I’m not precisely sure when I’ll be publishing my memoir Work in Progress, but expect to see it emerge sometime in the next few months. Setting the stage… when I was in graduate school, about twenty years ago now, I broke my leg and was home in a non-walking cast for three months. I finished my master’s thesis six months early. Casting about for something to do, I decided, “I’m going to write my autobiography.” I did, and then it sat on my hard drive all these years. At the beginning of quarantine, now stuck at home with a panedemic, I decided to write Volume II of my story. The voice of then contrasts strikingly with the voice of early transition, twenty years ago. To tease you a bit, here’s an excerpt:
Thank God – I survived
A bit at a time, a shelf here, a drawer there, I organized my office during Covid quarantine. At one point, I decided to order my old journals chronologically. I opened one only to see the date October 11, 1986.
It’s always easy for me to get distracted when doing some tedious project like organizing, but in this case I might be forgiven. October 1986 – right around the time of the formation of the Portland Lesbian Choir. I hadn’t read these journals since their writing, so was quite interested to ‘hear’ what I had to say about the choir at its inception.
Excitedly, I sat down and began reading. Good thing I was sitting down, for in no way was I prepared for November 11, 1986:
“I’ve felt alone since I was born, and the feeling has only grown stronger as time passes. More and more I am estranged from those of my age as they grow and develop and become more whole people. I withdraw more and more, feel more isolated as each year passes. I don’t know how long I can go on like this. I am perpetually miserable.
I don’t think I used to be like this. That’s one purpose of old journals. Sure I used to get upset and depressed over various women, but I don’t read any thread of suicide in my past writings. It’s sure there now, make no mistake. Something is quite wrong with me and I have managed to convince myself it’s the way I am and nothing I can change. Which of course makes the suicidal thoughts all the stronger: if I can’t change this, that means I will be this miserable all my life. And I simply can’t want that for another 50 or 60 years. I can’t do it.”
With shocked sympathy for my younger self, I read on, to November 23, 1986:
“Well, kid, you have to hang tough and keep open, because every now and then something actually will fall into place. I went, against my feelings and with nervous trepidation, to the Lesbian Community Project meeting. And afterward came the best thing of all – Sally announced the formation of a lesbian chorus and gave the address. The next meeting was that evening, and I went with a couple of friends. We went to sing for the evening, and I am now part of the Portland Lesbian Choir. This day I did something extremely important and good for myself.”
In fact – I had joined the group that gave me a reason to live, a purpose in life, for the next nine years until I finally realized why I’d felt so increasingly isolated and depressed and miserable. Oh my God indeed… I have often looked back to that winter night in 1995, reaching out, saying miserably, “Help me, I can’t do this anymore.” Re-reading my 1986 self, I see now that 1995 wasn’t the first time the hand of God saved me.
Yet another profound difference between the voice of then and the voice of now. How did I describe the formation of the Choir when I wrote Volume I, twenty years ago?
“In October of 1986, a fledgling organization, the Lesbian Community Project, produced the first lesbian conference Portland had ever known. Over 400 women attended workshops on a variety of topics. I went, though I had no intention of joining any political group. Politics (and particularly processing) bored me. However, something happened at that conference that changed my life once again.
A few women had been trying for a month or so to form a women’s chorus in Portland but had had little success; only four women had shown up at the first few meetings. Their advertising had been a little too minimalist. One member offered to announce the formation of this group at the Lesbian Community Project conference.
With two friends, I heard the announcement, and all three of us decided to go to the next rehearsal to check it out. We did, and I stayed. For the next eleven years, the soon-to-be-named Portland Lesbian Choir was my spiritual center and the only place I ever felt truly at home in the lesbian community.”
Well… yes… a good description of events, but not showing my heart. Ironically – the Choir saved me until 1995, when I was ready to face the knowledge that I needed to transition. Then I had to let the Choir go in order to do so.
I recently came across a meme on Facebook that perfectly captures the depth of change necessary to transition.
Grief Isn’t Just For Death
- Relationships that have ended
- Losing your community
- Missing the certainty you once had
- Questioning your judgment
- Releasing who you once were
- Feeling lost and unanchored
- Losing traditions you loved
Yes. To every one of these, yes. I gave up the Choir, I gave up everything I thought was true about myself in order to pursue the unknown. Paradoxically, the life lesson I gleaned from this was: I don’t pursue the unknown, I live it. I have always resonated with this particular bit of Rilke’s writing, which came my way in graduate school. I included this once before in this book, and it bears repeating:
Have patience with everything
unresolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves.
Do not search for the answers,
which could not be given to you now anyway,
as you would not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps then, someday far in the future,
you will gradually,
without even knowing it,
live your way into the answer.
– Rainier Maria Rilke