the e-dict

…from the imagination of Erika Randall Beahm

word of the day: loo

Hi Friends,

It’s Nightswimming time again. September coming soon, and all that. This is the first summer where I never really left the office so I don’t have the angst and the anger about going back. I am thinking about my opening talk for the retreat next tuesday and what note I want to strike, what bell I want to ring, what trouble I want to cause.

But I can’t stop thinking about bathrooms. When I am particularly stressed out, I have toilet or bathroom dreams. Usually really nasty and disgusting dreams,  like cleaning public toilets with my bare hands or having to share communal toilets under terrible lighting or toilets overflowing to no end. According to the  World Wide Jungians, these dreams are powerful symbols of cleansing, letting go, of relieving emotional patterns. The other reason I am thinking about bathrooms is because my favorite room at work is the faculty dressing room–a one stall bathroom that also stores a fridge, a microwave, and a.v. equipment. A funny room to love, with its pink door and random brown towel that has been hanging there for who knows how many years, but I love it. Mannequin heads and hoop skirts have lived there, a certain red dress and and a pink bowl laced with glitter. If you are someone who gets selfies from me, you have definitely gotten one from here–such good light through the frosted windows, such good privacy to show off first day of school outfits or first meeting with the dean nervous face. This is also where some of the best thinking of faculty has happened: pre-meeting meetings that got us focused or post-meeting meetings where we hashed out what we wished we would have said more clearly. This is where Miche and I have plotted our next artland excursions, where Gesel and I have laughed while she heated up an Annie’s frozen-vegetarian-something while I peed,  and where I have cried and cried and cried and cried.

word of the day: loo

The “loo” in England is the toilet, and so named because the water closet was typically located in Room 100 of a building and 100 and loo look similar.  “This Timeline of Toilets” also declares that it’s also possible that this charming nickname came from the French when they would cry,  “Gardez l’eau” [gar-day low] when they threw their chamber pot waste out the window. That’s French for “watch out for the water” and l’eau, some believe,  sounds a bit like loo.

Loos have been a big part of my job this summer as well. For years, we have been working diligently to get a gender neutral bathroom in our house and have been plotting an over-all redesigns of all our restrooms with that in mind. The heat has been turned up on this project thanks to a donor who is eager to support our Transgender and gender-fluid students.  One would think it would be simple–just put a sign outside the door that says, “Whomever,” but it is far more complicated than that inside a university system and it takes money and resources to make it happen. This summer, I walked the building with folks from the foundation and from facilities management, examining every bathroom, empty nook, and dressing room that could possibly be converted. What we needed to make it happen most inexpensively and quickly was a one stall, one door access space. I knew just the place. And I panicked inside.  “What’s behind this door,” the foundation lady asked. “Oh nothing, nothing to see here,” I wanted to lie in order to hide my favorite room, my mid-ballet getaway, my student escape pod–secretly knowing that this room would be perfect. “It’s the faculty dressing room. We’ll look at it later,” I stalled and took everyone down to the theatre dressing rooms where I knew there was another seductive one-stall stallion of a loo. I then proceeded to detail an impossibly intricate plan that involved knocking out walls and new headers and joint access during shows…”It could be great,” I hoped inside. The specs came back outrageously expensive-it was a “no can do loo” and I knew I had to give up my ace in the hole (my ace of a hole, as it were) and I quickly revealed the best room and the house. “It’s perfect,” they all exclaimed. I know, I sighed.

Change. I think I’ve written about it before. Letting go. Yep, that sounds familiar.

Plans are now (and finally) underway to convert the faculty dressing room into a gender neutral bathroom. I am really, really happy that we are making this happen. And so grateful for the work that has occurred to make it so: the incoming gender-non conforming student who brought us the donor and the heightened awareness; the advancement team who see what a crucial investment this is in student well-being; facilities folks who are getting it done; my colleagues who are tireless in their desire to make everyone feel at home. I’m working with my family in the costume shop to see about granting access for faculty to use the theatre dressing rooms for privacy –yep, that very same space I tried to sell like a bridge I didn’t even own…No, it’s not convenient, no there’s no window, and nope, no selfies will be coming from there, but none of those things matter when you stop to consider the gift to students of a space that says not just “You can pee here” but that YOU CAN BE HERE because they feel seen and safe and welcome. I’m embarrassed that I hesitated at all–that I put my own needs, nostalgia, and convenience first, “in loo” of others, even for a minute. But change makes us uncomfortable, and sometimes it takes being uncomfortable to change. Whether it’s learning new pronouns or giving up space, I have work to do, we all do. And it’s messy, tireless work, and I will make mistakes…and continue to dream of toilets. loo.

Love to all,

not-so-silent e

https://goo.gl/images/4skkci

organ donors

Yesterday I had tea, iced soy chai, to be specific,

with an Episcopalian priest whose heart, too, was broken

into pieces that, when laid out on the table before us,

looked so similar to my own

that I think I may have picked up a few of her shards

and she, a few of mine.

 

There was so little difference between us anyway

that the mix-up seemed mute.

 

Both of us, with our children born 6 days apart, always on the giving end of taking.

Both of us, with our blue eyes advertising year-round open swim, lifeguards forever on duty.

Both of us, with too much wine and Netflix, too much faith and resilience, too much thinking that we could lift everyone else up while we were drowning.

 

Who gives the lifeguard mouth to mouth?

 

She, a woman of the cloth,

and I, a woman who likes to take her clothes off immediately,

sat across that table re-puzzling our loss.

It’s amazing how easily you can forgive yourself when you recognize that you are carrying around parts of another human’s heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But there we were, on what would be only our second meeting,

giving each other CPR

She, a woman of the cloth

and I, a woman of the

 

 

 

 

Both of us with

in fact

as we shared our stories

and re-puzzled ourselves

back togethe

word of the day: nobody

Hi Friends,

“Goodnight nobody.” This line from Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon has always held deep and perfect mystery for me–alone in the dark where everything changes and becomes its shadow-side mystery. Haunted more and more recently by the queerness of this phrase, I had to learn more about its poet. This sentence seemed to me a skeleton key to the author, a way of knowing her as well as myself. A new biography, based on her unpublished works and journals, reveals the wilder-ness of Margaret Wise Brown…whose last name makes me hope, from my own maternal lineage as a Brown, that we are related in blood as well as spirit.

word of the day: nobody

As I researched her this morning I felt that thrill that comes from first meeting someone…or hearing a new song from your favorite dead singer…or from finding a first edition Gone with the Wind among your grandmother’s recipe books. Something about her felt kin…just from that one line. My heart raced as I learned she was mentored by Gertrude Stein (she must be…she must be…)and then I literally cheered aloud to see that she, too, loved like a lighthouse with a 360 degrees heart. She loved a woman named Blanche, “Michael Strange,” and moved in with her in 1943. Goodnight Moon was published on my boy’s birthday, September 3, in 1947.

Nobody was somebody.

Nobody was even, perhaps,  a woman.

Margaret wrote new and better possibilities for both girls and boys. She wrote books in the first person, “Your world/my world/I can swing /right over the world.”  Nick-named Tim (for her hair color) and Bunny-no-good, she wrote about adventures that took bunnies away from home and back again to impossible great green rooms that held their own night music.

This is the last stanza of an unpublished poem that starts by talking about Cecily Cerisian and Pretty Polly, who spend more time with make-up and dresses:

Mary Madorn climbs in trees

Scratches her arms

and scratches her knees

Isn’t afraid of dogs or bees

Swims in crashing cold green seas

It’s a little hard at this time to see

What kind of lady brave Mary will be?

 

What kind of lady will brave Mary be…what kind, indeed. Thank you, Margaret. Thank you, Bunny-no-good. Thank you, nobody. nobody.

Love to all,

not-so-silent e

no great heights

From where I sit, with my French lace curtains placed just right, I can see only tree tops and sky. I see the corner of my deck and can imagine it a balcony that a moon would like to visit, a suitor, wild-eyed and wanton, come only for me. Since I cannot write truth these days, I will write fiction. I am happy. I am whole.

I can also write the story of what isn’t happening–he isn’t asleep in the bed in the other room, dreaming of me as I did him this morning. No, he has erased me from his day to day and his through the night. (it’s better this way, he tells himself) Under the white-powdered smears you can see the alabaster bones of our story: table 21, garden shovel, son– but the rest, ghosts. ghosts and lies.

This is not the story of the boy in the garden,  some other love god pouring sonnets into his head. The boy has gone mute and the clouds have rolled in and masked the moon. The wise sage with the words moved to Panama and now writes his poems on cocktail napkins, tucks them under sweaty glasses of rum that only the drunkest notice,  immediately to forget.

This is not the story of the play I rehearse daily that has no room for me, a few bows and curtsies, but no real flesh and bone. I am not Roxanne, Cyrano neither. I am perhaps one of the drunken poets, feasting on baked lyres and lies. Yes, Fraudulent Poet #2, that sounds about right. There are no small parts, only parts that make you feel smaller.

This is the part that makes me feel smaller: that I was not worth it for him to try. That I was too selfish to see that he was trying as much as he possibly could. That I would put up with so little for so long. That it was me under the balcony–holding up the moon. That it was me, hiding in the dark, filling myself up with perfumed words and sending them back to myself–liar, lyre, liar. There was no moon. There wasn’t even a balcony, just a fire escape that I mistook for a balcony and that wasn’t love, it was smoke–smoke coming from an actual fire burning inside the house, and still, there I stood, not escaping, there I stood, waiting for the words to arrive that would save me, when in fact I was moments away from being burned alive.

There’s a huge difference between a balcony and a fire escape.

 

 

“I may climb perhaps to no great heights, but I will climb alone.”

-cyrano

 

 

 

 

 

ingredients

I do not want the things that make a good poem

a dead mother

a dead bird

a dead son

this one word, divorce, has enough death in it

(enough guilt  enough failure enough blame)

to contrive at least one hundred mediocre sonnets of despair

 

I do not want better, more fetid ingredients

words that smell of over-ripe lilac

or fish guts

or loneliness

 

Better poems wait for darker days

and the need to survive them

 

Today

this loss is enough to make a few words

appear and rearrange themselves

into the memory of your mouth

or the shape of a peach

half-eaten

left in the sun to rot

 

Today

I feel lucky

that all I have to grieve

is a peach

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dream from my higher power, letter from my 84-year old self

Dear Erika,

I hate that you are still having challenges with your physical form. I’m a little over it at this point, frankly, you with two working knees and only the beginnings of spider veins, but I get it, it’s been a hard year with lots of change and you (and others) were starting to get a little attached to your two-hard-boiled-eggs-a-day-desperately-seeking-soothing-body. And for the 100th time, NO, gummi bears are not food. Not even the green ones.

But last night, after watching Cyrano (in French) with your boy and not drinking a drop, last night, you went to bed clear-headed and asked at the altar of sleep for a tiny morsel of peace. Last night you pleaded with your dreams for some support around the challenges you still face with accepting your body and its tidal shifts. And damn, did they deliver.  This morning, when you dreamed  of  God changing shape rapidly and asked, “Why don’t you fix your form? And why don’t you choose a woman or a man?” And God said, “If I chose a woman or a man, you wouldn’t believe me. And, anyway, it’s just a hard candy shell,” you knew it was exactly the medicine you needed.

Your mind jolted you awake, making sure wouldn’t forget it–as if you would forget a conversation with God?!?!?!? You have still never forgotten this dream–even though you can’t fully describe it. I know, you never said you “talked to God,” but you did  get deep in dialogue with the source of you that is linked to the god in all things and the message was loud and clear. crystal. It’s just a hard candy shell. Our bodies, even this tired old bag of flesh and bones you’re wearing now, is just that–a hard candy shell, a container for the go(o)d stuff. There’s nothing new in this revelation except that you ASKED for it. Which means maybe you are ready. And your dreams trusted you with a fairly epic representation of this example–a huge kick in that not-yet-sagging ass of yours, hoping you would finally see and remember that your gifts on this earth work through your body but come from your heartmindsoul. You may choose wine for the bottle but it’s the wine you get drunk on, not the glass.

This may or may not be the last time you need a dream like this–but it’s the first time you’ve asked for one. Keep working this magic and you just might get better and better at getting what you need.

Love you, kitten.

84-year old Erika

Mother’s Day Card to Myself

Dear Erika,

I am so proud of you for understanding that when your son said, “I don’t know why I used to hate you, but now I like you” on Mother’s Day morning, just after he so sweetly woke you up with a gift offering brought to your bedside, that it, too, was an offering.  Because you’ve known he has hated you a little, blamed you for everything, including this life you gave him that tortures him at age 6. 6 years-old and already cursing the world he was brought into and your womb that did the transport. 6 years-old and already knows nostalgia and grief, melancholy and remorse.

He is your son, after all.

So this admission was a bit of a relief. You are not crazy! He does have a coin with your face on it that says LOVE and HATE  that flips in his heart and sometimes you don’t know which side you’re going to get.

I can’t wait until you get to this shore where I sit this morning, mug in hand, looking at the water, watching your boy, now a man, who is already up and walking on the beach in his Mackinaw Island sweatshirt you two bought together on your first trip way up North. I can’t wait to until you have survived his teenage years and all that bullshit and blame (dark days, my friend but you’ll make it) and get to this place where he pours you a cup of coffee that is all the apology you will ever need.

Happy Mother’s Day, Sweet Mama.

64-year old Erika

p.s. that Valentine he made you, the one where he wrote “Isadora Duncan” under things you like, you still have and keep in a book of sacred things in your desk. Know that he sees you and the coin in his heart turns so much more often to LOVE.

junk drawer

 

Every house needs one place where anything and everything belongs

the scissors right at home next to the stamps the birthday candles and the travel corkscrew

the electrical tape the paperclips the bundle of sage

all thrown in together

in a rare and thrilling rebellion against order and hierarchy

 

I remember my Nana’s junk drawer

an improvisation of necessary things

that didn’t quite go together

nor did they go anywhere else

With a “place for everything and everything else in its place”

she still had a drawer

right there

handy

next to the sink

Packed full, you never knew quite what you would find

and after digging for a safety pin

I remember my six-year old hands smelling

of copper coins and rubber bands

flecks of cigarette tobacco under my nails

even though she’d quit smoking years before

 

this mess is what it feels like now in my chest

right here, where my heart, once, not too long ago, thanks to the gift of the label-maker your mother gave you for your birthday, was marked with your name

my love for you right next to my disappointment my grief my guilt

the time in Greece the ER the broken down car

all thrown in together

with new found things that I don’t know where to put yet

but know someday I might need

letter to myself about broken things

Dear Erika,

If the third time’s the charm, or if everything happens in threes, or if three’s really company, then I think you’re good on car accidents for the year. And yes, you feel lucky and grateful and blessed and oh, it could have been so much worse, and thank god! everyone is ok, and yes, it was the other guy’s fault, and he was driving a Saab and so now you have a good saab story…and and and…But then, because I know you, I know you start hearing Will Smith’s life coach theory about fault and responsibility and how it doesn’t matter whose fault it was, it is now your responsibility to deal with the residue. And you will, you are; you have amazing friends and family who will help get you from here to there, both literally and metaphorically. I’m not worried about that.

I’m not worried about anything really (except the polar bears), but I know you are. I wanted you to hear from me, me who survives this and many other accidents (of car, of son, of heart over the next twenty years), that I saw you shivering on the side of the road after they towed away that sweet little blue loaner Rabbit and I knew you weren’t cold, but in shock– in shock at your life and how things can feel so easily, so suddenly, towed away. And I’m here to tell you, it’s true. All of it, all of us, are part of life’s mysterious undertow. There is a strong current beneath our existence that moves in a different direction from that of the surface, and it hungers to take us out to sea.  As your first poet, Neruda, whispers,

“May whatever breaks
be reconstructed by the sea
with the long labor of its tides.”

Let go of where you think you should be heading and what car will get you there the safest, my 44-year old friend. Yes-go get your eyes checked and figure out how far things need to be now for you to really see them and how much you’ve lost up close. Go get your mammogram, your moles checked, your neck checked from this last crash, but release all your broken bits to the labor of the tides and try to trust. The car, that bracelet, the glass, your heart…

“So many useless things
which nobody broke
but which got broken anyway”

I love you, lady.

64-year old Erika, waving from the Schwinn blue ’65 Mustang

letter to myself

Dear Erika,

A few things to remember:

  1. You can’t be trusted to watch a show by yourself after 7pm. Especially “This is Us.” What were you thinking?
  2. There is always a friend awake somewhere in the world. Or one who will be willing to wake up.
  3. You love how confusing J’aimais and jamais are in French–one meaning “I loved” the second meaning “Never.”
  4. Don’t suffer alone without medicine. Be it laughter, poetry, or a real hug from a true friend, you are not a Christian Scientist. Take some fucking medicine.
  5. People who say they don’t like birthdays still like to be celebrated. Choose a different day.
  6. Letters to yourself do not require stamps and they arrive immediately, just at the moment you long for them.
  7. Your dreams are messages–especially the one this morning about your deaf daughter and the one from the night before about Donald McKayle. Try to remember what isn’t said.
  8. You write the story of your life–careful how you choose the ink and the font. Not to mention the words.
  9. You are a little needy.
  10. You already have everything you need.

Love always,

from the Erika who just received this letter and already feels a little better