Monday, August 31, 2009


I'm home! 10 days out of my own bed, without my cats and loving partner. 10 days with new and old friends, teaching, learning, and spreading out my experiences in New Mexico, deepening them. Lots and lots of writing and photos to be posted soon, especially the photos.

What a place that New Mexico is. I saw more inspiration than ever before, and felt the desperation of the place more keenly. Just a touch, a taste, of what the reality of living there must be like. Like so many tourist places, life is extremely gorgeous and intensely tough.

On this intensive, I began to daily read and consider passages from The Way of the Bodhisattva, from Pema Chodron's No Time to Lose. Here's the part I got today, coming home:

Thus behold the utter frailty of goodness!
Except for perfect bodhichitta,
There is nothing able to withstand
The great and overwhelming strength of evil.

On the road, I feel the tenousness of life more and more - of myself, of my understandings, and of others' experience. Impermanence. This passage was a perfect one for just beginning to process this trip and all it inspired in me. If you take away the "western" connotations of good/evil and see "evil" as "our neuroticisms and mindless suffering," then this quote really rings true for what I saw in myself, in the other participants, and in day-to-day folk this time around.

More soon, I promise. Off to begin all weekly classes again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


(photograph of a print from Memorial Union show "Home Sweet Home," which is up until mid-September . Artist/title unknown. Link:

So here I am, in writing residency again at the Shambhala Center. It's pretty casual - I hang out and write the whole time, and students and other writers just kind of drop in whenever they have 15 minutes or three hours and write alongside me. I have said I can give advice/feedback, but the main aim here is to just be together, to go somewhere and write. I need it. My students tell me they need it - some of them have told me they are getting wiggly for class to start again, especially since I put it off two more weeks to get some other things done.

Like doing a reading in Appleton yesterday. I went back to my hometown, the place where I lived on and off until I was 19, and read at Harmony Cafe. It didn't exist when I was in High School - I helped to establish a poetry night at the cafe attached to Conkey's Bookstore (RIP) at the time. Harmony is a great establishment - social services, wonderful food, and orange sherbet even, which I hadn't had since I was a kid! (Thanks Matty for buying me a scoop)

I went early and Erika and I swam in her mom's condo association pool. She lives, officially, in Grand Chute, which is sort of the conglomeration of said condos and old farmhouses just past the Fox River Mall. In spitting distance, in most cases, of the mall mecca. So it was a good place to "dip in," so to speak. In the past, going "home" to Appleton has been hard, very hard, but this time it was easier. Erika is from the area, so there was a sense of comraderie. Beyond that, though, we talked about all the why's which could contribute to a stronger sense of ease going back: that we both own our own houses now, we are married, happy in Madison, glad with our work. Add for me Facebook (thanks for coming to the reading, Debbie!) which has gotten me back in touch with the better elements of growing up, in the form of old friends.

But I think Erika said it best when she said, and we were talking about confidence a lot yesterday on the drive from Madison to Appleton, that we are both confident enough in ourselves that our "pasts" have nothing that can shake us up anymore. We might stumble a bit, or feel guilty or off, but nothing that could come up there would actually THREATEN the lives we have now. That was key for me - this idea that nothing can threaten it, at least nothing from my "past." I almost braked the car at 65 miles an hour to sit with that. Wow. When did *that* happen?

I think for me it happened just in the last year. I saw a friend last night at the reading (Thanks for coming, Matty!) whom I saw in Appleton almost exactly a year ago. We spent the afternoon getting wasted. That's all I could do there. I had nightmares about going back before going and was confused the whole time I was there, except for at my nephew's birthday party (the main reason I went back). I realize now that the key point, the key turning point for me, for relating to Appleton, the point on which the THREAT which may have keeled me over turned was realizing, really coming to terms with the fact that my parents died there, that in fact, they both died in the house I grew up in, and in fact in the same bed, 7 years apart.

Of course I have known this the whole time, but I wasn't really aware of it. It was like a secret, a pocket, some part of me was hiding from myself. I wasn't ready to deal with it. Even when I was ready, last year, after that drunken trip, it still knocked me out for a few days. Wow. No Wonder It Is Hard To Go Back There, I thought. And like that, poof. The power seeped out and I got back on my feet.

I didn't realize it but this was a bit of a test. "Good to go back to your place and be recognized for what you do well," Erika said, and I agree. But more than that, all the secrets are out. I've spent the last few years removing the wind from their sails, airing out the closets that no longer belong to me. Now I have my own house, which I keep open and airy, as much as is possible.

It's almost as if Appleton was a grave, not just a closet, but a deep-down dark crypt for me. Literally. And now it isn't. It's not "just like that," it took many years of hard work, but it's clear to me now that it has changed, that I have changed, that my relationship with the town has changed. I am no longer nor likely ever will be a resident there again, but I can go there without a fear so dark it most closely resembles death.

And today I feel light. Airy. Open. Ready to write. Ready to reside in myself, nothing left to hide.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Unplayed Playlist

(L-R me in my 2$ rummage sale find, June, Dylan, Alex, Patty and Heather and Tyler in front)

There are so many cheesy metaphors I could espouse here, the day after our third and final "wedding." The one which actually is fitting is the life ahead of us, and how it could be similar to an un-played playlist.

Last night, we turned our neighborhood coffeeshop (often referred to as "our second living room" by coffee-date friends) into a reception hall in less than two hours, with the help of many friends; our dream team of many-cited provenance: Portland, Chicago, Milwaukee, Rotterdam, London, Madison and more. Dylan and I came in with our well pre-prepared parts and itemized lists and we distributed tasks to headmasters who became loving dictators. Tealights in jars with sand, twinkle lights and tents needing assembly, 110 sets of plates all lovingly mismatched blues from resale stores, hand-sewn tablecloths, and food, drink and more food! The final piece in place, for us in our planning as well as to arrive to the party, was music. Dylan had made a "mellow" playlist for during the meal, then a dance list for afterwards. I made one, very last minute, for the "afterparty" should there be one (there wasn't - not one we hosted, anyway!).

We got to the mellow list, and later, washing dishes and taking out the trash at the end of the night, we discoed a bit to a stretch of his dance list. But most of the music went un-played. And that is ok. Let's hope we have plenty of time to "enjoy the music," so to speak.

In the coming weeks we will post videos folks took, especially of my tearful "speech" and moment of silence along with our famous couple joking nature, and the first ceremony from England last year. I'll keep you posted on it. Despite incredible heat and humidity last night, everyone had a great time at the party (not a frown in place) and we indeed felt very well-loved.

We didn't take enough pictures of all the combinations of family and friends, so please send them our way if you did! Thanks to all who came and love also to those who couldn't or we weren't able to fit in. We still are grateful for your support.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

How Do You Do

A low-grade sadness has underpinned my interactions with the world for the last few days. These activities include parties with visiting friends, to-do lists a mile long preparing for our wedding reception this Saturday, and our kitchen, which will hopefully be done in time. Is it pre-menstrual? Maybe it's this or that, I would say to Dylan, grabbing whatever event had most recently occurred. Not *exactly* depression, but melancholy.

In the last week I have had numerous intense conversations: about gender and sexuality, about divorce (a friend's possibly pending, not mine!) and previous family history (one of my brothers, with whom I am barely in contact and will not be at my reception, and his ex-wife), for starters. So any time any of those occurred, it seemed they might be the trigger. But I know how these things work - triggers are reminders, not establishers. Last night I "finally" had the conversation that made the "source" apparent.

Having an iPhone is a mixed blessing. I love having my to-do lists and contact with me always. For the most part it's kept me more in touch with myself and others. But last night, adding to our wedding reception list out at dinner with Dylan, I gave into the temptation to check my email. Dinner was done, not really a problem. Only two new messages - one from the mother of the son of the brother who is coming to the reception. She was writing to say that she and her son (my nephew and my brother's son) wouldn't be at the reception. They had a last minute offer to take a friend's cabin for the week, and would be back on Sunday, a day after the reception. She said she wished us the best, and was looking forward to seeing me in mid-August, when I will be visiting where they live.

My first reaction was pure anger. What?! We invited them months ago. I couldn't believe she'd back out last minute. It's not like he's a ring bearer, but he's family, so is she, for that matter. She wouldn't pull this kind of thing with *her* family of origin. I began to analyze it, trying not to take it personally, and Dylan warned me to back my brain off from it, let myself just feel. I had just texted the brother about something else - I texted him with this news, as well. He called back, just as we were leaving the restaurant. He had found out a couple of days ago, was waiting for her to tell me, as that is her responsibility. He was irate - and had told her as much.

We got home and as I folded laundry, I fumed. Finally, after piling through arguments I didn't want to have with her, because they were useless even if with base, I pulled out my computer and sent her a really straight-forward email. I said I was sorry if somehow I had not communicated how totally essential this party is, how it is not "just a reception," and what essential family members they are. That the "Hall" family is tiny, and not having him there to meet folks who have waited (some, a decade) to meet him - the godmother who married us, my in-laws, people visiting from as far as England was a big dissapoinment and possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity. I told her she has the right to make her own choices and the last thing I wish to do is to "guilt" her into bringing him, but that I didn't see why they couldn't cut the vacation a day short and come.

As I read out loud the part about "tiny family" I began to bawl. Dylan asked me if I wanted to keep reading it out loud, and I did - that always helps me to hear for certain what I am saying. Overnight I had many intense dreams - as I have been having for days - mostly about family. I woke with certainty that the low-grade melancholy is about exactly this. Was not caused by her email, but that cracked open the cause (and for this I am grateful to her): that having a reception, a wedding reception, my wedding reception, without parents, grandparents (all passed) or my brother and his son (we aren't to the point where my brother can come to something like this yet) is really painful. I knew that last year when we spontaneously "eloped" - we knew it would save some pain. Another godmother said at the time "Wow. You really dodged a bullet. That would have hurt like a bitch." Except for the part where this will also hurt like a bitch. Or already is hurting.

How do I do this? Like I have done everything else. With honesty. Not shutting off my feelings. Moving forward. Celebrating and also crying. Knowing I am not alone. Letting friends be family. Missing those who are missing but not lingering too long. Eating delicious food. Letting myself be held. Leaning on the family I do have. Appreciating Dylan. Resting and feeling. Feeling. Feeling the hole in the leaf and letting it be.