The Great Work Begins…

(Sorry in advance for the political post)

It has been forever since I’ve updated, I know. I would offer excuses, but they don’t matter. Here’s what does matter: not posting is no longer an option.

I spent a great deal of last year in a haze–a good haze: finishing my MFA, getting married, spending time with my sister and four beautiful nephews while they were visiting from Ireland, and a bad haze: volunteering for campaigns that didn’t succeed, reeling from disbelief as someone was elected to the highest office with no experience and no willingness to learn–and the haze meant that I wasn’t writing. Not only was I not blogging, but I wasn’t creating ANYTHING. Not sending out my memoir. Not revising or writing new pieces for my essay collection about living as a bisexual liberal feminist in a red state. Not working on a novel about addiction. Nothing. Nada.

Then the inauguration happened. Then the executive orders began, and the nominations for deplorable people in ill-fitted positions. And I was still reeling. Then the discrediting of the media, labeling outlets such as CNN(!) as fake news, and calling lies “Alternative facts.” I did my part, I thought–I made signs, I marched, I rallied.

But then I remembered a quote from Angels in America:

“We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.”

Silence is no longer an option. I cannot allow my writing to die a secret death, no more than I can allow others to silence it. When the media is silenced, it will be up to the rest of us to speak out, to share information. And it works–a potential LGBTQ discriminatory executive order was not signed. Many of my more conservative friends and family members are speaking out.

And I am writing. I am creating. This is my task in the great work. And I am beginning.

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It could have been any of us…

The day after Orlando hit the newswaves, my heart is still shattered. I left the house last night to go to work, and today to go get food, and every time, I found myself looking over my shoulder, wondering. Wondering if the guy in the car next to me harbors the same rage, the same hate toward the LGBTQIA community as the shooter. If his car is loaded down with the same arsenal as the guy heading toward PRIDE in Los Angeles. If I am safe, or if I am about to be the next victim.

49 people died in Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub. At least 50 are injured. And I keep reading, in the midst of all the love and support (which has been beautiful) that people think the victims deserved it, that being gay should be punishable by death, that they should have been armed (never mind that there were at least three armed people there, and couldn’t get to the shooter), that what else can you expect for being at a gay bar? What they don’t realize is that gay bars are about more than drinking or partying. They are about community, about safety.

When I was younger, I found safety and sanctity in Louisville’s gay nightclub scene. I was struggling with my own identity and sexuality, not sure how to express my bisexuality, not sure how to come out, where to find love. In the gay bars, I didn’t need to worry about being told I was a sinner for hitting on someone. I didn’t have to fear physical retaliation. Not that it was just about finding partners and romance–in gay bars, I was not alone. I was not gross, or an oddity. I could talk to other women who had the same doubts and fears of being found unfeminine or gross, or hit on by straight men who confused “bisexual” with “easy.” I could talk to men who were burdened with being labeled not masculine enough. I met women who had been raped by men determined to teach them what sex should be about. I met men who had been raped by other men to teach them that they didn’t actually like it. And I met people who had felt ashamed of who they were, who were desperate for community and acceptance, like I was.

For many LGBTQIA Floridians, Pulse was the same sanctuary as the gay bars of my youth were for me. And in the aftermath, I keep thinking this, over and over: It could have been me. I could have been on vacation there and decided to go out. The shooter could have been a Kentuckian instead. He could inspire others. And so we need to come together. We need to make sure we keep our brethren safe. We need to keep our loved ones safe. We need to not blame this on ideology or mental illness or anything. We need to not turn it into a debate over whose candidate could have prevented it, or if immigrants are to blame (the shooter was an American-born citizen, btw.) We need to embrace each other, our allies and ourselves. And we need to listen, to really hear the voices who are suffering under homophobic agendas and laws, and we need to understand that they are people. That we are people. And we deserve to have the same rights and the same safety as everyone else.

It could have been me. It could have been any of us.

 

Always Keep Fighting, But Also, Love Yourself First

I know it’s been awhile since my last post–I was taking some time to finish my memoir, which is being sent out to publishers as I write (ack!), gearing up to graduate in June (ack again!), and planning my upcoming July wedding (double ack!), so time has been limited.

But, being busy isn’t the only reason. I’ve also been struggling, a lot, with my own issues. I have a slew of alphabetic diagnoses (PTSD, ADD, and GAD–Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from domestic abuse, Attention Deficit Disorder from birth, I guess!, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder), and sometimes keeping up with everything, or anything, is hard. I hit some snafus with my health insurance, so I was off my ADD medication for a couple months, so even getting through a day without falling apart was hard. I think sometimes people assume ADD means just being flighty, but that isn’t the case. It means that everything is a distraction, a roadblock to completing a goal, whether that goal is writing a blog post, editing an essay, or just washing some dishes. It means day-to-day life is exhausting, because willing my brain to focus on anything other than a video game or a chapter in a YA novel (thank goodness for YA on my ADD days!) wears me out. And then you add anxiety, which means that any failure to focus is magnified a thousandfold, and my PTSD, which means that I assume that messing up will result in my fiancee hating me (thank goodness he is a good, patient man, or I would not be getting married), and it gets hard.

I’m not writing this for pity, or for attention, though. Well, not for attention for me. I am adding a new section to my blog called “Pop Culture Matters,” and this is the first post there. I started watching Supernatural a few months back, after the urging of my fiancee and my dear friend Shannon, and fell in love with the storylines, even the more outlandish ones, and the characters. I mean, Charlie (played by Felicia Day) is everything I want to be! But, more importantly, I fell in love with the actors. Not romantic love, of course–sadly, haha!–but the kind of love you find when a group of celebrities uses their fame for good.

That brings me to Jared Padalecki, who plays Sam Winchester and who I first discovered as my least favorite Rory guy on the Gilmore Girls. Anyway, I have been following one of his campaigns, #AlwaysKeepFighting, even before I started watching Supernatural. When you are diagnosed with mental illness, sometimes every day feels like a losing battle. I’ve lost some dear friends to their own battles, and I miss them every day. Padalecki’s message of always keep fighting, to not give in to even the worst pain, has been a life saver. We expect celebrities to be perfect. We put them on a pedestal and make them our idols. But by admitting his own struggles with mental illness, he has provided a guidepost to fans who may otherwise feel alone. (And two other actors, Jensen Ackles and Mischa Collins, just rolled out the #youarenotalone campaign, which I will discuss in a later post).

Yesterday, on the one year anniversary of #AlwaysKeepFighting, Padalecki rolled out a new campaign in a live chat on his facebook page:#LoveYourselfFirst Video. I missed the live chat, but watched the video a few minutes ago, and had a long, necessary cry. When living with mental illness, especially on bad days where all you can do is keep fighting to not give in, it is easy to hate yourself, to think you are defective or wrong or damaged. What is so hard, and what we need to be reminded of, is that even in our worst days, we are worthy of love. Even when we feel our most alone, we must remember to love ourselves first.

I struggle with this. I hate my ADD a lot. I hate that I can’t focus, and that when I’m not on my meds, small tasks feel impossible. I hate the anxiety that makes me feel like a failure, the inner voice that says “this is not good enough.” I hate the PTSD that makes me feel damaged, dirty, and unworthy of love. But those, while a part of me, are not ME. I also work in mental health, and know that when our lives are centered around helping and protecting others, it is easy to neglect our own self-care.

I needed to see the video above. I needed the reminder to care for myself. To love myself, or at least try to, before trying to love others. Self-care is important.

And, to any of you out there fighting, I love you as well.

 

Me, Authentically

A couple years ago, I didn’t believe in marriage at all. To fully explain my reasons for not believing would take much more space than I have here. Part of it was because I was a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of a boyfriend many years ago, so romantic relationships scared the hell out of me. But part of it is because my romantic feelings never felt quite valid.

I grew up ignorant about homosexuality. “Gay” was a punchline, a joke. I didn’t know what it meant to be attracted to someone of the same sex, but I knew the slurs. And I knew I thought boys were cute, so it didn’t seem to matter.

Until I got older and realized that I thought girls were cute, too. But even after I figured out what “homosexuality” was, I didn’t know what it meant to like boys and girls. I thought it meant something was wrong with me, or that I was confused about my feelings. I mean, “gay” meant liking people of the same sex, and “straight” meant liking people of the opposite sex. And because I wasn’t gay, I had to be straight, right?

I met some people like me in high school, and I learned what bisexuality meant, and suddenly everything made more sense. But once there was a term for who I was, it meant that there was something different about me. And different felt very, very wrong to a girl who just wanted to fit in and be liked. I remember sitting in church pews and hearing that homosexuals are damned to hellfire, and I remember quaking in my seat in fear. The fear didn’t change me—it just made me hate myself. So I pretended it didn’t matter.

Some of my friends came out, and I was happy for them, but because I predominately dated boys (even though there were some girls in there, too—I just didn’t talk about them), I figured I didn’t need to come out. Some people knew. Close friends, some boyfriends, but not many, and definitely not my family. I never brought girlfriends around—hell, I barely called them my girlfriends.

And then after the abusive boyfriend, it definitely didn’t seem to matter. I mean, if I had decided that romance was not for me, then what did it matter who I was involved with if it wasn’t going to end in anything serious?

Don’t get me wrong. I have always supported LGBTQ rights, and I’ve always been an outspoken advocate for marriage equality. I just figured my own story, my own struggle, didn’t need to be added to the noise. But, if I am honest, a big part of my silence was because of the hate I heard from those closest to me. The continuous message of sin, damnation, perversion, evil, dirty… I felt dirty enough. I didn’t need to hear those messages directed at me.
Almost two years ago, I met Jason, and I fell in love with him. For the first time, I started to reconsider my feelings on love, romance, and marriage. And rather than not believing in marriage, now I actively look forward to planning a wedding. I even have a dream wedding pinterest board! So I stayed silent even longer. I mean, he’s a boy—obviously!—and I’m planning to spend my life with him, so what does it matter that I find girls attractive, that I have been involved with girls in the past?

Around the same time, I started working on a memoir, and some of the chapters deal with my own sexuality. I saved those chapters in a separate file, figuring I’d handle them eventually. And while I started sending many chapters out for publication, I did not send those chapters out. I wasn’t ready to hear the backlash. A couple months ago, I decided to not include those chapters at all.

But the times, they are a changin,’ and so must my silence. After SCOTUS approved marriage equality yesterday, I saw my friends celebrating, and read their messages of engagement with joy, and with tears rolling down my cheeks. Some of those tears, though, were from posts from those I love, my family, some friends, who shared a lot of hate. And then I read a post from a friend about how hurtful her family’s disapproval was to her growing up, how it led to her hating herself, and I realized that I felt the same. I realized that I have been wearing a scarlet letter of shame for far too long.

If I am going to be an authentic memoirist, then I must write the truth. And if my struggles with my sexuality have been an integral part of my story, then that struggle must be included in my memoir. And if I am going to be an authentic human being, then I must accept and love myself for who I am—all of me, not just the parts that are acceptable.

I can no longer hide who I am. Even though I plan on being with a man for the rest of my life, my sexuality still matters. It is still a part of me. It can no longer be a secret.

My name is Karyl Anne, and I am bisexual. And it feels really good to finally be open about that.

…On the kindness of strangers

This doesn’t really have anything to do with writing. Or maybe it does, since we have to get our inspiration from somewhere, and because it is the smallest moments that make a piece of writing the most meaningful.

This morning, I woke up early and decided to finally go and get porch furniture. It’s a gorgeous day here in Louisville and I have a ton of writing due in a day and a half and wanted to work outside (and, too, shopping means an excuse to procrastinate, but that’s beside the point). Target had their lawn and garden stuff clearanced, and the Cartwheel app had an additional coupon.

Long story short, I wound up getting two folding chairs, a table, and a rocking chair. The two chairs and table fit into my car with no problem. As for the rocking chair, we’ll just say that I remembered why I don’t usually buy large things–my spatial awareness is lacking. I called on all my Tetris skills trying to cram this thing into my car–the backseat, the front seat, the trunk, seats down, seats up… I was a hot, sweaty mess and called the chair as many names as I could remember, and some I made up on the spot.

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(Such a small chair to have caused so much trouble)

Just as I was about to take the damn thing back inside and get a refund, a woman came up to me and offered to help. When it didn’t fit in her car either, she drove to her mom’s house and borrowed a minivan, drove back to Target, then followed me from Target to my house. I thanked her profusely, and of course offered gas money, which she refused. She just asked that I remember to pay the favor forward, and that sometimes “God puts people in our paths, or parking lots, when we need them.”

I write about a lot of dark things–child abuse, my own traumatic past, etc–and sometimes this means I overlook the beautiful things life has to offer. My past has taught me, among other things, that most people aren’t to be trusted and if someone does something nice, there’s usually an ulterior motive. I would never approach someone in a parking lot and offer to help, because I would be terrified of being lured somewhere and attacked. I’m not proud of this, but it’s the truth. I suppose I took Blanche DuBois’s lesson to heart–relying on the kindness of strangers risks relying on a Stanley, a predator. Today, though, I got a glimpse of the other side, and how things could be if we all would just stay open to beauty and positivity and understand that the smallest gifts we have to offer can mean the most.

As writers, we need to be open to the small in event but large in meaning events. Regardless of our genre, these are the moments that make our pieces come to life for our readers (when we’re lucky enough to have them!) Writing is a solitary endeavor, but it is our contact with the larger world outside our heads that gives us material for our solitudinal creations.

Everything is material. To quote the late, great Sylvia Plath, “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

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(My own little front porch writing station. Complete with birds singing and a nice summer breeze.)

 

Spaces and Places

Virginia Woolf professed the need for a room of one’s own, which I am lucky enough to have. (Don’t mind the messiness of the pics below; they are from while I was moving.) I have set up this room, a spare room in the house I share with my boyfriend, to meet my writing needs.

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Music, a reading chair, a gorgeous antique writing desk, plenty of dry erase and bulletin boards to keep me focused, five bookshelves… it’s perfect.

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But sometimes, being alone in a room is stifling. And, too, being home means remembering that there is dusting or laundry or dishes that need to be done.

So I flee. I used to haunt Panera and Highland Coffee, but they aren’t as close anymore. I still make the drive to Panera sometimes, though–they have the perfect balance of isolation and company if I can snag a booth.

Or, if nature calls, I head to either Bernheim Forest or Beargrass Creek, find a spot under a tree and by water and let the natural rhythms of nature dictate my words. I need the natural world to recharge my creative batteries. There, I can sit and remember the magic that led me to writing in the first place.

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But, too, I have written drafts on a portable table while sitting in the hallway at work, or on an airplane, or while in class. My writing group meets at a local Denny’s, and all of us have managed to create usable drafts there.

I guesd the point is to figure out where you’re comfortable and let that comfort and drive inform your writing. We can spend hours creating the “perfect space,” but if we’re not actually writing then it doesn’t matter.

What about you? If you’re a writer, where do you write best? What do you need in order to create?