permanent, intolerable uncertainty

Saturday was my last class session and I am now an INELDA-trained death doula. Earlier this evening I officially put my listing up on their site, which is moderately terrifying. I turned my f*book back on so that I can be in the student/support group that they host, and the dopamine hit has been pretty nice; although it has been disappointing to see that there are still people stuck in ‘how can this be happening’ and ‘what’s next oh no’ and ‘this is leading to [insert awful thing here]’. I am confused that people are still confused. It’s not almost fascism, it IS fascism. It’s not becoming a police state, it IS a police state. There’s not much point in staying in the head space of denial, hard as that is. I’m not expecting easy things of my fellow earth-dwellers; I’m expecting them to do the hard things.

Unless we do the hard things, what is the fucking point?

It’s possible that one day when I am decades older and my children are grown-ass people in their thirties and forties, perhaps with children of their own, there might be a sort of peace or happiness that is part of what’s normal. One day, perhaps, the things we struggle and fight for will actually happen.

In the meantime, everything is a weird dissociative chaos that makes me personally feel like I’m simultaneously going insane and also a large snow monster completely frozen in place. Teeth like icicles that break when I need them, legs that won’t move, unable to stop the world from being smacked right in the face with the consequences of our choices over days and weeks and years and millennia, all in the span of months.

I am very much in the present time, making sure masks are clean and sanitizing the fuck out of my hands, worrying when anyone needs to leave the house, ordering books and more books and even more books, because for some reason the possibility and hidden wisdom that might be in those books does actually make me feel better for a finite period of time.

I am also very much in the past and the future; the trauma that I’ve carried for tens of years becomes a problem at the most problematic of times. Trying to see forward into the future any further than the end of the day seems like a ridiculous effort, even though I constantly try, grasping for the shadows of hope. How can I possibly know what tomorrow will bring? All I can do is assume that I’ll be alive to find out what it is.

The worst part of reactivating my social media account is that I forgot that I had my ex-girlfriend on read-first — since when I deactivated, I didn’t realize she was already my ex — although undoing that option is either hidden or gone so I can’t change it and I really didn’t want to see her status updates. I haven’t unfriended her — she is still connected with me on keybase and on Twitter too. I did unfollow her Instagram because I opened the app a few weeks ago and suddenly there she was, talking about someone who wasn’t me, after months of silence. It hurt. A lot. And I’m foolishly pursuing the idea of having some kind of closure or a neatly tied up ending, and I think I’ll get none of that.

The most upsetting thing is actually that I left one of my most favorite blankets at her apartment so she could wrap herself in it when she missed me; and I want it back.

It’s weird to leave a social media platform, not intending to go back, then three months later realize that you’ll either need a throwaway account or reactivate your original one; and then logging in, everything looks and sounds and feels exactly how it did three months ago. There’s been no change and it’s distinctly uncomfortable. I love seeing people I’ve been worrying about, but the rest of everything else is just the same as it was before and I think I’ve gotten enough perspective on my life in these last pandemic months (six months and counting) to see bullshit where I didn’t notice it before.

What this bullshit-recognizing superpower is going to do for me, I don’t know, but there it is all the same. As my beloved Ursula K. Le Guin once said,

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”

unbelievably charming

I’ve been spending all my weekdays with the kids during their online schoolwork, and all my evenings on either laundry or reading Twitter until it feels like my eyes are going to bleed. I am trying to get better about what time I go to bed, since I haven’t been getting enough sleep at night. I’m pretty stubborn, though, especially with myself, so I have to take it incrementally or I just won’t. Whatever it is. WON’T.

Last evening I was hit with a wave of depression that I was not expecting, and I couldn’t pinpoint where it might be coming from. Then today my google calendar said it was the fourth anniversary of my Mamow dying, and now it makes sense.

She had increasingly deteriorating dementia for several years before she died, and I spent about a year going to my Mamow and Papow’s house each week and spending time with her: making food and encouraging her to eat it, washing her hair, helping her get cleaned up, going for short wee walks sometimes, and even once I took her to get her hair cut and we got McDonald’s on the way home because that’s always how she did it before.

As I told one of my classmates in my death doula class — because we need to use our own experiences to understand what about death we already know and how to use that wisdom for our future clients — it felt like a holy and sacred thing to wash her hair and remind her who the people were in the photos hanging on the walls and surreptitiously clean her baby doll’s face after she spent her entire lunch time trying to feed it from her own plate. I expected to be with her as she gradually became more and more frail, less and less cognitively grounded in the now, and transitioned into active dying. I expected to be at her side as she began to die, and that I would be there when she finally took her last breath. But I got to do none of that.

During her final year, her oldest child, my aunt, died in hospice. At her funeral, my mom was a mess; she was angry that my eldest had decided not to attend because he was constantly being misgendered and deadnamed by his own grandmother; she was angry that her older sister, who had lived with a form of schizophrenia that rendered her perpetually about twelve, and who needed caretaking by her younger sister who did not want that job, was gone and that there was no way to ever make up for how that made her feel; that her mother kept forgetting her daughter was dead and kept going back up to the casket and touching my aunt’s body and wondering what happened to her; and all the other things that have hurt her over decades that she’s never resolved or been in therapy for.

At the cemetery, I wanted to share a poem with my mom to comfort her, because it was also comforting to me, but she was so angry she pushed me away with tears in her eyes and told me roughly to stop. I did, but in that moment my own ability to mourn my aunt and help take care of my own grandmother, my mother, my family, was somehow broken: like a windowpane with cracks in it that hasn’t yet shattered but only just. Her anger consumed her, and her unwillingness to address any of us (my big queer family) by our chosen names and proper pronouns led me to tell her, a couple of months later, that I wouldn’t speak to her again until she could do that.

That was almost five years ago and she hasn’t spoken to me since. And during that five years, my Mamow died, and no one told me until my sister texted that she was in her final hours. I sat on the floor with my phone, stricken, trying to logistic how I could get to the hospice in time and whether I’d be welcome at all, when I got a second text, that she was gone. It broke my heart that I was not there, and I still have a lot of personal guilt associated with that. If I had just gotten along with my mom better (as if I could have given up my own identity and the safety of my children, even for that), if I had just tried harder to help her understand, maybe it wouldn’t have happened this way.

But I didn’t, and it did happen that way, and still I can hardly believe it’s been four years since.

Time has compressed for me in that moment so that it always feels like it recently happened, even though the grief is much less dull and heavy now. And the grief is less about her dying and more my horror and agony over not being there. I never promised her I would be with her when she died, but it always felt like a foregone conclusion that I would be. I am not sure that I will ever get over how that feels.

And yet, time does seem to continue forward. My children get older, new children are born, a pandemic of dangerous illness consumes all the countries and people of the earth, governments shift and change and people take to the streets to scream and yell and cry the things that need saying, and the whole west coast of this country is on fire. Sometimes I know what to do and sometimes I really definitely don’t.

Today my fifteen year old had a Zoom meeting with his math teacher to go over some concepts that he wasn’t quite getting, and to prepare we set up his Zoom account well ahead of time (during which he got pretty stuck and nonverbal for a while), and I emailed his teacher to give her some context around how he interacts with the world and what to do if he got stuck during their session.

And, beautifully, his meeting went very well, he understood the concepts he’d been misunderstanding, he didn’t need any extra help from me, and after signing out he told me that it had been ‘unbelievably charming’ and I think that’s the best thing I’ve heard today. So I will hold the dialectical emotions of pride in my children and grief for what I have lost, and perhaps there will be other unbelievably charming things.

if time is a flat circle, that would explain a lot of things

It’s evening, around dinnertime. My eating times are all over the place and I’m getting help for that because when I forget to eat I run out of spoons, plus everything else in the metaphorical silverware drawer that holds my ability to Do The Things.

I keep getting tired approximately an hour after the kids to go bed, and then because I don’t want to go to bed yet, I end up staying awake a lot longer and then sometimes an accidental nap happens and I wake up at 2am and then I’m awake again for a while and then I go to bed. My sleep is so fucking weird since the beginning of lockdown, and it was almost this weird already before that happened. I think the last time I woke up and felt rested was a sleep-in day where I forgot to turn my alarm back on and I woke up when I was done sleeping.

About a month ago, I got myself a new fountain pen — surprisingly inexpensive for one that tends to not hurt my hands — because the one I was using is something a person that used to be special to me gave to me, because they knew it was hard for me to write by hand and the fountain pen glides across paper in such a different sort of way. When it came time to look for refills, I ordered (again, much less expensive than I expected) two bottles of ink to refill the converter by (ink-stained) hand: black ink, and red ink. The red ended up being a little too light red for me, almost pink sometimes; so I filled the converter about 2/3 with red ink and the rest with black, and gently tipped it back and forth to try and mix it a bit. The result is a gorgeously dark red that’s almost the color of dried blood. I love it.

The new pen and the mixed-by-me ink has been a good way to start forgetting how my once-special person dropped me like we were dancing and it was hot. I think I messed up that metaphor.

I’m not naming the person and I’m not going to say anything terribly specific, but I am still missing their presence in my life but not as constantly as it was at first. It’s always confusing to me when someone suddenly does not want to be connected to me, or when someone doesn’t use their words or other communication skills, or when someone just disappears when there is unfinished business between us. A big part of me being able to begin to separate myself from the loss, as I grieve my way through it, is to realize that some things cannot be resolved, some stones will remain unturned, and some choices cannot be undone.

I have been listening to this song lately; it’s got a space on my private repeatrepeatrepeat Spotify playlist, where I put things I think I like and wait to hear if they belong in one of my other playlists, or if the enjoyment was only for a little while. It’s a cover of Sia’s Bird Set Free by Keala Settle. Here’s the Youtube link:

Today’s school day was another good one for the kids. It’s really nice to see them feeling happy with themselves when they finish something or when they suddenly understand a concept. Enjoyment is few and far between some days — lots of the days — so I am trying to relish them when I find them.

Time for me to moisturize the world serpent that lives on my arm and refresh Twitter (oh god why) and wait for dinner.

starting over again (again)

I’ve had so many start-overs in my life.

Not do-overs, either. Start-overs, picking up pieces, trying to remember who I am and why I am.

I’m cocooned in a blank sheaf of paper, unable to write what I want to write because I don’t exactly know what it is.

I shut down my Facebook weeks ago, and I think I’m going to have to activate it again soon so that I can be in the death doula group there. That’s a thing I’m doing right now: I am in a death doula class, and it is hurting my feelings and challenging my understanding of myself and how I relate to others.

I am on Twitter almost every day, my timeline locked down so my ex can’t see it. This website is public, so if he sees it, I would like him to know that I don’t care if he sees it. And if his girlfriend sees it I would like her to know that I don’t care if she sees it either. I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.

We locked down in early March here in our house. Many of us are immunocompromised and infection would probably result in at least one death. We are doing our best and being as careful as possible. One wage earner has been able to work fully from home. One wage earner leaves the house to work a few days a week. Another one has plans to do the same.

I write every day in my journal. I wonder, every time I write the date, if one day someone will be reading it the way we read Anne Frank’s diary. I am afraid of a fascist state as often as I remember to breathe, which is to say: almost all of the time.

It’s been over five months since our lockdown began, and I can’t imagine what life will look like five months from right now. It will be almost the end of January, just after the inauguration of what will hopefully be a new person as president of the country. It will probably still feel just as strange and confusing as it has been.

My work, supporting spiritual specialists, became all but impossible to do. One person walked away without saying a word. One person was gracious and kind and still needed to go their own way. My remaining clients are also stuck in a holding pattern; where do we go from here? What can we do?

So far my answer for myself has been to take classes, to learn things, to lean into the therapy I have by phone every two weeks (except on days when I feel physically horrid and can’t do phone calls), to make meaning for myself around caring for my family in the ways I’m able. School for the kids started last week, and they are already fully engaged in it. It’s a kind of respite from the rest of the world to get to sit and be with them as they work on their subjects. The rest of the time I’m usually doing the laundry or hanging out with my family or taking accidental depression naps.

The anniversary of a birthday in June was hard and it still hurts.

My own birthday just one week ago feels so completely unimportant. I was just happy to be with my loved ones on that day and eat food with them. I am now forty-two, which is supposed to be the number that is the answer to the life, universe, and everything. I don’t feel very different and I certainly don’t feel wiser. I did find a really long silvery-grey hair yesterday as I was struggling to figure out how to wear my extremely grown-out queer haircut, which I was weirdly pleased about.

But despite the ways I am getting by, I am devastated that I cannot do the work that I was doing six months ago. I miss the meaning and importance of it. I miss feeling like I was doing something that mattered. I miss the cadence of the way working fit into my days. There is nothing for me to do now except be a surrogate teacher to my kids, wash and dry and put away the laundry each week, and read and fill the rest of the time with either learning or naps.

I have so much grief.

One of the effects, for me personally, of regular testosterone injections, is that I am having trouble crying when I definitely need to cry. It’s like my pressure-release valve has got stuck. I’m not removed from my feelings; I’m in them, swimming in my grief and sadness and worry, wishing that I wasn’t.

I have a sliver of hope that this place to put my writing is going to be cathartic and helpful and not another thing on my daily task list. I want to be free of all these worries, but I don’t know how. I’m not sure anyone else does either.

Meanwhile I suppose I could try screaming inside my heart.