I need some famous lesbians

Don’t we all?

Seriously, though, I’ve been writing on the Little Lesbian Handbook and just got hung up on the Famous Lesbians bit, especially the historical lesbians because it seems like there is so little “proof” of anyone being an actual lesbian. Like Virginia Woolf? Maaaybe? Eleanor Roosevelt?  I kind of start with Sappho and then stare at the screen (this may also be because I’ve been typing on it all day.)

Anyway, if anyone out there could throw some historical lesbians, some lesbian writers, some lesbian musicians, lesbian artists, etc. into the comments I would be thankful for it!  PurpleSage has already got those lesbian films covered, I know. 😉

 

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Unbound

 

I beg everyone to please watch Kat’s video above, especially her bravery and act of self-compassion at the end.  http://destroyyourbinder.tumblr.com features a transcript and FAQ as well.

Like so many of these topics, binding is deeply personal. Perhaps there are some women out there who bind just because they personally like the look of a flatter chest – perhaps it works for them simply as a cosmetic device no different from a push-up bra. At very least, that’s what a person might think when encountering the marketing and promotion of binders. It’s all overwhelmingly positive, upbeat, empowering – like so many things sold to women to make them hide their natural selves.

I bought a binder from gc2b in late May of last year. I followed the cheerful and helpful instructions on their website for measuring myself and received a plain, satiny white garment in the mail a week or so later. It was cut like the top half of a tank-top, thin and slightly stretchy on the shoulders straps, thicker around the torso from a fabric that mystified me as it was not stretchy at all. I had been wearing sports bras, and to come across an undergarmet with no stretch at all was disconcerting in a weird way. I could not get it on for the life of me – almost literally, as I got so badly stuck I strained a shoulder muscle in a panic of never being able to free myself. Immediately I looked for return instructions and ended up emailing customer service. They couldn’t have been nicer, more eager to please, more understanding, more positive. A week later another, larger binder came in the mail.

I took it up to the bathroom, took some “before” photos of myself in my sports bra and t-shirt, then took everything off and somehow squeezed myself into the binder.

I could just get it on by folding it up like a donut, squeezing my shoulders through the arm-holes, and then flipping the fold down over my breasts. It was exhausting. I thought there would be more pressure on my breasts but there wasn’t much, really. What I felt was a constriction around the middle of me, around my ribcage, a very strange sensation that kept me from being able to breathe deeply. Within a few minutes I got a bit of an ache in the center of my back. No big deal, though. Just something to get used to. I had read all the “How to bind safely” guides and knew what steps to take. Stretch, take deep breaths now and then, don’t wear it overnight. Easy.

My chest was flat. It’s not much to begin with but the binder did the job of making it convincingly flat. The funny thing was, I didn’t feel more like a man, looking at myself with my t-shirt back on. I felt like a woman who had lost her breasts somehow, from cancer or injury, and worried that’s how others would see me, too. No matter how much I had tried to convince myself I could have a male body if I identified as male, this binder seemed to prove otherwise. I had something to hide, after all – these irritatingly female parts – but I hoped the binder would transform them for others, and for myself, and convince me further I was being the person I needed to be.

I decided I would only wear it when I’d go out, when I’d be interacting with people and want to pass as male. Twice I wore it out to nice restaurants, and both times I smiled to myself as my mom and I weren’t greeted with “You ladies.” At one restaurant, the older waitress called me by male pronouns and commented on how I’d easily be able to eat the larger portion – something that used to make me incredibly uncomfortable as a woman who was aware, indeed, of just how much she could eat. Such things are so much more excusable, even notable, when you’re male. I remember giving my mom a smug smile. See, it’s working! This can work!  At the second restaurant, an older couple was celebrating their anniversary and taking pictures in the garden; we offered to help so they could have one together. The older man passed me his camera and said, “The young man will know how to use that.” Again, having been self-conscious as a woman into tech and gadgets, everything seemed so much more “right” about being male. I could eat huge portions and be a an A/V expert just like I’d always been, but now I had a Social Pass.

I had a Social Pass in the form of a garment that was making my back hurt worse and worse the longer I wore it. I had a Social Pass in the form of a costume I worried about constantly – every moment, would someone see through my disguise, revealing me to be… what? The failed woman again? More a failure now than ever before, because look at the lengths she’s gone to only to fail at being something other than herself.

I’ve often read experiences about steps in transition increasing dysphoria. I can definitely say that for every step I took my anxiety increased tenfold. When my mother called me her “son” to the cheese lady at the grocery store, I thought I might crawl out of my skin. When I wore that binder out I was constantly on edge. Was it really cool to see myself with that flat chest, being read not as a woman but as a man by others? Yeah, it was great. Was it really cool to not hear myself called the disparaging “she” all the time? Yeah, it was fantastic. I was escaping the constrictions of misogyny with every little victory, and I crossed every mile-marker with my hands in the air and that same smug smile on my face. But the whole time I was running so hard and – literally, in that binder – I was breathless.

I have done some running. Several years ago in an effort to get fit (yet again) I downloaded the whole Couch-2-5k plan and went through it with dedication, finally one October day running a whole 3.1 miles down my road to the library and back. I kept up running for a while, too, feeling like I was really exercising, always collapsing in a heap afterwards and getting a migraine later. Eventually my right knee decided it was all too much and got really intent on telling me so, and I had to listen and stop pounding it on the roads. I did not want to become one of those people who end up lame from trying to be a runner.

I went back to walking instead. Around the corner from our house, a lonely little road goes through the woodlands, past a creek, back up a long hill to the baseball fields and finally to a small farm where they keep sheep and goats and a crowing rooster. Up until a year ago this road was dirt, and I have such fond memories of how dirt roads smell in summer, in winter, wet and dry, when cars pass and kick up clouds of dust, when rain falls and fills the air with petrichor. I’ve walked this road all my life and still walk it today, and when I walk it – even though I do try to keep up a quick pace for some cardio – I’m always breathing long and deep, looking at the trees, listening for birds, watching for the little red efts that try to cross the asphalt on damp mornings. I spread my arms to the breezes, talk back to the babbling of the creek through the culvert, wave to people walking their dogs, help lost folks with directions to the baseball fields. I stop and say hi to the goats and the sheep, even if they just stare back at me. I couldn’t do any of those things while I was running.

And sometimes, I find a snake run over in the middle of the road, still twisting in the sun. Sometimes I move a squashed salamander – once, an adult grouse killed by a car – to the cover of the weeds by the woods. Once, I found the last few inches of an orange cat’s tail, puffs of fur trailing for yards from the dark stain where the body had been, devastatingly sad. For over a year now, in a ditch off the shoulder, a garbage bag has covered a box-shaped object – far too many people throw out trash on this road. In the spring the snow melted and the bag was torn, revealing beneath blue plastic with a label on it describing a cat’s litter box. I have a terrible feeling someone, one day, dumped a litter of kittens there to die. I don’t dare go investigate. That would be a bit much, especially after so long – it can stand there forever like a tomb. But every time I walk by it’s a poignant memento-mori. Another thing I wouldn’t notice if I were running. Life is both beauty and pain.

At the end of her video, Kat cuts herself free. I was so moved by how she did it – how she was actually wearing the binder and literally (yes, literally) cut herself free. She could have held up her binder and cut it to pieces, perhaps in an act of violence against it (for myself, I shoved mine deep in the trash) but instead she cut herself free. She has slowed to a walk, she has taken in all that beauty and pain life puts before us, and she cut herself free to experience it completely.

If there is one thing we can do in this life it is to experience it completely, bravely and honestly and with all self-compassion, unbound.

A Performance We Choose to Make

Hold up here I just have to share with you all.

I was just clearing out my Google Drive and came upon this document titled “Who I am” from late 2013, when I first started seriously considering the trans thing.  It’s a little disturbing to read because I was so very desperate to find some kind of comfort and resolution. I’d just come back from my first trip to England two months before and had been terribly destabilized by it – probably a topic for another day, if I ever figure out just what happened with it all. Anyway, I was glomming on to Agender as the Answer and delving into queer theory.  One of the quotes that rang all the bells in my head was this:

But gender is not a condition we can figure out about ourselves. Gender is a performance we choose to make. And being trans is to determine and assert a gender, an identity, a self-expression, a potential life, CHOSEN in contrast to what we were assigned or the expectations people had for us.”

I don’t know where it came from, who said it where. But I look at that now and see the utter transparency of it – like, yeah, of course a person can create a self-expression, a potential life CHOSEN in contrast to societal expectations. Of COURSE you can do that.  Every human being on the planet should have the right to do that. How could I have ever thought I needed to negate or change the “F” on my birth certificate just to do that?

But that’s the thing. That’s how incredibly hateful and oppressive towards alternate gender expression our society is. I never thought of having come from a terribly harmful or constrictive background – everything around here, everything about how I grew up, seems so incredibly “normal” – and yet I did not feel I had the right and ability to choose a self-expression for myself unless I washed the femaleness out of my life.

That is terrifying. The hidden face of misogyny lurking in the most everyday places is absolutely terrifying. And the fact that most of the well-meaning people in the world are embracing the trans narrative instead of hunting down that hidden cause of it shows just how insidious it is. The fact that intelligent people are putting out quotes like that instead of saying “Women can live however they want to live as women.” is just disturbing.

It all sounds so good – choose your own adventure! – until you realize the allure is masking the poison.

A Blog to Read

Born Wrong – An incredibly honest and psychologically deep look into a butch lesbian’s transition and detransition.  Having followed the author since her initial secret-side-blog tumblr posts, I am so grateful to see her sharing her experiences and insights on WordPress, in long-form with additional references and resources. Painful to read at times and ever thought-provoking, she is always inspiring, and such an important source of truth and experience.

This Same-Sex Attraction

I don’t think a day goes by I don’t read somewhere, “Lesbians are reducing women to their genitals!!” This whole genitals argument reminds me of seventh grade, when a kid speaking the word “penis” aloud brought gasps to the classroom. Any time genitals are invoked a distraction is created by their mere mention: oh boy, we’re talking about private parts! That distraction is being used to stifle rational statements made by lesbians again and again and again.

Yes, lesbians like vulvas and dislike penises. But vulvas and penises are part of a bigger picture. We need to focus on the bigger picture.

While I’ve been watching this old TV movie of Phantom of the Opera, I’ve still found myself drawn to the Phantom. He’s wearing a cape and a broad-brimmed black hat, for heaven’s sake, and white gloves with a ruffled shirt and a silken bow at the neck. He moves like a ghost, so elegant and restrained; he speaks in low, gentle tones and says everything poetically: “When you sing I live in the heavens; when you do not, down below.” Be still my heart, Erik. His character is so very sympathetic and at the same time awesome in his own way. When I was thirteen I stayed home from school to pause a frame of the VHS tape over and over to draw his portrait. I don’t blame myself at all.

I was fascinated by him. By the clothing. By the character, the personality. But the clothes and the personality don’t make the man. There is very little to be noticed in the dim lighting of the film – a hint of sideburn beyond the edge of the mask, perhaps – that would denote masculinity. But even those little bits were enough. As much as I loved him, he irritated me, frustrated me in some way I couldn’t put my finger on or put into words. I was supposed to love men, after all. Why didn’t I love him enough? He became one in a string of male characters I was fascinated by but always disappointed with in the end. I loved the costume. I loved the personality. I just couldn’t embrace the whole package.

This is where, I think, a lot of straight people miss the point of homosexuality. A straight woman probably never finds another woman enjoyable, likes her clothing, her smile and her personality, then asks herself, “But why aren’t I attracted to her more?”  After all, in our society, women aren’t supposed to love other women. If a woman finds another woman overwhelmingly attractive, well then, you’ve just stepped into another realm.

But growing up gay, I was constantly lost in the realm of “Why aren’t I more attracted to this man?” Men I met, men I saw, men all around me I was supposed to fall in love with. It was confounding. I just could never seem to like them the way I was supposed to, the way I was meant to. It would have remained confounding if being same-sex attracted had never dawned on me.

Enter our knight in shining armor.

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons when I was eight-years-old. Knights in shining armor have been in my life a very long time. In fact, I always used to roll a Fighter, and later with a new rule set, a Cavalier. I did a report on knights and the Crusades in 8th Grade including a large, intricate drawing of a knight with his lance on horseback. I still find myself fascinated by medieval armor and weaponry and wish there was a HEMA or SCA chapter nearby.

But all of these knights in my life were male, even my own characters. Knighthood seemed to me to be the realm of men, in every historical image and in my brother’s eyerolls when I’d roll my knightly characters. Perhaps it was that personal chastisement that disillusioned me; perhaps it was that the only female knights I ever saw were wane and sacrificial depictions of Joan of Arc looking like a frail girl in armor going to meet her God – but I never could really grasp the idea of a female knight, no matter how much I loved the armor and the role. As I got older, knights lost a bit of their shine. I had a friend who absolutely fell for Aragorn when the Lord of the Rings movies came out. You couldn’t find a more noble, stately, glorious knight than Aragorn in Return of the King. But he didn’t do anything at all for me.

Then came Brienne of Tarth.

I have not watched Game of Thrones, but in every Brienne clip I’ve seen on YouTube she embodies that Knight in Shining Armor ideal. She is brave, and self-sacrificing, and skilled, and noble. She wears the armor and carries the sword and looks fantastic on horseback. The costume and the personality are the same as every knight I’ve ever known but with one difference: there’s a woman inside. And I am left swooning on the floor.

Have I reduced this Knight in Shining Armor to her genitals alone? If we’re to invoke female genitals I would assume she has them, as she’s defined by a body with two X chromosomes. That embodiment is the key. She could be shorter or softer or thinner or have darker skin and eyes, curly hair or no hair at all. She could have a beard on her face and hair on her chest; she could have higher than average testosterone levels and an enlarged clitoris that could be mistaken as a penis. She could have lost both breasts to injury or disease; she could have been subject to female genital mutilation and now have no clitoris or vulva at all – but she would still be a woman, she would still be the embodiment of the expression of two X chromosomes in an adult human being, with all that entails, body and soul. And I would still be on the floor swooning over her.

But what if, what if she was cursed by a wizard, and must now live in a male body, until she could be changed back into a woman? Would I still so love her then?

Game of Thrones might take place in a fantasy world, but we do not exist in one.  That is not the reality we live in.

But that’s the fantasy world the trans activists keep pushing upon us, that one sex can change into the other, that appearance and personality are all that matters in attraction because the underlying body is mutable through transition. But it is not. We do not live in a fantasy world. People cannot change sex at will, not through years of hormone therapy and surgeries and certainly not through a mental decision and a dress. It is simply not a reality.

That is why this tension exists between homosexual people and the transgender movement, and it’s focused on lesbians because of the power men hold over women. As Magdelen Berns asserts, “If you accept the mantra ‘Trans women are women’, lesbianism doesn’t exist.” Likewise, to reverse the thought, if you accept lesbianism as existent, then trans women can never be considered women. The truth of the matter just happens to be on the side of lesbianism, as lesbians have always existed throughout the natural world and human history, and changing one’s sex is simply an unrealistic fantasy.

I have all the sympathy in the world for people who cannot live the role of their birth sex and transition allows them a way of life free from psychological pain. I have tasted that pain, and though I’m grateful I’ve found another way, I believe for some transition to living as the opposite sex may be their best option. But there is a difference between living as the opposite sex in order to cope with psychological issues and believing you actually are the opposite sex, which is a psychological issue in itself.

For society at large to understand this, perhaps they also need to understand – at last – the nature of same-sex attraction, through the experiences and needs of LGB people. As much as the transgender movement looks like a civil rights movement in itself, in another way it is merely the catalyst for a greater gay rights movement underneath. If we are to maintain our ground, we must be understood in a deeper sense than ever before. If that understanding can come about, it will engender a culture that is more fully accepting of all expressions of humanity, male and female. It is ugly on the surface now, but the truth remains indelible underneath. It is only a matter of time until it rises to the clear light of day, like a knight in shining armor riding up from the battlefield.

Color these Walls

I have an overly-complicated method of picking out new paint that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone. But I will share it with you anyway.

At the paint store, I pick out at least 15-20 strips of paint colors and other samples that seem interesting to me. Sometimes I have some idea what color I’d like the room to be, other times I’m looking for something I’ve seen somewhere else, other times it’s just “Oh, a yellow might be nice.” I take all the strips home, and in the room I’m going to paint I start cutting off those hues and shades that definitely won’t work, usually those that are too light or too dark. Some strips get thrown away entirely.

Everything left over gets held up next to light switches and woodwork against the old color, over and over. Generally through doing this I can narrow it down to five or six choices. These get separated into individual chips (if they haven’t been already) and neatly arranged on the floor.

They stay on the floor a couple days while I kick them around, walk over them, and begin to decide what I don’t like.

The last two chips remaining are then slid under a light switch plate and left until I figure out which one draws my eyes the most and feels right. At last WE HAVE OUR WINNER.

I just went through this process to pick out a new color for my studio-art-space-room, a neutral grey, no less, which is always a trial. Warm grey or cool? A bit lighter? A bit darker? How warm? Too warm? Too cool?

The point is, I needed to go through a lot of colors to find “smoke embers” (Benjamin Moore 1466).

I needed to see and experiment with a lot of colors in order to figure out which one was right for my eyes and my living space.

While doing all this cleaning I found myself on my computer, reading my LiveJournal entries from 2007 telling the story of coming out as gay. That’s not a story for this blog (though that blog is coming soon) but what struck me was how it came about in part because I was roleplaying, and finally identifying with, an unquestionably female character. A very feminine character, in many ways. I wrote that playing her made me feel like an actual woman for the first time in my life, instead of the “genderless blob I’ve felt like since I was fifteen.” I don’t know what stars aligned to make that happen but it shifted my perspective immensely: not that I wanted to, personally, put on nail polish or wear dresses, but somehow through that experience I was able to embody a woman and feel comfortable expressing myself – so comfortable, in fact, I was finally able to face the feelings I had for other women and realize I fit the definition of a word for that.

It was almost as if I had to recognize myself as a woman in order to acknowledge myself as a lesbian.

What does that have to do with picking out paint chips?  Like bringing those samples home, like scattering them on the floor or wedging them behind the woodwork, playing with characters gave me options, and they were all safe options. I’m not putting paint all over the wall in a dozen colors. I’m not going through the trouble of getting out the rollers and brushes. But I’m trying to see what works, for myself and for the environment I live in, out of many, many choices.

If I had come home with two colors, a pinkish grey and a bluish grey, I would have been frustrated – as frustrated as I had been as that genderless blob, unable to figure out who or what I loved because I was unable to figure out myself with only “feminine girl” and “masculine boy” as my choices. I had to create a woman I could relate to in all her complexity and depth, even if she did wear makeup, to somehow prove to me I could be a woman, too. I know I talk a lot about how representation matters, but it’s more than representation because it’s not like I had never seen a lesbian before in the 30 years I’d already walked this earth. It’s more about having options, and feeling free to bring those options into my life and see how they fit with no strings attached. But how often, oh, how often, are there so many strings attached.

I find myself bringing back into my life things I had abandoned over a decade ago. Today in the attic I found a little terra-cotta essential oil warmer and bottles of lavender and sage oil. I brought it into my room and lit a tea candle beneath, put a few drops of lavender above and let it burn while I cleaned out my desk. The scent surprised me at first – somehow not what I expected – but then settled in with a deep sense of nostalgia. I used to have this scent in my room often, before my mom took an inheritance to Ethan Allen and the designers came and told me that if I wanted a nice new room I had to get rid of a lot of stuff. The oils ended up in the attic. My Buddha ended up high on top of a bookcase where I could barely see him – just those little sacrifices we make to have what we’re assured we want to have.

I think of all I packed away – in the attic and inside myself – trying to be friends with people who were not fully accepting of me. I wanted friends, I did, and I set aside so many options, so many colors, so many facets of myself to try to be like them, to be understandable, to be familiar and not jar against their own colors. Just the little sacrifices we make to have what we’re assured we want to have.

It all comes back now as I rediscover myself away from them all, a flood of colors across the floor, almost too many to choose from. This scent of warmed lavender oil means something to me. This one I’ll keep.

What would we choose if all options were safe for now, if we could gather what we loved like a dozen paint chips and give ourselves time to see what each means to us? What would we learn, truly learn with that deep knowing of encountering a truth (I am woman) if given both the option and the opportunity, free from judgement, no strings attached?

Last night I thought of one of my favorite movies from when I was young, a TV version of the Phantom of the Opera with Charles Dance as the Phantom. Oh, I had just loved that Phantom when I was thirteen. I began thinking of how no wonder I had related so closely to the character – he and Edward Scissorhands both, the same year – these outsiders, these “freaks” who so loved the girl but couldn’t dare touch her. No wonder! That was my adolescence, more or less. No wonder! But then I thought – oh, I thought, stepping back with a gasp – what if the Phantom had been a woman, a lesbian? Oh! OH.

And suddenly I’m rewriting the book, suddenly I’m rewriting the ending after Christine has left with the Count, because oh, if the Phantom is a lesbian she can’t just be left in the catacombs to die alone.

What a wonderful little train of thought, but I had never seen it before. I had never even seen that color before, no less held it up against my woodwork. How beautiful it was. Oh.

Thank goodness, I say to myself now, that the kids these days, the twelve and thirteen-year-old girls who are just beginning to look at all this with wide eyes, thank goodness there’s such a thing as gender-bending characters. Thank goodness there are gay and lesbian characters, here and there (some even surviving) or at very least fan fiction, fan art, to stumble upon. But how twisted would it be to take a young girl’s suddenly lesbian Phantom of the Opera and say, “Oh no, you can’t just take a male character and make him a she. Not unless she’s trans. Maybe a trans woman lesbian or maybe a trans man but not just a woman who loves another woman. That’s exclusionary.” But that’s what they are being told. Even my character, feminine as she was, maybe should have been born a man. All the makeup and nail polish must have been to prove she was a woman. She was so “queer” after all.

We struggle so hard and so long just to find our own colors, only to have them torn off our walls. No, I can hear Ethan Allen tell me already, I should really choose a blue for my bathroom. Blue is a very popular color for bathrooms. Blue is approved by the mainstream and everyone loves a blue bathroom. Don’t you want everyone to love your bathroom?

The bathroom is being painted a faded greenish yellow called “sweet spring” (Benjamin Moore 1500.)  It took me six days to pick out. This is my color, and no other. You can keep your blues to yourself.

Cusp

I had one of those really great dreams last night in which I was with someone I really liked, and she really liked me, and we really liked each other, and as hijinks ensued (some kind of haunted house) there was a good deal of reaching for each other’s hands. It certainly didn’t hurt that this person happened to be a sort of super-casual Gwendoline Christie, who told me I could call her “Winnie” (thanks Wonder Years actress I reblogged the other day) – even though I did get a little nervous when she stopped to sign autographs for Game of Thrones fans. Anyway, despite sleeping rather badly otherwise, that dream was like a massive serotonin injection straight to the center of my brain. Feels good man.

My first year of college I took a Psychology 101 course with a professor who was big on dream theory and had us all do dream journals for the semester. Ever since then I remember most of my dreams with a great deal of clarity as soon as I wake up, and some have stayed with me for years. They’ve always been vivid – I can still clearly visualize some childhood nightmares – but with the detailed recall I’ve been able to pinpoint some recurring emotional themes. When I’m stressed I often dream of being unable to control my car as it hurtles down the road – it often crashes, after which I pick it up and put it in my pocket. When I’m particularly overwhelmed I’ll dream of travelling with all three cats and no cat carrier. How do I hold all these cats?? When I’m grieving a loss, I tend to dream of houses being built on my grandparents’ land, unbearably sad and disturbing. But I haven’t had such a present and lasting dream of that loving, personal companionship in a long time.

I know why I did. I’m not a religious person – I gave up on God and the afterlife in my early 20’s – but what’s never left me is a kind of respectful awe for the connection that appears to exist between living things. Between animals and people, people and people, animals and animals. I even think there’s quite something to plants and trees and things. I don’t know what is there in the energy or the atoms, but I do think there is some underlying shared bond that is our source of compassion and gratitude. Those animals at veterinary hospitals that choose to curl up next to sick or injured patients. Those animals at nursing homes who will sit on someone’s bed as they are dying, with no one having to tell them to. Those people who go out and collect dogs and kittens from trash heaps and have the unfathomable ability to make the sacrifices to make these little lives well again. Those people who go out among the lost and homeless and suffering of the world without any thought for themselves and try to make things better if only in small ways.

I don’t think it all occurs due to an indoctrinated sense of morality that stems from religion. The most powerful stories are always of those most unexpected, unfounded connections. There just seems to be, at the basis of all life, a simple “We are all in this together” theme, and when it shines through all the other cruelties and negligences it is just stunningly beautiful. Maybe it is because we are all star stuff. Maybe we all know, deep down, we are all tiny, momentary bits of something much bigger.

My faith in that is something I have neglected for quite a few years now, partly because it didn’t fit in with the mentalities of my friends. When you’re used to being with pretty firm Christians, any atheist is a breath of fresh air, anyone who says they don’t believe in all that Bible stuff. But there’s a difference between not believing in all that Bible stuff and not believing in anything at all, and I did feel a bit ashamed of my kind of “silly” grasp on the metaphysical. The nice thing about Buddhism, I would always tell myself, is that it’s very agnostic – nothing is certain, you can go either way. There are Buddhists who believe in deities and those who are entirely secular. I could call myself a secular Buddhist and fit in with the atheists. But the wave is the water and the water is the wave still, right?

Anyway, I find myself believing in these connections again, and more importantly, allowing myself to feel them. It is an opening, and a vulnerable one at that. And it’s just one of several things that has balled up to bring me to this cusp I find myself at now.

I’ve found myself at these cusps over and over again, sometimes after months, sometimes after years. The last time I was at one was last November, when I stopped to get my shit together after everything I had learned and gone through last summer. Getting my shit together then resulted in six months of really well-structured art study, not to mention writing on my novel and this blog, which has been a big deal. It also included centering women in my life and concentrating on being more comfortable in myself. All of it resulted in, well, better drawing, a great deal more connection with others I could relate to through the blogging, a more grounded sense of myself than I’ve ever had, and, as a result of all of that, some major changes in who I hang out with and how I want to spend my time.

Not bad for six months. I planned to take a week “off” in June to do some housework – I’ve got two rooms in pretty desperate need of new paint and three closets and an attic that need some serious reorganization. But I hit this past week – not even June yet! – and everything just rolled to a stop. No drawing. No writing. No progress at all save for a sense of “I need to restructure my life.” Well, that’s a sign. It’s one thing to plan to take off work and another thing to find yourself just not doing it because there’s way too much in the arena right now to deal with – and that reintroduction of the metaphysical thing seemed to be the last straw.

(When I talk about “taking off work” for a week or a month I know it sounds like a bit of a luxury. My main source of being able to live comfortably is actually being a helper/companion to my mother – I do almost all of the cooking, a good deal of the driving/shopping, I mow the lawn, fix things around the house and cook/prepare for her social gatherings as well. In return she pays for my essentials like health insurance, car insurance, etc. I can’t “take off” from those obligations – that all is a daily life arrangement. But my own work, which has earned me decent money at times, is something I do take breaks from from time to time in order to get my shit together so I can come back to it in a better frame of mind.)

It’s all a bit like building a go-kart. I take some time to put together a vehicle, push off at the top of a hill, and see how far I go. Depending on the landscape and what I pick up along the way, at some point it all just slows to a stop. Then I’ve got to get out and make some adjustments or build a new go-kart to go further.

It’s apparently time to build a new go-kart.

Yesterday, one of those perfect rainy warm days, I read one book and started another. The first was Let Go: A Buddhist Guide to Breaking Free of Habits by Martine Batchelor. She’s the wife of Stephen Batchelor, who wrote Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist – I’ve been a fan of his for some time. Her book similarly concentrates on the basic practical principles of Buddhism and how to apply them to everyday life, and it had a lot of simple but very detailed observations about looking at what our minds do every day. I’m especially interested in breaking my habit of looking at the Internet throughout the day as a distraction, and getting focused in on how my mental states affect my physical states and vice-versa. She also spoke of compassion in a creative sense, which I liked very much, as “Love everybody!” just does not work. But creatively applying compassion to everyone – including ourselves – is fascinating to me, as it’s so much more about an active involvement and less about just telling yourself what to do.

The second book that I started – and bear with me here – is Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Workweek. Oh yes, I went there! By accident, no less. Sleepily clicking on things on Facebook on my phone, I started a podcast just to see how long it was and couldn’t get it to stop, so listened to his entire morning routine. I did like what he said about meditation and journaling, though, and ended up downloading this nifty Five-Minute Journal app that focuses your intention and gratitude for the day. I’ve heard a lot about his book from various sources so decided to check it out, and it’s a bit of a trip, to say the least. The funny thing is, the last guy I worked for must have been a huge fan because he was trying his best to run his website the way Tim describes this magical lifestyle – hands off! delegate everything! it must run by itself! – but all that means is that you’ve got everyone else doing the work for you. I know from experience. I worked my tail off for this guy while he was flying around the world trying to be a rich dude. Something was just not right about all that and it was one of the main reasons I had to pack up and leave.

However! There are some interesting tidbits in the book about maximizing time and efficiency.  I finally got an understanding of the 80/20 rule – 80% of results come from 20% of causes – and how it can apply to all areas of your life. Like you get 80% of your happiness from 20% of the stuff in your life, so by narrowing things down to that 20%, life gets a little lighter. Like my tumblr dashboard, if 20% of the blogs I follow bring 80% of my positive reactions, I should cut out all the other blogs I just waste my time scrolling past. At least in theory.

Besides that, I really would like to make some money, and I’m hoping the more sensible tips in the book (beyond hiring someone to do everything for me) inspires me to get some kind of product up that can bring in some income. I haven’t made any real money for myself in over a year, and no matter how I try to shrug it off it is not the best for the ol’ self-esteem.  I’m terribly fortunate to be able to live comfortably as I do, but I would also really like the freedom and ability to like, buy myself a new shirt or something now and then.

Ah yes, those material rewards after talking all metaphysical! I would take another dream like this morning’s over a new shirt any day. In a more perfect world, however, I would be able to get myself a new shirt so that I looked super-cool and comfortable in myself when introduced to someone I might feel a connection to. Maybe in the great scheme of things the shirt would matter. MAYBE. We are all on a path of becoming.

So over the course of the next few weeks I’m going to try to cultivate the garden to try to grow that kind of life. A life more connected, more nurturing, more open and healthy, possibly more prosperous, too.  I feel like, this time, it’s less about getting my shit together and more about getting back to myself. Clean some closets, paint some walls, feel a little lighter and more authentic, and breathe a little easier.