I hugged this book when I finished it. I just couldn’t imagine putting the characters down & walking away from them.
I’m still not ready to let go…
Even if YA novels aren’t typically your thing, this deserves a read. It’s a novel written in verse, which is pretty damn cool to begin with. It’s both stripped bare & poetic. And it’s easy to float through…
The themes aren’t simplistic at all. I think for teenagers just beginning to sort the complexities of family, this novel might be revelatory. For me, in my mid-forties with a child of my own and parents who are both complicated and aging, I found myself nodding my head often. Sympathetically clucking. Yes, yes. We are often disappointed in love and life. Yes, yes. There is pain. But there is also terrific joy and new beginnings. And life. In all its richness.
Elizabeth Acevado is immensely talented. Without any excess description to bog down her writing, she made me see the Dominican Republic so clearly. She neither romanticized nor disparaged the island. She rendered it real, beautiful, complicated–like a living being.
And I love Acevado for giving us a gay character in a YA novel where her being gay is entirely beside the point. This isn’t a novel about coming out. Or coming to grips with identity (not gay identity at least). This girl is just gay. Because folks are. And she lives her life. Because folks do. And it’s all so shockingly normal that it made me cry.
I was caught in this novel between remembering what it was like to be 17 and knowing that one day (sooner than I could imagine) my own baby will be 17. It’s kind of a beautiful, liminal space. And I found adults in this book that were complicated, yes. But sometimes powerful, sometimes vulnerable, and always deeply human.
Our first Valentine’s Day together, Simon got me a flashlight.
Oh, he got me some red roses, too. But the flashlight was the main present. He wanted me to be prepared, just in case. This is his way, laying a path and making way for my independence, nurturing my strength. But I didn’t know that then. How odd, I thought. Then I promptly commenced to lamenting that he wasn’t more romantic.
I grew up on a steady diet of rom-coms. Still love them. But the way of the men in these movies is to completely miss the fact that they have a good thing going. To dismiss or overlook all that is good, strong, quirky about the women who love them–then to come careening back into their lives, when it’s a breath away from being too late–with some grand gesture to prove their love, to acknowledge the worth and value of the woman who has loved them all along.
I mean, when it’s put that way it kind of sounds like some bullshit, right?!
So, no, I didn’t understand the way of a man who would give me a flashlight.
I have, in fact, gotten a few big, romantic gestures over the years. Some of them not necessarily because they are what he would’ve chosen, left to his own druthers.
The proposal, for instance.
He got down on one knee in the middle of a bar on a weekend night to ask me to marry him (yes, we got engaged in a bar. We were 100% always in a bar at that point in our lives. But also, the music festival we’d planned to spend the weekend at had devolved into a mud bath of sorts, so–in his defense–the bar was Plan B.)
That may not seem like much. But it was pre-transition. He spent so much time trying not to be seen–at all–that the idea that he’d drop to one knee in the middle of a crowd of people, that he’d consciously draw attention to himself in order to bring me joy, well that’s quite a gift.
Now, I know how to appreciate those gifts, to savor them, to realize the sacrifice they take on his part. The love is in the sacrifice, not in the gesture, it turns out.
In addition to my rom-com, big gesture version of love, I also came equipped with the idea that people who love each other never fight.
I’ve been disabused of this idea about a thousand times over. Simon and I are as different as they come–I’m pineapple on pizza. He’s pepperoni. We see the world from such vastly different persepectives that, if we argree on something immediately–without discussion and endless cycles of negotiation–we know that that thing is foretold by the Universe. Plain and simple.
That’s how we picked up and moved from one side of southeast Atlanta to the other after two years and one day. I came to him with this crazy idea that I tried to pass off as a whim, so I could start softly and build a case later after the initial no.
And he said yes. Right away. Which is how I knew, for certain, that a move to East Atlanta was right and good and ordained by the Universe. When we both want something at the exact same time, it becomes magical, driven, possible.
Because somehow he sees through my restlessness, my (slight) tendencies to want things my way (because isn’t that really the only way?!), down deeper into what I really need. And those are the things he jumps behind. The ideas that will help me, and ultimately our whole little family, flourish.
So, yeah, he’s flashlights instead of grand gestures. But flashlights, they light your way. They give you confidence to explore. They make you feel, simultaneously, safe and strong.
But his biggest gift to me–his grandest gesture to date–is that little bookstore that I own, the one that brings me such unabashed joy. I brought the idea to him, just sure he was going to tell me I was off my rocker. We’d just moved (again). I’d finally started making some real money with a writing business I’d spent several years building up. And yet, here was this little idea that had taken hold…
And he saw it, right away. He saw that this was it for me. This was what lit me up. He asked questions that helped me sort out my vision for the store. He cheerleaded. He designed logos and websites. He carried boxes. And he told me he was proud of me, that he believed in this. That he believed in me.
That is the person I married, although I there was no way to know all this at the time. But 14 years later, I can say with certainty that I wouldn’t trade that flashlight for all the romantic gestures in the world.
I’m always on & on about how reading shifts a person’s perspective, gives them insight into feelings, struggles, and points of view that they’d never otherwise know.
But, still, it’s shocking, that jolting moment when I’m reading a book that forces me to reckon with how much I don’t know.
I came out in the mid-1990s. It was tough in various ways. But nothing, NOTHING like what the young gay men chronicled in this book experienced. I don’t often consider my whiteness in relation to my queerness—and how much privilege it gives me. I do know that racism is alive and real in the gay community, just like it is in America at large. But DAMN, I didn’t realize how vulnerable, often alone, and at-risk ALL gay youth are—but especially young folks who are BOTH LGBTQ and POC.
The author conducted hours and hours of interviews with the young gay men living in NYC, so each of them comes across as multifaceted and complex (instead of whittled down to a “victim” stereotype). He doesn’t pull any punches outlining the ways the gay community, in our rush to assimilate and convince straight folks there’s nothing to see here, has failed our own young people.
This book is sobering. But it’s eye-opening. And it’s real. If you happen to be a white, LGBTQ person, I urge you to go pick up this book at the library. Then let’s talk about how we can do better.
Some kid at school “insulted” my baby by calling her “gay.” And I swear, it lit me up… like I wanted to march down to that school and give that damn kid (and every adult in the vicinity of his life) a tongue-lashing he wouldn’t likely forget.
But instead, I took a few deep breaths to calm myself (being an adult involves so much RESPONSIBILITY and a thousand measured responses, when all you really wanna do is call some kid an asshat–but I digress). And then Jane and I started talking.
First up on the agenda: gently reminding Jane that “gay” isn’t an insult. Oh, I don’t doubt for a minute that this kid called her gay to hurt her feelings and to get under her skin. But … hello…. we go to Pride every year, where we celebrate being an LGBTQ family. Some of her very, very favorite adults in the world are two women MARRIED TO EACH OTHER. I swear, I didn’t yell at Jane. I wasn’t mad at her. But I was enraged that, despite all our living into our true selves, all our conversations about being who you are and celebrating that person fully, society has somehow managed to convince her that “gay” can be an insult.
I was mad because my heart was broken.
Statistically, at least one kid in Jane’s class is likely to be gay (even if they don’t know it yet). And, lately, gay kids are killing themselves at alarming rates. I could barely hold back tears when I thought about that gay kid–whoever they might be–pondering coming out one day, then flashing back to second grade when “gay” was hurled around as an insult.
What does that kind of memory do to a kid in crisis?
But what shook me most of all is that in our little liberal alcove of Atlanta, in Jane’s school where diversity is really celebrated, a homophobic “insult” was tossed at our kid–our kid who watched her Bobby transition, who has never seen either of her parents shy away from claiming a queer identity, who loves so many people who are gay–and it cut her to the core.
Because if it impacted her that deeply, what happens to the kids who don’t have adults that tell them being gay is okay? That it’s MORE than okay. That it’s something to celebrate.
The first time I read Rubyfruit Jungle, I was 19 years old, recently out, and head-over-heels in love with my girlfriend. I devoured the book. It was mouthy, cocky, and brash—most of the things I wasn’t but really wanted to be. But most importantly, Rubyfruit Jungle offered me the gift of seeing some of my own life experiences, my thoughts, my pain reflected back to me on the page. I was represented in this book. And I was there for it. 100%.
24 years later… Rubyfruit Jungle did not disappoint. I’d forgotten about the immediacy of the narrative, the precise turn of phrase that feels like a gut-punch, the poignant moments that remind me who I am (and how far I’ve come). It’s all still there.
But, as a grown-ass woman, Molly Bolt read different. I saw less of her bravado and more of her tenderness. One scene with her mother toward the novel’s end slayed me—and it hadn’t really even been on my radar the first go-round. But it spoke so clearly to my own pain in coming out and navigating fractured familial relationships… I wonder how I could have missed it. But another interlude between Molly and a young lover, that I’d played up in my mind so much that I was sure the entire novel revolved around this relationship, seemed entirely insignificant to me.
Turns out that Rubyfruit Jungle was still speaking to me after all these years… but offering entirely different insights.
Because my best friend is an epic vacation planner, my family & I spent Spring Break in Costa Rica this year with 20 of our closest friends. Literally.
I could go on and on about this vacation. But that’s kind of reminiscent of the 1970s slide shows that over-enthusiastic travelers would share with their bored to tears friends.
Not cool, man. Not cool.
But I will share what’s been playing over and over in my mind. It’s something our tour guide/transport driver extraordinaire said about the Costa Rican people: They work enough to earn a living. And that’s it. No need to accumulate things. Or buy a bigger house. Or work overtime to climb the corporate ladder. Enough is actually the goal. Not more.
I guess I feel convicted by that, because it won’t get out of my head. I’ll let you in on a little secret: 7 times out of 10, I’m in a complete tailspin about money. I never, ever feel like we have enough. That scarcity mode of thinking is so toxic. But it’s hard to shake. I grew up in it. And, although we have always gotten by, Simon & I have experienced some pretty lean times.
But we’ve always had enough.
Now, back in the States, I’m considering my own consumerism. What do I have that’s extra? What does having enough mean to me? Have I ever really NOT had enough? Where does my privilege come play with my perceptions?
Recognizing enough, being grateful for enough, not striving for extra, sharing what I have… I am 100% convinced that this is the key to happiness.
I know these things, and still… I forget them all the time. So, I’m soul-searching for the stuff that really matters to me. The stuff that is enough. The stuff that is joy and goodness and contentment.
Today, as I pulled pair after pair of boxer briefs out of the dryer–stripped, polka dotted, red, navy, Hogwarts, all manner of colors and patterns–I thought, “Huh. I didn’t sign up for this.”
Not the laundry part. That was, in fact, part of what I signed up for. I think it was in our marriage vows.
No, it was the boxer briefs that weren’t on my radar when we got married almost 13 years ago. But then I got to thinking: 13 years in, is anyone in the marriage they thought they’d signed up for?
Marriage is a funny thing. You can get all swept away with the “for better or for worse” thing. But that shit gets real when life starts happening all around you. When you say “I do” you don’t get to pick from a menu of experiences you’d like to celebrate and endure together. Some of that is a roll of the dice. And some of it comes down to the friction (or chemistry, depending) that happens when two people with free will try to navigate the world together. And that can be hella unpredictable.
I love being married to Simon. But two and a half years ago I decidedly did NOT love being married to him. Because he’d exercised his free will, taken charge of his life, and changed it so that he could live into who he was meant to be. And I felt left behind. And duped. Because it wasn’t what I’d signed up for.
But it’s not logical–or even really interesting–to expect someone to stay exactly the same from the time you marry them until you… what? Die? Come on. You’d be bored to tears and so would they. Simon never promised me he’d stay exactly the same. And I didn’t promise that either. I mean, sure, I still resemble the girl he married.
But I’ve had two careers (adjunct writing instructor and freelance writing consultant). He supported both, just like he’s enthusiastically supported my used bookstore dream (like real enthusiastically. It’s cute, y’all). He never rolls his eyes at my continual spiritual quest (he has to hear about it frequently over our morning coffee). And he only gets mildly irritated when I launch into social justice hour right before bedtime.
I’ve spent a lot of time recently wrestling with the very real hurt and trauma this conversation the UMC has on the regular about the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ folks brings up. I felt like I should say something profound and moving about the whole hot mess. But I couldn’t find the right words. In fact, I couldn’t even find a place to start.
Fortunately, there are folks who are brilliant and loving (like Nadia Bolz-Weber & Glennon Doyle) who not only found words but put them out into the world in the spirit of love & healing & GOODNESS:
There is God. And then there is the church. The less we conflate the two, the better. The church may reject God’s children, but God never does. To my queer siblings, I’m so sorry. You are glorious. #GC2019
It took me a long time to stop conflating God and the church–and to ask for my God to-go, please. But on this side of things, there is healing and freedom. Not everyone has the same path. But I do know definitively that you don’t need church to have God. In fact, I’ve begun to see God everywhere. In the little interactions I have with other flawed, miraculous humans. In the (rare instances of) sunshine in Atlanta. In the quiet moments of peace (no matter how fleeting) when I feel deeply the love of the divine.
One of my best pieces of advice in times like this: find your people. It doesn’t have to be the church (but it can be! There are plenty of churches that will celebrate you for who you are. Never accept less than that). Find a community who will stand by you in the daily struggles and the existential ones. And if you can’t find a group of people like that (a running group, a book club, a knitting circle, a writers group), create an ad hoc group of folks you’ve gathered along your life journey who love you to your core (even when you’re annoying, or cranky, or a tad irrational). Lean on those people. And be there for them. Create community. That’s the best and hardest part of being human. Dive into it.
Know that the Universe has only love for you. And it will keep nudging you along your path. I think God is constantly rejoicing over the beautiful, messy creation that I am–all while being just a smidge exasperated at how complicated I try to make everything.
Because the truth is simp]e: We’re all divinely created. We’re perfect just the way we are. Me. You. Your annoying AF neighbor. All of us. We’re valuable.
God doesn’t love us in spite of who we are. He loves us BECAUSE of who we are. Gaiety & all.
Life lessons abound… even in the the most magical place on Earth.
I’ve got a confession: sometimes vacation, as welcome & lovely as it is, throws me off a bit. I am a creature of habit, for sure. So vacation adventures can chip away at my emotional reserves a smidge. Especially when the vacation involves 3 days at Disney World. That’s a lot of hustle & bustle & MAGIC packed into 3 days. And the walking… GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY. We walked 10 miles each day. TEN. MILES.
We’re lucky because we’ve Disneyed a lot. We lived in Florida for a long time (where they offer some pretty great discounts to visit The Mouse). The Magic Kingdom is one of the most familiar places in the world to me. No, I’m not kidding. And, yes, it’s still magical. There’s something very special about being with Simon and Jane at the Magic Kingdom that I can’t quite quantify. I guess it feels like, for that moment, everything is right and perfect in the world. It’s an escape. And, for us, it really is The Happiest Place on Earth.
This year, in addition to the Magic Kingdom, we did the 3 other parks, too: EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. And it was at those parks that I learned the most about being human… for better or worse.
What does any of that have to do with Disney? Just be patient. I’m drawing things together here. In the meantime, here’s a cute pic to tide you over:
Okay, so where was I? Oh, yes…
SOARIN’. I was in line for SOARIN’ at EPCOT. Here’s the deal, in case you don’t know: EPCOT is a nerd’s paradise.
“An amusement park for nerds,” Jane calls it. Which I think is pretty accurate. And SOARIN’ is the very best part of this nerd delight. It’s like hang-gliding over the WORLD. It’s a popular ride, and you kind of get herded into the cue for it like cattle. Mooooo.
While we were being herded, I guess my family inadvertently passed another family in line. Truly, I was paying no attention to who was in front of or behind me. Because it’s a huge ride that loads dozens at a time. So, it doesn’t really matter. I did notice a young woman edging up on me to try to pass me. But I just found that hella annoying. I couldn’t figure out why she was lurking like that. And why she didn’t just say “excuse me.” I’d have been happy to let her pass, but not if she was going to invade my personal space. (I am way protective of my personal space, which often works against me in an amusement park setting. I try to let it roll off my back like a duck. Quack.)
It wasn’t until we all paused at the entrance to the loading zone that I understood what had happened. And even then, I only understood because I “overheard” a conversation I was clearly meant to hear. Apparently, the girl edging up on me was part of the family who had been in front of us. I discovered this because I heard the girl ask why “those people” had gotten in front of them. Huh. I didn’t respond–which I realize may have been petty. But no one was talking to me. So I just stood there. Then the mother went on to make some WILD assumptions about what kind of people we are and how we move thorough the world. Well, now I was just PISSED. Which was so dumb. Because if she’d just said. “Hey, we were in front,” I certainly would have let her pass. But her passive aggressiveness made me want to dig my heels in. So I did.
I’m not saying I was in the right. In fact, it doesn’t interest me in the least who was right & who was wrong. Jane and I raced in and out of a crowd at Hollywood studios trying to get to the Slinky Dog Dash (we didn’t get to ride. The wait was 2 hours right after the park opened) and really burned some folks up. We weren’t technically wrong, with our zigging and zagging. But we made people’s day less magical by annoying them, and I felt bad about it later.
And that’s the crux of the thing for me: how do I feel?
Passive aggressiveness makes me feel both angry and impotent. Because there’s nothing to directly respond to. I don’t want the onus of having to parse out someone else’s feelings. I have a tough enough time parsing out my own damn feelings. But the whole experience was a good lesson in speaking my mind and addressing issues head on. And also on not doing things that are unkind or thoughtless, just because they aren’t technically wrong.
I mean, Donald isn’t WRONG for not wearing pants. He is a duck, after all. But boy was he embarrassed when we pointed it out. Then we all got a good laugh out of it.
One of my girlfriends, who I adored with what I’m now sure must’ve felt like stifling intensity, really enjoyed spending time alone.
No, not like time alone with me. Time alone. Like by herself.
This baffled me.
What did she think when she was by herself? Didn’t she get bored? What was going on in her head that required time without me?
If my response to her wanting a damn minute to herself seems a bit off-the-wall to you… GOOD. That’s likely because you’re a well adjusted human.
I, on the other hand, was a college-aged kid who was terrified to spend a minute alone with my own thoughts. I was so afraid of my own interior life that I didn’t even believe I HAD thoughts to mull over. It never occurred to me that thoughts were supposed to be a precursor to conversation. Nope. I didn’t really analyze much of anything until it was flying out of my mouth.
I discovered a lot about what I thought and believed by hashing it out with other people. Which was great, mostly. But I still couldn’t stand to be alone. And I resented the hell out of my girlfriend for wanting a private thought life. Or maybe it was less resentment & more jealousy. I wanted to be interesting enough to spend time alone.
I tried that once… spending time alone. I went out to a cabin in the woods by myself. Not that I’d planned it that way. I’d been dating a girl for a couple years. We’d booked the cabin for our anniversary. Then we broke up a few weeks before the trip. I decided to go anyway. I was filled with all kinds of I-Am-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar independence. I’d go and relish the time alone. I was sure of it.
In the woods, by myself, I was struck with the most breathtaking loneliness. Even well over a decade later, if I’m outside when the light hits the trees just right, I can still feel the aching emptiness in my chest. Even thinking about the forest brings on this intense melancholy.
I wish I was kidding. I am not.
So, yeah, solo camping isn’t for me.
But being able to think IS for me. Digging through my internal landscape and using my brain to uncover what I thing about something before I open my mouth… yeah, that’s for me, too. It’s such a gift, this ability to be alone. To not be terrified what my mind will turn over and over if don’t fill every second with constant chatter. To like my own company. Hell, to like myself.
I’m so grateful that I reckoned with enough of my emotional wreckage to not ever have to wonder again why someone might need a minute alone. The peace that comes with solitude, and the connection to myself and the world around me, is a grounding force in my life. Running, yoga, meditation (which I’m awful at. So bad) connect me to myself. Which feels a little miraculous and a lot triumphant.
Because that’s what I’d been running from the whole time: ME.