Fifty-nine years old and here I go again!

It has only been a couple of weeks since I finished at UCSC where I was employed as the major maintenance coordinator for college housing. An unexpected call for an interview two months after having applied for that job had me a little bit excited but nonplussed after being interviewed and rejected for dozens of jobs since my previous employer of 25 years “eliminated” my position in a “re-organization”.   I was 56 years old, competing with the young, eager, recent graduates who were willing to start at the bottom of the salary range, at the bottom of the ladder that I had already climbed step by step over a quarter of a century. My resume got me invited me through the doors for the interviews. But my gray hair kept me on the other side. Many second interviews had me up high with my hopes for a new job, only to bring me way, way down with their awful rejection letters. “While your experience is impressive, we found a candidate who better meets our needs”.  After a while, I understood that “better meets our needs” meant “our need to keep expenses to bare minimum so that our stakeholders get a healthy return on their investments, so we are hiring someone who will take half the salary” or some other shorter, harsher quote.

My gross way of leveling the playing field was to dye my hair. Ugh. It didn’t make much difference. Not that the potential employer could see the gray roots on my head – but could hear my age in the way I spoke with the kind of confidence that only comes with experience and age.

Thank goodness the University of California, though also needing to maintain a certain bottom line, saw the real value of hiring someone like me. I did not disappoint. In fact, I delighted with all the improvements I brought to the program in my 2.5 year employment. I loved that job. At the end, I was ecstatic when my proposal to telecommute from Massachusetts was accepted; devastated that the agreement was only accepted for a couple of months until they could find a replacement. At least I left on my own terms, to start my life with Jassy.  It felt o.k. that I moved over to make room for a young female, a mother of three.

The first couple of weeks without work was super busy with life. We had just come off the whirlwind of our wedding, getting taxes and mounds of paperwork done as we are in the throes of buying a new home.

Now the rounds of applications and interviews start all over again. I’ve already been interviewed and rejected for one job. I think I dodged a bullet with that one.

Last week, I interviewed for another one that really appeals to me for a number of reasons. One, it is a non-profit organization. I’m more than willing to take less salary so that others can have what they need just to live.  Two, it is a non-profit organization. It melds nicely with my morals, my desire to be of service to others. Three, it is a non-profit organization where the people who work there are likely to be part of my tribe. Four, it is a non-profit organization. NON-PROFIT = PRO-PEOPLE = PRO-LOVE.

I’m supposed to hear about whether or not I’ve been accepted for a second round interview, some time this week.  If I don’t get this one, then I figure that the Universe will keep pointing me in the right direction. Wish me luck!

 

In the statistics published for use by journalists, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, it says that one in five women will be raped in their lifetimes. There were many more disturbing facts. My eyes scanned them briefly until they stopped for a nano-second on the heading for child sexual abuse. I can’t. Not today. I’ll just focus on that “one in five women” one. When I count up just the women I know who have been raped, I suddenly become so sick to my stomach, knowing this statistic is probably low.

I want to vomit when I think that 60 million people voted for a rapist to lead our country. Another 90 million eligible voters did not even vote. To my people who have suffered from sexual violence, I say – I understand this trauma that has been triggered recently.

I understand it better now than I did a few days ago.

Recently, more than one of you have cried out, reached out, screamed out in pain, with a certain degree of helplessness. I think to myself, who am I and how can I help you? I am but a white skinned, non-binary, non-girly girl person, sheltered in many ways (yet not in some other ways), by my privilege. I have the privilege of not ever having to endure physical sexual violence against my person. And while I can never really know your pain, you can always count on me to stick up for you, to help you take good care of you, to help you turn toward all that is good and beautiful about you.

I urge you to go where there is help. Build your blanket forts, go there with a pen and paper and stay there a while. Call the ones who love you- talk and talk and talk about this, that, or the other thing for hours- they will not mind. Go out in nature, walk, run, swim, draw pictures, paint pictures, take pictures. Go to your doctor, talk about this, fill your prescriptions, take them, smoke weed. Stay away from the hard stuff because it will just get harder – you know it will. Work. Focus on the good stuff that you get from work. Listen to music. Sing along with it. Watch mindless T.V., stay away from the news for a while. Know your voices are needed. Know your pain is not in vain but take a break, go away for a while, make yourself stronger. It will all still be here when you get back. You will be stronger and better able to help the helpless ones and your children when you get back. Know that you are loved, that you are heard and that your beautiful selves are seen.

My wife took me out on the town last night for my 59th birthday. It just so happened that my favorite poet, Andrea Gibson was in Northampton.

I first saw Andrea perform  at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, CA.  I was still fairly new to the queer scene out there and didn’t know many people so I went to see the performance by myself. I grabbed a beer and a stool at a short counter in the back of the small room, shared with a young queer couple. We introduced ourselves to each other before the show started, made some small talk and then settled in. Once Andrea took the stage, I felt transfixed and transported into a different world. Her voice lulled me into her space. It was as if I could see her writing her words, practicing her words, feeling her words, as if I was there when her words were created, born. Hearing her words come to life right there in front of me was the most visceral experience. I knew her through her voice, her gestures, inflections and those beautiful, gorgeous words.  It felt as if I had known her, and she me, always.  I laughed and smiled and wept right there, without regard for my surroundings or the others who occupied that same space with Andrea and me.  This is the impact this powerful, emotional, strong, sweet and sensitive poet had on me. I couldn’t wait to experience her again.  Andrea did not disappoint.

Though the video below is not from last night’s performance (I wish! Mary Lambert?? OMG how I wish) Andrea did speak the poem Orlando last night. I wept from the first line to the very end- big body wracking sobs as my wife held my hand, squeezing it hard and harder at the hardest damn parts.

 

 

On June 13, 2016 my wife (girlfriend back then) and I were on our way to Logan Airport. We were still in the early days of our love. We still didn’t know where our relationship was taking us exactly. We just knew that we wanted to find ways to spend more and more time together and had done just that over a glorious 4- day weekend. As Jassy drove, I scrolled through the stories that were just starting to emerge about the murders. We were both in shock, sick and so broken, shattered beyond reason.

I wrote the following three days later.

6-16-16

I first sat down to write this response a couple of days after the massacre of 49 of my community at the Pulse in Orlando, Fl. I couldn’t. I couldn’t process my thoughts in an orderly fashion. Its been a struggle trying to sort through all the words, images, and voices, trying to make sense of the senselessness. The raw emotions have smoothed out a bit; less than would be the “normal” amount of smoothness for me in general. There is nothing normal right now.

“Who are we?”, you ask.

We are a swiftly responding community spilling out-filling up the Universe with a groundswell of energies, a nation unto our own: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgendered, Intersexual, Queer, Questioning, 2-spirited and Allies. Hashtag We Are Orlando. Thousands upon thousands of us have and will continue to commune in our ways-filling the Universe with a groundswell of energies. Some of us will fight for common sense gun legislation. Some of us will help heal the living victims and their families- for they are our children, our families. Some of us will join our sisters and brothers in universal healing of the world by teaching love over fear. Some of us will donate money, time or energy to any or all of the above. Though this event has set us back on our haunches, we are prepared to spring forward again and again and again. We will not be silenced, marginalized or scared.

School’s out for the summer. Graduation And Pride! Music-Dancing; bodies moving to a beat -cut down. Terrorized.Wounded.Scared.Dead.

News assaults -rapid punches to the gut.  49 Stories plus hundreds more. Survivors. Heroes.

Vigils- thousands upon thousands of candles shining

Was he mad?Fanatic?Angry?Sick?A monster- the boogie man in the closet?

Whatever.He was a terrorist.He was loveless.And he is gone.

For now.

Bodies moving to the beats of millions of hearts

Dancing our way to center

Cargo filled caravans circling round

One full of gun reform

One full of mental health reform

One full of money

One full of healing

One full of peace

None full of fear

Tons full of love

Jassy and I were celebrating our love that horrible weekend in June last year. I was struck by the fact that we were again celebrating last night when Andrea’s performance brought us right back to that day, full speed ahead, no breaks.  This reminds me that there are no coincidences in my world. There are only cosmic signals.

Most of my friends are suffering from post traumatic stress from events like Pulse and then events from every day since November 8, 2016. So, it may not seem like it right now, but I have to believe that love is the energy that cannot be murdered. It is an energy that can only be shared and multiplied billions of times over. It is the stuff of life that keeps coming back for more and more and more. I can’t believe in anything else. It is the only faith I have.

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I woke up with a splitting headache yesterday morning.  That has not happened in a very long time.  Even after imbibing in adult beverages over a long weekend in Vegas and after getting the news (see yesterday’s post)  I got upon my return from said weekend, my head was clear of pain the next mornings. The first 1500 mg of Tylenol did not even put a dent in it.   But it was Saturday and Jaylin knows Saturday better than any other day of the week. I needed to be present. It is our day.  We (mostly Jaylin) get to do whatever we  want to do.  Myy boy Jaylin is an amazingly flexible child with an excellent imagination and a most willing spirit.

Jaylin and Jam

We started out on the back porch while I was trying to wake up with my first cup of coffee. I was hoping to have a few minutes of quiet and caffeine to help combat the morning headache.  Jaylin had other plans- determined to make the most of every single minute of Saturday.  He brought Bunny with him.  Bunny has been Jaylin’s constant companion since he was two year’s old. He is still in pretty good shape despite being used as a bomb or a ball or missile or a taekwon do partner.  One of Jaylin’s favorite games with me and Bunny is the “family rules” game.  Last Christmas, Alex gave us a plaque that outlines these rules for our family.  Jaylin practices his reading skills with the family rules. First, he lines up all his animals; Bunny, Sneaky the Cat, Tiger, Slithery the Snake, and the two most recently acquired Angry Birds who are currently nameless.  He calls them his “kids” and they refer to him as “Dad”.  He lines them all up and we read the family rules together.  Here are the 11 rules that we try to live by:

  1. Help each other
  2. Be thankful
  3. Know you are loved
  4. Pay with hugs and kisses
  5. Try new things
  6. Be happy
  7. Show compassion
  8. Be grateful
  9. Dream Big
  10. Respect one another
  11. Laugh out loud

We played a couple rounds of family rules, lingering the longest on number four in each round.  And then we made our plan for the day.  We are “fixers” so Saturday’s typically include a project or two.  We needed to patch a couple of screen holes in the porch windows.  We also had to nail up some wood to cover up spot where the chipmunks keep getting into the porch.  Jaylin and Mama (Betty) saw a raccoon on the back deck the week I was in Chicago. Not wanting Rocky to get any ideas from Alvin and Simon, Betty made me promise that this would be a priority project when we returned from Vegas.

In gathering up the tools and materials for our project, Jaylin found an old yo-yo in my toolbox.  Our project got side tracked with yo-yo lessons for the next hour until we headed off to Lowes Hardware store to get the wood.  Jaylin calls it the “hardwood” store. I call it heaven. I prefer the smaller more traditional hardware stores but Lowes will do in a pinch. After meandering around for 30 minutes looking for someone to help us, we found our wood and  watched with our fingers in our ears as the guy in the red vest cut a piece of wood to our exact specifications on the big cutting machine.  I balanced the big piece on my head. Jaylin did the same with the scrap piece and we were off to the cashier.  Carrying wood on my head didn’t do much for my headache but watching him balance that little piece on his head made my day.

By the time we got home, the outside air temperature had risen to the low 80’s. We agreed that a dip in the pool was in order  but decided to get the wood painted first.  He did most of the work before he got distracted with the yo-yo.  I finished the second coat while he was changing into his swim suit.  By this time, my headache was raging.

Pool time is when Jaylin’s imagination really kicks in.  He makes up scenarios for which I am elected to play a supporting role.  Bad guy and police, bad guy and court, bad guy and the judge, downed helicopters, near drownings of his son the floating cobra snake, bombing the boat, it goes on and on.  Yesterday was no exception but after about an hour, my headache forced me to get out and relax in the sun for a while.  He reluctantly agreed to join me, chattering away the whole time.  He calls me Buddy or Jam or Mom, depending on where we are or what we are doing.  I swear I heard “Buddy” sixty times in that 30 minutes of relaxation.  The cadence of his voice nearly put me to sleep but I didn’t want to miss a word of his funny stories.  He told me he was a paramedic in his previous life.  I asked him if he could cure my headache…he said, “Nah”.

When we were dry, Jaylin decided he wanted to play a game of pool.  He is still learning the skills so we don’t really play traditional pool.  Instead we just hit balls around the table until they go in the pockets.  He made up a new game yesterday whereby we each got points for the value of the number on each ball. He gave me a sly look every time he got a ball in and added up his points.  He won.  Kicked my ass actually.  He was quite pleased with himself and promptly challenged me to a game of darts.  By now, I felt like my head would explode so I declined and suggested we go finish our project.  Pounding the nails certainly did not help the headache, but watching Jaylin’s look of satisfaction at having completed our mission was well worth the pain.

Building a castle out of creamers and crayons

Today, Erma Bombeck  is on my mind. 

Here’s the train of thought: 

Last night, two of my step-daughters (Cease – oldest, Tati – youngest) are working on getting Tati’s hair ready for her night out with her friends.  Cease is on the couch, Tati is on the floor in front of her.  I’m in my chair on my laptop.

Cease: Mom, what are you doing? Me: I’m writing a reply to a comment on my blog? Tati: You have a blog? Is it on Tumblr? Tumblr is so great.  I read Tumblr every day. Cease: Yeah, you should do Tumblr Mom. People who do Tumblr get famous! Me: Nope, I’m on WordPress. You should read my blog…Tati: OUCH! Cease: Sorry, your hair is very thick. Me: You should read my blog…

In recalling this exchange with my daughter’s this morning, I pondered why we who do, write a blog. Some do it for the pure joy it gives us, some for the cathartic quality of the activity, some for fame or fortune and probably all do it for a balance of all these reasons.

Then I thought about Erma Bombeck, a great American humorist.  Her columns were the blogs of her day. She wrote about the daily joys and challenges of being a housewife and mother and she made it funny.  For over 30 years, her weekly column, “At Wits End”, appeared in 900 publications across the country and she wrote a dozen books, read by thousands of people.  She leveraged her writing fame with appearances on Good Morning America. And she used her fame to help raise awareness about the Equal Rights Amendment.

Simply stated this amendment proposed that, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”.  Introduced by the 92nd Congress in 1982, it was presented to State Legislatures for ratification within a 7 year period.  Unfortunately,the ERA was never ratified; missing the two-thirds majority by only 3 States.  It is astounding to think that despite it being reintroduced in every session of Congress for the past 30 years, we still do not have a ratified amendment to the Constitution that simply gives women the same rights as men.  

This brings me back to Erma.  Erma died in 1996…just when the internet started as the mainstream of communication.  Given her wild success as a prolific writer in her day, can you imagine what she could have done with Tumblr, WordPress or any number of public forums that we have access to today?  She was so funny. People are drawn to humor.  My girls read Tumblr every day because it is so funny.  I’m not, but I bet there is a woman or two or a million out there who are modern day humorists.  I bet at least one of them is or eventually becomes famous. I hope that she uses her fame and humor to raise the political awareness of our young women.  It makes me wonder if Rachel Maddow has a Tumblr account.  

Erma Bombeck once said, “When humor goes, there goes civilization”  Here’s hoping it never goes.  

Girls, you should read my blog… 

 

 

Father’s Day is right around the corner; a fitting time to celebrate Frank Casella- a truly good man.  

Frank Casella in Italian means “strong little house”.  Though only five feet, two inches tall, my Dad lives up to every bit of  his name.

Dad worked hard all his life to provide for our family. He was a jet engine mechanic working as a civilian for the Navy. In the early years, he also worked as a janitor at night – cleaning, waxing and buffing  floors. Dad coming home from work, smelling of engine oil and sweat was always the highlight of my day.  He loved working in his  vegetable garden (mostly tomatoes) or cutting  the grass or tinkering with the car.  I was a constant companion – never getting enough of him.  Those freshly grown beefsteak tomatoes from his garden always made their way into big pots with all the other ingredients that made up the most delicious pasta sauce known to man.  Being an Italian family, it was essential that we had good sauce for our pasta dinners every Tuesday and Sunday.  Sometimes after working around the yard, Dad would crack open a nice cold Black Label beer and slip me a tiny sip.  Our little secret made the taste of beer then (and now) most delicious.

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It wasn’t all work for Dad.  Some of my favorite times were those sitting on his lap watching a football game on the television, or a war movie, or a cowboy movie.  It didn’t matter what we watched or where we went together. Hearing “Want to go for a walk?” made my heart soar just to know I’d get to hold his big strong hand.  He gave the best hugs too. Especially when he tucked me in to bed and his hug was mixed with his aftershave lotion.  I get nostalgic whenever I smell Old Spice.

Jan’s Baptism

When I was a child, I couldn’t imagine ever knowing anyone as handsome or as strong as my Dad. His smile lit up my world. His laugh tickled me.  

And as far back as I can remember, Dad has been an exceptional athlete. He installed a basketball hoop in our backyard and we spent hours and hours playing together as a family.  I was a terrible basketball player, but I loved the game. I belonged to a church league where unlike the school teams, they almost had to let me play.  One Sunday, toward the end of the season, the league hosted a father/daughter tournament.  Remember, Dad is only five foot, two inches tall but when on the court he was just as tall as all the other fathers. He was fast and nimble and had a killer lay up shot.  He scored lots of points that day.

Dad and Casey playing handball on the roof in Malaysia

Dad kept in great shape by all his life by  going to the  gym two or three times a week to play raquette ball.  His love of the game kept him going to the gym up until a few years ago.  Now, he plays a little bit at the clubhouse in his community.

Though growing up during the Depression was not easy for him and his large Italian family, my Dad loves to tell stories about his youth.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard the ones about him and his brother scrounging for scraps of food or how his Mother had to put them in a” home” for a while because she couldn’t afford to feed all of them.  Today, every time I see him, he tells me how much he hates broccoli.  He must have had to eat a lot of it to keep his stomach from growling in those hard days of his youth.  He tells good, funny stories too.  One of my favorites is the one about when he was marrying my Mom.  His younger brother was his best man.  They got to the church and realized that they didn’t have the marriage license.  The start of the wedding was delayed while Philly ran back to the house to get it. But he couldn’t find it, so he sat down at the kitchen table and drank some wine and thought about what to do about the lost license.  Apparently, he thought about it for quite some time because by the time he made his way back to the church, Philly was pretty inebriated.   Even though Mom was distraught over waiting for her wedding ceremony to start, Dad laughs and laughs every time he tells this story.  This tells me so much about who he is and how he thinks.  He doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  He has great faith that everything will be fine.  This attitude, his confidence…it comforts those around him.

Dad is a quiet man but he does not suffer fools and to this day will not stand for unfair treatment from anyone.  He is a protector; never instigating conflict but staunchly defending those he loves should conflict arise.  Though he was of diminutive height for a man, the sight of my Dad could stop the neighborhood bully in his track with just one look. One time, my Mom was being harassed by a male co-worker. She tried to let it go, but it got out of hand.  Dad went to her work, and waited for the man to come out to have a word with him.  It was a quiet word.  I don’t know what that word was, but the man never bothered Mom again.

My Dad has a very defined sense of service to his fellow man.   As a young man, he served in the Navy as a Sea Bee.  He helped support his family by sending his military pay home to his Mom.  

As a married man with children, he supported my Mom in her service as a scout and brownie leader.  He supported taking in and caring for our foster sister, Kim.   And he took us to Malaysia for two years of service in the Peace Corps.  I’m amazed and in awe of the fortitude it took to pick up the family and take us half way around the world to unknown territory with unknown challenges.  I can only imagine that it took a great deal of courage and faith in his own character to know that it would all work out for the best.  It did.  Though I didn’t think it was so great at the time  (because I was thirteen years old and missing my home and friends) it turns out that it was the best, most pivotal event of my life.  I love my Dad for the gift that this service in the Peace Corps has meant to me over the years.

Doing service work in the rice fields of Malaysia

Now, in his golden years, he provides service to his neighborhood in Southwest Florida.  His neighbors who go up north for the summer put their trust in him to look after their homes.  They reward him with gift cards upon their return.  He doesn’t do it for the gift cards.  He does it because it is just the right thing to do.

A few years ago, my Mom had a minor stroke and her health has declined just a little every year since then.  My Dad takes good care of her and protects her without complaint and without expectation of recognition for his efforts.   They  have been married to each other for 58 years. It is true that they married in a different time, a time when divorce was the exception rather than the rule but in my estimation  it would not have mattered when they made their vows to each other.  Dad keeps his promises. Period.

One of my step sons, Alex, just came home and we were chatting about this essay.  He has never met my parents.  He wants to read this when I’m done because he wants to know where I came from.  I told him that I don’t think I can ever really do my Dad justice with this essay but I do have the sense that in as much as I am my Mother’s daughter, I’m my Father’s too.

Dad has lived a long,  honorable life as a “strong little house”.  . I am proud that he is my Dad… a truly good man.