Monday, December 14, 2009


I grew up in a home defined by female violence and male detachment. Our days were spent avoiding unpredictable outbursts from my mother and relishing the warm wisdom radiated in occasional, casual inattention from my father. As time progressed, we also came to define ourselves by how we adapted to – and disguised - my oldest sister’s eating disorder.

Disorder. Huh. I guess that sounds right for the time: a living room is disorderly. A drunk on the street is disorderly. My sister was an unfortunately messy room in the carefully stiff order of my parent’s lives.

Inside, however, my sister has always been to order what a hurricane is to a coastline.

My very earliest memories are of two kinds: the ways in which I displeased my mother and the means she used to express that displeasure; and the cozy late nights I stayed awake with my oldest sister as she ate her way through all the food she could get her hands on while we watched bad 1970’s television, and how I waited outside the bathroom while she threw it all up again before we went to bed.

Until I was in college, I was unable to remove the gloss of sisterly camaraderie from those secret nights. By the late 1970’s I could name what was wrong “bulimia”, but that word is far too limited for what was going wrong with her, and far too clinical for me to use in connection with my deeply loved sister until many years after I recognized it.

By the time I was 6, she had left home for college. From then on, my attention to the minutiae of her disorderliness was fragmented:

1978, the year I visited her student apartment and the only food she had was a pack of almonds shared in the dark.

1985, the year of her 3rd pregnancy; I stayed with her a month, providing care for her two daughters and feeding them the diet she proscribed: figs, almonds, carrot juice, and sprouted wheat crackers. The girls had golden skin from the carrots.

1987, the year of her 4th pregnancy: staying with her again, I watched her eat 2 whole rotisserie chickens after the kids were in bed, then vomit them all up again.

Throughout this time, and really, for as long as I can remember, she has remained infinitely attentive to nutrition, agriculture, food production and distribution, and, most specifically, the contents and methods of processed foods and how that impacts health. She’s had stints with iridology, enemas, cleanses, supplements, soil, methods of pesticides, lab dissection of ingredients, ground-water seepage, food theorists, food journalists - all part of her lexicon.

This is as good a place as any to note that my sister is brilliant: a quick reader who relentlessly pushed me to learn how to read with her before I was 3; like many in our extended family, an adept linguist in at least 10 languages; a prolific correspondent and writer of scholarly articles. One of the quickest minds I’ve ever met.

There came a time when she seemed to be getting better. The entire family agreed: the symptoms seemed to be fading. For the first time in her life I think she weighed more than 100 lbs.

And then I began getting the letters. Thick, luxurious packages of text, scribbled on ingredients lists, Xeroxed articles, napkins containing fragmented, very difficult to follow notes, comments, asides and warnings. Most of her writing focused on foods. What to eat, what to avoid, and in what combinations. It was, as one friend observed, like getting stealth messages from a mental patient.

I’ve come to realize that her bulimia has been repurposed as toxiphobia (the fear of being poisoned). Or that maybe this is what was wrong all along. She definitely feels that the world is a poisonous place, and every day, to live, she has to choose what foods to eat to stay alive, and the best combination thereof to counterbalance the poisons of previous meals. It consumes her.

It’s difficult for me to dismiss her phobias out-of-hand. I believe - I know - that it's all based in facts, distorted facts some of the time, but not blatant fantasy. We live in a toxic world. I think our legacy to our children is wrapped in every plastic bag, wrapper, casing we put on our food and on our bodies. Soaps. sigh...I'm not my sister, but I can (after all these years, all those messages, how could I not?) see her point.

Monday, December 15, 2008


Memory can eat you and rewrite you - and be rewritten and recreate you as you recreate it. I don’t believe in factual history: it’s all about subject; it’s all about culture. When I try to articulate my life as part of a polyamorous triad, I find myself facing down a media-saturated, pop-culture memory that wants to hype up ‘reality’ into a music video montage rather than spit forth blank facts or facets of love and sex and desire. To think as a writer back to that life with two loves and two lovers – the months which marked me indelibly – to attempt with my words to pull it forward again into meaning and re-creation – I struggle and curse myself – and balk. I find myself, hiding.

Spinning my history into a sit-com plot main-veined from my protective psyche: six legs wrap and caress and interchange inside sweaty sheets; sheer white fabric blows soft across white, freckled hips; a man in a jester-hat dressed up for Mardi Gras bounces ahead of me on a salty sidewalk at dusk; three faces intimately close breathe each other in and laugh. Taste and smells of alcohol and lipstick and cigarette…that watery smell of her hair…the ether and dust of his black-haired arms; soundtrack of acid jazz and possibly a Miles Davis slow wail. Frenetic-paced, playful, transparent - reapportioned history becomes a 5 second sound byte like a VH1 pop-up video on steroids.

It takes a decided, exacting effort to pull pieces off of that rotating, fractured disco-ball of my glossy, slick recollections and examine them in the light without immediately bouncing refractively off into another rich, rapidly-moving sample of taste and sound and touch. I can’t illuminate those windows without the tainted elusive light of reflection and retrospective - nor without the stain of pain and loss. But to recall just those short spring weeks in the mid-90’s is, at least, to bounce between happy fragments: I was in love with two: trio-ed. I was loved. It was glorious. It was too fast. It was too much.

No matter how much I try to reassemble them, I cannot seem to fix those moments into a chain of history but only into chips and shards of emotion and sensation that do not stay focused; dissolving into mirage and illusion.
What I can recall easily at first are a few sharp, short images: Beth, in black, dances, her eyes closed. Beth, a fellow grad-student of my partner. Out at one of the few nightclubs in Salt Lake City, the four of us: Rebekah and Paul; Seth and Beth.

Beth and Seth. One of those odd, narcissistic, twin-like pairings who so resemble each other physically: slim with long curly brown hair, round eyes, tapered, long fingers and generally exhausted, dissipated demeanors. Dressed alike in a popular combination of punk and 1990’s Victoriana – velvet and piercings and lace and combat boots. Beth and Seth. Like an Edward Gorey illustration: the Odious Twins. Like a joke: their names, their clothes, their absolute intertwined-ness.

And then…that night she and I stood in the anteroom of the only blues bar in town, touching and retouching our faces and standing too close as we attempted to wipe the smear of too much alcohol and lipstick into desirable mouths again. Beth moves even closer - speaks…suddenly, alarmingly touchable. Her long body at that moment more than something to admire with improbable envy. I can't recall what she said to me, only that with a few short sentences we traversed boundaries into something I hadn’t really contemplated.

We emerged arm in arm and somehow communicated this new drunken urgency quickly to our waiting, equally drunk partners until the four of us stumbled our way back to her house imbued with previously un-articulated desire, Paul surprising me with his eagerness to envelop those two, and Beth and Seth simultaneously more detached-seeming and more ardent than either Paul or myself.

And me? I can’t say what I would have been like seen through anyone else’s mind that night. I see myself later, curled up with Beth and Paul, our long brown, black, red hair spilling and curling together across our pillows, and I’m purring with love and happiness. And again later, shopping…or furtively holding hands at some art gallery. Long dinners cooked together and eaten in that unmistakable, short-lived ecstasy of new love and a complex, new pink-skinned self-identity as three.

I am the child of a pastor and a haunted, crazy woman. Whatever history I have piled onto that foundation, I cannot remove from myself the fact of my father in the pulpit and my mother bellowing as she endlessly sifted through the months of garbage she could not bring herself to throw away.

Years later, safely entwined in two pair of loving arms, I cannot shut down the inner psychoanalyst who questions me relentlessly as I try to sleep safely: “Is that only Beth’s breast you suck? Is that only Paul’s cock? Who really are you loving as you lie here? Who are you really trying to find in this trio?” And when Beth takes me to her favorite thrift store and claps her hands delightedly when I try on the white-lace shift she’s selected, or when Paul takes me by the hand and gently wipes a fleck of dirt from my cheek, or when together they take me to get a nose-ring – identical to Beth’s – and the two of them are holding my hands to stave off a pain that never comes…am I woman and lover, or am I child and pet and plaything? It’s a question I cannot fully answer.

I know that it’s more complex than my pseudo psychoanalysis can touch. That I had missed the loamy scent of a female lover’s sex, the soft whispers and caresses and touch of a woman’s body as I remained with Paul, just as I loved his unflinching, unsentimental seduction and the way he broke into emotion with so much open passion. And his smell - the thousand smells of him - I so did not want to lose that. Beth gave me more than a way to be re-mothered with safety and compassion, and Paul more than a way for me to get my father to see my pain and help me finally grow up. But I also find myself nuzzling to her breast while wanting his hands on my hips with a need for more than sex or comfort, and I cannot rid myself of that recognition of need for envelopment and safety, nor completely stifle that need in the face of the newness of polyamory.

I did not make choices solely bent on repairing my childhood, but my desire for the two of them may also be part of the hinge between adulthood and my old, irrefutable child-loss. Just as polyamory was the hinge between those parts of myself needing both Beth and Paul to answer my sexual/emotional needs. I swam for weeks that spring in desire, smothering my doubts and instead finding self-definition in how much I can love and give and spread to encompass two with a vastness of desire and delight. Lost in the perfect, pointed muscles of his calves that I taste and admire, in the shape of her moon-face cupped in her hands while we smile into each other’s eyes. Somehow I suppress my inner Freud and bask in a balanced, equal triangle of temporary happiness.

I am also a musician, and I cannot retell you anything without the soundtrack and hum of song and body music - three bodies arching, speaking – the purrs and sighs and soft cat-tones of our wordless communications and negotiations.Songs of desire, certainly; connection and harmony. And, although I cannot yet write into what became the future of that long ago spring, it was also, eventually, a dischordant song of loss.

It is most certainly with a memory of loss that I recall the way her full hips tucked perfectly against mine and the way I had to negotiate her waist-length hair so that I could sleep without choking. I wake up sometimes once again reaching out to push the hair of memory aside. It is loss to recall how his lips kissing her neck kept me fascinated and delicately wondering. I wanted to slide my fingers into the hollows between their skin – somehow to feel what they felt without intruding into their momentarily private shared space. It is loss to remember the night I cried out some small, personal anguish into his tangle of chest hair, listening as the rare Utah thunderstorm filled the dusk with water and dust and salt – the sound of rain-beats punctuating his atonal soothing croon as Beth slept on next to us unaware. My arms empty, my ears ringing with the silence of my own voice and body - alone in a bed that was once big enough for three.
There are moments when I am afraid of the monster of memory. Afraid of why I can’t recall what happened to Seth. I know he was there that first night of dizzy, drunken coupling, tripling, quadrupling…and then – nothing. Was he angry? Afraid? I remember that we spoke once, after, but I cannot remember anything said. Is that amnesia driven by guilt? Did any of us know or care? So hungry for what we had, was it trivial that Beth’s doppelganger had been replaced by a pair of new lovers? I shake my head but cannot retrieve any history of Seth after that one night.
Memory is a cloud and a clown. To remember with clarity, without editorializing, without editing out the pain or the meandering nuances that go nowhere is to destroy my own complicated self-protection. And though I try, I find myself lost inside a bricked up, windowless stymieing tidiness of my own creation that has replaced any linear history I may have with forgetfulness and easing away from pain. Doors are shut; keys are lost. It takes time to soothe this one complex many-armed truth out of it’s shell into the light and capture it. And though I try, I fear that the truth isn’t something I am ready to fully embrace.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Early 20th Century Song lyrics

My dad was born in 1929, and his parents were born in 1900 and 1901. They sang these songs to me many times over the years, but it's been difficult to find the original lyrics:

Mr. Moon
Oh Mr. Moon, moon, bright and shiny moon
Won't you please shine down on me
Oh Mr. Moon, moon, bright and shiny moon
Come from behind that tree

My life's in danger, I've got to run
Here comes a man with a big Gatling gun

Oh Mr. Moon, moon, bright and shiny moon
Won't you please shine down on,
Please shine down on,
Please shine down on me?

Baby's Boat
Baby's boat's a silver moon
drifting in the sky
Sailing o'er a sea of blue
as the clouds roll by

Sail, baby, sail
Far across the sea
But do not forget to sail
Back again to me

The Geezer Song
There was an old geezer and he had a wooden leg
He never had tobaccy and he always had to beg
Another old geezer just as sly as a fox
and he always had tobaccy in his old tobaccy box

Said the first old geezer, would you give me a chew?
Said the second old geezer, I'll be hanged if I do
You save up your money and you save up your rocks
And you'll always have tobaccy in your old tobaccy box.

(update: I just found these lyrics online:
1. Said the guiser to the geezer, "Will you give me a pull?"
Said the geezer to the guiser, "I'll be damned if I will.
Save all your money and put it into stocks
And you'll always have tobacco in your old tobacco box."

(CHORUS) 3 lines of fiddling, then whistle the refrain

2. Said the geezer to the guiser, "Take my advice,
Go down to the river, chop a hole in the ice,
Swim down to the bottom and lie down among the rocks
And you'll never want tobacco for your old tobacco box."


Man in the Moon
I'm in love with the man in the moon
And I'm going to marry him soon
It would fill me with bliss
Just to give him one kiss
And I know that a dozen he never would miss

I'll go up in a great big balloon
To visit that man in the moon
Then behind some dark cloud
Where no one is allowed,
I'll make love with the man in the moon