Wedding Needle to Fabric

The history of quilts as utilitarian items stretches back thousands of years. In fact, the word quilt is adapted from the French cuilte, which grows out of the Latin culcita (“a stuffed sack”).

Originally, when just getting through a day entailed dawn-to-dusk work, quilts were entirely functional, made for warmth in the bed or to cover doorways or windows that were inadequate against the cold. As the centuries progressed, and life got easier, quilts began to marry function and art. On one hand, they were a practical repository for scraps of worn-out clothing; beyond that, though, they provided a canvas for personal expression, most remarkably amongst women who had been denied the opportunity to learn to read and write. Handiwork is its own kind of literacy. The resulting folk art tells their stories visually; without command of letters, they used fabric to create representations of their experience.

Taken together, all these folk art quilts present a unique version of history that words could never capture. We can look at a quilt, its fabrics, its stitches, its details, and be transported into the life of a woman who lived hundreds of years ago, feeling an intimate connection with the maker. We can touch what she touched. We can learn about her from her quilting choices. We get a sense of the texture of her days.

The website Why Quilts Matter: History, Art & Politics sums up the lasting power of quilts:

…you won’t find an object more central to the history of women than the quilt. [We should consider] the quilt’s historical and current roles as (among others) an avenue of personal expression, a sly medium of social and political opinion, and a building block of financial security. Unique among objects, quilts are both lowly “women’s work” and great art. They are something made from nothing; they are both nurturing and inspiring. They can communicate both intimate memories and great societal truths, and they have throughout history.

For me, I am not only taken by the quilt as an historical artifact, as craft become art, as political statement, I am fascinated by its ability to tell a story. Thanks to the gifts and willingness of my mother and her sister, Byron and I have just such a quilt, a document of our wedding weekend, a piece of folk art that captures the support and community that surrounded us on the day we made a public commitment to each other.

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Byron and I married at an environmental learning center in Northern Minnesota; due to the generosity of its founder, we had the run of the campus for our wedding weekend, so most guests came Friday through Sunday so as to enjoy the rock climbing wall, ropes course, hiking, and canoeing. We also were able to ask them to take some time to create blocks for our wedding quilt. There was a room set aside for the project, and my mom and Aunt Geri not only brought material and implements, they also kindly dedicated six hours that Saturday, guiding guests in their creations.
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Byron’s mom and dad, with their home on the edge of Big Woods State Park, lived surrounded by trees. Also, his mom painted banners with these tree images on them; we stood in front of the banners during the ceremony.

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I have long called my beloved friend Virginia by the nickname “chicken butt.” No reason, really. I just like it. So she made us a chicken, pecking up hugs and kisses.

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My family name, in Finnish, means “Mountain Ash Tree.” These are the berries of the Mountain Ash, made by my mom.

After the wedding, my mom started work on the quilting. Her notes reveal that it took 25 hours to machine applique 46 of the 48 blocks. At one point, she asked for input from Byron and me for the placement or order of the blocks. We laid out all the blocks on friend Virginia’s living room floor and decided which piece should go where. A few months later, Mom pieced the top by machine, including borders, for 16 hours. She washed the batting by hand in a bath tub and let it air dry. The hand quilting took one-and-a-half years. Those with discerning eyes will note that each block has white-on-white quilting and a repeat of what is already in the block–like a bird or a tree. She sums up: “As usual–I enjoyed doing every step and every little stitch.”
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Here are pals Timmy (a devoted skiier), Mary Beth, and Siena. In the years since our marriage, they’ve added daughter Paloma to the line-up. In its way, this quilt block represents their family as it was at a very specific point in time.

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This block, which my brother made, also represents a specific moment in his family’s life: when they were about to wing off from New Mexico to Japan (his next post in the military).

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My cousin Kurt is an odonatologist (dragonfly expert). Here’s his book: http://www.amazon.com/Dragonflies-North-Woods-Kurt-Mead/dp/0979200652

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Byron’s aunt, great-aunt and great-uncle made this block before they were eaten by wolves.

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When Byron biked from Seattle to Minneapolis, as one does, he hooked up with a traveling group of biking kids and their leaders. One of the leaders, Julie, made this block.

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After finishing college, I nannied in the Twin Cities for a year. The family came to the wedding, and their son rocked the talent show with his mad yo-yo skillz. I used to change his diapers, and then he made a block for our quilt.

The blocks go on and on, each one telling a story or representing the connection between maker and bride or groom. Absolutely, this quilt is one of my most-treasured possessions, something I would be devastated to lose.

It’s more than a personal treasure, of course. It’s the story of a weekend, of a community, of the woman who stitched it, of the individuals who expressed themselves through cutting and arranging fabrics.

I hope one day my great-great-great-great grandchildren run their fingertips over the nearly invisible white-on-white stars, moons, dragonflies, suns, and berries

and feel each stitch as a legacy of love.

Dresden Plates

My grandmother, Mildred, was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1902. She died in Windom, Minnesota, in 1974.

During the 71 years of her life, Grandma moved frequently, particularly during her youth, as she was the daughter of a Methodist pastor. Moving within Iowa and then to South Dakota, the family uprooted in 1904, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1915, 1917, 1920; three younger siblings were added to the family at various points in the geographical shifting. Because of childhood illnesses, Grandma’s schooling took longer than it might have. After graduating from high school in 1922, she attended Drake University for four years. In that time, her parents moved twice. Once she had her degree, my grandma taught, took more courses, and traveled, in the process relocating at least seven more times. Eventually, in 1933, she married my grandfather, Julian, and they started their own family, living out the rest of their years in small-town southern Minnesota.

Sitting here, decades later, I try to imagine her life, as it must have felt to her. It’s impossible to know anyone else’s experience, of course; even as we live out our own days, it’s often incogitable to understand events as they’re happening. In the moment, it just is what it is, with perspective being the benefit of time and a larger sprawl of context. For my grandmother, frequently changing house for the first part of her life was the norm. She was a kid. When her parents announced, “We’re moving to Smithland (or Castana, Presho, Tripp, Armour, Henry, Salem, Doland, etc.),” Mildred most likely shrugged, looked for her favorite doll, and strapped on her shoes.

Later in her life, after she married and therefore stopped moving every year or two, how did that feel? Again, was it just “what it was”? Or was there a sense of shifting gears, of enjoying being settled, of chafing at being settled? Did she ever find it dull to wake up, year after year, in the same rooms, talking to the same people? Or was that something she’d always craved? Then again, even when her family moved frequently, she was always surrounded by the same people: her parents and siblings. Thus, in a way, she’d had stability in the midst of change. In that way, perhaps being settled felt the same as moving.

Even in the recordings of Grandma’s life events and in the notes my mom and Aunt Geri took when they questioned her about her memories, the emphasis is on dates and places, with anecdotes mixed in–undoubtedly, the focus is on the what more than the why and how. We know such-and-such happened, but we don’t necessarily know how my grandmother felt about it or what the motivating factors were. Why, for example, did Mildred’s mom and dad take a claim 15 miles outside Presho, South Dakota, in 1907, live in a tent and tar-paper shack for 16 months while building their “house to retire in,” and then move to Tripp, South Dakota, in 1908? I can’t help but wish for the story behind those numbers and place names.

Because I am fascinated by emotion and psychology, the moments in Mildred’s recollections when she does note her feelings are highlights. For example, it makes me grin to know she was a youngster who was proud of her sunbonnet–before she dropped it down the hole being dug for a new outdoor toilet:

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Ultimately, when we look back on the lives of our forebears, at history in general, it’s all piecework–taking this tidbit and that chunk and laying them out in a pattern that makes sense, given what’s at hand. We stitch the names and dates together with words, speculation, recollection, and possibility. Then, when all the tidbits and chunks have been stitched together, there is a story. Someone else might look at the same tidbits and chunks and, in the creative process of making decisions, stitch them together into an entirely different story.

Again, my grandmother provides an illustrative example. After she died in 1974, when her children were sorting through her effects, they found a quilting project she had started: a stack of circles in the classic quilt block pattern known as Dresden Plates. The fabric in the quilt blocks and rectangles she had cut for borders were scraps of Mildred’s old house dresses–as my mom explains, “That is, dresses for staying at home and doing household chores or going down the alley to visit a neighbor lady and taking a few cookies or whatever–often with an apron over the dress. There are no Sunday-go-to-meetin’ fabrics” in the quilt. Supplementing the material from her house dresses were bits from blouses, aprons, soft toys, and fabric from a church rummage sale.

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Before she died, Grandma had drawn the pattern, cut and sewed the plates (29 of them), and joined together the rectangles for the quilt’s border. After she was gone, the promise of her project remained, for she had laid out a basic framework, enough that another quilter could pick up the pieces and carry on.

Fittingly, the project passed from mother to daughter. My mom, busy living her own life, racking up the names, places, and dates that are the scaffolding upon which a life story is hung, carried those Dresden Plates with her for decades, from one house to the next, from city to the next, from one state to the next. Eventually, she turned her attention to creating four wall hangings out of the plates, one for each of her four grandchildren.

In this way, in this manner of fashioning a tangible legacy, women’s handiwork has profound power.

In the early 1900s, a girl named Mildred in the American Midwest learned from her mother how to make stitches. That girl grew up and had her own children, one of whom was my mother, Maxine. In 1939, Mildred taught Maxine the basics when they made a doll bed quilt alternating rectangles of colored and off-white fabric. Maxine hand pieced most of it, and Mildred tied it. In the 1970s, Mildred began assembling Dresden Plates for a quilt. In the 2000s, four decades later, Maxine picked up her mother’s start and carried it forward. In 2007, my mother gifted each of my children with one of these:

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Although these glorious wall-hangings don’t tell the story of a life–in the finished product, there is no indication of the tears, heartache, joys, confusions, and devastations of the maker’s days–they tell a story nevertheless. My children can look at their wall-hangings and picture each patterned fabric on a house dress as it walked down the alley, its wearer carrying a plate of cookies to a neighbor. As well, my children can look at their wall-hangings and picture the hours and energy their grandmother devoted to creating a symbol of her love for them. According to her notes, for each little quilt, my mom spent four hours on the hand applique of the plates, two hours (plus) embroidering around each plate, two hours straightening rows of rectangles that Mildred had sewn, plus an hour attaching them. After that she spent two hours marking the grid for the quilting, four hours quilting the background or grid, and three hours making and adding the binding. Finally, she spent, on each of the four wall-hangings, two hours cutting off the ends of threads. If those numbers don’t register as love to my kids, they can simply read the back of the quilt and let words achieve what numbers don’t:

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Indeed, what doesn’t come through in our handiwork is the why or the how of a life. Someone looking at the quilt can’t see all the years when my mom had the Dresden Plates in storage and felt caught in a marriage that made her miserable. The viewer can’t see how she took a leap toward finding her own happiness when she divorced my dad after almost forty years. There is no evidence of the ripples that decision set off in our family, many of which are still being felt today. A person in the future admiring her tiny stitches will never know that the quilter worked for years in a career that challenged and delighted her at the same time it exhausted and stressed her. Those considering the fabrics used will never know that the quilter used to turn somersaults in the hallway with her three young children. As they admire the contrast between circles and rectangles, they will have no sense that the quilter was not a sports fan but, nevertheless, worked as scorekeeper at her son’s baseball games. She loved donuts, sometimes to the point of hating herself. She loved to travel, to talk about books, to ring bells. She wished her hair weren’t so thin. She discovered, when she was 79, that she could do push-ups.

All of those small moments of life can’t be seen in a quilt. All we can see is the work, the craft, the diligence and creativity.

However, In the same way my grandmother mingled occasional emotional disclosures into her memories–pride over a sunbonnet!–my mom does the same. As she passes on the details of how many hours each part of the quilting process took, she also notes,

“I loved doing every stitch.”

And there it is.

In a single, short, declarative sentence,

she tells her story.

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Handiwork

Woodworking. Jewelry making. Embroidery. Felting. Pottery. Knitting. Gardening.

I am fascinated by handiwork, as art, as personal pursuit, and as cultural artifact. Just as much, I am fascinated by the psychological benefits of creating something with the hands. Certainly, there’s pride that comes from making something beautiful. There’s learning that comes from the challenge. Science even tells us that making things with our hands can help counter depression. Indeed, as the article “DIY Therapy: How Handiwork Can Treat Depression” reports:

… multigenerational surveys have shown that people born later in the 20th century, after the dawn of modern conveniences, suffer more bouts of depression than those born before World War II. Studies have also found low rates of depression among members of Old Order Amish communities — one-fifth to one-tenth those of the general population … the Amish, who sew their own clothes, tap their own syrup, and drive handheld plows through dry furrows, could be getting a serious neurobiological lift from all of their effort.

I can corroborate this theory anecdotally. When I started teaching college students 24 years ago, the biggest problems they brought to class were hard-won hangovers. Nowadays, though, in these times of tablets, smartphones, and online socializing, at least a third of every class suffers from anxiety, depression, or both. Tied in to these issues is often a resulting problem with addiction. Again massively anecdotally, I’d say less than three percent of my students make things with their hands. Even those who are into Pinterest are more about looking at the pictures than completing the crafts.

Mind you, I’m not drawing a clean line between lack of handiwork and troubled mental state. Of course, of course, of course, depression and anxiety have myriad causes. It is, however, interesting to contemplate the therapeutic benefits of creating with one’s hands. Just ask the next occupational therapist you run into.

Personally, I don’t necessarily have a handicraft-based hobby outside of baking and gardening (and including these might push the strictest definition of handiwork). In previous decades, I would make some of my own clothes–badly and inexpertly–and I also went through a few spates of cross-stitching. What I find therapeutic are writing, hacking away at the piano, reading, and jigsaw puzzling. Perhaps each of these, in its own way, is a kind of handiwork.

So I’m in a mulling kind of mood, when it comes to the activities we pick up for three minutes here, a half hour there. My mulling comes partially from living in a house with a guy who occupies his spare minutes like this:
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SONY DSC Somehow, I don’t think Ma Ingalls had a tumbler of vodka on the rocks nearby when she sewed Laura’s gingham dresses. It’s well documented, however, that Ma wore a black wool hat when she sewed. Pa always did build drafty houses.

Figuring out embroidery as an extension of his drawing has absorbed Byron’s attention these past few months. When he draws, he is all about black ink on white paper–and lines.

Telephone Wires

Now he’s seeing how he can translate black and white lines to a textile, and he’s having ever so much fun with it, particularly because he can stitch in the car, in front of the tv, while hanging out on the bed–places where an open bottle of ink and super-fine-motor control aren’t always possible. You can check out some of his blackwork embroidery on his blog, Laying Fallow, by clicking on this: Lake Superior Blackwork Series.

Part of my mulling, when it comes to what this handiwork is doing for Byron, focuses on the intersection of gender and hobby. Traditionally, when males work with their hands, tools like saws, hammers, and blowtorches are involved. The kind of handiwork Byron’s engaged in has generally been the purview of women.

Relatedly, I’ve always said Byron’s the closest thing to a woman But With Male Private Bits that I could find. Had I frequented more transgender night clubs, though, I could’ve ended up with a version of Byron who brought dresses to the marriage, and what a bonus that would have been. Maybe next time.

I like watching a man embroider, the same way I like watching a woman (not me) open the hood of a car with an eye towards fiddling with the carburetor. In essence, I like it when people find what they like to do and then do it.

Underlying my musings about gender and making things with our hands are thoughts of those who came before me and how their handiwork is a powerful legacy. Because I am a woman, I tend to look back at the women in my family and consider what they made and why they made it. My brain tries to weave my greats- and grandmothers and aunts and mother into the larger fabric of women throughout history who moved from making purely functional things into making functional things of beauty…and then into making non-functional things of beauty. My brain conjures up images of straight-backed wooden chairs, fire light, and tiny silver needles flashing up and down. My brain floats to contemporary times, and I recall my aunt Geri, an accomplished seamstress, teaching my children how to sew themselves pairs of denim shorts. I think about how Geri knits mittens for the poor every year; how she blows young girls’ minds with the gorgeous dresses she makes for their Barbies; how she sewed the wool vest that Byron wore when we married; how she has sewed, knitted, crocheted, cross-stitched, embroidered, tatted, quilted and amassed huge stashes of material all throughout her life.

And then I think about Geri’s sister, my mother, and how she, too, has provided me with an example of what a seamstress, knitter, crocheter, cross-stitcher, embroiderer, tatter, quilter, and fabric collector looks like.

When I think of these women who came before me, who practice their arts still, I am not only full of admiration; I am also full of wonder. I wonder at the energy, the hours, the thought that go into every piece. I wonder, awe-struck, at how they continue to grow as artists because they try one thing–nope, didn’t work–so the next time they try a different thing, thus refining their talents over decades.

I wonder if their handmade creations have provided therapy during the tough times. I wonder if their projects are, in some ways, their most steady friends. I wonder if my mother knows how much I love the quilts she’s made. She can read and hear a “thank you.” But I wonder if those words can convey how much I treasure her stitches.

Perhaps the words in my next blog post will deepen the thank you–because next I want to write about a couple of her quilts. Stay tuned, chums.

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Mommy, Why Is One of My Quads So Much Bigger Than the Other?

Sidenote: I was just updating some past posts that were missing their titles, and when I clicked “update” for this one, it did a whole new “publish.” Anyhow, enjoy video of the kiddles when they were younger, back during our year in Turkey when they took pottery lessons!


Paco Pottery from Jocelyn Blog on Vimeo.


Girl at Wheel from Jocelyn Blog on Vimeo.

Vigilantly Constricting

Tree Pose YogaThen there was the time I hotfooted into yoga class ten minutes late and discovered that, uncharacteristically, the teacher had taken some time for talk before movement. Hoping to illuminate the theory behind the practice, she’d explained a few terms and their role in the various poses we’d be doing.

By the time I slunk in, the class was well into its sun salutations. Much like when I was in college, I tried to fake my way through having missed the lecture.

Thus, whenever the teacher instructed us to “tighten in mula bandha,” I sucked in my rib cage, figuring mula bandha probably meant abs. What else could a person be tightening?

As someone who largely bluffed her way through college, I remain a curious being, however. My brain’s aware of its deficits and hopes to plug at least a few of them. Thus, massaging my tender abdominals, I later took a minute to look up mula bandha.

Well now.

So the yoga teacher had been telling all of us to clench the spot between our sex organs and our anuses.

In addition to feeling quite sorry I’d missed the presentation of that definition–what if there had been a pie chart? infographics? a laser pointer?–I also felt sorry that I’d missed out on the chance to use mula bandha to make A Special Place sore through repeated willful compression.

You see, I embrace new experiences. Every hour is an opportunity, friends, and it’s an intrepid woman who rushes forward, arms and anus open, to greet possibility.

After some consideration and online training, I decided to undertake an independent study; I spent the rest of the day tensing, contracting, and clamping in mula bandha. Not to cast aspersions on lovers past, but my nethers had never before experienced such focused concentration. By nightfall, I had managed to create in my privates an unsatisfied ache.

Ultimately, then, this is a story of how yoga taught me to be both my best and my worst lover.

 

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Blogging Like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” Is the Fresh New Tune

Back in the mid-aughts, when blogging was fresh and new, it seemed like everyone had a blog. Those of us writing recipes, rants, and random raves could toss out a post–and within 24 hours, there might be 40 comments. The blogosphere was jumping.

During the heyday of personal blogs, it was common practice for bloggers to pass out awards to each other and to tag fellow bloggers with memes and challenges. For me, whenever these things happened, I smiled at the compliment of it and then generally ignored the challenge. Every now and then, in search of material or a friend, I would respond to the meme and do a post where I typed out the endings to fifteen sentence starters. Generally, I adopted a long-suffering attitude as I completed each meme.

I’ve never been much of a joiner.

Then, you know. Time passed. Many folks’ enthusiasm for blogging waned. One by one, the formerly brightly lit blog spaces went dark. I would visit favorite blogs, hoping to catch up and leave a comment…only to be greeted with a post from three months earlier. If I visit those blogs now, that same final post still hangs there, sad and alone, now four years old, wishing for a tricycle.

On the other hand, even as parts of Bloglandia have been shuttered, other, new blogs have lit up. I do love the dynamism of this new kind of writing space; participants come and go–and sometimes come back again–depending on their needs, life circumstances, and reasons for blogging. Thus, even though most of the bloggers I connected with eight years ago have dropped out of sight, fresh friends have come along and reshaped the blogging experience by adding their voices to the mix.

One such friend is Alexandra from Good Day Regular People. This blogging phenom has taught me much in recent months about new possibilities for bloggers and our stories. She also decided, a few weeks back, to toss out an old-school style meme challenge to a few of us. The task is easy: write a post that explains “Five Random Things About Me.”

After letting the challenge sit for, um, a month, as was my way back in The Old Days, I am now ready to address it. Never let it be said I failed at Random.

1. I have a queer passion for books about arctic exploration. If there’s an image of a half-broken ship frozen in jags of ice featured on the cover, I will grab that book and stay up until 3 a.m., riveted by those poor sailors’ dire circumstances. Listen, it’s only a matter of time before the hard tack runs out, and then the crazed boatswain is going to roast the cabin boy for January’s rations. That’s just good readin’.

I guess this item on my list is actually aimed at letting you all know that if we all ever go on an arctic adventure together, and then our ship gets frozen in the ice for two years, and I die of the scurvy, I would like you to start with my tender ear lobes when you eat me. They’ll be like hors d’oeuvres, and, as your humanity falls away from you with each increasingly dark day, your sanity will need the faint memory of civilization that comes from a tasty hors d’oeuvre. So eat me, chums, but start with the best bits.

Caveat: if I died because you found some vials of arsenic in the ship doctor’s quarters and slowly poisoned me, then you not only may NOT have my ear lobes, you may NOT benefit from my tasty belly fat, either. Step away from the belly, You Soulless Murderer.

2. I also have a queer passion for drum lines. Not only does my jaw drop in the face of such coordination and synchronization, the inside of my brain often sounds like this:

If I ever was lucky enough to attend a drum line competition, I would buy the t-shirt.

Even if it’s, like, $20.

3. So long as we’re entertaining ideas of “random” and “ear lobes,” this is as good a place as any to announce that when I put my head down on my pillow at night, I take a quick second to be sure my downward-facing ear lobe is lying flat. There will be no furling on my watch.

4. Because the hours during weekends sometimes are sludge-like in their passage for our 11-year-old (“What should I do?”), we tend to make a lot of crafts. Projects. Experiments. Recently, he wanted to melt some beeswax so he could dip in his hands and make casts of them. As one does.

Then he wanted to dip other stuff. He nixed my suggestions of “your toothbrush” and “your butt.” He even vetoed my legitimate idea of making mini-acorns out of balls of wax and then topping them with real acorn caps. The kid is not an easy sell.

However, he was willing to help me gather leaves from the yard and give them a good dipping. Turns out beeswaxed leaves make a lovely fall centerpiece last lasts for weeks. We’ve got some serious Life By Pinterest going on over here.

5. I like to go to DSW–a huge shoe warehouse kind of store–and make my 14-year-old try on insane stilettos and boots that she would never wear in real life. The girl knows fun when she hears her mom request it; she is game. Thus, if you ever see a serious-looking teenager in a hoodie and sweatpants tottering around in six-inch leopard-print heels, come say hi. That’s just me, helping my careful, cautious, organized kid loosen up.

6. My last random fact is that I hate following rules and chafe when someone tells me what to do, so I’m not going to do a list of Five Random Things. I’m doing a list of Six Random Things. ‘Cause I want to.

So here: even though many people like to roll their eyes at comedian/commentator Russell Brand, saying he’s obnoxious, crazy, off-base, I quite like him. I am made glad when his quicksilver intelligence and verbal abilities unleash. I am extremely happy that his voice is in the mix. He may be a sex addict, he may be wild-eyed, he may have broken Katy Perry’s heart, he may not always hit the mark, but GAD am I ready for people with intelligence to have a platform.

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The other part of this challenge is that I’m supposed to tag others and have them respond to the task on their blogs.

I’m not going to.

Do what you want.

Just don’t eat my ear lobes if you poisoned me with arsenic.

Nine Volts

Chirp.

My brain is asleep. So is my body. The noise doesn’t fully register.

After a quick blip of “Huh?” I drop back into the blackness of sleep.

Chirp.

Hell and damn it. My brain pushes to consciousness like it’s swimming up from the bottom of a murky lake, half panicked, gasping for air. As it surfaces and draws in a shuddering breath of wakefulness, the only thing to pierce my confusion is this: there’s a chirping in the hallway. I lie there in the dark, discombobulated, trying to figure out what day it is, what time it is, what my name is, who’s the president, why Kanye’s a genius, why creme brulee isn’t the new kale, and how in the glottis my husband can still be snoring when there’s a robin or a katydid or a Kristin Chenoweth periodically pipping mere feet from his head.

I spend a few minutes engaged in magical thinking, during which I dreamily muse that the noises might simply have been the house settling, or something toppling off a shelf in the closet, or the sound of a ghost sharpening knives, lulling myself with assurances that the chirps won’t necessarily contin–

Chirp.

This time, I’m awake enough to understand: it’s the smoke detector remonstrating us for letting Daylight Savings pass without changing its batteries.

As I sort out what’s happening, I rue the law of batteries that decrees they must die when it sucks the most. Commiseratively, my husband, Byron, exhales a steady zzzzzzz. This takes me back to the early years of our marriage; he slept, while I felt around in the dimness for babies and boobies. Sometimes, with the first kid, he’d wake up, too, and we’d turn on a bedside lamp and spend precious Hallmark-sponsored moments together staring at our daughter’s soft, tiny fingernails while she nursed.

A few weeks into that, we realized that middle-of-the-night communal marveling resulted in a completely non-functional household the next day. If we hoped to eat good food and pay bills on time, then at least one of us should get some sleep. During the next handful of years, as my breasts and I continued to work the black hours, Byron applied himself wholeheartedly to the task of getting reasonable sleep, The result of this was a household wherein Daddy made delicious homemade pesto that Mommy loved to eat–that is, once she lifted her head off the steering wheel, wiped the tears off her cheeks, and trudged into the house for dinner.

In the intervening years, the zzzzzzzzzs have continued, but nowadays I sleep (or read or fret) rather than nurse. Instead of tag teaming our days, as we did when the kids were new, Byron and I now share a common purpose at night: resetting for the next day.

Unfortunately, that smoke detector is putting a serious crimp in my reset.

Shivering in anticipation of the cold air, I try to convince myself to throw open the covers and stand up. I try to make myself be the adult in the room. I try to fool my brain and body into thinking the chirp is actually a hungry baby.

Brain and Body are no patsies. They know I’m messing with them. In desperation, Brain argues that the definition of “adult” is actually, simply, clearly “the tallest person.” Then Brain points out that Byron fits that definition. Because Brain is emphatic about making her case, she also notes that the smoke detector is high on the wall, near the ceiling, a place that’s easier for taller people to reach.

The notion of thumping downstairs to get a stepladder convinces me: I’m going to shove the snoring guy and make the chirp his problem.

Rationalization is a glorious thing, for it throws itself across descriptors like “lazy” and “selfish” and muffles their mealy yelps. I mean: obviously, I have to wake Byron because he is taller. Possibly, irrationally, I have to wake Byron because he never nursed babies.

We’d have to ask Brain to be sure on that one, and she’s currently refusing callers.

With Byron’s next wall-rattling inhale, I slip my knees behind his, trying to pry him to consciousness with a hearty spooning.

He doesn’t stir. Spooning feels too much like clean, direct love, and this endeavor is about hoggish, miserly love. This is about a love that entails him getting up and taking care of things so that I can stay in the bed and be warmly supportive from the island of mattress.

I whack my foot into the back of his calf. Twice. Firm-like.

He rears up, bleary and confused. Poor thing’s a full four minutes behind me that way. Since he’s the one who’s discombobulated, and since he doesn’t know yet that he’s about to get up and handle my problem, he deserves kindness. Softly, I start to talk. In truth, I could just say “Eep, opp, ork, ah-ha” for the first few words, as I’m only moving my mouth because the act will get him to remove his earplug. Once the earplug comes out, I shift into genuine content: “So there’s a noise in the hall…”–

as though it had been scripted, a chirp echoes loudly.

“Wait. What?” he asks, his brain pushing up from the bottom of the same lake that had recently been drowning my consciousness.

“There’s a chirping noise out in the hall from the smoke detector. It’s been bleating every few minutes.” Then I trot out our household’s most terrifying currency: “I’m worried it’s going to wake the kids.”

Although Byron is less scared of wakeful children in the night than I am, he snaps to and gets that this is a pressing matter if we want to avoid a kitchen full of cranky whiners in the morning. Marshaling his forces, he thinks through the situation. “There are actually three smoke detectors on this floor of the house–one in each bedroom–and also a carbon monoxide detector in the hall. It could be any of them. Have you noticed where the chirp is coming from exactly?”

Every single day, my husband teaches me. Abstractly, I knew some nice men had come a few years ago to remodel our kitchen, and while they were here, they also updated the smoke and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house. Once they took down all the hanging sheets of plastic and drove away in their trucks, though, I got distracted by the new cabinets and forgot to look up and see what they’d done elsewhere. In my defense, if I look toward the ceilings, I see all these cobwebby things that someone should deal with. It’s better to keep my gaze aimed forward, really.

Helpfully, I answer Byron while sweeping an arm wide. “I know the noise is coming exactly from out there. Not in here.”

We decide to listen for the next chirp with an ear to specific location. As I listen, I realize both my pillow and my husband’s back are very soft.

We wait. And wait. Some more.

Because we are wide awake and ready to figure this thing out, there is nothing but silence.

After a few minutes, Byron throws open the covers and wanders into the bathroom to relieve himself, at which point a chirp from Could Have Been Anywhere resounds loudly.

How frustrating. But as long as he’s up…

Coming back into the bedroom, Byron grabs his headlamp. He straps the thing to his head and goes out into the hallway, ready to narrow down the possibilities.

With the stoic patience of a Scandinavian type in his forties, he stands there quietly, leaning against the banister. In his underwear. Wearing a headlamp.

Minutes pass. Silence.

More minutes. Still nothing.

He just stands, quietly, his eyes clapped on a six-inch space high on the wall. Waiting.

Eventually, I hear him yawn, and even though there’s nothing I can do, I can’t take it. I hoist myself from the bed’s warmth and join him in the hallway. I ask if he’s able to reach the detector, should he need to, or if he’d like me to run downstairs and get the step ladder. Thankfully, his legs are step ladders all on their own, so I am safe from the threat of exertion.

There, by the banister, we stand together and stare at the plaster. Come on, you damn thing: chirp so that we know it’s you. If it’s not you, then it’s time to bust this process into the kids’ rooms.

Silence. Obviously, our focused attention has made the thing shy. Trying to fool it, I begin to look around. The only thing worth looking at is Byron, all tall and leaning, shirtless, in his underwear, the headlamp an unexpected accessory to his ensemble. He wraps his arms across his chest, warding off a shiver.

Cripes. He is the cutest.

He stands there in his headlamp and underwear, the perfect foil to an unpredictable, ridiculous thing, and somehow it’s a metaphor for our marriage. All my own unpredictable ridiculousness ever needs is him, standing there unwaveringly, ready to deal with things–all the better if he’s in his underwear and a headlamp as he does it.

After a few minutes, freezing, I return to bed. As I lie there, willing the detector to chirp, the shadowy image of Byron, still leaning against the banister, makes me smile. When we got married, I thought I knew him. Our years together–fifteen!–have schooled me, though. There was no way for me to know that the 28-year-old anthropology-major-turned-naturalist that I married would

teach our sixth grader how to play cribbage so that the kid could feel confident when his new elective class in that game started;

attend cross-country banquets with our ninth grader, willingly spending hours making small talk (which he hates) in the presence of a pasta buffet (which he hates) because he delights in the community she’s found;

become a literacy volunteer at an elementary school for a minuscule monthly stipend because the work matters;

take up blackwork embroidery at age 43 as he continues to explore the various permutations of being an artist;

train our kids’ palates with his excellent cooking, to the point that they’d rather have a dinner of groundnut stew or Thai curry than spaghetti;

tell me every few days, “I like you so much”;

hear my point more than my fumbling words so that I always feel innately understood;

stand in the hallway in his underwear and a headlamp at 4 a.m., hoping to catch a wayward chirp.

 

Eventually, after silence reigns for a few more minutes, Byron surrenders and returns to bed, but not before checking the supply of batteries. We’re short on the nine-volt version, which he’ll need the next day when he changes out the batteries in all the warning systems. Then he snuggles under the covers, and we chuckle, knowing the offending detector, wherever it is, will be issuing a tweet any second.

It doesn’t, though.

As the minutes pass, the house is quiet. Dark. Still.

It sighs a little, as do I, when Byron drops back into sleep and emits a gentle zzzzzzzz.

I lie there for a long time–like a nursing mother listening for her baby’s cry–expecting another chirp. It never comes.

There is only Byron,

the soft skin on his back,

his steady breathing

the perfect noise.

 

SONY DSCSONY DSC

Full Moon, Agitated Hearts

As is my way, I was racing the clock, squeaking in to the meeting two minutes late. In my defense, I was hustling because I had stopped to buy a baguette to set out during the meeting, in case anyone needed a late-afternoon snack. While at the store hunting down carbohydrates, I had also grabbed a latte. Three shots of espresso were hitting my bloodstream, working magic on my burning eyelids and oxygen-hungry brain.

It had been a tough week emotionally. My whole body felt foggy, and while the latte offered superficial comfort, what I really craved was an afternoon under a heavy duvet, thick book in hand. I was ready to pick up the reader’s passport and travel to whatever world the book created, escaping for a few hours from the hardness of fluorescent-lit reality.

Of course, being an adult often entails feigning functionality, so the book would have to wait. I had a meeting to get to.

In the hallway, I passed a student who would be attending the meeting. She was on the phone, locked in intense conversation. We waved at each other, miming greetings, before I whirred into the conference room, a space big enough to seat a dozen people around a common table. Under the bright fluorescent lights, two students sat at the table, chatting. Another one wandered in followed a few minutes later by the student from the hallway, now off the phone.

There we were: four students and one instructor, coming together for the weekly English as a Second Language conversation group. Originally, the intent behind this group was to meet once a week during fall semester in an effort to connect students born and raised in the U.S. with international students, as there is a gap between those populations on our campus. It’s only in recent years that the northern outpost that is our city has become more diverse and, by extension, that our college is seeing students from a variety of backgrounds enroll. Put another way: we now see not only more people of color, we also have women in hijab walking from classroom to classroom, for our campus’ programs, in particular nursing, are drawing immigrants from African countries, many of them Muslim. Our nursing instructors do an amazing job of pulling together students from all over the world under a common curriculum, but they have noted ongoing issues with English ability in many of their students–and, when one is a nurse, language matters. Thus, the idea for this group was hatched. I am the faculty advisor for the honor society chapter on our campus; the students in the honor society decided that starting an ESL group would be an excellent way to connect with international students while also providing language practice for those who might benefit from it.

We hung posters, filled faculty mailboxes with flyers, made announcements. The first week the group met, there were a handful of members from the honor society in the room…and one person from another country: a nursing instructor from Bulgaria. We were not surprised, as the nature of a community college campus is that students work multiple jobs outside of taking classes, and in general they commute to the campus on a need-to-get-to-class basis. After the first week, I decided to launch a campaign of personal outreach and emailed past students of mine, hoping to get more folks with international backgrounds into the room during future weeks. It worked, as we now have had interesting cultural conversations with immigrants not only from Bulgaria but also Jordan, Finland, Jamaica, East Timor, Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Philippines.

So there we were that day in the conference room: four students and one instructor. Three of the students were born and raised in Northern Minnesota, and the other lived in the Philippines until she was 25, at which point she moved to Italy and worked as a nanny for ten years before meeting her American husband, having kids, and moving here. Now, she is more stereotypically Northern Minnesotan than most: she is a hockey mom.

The feeling in the room was easy, full of chat and joking. As I set out butter and sliced the baguette, the student who had been on the phone in the hallway, Avie, started to talk. She, too, was having a stressful week. A woman in her early fifties who works full-time in health care, Avie got out of an emotionally abusive marriage a handful of years ago, at which point she realized she could do anything. She found a new love, bought a house, remodeled it, started traveling, enrolled in college to pursue a new future, and opened her house to three young people who needed a place to live: her son (in his mid-twenties), her niece (in her first years of college), and her niece’s girlfriend/partner (also in her late teens, in her first years of college). For nominal rent, Avie provides these younger students with a lovely home, free tutoring services, and endless late-night counseling. When the girls moved in a year-and-a-half ago, she laid out her household rules, most notably that they may not have sex when she is home. This matters because the girls’ bedroom is adjacent to Avie’s, and there is no door between them, only an open frame. In return, Avie promised not to have sex with her boyfriend when they were home. Fundamentally, her message to them was “Let’s all have a little decency, please, in the form of boundaries.”

By and large, they all have lived together harmoniously. However, one recent Thursday night, Avie came home, ready for an evening of studying math with a classmate before their big test. Upon seeing her, the girls greeted her with a kind of aggressive incredulity: “What are you doing here? You’re never home on Thursday nights.” As it turned out, Thursday nights are the girls’ Love Nights. Quickly, their annoyance at Avie’s presence spiraled into something like an argument. These young women–who do laundry every day, each using two new towels every time they shower, yet who don’t pitch in toward the cost of utilities; who let Avie pay for a cleaning woman to come in every two weeks; who let Avie stock the pantry with basics that they use–had complaints.

As it turns out, it’s difficult to have productive disagreement with a 19-year-old lesbian who is taking her first Women’s Studies class. Fueled by the self-righteousness of the marginalized, one of the girls (sorry: womyn) took all her textbook learning and applied it to cutting down someone who’d actually lived through various female-related hells yet still retained a soft and generous heart.

Riveted and sympathetic, we four listeners at the conference table asked questions and lobbed opinions as Avie explained that she didn’t even want to go home and was making plans to stay at her boyfriend’s house instead. Even more, she connected the dots between her childhood experiences and her current fear of conflict and reluctance to lay out consequences for the girls’ disrespectful attitudes.

At one point, I tried to convince Avie that she needed to push herself past her tendency to avoid conflict and give the girls a good dose of “This is my house, and I will not be treated this way.” But then one of the other students in the room, Adam, weighed in. Adam has a fantastic head of dreadlocks, is a self-described Daoist Rastafarian, has been a vegetarian for decades, likes to get high and do yoga every night, and is deeply into astrology. Also, and this is what makes community college students so fascinating: he was a long-haul trucker for eight years.

Adam advised, “It does seem like you need to set boundaries with them, but you should retreat for a few days first. Right now, you’re too upset, and so are they. If you try to get firm with them, things will explode, and you all could end up saying things you’ll never be able to forgive. Let it cool first.”

Considering the merits of Adam’s intuitions, I sliced a few more pieces of baguette off the loaf and pushed the bread board toward Avie. Then a third student, Jade, piped up with her own story. Jade is a single mother of three adolescents, and she owns the foibles of her Adventures in Mothering with bracing honesty, right down to the time she caught a glimpse of herself chasing her three-year-old with a wooden spoon, aiming to give him a whupping, when she caught sight of her reflection and thought, “What am I doing?”

After emphasizing the many ways her 12-year-old son is driving her crazy with his oppositional attitude, Jade offered, “We were sitting in the drive-thru at McDonald’s last night, and he was being such a butthead, all ‘Blah, blah, blah, poke, poke, poke, you’re stupid, Mom, how lame, blah, blah,‘ and so I was yelling at him about what a brat he is, and I just wanted to reach around and whack him, and then the McDonald’s worker’s voice came through the speaker, and this worker was the most perky, happy, upbeat, thrilled-about-his-job person ever. He was just so excited to take our order. He was totally, ‘What can we get you today at McDonald’s that will make your evening? What can I do for you?’ This guy kept going on all chipper, and it cracked me up. I was trying to order and sound serious, but I was laughing so hard. Then I looked at Dustin, and he couldn’t stop laughing either, so then both of us were holding our stomachs, covering our faces, completely unable to stop snorting at the happiest McDonald’s worker in the world. The entire feeling in the car had changed, all thanks to this wacky guy handing McRib sandwiches through a window.”

We were well into the meeting now, and I wanted to be sure the student from the Philippines was included, so I leaned over and stage whispered to her, “This is the week the ESL group became a therapy session.”

She was having a good time listening–what a pleasure to be treated like part of the crowd and not a specimen on display–and nodded. At the same time, wise Adam noted, “We get therapy in bits and pieces all the time, from all sorts of places and interactions.”

“Yea, like the McDonald’s drive-thru,” I agreed.

Adding more of his particular insights, Adam continued, “It’s interesting that, astrologically, this is called The Week of Depth. It’s a time of tensions rearing up, and the full moon is in opposition to the Week of the Teacher, also known as Taurus II.”

Because I know virtually nothing of astrology outside of the fortune-cookie “horoscopes” printed in the newspaper, I later looked up the Week of Depth. An astrologer at We’Moon: Starcodes (which I might one day take as my Wiccan name) explains that this is a good week to:

…honor memories of our beloved dead. The past will be with us, old feelings arise, and we need to work with the watery Moon and let the feelings flow through and flow on. We may be unusually touchy and painfully aware of our vulnerabilities, easily insulted and just a little delicate on the soul.

Also:

…opinions fly fast and furious…Let the dust settle before responding…stubborn entrenchment may polarize…Let go of comparison, as jealousy and territoriality can be a problem; don’t go there…Stay true to personal truth and goals.

Interesting. I was left agreeing with Adam that, when our hearts are searching for guidance, therapies reveal themselves everywhere, from the McDonald’s drive-thru to a spiritual counselor on a website to a conference room at a community college.

As our conversation continued in the conference room that afternoon, I turned to Beth, the student from the Philippines, and tried to direct some questions her way. In her wide-ranging responses, we heard about disciplining of children, expressions of anger, traditions of weddings, and celebration of holidays in the Philippines.

Toward the end of the hour, the remaining baguette sat, untouched, in the middle of the table as Beth remembered her youth in a village without electricity. Even after lights came to their house when she was nine, her grandmother’s rural home in the country still remained dark, relying on oil lamps during the evening hours.

As our minutes together in the brightly lit conference room ticked down, Beth’s quiet voice related a very particular memory. She and her siblings were at their grandmother’s house, and it was a holiday–a feast day in her Catholic country–and they all wanted to see the feast parade go by out on the main road that night. So they set out together, grandma and the kids, to walk the two miles to the road. Later, heading home, they lit their way with torches Grandma had made by rolling and binding leaves from coconut trees.

Swinging their torches above their heads, the kids romped in the darkness. Suddenly, though, they were surrounded.

By darting fireflies.

Phantasmal, chimeraic, the insects flickered and disappeared.

Walking in darkness, the family chattered, moving closer together, sliding further apart, ebbing and flowing with each other,

joyfully following Nature’s unexpected light as it led them from one dark place to the next.

Fireflies

(photo by Jason Mrachina)

My Thing

I’m a firm believer that teens do better if they have a “thing.”

Preferably not heroin.

Ideally, the thing might be football, chess, sewing, soccer–some activity that helps navigate the journey toward self-definition. When we’re young and don’t yet know what we are or who we’ll be, having a “thing” can clarify.

For me, the thing that buoyed me during high school was being on the speech team. Not only did it provide me with the opportunity to apply all my many words to a purpose, it also connected me with like-minded peers. I could talk SAT scores with my speech peeps as we bemoaned the number of college essays we had to write before December. What’s more, participating in speech taught me how to fake confidence–how to wrap myself in a cloak of bravura and save my tears for the bathroom.

I still use this technique today, in my teaching life.

One other significant thing that came to me thanks to my love of Original Oratory was a relationship with and affection for the coaches. Mr. Fisher. Mrs. Hall. Miss Bach.

It felt novel and special to have a non-classroom-based relationship with these teachers at my high school. They never graded my work; rather, they got on buses with all of us forensics kids and rode for countless hours around the state of Montana. We went to meets in in Missoula, Havre, Glendive. We stopped at Country Kitchens and 24-hour diners. We looked over the judges’ ballots together after each meet. We laughed and laughed together. These coaches were our mentors, chaperones, and friends.

Now, thirty years later, Facebook has reconnected me with two of them. Over the years, I had kept in contact with Mrs. Hall, as she was the coach I worked with for my event; always, I have loved her. However, I had lost contact with Mr. Fisher and Miss Bach. But then: Facebook. So now I am friends with Miss Bach, and it’s been grand to have that point of communication and contact, especially because she is an English teacher. We speak that shared language.

The re-connection with Miss Bach has never been more appreciated than today. You see, as I’ve tried to pitch my writing at online publications in recent months, there have been lots of rejections–and, along the way, a few successes. First, there was this piece at Mamalode, which I posted about previously: Sweet Like Sugar. Then, last week, I had a piece run at The Good Men Project: Raising a Gentle Boy in a Violent World. 

Now, today, I have an essay on Mamalode. Their theme this month is “men,” and so I submitted an essay about my dad. If you are so disposed (Be disposed! Be disposed!), you can read it here: The Air That I Breathe.

Of course, the best part of having one’s writing reach an audience is the sense of a shared moment.

I just had the best shared moment with Miss Bach, when she sent me a message about today’s essay on Mamalode. She wrote:

When I comment on your writing, I can never quite go the cast of thousands FB approach. I loved this piece. Having lost my own father in January, so unexpectedly, setting my siblings and me on our own orphan train, this resonates profoundly. I have to believe that anyone who has loved or been loved deeply does not die alone and therein lies solace.

The greatest tribute I can pay you–I am realizing I need to begin to write, and you are giving me the courage/inspiration to begin the journey.

Immediately, as I read this message, my eyes filled with tears. Miss Bach was a seminal figure in my teen years. She helped shape me. She is one of the many reasons I teach English. She is one of the many reasons I write.

With her message today, she treated me as a respected peer. I am humbled.

Also:

I am having the best day.

Miss Gastrocnemius

I walked down the empty corridor, the modest heels of my pumps clicking satisfyingly on the tiles. After a three-hour night class, I couldn’t wait to get home for dinner and an icy drink, so the clicks echoed quickly, pertly.

As I passed one of the the Auto Body classrooms, I caught sight of my reflection in a full-length glass window. I tend to wear dresses when teaching my night class; we only meet once a week, which is infrequently enough that I can convince the students I’m a pulled-together adult. If we saw each other more often, that jig would be up. However, with the controlled circumstances of a single weekly meeting, I can put my best foot and face forward, and just when I start to melt into creased and rumpled–my normal state–it’s time to head home, whereupon I scrub off the slap, peel off the tights, clip up the hair, and don knee socks, shalwars, and a hoodie. By the end of this transformation, I look like a 4 a.m. Walmart shopper, hopelessly confused in Aisle 23 because where do they keep the deodorant?

Hence, it was unusual to catch a glimpse of myself dressed like a real person who pays taxes and knows where the deodorant is. What I saw in that quick reflection was huge.

I saw my calves.

There, jutting out below the hem of my dress, were my huge calves.

It is not news to me that I am calvishly blessed. Strangers have stopped me in hair salons to ask how such beefy things came to be compliment me.

What grabbed my attention, thus, wasn’t the size of my calves. Rather, I was struck by the image of those muscular beasts packaged into hose, clipping along in heels. Immediately, one thought flashed through my mind: “Well, tighten down my wig and glue on some false lashes because I’ll be damned if I don’t look like a transgendered male-to-female.” Then I yelped out an involuntary hoot of laughter.

Holy hell. I have trans calves.

SONY DSCMost likely, this thought popped into my head because we’d spent the previous week watching the new Amazon show called Transparent. This terrific program explores the journey and ripples of a father’s decision to begin living as the woman he’s always known he is. More than anything, the episodes explore subtleties of gender identity and family politics. It’s a grand bit of storytelling headed by actor Jeffrey Tambor as Maura, and because I always want to be part of a grand story, it pleased me to realize that my legs, when dressed up in their Tuesday evening best, look just like those of Maura’s hormone-popping friend Davina.

The truly significant part of realizing I have trans calves is how much this epiphany tickled me. As someone who has fought her way through a lifetime of bodily loathing, it would make sense for me to hate my masculine calves. All those self-esteem demons that plague my psyche with accusations of “fat,” “ugly,” and “undesirable” should have hissed to the surface when they saw my reflection in the window.

Yet they were silent. The only sounds that echoed in the empty hallway were my delighted hoot and the tap of my happy steps.

Heels clicking across the linoleum, I savored that victory, all the richer for being so unexpected. Although agonizingly willing to hate my body, I actually love my trans calves.

Here’s the thing: whether these calves are sported by a man-become-woman…or by a woman-always-woman, they are full-on freaking badass. I tire of gender-specific “beauty,” and for that I thank those who have blurred the lines or taken a stand for their right to just BE. For example, last year my brain reeled in awe at the bearded Sikh woman who responded with humbling equanimity when she learned that a mocking photo of herself had been posted online. To the person who posted the photo, she wrote:

I’m not embarrased or even humiliated by the attention [negative and positve] that this picture is getting because, it’s who I am. Yes, I’m a baptized Sikh woman with facial hair. Yes, I realize that my gender is often confused and I look different than most women. However, baptized Sikhs believe in the sacredness of this body – it is a gift that has been given to us by the Divine Being [which is genderless, actually] and, must keep it intact as a submission to the divine will. Just as a child doesn’t reject the gift of his/her parents, Sikhs do not reject the body that has been given to us. By crying ‘mine, mine’ and changing this body-tool, we are essentially living in ego and creating a seperateness between ourselves and the divinity within us. By transcending societal views of beauty, I believe that I can focus more on my actions. My attitude and thoughts and actions have more value in them than my body because I recognize that this body is just going to become ash in the end, so why fuss about it?

Relatedly, I was impressed by the action the Women’s Tennis Association took when they recently disciplined the head of the Russian Tennis Federation for comments about Serena and Venus Williams; referring to the sisters’ bodies, he called them “the Williams brothers,” adding “it’s scary when you really look at them.”

Yea, she’s scary. In the sense that she’s applying skill and force to whup your ass. you dickwad.

And so the world progresses. We have bearded Sikh women who make no apologies. We have breath-taking female athletes whose forearms ripple in the wind. We have television shows where a man in his sixties shares heart-breakingly touching scenes with his ex-wife–he in a skirt and long hair, she in pants wearing a cropped wig. the two of them united by a shared history. We have English teachers with massive calves, dressing up like they’re grown ladies, ticking their way down empty halls, anticipating a cocktail.

We have my husband, who can’t get enough of his wife’s legs.

We have my children, who see that their mother refuses shame.

We have me, who caught sight of herself walking out of a building and realized she looked like a man.

We have a delighted hoot,

a shout of ready acceptance,

and it echoes into the night.