Monday, May 31, 2021

With Him


It finally happened: that job in Iceport. The one I dreamed of over four successive dark winters. The one I gunned for hard with desperation and then with ruthless, cold focus. It's mine.

And somehow all I can think about, as I walk the rose-strewn streets of Triantaphilon with Anthos, is throwing it all away to begin anew in this sun-drenched city. With bookstores and coffee shops and quirky little stores. With warmth and vibrance and endless waves of emerald-green trees beneath banners that proclaim welcome to people like me. With this man who looks at me through astonished eyes and tells me how beautiful I am. With his lips that say he'll want me, no matter what I decide. 

With him.

I have no idea what's coming or where I'll be when it does. What I do know is that I'm tired of living for other people's expectations, or for duty, or for the long game. I want to live for the moment. For the desires of my heart. For, at last, my happiness, which I've neglected so long in the service of literally everything else. For the right now.  And right now, walking beside him in the sunshine makes me feel more whole and more hopeful than I have in a very, very long time. 

This emotional rollercoaster is headed for a destination I'm not yet able to divine. Once it stops, I'm getting off at a port of my choosing--Alaska and career be damned. I've been so obsessed with following the path and climbing the ladder, with doing the responsible thing, that I've missed a beautiful and elegant truth: at any point, you can burn it all down. Start over. You don't have to continue investing in a choice that no longer serves you just because you've invested so much in it already. 

So many decisions. Now I just have to work out what I want.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Tides That Shift So Suddenly


A whole lot has changed in five months. 

I'm not even referring to the election, though I would be remiss not to take this moment to address the on-the-fence equivocators who so kindly informed me that "life goes on" no matter which side wins: life didn't "go on" for the people who died in the Republican coup attempt on January 6. Nor for the half-million who perished in the pandemic. Nor for the hundreds of families permanently destroyed by acts of incalculable cruelty carried out on our southern border on the order of a failed one-termer who does not dignify being named. Remember when armed traitors were prowling the halls of Congress, hunting the Speaker of the House and the Vice President of the United States with the express intention of summarily executing them? 

I sure do. I remember it because I was one of many progressives who cautioned, for years, that the anti-democratic rhetoric being espoused by the one-termer was calculated--and likely--to provoke political violence if left unchecked. None of you wanted to listen. I hope you carry the weight of that smugness, of that determined and intentional ignorance, every day. I hope you know what nearly happened in this country and I hope you know that, on however infinitesimal a level, you played some part in it by refusing to see what was in front of your face and by disbelieving the people who shouted unheeded warnings again and again and again. 

But I digress. And the failed one-termer deserves no more of our time or attention, does he?

Things have a way, once it seems they're fixed in place, of shifting rapidly beneath you, and I can't tell if that's effort or luck or some serendipitous combination of the two, but I sure am grateful. I was in a rut. A rut of many facets, some old and some new, but all converging to make me feel as though I was stuck. Wanting to leave the village system but unable to break out. Looking for a partner but coming up blank. Aware of my gender identity but too scared to act on it (and, by implication, consigning myself to a half-life wherein I saw my true self but never moved towards her). And then it broke.

The breaking came in phases, of course, and each one of them had in common my decision to push, unrelentingly and without apology, until something moved. 

"The Bible says You give us the desires of our hearts," I prayed during one especially fraught night in October. "And that You don't put on us more than we can take. Well I've hit my limit. I'm done. I am tired of asking You for the same things over and over again and getting absolutely nothing. If You won't help me, then I'll find help elsewhere."

If my threatening the good Lord above to go outright pagan doesn't illustrate the level of exhaustion under which I was operating then nothing really can, and to say that I was at my wits' end would be to sanitize the situation considerably. I was lonely. Tired. Unfulfilled. Purposeless. And just not willing to do it anymore.  We Christians are told to trust meekly in "the plan," believing--often despite significant circumstantial evidence to the contrary--that God has our best interests at heart and that He will enact them if only we have the patience and fidelity to accept that He'll give us what we need. 

You know, I tried that. But The Plan seemed to entail me spending a whole lot of time miserable and isolated while the rest of the world danced in sunshine far, far away. So I decided it was time for a new plan, God willing or, well, not. 

One of the first rungs popped in January. 

Teachers operate on year-long contracts that are issued each spring in advance of the following school year, and as this particular district sends them out criminally early--within weeks of the New Year, whereas other localities don't send theirs until March or April--I knew pretty quickly that I'd not been extended an offer to return for the Fall '21 term. When my repeated good-faith questions about what exactly had happened and if I needed to improve somehow were met with conflicting--that is, dishonest--answers, I mentally moved on. Made some calls. Did some interviews. Viaborea wound up hiring me back after all, no explanation given--and then seemed shocked and shaken to learn I'd pursued employment elsewhere. 

"Are you not coming back next year?" asked Mr. Coin, my principal. He'd shuttled me into an empty classroom and looked harried. "I just got a call from HR in Iceport asking about you."

"Oh," I responded, trying to hide both my surprise and my delight. "I mean, I didn't know if I had a contract yet with you guys, so I did sit for an interview. But I didn't think anything of it when I didn't hear from them for a little bit."

"Well, you know we'd love to have you back."

You know what they say, Boss Man: play stupid games--win stupid prizes. You should've loved to have me back on January 1.

The fate of that position, Iceport being the competitive place that it is, remains uncertain, but a handful of very complimentary phone calls with those involved in the hiring process has left me optimistic. I'll learn within the coming weeks if there's a spot for me in the city. 

"And we can be roomies!" Miss Violet, a teacher friend from Point Goldlace, crowed into the telephone when I apprised her of the newest developments. "Boo, this is going to be fun!"

Another rung popped in October, or at least began to, and the thing that nudged it upward was--of all things--an instant message.

I honestly don't remember what I said. I was on a subreddit, not even a proper dating site, so whatever missive I typed out to the cute guy with the wavy hair and the kind eyes was surely a banal compliment--"Sweet t-shirt, bro!"--but pleasantries yielded quickly to deeper conversations that betrayed a startling level of commonality. 

"You know, I really enjoy talking to you," he messaged one day. 

"Talking to me would sure be easier if you had my phone number," I playfully pushed back.

Within a week, tops, I was aware of something that I found disconcerting because I am not, ever, the person who lets their emotions carry them away or who jumps into relationships.

"Black Dress Girl," I told one of my best friends from back in the Lower 48. "I think I might have just met my husband."

Anthos, this man who's introduced so much possibility into my life so quickly, is thirty-two years old (his birthday is four days after mine, a fact that will prove insufferably adorable if we wind up together in the long term), and that may account for the cautious approach towards our dynamic that he was happy to share with me. Both of us were aware of the high level of compatibility we shared. Both of us knew the implications such compatibility could have. And both of us chose to take it slow. 

We talked remotely for five months, at one point consciously skipping out on meeting during the Christmas holidays, before he got on a plane to Alaska in the second week of March. I was off school for spring break and his job was remote, so we AirBnb-ed it for a week and decided to see how things went. 

The result: a resounding okay. 

"I don't feel those fireworks for you," I told him during one of our frequent conversations of refreshing insight and candor. "I mean, I like you. A lot. I just don't think those fireworks are something I feel."

"I don't feel them for you, either," he said. "But I've been in relationships where I did feel the fireworks, and I can tell you: it doesn't last. That ends really quickly, and then you're left with the person and whether you can deal with them."

I check a lot of boxes for him. He checks a lot of boxes for me. We have similar life goals and similar ideas about what a relationship should be. 

"You know what my favorite part of this week has been?" I queried him towards the end of our stay. 


There had been plenty of romantic or at least romantic-comedy moments, from the stunning drive down the Seaside Highway to the afternoon spent at a resort to the moose-evasion we'd had to pull in the neighborhood where we'd rented a place. But any of those instances would make too much sense.

"We were getting ready to go somewhere and I was still in the bathroom doing my hair, so I called out to ask you to start the car. And then I realized, 'Oh, my God. There's someone to start the car. I don't have to do everything on my own.'"

He crooned with laughter as the words hit home, his eyes glittering knowingly. 

"My favorite part was cleaning the kitchen," he confessed. "You were just like, 'You do this and I'll do this.' We just really tackled that as a team. Neither one trying to avoid helping. We went after it together."

I'd unloaded the dishwasher and he'd gathered the trash. It was magical. 

We decided ahead of time that we'd talk at the end of the week and decide whether we wanted to proceed with a formal relationship. We did. So when on Sunday, March 21, I drove Anthos to the airport, we parted as boyfriends. This relationship is not perfect and there are certainly obstacles to making it work, but we've both reached the same conclusion: that we'll overcome those barriers if we decide that doing so is worth it. That creates decisions to be made, but not to be made right now. I'm flying to his West Coast city next month and we're taking it from there. Step by step. Self-assessing along the way. 

And it's a good thing we're being so flexible, because just last week the universe dropped another bomb on me: a year after my interview was indefinitely postponed because of Covid, International Organization reached out to say that they're resuming the hiring process and want me to come to Marble City this summer. 

"It seems like for the longest time I had nothing going on," I told my father by telephone not long after. "And don't get me wrong: I'd rather have too many opportunities than not enough. But it's a lot to juggle."

"That's how it goes, though," he said. "One week there's nothing and then the next you have five job offers. When it rains--"

"I know. It pours."

Monday, November 2, 2020



I’ve prayed and I’ve prayed. I’ve worried countless hours. In the morning I’ll cast my ballot and, after that, will have done all I can do. After four years of horror it seems unbelievable that things should come to a head in less than a day, but here we are.

Across the country businesses are boarding up, people are sealing themselves behind locked doors, and individuals are stockpiling weapons and food. It is difficult to envision any scenario wherein Trump’s backers are not moved to violence, whether of the exuberant or the enraged kind, but should he lose—and please, merciful God, let him lose—then both he and they will be incalculably worse. And then there are those, nominally on our side, who are all too eager to torch and destroy should the vile man remain in office. I hope each and every one who would pillage takes the time to vote instead.

It feels like the entire future hangs on the precipice and yet all roads lead to catastrophe anyway. I don’t know how we got to this point. I just hope we can get past it. 

Monday, October 19, 2020



If one word could define my life right now, that word would be "impermanence." Or maybe "unsustainable." "Precarity." "Transition." "Crisis."

Take your pick. 

However you slice it, the inescapable conclusion is that I'm living in a moment which cannot persist. This is a pause at a threshold. A foot hovering above a gas pedal. An eagle-eyed crouch at the starting line. It cannot be, shouldn't be--mustn't be--a way of life.

But I don't know what replaces it. Having figured out, at least a little bit, where I am, I can't work out where I'm supposed to go. I pinned a lot of hopes on a path forward with International Organization and was overjoyed when they selected me for an interview, but all that has been placed on ice owing to the pandemic. As has, it seems, much of the world.

It is bizarre and temptingly egocentric that my personal entry into an existential waiting room has coincided with the rest of the global population doing the same thing. At least up here, things seemed to be getting better throughout the late summer and into the early fall--until, suddenly, they weren't. Until, suddenly, the sickness was everywhere. 

 On Monday, October 12, I returned from my lunch break around 12:30 in the afternoon--returning from my apartment, as it were, which is one of the benefits of living in the same building where you work--to find the students stuffing backpacks and slipping on jackets. 

"What are they all doing?" I asked Mr. Coin, my newest principal.

"It's in the village," he responded, eyes dark. "The busses will be here at 1."

And then they were gone. 

No one seems to know for sure when they'll come back, but the outbreak spreading in the community is clearly uncontrolled--even some of the teenagers are becoming really ill--and the inclination seems to be that we should opt for caution over quickness. We may, Mr. Coin confided, be expected to work remotely until the middle of January--which inspired a brilliant conclusion on my part followed by an equally swift moral torpedo.

"So, if we're not going to be in the classrooms until January...can I just peace out to the East Coast?" I asked. "There's not really any point to being here."

"I don't see why that would be a problem," he answered. "If the work is remote it makes no difference where you do it from. Let me ask around and I'll let you know if we're good to go."

We're not good to go.

Because even as I imagined the joys of an extended holiday homecoming--hanging out for a month with my grandmother, popping over to see my best friend and her son, surprising my sister amid the stresses of her senior year of high school--I saw the pitfalls following close behind. My grandmother is 78. Aunt Crazy, the redoubtable loon whose admonitions that "it's hard out here to be a pimp" and questionable professions of fondness for cocaine have long enlivened family gatherings, is around the same age and in poor health.

And then there's Sweet Aunt. 

Sweet Aunt, who's shown kindness to anyone she's ever known. Sweet Aunt, who turned away from an upbringing my father couldn't overcome and raised a compassionate, brilliant, hard-working son. Sweet Aunt, whose breast cancer had reached Stage 3 before they found it a month ago.

"I'm scared," she told me by phone when we spoke recently. "The treatment they're doing is very aggressive and it's going to take a lot out of me. Your cousin came over the other day, and I thought, 'He's too young for this. Too young to have a sick mother. He shouldn't have to see this.' And it's a three-hour drive each time he makes the trip."

"But don't you know," I countered. "That he wants to be there because he's such a great person? Because you raised such a good man?"

"That's what Uncle Mustache said," she answered. "He asked me, 'Wouldn't you do anything for your child?'" She started to cry. "I said, 'Yes.' And he told me, 'Then you have to let him do this for you.'"

I can't be the cause of any more danger befalling this queen of a woman, who even with cytotoxin flowing through her veins could think only of the child to whom she's given everything. He's an accountant now, married to a doctor. Last summer they bought their first house. 

The draw homeward is like a harpoon hooked right into my heart, and I can practically taste how badly I want to answer its pull. But not at that risk. Not at that cost.

"What are you doing for Christmas?" I asked Miss Violet by telephone. "I think I'm staying in Alaska."

It would be the second year in a row, though the naive version of me who existed in the autumn of 2019 couldn't have known that. I remained then because my bank account couldn't quite absorb the cost of heading back east. Now, in Viaborea, I have a well-padded wallet against which the price of a first-class ticket home is no obstacle. But other obstacles have emerged.

It's hard not to see some cosmic alignment in the world being on pause when my entire life is so totally, resolutely, inescapably frozen in place. Think about it. I know that I'm almost certainly a transgender woman, but lingering doubts and the difficulties of navigating hormone therapy in so isolated an environment have stayed me from transition. I know that I need to be in an urban environment but am not sure how--or if--to break down the door into Iceport. I know that I don't want to be a teacher forever but, with my most credible alternative held up in Covid-related paralysis, haven't found another course.

I've identified a slew of needed changes--that I uniformly cannot act on, at least not now. What gives?

And the backdrop to all of this, fittingly, is the ongoing disintegration of a Republic that will receive either a qualified reprieve or a death knell in a little more than two weeks' time. A week ago, mindful of what life as a trans person and a liberal during a second Trump term might look like, I hopped into my car and drove down the highway. To the edge of a happy realm ruled by a kind queen.

I knew, of course, where the border lay. Knew that place was on the other side. But I had to see it. I just had to see that it was real.

The boundary of these two great nations is not, incidentally, guarded on the Canadian side--go figure--and so, though I came with the intent only of peeking into Canada, I wound up blazing straight across the demarcation and into the Yukon Territory without being any the wiser. When the road signs changed to kilometers and provincial flags started waving in the wind, I got a hint that maybe something wasn't quite right.

"Wait a minute, did I just...? No fucking way."

If you're going to accidentally wander into another country, though, you might as well stop to take pictures, and the respective governments had conveniently provided a lovely pagoda perfect for quiet reflection. A line in the gravel--or paint on a bench--was all that separated me from a country where no one went without healthcare. Where every child who wanted could attend university. Where people like me were respected and protected. Where the government worked for its people. 

I knelt before that marker and clasped my hands in prayer (a habit that, doubt and temptation aside, I can't seem to quite shake).

The day may come when I have to cross this border in a very different way, I told Him. For a very different reason. If it comes, please bless my journey. Please get me there swiftly. Please keep me safe.

Had you told me at any point in my childhood or adolescence that I would stand a credible chance of needing to flee my homeland as a political refugee, I would have regarded you with a slight amount of incredulity. Then again, the whole Plague-2.0 and being-a-woman things would also have thrown me for a loop, so I guess 2020 has put a lot of stuff out of whack.

And am I woman? I don't know. I mean...more or less? I guess that's the best answer I can give. I feel like a woman (inwardly, duh). I'm pretty sure I think like a woman. For as long as I can remember I've idolized, emulated, aspired to, and wanted to be like, well, women. Rose DeWitt Bukater. The Pink Power Ranger. Rachel from Animorphs. Amelia from The Princess Diaries. In my youth, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera and Kelly Clarkson. In my adulthood, Meghan Markle and Taylor Swift (a living goddess if ever there was one). Those were my girls. Sometimes, joining their ranks feels impossible to the point of comedy--and I, whoever the hell I am, should give up on that lest I become this contemptible she-male thing that repulses both genders while passing for neither. 

Toxic thoughts, I know. Not representative. Not helpful. And hormones work wonders. But the Dark Night of the Soul comes each evening like clockwork. Who among us doesn't slip into its depths from time to time?

Every now and again I can't see any path forward to a happy future, and that scares me more than most things in this very scary world. How, I sometimes wonder, will it all end for me? The other night I had a dream that I again attempted suicide--not, in case anyone is worried, an item on my to-do list--and my grandmother was weeping over me.

"I can't believed it happened twice," she cried. "I can't believe it happened twice!"

I'm in sort of an odd place here. I have ironclad job security. A paycheck heavy enough to knock out a medium-sized child. Financial security. A clear career trajectory, at least if I stay in my current field. And yet I've seldom felt such a paucity of purpose or hope. I pray, day in and day out, that all of us get better soon. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2020


It seems masterfully selfish, irresponsible even, to write about something as prosaic as my new place when large parts of our country are literally on fire. But I'm here. Here in Viaborea, settling into a routine, decorating my apartment, devising lessons plans and activities and, potentially, a sharp exit across the border that's ninety miles away.

Next to thoughts of I wonder if the kids will like this? bubble up ones like You can't be like those people in Germany who waited too late to get out.

So I'm watching from my Arctic perch. Painfully aware of how little I can actually do, and of how much in my own life is deeply unsettled. Soon, I'll return and tell you the story of how I got here and how things, national and personal crises aside, are playing out. 

What heavy stories we're all living now.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Once Upon a Time

In a moment between heartbeats and an instant between blinks, when my mind had released this world but not yet made it to the Dreamland, Good appeared.

"Let me tell you a story, little one," she whispered, and I nodded my permission because I loved listening to her voice.

"Once upon a time there was a princess who was as beautiful as dawn," she began. "Her feet were light as clouds and her skin as soft as summer rain, and wherever she turned her face there shone brilliant sunshine. So they called her Morning Star."

"What happened to her?" I asked, for even in that instant that wasn't an instant I knew no story had a happy ending.

"There was a Wolf," Good said, and that explained everything.

"It killed her," I posited.

"In a way," she said. Her blue eyes twinkled ever so faintly in the light of that place that wasn't a place and that time that wasn't a time. "But not quite. You see, the Wolf was evil, but he was a gifted mimic. He could appear as glory. Or pride. Or justice. Or pleasure. He kept his true nature concealed by living in the shadows, but because the princess was made of light he could never hide before her. In her presence, everyone saw him for what he was. He hated her for it."

I giggled at the idea of this Technicolor princess, but already a slowly seeping dread was leaking into the back of my heart for her. No one stood up to evil and got away with it. Especially when evil had good costumes.

"How could she be made of light?" I asked, each syllable a shifting cadence of time and personhood, the "how" adolescent and mellow, the "light" an effusion of ten different BBs, the "she" a child's bell-clear soprano, high and filled with wonder. "Wouldn't she just float away?"

"Well, she wasn't made of just light," Good confided, leaning forward to kiss my cheek. "But her essence was light. When she was happy, she glimmered like shooting stars brought close. When she was in love, she shimmered like a field of fireflies. Like the afternoon bursting through a thundercloud. And when she was should have seen her. She grew brighter and brighter until it was like there were two suns in the sky. There was no shadow deep enough for the Wolf then."

"It sounds like you loved her," I observed, hugging a teddy bear that became a Walkman that became a journal that became a smartphone.

Good's eyes were a sea of blue on shimmering blue that her smile didn't quite reach.

"She was one of my best friends," she answered. "I miss her all the time."

I patted her on the arm.

"I'm sorry about your friend. The Wolf seems very mean. Maybe she wasn't strong enough."

"But that's just the thing," Good replied. "She was. That's why she had to be the one to confront him. The Wolf had been a problem for a while, and all of Morning Star's friends decided that only Sunlight was up to the job of banishing Shadow. So they gave the task to her. Her duty was to battle the Wolf in the plain of the heavens, binding him there so he could never break free and visit his discord upon the Earth."

"But he did," I supplied, eyes as big as saucers.

"But he did," Good agreed solemnly. "He wasn't strong enough to kill the princess, but, like her, he knew how to use magic. So one day when the princess was wounded, the Wolf used a terrible spell that he'd been saving for that exact moment. A spell that hurt her very deeply, even though she didn't die." 


Wait, Good didn't say that. Who was it, then? I guess it doesn't matter.

But maybe it was me.

"Then what did the spell do?" I asked.

"It imprisoned her."


Good wiped her fingers beneath her eyelids and paused for a long moment.

"He made her forget who she was," she said finally. "And put her in a world where no one would understand her. Where she was no longer beautiful or powerful or terrible. At least not in the same ways. And he set two little wolves to guard her, just as she had guarded him. 'If she ever starts to remember,' he told them. 'Rip at her with the fangs I gave you, until she can think of nothing but your teeth and her fear.' Each bite pierced a little piece of her spirit. If they bit hard enough and long enough, he hoped, maybe they'd be able to bite her soul right out of her. What threat would she be then?"

"Well," I shook my head with my lips pressed together. "You might want to forget about your friend, because it sounds like he really offed her."

Good's laughter brought some of the hope back into the world and made me hear, as it always did, the faint ring of wind chimes.

"You know, I don't tend to write people off," she answered, her face transformed for a second by a mischievous grin. "And in any case, the princess had three things going for her. Strengths the Wolf couldn't take away, and that he was hoping she wouldn't learn how to use before he got loose of the chain she'd used to tie him to the stars."

"What were they?" I queried. I hadn't exactly been sold on this burning-princess thing at the outset, but Good was a total drama queen and she knew how to drive home a pitch. I was hooked.

"One,"  Good elaborated, raising a finger for theatrical effect. "She had a magical pen. Not one she could carry. But one deep inside. One that was part of her blood and her heart and her whole being. It made her a storyteller, even in this realm that was so foreign to her. And few people are more powerful than storytellers."

I nodded.

"Two," she continued. "She had a grandmother who loved her. And believed in her. And armored her in books and kisses and chocolate-chip cookies."

I guffawed at that one.

"How could a grand ma help you against an evil wolf with magic powers?" I shot with a cocked eyebrow. "No offense or anything. But I have a grand ma who does all that stuff and I've never caught her fighting any wolves."

Good stared at me for a long moment before enveloping me in a hug that felt like the heat from a summertime camp fire.

"Oh, but BB," she whispered. "There is no greater defense against the wolves of the world than a grandmother and her chocolate-chip cookies. This is one of those things you don't understand yet. You just have to trust me on it. Okay?"

I looked up at her careworn face with my eyes that were two, or maybe twelve, or maybe twenty-two years old, and I agreed.

"And three," Good finished. "Her magic was stronger than the Wolf's. Even with making her forget, and with putting her in that terrible place, and with sending his own wolves to hurt her, he knew he could only delay the time when she would come for him. One day, the sunrise inside her would grow so big and so bright and so wonderful that she would wake up. Remember it all."

"I guess that Wolf's really in for it then," I noted. "She's probably gonna be pissed."

Wind chimes and gentle glinting tears.

"I think you're right, BB."

"So when do you think that'll be?" I asked. "You know--when is she going to wake up?"

Good surveyed me evenly and then cast a glance to the edge of the void, where the faintest glimpse of dawn was spilling over the horizon.

"I guess whenever she's ready."

Friday, July 31, 2020


I've crossed so many thresholds
And closed so many doors
I've dragged so many packaged lives
Across so many floors

I've glimpsed so many phantoms
I've dreamed so many dreams
A teasing taste of what could be
Under unchanging eaves

I've seen arrays of beauty
And cities burning bright
I've toasted over golden isles
Imbibed the Third Rome's light

I've seen the sky burn emerald
On cold thousand-star nights
From my steps I watched the mighty
Yukon turn to ice

Each place becomes a capsule
Each pane a frozen line
Each to be traded in its turn
For none of them are mine

A tenant of existence
In rented roles I find
While seeking over compass points
One door to stay behind