Mid Term

So I look at it this way.

If I use a hopeful sort of math, I’m about midway through my life.

I have a fair amount of stuff I want to do, still. I have a sense of getting my shit together in an existential as well as practical way, and part of that was making a decision that probably has been too long in coming.

I got meds.

I’ve had depression that’s ranged from mild to life-threatening since I was in high school. It’s disrupted my life over and over, and although I’ve developed amazing coping mechanisms for dealing with it, got very good at arranging and maintaining my life around it, it’s been this huge, inconvenient elephant in my room for a while. A long while.

Don’t get me wrong, I like elephants. It’s just, as far as big creatures or big emotions go there’s a time and a place, and yes, I can live in a house with a huge enormous elephant in it and vacuum around it and things. But in terms of my life, as a house, in terms of who I am, doesn’t it sound nice to just have the whole of my life, my house to live in and maybe I can visit the elephant but not have to constantly fight my way around it as I go from room to room?

I wondered if I’d miss it. I got used to it, it was who I was.

I got used to the big emotions. I got used to rage and sadness, to a lot of things I assumed were simply as they should be, accepted them as part of my personality or fought them constantly to keep my relationships, life, work stable.

Sometimes I succeeded, a lot of the time I didn’t.

I worried about my art, I worried if I stopped feeling so much all the time I’d be a terrible writer. I worried I’d lose whatever spark my writing had that made it good, real, truthful.

Frankly?  I made a dozen excuses because I was used to something and having my shit together, the idea of being okay and whole and in control was a little scary.

*

So how is it?

It’s good. It’s a change.  There’s no elephant, I have a whole house to move around in, and suddenly my palette of emotions has opened up to include more options. I can be briefly annoyed, I can lose my temper, I can cry at a TV ad, I can choose a moderate lack of response without stuffing a whole lot of emotion under the surface that will explode in my face or someone else’s later.

Self destructive impulses are largely gone.

I don’t have a horror of being a bad person. I actually contemplated shoplifting because I didn’t care about being a terrible person if I did. I wound up not shoplifting because rationally I don’t want to live in a society where people do that and it’s just not the right thing to do. Logically, intellectually. You know? Without a lot of emotional crap attached.

Writing is different. I’m better mentally organized, and there is exponentially less emotional risk to the act itself. I don’t care about X reader. I don’t care if it sucks the first time around. I see organizational problems as they happen and sometimes I go back and edit now faster. There’s much less emotional baggage.  Writing is writing, and when it’s fine I leave it and when it needs fixing… I fix it. No big deal.

*

Is it that huge a change?

So, yeah. It is.

I held off writing about it in part because of the stigma, in part because ironically my impulses to overshare are diminished, and I wasn’t sure it was really anyone’s business or if anyone needed to know so much about me, or this thing, this struggle.

But for those of you thinking about it, particularly artists and writers, particularly those of you with high coping skills who have gone too many years with this big huge elephant standing around… it’s worth doing, if you can manage it.

I like the new living room.

 

 

Aside

Terry Brennan at the Black Rose

Spent the evening last night with my buddy Matt at the Black Rose in Boston.

The Black Rose is a funny place. I used to go there when I worked across the street at the big financial place, trying to reconcile myself in three piece suits and nylons every day, trying to tell myself that working in a big financial institution wearing three piece suits and commuting three hours home and back every day on the train was somehow being an adult.  That is, a better person.

Walking into the Black Rose was a reality check.

Look, it’s a tourist trap. It’s smack dab in the middle of all the tourist BS downtown, right off Faneuil Hall and it’s not run by some Irish family as it has been for generations — like many other pubs in Boston — it’s run by a “Hospitality Group” and it’s not a pub where I walk in and people say “oh hi, Kate, where ya been” and I’ve had pubs like that in my life. Like the Poet and the Patriot in Santa Cruz where on a given night I knew most of the people around me and there was a good chance someone would just pull an instrument out and we’d start singing and playing, impromptu.

The Black Rose isn’t like that.  It’s not small and cramped and smoky and romantic.

It’s a big fucking pub, two stories, with tourists.

But this thing happens there.  Almost every time I walk in it’s different, and there’s some new experience that’s as much about the patrons as the bar itself, it’s a weird, magic, unexpected thing.

Like last night, when I told Matt look, it’s Monday in fact it’s a holiday Monday, likely it’s dead but we’ll see what’s up, and so we took a cab over and walked in and sure enough it was all quiet but the thing about pubs is there’s no loss ever in terms of pubs because that’s where the beer comes from.

And halfway into the first pint this guy gets up on stage with a guitar, which is fine and I think nothing of it because a guy on the stage with a guitar is not four people with fiddles and whistles and your goddamn Uilleann pipes, right? It’s just some guy and a guitar but music’s fine, and there was beer so no complaints there, I was mostly just happy there was going to be some kind of music.

About then, the guy opened his mouth and started singing.

*

Let’s go back for a second and remember what pubs and music are all about. I was thinking about this the other day, about what constitutes leisure and how if you work on a farm or in a factory or even in an office in a pair of high heels and itchy nylons and it all feels less like clothes and more like drag, how you spend your day having your sense of self eroded. But you do it because money has to happen and you’re not captain of your own time and at the end of the day you want to be with people who don’t make you feel like shit about yourself. And you want to be entertained.

Sure, there’s a whole group of people who go and listen to Irish music in pubs because it’s a thing and maybe they’re like… 12% Irish by ancestry and it’s some kind of connection. And they like the music and it’s also just what that generation of people do, because we went to too much Ren Faire and listened to the Pogues and got Celtic knotwork tattooed on us and it was just kind an incidental part of who we are.

Or some of us grew up steeped in folk music, the Seegers and the Guthries and Dylan and the Dubliners and the music of social change is a theme, a constant in our heads even when we’re long past the generations of the Troubles, or factories and lockouts or maybe we actually have in our own times been locked out, or walked out, and look, almost every story I write is about prisoners in jail or whalers and sailors, or the working class. I don’t think that’s some kind of coincidence.

And at the end of the day, we love some internet but we also feel a need, a desire to get the fuck out of the house, to connect with people, drink beer and be entertained.

So we go to a pub, and maybe it feels right for a variety of reasons but what we look for is connection with a bunch of other people, strangers and friends or both, and entertainment that echoes who we are and what we think and believe and know, and that’s how we get, somehow our sense of self back, in some small way.

*

Terry Brennan got up last night and owned the stage and everyone in the room. He’s got a perfect, certain voice and he knows all the standards, and so did the crowd. “4, 3, 2, 1!” he yelled and so we banged on the tables and clapped our hands for The Wild Rover and it’s good when the table almost falls over and the empty pint glasses dance around.  That’s when you know it’s a good night, when instead of — okay, I just have to say it I’m sorry I’m going straight to hell — a bunch of hipsters stand around being cool at the small local Irish pub and completely fucking drown out the little seisiún going on with their asinine chatter, the people in the bar make total idiots of themselves doing something completely not like dancing and banging on tables and belting out “Sweet Caroline” like their lives depended on it.

But not just that. Most of us also knew the Fields of Athenry and sure, we have Dropkick Murphys to thank for that in large part but that was Brennan’s version. Not the Dubliners, not DMs, it was his, and we all sang along and that song?  It fucking means something and for a second even the people who’d never heard it before in that bar got that.

Because we all sat together and either sang or listened and that was a real, shared moment.

And that’s what the fucking pub’s for.

A Gentle Commerce

Remember Snoopy and the lawn chair at Thanksgiving?

That’s me putting up my awning over my booth. The hilarious thing is these contraptions are always called EZ-something. EZ-Up. EZ-Build. About the only EZ thing about it is how EZ it is to take a chunk out of me while I fail to get clicky things to click and shady things to cover.

Protesting “I got this, thanks” is stupid and also dishonest and also possibly lethal, so when veteran boothies come over and offer to help, I say “yes please.”

I also now know to go over and help new booth people set up theirs before someone loses a limb or an eye or something.

*

Some gigs are really swank. This last weekend I was in a park with soft, cool grass. A guy sat in a nearby gazebo and played show tunes on an electric piano, and Bach. Eager high school volunteers helped me carry all my bins of yarn and helped me put up the awning. They came by to solicitously ask me if I needed more cash – later I realized that they meant change – and filled up my huge water bottle with ice and tea for fifty cents. They put face paint on kids and arranged soccer games and one of them turned pages for the piano playing guy in the gazebo.

Apparently only I found the fact that they were wearing red T-shirts hilarious.

Another gig was in a barn at a county fair. The booth was about half the size advertised, and when I got there my booth neighbors handed me a rake.

To muck my space out with.

No really, sheep crap.

That weekend it was thirty-five degrees in that barn, all day. Rain poured down outside all day and we stood and shivered and tried to look chipper and welcoming for the pathetic trickle of customers walking through. Sven told the story over and over of how I’d nearly torn the poor festival director’s head off. The director asked me right after I’d mucked out my booth how I was doing. “How are you doing, Kate?” he’d asked.

Sven liked to make a scary face while he told the story.  “This is my happy face,” he quoted me saying to the guy, with a snarl.

The woman manning the stall – sorry, booth – next to me left in tears midday on Saturday. She let me keep her tarp, which was stapled up on the back side of the stall, sorry booth, to keep out the sheeting, icy rain.

Around 4pm Sven came around with plastic cups of surprisingly good red wine.

I saw Sven and his wife at another festival recently.  We exchanged the kind of hard, heartfelt hugs you exchange with old friends.

*

I see many of the same vendors over and over now, at markets and festivals. Some of the same customers, too.

Some boothies at first seem a little standoffish.

At one market, the director waved me into a new spot, a choice one with a parking space in front of the spot and instead of carrying my stuff, or unloading then reparking then coming back, I could just unload straight out of the back of the truck and leave the truck parked there.

“You can’t park there,” a woman said when I pulled the truck in. “That’s Darryl’s space.”

“The director said I could have it,” I told her. “It’s just for today.”

“That’s Darryl’s space,” she insisted. “What happened to Darryl? Is he okay?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “he’s just not here this week. Hi, I’m Kate. I’m just here for this week, normally I’m over there.” I pointed.

She came and shook my hand, while right then the guy on the other side walked over. “Why is she in Darryl’s space?” he wanted to know.

“He’s not here this week,” the woman told him. “This is Kate. She’s okay.”

“But not as cool as Darryl,” I grinned. “Someday I want you guys to love me as much as you love Darryl.”

“Give it some time,” she answered, finally smiling.

Sometimes they seem a little standoffish at first but I found out that some of these markets have been going on for years. Some festivals, for decades. It’s a big, erratic family. In time I’ll fit in.

*

When it’s slow, boothies admire and covet each other’s wares. We shop.

I traded three skeins of lace yarn for a huge bag of handmade soaps, lotions and balms.

I traded some DK weight for jars of spice including espresso salt and some Ras el Hanout to go in my coffee.

*

A woman stood in my booth looking at sock yarn.

I’ve learned a lot about sales, in the last two years. I’ve learned on the one hand I never want to be that hovering, pressuring, guilting salesperson. On the other hand, I have to make my day out there worthwhile.

I’ve learned there’s a rhythm to every person’s visit to the booth, and each is a little different from the next. I’ve learned that it’s about making friends, first. Sales will follow. Sometimes it’s just about hearing someone’s story, or telling my own.

She stood there, wavering. Indecision of some kind, and there’s a way of touching a pretty skein of yarn people have when they want it, “but…”

I asked if she was a knitter, or a crocheter. That’s how I usually start off. That makes the weavers smug.

She said she was. She said she was just learning to knit socks, she said. She’d had the same pair on the needles for months now. She should finish them.

“If you finish those socks, you could knit more,” I grinned. “And then more, and more.”
“I’m having a hard time finishing, although I really want to knit socks, I want to knit some more socks…” she confessed and before I could ask if it was just that she was a new sock knitter and maybe she needed some help, she said “my friend was teaching me to knit socks. She died, and I couldn’t finish.”

So I thought, maybe you leave that alone. Maybe you just say wow, and I’m so sorry, and give condolences, and ask about her friend. But sometimes I say too much or I say other things, and so I said those things and also “you could just put the socks aside,” I said. “Those are some pretty emotionally laden socks. When you’re ready you could knit some other ones. And then go back to those, or not, and that’d be OK.”

She thought about it. “I think I’m done with the other ones for now,” she agreed, and bought herself some new sock yarn, in a bright color. She said her friend would have approved of it, and walked out of my booth with a package of new sock yarn under her arm.

Smiling.

*

At the end of the day, the bread vendor comes around. He has huge, round, crusty loaves of bread in his arms, awkwardly caught in his hands, too many really to carry although he does a great day’s business. His booth is always thronged with customers.

“Who’s taking the cinnamon raisin?” he asks. “Who wants sourdough?”

We all get a fresh loaf of bread to take home.

Or sometimes it’s a bag of garlic that didn’t sell, or sometimes I send someone home with a skein of yarn they were admiring.

We make our final trades, we all ask “how’d you do?” solicitously.

“See you next week,” we say.

 

Image

Mirror

The last time I was in this Target, I went in the dressing room, took off my clothes, saw myself in the mirror and cringed.

Hurried out.

That was a while ago, before I started lifting.

Today, I noticed my general size hasn’t changed much. But as I was looking I happened to catch sight of my back in the mirror.

I haven’t seen my back recently.

I spent a good ten minutes flexing before I realized I’d been in there for ten minutes flexing in the mirror and scampered out.

I don’t need a reason

I see more women lifting, at my gym. A woman was in the power rack most of the time I was there, the other night. I watched another woman put actual plates on the bar to bench.

Most of the time, though, I’m the only one lifting. But most of the staff know me by name and the gym feels more like it’s mine, now.

*

It’s one thing to know that your own head is in your way. That’s less than half the battle, though.

Getting your head out of your way? You think it’s easy. It’s really not at all.

The weights are like the ice. They’re a thing. Iron. Indifferent. They’re there waiting for me to sort my shit out, on any given night.

Or not.

Last night I realized there was nothing between me and a 115 bench but will. Just that. Just will to do it, permission to do it, whatever needed to happen in my brain – courage, focus, will, resolve.

These are words. Words we bandy about like they’re easy. “Be courageous! Focus!” Comes right down to you and a pile of iron and suddenly they get hard.

*

Ask yourself: what’s the risk of strength? What’s the risk of success, what’s the comfort of failure?

Every time I walk off this cliff I rewrite my story. I make myself anew.

Can I live up to something better, and brighter?

*

“So are you doing this so when you get bigger you can beat up men?”

He was wearing a baseball cap and slouchy track pants.  Older.  I stood there gobsmacked, couldn’t believe what I just heard.  For a change, I didn’t say anything. Not right away.  Then after about five minutes and really thinking about it, I walked over to him.  He took his earbuds out so he could hear my response.

“I don’t know what you meant by that comment – ”

“I didn’t mean anything by it,” he started but I was still talking.

“- but it was bullshit. I’m here to lift, and get strong. I just benched a hundred and fifteen pounds -”

“That’s a lot,” he started, but I was still talking.

“- and that’s a lot, and that’s why I’m here, and for no other reason.”

And I walked off feeling like for once I hadn’t been just yapping like some scared angry dog, but had had something important and significant to say.

*

Sometimes, I lie on the bench and repeat my credo. It ends in victory. It ends in the word “victory.”

Sometimes I wait until I’m calm. Until there’s nothing but the word “victory” in my head.

Then I lift.

When there’s nothing else there.

Sometimes, it’s the answer.

Sometimes, it is the only possible, perfect thing.

 

Fatass

Let me explain to you what I mean by that term.

*

I was outside the warehouse at oh dark thirty before my first day at hockey bootcamp. I’d lost the contents of my stomach twice, I was so nervous. I had all the baggage of firefighting on my shoulders and I’d never put on hockey gear before. 

This hot, athletic teenage hockey star dude was getting me gear. You know what that’s like?  Having some eighteen year old athlete go through gear to give you?

“I have a fat ass,” I said. Because I didn’t think any gear they had was going to fit me and I was an out of shape old woman who had never played hockey before.

“Big ass, more power,” he said, and handed me a pair of hockey pants. They fit.

Lesson learned.

*

140 pounds didn’t do me much good for firefighting. I put on weight and started passing agilities.  Why?  Muscle.  Mass, against weight of objects.  Physics.

Mental things going on, too. About owning space, and my own size.

Bigness being not something to be ashamed of but something to be desired.

*

When I say “fatass” I mean I am big. I do not mean I am bigger than you. I do not mean you are a bad shape, I certainly do not mean I am a bad shape. I mean that my BMI is obese by the books. I mean I am large, by society’s standards, I mean that I am subject to criticism because of the weight I carry around and I have gotten to a place in my life where

I do not want to become smaller.

*

I have a huge ass.

I have a huge lots of things, and a while ago I thought that princesses and delicate vulnerable pretty people couldn’t be large.

Or muscled.

Or, god forbid “bulky.”

It’s bullshit, it’s lies. Size has zero to do with princessdom or vulnerability. Big huge men can be princesses, and I can be in this five seconds powerful and in the next five seconds vulnerable.

When I truly level up as a human being I’ll learn to be both simultaneously.

*

Do not think that fatass coming out of my mouth is an insult.

I apply it to myself acceptingly.

Proudly.

Lovingly.

The same ice

I’ll own that it’s probably me.

A difficult winter, depression, whatever else.

It takes some nerve to get on the ice.  It takes more nerve when the ice is distant.  More nerve still when one is tired, and it’s late, and when one is the only woman.  It takes nerve to show up and play badly.  Which I often do.

Sometimes I don’t have the nerve.

Sometimes it’s easier to fail before I try, so far as that goes.

*

Hockey has the potential to be the most inclusive sport in the world.  The people are like none other, in general. The sport is intense in ways that many aren’t.

You have to work together or nothing happens.

I write myself off the ice, sometimes before I’ve even set a blade on it.

Sometimes it isn’t me, though.

 

*

I showed up at pickup yesterday, at the rink a handful of minutes from my house. I coached my son there years ago. It’s familiar even though it’s been a while.

My stomach was in knots. Fucking pickup, I’d tell myself.  Again. There is no way to make this any easier, any less fraught.  It’s supposed to be fun.  It’s supposed to be fun.

There were three of us.  One guy who reassured me a lot after I said I sucked, and it turned out I probably played a bit better than him, in the scheme of things.  Though I notice no matter how worse a guy plays, he apologizes less – or never – and is generally more self-assured on the ice. I want that. I want to blame everyone else for not having that but the reality is I get in my own damned way.

Another guy showed up. We all skated around. I found edges – oh, look I have edges, they do things – I did some backwards circles and remembered six years ago when I skated backwards better than I skated forwards.

Made a dozen excuses in my head.

*

There was a time when hockey was always a relief.  When the ice was always mine no matter how outclassed I was. No matter how impatient anyone around me was when I failed to carry the puck to the net.

I want to find that feeling, that time again.

It’s on me.

*

Third guy said “let’s play some 2 on 1,” second guy was dubious. “Come on,” I said and kind of felt bad because in guy culture it’s unfair to not give someone an out. There was no way for him to gracefully say no once the girl says she’s in.

So we played.

I’m insanely out of shape.  No wind, no muscle. Zero stick control. Mostly comical, but old things that have always worked – my sense of space on the ice, position, how plays work, how to follow and work with another forward – are still good.

Mostly when I overthink I get into trouble. Mostly when I start questioning what I’m doing I screw up.

Or I screw up and then give up.

Lesson learned.

*

The pace was slow, which was great because I have time to really watch and think about the play while it happens. Not even pickup, more like a 2 on1 drill so I can really mull over what’s going on. Not just freak out and windmill, or the hockey equivalent thereof.

Eventually I said “hey, am I supposed to be scoring off the pipe?” because I hadn’t, and next play we came in and passed back and forth and I took a beautiful pass across the crease, lifted the puck and clanged it off the near post.

I know.  Right?

I can play hockey. It’s right there. Right.  There.

I let out a victory yell, then immediately followed it with “hah! That was all by accident.”

The fuck do these things come out of my mouth?

*

“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth.”

It’s there, somewhere, under my feet.

That’s the thing. I can shut out the voices. The impatient voices, the bigoted voices, the voices telling me I don’t belong there – loudest of all my own.

The ice waits.

The game waits.

Somewhere, under my feet.