One of my favorite musical renditions of the season. It’s a long piece, but dip your toes in the cool stream of notes.
Flipping to another WIP, a novella based on the life of Christine de Pizan (1364-1431), the first woman in France to make a living as an author. I give you 18 sentences, adding 9+10, and well, minus 1, because that’s where the piece stops.
“Christine, please pay attention to your spinning. It is a disaster, yet you refuse to learn. You must use both your hands in concert.” Christine thought, Synchronicity, like Papa explained about the celestial spheres.
Her mother continued her rant, “Look at the lumps in your wool! Your father thinks he can make you into a scholar, stuffing your head full of Latin and science. It’s not right for a woman to know how to write. How we will ever find a husband for you, I do not know!”
I’ll find my own husband, Christine thought. Stifling a yawn at the perennial argument, she searched through her Latin in a familiar game. Oscitate, yes, that’s yawning, she smiled to herself. Out loud, she said dutifully, “Yes, maman, I will try harder.” She picked up more roving to bear out her promise.
She loved her maman, but she wanted more than her mother’s life. Christine yearned to be a scientist like her father, famous at the French court for his knowledge of astrology and the humours of the body. She wanted to discover whether the pestilence that had ravaged the world was due to the conjunction of three planets, as some thought, or from a miasma, a mala aria in her native Italian. She would be as famous as her father, some day, and not for her spinning. She would be a new sort of woman.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, September 5th, I arrived home from an inspiring and liberating trip to New York City for the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day celebration. The day, in all its components, was bigger than one blog post, and the telling of it will take much reflection. I discovered a refreshing look at sexual health and well-being; an event full of laughter, support, and an emphasis on the health/well-being/psychological side of the picture which was surprising, liberating, and comforting beyond words.
Wrapped around the celebration were good food and good friends in an almost medieval celebration of travel in company. I enjoy the vibrancy and speed of New York City, reveling in the rush of humanity, the eddies at narrow points that remind me of rivers going under bridges, splashing at the pillars that block their path. I prize eavesdropping on the languages I know, trying to identify those I don’t, and catching up on the latest fashions which will never grace my form. My love of the city is somewhat new, as a recent transplant to upstate, which gave showing my finds to my companions an extra elation. The venue for the celebration, The Cutting Room, was a comfortable red, bronze, and wood room with a matching ambience, a new discovery filed in my memory.
In total disclosure, I had no idea what the evening was going to be. I’d signed up to go for utterly selfish reasons: to meet August McLaughlin of #GirlBoner fame, whom I’ve known online for a couple of years now, to see New York, and slightly less selfishly, to accompany Shan Jeniah as tour guide to the big city. What I found was altering in some deep ways I have not completely processed yet.
In her opening statement, Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh did not discount the disease or dysfunction side of things, but added the missing celebratory piece, pointing out a Google search for sexual health would provide more than enough information about dysfunction and disease. Her statement turned my historical focus on that aspect of sexuality on its head. Dysfunction and disease, or fear thereof, has punctuated my adult life from the beginning. From August’s introductory meditation on the color of our sexuality–deepest, royal purple, thank you–to Dr. Sara’s final compassionate plea for understanding those in differing cultures and beliefs, I felt such lightness of heart.
All the artistic pieces, from the stunningly beautiful photography in the bar to the acroyoga to the lovely tangos played by a cello and bandoneon duet found crannies in my heart, and I plan to post about them as well. Right now, however, I’d like to detail the theatre pieces punctuating the evening and striking a harmonic resonance in my inner misfit. Jeffrey Solomon and Emily Joy Weiner played the roles in Houses on the Moon, three vignettes, touching, gentle statements about the difficulties faced by those not on the exact center of the sexual spectrum. The first, an allegorical piece about anchovy pizza, displayed the insensitive and invasive questions posed to humans on the left or right of center in that spectrum. The transgendered roommate snafu portrayed further the quest for understanding and acceptance. The final piece, the teenage best friends confronted with the differing sexes of their heartthrobs, crystallized that need for understanding from those closest as well as the passing stranger. The pieces touched me, making me evaluate whether I was as sensitive in real life as I had imagined.
I encourage all of you to enjoy the streaming video, and celebrate sexuality in some small way. Sign up on the World Sexual Health Day Facebook page, and follow the hashtag #WSHD on Twitter, so you can join us next year, or, if the trip is not feasible, to stay apprised of next year’s event and join us virtually.
The 2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day is happening tomorrow evening (yes, September 4, 2014) in New York City. Not anywhere near New York City? No worries! You can follow the streaming video at the link above.
Shan Jeniah and I are going to the city to meet August McLaughlin, whom we met through WANA (the brainchild of Kristen Lamb) in a recreation of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse that should prove a growth experience for each of us. Why in heaven’s name, you ask, would I take a day of precious annual leave to go to New York for World Sexual Health Day? Well, I’ve already named two reasons in Shan and August.
I met Shan in person soon after I moved to upstate New York a little over two years ago, We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to meet up, but I enjoy each time we manage to do so. August is someone I got to know online, to the point that I find it hard to imagine I’ve never met her in the flesh. When my brother passed away last December, August was one of the first of my “online” friends to offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. I was honored to participate in her Beauty of a Woman Blogfest last spring.
That is the friendship/personal side of things. I have other personal reasons to be interested in this event. Many of them echo Shan’s in her post about this event. I was raised Irish Catholic in a time when the schools felt besieged by the changes in the world around them. Skirts were shorter, so we had to kneel on the floor to show the modesty of our uniforms before we could enter the school. The Pill had arrived, heralding sexual freedom, so we were terrorized with the fickle nature of men, who “wouldn’t buy the cow when they got the milk for free.”
On a more individual note, I had found my freedom and my passion in the life of the mind. The body was secondary, whimsical and illogical, prone to flash judgements that promised only decades of regret. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” might have been emblazoned on the family crest, had poor shanty Irish had one. I was at war with my body, confused and betrayed by physical desires I little understood and tried to put in their subterranean place. As luck would have it, most of the young men at my high school saw me as the brain with whom they did homework and confessed their secret desires for the cheerleaders, popular girls, and the beauties. Thus, without an outlet, the desires dimmed and guttered out.
In my mid-twenties, a divorcée, I reluctantly put myself back in the dating pool. On one of my first dates, a man asked to come into my apartment for a glass of water. He drank the water, shattered the glass, and threatened me with the shards while he raped me. At the time, AIDS was in the headlines, with people dying by the day, yet it was too early for date rape to be a concept. The police sympathized with my cuts and bruises, but could not prosecute given that I had gone out with the man and let him into my apartment.
Long story short, I have a deeply personal connection with sexual health, both physical and mental. I sweated through the weeks of waiting for my test results; I worked through months of therapy. I am not the common story, but I am more common than one might think. Because of my scars, I rejoice in the physical, the sexual, the freedom, because I have fought harder for that freedom than most people (until now, I suppose) know.
So, join us. If not in the flesh, in the spirit; if not through the streaming, give a thought, a wish, a dream, to a freedom that should come naturally but often does not.
More from my memoir. Thanks to KL Schwengel, who hosts WIPpet Wednesday. If you want to join, post an excerpt that has something to do with the date and add it to the linky here. My math is 9+3=12+2=14+4-=18 for 18 sentences today.
After dropping out of high school, I went to a very small women’s college, where I first breathed free as a scholar. I did not have to hide away so that men might be interested in me, as there were none in my classes. While younger than most of my class, I was not the youngest in the crowd, and quickly acclimated to the ivied halls. My professors treated me as an adult, and I responded, flourishing in the life of the mind. None of them saw the yawning gap in my psyche where a person was supposed to dwell. My personhood was stitched together like the B movie monster with a transplanted brain, my mind and body unconnected, striving against each other at every decision.
My sophomore year in high school, I dated a young man who ended up being the only one who asked me out more than once. After what I felt was a suitable period, and feeling that no one else would ever be interested in me, I married him at the beginning of my junior year of college. My relationship with him, and thus, my marriage, worked on exactly the same lines as all other aspects of my personal life: do whatever I was told, never question authority, never rock the boat, never stand out in any way. My ex-husband, also very young, did not know any better. He constructed and maintained the box in which my soul and personality was locked away. I became a chameleon, without opinions of my own. With some empathic ability, I quickly mastered ascertaining others’ opinions and preferences, and reflected them as faithfully as a mirror, with no distortions or additions of my own.
When I went to graduate school, and began to find my professors expected me to be an adult, my husband left me for a college friend, saying that he found my ambition to get a Ph.D. distasteful. Left entirely on my own for the first time in 23 years, I realized that I did not know what music I liked, what books I enjoyed reading, or what foods I liked to eat. I had never done grocery shopping alone, I had never written a check, and I had never lived alone. I knew how to be a scholar, but I had no idea how to be a person.
I have to do some magic with math to make this excerpt fit. If one takes the end numbers from the year 2 + 4, and adds the final digit of the date + 7, one gets 247 words. Ha! I pulled that magic off!
My alien sons drew unknown resonances from me as they travelled through childhood. On an early morning walk, my two-year-old tugged me down to his level, pointing at the grass. I ended up lying on the wet, cool, grass to see the rainbow displayed in a drop of dew. My explorations in childhood had been through books, except for pools of water large enough to swim. The senses were suspect, kept muted and at bay, so that the life of the mind could run unimpeded by the physical body that wrapped it in flesh and bone.
My sons were bold explorers of the life of the senses. The first time my son snuggled next to me, glorying in my touch, I felt a trespasser in a foreign land, as these ways were not countenanced in my parents’ house. My father often teased my mother, proclaiming the smoothness of his cheek after a morning shave. I can’t have been more than six, pressing my cheek to his to feel what he meant. He turned to stone as if my hair were snakes, pushing me roughly from him. I never touched him again without invitation. He willingly touched me for the first time when I was moving a thousand miles away at age 22. My sons’ bold assessment of, and joy in, the physical world allowed me to see through the curiosity and somehow right reckoning of my boys, opening my mind and heart to things unknown, unseen, and untasted.
I give you 13 sentences of my memoir for the 13th day of the month. WIPpet Wednesday is hosted by KL Schwengel. If you would like to participate, post a date-related (calendar date, not romantic date) snippet of a WIP (hence, WIPpet) here.
My complicated childhood echoed through the years in odd ways. Although family is very important to me, I rarely tell any of my family how important they are to me. My sons encouraged that reticence when they were teenagers, fleeing emotion as if it were hydrofluoric acid. However, those sons also helped me learn how to be a mother to alien creatures, who acted nothing like their sisters. Furthermore, I had met my daughters when they were 5 and 3, so 0 to 3 was unmapped wilderness, filled with snapping wolves and lumbering bears. My sons laid to rest any nature versus nurture discussions I had in my mind; their drive and fearlessness taught me how to take risks, while making my face pale with fear. They put up with my inability to help them with math and physics homework, as well as my crying through nearly every movie I took them to see. Well, not Pokemon.
My daughters, who accepted me as a second mom, weathered my learning how to be a mom. I remember the stark terror I felt when my oldest daughter handed me a Barbie, inviting me to play with her. I had never played dolls with anyone in my life, and I knew nothing about being a child. She was very gentle with me, explaining the rules, “Barbies are plastic, so they can’t talk back to us. We can imagine them talking, though.”
Both girls guided me through playing in the park, swinging and talking, giving me a childhood I had imagined but never lived.
This snippet is from my trip to London for research in 2011. I had not travelled overseas since 1974, and my natural poise (ha!) was not always in place. My math was 8+6=14 paragraphs, but my piece of the story ends at 16, so I guess I’ll add the first digit of the year for 16.
Finally drifting into a deep sleep, I was jerked awake when the seat in front me reclined, revealing an extremely large man, whose unkempt head was now in my lap. I felt I should wash his hair, or shave him at the least. He shifted about every ten minutes, just enough peace to lull me back to sleep. Then, the loud groan of the seat protesting its mistreatment, my heart pounding in fear before my brain recognized the noise, then further fear for my shiny new knee being crushed by the whole thing crashing down upon it. I had wisps of nightmarish dreams, of which I remember only the sense of unease and discomfort; I do remember wishing that I would not wake up until we had landed.
I got my wish. I fell asleep with my usual wonderful timing—about an hour before I had to get up. I woke to the flight attendants telling the fellow in front of me to put his seat upright for landing. I was still pretty muzzy, as I joined the huge file of supplicants for fresh air and freedom from flying tin cans. As I entered Customs, my attention was caught by the long queues on the right side of the room: green for UK and EU passport holders; blue for other passport holders with nothing to declare; red for aliens with things to declare. I got into the blue line. Wait, shuffle; wait, shuffle. Finally, I approached the agent, who held out her hand.
Huh? ” Oh, they didn’t give me one.”
She pointed to the other side of the room, where small tables magically appeared through the mist of my brain. “Go fill one out.”
Getting out of line, I went over to a table, and picked up one of the pens attached to the table. Like everywhere else in the world where those pens are attached, it doesn’t work. I tried the next one, and the next one, and went to the next table, trying each and every pen, none of which work.
Okay, at the time, I was a rare books librarian. I did not own ballpoint pens; I did have several nice fountain pens, but the reason they are called fountain pens becomes painfully obvious when you fly with them. Therefore, all I have with me is a nice mechanical pencil. Sigh. I got back in line. Wait, shuffle; wait, shuffle. The same agent holds her hand out for the entry card.
“I don’t have a pen.”
She pointed to the tables, “There are pens on the tables.”
“There are no pens that write on those tables.”
She handed me a pen, and waved me back to the other side of the room. So I filled out the form, madly scrabbling through my papers to find the postal code for the hotel. By now, there was no line. I handed the entry card to the same agent, who then held out her hand for my passport. She looked at it, sighed. “American.” Ah, welcome to London to you too, my dear.
She stamped my passport with a certain disdain, and directed me to the exit. I spied an Information booth, so I went to ask about charging my phone.
“Our power points are different from the US.”
“Yes, I know. Where could I find one?”
“We have no electricity at Heathrow.”
“You’ve figured out how to run an airport without electricity?”
It has been a long time since I’ve posted music, and even longer since it has inspired my muse. To celebrate the season, even late, and to celebrate the return of inspiration through music, here is a musical offering. It is longish, but even just a few minutes might well refresh you.
WIPpet Wednesday is a blog hop of excerpts, hosted by the lovely K L Schwengel. The only rule is that the excerpt have something to do with the date. If you want to join, the link is here. Feel free to add your link, and please go visit and encourage the participants. I am continuing to post from my memoir here, and it is 3 paragraphs in lovely math of 3+0=3.
I will return to other wips, or at least cheerier parts of my memoir next Wednesday, I promise!
In the spring of fourth grade, I started feeling ill and having trouble hearing, so Mrs. B, my wonderful, kind, homeroom teacher moved me to the front row of the class. She spoke to my parents, who were unconcerned. Every Easter, my father unveiled the camera for ceremonial pictures among the dogwood trees in our front yard. In my picture, a stick-thin little girl valiantly tries to summon a smile for the lens, not quite hiding the pain in her eyes. Less than a week later, I reluctantly told my mother I thought something might be wrong with me, since my urine was the color of Coca-Cola. She thought I was faking, a bid for attention, but I took an old cough medicine bottle andbrought her the proof. After much railing about the expense and bother, my parents took me to the pediatrician, whom I’d seen the previous summer when my eardrums ruptured. Once the pediatrician verified that I had not contaminated the sample with any foreign substance, she tested it. When she came back into the room, she was very angry, and I was so afraid I had done something wrong. Her voice was very tight, but she spoke gently, telling me I was very sick and had to go to the hospital. Palpable frost entered her voice when she turned to my parents. “She has the strain of strep that causes rheumatic fever, but it has attacked her kidneys instead.” She stopped, shook her head minutely, and continued. “She has been ill for weeks, if not months. You will take her to the hospital now, and I will meet you there.”
I was in the hospital for over a week, and confined to bed for four months. My mother stayed in the hospital with me, but seemed angry and distant as always. My father showed the first crack in his immobile exterior that first day, turning pale and anxious as the doctors explained my illness. I knew I was very ill, perhaps dying, when my parents allowed me to have as many soft drinks and popsicles as I wanted. I found out years later that my father’s best friend had died of the same disease when they were ten years old. I turned ten the week before I entered the hospital.
I took penicillin for a year after being released from the hospital. My parents had no medical insurance, and were drowning under the expense of my hospital stay, so the veterinarian who lived next door gave us the canine version at cost. I became the invisible invalid, ensconced on a couch moved into the corner of the dining room. Everyone walked by me, but never stopped to talk or visit. I lived entirely in my head that summer. I planned my life, daydreamed, read books, and decided I was not going to die.