Archive | Essays

So Here’s This Bird

My godmother M., from whom I take one of my names and most of my subversion, used to tell the best stories, usually about her run-ins with people whom she considered “dolts.” First she’d settle in at our kitchen table, kicking off her shoes and tucking her feet beneath her. Next she’d light a cigarette and take a long, theatrical drag while shaking out her thick black wig and eyeballing my mother, who’d quit smoking but still luxuriated in the secondhand smoke. Then, only then, would M. start her stories. Invariably they’d begin like this: So here’s this bird…

Today I have a story that begins exactly the same way. I’ll tell it like M. would. Pretend this pen I’m puffing on is a cigarette.

So here’s this bird, and she’s spoiling for a fight. I can tell right off the bat, and honest to Godfrey, I can tell I might give it to her. I’ve been feeling off all day, partly because of the indecency of this New York weather. Partly because I have worries that have just about hit the boiling point. Continue Reading →

Children of the Universe

Water is thicker than blood. It’s a saying my friend M and I often say to each other, and it’s been a guiding philosophy in my adult life.

I do not believe that biological bonds automatically make family. Family must be earned through respect, accountability, and nurturing, which occurs far less frequently in bloodlines that we care to admit. In a way, I consider the people with whom I am closest to be “family.” But they are chosen family–god family, really, for nothing is holier than love freely given and love freely received.

You may have noticed I rarely discuss my biological family in the present though I am the queen of memory lane. That is because I stay away from them for reasons that are too complex and too raw to air here. Suffice it to say I learned the hard way that my emotional and physical health required distance that was more than geographic. I adore my little sister but we have had a hard time in the wake of our different responses to the same battlefield. My parents and I experience an even wider abyss.

But this summer I’ve been writing about my biological family for the book to which I have been referring, and so I visit them all the time, at least in my imagination and memory. This is wonderful and this is harrowing. Mostly, it is harrowing. I’m spending a lot of time as a four-year-old at the mercy of charismatically flawed humans who probably should not have had kids. It is so harrowing that I postponed writing this book for years though it has tugged at me daily. Its lack of completion makes me feel incomplete in turn.

In the midst of this, my first cousin’s youngest son came to stay with me this week. His name is Jean-Paul and he is a beautiful person–tender-hearted and hard-working and pure of intent. He also is at a very precarious age, though what age is not when your clan is something to survive? The next few years will determine whether he’ll succumb to our family malaise (violence, poverty, abuse, malignant narcissism, teen pregnancy, and addiction is the general name of the game), and I pray for him daily. Since he was a small child he has shone a bright light that I’ve wished I could protect while rescuing myself.

His spirit is indomitable, and he shares one of our few family gifts. He has second sight and six senses and any other term you can apply to what I call Ruby Intuition. He knows when to reach out to me, and his sweet persistence worms past my defenses. So when he recently saved up enough to visit NYC, I agreed to host him though it scared me to open the door to anyone on my mother’s side. (I would worry about them reading this but doubt they read my blog, and no longer can afford to accommodate my mother’s feelings about my work.) Continue Reading →

Sex Pots… and Pans

Tonight I ruined my beets. I boiled them for such a long time that by the time I looked up from my book, smoke had filled my apartment. I haven’t been that cotton-headed since I first started living by myself twenty years ago but it was an engrossing book (another Octavia Butler) and it has been a terrible summer.

I mention the beets because, in the process of ruining them, I also ruined the pot, which made me panic for an existential minute. I’ve had this pot, a Brazilian stainless-steel 3-quart saucepan, for as long as I’ve lived by myself. I inherited it in a very stupid breakup—or, rather, in the demise of a very stupid relationship, the sort we used to have in the 1990s when we still equated sex with death and so made long-term commitments out of what should have been one-night stands. This man, whom I have called The WASP elsewhere, left me in his West Village studio when he left for graduate school, where he began shacking up with a fellow student before properly ending things with me. When the lease of his NYC apartment ended, he was too terrified to claim the household items he’d left behind. To be fair, I’d threatened to mutilate him with most of them by then.

So I found a sweet and affordable Brooklyn apartment of my own, and soon enough the only traces of that man could be found in a set of stainless-steel pots as well as two sky-blue plates. (I ritualistically burned all his plaid flannel shirts.) This established a pattern. Whenever I received kitchenwear from a lover or, worse, their mother, the romance’s death certificate appeared on the wall. Continue Reading →

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy