I’m Baaaaack!

Darlings!

It’s been thirty long days without you, but I return a successful man.  I completed my Nanowrimo task, and now have a 45,000 word first draft.

First draft of what, you ask?

A graphic novel memoir, title to be revealed at a later date.

I’m spending these next 2 months reading some supplemental texts, and on my weekends reviewing my draft and planning rewrites to dive into my revision process in February.

For appetite whetting purposes, this memoir is about my family, our multi-generational addictions and habits, war and fishing, Stevie Nicks and french orphans.  More details to come–

I am back to my weekly blogs starting this week, and November was a huge success in that I have a very solid writing practice down, clocking in at two hours each morning before work.  This last month has been enriching and full of surprises.  I worked hard, and lo and behold, it paid off.

I’m glad to be back to the ol’ blog!

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

You Can’t Go Wrong With Skulls

Yesterday I stopped by Revolution Tattoo in Bucktown for an appointment with Omar, the owner.  The shop is on Western Avenue in Chicago.  I did a lot of research on shops in the city, googling artists and studios, asking friends for suggestions, and contacting the shops for consultations.  Revolution was my pic for many reasons: the traditional tattoo designs on the leggy walls, the antler collection above the doorway, the large bat hanging from the ceiling.  When I arrived Omar was just putting the finishing touches on a design he and I talked about two weeks prior, so yesterday was the day I got the outline for my chest piece.

2222 N Western Avenue

2222 N Western Avenue

The design has quite a lot of detail, so we did the outline in one day, and are doing the shading in a month, after Omar returns from two weeks in Europe, and I’ve forgotten how painful chest tattoos can be.  While sitting in the chair yesterday I got to know Omar, listened to some stories about his shop and the time and effort it took him and his wife to build it.  K came with me for support* and was great about helping the conversations along.  She asked Omar about his wife’s role in Revolution’s genesis and he told us about her curatorial interests and the art space they have next door.  She was responsible, largely, for the decor of the studio, which made sense to me.  Another part of the reason I chose Revolution for my tattoo wasn’t just because of the impressive bone collection or because Omar is talented, seasoned, and trustworthy, but also because the shop feels homey.  It has, as Omar said, “a woman’s touch.”  Each artist has his own station, and I’m sure they’re filled with objects specific to that person.  But there is a cohesive warmth to the space as a whole, the details make it not only comfortable and evocative, but authentic.  Revolution is a classic tattoo shop, it feels small and broken-in and interesting.  That’s the kind of local business I want to support, and it’s the kind of place I want my tattoo experience to find its home in.

Something that I didn’t expect is that Omar reminded me of my uncle Tony quite a lot.

It happened like this: I’m reclined in the black tattoo chair, Omar’s telling me a story about his beloved green 1971 Chevy truck** and out of the corner of my eye I catch this little smirk rustle his cheek, the twitch and shift of his full beard gives it away and that movement on that cheek reminds me of Tony.  Until that moment I hadn’t noticed how Omar’s beard and hair are the same color as Tony’s before he went grey.  Omar’s nose comes to the same rounded point as Tony’s but the similarity is most surprising in the eyes.  They both have playful, sharp brown eyes.  At first, I found myself avoiding his gaze at times because it felt like Tony was looking at me and that stirred up all kinds of ugly feelings.  But as I laid there, because it wasn’t Tony leaning over me, something turned over in my gut.  Sometimes clenching my fists in my pockets as Omar worked the gun’s way over my sternum, sometimes leaning into the many needle points because that felt better than to feel the ticklish vibration in my ribs, I thought about Tony and it was actually quite nice, thinking about Tony as a younger person, someone not related to me and without all that ugly baggage and I felt like maybe I was capable of healing Tony’s legacy by forgiving him in those little moments.

So I thought about healing for a little bit, how it can be healing in that moment to let Tony be free of his pain, and so then I could be free of the pain he caused me.  I could just listen to Omar’s stories, and let Tony step in and out of that room, and I concentrated on the little belly breaths I took to keep the canvas still and felt calm and pleased and at peace about my relationship with Tony.  And when Tony would lean back and out again, I thought about how my chest was healed after surgery, how my body was healed with my soul, how healing it can be to cut out things that don’t fit and aren’t representative of you.  I wish Tony would have cut out alcohol, but he couldn’t.  It was nice to imagine getting a tattoo from my cool uncle Tony.  Maybe we were in his shop, or in his garage, and maybe we were talking about girls.  Maybe we were talking about Led Zepplin.  As the gun made the arch of a wing on my chest I knew what it was like to have that guy in my life.  It was only for a few seconds here and there, and it was after he died, but Tony and I found our way to each other.  Wings are funny that way, when you don’t know how to use them they take you to mysterious places you have never been.

I looked down and saw another little feather appear.  I thought about wings and flight and how I cut out my breasts and how the scars helped me to get above myself.  I thought about how those scars arch like wings.  And I thought about that Leonard Cohen line in Anthem, “There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  I thought about how much light those scars have let in.  And sometimes when I would look down while the gun was being dipped in ink I would see this black image drawing my eye away from my scars.  Which is part of the point, but also I looked at my scars and thought about how this was their first time being really looked at in public, and by someone who wasn’t K or my doctor.  I thought about how those scars lift me.  So soon I found myself smiling easily in that chair, K sitting a few feet away and chatting with Chito, another artists in the shop.

IMG_1284

Chito and I discovered we’re from the same home town and so for a while we talked about how the town has changed, talked about the roads that used to dead end and now they go over a new bridge and all the way out of town.  There’s a pause in the chatter and he seems far away, but then he steps closer to me, away from his table and he squints at the design emerging on my chest.  Almost inaudible over The Sword’s Barael’s Blade, Chito says something.

“Skulls,” he breaths wistfully, “You can’t go wrong with Skulls.”

IMG_1287

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*I have many tattoos, so I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand for that.  But it was my first time being shirtless in public, essentially, so it was more of a “stick around until I can gauge whether this feels like a safe space for me.”  I got a good feeling there right off the bat, but then she stuck around for the conversation and fun and ended up staying all 4 hours.  What a champ is she!
**For many years when I was a kid, Tony parked that same model in our driveway in powder blue.

 

Buongiorno!

Friends!

What a long absence I’ve had from you.  I have thought about you from time to time, and now I return with an update.

These last few months have been busy, busy with submitting rejected chapbook submissions (Three in all!  So many pages of forgettable poetry!  I’ll regale you with a poem at the end of this post if you’re good!) and wedding planning.  I’ll let you guess which of those activities was more fun…ok, here’s a hint: planning the wedding also entails planning the honeymoon, which is three weeks in Italy.

Bam!

Italy!

K and I have been having a great time booking places to stay (some time in Rome, some in Florence, some in Cinque Terre) and, with the help of Duolingo, practicing a little Italian in hopes of currying favor with the locals.

So, if you want to tell someone the man eats an apple, give him this: l’uomo mangia un mela and my love!

But don’t let all these exclamation marks fool you, it’s not been all fun and games.  Life is hard and depressing if you look at it that way, and over these cold and dark months it’s been easier to look at it like that than any other way.

My birthday passed through these parts last week, coupled with an injury that has kept me out of the gym for two months (well, an injury that has kept me from running, but my apathy kept me completely out of the gym) and I’m feeling pretty bad about myself.  Today I went back to the gym for the first time since, oh, October? And of course I’m not back to square one, but I’m pretty sad about my state.  So I called myself all kinds of names on the way home, remembering to be shitty about not going to the gym, and about being a weird trans thing, about being a traitor to my writing practice, yeah, I really let all the old jabs out of the bag.  Once home, during the shower I just wanted to lay down in the tub and take a nap.

Instead I dried off and laid on the couch and looked out the window and sighed for a little while.

Then I started to think about the difference between acceptance and giving up.  The last few months, while I was out of the gym, I tried to convince myself what I was doing was a good thing, that accepting my body for how it was, for eating more sweets and skipping yoga was mentally healthy.  But of course it’s not: I was giving up.  And now I find myself in this body, not a bad one, but not one I like.

So I figured that acceptance is going to the gym two or three times a week, every week, instead of going 5 times, making it 3 times, and giving up because I didn’t go 7.  Acceptance is about always trying, but not berating myself if I don’t succeed every time.

I’ve spent so much of my life trying, trying to be a better writer, a fitter person, but there are limitations to every body.  So I am currently trying to enjoy the things about myself that I am happy about (I am actually a pretty good writer, and actually have a pretty nice body) without giving up on a writing practice (even if my practice only happens once a week, and sometimes it’s in the form of reading rather than writing) or a health regime (even if that regime means going to the gym 3 times a week, and having a couple cookies at lunch).

So that’s that.  But I am curious, friends, do you have some insight in to how you balance between reaching your goals and accepting yourself?

Oh, I am past due on an anniversary on T video update, but it’s coming soon.

But, for now I leave you with:

Jupiter

Grandpa’s rough hand turns the ignition to break the quiet darkness of early morning.
Up on a chair I squint into the dark frame of the kitchen window but can’t see him
Shift in the stiff driver’s seat.  The sound of a door snapping shut,
The quick spark of his lighter, the car in reverse at 4 am
Tell me things about his life I won’t understand until after his death.
Only years later did I learn of the mallet he kept under his bed
In case his son came at him in his sleep.
He feared waking to the sensation of fingers gripped
Around his neck, his own hands but younger and out of control,
Acting on crazed impulse or auditory hallucination.
In that house, our lives depended on the distance we kept from them.
Every night ended with ice cubes clinked against an otherwise empty tumbler:
A depleted god’s thunder clap.
The screen door opening after a night at the V.F.W., another clap.
Count the seconds between flash and boom.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Pireeni Sundaralingam When I Woke Up

Had a lovely night out last night meeting a local trans guy and his girl–readers of this blog, actually (Hi Lizzi, hi Ari!).  Woke up this morning, deactivated my facebook account, and reorganized the priority sites on my bookmark bar.  And so, I came across this nice little poem.  As the intro says, “the language that surrounds me every day–mostly sad, simple transactional language–fails.”  Hopefully this offering, of Easter, will add some new sound into the language of your day.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Be Mine

My Valentine to K:

Courtesy of Jennifer Lewis and Wes Anderson

Courtesy of Jennifer Lewis and Wes Anderson.

Lewis’ art is beautiful, and there are 7 other cards based on Wes Anderson characters available, for free.  Check it here.

My Valentine to you:

IMG_1017Happy Valentine’s Day.  If you’ve no other to share today with, check the mirror: they’re as worthy of love as the next guy.

Especially today, be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Eulogy

My first shot of T is on Tuesday.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I am feeling sad, and uncertain, and scared.  I want the end result, but change is hard.  I have gone through the pros and cons.  I know I want the pros (deeper voice, more muscle, facial hair, fat redistribution), and I know the cons are minor (acne, mood shifts) or unlikely (hair loss, cancer, heart disease).  I have circled around and around in my head, and the only reason not to start T is fear of the unknown.  So I am going to start it, try it, and I can always go off it if something doesn’t feel right.  But the only way I can know for sure is to go on it.

Some of this sadness isn’t just about fear, though.  Some of it is because I am saying good-bye to the person I have been seen as my whole life, the person I have tried to be: a girl.  I was a butch one, for sure, but I always checked the F box, and it never really felt wrong to do it.  I never felt any animosity toward being female until I came out as trans, because I didn’t think about my gender at all until that coming out: I ignored it, ignored all the discomfort and anxiety that comes with being seen and treated as something I wasn’t because denial is easier than facing the fact that, although I was physically female, I was mentally male.  But being read as a dyke was pretty close, for a long time, and I made that ill-fitting costume my home.  Now, I’m taking that one off and I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting into.

So this post is about saying good-bye to that girl.  Of course, many of the parts of me, my sense of humor, my intelligence, my kindness, and (some of) my insecurities will remain intact.  But the world will use different hands when interacting with me as I start to be read as male.  I couldn’t really begin to understand what that might feel like.  I know that will change me, will shape me into some different kind of person, into a male version of this self I have been honing for three and a half decades.  But I imagine I am making a bigger deal out of it right now than it will be to me, practically speaking, in the future that will become my present.  The changes will happen slowly, and I will be pleased with them, or be able to cope with them as they arise.

I know I am jumping around a bit, and I do feel scattered in my brain.  I want to record here that I believe T will calm me in many ways, and that my anxiety will lessen as I settle into my new body and societal role.  I think some of the self-doubt and confusion I feel daily will be quieted.  I think I’ll get some more confidence out of this.  And because these changes will happen slowly, I might be saying good-bye to the girl I have been, have tried to be, and have been seen as, over many posts over the upcoming years.  This is the start of that good-bye.

It’s strange that as I look over this post that was supposed to be about the past, I am continually making room and excuses for the future.  Let’s step back and do this right:

Emily,

You served me well.  You were well-liked and made many friends.  I learned how to speak up for myself while playing you.  I learned how to be empathetic as a female-presenting person.  I leaned how to read maps and take pictures and appreciate art while living in your skin.  I learned how to listen in your ears.  I saw the Rocky Mountains through your eyes, and went to Paris in your body.

I smoked a lot of pot with that mouth, and kissed some very pretty girls.

You hands wrote beautiful poems, and touched your grandmother’s hands.  She is gone now, and my new hands will never know that feeling.  Your hand shook Buzz Aldrin’s hand.

I walked through the Rodin garden on your feet.  I walked up and down Chicago.  I ran to catch buses and went sledding with those legs.

Those arms held your niece when she was just a day old.  Those arms protected you in many a mosh pit.  Your abdomen has been a place for Violet to sleep for 7 years.

Your ears have heard Pearl Jam at Alpine Valley, Ani DiFranco at the Aragon, Bill Clinton in Iowa, and the World Trade Center collapse through your living room television, clutching your knees to your chest.

Your body has been rained on, touched gently and harshly, been rested and tense.  You have been tattooed and burned and massaged.  You have done some things in this world, but you have hidden from this world, also.  And so now I have to go.

I thank you for your service, and parts of you will come along for the duration.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Needing Is One Thing. Getting is Another.

I went to a wake today for a kid.

She was in her 20s, but really, for those of us who have made it out of our twenties, we know most of the best stuff comes after that decade.  Just a kid.  Didn’t even get a chance to make all the really great mistakes that don’t come along until our thirties or older.  And of course the converse of that: she never got to come to the really kind and satisfying conclusions we all get to after the terrible mistakes we make as kids.  And so, as death usually encourages, it got me to thinking about my own life, and about what I am doing with it, now that this other person no longer gets to live hers.

And this song has been rattling around in my head because of it:

The lyrics:

I’ve been waiting for months
Waiting for years
Waiting for you to change
Aw, but there ain’t much that’s dumber
There ain’t much that’s dumber
Than pinning your hopes on a change in another

And I, yeah, I still need you, but what good’s that gonna do?
Needing is one thing and getting, getting is another

So I been sitting around
Wasting my time
Wondering what you been doing
Aw, and it ain’t real forgiving
It ain’t real forgiving
Sitting here picturing someone else living

And I, yeah, I still need you, but what good’s that gonna do?
Needing is one thing and getting, getting is another

I’ve been hoping for months
Hoping for years
Hoping I might forget
Aw, but it don’t get much dumber
It don’t get much dumber
Than trying to forget a girl when you love her

And I, yeah, I still need you, but what good’s that gonna do?
Oh, needing is one thing and getting, getting is another

When?
When?
Why not now?
Why not me?
Why not me?
When?
When?
Why not now?
Why not me?
Why not me?

And so, of course this might make you think of a person, someone in your life, or rather, someone who used to be in your life that you wish was back in it.  Or it might make you think of something else altogether–

In this song, at this point in my life, the elusive you the speaker is pining for is writing.  What do I need?  What do I want?  I have to forge a writing life again, something creative and independent of this blog.  I need it to live again–my life is unfamiliar without writing, or, more directly, my life is not the life I am meant to live without writing in it.  I am a writer, and a writer without a writing life is a fish with no gills.  We can’t breathe.  I know the analogy is loosely apt, and disgusting–Jesus see what I mean!  I need to get writing again–my analogies are vague, and vaguely cliche!

I have made many excuses: grad school broke my heart and I turned my back on writing because of it–and now writing, in many ways, feels like a spurned lover–writing has become the one I loved best, the one that was always loyal, and was the one I turned my back on, and now, I can no longer look her in the eye.

But, I have to heal this rift somehow, and so, in honor of the kid who isn’t going to wake up tomorrow and have another chance, I will begin right now to look my writing in the eye (by acknowledging my wrong doing in this post) and say I’m sorry.  And mean it.  Because she has always known, even when I haven’t, when I was bullshitting.  And I can’t begin to write again until I have made my amends.  It’s time I start “pinning my hopes on a change” in myself.

When?
Why not now?
Why not me?

And for that matter, why not you?  What do you need?  What do you want?  Why don’t you go get it?

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Asphodel, That Greeny Flower

Because this is beautiful:

Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
like a buttercup
upon its branching stem-
save that it’s green and wooden-
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you.
We lived long together
a life filled,
if you will,
with flowers. So that
I was cheered
when I came first to know
that there were flowers also
in hell.
Today
I’m filled with the fading memory of those flowers
that we both loved,
even to this poor
colorless thing-
I saw it
when I was a child-
little prized among the living
but the dead see,
asking among themselves:
What do I remember
that was shaped
as this thing is shaped?
while our eyes fill
with tears.
Of love, abiding love
it will be telling
though too weak a wash of crimson
colors it
to make it wholly credible.
There is something
something urgent
I have to say to you
and you alone
but it must wait
while I drink in
the joy of your approach,
perhaps for the last time.
And so
with fear in my heart
I drag it out
and keep on talking
for I dare not stop.
Listen while I talk on
against time.
It will not be
for long.
I have forgot
and yet I see clearly enough
something
central to the sky
which ranges round it.
An odor
springs from it!
A sweetest odor!
Honeysuckle! And now
there comes the buzzing of a bee!
and a whole flood
of sister memories!
Only give me time,
time to recall them
before I shall speak out.
Give me time,
time.
When I was a boy
I kept a book
to which, from time
to time,
I added pressed flowers
until, after a time,
I had a good collection.
The asphodel,
forebodingly,
among them.
I bring you,
reawakened,
a memory of those flowers.
They were sweet
when I pressed them
and retained
something of their sweetness
a long time.
It is a curious odor,
a moral odor,
that brings me
near to you.
The color
was the first to go.
There had come to me
a challenge,
your dear self,
mortal as I was,
the lily’s throat
to the hummingbird!
Endless wealth,
I thought,
held out its arms to me.
A thousand tropics
in an apple blossom.
The generous earth itself
gave us lief.
The whole world
became my garden!
But the sea
which no one tends
is also a garden
when the sun strikes it
and the waves
are wakened.
I have seen it
and so have you
when it puts all flowers
to shame.
Too, there are the starfish
stiffened by the sun
and other sea wrack
and weeds. We knew that
along with the rest of it
for we were born by the sea,
knew its rose hedges
to the very water’s brink.
There the pink mallow grows
and in their season
strawberries
and there, later,
we went to gather
the wild plum.
I cannot say
that I have gone to hell
for your love
but often
found myself there
in your pursuit.
I do not like it
and wanted to be
in heaven. Hear me out.
Do not turn away.
I have learned much in my life
from books
and out of them
about love.
Death
is not the end of it.
There is a hierarchy
which can be attained,
I think,
in its service.
Its guerdon
is a fairy flower;
a cat of twenty lives.
If no one came to try it
the world
would be the loser.
It has been
for you and me
as one who watches a storm
come in over the water.
We have stood
from year to year
before the spectacle of our lives
with joined hands.
The storm unfolds.
Lightning
plays about the edges of the clouds.
The sky to the north
is placid,
blue in the afterglow
as the storm piles up.
It is a flower
that will soon reach
the apex of its bloom.
We danced,
in our minds,
and read a book together.
You remember?
It was a serious book.
And so books
entered our lives.
The sea! The sea!
Always
when I think of the sea
there comes to mind
the Iliad
and Helen’s public fault
that bred it.
Were it not for that
there would have been
no poem but the world
if we had remembered,
those crimson petals
spilled among the stones,
would have called it simply
murder.
The sexual orchid that bloomed then
sending so many
disinterested
men to their graves
has left its memory
to a race of fools
or heroes
if silence is a virtue.
The sea alone
with its multiplicity
holds any hope.
The storm
has proven abortive
but we remain
after the thoughts it roused
to
re-cement our lives.
It is the mind
the mind
that must be cured
short of death’s
intervention,
and the will becomes again
a garden. The poem
is complex and the place made
in our lives
for the poem.
Silence can be complex too,
but you do not get far
with silence.
Begin again.
It is like Homer’s
catalogue of ships:
it fills up the time.
I speak in figures,
well enough, the dresses
you wear are figures also,
we could not meet
otherwise. When I speak
of flowers
it is to recall
that at one time
we were young.
All women are not Helen,
I know that,
but have Helen in their hearts.
My sweet,
you have it also, therefore
I love you
and could not love you otherwise.
Imagine you saw
a field made up of women
all silver-white.
What should you do
but love them?
The storm bursts
or fades! it is not
the end of the world.
Love is something else,
or so I thought it,
a garden which expands,
though I knew you as a woman
and never thought otherwise,
until the whole sea
has been taken up
and all its gardens.
It was the love of love,
the love that swallows up all else,
a grateful love,
a love of nature, of people,
of animals,
a love engendering
gentleness and goodness
that moved me
and that I saw in you.
I should have known,
though I did not,
that the lily-of-the-valley
is a flower makes many ill
who whiff it.
We had our children,
rivals in the general onslaught.
I put them aside
though I cared for them.
as well as any man
could care for his children
according to my lights.
You understand
I had to meet you
after the event
and have still to meet you.
Love
to which you too shall bow
along with me-
a flower
a weakest flower
shall be our trust
and not because
we are too feeble
to do otherwise
but because
at the height of my power
I risked what I had to do,
therefore to prove
that we love each other
while my very bones sweated
that I could not cry to you
in the act.
Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
I come, my sweet,
to sing to you!
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new.
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
Hear me out
for I too am concerned
and every man
who wants to die at peace in his bed
besides.

William Carlos Williams

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli