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Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Lend me a bit of your courage

I'm home now, in my room. It's been a long day. Beloved is asleep at the other end of the house, in the big bed. She needs to be in good shape early in the mornings, as her responsibilities are spread over half the county. I have this room because I like to sit up late to unwind, writing, transcribing, reading, listening to Bach, Mozart, or blues or Reggae, sometimes jazz, or strong-spirited altos with steel-string guitars.

I also do my morning stuff here, except for coffee, which Beloved likes to bring to me by the fire, in the dining room, where we can watch birds at the feeder in the sunrise before she leaves for work, usually before I do. We give it about ten to fifteen minutes, and it's an important ritual. She says it's her symbolic nurturing thing to do for me, in recognition of my decades as the breadwinner.

She makes more than I do, and I get a kick out of fixing dinner for her before she gets in, sometimes trout, homemade bread, salad. Things from the garden in season. Definitely not "in season" just now. So the coffee is only fair! Everyone should have one small vice, and be pampered with it. Coffee, tea, chocolate, a glass of wine, or a small bit of cheesecake. But then take your health seriously the remainder of the day. And walk a lot.

On the wall of my room are portraits of a few of my heroines: Georgia O'Keefe, Anaïs Nin, Colette, Jan Morris. Lives lived to the full, without apology, able to move on from hurts or to use them to build new strengths.

When O'Keefe was a young student,

"...a student at the League asked Georgia to pose for him. Seeing her annoyance at the offer he commented, "It doesn't matter what you do, I'm going to be a great painter and you will probably end up teaching painting in some girls' school."

What a difference between his perception and hers of what she could do!

O'Keefe did solitude a lot, and observation, and could represent what she saw with that searing clarity which belongs to the desert. She could show life and death without commenting. She could portray stillness.

O'Keefe's portrait hangs on my south wall, in the direction of the sun.

Nin, not as popular with some nowadays as in the sixties and seventies: the Sexual Revolution. I'm always rediscovering in her work the determination and vision of a pioneer -- the fearlessness with which she pursued what were, for her, the truths that come from within.

Adele Aldridge says this (and much more) of her:

Certainly Anaïs Nin was narcissistic but how can any of us who keep a Journal not be called that? Just the fact that one writes to one's self is an act of narcissism. So given that this is true, I want to emphasize that one can be narcissistic and also be a generous person to others. Anaïs was an exceptionally generous person - financially, emotionally and spiritually generous .... When you love someone nothing any one says about that person, even they themselves, make you love them less. I will always love her - who ever she was - and there were many Anaïs Nins - one for each of us. What more could one want from another?

When Nin couldn't find a publisher, she bought a treadle-operated letterpress and hired a printer to teach her how to use it. She set type tirelessly for page after page until it was done, then threw a coming-out party for her book.

Nin's portrait hangs by my door on the west wall, for the sunset, because in her sunset years she found happiness by going thoroughly her own way.

Colette achieved her art against first the indifference and finally the identity theft of an abusive and manipulative husband. Once she had attained her reputation and a place of her own, she mostly avoided such traps; though she was often alone she seemed to have the ability to treat solitude as a place to retire to, to draw strength from, in the midst of an active life. When her strength diminished in later years, she lay in bed writing at a lap desk.

The church tried to refuse her burial in a consecrated graveyard; Colette, whose heart was many times the size of all the churches of France!

In the 1930s Colette was made a member of the Belgian Royal Academy. She was the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Goncourt Academy. In 1953 she became a grand officer of the Legion of Honour.

A State funeral was arranged, in spite of the Church, and thousands attended, weeping.

Her portrait hangs on my east wall, for sunrise, for Spring, for hope, for love. For all fragile and tender hearts.

I wrote this about Morris (It's taken from a passage in her memoir, Conundrum [1974]):

He, who saw and wrote wars and collapsing empires,
who wrote well, and was a celebrated man, goes,
carefully, quietly, to Africa. He has also

been she for years, disclosing to few or none
the changing shape, her body, as it grew into
her self. Waiting her turn for the doctor,

she walks the roads and beaches, and comes to love
the people. Women stop her once, demanding
to know, “Are you a man or a woman?” She opens

her blouse to them; they are satisfied.
Children follow her, chanting. An old man
waves them off, making a holy place for her:

“This one,” he tells them, “walks alone.”

A small picture of Morris is affixed to the top of the large mirror on my dresser. She reminds me that it takes courage to be a woman, and that not all womanhood is in makeup, perfumery, and obedience. She's easy in slacks, with her own hands and her own face, a writer, first, last, and always, and goes her own way.

There are on the dresser a seashell, a rock from a streambed in the High Cascades, and a pitcher that my grandmother got for her wedding day, in 1884. There's a snapshot of me with my friends from PFLAG, taken at the AIDS walk. There's a small portrait of my daughter in a frame that bears the words, "Where you are/There is the sun."

Hanging from the mirror's corners are necklaces and strings of beads. There are hair ties, bracelets, a Venetian mask, a princess doll with a bright tiara, and a pair of silver hoops that await the healing of my piercing. These are steadying things, chosen from all that I have, to see when retiring and to see when awakening. They are, mostly, found, or gifts from my spouse and daughter and best women friends.


Today, sorrow. My first rebuff.

I complimented an old acquaintance on her cookies. She managed to thank me, but couldn't look at me, and I felt as if I should go away, preferably go away and die, or maybe go away and die horribly: multiple choice. And this from someone I had always counted a friend. I have known her for years; she was a help to me in trouble; and I hope I have been the same to her.

Is it because of religion?

But what kind of religion would prescribe cold-shouldering as the way to convince someone of its truth?

One of the definitive passages in the Bible is Luke 10:25-37 (quoting from the NIV):

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The point here of course is that the priest and the Levite, the official purifiers and teachers of Israel, miss their chance to inherit eternal life, while the Samaritan, who is UNCLEAN (i.e., an abomination) gets it right.

To get where the Samaritan fits in here, these were people which Jesus' hearers were not allowed to talk to or eat with, let alone marry, etc. Sound familiar?? If you're a white supremacist, substitute a black person for the Samaritan and you discover that this lesson is for you. And if you are homophobic or transphobic ... well, I rest my case.

I went to a meeting, later, where activists were planning to pull together a beleagured community -- read Samaritans if you like -- gays, old Lesbians who had been together for forty years, ministers, transmen, transwomen, queer-questioning youth.

A new friend asked how I was doing. I burst into tears (blame the hormones if you like), told her what had happened, and she wrapped me in her deep and healing embrace and said the kind words I needed to hear. There should be more like her.

I'm up late; it's 1 A.M. and I do go to work in the morning. Dear sisters, lend me a bit of your courage to face the day, and sometime when I'm feeling braver, I'll lend you mine.

-- risa


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