The first time I came here I was married with two small (ish) children. We were the poster family for the perfect vacation.
Ten years later, I'm back with my 14-year old son, while my 17-year old travels the globe and my ex-husband celebrates his recent marriage. A divorced, middle-aged mom, alone in her favorite vacation spot with her kid....seems like a potential Lifetime Movie one-hanky movie opening.
Instead, I feel free. One of the characters in August Wilson's play, "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," says that everyone has a song inside of them. At one point, he says "Something wasn't making my heart smooth and easy."
It might just be my son and me back here this year, but my heart is smooth and easy.
In 8th Grade I wore white bib painter overalls every other day. In my fantasy, here's what I looked like:
Yes. I really did want to look like him. Lateblooming clue #275
Here's what I really looked like:
Ahhh, Eleanor. Be still my heart. I first fell in love with Eleanor Roosevelt when I visited Val-kill, a stone cottage on a sweet patch of land in upstate New York. Here are just some of the reasons I fell in love with her that day:
--she built her serene oasis in Hyde Park, directly across the street from the Roosevelt residence, the command center of her bitchy, disapproving mother-in-law.
--she built it as a retreat for herself and her friends, the couple Marion Dickerson and Nancy Cook. The three of them started an experimental furniture factory on the premises, and hung out whenever possible--three fierce, independent women quietly carving out their own little utopia. Of course, they also happened to be human so the whole thing ended in bitter acrimony. I actually find it kind of comforting--they screwed up a beautiful thing just like the rest of us tend to do.
--as she transformed into a global diplomat, she frequently entertained guests like Nehru, John Kennedy, and Haile Selassie in her homespun living room, making them scrambled eggs on the cook's night off.
I went home and immediately read Blanche Wiesen's Cook's biography, followed by a bunch of Eleanor's original writing, including her amazing newspaper columns My Day where she talks about everyday life and outlines her passionate views on social justice.
Then I read her letters to and from Lorena Hicock, Empty Without You. Whoa. Reading their letters is like riding the waves of a wild ocean storm. The highs are so passionate, so expressive--they go from tender, sweet endearments to some seriously scorching desires. The lows are fiery and dark, filled with jealousy, hurt, anger. It makes sense when you realize that they had all of the challenges of a long-distance, clandestine relationship, and then there was the fact that Eleanor happened to be First Lady of the United States (and Lorena was an AP reporter, just because things weren't complicated enough).
If you are in the mood for a glimpse into a passionate, stormy relationship between two extraordinary women, I would definitely give it a try.
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.