Archive for May, 2014

Year One

These hills didn’t quite make an honest woman out of me. But living next to Golden Gate Park has. I guess that’s what almost a year of living next to one of America’s urban gems will do. Seriously, if you’ve never been to it, you really should go. If you live next to it like me, you should go more often. Even if I spend the better part of a few hours going through it each week between biking and running, it’s not necessarily common that I spend a lot of time in it. But isn’t that just how a place gets once you’ve been around it for a while? I’d like to think that I’ll never lose that sense of wonder I get every time I see Golden Gate Bridge. Maybe I never will. But it seems the rare breathtaking example, and even it is just something I kind of shrug at most days, like, yeah, there’s Golden Gate. Whatever. Even if there’s so much yet to try here, it’s still sometimes a struggle to make myself get out to it. I have settled in, I have established my patterns. I go to all the venues I go to; I know which ones I like. I knew where I’m going to get my favorite burrito in the Mission (Taqueria Cancun if you’re really curious), or the best place to get a baked good on a lazy Saturday or Sunday within walking distance (Cinderella or Arizmendi, depending on my mood). This week, I actually did a somewhat commendable job and pushed myself to try multiple places I hadn’t been to. I was surprised to learn that I live near an amazing Irish dive bar; I never thought the place was open. Hell, I went to Outer Richmond not once, but twice. Usually unless it’s a run or a quest for some more photos, I’m heading east, not west.

I have fallen into my routines. I have made new friends. Though I still use Google Maps a lot, it is far more often a luxury than a requirement for me to figure out where I’m going. For a city that once seemed so foreign to me, I seem to know quite a bit of its history, of what is tucked away in its neighborhoods, of what it used to be, of what it really is at times as opposed to what many see. Of course, it’s in my nature to ingratiate myself to a place. I did it in Iowa; I did the same in the Twin Cities as a whole, to each city that I lived in. If I live somewhere, I figure I should get out and find what’s there. I have visited most of the parks by now, from the majesty of Grand View at sunset to the eerie beauty of Mount Davidson when it’s foggy to the chill social vibe of Bernal on a nice early evening. I know where those trails go; I know why they close Great Highway sometimes. I’ve made it to both Angel Island and Alcatraz through a stroke of lucky.

It’s strange to think that a year has passed. A terrifying, yet wonderful year. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss Minnesota, though like most things in life, I kind of pick and choose what aspects I miss. I guess there’s a reason I’ll be back for the third time in just over a year since I left soon. I just can’t stay away. And I still wonder how long this wild ride will last, how long I’ll have this magical deal, how long it’ll continue to make sense trying to live out here. I implore anyone to visit, not because I think I’m going to leave tomorrow, or because I even plan to, but because it’s just so hard to predict when your time is up in a place like San Francisco. Because it seems that with a few exceptions, that’s the boat any of us are in out here.

In the meantime, though, I am enjoying this. There are always going to be things I’d done a little differently at times, but this move isn’t really one of them. I’m glad I challenged myself with it, even if it’s been really hard at times, whether that’s when I was looking through rental listings or looking at my bank account or just looking for someone to go get a beer with when a day had gone off the rails. San Francisco has certainly forced me outside of a bit of complacency in some other areas of my life, it’s really caused me to question my commitment to a lot of things, but I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Hopefully I’ve met people and had experiences that have challenged me to be a better person, whether that’s trying to be a more engaged trans individual, or whether that’s causing me to actually bother to finish something even if only a handful of people will ever buy and read it. Hopefully it’s challenging me to take a chance on new bands and not just see the same ones over and over, to try new foods that I’ve never had before, to try new drinks, to keep seeing where that path goes or what’s over that next hill. That’s kind of the cool thing about a city like San Francisco. You never know what you are going to find, or where you are going to find it. It can be chaotic at times, wondering exactly why your favorite place is tucked into a mostly residential neighborhood, trying to figure out who the hell even organized this city and why some things ended up where they are.

This city is inviting to many, but truly welcoming? That is impossible to say given the current state of it. It is definitely welcoming to some, but not all. But you didn’t turn to me for some exegesis on the Bay Area’s problems, and besides, there are far better ones out there than I could write. And one might argue (and I’d definitely agree) that those problems extend far beyond San Francisco. Certainly, San Francisco has problems; not even the residents who love it will deny that. I’m constantly unsure of whether I should be proud of the fact that I’m lucky to call this place home or if I am just contributing to the problem. But I kind of love that about this city too. It constantly challenges you, in so many ways. I dislike the financial challenges, but I love the difficult decision of what show I should see out of four good ones on a Thursday. I love the challenge of meeting all the other people like me who are still trying to figure this place out, but I think that’s most everyone here. San Francisco is a city of many names, a city where everything is demarcated by a before and after that is April 18, 1906, a city of $4 toast and $6 burritos. But most of all, like the dunes much of it was built on, it is a constantly shifting landscape. For the past year, for now, it’s home, and I can’t wait to see what the winds blow up next.

Mine Not Ours: A Primer

Recently, I finished a story (for the first time in a long, long time). I write a lot (if this space is an indication), but not like that anymore. But since it was the first time I have done any creative writing in that vein in the past several years, it’s a different feeling. It’s a novella called Mine Not Ours. Go. Click on it. Look at Tom’s awesome cover at least. It’s hovered somewhere between 19,000 and 21,000 words, settling on the higher end, and I’m perfectly comfortable considering that a novella. In more traditional terms, it’s roughly 70 pages (Amazon says 65). Depending on your reading speed (and how the material hits I suppose), I’d guess it’s about an hour of your time. I think it’s worth an hour. I think it’s pretty damn good if I do say myself, but that’s the writer’s ego speaking, of course I’m going to say that. But I hope you read it. Let me know what you think, either way. If you really like it, let other people know what you think. So, here are a few thoughts about the process, what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and what’s next:

Where can I get it?

That’s a great first question! I’ve decided to embrace the modern age and do self-publishing through Kindle. I know they are taking over the world, but you know, sometimes you have to go with the flow. While I certainly love the traditional medium of something physical people can hold in their hand, that’s just not where I’m at right now. It was enough work to create this and make it work, and for the time being, I’m comfortable with that, but I don’t want it to just sit on my computer. The traditional publishing route is…a bit of a process. And I’m not really up for the process right now. I have no grand illusions. This ain’t gonna make me famous. I just want to get it out there. It’s 2014. Let’s try what everyone else is doing instead. So a Kindle or a Kindle app on any number of those amazing electronic devices we own should do the trick.

But wait, if it’s in Kindle, that means it’s gonna cost money, isn’t it?

Relax. It’s 99 cents. You can barely get a candy bar for less than that these days. I do not feel like it’s too much to ask. I’m not doing this to get rich. I’m doing it because I spent a lot of time creating a product, and at a certain point, even if I view it as a piece of art, especially if I view it as a piece of art, I have to respect that. Also, I’m doing it because if I want it to be on Kindle, that’s the minimum price. I am more than happy to keep writing any number of other places for nothing, such as this very blog. But I can’t keep giving everything away, especially not writing I create in this fashion. I think that’s a fair thing to do. Besides, if you have Amazon Prime, I don’t think it will cost you anything (first time wending through this process…so don’t quote me on that one).

But why should I pay for it?

That’s a more complex question that a lot of us are grappling with in the modern age, no? And I don’t have a right answer, other than to say I believe there’s value in paying for art. I don’t go to shows and just expect to be on the guest list. I buy a ticket. Because I want to support the artists that are doing things that I value. I think that’s a much deeper question that goes beyond one little piece of writing like this, especially in an age where so much is available for so little, one that gets back to what we value and how we express that value. That’s a question we’re all grappling all the time. I constantly think about it. If you want people to keep making the things you love, sometimes you gotta show ’em that in a nice, direct, consumerist way. There’s a reason I keep buying records and going to shows. It’s why I go out of my way to buy something at free shows. Both the artist and the consumer get some value that way, and it’s the most direct way I can show it. Of course, that’s setting aside the compulsion that drives all creative people, the need to create; some might say it’s a curse, spending so much time creating things that we all know very well will end up not going very far in this world. Seems like a few dollars here and there to people who put in a lot of work to bring me whatever I’m currently enjoying is not all that much. But you gotta try. This is me trying. Or trying again.

So…what is it? Besides a novella and 99 cents. What’s it about?

Oh, yes, that. Well, I picked up some old characters from a series of stories I wrote a while ago (don’t worry, you don’t need to read those to have any clue what’s going on here) that were rough representatives in terms of what the mid-twenties were like. They’ve changed quite a bit since then (haven’t we all), but I had a lot of thoughts on my mind about my thirties, expectations, where we thought we’d be versus where we ended up, and it kept coming back to Dan. Any description like that is gonna sound pretty boring. These little blurbs are like that. But here goes.

Dan goes on a trip out to Burbank to visit old friends and get away from Minnesota for the weekend because he’s got some things on his mind and he needs to get out of town for a few days anyway. There’s a lot of drinking involved. There’s a fair amount of Dan plaintively smoking cigarettes. Music comes up frequently. At least one person utters an exasperated “fuck’. All the food in the story is real. There are a few ruminations on the nature of atavism (not the biological kind…this is straight fiction). And then it’s back to real life for Dan, back to Minneapolis and what awaits him there. There’s more than that of course, but you know, if I told you everything than happened, you wouldn’t read it, and besides, I don’t actually really want to say too much about it. I want you to form your own opinion.

Hmmm…that does kind of sound like parts of your life…are you sure this is fiction?

It’s a story, calm down. These are characters. Some of these things happened to some people, I’m sure, and many of them are extrapolations based on my interpretation of events or conversations, but it’s really me taking a seed of an idea from something that came up and taking it to a totally different place. I repeat, these aren’t real people, and even if they are real places, these aren’t really truly them either. It’s fiction. Hopefully, these feel like things that could happen. That does not mean these events did happen. That goes for all the people in there too. These are not directly any of my friends, or even, in my opinion, close to any of them individually. These are not thinly veiled stand-ins. They are their own people, these characters. But hopefully, they feel like people you could know. That’s the idea, anyway.

Wow. I really thought that was well-done!

Thanks! If you feel that way, let me know. Let other people know too. Share it. Make me a viral success. Just kidding. By all means, though, if you do like it, do say so and do share. But I have no expectations for this. It’s just a story I had to tell that I hope you appreciate.

Wow. I really didn’t like it. You owe me my time back.

Well, I’m sorry to hear that, but that’s okay too. I’m not here to tell you what to think of it all. Maybe it doesn’t work for you. And I totally understand that. I still want to know what you think though. No money back guarantees or anything. But maybe I’ll buy you a cup of coffee the next time we see each other to make amends.

What’s in store?

Personally? I don’t know. I am sure I’ll keep writing. I’ll see what happens though. It didn’t end up taking that long to write (if I just look at time spent writing), but all the other stuff took a long time, and in real time, I spent about 8 months dealing with this (partially because I wrote half of it in August of 2013 and the other half in February/March of 2014…that’s on me, though there was also a lot of productive thinking in there to get from point A to point B). But even if that’d been more condensed, it’s still a long process. I have some more ideas. I plan to get them down on paper. And maybe you’ll see them sometime soon too. That’s the hope anyway.

Always Be

There are a lot of gaps in my life. Anyone can say that, of course, but as someone who has pretty much embraced my place on the edge of the Millennials, I have a pretty thorough digital record. I’ve written off and on for 11 years somewhere online, and I certainly produced copious amounts of writing before that as well. I pulled out my box of nostalgia, and it’s still full of that mix of college papers, many, many stories in various iterations, the associated scribblings that go along with that, about half a screenplay, dozens upon dozens of poems, half-remembered lines, old notebooks where I confessed all my darkest secrets, as Conor Oberst might put it. There are, of course, other items in that box too, a stack of Agents of Good Roots setlists, wedding invitations, birthday cards, thank you notes, hockey tickets, and a mish mash of pictures, though I spent much more time behind the camera than in front of it. But I have always had writing in my bones, even if it never amounts to anything. It’s how I best process everything that goes on around me.

Which makes all those old notebooks and scraps of paper a little sad sometimes. I get that I was not ready or even able to express exactly what was going through my head in terms of my identity for a long time, but even by the time I was, it was an issue I entirely avoided. It’s weird to look back on writing where it just seems I’m trying so hard to be a cis bro; it’s even weirder to revisit it with a much different perspective. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I’d mostly lost that perspective, and I’d like to think that it shows, that there is less conformity to my writing and more willingness to explore my identity, but I was still afraid to write from my perspective, or at least all of it. It obviously shows in some of the poems I produced shortly before I finally transitioned, where I was finally willing to entertain and incorporate some degree of my gender identity into my work. It took me a long time to even admit to myself out loud that I was trans, and it was definitely something I did not want a corpus of for the longest time.

I can look back and see the reason. I know the fear I had about who I was and how that did not match this perceived idea of who I should be. I know that when I looked around, I saw almost no examples of what being trans meant, and the few I found did not reflect how I felt. The idea of stealth terrified me, not because I wanted to particularly stand out, but because I never felt like that was something that would ever, ever work for me. And I know that I didn’t want to leave behind anything that would ever lead anyone to wonder about my gender identity, whether in writing or otherwise. So instead of trying to engage my thoughts and feelings, whether it was in more private writing or conversation, or really, anywhere, I left behind nothing. Or I left behind a lot of fairly misdirected writing and such. Which isn’t to say I was a particularly dishonest person (though I’ve had my moments…); it’s just to say that I pushed more of my energy towards areas of my life that felt less disingenuous. In college, I completely adopted that attitude, basically maintaining the bare minimum of expected interaction in the sense of relationships or what have you to maintain some degree of perceived normalcy, whatever that means. I was always deathly afraid to explore my identity, at least in regard to gender. I was never going to be the one throwing on a dress for Halloween. I was the one who’d be adamantly opposed, quite secretly afraid of where that might lead because it was something I wanted, terrified that I would never “look right” as a woman.

It’s hard to say looking back what I was afraid of exactly though, or what I was feeling, because that corpus doesn’t exist. Not that it’s perfect, by any means. It’s a derivative, an instantaneous look at where you were in your ever-changing curve of life. And even if it’s as true as it can be, you still have to apply wherever you are later in life to that, or you will, no matter what. But I really have little more than misremembered memories of a terrifying exploration of my authentic self prior to about 25. And I wish I had a bit more of that. I have records, and I guess I have records of the person I was then, the person who was afraid to admit she was trans, who was afraid to admit she was a she at all. There are no words, there are no pictures of her. Or rather, there are a lot of pictures of her, sometimes not caring at all about who she was, and sometimes trying really hard to fit into that cis male mold I was supposed to fit in and looking equal parts uncomfortable and laughable in most cases. They are all me, of course, and I’m not particularly embarrassed by them. My senior picture still makes me laugh just on the face of its sheer cheesiness. I don’t feel I look all that much different than any of us do 15 years later, in the sense that a lot of time has passed and we are all in different places. Hopefully I look happier. They all still look like me, though. All those pictures are me. Just not a fully realized me. Though I’m guessing a lot of us could say that about our childhood pictures.

As for the words? Maybe it’s better they aren’t there. I cringe enough at much of what I left behind, sophomoric expressions of the privilege I failed to realize I possessed. I may not have felt comfortable with assumed cisness (which…stop doing that. Just stop) and certainly, I don’t feel like trans people have any privilege related to that because I was always trans, I always have been, I always will be and it has inevitably influenced my experiences even if I wasn’t totally aware of the impact. It took me a long time to realize that, an even longer time to admit to myself that I am trans, and the longest time to admit that to others. But I did still come from a white, middle-class background with ready access to resources that go along with that. And it took me a long time to realize that, though there were certainly flashes along the way. Even as I struggled to figure out my authentic self, I had access to better resources than a lot of people even in that regard. I had health insurance from a company that covered my doctor’s appointments. I lived in a state with robust anti-discrimination laws and worked for a company that really did seem to value that diversity. It’s really only been in the last couple years that I’ve really opened myself up to the idea of privilege, of what ways I do (or don’t) have it and how that affects my perceptions, and it shows in a lot of ideas I held for a long time. So to look back on some of that? That’s not the most flattering thing to open up a notebook and see. Though it does serve as a reminder that people can and do continue to grow, that hopefully I will be continuing to do that. I’d like to think now that there are not aspects of who I am that I am afraid to commit to writing (though, perhaps this is not the best venue), that I am a more fully realized person than I was when I was 17.

Of course I’ll wonder what that might have looked like, if I hadn’t been too afraid to write and explore my feelings, at how my perceived identity, the identity I played into at times, did not match how I fully felt. And I can see it on the edges sometimes. I can ascribe motive to actions and behaviors now, or at least I feel like I have a better idea of why I did some of the things I did. On the whole, I think I came up with pretty peaceable solutions to not wanting to explore my identity as a trans woman and I mostly focused on things that I was passionate about. I look at the writing and I see some good in it, I see the same sophomoric mistakes and groin-inducing passages that any young person might commit to paper (along with some occasional outright awfulness). But I’ll always wonder about the marginalia I erased, the entries I deleted, the few times where I opened up, the times before I even know there were words like transsexual or transgender or even crossdresser (it was the 90s, you know…trans as a standalone was not really a thing). I know they happened. I remember them happening. Or at least I think I remember them happening. I don’t know, it’s hard to say. Memory is a funny thing. But I will wonder about those first steps, those first few forays into trying to make sense of my whole self, my authentic self, of trying on different identities until I finally found the one that fit, of doing the same with clothes and styles and all of that. Becoming a fully realized trans woman is the same as anything else; it takes some effort, and there’s some missteps along the way, and at least by the time I came out, I have a document of that, words and pictures and memories. It’s been almost 6 years now. And I’m still always learning. But that also means there’s a significant amount of those bits and pieces in the box of nostalgia too. Or on Facebook, or in some corner of the internet, or wherever.

It’s not like I have some illusion that it would have changed anything about my process of self-discovery. It would not have. Or rather, if you are believer in such things, it would have set totally different events in motion and I would not be where I am today. Besides, you can’t change the past. Though intentionally or not, we all do manipulate it. Every time we misremember a quote or leave a part out of a story, or put someone in a story that was never there in the first place, we further that along. Those things may not be malicious, but they certainly happen. A picture, a written record, those sorts of artifacts are more immutable, though in this day and age, no less immune to change themselves. And though I wish for them, things that do not exist will not just appear. I won’t say there are no pictures or words of me exploring my gender identity prior to actually transitioning, though I definitely have none of those pictures and few of those words. All I have are my memories. And no matter how much I dig through that box, that’s not gonna change. Though perhaps some long-lost notebook will find its way to me again some day. I only know of one, really, my first true journal, and of its contents, I remember little, though I can guess it contains as much knowledge as any 13-15 year old also contains, which is to say, most likely very little. There will always be a lot of gaps in my life. And that’s okay.

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