Pure As the Driven Slush: Heather Corinna's Journal and Diary, Online since 1999

Archive for the 'seattle' Category

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Several years ago, I worked on a sculptural piece about intimate partner violence. I wound up showing it in a gallery show, but installed it feeling like it wasn’t finished, and unsure of what would finish it.

It stayed the same for years, without any changes or additions being made. Both at the gallery show and in my house, people had strong, personal reactions to it, particularly DV/IPV survivors. In fact, my ex-partner and I made an agreement it wouldn’t be in a central part of the house because it was too hard for him to spend too much time with. Eventually, I felt like it would never be finished, or maybe it was finished, and I just wasn’t feeling it. If it was finished, it was such a large piece that it felt like it should be somewhere besides where I lived, especially if it was going to get relegated to a back room. The trouble is, anyone or any place where the topic matter would make sense, and where it would be the right thing….well, it would probably be the wrong thing. Donating something so triggering to a shelter, for instance, just would not work. So, it sat around some more.

As it got near time for me to move, I realized it shouldn’t move with me. Given the new space, it would just wind up unseen again. I still couldn’t think of the right person or place to donate it to where it could be shown. It also just really, truly, did not feel finished.

A statement of the painfully obvious variety: I’m stalwart. I tend to often be last man standing in many areas of my life, including with work and creative work. Attachment has really been my central area of challenge with Buddhism and life as a whole. Maybe it’s because so often in my life I had things or people snatched from me so much I never got to let something go of my own action and accord, maybe I’m just acquisitive, maybe it’s something else entirely, but I have a very hard time letting go of things, especially people, objects, work and communities. I wanted to engage in an active practice of letting something this big — spacially, emotionally, topically — go. I decided that I needed to let this go.

I enrolled Blue in the plan — it’s oak, and weighs about 80 gazillion pounds. On moving day, we went to put it in a local park that had seemed like the right place in my mind. But it wasn’t: not only were there people there at the time (you really aren’t supposed to just be leaving large artwork lying around), no placement felt right.

But on the way home, Blue stopped in front of a house on the block that I must have stopped in front of every day. It was the last remaining house on the block as old as ours, and had rather mysteriously been boarded up a couple years back, only to stay that way (and after it spent a year with the inside covered in tin foil, for some reason). It was sad, intimidating, dangerous, lonely and precarious; it felt like loss rendered architecturally.

It was where it wanted to go.

In thinking for so long about what would make it feel finished, it just never occurred to me that more didn’t need to be added to it. That, instead, it needed to be added to something else, then let go to be actively demolished, degraded and abandoned.

It went to where I felt finished with it, and where it also seemed to feel itself finished.

I had another once-gallery piece, or part of one. The window frame which was part of a larger collection within and around it; a frame once representing how I wanted both clarity in my own perceptions, and clarity from others in their perception of me.

That original piece had been dissembled because it felt like something that needed to change and keep changing. While it waited for its next life, though, I changed, too.

I stopped caring so much about being seen clearly, and started caring a lot more about my own clarity of vision, both in how I see myself and in how I see everything around me.

Which is why it lives here now, in the garden, in the midst of the vast green I get to sit in and with every day that has been nurturing exactly the kinds of clarity I have needed.

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

(Cross-posted from the Scarleteen Blog)

I moved to Seattle around four years ago from Minneapolis, where I lived for six years after leaving my hometown of Chicago. Growing up in Chicago, living in Minnesota and after an early childhood on the east coast, I was used to old things, to history, to a total lack of shiny-and-new. Growing up poor and in a number of far less-than-ideal living situations, my normal in how and where I lived was often pretty rough around the edges, and often involved a lot of effort from me, typically more than my fair share.

Seattle, however, is kind of the land of shiny-and-new. Almost every place I looked at when I was apartment-hunting felt sanitized and kind of like Barbie’s Dream House to me: without my kind of character and so already-finished that I didn’t see where there was room for my own stamp in them. The allure of the fixer-upper was nowhere to be found. I’ve always liked fixing places up that anyone else would see as hopeless: it’s a challenge, and a situation where I might have the ability to feel like I’m awesome because I took something shitty and made it fantastic. I’ve always felt more at home in places that were a bit of a disaster, probably because that’s just what I was used to, but whatever.

As it turns out, I found this house to rent that seemed amazing: it was over 100 years old, and in a neighborhood that at the time, had more old character and charm than new stuff. It had a ton of kooky little quirks I found really charming. It needed a bunch of work done to potentially make it nice, but it had the raw materials to be something awesome with work. I didn’t think twice about how quickly the landlord rented it out to me, because I wanted it, so that just seemed like serendipity. Like this was meant to be my house, to the point that I had this idea that had anyone else tried to rent it, it would not have been so easy for them.

I did do a lot of creative work with it, though not as much as I’d have liked to. I just didn’t have the time or the resources to do so much of it mostly on my own. As well, even from the start, I should have seen some red flags I just didn’t. For instance, while I was so into working on it, my housemate wasn’t as invested in that as I was. I should have recognized that when a landlord says you can just do whatever you want with a place with no limits, they’re either not being truthful or just don’t care much about the place. I also had to pay some of the costs of fixing it up, rather than the landlord paying me to do labor he should have done himself.

As the years went by, more things kept falling apart and breaking. I tried to keep up with them mostly on my own, especially since when I asked for help, what was given was either substandard or radio silence. Within a year, my lease also got shifted to a month-to-month lease, meaning that the landlord could ask me to go pretty much anytime with very little notice. Having survived that exact situation more than once in my life, and so barely, that felt horribly unstable, but I just accepted it instead of trying hard to assert my needs. Still, I felt more comfortable here than I thought I would have felt moving, both because moving or any kind of big start-over is so hard, and because this place felt so familiar, not just with its style and age, but with it’s whole vibe: I’ve lived almost all of my life in places that were falling apart or neglected. I was used to that, and however uncomfortable that as, something about that did feel like home.

Last year, it finally became clear that I could drive myself batty trying to keep this place liveable and it just wasn’t going to happen. I spent a winter without working heat in half the house, wrapped up in blankets all day working in front of a space heater.  The basic fixtures kept breaking. There were leaks, including one that nearly took down my kitchen ceiling, and a lack of insulation that cost me more money in bills than I have to spend. One day, I was so frustrated with two things that broke that I just gave up, went to get myself a glass for some wine, and when I opened the cabinet, the door fell off in my hand. On top of my house falling apart all around me, I didn’t even like the city it was in very much, and my neighborhood had also changed radically during the time I lived here in ways I did not like at all, and was not going to change back. I sank to the floor in a pile of tears, already upset due to building stress from managing work and some other huge changes in my life. It all felt so hopeless, and I so felt trapped in it, especially since at the time, moving wasn’t an option I felt I could handle financially or practically.

But why was I staying in a city I didn’t really like in the first place? Why was I staying in a house that was falling apart all around me more and more? Why did I keep trying to convince myself I could fix everything when I knew I couldn’t, or that my landlord would suddenly do all kinds of things he’d never done? Why did I keep focusing on the small things that I loved about the house when the big things were so awful? Why was I investing more and more money, effort and love into something where getting a real return on that investment was about as likely as a million dollars falling from the sky? Why was I staying so focused on what this house could be, rather than focusing on the way it actually was and was most likely to remain? Why was I accepting a total lack of help from the people who should be helping me with it while ignoring some potential help others could have given me to be somewhere better? I’m a smart person: why on earth was I being so stupid?

Ultimately, I think it came down to the fact that I was so bogged down and overspent with a lot of things in my life, including this damn house. On top of everything else I was dealing with, the idea of feeling displaced from any kind of home at all, even a poor one, just seemed like too much. I had taken part in digging myself in deeper and deeper into a pit: having to take responsibility for the place I was keeping myself in was harder than being unhappy, but being able to pin it entirely on what the house was doing, what my housemate and landlord were not doing. I had gotten attached and stayed so attached to the “what-ifs” and had invested so much time, money and heart into this place: I was having trouble accepting my hopes for it were simply never going to come to fruition because it seemed like such a waste. I had gotten scared of making a change, and had strangely managed to forget that I was capable of making it and had done so many times before in my life, even when it was harder than this was now. I had become comfortable in being uncomfortable.

In a few weeks, I’m moving out.

I’m leaving this house and this city for one of the beautiful small islands just outside of it. For many years no, I’ve talked about how I’ve spent almost all of my life in very urban areas, yet when I needed peace, it’s rural areas I’ve gone to to find it, and so I felt I might actually be a lot happier living rurally. The way my workday most often is, I can actually get away with only needing to go into the city a few times a month for work, so it is doable. Because it’s just a short ferry ride into the city, I can be rural here while also having easy access to the city. I found a place to move to with almost the exact same rent as I’m paying now, but where everything works and nothing is broken. Sure, it’s only 20 years old, so that feels and looks unfamiliar to me, but it’s beautiful inside and out. I will literally get to wake up every day and walk out into the forest, which is heaven on earth to me. As is often the case, if we can shake ourselves out of our miasma, we can usually identify not only ways to get out of it, but ways that getting out can be part of pursuing more of what we’ve wanted and had as goals all along.

Of course, this means my having to pack up everything and move again. It means money spent on moving and resettling, which is always a major strain. It means all the practical, tiresome crap you have to do to relocate. That means risking that a new place or space may or may not be better than the old one in some ways, even though it most certainly will be in other ways. That means having to deal with change, which even when it’s positive, is often uncomfortable and scary.

You may perhaps be wondering why I’m going on here at Scarleteen about my move. I’d be wondering, too.

I only just realized one of the big things that got me to these realizations about my house were conversations with some of you about your unhealthy, abusive or otherwise crummy relationships. So, I figured the least I owed you for that epiphany was the possibility of doing you the same turn, especially since your bad relationships have the capacity to screw you and your life up you a whole lot more than my bad house has the capacity to screw me and my life up.

We often have users come to Scarleteen who are in abusive, unhealthy, dysfunctional or craptastic relationships. Most of the time, you do know they’re bad before we talk with you about them. Sometimes, you don’t realize how bad until we talk, or have been trying to hold unto denials or the hopes that the relationship will just get better, either by some kind of magic, by someone who has never made any effort miraculously starting to, or by you, yourself, going nuts to try and make something bad into something good alone. Just like me, with this house.

I could stay here. My rent would keep going up and the house would keep costing me more and more while it all kept falling apart around me. I could put in continued effort while my landlord kept putting in less and less. I could freeze through another winter, trying to keep myself warm with the memory of the heat that used to work, the way the house probably was 50 years ago, the beautiful changes I made that could never quite get all finished but still might, and the hopes I had for this house, when it felt like nothing but lovely and positive possibility. I could stay here and risk the whole ceiling caving in on my head, which has become a real possibility.

You could stay where you’re at, too. You could stay and, at best, things would stay just as bad or as substandard as they are now or, more realistically, you could stay and they would keep getting worse. You could stay and keep investing more and more while getting less and less. You could freeze through another winter, trying to keep yourself warm with your hopes, those past feelings of possibility, and the time when things did seem okay, shutting out the reality which has made clear that those hopes will only ever be hopes. You could stay and risk someone abusive and unhealthy doing you the kind of harm that you can’t come back from, which is often a real possibility.

I could stay, and so could you. But I can also go. I can take the chance and the risk of something better, remember or learn what I’m really capable of. I can get the hell out of here and do the grieving I need to about what could have been, but wasn’t, and move forward, putting my time and effort and energy into something or somewhere much more likely to be worth that kind of investment. I can move into something that doesn’t need fixing now or right from the onset. I can step outside my comfort zone and likely wind up feeling more comfortable once the dust settles, rather than less. So can you.

I know that it’s hard as hell to leave a bad or abusive relationship, especially the longer you’ve been in it, the more hopes you tacked on to it, the more promises you believed, the more your whole life got sucked into it and tethered to it. It’s harder still if you have managed to convince yourself or allowed yourself to be convinced that any or all parts of the abuse are love or some kind of natural and unavoidable consequence of your existence.

I could tell myself that he floor that is wasting away in this house was once so, so beautiful, and old things just need my love to be better. I could convince myself that if I made more money, or chose to do something else with my life than I do, I’d not be in this house, I’d be able to have kept it running better, or able to have been more assertive with my landlord. I could figure that all of this would be something I could handle if I had done things differently and had more to fall back on. But I didn’t, so this is why this is happening, right?  This is what I am solely responsible for and stuck with, right?

Wrong. My house is falling apart because before I even got here people who were supposed to take care of it well didn’t. It’s falling apart because it needs a kind of help that my love or my residency can’t provide. For sure, I have some responsibility in what happened here: I could have moved out earlier if I’d have asked more people for help, if I’d taken some positive risks earlier — and maybe even put myself in a temporary space to be able to do that that wasn’t great, but helped me get closer to being able to make positive changes. All the same, while I’m responsible for not changing my circumstances when I could, what I’m not responsible for is for this house not housing me well, just like you’re not responsible for any way someone abused or mistreated you. You’re just responsible for doing all you can to get away from it to a place that’s safe, sound and where your love, effort and care will be returned in kind.

Am I going to miss things about this old house, this neighborhood, this city? Absolutely. There’s an old clawfoot bathtub here that is divine, even though the faucet never stops leaking. I made a great garden here and a meadow up front. I painted things here that are very creative and cool and have my unique stamp: I hate to leave them, they feel like part of me. I have routines here. I have a couple places I go here that I really like. I’ll be further away from a couple of friends. But I’ll deal: new places offer new things to value. When I’m honest with myself, it’s impossible to deny that what I’ll be missing the most was how things were when I first moved in, when the bloom wasn’t off the rose. When my feelings about everything were painted with the exceptional spackle that a sense of possibility is and the desire for something great can be. I had hopes for this house, but they didn’t come to fruition.  That sucks, but it also happens in life, and usually more than once. You accept it, your brush your knees off, and then you find new hopes, hopefully getting a little better each time at identifying where those hopes are more likely to become realities.  You also accept that we’ve got to take risks for the good stuff.

It may be that the change I’m about to make, the next place I’m going, turns out similarly. I’m pretty sure it won’t, because I’ve applied some lessons I learned from this. I’ve set it up, for instance, so that I have a long-term lease: I made clear from the start I refused to sign unto something month-to-month, because I know that doesn’t provide me the stability I need and know I deserve to have my needs met. I recognized that getting a better place, a more functional place, meant the screening process and the way in took more time and was not quite as easy as getting this place was, and I accepted that. I’ve made sure that nothing needs to be fixed by me: walking into this new place, everything already works and nothing is already broken. I’ve asked for help and support from the people around me in my transition, and they’re glad to provide it. I’m leaving things behind here that I just don’t need or that I know hinder me.

Sure, it’s more shiny-and-new than I’m used to, it’s somewhere I haven’t lived before, and I’m going to have to learn to do some things well I’m not yet good at. And maybe the forest that has always felt like a great refuge for me won’t feel the same when it’s where I live instead of where I visit.  It’s totally possible. If and when we do things differently, apply what we’ve learned and make choices based on goals we’ve had for ourselves… that’s when we tend to net different results, better results.

While my move comes with some question marks, continuing to stay here comes with few. The trouble is, the certainty in staying is all about being sure that, at best, things would stay exactly as crap as they are. What’s even more likely is that they’d get crappier. When we’re honest with ourselves, we all know something falling apart is going to stay falling apart once  we’ve done all we can to try and repair it with no results. I have to recognize that things would get worse if I stayed: more things would fall apart, and I’d get more and more hopeless and trapped, especially since the longer I stay, the tougher it is to go.

Am I scared? You bet. Big changes are scary, even when they’re potentially good ones. Even as someone who has taken many big risks in her life and gone through a lot of changes, big change never really stops being scary. I’m nervous and scared and I feel a bit unsteady on my feet, even though I’m moving toward something I have wanted and dreamed about, something that very clearly is far more likely to be positive and better.

So I keep reminding myself that this is living. Trying new things, taking risks that seem likely to be beneficial, stepping outside my comfort zone in pursuit of personal growth and positive change, is all of what being alive is all about. I shouldn’t feel stuck in the ground until I’m six feet under, after all. Staying stuck, sticking with anything that clearly isn’t working, avoiding what’s new and unknown is the antithesis of living: it’s refusing to be fully alive. That’s not who I am, and I’m sure it’s not who any of you are.

I know that my house isn’t exactly your relationship, particularly since, as an object, it doesn’t have the ability to have the kind of power over me another person could have, and I also couldn’t get as attached to it as I could to another person.  While the conditions of my house are awful, my house itself can’t manipulate me or try and control me. My house isn’t doing anything maliciously, nor does it know it’s treating me horribly and trying to rationalize it or someone make it’s actions seem like my fault. My house also doesn’t have the capacity to fix itself, unlike whoever you’re in a relationship with.

My house isn’t calling me names, isn’t telling me I’m stupid or a slut, isn’t accusing me of things I haven’t done or trying to control where I go or who I talk to. My house isn’t trying to keep me from my friends, family or other people who care about me and would make sure I’m always safe; my house isn’t trying to limit me in what I do in my life so that it can feel superior to me or make it tougher for me to go. My house isn’t destroying my cherished belongings on purpose. My house isn’t hitting or punching me, isn’t raping me or trying to coerce me into sex or pregnancies I don’t want. My house isn’t doing horrible things to me and telling me I asked for them. My house, itself, didn’t actually make me any promises it knew it couldn’t keep. My house also doesn’t have the capacity to choose what it does or doesn’t do, and isn’t actively choosing to treat me badly. It earnestly can’t help or change the state that it’s in, unlike the person who is failing or abusing you who has chosen not to work on themselves to get better and to stop hurting you, others and themselves. My house isn’t telling me that I couldn’t do better, that it’s as good as it gets. My house will let me leave a bad situation without trying to trick or force me into staying in something where I’m going to continue to be harmed.

My house isn’t your relationship or your partner. If any of those things are happening to you in your relationship, your house, as it were, is in a much worse state than mine is. Which begs the big question: why are you staying when I’m leaving?

Like I said, I know leaving a bad relationship is hard, and that leaving an abusive relationship is even harder. I’ve been in that spot (which is some of why I feel so bothered by how it took me so long to recognize the problems with this house), and have had friends there, too. If you need help in leaving, come and ask for it. You can ask me or one of the staff here and we’ll be happy to help you find local resources to help you out, you can call any number of hotlines, look up your local domestic violence/intimate partner violence shelter or support group or you can ask the people you know really love and care for you for help, being honest with them about what’s going on.

But if you don’t want to freeze through another winter, have the roof cave in on you or wind up more and more trapped in your interpersonal version of this sad, crumbling house, then you’ve got to take at least one step that’ll get you to the kind of space that will earnestly be a good home for your heart and your spirit, even if those first steps feel shaky or your knees knock when you take them. I deserve and am worthy of that. So are you.

Friday, April 24th, 2009

it said it saw itself as a very tall tree, and so I saw it that way, too.

After the weekend before last, I feel very, very clear on the fact that life on the island would fit my wants and needs very nicely.  I’ve known for a long time that I wanted, at some point in my life, to live more quietly, more rural,  I just thought it was going to be a bit more down the road than this.  But I think the only reason I thought that was that I didn’t see it as feasible any earlier.  It is, in fact, feasible sooner, as feasible as living exactly where I am is.  In some ways, it may be even more so.

The whole weekend, I kept doing that thing one does in a heavenly place, where you say to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if I could live here?”  Usually, when I’m somewhere where I say that to myself, it’s a pipe dream.  In this case, every time I thought that, I’d then remember that I CAN live there.  The rents and expenses are really no better or worse than they are in the city, everything I have here on the mainland I could have on that island, and getting to the city from Bainbridge (there are other islands, but this would be the most convenient for me) is exceptionally easy and highly pleasant.  I know locals here kvetch about the ferries a lot, but having grown up with subways and inner-city buses, I tend to find them a far more pleasant means of transportation than what I usually ride on.  I wouldn’t have to take the ferry much anyway, as I really only need to be in the city for outreach/clinic work two times a week at a maximum.  And two of our clinic staff live on the island, so carpooling is also an option.

I just felt better there, separate from the fact that I was also there visiting with Blue, who I hadn’t seen in five weeks.  I breathed more deeply, my skin looked immediately better.  I could walk out on the porch in the morning stark naked without anyone’s notice or care and take a soak; have my first sip of coffee with the moist breeze on my skin.  The quiet both soothed and inspired, and the company of trees, ferns, birds and water felt more like me these days than the company of tall buildings, construction detritus, bar mania and a ton of people everywhere I turn.  The rhythm of the day there fit my own so well, sending me to sleep early and rousing me to wake before the sun came up.  Doing the dishes by hand felt better than loading them into a machine: doing simple things and doing them more simply is so grounding for me.  Taking a long hike on the dirt felt better than a walk on the pavement.  The people were warmer, everything was smaller; more intimate, yet more private all at once.  My head felt more clear, my heart more at rest, to the point that I could put most thoughts of work away save flashes of inspiration.

I felt much more like island people than mainland people.  I felt much more at home. I felt much more like myself, much more like I fit, than I have felt in Seattle.

While I was there, I started to do some planning.  Ultimately, if I could sell another book in the next six months, I could handle the financial aspects of this move with incredible ease.   It’d be doable without that, but that would make it nearly a cash cakewalk. I will need to find myself some kind of reliable junker to drive, which means a) getting a new license (I let my old one expire ten years ago, having no need of it), and b) purchasing said vehicle.  I may also need to consider finding a roomie, but I may not: it really depends on what I can find to rent for myself or not.  In a lot of ways, I’ve felt so alone in my own home over the past couple of years, as well as in this city, that literally being alone, not just feeling alone, seems very important and like the right thing for me.

I do think that as much as I have always loved the solitude of being in more isolated spaces, and as much as I need to be alone in the near future, it will probably take some adjusting on my end to be out there alone.  But I realized there is a very easy and fantastic solution to that matter, which is simply calling and emailing some of the people in the world I love and miss the most and inviting them to come stay somewhere beautiful with me for a week or two during the first few months after I move.

Briana is going to come up here to visit in June or July, and wants to come see the island with me, too. (Mya is coming around then, too, maybe I’ll drag her over for a day, as well.)  I’d love more than anything for she and The Baby Liam (who isn’t a baby anymore, but I plan to call him that well into his adulthood, in alignment with my job as his obnoxious auntie) to be close to me, even to live with me, but given custody arrangements with his father, that may or may not be an option.   But it’s likely also possible for the two of them to be on one of those visits when I love, regardless.  I can also ask Becca, Elise, Christa, Mark, Mya, Heath, Fish, my mother, my father…any number of people who I’d love visits with anyway.  I think it’s a workable plan.

I don’t know when it will happen, but I’m thinking fall or winter.  Like I said before, one of the toughest parts of this is that my moving out of the city at all also equals my moving out from my living arrangement with Mark, and even thinking about that is so very hard and makes me feel tremendously sad. It’s probably right for us, regardless, to start moving towards not living together,  but that doesn’t make it easy, and it’s something very heavy in the lightness of my feelings about being somewhere else where I think I will be happy as far as my location goes.

And as I’m talking about somewhere else, I’m packing to go somewhere else yet again. After a week from hell where I have had to be on way, way too much, I’m heading back to Chicago for a week to visit family, get some grant work started, to spend a few days with Fish (who moved from here to there a few months ago, go figure) and to see Blue.  AND, perhaps coolest of all, to have a 5th grade slumber party reunion with two of my other closest friends as a child who I haven’t seen in decades.  I don’t know if there’s much cooler than that.

What I do know is that I’m wiped and need a soft, warm bed.  And that the idea of having it somewhere as lovely as the islands is a marvelous — and attainable! — daydream.

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

I just got back from doing a morning birth control and safer sex presentation for the clinic at a temporary shelter for teen runaways down in Chinatown. It was all boys, which was unexpected, but I grooved with it and all went well. Still trying to figure out how one of the guys was earnestly convinced that his girlfriend hides needles in her hair in order to puncture his condoms — despite the fact that none of his condoms have ever failed to his knowledge, nor has he ever seen any of these aforementioned needles — and why he felt it was so reasonable to suggest that these are things all women do, but that’s beside the point. I’m exposed to so much paranoia, ignorance and just general weirdness in my line of work that often, what surprises me is the absence of it.

The real hilarity of my morning was that on the bus down there, I was a few rows behind a man who had some mix of OCD and Tourette’s going on. He would count all of us on the bus methodically and with his hands — “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, either, nine…” — getting more vexed the higher he got in his count, and when he got to the end of the list, he’d then shake his hands, and yell with no small measure of frustration, “Sex, sex, SEX!”

It took everything I had not to let him know that I heard him, and I was en route to do the best that I could to handle it, but he was going to have to be a little more patient, for crissakes.

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

I had an abortion in my early twenties.

It was not easy to afford. I was working sixty hours a week, in a fledgling business with a lot of overhead expenses. I was fresh out of a college education I had paid for myself, and was also caring for a parent at the time. There were no resources through public health in Chicago I could use to help with the expense. My partner was pitching in for half, but all the same, coming up with four hundred dollars was an additional struggle during an experience which was already challenging without any financial issues at play.

That four hundred dollars seemed like a whole lot then. But when it all comes down to it, it’s very little, and what I had to do to come up with it was so small in comparison to the experiences other women go through to obtain their abortions right now.

I had the luck of knowing almost right away that I had become pregnant. Plenty of women don’t find out before their sixth week, like I did. Given how many have irregular menstrual cycles or skip periods with birth control, don’t experience morning sickness or other early pregnancy symptoms, or are in such poor health already that feeling ill is normal, plenty don’t know until their seventh week, their twelfth week, even their twentieth week. For those women, an abortion isn’t going to cost four hundred dollars, but eight hundred, twelve hundred, even two thousand dollars or more and some only find that out once at the clinic. I had the privilege of being able to not only know I was pregnant very early, but the ability to raise money in a short enough period of time that I could get an early abortion which only cost that much. Some women know as early as I did, but are unable to raise the money for an early procedure. For them, every extra week it takes creates a new hurdle as each extra week also elevates their cost, as well as their distress by pushing them closer and closer to the point at which a termination will no longer be an option.

I had the luxury of having a provider a mere three miles from my apartment. But less than 15% of women in the United States have an abortion provider in their county, let alone a ten-minute bus ride away. Those women also have to factor in the time and cost of travel, lodging and meals into the already costly expense of their procedure.

I was able to have an early, first-trimester abortion so I also only had to be at the clinic for a few hours on one day. I did not have to risk my job by needing to take a week off of work for a procedure I probably couldn’t tell my employer about without risking biased treatment ever after. I did not have to worry about having even less money than usual because I needed a week off without pay. I did not have to push myself to get right back to work when I really should have been resting and risk my health in order to make up for the money I spent on my procedure.

I was a working adult, not a teenager: I had my own source of income to help pay for my abortion. I had working friends who I could ask for funds and support. I didn’t have to consider asking my parents, knowing it could compound my trauma and potentially put me at risk of being held back from getting a termination, nor did I have to face those I asked for help denying me funds because they figured I deserved the “punishment” of a child for having sex, having my birth control method fail, not knowing how to use it, not having one at all, or because I had a partner refuse to use a method or cooperate with mine. Because I was employed, period, I did not have to worry about being able to eat or pay my rent that month due to the cost of the abortion sapping all of my funds.

I had my partner’s support and was financially independent, so I had no reason to be concerned with that partner freezing me out of shared bank accounts to pay for my procedure, or refusing to help me with travel to a provider. I did not have to worry that disclosing to a partner or parent that I was pregnant, and that I needed help financially to obtain an abortion, might put me at a possible or known risk of abuse or assault. Because I was living in a city where my reproductive choices were largely supported, I did not have to try and hide my pregnancy or my abortion, or spend extra money to get a ride from a friend, take a cab a town or two over to use a different pharmacy for my medications.

Coming up with the money I had to was also easier for me because I was childfree, unlike the majority of women who have abortions. I wasn’t having to scrape by to support two or three children at the time while also paying for my procedure. I didn’t have to arrange or pay for child care during and after my abortion.

I had a place to stay after my procedure, and lived with a person who was safe for me, so I did not have to worry about my safety during a time that is critical for self-care to prevent infections and complications, or that my lack of money would prevent me from being able to stay somewhere safe during and after my procedure. I could also afford the medications I needed to manage my cramps and to help prevent infection, and could afford to feed myself the day of and after my procedure.

And because I had the means and the support to budget for and use two sound methods of contraception after my procedure, I did not have to go to sleep at night knowing that it was likely I would have to wind up having another termination to go through and pay for, another unwanted pregnancy, very soon after dealing with the one I’d just gone through. I could afford both getting my methods of birth control and paying for them over time.

Many women do not have these abilities, privileges or luxuries. Many either may not be able to have a wanted or needed abortion at all — they may not earnestly have the real, practical right many of us still do of reproductive choice — or they may risk being unable to have all that is needed to make an abortion truly safe and sound, physically and emotionally. Some will put themselves at tremendous risks to try and raise those funds in ways which are unsafe and emotionally traumatic. Some who cannot afford a wanted abortion will seek to self-abort or otherwise endanger themselves. Some will instead have to continue an unwanted pregnancy and deliver a child who is not wanted and who they cannot afford to sustain or nurture, from pregnancy through the whole of that child’s life.

Any of us who has been pregnant knows that what choice we feel is right for us with a pregnancy is not minor: it is essential. Pregnancy is major, and how it impacts our lives, tremendous. Being unable to make our own right choice, to only reproduce and remain pregnant when it is what we want, right for us and when we feel it is right for any child we might bring into the world is tragic and inhumane. As it is, even when we can manage the cost, we have to face protests and challenges from individuals and governments to our essential rights, judgment everywhere we look about a decision no one but we can determine is appropriate, all while often straining to keep our lunches down and continue, uninterrupted, the hectic pace of our lives.

In an ideal world, every woman’s right to choose would be completely supported, and every woman’s knowledge of what was right for herself and her offspring would be respected. Women would have no trouble at all finding all the financial, practical and emotional support needed to only reproduce when that was exactly what we wanted.

We don’t live in that world. We live in a world where, at best, abortion is merely tolerated, and rights expressly for women and children, which primarily or solely impact women and children when granted, are granted as if a great favor is being given, rather than an equal and inalienable right. The political climate we live in now has been doing more and more to keep the legal right to abortion from being practically useful: our right to abortion is only so meaningful when the barriers to it continue to grow. We live in a world where most women make less on the dollar than most men — and where seeking legal protection against that discrimination is still often viewed as frivolous — despite often having a greater financial burden to begin with. We live in a world where many Medicaid programs and private insurance will cover Viagra (even for sex offenders), but not abortion or birth control. Where many women have little or no consistent access to reliable, affordable and safe methods of birth control and plenty have partners that do not support use of those methods even when those women can afford and access them. We live in a world where those who most often tend to find themselves in the most need of an abortion and with the most limitations on getting one are not only women, but women of color, women in poverty, women who were not born (or are not yet) U.S. citizens, disabled women, women with addictions, women who are legal minors, women who have been or are raped, assaulted or abused: women who are marginalized and who have less privilege beyond simply being women.

I cannot imagine having to sneak across state lines so I can obtain an abortion without my father forcibly dragging me out of a clinic as he did two times before. I cannot imagine how, with three children and a coming eviction, I could possibly save for a procedure. I cannot imagine having to have a three-day termination while my only home was a bench on the street, or at home with a partner or family member I knew would beat me when I returned there. I cannot imagine feeling I had no choice but to remain pregnant and deliver a child I strongly suspected would be born profoundly disabled because of a drug addiction I was trying to break free of. I cannot imagine having just emigrated and finding myself in the position to have to pay for an abortion while working for a wage that is a human rights violation in and of itself. I cannot imagine the two-week waiting period advised to abstain from vaginal sex after an abortion to prevent infection seeming a practical impossibility because without engaging in sex work during that period, a woman cannot support herself or her family. I have met the women who have been in these situations and others like them, and have seen a profound helplessness and desperation that no woman should have to experience during an already difficult time.

But I have also met these women and literally watched some of that helplessness dissipate; seen their worries interrupted by an exhale of relief when I can offer them financial help with their abortions.

Cedar River’s Women in Need fund helps to cover the costs of abortion, lodging, transportation, childcare, meals, pregnancy testing, ultrasound and contraception for women who cannot afford or completely cover any or all of these things, even after exhausting every resource they’ve got. The National Network of Abortion Funds has listings for our fund as well as other funds like it you can either use for yourself, refer other women to, or help with a donation. It doesn’t take much, either. The medications needed after a procedure are often less than $20. Meals for a couple of days, $25. Three months of contraception, $75. Lodging for a night, around $100. Enough to cover the portion of a procedure a woman can’t, that $400 that seemed so tough for me to save up, but which is comparatively miniscule.

Because I work part-time for Cedar River, because we serve women from several states and more than one country and also include terminations beyond the first trimester, because we’re one of the last remaining independent feminist women’s health centers in the states which offers abortions, and because we’re having a benefit for our fund on Monday evening, I’d like to ask you to contribute to ours. I’ve administered some of these funds myself, and have spent time with some of the women who need them: I know, first-hand, how important our fund is, what a difference it can make and how it positively impacts the lives of the women we can help with it. I have watched women who would otherwise have been unable to make the choice they know was right for them, or who could not have had what they needed to assure all aspects of their procedure was safe have that ability due to our WIN fund. I give to it myself via a percentage of my paycheck every two weeks, and while I certainly need the income for myself, giving what I can to that fund is something I feel is very important and a really small sacrifice. Of course, some financial help with an abortion does not usually have the capacity to fix everything wrong in a woman’s life, to wipe away inequities and hardships which are bigger than all of this. In some ways, it’s a band-aid, but it can be one critical in keeping a deep wound from getting even deeper; causing further infection in an already fragile balance of well-being and survival. At the times I administer that fund to a client, it’s amazing to see, directly, how my small contribution can sometimes literally change the landscape of a woman’s life, both through being able to make the choice she knows is right and needed, and through being shown a much-needed kindness, sometimes for the very first time.

If you’re in or near Seattle, our benefit tomorrow night for the WIN fund begins at 5:00 at the Karma Martini Lounge & Bistro (where I also had my book release party last year), on 2318 2nd Avenue in Belltown. You can have a few drinks with us and donate there, and hear a little more about what this fund does. Or, you can donate through our website here. Again, if you’d like to give to an abortion fund but prefer to give to women in your area or some other specific area, or even start a fund in an area where there is not one yet, you can take a look at a listing of funds like ours here through the NNAF.

Friday, April 4th, 2008

Yeah, I’m pissed off. I have had a seriously rotten day. And this entry will likely last a day at most before I make it go poofie, because I know it’s an incoherent, resentful vent. I have had to fight off a handful of people either asking me to expose myself in ways that are more about them and being provocative than about me or actually helping anyone, and then beg others to not freaking use my face without my permission just so they could have a pretty graphic for their own ventures or a poster child just because (or just because they didn’t want to be one). I have had to read — okay, I didn’t have to — comments out and about with some of the most ignorant crap I have seen in a very long time.

Here’s the thing that gets me the most: what the FUCK is it going to take for people to realize that NOTHING is an invitation to rape, and nothing, other than being able to be raped — something which is the case for any one of us — is going to “spur” a rapist on?

The comments about and around which have gotten under my skin most today is that a rape survivor or someone else (though I’m not sure why someone else would wear it) wearing the shirt would be “asking for” or “inviting” predators to do something. What the hell? Wearing a t-shirt which says, and means “I was raped,” is an invitation to rape? Is going to let a rapist know you’re who they should choose to rape? Why?

More to the point, it might be worth asking, for those this clueless, what they could do to NOT fall under the scope of someone predatory. I’ve talked about it before, but I will say it again: my 76-year-old great-grandmother was raped and murdered in her own home when she was just sitting, watching the tube. What the hell did SHE do, besides be home, be female, and be vulnerable? The first time I was assaulted I just went in to get a freaking haircut, feeling — obviously, stupidly — like, at the age of 11, a neighborhood hair salon was a perfectly safe place for me to be alone, and feeling like, when the guy who cut our hair asked me to walk back with him to the shampoo room, there was no reason I couldn’t walk back there with him where we’d been before. In fact, the whole time he had me up against the wall, his hands all over me, even in that very moment I could not, for the life of me, figure out what on earth was going on and what exactly I did — of course, what I did — to incite such a thing. What the hell did I do? If I had walked in there wearing this shirt, would I somehow have been inviting it more? As in “I was raped, so you may as well do it again?”

Perhaps more to the point, how stupid are these people to think that choosing to wear anything at all (or not) makes any damn difference in protecting them or anyone else? One of the reasons it is so damn hard for survivors to heal is that eventually, we have to deal with the knowledge that most of the time, unless we’re on guard 24/7 (and even then, that’s hardly a guarantee of safety) or stay locked in a panic room alone, there isn’t shit we can do to prevent someone from trying to rape us. That it could happen almost anywhere, at anytime, with anyone we know. That everything we thought we knew about how safe we were in the world was wrong. And that even in cultivating that terrible awareness, there will always be loads of people utterly convinced that being raped is something we can somehow control or even prevent with something as flippant as simple as what bloody t-shirt we wear.

Last year, a friend of mine asked me if I thought it was out of order to tell her five-year-old daughter that most people were stupid. I thought about it, and then told her that, actually, it seemed like a good idea. After all, that way her kid would either have her expectations met or be pleasantly surprised.

I really, truly wish that someone had told me that when I was five, too. I might get this angry and be this disappointed a whole lot less often.

Thursday, June 21st, 2007

Sorry, more questions, still no answers!

(I’ll get back to actual entries any time now, really, I promise, including the magic carpet ride my dental hygenist in Minneapolis sent me on. But until then…)

• When I was in Minneapolis, doing my event for the GLBT youth center, I got a handful of questions about sexuality pertaining to infibulated women. This isn’t a shocker: Minneapolis has, for some time, had a substantial Somali and Ethiopian refugee program, resulting in a substantial Somali and Ethipian population there. I did know the basic answers to the questions, but I’d very much like to do an FAQ piece for Scarleteen answering questions not about the issue of FGM, but specifically address practical issues (orgasm and sexual response, healing from genital trauma, ways to respond to long-term health problems, etc.) for women and partners of women who have been genitally mutilated. However, I don’t feel right as a white woman who not only has not survived FGM, but who doesn’t live in/come from a culture or community in which FGM is prevalent. Might any of you know a woman who might be up to collaborating on this with me who does come from one of those perspectives?

• Over the last few years, I’ve noticed at Scarleteen that an awful lot of the worst (as if there were anything less than worst, but you get me) of our incest and friend-of-family rape cases arise from Austrailia and New Zealand. Are any of you better versed than I — and know decent sources I could look at — in terms of incest and friend-of-family rapes in those countries? More specifically, I’d like to have more than the basics I do on the justice system and incest, et al, on how social services generally responds (and what victim rights are), on basic cultural dynamics in terms of social and familial attitudes around incest and rape. (Stephen? Beppie? Kat?)

Book events! I need to do them! Much to my dismay, I’ve started to discover that Seattleites are big, stuffy prudes, unless you’re approaching sex in a way that’s funny-ha-ha, all about the surfacey bullshit, or are a pro-domme. One big bookstore here even had the stones to tell my publicist that they “didn’t have an area private enough” to do an event with me. Did they think I was going to take my pants off and SHOW everyone sexual anatomy? I mean, I can see that Ann Rule has an event there (who, by the way, I’ve been known to read for a guilty pleasure; I’m a criminiology geek when I have three seconds of free time to read something besides work books, so I’m not dissing Ms. Rule). Is she going to be reading? Does she not need a more private arena to read about serial killing? Aren’t they worried she might give a demonstration? Ugh. So, save one event I got started cultivating yetsterday with a local book store (gods bless Ballard), I’m up empty. Suffice it to say, most of the rest of the world is pretty closed-mouthed, too. We knew full well from the start — it was glaringly obvious during the years of publisher-hunting — that a lot of people would be bloody terrified of this book, but it’s no fun to have it hammered home these days.

I’ll be taking some time over the next week to get this stuff together in a more formalized way, but really, I can be creative about this. For instance, if you’re in WA, Portland, Victoria or Vancouver, it’s easy for me to get to: want to link up a group of parents informally for some gabbing on how to deal with parenting and approaching sexuality with kids and teens? Want to have a sex educator over for a group of teen girls in your community to have an accurate gab-session? Heck, have a table for sex Q&A at your next office party? I’ll do it, man, just give me a shout. Very little is too weird for this gal, as is likely obvious by now.

• I also know I asked this before around a year ago or so, but I only got a response from one person, who never connected with me via email. I really, really, REALLY need to get connected with at least a couple other people who have to rape or abuse counsel, and do the sort of highly emotionally difficult work every day I do — it’s not every single day that things are so loaded, thank christ, but it’s close. And it’s getting more so: Scarleteen and myself have been around solidly long enough, and have established a certain feeling of safety for users long enough, that over the last few years, I wind up dealing with rape and abuse more and more often. Certainly, I’ll do it — I always move first to get survivors to seek out good hotlines and in-person counseling, but they usually stick around for support with me and our volunteers — it’s needed, but it also certainly isn’t what I’d choose to do or what I was prepared to do so much of. Some days, it completely wrecks me emotionally: it’s always particularly tough with hotline or ‘net hotline work because there’s only so much you can do.

(Over the last two months, we’ve also had a couple of abusers post, looking for sympathy. Poor them, they didn’t KNOW their silent, prone, half-asleep girlfriend didn’t want sex or poor them, their girlfriend DESERVES to be hit in the face, so it isn’t really abuse, you see. Don’t even get me started on what it was like to be around me on those days, and how frustrating it is that an IP address and email isn’t enough to file a report on these assholes.)

So, readers: do you do any work like this? Do you know anyone else who does who could also use an extra person to sit and unload it with? I don’t need the connection to be one way, or all about MY stress, I just need some like-minded (or rather, like-worked, if that’s even a real phrase, and I suspect it is not) people to chat with about this stuff.

And those’d be my shout-outs for right now: my apologies for them being so all about me. Also in the all-about-me category, beyond really great reviews in Bust and Bitch, there have been some really nice blog mentions/reviews of the book this week. C.K. made my day, and then a day later, Laurie Toby Edison made it even better, especially since she and Debbie paired my review with a review of one of my best friend’s books — a real perk, since Hanne and I miss working together (though each of us had a lot of back-and-forth while we were each working on these books, and each star in our dedications and acknowledgments), so it’s uber-cool when our stuff gets put in the same pile so we can kinda feel like we are again.

(P.S. thanks to my eBay tutorial volunteers: I’ll be pinging you today.)

Sunday, April 22nd, 2007

Mark your calendars, Seattleites!

The S.E.X. Book Release Party
Author reading, live sex and sexuality Q&A and book signing
Tuesday, May 8th: 7:00 - 10:00, all ages/ over 21 after 10:00

Karma Martini Lounge & Bistro, Seattle
2318 2nd. Avenue, Belltown (206) 838-6018

They have great food and munchies (including vegan options, and they’ll be adding a few extra to the menu for this event) & drinks. Their apple martini is the best I’ve ever had — none of that gross neon green pucker stuff: it’s got beautiful, fresh, muddled Washington apples. Yum.

Hope to see plenty of you there! The whole place is ours for the night as we fill it, so feel free to bring a guest or twelve!

P.S. If any readers want a copy of the book for a review anywhere they write freelance, let me know, and I’ll get Avalon to send you a copy.

Friday, January 26th, 2007

Yep, more quickies. I’m right now in the midst of juggling editor emails with massive housecleaning in preparation for the giant, much-belated housewarming party that starts late this afternoon.

But, a shout-out favor for Seattleites: in looking at how I’m going to manage book promotion here, one thing I’d really like to do, rather than plain old readings, is organize promo sessions during which parents and/or teens can come, drop questions in a hat, and we can all gab live answering some of them, exploring topics, what have you, in a fairly comfortable setting.

What’d be really nice, if possible, is to be able to sometimes have someone with me who does (either or both) a) peer-to-peer counseling for high schoolers or college-age kids, that is either sex-ed based, or includes sexuality topics or b) a good teen therapist or family counselor. It’d be good promotion for whomever that person or persons are as well. If anyone knows anyone (or is someone who does either of these things) local, I’d be really grateful for the info. I may additionally get some local Scarleteen users/volunteers for a couple of these, but having an extra “expert” besides myself just seems like it’d round things out nicely. I have to say that ideally, a peer-counselor would win out for me, especially when it comes to making more visible the fact that young adults are totally capable people whose voices need to be heard, which is obviously a key issue with the book.


Wednesday, December 6th, 2006

To the asshole in the zippy silver sports car,
That one-block section of Shilshole is not actually MEANT for cars. That is why the asphalt that is part of the bike trail there has those cute little symbols with people on their bikes, and those two paths in either direction take up the whole of the street. Yes, there is some quasi-parking for small businesses around the Marina there, but I think we can safely assume that cars going there are a) not meant to use it as a through-street, and b) meant to treat it as if it were a parking lot, as in, you drive slowly and cautiously.

So, when you fly though there like a bat out of hell right behind a biker, and clearly are not going to slow down, you give the biker two fabulous choices:
1) to be hit by your car, or
2) to swerve into the exposed railroad tracks with the deep grooves in a manner that will absolutely cause the biker to fly off her bike, maybe right into your car, but maybe, if she’s lucky, in the other direction.

I chose Option No. 2: it appeared that that way, I at least had a spitting chance of not being hit, which thankfully is what happened here.

To the lesser asshole in the zippy white sports car,
It’s totally cool that unlike Mr. Silver Zippy-Man, you stopped and asked if I was okay. Thanks. However, when I answered that yes, I was, but that like Mr, Silver Zippy-Man, you too should not have been flying through there EITHER, asking if I was okay again — because surely, I must have hit my head if I had any complaint with you — and then huffing in my general direction was total bullshit.

(I’m fine: road-rashed to hell, for sure, but more pissed off and annoyed than physically harmed. The greater injury was to my fine, day-off mood. There are just as many bikers in Seattle, if not more, as in Minneapolis, but this is now the second incident in a very short time I have had with drivers who for the life of them, cannot share the effing road, or even pay attention to what IS the road. I was really liking Seattle today, because I could take a couple hours and go for a nice not-very-frosty ride in December, and I’m mad at stupid people in their stupid cars for taking me from celebration-to-curse in less than thirty seconds flat.)

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Things to do on a snowy night in Seattle (when you’ve got the house to yourself with your sweetheart is stranded at work overnight because Seattle has NO clue how to deal with one whole inch of snow):

• Share your cigarettes with the old, weathered guys hanging out on the corner by the 7-11. It’s cold, they’re jonesing, and you’ve got plenty.

• Go see Edie Carey and Holly Figueroa at the Tractor. Enjoy the fact that it isn’t packed for once (because everyone is afraid to drive anywhere since no one here knows how when it’s icy). Have a big pint of cider. Bliss out listening to modern-day sirens, and per usual, remember how much women your age just plain rock. (I mean, seriously, how cool are we?) Enjoy the biggest hug ever with Holly because you’ve finally managed to meet over two years of hit-and-misses.*

• Tiptoe home, because salting the sidewalks is apparently an undiscovered art, and walking uphill on ice is quite the endeavor. Dig how empty the city streets are: hear how every step you take echoes intensely. Listen to how different the big, cold winds sound up here on the coast: more like the UK than in Chicago or Minneapolis.

• Make a warm, roaring fire. Eat tomato soup and grilled-not-cheese in front of it; finish with a cup of hot, mexican cocoa. Pet the pug on your lap. Love bell hooks to death and thank the universe for having her in it.

• Be glad you cranked the heat in your bedroom before you went to bed, since in a 100-year-old house, insulation is very much not the order of the day. Climb under the warm, flannel sheets with your dog AND your cat (who often has to sleep outside the bedroom due to Mr. Price’s allergies and general disdain of all things feline), and sleep in the middle of the bed, monopolizing it completely just because you can.

* One of the many reasons I love the net is that it makes the formation of mutual admiration societies a million times easier than usual. A couple years back, when I was in the midst of the first big writing of the book, I made a journal post thanking some of the musical artists who were getting me through the process, and Holly was one of them. As it turns out, Holly, unbenownst to me, was also a journal reader of mine, and tossed me an email. Very cool when that stuff happens. She’s local, and I very, very much need to take portraits of her, but we’ve had some bad luck until now hooking up, so it was great to finally meet. Her physical energy is like her music: it just comes off of her in these crazy waves of intensity.