I think I’m losing my mind this time, this time…

Dear Friends,

I feel like I’m losing my mind because the world is terrible, and specifically because yesterday Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed into law extremely restrictive legislation about abortion and women’s health care. There are sixteen other states currently with proposed laws to ban abortions, and I don’t understand why apparently Roe v. Wade is the one Supreme Court decision no one can leave the fuck alone. I feel like this is a dystopian nightmare. There are men in power who seek to strip away the rights of women using the Bible as their weapon, and while I don’t think they will win in the long run, I don’t think there are enough people enraged about abuses and violence against women to fully stop them, either. The degree to which they are intent on eroding our rights is horrifying. Women are not cattle. Women are not breeding animals here for your empire-building purposes. But my feelings on the topic seem to be irrelevant to the conversation. First of all, no one is proposing these laws in Maryland … yet. But I’m certain the same people who supported the anti-choice resolution in Anne Arundel County last year (which was narrowly rejected) will be paying attention for their opportunities here.

I don’t want to believe the world is horrible, but that’s where I am with it right now. I messaged my therapist about it the other day after I realized I don’t feel like I have anything to look forward to. I feel general dread about the state of the world. I don’t want any part of it lately. I don’t trust our political system at all. I have no idea how I will cope with reality if Donald Trump gets reelected. The damage that could be done in another 4 years is enough to make me consider suicide because I don’t believe our country could recover from it in my lifetime. And I feel angry because I — we, the female citizens of this country — haven’t done anything to deserve this.

I wish people would rise up in protest … but in a more serious way, in a way that actually scares people like Trump. I’m certain Donald Trump doesn’t give a damn about abortion rights, but his presence in the Oval Office holds open the door for the far right to enact all kinds of shady legislation. If anything, I think he’s just glad people are angry at someone other than him and talking about something other than the Mueller report. And this, too, is disgusting and cheap politics. This is what it’s like to be governed by a bully and a rapist.

Women are not political pawns whose healthcare and bodily autonomy can be thrown under the bus to distract from the very real threats our country faces from within our own White House. I want the people in power to understand how much they are hurting women and to stop. But they don’t understand, or they will themselves not to. They insist on applying their cold, pesudo-moral math to our lives and leaving empathy out of the equation. I’m scared of them because I’m certain they have no concern for me or others like me. They are practically trying to criminalize being a woman. Some people want to end not just abortion but the use of birth control? That’s completely insane. Even Pat Robertson thinks the Alabama law goes too far.

Surely this won’t work, right? But this is also a known tactic — attacking in an extreme way that you know won’t succeed when your actual aim is something still quite objectionable but less than the initial stated goal. And that’s my best case scenario — that while they won’t succeed in some of their more extreme aims, everyone will kinda shrug and give up when they do make abortions illegal. And they will leave the definition of abortion slightly open so they can blame women for anything that happens to a fetus. They’ll say, “well, you might call it a miscarriage, but you were driving a car and got into an accident, and you shouldn’t have been driving at all because it’s a danger to your baby.” If you think that sounds insane, it is, but it happens anyway. People who hate women (and there are more than you think) find ways to blame women for anything. They are the authors of these bills but also a big enough chunk of the population that we have to feel threatened by this kind of thinking.

The crazy thing is that those of us who are on the side of equality and choice are truly seeking to make everyone happier, safer, and healthier, but the far right makes us out to be enemies of God, tradition, and family values. They know nothing about family values. They think family values are heterosexuality, monogamy, and having babies. They don’t even care what happens after the babies are born — more than a quarter of children in Alabama were living in poverty according to 2016 statistics. To me, health care is a family value because I want my family to be healthy and I believe everyone’s family deserves at least a chance at the same. Parental leave is a family value. Kindness is a family value. Accepting your loved ones no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation is a family value. Supporting people when they are in need is a family value. The party of family values knows nothing about family values. They are just selling us an outdated, pre-packaged plastic idea of a family, like a Polly Pocket. Like we’re supposed to open up this little plastic life and move in with all our humanness. Not only are we too big for the bed, but our dreams won’t fit. We are too complicated.

Come to think of it, interviews with many politicians (but mostly in the GOP) look just how I imagine dinner with Polly Pocket’s family would go. The blankly smiling plastic faces, so glossy and pert, say nothing of substance no matter how we ply them with interesting questions. How can we trust them? I can’t. I know for certain they do not have my wellbeing at heart.

I have no grand conclusion to reach, no great plan of action. I used to be the kind of person who was ready to protest at the drop of a hat — always wanting to organize, mobilize, speak truth to power, and change my own life in an attempt to change the world. But I don’t know what more to do now. I feel surrounded not only by enemies but by allies who, like myself, have become exhausted almost to the point of indifference. But I choose to keep living because the alternative is shit. And if I’m going to keep living, keep playing this game, well, I didn’t come here to get trampled on. So I am going to stand the fuck up and keep living even though I don’t know what the strategy is and I’m scared to find out how it ends. I feel like Arya Stark, standing in King’s Landing as it burns, refusing to give up, but unsure where to turn.

If nothing else, we have to keep talking about this. We all have to keep talking about the battles that are most dear to our hearts and do our best to amplify each other’s voices and efforts. And for the love of God, we have to keep being kind to one another. Because if we are cruel and we devolve amidst infighting, we have lost. The surest way to lose is to alienate your team till the win is no longer worth fighting for. So we have to stay connected and stay supportive to the best of our ability.

The time when you most wish you could quit is always the time when its most essential to keep fighting. I’m going to do my best to play with my whole heart in this terrifying game. I hope you are, too.

Mary

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Rainy Day Musings

Sunday, May 7, 2019

Dear friends,

It’s been raining at my house on and off for days now. A little over a year ago, we moved into a new-to-us house on the outskirts of town where we are surrounded by trees and grass, and it’s very peaceful. On rainy days, I like to be especially quiet and maybe open a window or two so I can hear the rain fall.

Our old house was the very last townhome built in a neighborhood full of them, and there were not many quiet days, even in the rain. The main road of the neighborhood was a long, slow, downhill slope, and we were at the very end of it. There was a storm drain in the parking lot, but it was often blocked by trash bins, children’s toys, and other debris that washed or rolled down the hill. Children from all over the neighborhood lost basketballs and other playthings that ended up blocking the storm drain, littering the grassy commons in front of our house or washing into the woods. The rain would trickle from the top of the hill, form a small stream in the parking lot, be rebuffed by the blocked storm drain, and form a rushing river down the broken sidewalk.

It was there that I last played in the rain, nearly ten years ago, shortly after Chris and I moved into that house. We were renovating the whole place ourselves with some help from friends and family, but most of our time at home was spent laying tile, building a deck, demolishing old drywall, replacing studs, patching and painting. The to-do list was epic. When we got our first good storm, I stood by the front door, gazing out in astonishment. There were actual rapids. It would have been dangerous for a small child. Someone’s tricycle was pushed by the stream all the way down past our door and up against the retaining wall we’d built to try and prevent our little slice of land from washing out from under us, as the property ended in a steep hill that plummeted into forest. At that time, I felt the pressure of adulthood descending upon me as I realized I’d just willingly taken on a debt I’d probably never see the end of — ain’t home ownership grand?

I was certain our neighbors would not like us much. At our first courtyard cookout, I drunkenly told our neighbor my mostly uncensored feelings about the Catholic Church only to learn that she and her family were practicing Catholics. I was also pretty sure they’d heard us having sex with the windows open one afternoon around the time all their kids were coming home from school. I didn’t think I was doing a very good job of adulting. That day when we got our first real rain storm in the neighborhood, I was briefly taken by an impulse from my inner eight-year-old. I stood in the rushing stream on our sidewalk laughing and dancing like a crazy person while Chris stood just inside the door, sipping his coffee and questioning my sanity lovingly.

I only stayed out a few minutes. Playing in the rain is not the same when you’re an adult. For one thing, I couldn’t stop thinking about the potential parasites in the mud around me. Lots of our neighbors had dogs, and the grassy area in front of our house was a favorite place for walking them. Not everyone was consistent with picking up after their pets.

It’s also more fun when you have someone to play in the rain with. As a kid, I had my two friends Justin and Drew with whom to actually do stuff in the rain, like fight. We would find a particularly wet sinkhole in someone’s yard to fight in. Or we would just … run around. No direction, just glee. Me and Amanda played on her swingset in the rain. Her mom was really mad about that one. It was either hailing or sleeting. She said it was too cold to be out in the rain, but I don’t remember it being cold. I remember the exhilaration of absurdity — how good it felt to do something so out of the ordinary.

Back then, I couldn’t understand why adults didn’t want to play in the rain. Everyone complained when we had rainy weather. They’d call it ugly, dreary, gross, and bad. That made me sad because I thought rainy days were just the best. What an amazing opportunity, you know? And adults were not only passing it up but scorning it —  running to their cars to get out of the rain but splashing their pants along the way, and carrying stupid umbrellas that helped a little but then dripped on everything in the car and in the house. It seemed to me that everyone was just determined to make a bad thing out of something beautiful. It would have served everyone better to just enjoy the rain.

I asked my friend’s mom why adults never wanted to play in the rain, and she said it was because, “then you’re all wet,” and I was like … that’s the point? But she said it’s a pain when your clothes get all wet because you have to wash them. Also if you’re out running errands and you go into stores, you track water everywhere, and it’s just a big mess. Plus the air conditioning is on in stores so you’ll get cold. And also, you don’t want to get the inside of your car all wet and muddy. She did have a pretty convincing point about how car seats would feel gross when you’re all wet, but I didn’t see how any of these things should stop a person from enjoying rainy days. On the other hand, I didn’t do my own laundry back then.

I’ve gotten a bit more practical about when I’ll play in the rain, but only because I had to. For example, right now, I will not play in the rain because I’m very comfortable sitting here at my desk with a blanket over my lap, sipping coffee, and day dreaming about the best parts of childhood. Also, it’s Mother’s Day, and my mother-in-law will be coming over soon, and I don’t have time to play in the rain and take a shower and then still help cook lunch.

I have had some chances to hang out in the rain lately, though, thanks to these on-and-off storms that roll through spring. My derby league had a round of headshots done in the rain, and we’ve had some after-practice parking lot beers in the rain that have been super high quality hangouts. However, much to my inner Ramona Quimby’s chagrin, I have always stayed under an umbrella, except for the few brief moments when I  modeled for the camera and did a handstand in the rain. She really loved that part.

But the main reason I won’t go out is that it’s still a little chilly outside, as we’re not quite half way through spring, and I am a summer person. I thrive on heat, and nothing makes me happier than a downpour on a sweltering day. I am so looking forward to summer. I can’t wait until the Renaissance Fair starts — the fair grounds are within walking distance from my house, and on rainy days it’s far less crowded, and I will be there, ready to maximize my enjoyment of the people, the shows, the trees, the fresh air, and every drop of rain I can catch.

I wonder what it’s like where you are, my friends. If you’re close, are you in the city or the woods? What does a rainy day feel like for you? Or are you in a place where it’s very dry? Would rain be a welcome change for you? What does the air smell like where you are? How does your environment embrace you, and you it?

I ask these questions knowing I most likely won’t get responses. I always tell the recipients of my letters that they don’t have to write back, and that’s true. But it’s not for lack of curiosity about them. I love getting letters back, but I also know sometimes it’s enough to have received a letter, and for me, it’s enough to have written one.

Thanks for reading. May you always play in the rain,

Mary

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Art is Magic

Dear Friends,

I wanted to tell you about the Wizard of Oz themed gala I attended last weekend, how it was a gorgeous and magical experience, but I got a bit tripped up editing and thinking, “Yes but what’s the point? What am I really trying to say here?” I started telling myself that I don’t know enough about art to have any business writing about it. Forget, of course, that I am an artist, as is my sister, that I grew up in a creative household and have been practicing some form of art at all times for essentially all of my life. I don’t have a degree in it … oh wait. Yes I do. But I don’t have the right degree? In the right kind of art? Whatever. The ways I can come up with to undermine and disqualify myself are too many and nonsensical.

What I want to tell you about the gala is not a whole run down of the event like a magazine review. My intent is not to make you envious but to memorialize a certain magical experience. Okay, and maybe to brag a little bit. I got to wear a red sequin dress. We danced. There was art and champagne and free food and the most gorgeous drag queens I’ve ever seen. We got to tour the studios of resident artists, see works in progress, smell the pure joy of art supplies wafting on the air. It reminded me of when I would visit my sister when she was in art school. The combination of wet clay, oil paints, and the inevitable dust of creativity at work — it’s one of my favorite smells, and I had all but forgotten it. Even though the studios were crowded with both artists and audience, all carrying food and drinks, many perfumed for the occasion, still the dry, earthy smell of art being made got into me. I won’t soon forget it again.

And, my friends, there was a funk band — Jonathan Gilmore & The Experience. They blew my damn mind. I only stopped dancing because I had to pee, and then we got caught up talking to some friends, then stopping for a drink, then considering a last minute bid on the art auction, then being swept up by the drag show … The evening was a truly beautiful experience. I felt as though I’d been temporarily transported into a world where all the people are kind and magical, where Dorothy is a good girl flaunting a bad streak, and even the Wicked Witch is a magnificent queen who just wants to be accepted as her authentic self.

I’m as reluctant to bring this letter back to real-world topics as I was to leave the fantasy world of the gala on Saturday night. Since I failed to purchase any art at the auction (I will come prepared to do so next time), what can I bring back from that night besides a couple selfies? After the weekend, I had a bit of social hangover as I’d spent far more (and more intense) time among strangers than usual. But I keep thinking of the band leader asking us to close our eyes on the dance floor. “Art is magic,” he said. “Just close your eyes and feel it. Let’s see if we can experience a little magic here tonight.”

He was right. Art is magic. Magic is creating your life and your reality. Art is doing it your way, adding sparkles, singing a song about it as you go, living as though life is more than just a series of difficult and terrifying events. We are all too familiar with the difficult and terrifying, and I for one, needed a night of glitter and magic and art. I needed to be surrounded by the smiling faces of diverse strangers. I needed to dance in a room full of people pretending to be in an Emerald City disco. I needed candy in my champagne, a sparkly dress, men in rainbow suits and fluffy Toto costumes. I needed the stunning older woman with her grey hair whipped up on her head like a tornado. I needed the breathtaking art work of the resident artists, to be so close to its creation, and to be in the midst of the living, breathing, walking, talking, singing art of all those people. It was magical to be able to be there.

Over the years, I’ve become the kind of person who likes a lot of privacy and quiet nights at home. But for one night, what I needed was to open myself up to experience the magical flow of people and music and inspiration all in one place. I feel at once washed out from the flood of sensory experience and saturated with the residual creative energy. I need a moment to integrate it. I keep closing my eyes and feeling it again. Art is magic. Go make some.

xoxo~

Mary

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The Yoga of Letting Go of Yoga

Dear Friends,

I have decided to end my yoga therapy practice. Most of you won’t be affected by this, but I’m sharing it anyway because it’s something I’ve put a lot of time and energy into, and I’m not usually the type of person who likes to walk away from something I’ve worked hard for. But I’ve been learning some lessons about patience and flow in the past couple years, and I can say now that despite my patience, developing a yoga therapy business is just not in flow for me right now. What I mean by that is that life has a certain flow to it, and we’re not in control of the flow. Time moves without our consent. People come into our lives and leave again based on events and circumstances we may not even see. Things we want don’t come through, and things we never even considered asking for sometimes show up at our door and change our lives. Sometimes, what you thought was just going to be a hobby or a side gig becomes the center of your life. Sometimes a person you thought would be a fun fling becomes your life partner. And of course there are all the unexpected things you hope will never happen like Donald Trump becoming president and your mom getting cancer — things that turn your life upside down and make you question your naive perception of reality and your over-estimation of what you could control.

But about yoga therapy … Do you want a history? I’ll keep it brief. I started practicing yoga when I was 16, and it’s very possible that yoga saved my life. I was a closeted bisexual kid with an anxiety disorder in a religious southern town. I was terrified of my body, and I was starting to take refuge in drugs because I didn’t see any better options around me. Yoga became a safe place for me, and it’s something that I have continually returned to when in need of support and self-care. After grad school, I wasn’t happy with the direction my career was taking, so I reached out to yoga again and became a yoga teacher. I only managed to teach part time, though, even when my husband earned enough that I could afford to quit my day job and focus on teaching for a while. Teaching yoga as a full time gig is exhausting mentally and physically, and it didn’t pay what I needed to get by. I kept at it for a while, but as my business kept growing, the time I could spend on teaching kept shrinking. Then derby entered my life and I noticed that I had so much more energy for skating and cross training than I wanted to put into yoga practice and teaching. My heart just wasn’t in yoga anymore, but I kept teaching because I thought I needed to. I pursued further trainings, and I found Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a method of practice that reached me powerfully. I had been working on healing the divide between my mind and body through my yoga practice already, but PRYT gave me a more advanced toolset for the work. I pursued further training in PRYT because it resonated strongly with me and I felt that I could help others with it. I felt that if I had the right tools to help people, they would show up and let me help them … and pay me to do it. That I could finally have a thriving career in yoga. But despite my training, my enthusiasm, and my dedication to the work, it just didn’t come together like that.

I have pondered the reasons for this, and they are many. For one thing, I’m bad at self-promotion. For another, I don’t like asking people for money. But also, I’m an emotional sponge and despite all that training, I don’t know how to turn it off. I take on the emotions of my friends and partners, and I found myself doing it in client sessions as well. After many sessions, I felt tired, unable to focus, irritable, and disengaged. Meanwhile, the business continued to grow without us doing much self promotion at all, and I found myself feeling guilty about the time and space I was setting aside for my yoga therapy practice. I was frustrated because it would appear that I do actually know how to build and run a business because I’m currently in the middle of doing exactly that … buuuuut I’m not ready to do it for two businesses at once.

As I pondered whether and when to end my practice, I sought the advice of my own therapist, several yoga therapy friends, and my close loved ones. I realized I wasn’t sad because I would miss practicing yoga therapy. I was sad because I was giving up on something that had once mattered so much to me. Nonetheless, it was increasingly clear that it was time to let the practice go. I tried to wait for the perfect moment. There is never a perfect moment. I did it anyway.

It’s been two weeks since I ended my practice. Prior to that, I was putting minimal time and energy into it, but it still weighed in the back of my mind like a responsibility I wasn’t meeting, a guilt trip just waiting … I had been avoiding looking at it for a while, so it just followed me around. I drew a portrait of it to post on Instagram, and now I want to draw a whole series of the monsters that live in my head.

Anyway, I was right about one thing: Letting go of the practice immediately freed up a significant amount of mental space for me. It feels like a huge boulder has been removed from a rushing river. Where there was turbulence and spray above the surface, there was also undertow beneath, and now the water flows more evenly over the remaining, smaller rocks. My life is still a rushing river of events flowing mostly without my control, but the river no longer looks flooded and treacherous. In the next few weeks I hope to spend some time weighing the ways that I’ve changed since starting my PRYT training in 2014, to take account of the things I’ve learned, and to really consider where I can apply that on my journey forward. I won’t start that list here and now because I’m sure it’s exhaustingly long. I’m hoping that what I’ve learned will serve me well. I feel clear now that the self-work I did in the course of my training was the real point of the experience for me, and that although I am done with the yoga-as-career phase of my life, I will probably never be done with the work.

Here’s to the next phase of the journey,

Mary

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Suddenly, she had an idea.

Dear Friends,

While I was driving home from practice on Tuesday, I had an inspiration about what I want to write: Young adult novels for modern queer kids. I want to write about figuring out you’re bisexual in a town that hates gays and thinks bisexuals are “just sluts trying to get attention.” (If I had a dollar for every time somebody told me that…) Or perhaps for kids raised in religious communities who are questioning their faith and torn between their needs for both intellectual honesty and acceptance from their community. Or for kids who have always just known they weren’t normal and would never be whatever their home town expected of them. I want to write about being that kid.

When I was in grad school I tried to write this elevated version of it like I was yelling my own story up to the academic gods and asking them to validate it. It took me a long time, a lot of therapy, and a fair amount of weed to come around to the conclusion that the story never truly worked because I needed to tell it on my own terms. But for starters, I needed to figure out my audience: Who was I talking to, and why? I wrote my entire MFA thesis because I had to, and I came up with a pretty cool way of approaching the story, but the writing felt stilted and inauthentic. There were things I was still afraid to say. They were hidden in the essays but never stated forthrightly, with confidence and full self-ownership. In other words, I had some shit to figure out, so I went heads down for a few years to work on it.

It has been a miserable time of not writing, frankly, as writing was once my only solace in a world I didn’t understand. Without writing, I continued not to understand, and found myself more-or-less at sea in every situation. Let me tell you, I have learned some amazing coping techniques in the past 5 years or so, and I’ve done some real soul searching about my relationship with writing. I always knew I didn’t see myself as a journalist, but I felt it was the only legitimate career for a writer, especially one who has a degree in nonfiction writing. But a career in journalism was never in the cards for me whether I wanted it or not, as my small business grew almost uncomfortably quickly while I fretted about what I want to be when I grow up. I decided to throw myself into life as fully as possible and not worry about writing for a while, which worked, but it also hurt. Playing on the charter of my old derby league, cross training obsessively, training to be a yoga therapist, teaching yoga classes, and running a business at the same time … Who the hell did I think I was? When the burnout hit, immediately after the 2016 election, it hit hard. I stopped teaching yoga classes and retired from derby entirely, cutting out all that extra training. I took some time to focus solely on the things I absolutely had to — work, my core relationships, and my health —  and then there was this new space in my life where I felt there was room for a creative birth of some kind, but it didn’t come. I had to recover from my burnout, do the quiet but hard work of self-reflection, and re-build my life with a great deal more intention. I took a year off from skating, joined a different league, and only after having skated with my new team for nearly a full year do I feel put back together.

Letter writing has been allowing me to get words on paper again, but the blog still seemed to mystify me, because try as I might, I cannot fake myself into believing I am writing just for one person here. Nor can I pretend I’m “just journalling,” and then betray my own trust by publishing my journal entry. I have to know who I’m writing to and what is most important to tell them. And when I think about the stories I want to tell, and who I most want to hear them, it’s not a younger version of myself exactly, but other kids growing up in my hometown. I think of my siblings’ kids, but really anyone going through what I went through there. And what I want that reader to know is that it’s ok if you’re different from everyone else, and that everyone else is kinda faking it anyway. I want that person to know that they are not alone in their fears and discomforts. And I also want to empower them. That’s part of why I want to write the roller derby story eventually because in the long run, although derby has been a difficult journey in it’s own right, it has been deeply and irrevocably empowering to me. Our society tells kids (girls in particular) that they are powerless. That they are merely consumers in training, not thoughtful, sentient beings with the ability to learn, create, and take charge of their own lives. We are taught to be more afraid of what could be done to us than inspired by what we could do. I would like to work against that tide.

So I have an idea of my audience and my message, and I have a lifetime of stories to work with. A precedent I set early in my life is that I learn every lesson the hard way and get everywhere the wrong way. I’d like to think at 36 that no longer holds true, but when I get around to writing the derby story, I think you’ll see that it does. But I don’t care because for me, doing it the wrong way is just right. You know how they say bad dates make interesting stories? Well, it’s like that. I have made some deeply ridiculous and perfectly human decisions in my years — enough for my own Ramona Quimby-style series.

I’m not saying I’m going on a novel-writing spree just yet, but do you remember when I decided to try out for roller derby and I made an announcement on my blog about how it was probably inadvisable, but I was so excited I was willing to put my anxiety aside long enough to try? I think we’re in the same emotional/energetic territory here, which means it’s time to make a plan and start taking steps. I don’t know exactly where this road leads — we never do, in all honesty — but I’m gonna keep putting one foot in front of the other and putting words on pages till they tell a story.

Wish me luck…

Sincerely,

Mary

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