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Take Five

It's probably a little unpleasant of me to have dubbed the end of August/beginning of September "Death Week." 

But it's useful; gets me thinking about life, the universe, etc. Past, present, future, all jumbled together like the minute the Doctor didn't die, except without pteradactyls and Winston Churchill.

August is always like that for me, anyway. Maybe always since my mom died, or maybe always since it was the end of freedom before school began, punishing me with terrible wall color and oppressive little 50 minute learning increments. It's my month for taking stock of things, and breathing in cooling harvest air, preparing to start the cycle all over again.

So, my parents. They died 20 years minus one week apart. This week. It's not delightful to honor the anniversary of their passings, exactly, but it's a kind of catharsis, I guess, like taking note of your birthday each year, and maybe the beginning or end of winter. Depending on your view of things, the year starts all over again several times a year. 

I buy this really inexpensive fig-infused white balsamic vinegar. Usually cheap balsamic vinegar is made of awfulness, but I really like this stuff, and use it in all kinds of dishes. That's the kind of thing I never got to share with my mother. I don't mourn it, but maybe just a little. 

I've pretty much just turned into my dad, without the habits, actually pointing at the stereo and telling people "shhh, listen to this horn (or sax.") And a few other idiosyncracies.


My daughter will carry that on, no question. And she sings like my mother. So, I guess they're still here. 

Big nice changes here

Above the banner, to the right, you'll now see three links. The NaNoWriMo stories have been moved to the Stories one. And I will be continuing my food blog here at a new site instead of at the link to the right, which will just remain as an archive for now, and then there's a site for gardening, as well. Both those are empty right now, but each site has three links at the top; leading back here and to the other two sites. They're all still at this domain, though.

becoming merbelle, part one of—who knows?

1412 words

My past lives tend to have a Vaseline filter over them, like a Doris Day close-up in an old movie. Not just because I like to gloss over unpleasantness and focus on the joy or fun, but because a lot of it really does just blur together for me. My memoirs will be fuzzy in that respect; I now have a pretty good understanding as to why the best ones are slightly fictionalized. 

I’m a naturally quiet person, though when I do get to talking, I can keep going for quite awhile. But my tendency to not do that has resulted in a lifetime of other people making what I feel are wild and illogical, sometimes oddly emotionally-based assumptions about my character, “beliefs,” and practices. I don’t quite see why; I don’t assume things about them, after all. So anyway, I’m going to start my memoirs with some stories that should demonstrate to any thinking mind why I’ve never been some things others have claimed me to be. And am a few other things no one even bothered to notice...

As a little girl, I loved men. I mean, I really loved them. But when you’re an ordinary little girl, you don’t sexualize something you love; you imitate it, being cowboys and detectives and space explorers and race car drivers. When I was a little girl, there was no question that only men did those things, anyway. 

Our parents, who experienced childhood in the 1930s and 40s, were sometimes reluctant to buy us the “boy” toys or let us wear “boy” colors. I didn’t even own a pair of jeans until I was nine years old. I never fully understood until recently why that might be. Apparently they thought we needed conditioning to turn out correctly female. Did they think I wanted to be like a boy because I wanted to play with cars and Lego and be James West instead of Jane West, and because I didn’t really know what to do with baby dolls? The silly truth is that, while I didn’t know or understand it just yet, I wanted to be with James West. 

Look, the signs were all there from the beginning, and although I have few true regrets in life, one of them is that I never availed myself of the relatively youthful opportunity I had in early adulthood to fully explore my love of the vigors of masculinity. I was taught as an older child and teenager to have a prudish fear of something that comes as naturally to me as breathing. Took awhile to work past that confusing dichotomy, and by then I was, well, a mother, and a wife, and still pretty much a quiet person, metaphorically sitting at a table in the corner, watching everyone else play at the game I never allowed myself to sign up for. 

That’s not to say I didn’t have any experiences at all. I just never completely allowed myself to take them simply for what they were, or to express full-flighted joy without a little guilt attached to its tail. I was too young to give myself permission to just be who I naturally am, who people naturally are, really. That old guy in It’s A Wonderful Life said, “Youth is wasted on the wrong people.” It was a fairly apt statement in my case. The little freedom I did allow myself as a young adult, well, I never let myself feel free about it. I don't mean to imply I wish I could go back in time and just have sex all over the place. That's not wise, and often not healthful. I just mean, I wish I hadn't been afraid of it, and that I'd learned earlier on how to appreciate it. 

Of course, while I was growing up, setting aside the coke-fueled discotheque scene, young women were either Madonnas or whores or one masquerading as the other. If she was a whore masquerading as a Madonna, she was either a liar or “kinky.” If she was a Madonna masquerading as a whore, she was a pathetic tease. That’s all, you know. You either were, or were pretending to be, one or the other. No middle ground allowed.

I had a somewhat unique relationship with my parents, for the time in which I grew up. They took me to unusual places, tried to show me refinement and worldliness. I know this flies in the face of what I just said I was taught, but it’s true. I drank wine at restaurants when I was 16 and 17 (not, ironically, once I turned 18, because that was the year you suddenly had to be 21, instead, and they started asking for ID,) and tried every kind of ethnic and international food available in the city. 

Mom and Dad showed me great food, art, music, and architecture, and shared their interest in other cultures with me. But neither one of them knew quite who I really was. Dad was himself naturally, Mom was herself despite self-imposed unnatural restrictions, and me? Turns out I was an enigma to them both. My desire to please other people, to enjoy what they enjoy, to take pleasure in shared experiences probably led them to believe I was just whatever they saw on the surface. I dunno. What I’m trying to say is that if they both saw this inherently strong sexual nature in me, and I think they must have, they never revealed it. She told me God would see everything I did. He told me...what did he tell me? Mostly how much he liked our time together. 

So all those years earlier, all that effort to make sure I was a feminine lovely girl? Sure, it was a little misguided and mostly unnecessary. But I’m not mad at them for it anymore. It was really very sweet. Because I like that they always tried with me, in little ways if not in big ones. They just wanted me to be safe and still enjoy life. 

When I went out with my mom, it was a revelation. She could not go anywhere without being hit on. I don’t know how much latent sexual drive she actually had, but while she was a huge prude on the surface, she didn’t know how to turn off her inherent sexiness. She just wore it on her skin, in her smile, in the way she walked. Men picked up on it. Also, when I was a teenager, she was at that age we all get to, in the mid-40s, when our bodies try to take over and repopulate Earth before we wither on the vine. But as far as I can tell, she’d always worn that air of barely-hidden sexuality. She was practically the last virgin in her high school class, but apparently, no one actually believed it of her. I don’t think she was a tease, at least consciously, but men picked up on her signal all of the time. I thought it was funny, but swore I’d never be the same way. I never thought I was as pretty as she was, anyway, not realizing then that mere beauty wasn’t what attracted them to her. 

It annoyed me when boys would come onto me without knowing anything about me, and this led me to believe that all boys everywhere wanted nothing from a girl, all girls, but sex, which I was not going to give to them because they’d just walk away the next day, and there I’d be, alone and stained forever. I was sure this was how it worked with boys, even though I could see it didn’t always work that way with men. I never even thought about desiring sex until I was about 17, anyway. Yes, I loved men, but it was all fairly abstract until one day when it wasn’t. 

I can laugh at myself now the way a mother could laugh at her daughter who just didn’t understand how things really were. (I have no idea if my actual mother would be laughing. It’s odd to contemplate who she’d have become later in life, so I don’t.) The fact is, I wear that same glow on my skin, and attract attention with the way I walk, in my Mona Lisa smile. It isn’t on purpose; it’s rarely at the forefront of my consciousness. It’s just there. Now I’m thinking it always was, just cloaked with fear and a lack of confidence. And I think this because men always reacted differently to me than boys did; their eyes spoke a different language, for one thing. It excited me and fueled my romantic dreams, but it was a kind of tiny power I never knew I had until I washed away the remaining fear I’d been taught about physical relationships. 


becoming lily

898 words

I don't remember what it was like to start looking over my shoulder all the time, wondering if I was being watched or followed, and jumping every time the phone rang, sure it was going to be one of them, making demands.

I changed my phone number. It was already always private. I made sure it wouldn’t appear anywhere; cost me an extra four dollars a month at the time.  The day I had to appear in divorce court I felt so sick at having to see him again, I thought I might throw up. At the end, when the decree was issued, the two lawyers had a talk, and then mine disgustedly asked me if I’d forego child support if my former husband signed a release of parental rights. That was a huge relief; no matter what the lawyer thought, I could live without that money in exchange for a little peace of mind. 

But the former in-laws were unhappy about it. I don’t know what he told them, not enough, because they started on this constant campaign to see the girls, and refused to believe it was violence from their brother that kept me from wanting anything to do with them. They believed everything happened because I had an affair. You might think that these people had a right to take my children and do what they liked with them but I knew them, and could not trust them. That's a story I still can't tell.

I got married, had two more children (and then two more, later on,) and we moved far, far away. I loved my city, but I was glad to leave. It had become a symbol of death, fear, and violence. I didn’t trust it anymore. Four years after that day in the chair, I began to heal by the inland sea; Lake Michigan. 

We started using the internet at home two years later, in 1996. I used my own name for a little while, on Compuserve, then we tried AOL for awhile, along with the first easy to use version of Netscape, and I became merbelle. I loved that name. I felt like it was me, even more than my given and married name. I joined an egroup and used that name, and sprinkled it happily about the web. 

Over the next decade, I’d receive a letter from one or another of the former in-laws, forgiving me and wanting to move on. I’d be going along feeling like we lived wholly in our own life, and there it would come, another reminder we never could. I told my daughters as they grew older that if they ever wanted to know these people, they could do it on their own time when they grew up. One of them did, actually. The other one likely never will. 

In the early 2000s, two things happened for which I cannot forgive Yahoo. First, they bought my egroup and told us all we could still use it. But when I logged in, I was told my name was already taken. When I enquired about it, I was told, yes, that name was mine alone. But I could never log in unless I changed my name. Then one day I received a phone call from one of the formers. Triggered the whole thing all over again, that story I can’t write yet, about the day I left, and what was done to me. I was livid, and called the phone company to find out how my number was given out. I had never put it on my checks and used a fake name and address for everything back then. 

I looked myself up on Netscape and found a Yahoo phone directory entry; full name, private unlisted phone number, the whole works, at the top of the search engine just as Google now shows us a metric conversion or where a movie is showing. It took hours to find a page on their website, buried under layers and layers, and in tiny type in the middle of the page, a method to “opt out” of having private information shared by them online. 

I nearly screamed. Other women were still actively hiding from someone who might hurt them. Plenty of people had reasons they paid to have an unlisted number. And Yahoo decided to make it nearly impossible for anyone to figure out how not to have that information spread across the world. 

I cancelled the landline. We were moving soon, and decided to not get another one, just use our cell phones. That was late 2003. By then I was pedantic bohemian online. But someone else started using that name and I thought she was tacky. I became woodsylph, then bibliosylph, then emily sears, then liliales. I still miss being merbelle. I am Lily Alice. Capital letters and everything. Online, people who’ve known me for a long time call me sylph. People who know me recently call me Lily. 

My name is Mer. This is the introduction for how I reinvented myself, went from the quiet girl in a tree next to an old house in Greenwood, Missouri, to the quietly bold woman I am still becoming today. The tales I tell from this point will be funny, silly, sometimes a little sad or a little bittersweet, but absolutely none of them are violent. Violence cannot touch who I really am; I won’t let it. 


One more thing about that, though. Little things, borne of physical abuse and the terror of being choked when I tried to leave, but enhanced by a lifelong tendency to sensory overload. Don’t tuck in the covers too tight, don’t stand in a line unless you know it’s going to keep moving, jumping at the sound of sharp unexpected noise and then calming your racing heart, trying to relax through changes other people make to your plan without consulting you. Everything has a permission slip attached to it. Still working on that.


inside my head, outside of yours, part two

Whoops, this is even longer. Five pages, 1900 words. I didn't edit it; ignore tense confusion, where necessary. This is a frank discussion of sex, and, as mildly as possible, the sometimes violent nature that can accompany it. You're safe til after the jump.

When I knew I wasn’t going to have any more children, I felt such a sense of relief. When I saw other women pregnant, it was suddenly this alien thing to view, somehow both pleasant and awful. That was when I was in my late 30s, and I was ready for the next stage in life to reveal itself to me. 

Oh, but I loved being pregnant. There was the scary time, the even more scary time, the worried-over-money time, the this-is-perfect-timing time, the no-way-how-could-this happen-again time, and the this-will-be-perfect-even-if-I-have-to-slay-the-rest-of-the-world time. 

Incredible, eh? I love all six of them so much that my skin feels aglow when I think about them. I remember, with each pregnancy, especially when most of the nausea and heartburn had passed, feeling a sense of burgeoning life; I’m not overstating that, feeling such utter joy and honor and an almost mystical sense of responsibility for all Creation. 

I remember feeling the first flutters; by the fourth one I was feeling them very early because I knew what to look for, and scouring the books for just the perfect, perfectly meaningful name. I wrote poems to them, talked and sang to them, thought about what they’d look like, whether any of them would have Italian eyes, and how it would feel the first time I put their tiny little warm heads to my breast. 

But here is something possibly shocking for you to know about me. Aware that at least one in three pregnancies miscarry by the third month because of one or more mutations within the cell formation or the womb being developed, I do not regard them as people residing within me until they are fetuses. Consider this; you sprinkle yeast in a cup of warm water, and in a few minutes it will start to grow. Then you can make bread out of it. 

I know not everyone agrees with this, but I felt that what I’m about to write would be less honest if I didn’t admit that. Even if you don’t agree, I hope you will read the rest of what I have to say. 

I had the honor and privilege of thinking about the people my little balls of cells would become because I knew their fathers intimately, and was in, at least initially with the first two, a safe and secure environment in which they would first experience life. I knew something of their skin tone, their hair color, that they would probably have a large nose and perhaps awkward teeth, that there might be male-pattern baldness in their futures, that in all likelihood they’d be quick-witted and visually or musically creative. 

I also knew that from my side of the family there was a risk of a certain form of cancer later in life, and of alcoholism, and from their fathers, a propensity toward high blood pressure. 

I knew where we’d all lived, where our ancestors came from, mostly, and what our childhoods had been like. I knew what kind of parents our parents had been, and the sorts of foods we’d grown up eating. 

Continue reading "inside my head, outside of yours, part two" »

inside my head, outside of yours, part one

1657 words. If "mild" description of domestic violence is difficult for you, proceed with caution after the jump.

I conceived my first child on my 21st birthday. People thought, as people do, "oh, the poor idiot, she didn't know about birth control." Silly people. Of course I did. I spent the next 12 years watching my body work against a variety of contraceptives. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

I had a decent job and good health, people who loved me, and I am, let's not equivocate, a very intelligent person. I thought, "I can handle this. Let's do this." It never occurred to me not to, though. There I was, and so there it was.

All around me, my mom's Vineyard Church friends and even the doctor I went to, they whispered things about me, looked at me with shelves of assumptions built into their brains. I cared about that, but mostly I cared about doing it all right, so that's what I focused on. Some of them were angry I didn't automatically give up my child for adoption; what right did I have to this baby when others couldn't have one of their own? That seemed too rude and silly to argue about.

So I had her and the doctor was surprised at how big and healthy and good-looking she was; how she responded instantly to all the little tests, and how well she instantly adapted to life, to me, to her natural food supply.

He believed, make no mistake about it, that I would have ignored all his directives and came up with some scrawny sickly creature from my womb because she had been put there accidentally, and, let's be honest, by someone of a different ethnicity than me. 

Young women who conceive a child by a man of a different ethnicity are sluts who live on donuts, cheeseburgers, and, I don't know, my imagination doesn't really work this way, Bartles & James wine coolers. They don't, as I did, eat small healthful meals throughout the day, exercise regularly, abstain from unhealthy habits, or take their vitamins. 

And I breastfed her. Well, what was all the milk for, anyway? But wow, was that a decision for the ages back in 1987.

You can tell, can't you? I lived in a bubble even way back then, just living my natural life, unaware of how unnatural nature really is to most people.

Continue reading "inside my head, outside of yours, part one" »

attached to yesterday

an old favorite I dragged out of the writing closet this morning.

things i want to notice...

do you ever run your fingers up through your hair while you're thinking?
does your smile start at one corner and spread across                   
like the sun slowly revealed behind moving clouds,                    
or does it break open all of a sudden in a flash-flood grin?
do your eyes flash,                    
do you tilt your head to the side or throw it back                   
or tip it forward in shy laughter?
how do you grip a pen? i think i know;                    
i think you hold it close to the point and curl your hand around it,                   
anchoring it to the page.                    
i see quick little movements, 
controlled scribbling, conscious effort at all times. i'd like to see the way your shoulders shift up and back as you run, follow the contract-and-release rhythm of those well-defined hamstrings, and when you've exhausted yourself after a sprint, hands on knees, labored breathing, sweat dripping from your chin, ears, lower lip-- i'd like to taste the salt of your effort on my tongue.


there is no answer

My blogs used to be one of the main ways I communicated with people online. Well, first there was Compuserve. Then I made a website, with a few pages sharing various odd things I enjoyed (and still enjoy.) Then I started a blog, because that was the Thing, at the beginning of 2003, and now I have two blogs and two Tumblr pages (let's be honest; I have more than that. But those are the main ones I care about.) The other three have actual "blog" themes to them, unlike this one. 

After Twitter became more of a hangout than just a checking in point, I spent a lot more time there, and then at Vox, Tumblr, and lately at Google +. Google+ is my hangout, but I still like and cherish this unorganized space most of all.

Yesterday after I posted this photo and a couple others, Photo on 8-18-12 at 9.30 PM

I was accused of having motivation, because I was wearing makeup and a tank top. I will address that publicly before moving on.

1. I wear makeup every day, 28 days out of 30, probably.

2. I wear sleeveless tops every day, nearly all year round, except now and then.  

3. I find it very easy to garner "attention," any time I wish to, whether or not I attach a photo to the effort, as well as times when I really would not wish to. It's part of being a woman who likes to appear pleasant.

4. I was mulling over the fact that the more you look at yourself, the odder you start to look. It can be alarming. 

5. I think we should all share lots of photos of ourselves, any time we like, if we choose to, without someone else who is overly self-conscious (and possibly subconsciously prudish in that sort of whore/madonna way) assuming it means we're hungry for undignified attention.

Now I will return to writing about pleasant things, here in my favorite space.

we never say "goodbye"

Shall I tell you a story today?

Do you like the sound of my voice in your head? I hope that, when you read my words, you feel the surface of what I'm touching and experience the taste on your tongue. And I hope I sound girly and strong and smart and sexy and funny, but mostly I hope I sound interesting. I hope my words are fragrant enough to draw you in.

Once upon a time there was a woman who liked to watch a man run. Any man, sure, but most particularly, this man, long and lean and earnest. She studied him as an artist studies a nearly-finished canvas. She watched his chest rise and fall with the cadence of his steps, and the way his shoulders moved up and back in corresponding rhythm, and even though she wasn't quite close enough to hear, she could easily imagine the increasing strain of his breath, the quickly exhaled puffs matching the beat of his sturdy heart.

Now and then he'd shake his head to fling the beads of sweat from his hair, and it reminded her of a boy she once knew and loved. Truthfully, that was a boy she imagined loving, not one she actually knew at all. But this many years later, the memory was just as good as reality might have been. She saw that boy in the man's face as he ran his hands through his hair, but she appreciated the sinewy strength of the mature adult he'd become. 

She saw all of this in her mind's eye as she sipped her coffee, sitting in the bookshop by the window facing the street. She had every detail memorized and for many years hoped that someday she and the man would meet so that she could marry reality with the short reel she carried in her head, but now, after so much more time passed, she knew it would probably never happen. So, she contented herself with building memories from the photographs he once shared, and from all those afternoon phone calls in years past.

He's older now, they both are, of course. He wears more lines on his face and she wears more heaviness on hers. But she knows the sound of his voice will have changed little; she remembers the shift in tone when he is optimistic and when he is concerned and when he is aroused. And she knows he is still strong and can still run fast and far. Those are the best things to know, for now. 

All the things (for something completely different)

Do you deny yourself the things that bring you the most pleasure? Sometimes it's right or healthful that we do so, at least temporarily. But when it becomes a marker of morality, I object. What is life for? Anything? If you believe God made you and made all the things, why would he expect you to forego them all? If he did, why would you accept that? If you don't believe a god made you, then for what purpose do you act each day? If you believe that life is nothing but a trial to be gotten through, you are missing out on the treasure of it. 

So many people have trials that are so difficult, we cannot imagine them, even though we know the sensation of emotional or physical pain. And we can never measure our pain to anyone else's, anyway. 

Life is for pleasure, when pleasure can be taken, or given in turn. For whatever reason you wish to name, we take pleasure in helping others and being kind to them and giving them good things. But we also take pleasure in tactile sensations, and in being told we're smart or pretty or nice to talk to. We can take a lot more pleasure in a lot more things when we stop objecting to how everyone else takes theirs. 

I love an iced breve. It's espresso with half and half or cream, and ice. Ice does wonderful things to liquid; it changes the way liquid feels in your mouth and on your tongue. I love ice in my glass of bourbon. Not because it waters the drink, though it will over time, but because it changes the character of the drink molecules. I can't explain it, but I know how it feels, and I like it

Standing in the wind just before it begins to rain, that's a pleasure we've all experienced. The first time your mouth parts, almost without you realizing it, to receive the tongue of someone you've suddenly become wildly electrically connected to; that's an experience most of us could never forget and would wish to relive over and over again. 

Why would you wish to deny yourself these things, or deny them to anyone else, for any reason at all? There simply isn't a good answer for that. Just thinking about them makes you feel a bit tingly, a good kind of tingly. That response is one of the very best aspects of being human. It's one we all share. None of us is set up, by God or not a god, to judge the rightness or wrongness of basic human desires and pleasures. The common ones we all share, if only we give ourselves permission.

This weekend, I hope all my friends allow themselves some real pure pleasures, and offer them to others in the form of words, deeds, or physical action. Making a point to truly live within the moments we have to share. 

If some of that pleasure is sexual, just think about the utter joy of humanity, in realizing the give and take of that connection. The air you both breathe, the words you both murmur, the sounds you both make; it can be more than a pleasurable release. You know it can be ecstasy. Let go and let it be. 

I'm gonna do that with my writing this weekend.