TDoR 2015

TDoR 2015

On Trans Day of Remembrance this year of 2015, in the midst of picking up the pieces from yet another defeat in my struggle for sobriety (sanity, life itself), I am wondering how many folks who’s names will be read aloud tonight struggled with drugs and alcohol. I’m wondering how many trans/gender non-conforming folks lost their lives this year to an overdose, liver disease, car accidents, diseases transmitted through drug use, or took their own lives under the influence or with the compounding stress of being trans and suffering from addiction. I have had the honor to know a few of them, before they left us too soon.

I recognize that, except for a few variables in my life, I could very well be a part of that statistic. I have been to rehab three times. I have had access to counseling and psychiatric medication, on which I heavily rely. I have a supportive family that has never given up on me. I was introduced to 12 step early on and have always felt safe there. I was able to transition at 22. I am white. I am seen in the world as a relatively normative male. I can hardly wrap my head around what my life would have been like if any of these variables were different. It’s hard to say if I would be alive today. In these troubled times in my life, I am often amazed that I am still alive, good variables and all.

So this year, my heart and my thoughts go out to all the trans/etc folks who have lost the battle with addiction and mental health. My heart and thoughts go out to those who are alive and still struggling, to those who are still alive but feel hopeless, and to all those who love them. May all the good vibes sent out today give us all the strength and courage to get through one more day.

j

Consciousness and the Jailbird

The Sacramento Valley is held by mountains to the east and west, and on a clear day you can see the foothills of the Sierras, if not the snow caps from the right vantage point. You have to get a little further west on 80 before the Coastal Ranges come into view. Otherwise, the valley is as flat as Kansas. Power lines run all along the gridded two lane roads that connect still small farms in various levels of productivity; the encroaching housing developments will only make it so far south before they hit the Delta, with its levees and sloughs, peat and marshland, unfit for higher population density. A few acres of solar panels starkly confront the older industries as the dairy cows look on, RVs rust, and barns decay in the fields. Mustard flowers and spring green grass contrast with the cloudy early morning sky, pink in the east, gray in the west. A partial blanket of clouds hang overhead like a low ceiling. This is driving south on Bruceville Road to the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center, or “R triple C.”

I pick a metal stool in front of a window with a phone hung up on my left and wait for the inmates to come in. There is a mother with a one year old to my right and an Asian woman to my left. The door to the hallway on the other side of the glass opens, and the inmates file in looking for their visitor. My brother Robert, in a faded thermal and orange pants, sits down on the stool on the other side of the glass, and we pick up our phones.

Protective Custody (PC) is reserved for gay guys, child molesters, older or disabled men, and gang dropouts. They are housed in a wedge-shaped room, or “tank”, with bunks along the back wall and high ceilings with a catwalk so guards can look into many such rooms at a time. There are a few tables and chairs and two bathrooms. They get to go outside twice a week into a yard with high walls and a net across the top. Visitors can come Tuesdays at 9am for one hour. Three of his friends happen to be in his tank, and they sit at a table and play cards, gossip, and share ideas about what they might do when they get out. They pool the money that gets put on their books, and sometimes will combine graham crackers and chocolate pudding to make a pie, or crush up a candy bar in coffee to make mochas. Robert says the gay jokes are mild and rare, no one really cares much to puncture the monotony. They eat at 5am, 11am, and 3pm, so their commissary is very important to them, as well as the welcomed relief from the boredom it provides. The cinder block walls are painted grey and the high florescent lights are either on or off, obscuring the contours of the day. There are no recovery programs, no classes, no job training, no therapy, no library, nothing that might actually prepare them for re-entry into the world. Almost everyone is serving time for a drug or alcohol related offense. Robert’s friends will all leave months before he will. He has eight long months ahead of him.

The idea of “serving time” coaxes me into rumination.. Is that the most we ask of those who disrupt the social order for whatever reason, to forfeit a specified amount of time from their lives? We don’t insist or even ask that they educate themselves on the consequences of their actions or on the factors that may have led them to take those actions in the first place, not to mention help them to not repeat the behavior. There are obvious conflicts of interest here, few people want to open the can of worms marked “Class,” particularly those who benefit from its structure, who also happen to include the private industries that own and run the prison systems. It is not in their interest to rehabilitate inmates, the profit is in repeat offenders. These are the cold hard turning gears of capitalism. It is proven that education, prevention, and treatment produces better results and is far more cost-effective than incarceration, saddling someone with felonies that limit their employment opportunities, burdening them with social stigma, and setting them up to repeat the same behavior. Robbing someone of precious years of their lives while securing them on the path that led them there is cruel, if you ask me. Time is the only thing we really have, for without it, no dreams can be built and seen through to fruition.

I don’t have a better answer for Robert. Social change happens as a reaction to the current state of things, and often only affects the next generation, if it happens quickly enough. Robert has been to rehab many times, he knows the recovery programs well, there is nothing more anyone can give him that is available. I don’t think he really understands the breadth of why he is where he is. At least I know he is safe in his tank, and at the moment isn’t selling drugs to some young person who hasn’t yet seen many consequences and may have a chance of escaping the black hole of addiction and incarceration. I don’t know what would work now, it is really up to him. The adversities are great, but hey – people do it, and this is the only life.

The walls of my tank are silent, the clock on the computer ticks on. The light through the windows turns dim and bright again from the passing clouds and intermittent rain. Everything that exists in our human world in its current state is only an adaptation of the previous model. Evolution is a response to changes in the environment, and the process often times cannot keep up with quick and drastic changes, which is why species perish. Our world is now a blur of quick and drastic changes. No one would have designed us, nor the systems we depend on to function, as we/they are now; an organism cannot develop a trait to help it survive in an environment it hasn’t yet experienced. Consciousness, as in a group or an individual, denotes “a part of the human mind that is aware of a person’s self, environment, and mental activity and that to a certain extent determines his choices of action.” I would add that full consciousness requires an understanding of exactly what state we are in, how and why we got here, and to what extent is it serving the greater good. Those questions being answered (and they can be), a course of action usually reveals itself in a very obvious way. I venture to say a broader social consciousness is a trait that is naturally developing, however tumultuously, and will surely have a huge impact on the lives of individuals and the community as a whole. Conscious evolution may be our adaptive short cut to the long unconscious process of trial and error that has served us up to this point. The change in environment we must adapt to or perish – the quickening pace of change.

j

Happy Birthday to Me!

On this day, Henry V was crowned King of England. The oldest known recording of a human voice was made on a phonautograph machine in 1860. Robert E. Lee surrenders, effectively ending the Civil War. Alaska was purchased from Russia. A lot of battles happened or ended, some special German submarine was sunk during WWII, a bunch of crazy tornadoes killed almost 200 people in TX, OK, and KS, the Suez Canal opens for business, Baghdad falls to American forces, Martin Luther King Jr’s funeral happened, the Boeing 737 took its first flight, and Dennis Quaid was born. Coincidentally, so was I.

I was trying to remember what I thought I would be doing at 30 years old, and I couldn’t really come up with anything.. This tends to be a common experience for some trans-people; my brain tried to envision this strange grown-up woman and what she might be doing, and it was just too hard a thing to picture. I wanted to be an astronaut, but I imagined boobs in an Air Force uniform and that was the end of that. Granted, I also had no concept of what a 30 year old does at that age, but also without any visible roll models to identify with, I really had nothing to go on. The normative life path of marriage and babies was never really in my consciousness; I felt undeniably “Other.” The first time I saw anyone I remotely identified with doing anything I was remotely interested in doing was the first time I saw the Indigo Girls perform. I didn’t really understand why I was so moved at the time, but I do now. But since I had no expectations to either live up to or fall short of, I guess I’m not in too bad of shape.

This weekend has been an abnormally busy one. I only just got home last Wednesday from my So Cal jaunt, and today I am exhausted. I feel like I should be doing something memorable and meaningful, but all I want to do is sit in my chair, smile at my kitties lounging on the chair next to me, read my book, write, and take a nap. And go to my Monday meeting later. Ingrid’s birthday, as may of you may know, was on the 7th, so this year we celebrated our in-between birthday, which fell on Easter Sunday, with my folks, my bro and his lady, Ing’s sweetie and Ing’s mom. It was awesome, as family as family gets. Tomorrow I will get up at stupid thirty and go visit my brother down at the county jail. That has the sweetest ring of a thousand county songs.

My trip to So Cal was awesome. I went to another sober youth conference and made friends with an awesome young singer/songwriting transguy, something obviously meant to be. His name in Landon Wallace, I’m sure you’ll be hearing more from him. I did two solo shows, which is a funny experience sans the band, but one that I feel is intensely developing my performer-ship, if there is such a word. I had this empty experience of finding a 2-3 year hole in my song repertoire, which is to say my recorded history, which is to say my identity. I’ve got 2-3 years worth of good war stories, of the ones I can remember or would actually tell anyone about, but only a small sad dim handful of songs. I wrote a song every few days when I was in my teens. I wrote a song a week for a while, then a song a month, then only during a sober stint, then none at all. The last of it was a long lonely silent walk to the finish line. Awareness may not always feel good, one doesn’t always like what they see, but I have faith that looking will ultimately result in better things. I feel like looking is paying due respect to the power of my condition as an addict, due respect to what was lost. Perhaps it is a way of truly acknowledging the worth of things in your life, and inspiring a new resolve to protect them. Hm. Point being, I’m ready to write some new damn songs. Also, we had the first big ice breaker meeting of Coyote Grace post-fallout, more on that later.

All said, I am happily content in my chair, boy cat is endlessly adorable on his chair, birds are chirping and the freeway is rushing outside my sliding glass door. I am not climbing a mountain today, throwing a wild party, or having a mind blowing spiritual experience, and that is just fine with me. I am endlessly grateful for all of you, who have been supporting me through this time with all your comments, food for thought, and good energy; I feel honored that y’all share with me your thoughts and insights. It is an amazing gift you have given me – to be heard and answered. Thank you.

Birthday squish,

j

93 Days

Laying in the enveloping bed in the little studio shed out in the back yard of my close friend’s house in sunny temperate Long Beach, I am awakened by the sweet sounds of — dogs barking madly at thundering garbage trucks pummeling every trash can on the block and the incessant whirring of yard work tools…. I guess it’s the price paid to live in a place where everything grows year round, fruit and flowers alike, and where each adorable little bungalow is so well manicured as to be post card-worthy. It also may be a hint that there isn’t a very good reason for me to be in bed past 11:30.

I am down here in the world of So Cal making amends and taking little baby steps back into life as I know it. I began to notice at least a few years back that my communication with my most long standing friends and family, the ones that could elicit the truth from whatever complicated scenario I presented them with, was beginning to wane and become strangely cumbersome when it never had before. These are the folks that after a while, if you looked into their faces, all you would see reflected back at you is the stark reality of your situation, how far you have strayed from your center. Also reflected is the sad truth that you are dealing with it by hiding from it and running yourself around in circles with the same old “figuring it out” game, which is only really allowing you to stay where you are. There is nothing new to report, so the reports stop coming. This is one of the major heartbreaks of addiction; one so strong, it actually has the power to keep you drinking. Although it is scary and hurts a little to break this ice, I feel like blood is rushing back into parts of my being that were dying.

Also in this baby step process are these solo shows that I’m doing. Now, I would think it wise to crouch behind a front of stoic professionalism, to give off an air of a seasoned showman who is perfectly at home on stage, but the truth is laughingly far from that. Just writing that makes me chuckle. I grew up on a stage, so to speak, but I was but one chorister in a flock of tiny tuxedos, led by our mama penguin out into the lights, and then back into the safety of the wings. And of course until now, I have had my trusty beautiful and charming redheaded upright bass-playing country femme at my side. The art of stage presence did not come easy to me, even though the music did. An early “Greenwood” show (pre-Coyote Grace) would consist of two promising but timid musicians squeaking out songs that were terribly too fast, staring only at each other or with eyes closed, and barely saying two words in a row. We have come a long way. I mention this because I recently had been finding my mood darkened and defenses up, days spoiled by unexpected sourness, and a wondering of what the hell was wrong with me – only to realize that I was just nervous about the shows, that was all. Identifying unpleasant emotions and dealing with them proactively is a new skill I am honing. I fancied myself fairly adept at it before, but I don’t know how I expected to identify anything through the chemical storm that was my psyche, or to be proactive in any way when life seemed to be hurling itself at me like a barrage of rotten vegetables, my reaction time sorely lacking. There are two ways to see this new sensitivity – the first is to feel victimized by the loud speaker of one’s emotions that now lack a buffer, and the second is to rest easy knowing that the sensations are no longer the confusing byproducts of the many hangovers in play that have to be teased out. What is felt is now accurate, sensible signage; much more easily discernible without all the unpredictable variables to sift through. I choose the latter.

I don’t have a valiant sense of where I am going or a solid faith in what happens next; I don’t feel incredibly sharp or sure footed. I am still avoiding things I am afraid of, having to reroute myself like a toddler back to deal with the issue at hand. I am lonely and I want a lady in my life, but there is good reason why there isn’t one right now. I am restructuring my life from the foundation up, reconnecting and strengthening broken lines of communication, figuring out where I am in the world and what life is like sober. Being blithering drunk and high all the time is a reality unto itself, and one I have investigated thoroughly enough. I will start this day by going outside and picking my lunch from the trees in the neighborhood.

j

A Parting of Ways

“Sometimes rain that’s needed falls”

The Central Valley is poised for a particularly arid and feverish summer after this benign winter we have had, but for now it rains. The dim light through the house, the shuffling of slippers with steamy coffee in hand, the lazy cat on the chair by the window, the rush of the wind and water against the outside walls; this is the day.

Tomorrow I will drive Highway 49 south along the foothills of the Sierra and spend a day with a mentor of mine, the long haired quirky and spiritual woman who taught me Spanish in high school, whom I have not seen in many years. Then I will take 99 south to 58 at Bakersfield over the Tehachapis, spend a night and catch some stars out near Boron somewhere in the Mojave before cutting around the San Gabriels and dropping into the big urbania which is L.A.

My brother is in jail again. He was due, an eclipse that is practically clockwork. The preceding silence used to be so unnerving, but now the cycle has become so commonplace, more like getting your registration renewal in the mail. A hundred bucks you weren’t planning on spending, but it’s part of the bargain so you pay it and forget about it until next time. I once stumbled into an Al-Anon meeting on accident, thinking it was once of my usual meetings, and figured I might as well check it out. It didn’t occur to me that I qualify completely for that group as well. When I heard the current news I went through my normal cycle – I should have gone to his birthday dinner, I should have called even though I knew it wasn’t safe and he never calls me, I should have gone to his Prop 36 graduation.. I know better these days, and those cycles are mercifully brief. They pass as quickly as they arrive, with predictable character. His is not my journey. Survivor’s guilt is a funny human facet, one that only requires a few honest siftings to separate the attachment to the ideal from the actuality of things, simple but certainly not easy. We draw our hand, and we play it, at the table we find ourselves.

I am entering unfamiliar territory – land that has been viewed from vistas past and told of by others, but that has not been explored first hand. I now believe that what I was searching for in the “ultimate party” is actually to be found in the quiet lucidity of the moment. Here’s to a parting of ways.

Rain on, baby blue:)

j

Meeting after Meeting

Meeting after meeting, mile after mile.

I sit in room after room, hear story after story, drink coffee, cup after cup. The clock ticks an hour out up on the cinder block wall tonight, florescent lights hum high on the warehouse ceiling. The choked voice of a woman echos around off the cement floor in the big room between the numerous chairs, each one different. She had three kids before she got sober and treated them poorly. Her oldest daughter will be in prison for a long time. A man walks around with two coffee pots, one with an orange spout and one with a brown spout, filling mugs as diverse as the chairs, carefully chosen off the hooks on the back wall. A small, soft spoken, gay man with four days sober shares that he has a thirteen year old daughter. The man with the good job who raised the girl with her mother has just left them. He wants to stay sober and be a father to his daughter. Cheaply framed catch phrases in old English script hang from the otherwise bare walls; Keep it simple, One day at a time, Live and let live. These are the same sentiments I see in rooms big and small all across the country. I have seen these particular ones move from building to building around town. This is my home group.

A meeting can be like stepping out of time for an hour, leaving behind all the usual pleasantries, etiquette, and conversation taboos of the outside world. The hard lines of class, culture, race, age, sexuality – all are blurred and removed at the door, casually as a coat, and set temporarily aside. Meetings can be a subdued, almost meditative experience, with their simple format and traditions. Someone’s partner threw them out. Someone got fired from their job. Someone has been sober for thirty consecutive days for the first time since their first drink. Someone is facing surgery and fears abusing the pain meds they will need to take. Someone got a new set of teeth, his smile is the most brilliant expression of gratitude I have ever seen. Someone is off probation for the first time in fifteen years. Someone got in a car accident that killed the other person seven years ago today. Breath after breath, day after day.

Some meetings can be as boisterous as a barroom, but brimming with the closeness of those who have escaped a shared hell, weathered a misery and a hopelessness that eclipsed all light, and managed an impossible redemption. Many of their comrades have not yet returned, some never will. The war is never over, not until the gene can be traced and altered and the brain reprogrammed. That is far off science still. Laughter and wild joy in a life almost lost, companionship and spiritual rootedness, vigilance and acceptance are our arsenal against the crossed wires that produce such an overpowering feedback loop that can rage so violently out of control. The hour can be ruckus and fidgety, punctuated with jokes and chuckles and spilling styrofoam cups, then poignant with nodding heads in heavy understanding, and then back again to the humorous hollering with abandon. Moment after moment.

Last Friday my father stood in a room in a church with vaulted ceilings, people sat at white plastic folding tables with their own personal saccharine cubes of birthday cake, listening to him speak. His best friend gave him a ten year chip. This is a man who had no friends and suffered a speech impediment due to a condition of his vocal chords. At 68, his hair now as white as I remember my grandmother’s had been, he is reborn, and spoke to the group with ease and charisma, a smile and a lightness in his eyes. His youthful and buoyant energy in the telling of his truth lifted everyone in sympathetic joy. I barely knew him until ten years ago. The oldest son of a depression-era Irish dust bowl child and a potato farmer’s daughter, he grew up in a very different Los Angeles. He became the man of the house at a tender seventeen when his epic father fell to the living room floor. He took his father’s briefcase and took up the family trade, sang his heart out, and drank his way through life. I would say that I am happy to have my father back, but this is a father I never had until now, and that is not what I am actually the most moved by. The peace he has found, the joy in each day, each book, each season, the vividness of his love for his family and his friends; these are the things that make me happy to be alive. Seeing one’s parent happy and content is perhaps one of the greatest gifts, and one I wasn’t expecting from him. Whenever I see him pruning the roses in the front yard like his father taught him, whenever he bustles around the kitchen preparing his famous recipes for his family, whenever he is moved to sit down at the piano on a quiet day and play the most elegant blues lilt of “Let us break bread together on our knees” or “Amazing Grace,” whenever I see him asleep with the cat and a book on his chest; these are the moments that move me the most. The happiness of one is a blessing to all. My epic dad, the low flying pelican over the waves of the Pacific ocean.

In my days, I see the universe in the weathered face and blue eyes of an old veteran, in the trembling hands of a pretty young woman who is staring down at them, her hair hiding her face. I hear the human song in the story of a blue collar butch woman’s days of playing basketball before she lost her scholarship to a blown out knee, of a construction worker who finally one day got up off the bar stool and got his contractor’s license and was kept awake at night by thoughts of the daughter he never knew. My story is just one heard in these rooms, I am just one of the sufferers holding hands in the circle. Prayer after prayer. We are a small fraction of the countless who are afflicted, most of us do not recover. There is still great misunderstanding of the nature of this condition and resources are scarce. But the doors of these rooms have been kept open by those who came before seeking asylum, keeping the beacon lit for the tired and the desperate, often the only option before the last resort. Try after try, fate after fate.

Love Day

Love Day

Did yall know that Valentine’s Day is loosely associated with three different Mr. Valentines who were martyred for inconclusive reasons in the 400’s AD? It didn’t become officially associated with romantic love until the 1400’s and the rise of the tradition of courtly love, when Geoffrey Chaucer wrote swoony Valentine’s Day poems. There were old Pagan traditions of fertility rites around this time, as well as the marriage of Zeus and Hera. So we string all these historical references together, add a little “creative embellishment” from the greeting card companies, and Viola! Modern day Valentine’s Day. On this lovey dovey day, I am going to pay homage to the most important woman in my life. That would be my mom.

~

Last Sunday I went to the concert of two of my mom’s choral groups, the high school-aged group for changed voices and the touring choir for unchanged voices. The show… was a knockout. Mom stands at a powerful five feet in front of a semi-circle of young people who are rapt in attention; mom seems to draw the most dynamic performance out of them with her emotive conducting, and the piece of music comes alive. She started the Sacramento Children’s Chorus (SCC) 19 years ago, and it has grown from one rag-tag gaggle of mismatching shoes and dress shirts to five levels of choirs, the adorable little baby penguins in their tux shirts and bow ties all the way up to the seasoned and proficient top two choirs. When mom conducts, she is dancing. Having been on the choir side many times throughout my youth, I have a good idea of her expressive faces, her umpire-like cues and directions, as well as her expressions of gratitude and complements when the piece is over that the audience doesn’t see. She has brought these choirs to England, France, Prague, Budapest, Hawaii, New York, Norway, Sweden, and all around the US on a shoestring budget. The choir was the original family band.

Mom was a public school music teacher for almost 30 years. I remember being a little kid sitting at a lunch table in a multipurpose room with a bunch of squirrely parents and siblings, watching my mom conduct a really rag-tag group of pubescent public school kids who were standing on squeaky risers beneath a basketball hoop. Mom’s energetic body seemed to be dragging the music out of them at times. There were years before she retired that she was teaching and conducting the SCC… I don’t know where the energy came from, but it was always something she did, and it was never a question. What she taught me is that you do your art. You just do it. You make ends meet somehow, and you do your art. A lesson I am very grateful for.

It was mom who would bring her guitar into my classes in school and play us songs, and who eventually passed on that guitar to me, along with her love of the original singer/songwriters of the 60’s and the folk music tradition. It was mom who dragged our struggling family through therapy, kicking and screaming, and who refused to give up on her alcoholic husband and her bizarre and troubled children. It was mom who comforted me when I was torn between the girl’s and the boy’s section in the mall, crying because the boy’s clothes didn’t fit me, even though neither of us understood. It was mom who took us three on vacations when dad wouldn’t go. Mom and I have the emotional intensity gene that was passed down from her father, and although it assumes different forms, it is none the less largely responsible for the deep ways in which I experience the world and how I express it. It was mom, that while financial hardship and internal struggles arose in the Children’s Chorus, sat at the dining room table over a book, conducting silently to herself, trying to figure out how to improve their tone. I will often come home to find mom sitting at the piano buried beneath a disheveled pile of sheet music, a pencil in her ear and one in her teeth wearing dad’s glasses, shedding out the different parts of a new piece she is teaching the choir. Sit down in her car and you might hear Beethoven come blasting out of the speakers when you turn the car on. I don’t know how many thousands of children have been affected by my mom, who seems to have an innate ability to meet a child at their level, and make them feel heard and understood and that a grown-up really cares how they feel and what they are interested in. I have seen it happen. And anyone who can entertain and coerce a restless group of 30 kids after school twice a week to perform a complicated and beautiful piece of music works magic on some level, not to mention remembering all of their names. And that was only one of the choirs.

My mom is my greatest musical hero, as well as a hero in the art of living. She taught me to keep seeking no matter how dark things look; she taught me that one should follow whatever it is that their soul desires to do most, no matter how unconventional or impractical; she taught me that things change and doors open, and you just have to hang in there. More will be revealed. She taught me that the pursuit of knowledge is worth it for its own sake. She has also taught me, in many ways, that everyone is human.

Thanks to the little lady who teaches children to sing, who leaves all the cabinets in the kitchen open, who laughs loudly and sings in a restaurant, who can’t ever find her keys, and who loves her children like the most ferocious mama lion there ever was.

With love and gratitude,

j