Zero Year

Do you remember where you were 20 years ago today? I’m betting probably not. I do.

I spent the last day of my 20s wandering around Manhattan with a Minolta x-570 loaded with black and white film. I wanted to do something daring to usher in my 30s, and while it wasn’t my first time visiting New York it was my first time visiting alone.

The ticket home. Today $115 buys you one way on a slow, regional train between DC and NYC.

I splurged on seats on the Metroliner, which was Amtrak’s fast train from DC to NYC in the pre-Acela days. Three hours from Washington to midtown Manhattan. And when I got there it was, well, New York.

Crowded, loud, not as hot as I expected it to be but then nothing was as hot 20 years ago as it is now. And no one cared one bit what I did.

I wandered around the financial district and took a lot of arty photos. I went to the top of the Empire State Building, and I had a very patient security guard look kindly at me as he explained that the observation deck at the Chrysler Building hadn’t been open to tourists for decades. I had lunch in a park near the Wall Street bull. I got on a train and came home.

I was on my own in the most hyped, potentially scariest city in the world and I survived. Looking back the idea that I couldn’t seems charmingly naive.

The next day I turned 30 and not much was different.

The company where I worked still floundered, and soon was bought and disassembled in the most horrible way but I wouldn’t know that until a few months later. TGF still loved me. My family was still as intact as it had been since my grandmother died.

In other words: stasis.

The last day of my 40s isn’t anywhere near as interesting which makes up for the fact that I’ve spent the last year learning that I’m not really who I thought I was.

I’ve spent the past year taking a long, hard look at my life and how I live it.

I have a job I mostly don’t hate. Mostly. It pays me a ridiculous amount of money for a staggeringly low level of required productivity. At a corporation.

Me. At a corporation. Me wearing grown-up clothes every day. Nary a t-shirt or pair of cargo shorts in sight.

Kind of a shock for someone who took a massive pay cut to stop feeling like I was stealing my salary from the American public.

The community I jumped into feet first after I finally kicked open the closet door in my mid-20s is in complete disarray.

Lesbians are fighting with each other and with the trans community, which can’t take a single question or lick of criticism without acting like you killed someone’s dog and enjoyed doing it.

We’re sitting on our haunches like marriage solved everything (hint: it didn’t), and gender-conforming gay men still don’t seem to give a fuck about anything except that they get to party. And now that AIDS isn’t really a thing to worry over, all the more partying for them.

Oh, and I don’t seem to exist there any more.

It’s a double shock: I’ve aged out of American culture and my marginalized community which has also in some subtle and not so subtle ways told me that who I am isn’t OK.

The bars are packed with people in their 20s and 30s and showing up in them is like getting the side-eye from little old ladies in the restroom and yet there don’t seem to be any outlets for anyone under 65 in my city. Yay for elder programs! Not so yay for being edged out of the community.

Menopause happened. My body has gotten rounder and more feminine at exactly the time when I don’t want it to and when doing so serves no purpose in evolutionary biology. It’s changing in ways that the medical establishment reacts to almost literally with ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

At the same time, I’ve let my inner butch out of the closet. My hair has gone from long to short. My wardrobe has gotten more and more dapper. And yes, I’m aware that butch is more than how you dress. Signifiers matter, though.

My social media feeds have filled up with groups and people that have helped me accept that for whatever reason that feeling I don’t belong in the community of women nor do I want to be one of the guys is a viable way to live.

And Brené Brown has helped me understand that I got all the pressure.  All. The. Pressure.

My sex caused society to shove the feminine messages about perfection, appearance, desire, and effort at me while my gender orientation caused me to absorb the masculine messages about weakness, failure, fear, and emotion.

And yet…it’s still not really OK to be who I am for one simple reason.

So much of who I am, how I act, the way I view the world roots in those #metoo moments, all of which happened before I was in double digits and one before I needed two hands to show you my age.

My distrust of people, my risk aversion, the black and white thinking, the always planning for the worst case scenario, the anxiety, all of it goes right back to how trauma changes the brain. And all of it, every single behavior, every coping mechanism, has shaped my life.

Which leads to the question: If everything I do and everything I am is just a vestige of trauma, when do I get to be authentically me?

And who is that exactly?

Zero year. Time to find out.

Noonday Demon

Once upon a time I was a good writer.

OK, maybe good is stretching it. A serviceable writer if you were looking for a certain type of experience (85,000+ words of a certain type of experience).

A serviceable writer with flashes of brilliance when I put my mind to it, or more accurately didn’t over think it.

Then something happened.

I’m not sure what.

Hormones. Life. Aging. Job troubles. Money troubles from job troubles. More job troubles. Even more job troubles after a brief lull during which I got comfortable and started working in long form – ask me about my five finished, unpublished novels. Did I mention I have a trilogy?

All of that feels like an excuse. All of it. Yet, the amalgamation of those things feels like a lead balloon I can’t control.

It sits in my chest swelling and growing heavy at the most unexpected times.

When I’m sitting in traffic just waiting, resigned to the fact that no one around me has the faintest fucking idea how to drive any more – because yes, I’ve sat in the lane next to someone who literally left a city bus length’s worth of space between him and the car in front of him. How do I know? I was behind the bus.

When I’m sitting at my desk in the office I share with someone who never works anywhere but at home or at the client site – because yes, it’s important for me to spend 45 minutes on the road so I can sit in an half-empty office at the juncture of two empty corridors so no one can speak to me outside the two meetings I have scheduled during the day that are the sole reason I came into the office in the first place.

When I’m brushing my teeth, for my dental hygiene is amazing because brushing and flossing are two of the easiest things to accomplish on my ridiculously long list of Self Care Actions – always title case, if you please, because we must take our self care seriously.

This balloon inside me swells bringing me to sobs with no warning. Literal, mouth open, I just saw someone I love die in front of me sobs. That’s a lot of fun at the office.

Whatever this is inside me swells taking up all the space in my head and heart, demanding I pay attention to it and making me sick when I don’t.  And if it would just stay in my chest I could handle it. I could learn to carry the weight of it no matter how heavy it got. But it won’t stay put. It migrates.

It activates my brain when what I need most is a good night’s sleep. It makes my limbs too heavy to lift, my feet drag, and my head weigh more than I could possibly balance on my neck when what would benefit me most is a good, vigorous workout. It says “go ahead, have ice cream for dessert in the middle of the day. You work at home. No one cares.” And then convinces me the phrase “no one cares” is the truth.

It makes me want to disappear. Not to die necessarily, because death leaves behind all kinds of messy complications and God forbid I take up anyone’s time or energy, but just disappear even if all that happens is feeling like this stops.

And all of that is just an aside to the poisonous memes it injects into my thought process, the ones that say that once upon a time I was a good writer…but that I shouldn’t expect to be one ever again.

Don’t look at the dogs, work the lock.

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