Tagged with " relationships"
Oct 5, 2013 - Domestic Engineering    3 Comments

Pink & Ginger: The Secret of Our Success

Today is my 17th wedding anniversary with the Darling Husband, so I thought it would be fun to do another installation of Pink & Ginger, in which we talk about what’s made this partnership work for so long.

You can read more about our backstory elsewhere on the blog, but we’ll start at the beginning here:




Worlds' End screen

The Worlds’ End Bar on AmberMUSH, where the DH and I first met. For real.

ProfBanks: ‪So, Mr. Banks, when did you decide you wanted to marry me?


Darling Husband: Oh good, we’re starting with the easy ones.


It’s a toss-up between the time you killed my character on AmberMUSH with random dice rolls, and when you sent me that first mix-tape that was totally spot-on perfect.


But like every relationship’s beginning it’s the sum of all of its parts. Kind of unfair to single out.


PB: I can’t remember the exact day, but there was a point in the fall of ’95, when we were making plans for your visit, that I turned to Mari and said, “Hah, wouldn’t it be funny if I came back from Scotland married?” She looked at me like I’d lost my mind, but the little flip-flop in my stomach told me that, if you asked to elope, I’d do it in a heartbeat.



DH and me, celebrating my 21st birthday in France, in all our ’90s splendor.


PB: I’m sure it must’ve been like watching a bizarre, incomprehensible rom com unfold over the year. Add that to the generally weird experience of living abroad with a group of Americans (and Dutch), it had to have been the best entertainment around.


DH: Plus the unpredictable hours and time differences! From time to time, there was the additional worry of, “Holy crow, she’s a million miles away in France. If anything were to happen, how would I get there in time?” There were a couple of occasions like that.


PB: I remember some of those. Honestly, though, I wonder sometimes whether we’d have moved along so quickly without that 12-hour time difference. It really greased the skids for what was probably inevitable, but never easy.


Do you ever think about how our relationship would’ve been if we’d had something like Skype? Or even just Internet with pictures?


DH: I imagine the outcome would have been quite different if we’d had Twitter. I see this with a lot of romances and couples nowadays. And not being able to constantly know what each of us were doing was probably a good thing, too.


PB: Well, actually, Twitter strikes me as much closer to what we DID have.


DH: I suppose. Maybe I’m talking about always-available smart phones.


PB: Oh that. Yeah, even just today’s long distance rates might’ve kept the urgency levels for being together lower.


So, what’s the best thing about being married to me?


DH: The absolute best thing is knowing that we have our own culture and shared intellectual & emotional space that nobody else has. It’s a hybrid that started up in the days of MUSHing and exists now with a thousand little in-jokes, references, interests, and hobbies. Even though we don’t do the same things all the time, I never get the “why does she do that?” thought that comes with, say, not understanding why you like Prince so much.




When DH makes fun of my love for Prince, doves cry.


PB: The Prince thing is easy—it’s because Purple Rain is the best thing ever. But yes, we’ve built this whole world and language and symbology that I find hilarious on a daily basis. And while I value that immensely, I also want to say that I appreciate the fact that we work pretty seamlessly as a team, and we’re rock solid when we do. I often feel like circumstances are overwhelming, but I never doubt that we’ll make it through.

DH: Yes. I think that’s emblematic of this shared life, though. It’s the foundation for why we can relax enough to enjoy that. Sometimes things are incredibly stressful for one or both of us, but I know laughter isn’t too far away—and if not laughter, at least a firm set of the jaw and a desire to kick some ass.


PB: “A firm set of the jaw and a desire to kick some ass” should be on my business card.


What’s one weird thing I do that you kinda love?


DH: There are a ton of things. One of them is the weird voices and sounds you do that accompany watching or acting out things. “Wahoo! Wahey! Whoopee!” as you watch cat fail videos, for example. It’s like you narrate life in a fun way.



DH with a sock puppet of the Serpent of Chaos that I made for his birthday. Don't try to explain it.

DH with a sock puppet of the Serpent of Chaos that I made for his birthday. Don’t try to understand it.

PB: It’s hard for me to choose, but I’d say I’m pretty enchanted after all this time by the Closet of Random Weirdness you can dial into. Nobody else does that quite like you, except maybe Eddie Izzard.


So, is there a quality about yourself that you think has been essential for building such a strong marriage? I know it’s not what you thought you were signing up for when we exchanged rings.


DH: I’ve said this fairly often in the past, but it’s a combination of being fiercely loyal and having a lot of willpower. That’s not to mean that sticking with you has required a force of will, but I’ve chosen to invest in something I believe has value and worth and is greater than myself, and so I will move heaven and earth to ensure that it’s held up.


I hope this also comes out in my parenting and my job, too, but really I think my surprise at anyone asking how I can be married for this long comes from “Well, what else did you expect me to do?” I made vows, I made a promise, and I entered into it willingly and without an expectation that it would always be roses and leafy garlands.


PB: Yeah, but fibromyalgia and a house full of neurodiverse people and a cat that’s determined to rid you of the ginger caterpillar on your upper lip? I can’t even say how many people would’ve run the other way.


DH: I suppose it’s a good thing I’m not those people? I mean, I’d be a sad dude. Plus nobody ever knows what’s going to come along. I think my whole life with you has been one of discovery in spite of the setbacks to health, finances, or geography.


PB: Well, with all the other baggage I’ve unwittingly brought into this relationship, I think the one thing that I have that makes it work is flexibility. That sounds weird, considering how often I freak out when things don’t go the way I wanted them to, but where it’s important, I’m pretty good at just rolling with it.


DH: Nobody could ever accuse you of being static. As a teacher, I think you appreciate the importance of always learning. You read a hundred times faster and more often than I do. It’s alarming, and it’s a thing I wish I was able to do. I think that part of my brain likes to just shut off. Or else it’s what my Mum always warned me would happen if I read too many comic books.


PB: Nonsense. I’ve always taken refuge in books and learning, not to say at all that you haven’t. But as much focus as I can summon for that, you can actually focus on a single project in a way I find difficult. I can’t turn off the multitasking enough to lay down a good stretch of track like you do. Plus, it helps that you’re ridiculously creative, so you just unspool ideas like no one I’ve ever known.


DH: It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s possible to get caught up in a rat’s nest of ideas and connections that I get the creative equivalent of falling down the Wikipedia rabbit hole. I think this is at least part of why my time management sucks so bad. I’ve got to get on top of that. Maybe I should start making lists like some of our efficient friends do? Only, I think I’ll probably just ignore them.


PB: Luckily, though, your time management doesn’t really have a giant effect on our marriage, except for the stress that it causes you. Honestly, I can cope with it by flexing stuff around it. No biggie.


So what’s the most annoying thing I do?



I’m not saying I’m like this in the kitchen, but kinda yeah.

DH: Probably how you can create amazing dishes, baked goods, or other food and leave the kitchen a titanic mess. Which you say you will clean up, but I usually can’t stand it long enough before I end up doing it. So, on the spectrum of annoying things spouses do, that’s pretty low.


PB: That’s true, though I’d like to make a plea that my mess wouldn’t be as big if I had more counter space. Don’t ask me how I think that would work, but I’m sure it would help.


DH: We would likely find a way to cover every surface in something, eventually.


PB: Face it: If it weren’t for you, we’d soon be snowed under completely by dirty dishes, homework, books, and crap. I’m so grateful for your willingness to pick up my slack on physical chores.


There aren’t too many annoying things about you that I can’t attribute to my hyper-tuned autism senses. And you always turn over to stop snoring when I shove your shoulder in the night, so that’s not a big thing.


Ironically, I think the most annoying thing is also the thing I most envy, which is your ability to filter out everything going on around you and get lost in what you’re doing. I’m completely unable to ignore the noise and motion of the kids, so I get frustrated sometimes that you don’t notice when I’m struggling to get them to do something. We’re so lucky that you can stay calm through that, though—I sure can’t.


DH: When it gets particularly annoying, it probably looks like I’m not paying attention. Which of course is totally an illusion, because I know what’s happening around me at all times.


PB: Bah, I say. Bah. All the bah.


DH: So do we have the secret to a successful marriage here?


PB: I don’t know what a secret it is. We laugh, we work together, we’re honest, we cover each other’s weak spots, we tolerate, and we make room for new ideas, priorities, and experiences.


DH: Plus we have these kids.


PB: Right. How weird is that.


If we could celebrate our anniversary in any way, with money as no object, what would you want to do?‬


DH: Fly back to Scotland. Spend time in Aberdeen again, then this time go the rest of the way up, and take a boat across to Ireland. Revisit places we were at before. Follow up with another New Zealand trip, or one to France, or Rome.


PB: With or without the kids?


DH: You know, if we could fly them in after a romantic weekend, that would be OK. But if money were no object, I’d drop them in the lair of a grandparent or two and ditch.


PB: That sounds nice. I’d even be content with something closer to home, like being able to buy ourselves really swanky clothes, then go out for a fancy dinner and a show of some kind, then spend the night in a comfy hotel.


DH: Yeah, those are the anniversaries I like. Just recognizing them with alcohol and time together.


I make us sound like drunks.


PB: Which is funny because I’ve never been drunk.


But since money is the only object we lack at the moment, what would you like to do tomorrow?


DH: We’re going to go out and get an early bite to eat before catching a 7:10pm screening of Don Jon, of course.


PB: Yeah, I could be down with that. You do know how ridiculously lucky I am to have had you for the last 17 years, though, right, Mr. Banks?


DH: Right back at you, sweetheart.







May 2, 2012 - Psychology    11 Comments

First Contact

I feel like I’m living my life as an autistic in reverse. I was aware of Autism Spectrum Disorders and Asperger’s Syndrome generally, but quite frankly, I never applied myself to really learning anything substantial about them. I had trained as a crisis counselor while I was doing my undergrad at the University of Kansas; Headquarters is the oldest, continuously operating phone and walk-in crisis center in the nation. In the ’90s, their training didn’t include anything specific about how to talk to autistics, but their Rogerian approach and general attitude of acceptance provided me with a good footing for dealing with all sorts of neurodiverse folks.

Then,  my eldest son was diagnosed in 2008. That diagnosis was a blessing, to be perfectly honest. Until the school showed us how all the strange, inexplicable things about him actually formed a pattern that belonged to Asperger’s, the leading theory for what was wrong with Connor was crap parenting. When presented with a new situation, my primary coping method is to build a fortress of books on the subject, then read my way out, like you would escape a marshmallow dungeon if you were handcuffed by eating a hole to crawl through. (Hey, don’t mock–it works for me.)

The more I read, the more I recognized of myself. It came as a complete shock, how well the Asperger’s pattern explained pieces of my life that I’d never been able to make fit. The spotlight of memory swiveled back to all the times I’d been called “intellectually advanced but socially backward” in my childhood. My fixations on weird trivia, the First Ladies, native costumes around the world, Sherlock Holmes (so much like an autistic, himself), foreign languages, and others. How much like learning those languages was like learning to “read” people. All my weird sensory issues with fabrics and foods. My strong visual memory and how I see everything play out in my head as I read. My sensitivity to sounds, both good (perfect relative pitch) and bad (loud sudden noises are my only migraine trigger). A million little things, none forgotten, but suddenly in focus.

And while my primary preoccupation has been on using my own understanding of the autistic experience to help unlock doors for my son, the corrective lens of identity and memory also sharpens things that stayed in the background so long, I’d almost lost sight of them.

Like Clarence Treutel.

When I was nine, my mom remarried and we moved to Whitewater, WI, where my new stepdad was a professor of music education at the state university. It’s a gorgeous little town full of Victorian homes and stately elms. The university, with about 10,000 students, somehow manages to be insulated from everyday life, both for those on-campus and those off. Its presence made itself known in funny, mostly advantageous little ways. We had a disproportionate amount of cultural resources–world-class concerts, technology, a great public library. The people of color were most often Indian, African, or Asian, as opposed to Latino or African-American (this has changed a lot in the years since I moved away, thanks to a large influx of Hispanic workers for the big farms all around town).

Clarence was probably in his 50s when I met him, a perpetually smiling man with Mad Men-styled glasses and a salt-and-pepper buzzcut. He had an old bicycle that he rode sometimes, but mostly just walked along the sidewalks around town. He’d known my dad for a long time; my dad was very kind to him, and it didn’t occur for our family to treat him otherwise. He offered to walk my brother, sister, and me to and from our new school, a little less than a mile each way.

As we walked and talked, we got on well with him. His sense of humor and world outlook was that of a sixth-grade boy, generally, except for when it came to his interests. On town history, radio shows, old movies and TV, and professional wrestling, he could hold court. He was the only person I’d ever met who remembered as many facts, as clearly, as I did, and we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company. I didn’t know what autism was, then, and he wouldn’t have known either, even if his mom and he hadn’t been Christian Scientists, which kept them from ever getting a diagnosis. But he was my first contact with a mind like mine.

Only when the school year got fully underway did I start getting questions about why I was spending time with Clarence. “He’s so weird,” my classmates would say. “Did he ask you to sign his bike seat? Don’t do it. My brother did, and he, like, talked to him for years! Like they were friends.” I noticed how the older kids would abuse him as we went past the junior high; they danced around him, chanting stupid taunts, accusing him of unspeakable things, occasionally daring to take a swipe at his body or bike. He would scowl and wave them off, trying to come back with clever retorts, sometimes. But mostly, he just held his chin firm, sadness in his grey eyes. I learned how to chase that look away by asking him about his favorite things.

Just like I do now for my son, when the world makes him so unbearably sad.

His mother died around the time I graduated from high school, leaving him alone; his father and brother had died quite some time earlier. My parents became his Powers of Attorney, and they continued to treat him with care, patience, and affection until they moved away in 1995. Another family took over his care. I heard that Clarence died in 2002, but it turns out he’s still around–a good friend back home corrected my misinformation, much to my happiness.

Don’t bother looking for him on the Internet. I did. He’s not there. There’s a 2002 Walworth County tax record for the property where he lived. That’s all. No pictures, no mention anywhere. Like he doesn’t exist. Like he hasn’t walked so many generations of kids to school, their self-elected protector. Like he hasn’t learned to stop across the street, so the parents can’t complain that he was a pedophile, and the bullies can’t be heard so loudly. I wish I had a picture, so you could see his kindness. But that absence tells an important story, too.

I’m so afraid, when I think of all the autistic kids who are aging out of the schools and social services, adults as alone as Clarence, always outside looking in. How many of them will find families and friends to give them help and love? How many of them don’t know how to ask for it? How many of us will see them and judge the surface, never taking the time to find out what chases away the sadness in their eyes?

Mar 8, 2012 - Domestic Engineering    2 Comments

The Unchosen One: A Warning

If you’ve been reading this blog for even a little while, you know that family is pretty much the center of my world. You know that, most days, I may want to strangle my children, but I’d also die for them without a single thought. Most moms feel that way. It’s that whole maternal instinct thing–even animals turn ferocious when they feel their offspring are threatened. Hell, even Sarah Palin, who (at least publicly) appears to have the mothering skills of a drugged condor born in captivity, calls herself a “Mama Grizzly.”

What women don’t talk about nearly as often is the similarly violent impulse to protect a good mate, if you’re lucky enough to have one. This isn’t instinct, I don’t think; it doesn’t feel quite the same. It’s not an irresistible reflex, like hiccuping or dropping your brand new iPhone as you lunge to keep your kid from falling off his bike (admire my fancy screen crack!). This is more thoughtful, and as a result, more terrifying to witness.

Recent events have occurred in which someone made the unbelievably poor calculation to attack my Darling Husband publicly in a blog post–no, I’m not going to link it here and give it one more breath of air time–which sought to discredit the incredibly hard work he does to keep the company he works for moving forward in creative and positive ways. The first piece of miscalculation came from underestimating the vast reserves of good will the D.H. has built up in our community of friends, fans, and interested parties. The D.H. is a Good Man ™. He’s loyal to his friends, generous to fans of his work, and unfailingly polite to his critics. The most conservative of reactors to the effort to smear his work demanded names and proof; others returned the favor, retracting support and badmouthing the accuser. Needless to say, this was heartening to see.

The second miscalculation was this: He doesn’t know me. You see, if you threaten my beloved, I will end you.

It won’t be quick. It won’t happen immediately. No, I’m going to let you look over your shoulder for a while, wondering when the blade will drop. You’ll sleep with the lights on. You’ll ask others to pop corners for you, like soldiers in urban combat. You’ll question the wisdom of your actions. You may even try to walk it back, make amends. Probably cry a little, maybe publicly.

It won’t matter.

And when it does come–when I start on you–it won’t be impulsive or frantic or wild, like it would be if my children were threatened. It will be planned. It will be cold. And it will be slow. I won’t be the Mama Grizzly with you. I will be the invisible, steel-tipped ninja assassin you didn’t even know to have nightmares about.

At first, it will be utterly bloodless, just a creeping chill that prickles your hair and makes you think of ghosts. Lights will slowly extinguish around the perimeter. Birds and insects will fall to silence. Shadows will bulge and become more solid, like the meniscus atop an overfull glass. Pieces will start sliding off before you even know you’ve been cut.

When I finally let you see me, I will be smiling.

I won’t “go medieval” on you. You see, I’m actually a medievalist. I know what medieval people did to each other. Usually, it was short, brutal, and efficient. Normally, that would appeal to me–I like to be efficient. But you have filled me with wrath, and wrath isn’t interested in efficiency. Wrath is all about artistry.

You know who really did wrath? The Old Testament. No, I won’t “go medieval” on your ass–I’ll go Old Testament. The Hebrew God tells his own chosen people what he will do to them if they don’t follow the strict laws he has laid out for them in Leviticus 26:29-33:

“But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it.

I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.

And I will bring the sword upon you to avenge the breaking of the covenant. When you withdraw into your cities, I will send a plague among you, and you will be given into enemy hands.

You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings. I will lay waste the land, so that your enemies who live there will be appalled. I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins.”

Remember: God’s chosen people get this kind of treatment. You? I didn’t choose you. You don’t deserve that consideration. You chose my Darling Husband.

Now start running.


Feb 25, 2012 - Psychology    5 Comments

Minnesota Nice

Things you should know about me

  • I love volunteering for good causes
  • I love making people feel good about themselves
  • I love trying new things
  • I love making people laugh
  • I also use humor to defuse tense situations
  • I need to feel useful
  • I try to be honest, tactful, and polite, even when they seem mutually exclusive
  • I frequently wear myself out doing things for others before I get around to taking care of myself
  • I have an anti-authoritarian, rebellious, “Who the hell are you to tell me I can’t?” streak a mile wide
  • I’m wild about democratic politics, but not interested in small group interpersonal politics, except in an abstract, anthropological way
  • I love when my enthusiasm for something makes others enthusiastic too
  • I somehow manage to have abysmal self-esteem and a sense of unflappable calm and competence in crises
  • I probably like making lists a little too much
  • I’m pretty riled up at the moment, so this is about as passive-aggressive as I get
  • I’m pretty sure the people I’m upset with don’t read this blog

Things I don’t really enjoy

  • Power politics in places you don’t expect them
  • People who hoard information to guarantee their continued importance
  • People who let someone else take fire as a leader, but continue to pull strings behind the scenes
  • Finding out important things about an institution that radically change your understanding and expectations of what’s possible
  • The belief that intellectuals can’t possibly know anything practical about the “real world”
  • The stance that it’s not worth even trying new things because there’s the chance that they’ll fail
  • Grown-ups who still rely on status cliques for a sense of importance
  • People who won’t blow you off to your face, but who basically stopped listening before you started talking
  • Being accused of selfish motives for taking on time-consuming, thankless volunteer work
  • Finding oneself nominated by the method of everyone else taking a step backward while you stood still
  • Being my own (and only) cheerleader
  • Feeling like a project that’s meant to be helpful and positive is now nothing but a drag on time, energy, and emotional reserves
  • Working on not being such a control freak, and then watching everything go directly to hell the minute I leave it alone
  • Being hamstrung on projects that are important to me because I don’t play politics
  • The why-am-I-even-trying-anymore kind of tired

Things I actually do enjoy

  • Kids wanting to hug me, high-five me, say hi to me, tell me a joke, or ask when I’m coming back to their class, every time I walk down a school hallway
  • When good, solid, simple plans work like they’re supposed to, defying others’ expectations of failure
  • Having another project that actually is working, and doing good, and is appreciated
  • People who feel like I’m approachable and non-judgmental, even when the group I represent leaves them feeling excluded from a secret society
  • Helping friends
  • Helping kids
  • Helping strangers
  • Helping anyone, anywhere, anytime I’m asked
  • My hair color, even if I’m “too old” to be doing weird stuff like this
  • A good old-fashioned bitch session
  • People who support me when I go out on a limb with good intentions
  • Participating in conversations that have no mysterious subtexts or power dynamics I don’t know about
  • Making my own social group where the misfits feel welcome and valued
  • A level playing field
  • Offering a graceful way out of the corner someone has painted themselves into (eventually)
  • The job-well-done kind of tired

Romantic as F**k: Reverb Broads 2011 #28

Our first walk as Mr. and Mrs. Banks, 5 October 1996

Reverb Broads 2011, December 28 (my birthday!): Do you consider yourself a romantic person? Do you prefer fancy dinners, roses, and chocolate, or are you more non-traditional? What’s the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for a loved one or had done for you? (courtesy of Kassie at http://bravelyobey.blogspot.com/)

Answering this question feels almost redundant; my whole life is an answer to this question. But I forget sometimes that not everyone knows my weird story, so here’s a quick recap: I made friends with a guy in New Zealand on the MUSH (real-time, text-based online roleplaying game) we both played on in the mid-’90s. We talked on the phone, sent silly packages, and slowly fell in love. We became “exclusive” at the beginning of my year in France, and on my birthday in 1995, he left his island for the first time in his life to fly to London and meet me in person. He had the engagement ring in his suitcase. He asked me in Aberdeen, Scotland on New Year’s Eve; I said yes, then made him talk through all the practical details before I would even open the ring box. We travelled together for three weeks, then he went home until I was back in the States that summer. He flew in to Florida, where I was staying with my parents before returning to Kansas for my last semester of undergrad, and we’ve been together ever since.

So, there are the answers to questions 1 and 3.

But even generally speaking, I’m a pretty unapologetic romantic. I love grand gestures, though I lean toward the non-traditional in what I appreciate. While I enjoy fancy dinners and flowers as much as the next girl, the efforts that speak to really knowing me well are the ones that really ring my bell. My husband bought me a Doctor Who charm bracelet on Etsy for Christmas this year, which was just perfect. And I wear Tresor perfume partly because I love it, and partly because he always says how much he loves the way it smells on me in particular.

I also adore surprises and pulling off ninja-level arrangements. When I went away to Welsh camp during the week of my husband’s birthday, I hid presents for him for each day, all around the house, and left him clues to open each day. I hid a barbeque grill behind the television stand; I put a video of our favorite MST3K episode in one of my kitchen cupboards. I had the poor man convinced I was sneaking home from Toronto every night to hide things that he was sure hadn’t been there the day before. Part of this is helped by his general obliviousness to detail (sorry, love, but you know it’s true: a side effect of being a storytelling genius is that you’re more aware of made-up things than the ones right in front of you), but part was sheer ninjatude on my part. One of my only regrets is that I don’t really have a surprise ninja for myself.

It’s so tricky finding romance in everyday life. A lot of the time, quite honestly, we use laughter and shared interests like methadone for the elusive heroin of romantic gestures. And I’ll be the first to say that, some days, I have exactly enough romance in my body to read about five pages of a smutty novel before I fall asleep–two-way romance takes way more energy than reading about somebody else’s romance. But when the astronomical odds of ever having found my perfect partner in the world give me vertigo to contemplate, it doesn’t take much to feel like there’s romance all around me. There’ll be time (and maybe money) for grand gestures when the kids grow up.

And they lived happily ever after...

Dec 6, 2011 - AV Club    5 Comments

Satellite of Love: Reverb Broads 2011 #5

Reverb Broads 2011, December 5:
What is the one thing you finally did this year that you always wanted or said you were going to do, but in your heart of hearts never thought you would actually do? (courtesy of Amy Krajek at http://2bperfectlyfrank.blogspot.com)

I’ve done lots of things this year that I’ve always wanted, and I’ve done lots of things that, in my heart of hearts, I never thought I would do, but in only one case that I can think of right now were they they same thing.

The Darling Husband and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary this year. To be more specific, we celebrated it three times. This wasn’t something we really planned, but since the day itself was a Wednesday full of work and family stuff, we did special things before and after October 5. I’ve already blogged about the Frank Turner concert we went to — it wasn’t really intended as an anniversary thing, but it was so wonderful to share that with my favorite person that it turned into something that shone a light on how much we have in common, and how awesome that is. And I gave us tickets to see John Hodgman at the Fitzgerald Theater, but that wasn’t until November.

But the closest outing to the actual date ended up being a Cinematic Titanic performance. My great and good friend Mary (who’s also doing Reverb Broads #11 at Ghost of a Rose) was raving about the show she’d gone to with her husband, and when I wished we could go, she pointed me at a link for tickets to shows in Minneapolis three days later.

But what is Cinematic Titanic, you ask?

One night, when I was in high school, I came home at curfew like the good little girl I was, but I wasn’t tired yet. So I flipped on the TV in the living room, and proceeded to watch something that changed my life.

In the ’90s, some Minnesota guys filmed themselves and some puppets as they made snarky comments about old B-movies. Because so many of the films were bad sci-fi, it was called Mystery Science Theater 3000. At first, it was only on public access, but the series got picked up by the Comedy Channel, where it ran for several years before making a brief, final shift to Sci Fi. There were personnel changes over the years, but the format and quality of the comedy remained high. It’s quirky, heavy on the cultural references and bizarre improv jokes, and based on some of the weirdest, worst films in human history — perfect geek humor.

I loved MST3K instantly, and not just because I fell in love with Gamera, the kaiju atomic flying turtle monster in that first episode I saw. And when Cam came to the States to marry me in 1996, there was a very short list of things I felt he really needed to see to understand what life in America was going to be like. One of them was Saturday Night Live; the other was Mystery Science Theater 3000. We watched episodes together and with friends, and so many inside jokes and taglines from those hilarious two-hour stretches still live on in our conversation today.

The geniuses behind MST3K are still making bad movies better for all of us, in a variety of ways. One of those projects is RiffTrax, headed up by longtime writer and second host Michael J. Nelson, along with Kevin Murphy (2nd Servo) and Bill Corbett (2nd Crow). And the other is Cinematic Titanic, featuring Trace Beaulieu (Dr. Forrester and 1st Crow), “TV’s Frank” Conniff, J. Elvis Weinstein (Dr. Laurence Erhardt and 1st Servo), and other assorted players.

On the night we went, they were joined by the original host, Joel Hodgson (Joel Robinson) and Mary Jo Pehl (Magic Voice and Pearl Forrester). The movie was a Japanese atrocity called (very fittingly) Genocide (called War of the Insects in the West, and on the upcoming CT DVD), which hands-down takes the prize for the worst movie I’ve ever seen. It both begins and ends with a mushroom cloud. That really says it all right there. But we laughed so hard our ribs and faces ached for hours, and afterwards we got to meet the whole cast and get autographs. They were bemused and (I hope) pleased when I told them how I’d used their show to establish the baseline for what’s been a very happy 15 years of marriage.

It’s an exceedingly odd thing, meeting celebrities; it’s even odder meeting celebrities you know only by voice. Sitting on the rug in our living room, with the doors of my mind blown clean off their hinges, I never dreamed I would shake hands with any of the folks on the Satellite of Love. But this year, I did. 



Dear previous me … : Reverb Broads 2011 #1

I don’t have many reasons to write creatively (or any other way) in the course of everyday life. That’s no criticism of my work or my family life, just a statement of fact, similar to my frequent lament that intellectual conversation can be hard to come by as well. And NaNoWriMo isn’t my deal, because while I very much enjoy writing descriptions and dialogue, my plotting skills are woefully inadequate.

I’ve been really enjoying the mental and spiritual exercise of writing this blog, and only the lack of regular direction has kept me from writing even more entries. So you can imagine my delight when my friend Dana Carlisle Kletchka pointed her fellow blogifying females at Reverb Broads 2011. The organizers have assembled a fun and daunting set of prompts, and an impressive list of clever women to write on them.

So, today it begins with the first prompt: If the you of today could go back in time and give advice to any of the previous yous, which age would you visit and what would you tell them?

I maintain that I wouldn’t change anything in my life, because I’ve ended up almost exactly where I want to be. But there are just two points where a bit of perspective might have helped me endure, or not endure, as the case may be.

I would tell my 15 year old self that, though leaving the faith of my mother and her mother would be a scary thing to do, Christianity was not the world view that would feed my soul or bear me up in the darkest moments of my life. I would tell her that the lessons of faith that I’d observed in those women my whole life would actually inform my search, and that I would recognize the ring of truth when I heard it. Most importantly in all of this, I would tell her that setting out to find our way wouldn’t mean a life without spiritual community — there are so many more people on that road, who will love and support your search, than you ever dreamt. In fact, there’s a whole religion devoted to that free and responsible inquiry.

I would go back to my 18 year old self and tell her that I’m worth better treatment in relationships than I’d received so far. I already had a fairly warped view of what I should expect from significant others — I had experienced the wildly romantic, but I also thought I would never be enough for anyone, and I’d put up with some pretty egregious and thoughtless exploitation. I would tell 18 year old me that she isn’t wrong in thinking she would have to go to the ends of the earth to find the person who would complete us, but not to worry — the Internet would turn out to be a much bigger thing that any of us thought in 1992.

And I would tell my 24 year old self not to tell my History department that I was considering a semester of medical leave to deal with my fibromyalgia. She didn’t know that they would take “considering” to mean “had decided to,” and that they would screw things up in ways that would never be repaired. I would tell her that fibromyalgia has its ups and downs, that it’s not always going to be as bad as it was right then. It lasts longer than grad school, but grad school has an end, and you can outlast anything finite.

Also, when people ask you to rate your pain, and you tell them that you’re leaving 9 and 10 on the scale for childbirth? You’re totally right.

Finally, I would tell 30 year old me that the odd things about her beautiful, hilarious son aren’t her fault. Sure, he’s been doomed to geekdom since before his conception — that will only enrich his life. But all those strange, inexplicable, seemingly unconnected things? They’re real, they’re something, and they’re not caused by bad parenting. And finding out about the Asperger’s Syndrome that underpins them all will reveal a piece of our own self that we never imagined existed, lighting up connections that have dwelled in dark mystery since our earliest days. I would tell her to be kind and patient to him, and to herself, even at those most frustrating moments when it looks like he’ll have to fight the same battles we’ve already struggled through.

And to all the previous mes: be easy with yourself. People will love and value you, not just despite all your weirdness — they’ll love and value you for it.

10 Wonderful Things For Which I’m Giving Thanks

I like Thanksgiving fine as a holiday, but I work hard all year long to give my thanks in the moment; saving it up for a day- or month-long burst of gratitude is too hard. But I don’t always tell people who aren’t there each day all the things I’m grateful for, so I suppose if you’re not with me all the time, you might just hear the whinging. So here are ten things I’m grateful for, right now today:

1) I’m grateful it’s going to be in the 50s today, which is warm enough to send the kids outside to play when the Macy’s parade is over, but dinner isn’t ready yet.

2) I’m grateful that the turkey we bought yesterday thawed overnight, and fits in my nice old spackleware roasting pan. I’m also grateful that it didn’t come with giblets inside, because ick.

3) I’m really grateful that my mom came all the way up from Florida to be with us. Money’s too tight (and our car is too small) for us to make it down there comfortably for the holidays, so it’s been almost two years since I’ve seen her, and she’s seen the boys. It’s not easy for her to take off work, or be away from my dad and brother, but here she is, and that’s awesome. My mom and I never went through that awkward phase when I was a teenager and was supposed to hate her and the world, and though motherhood has changed our relationship in ways neither of us could’ve predicted, she’s still one of my best friends.

4) I’m grateful that the new Muppet movie was so completely awesome. I’m a hardcore Muppet fan (the Onion t-shirt that says, “I understand the Muppets on a much deeper level than you do” was practically made for me), and I’ve awaited the movie with a mix of wild anticipation and stomach-clenching dread. Knowing Jason Segel, as much a mega-fan as I am, was helming the project was a comfort, and the movie was everything I hoped it would be. I smiled until my cheeks hurt. I am content.

5) I’m wildly grateful for my job. I work on cool products and projects, with awesome creative bosses who value my contributions, serving customers who really appreciate the efforts I make. And the money doesn’t hurt either.

6) I’m beyond grateful for Jill Gebeke, Kim Hwang, Lori Brown, Kris Christensen, Melanie Hjelm, Nicole Tschohl, Alicia Liddle, and all the fantastic teachers and staff at Chelsea Heights Elementary. From the moment we walked into that school last year, they embraced Connor and Griffin with love, compassion, and understanding. They really want every kid to be happy and fulfilled, and they appreciate our efforts as parents to support their education. We could’ve moved Connor to the gifted magnet school after he blew the top off his aptitude tests last year, but we really couldn’t imagine a better school for our boys.

7) I’m so very grateful for our fantastic church home, White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church. It’s further away than other UU churches in the community, but completely worth the hike to hear our phenomenal minister Victoria Safford, to have our boys in the hands of the wonderful Religious Education coordinator Janet Hanson and her dedicated volunteers, and to sit in the beautiful sanctuary and watch the seasons pass outside the gorgeous wall of windows. It’s a place that feeds our souls in ways we never even knew we needed.

8) I’m crazy-grateful for the outrageously cool friends I have all over the world, and the magic of Facebook and Twitter and email and Skype that make it possible to feel close to them every day. I revel in the successes they enjoy, and marvel that so many diverse, smart, and brilliantly creative people would lavish their time and attention on little me.

9) I’m intensely grateful for the roof over our heads. We live in a safe neighborhood, with neighbors who love our kids and share theirs with us. It takes a village, and we’ve knit a little one among these apartment buildings. Our community looks out for one another, and forms a safety net we haven’t enjoyed almost anywhere we’ve lived since the boys were first born.

10) And finally, today and every minute of every day, I’m grateful for my husband. I’ve already enumerated some of the awesomeness that is our marriage, but I can never say enough how lucky I am to have a partner in all my earthly endeavors.

May your bellies be full, your hearts be light, and gratitude settle into your bones and move you to lift up those thanks to the people who bring love and light into your life.

Nov 20, 2011 - Sex Ed, World Religions    4 Comments

To my friends, who are exactly as they should be

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. I don’t want to diminish the grief and anger that is right and righteous at the discrimination, mistreatment, ignorance, imprisonment, torture, and killing of transgender people one bit — we need every single ounce of that outrage to keep fighting for a more just and welcoming world.

But today, I want to count my blessings more than my tears.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have several trans friends. Some are new acquaintances, some I’ve known for almost 20 years. Among them are scholars, writers, counselors, teachers, and public servants. Some are activists; some expend all their available energy to fight the battles in their own lives. I’ve held hands and marched with them. I’ve shared dinners and debates with them. I’ve sat through long nights, separated by miles but joined by phone lines or computer screens, bearing witness to the confusion, pain, and sorrow that comes in crushing waves.

They make me feel so, so lucky. Lucky not to have to fight and explain why I am who I am — lucky that they count me a friend.

I’ve never had a moment of doubt with them. It’s very simple: each one is precisely who they are meant to be. I couldn’t imagine calling them or seeing them as anything but the person they are, because the beacons of their souls shine so clearly and brightly. Refusing to accept something that so obviously is what it is would be absurd. There’s a name for doing that: delusion.

Trans people pay an enormous price when they stop resisting the voices, internal and external, that insist that they be something they’re not. But it hasn’t always been that way. A variety of cultures, across time and distance, haven’t just not repressed or reviled trans people; they valued them as closer to the universal sacred. They walk between worlds, working the shadowy seam of human existence. It’s no great leap to think they have insight or power over other liminalities.

So today, as I light a candle for my friends whom I treasure — some I’ve come so terrifyingly close to losing to the darkness — and for those whose family and friends’ lights were extinguished, I do it with the words of this prayer by Rev. Amy Zucker Morgenstern from “We Pray: Prayers  To and For the Transgender Community”:

“To all trans and other folk who are hurting and afraid, I wish you peace and happiness. No god worthy of our worship could do anything but love you, and no true church could ever exclude you. I feel very blessed to share this life with you.

The Hindu god Indra is said to have created reality as a great net, with jewels at each intersection of the threads. Every jewel is reflected in every other, and they are all connected by the infinite, intricate web. The jewels are sacred and so is the net that connects them. And so I pray:

Dear God, you are the between-spaces of our lives. Where one hand reaches to touch another, you are there. Where eyes meet across the crowd and confusion and find understanding, you are there. Where the spark leaps from one mind to ignite another, that is you. Wherever we connect, you are the connection.

Each of us is a jewel in Indra’s net, shining like dew in a spider’s web. Praise to you, the web that connects us one to another!

When we are in the in-between, on our way from the intolerable to the unknown–

When we defy the categories that small minds invent and dare to imagine something beyond–

When we seek others who are on a journey, on a threshold, on the margins, any of the shimmering intersections of our lives–

When we listen to the possibilities whispered within and step into mystery, with trust, with fear, with trembling– may we find peace, for we dwell in your sacred place.”

To my brave, beloved friends, you have my love, my gratitude, my admiration. Be good to yourself, for you are nothing but good to me.

Oct 11, 2011 - Sex Ed    17 Comments

Cycles, Noculars, and Me

This may rank as the least important and dramatic statement of its kind in the history of National Coming Out Day, but here goes:

Folks, I’m bisexual.

For those of you who’ve only recently gotten to know me through this blog or some other social medium, this just makes one more wing on the BizarroLand Barbie Dream House of my personality. And for those of you who’ve known me for a very long time, you know how completely and wholeheartedly I’m committed to Cam, darling husband of 15 years and previously posted fame. In either case, you’re probably both asking the same question: so what?

The short answer is: so absolutely nothing. I’ve defined myself as about a 2 or 3 on the Kinsey Scale for almost two decades now, but I never felt the need to share this very widely. I don’t feel any urge to experiment or anything — I’ve already put on the metaphorical sweatpants. Much more importantly, Cam is my love, my soul mate, and my bonded life partner. I made vows; I take them seriously. We’re in this for keeps. My evolving understanding of my own sexuality has zero impact on that commitment, so nobody go freaking out.

As for the other relationships in my life, I expect just as little impact. My oldest kid really doesn’t care, and my youngest is too young to care, but we’ve raised them since day one to believe that love is love, and as long as they know that Mom and Dad are the same as they ever were, I figure I’ll get as much attention as a pile of broccoli. My parents’ only concern was fidelity, which was immediately allayed. My place of work is supportive and EOE and all that. The school where I serve as PTO president is home to a number of same-sex couples who are very active in its politics and activities. And we’re Unitarian Universalists, one of the very first denominations (if not the first) to openly welcome GLBT members and ordained clergy.

The long answer has to do with the “why bother?” side of the equation. Several months back, columnist Dan Savage wrote an article in which he tried to defend himself against perennial accusations of bi-phobia. It gives an interesting insight into the internal politics which plague any group with factions — in this way, the GLBT movement is hardly different from any geeky fanbase fraught with edition wars.

He makes a strong case for the fact that part of the absence of good press about bisexuals in the mainstream media stems from the fact that the majority of bisexuals tend to settle down in hetero relationships, for some reason, and then shut up about their identity: “…it would be great if more bisexuals in opposite-sex relationships were out to their friends, families, and coworkers. More out bisexuals would mean less of that bisexual invisibility that bisexuals are always complaining about. If more bisexuals were out, more straight people would know they actually know and love sexual minorities, which would lead to less anti-LGBT bigotry generally, which would be better for everyone.” I felt that indictment pretty keenly. Between that, and an absolutely amazing experience of love and acceptance having nothing at all to do with sexuality at Twin Cities Pride this summer, I decided it was time to join the visible minority.

Many of you know I’ve been a dedicated activist for LGBT causes since 1992, because every human deserves the exact same opportunities for love, dignity, and fulfillment. Ironically, I think it’s my long history as a “straight ally” that kept me from allowing myself access to the bisexual identity. I haven’t suffered in silence. I haven’t struggled for acceptance. I haven’t been oppressed on the basis of my sexual orientation. I haven’t been personally vested in the rights I’ve worked to secure. And I’m incredibly fortunate to have been able to marry (and secure the immigration status!) of my chosen life partner without so much as a second thought. So where do I get off investing myself with an identity which others have borne and bought with blood and tears? It seems like it depends on so much more than just sexual orientation.

But then we’re right back around to the short answer again: it IS that simple. I’m bisexual. I’m also happily married, so that’s as far as it goes. But for all my family and friends, here’s why it should matter to you: if you didn’t know and love a bisexual person before, you do now. You have for a long time. And it didn’t kill you, or damn you, or give you cooties. And I’m not evil, or unfaithful, or a bad mother. I’m still me, no better, no worse.

Just like everyone.