No More Scandal

I’m going to give up Scandal.
The TV show.
I’m going to give up The Blacklist.
Another TV show.

Really, I am going to stop watching those two TV shows. The ability alone to say that gives me freedom from myself. Freedom from the self that finds connection from watching something rather than doing something.

Both shows have lost me. They are just moving from week to week with threads that are silly. I didn’t feel that way when they first grabbed me.

In fact, Scandal was the show I started watching right after my spouse and the parent of my children – Allison, died suddenly one early morning in March. I started to binge watch it on Hulu with my mother at my side.

My mother came to be with us after Allison’s death, to help keep us tethered to the ground and to sanity. To be there so my son and I would not attack each other. We hurt each other in the deepest ways in order to distract ourselves from the savage wound left by Allison’s fresh death. With my mother at our side, we didn’t let insanity and rage and grief find a lasting bed inside of our house, our meager fortress.

One way to keep the infiltrator at bay was to watch Scandal. It had politics. (I was a political science major.) It had beautiful actors. The story centered around forbidden love and power. Here was a place where I could safely lose myself. My mother left me for her own home, knowing that I had found one small way to stay calm and not spin off outside of gravity’s pull.

I kept watching as the seasons progressed. I added the Blacklist. There was a time when being blacklisted meant you were shunned; not that you were hunted, according to the definition implied by the TV show. The mystery of the Blacklist and the antics of the lead actor James Spader made me feel like my brain was at work.

Scandal engaged my heart (and my political heart). The Blacklist made me feel like I was solving a problem.

But now I know, I am not thinking when I watch these shows. There is no creative composting occurring during my mind numbing sessions in front of my “smart” TV.

NO WRITING happens. Not even in my head.

And now: I am done.

But, not with this piece of writing. In the following paragraph, sh*t gets real.

You see, fear of real life scandal and being blacklisted dominated my life for years. And exactly twelve hours after telling my youngest son that one small positive change I was making was that I was going to stop following Scandal and the Blacklist; exactly 12 hours after telling him, my sons made me realize that scandal and being blacklisted were more than TV shows. More than entertaining fiction. It happened yesterday when both of my sons were with me in the car, driving to visit their grandparents – Allison’s parents.

They both said that they now regret that we weren’t more open about Allison. About how the person everyone knew in our small town as their father was living openly as a woman in a city just down the Interstate. Allison’s journey of shedding the life of Scott began its final stage seven years ago. Long before Transparent, Orange is the New Black and Caitlyn Jenner. It was a lot lonelier back then.

My children said they had been following my lead in keeping it quiet.

Ironically, I thought I was the one following their lead.

At which point they said they were just barely teenagers at the time and that they didn’t know anything. So, why did I listen to them, they asked. My shoulders slumped, curving away from the driver’s seat and my knuckles whitened as I tightened my grip on the steering wheel. There was truth in what they said. And some revision. But, mostly truth. Now I know I could have done better. Back then, I didn’t.

Yes. We weren’t open about Allison. Especially at first. But, little by little the boys introduced her to their closest friends. Allison even took them and their friends out on occasion. In our small town. Of course, when they were in Seattle, they did lots of things in public. There was no hiding.

Our boys bravely entered a new family reality and were in the process of coming to terms with the changes that confronted them. They were learning the real meaning of pride.

Yes, sometimes I made mistakes. And sometimes I did the right thing.

Add together all of the sometimes, and you end up with gray. Not black and white. Not silver and gold. Just tin.

And if we had known she would die so soon, we all would have done many things differently. Even Allison.

But what had stopped us? Stopped me? Scandal. Being blacklisted. Fear of isolation. Fear of ridicule. Fear of no longer being who we thought we were. We slipped into a closet of our own making and endured a self-imposed isolation. No one did it to us except ourselves. Except me. I am the parent so I have to take the responsibility. Buck stops here and all of that stuff.

As I neared our offramp, all I could tell our children is that Allison probably wouldn’t have chosen to live in our small town even if she had lived openly as Allison instead of as Scott. Allison loved us but she needed a bigger palette from which to paint her life. And that little by little, we had been shedding the secret. Doing the work. Standing up to scandal and blacklisting. Finding that as we grew stronger, there was a lot less to fear.

We just thought we had more time.

We always think we have more time.

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Set in Stone

Two years ago we set a stone to mark the grave of the person who had been my spouse. The one who I wedded and then divorced. The one who made our children with me. Allison.

Death caught me by surprise. Death pushed me to write. Death reminded me of how much I had loved my husband. Of how much I loved Allison though she confused me. Death scared me. I’m still scared, but now I understand it all a little bit better.

Being ready for death doesn’t mean worrying about it. Being ready for death brings new life to my heart and my thoughts.

I’m sure I’m not saying this right.

I don’t want to die. But being ready for it to end and always saying thank you just in case your last breath is your next, that is peace. After being diagnosed and then treated for ovarian cancer, I glimpse it from time to time.

But when Allison died, cancer wasn’t a known entity in my life. I thought I had known grief. I thought divorce and Allison’s transition from living life on the outside as man to living fully and openly as a woman was like experiencing a death. I didn’t know what I was talking about.

At Allison’s funeral, I said nothing. I let my children, Allison’s siblings and parents and nephew and uncle and her fiancé do the talking. I made myself small and quiet. This was Allison’s moment. Not mine.

But, when we left the chapel and walked to her gravesite, my knees buckled. I tossed a rose atop her lowered coffin. My sister’s hand gripped my forearm. I brushed against her. She kept me standing. All I wanted to do was sink into the grass.

Still, this wasn’t my moment. My tears couldn’t be the loudest. She hadn’t belonged to me at the end. She wasn’t mine. I was just someone who had loved her once.

Her headstone was ready seven months later. When we dedicated her grave under a gray and leaderless sky, this time I was ready. There would be no more waiting. She would never understand if I just stood silent.

During her life, she always had something to say. I didn’t want to let her down now that she couldn’t speak for herself. I couldn’t be the coward who thought she (meaning me) didn’t have a right to speak. I couldn’t be the one who stood in my way.

I wrote the following while flying from Houston to Mexico City. My hand grazed my cheeks in a futile attempt to hide my tears from the man sitting next to me. Finally, he asked me, “Is everything all right?”

“I’m writing something sad. I’ll be OK,” is all I could say.

I didn’t tell him that it felt like my dead spouse was sitting next to me instead of him, the concerned passenger, and that she was helping me write her own tribute. She disappeared an hour later as I arrived into the arms of my own fiance waiting for me in Mexico City. Into the arms of someone who was alive.

A week later, I stood in front of the carved granite with Allison’s chosen name.

Here is what I said at Allison’s graveside two years ago. I wrote from my heart. Is it too much as a piece of writing? Is it too emotional? Too private? Writing that could not win an award because it is just too sentimental? I hope so.

Ode to You

I never see you in my dreams. But, you visit me every day.
You sit with me as I think of you, as I cry because I miss you and as I scream and thrash and pull because you’re gone.

You tell me that all you feel now is love.
Your two selves are together in a healing union.
You are at peace. This is what I hear – when I listen.

We had a catch phrase. A code.
“Maru means submarine in Japanese.”
It was something you said to me within 10 minutes of our first meeting.
A secret knowing we shared through the next 27 years
reminding us of how a random encounter and a chance comment could connect two people for decades.

Remembering our days together on the water, we would wake in the morning to see the shoreline at a safe distance, relieved that our anchor held for the night. You would leave our berth to return with a cup of coffee. The steam rose from our cups and the children slept as we plotted our course for the day.

You were our captain. Together we navigated the waters at our bow.

We will share the passages of our boys lives. Please guide us as they steer through their own rough patches. Stay with me for those moments when their happiness swallows them whole.

You now rest upon the calmest waters. I watch you from the shore – knowing that we will meet again.

Maru means submarine in Japanese.

School for Mourners

This title phrase started out as a misunderstanding in a poetry class. One participant read his work and we all said we loved his line “the school for mourners.” Turns out that wasn’t what he said. I don’t remember the correction because “school for mourners” said enough for me.

I have never been to Lebanon which means I have never been to Beirut. One of my spouse’s colleagues had fled Lebanon with her family a while back when she was a teenager. She speaks French. She has been to Paris.

I never wanted to go to Beirut. I always wanted to go to Paris.

I devoured my French classes in college even though Spanish was the language in which I was most proficient. I studied German starting in the seventh grade. I don’t know why I didn’t choose French back then. I never really wanted to go to Germany in the first place. Maybe it was the only language class that fit my schedule?

My grandfather yelled at me for the first time when he found out about the German class. A German soldier had shot him through his abdomen somewhere in Belgium during the first World War. The Great War. He was suppose to die, but he didn’t. I had never heard that story, or at least I had never heard that story with almost adult ears. The fact that he hated Germans was new to me. I didn’t like it that he hated Germans. He had walked me to school every day until I moved away during the fourth grade. He loved me fiercely, but all the while he was hating Germans.

I continued to study German all through high school until we moved again and I was forced to study Spanish. I studied and studied that language for years when it was all that was offered and then one thing lead to another and I went to Mexico decades before I ever made it to France.

Then I met a young man in Mexico and began to think my life would end up being lived in Mexico. He remembers that I always talked about going to Paris. I had studied French after all. He says that I was so obsessed that a few years after we broke up and when he himself finally made it to Paris, he took a picture of the Eiffel Tower while thinking of me. He was there with a new love, but for a brief moment we were in Paris together.

I did finally make it in body to Paris. On the first night of my second visit to Paris, my former spouse delivered news painful enough that I couldn’t look at the Eiffel Tower as my bus passed by during my third trip to France. For that third trip to France, I went alone and made sure that Paris was not on the itinerary except to pass through it on my way to somewhere else. Paris was officially ruined for me.

There are so many places I have never thought of going. There are many places I never want to go. These are then probably the places I will land instead of the ones I dream of. That is what we learn at the School of Mourners. Well, that’s what I think anyway.

I never thought my first spouse would die suddenly. That we wouldn’t have a chance to say good-bye after months of misunderstandings and harsh words. My mother is failing yet I only have more harsh words for her because she is succumbing to a disease that I wish she could will herself out of. But, she can’t. I must not let her go with my accusations and angry pleadings still stinging. My father fades as I write this. He just broke his ankle and his heart is saying a long and painful farewell.

Those people out for a night in Paris. Those people near the market in Beirut. It is hard to shut out their calls for mercy and shouts of love for the ones they would leave behind to grieve. We are learning to mourn for lives ended in a war they were not fighting. The only war they were fighting was the battle to live. My parents are fighting for that. I am. You are. My spouse was.

Lighting up things in red, white and blue to show that we feel a collective pain is nice. But, if I were to light up my world with the flag of Life (because life is the only country we can really call our own), what colors would I use?

To end, two Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam) songs come to mind. “Peace Train” and “Hard-headed Woman.” I can’t really explain the last selection, but it seems right to me. (I don’t know if I should link to the songs. I’m so new to this. Please listen to them.)

Not Really Alone

Today I sit in a reasonably nice hotel room in Guadalajara, Mexico. “Oh, Guadalajara,” you say! “How nice!”

Yes, it is nice. Well, I don’t know about Guadalajara being nice because my hotel room is not in any tourist section of town. The name of it is Ejecutivo Express. (Executive Express). I’m spending my days waiting for my own Ejecutivo to return for the day’s main meal. The Comida. Usually a few hours earlier than we in the US would have our dinner.

If I had a game, I am off of it. I didn’t plan on going to Guadalajara. It happened quickly. My Ejecutivo has a new job. I cancelled all of the events in Mexico City that I had this week so that I could join him as he started this new chapter. I even read a book for a book club meeting that I will now miss. But oh well, so much for trying to make friends in Mexico City. Maybe that won’t be where I will be living anyway. So what is the point? Maybe sitting in this hotel room is enough for me right now.

You see, my Ejecutivo left his job for me last October. He came to live with me in Washington State while I underwent treatment for ovarian cancer. It was a difficult time for both of us. I became his job.

I had never meant everything to someone before. Not in this way. My life was on the line. So my Ejecutivo stepped out on it with me.

Now, it is my turn to support him. Lift him with a smile or a hand on his back while he drives.

But, you see, there is something about Guadalajara. Something that is keeping me in my room.

I was here on my own for a few days back in 1983, just after graduating college. I was living with my Ejecutivo in Mexico City, but back then he was a young engineer just getting started. I didn’t have plans for a job. I simply decided to move to Mexico City for several months and live with my young engineer just getting started. My parents smiled, held their tongues and helped me move. They knew better I guess. They knew that young love, or any love, motors us along like a driverless car. We just hope we know where we are when we get off.

Back in 1983, he didn’t join me when I went to Guadalajara. He had to work. Just like he has to work now. But it makes me sad to be in Guadalajara because it reminds me of a time we didn’t share together and then of the next 25 years we didn’t share together because we eventually broke up.

Since this blog is about remembering and writing, and, oh yes, remembering to write, the following is a poem I wrote while traveling on a train in Norway down into the fjords.

This is for anyone who has lost someone in the arena of love at least once. And though I was in Norway when I wrote it, lost battles of love pop up everywhere, even when you are with the one you love. Even in Guadalajara.

Note: The poem came into my head after I overheard in the elevator a conversation between a mother and her son about the weather.  After that, I boarded the train.

Did it rain last night?
Yes.
Did it rain in London?
I don’t know.

Drums of steel
fill me with a hollow hum
that doesn’t sound like you
when I’m inside.

Gray over here
is the same as gray over there.
Sometimes darker.
Half-built bridges, lives stranded.
Never fully lived.
Just paces from the unfinished brink.

The air is the same over here as over there.

Your gaze spans the space between us.
Then I look away.
Eyes locked on a passing ship, strangers pointing at me, taking pictures, waving, gasping, telling me I will fall.

You’re gone.
Did you head back to the road?
Or did a lost Lorelei hide you?
Seducing you with her twisted and glistening stream
trailing down from above.
Did she cover your calls to me with her chatter?
Did you step into the glassy void,
dreaming that I would save the best of you?

I see mist rising from the surface.
Is that you?
Or, just drowning fragments of a life we didn’t finish?

In water, there is nothing
to erase.

Did it rain last night?
Yes.
Did it rain in London?
I don’t know.

Oh Baby

Class is about to start. I haven’t done my homework. How old am I? 13?

I signed up for my second poetry workshop in three months, but not because I am a poet. I hadn’t written any poems when I walked into my first workshop last August in Taos. In fact, I hadn’t realized it was a poetry workshop at all. Once it dawned on me that I was among poets and it would be all about poetry, I wondered how I would make it through the week.

So here I am at my second poetry workshop. This time in San Miguel de Allende in Mexico, but with the same inspiring teacher/leader/poet Judyth Hill. The background for this time together is Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead). It is something of a national holiday here.

I knew that this is where I needed to be.

***********

Yesterday we were free-writing after reading several poems, including “He” by John Ashbury and “Little Infinite Poem” by Federico Garcia Lorca. Judyth encouraged us to build off of lines from some of the pieces we read, using their art to launch us into our own infinite space.

I am now a believer that we all have poetry inside of us. And though I am writing a book, something that is daunting and takes a good deal of time, I have discovered the joy of having poetry be part of my toolbox.

Here is what I wrote yesterday based on Judyth’s prompt (mentioned above). Note: Still learning formatting on WordPress so the formatting below is not exactly how I want it, but, oh well.

We Are Always The Last to Know.

We drive the car.
The baby cries when we stop.
We move forward,
Only to stop again.

We soothe the baby
With woosh woosh hushing
sounds that don’t sound
anything like the engine’s low growl.

White noise they call it.
The noise that quiets the baby.
The only noise the baby wants to hear.

We don’t know anything.
We get down on all fours.
We ask the baby what he wants.

We don’t understand
that we will never know.

Kelly McVicar Gordon

(With Some borrowing from “He” by John Ashbury and “Little Infinite Poem” by Federico Garcia Lorca)

Flower of the Dead

Does not sound like something pretty does it? And what on Earth does a flower have to do with writing?

I’m in Mexico and I just celebrated the Day of the Dead by parading around with a bunch of exuberant and voluptuous marigolds searching for someone to share them with. Marigolds which are several sizes larger than the marigolds in my mother’s planter box when I was a little girl. In a cemetery jam packed with the living to be with the spirits of their loved ones, I clutched my bouquet of this golden flower of death and the juicy merlot red of another flower whose velvety pattern resembles a delicate brain. But instead of a brain, I read that it is suppose to resemble the blood of Christ. Still, it looked like a brain to me.

As I brandished my blooms and picked my way through the mass of hundreds of observers, I found a few bare grave sites. Maybe their relatives were just running late and in a few hours the final resting places of these departed souls would be as ornately festooned with flowers and other offerings as their adjacent neighbors. But in case these marooned spots were indeed going to remain naked and unattended this day, I sprinkled some blossoms on the dirt mounds or stuffed a thin bouquet in the permanently affixed vases which up until the moment I arrived remained empty.

No one wants to be forgotten. So, for today, this Day of the Dead, I, this visitor with no formal connection to these souls, would have to do. I said “hello” to no one there and told each one that they had mattered.

So, what does this have to do with writing?

I’ve lived through the death of Allison, the person with whom I had spent the majority of my life. Hers was the first real death to cross over my threshold and invade my space. It was sudden and not expected.

My grief and shock imbue my writing. Death is so ordinary. So simple. So final. And really very plain.

That plainness is the part I have a hard time getting over. We go on. We perform our daily tasks. We file our taxes. We get our groceries. We go through our loved ones things. We send death certificates so that we can cancel the deceased’s phone. We live. Sometimes that doesn’t feel right. The world should have stopped. But, it didn’t.

Grass still grows and it grows over the graves of the people we loved.

I am writing through this grief. Grief honors the past. I write so that grief doesn’t become fear. I use this grief to find the truth about the life I have lived and the life that I will live.

And for the first time ever, though I’ve traveled to Mexico close to a hundred times, I walked with others and left something behind for people long dead and who I had never met. I celebrated. Well, I can never celebrate what happened, but I can embrace the next passage for those who have to move on.  I can honor the time that I had with them while they were alive. They live on when we remember them. Remembering Allison, my grandparents, my Aunt Roby – remembering them is my job. I would like to think that they want me to continue my own journey on this planet with a smiling heart instead of a shredded one. I would like to think that they were with me in this place with a bright November sun where I knew no one.

Remembering September 11, 2001: We were married still.

I had a blog going a few years ago and nothing moved me to return to writing in a public space until a recent morning when I turned on the television to see a replay of the TODAY show broadcast from September 11, 2001.

Watching the broadcast fourteen years later, I was not filled with fear anymore. Instead of thinking about the incredible loss of life and terror instilled in us that day, the crumbling buildings, the revenge being planned, all I could think of is that my first husband and I were still married, living an almost idyllic life in our mountain home with our two young children, surrounded by thousands of tall and swaying redwoods and protected by a gate at the end of a dirt road. Removed. In our own world.

Of course, we weren’t in our own world at all, but we pretended otherwise. There was a lot of pretending going on. More than I knew.

Four years after the terrorist attack, my husband revealed to me that he was living a secret life. During the next few years, after the initial reveal, he fought back his true identity, but ultimately made the decision to live as the woman she really was. I had married a transgender person without knowing it. And we suffered alone. It didn’t feel safe to discuss it. It wasn’t a trending topic.  There weren’t multiple hit television series starring transgender characters and actors and there hadn’t been a major magazine cover with a 65-year old former Olympian introducing her to the world as her female self.

After finally understanding that we couldn’t stop the family earthquake that results when one makes the transition from one’s lived identity to one’s true identity, we divorced. The divorce and my forced entry into a different kind of life prompted me to start a blog. Not this blog. I was singing an anthem of finding joy in later life and breaking taboos.  My spouse broke all of the rules. Why couldn’t I, I reasoned. Oh well. I was being immature I suppose because none of it was really about breaking rules. My spouse had a journey that was too difficult for me to traverse. My spouse wasn’t trying to hurt me. I know that now.

The harder part was coming but I didn’t know it. My former spouse died suddenly at 56 and I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer just as our youngest child left for college. All in the space of three years. 

I had to finally grow up. I learned that I am loved. I try harder to be ready every day for the end (feeling only love and happiness) while at the same time trying to live each day as I want to live it. Not an easy feat. I try. I try. I try.

This new blog space is part of my growth. This is where I will use the craft of writing to birth new adventures, new longings and new perspectives. The old blog is gone. I liked what I wrote, but that isn’t for me anymore. I’m not even that same me.

So, I guess I should circle back to the 9/11 tragedy where I started this post?

No. We were married then. We aren’t anymore. We don’t even share this earth. But, we shared that terrible day when we were scared and vulnerable and we shared many other great days, many of which were great.

The rerun I was watching? I said a prayer for everyone. Then. I turned it off.

And, about all of those rules I was going to break…that was silly. What I need to do is write my own.