Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Interview Game: Question 2 Finally Bites the Dust

Background, if you just tuned in: I'm in the process of completing the Interview Game, which involves answering five assigned questions. It's taking a while, which should be no surprise to those who know me.

Links to previous posts:
Interview Game Introduction and Question 1
Question 2, part 1
Question 2, part 2
Question 2, Part 3
A post with a little at the end that's sort of Question 2, part 3.5 (skippable)

Question 2. When did you realize you were a lesbian? Part 4

So, I'm in college. Funny thing, that I'd choose a women's college known for its bluestocking past and feminist present. Me being so normal and teenage-y and with the boyfriends and all, and so, so over that murky period in early adolescence when I had all those feelings about girls that I'm not thinking about any more.

Though there haven't been any boyfriends for the past year or so. Just haven't been interested. Senior slump, maybe.

And what do you know, who's the first upperclasswoman I meet, before Freshman [sic] Week is even over? A lesbian! A weird, nerdy, fantasy-reading, somewhat troubled lesbian, at that. I fall in with a Weird Crowd. Followed by a more wholesome but even dykier crowd (Hi Angela!) my sophomore year. Lots of female bonding, Wyyyymyyn's Music, "Death to the Patriarchy"-type rhetoric, and more fun, along with several crushes and flirtations.

And yet, I persist in not labeling myself. It doesn't feel right. I've gotten so used to the emotional limbo I've been in since hitting puberty, I'm not sure how to get out of it. I mean, what does it take to call yourself a lesbian? Being in love with another female person? Well, I've done that, but if I wasn't a lesbian then, how can it make me one now? Do I have to wait until I have a girlfriend? But isn't that putting a lot of pressure on some potential relationship? Anyway, I don't seem to be on the fast track to girlfriendhood, being as how I keep falling for unattainable or unsuitable (either attached or Too Weird To Consider, with Red Flags Flying All Over) people.

I become somewhat fond of the word "nebulous." My pseudonym in my dorm's Back5m0ker Diary (a sort of proto-group-blog, housed in a common room and written in a composition book) is "Ruby Tuesday" (as in, "Who could hang a name on me?"). It all starts to feel kind of precious.

By junior year, I'm a bit frayed. I've just finished a rough summer temping in a nearby city. I'm in a dorm I thought I'd like, but where I have hardly any friends and feel alienated and lonely. For some ungodly reason, I've decided to fulfil a distribution requirement with an advanced math class that's way out of my league, and for the first time ever, I'm failing.

And I still haven't worked out the sexual identity thing; it doesn't seem so cute to be nebulous any more, now I'm closer to the end of college than the beginning. On the other hand, my crowd looks down on bisexuals and "four-year lesbians." While coming out is no longer the imponderable it was in junior high, it now feels like a Very Serious Business, not to be embarked upon lightly lest I be accused of dilettantism.

In short (or not so short), the whole thing has become so loaded that feels like my whole life, not just some arbitrary sexual label, is on hold, and has been for years.

One afternoon I'm hanging out alone in the tiny Campus Women's Center, procrastinating on some paper or other, browsing through the bookcase that serves as the center's library. Out of the random mix of feminist theory, old issues of "off our backs" and "Calyx," and Naiad Press potboilers, I pull out a book that looks intriguing: The Law of Return, by Alice Bloch.

I start flipping through it. Okay, it looks like the story of some girl's awakening to her sexuality through a Zionist pilgrimage to Israel right after college. Blah, blah, sex with charismatic but annoyingly macho Israeli boyfriend, blah blah boring boring flip flip... wait, what? I flip back to the page I'd just skimmed, and discover that our heroine, several chapters later, is now back in the States, at a meeting at the Gay and Lesbian Center. Because she's fallen for another girl.

Oh, hey, this book, it's not so boring after all! I sit down to read in earnest.

But not for long. Because the proverbial lightbulb has just gone off over my head. Actually it's more like getting conked on the head by a big rock. I have to put the book down to absorb the impact.

I work it out very slowly and carefully: girl having sex with boy=boring book. Girl in love with girl=suddenly fascinating book. And, in retrospect, this is a reading pattern and preference that has persisted least eight years, now that I think of it.

Yeah, when I think of it that way, it's probably pretty safe to say I'm a lesbian. Hey, wow! I'm a lesbian! (And if that changes someday, so what? I'm a lesbian now. What are the lesbians going to do if I change my mind? Sue me?)

I run gleefully out of the Women's Center, almost late for English class, looking for someone to tell out loud.

It's almost too librarianish to be true, but it is true: I didn't come out with a person; I came out with a book.

The next week, I had a sort of mini-anxiety attack and retreated to the Infirmary for a night. (My college let you do that for one night in your four years if you weren't sick but just needed to get away from everything. It was a pretty intense place.) When I got out the next day, I started making decisions left and right: I dropped my math class, arranged to move into an off-campus shared house with friends, and began research into summer programs in England, where I'd always wanted to go.

It felt like I could finally move forward. The way I couldn't sign Mermaid Girl up for after-school programs for next year until I actually knew which school she'd be going to, or the way I can't start a Teacher's Certificate program until I know if we're moving to Vancouver or not. It was just something that had to be taken care of.

Sometimes I get embarrassed and defensive about a mere label being so important to me. Why couldn't I just be who I was? Why was it so crucial that I identify myself with a particular group that I couldn't even make summer plans, much less figure out what I wanted to do with my life, until I'd done it?

I don't really know. Theoretically, I don't believe labels matter. But I think this particular one became so important to me because it felt not just forbidden but unthinkable for so many critical years. That was just me, the way I dealt with it. I didn't get suicidal, my grades (except for that college math class) never dropped, I didn't do drugs or run away or have dangerous sex or break windows; I just looked and listened and observed and read and decided that what I felt most deeply didn't, fundamentally, count.

And because I am who I am, and not someone else, it took a while to get over that. But I did (mostly). I even got to have torrid sex, eventually.

So it's a happy ending.

And that's the answer to Question 2.

Monday, March 28, 2005

The Envelope, Please (Plus a little more of Question 2)

Parents of 4 and 5 year olds around here were burning up the phone lines this weekend. School-assignment envelopes were mailed out on Friday, and fell into mailboxes all over the city on Saturday.

The school district was vague about exactly when assignments would be announced; the official date was "sometime in April." So they were early, and no one was rushing the postman to look(except my friend Cindy, whose house is last on her mail route and had already had several calls from other parents by the time hers came at 3 or so).

The mail came while we were eating breakfast, but I didn't check it until noon, just before I headed out the door to a meeting. RW had already left to drop off the Girl at a friend's house. I sorted through the junk and saw the unassuming little envelope from the Enrollment Center, addressed to RW.

I didn't want to open a letter not addressed to me, but...oh, how I wanted to know. I wanted to know! Right then! And not wait until I got back from my meeting and RW got back from her errands.

It wasn't a security envelope, so I held it up to the light, and squinted, and saw the name of the Yuppie Smartypants School. Our first choice.

So-- that's it. I'm glad she'll be going there, though our 2nd and 3rd choices were homey and cozy in a way the YSS isn't, quite, and both offered more diversity. I've written ad nauseum about the whole School Choice thing, so won't go into it here. I think she'll like the school, though.

We're lucky. We are lucky. I know one family who got their 4th choice school, and another who got their 6th and last choice. And all the schools on our list were fine. We have nothing to complain about. But...

I've been thinking all weekend about how life is a series of possibilities being narrowed, and how periods of indecision, or of waiting-for-a-decision-to-be-handed-down, have a kind of richness, as if you get to have more than one life: in my mind, MG was going to the Smartypants Yuppie School and the Diverse Local School and the Other Cozy Neighborhood School with the Swimming Program; because I didn't know where she'd really be going, a part of my imagination had her at each place, and reaping the benefits of each place. Now she's just going to one school, it's solid, it's decided, and those other two schools are just ghost-futures for my child.

It's like when we didn't know whether RW was going to have a boy or a girl. We both really wanted a girl, but of course had to bear in mind that we might have either. So I made a place in my head for each, like most people do. We had a girl-name and a boy-name picked out. And when the ultrasound tech said it was definitely a girl, we were thrilled, but even so I remember a small wisp of sadness as the place I'd held open for that little boy closed up.

P.S. I haven't forgotten about the Interview Meme. For now, just picture me on the back of my boyfriend's moped, or in similar Normal Fun-Loving Teenager situations, while a tiny hum in the back of my mind goes "Yeah, this is okay, but...well, I'm Too Young to Know, anyway."

That'll take care of about three years.

Yeah, there is such a thing as being in that rich yet static state of undefined future for too long. I should know.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

For tonight we'll merry merry be

Hey, all. Hate to leave you hanging in the middle of the meme thing, but I'm taking a break tonight in honor of the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Yee-hah! Sound the graggers! Wear the costumes! Eat the hamentaschen! Be the silly!

There was a big thing at our synagogue tonight, but we didn't go. It gets kind of crazy, and I'm sick, and we're all pretty beat. Instead, MG opened up the package which arrived today from Savta: an entire set of Purim finger puppets! AND a set of three Purim-character masks. The perfect present for our girl. MG assigned parts and we acted it out as a finger-puppet play. Naturally, she snagged the part of Brave Queen Esther. Renaissance Woman was the wise and virtuous cousin Mordecai, and guess who got to play the wicked Haman [booooo!]?

Well, it is a juicy role. I doubled as the dopey King and had a good time with it.

One thing I've noticed about Purim these days, even the version MG learned at Hebrew school: it's been totally cleaned up, with all references to death removed. Instead, wicked Haman's plans consist of vaguely "sending the Jews away," and when his scheme is foiled, he has to "go away" instead. In the real version, he plans to massacre the Jews, and hang Mordecai on the gallows, but instead he is hanged on that same gallows himself! Boo Haman! Yay Esther!

Even the songs have been changed. Check it out:

Here's the popular Purim song "Once There Was a Wicked Wicked Man," as I learned it in the dark days of the '70's.

Here's the version currently being bruited about. [warning: music will play!]

Okay, I can see how the original is kind of...bloodthirsty. More than I remembered, in fact. ("A little hanging party"? Sheesh!) And I understand not wanting to teach vengeance as a value, or scare little kids with tales of genocide narrowly averted (which is what Purim is, when you strip away the farcical court story).

But I was brought up short by the contrast. I mean, if the Jews are going to be killed, the stakes are so high! Of course Esther has to try to save them, even if she might die herself in the process! If they're just being, um, "sent away," the whole premise kind of sags. More niceness, less drama.

It made me think about fairy tales and traditional stories in general: is there a compromise between bloodthirsty and bloodless? And what about the authenticity factor: how much can you change a traditional story (Biblical or otherwise) before it's pointlessly distorted? Or is this phenomenon just part of the folk process in action? Maybe there's a time to tell a softened version, and a (later) time to tell the "real" version?

Where do you fall on the continuum? What old stories do you tell your kids, and how do you change them?

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Interview Game, Part 2.3: Word Girl

Background, if you just tuned in: I'm in the process of completing the Interview Game, which involves answering five assigned questions. It's taking a while; I'm on my fourth post, and am only in the middle of Question 2.

Links to previous posts:
Interview Game Introduction and Question 1
Question 2, part 1
Question 2, part 2

Question 2. When did you realize you were a lesbian? Part 3

I wrote that there were three possible answers to this question, three times you could say I realized I was a lesbian.

I'm getting to the second time, but here's the issue: I don't have what Shannon once called sole copyright to the story. So if this part of the Saga of the Second Meme Question seems a bit light on concrete incident, heavy on introspection and analysis, and maybe not so much with the funny, it's partly because I'm leaving out all identifying details of the Other Party.

Aside from that, I'm just going to plow ahead, because I have a meme to complete here. And isn't that what life's all about?

I survived 8th grade, more or less. I turned fourteen. And shortly afterwards, I fell in love. Hard. With one of my best friends. It wasn't a crush this time, or infatuation; I was In Love. I wasn't sure whether to call it that at the time, though. My Notebooks are full of rumination on the subject: Am I In Love? What's the difference between just loving someone and being In Love? Or just sexual desire and being In Love? Maybe I'm just imagining all this? But what difference does it make if I am? And what difference does it make, what you call things, anyway?

But it made a lot of difference to me. I'm a word girl and I like to know if the word I'm using is the right one.

By that time, second-guessing myself was such a habit, I didn't take any strong emotions, especially romantic ones, at face value. I can't completely blame those dopey teenage advice books or the heterosexual assumption, though neither of those made things any easier; I think partly it's just my nature to step back from what I'm feeling, question it, analyze it like I'm a character I'm writing. The sense of unreality, of "this is probably just a phase," of things not counting because I was the age I was-- I think lots of adolescents have all that, but I had it more, for all those reasons.

So I was in love. Truly, madly, deeply. And more or less secretly (I told one other friend; I can't completely keep any of my own secrets). And unrequitedly. It took me almost a year to break the news to Z, and then she took it so casually I wasn't sure she'd heard, but was afraid to say anything again. I think she was afraid too, and honestly didn't reciporicate, and wanted to go on being my friend, and didn't want it to be an issue, and hoped if she didn't treat it as one that we could both ignore it.

Which is pretty much what happened. We stayed friends (and are friends to this day); we had many great times hanging around together; I stayed in love; I didn't talk about it. I kind of enjoyed the tortured preciousness of it (I was fourteen). I read a lot: May Sarton [Lioness, take note]. And Sappho. And Lillian Hellman-- that Julia story, it was so romantic! (Even though it turned out to be completely made up!) I read Rubyfruit Jungle, and The Persian Boy, and this book called Happy Endings are All Alike. I read anything I could get my hands on that seemed like it might have a message for me.

I read and read, and wrote and wrote. At one point that year, I distinctly remember writing something along these lines (though I've scoured my notebooks and can't find the entry):

"Am I gay? I know I'm in love with Z. But does that mean I'm a lesbian? I'm really too young to decide something like that. I'm only 14! When I'm maybe 20, if I still feel like this about girls, then I'll decide I really am. But I can't know now."

I meant "can't know" in a survival sense, as well as an ageist sense. If I knew, I'd have to tell people, to somehow live as a lesbian (I can't keep my own secrets, remember). Even if I didn't tell anyone, I was sure that somehow everyone would know anyway. (Nicole Robertson's question in the gym still haunted me-- how had she known to ask it? And what if I'd known the answer was "yes?") What would that mean, in my suburban junior high school, in my life? There was a lot I wasn't sure of, but I was absolutely sure I didn't want to find out the answer to that one.

If it were now, with GSAs and PFLAG chapters and queer youth centers and websites, I might have done it. Or if I'd been a different kind of person, more fearless, or foolhardy, or rebellious, or just living less in my head, I might have done it (I do know people my age who came out in high school; it wasn't impossible, just hard). If I'd been in requited love, I might very well have done it. But then, there, being who I was, I couldn't see anything to "come out" into-- it would have been like opening the door of a plane and jumping out into fog.

So, I didn't know. I closed that particular door, for the time being.

By then, the spring of 9th grade, the whole picking-on-dorks thing had gotten old, and I had something of a social life. I had some friends. (I'd even had a sort-of-boyfriend, back in 7th grade, one of the nerd boys, but it didn't go very far.) I got invited to some parties. There was this boy at one of them I thought could be considered kind of cute, and just sexy and dangerous enough without being too scary. He was a few years older and had a moped. And a computer! (Very cutting-edge; this was 1981.)

He was a friend of the friend I'd gone to the party with (not Z). I told her I might like him, and she told him, and he called me, and we went on a date. A few dates. And some dates with friends. He asked me to go out with him (remember Going Out?), and I was thrilled. And we did some basic teenage making out, and I liked it just fine. More than fine.


The Interview Game, Part 2.2: Nadir

If you just came in: I signed up at Suburban Lesbian to participate in the Interview Game meme, and the lovely Suzanne has given me five questions to answer. When I finish answering all five (which may take a few weeks, at this rate) I'll pass on the meme to anyone who wants five questions of their own.

Question 1 is here.
The first part of Question 2 is here.

2. When did you realize you were a lesbian? Part 2

I should warn you right now that if you're hoping for some kind of torrid sex episode, it ain't gonna happen. (While I'm at it, I should warn the people who are finding this blog on Google searches for "blog addiction": Hah! Sorry, pals, no answers here! Just a full-blown example of the disorder.)

This is not because I'm so inherently modest or anything; it's just that nothing did happen. Not for a long time, anyway. Well, not with girls; I did have the standard kind of high-school stuff going on with boys for a while. But I'm getting ahead of the story:

So in 8th grade, I tried to put sex behind me and concerned myself with the standard teenage-girl nerd things: reading the Foundation trilogy, writing in my Notebook, enduring the boredom of typing class, and trying not to get beat up by mean kids.

The mean kids were terrible; really, really mean. Some of them are probably in jail even as I type. Mainly the Mounger sisters. And possibly Nicole Robertson, who was constantly threatening to beat me up because I was so bad at volleyball. (And you have to wonder: why did she care? I wasn't even on her team! I was on her friend's team. Nicole was one of those girls who was mysteriously allowed to spend every gym class sitting on the bleachers, gossiping and making obnoxious comments.)

This is mainly relevant because one day Nicole ventured down from the bleachers to give me yet another hard time about how my inability to spike the ball was going to lead to my imminent demise at her hands. All of a sudden, she stared at me hard, and demanded accusingly, "Are you a lesbian?"

My jaw dropped. My first impulse-- honestly, I was this nerdy-- was to say something like: "How am I supposed to know if I'm a lesbian? I'm only thirteen! No one can know if they're a lesbian when they're thirteen! All the books say so! I'm waiting to see. Ask me again in a few years." But even I knew that that would've been a Big Mistake. Though, in retrospect, maybe not worse than what I did say, which was (after a few seconds during which all the above thoughts flashed through my mind) a bare and unconvincing "No!"

Oh how I wish I'd said "Yes!," swept her into my arms, and given her a big smooch in front of the whole gym class. It would have made for a much better story. But I probably would've gotten suspended and beat up.

As it was, she stared at me for a couple more seconds, while all her friends went "ooooooh!" with that rising inflection indicating a fight's about to start. But nothing happened. She made a few more remarks about how dumb I was and went back to the bleachers.

You know what's weird? No one ever did actually beat me up. They just spent most of 8th grade threatening to.

Oh my, look at the time; I'm late for work already, and I didn't even get to the second time I sort of realized I was a lesbian. Soon, I promise. (I didn't start out trying to draw this out, honest. But this is definitely becoming the Kitchen-Sink Coming-Out Story. Stay tuned.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Intermission: The Book Stick

We interrupt this meme to bring you... another meme! Memes within memes! Where will it ever end?

I've been seeing this one around and figured it was only a matter of time before I got tagged. Okay, Mom, here goes:

You're stuck inside Fahrenheit 451, which book do you want to be?

It would have to be something I wouldn't mind reading over and over, until I knew it by heart, and then reciting on demand for the rest of my life. Hmm...okay:

Girls, Visions, and Everything, by Sarah Schulman. I have it half memorized already. Either that, or Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh. (Come to think of it, the two have lots in common-- both are about scrappy androgynous females having adventures around New York and writing about them. Oh, heck, I'll be responsible for both books.)

Have you ever had a crush on a fictional character?

Um, see above question. That is: Lila Futuransky. And Harriet M. Welsch. And that circus woman in Fifth Business, by Roberston Davies, I forget her name. (I'm so fickle!) I'm sure there are more.

The last book you bought is:

I'm assuming this doesn't include the 55 books I just ordered for work. For myself? I don't buy many books; mostly I get them from one library or another. I think the last one I bought must have been A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett; I got it for RW for Chranukah.

No, wait! I bought Belondweg Blossoming after that, by fellow-blogger Rachel Hartman. And I liked it so much I ordered the other comics that go with it. So yes! The last books I bought were the Collected Chronicles of Goredd. (And mighty fine they are, too; I was rereading one just the other day.)

The last book you read:

God Went to Beauty School, by Cynthia Rylant-- read it in one shot last night. It's very short, a YA stories-in-poetry-form sort of thing. It was okay.

What are you currently reading?

Kira-Kira, by Cynthia Kadohata, this year's Newbery winner. So far, so good. A little slow, though; I hope it picks up.
And my current book-on-CD for the car is Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Bailett. Kids' art mystery. Reminds me a little of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. People keep mentioning it to me, so I figured I should read it. It's great!

Five books you would take to a deserted island:

This is tricky, because I'm really a light reader, but I'd want some substantial things to carry me through. On the other hand, I once dragged Paradise Lost all around England for a whole summer without cracking it, preferring to read Girls, Visions and Everything over and over. Can I include that one again? And Harriet the Spy? Or is that too boring? Let's say I already know them by heart, because of the Farenheit 451 thing, so I don't need to bring them because I can write them out on bark with berry juice as soon as I get settled.


The Jerusalem Bible (I could entertain and educate myself by working out the Hebrew from the English as I went along)
Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, by Rebecca West [never finished that, always meant to]
Rise Up Singing, edited by Peter Blood-Paterson (I think that's who edited it)
One of the Russian novels I've never read: Anna Karenina, War and Peace... one of those.
The Tummy Trilogy, by Calvin Trillin

Three people I choose to "stick this" to and why:

I hate to impose, especially because I'm hoping a few of you will still be around when it's time for me to give out interview questions. I am curious, though-- so I pass this stick to anyone who wants to pick it up. Leave a comment below and let me know if you do!

Monday, March 21, 2005

The Interview Game, Part 2.1: Are You There, God? It's Me, elswhere

If you just came in: I signed up at Suburban Lesbian to participate in the Interview Game meme, and the lovely Suzanne has given me five questions to answer. When I finish answering all five (which may take a few weeks, at this rate) I'll pass on the meme to anyone who wants five questions of their own.

Wow, that was fun. Okay, moving right along to Question 2:

2. When did you realize you were a lesbian?

Ah, another seemingly simple question with no simple answer. There are at least three possible responses. This is Answer #1:

When I was twelve, I got a huge, huge, intense crush on my 7th grade French teacher, Mlle. Aaronson. (No, of course that's not her real name, and anyway she got married a few years later and became Mme. Something-Else. (Wow-- just realized that was... let's see... 25 years ago. She's probably in her fifties now. That is a trip.))

This was in the late '70's, and I was an omnivorous and advanced reader with my very own copy of "The Teenage Body Book" and babysitting clients with their very own copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," so there was none of that, "Oh, gee, what are these strange feelings, I must be the only one in the world" business. Well, there was some of it, but I knew very well what those strange feelings were called if they persisted into adulthood.

The problem was, all those advice books for adolescents-- the ones with questions supposedly from Real Teens about things like menstruation and pubic hair and Will I Go Blind If I M4sturbate, etc.--included a question from some poor soul along the lines of, "I think I have a crush on my best friend, s/he's a girl/boy and so am I, does this mean I'm gay?" To which the answer was always something like, "Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. But don't worry [emphases mine] about your crush on your friend; it's perfectly normal for heterosexual teens to have feelings like this..." and blah blah blah. It was supposed to be reassuring but was actually confusing: if there was nothing wrong with being gay, what was to worry about, with the crushes on friends? Why the need for reassurance? What gave with the emphasis on normalcy? Anyone would smell a rat.

So I kept quiet about my feelings for (and dreams about, etc.) Miss A. Got very good grades in French. Wrote in my journal (or my Notebook, as I insisted on calling it, having been strongly influenced by Harriet the Spy [whose author was gay, did you know? It's true. (And a very odd woman, apparently.)]). (Something about this topic is making me break out in multiple parentheses. Strange.)

I did tell my best friend, who did keep the secret, and didn't freak out, much to her credit. And I wrote to someone I thought might be able to help me sort this out. A writer who discussed controversial issues and (gasp!) sex. Someone with a reputation for being straightforward, honest, and unshockable.

Yes: I wrote to Judy Blume.

And I waited, and waited, and waited. And you know what? All she sent me was a little preprinted autobiographical pamphlet! With a short note on it saying that if I was worried I should find an adult I trusted to talk to. Thanks, Judy. But if I knew an adult I could talk to about such a terrifying thing, would I be writing to a total stranger?

She meant well. And in retrospect, what else could she say? It's not like she could've directed me to the local Gay-Straight Alliance. But I never really felt the same about her afterwards.

Actually, I think I was hoping she would be inspired to write a book about a kid-- a nice, smart kid, maybe a little bookish, with glasses and curly brown hair and divorced parents and a little brother-- who gets a crush on her French teacher, accepts herself, and lives happily ever after in some way or other. (I couldn't quite picture how. I figured Judy could take care of that part. She was a writer, wasn't she?)

If you want to read the letter, it's included in her book Letters to Judy: What Your Kids Wish They Could Tell You. (They changed my name to Margo and said I was 13, not 12. But I recognized it anyway.) I'd quote it here, but I never bought the book when it came out, being still bitter about the whole preprinted-pamphlet thing. Also, if I remember right it's a pretty cloying and disingenuous document; I didn't really want to look at it again, after finding it in the bookstore copy.

Mlle. Aaronson, perhaps recognizing the depth of my feelings or at least appreciating the care I took with my verb conjugations, took me out for lunch on the last day of school. My first date! I managed not to embarrass myself too much, though the whole episode was kind of strange: of course I longed for her to notice me, but what was I supposed to do with the attention? I couldn't exactly declare my love. I didn't even want to! (What did I want? Not sure. Not to be twelve, I think.)

Did all this count as "realizing I was a lesbian"? Not quite. For one thing, I took to heart all that drivel about not taking adolescent crushes seriously and waiting until I was older to... to what? Decide? Declare? Worry? It was all so confusing; after all, I didn't have any other sexual feelings to measure these against. And were these feelings even sexual? They seemed to be, but really I viewed Miss Aaronson as too exalted a being to be sullied with such base thoughts. Maybe I would feel the same about boys, soon? Though I couldn't imagine feeling the same way about a boy, any boy; that would've been really weird.

After 7th grade French, I tried to put the whole issue out of my mind. But that didn't last long. Which is why my answer to Question #2 will be... continued.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Interview Game, Part 1: I Have a Master's Degree... in SCIENCE!

I signed up for the Interview Game at Suzanne's and requested five questions to answer. The ones she gave me were so great I'm going to give each answer its own post. I'll post the rules to the Interview Game when I've answered the last question, so you can sign up for questions of your own. I'm not sure I'll be able to come up with questions as good as hers, though.

Here are my five assigned questions:

1. How did you decide you wanted to become a librarian?
2. When did you realize you were a lesbian?
3. I there was one thing you could guarantee in life for your daughter, what would it be and why?
4. Ever been skinny dipping?
5. How big a role does music play in your life?

And here's the answer to Question #1:

The sad truth is, despite a lifelong text-addiction and an early desire to catalog my Cricket magazines, I didn't want to be a librarian; I wanted to Be a Writer. I was too unfocused and disorganized and too much of a snobby purist (in a very vague way) to come up with any kind of game plan for doing this, however. My first year out of college I did have a writing-related job, churning out articles for a science marketing weekly, which I could have worked into something better if I'd had more savvy or gumption or had my wits about me.

But I had none of those things, so when my college friend Nora (also known as the co-conspirator in the infamous Rosie Bonner Hoax) asked if I wanted to ditch my job and go to Alaska with her to work in a salmon cannery for the summer, I jumped at the chance. My friend Hallie, who I'd known since junior high, was spending the summer in Seattle, following a college friend of hers, who was in turn following her girlfriend, who had gotten into graduate school at the UW. So Nora and I drove cross-country to Seattle and crashed with Hallie for three or four days while figuring out how we were going to get up to Alaska, since it turned out the ferry only ran once a week and we'd just missed it.

It was a tense time. Nora and I were barely speaking to each other after our eventful, automobile-breakdown-plagued trip, and both of us were desperate for other people to talk to. I ended up having some nice conversations with Hallie's apartment-mate, who was only a few years older than the rest of us but seemed much more together. She was a freelance indexer and had just finished a gig indexing a book for a local feminist press on the history of women in rock & roll. She also worked part-time, from home, for a software contracting company, indexing manuals and documentation. She explained that while she'd gotten her job through happenstance and knowing people, her official qualification was a Master's in Library and Information Science. Hmm, I thought. Interesting. I didn't know you could parlay a library degree into such a cool life.

So the first seed was planted. When I got back to New York that winter, wiped out after a summer canning fish and an autumn spending my cannery money on a drama-filled trip to Europe and Israel, I sent off for a couple of library-school catalogs and pored over them. I'd decided I wanted to move to Seattle permanently, and needed to figure out how to support myself right away when I got there, so I didn't do much more about graduate school. I did, however, take the GREs that autumn, in Seattle.

By then I'd gotten a job as a childcare teacher, earming about $6 an hour and living very cheap. I wrote journal entries and short stories on a manual typewriter (disturbing my neighbors on the other side of my studio apartment), joined a small writer's group, and eventually took a year-long University Extension evening course in fiction writing. I sent some of my work out, got the predictable pile of rejections, but did have a couple of stories published in small-- very, very small-- magazines.

After three years of this life, I was heading into my late twenties and living so low on the food chain was starting to wear me down. I was also, finally, thinking about writing in a less romantic, more practical way. There was more and more that I wanted to write, but full-time childcare was hard work, and tiring, and if I cut my hours so I could write more I wouldn't have enough money to live on. Every writer I knew, including my multiply-published writing teacher, had a day job. I realized that if I really wanted to commit to writing in the long term, I would have to get a better job, one that was more lucrative, less draining, or both. Something I wouldn't hate so much I'd get depressed and stop writing. But what? Hmm...

Just about the time I was trying to work this out, my boss made a startling announcement: the day care center would be closing for good in August. I would be able to go on unemployment! And write! It was a dream come true. And, now that I thought of it, the GREs that I'd taken that first fall in Seattle were about to expire; if I wanted my (pretty good) scores to count, and didn't want to take the darned things again, I'd better apply to graduate school while I was at it.

I wrote much less that year than I'd thought I would; having no structure at all, it turned out, was in some ways worse for me than having too much to do. I was pretty sucky at structuring a writing life for myself, and was also having a bad psoriasis flareup and spending a lot of time on treatments. But I did apply to four graduate schools: three MFA programs and the UW L1brary School. Embarrassingly for a future librarian, I did very little research on any of the programs: basically, I just picked programs I'd heard of, or that were in places I liked.

I got into one MFA program, and the library school, and commenced to agonize. I went so far as to fly back to New York to visit the writing program, and was underwhelmed; with one striking exception (a student who had just gotten accepted to NYU and was about to leave the program) the quality of the writing and critique didn't seem any better than that in the evening course I'd completed. I was also daunted by the difficulties of living as a full-time graduate student in New York; I felt too old (at almost-29!) to live broke all the time any more, was scared of having another flareup with no insurance, and knew from my post-college year how hard that city can be if you don't have friends and substantial inner resources.

Also, I wondered belatedly, what could you do with an MFA? Teach writing? I didn't want to do that. And what about all the student loans I'd have to take out? Would I just end up doing childcare again for minimum wage, two years older and tens of thousands of dollars deeper in debt, with only a completed manuscript to my name? Which might not even get published? Wasn't the whole point to work out a long-term plan, not to dig myself into a hole on a two-year gamble?

I played it safe, stayed in Seattle and went to library school. And while the program itself was uninspiring (though it's since been completely revamped and I hear is much better), I had a few excellent teachers, and discovered that it was in many ways the perfect field for me, with a nice mix of intellectual, social-service-y, and bookworm-y work to do.

So I didn't really decide to become a librarian; I became one in spite of myself. I haven't given up on writing-- this blog is one way I'm trying to get back to it-- but the truth is, I don't have the temperament or the self-discipline to be a full-time writer, freelance or otherwise. And being a librarian is a pretty good deal, just as I thought it might be. Though my original inspiration was someone with an untraditional library career, I've ended up in the most traditional area of librarianship possible: school librarianship. I love just about everything about it. And I get to read kids' books and call it professional reading.

And that original inspiration? My friend Hallie's roommate, the freelance indexer with the cool life?

Reader, I married her.


RW, whose many talents include a thrift-shop acuity that borders on the scary, scored a pair of black patent-leather tap shoes yesterday, in Mermaid Girl's exact size. For five bucks.

Now it's like living in a Shirley Temple movie around here. If Shirley Temple had ever done a routine to a Laura Love song.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Blast from the Past: April 2001

Or, Posting a Cute Picture of the Kid And Hoping No One Will Notice I Have No Insights at the Moment:

Mermaid Girl flying home from her first New York trip, age 7 months. I figure she was buying some stock. Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 13, 2005


Lest anyone get the idea I think my kid or my parenting is perfect:

Today I took Mermaid Girl to Ginger's birthday party. There was a party tape on when we got there and I exclaimed "Oh! It's Triangle Man!"

MG made an awful face and said, "Yuck." Right in front of Ginger's mom.

And did I say, "MG! That's not appropriate!"? Did I remind her that we don't say "Yuck" about things in other people's houses? Did I apologize to Ginger's mom on her behalf?

No! I blanked out completely, in panic, and said to MG: "It'll be over soon, and there'll be another song." Then I said to Ginger's mom, "Um, sorry, she doesn't like that song."

"Oh!" said Ginger's mom, looking a little taken aback. She knows us, we like her, she (I think) likes us, but, um, maybe not any more.

What I meant was, "I'm so sorry, that's totally inappropriate and rude, and I know it and she does too, but for some reason she has a completely irrational dislike for this truly excellent song, which I personally love, and that probably has something to do with it, it's this weird power/identity struggle between us. Not that that's any excuse and I'll be right on it with her about saying 'yuck,' because she certainly knows better. I am so sorry. MG! That is not okay!"

But for some reason that's not what I said. Why? Why??

Do you think I can call the mom later and apologize? Or is that just weird?

I must remember this next time someone's kid acts badly around me and they don't correct them. I must remember this next time someone's kid acts badly around me and they don't correct them. I must remember this next time someone's kid acts badly around me and they don't correct them.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Slipping the ballet post in under the troll's nose

When we were trying to figure out whether to sign Mermaid Girl up for gymnastics or dance this spring session I asked her which she wanted to do. "I want to dance on a stage," she said firmly. So dance class it was. After asking around, we went with the prep dance program that's attached to the arts college where Renaissance Woman works; we get a discount, and the teacher for the youngest kids sounded (and is) excellent. Plus, we liked that it was rigorous and structured; as you may have gathered, MG is way into the frouffy stuff, and we wanted her to get the picture that dance is real work and not just tutus and fluff.

The big catch: the class meets at 3:30 on Fridays, when both of us are working. So we hired one of MG's preschool teachers to drive her across town and get her changed into her leotard. (She undercharges us by a ridiculous amount, but even so it pretty much eats up the discount.) Then I fling myself across the bridge and pick MG up when class gets out at 4:30.

I have about three draft versions of this post saved, all of them trying, more or less unsuccessfully, to describe the sweetness and poignancy of peeking in the window at the class, all those little girls in matching pink leotards and socks, hair up in buns and ponytails (oh, and one boy, in white T-shirt and black pants), all so totally focused on the teacher, skipping and plie-ing and identifying the parts of the foot and beating out prescribed rhythms on their little tambourines. (They have a drummer, not a pianist, for the music-- a sweet young guy named Ben, with a bongo and ankle bells.)

The teacher corrects them when she wants them to stand or move differently (though she has never, ever, commented on a girl's body shape or size, and if she did we'd pull our kid out like a shot) and gives out praise sparingly, but it's very potent when she does. Once she told our girl that she did a good job lifting up her knees when she skipped, and I swear for the whole next week MG was skipping around the house every chance she got, hands on hips, knees kicked up as high as humanly possible, blathering on about how her teacher said she was the best one (I can't believe her teacher would actually say that, especially with other kids around, but that was certainly the message received.)

The class is in an old building, with noisy pipes and a slow, creaky elevator to the 3rd floor. Us moms sit on benches in the hall, politely jockeying for space at the two little windows as the college dance majors brush by us in their ripped tank tops and sweats. The bulletin boards are covered in notices for internships and summer programs and auditions and jobs teaching dance to kids. Sometimes I look in the windows at the other studios, where the college students are dancing like their bones are made of rubber. Like "body" means a whole different thing to them than it does to me.

This week I got to take MG over, since her regular preschool teacher was on vacation. So for once I was there for the whole class. Not only that, I happened to be looking in when she was chosen to be the Leader for the drumming-and-marching portion of the class. She stood up, very serious, listening to the teacher's instructions, then started marching: one-two-three-four, then stand still and bang on the tambourine one-two-three-four. One by one, the teacher called the names of the kids MG passed as she progressed around the circle, until she was leading the whole class around. I could tell she was so overcome by the awesome responsibility that she couldn't quite keep track of the rhythm she was supposed to be drumming. At one point she looked up and saw me watching and started marching over towards the window, until I gestured back over to her teacher and she re-set her course. I swear my heart swelled two sizes, watching her at the head of that line, so proud and conscientious.

But the end of class was even better. Every week they all stand in a circle, holding hands, and then they drop hands and plie and finally bow while chanting in unison: "Thank you, thank you, thank you very much." Then they extend their right hands to the drummer and applaud. I know this sounds incredibly twee, but the graciousness and cuteness of it totally gets me every time.

This week, one girl was trying to get into the circle but wasn't being let in at the spot she wanted. I could see, but couldn't hear, that the teacher was trying to get it worked out, telling the kids near that girl that they needed to drop hands and let her in. While all this was going on, MG dropped the hand of the girl next to her and made a little gesture, like "come on in here, you can hold my hand." Even though she's not especially friends with this girl. No one else saw, and the other kids worked it out on the other side of the circle, but I told her later that I'd seen it.

Then, to top it all off, the teacher passed out fliers about the end-of-year performance, and they are indeed going to get to dance on a stage. They'll just be demonstrating their class work, but it will be on the college's main dance stage, in the late afternoon, with an audience. We're going to invite Uncle Skaterboy down from Vancouver.

I asked MG if she was excited and she looked slightly queasy and said in a tiny voice, "a little nervous." It's hard to tell how much of the nervousness is real and how much is what she thinks she should feel. But I am thrilled. Totally, utterly thrilled, in the most shameless ballet-mom way. It's embarrassing, but it's true. My kid! On a stage! I'm all aflutter.

But even happier about that little gesture she made in the circle. (Am I really? Yes, I think so. Yes. A compassionate ballerina. That's my girl.)

Mermaid Girl on Fairness

Me: Wow, look at your nails. We need to give you a manicure.
MG: Don't touch me!
Me: How can I not touch you? You're sitting on my lap!
MG: Okay, you are touching me. But don't touch my fingers! Or my toes.
Me: Can I touch my own toes?
MG: It will be hard, because I'm sitting on your lap!
Me: [touching my toes] Ha! I did it anyway!
MG: [grabs my big toe]
Me: Hey, how come you get to touch my toes but I don't get to touch your toes?
MG [grinning wickedly]: That's...the way...the world goes!

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Mermaid Girl on Race and Sex

1. Driving home from preschool today:

Me: I don't know what I would do without you. I would be bored.
MG: What did you do before I was born?
Me: Oh... I dunno. A lot of stuff. Maybe I was bored and didn't know it. But I think it took me a while to be grown up enough to take care of a kid.
MG: And then you married Mama, and then you had me! Your own darling! [She really talks like this. I kid you not.]
Me: Um...Yep!
MG: And the first thing you saw of me was my little foot!
Me: That's right, they pulled your foot right out. [She was breech. RW had a c-section. Long story, I'll tell it sometime.]
MG: Before that, you didn't know what I would look like.
Me: Well, we knew a little. We saw you in the ultrasounds. We knew you had the same pointy chin as Mama.
MG: But you didn't know what color my skin would be!
Me: Well... we didn't know exactly, but we knew you'd probably have light-colored skin, because Mama and Uncle Skaterboy both do.
MG: But Lila [kid at her preschool] has brown-colored skin, and her mom has light-colored skin like Mama.
Me: That's true. Lila's dad probably has brown skin. Or else it could be that she's adopted, and her birth mom and dad, or one of them, has brown skin.
MG [very "so there, underwear"]: But you didn't know. I could have had brown skin.

2. Tonight, looking at a photograph of Uncle Skaterboy:

MG: I love Uncle Skaterboy! I love him so much! I love him more than any other boy.
Me: More than your friends at preschool?
MG: I don't like the boys at preschool so much.
Me: Not even Evan?
MG: I don't like Evan any more. He chases the girls around.
RW and me, surprised and amused: Really? Chases them? Why? etc.
MG: He thinks he is Callie's boyfriend. But he is not her boyfriend. *sigh* She's tired of him.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Everyone's Our Friend

In New York City
Everything looks beautiful
When we're young and pretty
The streets are paved with diamonds
And there's just so much to see
But the best thing about New York City is
You and me
[DUM da DUM, DA da da da DUM...]

Brief instrumental while I explain: We're going to New York City over Passover, just me and Mermaid Girl! For almost a week! Thanks to my dad, who is flying us out!

It's in a month and a half, but I really have to get my butt in gear and start planning, because I promised the Girl we'd go to as many of the places mentioned in this song as possible--oh, here comes the bridge, gotta sing along:

Statue of Liberty
Staten Island Ferry
Co-op City [might skip this one, at least on this trip]
Katz's, and
Central Park [Absolutely! The Zoo, for sure. And maybe the Alice statue]
Brooklyn Bridge
The Empire State where Dylan lived
Coney Island [might not make it to this one either] and
Times Square
Rockefeller Center,
wish I was there.

And how I do wish I was there. But I will be!

We have to hit the Plaza, too, before it closes forever. And a couple of seders. And a few playgrounds in Queens. And it wouldn't be a New York visit without a trip to the Hungarian Pastry Shop, Passover or no Passover. And some decent cold sesame noodles. And a cannoli or two.

Plus, my oldest friend and I are going to go watch muppets having sex while relatives take our kids for the evening!

MG and I will be two busy, busy--and well-fed--tourists. Whee!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Dusty old new post

I keep starting posts and abandoning them in the draft stage. Very ambitious posts, full of Meaning. I think they're too much for me; I stagger under their weight and then give up. So this will be aimless, with no attempt to shape it into a cohesive whole.

I spent this afternoon dusting and vacuuming our tiny little (really tiny-- about 8' x 8' plus closet) bedroom. From top to bottom. Pulled off the mattress and bed slats to uncover a truly horrifying amount of dust, dust gathered in great gray clumps, dust that appeared to be only hours away from constituting itself into a living organism and going after the cat.

Lots of other stuff under there too: SnoreStrip tabs, New Yorker subscription cards, old New Yorkers themselves (look! there's Woody Allen! He's an old New Yorker! ...oh, never mind), ponytail holders... and the thermometer! We wondered where it went, and there it was all along. Kidnapped by the dustballs for their own nefarious purposes, no doubt.

I attacked the dust viciously with the vacuum and vanquished it. Then I put everything back until the bedroom looked almost exactly the way it had before, only slightly tidier. There was no sign that the whole endeavor had taken me three hours. Kind of dispiriting, that.

I threw lots of stuff away. Old clothes. Our wedding garlands, too; they'd been hanging on the ends of the closet curtain rods (the closet doesn't have a door, just curtains-- really it's just the end of the bedroom chopped off). They were very dusty and kept shedding blooms. They will be seven years old this August. Every time I look at them I'm reminded that RW's garland was better than mine. My garland was kind of skimpy. It was okay at the time, it looked fine on my head, but it didn't dry well. Now that reminder is gone, along I hope with all the dust that was aggravating Mermaid Girl's sniffles and eczema.

Turns out she's allergic to dust mites. And cats. We only found out last Tuesday, after what turned out to be the longest fifteen minutes of my life, as MG sobbed and writhed in agony in the allergist's office and I held onto her hands because the nurse had been very firm that she ABSOLUTELY COULD NOT TOUCH HER BACK for the length of the test, which was twenty or so little scratches on her back, and by the end of the test about half of them were horrible red welts, which she said really, really hurt, and I believed her. It was worse than her vaccinations back in September, worse because it took so long and because she was really trying, trying so hard not to touch her back. She grabbed my hands and we practiced together taking deep breaths and then blowing out very hard. She tried to blow hard enough to move my hair. We'd read a little, then she'd start crying again and we'd have to go back to breathing.

After about five minutes the nurse came back in, glanced at MG's back, said, Oh, she's definitely allergic to dust mites, and popped a video in with instructions to both of us to watch it while we were waiting for the test to be over. It had lots of helpful hints about putting special covers on bedclothes and ripping out carpets and throwing away stuffed animals. Also some truly scary close-ups of dust mites. After a couple of minutes I twigged that the video was just making everything worse, also what with all the hand-holding and crying I really wasn't absorbing the information very well, and that I did indeed have the power to turn it off. So I did and we returned to breathing and reading.

I didn't know ahead of time what the test would be like, which is just as well because I couldn't lie to her about it and telling the truth would've made it even worse, as she'd have been terrified beforehand and we all know what fear does to your pain sensors. But then it was over and the allergist came back in and gave us a little information about cats--in a nutshell: best to get rid of the cat, but no one ever does that unless it's very bad athsma which this isn't, so just try to keep it out of her room, and when it dies don't get another one-- and a lot, a whole lot, of information about dust mites and the alleviation measures that can keep them down.

So, when Shy Kitty dies (which could be in a year or in eight years, he's twelve but he's a scrappy old thing) we'll get a turtle. Or a snake, maybe. Or tropical fish. And we may end up putting hardwood flooring down, at least in the bedrooms. And RW spent the morning while we were at Hebrew school dusting and vacuuming the Girl's room, so now both of our ajoining bedrooms are relatively dust-free, or at least better than they were. And we have to go get a special mattress cover for her bed and wash everything more often than we've been doing, in hot water. And not leave her extra sheets in an open laundry basket on top of her wardrobe any more. And discourage her from bringing stuffed animals into bed. (Barbies are okay, though! Score another one for Mattel!)

I find myself wanting to sheathe everything in plastic; such a homey touch.

Dust allergies, anyone? Suggestions? Reassurances? Vaccum-cleaner recommendations? I've got the lovely pamphlets the allergist gave us, but it's more fun to get information the old-fashioned way, from the Internet.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

In the Middle of My Monthly Book-Review All-Nighter

Words I am never allowed to use again in book reviews:

  • Compelling
  • Appealing
  • Warm (to describe illustrations)
  • Vivid
  • Quiet
  • Fluid
  • Rich
  • Skillful
  • Deft
  • Believable

Bleah! The words flow like molasses. At least I'm pretty sure I've never called anything "luminous." Such a lovely word! But what does it mean?

What I really want to say:

Book #1: Picture book about a boy who’s scared to go to kindergarten. Cute. Mermaid Girl liked it.

Book #2: Gorgeous writing, good for immigrant curriculum, I loved it but I have a feeling it’ll be a tough sell to kids.

Book #3: A little slow at first but it picks up, and then it’s shocking and riveting. But what’s with the sort-of sex scene in the middle? Wasn’t integral to the plot, and bumps it right up to Middle School for any librarian with a sense of self-preservation. Also it’s a little rambly. And I know of such things.

Book #4: Biography of ancient-historical figure. It’s fine. Just fine. Nice and short, with everything you could want in a kids’ biography. What else is there to say, really?

You know what's cool, though? Blogging has helped me learn to write better, faster reviews. So I'll probably only be up until 2.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Name Game

Before Mermaid Girl was born I used to hit the Social Security baby name site like a slot machine almost every night, hoping that by some magic trick our chosen name would have dropped from the top 5 in the interim. I tracked names obsessively, both on the site and in our hip little corner of the Northwest, becoming something of a baby-name maven.

Which is all by way of saying that if NameVoyager had been around five years ago, I would have been a total goner. (Hah! Yeah, like I'm not a total goner even now.) Takes a while to load, requires Java, but if you're a name junkie it's so worth it. It's a name tracker! It's an interactive toy! It's a thing of beauty! It's going to keep me up too late again tonight, as I procrastinate on my book reviews!

Thanks to to Blogging Baby for featuring the NameVoyager and for having the good taste to hire Jay of the Zero Boss, thus inadvertantly pointing me towards it and giving me even more online stuff to compulsively check.

Now I have to go read the companion baby name blog. Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in...