Wednesday, November 29, 2006
I know that sounds like a lot to attribute to a plane, when so many people take them like a breath of fresh air or a cigarette -- just something that happens. But that's what a plane does to me, I sink into sadness and exhaustion several levels deeper than usual even. Yesterday I went to the fabric store to get material for curtains and they gave it to me on a five-foot dowel, I asked them to take it off and fold it because I couldn't carry it that way but the cashier assured me that it would be so much easier on the dowel, it wouldn't need to be ironed and of course I was passing as some young person with the ability to carry something like that with ease. The problem is that I can’t carry something like that, I mean I really shouldn't carry anything heavy but heaviness plus surface area is the absolute worst prescription for fibromyalgia pain drama neck burning arms tight and pulsing wrists ouch, just ouch. It didn't actually destroy me as much as I expected -- I think feldenkrais is helping me to be more resilient physically -- but then I got home and tried to change the lightbulb in the light fixture on the ceiling, I mean what a nightmare -- trying to angle myself in the right direction to get this thing back on, thinking breathe, okay, breathe -- give up -- but then trying again, because I'd already fucked up my body so I might as well get this thing done. It didn't work. Plus, the kitchen sink was completely clogged, so I had to take all the dishes into the bathtub to wash them, which was uncomfortable and exasperating and draining and twice as much work for my fragile hands, when really I need less for them to do not more. But I wanted to get these things done before bed, so that I didn't have to wake up and start with more pain.
Today is better – I’m still lacking the bracing and cushioning I need for some vague sense of emotional stability and my head is throbbing, but I'm not in as much pain as I expected and that does feel comforting. This blog has actually felt very comforting -- I didn't know what to expect, because I've felt so suspicious about the way technology can mediate experience in a way that prevents intimacy and emotional expression. But for me this blog has done the reverse, allowed me to be vulnerable and to mold that vulnerability into strength. And for that I have you, dear readers, to thank as well -- I've really appreciated all of your feedback, both on and off the blog -- and I look forward to more.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Okay, I'm nervous because I just got back and I'm jetlagged to all hell, but I figure it's time to make the announcement...
(And yes, please do forward this absolutely everywhere)
Get ready for the grand premiere of…
Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity
Edited by Mattilda, a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore
Tuesday, December 5, 2006
San Francisco Main Library
100 Larkin Street
Latino/Hispanic Community Meeting Room
6 p.m. sharp (5:45 for refreshments and chatting)
FREEFeaturing Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Kirk Read, Dean Spade, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Amy André, Dominika Bednarska, Nico Dacumos, Irina Contreras, JenniferBlowdryer, Logan Gutierrez-Mock, Jen Cross, Amy André and Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore
Delicious Reading and Devastating Discussion
City Lights Bookstore
Thursday, December 7, 2006 @7 p.m.
261 Columbus Ave. at Broadway
(415) 362-8193Featuring Benjamin Shepard, Irina Contreras, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Kirk Read, Nico Dacumos, Jennifer, Blowdryer and Mattilda a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore
Here are the blurbs:
From activism to academia, immigration to appropriation to cruising for sex, hip-hop to disability culture to trans communities, Nobody Passes challenges societal mores and countercultural norms, asking, "If we eliminate the pressure to pass, what delicious and devastating opportunities for transformation might we create?"
“Smart, sassy, and long overdue, this collection of essays by Mattilda and hur badass posse of evil geniuses gleefully demolishes the smug propriety that lurks within most contemporary debates about gender and diversity. What a breath of fresh air!”
—Susan Stryker, transgender activist, historian, and filmmaker
“In this beautiful, surprising collection of essays, Mattilda brings together the smartly told, diverse stories of social refuseniks. The result is a provocative critique of the act of passing, and a lively, challenging, often moving account of the pleasures and pains of not passing. Nobody Passes kicks ass. It will mess you right up.” —Joshua Gamson, author of The Fabulous Sylvester
“These essays, in all of their militant heterogeneity, with all of their ease and rage at being on margins, chart some of the most important ground on which the desire for a new society is finding expression. They show rebels that we are far from alone in feeling such desire.”
—David Roediger, author of Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White
“Nobody Passes is a fascinating example of how feminism and gender studies can support radically new identities that develop at the speed of life—or it may be part of the end of identity politics as known so far.”
—Naomi Zack, author of Inclusive Feminism: A Third Wave Theory of Women’s Commonality
Friday, November 24, 2006
My father died about a week ago, I haven't known what to write because I haven’t known what I've been feeling. I mean I haven't been feeling much -- couldn't tell if I was just too exhausted, but mostly I think it's because I felt everything in DC, in that room with my father, now there is no more grief left. Of course, there's always more grief left but one of the things that makes me glad about the visit is that I was able to mourn him -- I mean, I lost my father years ago -- 11 years ago is when I confronted him about sexually abusing me and I haven't talked to him since, but really there are so many other times before then when I lost him like right now I'm thinking about the time when I was 12 or 13 in the car with him, telling him about my day and he was nodding his head like he was paying attention but I could tell that he wasn't listening to a single thing that I was saying. I said: okay, I'm going to open the car door now and jump out into the middle of traffic and he nodded his head okay.
Another thing I'm thinking about the visit is how incredible it was for me to be so vulnerable in the face of so much strife and viciousness and trauma stacked against me. And also in that room with my father, I was able to say things that I had no idea I wanted to say, like: even though you've hurt me more than anyone in my life, I still don't want you to die and I wish we could have a relationship. And: I love you. In some ways I'm still shocked that he said nothing in return, that he couldn't even voice a terrible platitude in response like "I'm sorry" (but not what for), or "I'm sorry that you're in pain" (but not I'm sorry that I've caused you so much pain), or even "I love you." But what's amazing to me is that it still felt cathartic and tremendous to say exactly what I was feeling instead of shutting myself off -- shutting off is what I did to survive them, I don't want to shut off any more. So the whole experience did leave me feeling incredibly strong emotionally, in some ways it was almost confusing how emotionally strong I felt even while physically a completely exhausted, overwhelmed disaster zone.
Now I'm back in San Francisco, thinking about all of the other things in my life, like the book launch for my new anthology, Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, in less than two weeks (December 5 at the San Francisco Main Library, 6 p.m.)! There's also a lot that I want to write about -- being on the cover of the Wall Street Journal (but not really), the “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” statement that actually made me feel totally disempowered and hopeless, and oh -- that terrible terrible movie Shortbus. So keep reading...
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Get ready for the GRAND OPENING
Wet Nose Doggy Gym,
New York’s ONLY
doggy day care for
Here's the song that the dogs sing after a day at the gym, to the accompaniment of an accomplished cabaret pianist:
Oh, you're not as engaged...
As you could be
If you were me
Then you would be...
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Thursday, November 09, 2006
I talk for a while and whenever my father looks over, his eyes looks sad and huge but not overwhelming, I stare right in, he looks away. I say I'm much more nervous this time, maybe because the confrontation with Karin last time helped in some way to dispel the tension, and right then my mother enters the room again: are you ready to go? No.
She goes back into the dining room, loudly looking at her bills. I say can you please go into your bedroom? Why can't she just leave us alone, I say to my father. What is she afraid of? I say I think she’s just as invested in your denial as you.
I feel fumbling and stupid and inarticulate. I'm not even sure what he can say any more, I think most of the time he doesn't say much at all and these times with me are maybe his most engaged. I realize I haven't talked much about my pain, I say it's still so hard for me because I locked everything in my body -- it hurts to carry a bag, to type, to walk for more than a few blocks, to sleep the wrong way. And then I say what I'm thinking but I'm not sure that I want to say but then I decide to say it anyway: even though you've caused me more harm than anyone else in my life, I still love you and I don't want you to die and I still wish we could have a relationship. And right after love is finally where I'm sobbing, not as loud as last time but with just as much intensity, tears in my eyes and down my face I'm looking right at him so he can see it all. He closes his eyes and I keep staring at him.
After a few minutes, my father starts to grimace and I ask: are you in pain? Then my mother comes in: does he need something? I don't know yet. My father pushes his hands in exasperation like he wants my mother away and she says oh, okay, I'll leave, and goes back into the other room. Do you have anything to say to me, I ask my father. He shakes his head no, and then I'm sitting there focusing on my breath while looking at his closed eyes, with his head tilted slightly down I can see that his hair has fallen out in clumps from the chemo, his face looks so long and still tan -- he must have started out incredibly tan, since I'm sure he hasn't been out in the sun in weeks. Though he always did sit out a lot in the summer.
I touch his hand and he opens his eyes, a tear clinging to the outside of the eye closest to me. At least he's feeling. I say I don't know if I'll see you again, so if there's anything you want to tell me, you can tell me now or you can also ask Karin or Lauren to bring the phone. I wonder if, in his fading and dementia, he said something about sexually abusing me, they would even tell me.
I want to ask if he's afraid of death, but instead I ask: is there anything you want that you don't have? He shakes his head no, and that's when my mother comes back in and he gets angry, flailing his arms. My mother calls for Helen: do you think we should give him more medication? Helen says: we have to ask him, he has to say yes. He shakes his head no, clasping his hands together. I say to my mother, you don't need to be here -- she looks at me and actually says you're right, then to him she says should I leave? No, he almost yells. Then Helen’s moving my father around on the bed, trying to adjust him so he's comfortable. I'm pushing the buttons so that the bed leans up and then down, I'm not sure why I'm helping. My father's trying to pull his body up by grasping the bars on the side of the bed and Helen adjusts them so they’re higher, she says we don't want you falling off the bed Mr. Bill. My father looks out at me and my mother: who is that, he says. I say this is Matthew, I'm still here. He looks satisfied. Helen says that is Karin, and my father looks out at her.
Then it's just my father, my mother and me. My father's frustrated by everything. He keeps saying CLOSER, CLOSER -- in that dry angry voice, and my mother looks like a little kid inching closer to me, her leg brushing against mine and I think of moving away. My father's trying to pull himself up so he's closer to us, maybe so we can all sit on the sofa like a family is what I'm wondering. But he's also grabbing his dick through the hospital gown, I can't help wondering if he means something sexual. We can't fit in bed with you, I say, and my mother quietly leaves the room.
Then my father is looking at the watch on his wrist like he's trying to read the time, except he's looking at the watch band. I turn the watch around for him and he stares at it. I say do you want me to tell you the time? He nods his head. It's 12:30. Then he looks me in my eyes and says can you help me get up? I say no, I can't help you. He asks: because of your weakness?
Because of my weakness? That's when I could get angry, but I decide to save it for later. I tell him I can adjust the bed, and then I'm pushing the buttons until it's clear that he won't be satisfied with anything, just like before. I can get up, he says, with a very confused and sad look in his eyes like he's already leaving this world, or this room with me anyway. Anyway, I say, I want to say goodbye. He closes his eyes. I love you, I say, and kiss him on the forehead. Still he says nothing; he can't say anything, he never could.
When I leave the room, I feel calm and brighter, like I've said everything I need to say and I don't need to go back. I don't need to get dragged into nostalgia for something I never had, or to watch him die and hold his hand -- in the other room, I can hear my mother telling my father that I'll be back tomorrow -- don't promise him that, I say, and she says oh. I need to get away before I fall into this family tragedy, this glue -- no, something much stickier.
Backing up in the driveway, I can hear the wheels of my mother's car in the grass and I say Karin, the car is slipping off the driveway, she says I know. Then the car starts to scratch against the brick base of one of the lampposts and she says oh, you were right. The roads are so quiet, on one of the brighter and larger streets I see a small deer bound into the road -- stop, I say, STOP. My mother swerves a little but almost not enough, I'm thinking that hitting a deer would be a terrible terrible way for this night to end -- I spot another deer on the opposite side of the road, this one already hit by another vehicle and a police car is stopped on the side of the road in front of it. My mother says you saved our life. I say more importantly, I saved the deer’s life -- we wouldn't have died if we get hit it. My mother says what is a deer doing on River Road? I say it's because there are all these houses here, there's nowhere left for the deer to go.
Monday, November 06, 2006
I see his face tensen in a grimace when I say sexually abuse, but where I'm really crying, probably the most except for at the beginning, is when I'm saying I wish you could acknowledge sexually abusing me, because it would make it easier for me to go on living -- it's very hard sometimes, it's hard. That same place where I always cry, because I'm asking for something that he can give me. He's crying too, a few tears dripping down his face and he says thank you for sharing your letter and then there are so many layers to sobbing: there’s holding the chest while spasming anyway; there's tears gliding smoothly down skin; there's speaking with tears in eyes, in face, inside vision, in everything.
What I want to do is to touch his arm, softly, his skin, and so that's what I do. It feels intimate and nurturing and dangerous and at this moment I'm okay with all of these sensations. At some point I say that I've learned there are other ways to be strong besides holding everything in-- I'm just trying to be honest, and no one can deal with it -- and of course here there is more sobbing, sobbing is the texture of the air, sobbing is the feeling of this room, sobbing here it feels like strength.
At some point he’s choking and I'm asking if he's okay and then my sister Lauren magically appears to ask him if he needs anything to drink. She's been in the kitchen the whole time, I've heard her trying not to breathe too loudly. He looks confused, hold his hand up and it swings in the air. Can you get something for Matthew, he says? Lauren says to him: do you want ginger ale? I ask for a bottle of water, if there's one that is warm, and Lauren returns with a glass of ginger ale and the water. My father pushes away the ginger ale -- Matthew, he says. Oh I have water, I say. My father pushes the ginger ale away again, Lauren says I'll just leave it here for you.
Did I mention that I can see my mother standing in the doorway of the dining room, eyes narrowed while drinking a beer, and at this point she emerges with the postcard from my new book in her hand, that's what she thought I should talk about earlier. I hand it to him -- why not? -- he reads the title, or part of it -- I can't tell which part -- I think he says that he likes the cover. I ask him if he wants me to read the blurb, since the print is so small and I think he's having difficulty seeing -- although I can't tell if he understands what I'm reading. At this point I'm talking softly -- I can't tell if it's because of intimacy or because everyone's listening -- I think they've moved further away now, but I'm not so sure.
There are moments of silence and then there are points when I'm talking about more mundane things, even though I'm not sure if I should, since it's not like my father has acknowledged anything. I'm talking about the gentrification in the neighborhood where he and my mother were buying a condo, how sad it is even if the neighborhood is busy with so much activity, because of all the displacement to make way for richer people's leisure activities. At one point he says something that I don't understand, it sounds like: you're a very compelling liar. But he doesn't look like that's what he's saying, I ask him to repeat himself but he doesn't -- talking is difficult for him, a lot of the time we're together his eyes are closed and I ask him if he’s tired, he says no. I say is it because of the drugs, and he doesn't say anything. I say your eyes are closed, but you're listening, right? He nods. This might be the first time he's ever listened to me.
At one point, his eyes are closed and there's a single tear dripping down his cheek -- I touch it with my finger, then brush his hand softly again. It's almost sexual in this moment, even if it's scary to say that. My mother enters the kitchen to ask Helen if it's time to give my father his meds, Helen comes in to ask him if that's what he wants and he tightens his face and hands, not yet. Even though earlier his whole body had tensened into one large spasm, he was fighting back against the pain and I asked him if he needed anything. I didn't expect to want to care for him, but I don't like seeing him in pain, seeing him dying, even after everything he’s done to me.
I tell my father I'm leaving, it's time for them to give him his medication -- or at least that's what they think, what the doctors think, even though the medication takes away his ability to think or express himself clearly, though it's hard to tell what is the medication and what is cancer. I say I'm glad that you asked me to share the letter, he says I'm glad too. He says will you be here when I wake up? I say no, but I will come back tomorrow night.
When I leave the room, I don't feel afraid of the house anymore, I can go downstairs where so much of everything horrible happened. His office looks much cleaner, the carpet is newer-- no stains of mold or come, images of the past or even fear really. The door to the rec room is scarier, especially when I can't find the light right away, but even behind the bar, in that moldy sink where I was a broken toy -- I don't know, it's harder to feel all that while also feeling everything now. Like the chimney where I'd imagine myself floating away, away from him splitting me open, right now it just looks like a chimney, I mean a fireplace leading to a chimney.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
When my mother finally arrives to pick me up, it finally feels okay. She wants to know if I got her message, the one explaining that I can’t be alone with my father because he might have a stroke. I say I got your message, and I would like to be alone with him. She says: that's not going to be possible.
I don't know what's possible, driving through pitch-dark suburbs that I don't even recognize until we get right near their house -- did they always have those same lights at the end of the driveway? The trees are even bigger than I remember, driveway cracked in even more places I imagine though it looks pretty much the same.
The night is cool and windy and I'm snapping photos, even one of my mother standing next to the trash cans and she says: I never let anyone take a photo of me, but you did it so quickly. Inside their house, everything looks nicer and more well-kept than I remember. I can't go past the newly-renovated cobalt blue kitchen, to that bed in the family room on the other side where my sister sits with her boyfriend Alex and the attendant, talking to my father. I walk around the other way, through the living room with a small marble café table in the corner that was my teenage dream for the room, next to the piano and a newer rug with a smaller, more elegant sofa. The hallways also look brighter, wood floors almost pulsating, except that the bathroom is identical: pink and green tiles, green tub, now it almost looks vintage.
Back in the other part of the house, Lauren and Alex come in the kitchen to hug hello and then I'm accidentally looking right at my father, so I go in the family room to stand there kind of frozen with my hand on my right hip I can see myself seeing him, looking at him like I'm daring everything. Helen, the attendant, looks tense. Lauren isn’t breathing, Alex looking up then down. My father opens his eyes, closes them. Opens them, closes them. After it's clear that he's not going to say anything, I sit in one of the chairs, a leather lean-back recliner with a wooden pedestal that I guess is an updated version of the one they used to have. It's actually comfortable.
The knotted pine walls have been painted a gray color that my grandmother Rose called putty, the color she saw as the magic neutral-yet-sophisticated answer to too much white. The room looks more contemporary, the ceilings higher and I realize that it's because the track lighting has been replaced with recessed lighting, and actually that's one of the reasons why all the rooms look better. I'm studying my father, gray hair receding somewhat but not tremendously considering his age and condition. He has the same pillow I have -- the extra-soft foam one my mother got me -- his even has a black pillowcase like the one I borrowed on my last book tour. Every now and then, my father gets agitated and his hands move around like they're part of a different person, Lauren asks: are you okay? Do you need something to drink?
Lauren and Helen are watching Survivor and I glance over occasionally to glimpse various almost-naked athletic male bodies and women in bikinis -- someone just lost something, and I guess maybe people like this show because it's like porn. Then Lauren switches the station and it’s Deal or No Deal, she says have you seen this? A bald-headed guy with a diamond earring says something and then maybe 20 or 30 smiling plastic model-type women in identical blue dresses and heels give serious synchronized runway with silver medal briefcases down a flight of stairs and the announcer says Hi ladies. Hi Howie, they all say at the same time, modeling pin-up compliance for a new generation. My sister's talking about how some show came on earlier about end-of-life issues and she didn't know whether to change the channel but she didn't want to be too obvious even though it was totally insensitive, they were talking about pulling the plug, but she just left the show on. As if on cue, a bald woman flashes on screen, something about how cancer is beautiful.
My mother comes in and brushes my father's hair back with her hand, then she's standing at the foot of the bed rubbing my father's legs and his hands are moving around, his face looks pained and Lauren says what are you doing? He likes this, my mother says – I’m massaging his legs to stimulate him. Then she says to my father: Matthew’s here and he looks around more animated: oh hi Matthew, how are you?
How am I? I don't know if I start crying right then or if it's later, but really everything is crying and I'm glad I can do it instead of holding everything in, this is how I'm feeling -- I'm sobbing softly then loudly than softly again, another burst and then my mother comes over as if to comfort me, I say please don't touch me, she goes away. Later, somewhere in this sobbing, Lauren comes over to and I hold her hands and say thank you, but please don't touch me. I'm alone here, crying it feels like defiance and beauty rolled into something more transformative than power.
If I'm trying to establish some form of narrative here, crying is that narrative and everything else is around it, elemental is the word I'm thinking of -- crying is elemental, the rest is important too but I can’t reestablish the order with all this crying. I say what did you think of my letter? He says I don't think I read it. I say would you like me to read it to you now? He says yes.
Can I say something about my father's voice? Feeble is not the word I would use, though I can see others' invoking it. Can I possibly choose innocent? Softer and more childish than before. I say to my mother: could you go get the letter?
My mother: that is not possible. Me: Karin thinks I'm going to give you a stroke. My mother: There are other things to talk about besides the letter. Me: well, I remember it -- I can talk. Is this when I start sobbing? It makes more sense here, if here is about sense. My mother is standing on my father's left side with her eyes set in some form of angry determination and this is the moment made for the movies, I can feel my body arching back -- this is the fight-or-flight reflex, I mean the fight part. I say: you're just trying to control his death because you couldn't control your life with him. And the tears are pouring down my face like armor. This is the moment when I'm cold like the way I survived them except that I'm also crying -- it's both at the same time and my father says: is that true, Karin?
Helen is the first one to excuse herself from the room and then Alex and then Lauren asks if I’d like her to leave, yes, and my mother is gone soon too but I can hear both her and my sister lurking in different places trying not to make any noise. I want to say that the words aren't important it's the feeling that matters, except that the words are important and the feeling matters.