Friday, December 26, 2014

Are YOU a Glass Half Full..?



I've been thinking a lot about mindset lately. The one I have hasn't been serving me and I wanted a new one. It is hard thinking about the mind. It's possible to have a great thought and then a doubting thought about that thought, and then another doubting thought about that thought, and so forth until the mind short-circuits. The mind is doing all the thinking and it's only capable of so much. And still, it usually out-smarts us. I've been reading Eckard Tolle, hoping to find my "true self". I've also been listening to Tara Brach's guided meditations, to calm my mind and connect to my Being. I've been driven to fix myself, fix myself, fix myself for so long, all the while a little confused by which "myself" needs fixing.

I'm going to pause right here and confess that I've become totally confused again while writing this. There are too many "minds", too many ideas of what "I" actually is, and can I know what that actually is while I'm inside my mind anyway? I'm going to back all the way up and say that what I know for certain, is that for one who claims to be an optimist, lately something feels half empty and I'm pissed about it.

"Do you see the world as a glass half empty, or half full?" 

I hate this question. I'm hurt by it. It's usually asked by someone, who - lest we should ever doubt his proud prosturing - first confirms loudly that he is in fact a Glass Half Full Person, then leans in with his barrel-chested ego and asks, "What kind of a person are you?" It's manipulative, condescending, not to mention a little creepy. The question is engineered so that the asker leeches what small confidence is glowing in the other person to elevate himself. The implication of the question, "half full or half empty?", is that we're supposed to choose one perspective or the other. Already this is ridiculous! No person would choose to be a glass half empty, and if he did, wouldn't he be happy with the decision he choose and therefore be a glass half full person? (I feel like there's a mathematical method of explaining this impossible thought. Like the square root of -1 or something. Just call it out if you've got the answer.)

What sticks with me is the impossibility of maintaining one or the other perspective on life. I so badly want to be as positive a half full person as I know I can be. Positivity for me means ease, joy flowing, connecting, it means breathing deeply, it means feeling secure in my own abilities to survive whatever madness life decides to throw at me. But dammit if I can't stop myself from feeling half empty sometimes. You know, emptiness is one type of discomfort, and it's manageable enough. For a striving optimist, a passing pessimistic outlook is never as bad as the guilt that follows for having failed at optimism.

My dad says that all of our strengths have their equal and opposite shadow sides. A firefighter, for example, who is incredibly brave and will risk his life to save others' lives might have difficulty telling his wife he is hurting. A free-spirited woman who is in touch with her creativity may be easily hurt by her coworkers' teasing. And this is life. This is how it goes. We can't be perfect at everything. Believe me. I've tried. In fact, the harder we try, the harder we fall into a glass half empty mind set. Striving for only perfection - in this case, only optimism - denies ourselves the shadow side of our optimism, the vulnerability we feel when faced with a bit of madness.

I am going to try to let myself be a glass half full and a glass half empty. I don't want to be mad at myself any more. I'll move gently. What matters more than perfection is that I am sincerely living and striving for connection to those around me.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fie, boredom! En garde!


“Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?” 
Friedrich Nietzsche

I like to think of myself as an adventurous person. Much of the time I feel a pretty mean mischievous streak running through me. The kind that shoots up from the ground, through your toes, and out your eye balls. Adventure. Mystery. The Great Unknown. It's pretty sexy actually. And boy, do I have stories! When I lived in Juneau, Alaska I helicoptered onto a glacier, drove by a bear on the side of the road, and counted 18 bald eagles in a single tree. In the Dead Sea in Israel I stripped naked with 1200 other people from around the world to be photographed by a famous photographer as the sun rose. I ate a lot of "street meat" in Shanghai. Last year I went sky diving. This last September I produced a TEDxTalk with over 900 people in attendance.

All this have I done, but nowadays I feel my mischievous streak running dry. I feel the adventurer in me shriveling from neglect. I spend a disproportion amount of time in the morning curled in bed and glued to my phone. I suddenly find myself leading . . . <gulp> . . . a boring life.

A boring life is predictable, it's measurable. Living the boring life, I wake up as usual, barely get out of bed as has become habit, let the hours pass by and then it's nighttime, which means it's bedtime and I've read all of Facebook twice or more and I haven't showered, just like the day before. Sometimes the biggest challenge is not enough milk for my coffee. This sort of boring life is scared of the risks that come with even the smallest adventure. Risks, as you know, can be very scary. A boring life is really just a safe life - and an empty one.

Sometimes it can be a hell of a challenge to break my boredom spell. So I asked y'all, How do you make your life more interesting? Here's what I got:

...when I was a child, at the dinner table, my father would ask me, "What did you accomplish today?" And I had to have an answer. So, each day, I found new things to see, do read, etc. - and new people to get to know. It got to be a habit, which has led to a very interesting life. 
If you open your heart, your eyes. Your mind and are curious, you will live an interesting life. Most of what makes life interesting is below the surface and must be mined with the above attributes. 
Think less, do more. 
By actually doing the things your heart tells you to. 
Embrace everything. 

At the center of this boredom question lies that pesky issue of self worth. Add enough self doubt to any scenario and I watch even my greatest passions go completely limp. (More on limp passions another day.) But I'm finally beginning to outsmart myself! I believe that doubts and other emotions are real, I also believe that they are self-made. You know the saying "there are two sides to every story"? Well there is more than one way to view a day. Victim or conquerer, beloved or not, curious or numbed. Staying adventurous is about perspective. In the end I believe that we are responsible for giving ourselves interesting lives. It is how we see, not what we see. Then, if we choose to seek more outside the rooms we are in, or the beds we are in, we shall go to them. I think the solution is "Think more, do more. Be more." Be kind to yourself. And for godssakes, doubt less!

So En Garde, Boredom! Fie, fie! I no longer have any use for you!

Oh and by the way, when you find that Dead Sea picture, look for me. I'm front and center ;)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ouch!

Sitting in my gorgeous bedroom, it's cleaned, vacuumed, new sheets on the bed, pillows are fluffed, lights are low, candles lit, and I'm writing this blog for the first time in months, it's 1:42am and I'm eating chips and salsa straight from the jar and also pumpkin cream cheese straight from the tub because I don't know if I want salty or sweet right now 'cause both are so good and aaaall this because I GOT FUCKING STOOD UP TONIGHT. WTF, MATE??

This is my first time being stood up and wowy does it suck. I'm totally confused, my brain doesn't know how to process it, and my heart is kinda small and squeaking "ow, ow" every few minutes. We're Facebook friends, this girl and me, and Facebook is creepy so I know that she checked in at a party in Williamsburg sometime tonight so good for her for being alive but at least please have the decency to even just maybe lie to me about it! A great, well executed lie is just the thing when you want to not see someone again but also want to behave like an adult, maybe not hurt her feelings, and not just disappear on her! For the love of god, don't just not text back! gaaaaaaah!

So I got home and without taking off my shoes or layers of coats or dropping my purse on the floor I headed to the fridge for some food love and now the cream cheese is almost gone.

so.
oh man,
this sucks,
gah,
a poem.

Dating is hard, y'all. I have this adorable memory of adorable me at age 12 writing down in my diary the list of candidates for boys I might like. Let me repeat: the list of candidates for boys I might like. Lord have mercy! I actually made a pros and cons list for each! (Marshall Green, if you're reading this, you made the list three years running.) I may have been straight, barred by my mom from wearing tank tops, and had braces and glasses at the same time, but at least love was simpler back then. I had to like someone - everyone was doing it - so whomever had more pros won. Then I'd write him super coy letters in different colored pens and fold them into footballs to pass across the room, and I'd write "Kelsey <Surname of Chosen One>" on my binders and sometimes with my finger in soap on the shower walls as if casting a love spell over him a la Teen Witch which I saw way too young and definitely influenced me way too much. (I don't give a --- about trying to top that! Top that!)

And now - well, I'm 30 now, it's worse and a hell of a lot less fun. Online dating is for the birds. OKCupid, Tinder, Daatch - ugh, these names! - Match.com, How About We, eHarmony, JDate, Grindr, Scruff, iHookup, even ones called College Meets Bagel, Flurv, and Brenda. Can you imagine? "You guys are so cute together. So how did you meet?" "Oh, funny you should ask, we met through this great online dating site called Brenda." No. Thank you. I'd rather punch myself in the face.

But what are we supposed to do? I live in a city of 8.4 million people. You'd think I could find some one lady worth dating! Finding true love was easier in the 7th grade! His name was Lawrence and we were both homos-in-disguise writing love letters in rainbow markers and so happy together.

ugh.
sorry, took a chip break.

I'm disgruntled and pissed and disappointed, but mostly just confused. If anyone sees her, tell her she missed out on a damn good thing :/


Sunday, July 27, 2014

How To Walk in My Shoes

"What does it mean to walk in your shoes?" 

When I asked this question to my friends, I received a beautiful array of answers, mostly poignant, but some pretty silly. My aim was to quilt them together into a collective poem. None of these words are my own. In my head it reads somewhere between prose and slam poetry. Find the rhythm and let me know how you feel.


 "How To Walk in My Shoes"
   A collective poem

   They are ugly shoes, 
   But comfortable
   You skip walking and dance
   Stepping in puddles by accident 
   And then jumping in them on purpose
   An adventure...
   Due to my set of stubby legs
   It usually means you aren't walking very fast
   I still can't figure out how to make heels look graceful
   Presenting a pleasant demeanor 
   Amidst a barrage
   Of stupidity
   Tripping over the dog
   Barefoot's better.

   The best stories start when my boots pass through the doors 
   Into places I can't tell you about

   I am a dad doing his best for his daughter
   A daughter watching her mother slip away
   Wade through the bullshit
   Sacrifice
   Sense of duty, holding lives in the palms of my hands
   Caught in a Painful War, I'm Fighting.
   A man who occasionally gives in,
   May someday give out,
   But who never gives up.
   Constantly struggling to make people perceive me 
   The way I perceive myself,
   Which is inaccurate

   I am a walking contradiction
   An optimist fighting a pessimist 
   While trying to find the right track to stick with -
   Not all who wander are lost
   It means consistency
   A marathon or a mile 
   Are still accomplished one step at a time.
   A woman with so many blessings 
   That even acknowledging the negatives,
   Would seem to lessen them.
   An imaginative hag who wants to be a Star.
   Bette Midler,
   Joan Rivers,
   Barbara Stanwyk
   Lots of edge
   Slightly to the left, 
   Always with a smirk

   I will feel what you feel 
   And honor the path you have taken
   I've lived long enough 
   To value highly 
   All those things I mocked when I was young

   Drop the L - I'm waking
   Just waking the fuck up.


*   *   *

Thank you to everyone who shared their stories this week. This poem wouldn't have been possible without you.

Kelsey

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Femininity vs. Masculinity: A Chart of My Body


I have always struggled with the balance of femininity and masculinity within me. My nose is a "gift" directly from my grandfather, so it's masculine. My arms have always been muscular and I'm a bartender who makes a lot of noise shaking cocktails, so they are masculine. I wish my breasts were larger and at times they look to me like an extension of my pecs - masculine. My eyes are my mother's, big and round with long lashes - feminine. My fingers move gracefully and with intent - feminine. Regardless of how I have felt inside my body, I have spent the greater half of my life trying to rid myself of anything masculine (read: so that people would like me more).

As I enter the second quarter of my 30th year of life, I am finally realizing that I can't very well banish any quality from my nature and I best just begin to accept it. So I attended a seminar last month at the yoga retreat in Stratton. It was called "Shiva and Shakti Unite: Aligning the Male and Female Energies", led by Hemalayaa Behl. Shiva is the Hindu masculine divine entity, Shakti is the Hindu female divine entity. Their relationship was explained to me like this: Shiva is the structure of the world, he is everything masculine, but without his feminine counterpart Shakti he cannot open his eyes to experience the world around him. If he is structure, she is the energy that flows through it. And if both are necessary for life to exist, then I can afford to lean into my own qualities just a bit.

I tried breathing in a masculine way, then a feminine way. I meditated masculinely, then femininely. Ate both ways, walked both ways. Sometimes the results were comical as it became clear that I had a preconceived, culturally-influenced idea of what was "masculine eating" and "feminine walking". Those stereotypes were often negative, so I tried to distance myself from them. I began to wonder, what does my feminine strength feel like? How is it different from my masculine strength?

I posted on Facebook "What are you thoughts on masculinity vs. femininity? What are the the places in your body that are more masculine or feminine? Would you change anything?" Thank god for these diverse responses! Here are a few:
"There is no "vs" about it. We all have aspects of both; and I find the contradictions of masculine and feminine within a person one of the most intriguing aspects of an individual personally."  
"I have birthing hips. I was never one of those guys with a tiny waist. EVER. Ask me to bare a child? You got it! Ask me to have a figure? Nope."  
"If I could like to Chaning Tatum and still be me I would, but if I looked like that would I still be me?"  
"I have a great butt. It wiggles when I walk."  
"My butt is big and curvy, and is definitely very feminine...But I've never wicked it was more boyish or less feminine...I just wished it was a tad smaller!"  
"At 8 months pregnant I think pretty much every inch of me is decidedly feminine at this point, and I feel...like a fascinating constantly changing science experiment."  
"6 months postpartum and everything is still "different"...All those hours logged at the gym in years past, but I give this body so much more love and respect."  
"I miss the boobs I had before cancer, the fobs aren't the same."  
"Other than the hairs I sprout on my face because of menopause...there is not too much about me that is masculine."  
"There have been times when I've wanted to change a couple of places in my body, but never thought them to be too feminine or too masculine..."  
"It's fluid. It's not solid. Changes & shifts."  
"I never understand what those words mean. It seems like masculine means 'stereotypically male qualities' and feminine means 'stereotypical female qualities' but as we recognize that everyone has both, those lines don't make sense. And within myself, I don't feel more like a woman when I exhibit certain qualities than others; I feel like I'm just judged on whether my actions or words fit the stereotype or not. And then I'm told that I'm either 'such a girl' or 'such a dude' depending on what I'm doing at the particular moment. I find it all confusing and silly."  
"I like my masculine qualities as much as my feminine ones. My biggest challenge is in choosing wisely how and when to let each emerge, so they express my most true self. When I express either in a darker or immature way, I'm always sorry."  
"What I have and what I am are for me to know and you to find out :) "
It's all well and good to say a person is a mix of energies or that we should accept ourselves as we are, but what about my masculine arms and grandpa nose?!

I created a chart to help me understand how I feel about my body and the different energies flowing through it. I wrote a list of my body parts from the top down and marked them as either feminine, masculine, or both. The following day I happened to be feeling much more feminine. I looked over the chart and wanted to change many of my marks around. I'll hypothesis that if I was paying closer attention, and if I was allowing those energies to flow freely in me, my inner mix of femininity and masculinity aren't fighting each other but are dancing with each other and always changing, yin-yang style. So I left the chart as it is, a snapshot of how I felt in the moment. 55% Feminine, 15% Masculine, 30% Both.

I'm still slightly embarrassed by my assessment of myself. Those old beliefs that I must be perfectly feminine to be acceptable run very deep. I think the greatest lesson drawn from looking back at my life lived with this high a level of self-scrutiny is that all these collected body parts of mine are thirsty for an equally high level of self-love. And so it begins.


THE BODY CHART


Monday, June 30, 2014

The Authenticity Project



"The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain." 
Khalil Gilbran 'On Joy and Sorrow'

Earlier last week a friend of mine - a straight friend - told me that he was jealous of gays. Your journey is one of authenticity, he said. You have moments of vulnerability and moments of bravery. You celebrate these qualities in each other. He was envious and said that he continually searches for a community like this for himself.

I was stunned and saddened to learn that my friend hadn’t found himself a place to be authentic. I don't believe that those qualities and those opportunities are given solely to the gay community. Can you imagine? What a heartbreak, what a waste that would be! Is this was true, I'd encourage all heterosexuals to dig as deep as they could, as if their lives depended on it (because they do), to find their inner homosexual so they could feel their own authenticity for just a moment! What I do believe is that we’re connected by our identical experiences: we are human, we have this one life before us, we are made to create beauty, and this beauty is only born when we connect with ourselves, with other people, and with nature. None of this can be done without the courage to "come out" as ourselves. 

In celebration of Gay Pride Week here in New York City, I've chosen to look at the ways we all come out in our lives - not as gay per se - but as authentic human beings. 

I issued the following statement every day for the last week, sometimes multiple times a day, on the Facebook pages of every group that I belong to, my college organizations, my theatre groups, etc. I posted on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Here is what I wrote:

"In celebration of Pride Week here in New York City, I'm examining all the various ways we come out - not as gay necessarily - but as authentic. 

I would like to help you all come out as authentic beings. I challenge you to share with me a few words of authenticity. They could be about your sexual preference, or about anything else that makes you unique, good or bad, that's up to you. They will be ANONYMOUSLY incorporated into next week’s blog. 

Contact me however you'd like..."

...and I included a link to last week's entry. I didn’t know what sort of answers to expect, or if anyone would answer at all! I only hoped for enough responses to stitch together a pretty good piece.

Then the stories came pouring in. I was so giddy. People of all shapes and sizes were coming out to me: family members, close friends, people I'd never met, everyone with something to say. If I asked, people were happy - even eager - to talk about their experiences and share fairly intimate details with me. We connected on new levels. 

Thank you to everyone who helped me with this project. To those brave souls who came out, I am so grateful to you for sharing yourselves with me. Look how amazing we are! We are so different in so many ways, but we are connected by our vulnerability, our bravery, and now this shared experience.

When I came out as lesbian ten years ago a friend of mine hugged me and congratulated me. We stood in the atrium of my college theatre and just giggled. 
It is an accomplishment to let yourself be seen. So congratulations to all of you on your greater authenticity.


(If you missed the chance to come out to me before I published this blog and would still like to share, or are only now moved to share, please leave your comments below. You'll be able to leave them anonymously if you'd prefer.)


THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT 
"Okay! So no one in my family knows this... Not even my kids... But I am bisexual... Have been for as long as I can remember..."  
"polyamorous" 
"bi-not so-curious"  
"'gay,' 'straight,' and 'bi' all fail to accurately describe what my orientation really is, and I am okay with that"  
"I want to fall in love and be with someone for who they are as a person, NOT for what gender they are. I've been accused of either 'going through a phase' and that I'm just 'straight' and also that I'm just 'afraid to come out' as a lesbian. The truth is that I am 'unabashedly' though 'imperfectly' bisexual...if that makes any kind of sense. It just is what it is..."  
"Sex kitten!!"  
 "the other woman and I don't know how to stop" 
"Hi my name is Abby, and I'm an alcoholic"   
"I'm a food addict. I eat to feel better. Supposed I do that because when shit is hitting the proverbial fan, putting something in my mouth that tastes good is a way to make me feel pleasure" 
"Chronically depressed"   
"Impulsive internet shopper!"  
"A worrier...a projector..."  
"a control freak"  
"a math nerd...(it mostly involves a lot of really bad math jokes)"  
"ok. I'll come out. Sometimes I fucking hate economics."  
"It's my age! So many people comment that I look so young! I use to say 'Thank you'! I've started just saying how old I am! Feels weird, but authentic!" 
"I don't like thinking about how old I am because then I can only see how little I've accomplished."  
"I am coming out as being dependent on others for strength and support. I try to dub myself as independent and strong enough to tackle life's hurdles, but in the end I recognize my need of a friend's shoulder." 
"an enigma"  
"heartbroken"  
"an optimist"  
"I am a really good person" 
"can I come out as a bad person?"  
"I'm never satisfied - ever"  
"I am lazy and I want everyone else to pick up my mess" 
"Being 'authentic' is truly the hardest thing anyone can be. If I was I would rap against this modern society...the way we treat the planet...the way we treat each other. I would stand in front of religious institutions and tell them how false they really are. I would voice my opinion every day. Tell people how the way we recycle doesn't really matter. How we need to end our dependency on oil and plastic today. But I don't. At times it eats at my soul. But I know that all the ranting would be ignored, people don't want to change."  
"Forever changing"  
"I am whole: both masculine and feminine, strong and realized, direct and flow. I need no 'one' to complete me. I am that on my own. My energy, my love, my vulnerability may be shared if I permit. No 'one' can take it. It is my choice to give, my choice to receive. I am not gay, nor am I straight. I'm not 'turned on' by physical anatomy. Energies arouse me, excite me, intrigue me. I am a sexual being, craving eccentric connection, not because I need anyone else to fulfill me, but because I am human (whole and complete)--and with that comes a beautiful curiosity to learn and express and explore."


~ Kelsey Crouch
Edited 8/20/14

Monday, June 23, 2014

All The Ways In Which We Come Out, Part 1


When I came out ten years ago a wise professor of mine said to me, "Kelsey" and he shook his head, "you're gonna come out every single day of your life." Because I was feminine and in no obvious, outwardly way "gay", I thought he meant that I'd be coming out as lesbian every day of my life. For many years afterwards I'd think of him and smile for seeing into my future in a way I was too young to do. I work in a casual fine dining restaurant - as an example. I dress well, I converse well, I make excellent drinks, and care about my guests, so inevitably there is at least one man a night who I let down gently and come out to. Equally as often a mother offers to set me up with her son, and I come out to her. Before you start telling me that I shouldn't come out to these people at all for any reason or other - it's uncomfortable for them, I'm inviting them to flirt harder, I'm inviting them to make sexual jokes, I'm ruining any future opportunities to serve them, I'm ruining any future opportunities to work with them outside the restaurant - let me assure you, I don't give a damn about any of those reasons. I have experienced every shade of response you can possibly receive, and I am still gay, still happy, and still coming out to people as I see fit.

Here's the idea: I am not defined by my sexuality, but by my authenticity. A man may not know how to respond to my coming out, but almost 100% of the time he will understand that I have opened myself to him in a way more valuable than sex and have trusted him with information more valuable than my phone number. Here's the cool thing: the majority of these people see my coming out as permission granted for them to also be authentic with me. A friendship is born. Of course, there will always be people who don't receive my offer respectfully. These are people I will never want relationships with, friendly or business-oriented. I lose nothing by coming out every day. Authenticity is a terrifying thing, it really is. We risk losing people and the love they bring with them. But it's worth it. I'm grateful for the opportunity to come out as lesbian everyday.

I experienced a very different sort of "coming out" two weeks ago publishing "Bear". I liked the piece, it was important for me to create, but the idea of publishing it terrified me. I had it typed, formatted, and open on my computer for two full days before I was brave enough to send it out into the world. Although I walk through the world as an openly gay woman, I more often walk through the world as an open-but-really-complaisant, always super-nice and happy woman. Those times that I think I need to stand my ground I end up over compensating and behaving in a way more stoic than I wanted to in the first place. People look at me and they see classic, beautiful Kelsey. Here I come out as a woman with a dark side. I have real fears, deep emotions, a really active imagination, and a need to express of myself. The elation I felt the moment I hit "publish" was the exact same buoyancy I felt when I came out to my mom for the first time. Buoyancy like a rabbit with wings jumping on a bouncy ball on a trampoline, I felt silly and like I could fly above the Manhattan skyline. Then I crashed so hard into a deep vulnerability over the thing, I didn't write an entry at all last week!

I just got back from Stratton, VT where I spent four blissful days with hundreds of yogis at Wanderlust yogi retreat. We were on the mountain, surrounded by extremely beautiful scenery. It was hard to tell if the mountain was filling us yogis with joy, or if our collective joy was making the mountain herself feel more beautiful. I think the she and the people celebrated each other. We had perfect weather. Birds followed me wherever I went. Heaven for the weekend. My body feels stronger and sorer than I've felt in a long time. My breath is deep and wide and rich. Even writing this from my New York apartment I can feel the grass beneath me.

At the retreat I challenged myself to feel all of the emotions that meditation and yoga would bring up. (You think one class brings up emotions, try four full days of it...) I wept though all of Friday, danced like a kid each night, fell in love with the warmth of the sun, and found a breath deeper and richer than I knew I could breathe. I felt the most authentic I have ever felt. Which is really something to celebrate.

To all of you who read this blog, especially "Bear", and have offered your appreciation, thoughts, advice, even concern, thank you much for receiving me with respect. Thank you, family, for receiving all these parts of me with love. I am grateful to you all.

Happy Pride, everyone!

Namaste,
K.C.




Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Bear"



"Bear"
It is possible for a man to be a bear and a worm all at once. For a bear mouth - which is sharp - on a bear head - which is very big - to nearly swallow a thing. He can cook breakfast and lift a fork full of eggs to his fat worm's lips which can drip with sticky, yellow yolk.  It can shine like fresh kill on his fur. He can lash his bear tongue around wide and gather the yolk before it drips onto his chest. A bear can pee sitting down. He can drink tea while lifting the pinky of his paw. A man who is a bear and a worm is vulgar.
A bear can go to church. He can style his hair with a blow dryer and pomade and wear a finely tailored suit with a pocket square. He can wear lots of cologne. He'll be too big to sit comfortably, but a bear can squeeze himself into the end seat of a pew and roll down onto his knees to pray and pad down the aisle to take sacrament. A priest will give the sacrament to a bear with worm lips. 
A man can stand upright and walk like a bear. He can be black with hair and you can feel his fat body charge down the hallway at night when he hears you still awake or laughing in your bedroom. You won't see his face, only his shape filling the doorway. You will hear his labored breath and try to silence your own. A bear has a worm between his legs like a dead animal. It will hang there fat like his body and yellow like egg yolk. A man who is a bear and a worm will stand there all night and you won't sleep until he leaves and won't sleep until morning, and when you do, you'll dream of teeth.

- K.C.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Dear Miss Garvey

There is a disconnect for me between my childhood self and my adult self. I have a lot of memories of my childhood. Many are really great. Like going to work with my mom in the mornings. She’d carry me to the car in my pjs, it was 5:30 am, still dark. We would get blueberry muffins from Whistlestop in Georgetown, right across the Redding border. I’d fall back asleep while she drove but I’d always wake up right before we passed the George Washington Bridge. The light was a certain way because the sun had risen and Morning Addition had just come on NPR. Then I’d eat my muffin. Sometimes I’d cover the blueberries with the white muffin parts and pretend I couldn’t taste the blueberries. Now as an adult, I can’t experience the GW Bridge, Morning Addition, or blueberry muffins without remembering those drives like flashbacks. I remember making pancakes and having lasagna food fights with Dad. The Thanksgiving my sister cut the tip of her finger shaving brussel sprouts on the mandolin. There’s lot of food memories. Shooting my bow and arrow in the backyard with my brother. Singing my youngest sister to sleep. Ice skating, my first Broadway show, cousin sleepovers, getting a puppy, exploring the woods. My childhood memories flow.

But I try to access my middle years - 12 to 24ish - and I experience a fuzzy connection. It’s as if the part of the memories that establishes them as mine has been damaged, like the signature’s been smudged away or water’s been spilled on the homing device. I remember all the musicals I ever did, most of my teachers, how scared I was of hurting myself on the high jump, what crushes I had, my first kiss (his name is Andy Wahl, and it was walking back from a camp fire in the middle of the woods. It was very wet but nice). I accept these memories as mine because nothing else more clear exists in my head.

I recently found out that Janice Garvey, my English teacher for my Freshman and Junior years of High School, is retiring at the end of the year. I felt old when I heard this but not much else. A classmate of mine (who's recently published her first book) is gathering past students of Miss Garvey’s for a small celebration and was nice enough to invite me. She requested that we write some small anecdote about Garvey that she’d print into a book to give to her.So I froze up when I read her request. All those memories are fuzzy. When I think back on Miss Garvey I don’t remember much. I remember my impression of her the first week of Freshman year. She was a “hippie”, a beautiful smile, long, grey hair tied back low at her neck with a scrunchie, which may have been light grey or white. She always wore skirts. She always had classical music playing. In the corner of her room hot water, tea bags, and a powdered milk substitute were available for a quarter on the honor system. I drank it often because it tasted like maturity. A nice light filtered through her windows. The tables were arranged in an oval shape so we could all face each other as equals. I remember in that first week with her wanting, like a hunger, to be more equal than anyone else. 

And that’s it for happy memories: sensory imprints. The larger chunk of my Garvey memories - which are fragmented at best - are of me sinking to the bottom of the class and out of the light of her affection. I have no idea how early this started. Flashes of writing assignments with more red marking than anyone else’s. Feeling very distant. I never had anything good to say. I began sitting away from the smart people and closer to the tea pot. I sank.

I think back on her now a feel a deep sadness. I wanted to be better for her - a better student, writer, person, all of the above - but I didn’t know how. I hoped that if I maintained the facade well enough I’d get by and she might still like me. I spent most of my time in High School hoping I wouldn’t be discovered for the fraud I was.

A small part of me knows I wasn’t as much of a disappointment as I remember. After all, hadn’t I scored a 4 of out 5 on my Junior Creative Writing Portfolio and hadn’t my name been displayed on the Honor Boards near the Principal’s office with the rest of my friends who scored 4s and 5s? I slaved over those pieces. Hadn’t I been accepted into AP English and scored well enough on my AP tests to place out of all my of college English requirements?

One of my last memories of Miss Garvey was my Senior year. She had found me in the hallway and asked where I was going for college. I told her I was going to be attending Syracuse University for Musical Theater. I remember that her face dropped, maybe she kept a smile but I could see her disappointment so clearly. I can guess she didn’t think a theater career was worthwhile or didn’t think I’d succeed. In my memory I felt that I had once again let her down, nothing I would do would ever be good enough. 

I'm grown up enough now to feel the distance she must have felt from me. Did she try to help? Did she try to understand me as badly as I needed her to? Was she trying to find me? I don’t remember. I know that memories aren’t a strict record of what happened but of how I experienced those moments and how I felt about them then. I always knew she was a good teacher. I wish I had known how to open myself to that. I think now I feel some portion of the sadness she might have felt about me.

If you’re wondering how I feel about Miss Garvey nowadays, especially in the last three weeks that I’ve a) been writing for this blog, and b) known about her retirement - the answer is that I don’t know yet. It’s going to take more than a blog entry to rediscover and then redefine my feelings about High School, aka The Lost Years. I think I feel some portion of the sadness she might have felt about me. We had a missed connection that might have been something really great. 

I did a google search for Janice Garvey to see if there were any pictures online that I could post here (and to see if my memory of her was at all accurate. Where's the long, grey hair?) Turns out the high school lit mag did a "Teacher of the Week" bio on her. She's from Maine, went to Penn State then NYU for her graduate degree, she loves Jon Stuart, and you know what else? It says she always wanted to be an actress.

Janice Garvey

KC

Monday, May 26, 2014

Entry No. 2: How to Write Anything


Hello everyone, and welcome to week two of my award winning blog "Subtext." Just kidding. I don't have a Pulitzer yet, it hasn't arrived because I haven't won it or been nominated for it, and they don't have a category for blogs*, but Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither will this legacy be so easily written.

(* In 2012 The Pulitzer Award was given to the Huffington Post, which man not seem like it, but is definitely a blog.)

I began this blog on the suggestion of one of my business mentors. He told me that if I was going to change careers and if any of that new career involved writing - be it creative content, a byline, or just a memo - I would do well to start writing now. I'd do well to prove to my future employer and to myself that I can write, do write, and will write. That conversation was four weeks ago.

Now I'll tell you a secret: it took me a fucking long time to write my first entry. Like two weeks longer than I'd expected. And when it was finished I hated it so much I would have scrapped the whole thing if I hadn't already tooted around town the soon-to-be glories of my blog. What an ass. I had so many great ideas starting out. I'm an actress, a bartender, intuitive, and often nosey. I was practically overflowing with blog entries. I thought, "However will I wait a week between publishing these stories!? A whole week is a lifetime to one weighed down with such brilliant stories as I have!" What an ass.

In my defense, I did have a lot of ideas. When I was bored at the bar I'd draw out my ideas on scrap receipt paper. I'd use big, floral letters and feel the world changing with each curve of my pen. I was so puffed up, I couldn't see the obstacles my subconscious was building around me. I joke that I was protecting myself from my own staggering craft, but - lord! - the opposite is true. My fear of failure has an arsenal of finely tuned weapons. They are all called procrastination.

I took two weeks to begin writing my first entry because - are you ready? - I couldn't think of a name for the blog. I wanted to perfect its packaging. I was caught up in it. One supportive friend said I should just write and the name would come to me. So I set out to write about gratitude because I was volunteering at an event and saw people that lacked it. I felt pretty good about my high horse while I diagnosed them. I was going to call the piece "Is gratitude a luxury item?" And in my head it felt like a piece! (re: Pulitzer), not a blog entry. So in this way I stacked expectation bricks against myself.

And then came the time to write. I have a history with writing, specifically not being able to. I love words, I love playing with them, I love saying them. Those of you in the back, I see your heads nodding, you know I love to hear myself speak. I'd forgotten that sitting to write is an entirely different beast.

For one, it's solitary ("You mean I gotta sit with my own thoughts!?") and it takes time ("ain't Nobody got time for that!"), neither of which I'm very good at.

"HI, MY NAME IS KELSEY, AND I'M AN IPHONE ADDICT."

It is so much like an addiction isn't it? All the negotiating that goes on between me and my phone is hysterical. It's an NBC-style RomCom. "Listen, I know this will be hard, I'm going to miss you sooooo much, but I'm just going to check you in the morning, and I'm never going to check you while I'm still in bed, I will turn you off before I clean up at night, I will stop looking at you when I'm at work and hide you from myself to insure that I don't, I love how you feel in my back pocket, hey what's the time anyway, oh a message..!" And on and on. 

At one point last year I was dealing with a lot of jaw tension and acid reflux so I quit coffee. My god! How my brain tried to worm it's way to the coffee. "If it's a sip of someone else's coffee, then it doesn't count, right? If it's just the smallest one, that'll be okay. Maybe a macchiato? What if my body just drinks it by accident?" I remember one foggy afternoon, I was in the thick of it and I was thinking about something or other and I walked myself right up to the barrista station. My had was on the coffee pot before I came to.

This is how I write. "I can have my phone near me, but I'll keep it face down and it'll be okay. Maybe I'll check it right after this paragraph. I probably can't write the paragraph anyway until I check my phone. Oh, look who texted! I can't write anything now that I know I have a text. What's happening on twitter?" Eccetera ad infinitum. Aren't I cute?

I began to speak to other writers about their processes. One suggests that I take all that time at night when I usually commit to aimless browsing through my phone, turn the phone off, and lie in bed to think about my next entry. I should think and only think, never write, even if the idea is brilliant and may be fleeting. This reminded me a little of a story Elizabeth Gilbert shared in her TEDTalk "Your Elusive Creative Genius". (Go here to watch Elizabeth Gilbert's TEDTalk) She talks about the musician Tom Waitts and his own musings on his notorious, creative impulses. He said he was driving along the highway when he suddenly heard a beautiful, little fragment of a song. He had no paper, no recorder, no way of saving the song. He felt himself diving into his old, tormented anxieties. In a move uncharacteristic to him, he looked up at the sky and said, "Excuse me, can you not see that I'm driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? If you really want to exist come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you. Otherwise, go bother someone else. Go bother ... Leonard Cohen." My writer friend dared me to try his method, and I absolutely have not taken him up on that dare. But at the very least, I'm intrigued by my reticence. I'll probably blog about it in the future. More to come on that.

I have another writer friend. She is constantly writing. Poems, songs, verses. Her writing journal is always on her and when it's not, she writes on whatever else she can find. I once received an incredibly beautiful poem from her written out on a credit card pamphlet. It's not past her to write out lyrics on her forearms. She was the first to encourage me this Spring to get back to writing and for that I'm grateful. This is the first poem I wrote for her.
I wrote you three poems at once
And remembered none of them.
Would someone have sat me up
And slipped a pen into my fist!
But I had to wash my face
Had to close the bedroom door
And arrange the bed pillows so
I was comfortable enough
To write prefect words for you
Three poems gone and the shell of my expression
Fills with regret.

- K.C.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Entry No. 1: Last Saturday I Helped Rebuild a House

Greetings, dear reader! 
Welcome to Subtext.

In these weekly columns we will discuss all matters of life, love, happiness, and heartache, the going ons just below the surface. We'll examine what it's like to be human living in today's world. I encourage you discuss, I encourage you to disagree, even with me. This blog was created to be a forum, like a town center for our expansive family. Enjoy your stay. Vote early and vote often.


Entry No. 1: Last Saturday I Helped Rebuild a House
There's an organization in Connecticut called HomeFront. It's similar to Habitat for Humanity, except that for HomeFront aims to fix a broken house, not build a new one. From their website:
"HomeFront is a community-based, volunteer-driven home repair program that provides FREE repairs to low-income homeowners, thus enabling them to remain in their homes with an improved quality of life. Currently serving Fairfield, Hartford and New Haven Counties in Connecticut; and Westchester County, New York."
This year our house was a one bedroom in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The owners, Cal and Maxine, were a young, Jamaican couple who had lived in the house eight years with their four kids, I'm guessing ages 6 to 17. The outdoor staircases into the house were falling down. There were gaps in the outside panelling that was letting in rain and run off, flooding the basement. The window in the bathroom was also letting in rain so the sheet rock was disintegrating, the tiles were falling off, and mold was growing. The legs of the banister up into the kids attic/bedrooms had been kicked out. 


The interior walls of the house were painted a puce green, the parent’s bedroom was a dark, sort of dirty, brown color, and the paint on all the doors, trim and moulding were yellowing and either scuffed, marked, or chipping. As always, I was assigned to paint duty. I am a tape and brush master. So twenty-five volunteers from my dad’s church showed up between the hours of 7:30 am and 7:15 pm to donate their elbow grease. It's a pretty awe-inspiring sight to see so many people crammed into small spaces, attempting to get everything done at once.

"Every year the women come in and they attack theyard and they transform it, it is just amazing to watch.And they engaged the children. The yards matter to thefamilies' happiness even more than the structuralimprovements. It’s where play happens. It’s how theirlives are presented to the community."

This is my dad, W. Michael Crouch. Dad's been volunteering with Homefront for 14 years, a project leader for the last 8. And boy has he got some stories. FYI, graphic content ahead. One house that belonged to a hoarder with cats had piles of fecal matter everywhere, a bathtub full of it; one house had carpet so molded to the floor it had to be removed with a metal gardening hoe; and one house had a meat locker in the basement that, while being removed up the cellar stairs, emptied its rotting and liquified contents onto a very unlucky volunteer. Considering the colorful array of houses he’s worked on, this little guy with its rickety stairs seemed to me liked a walk in the park. 


Every year we stumble upon a task much more problematic that we'd first anticipated. (See above.) Dad calls it a “can of worms problem". 
This year it was the shower wall in the central bathroom. It was disintegrating and molding. Once the men began removing the tiles to patch the sheetrock, more tiles would fall off and they could see how truly bad the integrity of the wall had become. 


"What should be done," Dad explained, "was that the whole wall should be taken apart down to the studs, allowed to dry out for a week, then re-sheet rocked, and then re-tiled...That’s what should be done," he said.  His voice sounded strained. There wasn't time to re-sheet rock the whole wall, we only had a day. There is only so much that can be fixed. Sometimes it feels so dramatic it's like asking "Which child do we save?" He hoped the patch work his men did on the wall was going to be sufficient for a few years, but there was no way to really know. 
Dad’s a bleeding heart with a work ethic like a freight train. When it comes to HomeFront, his struggle is never about how to fix a wall or build a fence - it's accepting that he can't actually do what all needs to be done to these houses. There are only 24 hours in a day and he is one man capable of only so much. Every year he gets caught between the responsibility he feels to these families, how he much sympathy he feels for them, and what he is actually able to give. He talks a lot about needing to let “good enough be enough”.
For me, working on these houses isn't about the houses at all, it’s always been about the people who live in them. They reached out to the organization for help and then we enter their houses like an army brigade. But who are they? I try to feel out how they feel about their houses. I try to stress the importance of their experience of the project over the success of my painting. It's important that they feel at home in their new homes. I weigh questions like, how can we balance the quality of our improvements with the quality of our personal efforts? And I wonder, sadly, would the family help us at all?


This question isn't unfounded. Last year’s family sat on lawn chairs by the sidewalk, fanning themselves and playing loud music on their boom box. The teenagers would saddle up to the food table every half hour like clock work and bring back handfuls of cookies to their chairs. Then they'd sit there and keep on with their sitting. I got pretty mad that those able bodied boys, old enough to wield hammers, and smart enough to play it cool, only picked themselves up out of 
their chairs to eat our food. My resentment levels were high 
that year.

 That's when I discovered that an outreach event like HomeFront is as much about us volunteers as it is about the families we're helping. We may be aiming for altruism, but it still doesn't feel good to see our efforts received with casual indifference. All of us approach the event with differing expectations: how and how much we’ll be fulfilled, how and how much we’ll give, how we measure the success of the day, even different ideas of what is and isn't appropriate. Like to prove my point, there was one volunteer this year who stomped around the house loudly denouncing “Oh God! This is disgusting! That’s gross! How can people live like this!?” All who give are not equal.


So I was relieved to see that this family was different. When I arrived at the house I saw Cal working with my dad to build a retaining wall for street runoff. Later when he didn't quite know how to help, he offered a hand wherever he could. 
Relief washed over me. All who receive are not equal! 


The kids were pitching in too. The littlest girl - she was missing her two front teeth - she was busy in the garden. I became friendly with her on our walk-through two weeks prior. She walked me up to her bedroom. It was cramped and smelled like mildew. A sheet hung on a cord across a corner of the room for a makeshift closet. I asked her what dreams she had for her bedroom, maybe there was something she’d change? She crouched down on her Disney Princess rug and pointed. She wished Belle’s dress was pink and not yellow, that the castle was pink and not grey, and that the trees were pink and not green. I couldn't help laughing then when I saw her Saturday morning planting pink tulips in the garden.

As the day went on the kids fell off the work wagon one by one and onto the couch in front of the television. It's understandable for the younger kids to have tired quickly. But the older kids, the 13 and 17 year old -? I was baffled. 


While Maxine was making dinner, and Cal was still painting the trim in the living room, and I was still painting the banister (only my dad and I were left of the volunteers), the kids were still sprawled on the couch. They were watching a movie called "White Chicks" which they knew well enough to quote. The irony didn't escape me. I couldn't help but wonder how the adults could still be working, and could have been so giving with their gratitude while the kids could have been suddenly so turned off to it. I was sad for these kids that they were missing out on the personal rewards that come from working as hard as we had all done that day and their parents were continuing to do.

It was difficult to leave the house that night. We had accomplished so much but there was so much left unfinished. So much we couldn't have fixed anyway. The couch cushions were still shredded and the rugs were still thread bare. 


I spoke with my dad a week after HomeFront Day. He said he had been back to the house twice since then to finish the bathroom and patch a huge hole in the wall of the master bedroom. He said the parents had taken the initiative to install a new kitchen faucet and were going to finished grouting the tub and floor tiles. They were going to paint the master bedroom a soft yellow. Dad was so pleased. "They now understand what needs to be done, what he needs to learn how to do. There is still no electricity in his bedroom and only one working outlet in the living room. They're going to have to call in an electrician to fix that. That we didn't get everything finished teachers him that he can do things too."


“This was a good family," said my dad. “All of these homes we’ve been going to are really a mess. This was one of the best because of the people. They’re doing the best they can. They go to church every Sunday together."

"We taught him to fish," he laughed.



For more on HomeFront go to www.HomeFront.com