Broken things

The Broken PlateThe mirror in my upstairs bathroom medicine chest almost fell on my head. The mirror is separated into thirds, with each third opening when you push it, screws holding the turning mechanisms together, and  magnets holding the doors closed when pushed. Personal things are hidden behind the mirrors: antiperspirant, several tubes, half-used, of anti-itch cream, for a variety of uses, expired, floss, gauze pads, band aids, and items I am unable to recognize after 12 years of storage in this medicine chest. It’s just one more area that I need to purge of uselessness.  One of these mirror doors almost fell on my head  because the cabinet is stuffed to the gills; technically, the leftmost mirror popped out. Talk about potential bad luck. I was having trouble closing the mirror against the chest, and I pushed too hard one day. (Oh, the metaphors for life that come to mind based on mirrors, pushing too hard, useless items stuffed inside, etc.)  I could feel the mirror falling and was able to catch it before it broke my skull. The mirror is still whole and sits beside the vanity, with the screw that broke off the hinge on the floor. My orange and white tomcat likes to play with the broken screw. He does this while I pee. I watch him and wonder when will have the energy to fix the medicine chest. Do I even have the skills?

I’ve been able to superglue the screw and hinge together with great success; however, every time I try to re-install the mirror in the vanity, the top screw breaks off again. You see, there is not enough room to fit the bottom and top into the grooves with both screws in place. In other words, I am taking the wrong approach, trying to squeeze this thing in and breaking it over and over. (Why do I feel as though I am somehow discussing my romantic life here?) I need to come up with a more creative (and less lazy) solution. I have one in mind. I will spare you for the moment.

Speaking of broken things. I wrote an essay while I was a student in the Solstice MFA program in creative writing of Pine Manor College entitled, “This Time I Fell in Love with the Daughter.” The essay is essentially my coming out story between the ages of 18 and 24, the longing and struggles I faced in the 1980s, and the eventual revelation that I was a lesbian. The essay is about broken friendships, broken hearts, and broken people, so I find it apt that the essay has been accepted for publication by The Broken Plate, the national literary journal of Ball State University.

For some people, this is an uncomfortable essay because it is raw and vulnerable. Yet it has done well out there in literary journal land where 95% of my work gets rejected, with the venerable Gertrude Journal writing to let me know the essay reached the finals and that they saw much promise in my writing. Please continue to submit, etc.  I think there were some other “good” rejections for this essay. I’m thrilled, however, that the students of Ball State University have chosen this essay for their publication. Thank you very much.

“This Time I Fell in Love with the Daughter,” is the sixth of eleven standalone essays from my final creative thesis at the Solstice MFA program. There is a final chapter to the thesis, but I don’t believe it is standalone, so I can safely say I’ve published more than half of that thesis. The thesis is all about broken things — parents, lovers, friendships, sex, hearts. I keep trying to finish it, as it could be a full length book. I keep changing the name of the book based on my mood. Right now I’m calling it Marcella Songs: Essays on Valiant Failures in Love.” It’s all about shattered mirrors.

There is a lot broken in our society and around the world these days. I don’t have to tell you if you read the news or the pseudo news on Facebook. Part of me would like to jump into the fray and the arguments, but I cannot. I get too angry and I alienate people. So I don’t discuss politics much, but I continue to think of myself as a writer and hope my personal stories somehow achieve a universal theme and make a tiny dent in improving something in this world, any little thing.

I did get the third of the mirror back in place. It took extra effort, not something I’m known for these days, as my workouts wane, my writing production is in the toilet, and my performance at work is only mediocre. Still, I brought a step-ladder into the bathroom and had to glue the broken pieces while I held them in place where they belonged, rather than trying to squeeze something in a space it couldn’t squeeze. (“I held them in place where they belonged,” again, ripe with metaphoric possibilities, but I suck at metaphor.) So, the mirror is back up and functional (to a degree), chipped a bit in one corner where I had manhandled it, and not fitting exactly as before. It’s still broken, but it got up again.

Thank you for reading about broken things.

 

 

3 Revisions? 6 Revisions? Try 16 years of revisions….

Sixteen year ago, I had my ass kicked by love and I’ve been trying to write about it ever since. In 1996, after a breakup with a woman named XXXXX, I attempted to write several pages of our story together. What I wrote didn’t capture what I needed it to capture; in other words, it was incomplete. What was our story together? Long-distance love? Unrequited love? Partially requited love? Breaking through mental and emotional barriers in the quest for love? None of those thoughts entered my mind all those years ago. I was much too close to the subject.revisionangst

I began the story a as a form of therapy. I’d always enjoyed writing when I was a child and accelerated my writing efforts as an adolescent  to cope with things that scared me, namely, dealing with panic attacks wherever I went – to the doctor’s office, at a restaurant, in a traffic jam (well, it was hard to scribble notes on a highway if I was the one driving.) By my mid-thirties, writing to help calm my debilitating emotional monsters was a crucial part of my therapeutic process. Apparently, writing also helped to assuage a shattered heart.

But writing for therapy is not the same as writing to craft a story or an essay or to have the piece read by an audience. Over time, I wanted to do more than write this piece for my own mental health. I’ve picked up the piece many times since 1996, dozens of times. I’ve added to it, subtracted from it, tried to find the storyline or the essay language that would move it beyond my own little written psychotherapy. There are still a few paragraphs that remain from the 1990s, and the piece has always been entitled “XXXXX Songs.” The popular music of the 1990s was thematic in the relationship with XXXXX: Alanis Morrisette, U2, Garbage, and Sophie B. Hawkins figured  prominently into our fantasies and in our romance.  

By the time I attended the Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College in 2008, so much time had passed that the term “XXXXX Songs” had become more emblematic and less literal,  a symbol of a love relationship that doesn’t work out, which it turns out, is one of the  on-going narratives of my life. I now have a book-length manuscript about such love relationships entitled, XXXXX Songs, after the original essay.

bart-simpson-generator3Each chapter is about a love relationship that does not work in the long-run, but that I insist has its moments of true beauty or happiness. When I first arrived at grad school, someone implied that because two of my essays were about relationships that didn’t last a lifetime, that the narrator had an obvious history of failed relationships.  I said, “Do you think because a relationship doesn’t last a lifetime that the relationship is a complete failure?” I think that opinion, coming from someone who had been in a long-term and happy marriage, fueled my desire to write a book – as well as to finish the chapter about XXXXX – in such a way as to find the redeeming moments in each relationship.

snoopyIn addition, as in the essay, “XXXXX Songs,” many chapters  depict the struggle to overcome my battles with panic disorder and agoraphobia, because those conditions have had major effects on my ability to have relationships.  Some people find those passages about panic and agoraphobia the most compelling in the book. I prefer the passages about love, but that’s because I’ve had so little love and so much  panic.

Recently, the wonderful editors at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact published “XXXXX Songs.”  I’m not sure they have any idea how moved I was that they accepted the piece and that this story is finally out in the world. Last weekend was very emotional for me (in a good way) as I thought (more felt), “Oh my god, the story of XXXXX has been released to the world.”  I was choked up. It is my truth and not necessarily XXXXX’s, but it sets my emotional record straight; it affirms and reaffirms one of the most intense years in my life. I’ve been grappling with the writing for a decade and a half, and while I would not say I’ve achieved “art” with this piece, I have achieved a certain level of craft. It is more than therapy. A terrific editor thought it was good enough to publish, that readers would want to read it.  

Thank you again to editors and writers at Connotation Press,  Robert Clark Young and Ken Robidoux, for their support and belief in my work. 

While “XXXXX Songs,” is not my first publication, and hopefully won’t be my last, it may be my most significant to date, if for no other reason than I’ve been writing it for 16 years. After seeing it in print, I already note several places where I want to improve the language. This is typical of me, but I hope you will enjoy the essay anyway, if you haven’t yet read it yet.

The essay is the pivotal chapter in my book-length memoir that I will be attempting to pitch and sell in 2013.  I call this essay pivotal because there appears to be a XXXXX before XXXXX and a Cindy after XXXX (XC and XC.) Our story is one of fantasy, longing, lust, love, disappointment and heartbreak, the usual stuff (hahaha), although I hope told uniquely. While I have suffered from some broken hearts since XXXXX and before, and unfortunately, have handed out a few of my own, there will never be a heartbreak quite like that one, because it was the first time I realized that dreams really can be shattered.

And yet, there was beauty.

If you have not yet read “XXXXXSongs,” and are interested, you can find a direct link here:

http://www.connotationpress.com/creative-nonfiction/1663-cindy-zelman-creative-nonfiction

Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it very much.

Cindy P.S. A special thanks to Elissa Rosenthal who suggested while I was at graduate school, I write  a book about all those relationships I’ve had with women. I remember saying to her, “I can’t do that in two years!” Hahaha….

Redheaded Angel

“I like your chain,” she said.

English: CVS/pharmacy on Garrett Road in Durha...
This is where love can happen. No shit.

I looked up at the redhead, then down at my neck to see what I was wearing: a simple and inexpensive silver necklace.

We were standing in the CVS Pharmacy for pick-up of prescription drugs. I was in line. She stood off to the side. She was close to my height, about 5 foot 5 inches tall, and slim but not skinny. I guessed her age to be somewhere in her forties, but it was hard to tell. Her face exuded youthfulness despite fine wrinkles evident around her mouth and eyes. Her features were perfect, and yet there was something imperfect about her.

“I wanted to hang something from the chain but nothings fits,” I said. The redhead looked confused so I added, “I mean, nothing fits over the clasp, so I have to wear it plain.”

She nodded and smiled.

Her hair looked kind of like this but red.

She had a full head of hair, in a stylish old-fashioned cut: medium short, just below her hairline in the back, brushed high up on top of her head and flowing down the sides and over her ears. A version of a 1970s shag cut, I thought, decades behind the times, but it looked good on her. Her red hair was beautiful: so full and shiny, more carrot-orange than red. Despite the obvious cut, her hair gave the impression of being windblown and natural. She seemed windblown and natural, like some higher power had just blown an angel into the CVS Pharmacy.

I stared. I smiled back. I felt goofy and mesmerized and could think of nothing further to say. Soon an older version of her, which turned out to be her mother, cut in front of me in line at the CVS.

“You were supposed to be waiting in line,” she said to her daughter. She said it with kindness.

The daughter spoke, “I know, but…” and that’s when I noticed the speech impediment, subtle but there. She had a slow pace to her speech, as if she were retarded, which she was not as far as I could tell, or as if she’d had a stroke, which perhaps had been the case.

She smiled again, this time at her mother. I caught the full-on smile, and my heart melted all over the floor. I wanted to know her. There was something wrong with her, possibly several things wrong with her – in a medical sense – and yet she was perfect: beautiful blue eyes, a little chiseled nose, and small straight white teeth. I gawked. I began to feel like a creep so I looked away and used my peripheral vision. I became a creep peering at her from the corner of my eye.

She took a step and when she did, she revealed a serious limp. Beyond a limp: her left leg moved up off the floor in a big half-moon circle as she walked. When she finally removed her left hand from her jacket pocket, it, too, was messed up. Once we would have used the word “gimpy.” I’m not sure what the correct term is now. She put her gimpy hand back in her pocket. I wondered again about stroke.

Her hair also looked kind of like this but not as long in the back – and red.

“Do you remember this song?” her mother said. A seventies song by the band Chicago, “Only the Beginning,” played in the background.

“Of course I remember,” she said.

My eyes remained focused on her, sometimes directly, sometimes not. I wasn’t sure if she noticed me watching, but I could not help myself.

She sang softly, “Only the beginning, only just a start…” She hummed and sang throughout the song. I listened to her soft singing, riveted. She was singing because she was happy. She knew all the words. Maybe she was even older than I was. She was a red-headed joyful, spirit. Maimed yet perfect. I was un-maimed yet so imperfect. She sang the next song that played over the speakers, another song from back in the day.

I imagined myself walking over to her, to hold her in my arms, for a moment, ten minutes, for an hour, forever. I wanted to absorb her love and beauty. Is this love at first sight? Or this is the reaction when you spot an angel who walks the earth, or perhaps a soul you knew and loved in another lifetime? The law of attraction drew me toward her, although I did not budge an inch.

“What is your name?” Her mother asked the young pharmacist — a lovely young black man I’d seen many times before when picking up my own mother’s prescriptions. He said, “Tyreese.” It was an unusual name; at least to an older white mother, so she asked, not surprisingly, “Could you say that again?” Honestly, I needed to hear it again because I hadn’t quite caught it either. Simultaneous with her question to the pharmacist, her daughter said, “Tyreese” (perfectly) under her breath, and then louder, “Hello, Tyreese.” That’s when I knew she was brilliant and cognizant of all that happened around her. She continued to sing.

I knew I’d never see this woman again. She was just a moment along a chain of moments and events that make up a life – mine and hers, her mother’s, my mother’s (I was picking up my mother’s drugs, which is how I came to be standing in the CVS that day.) I’m writing this all down so I never forget the moment. Not wanting to forget is the reason I write anything, I think.

At the moment of seeing this love of my life, who I would never see again, I knew she’d come into my life for a reason: to remind me of what I need to feel.

She walked past me and looked at me as she left the store with her mother.

I said, “Have a good day.”

“You, too, hon…” she said.

50 Gifts for My Birthday

The new studio. Not much in there yet!

On my desk at work rests a photo of my father and step mother in their early 50s. As my 50th birthday approaches at the end of April, I try not to over think that photo taken in 1986 at my brother’s wedding, when my father and Fran were only four years older than I am now. I try not to view 50 as the first step toward old age. Truthfully, turning 40 was more traumatic. Maybe turning 40 reveals the age when you know youth is gone (bye bye) and you take the first step into middle age; while at 50, you are knee deep in middle age and you’ve had 10 years to get used to living there. And let’s face it, you know so much more than you did 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago.

I challenged myself this week to come up with 50 gifts or affirmations to give myself for my 50th birthday. Here they are:

  1. Get myself a writing studio. As some of my Facebook readers know, this week I rented some cool space with an artist friend and we are in the process of moving into our shared space. The rent is very inexpensive when split in two and the space is lovely. I’m writing from the studio NOW.
  2. Take myself seriously as a writer, as a person of wisdom, as a woman of experience. If one is forced to trade in youth and fertility, one must get something in exchange – I take experience, confidence, and self-knowledge, and you can have the tampons and the perfect body and the emotional confusion. Enjoy.
  3. See the Beatles’ tribute band, Rain, since I never got to see the Beatles when they were actually together. They broke up in 1970, when I was eight. Two of them are dead. Two of them are very old. I have floor tickets for April 14th.
  4. Join AARP (an association for older adults.) Don’t be vain. Take the discounts. The organization has already sent me a temporary card; apparently, they have my birthday on their minds also. The kid at Kentucky Fried Chicken has already given me a senior citizen’s discount without my even asking. Celebrate the 55 cents saved rather than stare in the mirror wondering: Do I look that old?
  5. Don’t worry about spending money if you are spending it on things that you value – like a writing studio, or personal training, or flying to Chicago to hang with a group of writers and read with them in the night at pubs and bars. That’s pretty cool, and not something I would have been capable of years ago.

    The view from my desk.
  6. Fix up your house till it feels good to you again. A carpenter just did a beautiful job rebuilding the steps to my backdoor. Little things like that go a long way.
  7. Fix up your body till it feels good to you again. I’ve started working out 4 times a week as I once did, two with Randi, trainer extraordinaire, and two at the new fitness club across the street, mainly because it has a pool!
  8. If I put on a few extra pounds, despite my best efforts at keeping fit, and if my stomach is no longer perfect, no longer boasting sexy ab lines running down either side of a flat tummy (now not so flat), be okay with that. Give myself some leeway. Love my not quite so perfect body.
  9. Finish my first book. Stop telling myself it’s not worth finishing. It is.
  10. Write that second book. You do have it in you.
  11. Spend more time reading great books.

    Read great books.
  12. Spend less time reading Facebook.
  13. Continue to make myself vulnerable in love; it’s one of my finer qualities even when it gets hard or embarrassing or sad.
  14. Keep taking risks with my activities and my personal relationships – travel, love, speak up, be yourself. WTF – you’re fifty!
  15. Don’t worry that I don’t write as well as other people, that I will never be one of the literary greats of society. I write well enough, and I have people interested in what I have to say.
  16. Don’t be afraid to laugh and smile, I mean, really let it go. Stop covering my nose and my mouth, just because long ago, someone stuck a pair of glasses on a butternut squash and said, “This is Cindy.” Big nose. That happened 35 years ago, get over it. Same with the comment from an ex-boyfriend, “I’d like a nude poster of you from the neck down.” It made me feel ugly from the neck up. Again, that was 35 years ago. Get over it.
  17. Don’t fear growing older. Don’t I feel that my life is better than it ever has been? A resounding YES!
  18. Sleep when I feel like it. Sleep like cats.
  19. Dance when I feel like it. Dance like a bunny doing a binky (bunny happy dance.)
  20. Don’t worry about how I look.
  21. Don’t worry about what people think of me.
  22. Don’t worry that I will die someday.
  23. Celebrate the moments of my life as often as possible.
  24. Document those amazing moments of my life. I’ve had several just in the last 4 months!
  25. Be bitchy when I need to be.
  26. Stop apologizing so much when I haven’t done anything wrong.
  27. Play with the cats without feeling guilty I’m not writing.
  28. Write without feeling guilty I’m not playing with the cats.
  29. Work hard at the office, but accept I will never be the geniuses that my coworkers are (and they ARE!) I bring my own special talents to the job and the team.
  30. Do what I can for my mother but know I must live my own life.
  31. Accept the changes in my body.
  32. Accept the changes in my mood.
  33. Accept the changes in my perspective. My apologies to those under 35, especially to those who are “old souls” but damn, anything below 35 sounds so young to me. You’ll see what I mean someday.
  34. Accept the wrinkles around my eyes.
  35. Keep my mind more open than it has been in the past, to different ideas, different kinds of people, different ways of seeing the world, and different ways of viewing my life.
  36. Believe that my life has meaning, even if I can’t define it.
  37. Believe that I will always be okay, even at that moment when I am ready to leave the earth. The key word is “ready.” I will be ready, so don’t worry now.
  38. Believe that people love me.
  39. Let people come and go in my life. Most people do not stay for a lifetime. This is what life is.
  40. Choose who I want to be with.
  41. Hope she chooses you.
  42. Choose someone else if she doesn’t.
  43. Eat red velvet cake and buttercream frosting a least once a month. Also, cheese puffs, green mint oreo cookies, and other unhealthy foods.
  44. If you need to cry, just cry and be done with it.
  45. Go to Japan.
  46. Go to LA.
  47. Go to England.
  48. Go to bed with someone you find sexy (don’t let 50 stop you.)
  49. Go to the place that makes you feel happy.
  50. Go wherever the hell you want.

I expounded less on these gifts and affirmations as I got further along, mainly because I might be at this forever if I didn’t shorten my statements. And yeah, I became a little fatigued. I am almost 50, after all. I find it interesting that I did not mention panic or agoraphobia anywhere in my list. I have come very far. I think it might be interesting this month to pick a few from the list and write more about them. Now, there’s an idea for some blog entries during my birthday month.

Thank you for reading, everyone. You’re the best.

xo

Cindy

How do you write happy?

Tourists look up!

How Do You Write Happy?

Lately I’ve been acknowledging how good my life is. Maybe some of you out there do this all the time, count your blessings, write down all the positives about your life: I love my children, I’m grateful for my house, I adore my car, I am blessed. That sort of thing. I wouldn’t know since I don’t hang out with folks like you. Happy people tend to scare the crap out of me. Acknowledging happiness is like jumping out of a plane and believing the parachute will open. People like me don’t count on parachutes. We count on hitting the ground, hard. But, you know, honestly, right now, in this nanosecond, things are good and I feel happy.

I present to you the cliché litany of things to be grateful for: I’m healthy, I’m in a good place professionally, I have wonderful friends, I’m pursuing my passions, I’m pursuing my women (well, maybe that one is less typical) and I’m continuing to overcome my lifelong issues with panic disorder and agoraphobia. As my forties move out of focus and I peer down the periscope of fifty, I wonder: Is it possible that the best is yet to come? (Writers, please stop counting the cliché’s in this piece. Writing “happy” is hard.)

One reason I’m happy is because I spent a wonderful weekend with a beautiful woman. Her name is Laura Ross, and I met her briefly at a writing conference a few years back. We’ve kept in touch via email. She lives in New York, somewhere in Manhattan. Don’t ask me where in Manhattan because I’d never been to New York, and I wouldn’t know midtown from downtown from uptown from across town. She kept me so busy seeing parts of the city and helping me to see new ways of viewing myself that I found no time to visit some of my other NY acquaintances. So, Michelle Hampton, Natasia Langfelder, Rik Fairlie, and others, you will be on the list for visits to come, I promise.

Laura is a dream I dreamed in my younger days. Laura lives and breathes in New York City, but my dream of passion had died long ago. Or so I thought. Ironically (because life is full of irony and writers love irony) the dream could only be fulfilled at this middle stage in my life – after I’d gotten older and learned to control my anxieties and phobias. But also after my body and soul had forgotten the feeling of passion and sex, after I’d said a hundred times to friends and to my therapists (yes, plural): I’m not interested passion anymore; I’ve experienced all I can experience; and it’s gone, like my sex drive and my youth and my menstrual cycle.

Man, is this Central Park?

But the dream came to life once again with Laura: We stood on a subway platform and held hands, stared into one another’s eyes. Her eyes are deep and addictive. I breathed deep. I said to myself: What’s this feeling, Cindy? What does this remind you of? XXXXX, perhaps? No, this is better and why? Because Laura is kinder (i.e., not psycho like that chick I was so in love with in the 90s) and because I am healthy now, no more emotional baggage that I carry around like a stack of business cards: Cindy Zelman, first class neurotic specializing in panic disorder and agoraphobia, office hours only. My business now is living. I’m almost fifty and my soul moved on a subway platform in Manhattan, standing there with Laura. If I could freeze time, I would freeze that moment. Okay, a few others, but I won’t write about them here on this so far PG-rated blog. Read my memoir for the sex.

Throughout the train ride home from New York to Boston, I continued to reacquaint myself with this feeling of passion. I must have smiled to myself like an idiot. No wonder no one sat next to me.

Cindy Zelman is happy. Write down the date and time and where the axis of the earth is in relation to the sun or the moon or Jupiter, or whatever. And look up to the sky to see if there’s a full moon to explain this fucked up state of mind in a woman for whom humor is a substitute for happiness, usually.

Reviving passion was not my only accomplishment this year; my accomplishments 2011 have been more than I expected, and these, too, contribute to my nauseating state of happiness, in case anyone is still reading.

In June, I traveled to Seattle where my good friend and fellow writer, Erika Sanders, picked me up and whisked me off to Whidbey Island. Surrounded by Puget Sound, all the way across the country, stood this girl (me) who at one time in her life could not walk out the front door. See October 2011 blog entry, “David, pray.” Also see, July 2011 entry, “Luggage and Baggage.” Yet there I was on the Pacific coastline, as if this was no big deal at all. It’s not that I didn’t feel moments of anxiety on the trip, but they revolved around the logistics of airports, which I hate, and the idea that “home,” really was not someplace I could return to very easily. Agoraphobics think about such things, even those who are well under control like me.

Perhaps the most challenging trip for me was the one I took in August to Westcliffe, Colorado to participate in the Wet Mountain Writers’ Workshop, organized by Bar Scott and Brent Bruser and featuring the amazing Abigail Thomas and inimitable Dorothy Allison. There were no beautiful women waiting for me there. Well, actually, as it turns out there were quite a few! But I didn’t know this as I boarded my plane. For months, I’d let the idea of high elevation and elevation sickness mess with my psyche and worm its way into my brain until I was convinced that once I walked into the Colorado air, I would lie down and die. This is what neurotics do, even those of us who have it well under control. So, this was not an easy trip. If you read my entry “Once An Agoraphobic” (Aug. 2011), you may relive with me the panic attack in the ladies room at the Colorado Springs Airport after one whiff of air that wafted in between the small jet plane and the tunnel leading to the gate. But I did take the trip, I’m still alive, and thank you to my friends, old and new, who were so supportive of me.

And still there is more to come. In March 2012, I travel to Chicago to the AWP conference and read (at an off venue event) with the fabulous Meg Tuite, Anna March, and Robert Vaughn, and others I’ve yet to meet in person. Holy shit, how did I get so lucky to be able to read with such accomplished writers? Chicago will be yet another new city for me to see, yet another reason to feel travel anxiety – and yet, the girl who spent much of her 17th year watching Laverne and Shirley reruns imprisoned in an apartment by her panic and phobias – will go to Chicago AND READ. This sad young girl, who is now a happy grown woman, will not only get to read with these gods and goddesses of the written word, but she will see many writing friends and colleagues, including Meg Kearney, Tanya Whiton, Faye Rapoport Despres, and Faye Snider. These are friends from The Solstice MFA program of Pine Manor College. I will also see my new friend, Dr. Amy Wright, whom I met at the Wet Mountain Valley Writers’ Conference in Colorado. I’m so excited that she and I can meet up at such an event. And perhaps others from that conference will be in Chicago.

I could not have traveled to any of these places twenty years ago. I could not have met any of these people ten years ago. Today I can panic in a Ladies’ Room in Colorado and get over it. Today, I can travel cross country to Whidbey Island and love it. Today I can stand in a subway platform in NYC holding the hand of a beautiful woman and remember that my dreams do, indeed, live on.

Suddenly, the prospect of turning fifty in April feels like a beginning and not an ending.

Thank you all. XOXOXO

Get on your bike and ride

Steven Tyler
Image by japrea via Flickr

I want to ride my bicycle. It sounds so simple, but I’m afraid of the traffic, the line of shiny cars with drivers oblivious or resenting me. I glide by on narrow streets forcing them to slow down: they’re texting, they’re playing Lady Ga Ga, they’re browbeating their kid with the pink streaked hair; and my bike can barely fit between the car and the curb, the possibility of dying, just because I want to ride my bike, like I did when I was a kid and the streets felt less narrow and the world less complex and I felt less old. Steven Tyler was the new lead singer for a band called Aerosmith and not an American Idol judge.

I twirled a circle in my half-moon driveway and out onto the street, a yellow transistor radio dangling from the handle bars and Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” played at highest volume, before there were iPods, MP3 players, hey, before there were Walkman’s. What’s a Walkman half of my audience is asking? What’s a transistor radio? Dream On, Dream on, Dream on…

I want to ride my bicycle, but I’m afraid of being hit by a car. I thought I was being a coward until a friend of a friend actually died when he was riding his. A year ago I had a funny post in mind about all of my irrational fears of getting mowed down as I rode in the streets, but then this guy really died so I never posted.

My cat died this year. Nothing is the same. The grease guard has broken off of the main gear shaft and my pants get all black when I ride. My cat dying has changed my life. I took one spin around a local industrial park that has no traffic on weekends and the chain fell off. Sweetie is gone forever. I had no gloves and my hands turned black as I slowly figured out how to reapply the chain.

The front steps need to be re-stained. The deck needs to be re-stained. I’m supposed to re-plant those bulbs that flowered now that they’ve turned brown. Throw them back into the earth. Where my cat now rests.

I want to ride my bike with a new friend on whom I have a crush (crush 2,353 in my life) but she has a husband and a life and I don’t know when she’ll make our bike date or if she should make it or if she and I will ever make it. I want to ride my bike with her.

And then hold hands. Like lovers, or like children, or like anything other than being alone without my cat and a bike with a chain that falls off turning my hands black, my pants, too.

I have two new cats, a bunny, a fish, and an elderly woman to take care of. I scoop shit and pee out of the cat box twice daily, slide out a bunny hutch tray and remove bedding mixed with bunny droppings and bunny pee, vacuum carpet full of cat hair from two living cats and still from one dead; let Bunny out of his hutch so he can hop free because it’s good for his psyche; oh, feed the fish but change the water first because he is barely moving. My mother has three doctors’ appointments coming up. I have two. Don’t forget to reschedule the dentist and gyno who has a six month waiting list. Finish revising your thesis so you feel as though you accomplished something during those two years in graduate school. I need to clean out the closet under the stairs, the shed, the upstairs bedroom closets, and the toilets. I need to read great books.

I’m falling asleep on a Saturday morning with one of the new cats. I’ve written nothing and it’s too cold to ride my bike.

I have fantasies about riding my bicycle. Under trees, alongside lakes with swans, in a cool breeze under a warm sun. With her. No. More likely I will bring my dead cat back in a seance than be with her.

Yesterday I reminded myself that the rest of this year is about adventure no matter how scary. The cat is gone so you might as well move forward with life, Cindy, and do what you do so well: overcome fear. So, I booked plane tickets to Seattle to spend time on Whidbey Island with Erika and Ann; I paid my tuition for the writing retreat in Colorado in August where I get to work directly with the great Dorothy Allison, and I got on my bike yesterday, placed the stupid purple helmet on my head and wore a winter coat (still cold here in April.) I took the plunge and ventured into the busy car-filled streets – and I survived.

I want to ride my bicycle, and I will ride it again, by myself, tomorrow. Another day and a little more courage gained.

So, everyone, get on your bike and ride.

Reunion – Why do I remember you? Why Do you remember me?

My 30th high school reunion begins as most of the stories of my life do — with an embarrassing moment.

“You have something on the back of your pants,” the young woman at the registration table says. I figure her age to be somewhere between 15 and 17. I will soon learn she is one of the daughters of the reunion organizer, graciously and helpfully volunteering as the Stoughton High School Class of 1980 saunters into the Holiday Inn. And one of us – me, of course – has something foreign and inappropriate stuck to her ass.

I wonder: What could it be? I don’t have my period, I have not peed my pants — have not had nor done either of those things in quite some time. I have not shat myself. I am wearing midnight black pants. Did I sit in a bucket of white flour? Did I eat any mauve-colored yogurt? I’ve been known to fling that stuff around. Is there a big, ugly, sticky glob of  undefinable muck on my ass? How bad could it be? I smile at the young lady. I use my fingers to diddle blindly at the back of my pants. I say calmly, coolly to the girl, “I can’t feel anything.”

Her face is red. Mine is middle-aged.

If you’ve been following my blog, you are not surprised to learn that here I am, standing at the threshold of  my 30th high school reunion with the first boy (now man) I ever dated by my side as I feel up the back of my ass with my fingers. If you are new to my blog, let it be known to you: This is a typical scenario in my life.

I see that the young lady is mortified but I must ask, “Since I can’t find anything, what is it, then?”

“It’s a price sticker,” she says. She moves toward me, tentative and brave. At that moment, I think she may die from embarrassment. I am amused by this.

“Is that all it is? Oh well.” I am trying to calm her anxiety over my pants. I mean, the things that might have been stuck to my ass (see potential disasters as mentioned above such as bodily fluids, indefinable gunk, shit, wildly flung pink yogurt, etc.) The young lady takes the sticker off for me since I have apparently become helpless in my middle-age. I thank her and smile.

Time to ponder two curious aspects this “something on your” pants incident…

First, I’m not nearly as mortified that something is stuck to my pants as the young woman is who notices it. I joke with her, “As long as it isn’t a sign that says, ‘Kick me.’ Hahahaha.” She does not laugh. Sometimes it’s good to be middle-aged and feeble-minded rather than teenage-ed and sharp-minded. Things sticking to your ass don’t matter anymore, not after all you’ve been through in your life. Colonoscopies. The death of parents. One, two, three or more broken hearts. Bad jobs. Prejudice. Discrimination. Sexual harassment. Bad drug trips. Bad bosses. Bad dates. BAD DATES. What is a sticker on one’s ass after all of that?

Second, I’m perplexed and amused that I had a price tag stuck to the pants. I’ve owned these slacks for two years. I wear them often. Is the price tag something I just picked up recently when I sat down on my bed or in my car?  Or have I been walking around wearing these pants with a price tag stuck to the ass for two years? Ha. What a thought. I almost wish it so. I appreciate the irony. I also appreciate the young woman at the reunion registration table for finally pulling that sticker off my ass. She is very sweet.

So, sticker-less and with a presentable pair of slacks, I walk into the reunion.

“CINDY ZELMAN,” a youthful looking man says to me as I walk up to a table, and I swear he doesn’t even peer at my name tag or high school picture, both attached to my sweater. It’s as if, after 30 years, he merely recognizes me. He gives me a big and loving hug. I admit, I have to look at his picture to identify him. I say, “G—! It’s so nice to see you. I can’t believe you even remember me!” He looks better now than he did in high school. I mention something like this to him but with more finesse, “I didn’t recognize you, you look fantastic.” (You hear a lot of that at 30th high school reunions, by the way.) “Yeah, I lost a lot of weight,” he answers. Truly, he looks more boyish now than he did when I met him in seventh grade. I don’t admit this, but I am very touched that he remembers me and seems so happy to see me. I don’t recall very many conversations between us in junior high or high school, but apparently, I made some impression.

Why do you remember me? I want to ask but don’t.

Why do I remember you?

G looks at me and at M—–, the boy (now man) who was my first ever date and has agreed to be my date for tonight’s reunion. G says, “I just had a flashback about the two of you. You were at D.W. Fields Park and I saw you holding hands. I took a picture of you and brought it to school – it was seventh grade – I wanted to give Cindy hard time but all she said was, ‘Nice picture, can I have it?'”

M and I look at one another shaking our heads. We talk later about how we both suspected we’d had  second date and we both thought it was at D.W. Fields Park, but now we know it because out of the proverbial blue, G has confirmed this with his memory. He remembered our second date better than we did.

Why do you remember me?

Why do I remember you?

Many of the attendees of my 30th high school reunion looked quite good. At age 48, they’ve held up well, at least the ones who chose to attend. I was most taken by a group of men, G included, who were in my 7th grade smartie-pants-nerdy-some-of-us-might-be-geniuses class. Some of these boys were borderline geeky in those days, too skinny or too fat, definitely too smart, in the way back of the mid-1970s. And yet, here they all are – that particular group of boys, now men – and looking mighty fine. Handsome. Filled out. Slimmed down. Successful. Kind. Charming. Loving. Nice boys who have grown into nice men.

I begin to play the What-If game. What if in junior high and high school, I’d paid more attention to these nice boys rather than dating the bad boys and bad men that I did. (Older men are another subject entirely and for a different blog entry.) What IF I’d dated some of these nice guys for more than two dates. How would my life have turned out differently?

Dear reader, you must realize, if you don’t already know, that I am a lesbian who came out in her twenties in the 1980s. However, at this moment of my 30th class reunion, I am experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and past-life remorse wondering again what I might have missed. I am flashing back to the 1970s without the use of drugs.

WHAT IF I’d dated G or T or S or J or M for REAL, for four years instead of for four days or four weeks, and instead of those sexually obsessed psychopaths I did date? Oh, WHAT IF? Would I have lived the life of glee?

Instead of a life of gay?

Well, okay, we know the truth: if I had dated nicer boys I would have enjoyed high school more (with fewer dicks stuck in my face and more corsages pinned to my prom dresses) but I would have still discovered my lesbianism at age 24.

A lesbian is born, not made. Society may repress her from knowing her true self for decades, but she comes to learn who she is. And while we do not choose our sexuality (nodding to recent public events and debates) my lesbianism is neither greater than nor lesser to anyone’s sexuality. It is what it is: I love women in “that way.” You take my taxes. So let me get married. Stop bullying my children. Stop debating my rights. Stop voting on my life. Stop playing God.

I drift off topic.

I wish I could have fallen in love with one of those nice boys, so I could have felt high school the way so many (although by no means all) kids feel it. With society backing me up and cheering me on. But for those of us who are gay, we don’t have such backing. We didn’t in the 1970s, and too often, we don’t now.

In the end, I did not fall in love with one of those boys,  these lovely men who stand before me now at our 30th high school reunion. When I did fall in love in the 1970s, I fell in love with a girl. I kissed a girl decades before Katy Perry was even born. And I meant it. I fell in love with Lynne Simmons – I can say her name fully because no one knows where the hell she is. Does anyone? She was a bad girl. A very bad girl. I wonder if she’s still alive.

Life and death. All we have lived through, those of us at this reunion. Sorrow and joy. The colors in between. Errant things stuck to our asses. Health issues. Children. Lovers. Disasters. Wars. Money. Lack of money. Houses, homes, cats, dogs. Bicycles left out in the rain. All we have lived through and been blessed with, both good and bad. We are alive.

Leading me to my final thoughts on the reunion.

May those we lost from the Class of 1980 Rest In Peace: Kathryn Boyle, Kevin Brown, Paul Francis Callahan Jr., Pamela Camara, David Flanagan, Margaret J. Kiddy, and Shawn Joseph Nonnemacher. Peace to those classmates who may have passed away that we don’t yet know about. And may those young people who have taken their own lives recently rest peacefully also, those we know about and those we don’t. We send you our love. We remember you.