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About being bi…

Given that nowadays I’ve got a half-dozen things going on at any moment (with at least another half-dozen that I should be doing instead of procrastinating on), I slipped on talking about Bi Visibility Day on the 23rd. I totally meant to. I even had planned to do a cute little “It’s visiBIlity Day!” post.

But that ship’s sailed, and the seamen are having fun without me.

So, instead, I give you an essay. Because that’s what I do, and have you met me?

About being bi…

I’m one of those people who, once having the words, knew which applied—and I had the words early. I was a precocious kid in a lot of ways, and endlessly fascinated with people. I genuinely like people. They drive me to despair on a regular basis, but I like ’em. So it was no surprise to me that once I started like liking people, I found that I like all kinds.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t have types—god knows, I do. I just have a lot of types. And they aren’t strictly delineated by sex or gender. (It is one of my especial gifts to often get to see the sexy in just about anyone, and that comes from trying to see the person in everyone. A friend or two might have twitted that it comes from viewing life as a buffet and having a healthy appetite—and possibly a tapeworm… but that’s a digression and another essay.) Just so we have that clear:  sex and gender aren’t the same, there are more than two of each, speaking broadly and with our science caps on, and attraction isn’t so much chemistry as it is alchemy.

I like to bring up being bisexual because it is one of the ways of being that is most easily overlooked by people looking at our lives from the outside, catching us in moments, freeze frames of relations and relationships that tell of an experience that reads as definitional rather than a continual and contextual experience. To elaborate the metaphor, bisexuality isn’t a photograph:  it’s a motion picture.

We might see a bisexual in a relationship and assume that particular expression of who they are is the totality of their orientation, but that’s grossly imperfect and sadly reductive. Bisexuals might look straight or gay at any given moment, but it doesn’t make us such. I know bi folks who are in committed monogamous relationships, and it doesn’t make them any less bisexual than a vow of celibacy makes a nun asexual. Action is not orientation, per se, even if it does lend a certain facile credibility for those who require simplified equations and suffer shallow understandings of their fellows. But:

To understand that a person is bisexual—hell, let’s not be coy and abstract, let’s put meat on the table and skin in the game:  to understand that I am bisexual is to know that I have been in love with men and women, that I have had lovers who are male, female, trans, and non-binary, that regardless of who I am with at any moment, the whole of me is present—and that includes M breaking my heart, falling for J, regretting that H never took me seriously, sharing laughter and adventures with S, wishing that B and I could have been better for each other, having A dash my hopes for rings on our fingers and a life together, losing myself for a night and a day and a night again with (a different) J, wishing that I had taken the chance and kissed P… and do you need to know who was a man, and who a woman? Does it change anything?

I would say, subject position, that is doesn’t. You might disagree, which is your problem and none of mine.

All that’s very well, Mr. Albie, but then why are you bringing it up at all?

Because being seen and recognized, being known, is important and necessary.

Being who and how I am, I tend to read as gay, which is as irksome as being read as straight is, albeit in different ways. Life would be much simpler if the gay mantle fit—almost, in its way, as if straight did—but it’s tight in the shoulders and it’s itchy and I don’t think it’s the right shade….

Which brings us to queer. Queer is lovely, and it fits, and it’s suitable for most occasions—you can dress it up or dress it down, and it goes straight from work to play with just a change of accessories… And yet. And yet it plays into a dichotomy that elides us all into Us and Them, and what I find quintessential to my experience is that dichotomies are useful lies, and while I’m pragmatist, I’m not a liar.

Also, I came of age in the Nineties—I’m a child of a certain kind of activism and a political sense that, for me, requires taking a stance shaped by saying bi and not queer. I’m part of a generation that saw us move from the closet to prime time, even as we were bound, bloody and broken, to fences and left to die while our elders were swept away by plague, and we lit fires in the streets, and threw riots in our beds and in our hearts. With such a legacy, I can only say that I’m not here to make things easy for you. I’m here to make them better.

So I’m socially queer, certainly, but I’m politically and personally bi, and it still is what fits best, with the right drape and a good hand and a timeless style—it’s me. I will not be elided in an Us (or Them) that ignores so much of who I am for the sake of expedience—or to simplify the plot for the slow kids. I am always a factor that adds complexity:  you cannot reduce me to just a complication for the sake of your comfort, your politics, your libido, your faith…. My existence is proof that there are colors aplenty, so why should I content myself with your arbitrary selection of greys?

Thus, once again, annually, as I’ll probably have to continue doing for too long and possibly ever, I’m reminding you:  bisexuals exist, and bisexuality is real, it isn’t a phase or confusion or even simple gluttony. It’s the simple acknowledgment that life, love, sex, are complex—and beautifully riotous.

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When rage is grief, and must come light

Since the election, my necessary rage has settled into banked coals with hearts of grief.

I have never handled grief well. Anger is easier, and there are times when rage is exactly the right and needed response (and this is one, this is one), and righteous ire is a blessing. It is an instrument, an alchemical reagent that transmutes loss into action and produces heat and light.

In dark times, we must have light to see our way through.

Today I mourn. We inaugurate a new president, a vainglorious liar whose message is hate. I grieve for my America. I do not think she is dead, but she is laid low. I fear for her survival. I do not believe we will—any of us—remain unscathed.

And so, I rage. To live in this society with clear eyes and a truthful heart is to know that America’s promise is seldom kept and the golden lamp shines not for all, whatever our platitudes… and that this was designed, and is enforced by those who benefit from cheating the dignity of others. Clarity and truth demand that they be opposed.

Clarity and truth demand voice for the nations swept into forgotten corners of the continent, who in despair and glory call for justice despite a legacy of treaties betrayed by our government.

Clarity and truth demand voice for the descendants of peoples brought in bondage, whose stolen work and genius literally built the country, who have yet to see equality.

Clarity and truth demand voice for the immigrants, whose bravery is carried on their backs across rivers and deserts and the sea, whose toil is the means by which food arrives on all of our tables, who ask only for the opportunity for a better life.

Clarity and truth demand recognition that love is love, and all are equal under the law.

Clarity and truth demand that we affirm that we are all equal under the law, that sex and gender in all their expressions are equal and valid, and each person, every person, has inherent dignity and worth.

And so, I rage:  fanning banked coals into blazes so that grief comes light.

Tomorrow I march, a bad hombre standing with nasty women, because clarity and truth demand that I voice not only my rage, but my grief, and say that what I mourn is a promise that might never be kept.

I rage, so that our promises might be kept.

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Journeys of a thousand li

There are many things I haven’t said too much about in public. The Dakota Access Pipeline, the ongoing shit show of American policing and our war on black folks, BLM, the ever-present cultural genocide of Native peoples, the horrible disrepair of our educational system, the ridiculous state of our healthcare system… there’s just so much. It becomes too much, and there are other voices more eloquent or clearer than mine. I am not given to despair, but I do know when to pause and adjust the burdens that cannot be put down. All the fights are one fight, but you cannot be at every front—and that’s what solidarity is for.

I’ve had conversations with friends about justice and work and economic self-interest, and as the child of a union tradition (there was a UFW thunderbird flag in the coat closet, next to the old shotgun, all my childhood long), I don’t understand—I mean, I really don’t understand—how folks have allowed themselves to be deluded into thinking that they won’t be exploited if they can be. There’s that old saw about Americans never thinking of themselves as poor, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires… it’s achingly, pitifully true. No American thinks of themself as a peasant.

But I have seen friends and family slip from a middle-class existence that afforded dignity and the mortgage to scrabbling to pay bills without the promise of a job. Debts, like hunger, like fear, grow.

And that’s what I think on lately. God knows, I have my own debts, but I have the promise of good pay to allay fear, and the creature comforts of a bourgeois existence to soften worry. (We all choose our own opiates.) But I’m anxious for friends and family, and for the millions who will see their hopes diminish in these coming years. Some—many, even—voted against their own interests, engaging in a madness I cannot comprehend, and while I would like to condemn them with a simple “and that’s what you get, exactly what you asked for,” I can’t. Because life is an ecology, and there’s no way that much suffering won’t harm everyone else, too.

(Did you expect pure altruism? I am not so kind.)

The question, then, is how do we mitigate the damage? I think that the first thing is that we must continue to speak true. When so much of what has been said has been propaganda, slanted perspectives, and straight-out lies, truth is all the more precious and necessary. Truth is oxygen to the fires of democracy.

Education is the fuel of democracy. In a functioning democracy, everyone has the duty of becoming educated enough to participate. This, I feel, is not only a civic duty, but a moral one. How else can you recognize truth unless you know enough to see through lies? If our electorate understood the issues better, it might be more inclined to make rational choices (but this hope of mine is tempered by the knowledge of American madness, of the fundamental insanity of our racism).

These are only first steps, necessary groundwork to build coalitions upon, to raise activism and campaigns upon, to create movements and change. I’m saying nothing new here, either. These are things many of you already understand; I know—we’ve talked about it.

It’s in those conversations that I’ve felt hope. In the righteous ire and indignation and burning sense of responsibility for each other. In that sense of solidarity.

I know that even when I say nothing, one (many!) of my fellows will. This does not excuse me from speaking up, but it gives me space to find my words, to strengthen my voice, and most importantly, to hear others. So many of you already do this, but for those of you who don’t consider that your own agency is of much value—it is, it truly is—I encourage you to find your words, your truths, and to shout them out loud, and to listen to the clarion calls of our fellows as they tell true.

On every front, we must march forward. We must do so knowing that each battle is just one campaign in the fight against injustice. Know your burdens. Know your capacities, your hopes, and grow them.

And the next step?

Vote the fuckers out.

What? Why do you think you’ve got agency and the franchise for, if not to use them? Speak, write, march, shout, run for office, and vote.

Our lives depend on it.

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When the wolves come

One of the things that has always stuck with me from my early days in college was a discussion amongst my Jewish friends about what to do if (when) the wolves came. Do you have friends you could hide your children with? (This was before any of us had kids, but this is an old, old worry, and my friends had inherited the legitimate anxieties of generations and generations.) Do you trust them? Can you really trust them? When do you flee? What’s the best way for getting out? How do you fight? We were all of eighteen, students at one of the world’s finest and most prestigious universities, smart, privileged, young, and full of agency, and we were having a real conversation about what we were going to do when they came for us, because that was a real possibility in all of our minds.

It was a mark of my friends’ acceptance and love that I was privy to that discussion—I’d only recently made the choice to become Jewish—but they knew that this was a part of it, this kind of awareness, this knowing, marrow-deep, that the knives may come again. And so my friends honored my choice and when they spoke their truths, they included their fears, too. I thank them for that welcome and solidarity, among so many things.

Of course, that knowledge wasn’t a surprise. Queer kids, brown kids: we know that, too. Vulnerable is a constant drum beating a heavy line in the music of my life.

Later, when 9/11 came and so many others felt as if gravity had shifted, I felt horror, but no surprise. The nature of the world as I understood it had not changed. I did not feel newly vulnerable. I did not think that I had been immune to loss, and I had no innocence—or ignorance—of the fact that people in the world wished me dead, or at least in my place: under their heels.

So this election outcome is also not a surprise, although it’s a horror.

In some ways, I’m thankful that we can all speak plainly now, when there’s no room for equivocation. This election is a shit show, and the man elected is a dangerous fool who is evil in the real, banal way that evil so often is. The narcissism of his self-regard, the myopia of his views, his fundamental incomprehension of the nature of the office and his apparent readiness to abuse it, the untold harm his rhetoric has already brought, and his policies will bring, the division and rancor and hate he foments… it’s a vileness that is petty in spirit and mean in soul.

And a nation stood up and elected him, out of fear. Overwhelmingly, a white electorate chose him, out of fear. And what are those fears? Fear of other ways of being and loving and worshiping the divine, fear of other peoples, other colors, other languages. Fear of being treated like they themselves have treated others for centuries. Fear of having to face the fact that often their success has been predicated on hamstringing their competition before the start of the race—with laws and terrorism and a pervasive social disdain based on the implicit belief in the inherent inequality of others. Fear of knowing that they are being left behind not because they aren’t welcome in our shared future, but because they are clinging to the anchor of their own hate.

What cowards, the lot.

But the economy! say the apologists for the white folk who overwhelmingly elected this abomination of a leader. Or, but they feel disenfranchised! As if people of color don’t care about the economy or aren’t actually being disenfranchised by the engines of far rightwing power. Please.

If it were truly about the economy—and if his plan actually would help (it won’t; it really, really won’t)—then everyone, regardless of color, would have gone for it. But it’s not. And you, whatever your color, know it’s not.

Take note how quick the “mainstream” are to throw the white working class under their bus. The working class that voted for Clinton, not for this nightmare. (Shall we not mention that it was those who are well off, the ones who won’t suffer their own desserts—at least not at first… but the wolves will come for them, too—who voted this flimflam man into office?) How quick to blame the minorities, the poor, the very people who have been promised suffering, for a choice made by those who will have proudly chosen to feed the wolves.

This particular trick that the Con Man-in-Chief has pulled off is really quite remarkable. He’s sold a dream of an America that never was to white people who feel they deserve it, who are owed it, god damn it, even—especially—at the expense of their neighbors of colors, who aren’t real Americans, and are lazy or illegals to boot, or not even really people. This is their rhetoric, this is what the neo-Nazi white supremacists that have rebranded themselves as the alt-right sincerely espouse, and what millions of people have supported whether they don white hoods or not. Most amazingly, he’s taken advantage of the internalized racism of many people of color who, through mental gymnastics I can scarcely comprehend, think they’ve made friends with the wolves and won’t be dinner. For those particular folks, I have not only the word cowards, but also fools.

I have a rage in me. It is a hurricane. It is built from injustice seen and lived, and hurt, and hope dashed, and fierce determination to see justice for all, and the simple honest fact that if I do not fight, I will be made less than, I will be stripped of dignity and rights, I will be pushed out of my own nation, I will become legally subhuman, I will be killed.

And my family, of blood and choice, will suffer those fates, too. And strangers in Sandusky and in Flagstaff, in Helena and in St. Louis, in San Francisco and in Biloxi, and in the tens of thousands of small towns you’ve never heard of, like the one where I was raised, will suffer, too.

And so I have a hurricane in me, a rage that burns bright, which I hope will clear a path and light a way to a safer shore. I hope you have a fire in you to guide you.

I don’t know how, but I know that when the wolves come, I will not be easy meat.

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So we’re clear:

I have no room for conciliation.

I have no use for a false unity whose only purpose is to co-opt my consent to oppress me.

I have no patience for calls to work together with those who seek to undermine my humanity.

I have no respect for those who hate that I dare to believe that I am worthy and equal under the law.

I have no pity for those who would use my empathy to harm me.

I have no time for pleas for a tolerance that demands that I submit to harm in order to satisfy the egos of casual bigots.

I have no deference for the complacency of people who think that their momentary pity and empty gestures are sufficient to prove their alliance with those of us in danger and redeem themselves from complicity.

I have no compassion for those that sell me out, that sell out other people for the illusion of safety, thinking that throwing another person into the dark waters will be enough to satisfy the crocodiles of hate.

I have no love for those who demand my future as the grist for the wheels of their thieving prosperity.

I have no obligation to sacrifice myself on the altar of another’s injustice.

I have rage, and I have determination, and I have a fierce love for justice, and I have the courage to do the work.

I have belief that if you have these, too, we can work together for all of us.

I have faith that we can fight, and that we can triumph.

I have hope that we can create light in a dark time.

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Dandelion dreams

I fell asleep on the sofa and woke up at half-past three in the morning. I don’t remember dreaming.

I take my final on Tuesday, official grades post on Wednesday, and my pinning ceremony is on Saturday.

I graduate, and I’ll be one exam away from my license and being a registered nurse.

Things feel a little odd, of course. I’ve been working toward a goal for so long. I set out to do this years ago—and that’s how long it takes to do this, I remind myself—and now that I’m here, I’m thankful (the well of gratitude is so deep), exhausted, a little confused, and ready, so very ready.

It’s easy, at the accomplishment of a goal, to feel confused, sad. I had a lovely talk about this with one of my teachers just the other day. I think it’s the fact that I’ve come to love my colleagues over the course of our journey, and now we will be dispersing like a dandelion puff someone’s made a wish on…

Because, being me, I’ve been making new plans all along. The nearer I get to one target, the more I think about the ones beyond it. The moment I realized that I’m going to need to go to grad school in order to take my practice where I want it to go, the moment I learned that I want to teach as part of it, the moment when I felt that the bedside is what sparks much of my joy, the moment that I thrived as being part of a team, at clinicals with a colleague helping me out, and in a random conversation after class when I made a comment about having my back and a friend replied, in the dead serious way of spoken truths and dropped mics, “Always,” the moment I knew that my soul had to become magnified in order to do this work the way I need to be able to do it, the moment when I felt it grow, the moment I felt so damned lucky to get to do this—the moment that continues, continues, continues…

Because this is not a destination. This is not a goal that is an end. This is a means.

So, waking up at half-past three and writing, and thinking, living my dreams and planning, making new goals, and feeling melancholy joy at this time that unwinds into a few days when, as if with an exhaled hope, my life bursts and seeds take flight.

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In the forcing jar, does the bulb dream of spring?

It strikes me that sometimes my imagination is too small.

When I started on this path, I did not begin to have anything beyond the vaguest outlines of how the choice to become a nurse would change me. Yes, yes, I knew that it would do so, and I even had intellectualized that knowledge into something I could hold up to my mind’s eye and examine with curiosity and wonder.

What a silly little idea that was.

I had not guessed that the change would be other than superficial. Especially not at this point. I figure’d it would be redecorating a home—maybe putting in new hardwood floors in the kitchen, new colors on the wall, some new furniture. I hadn’t realized that this process I’ve begun (and am only a couple of months in so far!) is foundation work. We’re hoisting the edifice on jacks and pouring concrete, knocking down walls to open up room, and checking the load-bearing integrity throughout. New bay windows are in the works, and next year we’re putting in gardens and a mud room, and you should see what we’re doing to the upstairs—

And that home? I mean my Self. That thing that I’ll call soul for lack of a better word (and because it’s true). I had not imagined the utterly necessary magnification of the soul required to be a good nurse.

The way we’re being taught emphasizes thinking like a nurse. This involves a certain logical process that absolutely requires that you think holistically about a person and their systems (both the physiological ones that comprise them and the social ones in which they live), analyze the specific issue(s) in front of you at present, and respond appropriately. It means dealing with the person, that all of them is your patient.

That’s the theory side of things, what we’re covering in my fundamentals class.

Then there’s the practicum:  our clinical assignments. My program starts us off in clinicals right from the first term. By week three, we’re seeing patients. Deep end doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Things start coming together—simple things like how the pieces of a nursing plan work, how to address patients, how to take accurate vital signs. You stop being quite so terrified as you learn what you need to be competent. Suddenly, you’re thinking like a nurse—in a simple, newbie, Bonjour, je m’appelle Jacques. Comment allez-vous?-god-my-accent-is-horrible-why-do-you-say-“I call myself”-instead-of-“My name is”-anyway?-third-grade-French-class sort of way, but like a nurse.

And that’s frigging magic. Because you can feel it in your head, as the lessons are sinking in and the experiences start to remodel the content of your character. Your self grows because of the moments you have with your patients:  the human connections that we all have are suddenly instrumentalized because more than anything, your self as the nurse—intellect, learning, empathy—is the most important tool you have. You start feeling as a nurse.

It’s so damn humbling.

I had the realization a couple of weeks ago (and it’s actually a continual, evolving realization that started even before that) that if I’m going to be a good nurse—and I want to be!—I’m going to have to be a better person. Not in a vague woo-woo sort of way, either, but in a concrete, observable way. In order to help my patients, I’ve got to be able to connect with them and do it well and respectfully.

It’s daunting as fuck.

The thought comes to me, often, that this is a whole lot of work for a day job. Because this is meant to be that thing that provides the security for me to do my real work of writing. And it’s so damn true. This is a whole lot of work. Part of me wants to run away and join the office because even though I know it’s stultifying, it’s something I know I can do and it’s not so hard, and damn it, it doesn’t require me becoming a better person—and how much money did I give up for this shit, anyway?—and I’d still be okay for a while longer if I did that, wouldn’t I?, I mean it’s not like it hurts my soul and makes it harder for me to write… oh, wait.

Yeah. Because I realized, a long while back, that even my day job has to be meaningful in its own right, if I’m going to be whole enough to do my real work.

And the new thing:  that in so many ways, what I seek to accomplish broadcast with my writing—the connection, the communication of agency, the pursuit of beauty and justice, the sheer joy of living in all its many-colored muck-stained splendor—I also can accomplish in specific with my nursing practice.

I love that it’s called a practice, too. It is such an apt word for this work. With both my art and my nursing, I’m still seeking the same end, and it requires that I’m active in my practice. Much like with a religious, be they a ministering cleric or a cloistered contemplative, there is a constant aim, a goal to which one is devoted, that involves a way of being that requires focus.

Nursing—and I’m a student nurse now, and that’s a real place on the nursing path—is the first work I’ve had besides being a writer, an artist, that changes who I am in a deep, intrinsic way. While I didn’t get really serious about being an artist, a writer, until a few years ago, I’ve been writing all my life, and it’s been at the core of me forever. Fundamentally, it’s part of how I understand the world and of the story I tell about myself. Nursing is new. The decision to take this path is a few years old, and the actual program just begun, and yet:  this changes who I am and informs my identity.

Like I said earlier, what a silly little idea I had of what this choice meant.

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The Practicalities of Wellbeing and Being Well

A long time ago, when I was in high school in the early 1990’s, I was a peer counselor. My local county health and human services administration had a program where they taught some of us high school students the very basics of active listening, warned us against giving advice, armed us with resource guides, and gave us a contact person to call in case of emergencies. We were meant to be sounding boards for our classmates, and to be information clearinghouses on anything from safer sex to the power of just saying no. The thinking was that some information and some help come best from a peer. Looking back on it now, I think it was a way for Health and Human Services to provide a bit of social inoculation for the local high school kids. When we talked to our friends, to other kids in school, we helped reduce the potential harm that we (all of us kids) were bound to do to ourselves.

Since then, I’ve become a bit more sophisticated in my understanding of any kind of intervention and of harm reduction as a tool for developing wellness. The idea behind harm reduction is pretty simple:  people are sometimes going to do unhealthy things that put them at risk of injury or disease, so let’s minimize the self-damage as much as possible instead of compounding the problem. It’s an approach that can seem at odds with the punitive and judgmental nature of much of American society; addiction and illness are often seen as personal moral failings, so there’s not much reason to help people be or become better than they “deserve.” Harm reduction comes from a place of recognizing the ultimate goal (recovery and health) while also keeping in mind where individuals are in their own situation. Thus, instead of the public washing its hands of the problem and declaring that they’re getting what they deserve, needle exchanges are set up so that IV drug users lessen their risks of HIV or hepatitis infection. In short:  don’t let a bad situation get worse.

Twenty years later from my high school days, I’m now embarking on a new career in healthcare, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be healthy, and how that is not only a physical state, but an ongoing personal journey. I’m studying in order to become a nurse, and for the last few months I’ve been volunteering at Our House of Portland, a local residential healthcare center for people living with HIV/AIDS. I’d like to be the kind of person who volunteers more of his time to organizations and causes he believes in—and I’m working on that—but the practical consideration of how volunteering in a setting with direct patient interaction would help me grow in my career certainly was its own source of motivation.

When I started at Our House, I felt a little nervous. I’m old enough to remember the Eighties and the hellishness of living with HIV before protease inhibitors, and although Our House is no longer a hospice where men and women go to die with dignity, it took a couple of visits to see through the shadows of the past and see that it’s a place where people are getting help to live as well—as healthfully—as they can. Our House takes a holistic approach to their residents and clients, seeing health in a multifaceted way.

Our House residents come from all walks of life, and for some, a history of addiction and less than optimal choices can mean that being healthy—continuing on that ongoing personal journey—means that harm reduction is a real and valid tool. Now, in this context, I don’t mean needle exchange; rather, I’ve seen how the staff at Our House respects the choices of their residents—even when these are perhaps objectively less than wise. It is entirely up to a resident whether or not they give up smoking, or if they decide to party too much with their friends when they are outside of the facility. Our House respects that their residents are responsible adults with their own ability to decide for themselves, and who are in charge of their own healthcare. In doing so, they nurture each resident’s agency, and this, I believe, nurtures their health.

There’s a decided practicality about the philosophy of harm reduction that appeals to me. It’s a way of seeing people as they are and working with them to build toward their goals from there. It’s clear-eyed, and I like—respect—that very much. As a policy, it’s seen worldwide adoption as a strategy for lowering infectious disease rates and supporting communities that are at risk (such as sex workers, drug users, and the homeless). Recently, a petition signed by over 5,000 police officers from all over the world advocating for the use of harm reduction strategies with sex workers and drug users instead of traditional criminalizing tactics was published in Thailand. Law enforcement officers from beat cops to chiefs of police signed, standing behind their conviction that harm reduction lowered the rates of infection and crime, and preferring that to just creating more convicts.

Studies examining the effects and effectiveness of harm reduction strategies have been conducted all over the world, from Australian researchers looking into lowering the rates of HIV transmission among Australian youth to British insights on the home-grown approach to harm reduction amongst HIV-positive gay men, serosorting (selecting sexual partners with matching HIV statuses). All of these data help illuminate the picture of people understanding the realities of their situations and seeking out the best options, even when the decisions made might not be the ones that others would approve.

There’s a certain resilience—as well as a stubbornness—in the human spirit that is demonstrated by the embrace of harm reduction in policy and treatment. The resilience is the forward-going nature of any journey toward health and wellbeing. The stubbornness is the obstinacy of continuing to stop, or detour, or take a step back or away or sideways on that journey. The journey is a meander, not a straight line.

I am pursuing nursing as a complement to my work as an artist and writer, and I feel these pursuits operate on different but equally important scales. Both pursuits are in the service of the same goal, the same journey:  my own health, physical and emotional. Over the course of these last few months, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about my personal experience with volunteering at Our House. In addition to the greater appreciation I now have for the practicalities of harm reduction in caring for others, and the immense respect I have for the staff of Our House for their skill and dedication to their residents, and for those residents for reminding me of the dignity of agency, I feel that I have gained a surer footing on my own personal journey of wellbeing.

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new story published!

For relative values of “new,” I suppose. The first draft was written in 2011.

“The Coffinmaker’s Love” had its start at Clarion West. It was the first story that I wrote there, on Week Two, with Nancy Kress instructing. Week One was Paul Park, and he helped us lay groundwork and ran us through exercises, but no all-out story.

Paul had us talk about our strengths as writers, and I said, “I write pretty.”

It’s true. I do.

So, for the first story to be dissected by my colleagues, I played to my strengths. I went for pretty. I’m good with mood and dialogue, so I used those, too. I decided that I wanted to see if I could play with voice, so I chose to go with a pseudo-Victorian archness just to see if I could sustain it.

The story was received well-enough. Nancy said something along the lines of it being “a nice fable,” but not having enough substance. Fair enough.

Later in the workshop, I often used the term bagatelle to describe some pieces (both some of mine and of my colleagues)–I didn’t use it pejoratively, but descriptively. There’s nothing wrong with–and there can be a good deal right with–a bit of fluff that brightens your day. Over time, I have come to embrace that. Confections are wonderful. It’s not the whole of my work, either, but it’s fun.

I don’t think that “The Coffinmaker’s Love” is a bagatelle. There’s too much bittersweetness there for it to be, and a purposeful undercurrent of dark and troublesome questions that only come up in the aftermath. It is, however, a locket story.

I came up with that description earlier this summer when the story was being edited and I had to describe the story and its scope to other people. What I mean by it is that it’s a small and fine work, with a small scope, intended to be pretty, containing something dear, and meant to be held near to one’s heart.

It’s not an epically ambitious story on existential themes like “Better the Night,” which I can’t seem to sell anywhere, or a softly important human story that gives people more room to find reflections of themselves like “Recognizing Gabe.”

Not everyone is going to find the contents of a locket story dear. But it should be clear that someone does, like stumbling over a small, wooden box full of love letters between strangers.

I’m very grateful to Beneath Ceaseless Skies for publishing the story. BCS editor-in-chief Scott Andrews was incredibly helpful and amazing; the story is many times better than it was because of his insight. Scott originally rejected the story, but allowed that he’d be happy to read a revision. Not being a complete idiot, I did indeed revise it. Fortunately, he eventually bought it.

In tweaking the darn thing, I had the particular help of two dear friends, Sarah Brandel and Tiffani Angus. They are both wonderful writers, and helped me make the story work.

This is my second professional sale, and it continues the worrisome pattern of selling stories to the first market I submit them to, or not at all. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to sell at all. But I hope that pattern breaks soon. I really want “Better the Night” and “Dogsbody” and “What the Queen saw” out there. Well, there’s still a ton of markets, right? Next! And I’ve got this other story I’m working on…

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as the hours wind down

I can feel Yom Kippur approaching.

The turn of time is inexorable and I feel the gathering up of whispers, susurrations of lives lived and days spent, the rustle of divine fingers on the Book of Life and the Book of Death, turning pages.

My thoughts are somber, and my mood is odd. I am tired, and it is hours yet before my fast begins. I do not think that I will keep it long. Right now, I am not that strong.

It’s difficult; I don’t have a chavurah to share comfort and strength with here in Portland. As badly observant as I might have been in San Francisco, I did have a community there, and it was easier. I haven’t had the spiritual wherewithal to find and join, or make one, here. That’s on me.

But that’s not the only thing. Right now, recent events have made me consider my choices, my mistakes, and my regrets. For the most part, I am used to having a way to undo things, to change my mind and choose again. The amount of times in which I’ve done so successfully in my life is probably a little absurd. There are times, however, when you do not get a do-over, and you must learn to live with disappointment.

Right now, that’s what’s on the surface. I’ve got just enough wisdom to know that this feeling will pass, and in the great scheme of things in my life, it’s not that important. But right now, I’m tired. Probably too tired to keep my fast.

I can feel Yom Kippur approaching.

The stories the sages tell say that it’s on Yom Kippur that the Holy One seals our fates for the coming year. Our fates are decreed on Rosh Hashanah, but only on Yom Kippur do they become set. The prayers sung in between those days tell us that our actions can lessen the severity of the decree…

I don’t believe in the literal Books of Life and Death, much in the same way that I don’t believe in a literal God, but I like and believe in a message of personal agency that encourages us to turn to each other, and help one another be our best selves.

So much in this faith that I’ve chosen–and make no mistake, it’s very much a choice–revolves around that: how to be, and help others to be, our best selves. What are the right ways to act? The idea that what’s in your heart is between you and God alone–including whether you even believe in God or not–but that your actions, and more importantly, their consequences, are between you and your community, is beautiful to me.

During the Days of Awe, one does not ask forgiveness of God except for those ways we may have hurt our relationship with the divine. For everything else, for all those ways we may have hurt other people, one must ask forgiveness of those others, as that forgiveness is not God’s to grant.

Absolution is not a Jewish concept.

We carry the weight of our actions alone, or together, but we carry it nonetheless.

The thing that is so hard to understand sometimes is that it’s not meant to be a burden.

It’s gravity: and without it, we cannot dance.

I can feel Yom Kippur approaching.

I am melancholy and mad with myself, and feel (unusual for me) uncomfortable in my own skin. It’s not Yom Kippur that makes me feel this way, but Yom Kippur is making me think and articulate my thoughts. I feel weak, and I do not like it! Sunset is hours away, and yet my monkey shell is already cracking.

I am tired, and I cannot hold fast.

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