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Kate BornsteinAny book that is framed as a love letter to an estranged child is going to be bursting with love, but Kate Bornstein’s “Queer and Pleasant Danger” is also raw, funny and wrenching, a memoir befitting the grand cultural icon she has become.

The book’s subtitle “The true story of a nice Jewish boy who joins the Church of Scientology and leaves twelve years later to become the lovely lady she is today” gives you the lay of the land but the journey is nonetheless revolutionary. In the guise of the clown, Kate dances into dark territory, making the pain manageable, almost celebratory. She is unapologetic, in your face, and at the same time utterly disarming.

I wish, of course, that I could run down the hall and press this book into Ashlie-Alice’s hands. I wish that I had known enough to cloak her in that kind of armor the moment she burst into the world as my daughter. I imagine she might have reached out to connect with the grande dame of the gender revolution. And I suspect that she’d have received the same generosity of spirit with which Kate addressed Chelsea Manning in an open letter she published last year …“In closing, baby girl, remember that you have brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles all around the world who are so proud of you. Thousands of us, in fact. Think of us, and breathe.”

Big love to the cute and quirky Gender Outlaw.

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 I’ve been working with badass Bradley on revisions for The Complicated Geography of Alice and I just cut the following chapter from the manuscript. It’s always wrenching to tear stuff out, so I’m sharing it here to soothing my psyche. Honestly, it’s more about my general distaste for the carrot and stick method of providing services to needy people than it is about Alice. Still, there are little bits of her – of us – in here that still make me giggle. 

 

Grandma Jo has been trying. I’ll give her that. A couple of months ago, she let me drag her to a PFLAG meeting where Alice’s support group leader Elizabeth spoke on transgender awareness. It was basic stuff, and I’d hoped it would be enlightening. Mostly though, my mum sat and stewed about a man in the group who had been rude to her in some other venue. She is trying to change her language to appease us, but it’s becoming clear that she has no interest in changing her mind. This is just a phase that her grandson is going through and she’s going to wait it out patiently, pretending all along that it’s no big deal.

For this reason, I’m surprised when she invites Alice and I to join her for High Tea at a local homeless shelter. The event is a benefit for the women’s program at the shelter, which provides temporary housing, healthcare and education opportunities along with financial and spiritual advising. The thought of making food and shelter conditional upon the acceptance of spiritual advising makes me queasy, but I try to set that aside because Alice is excited to have been invited to such a gloriously girlie event. Especially by Grandma Jo.

When she arrives to pick us up, Alice has just finished applying her thirteenth layer of lipgloss and I’m still struggling to run a comb through my hair.

“You both look so nice,” Grandma Jo says as Alice dashes past her towards the car.

“SHOTGUN!” she shouts, diving into the passenger seat, leaving me to climb into the back. On the ride to the bad side of town, my mother explains everything as she is prone to do.

“Now there’s going to be tea, sandwiches and desserts, and then a fashion show. Do you remember the women in my bible study group? We’ve got a whole table to ourselves.”

We arrive at the mission, disembark and meet our little circle of ladies in the parking lot. My mother’s Bible Study Lady Friends are the kind of women who arrange casserole duty for grieving families, send encouraging little notes to one another with bible verses written in them, and structure the bulk of their gossip in the approved “prayer request” manner. They’re nice enough, some more so than others, but a generally congenial group.

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091114I’m breaking up with my agent.

Or maybe she’s breaking up with me.

Either way, we’ve apparently come to the end of this eternally awkward and non-communicative road.

Some of you know that I have been underwhelmed by her activities on my behalf – six months to get a working proposal, followed by six months of radio silence until finally, in July, a brief flurry of effort which ultimately culminated in – well, nothing.

From the beginning, we disagreed on fundamental issues – namely how much we should tell editors about the end of story. I understood that she wanted to withhold that kind of information in the proposal, but she seemed intent on keeping Alice’s death from them until a deal was on the table.

For me, framing the story as something other than what it is makes sense in a three paragraph query but NOT at the point where editing notes are being exchanged. This strategy wasted time – mine and that of the editors involved.

Yes, I’m frustrated that she dragging this process out for sixteen months, but at the same time, I’m weirdly excited at the thought of having it back in my own hands. To a certain extent, when I handed it off to the agent, I disengaged. But no more.

I’ll be looking at other ways of moving forward (non-traditional publishing options and such) for the next few weeks so chime in if you have thoughts on the matter.

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Sweet Chloe and The Dog Bob

Sweet Chloe and her best bud Bob, who won every fight they ever fought.

Early this year, we lost our beloved Porch Cat after a slow decline that left her deaf, blind and somewhat demented. A fat rescued tortoiseshell named Fraidy joined our family at Jay’s insistence weeks later. Shortly thereafter, Ashlie’s dog Chloe was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. Her deterioration happened faster than we anticipated and she died in March.

We did not grieve her as intensely as we did Fat Lola, perhaps because we have lost so much more in the interim. Still, sweet, mild-mannered Chloe is missed – perhaps by no one more than the Italian Greyhound Bob, to whom she was a surrogate litter mate and gigantic best friend.

We buried Chloe near the arbor and the crab grass had already begun to cover her grave by the time we welcomed a new beastie to fill the void she left behind.

Jay has long had his heart set on adopting a retired racing greyhound like the one he grew up with. My only requirement was that we find a female. By early April we were in contact with the Amazing Greys org out of Tracy. We were anticipating the arrival of a particularly lovely female greyhound out of Arizona when Susan from Amazing Greys called and suggested that we meet, as she put it, “a big silly boy with zero ego”.

My first thought upon seeing this 85 lb. greyhound bounding into the room was god, what a beast but moments later, when he flung himself down on a pile of pillows and rolled over with all four legs in the air, I thought dude, what a dork – which immediately won him a place in my heart and ultimately, our home.

Grinning Ollie

The Reverend Oliver Twinkletoes aka Olly Bolly aka Oliver Oily Pants aka Mr. Butts

It seems odd that Ollie has been with us less than six months – he is so much a part of our family. Bob has grown particularly fond of him, insisting on joining him in the Big Dog side of the dog park, trying to keep pace with him on walks and cheering him on from a safe vantage point by barking up a storm while Ollie courses through the yard, throwing clouds of dust behind him. And yes, it’s kind of amazing to watch him run, but mostly he’s a lazy, lovey lay-about – with Chloe’s tag-along habit and Fat Lola’s love of riding in cars with boys.

Three dogs is still too many, and as Iggy becomes more and more of a cranky old man, I steel myself against the inevitable loss while simultaneously looking forward to a manageable animal population in the Vilmur household. Meanwhile, Jay is probably sneaking peeks at that Saluki he’s always wanted.

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As it turns out, I’m not so good at keeping things alive. Birds, hamsters, kittens and that garter snake I left in the sun; every one of my childhood pets met a tragic end. My backyard is filled with the bones of long-dead dogs and one beloved cat. The pots on the back porch boast the skeletal remains of various herbs and vegetables I planted with great expectation. I’m still surprised that my children survived early childhood – not an accidental electrocution or drowning in the bunch. Still, I felt a sense of apprehension when the 167 year-old sourdough starter arrived with carefully printed instructions for its revival and maintenance.

CarlThe enclosed pamphlet details the starter’s impressive heritage and celebrates its champion Carl Griffith, whose sourdough culture has been passed on nearly 40,000 times. In his honor, I print CARL with a permanent marker on the side of the tub I’m intending to revive the starter in.
I’m skeptical as hell. It’s just a few flakes, off-white in color and crumbling to the touch. I mix it with flour, water and sugar, then leave it out on the counter overnight. Every day for the next two weeks, I feed it. First, just white flour and water. Then some rye flour, a little apple cider vinegar and a pinch or two of potato flakes. And the thing is, the crazy thing is, it is alive.
I make J and Mouse look it. I call my mother and tell her to come over. I’m so fucking proud of this smelly little science experiment that everyone who graces our doorstep for the first month has to peek into the Carl’s little plastic tub and get a whiff of what he’s got going on. I, who am lousy at keeping things alive has an ancient sourdough culture bubbling and growing on the counter in my kitchen and there is somehow something hopeful in that.

[For the price of a self-addressed stamped-envelope. you can get your own bit of Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter through the "Friends of Carl".]