“That’s so gay”
Oct 25th, 2010 by alexfaye

A short speech I wrote and presented at today’s faculty meeting

I am addressing you this morning on behalf of our students who are members of the Gay-Straight Alliance, and also for those kids who hang on the periphery of the club.

First of all, a little history:  the Gay-Straight Alliance started up here at Mayfair just last year, in the spring — although GSAs have existed in high schools around the country since the ‘90s.  There’s an enormous national network of GSAs.  Our little baby GSA will be participating in our 3rd club’s day this week, passing out ribbons and raising awareness.  We’re a club that is still finding its identity and its purpose — well, obviously, a Gay-Straight Alliance has a ready-made identity and a purpose on a philosophical or symbolic level, but on a practical level, the kids have been trying to figure out what they want to do, and how they can contribute productively to life at our school.

But then, unfortunately, the recent tragic suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi brought national attention to issue of bullying.  It also brought attention to three other teen suicides that had not really made national news: Seth Walsh, 13, in California; Asher Brown, 13, in Texas; and Billy Lucas, 15, in Indiana.  These teens, bullied by their peers for being different, decided that the best thing to do was to end their lives.

I have always been impressed by Mayfair’s diversity, and by how well we get along.  We don’t, as a rule, experience many of the social tensions that we read about on other campuses.  But, all the same, the students of the GSA have asked me to deliver this message.

As the adults on campus, please hold the line — in your classrooms and anytime within your earshot — on the phrase, “That’s so gay,” or any of the gay, faggoty, or queer quips that kids come up with.  These phrases may seem meaningless to some of us, analogous to saying that something is dumb or juvenile.  In fact, the phrase “that’s so gay” travels up with kids from the elementary schools, so in that sense, it is juvenile; it is also a phrase that many kids use, and are able to use apparently without being consistently challenged by adults.

But that phrase — no matter how benign it may seem to you — does two things for sure:  first, there are kids who hear this as deeply offensive – comparable to hearing the Lord’s name in vain, or the f-word, or the n-word, or any racist or hate speech.   But secondly, and more importantly, I think, is that it contributes to an atmosphere that accepts such speech and therefore accepts such thinking.

There is a young man on our campus who comes to the GSA meetings, and I don’t know his name.  (I tend to sit to the side, and let the kids run their meeting.)  And although he did not share this story with me himself, his friends have told me that because of his appearance and his demeanor, he is regularly a target of hostile speech that is delivered in the friendliest of tones.  Kids walk past him and say, “Hey, there’s that faggot,” or “Hey!  Aren’t you a faggot?”  Fortunately, this student has a strong network of support through his family and his friends, so he has developed the confidence and the necessary inner resources to cope with these exchanges, but why on earth should he have to?  And what about the kids who don’t have supportive families, or have only a few friends?  Or no friends they can really count on?

Now, kids are crafty, and mostly manage to hold back their worst behavior when adults are present.  I am sure that if any of us had heard anyone address this young man as a faggot, we would have stepped in and said something.  But we are not going to always witness the things that happen on this campus.  There’s the world we know about, and then, there is another world entirely.

I’d like to suggest that a campus that tolerates “that’s so gay,” is to some degree complicit when kids use more aggressive hate speech, like “hey, are you a faggot?”

So just like the frayed jeans rule, let’s not make it up to the kids to decide what degree of hate speech is OK.  Say no to all of it.  In the classroom, in the walkways, in the gym —hold the line on any form of hate speech, including the phrase, “that’s so gay.”

Thank you.

It wasn’t a cake
Oct 23rd, 2010 by alexfaye

McCartney (1970) featured cherries and a bowl of juice, not a cake.

I guess I was thinking of Let it Bleed by The Rolling Stones (1969)…

I am remembering music and art from 40 years ago.  How can that be??

How I got to 1000: a story told in tweets
Oct 23rd, 2010 by alexfaye

Scroll down to read this story from the bottom up.

3 Quotes from Nicole Krauss
Oct 23rd, 2010 by alexfaye

Went to Twitter just now, to report hitting my daily word count, and three quotes from Nicole Krauss were just sitting there, right on top of the feed:

“Writing is never really fun.  It is many things, but it is not that.”

“I’ve gotten used to the terror [of failure], but the terror never really goes away.”

“Writing for me is very hard work.  It is very sweaty labor.  I am always aware of blowing breath into my characters.”

I *heart* Nicole Krauss, and her amazing partner, Jonathan Safran Foer.  I just finished Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close this week.  I so admire his ability to really take his story to the bone of human sorrow and suffering — and then he manages to deliver us to another shore, to rest, to soak in the warmth of the sun, to fully absorb the effect of our arduous journey.  I may not understand the reasons we have to travel this way, but I know that I have done it, and will do it again.

Why is 6 afraid of 7?
Oct 23rd, 2010 by alexfaye

500 words a crack.  During the school year I can’t commit to that regular, daily habit that is essential for writers, but I can say that when I sit down to write, I will hit my word count.  And I think, as usual, I am going to have to freewrite and bitch for a while before I know what is to emerge from this.

I have been a writer my whole life, but not a writer who has been driven to complete anything that has not been commissioned by someone else.  I always read that people write because “they must.”  That has not been my experience.  I have demons, like most people, but those demons don’t compel me to write.  Who knows, though?  Maybe my mental health will improve if I give voice to the doubters banging around in my psyche.

With Patricia’s help, I built a big, wobbly table in Foresthill and put my typewriter on it.  I wrote bad poetry all through my youth, and read it at open readings.  It was enough to shock back then, to say the phrase “bury my face in balls” and listen for the crowd reaction, to find myself suddenly surrounded by young male poets after the reading, and to believe that they were there because they appreciated my way with language, not because they could imagine their balls on my face.  Where have I ended up?  Satisfied by writing good and interesting papers in school, writing for work and seeing my heavily edited words printed on glossy sales and company promotional materials, and then finally, teaching young people to write, and reading thousands upon thousands of dull, predictable essays, waiting for the occasional excellent one to surface from the pile.  And they do.  I’ve coached very good writers, and I’ve helped mediocre writers get better, and enabled bad writers to write one coherent, clear essay to carry with them into college so they can say to themselves, “See? It is possible.  I am able to write – it may not be beautiful or incredibly insightful, but it is clear and understandable.”

But what about me?  What about the things I must say?  What about my topics?  What are my concerns as a writer and as a person?  Much of what I have to say concerns my family and my life, but I do want to leave that space and move into a fictional, imaginative space, where I am free to tell the truth without naming names.  I think this may be the way to go.  Memoir is so confessional, denier cri—of the moment— but I do believe that moment has passed.  But again, Anne Lamott would say I am focused on the wrong end of the process, and I believe that is true.  I cannot think about markets and publishers; I must think only of what will emerge.

I was listening to Nicole Krauss when she was interviewed on NPR right as Great House was coming out.  The interviewer asked, “Where do you get your ideas for your stories?” and she said something that I found enormously helpful and encouraging— she said, “I have no idea.”  She went on to explain that she sat down to write, never knowing what the story was, who the characters were, what the problem was; she knew nothing.  The interviewer then asked, “Isn’t that dangerous?  What if all of your work comes to naught?” (Or, something like that.  I’m not sure she used the word “naught.”)  And Nicole Krauss said, firmly establishing herself as another writing hero, model, and guide, “I feel you must work right on the edge of failure.  That’s where the energy is.” Or something like that.  Brilliant.

But it’s HARD to do that.  I want my writing to matter.  But I am willing, finally and at last, to sit at this computer and write, every day…and by that I mean, every day that it is humanly possible, so if I miss a day, I am not going to give up on myself in despair.  And if nothing comes of it, so be it.  It is worthwhile work, even if no one else ever reads it.  And, I am going to post every week to the blog.  In fact, I think I may put this out there, right now.  No one reads me, except perhaps my sister.  So I will write directly to her, with her face in my mind, and tell her everything that I am thinking.

Writing, like Weight Watchers, is just something that I do.  It’s a daily practice.  It is imperfect, and I will make mistakes.  But the trick is to return to it, every day.  It’s Zen Buddhism.  It’s yoga.  It’s a way through.  Today’s word count:  789.

Family matters
Oct 19th, 2010 by alexfaye

Maddy and Hannah are taking some time off from the farm they were working on in Carnation, and they are traveling around the Seattle area, checking things out.  A hero of theirs — Dan Savage  — writes and works in Seattle; they are visiting museums, eating, taking in the city.   And my mother’s family lives in the area — Anacortes — so Maddy made contact the other day by telephone, and made arrangements to go up for a visit on Sunday.  The subject of sleeping accommodations on Sunday night naturally came up when Maddy and I were discussing the upcoming visit.  Where would the girls sleep?

Well, I have an aunt and an uncle in Anacortes, so I assumed it would be no trouble for one of them to put up two girls for the night.  But as I write this, this is still unresolved — after emails and multiple phone calls, it turns out that I may be wrong.  My mother’s people are stand-offish, and not particularly anxious to extend overnight hospitality.  My aunt and her kids have not returned my phone calls about the matter, and my uncle — after his wife already told me that it would be alright, since they have a bedroom in their basement — just wrote to say, “they weren’t expecting an overnight visit, and they will help make arrangements that will fit our needs.”  What in the hell does THAT mean?

And suddenly, this whole part of my family comes into sharp focus.

I live alone, and like it that way.  My sister lives in the neighboring state.  We see each other occasionally, and speak in big flurries of communication with long periods of rest in between.  Despite this distance, there is an implicit understanding that no matter what, we will be present for one other, and we would certainly take each other in.

Having said that, I know my own reticence about taking in distant relations, or friends of friends.  I would hesitate if asked.

But now I know what that reticence looks like from the other side, because even though I KNOW that this is not personal, I can’t help but take it personally.  I am flabbergasted that my own mother’s people would hesitate or deny my daughter shelter for one goddamned night.

When I am in my 70s and 80s, I pray that I remember this moment, because I know the older I get, the more set in my ways that I am.  Good Lord, may I never become this inflexible and closed up.  May I never deny anyone who asks — and especially my own flesh and blood — a bed for the night.

Now I see why the family in Washington never sees or speaks to one another.  My aunt and uncle have not spoken to one another in several years.  One cousin doesn’t speak to her father or any of her siblings.   Another cousin hid from my sister when she stopped in to his store to visit; his employees told her that he was not there.  No wonder my mother put that small town and its people far behind her.

But even our own mother…our mom turned Vicki and her husband away once.  Vicki reminded me today that mama apologized for that incident as she lived out her last days from her hospital bed.  But I can’t help but  believe that was my father’s strong influence over my mother — I find it impossible to think that my mother would, on her own, turn aside her daughter.  And when Vicki went up to see the family in Anacortes, she had to ask for a glass of water.  The convivial sitting around a table with a bottle of wine or a pot of coffee just don’t happen easily.  Those familial, communal moments do not just unfold naturally in Anacortes any more.

Yet Vicki assures me, (and I somehow know this is true) — that if our grandmother Helen were alive — this would never happen.  She was a warm and welcoming woman.  She may not have had anything, but she would never have turned anyone away.  My strongest grandma memory is being in her big soft bed with her, awake past bedtime,  partners in crime, eating snacks and peeping out the window at the kids:  my mother, her brothers and sisters, and all the spouses.  My mom and the aunts and uncles seemed so grown up, connected, and fun that night.  (Drunk — in the funny, happy way.)  The doors were off when Helen was alive.  Everyone was everywhere.  But she’s been gone for more than 40 years now, and the connective tissue that held our family together has deteriorated badly.  The connections are brittle and broken. For my daughter to have to experience this for herself is making me feel sad; I see now that this family reunion idea floated by my cousin Randy is nothing but an empty dream, a fantasy born of some ideal that does not exist between us.  We are not the reunion type.  We are the disconnected type, the unanswered telephone call type, the cryptic email type, the unresponsive type, the “make other arrangements that suit our needs” type.

I miss Hank and Lou.  But even Hank and Lou, if they were alive today…who knows?  I believe that if they were healthy, they would take Maddy in, even if they were 100 years old they would, and Uncle Hank would show her the berry bushes that the deer sneak into the yard to eat from.

My sister, my friends and I know a better way to live that is natural, open and emotionally nourishing.  We gather around tables, we share food and drink and talk.  And I want to cry out, Darling daughter, run!  Run the other way!  Don’t let this weird juju touch you.  Visit for an hour, and drive far away.  It looks like we moved to the other end of the coast for a reason.

Happy Birthday, John Lennon.  I send out a wish for peace to the entire world, in your name.

You don’t need somebody to tell you who you are or what you are, you are who you are.

Instant karma’s gonna get you…may we all shine on.


Addendum:  How it all turned out:  they opened their home, and everyone had a nice visit.

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