Queer Femmes Respond — Don’t Make Up Stories

I’m so happy to have this lovely post from my friend Lisa, with whom I have enjoyed femme tea and chats and who is making due and getting through in her own kind and loving way.

Deep gratitude to Lisa for opening her wise and questioning femme heart to us! It’s so important and healing for us to share our real-life experiences with family and beyond as we do our best with what’s going on and the resources we have or don’t have. Blessings, sweet readers, on you and on your families, and on your true, beautiful, human stories.

Don’t Make Up Stories by Lisa

At the end of April my 87 year old mother-in-law left her apartment to quarantine at our home. Laurie, my spouse, had been trying for weeks to convince her mom it would be safer to stay with us than at her three-tier senior living residence. Mom’s apartment is a large suite in the independent living area of a very upscale residence of a renovated mill building restored “to take full advantage of it’s high ceilings, expansive windows and picturesque waterfall views.” Ok, that’s a quote from their website, but really, the place is stunning, meals are served on china dishes at tables covered in linen; wine is served with dinner, and the food is so incredible that I wonder why the chef doesn’t work at a fancy restaurant.  Care is taken for every detail of the lives of the residence. Mom didn’t want to leave, until … COVID19 finally found its way into the memory care unit, and life changed.  Activities were suspended, residents were confined to their apartments and meals were brought to their doors.  The staff was doing all that they could to keep everyone safe. Mom felt like a prisoner in her own apartment, so she moved in to quarantine with us.

After Mom’s decision to join us everything happened so quickly, we didn’t take time to consider most of the changes in all of our lives. We knew that we would be making adjustments, however, no one discussed any expectations about what it would be like to live together. My big expectation was that Mom would help out around the house, if nothing else at least with meals, or clean up thereafter. Nope, nadda. My requests for help either fell on her hard-of-hearing-the hearing aids are too uncomfortable ears, or Mom just said “No.” I started to make up names for myself such as “The House Elf” or “The only staff member at The Purple House Assisted Living Center.” I became resentful, alone in my head I began to refer to my mother-in-law as “The Princess.” Laurie was between a rock and a hard place. She still goes to her office each day, and she counsels her clients remotely. She does all of the grocery shopping now, and sees herself as the one responsible to keep the two most important women in her life alive (although I’m in good health I am 12 years older, so she’s not taking any chances). She was doing her best to keep things smooth between her mother and me.

Sharing my complaints with friends brought me the kind of support I thought I needed. It didn’t help of course, because they took my side and Mom became the great villain in my story.  Then I talked with my therapist about it and the story changed.  “So,” she said “what kinds of stories are you making up in your head about your mother-in-law?” “Hmm, that she’s used to being waited on, and expects the same from me?” I was so busy thinking about poor me, I hadn’t considered what she might be feeling. Mom is quite willing to share her judgements, but feelings? No.

I began to be a better listener. If she says just the slightest thing about her residence or her old life, I respond with questions to help draw out more detail and her thoughts (but never her feelings). Reading into it I realized how depressed she was about leaving her apartment and her friends. Her vision is failing and she knows where everything is in her home–ours tends to get a bit chaotic. Her apartment is one level. At our house Mom carefully plans when she’ll go to the bathroom because she needs to navigate the flight of stairs to the second floor. Mom has glaucoma and I recently learned that she’s blind in one eye, regardless, she reads–a lot. I order large print books and pick them up at the library for her. She spends most of the day reading, but she likes to play card games, so I stop in the middle of my day, she puts down her book, and we play. At times, later I find that she has put dishes into the dishwasher, or set the dinner table.

Laurie has been relentless in catching up with doctors and making sure that her mother has the proper medical attention.  I’ve recently learned that Mom would consider herself a nuisance if she shared about her aches and pains. What I regarded as the princess waiting to be served, I’ve come to understand was Mom sitting with bodily discomfort that exhausts her.

The negative feelings I carried were a luxury at a time when too many people have lost loved ones to this horrendous disease. We have been fortunate so far to not have lost any family members. I always considered myself to be a kind and caring person, I surprised myself with the unkind feelings that I righteously carried–I am humbled. One of the lessons I’ve learned during this quarantine: Don’t make up stories in your head about what’s going on with Mom, or anyone else for that matter. Be kind–you never know when you will run out of time.

Lisa is a Jewish Unitarian Universalist proud femme. She is a retired director of UU religious exploration and faith development programs for children and youth. Before quarantine she donated her skills, of storytelling and leading children’s crafts, to bring laughter and fun to participants of an adult day program. During quarantine she spends 1 1/2 hours a day on FaceTime reading chapter books to her 7 year old grandson in VT.

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it!

 New Femme Friday feature starting spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!

 At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I recover from treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

 

 

Pingy-Dingy Wednesday – Sybil Sanderson Fagen, Professional Whistler

Sybil could whistle better than the average person, just have a listen! You can let Uncle Dave introduce you to her, first link, or just go straight to The Luxemburg Waltz, second link.

Sybil, you get one pingy-dingy! I am charmed and delighted to know about you. Thank you for your astounding whistling talent and for leaving us so many wonderful songs!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQhFvFaxoAA&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR34qjoyfigKmFIlg_AdPXo7QqwikbugmH8jizH2SVHnWCMtzPeBvu1sbp0

https://archive.org/details/78_luxembourg-waltz-count-of-luxembourg_sibyl-sanderson-fagan-lehar_gbia0131387b

I’m a typewriter whompin’, card catalogue lovin’ white girl from back in the day, and I yearn for a time before the covers of trade paperbacks were all squidgy, so you can imagine that I don’t actually understand what a pingback is. I do know that it can in some way be part of spreading the love, and since that’s what I’m all about at The Total Femme… every Wednesday, I pay homage to the laughter, love, and inspiration to be had elsewhere online.

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I recover from treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

 

 

 

Published in: on July 29, 2020 at 5:07 PM  Leave a Comment  
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Femme Friday – Yours In Struggle

Back in 1984, three lesbians came together to write a book about anti-Semitism and racism: an Ashkenazi Jew, a white Southerner, and an African American. Yours In Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism by Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith continues to be relevant, thought-provoking, and timely.

Deep gratitude to Elly, Minnie Bruce, and Barbara for their willingness to be vulnerable and truthful in the name of fighting injustice and building community.

Minnie Bruce Pratt: When “I get afraid; when I feel my racing heart, breath, the tightening of my skin around me, literally defenses to protect my narrow circle, I try to say to myself: Yes, that fear is there, but I will try to be at the edge between my fear and outside, on the edge at my skin, listening, asking what new things I will hear, will I see, will I let myself feel, beyond the fear. I try to say to myself: To acknowledge the complexity of another’s existence is not to deny my own.”

Barbara Smith: If somebody asked me to describe how Black and Jewish feminists, or Blacks and Jews in general, deal with each other, I would say what we have going is a love-hate relationship. The dynamic between us is often characterized by contradictory and ambivalent feelings, both negative and positive, distrust simultaneously mixed with a desire for acceptance; and deep resentment and heavy expectations about the other group’s behavior.

Elly Bulkin: I find it easier to enumerate instances of anti-Semitism, current and historical, than to distinguish among them or to distinguish how racism and Jewish oppression operate at different times and places. I am well aware of how the difficulty in making distinctions is compounded by so much effort having to go into simply trying to get other women to acknowledge anti-Semitism as more than historical aberration, something past and done.

Every Friday, I showcase a queer femme goddess. I want to feature you! Write to me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com and let me shine a spotlight on your beautiful, unique, femme story! If you’ve written a femme story or poem or song, oh, please let me post it! Sometimes I talk about books, too…

 New Femme Friday feature starting spring 2020: Queer Femmes Respond. Are you reading more poetry? Are you navigating various technologies in order to see your folx and not be so isolated? Are you still going out to work? Are you able to get out for walks? Who’s home with you? We queer femmes are meeting these unsettling times with queer femme panache, and I want to hear about it! Along the lines of the Corona Letters over at the Sewanee Review, please send in what you’re doing, how you’re staying centered and sane! Write me at thetotalfemme@gmail.com with questions or ideas or a full-on post (with bio, if possible)!

 At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I recover from treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.

 

Meditations for Queer Femmes – Still Here!

Sometimes, it feels like I want to scrawl one of those signs you see in zombie movies that humans stick in the windows: STILL HERE! Because, dearest femme sisters, I am still here, despite it all. So much mortality inside me and around me, always sorting through what can I do, what is my responsibility, how can I help. When I can still my own fretting and round and round thinking, I do hear the wise voices saying, clearly and with such love, that one must start at home, with oneself, build the love there, care first for the body, mind, and soul, so that the love can radiate out. Caring for our queer femme selves is a radical act. Along these lines, the best and most beautiful auto-reply messages I’ve ever seen came from Rebecca Jackson, the senior director of Organizational Equity Practice, part of a local organization, Trinity Connects (their mission statement is below):

Thanks for your email. In my ongoing attempt to live into rest as an act of resistance against White Supremacy Culture, I may not respond to your email right away. If my response time doesn’t meet your needs, please feel free to reach out again.

Thank you, be well!

Tears came to my eyes when I saw this; it is so deeply healing and inspiring to witness self care from people of color, and from folx running non-profits, especially, as the traditional culture of non-profits is often to work until you drop. And so meaningful to see this now, when, even before the pandemic, people were expected to respond to emails and texts pretty much 24/7 – it’s so much more oppressive these days, with so many working from home. I don’t suppose there’s anyone among us who hasn’t received an email written at the wee hours of the morning from a co-worker or colleague, or perhaps written one ourselves.

I am weary, and I know you must be, too, my sugar plum darlings. Stop right now and step away from the screen. Deep breath, relax your shoulders, look outside. Remember we are in it together. It’s hard and we’re scared and run down, but we are not alone, and we can’t do it all at once or by ourselves or even right this minute.

“Where do you find inspiration for your work?” Spirit Magazine asked Quinn Gormley, Executive Director of the Maine Transgender Network. “I’m especially inspired by the work of ACT UP,” she answered. “The politics of fighting for life as people we love die – is there anything more queer? In a moment of burnout a few years ago, I described my work as ‘bailing out the Titanic with a mop bucket.’ But if we bail, really, really hard, and work together, we might buy ourselves enough time for the string quartet to finish their song. And isn’t that the point? Making life livable enough in an impossibly hostile world that our people can lead lives filled with joy and music?”

Thank you, Quinn, for that inspiration, and Rebecca for your modeling of self-care. Today, make a moment for yourself, my loves. Rest, and build on your power. There is joy and music and such good company!

Trinity Connects: Our mission is to unlock opportunities and change the odds for youth of color in Boston. Our goal is to help them succeed by increasing available resources that lower systemic barriers to their achievement and wellbeing. This is vital and unique work for youth of color who are subject to the pervasive trauma of systemic racism. The heartbeat of Trinity Boston Connects is in the nourishing connection between youth of color and adults who champion their success. 

 Every Monday, I offer a Meditation for Queer Femmes, in the spirit of my maternal grandmother, Mimi, who was fabulous, and from whom I inherited her Meditations for Women.

At the Total Femme, my intention is to post three times a week: Meditations for Queer Femmes on Monday, Pingy-Dingy Wednesday on Wednesday and Femme Friday on Friday. Rather than play catch-up in a stressful fashion on those weeks when life prevents posting, I have decided to just move gaily forward: if I miss a Monday, the next post will be on Wednesday, and so on. Thank you, little bottle of antibiotics for inspiring me in this! (“…if it’s almost time for the next dose, skip the missed dose and continue your regular dosing schedule. Don’t take a double dose to make up for a missed one.”) As I recover from treatment for breast cancer, however, I’m just going to post whenever I can manage.