Sunday, January 15, 2017

BBC SHERLOCK IS GAAAAAAAY: Or At Least I Really Really Hope So


Anybody who has spoken to me in the last five years or so knows that I have a bit of a Sherlock Holmes obsession. I want to try and explain why these fictional characters are so important to me, especially in their incarnation by Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on BBC Sherlock. 

I first watched the show in about 2012, when the first two seasons are on Netflix. Matt had already watched it, and I had slept through it. He was in the habit of staying up all night with Netflix going while I slept. He watched it and he thought I should watch it. I was Luke warm. My only experience with Sherlock Holmes was Laurie King's wonderful feminist reimagining about Mary Russell. The rest of it seemed sort of, I dunno. Stodgy. Ridiculously masculine. But I agreed, and watched it all in one sitting more or less. As we often do now in this age of Netflix binge-watching, over two or three days I got to the end of the Reichenbach fall, the sixth episode and final episode. It ends with Sherlock leaping from the roof of Saint Barts hospital apparently to his death. He leaves poor Dr. Watson bereft and in terrible pain, and unable to express the last important thoughts with his mad flatmate. 

I wanted more. Only six episodes? How is this possible? And not just more action and mystery, or clever British banter and high speed rooftop chases or technologically dazzling deduction scenes. Because actually, it's a terrible action show. The mysteries are ridiculous (there was a giant Hungarian living in the sewers, an enormous glowing hound, and a killer Chinese circus, and the biggest baddy of all flashed his undies. I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP.) The effects border on silly (the flashing screen at a bank heist "Hacked.") And the dialogue continually elevates your expectations and then pooh-poohs them. It's like a Monty Python skit where it'll say look at the beautiful distant shining Camelot! Nope it's only a model, full of self aware parodies and metatextual injokes. There's something about that rug pulling give-and-take dialogue that gives the show the same kind of otherworldly absurdist poignancy of Doctor Who or Torchwood. Make sense, since it's shares some of the same creators. One of my favorite examples of this is the way that Sherlock and Mycroft appear to be playing Chess but actually it's Operation. This isn't some highbrow intellectual show, it's a bit of silliness about a cartoonishly broken heart. 

So I wanted more. But there was one thing specifically that I desperately needed after watching those first six episodes. I felt like the relationship between John and Sherlock needed more. To see poor John slouched in grief and unable to speak his feelings, standing at Sherlocks grave, and to see Sherlock heading out on his post fall adventures without John… No. It was all wrong. I needed them together. 

I'll admit it. I needed specifically for them to kiss each other. 

I'm not sure where this need came from. I've never been a shipper, I've never been in a fandom. But after watching those six episodes, I needed to see their relationship become romantic. I think there were cues built into the text of the film that made my desire to see their relationship become romantic the natural outcome of what I was seeing. The dialogue about whether or not Sherlock has a boyfriend or a girlfriend, the dialogue about Watson being "a very good boyfriend" to Sherlock Holmes, the dialogue with Irene Adler about how John and Sherlock are a couple whether or not John admits it, and how Irene, although she is a lesbian, still finds herself attracted to Sherlock because attraction and sexuality are sometimes unexpectedly complex.  

These all suggested to me that the real question that is left unanswered by those six episodes isn't whether or not Moriarty  really died, or how Sherlock faked his death. The real question is how are these two damaged humans going to be able to connect romantically and, as John says, find fulfillment as a human being through romantic entanglement.

The obstacles to the connection aren't external. They're internal. They are Sherlock's bizarre claim that he's a high functioning sociopath. It's John's adamant claim that he's not gay (as if you have to be gay to fall in love with a man: #bisexuality is a thing John!) It's John's concern about how other people perceive them, and when the press insinuates they might be in a relationship ("confirmed bachelor John Watson") he says they have to "be more careful." It's Sherlock's internalized lesson from Mycroft that sentiment is "the fly in the ointment, the crack in the lens," and that "alone protects me." They have terrible obstacles to overcome in order to be good for each other, and to be together romantically. 

I made a terrible-- or wonderful--decision, depending on how you read what happened next. I googled: John and Sherlock kiss. Imagine the heavens parting! Google served me well! It turned out that there were beautifully done photoshopped images of John and Sherlock kissing and there were entire novel length stories written about how their relationship could progress forward, could survive the separation and betrayal of the fall from Saint Bart's, how John could overcome whatever resistance he had to gay love, and Sherlock could overcome whatever beliefs he had about himself being inhuman. I fell hard into the world of fanfiction. And wow, what a world. The writing in some of these works is so astounding it takes my breath away. It was staggering, the amount of creative energy that existed around this show. 

My new obsession wasn't something that I felt like I could tell other people. There is such stigma against fan girls, against gay pairings, against fanfiction, and against the whole world and culture of shipping. For the uninitiated, shipping is when you imagine that two fictional characters should be in a relation"ship". Hence the ship. Most of the time, these ships are fun and based on actorly aesthetics. For example in supernatural, many people ship the angel Castiel and the demon hunter Dean. There's certainly some on-screen sexual tension between the characters but the show runners emphasize repeatedly with plot lines and in world characterization that no, they are not going to have a romantic relationship. And although they have adventures together and share a "special bond", shipping those two characters is more an exercise in creative fun--more about the giddy silliness of taking two pretty people and making them kiss. And there's nothing wrong with that kind of shipping. I enjoy all kinds of ships that really have nothing to do with their text of origin. 

Shipping is a great game. You take characters with her own sets of personalities and emotions and motivations and back stories, and see how you could change their paths and put new obstacles in their way and clear others, and or in order to pair them with another character. 

But Sherlock and John never felt like that to me. Their relationship seemed much more imperative. My viewing of that pairing was way more than just an aesthetic appreciation of Benedict Cumberbatch's cheekbones or Martin Freeman is adorable little run and compelling assholery. In fact I don't want anything to do with the celebrities themselves, and although I think they are admirable actors, I don't need to follow all of their other work. It's just those characters. Just John and Sherlock. I needed to see them together, healed, and united.

So for years I read tons of fanfiction. Pretty soon I had favorite authors who I would follow, and favorite online communities where I could find recommendations in conversation about the show. Sometimes these are squee filled insanity posts, fueled by the horrendously long time between the release of new episodes. This in the world of the fandom is affectionately known as hiatus hell. Hiatus -- often YEARS between seasons, and only three episodes per season-- tends to generate marvelous but ridiculous content, like reimagining Sherlock as a giant tuna. I don't know and I don't understand tuna!lock. But it's funny. Theres a lot of absurdity. 

There's also incredibly articulate and in-depth textual and meta-textual analysis, compiled by brilliant viewers and readers of the original text and of the films and the movies. The online communities fed my obsession. I found works of art that hundreds of thousands of other people have read. I found fic that made me weep, like Alone on the Water by Madlori, imagining Sherlock's death by cancer, and the terrible unspoken things that live in Watson after his chance is gone. I've read mind bending time travel ultimate reality science fiction fic like Chrys's A River Without Banks. I've read novel length hard-core military gay erotica, "221 Bravo Baker" by abundantlyqueer, and thoughtful crossovers between the world of Sherlock and the Harry Potter universe like "You Are A Paradigm" by 1electricpirate. And I've gained a shared language, with thousands of other people who've read and loved the same things. And it's not just online. 

I have gone to Watsons Tin Box meetings in Maryland, and been inducted. They said if you go once it could be an honest mistake but if you go twice then they figure you're there on purpose and you become a member. I teared up when they said that. I went to an astounding Sherlock Holmes film conference in Indiana and got to watch vintage Sherlock Holmes films and hear speeches from producers of the BBC Sherlock Homes radio show and the Granada Sherlock Holmes television series starring Jeremy Brett, David Hardwick and David Burke as Holmes and Watson and Watson.I went to the astounding Scintillation of Scions meeting in Maryland, where I heard brilliantly comical and ludicrous and insightful speeches about Sherlock Holmes in the ACD Canon, Sherlock Holmes and Star Trek and Watson's unreliability about Homes' musical taste. I was so overwhelmed and thrilled to meet these people all coming together to celebrate Sherlock Holmes. It felt like coming home to meet them in person and since then they've been a real source of love and support to me, and I feel like they are friends, even if I've only met them once or twice. I know about one's abusive ex-husband. They are real people to me. 

One of my favorite artifacts of this fandom has been the Three Patch Podcast. It's a wonderfully well executed podcast focusing on the BBC Sherlock fandom, with segments interviewing fan artists and video creators and writers, a book club section where they read and discuss interesting fic with a panel, fascinating segments about sexuality and film studies and The Sherlock Holmes Canon… These episodes come out about once a month and they are long-- about three hours each. And I relish every single soundbite. 

In the last few months I've discovered an astounding YouTube series by Rebekah TJLC, and it has reignited my passion for this John/Sherlock aka Johnlock ship. In over 50 videos, often an hour each, she goes into detail examining the soundtrack, the character arches, the cinematography, the subtext, the tropes, the writer's motivations and back stories… And she presents a wonderful case that Sherlock and John are indeed destined to become a romantic couple. In spite of the societal pressure that says that a mainstream action TV show can't be gay, in spite of the writers' protestations that that's not the story they're telling, in spite of late night talk show host mocking the fandom and their dirty little shipping, and the essentially misogynist anti-fan girl rhetoric that pops up anywhere you mention the wish for this ship to become canon-- for their romantic relationship to be a part of the show. I'm glad for these videos, because they are so well done, and they are just a really beautiful example of the level of love and care and thoughtful analysis that fans bring to create their experience with the show. But I think what these videos do, and all of the other detailed meta-textual analysis produced by fans, is just break down why I had that initial feeling that I needed to see John and Sherlock in this romantic relationship. 

It seems that these creators have intentionally, softly, softly, created a drama that inevitably brings these two characters together in this way. Not as brothers in arms, not as platonic roommates, but as two men in love with each other, completely devoted to each other, sharing their lives in every way. I am intensely invested in this outcome. I feel like my heart is absolutely on the chopping block. So far two episodes of the new season have come out, and only one remains. In the two so far, we've seen them pushed together and torn more apart. Their own issues are becoming apparent, and the obstacles between them are still terrifyingly hazardous. But I still feel like they are destined to be together. Not in some kind of wish fulfillment "I just want to see them kiss" kind of way. I want to see them overcome those painful emotional hurdles that form the real conflicts in these episodes. As John says to Sherlock, "you're not a puzzle solver, you're a drama queen!"

If this show is not about their relationship, then it's Dadaist nonsense. I feel that it's vitally important that the show actually produce a mainstream action hero who is gay. And not just any mainstream action hero, Sherlock Holmes. From the moment of his publication, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson have been coded as queer characters. But they never in their 150 year history I have been able to be romantically involved. To be married. It's so overdue. 

I'm so invested in this, especially at this particular moment in time, because the level of vitriol and hatred against people under that large queer rainbow umbrella of gay-bi-lesbian-trans-intersex-asexual-etc. Right now everyone under that umbrella is threatened. The world is taking an alarming turn to the fascist. For a little while with the legalization of gay marriage across the world in many countries, it seemed as though we were seeing a break in the historical phalanx of anti-homosexual relationships. Sure, as my grandmother said, everybody always knew that there were same-sex couples who are deeply in love and build their lives together, just the way that everyone always knew that Sherlock Holmes had his Watson and Watson had his Holmes, but there was just no need to say it out loud. 

Why do we need to bring it out into the open? This is a question that I know many people who are even fans of the show ask. And it's so difficult for me to put into words why I so desperately want and need to see these characters be openly gay on television. I guess the simplest tiniest answer is that representation matters. In this era where hate crimes mean that trans youth are likely to be murdered, bisexuality is a high suicide risk, where gay couples can legally lose their jobs or their apartments based on their the sex of their partner, where gay youth have to look at subtext rather than text in order to see a mirror of themselves, it's just too important. They have to show these characters being gay. They just have to. I know, I know-- artist don't have a duty to tell "very special episode" stories that go in trying to push a particular political or cultural agenda. But this show is so so close, and they could really change history if they dared to be the first to tell this story in this way. 

So I hope I'm right. It's such a little scrap, to hope that there will be some kind of fulfillment, some kind of confirmation of this deep feeling that I've had for years and years that Sherlock and John indeed are destined to be together. Not his housemates, not as partners solving crimes, but as husbands. I desperately hope that in twodays time, my five-year-old wish to see them kiss will finally be granted. If it is, it's a fist pumping moment for anyone who is desperate to see themselves reflected in characters on screen. Anyone who is broken and needs love. Anyone who is straight but maybe with a question mark about who it's OK for them to love. Anyone who has such a stuck idea about who gets to be gay and who gets to be straight but they can't even imagine the characters that they love could be anything other than straight. This would be an incredible victory for representation. I'll go into this weekend with all of my fingers and toes crossed that the makers of this beautiful show won't let me down, and that Holmes and Watson can be together at last.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Admit it: Not all Suicides are Preventable

"How do people keep themselves safe?"asks a reporter to Inspector Lestrade in BBC Sherlock's first episode, "A Study in Pink." "Well, don't commit suicide," he quips. Then he takes a softer tack: "Obviously, this is a frightening time for people, but all anyone has to do is exercise reasonable precautions. We are all as safe as we want to be."

Sherlock Holmes then texts everyone in the press conference with the single, emphatic word, "WRONG!"

What can we do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? Parents are terrified of the specter of teen suicide. In Utah, my new and old homestate, the teen suicide rate has tripled since 2007. It has the 15th highest suicide rate in the country.

The response to alarming statistics about suicide is to bulk up prevention programs and access to mental health. The school where I did my initial student teaching 13 years ago, Lone Peak High School in Alpine UT, responded to a contagion of suicides by hiring a full time counselor, holding rallies, and involving parents (source).

I'm sure it feels good to take action like that. How do we stop suicide? We tell people not to do it. We share the suicide hotline information on facebook. We make blanket statements of encouragement: "You are never alone."

 "Some say they feel stigmatized by such statements … as if others now look at them as having failed to do enough." (Source)


And that's how it feels.
Just don't do it, don't kill yourself. Even if you're thinking about it all the time, even if you're waking up from attempts horrified at what nearly happened, screwing your courage to never ever do it again, even if your mind is constantly flooded with death-pornographic images of your own violent death. Even if the things you do to quiet that insistent jackhammer of self-violence only feed the monster that's urging you toward's the cliff's edge, just... don't do it.

Up until the moment of death, suicide is preventable. That's the party line.

It's a terrible party line. It robs us all.

If I had known Matt was dying, I would have lived with him differently. If he had known he was dying... Well, he did. But he couldn't admit it. He just felt himself jolting inexorably towards that cliff's edge, each secret attempt bringing the inevitable closer.

I didn't know. He hid it well-- behind ordinary grumpiness, work stress, family busy-ness. I knew he wasn't okay. I didn't realize that "mildly depressed" (the diagnoses he admitted to) could be deadly.

Matt thrashed and struggled against his own death. He went, hating every second, to a counselor who told him about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She sent him home with a book called "Feeling Good" which he tore in half with his bare hands, and then tore in half again. He came with me to three different counselors and a psychiatrist. He said it was like sitting under the eye of Sauron, or like being sent to the principal's office. He was smart and he was in pain and he was terrified.

Later, after his death, those counselor's told me his prognosis was never good.

I wish I had known that-- all the little statistical towers piled up-- he was high risk across the board. Even his ethnicity-- "mixed race"-- put him in the highest risk racial group for suicide. Add in everything else, it echoes in my mind: "His prognosis was never good."

I can't change what happened. But I can be a noisy little wasp in the ear for other people.

You might lose them. You MIGHT. If you can't stop it from happening, what do you do? How do you make room for pleasure and delight when that fatal shadow is looming?

A friend called me the other day. Her husband was on his dozenth suicide attempt of the year. Should she leave him to spare herself the ragged shredding of her heart? Who knows. But I told her what I wished I had known. I wish I had known he was dying. I couldn't have stopped it, but I would have savored those last brutal months with him, just as I was able to savor the last months of my mom's life as she died of cancer.

There is an alchemical transformation of suicide death, and fault.

Up until the point of completion, the suicide was a non-thing. A non-disease. Not like a tumor that has given you another day. But maybe we should think of suicidal depression that way. A growing tumor. It might be healed, with vigorous treatment. But it probably is the death sentence.

That inevitability of the backwards look means that things were coming to this. Looking forward the road ahead is infinite splits-- a tessellation of possibilities. But looking backwards the forks are invisible-- alternate universes shadowed, and only the path we took is the one illuminated. That makes it feel like there was only ever one path.

That single path changes the blame. There was nothing else that could have happened.

And pronouncing glibly that suicide is preventable is a horror and put the burden on the surviving family members.  "he who is bent on ending his own life, on some level, must first re-gain a modicum of clarity in order “to be saved.” In some small way, that person must be willing to open up just a little and let someone in. To make a gesture. Reach out. To ask for help." 

I don't feel blamed for Matt's death. I feel baffled and knocked out of orbit and my heart is in tatters. I don't feel responsible for it. With the information I had, with the resources I could muster, I did everything I could. But I still wish I had known that not all suicides are preventable beforehand, and that, as the therapists said, "His prognosis was never good."

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Today is six months since Matt​'s death. I am relieved to feel time passing, getting us further and further from that moment of horror and pain. But it also means that the finality of it is starting to sink in-- all his chances and options were suddenly closed off and there will never be any explanations or answers or happy endings for him. I've found unfinished screenplays in his work notebooks. I've found journals with just one or two entries. And that's it.

When someone dies by suicide, they don't get rid of their unbearable, impossible pain. They give it to their families-- to their children.

Right now we are still struggling to breathe under the weight of that sudden horrifying tsunami of pain, and trying to find ways to understand it, forgive it, be gentle with it, move through it and with it, transform it from jagged spikes into rolling waves. It's already been six months. It's only been six months. Time expands and contracts weirdly with death-- it was yesterday-- it was another lifetime.
But it's also thanksgiving time. And I'm filled with gratitude. I'm so grateful for my grandmother who allows me to make her meals and clutter up her life with kid art and wild gigglers, and for the seasons turning from ripe fall into stark and thoughtful winter. I'm grateful for the made-family that has come around me and mine.
And I'm thankful for a memory like this that makes me smile. This was his version of a love note. He stacked MY favorite books on the goat cheese to press it, and left it there for me to find in the hurry and scurry of the day. I saw it. There were good moments. They can sweeten the darkness.
Matt's cheese-making is a literary process. Special thanks to JK Rowling, JRR Tolkien, Ray Bradbury and CS Lewis. And the goats.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Who Would Jesus Shun?




Last night my aunt and uncle brought over their 9 kids and a vat of spaghetti and meatballs. My girls and a few cousins disappeared downstairs to craft American Girl doll sandals out of ribbon and foam. I was tired-- my focus to a pinprick, and wanted to be flat on the ground. That is what grief feels like to me sometimes. Dull, flat, tiny, mute-- my grieving body.

After dinner my aunt and uncle, really generous and loving people, called the kids into the living room around grandma's recliner and asked for a prayer and a spiritual thought for family home evening. Their oldest daughter volunteered. She's a beautiful girl-- with a sort of timeless prettiness. She seems poured from a Jane Austen novel or L. M. Montgomery-- no makeup, no hair product, a ponytail, rosy cheeks, clear eyes. My grandma has an old picture of her with a tea set on her fridge-- that is where she belongs. Under an apple tree, pouring tea into floral china.

She shared Matthew 7:1-3. "Judge not, that ye be not judged." She added, "somewhere along the line, the translators just messed it up, or thought they'd change it."
This is the Joseph Smith translation, which is added as a footnote in the LDS version of the New Testament. " 2 Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment."

She read this version to us. She explained that people think this Bible verse means it's bad to judge other people, that somehow judging other people is wrong and makes you mean, but REALLY it means it's only bad to judge other people --- if you are wrong. If you are right and they are bad, go ahead and judge them. The original verse makes it sound like you should just let everybody do whatever they want and focus on your own issues, but no.  Joseph Smith fixed that for us.

She illustrated. Her seminary teacher met some really cool folks-- really smart, really kind. But they were swearing and he knew that sometimes they drank coffee, tea or alcholo (all verboten in Mormon theology). So he decided he couldn't spend time with them because they would have a bad influence on him. That, she explained, is an example of righteous judgment.

"Don't SHUN, them, exactly... just limit your time with them, and their influence on you."

One of the twins, a year older than her, piped up. "But what about your influence on them? Can't you spend time with them to lift them up?"

She grimaced. "Well, no, because influence goes both ways."

I wanted to say, "So, maybe you shouldn't bring them spaghetti dinners?" I have tattoos, I happily drink tons of coffee, I've had my name removed from the church's records last year (when they banned the children of same-sex couples from getting baptized), and I have a prominent rainbow magnet on my car. I have kept the things I loved from my LDS upbringing, but many things from that legacy are damaging and took a lot of gentle untangling to heal from. I am not lost or strayed-- I am healed and healing from the church. I won't categorically say I will NEVER go back, because life is weird and you never know, but I certainly don't feel like I SHOULD go back. I feel like me and Jesus and God are on good terms. I certainly feel blessed and loved and guided by the universe. I feel like I'm learning-- I'm a work in progress. I am on a path, I'm not wallowing in a ditch waiting to be hauled back onto the road.

I felt a little astonished listening to this lovely child say these things-- fearing so much for the fragility of her goodness that any exposure to difference would damage it.

The parents tried, bless them, to bring Jesus back into it. My aunt asked her daughter, "What would Jesus do?"

My cousin agreed heartily. "Exactly. Think of the standards of behavior Jesus expects."

"Who would Jesus spend time with, though?" my aunt asked.

My uncle said, "That's a high bar."

My cousin agreed again, somberly-- "It IS a high standard we have to hold to."

"Well," my uncle said, "loving as Jesus does is a high bar."

It didn't get through. The conversation ended on an uncomfortable note-- or maybe it was just my discomfort. Are they spending time with me in order to have some good influence on me? Are they careful to seal themselves up from my influence? I was tired. I felt smaller.

Jesus spent his time LOVING the most despised --- the most "righteously" judged-- people in his society. And he got out a whip and knocked shit over. That was against the hypocrites and the people making profits off of others' faith. He embraced the sinners and the unclean and the damaged. He wasn't worried that they'd somehow damage him.

The best human interactions are mutual-- we shine our lights onto each other, amplifying the light, the goodness. The god in me greets the god in you, and we are all lit a little brighter with that heavenly fire.

These parents are good. This family is good. This teenage daughter is good. But they-- and the many other like them (88.12% of the county where we live) will hurt my kids. If my girls, raised out of the church, are supposed to be shunned because of their potential for bad influence, if the name of Jesus is used as a barrier between people instead of a madly, impossibly open gate called Grace... then we're not safe here. We're not safe anywhere near that kind of judgement.

So the Utah safety net... it's appealing. Addresses are easy to find. The schools are safe and fun. I just crash landed here and I have already friends around that I can hike with, build bonfires with. But it's that undercurrent-- in spite of having parents who genuinely want to do and be good-- the Mormon kids pick up on and distill a fearfulness, a self-righteousness, and a resistance to difference that will only damage them and the people around them.

We need a lesson from Frodo. A badness "look fairer, and feel fouler." Goodness-- light, truth, royalty-- can be scruffy and unkempt. Just because something scares you doesn't mean it's bad.



Settling in....Elsewhere.

When I made this blog about 8 years ago, I was living in a one-room ohana apartment attached to a farmhouse on Hawaiian Homelands in Waimea, Big Island. I was thinking hard-- learning hard-- trying to understand the things I saw-- the dusty thorny beaches studded with hidden black petroglyphs in the shadow of a walled resort where you could pet pink dolphins. I was trying to figure out my place in a culture that defined me differently than I had ever been defined. Later I learned the word for that-- as a white girl in American, my whiteness had never been a marker. I was marked by other things, but never race or culture. In Hawaii, I was able to perceive for the first time the existence of my whiteness, and my fluency in white American culture. This is an ungainly process-- and the reason so many white Americans kind of freak out when they move to Hawaii-- something they didn't even know about themselves is in fact a thing that defines them-- every thing they do, and how they perceive reality.

I thought a lot about race. I thought about American whiteness, and about my husband's biracial identity that was so rich and so challenging. He was a bridge for me into Hawaii culture and history-- my kids are 5th generation Hawaii born on his mother's side. He had Japanese and Okinawan and British ancestry, and generations of difficult and beautiful family history in Hawaii. His grandparents were the first people of Japanese descent to be married in the Hawaii Mormon temple. His great grandparents were plantation workers, sailors, and Japanese sandal makers. His grandmother Joyce Teruya, who we named our oldest daughter after, could make the most ono chicken katsu you could imagine, and my husband as a little kid would take it to the beach wrapped in wide ti leaves and eat it with salty fingers after throwing himself hard into the waves. His race put people at ease, allowed him access to the Hawaiian Paniolo culture he served as an ag extension agent, bought him a measure of grace while people got to know him. My race was an obstacle for me-- something I had to push through in order for people to get to know ME, rather than whatever assumptions they had about me. A good lesson for a well-meaning white girl.

Race in Hawaii went from something that seemed pretty clear: transplants vs. locals-- to something much more nuanced. Hawaii-born Japanese vs Native Hawaiian, Haole vs. Portuguese, Filipino vs. Puerto Rican, Haole transplant vs. tourist-- it turned out that all these roles and labels are actually permeable. I know people who identify as Hawaiian without a drop of Hawaiian blood. I know Hawaiians who define other ethnic Hawaiians as un-Hawaiian because of how they act, where they live, where they went to school. It's a muddle, but a fertile one. And in the end, not that crucial since everybody still marries each other, makes gorgeous children, passes on or drops tradition, and the days spin on.

Things that had simple at first became more complex-- as they would for anybody moving from their mid twenties to mid thirties. Parenting babies with a few clear needs became parenting kids with a myriad of challenging ones. Friends went from folks we ran into at playgroups to surrogate family, with lifelong love and unbelievable heartbreak. Our religion went from a source of strength to a source of pain. Our jobs went from post-college entry level to full time and promotions and tenure. My husband reinvented himself constantly, searched for meaning and scrabbling for relief from his depression.

He didn't find it. He just passed it along, exploded his pain on me and my girls who he left behind.

And now we're in Utah-- the land of my ancestors. I met strangers the other day on my walk back from the girls' school bus stop-- I had to stop and pat their dog. It turns out they are my step-mom's cousins. I've got a boomerang history here and ambivalent feelings about it.

I feel like a stranger in a familiar land, and I vacillate between wanting so settle in and get cozy and be easy and comfortable for the rest of my life, and wanting to run for it-- get someplace where I fit in better, where things feel less familiar but more safe.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Slow Motion Nuclear Disaster

I don't even know how to say it,
or what to say.

My husband died by suicide. He was at home on Kaua'i. I was visiting family on the mainland with the kids.

Thank god we weren't there when he did it.

Thank god we didn't see it. We didn't find him.

I called the police when I hadn't heard from him for 24 hours. He had seemed stressed, but okay. He sent me cute pictures of our cat, peeking out of a cloth grocery bag.

The police called me back at 1:30 am. I spent the night calling family and throwing up.

Two days later we were on the airplane, with my sisters, going back to.... what? Clean out the house, retrieve his (young, perfectly healthy, 37 year old) body from the hospital morgue, hold a memorial, say goodbye to the place where we lived for ten years, where my kids were born.

We had to leave our house-- it was on the UH ag station farm-- 150 acres of pasture, fruit trees, and a reservoir-- and we had a weekend to throw it all into a container-- mostly into a dumpster, actually-- and get it out of there.

I hope the whole place burns. I hope the whole place gets nuked from space. I am never, ever going back.

But, but, and yet.

My grandma kicked out her renters. We're living in her basement-- me and my three kids.

Did I mention I'd quit my job to stay home with my new baby? I had.

Also, life insurance doesn't pay out for suicides. Or at least Primerica doesn't.

So I've learned how to use food stamps, doubled at the farmers market, and yes sometimes I'm a welfare queen and I use my EBT card to buy Ben&Jerry's and italian grapefruit soda.

But-- we have a place to live. My grandma is a ray of sunshine. She's so good and kind and pure. The girls learned how to ride bikes-- they can ride to the bus stop. They go to an ordinary elementary school-- so dull and as predictable as the second hand on a clock after the ups and downs of our Hawaiian immersion charter school, with the constant field trips and adventures and heavy parental investment.

It's unbelievably bad.

The layers peel away, and it just gets stranger and stranger, and the story of my life-- of our lives-- is not the thing I thought it was. It's an eldrich horror, obeying no natural laws and defying the reality of our eyes.

But as horrors go, this is a slow motion crash and burn. We've landed at my grandmother's, in the idyllic neighborhood where my dad grew up, with a horse pasture and a neighborhood of feral cheerful kids.

We're okay. We're going to be okay.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Matt's Eulogy

After I wrote Matt's eulogy (that last post), I realized that Matt was my intended audience. That's the eulogy he would have loved to hear-- to be seen and understood in that way.
But then I realized-- he's not here. The eulogy needs to be for us left behind. And I was (still am) too shocked and angry to have it be for me-- a string of furious invective would probably not be appropriate for a memorial-- so I wrote this one instead. It's for the girls.
My dear girls, I want to tell you a little bit about your daddy.

Matt believed in Fun.
From the time he was a little kid, he loved to play and joke. As a kid he had fun playing baseball and football, boogie boarding and playing at the beach. As a grownup he loved to have fun with you guys, splashing like a spinner dolphin out of the water and buildings amazing Lego worlds with you. He would even listen to Katy Perry and dance in the livingroom with you. He liked grownup fun too, like museums and restaurants and travel, but You guys were the funnest, happiest thing in his life. Every time we fly kites, play frisbee, splash like dolphins, play Wolf Chess and run on a path we can remember how much fun we had together.

Did you know when I met him, he said his nickname was Dar, the Animal whisperer? He loved animals! He could turn even the grumpiest kitty into kitty butter, floppy and purring on his lap. He'd say kinda mean things to them in a cute voice, and they followed him around. All the cats on the station would trail along behind him when he walked out to the goats. And the goats! He would patiently observe then, and got to know every goat in his herd. He'd go lie down in the tall grass in the pasture and hang out with the goats. He milked them fastidiously and they were totally tame because he treated them so calmly. He loved every kind of animal, and knew they needed to be treated kindly and fairly, especially when they are under human care. We can remember him by taking good care of the animals around us.

Daddy believed in being brave. I think that's why he liked aikido so much, and why he loved to learn about the Warriors in his family tree. He was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in, especially if he thought he was protecting somebody weaker than him. He was brave because every time he went diving, he swam with sharks. He wasn't worried though-- he had a dream once where a mo╩╗owahine in the form of a shark came and told him he was welcome. He was brave enough to swim in dangerous waves along rocky shores, and dive in the dark for lobsters. He climbed to the top of crumbling castles. He believed in being brave.

But just because you are a strong warrior, just mean you should brag about it. Matt believed in being humble. Too humble! He never told anybody when he won awards or prizes, he never showed off or bragged about the cool stuff he did. He was a really amazing guitar player but wouldn't play unless everyone was ignoring him. He could speak Japanese, he was 2nd Dan aikido black belt, he had traveled all over the world, he wrote poetry, he knew practically everything about history, he could cook gourmet meals, and he could run a marathon, no problem. But he would just say, meh, no big deal. He didn't think it made him better than anyone else. He believed in being humble.

Daddy was smart. And what that really means is that he tried new things. He always tried hard and kept trying. He'd find ways to fix his truck or build his fence, he'd invent ways of feeding the goats, he'd design experiments. He kept practicing his guitar and his small bagpipes. When he ran into problems with his work projects, he'd read books and articles about how to fix them. He tried and tried and tried. We can remember him whenever we learn something new, or try a new good thing.

The most important thing that Matt believed in was how much he loved you, my three perfect girls. He gave you the very best, purest, kindest, strongest, brightest and most beautiful parts of himself. He was the most important guide and helper when you were born. He carried you for thousands of hours and miles on his chest and back where you snuggled and slept. He read you stories from before you could understand words-- Winnie the Pooh and Wind in the Willows, Narnia and the Hobbit. He kept you safe in rough oceans, he built elaborate sandcastles with you, he held your hands on long walks across the station, to pick grapefruit, starfruit, papaya and mountainapples or feed the goats. He took you to Tutu & Me preschool and helped you play pretend food and make puzzles. He carried you when you were tired on hikes, even when you so heavy and long that your feet knocked against the back of his knees. He made you lunch and took you to the school bus. He kept your drawings and pictures in his office so he could see them everyday. He wanted to show you the world-- he took you to pubs in Ireland to hear music and play dominos. He wished he could have taken you everywhere else for the rest of his life. But he was just too sick.

His sickness doesn't make his love any smaller. The love he had for our family was the biggest, brightest thing he had in his life. He wished he could have stayed in that love forever. But he couldn’t stay. These are the things, my girls, we need to remember from our Matt. We need to love and enjoy each other, play together, and keep being smart, brave and humble.

Now, we have to live without him. But we need to love each other and care for each other, and remember his love for us.