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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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ColumbiaAt this point in my revision process I’m supposed to be cutting words, not adding them, but last night I pounded out a rough version of a new chapter, one of those things that I’d toyed with writing originally but never got around to. I don’t know if it will stay in the book, but I thought I’d share it here because it amused me enough that I couldn’t quite keep it to myself. 

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 Mom taught us that if we cursed with a strong enough accent, we could get away with it. Seriously, you can say shite and feckin’ in front of the whole class and no one will notice, but one futher-mucker and the whole thing goes to hell.” Alice says, leaning between the front seats so she can be sure that Sophie hears her.

 Max snorts from the backseat beside Alice, but doesn’t look up from his GameBoy.

 You taught them to curse with a Scottish accent?” Sophie asks, incredulous.

 It was my Irving Welsh period,” I say, “and to be perfectly honest, I was tired of being called to the Principal’s office.”

We’re on our way to Columbia State Park a tiny ghost town in the foothills below the Sierra Nevada mountains. I may have grown up in the valley, but I was born in the foothills and driving through them on this late spring morning still feels a bit like coming home.

We stop off in Sonora to have a quick lunch with Ruby who works in the Memorial Chapel three blocks from the apartment where my first memories are stored. It’s another ten minutes to Columbia, the main street of which has been restored to it’s 1850s charm, It’s the kind of place that kids visit on school trips, and families stop off at on their summer vacation. For my family, it holds even a more personal nostalgia as the house my maternal grandparents lived in is two blocks up from Main St. Read the rest of this entry »

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092008

 “Ruby and I are blocking a coveted parking space at the edge of Graceada Park just for you,” I tell my mother, as my sister pantomimes a bizarre yet brilliant space-holding dance a few feet away.

Through the phone, I can hear the tension in her voice even though all she gives me in response is, “Um Hum.”

I glance over at Alice, under the awning of the Pride Center’s festival booth, handing out Prop 8 stickers and brochures to a middle-aged couple.

“Alice’s booth is ten feet away from this space,” I say in response to the strained silence on the other end of the phone. “It would mean so much to her if you came by to be supportive.”

Ruby stops dancing and shoots me a worried expression, knowing what’s coming.

“You know, your Pops and I have prayed about this, and it’s just not something we can do.”

A tight little fist clenches around my heart. I know there’s no reaching her at this point and yet I continue to bash my head against this particular wall. It’s not that my mother doesn’t love Alice. It’s just that she can’t see her, and so she keeps waiting for this particularly distasteful phase to end.

“Nobody’s asking you to wave a rainbow flag, Mom. Just to let your granddaughter know that you love and support her on a day that’s important to her.”

“Well, of course we do.”

“Just not enough to show it in public?”

“I’m sorry that you’re upset, but I’m going to get off the phone now.” She adds, “I love you,” before the line goes dead.

Alice has been looking forward to Modesto’s Pride Festival for three months. She shoved her way onto the organizing committee and took to carrying around a notebook into which she scribbled ideas, suggestions and plans to propose to the group. I get the sense that they tired of her “in Santa Cruz, they do it like this” suggestions but then these are people who understand Modesto’s queer history in a way that Alice does not. The fact that there’s a festival at all is progress for the traditionally invisible LGBT community.

But here we are in one of the town’s best parks, with its sprawling oak trees and full amphitheater where The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are camping it up, its tennis courts, its BBQ pits and, for today only, a Bounce House and portable waterslide set up near the play equipment. There is a nice mix of street food, and a whole slew of booths selling art, books, and crafts. Mixed in among the vendors are a smattering of non-profit organizations, a couple of churches and a booth for the Democratic Party of Stanislaus County.

“I don’t know why you try,” Ruby says as we abandon the empty parking space and return to the park.

“I know she has that whole ‘love the sinner; hate the sin’ thing but she acts like I just invited her to a gay orgy,” I say as we head towards a booth full of books. “It’s terrifying to her that someone might see her here and assume that she approves of…festival food and hula hoops.”

Ruby laughs and starts digging through the books on one of the tables. Within mere seconds, she’s selected three and is handing her cash to the bookseller. I grab the books from her and check them out as we move on to the next booth.

“You realize this is gay erotica, right?” I ask, holding up a copy of Teleny.

“Oh!” she blushes. “I just saw Oscar Wilde’s name and snapped it up.”

“Not that I’m judging.” I slip the books back into her bag and step into the jewelry booth after her. Ruby is a fiend for jewelry so we’re in there for a while.

Finally, she holds up a big fat heart on a long silver chain. “Should I get this for Alice?”

“Absolutely.”

With heart in hand, we make our way back to the Pride Center booth where Alice and one of her support-group friends are lounging in plastic chairs, making daisy chains. As soon as she sees us, Alice jumps up and comes out from behind the table.

“Did you see Davey yet?” she asks excitedly.

“No. He made it?” I’m delighted.

“He was over there with The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence a few minutes ago. Did you get a hold of Grandma Jo? Is she coming?”

“Nah babygirl, I’m sorry but she’s not.”

“Is it the big gay army thing?”

“Kinda, but check out what Aunt Ruby found.” I step aside, shifting the focus to my sister, who holds out the heart-shaped bauble.

With a squeal of delight, Alice reaches for it. “For me?”

“For you,” Ruby answers.

Just then, someone bear-hugs me from behind and I turn to find Davey, decked out in a tight red t-shirt and a rainbow-striped faux-hawk.

“I’m so glad you made it!” I say, hugging him fiercely. When we separate, I make a sweeping gesture towards the rest of the park. “What do you think?” I ask him. “Too quiet? Too sedate?”

“Girl, you forget where I come from! In comparison to Amish country, this is practically a gay mecca.”

Just then, Fiona’s Crown Vic slides into the recently vacated parking space just behind the Pride Center’s booth. I wave in her direction and Alice runs over to the car, reaching through the passenger window to grab the yappy little dog off Dotty’s lap. At the same time, a group of giggling girls descends upon the booth and Alice rushes back with the dog at her heels.

“I know everything about the Pride Center.” Alice waves her arms, like a carnival barker in front of the girls. “I know everything about the Pride Center. What can I tell you, sell you or do you for today?”

We leave her to it and move on towards the food vendors in search of a good taco truck. When we’re out of earshot, Ruby leans in to whisper: “Are you going to tell me what the ‘big gay army’ is?”

“Just one of those things Mom and Pops are terrified of … the so-called militant homosexuals.”

“Militant homos?” Davey pipes up. “Show me, show me! I do so love a man in uniform.”

I link arms with them both as we walk on through the park.

Alice isn’t angry that her grandparents didn’t drop by to support her. She’s sad, and yet she spends the rest of the day grinning and laughing and flitting around the park like a newly formed butterfly, the big fat heart bouncing against her chest as she goes.

I’m the one who’s angry. I let it go on the surface and never bring it up again, but it burrows deep and stays with me because once again my mother has chosen a belief system over her own flesh and blood, hiding behind a god who tells her exactly what she wants to hear. There is so much shame in this world. What does it honestly cost us to instill a sense of acceptance and pride in those we profess to love?

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uhh“Is everything alright?” The wide-faced woman folding sweaters at the entrance of the Target dressing room asks.

“Oh no, we’re fine.” I assure her, standing in the narrow hall between dressing rooms, while Alice cries loudly within the stall.

The woman looks unconvinced.

“Teenage girls and jeans.” I explain, rolling my eyes. Then I lean against the door and whisper. “Al, put your pants back on and bring everything out. We can do this another day.”

“B …bu …but I need jeans.” she wails.

“Ok, then we can do it at another store.”

The weeping downgrades to sniffles and I hear her moving around behind the door. I smile at the attendant, pacing nervously while I wait.

It was brave of us to try this in the first place, just march into the dressing room, daring anyone to try and stop us. What we hadn’t counted on when picking out the items to try on, was that Alice has shot up another couple of inches, and thinned out in the last few months, so every pair of jeans she took into the dressing room is too big, too short or doesn’t fit in the crotch. We don’t talk about Alice’s crotch much. Mostly we talk around it, a thing which must be managed for the time being, but too intimate to be discussed freely. Read the rest of this entry »