One of the side benefits of having a kick-ass 22-year-old poet for a daughter is that she introduces me to badass writers like Eileen Myles. I just finished Chelsea Girls, Myles’ first novel which was republished recently alongside a collection of her poems. It felt a little like reading Patti Smith’s Just Us Kids—both books chronicle their early days as broke, starving artists in NYC in the 70s. And they are both fabulous reads, but for different reasons. Among her virtues—or vices, depending on who’s doing the telling—are Myles’ descriptions of her many sexual exploits. Steamy, tender, drunken, passionate and light-hearted, she describes each one with an irresistible honesty and fierce energy. And, if well-written hot-as-hell sex scenes aren’t enough, Myles also gifted me with a revelation about three-ways. I’ve never been in one—um, or been invited, let me just admit—but the idea always made me queasy. First of all, it’s taken till my 50s to shed a lot of the prudish, self-hating, sex-fearing crap I absorbed from my upbringing. But even with most of that gone (o.k. some of it gone), whenever I thought about it, I wondered whether it would immediately lead to jealousy—what if your partner was more into the other person than you, etc. But it never occurred to me to think about being the third!! There’s Myles, jumping into bed as the new play thing for an adventurous, open-hearted, sexy couple, and on top of that, hanging out with the kids making breakfast and watching cartoons (well, I could skip that part). And getting free dinners—which might have been her primary motivation; hard to tell. Anyway, if you haven’t already gotten the message, run, do not walk, to get a copy, and then get ready to steam up your windows….
I have always loved reading women's love letters to each other (Lateblooming clue #256).
Virginia and Vita are, of course, the reigning queens of love letters. Whether or not they ever consummated their relationship quickly becomes irrelevant when you read their correspondence. Passion, tenderness, ecstasy and pain unfold in the exquisitely intimate letters they wrote to each other.
I read their letters in my early 20s. They had a profound effect on me--the letters imprinted themselves on my heart. How could these two fiercely independent women have touched each other so profoundly? How could they have reached the most vulnerable place in each other, and then cradled it in the words they mailed back and forth? It was the first time I understood what intimacy might look like. It was also a stunning realization of how far away I was from anything remotely like that. I was newly married, living a very straight, conventional life--focused on my marriage, my career, and eventually on having children. Woolf and Sackville-West lived in what seemed like a fairy tale world to me. The Bloomsbury group of the early 20s was an intensely intellectual circle of talented, courageous people living their lives by following their hearts. I was far too terrified of my heart to even acknowledge its existence.
It has taken me over 25 years since first reading those letters to begin to open up my heart. And while it remains to be seen whether I will find that kind of intimacy before I die, I have just begun to find the joy--and the pain--of opening to the possibilities of love.
Sometimes I think wistfully of all that I have missed by not hearing my heart all those years ago. But most of the time, I think about how lucky I am to have arrived here in my middle age--perhaps just old enough to realize how great this gift really is.
I have a feeling we could start a club: the Kate Clinton Epiphany Club. Mine happened on a Saturday afternoon, about six months after my divorce. It was a non-kid weekend, and I was still feeling the acute despair of not seeing my children for two days. It's not something you get over, by the way, but you learn how to keep busy to keep it at bay.
I had just watched Kate Clinton MC an ACT UP fundraiser at the Brookyn Academy of Music, and was, of course, in love. She is the bomb: hilarious, satirical, silly, searingly intelligent and sexy (in that middle-aged way that is so heartening to those of us who fear obesity and oversized denim shirts are right around the corner).
I flopped down on the couch with a collection of her essays, Don't Get Me Started. If you haven't read it, get it immediately and save it for that bad, bad day that requires massive doses of escapism, laughter, chocolate, carbohydrates, and diet coke.
Now, let's be clear. I am reading the book NOT because I myself am gay, but merely because I find Kate Clinton hilarious and want to know more about her. Right.
So I'm halfway through the book, and have just finished reading about one of her ill-fated early relationships gone horribly wrong, when I get to a story about a young college student who is inspired by Clinton to come out of the closet. Something happens--is it lightening bolt? Sappho's ghost arriving for a brief visit? Or the deft hand of Kate Clinton pausing lightly on my shoulder....
I sit bolt upright, close the book, and say to myself, "I'm gay."
Obviously, this was not a Moses and his tablet moment. There had been lots and lots of subtle shifts and signs along the way. But even though they were welling up, coming closer and closer to the surface, it was something about the way Kate Clinton wrote about the experience of coming out that broke through the final layer of denial.
Therein begins the journey that has led me, six years later, to this lateblooming blog.
Thank you, Kate Clinton. You are the bomb.