Thursday, January 20, 2005


When I was born, irises were blooming in Missouri. This amazed me as a child. In Massachusetts, where we lived for most of my childhood, the most I could hope for on my birthday was a crocus poking up through the damp spring mud. Sometimes it even snowed. Once there was a blizzard, and the snow came up to my waist (which to be fair couldn’t have been more than two feet off the ground).

Now that I live in San Francisco, spring starts coming in January. I still find it amazing that, on mornings when its so cold I can see my breath, I’m greeted with the sight of purple flowers blooming outside the bathroom window.

I was born at noon on April 23, 1977. My mother tells me that while lying in bed in her postpartum daze, she had a vision. As the nurses bustled and my father futzed and I cooed, she was watching the credits to an old black and white cartoon. A song was playing in the background: “Fairy Tales Can Come True.”

She didn’t tell me this until I was a teenager, but I can remember, when I was about ten or so, watching a commercial for Sprite or Mountain Dew built around the same song. It made me feel so wonderful: melancholy and amazing all at once, as if a world full of possibility were about to open up before me, but just for a moment. I’d like to think that this is my song. My mother says it is.

Growing up, I was an oddly puritanical child. Odd because I can think of little in my upbringing, save a general aesthetic sensibility, that dictated one mode of living as better than any other. My parents taught us (my sister and I) that sex was a natural part of adult life, though probably something that should be avoided until one was ready. Wine was served with dinner, and available to us once we turned sixteen. Nonetheless, I imposed strict censures upon myself. I would not drink alcohol, ever. I would not have sex until marriage. I would not cut or dye my hair. I would carry only wildflowers at my wedding, and only ones I’d picked myself, that morning. Preferably, I’d live off the grid, reading and writing at night by oil lamp or candlelight.

I came up with these rules when I was about eleven, and believed in them, to a degree, well into my teen years. I’d always be setting rules out for myself, like a young Gatsby, or an Hepestus, trying to shape my perfect self from the sticks and mud of my perceived inadequacy. I’d mark my summer calendars with structured activities:

‘prayer and meditation, 9 AM - 10 AM, ‘study 10 Am -11, bicycling 11 AM - 12, lunch.’

I fasted intermittently. Luckily, I have a short attention span.

I fantasized about becoming a nun, but if I were honest I'd admit that I really wanted to be a monk. I remember seeing a movie on TV wherein a man joined a monastery, only to discover he had romantic feelings for one of his fellows. Upon finally owning up to this desire in the darkness of the confession booth, he learns that the monk taking his confession is, in fact the one he’s been lusting after. The monk slides away the screen separating confessor from Confessor, and pulls back his hood to reveal... a woman’s face. That’s what I wanted to be: the woman in the monastery, an object of desire, yet chaste; hidden, yet innately sensed and desired.

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