Thursday, November 12, 2009


Every Thursday, I post a very large photograph of some corner of space captured by the Hubble Space Telescope and available online from the picture album at HubbleSite.


by Charles Wright

After a certain age, there's no one left to turn to.
You've got to find Eurydice on your own,
you've got
To find the small crack
between here and everywhere else all by yourself.

How could it be otherwise?
Everyone's gone away, the houses are all empty,
And overcast starts to fill the sky like soiled insulation.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009


(Bill David Barnett, age 2.5, and Maggie, age 5, trailer park in Pecos, Texas, summer 1961)

Today my little brother Bill would have turned 51.

Which means he's been dead almost 9 years. Can't quite understand that.

He was waiting for health insurance to kick in at his new job: We'd watched how medical costs had starved our family when we were kids. So instead of being saddled with a "pre-existing condition", he lay down alone on that green-and-white striped couch and watched TV as a heart attack rolled on into cardiac tamponade and he bled out into his chest.

Universal health care for every human being, no questions asked, without profit linked to medical choices. Now. Get rid of any leader who caves, no matter what other distractions they toss up. The alternative is ongoing pointless death.

[Cross-posted at Group News Blog.]



Here's the weekly best of what I've gleaned from I Can Has Cheezburger efforts. There are some really creative folks out there. As usual, those from little gator lead the pack.


Monday, November 9, 2009


Here's a new scene from my Great American Lesbian Novel (first draft), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.

Early Winter 2021

Another holiday season without Chris was perversely harder on Myra and Allie than the first yartzeit had been. Myra said it was because it was becoming normal to never hear Chris's voice; even Lucia seldom asked about her any more. She said death was a fucked way to organize the universe and she could have plotted it much better on her crappiest writing day.

Allie just went silent. She began coming over after breakfast every day, sitting at Myra's second worktable to read Chris's journals in the original as Booray created an annotated index. She filled sketchblocks with partial scenes and minimalist renderings of Chris that were quite unlike her usual rich detail but even more haunting for their swift precision. Mrya and Ginny talked privately about Edwina's distance from the project, which seemed indirectly imposed by Allie. Myra asked Allie one day if things were okay between her and Edwina.

Allie's eyes were flat as she answered "What do you mean, okay? We not fighting."

"But are you talking with her about what all is going on inside you? Cause you're pretty much not with me" said Myra.

"I don't know how to put in it words. Except I wasn't ready to be without Chris, and I'm still not" said Allie. "And from here on out, the ante goes up to unthinkable stakes, and I can't leave the table."

"Wasn't it Luisah Teish who first said 'What don't kill us makes us stronger'?" ventured Myra.

Allie's smile was acid. "She fulla shit on that one. Being gutshot a slow but certain end."

Myra went cold. She put her hand on Allie's. "Are you saying you're gutshot?"

"Not yet" said Allie.

After a long silence, Myra said "Change is sometimes veined with hope and joy. What Margie and Frances are bringing us this spring -- "

"I know" said Allie. "I'm counting on it."

After that, Myra's grief shifted into worry about Allie. That is, until her former lover Mimosa died suddenly from an aneurysm and Kate Bean was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. Myra and Ginny flew to San Francisco for Mimosa's funeral the second week in January, and the day after their return, Myra sat in a waiting room with Kate's son Rafe and the sister who was one of Myra's more hostile exes as much of Kate's intestines were removed.

"I don't understand it" Rafe kept saying, "She's the healthiest eater I ever met."

Bodies offer possibility, not justice Myra thought to herself.

The next week, Beebo began peeing on Jane's carpeting in odd corners. The vet said his kidneys were in trouble and every morning Myra walked over to coax a dropper of a new medication down his throat. She whispered to him "You tell me when this isn't okay any more, I'll listen and help everybody else hear it too." He purred and eventually began eating the expensive canned food they switched him to. Myra bought flats of it to stack in their storage room and put all their cats on it as well.

The day before Ginny's 65th birthday, Ginny was painting upstairs while Allie was in Myra's study. Myra baked a cake made mostly of almond flour and bright orange organic egg yolks. She drizzled it with honey, and was pressing halves of succulent dates onto the sticky top when the phone rang.

Five minutes later, she emerged from the elevator and sat down woodenly in Ginny's work chair. Ginny hadn't registered her arrival. Myra looked at the pots of pigments -- heavy on the greens, this one, but that was no clue as to subject matter, not with Ginny -- before saying expressionlessly "Myra's dead."

Ginny didn't respond. Myra said in her cutting-through-the-fog voice "Gin!" When Ginny looked at her, Myra fancied she could see faint swirls of green among the blue smudges in Ginny's eyes. "Myra has died" Myra said.

Ginny looked confused. Allie's voice came from the doorway: "You ex, Myra?"

Myra gazed at her own palms. "Yes. Heart attack yesterday. She was my age, you know."

"Son of a bitch" said Allie as she came to Myra. After two beats of hesitation, Ginny wiped the painstaking accumulation of color on her palette knife into a rag and came to embrace Myra as well.

"Bad year to be one of my exes" said Myra distantly. "Maybe I should send out a warning, time for a check-up, y'all."

Allie laughed, which brought a little color to Myra's face.

"Her memorial service is Sunday" she said. She and Ginny had planned to spend the weekend at the coast, but Ginny swiftly said "I'll go with you, of course."

"No" said Myra slowly. "I'd rather not." She met Allie's eyes and said "Will you finish the cake on the counter and put it away? I think I'll go call Nancy in the bedroom."

Three weeks later a package arrived for Myra. It had been put together by the 40-something tattoo artist who had been Myra Two's lover for a year, and contained yellowing photos, a few copies of Myra's books which she had not given Myra Two, and a roll of Super 8 film.

Myra looked through the photos sadly. "My god, we were so young" she said.

"Who is this in the liplock with Myra Two?" asked Ginny.

Myra glanced at it. "No idea. I guess the new girlfriend thinks all fat dykes in Dickies are identical."

"What's the movie of?" daid Ginny, picking up the yellow box.

"Probably of a march or demo, Myra used to take her camera to events where she hoped we'd get into it with the pigs" said Myra, leafing through her old poetry volumes, hoping for a comment in Myra Two's handwriting, but there was nothing, not even underlining. Ginny had found a faint ink notation on the side of the box: "August 5th -- that's your birthday, is this a movie of some birthday party? We need to get this copied into a format where we can watch it!" she said with growing excitement.

"I think Gillam has a Super 8 projector, actually" said Myra distractedly. She'd found writing on the back flyleaf of one book, but it was some other woman's phone number. Suddenly she looked at Ginny in horror and snatched the film box from Ginny's hands. "Oh hell, I remember what this is!" Her face was going a dull red.

Ginny looked at her in swift comprehension. "Myra, please tell me you didn't make a sex tape with this woman." Myra's silence was answer enough. After a few seconds, Ginny asked "Is there audio on these things?"

Myra shuddered involuntarily as she stood and went to the hidden safe in her study. "Blessedly no" she said over her shoulder.

"Do you think that's the only copy?" Ginny called after her. Myra's step faltered for a moment before she left without answering.

A week later, on a morning when Sima was at Annie's and Myra was sleeping in from late-night editing, Ginny set up Gillam's projector in the spare bedroom and finally figured out how to thread the film correctly through its tortuous path. She closed the blinds and locked the door before pushing play.

At lunch, with Allie, Edwina, Annie, Sima, and Margie also at the table, Ginny said calmly while sprinkling cayenne on her baked squash "I watched that home movie. Of you and Moyra."

"You what?" hissed Myra.

"What movie?" demanded Margie, but Allie shook her head at Margie briefly before returning to glare at Ginny.

"I took a calculated risk" said Ginny. "It would eat you up, sitting there in the safe, someone needed to move it from the unfettered swamps of your imagination. So I was going to tell you what I'd done immediately. I figured if it upset me, I'd make sure you didn't have to deal with a scrap of it and I'd get clear to stay listening to you." She paused to swallow a mouthful of broccoli raab. Allie said to Margie "Myra and her ex who just died filmed themselves messing around after Myra's birthday party way back when. Myra got given the film yesterday." Clearly Myra had discussed it with Allie, and it wasn't news to Edwina, either. Margie and Sima goggled, however.

"So?" Myra said to Ginny challengingly, her chin thrust out.

"Not what I expected. Kinda sweet, actually -- although there are sections you wouldn't want to watch" she said in an aside to Allie, who registered horror at the very idea. Annie muffled a giggle. Ginny continued "It's you, but it's not the you I know, Myra. Not the woman I trust and love, only flashes of her trying to come through. I was fascinated. I think you will be, too. I left the projector set up in the guest bedroom."

Margie glanced at the ceiling overhead as if a living writhe of celluloid might find a way through the acoustic tiles. Myra stood stiffly, plate and silverware in clenched hands, and said "We are not okay about this."

"I'll do whatever work is required" said Ginny equably. "Turn on the little lamp for a minute before pushing the play lever."

Myra headed for the elevator. After the door shut, Margie breathed out and said "Destroy that and any cinematic efforts you two may have created before time comes for me to administer your estates, that's all I ask."

A week after Valentine's Day, Booray had his day filled with classes and meetings, so Myra and Allie were alone that morning in her study. Myra went downstairs for a ginger ale. She stood on the stairs a minute, gazing through the rain-streaked windows at the bench where her mother had some sort of spectral link. Ginny was vacuuming at the front of the house, and the kitchen already smelled of the tomato soup Ginny had started for lunch.

Back in her study, she looked over Allie's shoulder at the charcoal sketch she was making of Chris making the "okay" sign with a wry grin. Chris had always folded her first two fingers over her thumb pad instead of only her forefinger for this symbol, and Myra had never gotten around to asking her why. Allie was capturing it perfectly.

"I been thinking" said Myra, settling into her chair. Franklin had joined Keller on Myra's desk, which he always did when the vacuum was running. Aliie continued licking one fingertip to smear shadows into her drawing, but she swiveled her chair to face Myra.

"We had one ginormous bolt of luck, you and me. I mean, I bought the lottery ticket but it was really both of us won. But what we did with it was be smart, not keep testing our luck. You got art training, I got therapy, and both of us squirreled away enough to keep us comfortable forever -- well, Ginny did it for me but I picked her to help me make those choices, I'll take credit for it that way."

Allie raised her eyebrows as she looked directly at Myra. She had a dark smear on her lower lip.

"Weve kept taking risks, Al, but never stupid ones, so I don't think of it as gambling. It's never been for the thrill of it, either. It's been to keep doing the gods-honest right thing. And we've got good lives as a result, which is lucky only if you favor the power of serendipitous catastrophe over the strength of human will and intent." Myra returned Allie's slow smile and added "A delusion, that human will thang, but I'm hanging onto it for now."

"Okay by me" said Allie.

" know how utterly, passionately I love her, how I revere who she -- was" said Myra with a deep breath. "But I have to admit, Al, I'm stronger than she was. Don't know how or why, I just am. And so are you."

Allie didn't answer. There was no argument on her face, however. After a minute, Myra said "She'd kick my ass if I started living hunkered down now. And she had those steel-toed Red Wings."

Allie laughed in abrupt release. She said "I keep hearing the Wicked Witch of the West saying 'The last to go will watch all the others die before her.'"

"Yeah, well, Judy Garland was already on drugs by then" replied Myra. "Addicts got to keep they minds focused, you always say."

Allie looked at her sketch, then put her name and date at the bottom before turning to a fresh page. "You still mad at Ginny for watching that movie without asking you first?"

"A little. I know I chose to live with her and I know she can't help being someone raised by Helen and David, but I slept most of last week out here on my daybed. Rattled her good and gave me some fresh air" said Myra.

"Edwina told me" admitted Allie.

"Listen, soon as the roads clear, let's go to Colville and spend several days. Fish early, stay at a nice motel and eat out instead of cook, and pound out the final outline for this book about Chris. No children or granchildren, just us originals. Before spring hits and everything changes."

Allie said "I'll talk to 'Wina. They any salmon running this early?"

copyright 2009, Maggie Jochild


Sunday, November 8, 2009


(Maggie Jochild at Bean Hollow Beach near Pescadero, California, i980)


When Liza found out I had lost 85 pounds over the last two years without knowing it, certainly without trying to, she instantly said "No wonder you write about food all the time.' Indeed.

I have been starving in many ways. Fat people are as often malnourished as thin folks in our culture, especially if they are lower income and urban. Post surgery, my electrolytes were persistently abnormal, and they began giving me daily potassium and magnesium sulfate. The surgeon put me on a 2200 calorie diabetic diet -- I don't have diabetes but good insulin control promotes wound healing. I listened to my own cravings and for the first few days of eating solid food I stuck to veggies, cranberry and orange juice, and potatoes plus bananas with every meal. I couldn't get whole grains or avocados, the other items I was jonesing for. The kitchen dutifully limited my carbs but I never reaxhed my calorie limit.

After a week, when I began hard-assed physical therapy, my craving switched to protein and milk, and I ordered accordingly: I was starting to replace muscle. I asked for a comsultation with the hospital dietitian. When she arrived, I told her I wanted to know how to best address the specific malnutrition I had been living with for more than a year, assuming I could afford to buy fresh produce and seriously complete grains as I prefer in my diet. I also asked for a print-out of what I'd ordered through the meal service the past week with nutritional breakdowns I could study.

She had no idea what to do with me. She agreed that living as I had been on a poor person's diet, I should have gained rather than lost weight (my saving habit, I bet, is my inisitence on brown rixe/whole grains). She kept trying to turn our discussion toward calories instead of nutrition. Turns out the kitchen did not keep or report patients' daily meam records, and in the end, she urged me to go on an 1800 calorie a day diet, even after I flatly reminded her that 95% of all weight-loss diets fail and I had only become fat after I began dieting as a young adult.

I told her I loved my body, and after how it had just pulled through for me, ill-conceived calorie counting was not going to be how I rewarded myself for living. She left after giving me a print-out of a diet that relied heavily on white flour and caffeine as "snacks".

Fortunately, just as she was leaving, the Good Doctor came in. He recognized her and asked me how the visit had come about. I explained I'd requested it and gave him a thumbnail of what she'd said. A very nondemonstrative young man, he leaned over me and touched my arm to say "For countless reasons I'd ile to see you thin but PLEASE don't consider dieting, not for months until you are healed." Yet another reason why we call him The Good Doctor.

I stopped dieting during the same general stage of my life when I stopped hurting others via sexual messes. My weight plateaued for a decade, until my orthopedic disabilities drastically altered my mobility and I began living in pain. I gained to another plateau -- partly because in the advice of every expert I consulted, I returned dairy products to my diet. (Kinda need that calcium and minerals when bones are going whackamole.) I'd been the same size for a decade until this recent change.

The second oncologist who saw me this hospitalization, the one called in when pathology of my removed appendix revealed an occult carcinoid tumor, was wise enough to do an exam and take a thorough history of me despite the tumot's clean margins and staging indicating that carcinoma was neither a metastasis nor had it metastasized itself. She understood my level of weight loss, unintentional though probably the result of bowel strangulation and malnutrition, still warranted investigation to consider the idea of cancer elsewhere. In the end, she reassured me that as far as she could see, I had totally sidestepped death. Her face was so delighted: I bet she doesn't get to say that very often.

In contrast, I still remember the sneer on the face of the white gay male physician I saw at the free clinic in San Francisco in 1981 after having been flattened by fever and severe shortness of breath for a week. I was 25, unemployed, and broke, but my roommate Renee finally got me dressed and walked me two blocks to the nearest clinic in the Mission, paying the $12 office visit demand herself rather than let me waste precious oxygen answering their income questions. She also came into the exam room with me, thank g*d, because before even taking my temperature or listening to my chest, that doctor said "So, how long have you been overweight?"

I gaped at him, wheezing audibly. Renee said "She's not here for her weight, she's here because she's burning up with fever."

He turned on her. "Clearly her main problem is obesity, that's what we always see in here." At that point I was at most 25 pounds above the "ideal average" for my height, thick with muscle from walking everywhere.

Renee was slight but a working class Jew who was well-versed in fat liberation. In fact, she was who introduced me to the theory, and I'll love her forever for that fact alone. We shared our household food and she regularly ate circles around me. She stood up and raised her voice to demand that I be examined and treated for what was wrong with me, not given a lecture about obesity. An x-ray revealed advanced pneumonia, and a sputum culture eventually diagnosed me with Valley Fever. Antibiotics cured me and I avoided doctors for a long time after that, until I got insurance and searched until I found physicians I trusted.

Renee and I were in the habit that year of putting Alix Dobkin's latest album XX Alix on the turntable every evening when we got home from our respective jobs or meetings. One of my favorites was the haunting "Separation '78", which begins
Liza, you look more like your mother every day
Counting your calories, my how your body's changed

(Yes it's the same Liza as in my opening paragraph. We were not yet friends, although it's hard to see how we missed connecting back then it seems to have been an inevitability.)

Alix and Liza were lovers who became founding figures in lesbian-feminism, and because Alix's songwriting was frequently autobiographical, Liza's life was very public even when it wasn't through her own art and publshing. Liza was zaftig, buzzed her hair, defied fashion constraints -- including those dictated by dykes -- and had been a role model to me for years by 1981. I understood damned well that if Liza was paying attention to how she ate, it was in no way an attempt to be the kind of slender sex object dictated by heterosexual norms.

I also knew -- all of us who followed Alix's music knew -- that a couple of years earlier, Liza's beloved parents had been killed together in a freak accident. My own mother was still alive, but I felt keenly the poignancy of Alix telling Liza she looked like her mother. Our generation was mother obsessed, positively and negatively. Even more evocative was the fact that "Separation '78" is a love song written about their break-up, again very public. I wept the frst time I heard Alix sing the chorus, with melancholy and hope interlaced:

Going our separate ways
We're on our own
Trusting that only love will come between us

Thus, you can perhaps imagine my shock when I attended a live concert by Alix that year and from the all-lesbian audience came a chorus of boos when she sang her opening lines above about Liza. Alix was visibly startled but far too professional to drop a note, even when boos broke out again at the next verse

Everyone's noticed your new grey hair
Clearly, my darling, I put some there
And my head is carrying its own share
We're an aging pair

After the concert, I talked with one of the women who had booed (not a friend of mine) who said any reference to weight loss was fat oppressive and the grey hair lines were age oppressive. I argued vehemently that noticing changing bodies is not inherently oppressive, and in particular we had every reason to trust the process of Alix and Liza as individuals. Or, to quote a remark Maria Limon made last week when she visited me in the hospital, "Can we just put down the pitchforks?"

I don't know anybody who thinks completely rationally about eating. Or money. Or sex. Do you?

I'm in mid-stream here. I'm hungry for protein as I write this but probably won't go make the tuna sandwich I really want because my pain pills didn't come and that trip to the kitchen might as well be a hike up Bernal Hill used to be. I'll nurse my cranberry juice and wai till morning. At least Ihave this link to you all, typed in my bed on a netbook Liza bought for me and arranged for Maria to bring me in my isolation. Some empty spaces do get filled with just what we need, sometimes people listen and stick up for you and tumors get found in time and love lasts. Let's keep talking. As they say in the crip community, "Not dead yet."

> (Publicity photo for Dyke: A Quarterly, circa 1976; editors were Liza Cowan, left rear, and Penny House, front second from right; also in right front is Alix Dobkin; photo courtesy of Liza Cowan)