about the same issues behind closed doors, with the exception of procreation. That is a separate and expensive process. But then everything returns to being the same after the children arrive, because all parents speak the language of Cheerios and bath time.

Love, Simon bothered me…. that coming out still rattles people’s cages. Simon doesn’t want to at first and still views it as a secret. Once Simon does come out, his parents take it well, but still cry and feel like it’s A CONVERSATION. He’s still bullied at school. The movie is tempered with a lot of love and support for him as well, but the problems I experienced from 1992-1996 are all still there…. although I didn’t have a girlfriend willing to come out, so in a lot of ways, my experience was similar and different. I was this blabbermouth activist with a girlfriend who treated me….. Ummm, badly is not quite the right word, but I did feel hidden like a cheap mistress. I put up with it because it wasn’t like anyone else was out and proud. I was it.

That slowly changed once we graduated, but by then the relationship was mostly over, anyway…. like most high school relationships…. earth to straight people.

Just like Simon, though, I was outed to my entire school at once when someone taped a flyer to my locker talking about “scary lesbians” my freshman year. I was mortified because it was the only time my ex-boyfriend and I went to the same school, and I wish I’d been given the opportunity to talk about it privately with him before the rest of the world knew. I think we maybe had one conversation in which I told him I thought I could be in love with one woman, but it wasn’t THE TALK that said this is who I am now. I don’t have one isolated crush. I was embarrassed to talk to him because we’d just broken up about six months earlier, and he was embarrassed to talk to me for completely unrelated reasons. So this boy that I loved more than life was suddenly not my friend anymore. It took a few years, but now it’s on like Donkey Kong, and he only lives about three and a half hours away.

The opportunity to come out to my parents was also taken away by my high school counselor, and I didn’t learn this until I sat down to have THE CONVERSATION with them and they told me they already knew. I can’t decide whether it was a relief or not, and it’s over 20 years later…. Additionally, this same counselor did nothing to punish the kids who bullied me or prevent it from happening again by saying, well, what did you do to provoke them? Ummm, I just exist?

I was bullied way more at HSPVA than I was at Clements, which was also a shock to my system because HSPVA is located in the most liberal part of Houston and Clements one of the most conservative. Maybe there was a lot more going on behind my back in which I just wasn’t aware, but for the most part, I was just seen as eccentric, which is definitely not an untrue statement regardless of orientation. My favorite conversation of the whole year was, do you wear that rainbow necklace because you’re gay or because you’re an idiot? Being outed at HSPVA and the homophobic kids being merciless in their hatred of me was much, much worse. I wrote about my experiences at HSPVA in Creative Writing at Clements (see last link), and my teacher said that it was too private to share with the class…. which also made me feel different, even though I wasn’t.

E-mail was a way for me to connect in the air with people who weren’t out on the ground. In recent years, it’s been a safe place to be who I am with people I truly adore, even though e-mail is the only chord that runs between us… because now, being who I am does not include sexual orientation as this wholly other thing. Straight or gay, we all just love writing letters, and that’s the thing. It’s a stranger on a train, often easier than talking to people in real life. Letters to people who don’t know the people in my life mean much because they’re not trying to be friends with my friends, so they’re solidly on my side. It creates real emotion because of that very fact. They see everything through my lens, because they’re only getting my side of the story. Therefore, they’re rooting for me even when I’m clearly wrong.

The best part is having a long-term pen pal. I’ve been writing to some of them since my college years.

I would have liked to see Simon and his pen pal remain anonymous, or maybe a different movie altogether that is only about writing to people you don’t know. There’s a ton out there on catfishing, but few pieces of media that focus on real relationships created “in the air.” I am certain that movies and books on catfishing are more popular because they’re dark. News and art tend to run that way…. whereas lots of relationships created on the Internet are deep and lasting. They’re cherished friendships precisely because they’re not on the ground and not in spite of it.

For instance, it’s great to be able to talk to someone who doesn’t know your high school bullies, but has a lot of ideas on how to get back at them.

Love,
Leslie