The Move and Everything After

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It’s been a long while. I wish I could say that I’ve been absent because the fam and I have had our toes sunk in the mud by a lake somewhere woodsy, or that we’ve been busy hunting for abalone shells, enjoying these last days of spring before the summer descends.

The truth is, we moved onto a new house in the middle of multiple work deadlines (sorry, Becky, I swear I’ll have the new book finished in a jiffy), the end of the school year, and Scott being in and out of town. I was hardly stopping to smell the roses. The best I could do was convince the movers not to trample the roses.

I had a disorienting experience when I saw at all of our stuff on the truck. Everything looked huge and tiny at the same time. I was like- Who are we, anyway? Who would we be if this truck just drove away and never came back? Scott was like- are you smoking weed? And I was like- way to undermine a poetic moment. And then we moved our entire existence six miles away, to the top of a big hill.

I have missed this blog space, because without it, I lose my frame. I lose my outlet, which has been a life-saver for me over the last six years. Six! I just checked. And in the middle of all this crazy change, I find that it is still here for me, waiting. So hello, again!

We were worried about how T was going to handle the transition. I’m happy to report that he was a peach. He loves the new place. We can see tons of airplanes from our wide windows and that is all T needs to be happy. That and a corn dog once in a while.

In truth, it was me who had the hardest time with the move. Scott was a bit taken aback by my high-strung emotional reaction.

What if the next house doesn’t have good luck? What if it doesn’t keep us safe? I cried to him.

Honey? It’s not the house that keeps us safe.

So, yeah. Some stuff going on. About security and home. About time and loss.

Speaking of time, T just graduated from kindergarten. His school handles things in a low-key way, which I appreciate There are no tiny caps and gowns, no ceremonies. At 12:30pm last Friday, I went and picked him up at school, then we went swimming at his friend’s house and that was that. Next year the grades start to have numbers, and there just aren’t very many of those numbers if you really think about it.

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We were lucky enough to have a remarkable teacher this year. The kind that come around once in a blue moon and you remember for rest of your life. I am deeply grateful to all the teachers out there who have extra love for the kids who struggle- for the outliers, the special ones. The beginning of the year was rocky, but his teacher saw his big bright light and she believed in him. Slowly, he became what she saw him to be. He did beautifully.

He won the Doctor Award at school, because he takes such good care of his friends. I was nearly as proud as the day when he said, out of the blue, “Hey Mama, Lou Reed is cool!” This kid is my hero.

He went to the airport to watch the jets with his Auntie this morning (his Saturday ritual), and before he left he stood next to me and pointed out the picture window toward the airport.

If you ever miss me too much, he said, I’m right there at LAX. It’s not far.

It was never really the house at all.

Fear of the Dark

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The neighbors on our street all decorate for Halloween and hand out absurd amounts of candy to sugar-crazed zombie hoards. We always throw a big party and it’s a blast. We let Tariku pick the family costume theme and then I get crazy with the glue gun and next thing you know, we’ve created a mutual fantasy world into which we all can escape for one chaotic night. This year, we were an octopus, a mermaid and Neptune.

Our culture demands that mothers be perfectly wholesome, that children embody the very essence of angelic innocence. Any deviation will bring down the wrath of the haters, both online and on the playground. I love that Halloween offers us a chance to give a public voice to our darker side. Costumes are a great way of letting our fantasy or shadow selves, heroes or monsters, spiral outward into the world.

Tariku stands in front of the skeletons and ghosts hanging from the trees on our street and faces them down, saying, “I’m not afraid of you. You’re not real.” Which, of course, is both true and not true. The skeleton masks are just cheap, novelty store rubber, but the specter of death is looming over us all, just over our shoulder, all our lives.

I have always been afraid of the dark. As a child, I woke regularly from terrible nightmares, frozen with fear, imagining the darkness to be alive and swimming with menace.

This irrational terror lasted into my adulthood, until at one point a therapist suggested that I walk into dark rooms and then just stand there and lean into the feeling of fear, letting it move through me until it transformed into something new. It is embarrassing to admit that the first few times I tried it, I couldn’t do it. I would stand there rigid until a wave of fear washed over me and I ran from the room with my heart pounding. But slowly, with practice, I learned to stand quietly in the dark. Now, when I wake in the middle of the night, I sometimes intentionally walk through the house without turning on the light. My reward has been that I get to walk through patches of moonlight spilling onto my kitchen floor, that I get to experience the peace that can come from being alone in the velvety darkness.

To me, Halloween is symbolic of the potential for growth that lies in engaging with the shadow side of life rather than denying it. It’s a chance to bring your fears out into the light and dance with them, rather than running away.

It is also ridiculously fun to watch the kids explode with joy at the prospect of putting on a mask and having permission to eat a peanut butter cup or two.

I love it all. And I particularly love that Tariku thinks this octopus costume is “really, really scary.”

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Let’s Get the Gay Wedding Party Started!

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To Tariku, the Supreme Court DOMA and Prop 8 decisions mean one thing- the auntie wedding is back on! His aunties came over for pizza last night and when we tried to explain to him what we were celebrating- he said, SO WHEN DO I GET TO GIVE YOU THE RINGS?! Whenever I try to talk to him about the fact that people should be able to marry whomever they love and blah blah, he looks at me like, DUH- let’s get the party started already.

When I was in college, Matthew Shepard was tortured and left to die because of his sexual orientation. When my parents were in college, four little African American girls were burned to death in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham. I believe that by the time Tariku is a teenager, the fact that there was a time that gay people weren’t allowed to get married in this country will seem as archaic to him as Jim Crow laws did to us. I believe that the grandchildren of the people who are impeding the progress of civil rights in this country right now will be ashamed.

When I show him this picture of him at his first Gay Pride Parade, I hope it will seem an interesting piece of history- a relic from a time long past, before gay people were granted equal rights under the law in this country. This is the world I want to give him. Come join us. I promise, we throw better parties than the ones at Justice Scalia’s house.

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Dancing in the Passenger Seat

Hi. Remember me? I used to blog here.

It’s always a fun experiment for a minute- to live the story and not tell it concurrently. What’s it like to let moments- good ones, funny ones, moving ones- pass right through you and be gone forever? Ultimately I always come back because my anxiety starts to climb when I’m not documenting. If you ever want to see me have a panic attack, watch me get caught in traffic without a pen.

Last week, I told a story at a special Moth Mainstage event in Portland, in front of three thousand people at the gorgeous Arlene Schnitzer concert hall. The other storytellers were Adam Wade, Satori Shakoor, Dori Bonner and Kerry Cohen. The night before the show, we had a little rehearsal at the hotel, at which we sat around and told our stories to the other storytellers and the director. It is a wonderfully (if somewhat uncomfortably) intimate thing, to stand a few feet from a handful of people, look them in the eye and tell them a story. By the end of the rehearsal, I was sobbing. I felt honored to be included in such an honest and accomplished group. We went out to dinner afterwards and wound up talking about our storytelling predecessors in each of our families. For me, it was my dad. I’ve only started to understand him in this context and to contemplate the function of his stories in our lives. I remember how I judged him for repeating his stories, for altering them in the retelling.

I was foolish.

I didn’t understand that he was shaping an emotional arc, exploring nuance, choosing and editing the stories that would define our identity as a family. I just thought he was a blowhard. But then, I was a teenager; that was my job.

My father’s stories had recurring characters. One of these characters was an alter-ego of sorts. His name was Jeffrey and he was the fast-talking college roommate, who was always getting my more reluctant father into trouble. For some reason, as I sat nearly hallucinating with stage fright in the green room on the night of the show, a Jeffrey story came back to me. It goes something like this…

Jeffrey had a ’56 Ford- two-tone, turquoise and white, with bubble skirts and a continental kit. There was a raccoon tail hanging from the antennae, fuzzy dice on the rear-view mirror. The two roommates thought themselves very urbane, driving around in this fantastic car wearing dockers and cardigans and looking like Pat Boone, but a little more Jersey.

One time it was five or six o’clock, just getting dark and they were late to pick up some girls for a double date. Jeffrey really dug that song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” They were caught in a terrible traffic jam and it came on the radio. Jeffrey turned the song up full blast, climbed on top of the car and started dancing on the hood.

(There is more to the story. I think it involves mouthing off to police and decidedly not getting the girls in the end. Or maybe that was a different story. But, anyway….)

I had tried to picture my father being best friends with a wild man, who danced on the hood of his hot rod at twilight. It always made me a little bit sad, imagining what it must have been like to be the one in the passenger seat, staticy music turned up too loud, listening to your friend’s footsteps. To be the one whose lot it is not to dance, but rather to tell the story years later to an unappreciative teenage daughter.

It was this story I remembered when I sat in the green room, literally seeing weird spots in front of my eyes and completely unable to remember even the first line of my story because I was in such a cold panic. Over the past year, I’ve been getting increasingly bad stage fright and it has made each of my storytelling gigs a rather fraught experience. I keep at it, because I know that if you let anxiety cripple you in one arena, it’s not like it stops and is satisfied. It gets a taste of triumph and goes in for the rest of your life, too. So I keep fighting, but I constantly worry that I’m about to freeze onstage and forget everything and it’ll be exactly like that classic nightmare except I’ll still have my pants on.

I honestly don’t know why that story popped into my head, but I decided to go out there for my dad, who doesn’t even talk to me anymore, but still gave me so much of who I am. As I walked onstage, I thought- here I go dad. I’m telling my story on a huge beautiful stage in a new pink dress. I figured it out. I’m in the passenger seat and I’m the one dancing.

It went great. It was thrilling.

So, I took a little break from blogging to dance on a car for a moment. Or at least on a Portland stage. But I’m back now, friends. I have missed you.