Wednesday, November 04, 2015

The great outdoors

October has always been my favorite time of the year, and not just for the aforementioned reasons concerning love. It's also the perfect time to get outside and enjoy the smell of autumn, when the temperatures drop and there's still a decent amount of sunshine to light the way. So this autumn, since my energies aren't being sapped by working, I've been out every weekend on adventures with my loved ones.

On the 18th Puck and Natalia met up with Chris at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, the first time I've been since 2012. We didn't have very long to spend there, and it rained heavily for about an hour during the day but the weather was lovely when the sun came out. We had hot cider and turkey legs and it seemed like we were constantly finding new foods to try, like funnel cake sticks and crepes stuffed with pears and cheese.

My most interesting find was at a medieval bookstore where I found a large pewter seal of a unicorn, something I've never seen before. It was a unique piece to add to my growing collection of seals that I use for my Free Love Letter project.

On Tuesday of that week we had a women's group meeting at Natalia's place. I went to meet up with a new friend, Chrissy, whom I met at the Pride March this summer (she carried my "Marriage is just one form of family" sign) at the Argo Tea before heading to the meeting. On the ride up we happened to be riding in the same car as my other friend Lauren, who was also attending the group for the first time. Lauren only realized we were there as we were leaving the train.

I first met Lauren in person at the 2012 Stony Brook LGBTA drag show but we actually have a much more interesting first meeting story. When I marched in SlutWalk back in 2011 I snapped this photo of her sign (below), which caught the top of her head. Puck's friend Em recognized her and introduced us online through my posting of the photo on Facebook.

On Thursday that week I attended a free tasting of Macallan Scotch Whiskey that was quite an interesting production. They offered samples of their 10-, 12-, 15- and 18-year aged Scotches, along with orange chocolate truffles. In the blind nose test, I picked out the 18-year as my favorite, so clearly I have expensive taste! Afterward I met up with Kacey and Becker at TSMC to watch The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Pt. 1.

On Friday Katie M came over after work and we watched Heroes until Puck joined us and we all went down to the PIT to watch Josh perform as Riff Raff in the Rocky Whore-er PIT-ure Show. Katie's friend and my new acquaintance Amelia played Janet. And I just learned that Victoria is dating the actor who played Rocky, but I can't remember his name. It was Puck's second time to see RHPS but I think they enjoyed it a little more than when we saw it at Wicked Faire in 2012. Aside from knowing people in the cast, this "shadow cast" was done in real-time without stopping the film for skits. However, it wasn't as much fun as years past without Liz present, because she actually knows some of the audience lines.

Saturday I went back to Staten Island with Puck to get Yoshi while leaving Katie to fend for herself for the day at TSMC. Sunday morning Katie and I drove out to Springwood, the family home of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a lovely spot I visited back in 2006. We took a walk down the trail toward the Hudson River but didn't make it too far before we had to turn back to make our tour time for the house. There was one beautiful moment when the wind swirled up, like an orchestra tuning up before a concert, and blew leaves into the crisp autumn air.

After touring the house and taking in the gorgeous view from the rear balcony, we took a quick tour through the museum, but we could only stay long enough to realize that we had to come back again someday to really take it all in, as Katie had to get back to the city for a prior engagement.

On Monday I attended the opening night of the play that Liz is stage managing called "Veritas," based on the true story of homosexual students at Harvard in the 1920s.  Josh and Victoria also came and it was quite a production. The cast members served as hosts, seating groups of the audience and complimentary drinks were offered (although I can't remember when I've had a more undrinkable wine). The first part of the play was a little hard to follow (partly because we were seated in a far corner) but the second and third parts were very powerful and very crisply choreographed with lights and movement. Liz even got to make a brief, non-speaking appearance as the future wife of one of the cast. The play seems to come off like Orwellian satire, but in truth it shows us that even though we've come a long way, we continue to damage and destroy lives because they don't conform to our conventional ideas.

Last Saturday was Samhain, pagan new year, and I celebrated alone as I always do. It's one of the strongest reminders of being in Tara's family that I left in 2009 that I continue to celebrate my beliefs this particular way. I had found a new amulet at the Ren Faire, a tree icon that I want to symbolize growth and the growing connectedness with the people closest to me. 

In the evening I went to the Met as I did last year and thankfully this year they didn't have any kiddie art stations set up so it was much quieter, just the way I like it. I found a striking sculpture (below) in the modern art collection entitled "Lilith" (appropriate for the sabbat) and my usual spaces were delightfully empty, making for some wonderful photos.  

Friday, October 16, 2015

We got some catching up to do

It's been a relatively uneventful few weeks since the wedding in PA. I launched my annual Free Love Letters project and as the weather gets to be more and more my season, I'm finding more things to do outdoors to emerge from my summer exile.

Last weekend Liz and I planned another apple-picking trip to Fishkill Farms that we last visited in 2013. This time we brought along Lytle, Nancy, Josh and Katie M. We hit a snag of traffic on the George Washington Bridge but we got there without any mishaps - last time a speeding car cut me off and almost caused an accident. The weather was even more gorgeous than last time, which was a blessing because the day before it was very wet.

We got a box of cider donuts and cups of steaming hot apple cider and sat on my picnic blanket on the hill overlooking the orchard. The only annoyance were the bees and other stinging insects that swooped down on us, attracted by the smell of sweet cider. Lytle, unfortunately, is allergic to stings so she was continually on tenterhooks until we started moving again. Liz and I both got tiny pumpkins and Katie got a larger one to carve.

To pick apples we had to drive down to a separate entrance and pay a car fee of $5. It was very crowded because the roads were quite narrow and there were way too many cars trying to get from one orchard to another to pick different kinds of apples. Add to that the beautiful weather and that it was a holiday weekend. We found some pleasant spots to take pictures and there were plenty of apples to be had, but since the line was so long and slow to exit, I put Yoshi into the exit line while the others hopped out and picked apples along the way and caught up with me on foot.

When we got back to the city Nancy had to leave but the rest of us had dinner at a sushi restaurant near Liz's place. We made it back just in time for their happy hour specials, which were pretty amazing. Afterwards we swung by City Swiggers so I could buy more Koppaberg pear cider and Katie found a few things she liked too. I had scored a street parking spot for Yoshi so we left him there for the night, said goodbye to Lytle, Josh and Liz, and Katie came home with me to continue watching our Heroes marathon. Puck came by later to say hello and crash.

The next day we all had breakfast and left together, Katie to go home while Puck and I headed down to Staten Island to get ready for my friend Adele's 50th birthday party in Bayonne, NJ. I don't get to see much of Adele since her life is mostly in New Jersey but she is one of the charter members of my women's group and I used to see quite a lot of her when we were both coming out as polyamorous in 2008-2009 (we first met at her first-ever polya meeting). And I was especially happy to see many of my long-time friends there whom I rarely get to see: Linda (who lives near Boston now), Barbara (who has been living in Phoenix for the past year), Lisa (who runs the NNJ polya group but came to my media training class earlier in the year), and Murray and Lee, who are getting ready to move to a new home together in New York.

The previous weekend Katie and I met up with Lytle and her friend Ryan at the Lower East Side Pickle Festival. It was also crazy crowded but since it wasn't very big we didn't have to go through it many times to find everything we wanted. Again, we were incredibly lucky with the weather, which was dreary only hours before the event started. Ryan also works as a stand-in for TV shows so he and Lytle both have lots of funny stories about it. Plus, he has a refreshing combination of positive energy and respectful reserve that I found very appealing. After eating and buying a few pickles we went to get real food at the nearby Sweet Chick restaurant, a pleasant find for chicken and waffles. The four of us had a really good craic going, which is a rare and wonderful thing. Yes, we are now Facebook friends.

I've been having TSMC events pretty regularly and some have been well attended. Natalia, Puck and I have continued watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries every week, and Katie M and I are keeping a fairly regular weekly sleepover schedule to watch Heroes, which we are both enjoying immensely.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Free Love Letters 2015

It's finally October and once again we are entering the dark half of the year, my time for creativity and renewal when for many people the opposite is true. October is a special month to me for a number of reasons. It ends with pagan new year (Samhain) on Oct. 31 and time for the cycle of the year to start anew.

I associate October with love because I've actually met (officially) all my previous lovers in the month of October. So even though I'm a polyamorous single right now, I believe in celebrating love in all its forms, not just sexual or romantic love.

So four years ago I started a project called "Free Love Letters" to mark October as my own month dedicated to love. It's sort of like those people holding "Free Hugs" signs in Times Square, but more permanent. As you might guess, I've kept a journal for most of my life but it was only in middle school that I started writing letters, which led to becoming a journalist and later into public relations. It has also played a big part in cultivating my past love relationships and some of my oldest friendships.

I started thinking of the FLL project after reading this article in the Wall Street Journal"Stationery's New Followers" - Aug. 25, 2011. I wanted to do something for the sake of art, without any other purpose or agenda beyond putting something beautiful out in the world. I've also been inspired by master calligraphers Jake Weidman and Seb Lester - although this project is not about the beauty of the script so much as the message in the letter.

As a whole, the FLL project celebrates love itself, not love for any specific person. The idea of love is bigger than the fuel for our intimate relationships - love is the most powerful force for good we have in the world. This is why I do all I can to help people find new ways to experience and share love. I sincerely believe that if there's more love in the world, it will make the other problems we have easier to handle.

So each October, I write a personalized love letter to anyone who requests one by sending me their physical mailing address between now and 11:59 pm ET on October 31. Even if you've gotten one before, if you enjoyed it I encourage you to request another! Everyone who gives me an address will get a letter - guaranteed - whether we've known each other a minute or a decade.

Each love letter will be handcrafted using some of the many tools I've collected over the years - fine writing instruments, a vintage manual typewriter, various seals and waxes, a burgeoning collection of handmade papers, etc. Once completed, it will be delivered to you anywhere in the world by old-fashioned postal carrier and thus its contents will be as confidential as things get in this modern world.

Your letter may be philosophical or romantic, funny or sincere. It might be perfumed or decorated. It might recall some tiny, distant memory of our time together, or it might be five pages long if we have a history. It might be lyrics to a love song that reminds me of you. It could be a story I've always wanted to share with you, but never found the right moment to tell it.

But whatever it is, it will be honest, and it will be about you and me - and whatever is between us and how it relates to the experience of love. It will be the product of my deep reflection about you and possibly a lot of research on how we've interacted over the years. And for those moments it takes you to read it, you and I will share a personal and physical connection that is so rare in this fleeting digital world.

Since I started doing this project, the number of requests have grown geometrically - one in 2011, three in 2012, five in 2013 and 10 in 2014. They have also gotten more involved to make since I'm constantly trying new ideas and improvements. So bear in mind that if I get 20 requests this year, it may take a few months to receive your letter, but I promise you will get it (unless it gets lost in transit) and that it will be worth the wait.

Finally, no response will be expected from you - the letter is my gift with no strings attached, in honor of all the love that has found me in Octobers past. All individual letters and requests will be kept confidential on my end, but you are welcome to share the experience publicly if you wish, as many people do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

A bridesmaid's tale

This past weekend was one of the major highlights of my life as Puck and I attended the wedding of our friends Chris and Bruce in Pennsylvania. It was the first time I've ever been part of a bridal party.

As I think about Chris and all that we've been through, our changing identities and our unconventional friendship, it occurs to me that she fills the archetype of being my only childhood friend. She's that person who grew up with me, then went off separately for a few years before we reunited and became friends as more fully formed grown-ups.

I remember well those days in the mid-2000s when we were both trying to sort out so many things and emotions often spread into the all-caps territory as we chatted online. I only remember moments now, and Chris remembers even less. But that foundation of trust and mutual support in the face of extraordinary circumstances has forged a bond between us unlike any other in my life.

After growing up together across a great distance for eight years, I feel so fortunate that we were able to meet and become IRL (in real life, for those who don't chat online much) friends back in 2012 ("Road trip 2012" - March 14, 2012). And when I look at how Chris has changed in the four birthday group photos on my shelf from 2012 to 2015, she reminds me that we should never stop growing and learning new things about ourselves and those close to us.

Chris wrote a lovely poem for my birthday in 2014, which was also our 10th friendiversary. Reading it now as a prelude to writing about her wedding seems fitting to me.

Like a breath of wind,
A drop of rain,
And the smallest grain of sand,
All that we touch moves on.
Changed. Shifted. Altered.

All the pieces we keep,
The fragments we lose,
And the ones we forever cherish,
All those we touch stray onward.
Beloved. Nurtured. Accepted.

Through wind and rain,
Distance and journey,
And the shifting sands of time,
May friendship endure forever.
Stronger, Deeper, and Profound.

The weekend started on Friday when I left my Times Square apartment and headed down to Staten Island to pick up Puck and pack up Yoshi for the three-hour drive to Harrisburg. Bruce was home so he gave Puck the grand tour, and Trent (one of the groomsmen) and Chris arrived soon after. We drove to the Cameron Estate Inn in Mount Joy to rehearse for Sunday's big day. Eva, Jenna and Fiona joined us at the venue, along with best man Pete, the parents and close relations.

The weather was humid and thick, and the air was filled with all manner of biting insects so numerous that we had to brush them off our clothes. We weren't there very long, but it quickly became unbearable and we wondered if the wedding would be the same way. The forecast was for rain on Saturday, clearing up on Sunday. We could only hope for the best, but we made plans to have insect repellent available just in case.

In the evening we went to the Lancaster Brewing Company for dinner, which was the venue where Fiona introduced Chris and Bruce more than three years ago. And in a bit of synchronicity, Fiona recognized the server, Michelle, as the same one who served them at that first meeting. We shared garden and Caesar salads, a thick-cut bacon board, calamari and chorizo mussels for appetizers. I got the artisan pork and honey sausage with carmelized onion whipped potatoes, sauerkraut and whole grain mustard, and Puck had a crispy skin Atlantic salmon with local corn, roasted tomatoes, baby spinach, Yukon gold potatoes, smoked bacon and lemon butter sauce. After dinner we said goodbye to the adults, Eva and Jenna, and came back to the house to play video games and watch cooking shows.

Saturday we woke up to the predicted rain, and what a rain it was! I don't think I've seen such a downpour but once or twice in a year. Puck and I joined Chris for a visit to her parents' farmhouse to take care of last-minute wedding details. As we drove around we pointed at every patch of bright sky as a hopeful sign that the rain would stop soon and for tomorrow. We went to Harrisburg Mall so that Chris could buy a clutch bag and I found a more comfortable pair of shoes than the Calvin Klein flats I was intending to wear. For the first time ever, I didn't go to 2nd & Charles, but that was okay because I'd just been there last week when I came in for my last dress fitting.

In the evening Sean and Jono, the remaining two groomsmen, arrived with other close friends for a pre-wedding party. The rain finally let up around 6 pm, allowing Bruce to grill hamburgers and sausages for dinner. We had lots of video games tournaments and watched movies until the wee hours, although Chris turned in very early because she had to wash and dry her extra-long hair.

I got up the next morning and watched a couple Firefly episodes while waiting for people to make their appearances. Chris and Bruce came home with donuts for breakfast and Puck woke up late since they were up late and were also feeling a little under the weather. Oh yes, the weather! It was absolutely incredible the difference between the stormy Saturday and the gorgeous weather on Sunday. The breeze was blowing steadily, just a few clouds and there was the first whiff of autumn in the air. We couldn't have gotten more lucky with the weather for this wedding!

Clearly, the trick of it is that I can't fly to anybody's wedding, but I can drive there (the last two times I've tried to fly to a wedding, the flights have been canceled, once by freak weather and the other by having part of the plane's wing break off, causing us to be bumped because they couldn't fill the plane).

We met up with Chris and the other bridesmaids at Cameron around 3:30 pm to start getting ready, doing hair and makeup in the spacious bridal suite, and helping Chris into her breathtaking gown. By the way, it helps to have tall bridesmaids (like myself) to get into sprawling, complicated gowns without messing up carefully coiffed hair!

We started the procession just a little past our scheduled time of 6 pm, with Bruce and his attendants making their way to the stage as the bridesmaids walked from the main house down to the wedding area. Before we started, we helped Chris get into the passenger seat of a vintage Duster that her dad Ron rebuilt so he could drive her down the path to matrimony, preceded by Riley, the flower girl.

The ceremony was presided over by Reverend Panzini, who led Chris and Bruce through the exchange of their vows and rings, and had the maid of honor Eva lay a handfasting chord over their joined hands for a short handfasting ceremony before pronouncing them husband and wife.

As the guests returned to the Inn for cocktails, the families and wedding party had photographs taken all around the grounds as the golden light slowly faded from the sky. Chris' mom Julie, Eva and me went up to the suite to French bustle Chris' dress, which was quite a complicated routine of color matching ribbons and rings. I held the light from Eva's phone so we could make out the different colors.

Once that was done we all sat down for dinner as Bruce's father introduced the couple and they took their seats across from me and Puck at the wedding table. Pete gave the traditional first toast, wasting no time providing a Nintendo gaming reference by calling Chris the "Princess Peach" to Bruce's "Mario."

At this juncture, Chris asked me if I wanted to give a toast as well, which took me a little by surprise because I had interpreted our last conversation on the subject to mean that formal toasts and speeches were going to be discouraged, but we clearly miscommunicated. I felt that someone from Chris' side of the aisle should speak and after a quick consultation with the other bridesmaids I was elected, since I'd at least prepared something short.

I'd actually written out this toast in July but I didn't bring it with me, so I improvised from memory. I have no idea of what I actually said at the dinner, but this is what I would have said if I were to have given it properly.
Honored guests, I offer a toast for this assembly that is based on the writings of British novelist C. S. Forester, who is best-known for writing "The African Queen" and the Horatio Hornblower novels. This is a modern interpretation of the toast that Admiral Cornwallis offers to Horatio Hornblower at his wedding to his wife Maria: 
May they never know sorrow. May they always enjoy health and prosperity. May they be forever loyal to one another, supporting each other both in their individual paths and in the marriage that binds them together. May they be blessed with children, and may those children grow up to perpetuate and spread the honor and love of this family wherever in the world they may go. I pray you charge your glasses as we toast to the happiness of the bride and groom!
After my toast there were soon calls with the tapping of glasses for Chris and Bruce to kiss, which they did happily until the food came and they decided that sustenance took priority over romance. After a few bites of the excellent food, they started to make the rounds from table to table greeting their guests before being called to cut the cake.

For the guests' wedding favors there were little pots of local honey, and they had a photo for guests to write a message or sign their names. Chris, of course, had to update her place card with her new married name.

Finally, for an extra-special touch, we all went outside and lit extra-long sparklers and formed lines to give the couple a true Pennsylvania send-off.

Photo by Sarah Ohl

I've said much in the past about how my role as a bridesmaid to Chris is important to me. But what was foremost in my thoughts on Sunday wasn't what the wedding meant to me. It was the joy of seeing one of my dearest friends have her fondest dream come true. It was thinking about all the agony and heartache that we've been through together over the past decade and coming out of it with the happiest outcome either of us could dare imagine.

Life can be a miracle if you believe in your dreams.