And so I begin the new year by coming out of a period of silence.
A silence, to be sure, less profound than the one I inhabited this time last year. And for different reasons. In the last month or so, mainly I’ve just needed a break.
1. The cave
But on New Year’s Day 2009, I was living in a kind of emotional cave, with no desire or wherewithal to communicate with anyone outside my day-to-day life except immediate family. Especially my dad, who I’d learned just a couple of weeks before had been diagnosed with a terminal lymphoma. That news came on top of stuff I’d already been struggling with for some months, after my then-partner, Rozz who is now Ptery, made the decision while in school in Seattle to transition as a female-to-male (FTM) transsexual, & made accompanying decisions that have essentially ended our partnership as-it-was.
Thus, the cave, about which I wrote on April 2, a few days after coming out of it,
I seem to be have come out of the cave now. Not just feeling better — I’ve felt better a number of times (only to then go back into the grey again) — but actually able & willing to communicate. Maybe it was that I’m finally accepting the inevitable with my partner. Maybe it was finally getting the plane tickets bought to fly down in late April to see my dad. Maybe it was taking enough 5-HTP to keep the serotonin cooking in my brain. Maybe it’s the light coming into the days after a looooooong winter. Maybe it’s all just been perimenopause. Anyway… seems I’m back in the world again.
Now, before I go on, let me explain: this post isn’t just about the history of what I did or experienced in 2009: it’s also about what it meant. Or, better yet, the meanings I’ve made of it — because that’s what it’s all about, for me — the story, the stories each of us make of our lives. And this is my blog, of course, so this is my damn story.
And the story of coming out of the cave also has these meanings attached to it:
(1) The cave itself became a new term, describing a new form, of that rather large aspect of my life popularly known as depression (or, sometimes, despair): along with the grey, along with the pit, along with limbo — all of which are described in my late 2006 post The grey — the newly-discovered environment of the cave can include any one of the first three, or exclude all of them; it is chiefly characterized by that deep inability & lack of motivation to communicate. Big whooptie, a new term — but I do find the language useful in understanding myself around this stuff. Since, hey, halfway through my life give-or-take, I don’t see the depression/despair gunk suddenly evaporating from my life. It’s a part of who I am. I’m just lots better at handling it than before, & part of that is in refining my understanding of how it works in me.
(2) If I were to mark the exact date the cave walls dissolved around me, it would probably be March 30, 2009, which coincided with some important phone calls with Ptery, & also with my brother Mark & I buying our tickets to Spokane to see our dad for what we both understood would probably be the last time this side of our own deaths. And also on that day, I wrote a lengthy post in memorial to Nicholas Hughes, a fisheries biologist formerly at University of Alaska Fairbanks who had taken his own life the previous week. I hadn’t known him, but he was the son of the poets Sylvia Plath & Ted Hughes, & Plath especially had been an significant figure in my life. Not for the right reasons, initially — but the post explains that: it was my effort to honor Mr. Hughes not as mere adjunct to his famous parents’ biographies — as many of the news accounts of his death seemed to view him — but for who he himself was & for what he brought to all the people in his life, who were mourning him that day.
(3) My dad knew I’d been having a hard time. He was at peace with his own approaching death, & wanted us to be too. But beyond that, he wanted our happiness. He was so glad when he heard I’d come out of the cave. That was one of the very best things about it.
2. Lima beans against WAR
Wow, after the Summer of Hate experienced by the Anchorage LGBT & allied community over Anchorage Ordinance 2009-64, one almost forgets its political prelude, when then-Gov. Sarah Palin named Wayne Anthony Ross — widely known by his license-plate acronym as WAR — to succeed the disgraced Talis Colberg as Alaska’s Attorney General. Alaska’s top LGBT blog Bent Alaska informs us that its post about WAR, “Palin’s AG Pick Called Gays “Degenerates” (3/29/09), was one of its two 2009 posts to go viral — & that was even before he compared gays to lima beans, a vegetable that he “hates” but still claimed he could represent if he were, say, the lawyer for “United Vegetable Growers.” We lima beans were, needless to say, not favorably impressed.
Ross also had a history of biased & even misogynistic attitudes in relation to domestic violence, sexual assault, & violence against women; hostility to Alaska Native sovereignty & subsistence rights; a mediocre reputation as a practitioner of law amongst his fellow members of the Alaska Bar Association; & a pretty shaky attitude about executive branch ethics. Bad news all around: it motivated me to spend a considerable amount of time & energy researching him, listening to legislative confirmation hearings, & writing a very long letter to legislators, which I posted on my blog — thus embarking upon a part-time career as an occasional political blogger. I wrote a few other posts about WAR, & commented on other sites’ coverage of him (especially Bent Alaska), & celebrated with most of the rest of Alaska when the Alaska Legislature rejected him by a vote of 23 yeas to 35 nays — an unprecedented rejection of a governor’s cabinet pick.
It took a day or two for the Alaska Department of Law to remove WAR from its website. This screenshot was taken on April 16. The red X is mine.
I flew to Spokane with my brother Mark in late April to visit Dad. We also saw my sister Mer & brother-in-law Julius, with whom my Dad lived, and my brother Dave drove over from Montana. Ptery hitchhiked up, at my request, so I got to see him too.
Dad was so happy to have all of us there. He had a lot of energy too, considering how ill he was; but near the end, as we began to return to our homes, he took a turn for the worse, as if he’d been holding to life so that he could see us all before he left us to be with Mom. She had died in November 2005.
I took this picture during that trip: Dad telling one of his wonderful stories about growing up in the lumber camps of eastern Oregon in the 1920s where Grandpa Claude ran locomotives on the Sumpter Valley Railroad for the Oregon Lumber Company; or about the bootleg operation he & his pals in the Army Air Corps had in England during WWII; or about how he met my mom when he was looking for a job, & guy at Ellingson Lumber Company suggested he head to Izee because the camp cook there had two beautiful daughters. It was the younger of the two daughters, my Auntie Pat, who actually introduced my parents after Dad gave her a ride into John Day, where Mom was then working.
That photo on the wall behind Dad was his favorite picture of Mom, taken by a professional photographer shortly before they met. When I look at this photo, I feel his yearning to be with her again.
I last saw him on April 29. He died not quite a month later, on May 27. My sister was with him.
I’ve been at peace about Dad’s death almost from the beginning, partly because the peace he himself had about it put me at peace, & partly because of what for lack of better words I will call the messages that came, three of them — two of them to other family members, & the last one to me. My message was from my mother, in the form of sunflowers. It told me that Dad was with her, & they are both okay.
On July 12, as many family members as could make it, including me & my sister & brothers, all gathered together in Spokane to remember Mom & Dad & to celebrate all that they gave us.
I love you, Mom & Dad.
4. Anchorage Ordinance 2009-64
The Anchorage equal rights ordinance AO 2009-64 was introduced in the Anchorage Assembly on May 12, & thus was my career as an occasional political blogger made much less occasional.
AO 64 would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of personal characteristics in Title 5, Anchorage’s equal rights code, which prohibits discrimination based on those characteristics in employment, housing, financial practices, education, and practices of the Municipality of Anchorage. The summer of 2009 in Anchorage featured a protracted period of public testimony at the Anchorage Assembly, with accompanying sign-waving and letter-writing both by ordinance supporters and those who opposed equal rights — led in particular by Jerry Prevo of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, who used “perverted” and other hate-terms to describe LGBT people, hence the name given the summer by commentator at the Anchorage Press: the Summer of Hate.
From May to September, I wrote in the area of 60 posts about the ordinance, including a number that delved into the background & prevarications of its most vociferous opponent, Jerry Prevo. I also testified in support of the ordinance on June 16 ( the second of five nights of public testimony). My testimony was based on two major research efforts in the 1980s for Identity, Inc. in which we documented the rampant discrimination in Anchorage & in Alaska based on sexual orientation. (Our research unfortunately did not cover discrimination on the basis of gender identity, which we knew little about at the time.)
The ordinance passed the Anchorage Assembly on August 11, 2009, but was vetoed the following week by Mayor Dan Sullivan — the third time in Anchorage history that equal protection for at least some LGBTQ people in Anchorage was first granted, & then stripped away again.
5. Friends & allies
The Summer of Hate wasn’t all hate & horror. There was also some really cool stuff.
Cool stuff was people like Vic Fischer, Jane Angvik, & Arliss Sturgulewski testifying for the ordinance — people with just a teensy bit more credibility than, say, self-declared homophobic Bible-thumping Nazi “rascist” Eddie Burke.
Cool stuff was the huge number of people who turned out on the lawn of the Loussac Library to dance, blow bubbles, & hold signs upholding equal rights for all. The second week of public testimony, on which testimony was heard on two successive nights (June 16-17), was also the run-up to PrideFest, & every time I stepped out of the Assembly chambers for a breather, I felt like PrideFest was already in progress (once, that is, I got past the ABT redshirts & their hot dog tables).
I remember going out there one day & seeing how everyone — members of the LGBT community, & lots of non-LGBT folks including my nephew Miles & some of his friends — was celebrating equality & love for their fellow human beings, as sour-faced, red-shirted opponents stood nearby with their preprinted “Truth is Not Hate” signs agitating against equality. I thought to myself, I’m so proud of my people — & I found myself for the first time consciously including in my people not just other LGBT people, but all the numerous non-LGBT allies who took it for granted that equality meant all of us. And were as dumbfounded as we were at the “Truth is Not Hate” hate speech dropping out of the mouths of red-shirts both inside & outside the Assembly chambers.
On a personal level, I was lucky to make some new friendships. John & Heather Aronno, both now of Alaska Commons, who I met a few days before the first public hearing, became my favorite folks to sit next to at Assembly public hearings: three bloggers, all in a row.
One of my other favorite new people was (& is) Janson Jones, whose fantastic photography at Floridana Alaskiana v2.5 (including of the ordinance battle) first drew my attention. He’s also an all-around cool guy who also became a new dad over the summer — & his photos of his precious daughter Aurelia are pretty wonderful too.
Thanks to the ordinance battle, I also got reaquainted with a friend from way back, Linda Kellen Biegel of Celtic Diva’s Blue Oasis, who I hadn’t seen in years. I’d known Phil Munger of Progressive Alaska through email, but not until this summer did I meet him in person. I’ve known M.E. Rider of Grrlzlist, E. Ross of Bent Alaska, & longtime activist (& maker of Equality Works buttons) Stef Gingrich for years, though it was only through the summer that we saw much of each other, since normally — yes, true story — I’m pretty much a hermit.
It was the ordinance that brought me out, for ill & for good. Despite the ordinance’s eventual fate — for me personally, thanks to people like these, it was mostly for good.
Somewhere in the middle of this was Sarah Palin’s announcement on July 3 that she would be resigning her position as Governor of Alaska. I don’t blog that much about Palin — there are other Alaska bloggers who cover her quite thoroughly (thank goodness!) — but within a few days after her announcement, I got fed up with how the national mainstream media was uncritically passing along what I dubbed the 2 million dollar meme: Palin’s claim that $2,000,000 taxpayer (or rather, oil revenue dollars — this is Alaska, after all) had been spent on responding to ethical complaints against her. So I started taking it apart, & continued to do so over at total of six blog posts.
Wow did that raise traffic on my blog. I got nearly 1,800 hits on the first post of the series the first day after it was published; to date it’s gotten 5,530 hits, making it the most read post on my blog. The pie chart I created for that post also proved to be pretty popular.
My stuff didn’t stop Palin from repeating her lie; but then, who expected that it would? I’m no fool. I just hoped the damn mainstream media would wake up & do the job they’re paid to do — so that bloggers like me wouldn’t have to do it for free. I am proud to say that my efforts, which Anchorage Daily News reporter Sean Cockerham picked up on, contributed to Linda Perez of the Governor’s Office being forced to admit there were errors in the hokey spreadsheet the Governor’s Office had cooked up in an incompetent attempt to back up Gov. Palinocchio’s claim. Cockerham’s story (posted, as far as I know, only on the ADN’s Politics blog, but not as a full-fledged ADN story) said that Perez was going to follow up on further questions he’d brought up — I’ve seen no sign that she ever did, or that ADN itself cared. I didn’t follow up further myself because by time Perez ‘fessed up as much as she did, I was in Spokane with my family remembering my mom & dad. I have a feeling everyone who had actual responsibility (because, of course, they were more than mere “community organizers”) decided to drop it. Gee. I wonder why.
7. I got a new couch
More properly, it’s a futon loveseat. Whatever. I got it in August, & I’ve been vegging more happily (when I vege) ever since. My cat loves it too.
8. An effort to up-end the Alaska Judicial Council
Other things were going on in my life too, of course. But the political stuff stands out, because political blogging is not my great purpose in life — writing my own stuff is. And yet, I kept doing it.
And so it happens that in late August I learned of a lawsuit by which certain Alaska conservatives, most if not all of whom have ties to the so-called right-to-life movement, had filed suit nearly two months before — a fact not covered at all by Alaska’s mainstream media in spite of all of them having received the press release when the suit was filed — which would, if successful, overturn major provisions of the Alaska Constitution with regard to the selection & retention of state court judges. The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, James Bopp, Jr., is a big name: he has litigated similar issues elsewhere. My own feeling is that this guy is more likely to have shopped around for the Alaskans who could be named as plaintiffs in this case, than that the plaintiffs shopped around for him. His agenda appears to be a nationwide effort to politicize judicial selection, so that candidates can be selected through popular vote based on litmus test questions on hot-button issues (“What is your opinion on abortion?” — “What is your opinion on same-sex marriage?”), instead of being selected for their judicial integrity & knowledge of the law.
Through my job on staff of the Justice Center at University of Alaska Anchorage, which I’ve held since 1990, I’d become very familiar with Alaska’s judicial merit selection process, & have a lot of respect for it too, & for the quality of judges we have in this state. Not perfect — but a helluva lot better than in states that have the politicized & often politically corrupt types of selection processes that Bopp seems to prefer.
So, I read about Miller v. Carpeneti, & I wrote about it, & I even took a day off work to attend the hearing before Judge John W. Sedwick in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska on September 11. I’m not a lawyer, but I read through most of the briefings, & it didn’t seem to me that Bopp’s arguments held much water. Judge Sedwick apparently agreed: he heard arguments from both sides & then dismissed the case. His opinion was published on September 15.
But we haven’t heard the last from Mr. Bopp: he’s appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and, last I heard, the last briefs in the case must be filed no later than February 10, 2010. Oral arguments might then follow. If Bopp fails at the Ninth Circuit, there’s every possibility he might appeal all the way up to the Supreme Court — he’s argued before them before, & won.
Meanwhile, I continue to wonder what in hell is wrong with the Alaska mainstream media, including our supposed paper-of-record, the Anchorage Daily News. First they all failed to follow up any further on Palin’s spreadsheet-of-hooey in support of her 2 million dollar meme-of-hooey; now it turns out they sat for nearly two months on a press release issued in early July about a lawsuit that could theoretically undermine our state constitution with regard to judicial selection. Phil Munger at Progressive Alaska has drawn attention to numerous other instances in which the press has sat on its duff instead of investigating & reporting stuff that in some cases is right in front of their faces — for instance, the numerous lies propounded throughout Palin’s putative “memoir,” which the ADN has yet to write any review on. What else are they sitting on? How are we to have democracy that way, if the MSM isn’t doing its job?
Oh yeah, I remember now. Bloggers like me are supposed to do that job nowadays. In our spare time. For free.
(All due respect to those reporters who as far as I can tell are doing their best to do their job — but are being shut down by management. I know you guys are out there.)
9. True Diversity Dinner
In the aftermath of Sullivan’s veto of AO 64, several of us bloggers who had been heavily involved in writing about it started talking about what we might do keep the flame alive. Several of us met at lunchtime one day, & out of someone’s suggestion — I don’t remember whose — next thing you know, the True Diversity Dinner was born. Its immediate impetus was that the upcoming Mayor’s Diversity Dinner, an event originally created during the administration of Mayor, now Senator, Mark Begich, had been renamed Mayor’s Unity Dinner by Mayor Dan Sullivan — the same guy who had just vetoed equal rights for Anchorage’s lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transfolk.
Instead of protesting, we decided to celebrate the rich diversity that the Mayor’s renaming of the dinner seemed designed to whitewash away. The True Diversity Dinner was our alternative, with the motto, “Because we all deserve a seat at the table.” It was organized by the bloggers of Alaska Commons, Anchorage Won’t Discriminate, Bent Alaska, Floridana Alaskiana v2.5, Grrlzlist Alaska, Henkimaa, and SOSanchorage.net — but especially by John & Heather Aronno (Alaska Commons & SOSAnchorage.net), who I fear fell far behind in their studies thanks to the dinner.
But it was well worth it, right guys? It was a tremendous event, with great speakers including my Assembly person Elvi Gray-Jackson, former Congressional candidate & longtime activist for Alaska Native rights Diane Benson, Rev. Marquita Pierre of the Center for Spiritual Healing, & radio host & blogger Shannyn Moore.
On top of that, I was honored to be the recipient of a True Diversity Award for Excellence in Online Media for coverage on my blog of the battle for the Anchorage equal rights ordinance. Booyah!
10. Hilton workers
And more occasional politics.
When the True Diversity Dinner was first thought up, I hadn’t known that Mayor Sullivan’s Unity Dinner was booked for the Hilton Anchorage Hotel — which was (& still is) under boycott by its workers due to the bad faith practices of its management on orders of the Hilton’s owners, Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex Corporation. A blog post by Shannyn Moore brought my attention to the fact that the Mayor’s Unity Dinner was also a union-busting dinner. I spent some time researching & writing about the labor dispute, & also attended the Hotel Workers Rising March from the Sheraton (which is now also under boycott due to similar management abuses of workers) to the Hilton two days after the True Diversity Dinner was held.
11. But I’m really about writing my own stuff, & that’s what I need to do now
I’d like to follow up on the hotel workers struggle, both at the Hilton & now the Sheraton. I hope someone will. But I can’t. Here’s the deal. There are people on this planet, there are people in this state, who thrive on political blogging, & what’s more excel at it. I think I’m pretty damn good at it when I’m doing it — but I don’t thrive on it. I start with enthusiasm, but over time… I wear down, my spirit flags, & pretty soon it winds right back into what I started this post with: depression & despair.
Midyear, in the post in which I claimed to be an occasional political blogger, I wrote,
The main reason I set up this site & blog was to help me get back into the flow of writing, of living my life as a writer. And while writing about politics is writing — well, it’s not my writing, the stuff close to my heart. Besides, I also work a full-time job.
Besides, sometimes the political stuff can really whack me out….
Another factor about how I handle political posts is that my style isn’t really amenable to fast-response writing, which is a feature of a lot of the best political bloggers I read. But me, I like to think a lot about what I’m writing. I like to go deep. I like to be thorough & as comprehensive as I can. I like to source all my references thoroughly. I like — apparently — to write term papers. (I sure never thought so when I was in college). And that takes a long time. Especially since, as previously mentioned, I work a full-time job. And I also need a certain amount of down time or I am liable to put myself into a depression.
Sometimes, writing my own stuff actually feels like down time. Reason: I said it above, it’s stuff that close to my heart.
So October saw me returning to writing — at that time, mostly background stuff or responses to stuff that I was reading in preparation for National Novel Writing Month 2009 (NaNoWriMo). In looking back, I remember that True Diversity Dinner month — that is, September — also saw a bit of focus on writing: a couple of politically-oriented pieces about homophobia in science fiction, including one involving a publication I was writing a story for. As it happened, I wasn’t far enough along on that story to meet the submission deadline of September 30 — so I picked up & polished an older thing instead.
And whaddaya know! in early October, I was told they wanted to publish it! Which did much to make me feel like a writer again.
“Cold” was published on October 31, 2009 in Crossed Genres Issue #12, the LGBT issue, & you can still read it online there. (When it’s no longer live there, & my contract with Crossed Genres permits, I will republish it right here at Henkimaa.com.) “Cold” was also selected for inclusion in Crossed Genres‘ first-year anthology, which will include one story from each of the magazines first 12 issues. I think it’s still on schedule for publication in February.
November for me was the headlong hurry of NaNoWriMo. As a result, as anyone who knows this blog saw, I didn’t do much blogging at all. Such blog posts as got posted were mostly automatically generated “Daily Tweets” posts from my Twitter feed. And I haven’t done much blogging since NaNoWriMo ended, either.
But whoa! I did a lot of writing — 51,607 words worth of it in November, making me a NaNoWriMo winner this year…. er… I mean, last year. I was writing in the same story universe as “Cold,” which is about two young women on an extrasolar planet (that is, in another solar system) in the late stages of terraformation, which I’ve finally named Oikos — but my NaNovember 2009 writing was mostly about three centuries earlier in the timeline, before & around the time the ships that will eventually arrive at Oikos leave our solar system. I called it Long Dark.
And a lot of it was background writing, rather than the story itself. Because there is so damn much science that I need to have at least some kind of grasp on before I can do the story for real.
Though I came up with at least four stories over the course of the month that I know I can shape into good damn stuff. And I also discovered that a character of mine from a supposedly completely unrelated project is, whaddaya know, an important historical figure for the society in Long Dark and Cold. And since that character is very closely based on me… whoa, it’s an awful lot like, well, writing myself into history. How cool is that?
(Or how egotistical?)
12. Since then…
… that is, during December — what have I been doing? Not blogging, clearly. Except for one extensive rant about the leakage in various portions of my ceiling. (Now cured, but the holes in the ceiling still need patching.) Other than that, lots of vegging out, some writing, lots of reading — my latest topics have included atmospheric pressure, altitude sickness, & spacesuit design (background research for a story in the Cold universe) & how people with strabismus or amblyopia (the latter being the case for me), most of whom grow up stereoblind, might be able to develop stereo (binocular) vision. Even at 50 years old. Which is what I am now.
50 years old, soon to be 51. And now I reflect on where I was at when I turned 50, early in 2009. I was still in the cave. But there were inklings of possibility. I was still in the cave, for instance, when a confluence of ideas led me to decide how to go about my writing life, which included blogging & other forms of social media to get my stuff out there, instead of just through the old “send out craploads of query letters & get a shitload of rejection letters back before someone finally decides your stuff is good enough to publish” method that has been standard for a very bloody long time. I knew I’d feel a lot more at ease finding my own audience through social media than going through the query letter drudgery. It was still pretty remarkable that I made such a decision at such a time, though: social media? for someone who, at that point, was incapable & unmotivated to communicate at all? But then, I knew the cave walls would dissolve sooner or later. And they did.
I was also deciding, back in February of 2009 that age 50 was a good time to reach the milestone that I had apparently reached in the sorrows of that time. The boy that I & Rozz-now-Ptery raised from age 9 was now 21 (& now, some months later, is actually 22), & is setting out on his own course in the world. He’s in a residential job training program; I seem him some weekends when he comes into town. Ptery is embarked on another course, living a nomadic life mostly off-the-grid in the Lower 48; we are no longer partners, however much we still love each other. So, I am single &, except for my cat & the boy’s dog, essentially alone.
When I was in college & took a class on Hinduism, I learned that the traditional life path for very pious Brahmin males was supposed to consist of several stages — four of them, I think — with the third stage being that of husband, father, & householder. When the householding stage was over, these guys were apparently supposed to just up & lickety-split out to the forest to become religious ascetics. Or something like that.
And when I turned 50, I thought: that’s it, I’m no longer a householder. Well, I still have my apartment. And I don’t plan to go live in the woods as an ascetic. (Ptery’s path is a little closer to that, really.) But I no longer have the responsibilities of a spouse/partner or of a parent to a minor child. I can do what I want. And what I need.
Which is to write. But dang, it sure takes me a long time to get the politics out of my way to do it.
But I got to that point, & now I plan to continue.
That’s my story.
I’m such a cathead.