Tag Archives: friends

Rich

imageslp1bxi04Rich.

That’s the word that’s been in my head and in my heart for the past few weeks. Jingling around like gold coins in a drawstring pouch.

I’ve felt rich in life. Rich in love. Rich in friends. Rich in my writing life. Rich in everything I need.

I have a weekly routine and friends and my writing and enough special days and events to keep everything interesting.

It’s a rich life.

I think about love and how that makes everything richer. How things seem more special when W’s there. The way I can’t wait for her to get home at night so I can tell her about my day and experience it all over again through her eyes.

Of course, my life isn’t perfect. The house is usually a mess and the cat puked under the dining room table and shouldn’t I be due for a pay increase and when will those damn kids get jobs.

But my life is rich. It’s cheesecake and a hot fudge sundae with extra whipped cream and a $20 bill that I found in an old pair of jeans.

And then last night happens, and I am sad and hurt and broken inside. If you read this blog, you are probably feeling the same way.

imageszgi58iwpStill, I remind myself of the richness of my life. Of love and friends and the way they swirl around me like stardust.

This morning, W tells me everything will be okay and that she loves me.

A friend invites me to a drum circle. Other friends share kind words and blog posts they have found to be soothing and encouraging. A friend who runs a local LGBT group sends an e-mail about working together to protect the rights of those in our community. I will attend the steering committee meeting they are holding on Monday to find out what I can do to help.

W will be home soon. We will have dinner together and watch Luke Cage on Netflix. She’ll fall asleep first. I’ll write and read and then turn in for the night. If I can’t sleep, I’ll settle in close to W and the cats piled up at my feet.

Tomorrow, I’ll try to get out of the house and write in the little coffee shop in town. Maybe I’ll see some of my friends there. I’ll be kind to myself. I’ll be kind to others.

And when things seem hopeless or scary or pointless, I’ll take refuge in my rich life.

* * *

What makes your life rich?

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Happy

images[1]I attended a creative nonfiction conference this past weekend in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. W and one of the kids came with to enjoy my big, fancy hotel room.

I left the hotel room early in the morning while the two of them slept in. I popped in from time to time to use the bathroom or check in on them.

“You look so happy,” W said.

I couldn’t lie. And I couldn’t stop smiling. I was in my element. I was with a bunch of other people nerding out on using white space in an essay or the ethicality of composite characters in memoir. There was a entire panel discussion on truth in creative nonfiction.

We were all fangirl/fanboy when memoirist Mary Karr delivered the keynote Saturday evening.

Before we left for the conference, I was having second thoughts about attending.

“I’m not good with peoples,” I told W.

“You’ll be fine,” she said.

And I was. I had two of my writer group friends with me, which made things easier. I didn’t have to assume wallflower mode. Which is a good thing because none of the walls were flannel covered.

Plus, many writers are introverts, which meant we could all be awkward with one another without judgment. (Looks at floor.)

My writer tank has been filled.

And I’m still glowing from the weekend.

* *  *

What about you? What lights you up?

How to win friends and more — be yourself

I am leaving for a writers’ retreat tomorrow.

I am excited and nervous.  I am in an almost-constant state of excitement and nervousness these days.

I tell myself not to feel guilty.  That it’s ok to spend money on this adventure.  That I am allowed to take time away for myself.  Old habits are hard to break.  Guilt is hard to outrun.

From the get go, W and I were not one of those couples who asked permission.  We are both adults with free choice and free will and our own spending money.

As I sit here writing this, I feel gratitude for her support.  For supporting this crazy habit called writing, which requires me to carry around tiny notebooks and pens at all times and jot down ideas and phrases at the most inopportune moments.  That has me leaving bits and pieces of my work and my writing tools in our bed, turning that soft place where we sleep into a paper-cut and pen-poking hazard.

I think back to those days when I was still in the closet and had a fear of being alone.  I thought people wouldn’t like me if they knew I liked women.  I thought people wouldn’t like me if they knew the real me.

There’s nothing like publishing a memoir to remove any last, forgotten items from the back of the closet.  A mangled umbrella, a partnerless tube sock.

What I’ve learned is that I actually have more friends now that I am out and open and me.  Butch me who likes women and neckties and suspenders and baseball.  Weird me who likes Wonder Woman and Cream of Wheat and books about dysfunctional people.

I have a newer writer friend who gave me a glitter pen to sign books at my book launch party.  And this awesome “You Rock” rock that I’m taking to my writers’ retreat.

xx

This is how I like my glitter — in a pen.  And thank you for noticing that I rock.

I have old friends who gave me this awesome metal sculpture stamped: “Rae Theodore, Published Author.”  They tell me they are proud of my achievement.

xx

Do you see the likeness?

It’s not about material things.  So many people have given me a thumbs up by sending thoughtful e-mails, offering a kind remark or just being present in my life.

So, the moral of the story?  Be yourself, be honest, be kind.  That’s good enough for most folks.  At least the ones who matter.

Oh, and if you’re real lucky, you might find your better half.  The one who makes you believe that you can do it, that you deserve it, that you deserve her.  The one who becomes your biggest fan and thinks everything you do is perfect (all the while admitting her bias).  The one who says you look cute in a bowtie and a necktie and in that baseball cap that you wear backward on the day you don’t feel like showering.

I dedicated my book to W with this: “To my wife, who thinks me a better writer and person than I really am.”

And I think how lucky I am to have found someone who always sees the best version of me, even when I can’t.  Especially when I can’t.

* * *

How does your partner support those things that make you who you are?

Not butch enough for haunted things

My W is here.

My W is here.

“My hersband is too afraid to go,” W texted her friends from work.

They are going to Terror Behind the Walls at Eastern State Penitentiary tonight. The website bills it as “A Massive Haunted House in a REAL PRISON.”

No thanks. Count me out.  I will stay home and watch reruns of Orange Is the New Black, which is a comedy set in a FAKE PRISON.

I know what you’re thinking, faithful followers.  Middle-age Butch, you are the butchest person I know.  Aren’t you butch enough for a little old haunted house?

Um, no.

I am butch enough to wear flannel everyday of the week.  I am butch enough to arm wrestle k.d. lang.  I am butch enough to wear a necktie when every other woman in the room is wearing a dress.

But this butch doesn’t do haunted houses or haunted hayrides or anything else that involves paying a fee to be scared.

That is not butch. That is stupid.

W is paying $20 to be scared by chainsaw-wielding strangers wearing face paint and fake blood.

If anyone out there wants a really good fright, mail me $20.  Tell me your worst fear, or I can make one up for you.

  • Dear Netflix Subscriber, We regret to inform you that there will not be a Season 3 of Orange Is the New Black.
  • Good news!  I’ve cleared my calendar and will be able to stay with you through the holidays!  All of them!!  Love, Mom
  • Dear Former Student, It wasn’t just a recurring bad dream.  You really are three credits short.  We will be revoking your diploma.

When I was a teenager, my father took me to a haunted house at the New Jersey shore.  I remember crowding into a room that was supposed to be an elevator with a bunch or other people and being scared to death.  I thought I was going to die.  It was the last time I held my dad’s hand.

The Shining

Too much blood for this butch.

I am not a fan of horror movies either. I can count the scary movies that I’ve seen on two hands (hands missing several digits due to an accident involving farm equipment) — Poltergeist, Children of the Corn, Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project.  I started watching The Shining when I was in college, but my friends had to remove me from the theater because I was turning green and about to pass out from all the blood.

Alas, I am a delicate butch.

I did tell W that if she doesn’t come home tonight I will look for her.

In the morning.

When the sun comes up.

It’s what any butch would do.

* * *

Do you like haunted houses and scary movies?

More better butch blues

So, yeah, summer.  Bummer.

I wrote about my summertime slump a post or two ago.  You can read about it here.

Or just skip to the recap: Kids are home from school in the summer, which wreaks havoc on my weekly routine and daily domination of home and hearth.  So, I get grumpy.  And don’t get me started on the fact that it’s hot, which means people generally wear less clothing.  This is not good for butches with body issues.  Isn’t this all of us?

But is something else going on?

I looked back at my posts from June 2013 and saw some depressing posts about baggage.

Could there be something more, something cyclical that rears its sunburnt head when summer rolls around?

xx

I heart you, Olivia.

As a kid, I certainly welcomed summer vacation.  It’s all a blur of Brady Bunch reruns, baseball cards and whiffle ball games that lasted double-digit innings and ran from one day into the next.  Grease is a fine summer memory (even though I didn’t realize that my obsession with the film was really about my crush on Olivia Newton-John).

As I got older, I spent most of the summer working closing shift at the local McDonalds.  We blasted Madonna and Prince on our boom boxes after hours as we got the place ready for breakfast the next morning.  The bulk of my paycheck went toward sneakers (I specifically remember a pair of gray Converse high tops) and cassette tapes (Joan Jett, you will always rock my world).

After I left for college, I never really wanted to go home for the summer.  I was glad for the break from classes, but didn’t want to leave my friends.  The school had become my home, and my friends had become my family.  We had our roles and our routine.  Looking back, I think I felt safe living in an all-female space, even though I didn’t identify as a lesbian at the time.

There’s something about belonging to a group of women that I find comforting.  Maybe it’s all of the estrogen in the air or the hairspray fumes.  I don’t know.

If we are attending some kind of event that is to be attended by people from my past, W always asks if any of my women will be there.  “Now which one is that?” she’ll ask.  “There’s so many of them,” she’ll exclaim.

I like that I have women.  My grade-school women.  The women, the college years.  My support group women.

I wonder if my summer blues are not about the start of something new but about ending something old, comfortable, familiar.  I wonder if it’s not about the kids ending the school year but me ending school … 30 years ago.

Triggers are weird.  Life is weird.

The best we can do is be aware and carry on.

And wait for fall.

 

Happy Birthday, Janet Jackson!

xx

My friend, Janet Jackson (not really my friend)

Last week was my friend Janet Jackson’s birthday. Her name is not really Janet Jackson, but she used to dance in the streets of our college town like Janet Jackson — Ms. Jackson if you’re nasty — did in those videos from her hit album Control. What did you expect? It was the 80s after all.

Typically, Janet Jackson and I mail birthday gifts back and forth. Usually, the gift is emblazoned with the logo of our college alma mater.

That’s where we met. College. Janet Jackson and I lived on the same floor in the same dorm. Bigler Hall, Clarion House, 1985. We lived at opposite ends of the floor, which is symbolic of how we live at opposite ends of the state of Pennsylvania.

Initially, Janet Jackson thought I was weird. Can you imagine that? Closeted college-age butch weird?  (Three things that are really weird about Janet Jackson: 1) She has abnormally short fingers.  2) She gets all blotchy when she drinks beer.  3) She thinks the Liberty Bell is in London.)

At first, Janet Jackson wasn’t charmed by yours truly. In addition to finding me strange (the outrage!), Janet Jackson thought I was annoying. There were many weekends when she banned me from attending parties after-hours collegiate activities with her and her gang of co-eds. (Not only was real Janet Jackson’s blockbuster album called Control, but pretend Janet Jackson had control issues.  Oh, the irony, said the English major.)

But then something happened, and Janet Jackson and I became co-horts, friends even.

We had such adventures.

There was the time that we attended a kegger on top of a mountain. You can read about that here.  Or the time that at the bar when we encouraged people to chug a beer from our friend’s shoe. It was a brown flat, if you must know. Who can forget the time that we organized the “You’re Flying Higher Than a Kite” bar tour or carried buckets of grain punch out the windows of Janet Jackson’s dorm room as the resident assistant busted our party?

But it was always more than just beer and parties and hangovers and crazy stories the following the day that always started with the words “it was really late, and we were really drunk.”

Permed hair = the 80s

Permed hair = the 80s

We had contests concerning whose permed hair was taller (again, it was the 80s) and gave each other silly nicknames. We spoke in running jokes. A word or short phrase — “the cranberries” — would cause us to laugh hysterically.

When we left school, we kept in touch. We both got married and had kids. But we always made time to get together. Janet Jackson and I returned to our alma mater for football games. We took road trips. We saw The Lion King on Broadway, visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, went to a Steelers game.

And then I came out.

I waited for my world to change. I thought my friends would be ok with it all, with me, but I wasn’t sure. How could I have been?

But they were ok. And I was ok. We were ok.

I often wonder about the science of friends. Sometimes we grow apart, sometimes we outgrow them.

xx

Friends are like this.

And sometimes we grow together like different branches on the same giant oak.  We take our own paths, twisting and turning this way and that way as we aim for the bursts of sunlight that shine through the leaves. But at the end of the day, we share common roots.

Dorm meetings and frat parties, painted faces and football games, Sunday brunch at the dining hall, late nights at Roy Rogers … those are our roots.  The roots that Janet Jackson and I share.

Keeping with tradition, I did get Janet Jackson a birthday gift. It will mail out tomorrow — nine days after the fact. Janet Jackson won’t sweat the delay, because we’re those kind of friends.

But here’s another gift from me to Janet Jackson:

Dear Janet Jackson, I hope in 100 years we’ll still be growing together, our knotted, gnarled limbs reaching upward as we sway and creak in the wind.

Oh, and one more thing.

The cranberries.

Everyone wants to know what I’m thinking

I was talking to a friend the other night and she commented that everyone wants to hear what I have to say these days.

I'm like this guy

I’m like this guy

This is weird because I am the strong, silent type.

When I mentioned this, she said that maybe I should work on speaking up and out.

Friends, always putting the pressure on.

When I got off the phone, I started thinking about the wisdom that rang true in her words.

Friends, they’re not always wrong.

His name wasn't really John

His name wasn’t really John

When I was in college, I once wrote a letter to my boyfriend back home breaking up with him.  I couldn’t pull the trigger though, so I had my friend physically mail the letter.  This placed all responsibility for the break up on her shoulder-pad clad shoulders.  It was the 80s after all.

This has been my pattern.  I’m skilled at expressing myself in words.  I just suck at telling other people how I feel.

That’s been changing though, as my friend had pointed out.

Friends, sometimes they say something worth noting.

Here, in no particular order, is a list of recent events that have presented me with an opportunity to say something to an audience:

  • This blog.  If you are reading this, you are reading my thoughts.  Scary, I know.
  • A major newspaper interviewed me regarding the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on gay marriage.
  • A fellow blogger interviewed me for an article on being butch.
  • I won third place in a writing contest.  My submission, a chapter from my memoir, has been published in a newsletter available at a local bookstore.

So, yeah, it’s been a ride.

Here’s the truth.  I couldn’t have done it without my friends.  The one on the phone and all of the others who have supported my creativity and weirdness for decades.

And, all of you blog readers and followers.  You were the ones who first let me know that total strangers were interested in what I had to say.

And, the writers in my writing group.  They never judged and offered enthusiastic praise and kind, careful criticism.

And, most especially, W.  Because she’s the one who tells me that I can everyday single day.

Trying to fix the past

A few weeks ago, knee deep in this thing that I’m doing called writing a memoir, I got out a giant box of stuff that I’ve saved over the years.  The box contains newspaper clippings, softball awards, diaries and report cards but mostly letters from my childhood friends.

Our family had moved from Battle Creek, Mich., to Reading, Pa., in 1976.  It was our seventh or eighth move.  I had lost count by then.

I started fourth grade that year, and the rest is history.  By fifth grade, there were four of us.  We walked to school together every morning and did the reverse after the last bell had rung.  We hung out at each other’s houses where we ate tons of junk food (like Doritos when they only came in a red bag and M&M’s when they included the color tan) and had at least four sleepovers a year — one for each of our birthdays — and ate more junk food.

In the middle of seventh grade, my family moved again.  It was only an hour away, but when you are 13, one hour might as well be 20.  I shrieked when I was told.

My brother and I were bribed with a swimming pool and a phone line in each of our rooms, but I wasn’t having any of that.  I wouldn’t have agreed to move for a million dollars, and that would have bought a crap load of baseball cards back in the day.  I spent the next few years with my arms folded in front of my chest, the only protest that I was allowed.

I was this guy

I was this guy

After we moved, my friends added another member to the group, which was always hard for me to swallow.  I guess the number three was too unwieldy and uneven.  I felt like the original Darrin in Bewitched.

We kept in touch by writing back and forth, and visited each other’s houses for two-day weekend sleepovers.  The long-distance portion of our family phone bill routinely hit the $100 mark.

As we got older and obtained drivers’ licenses, there were road trips.  We went to Wildwood, N.J., for senior week and to Live Aid.  Apparently, we were the only ones who applauded Billy Ocean.  It says so in one of the letters.

LettersAs I read each card and letter looking for clues to the past, I am reminded about how these communications were a lifeline to everything that was important to me.  I saw how my friends bought cards for me for the major holidays, probably at one of their trips to the Berkshire Mall, and passed them around in school so that each could write a paragraph or two or at least sign their name and offer a quick greeting.  There were carefully printed messages on Ziggy and Snoopy note cards and on lined notebook paper.  They told me about the movies they had watched, the albums they had purchased and the boys they liked.

I was struck by how often they wrote and the considerable length of most of the notes.

The frequency of the missives slowed down as they got older and got boyfriends.

One friend continued to write from college.  I didn’t remember that.

I recall her phoning her from time to time, but we were both busy with school and new friends and our new lives.  She had a steady boyfriend, who she would later marry.

Wedding invitationInside the box, I also found an invitation to the wedding.

I never went to the wedding.  I was the only one from our original group of friends who was invited.  By this time, they had drifted apart.  I was young — 23 or so — and it all seemed too much.  Shit, I’d have to go out and buy a dress or something to wear (this was back in the day when middle-age butch wore dresses — or at least pantsuits) and drive myself there and back.  I was, and still am, directionally impaired.  Plus, who would I sit with.  It was all too stressful, so I didn’t go.

I never knew her boyfriend/husband.  I don’t think we ever met.  I had never crushed on any of my friends, but I think a part of me was jealous that I had been replaced in a way, just like I had been all those years ago when I moved away.  It had always been us girls.  I mean, why did she need a boyfriend anyway.  It was probably because she wasn’t a budding lesbian like me and saw boys in a more practical and useful light.

She never talked to me after that.  I saw her sister years ago, and she told me that I had really hurt her.

It’s a big regret that I still carry around.

I looked her up on Facebook the other day.  She has three kids and is active in her church.  I bet I could get a letter to her through the church.  I want to tell her that I’m sorry.  That I miss knowing her.

I have been drafting the letter in my head, even though I no longer have any Ziggy note cards.  I wonder if she would even read a letter from me once she figured out who it was from.  I’m fairly certain that she would remember my writing just as I did hers.

She often signed her letters, “Please write back.  We miss you dearly and enjoy your letters so.”

I think for a moment how wonderful it would be to seamlessly fall back into that back-and-forth rhythm of letter writing.

Belated gifts

Don't you just love packages?

Don’t you just love packages?

I got a belated birthday gift in the mail today from a college friend.

If you are the type of person who routinely sends cards and presents a few days or even a few weeks late and often feels guilty about your tardiness, Middle-age butch is here to tell you to stop right now.

This gift recipient loves an after-the-fact gift.  It merely stretches out the holiday and gives you something to look forward to long after your special day has passed.  And just when you think that your magical celebration has come to pass much like 30 Rock, floppy discs and answering machines, there’s one more gift to remind you that you are special and loved.

Your favorite butch blogger received such a gift today.

A few weeks ago, my friend e-mailed and asked for the file that contains the flannel graphic for my blog banner.  She mentioned that it had something to do with my birthday gift, but was all hush hush on the specifics.

I must admit that my mind has been wandering.  I was thinking that maybe she used the flannel design to create an official Flannel Files T-shirt.  Or had an actual flannel shirt crafted from the banner image.  Hey, they can do that on Project Runway.  Or maybe she had a Middle-age butch bobblehead made in my image depicting me clad in a Flannel Files style flannel shirt.  Seems that I’ve been dreaming of flannel more than usual these past few weeks.

My flannel-fixated anticipation ended this afternoon.  My gift arrived today — 20 days after my official birthday — but who’s counting.

When I opened the box, I must admit to getting a bit teary no matter how hard I tried to use my butch super powers to resist.

This photo does not do the cup justice.

This photo does not do the cup justice.

Upon opening the box, I spied a Flannel Files cup.

It’s a Tervis travel cup that proudly bears my flannel blog banner and these Flannel Files quotes:

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step of your Dr. Martens.

Be your best butch.

My friends will never know what it means to me to have them not only accept and support me but embrace me.  To embrace this big goofy butch who is still on a journey of self-discovery.

I’ve been doing some memoir writing lately and have been digging deep and remembering what it was like to carry a secret so deep inside that even I didn’t know the truth that I was hiding.  One of my worst fears was that my friends would discover what it was that made me different from them and never want to have anything to do with me.

*Sigh of relief.*  That has not been the case.

I still worry, though, as I continue to transform and change, leaning more into the masculine side of myself.  I suppose that I will always worry.  Maybe that is the cost of being different.  A restlessness that never ends.

But I focus on all the times that they told me that they are proud of me.  The time that they drove long distances to come to my 40th birthday party at a lesbian bar no less.  And when they came out in full force for our commitment ceremony.

And I’ll always remember when one of them sent me a drinking glass that let me know that it’s perfectly ok for me to revel in my butchness.

Cheers.  I’ll drink to that any day of the week.