Pastora Marcela: Don Quixote Fan Fiction

Outside a village in pastoral Spain, the name of which I cannot quite recall, there lived not long ago a most beautiful shepherdess who spent her days in the solitude of the countryside and some nights’ rest on mossy beds by the moonlit river, in nature, her home away from home. Now, this young woman was not always a shepherdess, in fact, she was once an heiress to a fortune left behind by her father, the richest farmer of all the villages for many miles around. But the orphan, who was raised by yet another man, her caring and pious uncle, chose to dress up as a shepherdess…[and give] herself over to this free and easy life. Marcela roamed the mountains in the innocent company of the village shepherdesses for she had become disenchanted with the men that surrounded her, from villages all around, who could never see past her beauty. As a child, on the rare instance that she would be allowed outside, boys would tease her by tugging on her skirt and bleating baseless insults at her. But with a flick of her honey eyes and a biting retort these jeers seemed to roll off her olive skinned back.

Soon enough, her blouses were filled no longer by raisins but plump pomegranates and as the boys turned to men, their discussions shifted from her rosy apple cheeks to her lovely pear shape, their eyes hungering for her beauty. Cooked around her was an idea that she filled peaches with love potions of venom crafted in the mountains she roamed. She was said to have been seen speaking to a viper somewhere in the dark woods. It was said that the serpent whispered to her to pluck a fresh young peach from the tree and inject into it the elixir made from the forked tongued creature’s venom. The snake, so it was said, made clear to the shepherdess that she must thrust into the fruit from where the stem was removed for no man would ever accept a peach with scars on its soft youthful skin. A number of elders in the village, some of whom had been married for over 30 years, as well as the young children, who likened the shepherdess to a fairytale princess when she waved and smiled to them, would sensibly interject that there are no peaches anywhere near the village and that the exotic fruit is quite expensive and hard to come by. But to this the impassioned and eager village men had a most logical response: “That’s what I heard, I swear it.” How is anyone to argue that?

And so, Marcela chose the solitude of the countryside. She had the trees on these mountains as her company, the clear waters of these streams as her mirrors; and to the trees and the waters she revealed her thoughts, the true fruits of her seclusion, and the remains of her beauty. The trees did not follow her around begging for approval; they stood steadfast and listened to her words, respiring her thoughts, bearing for her as much inspiration as her beauty inspired in others. The rivers did not merely reflect back to her the beauty she knew she had, they naturally distorted her visage, reminding her wisely that beauty, like some rivers, are ephemeral. Nature was nothing like her many suitors, the many rich youths, hidalgos and farmers who dressed up as shepherds and wandered about the fields wooing her. Nature never asked anything of her, nor pressured her, nor slandered her. Nature spoke truly to her, with its well-matched beauty and mutual love. Nature’s beauty inspired her love and captivated her heart, its mountains marking the limits of her desires. In nature, at times with the village shepherdesses, other times in solitude, and other times still while caring for her goats, she was happy.

Meandering along a wood path, with rays of sun peeking through the leaves from the heavens and some of her goats ahead of her, Marcela stopped at the foot of a tall beech tree. She called her small flock to come rest while she began to climb the sturdy tree trunk when, to her dismay, she came eye to eye with a tattoo of her name. Engraved right into its bark were the words Marcela, My Queen. There were more words after that but she couldn’t be bothered with the graffitied nonsense so she decided it was a sign to not rest but keep on walking. She was on a bit of a mission today anyway. One of her goats was ill and she knew of a spot, deep in the thick of a nearby forest, that had the exact type of berries she needed to cure him and so she brought some of the flock to come along on her walk. Why not make a day of it? As she walked along, she was deep in thought, bothered, in reality, by the markings she had seen. She wasn’t quite sure what was more bothersome: the marring of the innocent tree or yet another reminder of these men’s inconsideration.

“How can they say they love me, when they don’t know me?” she said to the trees, to the goats, to the skies, “Why do they feel that I would enjoy the desecration of my home? Why would they force upon me the title of queen when I know myself to be a shepherdess?”

A goat bleated in seeming response and, as if on cue, the wind rustled the trees. Lost in her proclamations and in the pastoral sounds, she didn’t notice that, some distance behind her, there were two men and their steeds, eyeing her with question.

“She’s mad, that one is.” said the gangly man straddling his equally gangly horse.

“What makes you say that?” said the portly man atop a donkey with a belly only slightly larger than its master’s.

“See how she flails her arms about? Do you hear her voice blown to us by the wind? Who is she talking to? Madness, I tell you. Madness!” The man said wildly, frightening his horse and causing the visor on his helmet to shield his eyes.

Marcela heard a commotion and turned to see the strangest sight: A galloping horse pulled behind it a flailing and clattering man whose clothes, or more like coverings (as they didn’t seem to be made of fabric) were flying out in chunks. Being the caring shepherdess that she was, she quickly herded her flock to safety and soothingly clicked her tongue at the horse to stop. Once the dust settled, she walked up to the injured man, tangled in his stirrups, and was quite confused by the sight of him. He held a leather shield and tied to his head by green ribbons was a helmet made of cardboard, explaining to her the flying pieces she saw, as what was left of his pants were made of the same material.

With a groan, the man stood, and blinded by his visor, yelled all around, “I saw your madness woman; speaking to spirits! I will cure you from this hysteria with my sword!”

The woman tapped him on his shoulder, causing him to spin around, and when she lifted up his blindening visor the man was taken aback by her beauty and swiftly changed his tone:

“Fairest maiden, I am Don Quixote de la Mancha. I apologize for my outburst as this is no way for a valiant knight such as myself to treat a kind maiden such as yours. I thank you for your aide in subduing my noble steed, Jocinante, no, pardon, Rocinante.”

Quite surprised by his change in tone as well as his appearance, Marcela eyed him with suspicion. He didn’t seem like any knight she had ever read of.  He had no control over his steed and couldn’t even remember its name for heaven’s sake. He wasn’t stately so much as he was in a state. He was disheveled and his attire was more than odd. But she was all too familiar with being treated differently because of one’s appearance and thought that surely this man had a reason for dressing like a knight just as she had hers for becoming a shepherdess. The difference, she believed, lied not in what he called himself but in whether he indeed acted like the knight he claimed to be. Did he act with honour? Did he serve his duties? These, she well knew, were not things she could answer by appearance alone.

As she opened her mouth to respond in introduction, she was interrupted by the yells of the portly person on a donkey.

“Don Qui!” The fellow bellowed. “You alright? I tried to catch up but my ass is big and tired. This fat donkey doesn’t move fast.”

The paunchy man dismounted his steed, upon realizing that he was in the presence of an unknown lady he said with a sheepish wave, “Oh. Hello. I’m Sancho Panza. I guess you’ve met Don Quixote. This one here is my ass. I’m his squire. Don Qui’s squire not my donkey’s squire, I mean.”

At the end of this fumbling introduction, the poor portly donkey collapsed in a heap by his master. With all the same concern she gave her flock, Marcela rushed to its side while Sancho yelped in powerless surprise. Don Quixote tried to help with lines from the veterinary teachings of Hippiatrica but he then began debating with himself whether or not a mule could be treated like a horse and ended up being as helpful as Sancho.

While feeding and watering the donkey from her own rations, she couldn’t help but notice how well suited each steed was to its master. The donkey, though plain and simple, was sturdy and weighed down by excessive work. Rocinante, on the other hand, (or was it Jocinante? It could’ve been Hackafore, for all it mattered) had an air of more nobility but seemed much worse for wear. She couldn’t help but find it funny how their creature companions represented them as much as hers did her. Though she defined herself as a shepherdess it was in fact with goats that she roamed the countryside. Her animals were far less meek than sheep and equally less prestigious but it is these humble creatures that she cared for and chose to surround herself with despite the fact that she could afford a flock of lambs.

After her conscience confirmed that she had done what was needed for the animal’s well-being, she faced the men and said, “The donkey will need a bit of rest but he’ll be fine in a few moments. It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintances and that of your steeds, gentlemen. I am Pastora Marcela and here with me is my flock. We are on our way to gather some berries for one of my goats who has fallen ill. I see that you’re badly injured, Don Quixote. Perhaps you would like to join me on part of my way and I can lead you to some plants that will help you greatly with your wounds.”

Upon hearing her name, Don Quixote, who was not very smooth with the maidens, proclaimed: “Why your reputation precedes you, Marcela! Along the way I heard of a man who was said to be poisoned by your beauty and tree after tree proclaimed your beauty in scars.”

These words ignited a fire in Marcela. She wanted to hurl him like a boulder from a catapult. Mixed in her burning anger was disappointment in Don Quixote. She treated him with courteous friendliness and kindness but he responded with, worse than proposals, wicked slander and a reminder of the source of her day’s ire.

“How dare you suppose to know me through the words of others that hold no bearing to me or my reality!” she said, her words cutting like a sharp sword, “Wrong are all those who blame me for these men’s death and for their grief! They aren’t dying from jealousy or mistreatment, because a woman who doesn’t love any man can’t make any man jealous. It is for this very reason that I choose the solitude of the countryside. These men do not know me and their words do not define me. I was born free and I live free. This is how I shape my reality: I choose what I do, where I stay, and the company I keep with a clean conscience. The trees on these mountains are my company, it is to them that I share my thoughts; the fruits my seclusion, my truest fruits. I do not define myself by my beauty but by my duty and my free thoughts.

The viper doesn’t deserve to be blamed for her poison, even though she kills with it, because nature gave it to her: Her venom is inherent of her, it is a truth of her existence granted to her by a higher power. She does not choose to have it and as such should not be vilified for it.

“The viper also doesn’t deserve to be slandered, to be called a beast, because this is a bias placed upon her by man: It is not inherent of her, it is a view of her that may not be true, given to her by people. People who, unlike nature, are notoriously irrational and inconsistent, each of whom has a reality that is different from another’s. Is it rightful for you to call the viper, that has done no one any willful harm, a beast when it has shown you no reason to be called one?

“I will not be complicit to your disrespect, Don Quixote. I have shown you kindness yet you show me ignorance. I live by my word, find my happiness in caring for my flock, and, by choice, surround myself with nature’s truth instead of man’s made perceptions. I am a shepherdess in name and action. Can you say the same for yourself, Quixote?”

And as she said this she turned and she disappeared into the thick of the forest without waiting for an answer, her flock right behind her.

 

Note: The underlined are quotes from my printed copy of the text. Some slight alterations may have been made for grammatical purposes.

Pesky Wabbit

Growing up, my mom was super strict. She had no qualms with whipping out the slipper or the broom handle when her flaming stare wasn’t enough. Being the youngest of 3 boys, a sister, and a brister (that’d be my brother who’s now my sister), I was under constant supervision. I wasn’t allowed to sleep over anywhere until I was 18 and even then it was at my cousin’s place. The running joke with my friends was “don’t bother asking Kerry. She can’t come.” The first time I brought a boyfriend home (not to be confused with my first boyfriend who I didn’t admit to having), my brothers maddogged the hell outta the poor guy. I hated the overprotection but whatcha gonna do? She was a vigilant momma bear and my family felt an overwhelming need to protect me.
The only place I was allowed to go by myself was the library across the street, the only semblance of freedom my pubescent self had. I’d spend hours perusing its shelves and sitting on bean bag chairs by the floor to ceiling windows, oblivious to the city outside its quiet. I remember reading a Judy Blume book and seeing the word “fuck” written for the first time. I went back to the sentence over and over to make sure my eyes weren’t messing with me. It was fucking cool! I felt like such a badass! I had this secret world no one knew about because it was just me and the book, me and the characters, me and Judy Blume. It was us against the establishment. The establishment being, of course, my hovering mother who preferred crossword puzzles over books so I knew she’d never care to be a part of it. But now, though I’ve no doubt become a better reader, as a nearly 30 year old English major, my enchantment with reading has dissipated, replaced with a sense of ethical necessity.

A week ago, during a long overdue nature walk, I came across a rabbit. I’ve never tried chasing a rabbit in my life but for whatever reason I felt like this rabbit was asking to be touched. Of course it was futile, the metaphor exists for a reason, but for a moment I had that childlike wildlife confidence of possiblity. And it got me thinking about Alice in Wonderland. I was already an adult when I watched the movie so its magic was lost on me but I had to read it for a children’s lit class and through that I truly got to appreciate its beauty. Children’s lit is a magnificent artform that, by nature, has to cater to more than one audience and I have reverence for that which cunningly teaches while entertaining a spectrum of demographics. Literature, in general, has a curious property of teaching and entertaining, all while allowing the reader to fully immerse themself in a foreign state of existence because when a person reads, a character’s every thought is the reader’s own as well. Forget about walking in another man’s shoes: a reader shares another man’s mind.

For children especially, books are a medium through which to perceive concepts that they’ve yet to experience. In their fourteen or less years of life, experiences are what children yearn for. Confined to the classroom or the home where they live, children see the world how they are permitted to see it. As with everyone, they only know what they’ve been exposed to. For the most part, and for many ideally, children know what mother allows or what teacher has taught. But their dislike of these limitations along with the sparse number of experiences they’ve faced manifests as curiosity. The same innocent curiosity that guided Alice down the rabbit-hole and that Lewis Carroll invites his readers to nurture and explore with the idea that it’s the bridge to imagination, knowledge, and understanding.

When a child reads a book, utterly engrossed with their nose so close they might fall into its pages, they gain not only a wider vocabulary and a better grasp of language but are introduced to recognizable worlds different from their own. Books, like rabbit-holes, have a depth far greater than what’s seen at the surface. Imagine shining a light down a rabbit-hole: no matter how the torch is tilted, seeing its full depth, the world beyond the beam of light, is impossible. Literature and fantasy, however, don’t have this limitation. The reading child can delve as deep into a book as their desire to understand will take them but it’s their curiosity that leads them to flip each page, the work then illuminating the child’s mind in such a way that they aren’t blinded by life’s harsh realities.

“‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English)”, opens the second chapter showing Alice and her first interactions with the creatures of Wonderland, an alternate reality she wouldn’t have had access to had she not let her curiosity lead the way. Any responsible adult in charge of a child has the basic rules of stay close by, within earshot and eyesight, and any rule-following child will do as they are told. But children don’t always do what they’re told. Alice’s act of chasing the time-obsessed rabbit shows children that curiosity, their natural instinct to look for boredom relievers, to question the world, and to want to know, is a valuable trait, while Carroll’s choice of improper English shows children the secret of the adult world: there are no rules. Well… they’re arbitrary at the very least. One would think that a book of all things is where the rules of language and grammar should be held to the highest standards. Good is not an adverb and curiouser isn’t even a word, but how strange it is that the reader still understands what Alice is saying. The sentence didn’t fall apart, the message was still conveyed, and Alice, at this point, has gone through some transformations but all-in-all is perfectly fine, despite doing something she shouldn’t have. Because Alice broke the rules in the name of curiosity she was lead to fantastical things and it’s through this display that Carroll invites his young readers to give in to their “burning…curiosity”, to try things out, to explore and discover a wonderfully different world that parallels their own through the safety of a book’s pages.

 

 

Wonderland is filled with strange and unusual, queer and curious things. So much so that curiosity and curious are used 17 times while the word queer, that can be understood as a synonym to curious, is used 9 times throughout the book. (Yes, I counted.) By using distinct but similarly uncommon words to describe unusualness, the author  is able to show children that a single concept can be expressed in multiple ways, each one unique and interesting. Although Alice could have said that a grin without a cat was the queerest thing she’d ever seen in her life or how curious everything was today, Carroll gets at the heart of curiosity when he writes: “’That’s very curious!’ she thought. ‘But everything’s curious today. I think I may as well go in at once.’ And in she went.” Although queer could technically have been used in place of curious we’re shown the sentiment of what curiosity is. It’s simultaneously a description of something strange and the reaction that that strange something elicits. It’s this curiosity that causes Alice to open the door that leads to the garden that she’s been seeking. By showing the multiple meanings of a single word and the multiple words that hold a single meaning, Carroll reveals the amazing ability of books to implicitly teach its readers about the plurality of life. Plurality, the philosophical notion that there are more than one truth, more than one reality, is learned and better understood through reading because books allow children to traverse between their own worlds, lives, and realities and the ones found in paperback pages. That Alice has to morph and crawl and push through a multitude of entrances to get to the garden of symbolic knowledge shows the young reader that self-awareness and enlightenment, the truths held in literary gardens, are not easy to attain but can be found if they are curious enough to seek it as reading allows the mind to think as another person. By experiencing diverse realities and thinking another person’s thoughts, the young reader is able to gain the enlightenment of empathy.

Literature coupled with children’s inherent curiosity allow them to learn about the world in ways that cannot simply be taught. It’s the best kind of teacher because it starts from within. That is, the curious child will learn because they want to learn. They’re learning not because they’re forced to sit in rows and listen to pontifications. Instead, they’re understanding and making sense of whatever piqued their curiosity because it piqued their curiosity. The child’s drive to understand exists because they are interested, curious about what it is they seek to understand. The limited world view that children possess is broadened every time they open a book, each word devoured with the burning curiosity of what will happen next or what else can happen. Although vocabulary is taught in class, a reader is exposed to the real-life uses of these words and urged to figure out for themself how and why each word can be used. A reading child is revealed realms where their imagination is meant to reign giving their thoughts and ideas authority in contrast to their reality of adults who seem to have all the answers. In the province of literature, a child is free to understand the text however they understand it because reading is a personal experience: the reality exists within its pages and within the reader’s thoughts and imagination. In reading, a child is taught to think for themself as well as to think for others in that their thoughts and understanding of a situation mingle with what is written on the page, what is said or thought by a character. By these means a child is implicitly taught to empathize causing them to gain a better understanding of people and emotions, the main constituents to the world around them. The ability for deeper, self-sought learning is what Alice in Wonderland invites children to discover with the wonderful message that the safety of literature is a fantastic way to understand the curious world in which we live.

Voice of the Voiceless

I’m an illegitimate alien who’s never been able to vote. I’ve lived in three countries but never in the one that issues my passport. Every time I fly into the U.S., I get held at immigration. After I show my passport and my green card, the officer takes a look at my file and the smile disappears from their face as they tell me to stand to the side and wait for an officer who’ll eventually escort me to a windowless holding cell where I wait indefinitely for my name to be called.
A couple of years ago, after missing a flight then getting delayed, I was finally back at LAX and, again, held for a secondary check at immigration. After getting barked at for using my phone, because, in their defense, they do make it known that no one is allowed to communicate with anybody on the outside, I was finally called forward and harangued with questions about my ex-husband, our relationship, our families. They tried to catch me in a lie but I can’t get caught when I have nothing to hide. I was brought here at 19, became an illegal immigrant and I’m not anymore. But that didn’t stop the officer from being rude as hell to me and everyone who had the misfortune of being called up by her. She berated this one guy in Spanish, telling him that his green card wouldn’t stop him from getting deported back to Mexico. She called this 20-something European, who was worried about missing his connection, “stupid” for not booking flights with enough buffer time. Then she got to me. She had my file open on the screen in front of her and was asking me questions off of it like when is my ex’s mom’s birthday (who remembers this?), when was our anniversary, all to verify… Well, I don’t know what she was trying to verify but there I was being prodded about a time in my life I’d been trying to forget. With a screen showing her that I filed for my green card as an abused divorcee, she asked me “why would you stay with him?” Oh, hell nah! My trying-to-be-nice smile dropped immediately when the shock befell my face. “Excuse me? What did you say to me?” I said. She was shook, mumbling something about doing her job. Uh, no; I was so pissed! I wanted to ask her to line up everyone she’d ever been in a relationship with and tell me if they were all perfect but instead, like a good little white woman, I wrote an angry letter of complaint to the department asking for some common decency and professionalism from a person whose career is built on human interaction. I obviously never heard back from them but the next time I was held at secondary, I passed that same officer and her eyes told me she knew who I was. They also said she was sorry.
Living here illegally taught me quite a few things. It taught me white privilege because, even walking by ICE agents, no one ever suspected me. It taught me to keep my head down and my lips tight because the moment I slip up, it’s not just my ass on the line: I have people back home depending on me and my paper trail of existence leads to others. It also taught me to trust my gut; without knowing the laws, if something feels wrong I won’t do it because the consequences might bring everything crumbling down. Most of all it taught me this truth: life is simple and inconsequential when you know for a fact that your voice counts for nothing and your thoughts amount to nothing more than purely objective opinions. And I was cool with that. For all of my life I was an outsider looking around. In Asia, I’m a white girl, in America, I’m Asian—ish. Not fully one thing, never really quite another. I guess this is why I feel for L.A. so damn much. It’s an amalgamation of practically every culture in the world with enough space for each to have an enclave or at the very least an authentic-mom’s-cooking restaurant. It’s a place so confusing we can’t even tell where it ends and where it begins: Is it the city of Los Angeles? The county? Is it wherever you go after flying into LAX? It’s a place with a perennial identity crisis.

L.A. is a weird city with a seemingly dangerous enigmatic vibe. A few blocks down the hill from the bank tower that dominates its skyline and the gleaming multi-billion dollar industry of the jewelry district is Skid Row, home to the largest encampment of homeless people in America, almost 6,000 of whom are young, between the ages of 18 to 24, many of them likely pushed to its streets when the system couldn’t hold them anymore. Skid Row started off as “Hobo Corner” near the end of the 1800s, an area where vagabonds, many of them veterans of the Civil War, found themselves once they got to the end of the transcontinental railroad. But this isn’t the story of L.A. we share with the world. No, this is only for the eyes of suburban commuters and tourists who’ve taken a wrong turn. We transmit images of our golden coasts and the star strewn Walk of Fame but, for all the bad and the good, there’s something about L.A. that wants to stay hidden. It’s like it wants its full worth to be discovered only by those who wish to seek it.
Two weeks ago, I was on my way to my coffee shop to hunker down and type away but sitting in my car listening to KCRW, I heard Garth Trinidad say that Kamasi Washington was performing a free concert in South/South Central for the release of his album “Heaven and Earth“. Now, I’m an indecisive person by nature but mix a free concert with my cheapness and love of jazz then it’s balls to the walls. My ass was on the 110 in a heartbeat. But when I exited, I found that mystery again. Google Maps could only get me so far because L.A. doesn’t show borders between communities and, in all honesty, the best gems of L.A. have to be discovered. So I followed the music and a hunch to the side of The World Stage, an educational and performance art space in Leimert Park Village, a part of L.A. I’ve never heard of let alone been to. What I found was a reminder that jazz is not dead. In a vibrant community space intended for the preservation and advancement of African American music, literature, and the arts, Kamasi Washington’s style brought together an eclectic mix of people for a musical event definitive of L.A.: It was the sexiness only a saxophone can bring, the gritty edge of a drums battle, vivid splashes of colours from his dashiki, and an emotional power brought by Patrice Quinn’s voice and soulful movements as she led the crowd to change their hands to Fists of Fury. The set got to the heart of jazz with its spirit of expressing culture and improvisation, the fact that, as a listener, you just don’t know where the music is going to take itself and that’s what makes the genre so exciting.

Jazz itself had its own great migration. Born in the South, it made its way to Chicago, crossing borders into Montreal, and from the 1920s to 1950s, it was alive and well on Central Avenue, the home of the West Coast jazz scene. The blues began as croons of pain and injustice accompanying spiritual work in a social environment. Swing in jazz came as a livening jolt during the Great Depression becoming the basic rhythmn of jazz, its soul rooted in being harmonious with other people and loving that synchrony. But I feel like what really brought the pizazz out of jazz was improvisation & bebop. Bebop became known as jazz for intellectuals; instead of being for dancing, bebop invited its audience to sit down and take it all in. Dizzy Gillespie used the genre to experiment with collaboration, introducing Latin American rhythmns to modern jazz. Improvisation, on the other hand, gave us jazz’s sexy badness — music as you like it. It signaled a creative freedom to go off script, telling the artist to do you, boo! It moulded the concept of jazz as the music of freedom: with so many ideas flying around, through instruments and performers, improvization allowed for everyone on stage to have a conversation through music.

In a way, jazz is the American experience: It was born of a struggle to be heard, to be felt on a human level. An ecclectic mishmash of international grooves, its an ensemble; an individual sound may get lost in the mix but, inescapably, it’ll harmonize with the music it helps create.

 

San Junipero

On the last Tuesday of June, I begin to write this as I wait for 10:30 to hit when the $3 drinks start to pour at Flux, the rainbow flagged bar where everyone knows your name… or at least the face that goes with that booty. It’s the same bar where I struck up an inebriated conversation with a dzaddy who’s still a friend of mine two years down the road. It’s where me and the boys’d go after sitting together for the dinner Jay grilled for us. It’s not the bar where I had to be carried out by friends of friends on the night I met them; I had the relative anonymity of WeHo and Hillcrest for that. That being said though, there’s really no anonymity, or any need for it, when you’re in a community.

So Cal is huge but between L.A. and S.D. the six degrees of separation narrows down to about two with the gaysians. I could measure it in seasons but roughly 23 iPhone updates ago, I lost my phone coming out of the bathroom at Numbers, a defunct gay bar almost 100 miles from home, in San Diego. I flipped out, asked around, and retraced my steps but after five rings the phone was shut off and I knew someone swiped it from my back pocket. All of the friends I was there with posted on social media for me; on the recommendation of Andy, a harnessed army vet and educator I met that night, I texted a sob story to my phone about it having the only pictures of my kid with her dad before he died, hoping that I could play to their conscience and they’d return it (blatant lie by the way); I walked around the streets, searched James’s car, a nurse at Los Angeles LGBT center who gave us a ride to the club despite having just met him that day. By the end of that weekend, I didn’t have a phone but Tom, one of my best friends who was also my patient zero to the So Cal gay scene, lent me his iPad so I wouldn’t be completely detached from the group until I sorted out my phone situation.
Two days after it went missing Pete, a friend of ours who was a student at UCLA, texted me a screenshot of a conversation; the fag to the hag who had my phone saw a Snapchat Pete sent me on the locked screen and reached out to let us know that he had it. Small friggin’ world, right? That Friday, four of us, from the Valley, I.E., Long Beach, and O.C., hopped into my tiny-ass Ford Fiesta and raced down to Hillcrest. We were rushing to get there before Pete’s buddy left with my phone because his “Sure, no problem!” texts devolved into “m ducked iup.. goona leaf”. Less than 10 miles before exiting, everyone in the car was scrambling for their phones, searching through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, for anyone in S.D. connected to that guy. As it turned out Andy knew him and was strutting around Hillcrest so Andy played the San Diego unit of #OperationPhoneRescue which was a night that ended with seven people crammed into a studio apartment playing Never Have I Ever, more than one of us taking a shot to “Never have I ever been in this apartment before.”

The Riverside House, the house two of my best friends rented before they dissolved their domestic partnership, became the group’s home. Every weekend was a house party or kick back interspersed with bar hopping in West Hollywood where, on the dance floor, during sometimes high and often drunken nights, I discovered an authenticity that only exists when people know who they are and what they have to deal with because of it.
There was a man in the documentary “American Experience: Stonewall Uprising” who described the Stonewall Inn as a place to fall in love with somebody, to talk to somebody. It was one of the few places where you could slow dance with someone and feel relatively safe. Before the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, the beginning of the Stonewall Uprising, the catalyst for the modern LGBT movement in America, there was nowhere for middle class queers to go, hang out, and be normal except for these bars. They were dingy and supplied by the mafia, some had prostitution rings running out of them, but at least it was somewhere they could be free. This, to me, is still the essence of a rainbow bar: though there might be some weird noises coming from the stall one over, they are the place where people can leave whatever self-rooted anxieties they have at the door and know that it’s okay to be who they are, love who they love, and dance with whomever they feel like dancing with.

Three years before the Stonewall Uprising, before the first Pride parade, before the early morning when trans women literally kick lined the powerful men harassing them, San Francisco’s Tenderloin had the Compton Cafeteria Riots. Sick of being harassed, the drag queens, trans women, hustlers, and the other subculture queers who frequented the 24-hour diner erupted in a mess of flying fists and purses when a drag queen threw their cup of coffee in The Man’s face, putting the trans community on the map of American political history.
In 1950, The Mattachine Society was formed in L.A. It was a straight-laced organization created with the goal of redefining what being gay in the U.S. meant. Through shared personal stories and a grassroots movement their goal was to challenge anti-gay discrimination and, ideally, build a community. The organization was criticized for being non-radical and slow moving but they will always hold their place in U.S. history for being the foundation to the gay rights movement after what happened at Stonewall Inn.

The entirety of the LGBTQ community does not exist in bars. That’s reductive. But having been pushed to the fringe of society for so long and being bombarded with anger and hatred because of who they are the shroud of night, bottomless bottles of liquor, and an open dance floor have a safe and comfortable familiarity. Personally, between 13 shots of vodka and a group of homies who live by the mantra of “just because you do bad things doesn’t make you a bad person”, I found part of myself on the dance floor in Rich’s. i.e. I got hammered in Hillcrest and finally mustered up the guts to get it on with a chick. I can’t say I was particularly slick about it. Shit, I was a hot mess. I give props to Ross, my ultimate wingman, who walked up to groups of women with me asking if anyone wanted to do it with his “hot friend”. Eventually someone was down. I’ll ask you to remember the no judgement mantra we live by when I tell you that I remember holding her hand and trudging around the bar a few times, trying to go through the same locked emergency exit more than once, but I can’t for the life of me remember her name. If you ever read this, it was a fun night and thanks for the sexual epiphany! Ultimately, I got the confirmation I needed… Being bi-curious ends when that curiosity is satiated and the realization hits that pussy is just as good (?) as the D.

 

P.S. I changed my friends’ names.

Turquoise State of Mind

Straight up, I have a regular cycle. Every 28-30 days, boom, there she is. Shoot, I can even tell you which days are the heaviest and which days are the lightest (thank you, Pink Pad!) I’ve been in this cycle long enough to know what to expect: my cramps are doable but the unexpected splitting migraines are killer. The wrong smell can send me hurling in the bathroom. My skin’ll either be glowing or growing spots. But the one symptom that I could consistently count on for a good decade was a mental state akin to depression. Every month I needed a good cry to release the moisture brought on by the cumulonimbus envelopment of my mind. It was oppressive and draining, but it was familiar.

In my early/mid twenties, after my divorce from an exceptionally toxic relationship, I was dating a guy and was on birth control. Girl. Let. Me. Tell. You. I can barely remember to brush my teeth at night so I was not about to go on the pill and that’s why I loved the Nuvaring: pop it in then forget about it. But that shit was expensive. I had to pay Planned Parenthood $700 for them to not call me back if I didn’t have HIV and then get charged full price for a contraceptive that, legit, got me feeling crazy. A few years later I learned about the county free health clinic where all the tests were free and I was able to make an appointment so I didn’t even have to wait. Just sayin’, I thoroughly do not understand why people are trying to shut Planned Parenthood down… I learned the expensive way that the only “free” things you’re guaranteed at Planned Parenthood are condoms, a bathroom visit, and a tongue depressor so calm your titties, people.

But I digress. Nuvaring. Any doctor’ll tell you that not all contraceptives suit all people. I’m not hating on the Nuvaring, it delivered exactly what it said it would and it was convenient, but oh my GOD, what once for me was a monthly bout of mild depression morphed into four consistent months of me as Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh. I was out of my mind; like I didn’t fully know what to make of my self, my me-ness. Before I was on the contraceptive I knew that all I had to do was cry it out then I’d be fine but for four months I was emotionally numb: I’d get cranky but I couldn’t get fully mad. I’d find something funny but my laughs were hollow. It’s as if I put on Sutro filter contact lenses.

Having had heard from a friend a year or so before that the $20-ish I’d been paying in health service fees every semester at my community college afforded me a number of therapy sessions at the student health center, I decided to go back in. I, like many of us, had my inhibitions with seeing a shrink or a therapist. I was raised with the idea that only nutter butters see therapists or that talking about your feelings is a luxury only entitled rich kids could afford. But considering it was already paid for, I set up an appointment to see a psych grad student who was a few months shy of getting her certification/degree. (With the amount of money I’ve wasted on memberships, I wish I had the same mindset about going to the gym.) So, I sat there with her. She was perfectly pleasant. She was a hell of a lot cooler than the last woman I saw there who just didn’t get me or what I was going through. I think that’s why I ended up with this 20-something Asian chick. Every now and then stereotyping works in my favour. So, when I came in the 20-something grad student asked me what I was there for and I told her I needed to cry. I told her that I cry every month and I haven’t cried in months. I needed to cry. Sitting across from me she told me to close my eyes:

“Follow my voice and empty your mind.” She soothingly told me over the course of a minute or so, “Now, imagine a safe place, a comfortable place. Imagine a calm place.”

And so I did. I imagined a beach. A remote tropical white sand beach with soft blue waves merely lapping the shore.

“Now, imagine a colour. Imagine a relaxing colour, a pleasant colour.” She continued, “Now, imagine that colour above your head as a cloud.”

Instantly, in my mind’s eye, I was strolling along the shore with a beautiful cloud of turquoise above my head like a halo.

Then she told me to imagine the radiant cloud raining its colour down on me.

So, I did. And immediately, I cried. I broke down. In between the heaves, I felt the tears run down the corner of my eyes and down either side of my face until each stream created a river at my throat and down my cleavage. As the salt water river ran down my chest I felt it washing over my heart. I know that sounds hokey but it truly felt that way. I felt a sort of warm heat cleansing my tired chest as the levee holding my emotions collapsed. I was crying to cry but in that cry was every pent up feeling I hadn’t felt in months. In that cry was the realization that I was not over the trauma of my last relationship and that Mr. New Guy was really only a placeholder, someone to occupy my empty arm, head, and bedspace. In it was my new reality that I was angry at so many people and that I had no fucking clue what I was doing with my life. But also residing in those turquoise tears was the understanding that it was all going to be okay. Because turquoise is beautiful. Turquoise is gentle. Turquoise is everywhere. It’s the colour of the ocean, it’s the colour of the sky, it’s a gem.

In its rawest form, turquoise is a pop of colour in hard grey rock. Through it, typically, runs a spiderweb, a matrix of the rock that pushed on it, bound it, helped make it. The matrix are what look like cracks that, for some, add to its appeal reminiscent of the Japanese art of kintsugi. It’s a porous stone, soft, as far as gemstones go, but it’s created only in dry, barren regions of the earth making it the only semblance of water and life in the most desolate regions of land. It is timeless, having been part of the earliest known adornments found in Ancient Egyptian tombs. Appreciation of its beauty is found not only in Africa, but in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Certain Native American tribes view the gem as a gift from the Gods. The Ancient Egyptians called it “mefkat”, a word synonymous with “joy” and “delight”. And this it its truth: though it is weak, its universal beauty exists because of the stress placed upon it by the hard rock strength that bound it and ultimately created it.

I want to thank Sidnee and Justin McElroy from the podcast Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine for influencing me to write about mental health during yet another one of my road trips with them as my only companions. Their episode “Our Mental Health Stories” inspired me to tell part of my own story, pushing me to come out from under the shadowed stigma of metal health. If you guys ever read this, I just wanted to share that your podcast was the first one I subscribed to when I started listening to podcasts 3 or 4 years ago and I’m still listening 🙂 Pliny the Elder forever!

*The stone in the picture is an Amazonite which technically isn’t a turquoise but someone I care about deeply, freaking cosmically, sent me this picture just as I was posting this. When the universe speaks, you have to listen!

Fleeting and Flickering

Perhaps it’s Masoch’s purest form of dilettantism, the inability to go beyond the first act, or maybe it was just my innate procrastination but this was supposed to go up at the end of Sunday. I was thinking of putting this up at 11:59 p.m. Hawaiian time, as the inhabited world says its final goodbye to Father’s Day, serving my symbolic gesture of honouring the man who slipped life lessons into practically everything he did, be it playfully placing bets on who could keep their hands in freezing glacial water the longest or leading trivia games during our month long road trips; the same man who taught me, in his absence, the most important fact of life: Everything is fleeting and accepting that is the key to contentment. Instead, here we are at 3:30 a.m. on a Wednesday. Cheers.

In the span of five years, between the ages of 11 and 16, I had four family members keel over. Cancer’s a bitch. Its invasive malignancy defined two of my summers. Instead of kickin’ it by the beach or on our annual road trips around most of western Europe, I spent my eleventh summer in a Hong Kong hospital splitting shifts with my mom and five siblings to take care of my dad who, in a year and a half, deteriorated from the charming and boisterous, no bullshit, I-can-and-I-do-man to a vegan burrito, turned every few hours and wrapped in the hospital’s finest crusty cotton blankets. About a month into his hospice stay, and at least 3 months from the last time his facial muscles could muster anything more than a dull, vacant expression, my sister and I were working our morning to afternoon shift of watching the only two English channels on a 14″ tube T.V. and calling the Chinese nurse for glycerin and more morphine through gesticulations and grunts. Needless to say, we were bored shitless. Sick of the soap operas that filled the daytime airwaves and droned on in the lifeless geriatric ward, my sister and I stood at the foot of Dad’s bed, performers in a spontaneous musical extravaganza. Line up: Her, me. Audience size: one. I have to say, the audience was super fuckin’ rude. He didn’t clap once. A while into it my sister and I got to the chorus of The Temptations’ “My Girl”. We were sliding and two-stepping at either side of the foot of his bed when, for the first time in months, he cracked a smile. I guess you’d say what could make him feel that way? His girl. His girl(s). His girls. Yeah, his girls. (Now would probably be the time to clarify that my dad was my sister’s stepdad. But still, her father.)

It’s difficult to express the power of that smile. A stage 4 brain tumour the size of a golf ball will strip away every vestige of a person’s identity but in that fleeting moment, music brought back a flicker of the man who taught his 3-year-old daughter a limerick about Uncle Billy and his ten foot willy.
Alas, the flicker of normalcy was just a flicker; inevitably the cancer took the man away from his family leaving us a few steps above destitute, all of the money he worked his life for caught behind the red tape of probates and taxation. So, there we were, a housewidow and her 6 children hiding away whatever money we could to survive in a city we couldn’t afford to live in. Not long after, we had to pack up and leave Hong Kong for Manila, the first world for the third world, and I’m not gonna lie, it was tough. Imagine the family you’ve known your whole life suddenly pulled in every direction, your reality having had shifted from the relative comfort in which you lived to one plagued by uncertainty and unfamiliarity. It’s one thing to lose a parent and another altogether to then realize that you’re completely socioeconomically immobile. As a kid in middle school, already going through the transition of being a kid to trying to figure out what the hell it meant to be a teenager, it was a mindfuck. Less than a year before he died I bought a CD from HMV every weekend then all of a sudden the music stopped (and so nearly did the lights and the water and the food), all while living in a place I only ever visited, a place that wasn’t quite yet home. Thank god for Napster and dial-up internet. The connection may have been slower but the music was still the same.

During the two years it took for the probate to be released, I don’t know how Mom did it but we survived on quite literally nothing. Then, even after it was released, it was a struggle. A family of six is still a family of six — it ain’t cheap. And because, as Dad taught me, life is a bitch and then you die, within that time my grandpa kicked it, then my great-grandma, then my mom’s sister. My point being that aside from losing our dad and the security that entailed, life continued and life, as much as I love it, can be one cruel bitch.

There’s no real coming back from the pain of losing your family-as-you-know-it, while being stuck in an unfamiliar place, you simply adapt. But adaptation is a process and not everyone can make it. Shoot, if the tribulations that cause it can be avoided then why even inflict it? But cancer isn’t something you choose or you can predict. It’s senseless and erratic. The best you can do is pull it out, try to treat it, and fight the good fight of life against it.
I’m just lucky I was able to adapt because, despite losing my dad, I had my mom, my siblings, and my cousin. I still had my family. I wasn’t alone.