Beltane 2013: Union and Loneliness

Beltane fell on a Wednesday this year. It’s my favorite holiday, but even though it is a holiday of union, this year it leaves me feeling rather lonely. On Sunday I’d intended to rise early and make the trip across the river to my old church for the annual Beltane service — a tradition I resurrected when I was a part of the congregation and the Women’s Sacred Circle. It’s good to know that it still happens without me, but bittersweet. Even before M and I took the plunge and moved in together, I’d begun to pull back from the community at First Parish. It’s hard to say exactly why, although it’s definitely for more than one reason. Since the church is in Cambridge, there’s a regular turnover in membership. People finish their schooling and move away, or they pair up and move off to more affordable parts of the world. Once I’d looked on those people with disdain, but like so many of the people whom I’ve judged in my life, I came to find myself following that same natural progression.

I still remember the incredulity and joy I felt the first time I walked into the First Parish Cambridge Meeting House on a Sunday morning and heard an old, white man in a black robe saying things from a high pulpit that I actually agreed with. Things about the inherent worth and dignity of all people, the interconnected web of existence, the importance of social justice, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. There was a banner above the door that said “Support Marriage Equality — We Do” — and this was long, long before the tipping point of public opinion on that issue.

Before I ever made it to the Meeting House on a Sunday morning, I’d attended the CUUPs rituals in the Barn Room. Two warm and wonderful Texans I’d met at a public ritual on the Boston Common brought me to my first Yule in the Barn Room. Then later, after I’d left Quick and moved to Cambridge, after I’d reveled in my freedom for a while and dated lots of people, after the rather disastrous end of a rebound relationship, I found myself sinking deeper into depression and isolation.

A woman I met on Craigslist–a recovering Southern Baptist–took me to the rounds of potlucks and parties in the winter. It sounds trite, but those potlucks and parties saved my life. At the time, I was looking up the lethal dosage of my medications, seriously considering death as an option. But I had a party to go to instead. One night, the movie I Heart Huckabees convinced me not to end my life. That same woman started rousting me out of the house on the third Friday of the month for Women’s Sacred Circle. I’d known about the group for years, but was intimidated by the fact that it was closed to new members except for once a year. And Fridays are tough in general, but Fridays in October, the month they open to new members, are brutal.

The community at First Parish was so cohesive and yet so varied. College professors, software developers, non-profit do-goodniks, menstruation rights activists, environmentalists, atheists, pagans, Buddhists, old-school UUs with Puritan pedigrees, a few token queers (I was one), believers and doubters and  folks who showed up for the community and the cookies — all these people came together to the Meeting House for a service where they sang hymns like “For the Beauty of the Earth,” and listened to sermons about Martin Luther King and the importance of comprehensive sex education. It was a place where anyone, even a woman, even a lay person, even me — sinner and witch and lapsed Catholic that I was — could organize a service. It was the first place I truly felt that I belonged since I moved to Boston from Hartford almost 5 years before.

After a year or so, though, the bloom came off the rose. Some members of the thirtysomethings group decided to invite all the “cool” people to a Christmas party the same weekend as one my girlfriend was throwing. I noticed the stranglehold of the current leadership of CUUPs; they said they wanted new members, but they didn’t actually let the new members participate in any planning decisions. Friends paired off, got married, moved off and had babies, never to be heard from again.

Even the Women’s Sacred Circle, with all its magic and mystery, began to feel like a chore instead of a place of union and spiritual growth. During my stint on the leadership council, it was not unusual for meetings to run for five hours. And I realized, as perhaps all of us realize as we push on into our late 30s, that my time and energy were sadly finite. I wondered where else I might be spending it.

I began to direct it elsewhere. Slowly but surely, M and I began the careful steps to bring our households together. Settling in took longer than I thought. I mourned my old life in Camberville: the friends an easy T ride away, the streets, the back way from Arlington to Harvard Square, the Trader Joe’s at the Fresh Pond rotary, the summer meadow just beyond it, next to the Fresh Pond Reservoir, the water itself enclosed in a chain link fence. Some of them I still keep in touch with, but the meetings require planning, long drives. Weeks and months might pass before we see one another. Sometimes one or the other of us cancels, and so more weeks and months pass. We keep in touch on the Intartubes, but there’s no substitute for physical presence.

Nine months after the move, I joined a poetry workshop one of my circle sisters has been attending for years. The critiques were tough, but I appreciated the focus on concrete results — publication — and the practical tips given and shared to help us all achieve the same goal. In December I had my first success: my work was accepted at Lyrical Somerville and will be published next week. In April I read at Porter Square Books, and I am scheduled to read again at the Newton Public Library in October. After the reading, the workshop leader said “you surprised us!” She’d never seem or heard my finished poems, only the unfinished ones I brought to workshop. Buoyed by the praise I’d coveted for so long, I submitted to two journals.

Finances demanded that I take a hiatus from the workshop for a few months. With the world’s sap rising, I find myself composing more and see how my own eye has changed, my writing more careful — sometimes for the better, and sometimes not.

As I write this, the sun shines in the back courtyard on the forsythia bushes, all yellow in the bright spring light. Birds come and go from the feeder I installed last year; this spring I know most of their names. The leaves and spines of my garden wave in the breeze. The cats wander in and out of the treeline. For the first time ever in my life, I have a room in my home that is three walls open air, the solid brick behind me. The oaks have just begun unfurling their leaves, but for now the sun shines unimpeded on the bed I planted one week ago, on the pots I brought with me from Camberville. A nature-worshipper, I have access to more actual nature than I’ve ever had before. It’s right outside my door, front and back, and yet I’m a five-minute drive from Jamaica Plain, Boston’s answer to Cambridge.

It’s not the same, though. I am too far from my old circles. It’s a distance through both space and time. We’ve scattered and settled elsewhere. The bonds grow weaker. And I’m not sure I have the energy, the strength, or even the inclination, to build another circle from scratch around me here.

I don’t regret the union I entered into when I moved to this new green and alien place. I bathe in it every day, and the water is sweet. But I do regret the interconnected web of existence I left behind in Cambridge.

Four Way of Looking at a Homeland

Embarcadero backwards
lady firefighter in Victorian dress
bronze plaques trailing behind us

At the Ferry Building, I explode in hunger
sad-eyed, you explore on your own

On the terrace,
             a seagull as big as my head
begs, expectant
        then pigeons
                 a corbin I’ve never seen before
     (blue-black, but not a grackle)
puffs his feathers and collapses
making a noise that makes us laugh

Muir Woods. Scottish father
Mother from the deep
In silence we repair, foot-sore,
the light that shines between us

In the mist all things are possible
trees mightier than the sword
walk far enough and you will find silence

Road a sacred spiral
there the stand of eucalyptus
there the hills
there the fog
there the houses
there the ocean

The elk, unexpected, in the hills of St. Helena
regard us without much interest

raptors on the wind above hills
tall as mountains
gentle as hips
wider than a mouth can contain

The Drama of the Disoriented Traveler

M thought we’d postpone the trip until June, but he underestimated the pull of California. I may be Yankee-bred, but I’m California-born, and that handful of years I spent there shifted me in some fundamental way a born-and-bred New Englander can’t comprehend. If I don’t feel the humid air and smell the eucalyptus once a year — preferably before the cherry blossoms burst out on the East Coast — I get very cranky. And nobody likes a cranky Okelle.

So what if we had just expended time and energy taking two households and combining them into one? Since when has an empty bank account — or exhaustion — ever stopped me from hopping on a plane to someplace warm?

When I’m feeling ashamed or embarrassed, M will say, “I love you because you’re a woman of strong passions.” Which calms me down a bit, strips away the old intensity of perfectionism. And allows me to forgive myself for dragging him off to my homeland before either of us was really ready.

On the upside, I’d been saving for the trip in advance and definitely stayed within my budget. On the downside, he bought the rip-off rental car insurance and couldn’t say the same thing. On the upside, we tooled around in a Mustang convertible so new, we had to break open the shrink-wrap on the owner’s manual. And he finally me the rest of my family. And after almost 800 miles negotiating the tiny roads that run from valley to valley, he was ready to admit that maybe California had a certain appeal. The upsides have it.

About 24 hours after we arrived at SFO, after an extra-long day that took us from the Embarcadero to Muir Woods and then to the rest of San Francisco, we met his brother at a Boston bar called, ironically enough, Connecticut Yankee. The aroma of 100 years’ worth of spilled beer greeted us at the door. Since I can no longer drink the tasty, hoppy, liquid bread — and since I’d spent the better part of the day pounding pavement and mud with my jet-lagged legs — I was more than a little cranky by the end of dinner. Cranky enough to make a bratty declaration and go for a walk before the check came.

Here’s what I wrote while standing at a mailbox outside of a boarded-up dot-com startup, taking deep breaths and regarding the San Francisco skyline while hipsters bar-hopped all around me. I won’t apologize for it, but I will say it’s very much worthy of my inner 13-year-old, who was very much running the show at that moment:

stand with legs closed
san francisco’s silhouette in the distance

inhaling, heart pounding
one breath, one moment, one breath

sometimes nothing heals but time
sometimes nothing fills the god-shaped hole

all day walking
through the city
through the redwoods

foreign city, foreign parts
foreign homeland

distress of disconnection
a technology deeper than time
wider than space

one moment, one moment
and then the next

The Move: After the Solstice

Thursday 12/22/2011

All the carefully ordered placement of yesterday has been overlaid by a new layer of boxes, furniture, packing materials. And a layer of dust that traveled with M’s furniture from the old house to the new. Waking up this morning with ultimatums in my mind, afraid to come downstairs…

Dot dot dot. And here we are among our boxes and our stuff and our dust and our detritus and our dreams and fantasies and emotions and sometimes we sit and stare at one another with forlorn expressions, and sometimes one or the other of us is mad or frustrated, and often we stop to hug one another. And last night at ten-oh-something I said to M “come to bed” because I could see that his brain was beginning to wind down like a giant clockwork or a music box, just tut-tut-tut-ing. And he did, and I rubbed his front and I rubbed his arms and legs and back and he was happy and we fell asleep.

This morning, a burst of pure hatred for clutter and disorder drove me to start unpacking the china barrel I’d filled with his kitchen’s contents the day before. He wisely ran away for a little while. I have boxes and boxes of books and papers and I don’t feel like resigning them to the great ash-heap of history. Already there’s so much I have given up and let go of.

And God will come with her lion claws and split open the rest of my dragon skin and turn me back into a girl.

The Move: After

Wednesday 12/21/2011

Solstice. The Longest Night. The shortest day. We wake at 6:00 a.m. or thereabouts, with the windows outside still black. Day dawns rainy, chilly, but not freezing cold; it’s in the 50s on the solstice. Still, we know that January and February — the real bitch-winter months — have yet to come.

I’m hurrying to get through these pages because M has already left and the movers are coming to his house at 9:00 a.m. They were late, so very, very late, when they came to my house on the 17th. Five hours late. By the time they were done unloading the truck, it was 10:00 p.m. And I tipped them anyway.

Stop for a moment and be still. Know that the Goddess is with me always, the door as close at my own heart. Invite Her to walk with me today, to travel with me.

And with the invitation comes gratitude for M, my life’s partner, my heart’s desire. The first man in this lifetime I’ve trusted enough to intertwine with like this. Gentle soul, sensitive and real — and still a man, unaware of his privilege and its effect on me, as unaware as I must have seemed to Quick, as a white woman partnered with a Puerto Rican.

Echoes of Quick, echoes of April, all the myriad mistakes I made in the past and learned from — and learned from. All the bumps and stumbles in the dark we made in our marriages, because lesbians have always known what the state denies: that marriage begins when you rent the U-Haul and put two sets of china in the same cabinet, not when you rent a church and put two sets of relatives in the same function hall.

All the bittersweet lessons I learned from my lovers, and all the savory friendships and sisterhoods I’ve been blessed with since.

Anaphase and I, two bright minds burning in the darkness. Lucy’s gentle soul, pregnant and fulfilled, endless source of love and compassion. Two things I’d never expected to have in this lifetime: straight women as my good, good friends.

The Goddess in all her guises, made manifest around me.

What joy and passion to be alive, in this place, at this time. Oh brave new world, that has such wonders in it!

The Move: During

Saturday 12/17/2011

Moving day. 8:30 a.m. and I have time enough for tea, time enough for love.

Sipping the tea from my to-go mug (all the china is packed). Laptop laboring away with its asthmatic fan. Surrounded by boxes, and still my house has its elements of humanity. The plants. The Chinese fan, the bodhran, and the calendar still hanging on the wall. Most of other the artwork bubble-wrapped and stacked.

Stop. Breathe. Feet on the floor. Be present.

And the day begins with the eleventh step.

The Move: Before

Friday, December 16, 2011

Twenty minutes. Half the house in boxes, half my body in distress, half my mind in disarray. The movers come tomorrow. Yesterday I wrote the checks and opened the door and walked in to the empty apartment and it was bare and freshly painted and beautiful.

Relax and let it go. Move forward. Relax and move forward. Relax and let go and move forward.

So grateful for so many things right now. And I still (the manager in me sure loves this expression) have to do the work. Knuckle down and buckle under and do the work. When Lucy and Desi come today, I can go ahead and give them their Christmas presents, half-wrapped or almost wrapped. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Relax into the imperfection, keep moving forward, rest on the page, and do the work.

Work as a spiritual practice. Can I have fun while doing the work?