love?

Reverb 10: Gift.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Today’s prompt: December 25 Photo: a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you. (Author: Tracey Clark)

The Knight took this photo. It was February 28, a day warm enough to start melting the asphalt-tainted snow on the ground. Warm enough for me to wear just a warm hat and my puffy vest. And for him, a black jacket and the Thor tee he loves. He's a superhero kind of guy.

The sun came out that day, after what was apparently a miserable, grey month. We'd been living together for less than two weeks. I'm not sure whether I'd hyperventilated yet.

Either way, it didn't matter. We found ourselves in Boystown that afternoon. I think we'd eaten brunch at Uncommon Ground, and I happened to have my camera with me: Maybe I didn't have the energy then to capture magic with just my heart and mind; maybe I needed a shutter and a lens.

We handed the camera back and forth. Some of my favorite pictures of him, I took that day.

What strikes me about this photo: that look on my face. It was the look of complete and utter adoration. The we'll make it work, if only we try just a little harder look. We have all we need here in our hearts, in our beautiful new apartment. Two against the world. It's a look he knew well, though he saw it less and less as time passed, as winter turned to spring and the strains of life pulled us farther apart.

I remember being happy that day. And hopeful. And calm. Those actually are feelings I know well, though I experienced them less and less as time passed, as winter turned to spring. Storms wash these feelings away.

Despite the maelstrom that I used to define my existence in 2010, it's those rare moments of quietude and peace, the feelings of happiness and hope and love, that I'll hold on to as I pass into a new year of new challenges, as new fronts drift onto my life's radar.

River.

Reverb 10: Only five minutes?

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. I've dropped the ball recently, but I'm forgiving myself. Life steps in sometimes and demands attention. Anyway. Today’s prompt: December 15 5 Minutes. Imagine you will completely lose your memory of 2010 in five minutes. Set an alarm for five minutes and capture the things you most want to remember about 2010. (Author: Patti Digh)

Two things before I start:

  • One, Patti Digh is a genius. I love her. She's where the monkey bars thing came from.
  • Two, this is a damned disaster. Give me five minutes, and I'll give you some e.e. cummings, scattered, half-to-poetic but mostly just ludicrous crap. So.

Five minutes. It would take longer than that just to get through the bad stuff. I'll try. We played Apples to Apples on New Year's. Kissed at midnight, played the guitar. Then spent the next day in our pajamas. The trouble started when we moved in together. But there were moments. I have grainy pictures of me in my purple hat, holding up some stupid tchotchke in the furniture store. Buying our bed together. Picking out drawer pulls at Anthropologie. We were planning a life together. Out of order: That first night, dragging my chair down a flight of stairs and spending 20 minutes jamming it back through the new door. Blogging in the cold and dark, feeling like I was embarking on my next big thing. Which I guess it was.

The panic attack over how short the curtains were, that was a big thing. The little bruises peppering my upper thighs because there was never enough room to get past the bed without bumping it in the night.

Then one day, I left. Took my bruises with me.

The summer of social media, the summer of indecision and heartbreak, more heartbreak. His, again, and a trail of rebounds who I still love dearly for beautiful little things. My now-friends, which isn't a euphemism. Then one day, I let go of the monkey bars. And everything was scary and free and mostly just scary, but I did it anyway.

There aren't a lot of vegetables in my life now. But I have friends. Lots of friends and lots of time.

Reverb 10: I don't have your recipe.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here’s hoping it keeps me honest. Today’s prompt: December 6 Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it? (Author: Gretchen Rubin)

Two recipes, both promising delicious delicacies and happiness beyond compare. I've tried them both.

First: I made a mess. Pair two unlikely ingredients. Stir together at just the right time. Let rise in a warm place. Beat furiously with family turmoil and life's little hassles. Mix ingredients with everything else in the cupboard, and bake at a high temperature until the smoke alarm starts going off. Throw the whole concoction out the window. Let cool for two months at opposite ends of the city — this metaphor actually isn't going very well — checking for bruises burns at intervals. Try again in a cooler environment, this time adding equal parts trepidation, pride and eternal hope. Repeat the process as best you can remember. Fail again.

Because the recipe looked so much better in the pictures. Maybe the ingredients are better off separately, too decadent — or toxic, maybe — when combined.

Second: I made cookies. 2 1/4 cups flour 3/4 cup white granulated sugar 3/4 cup dark brown sugar 1 tsp vanilla 1 tsp baking soda 1 tsp salt 2 sticks butter 2 eggs In a large bowl, mix sugars, softened butter and vanilla. Add in eggs, one at a time. Beat until smooth. In a smaller bowl, mix flour, salt and baking soda. Stir dry mixture, bit by bit, into the larger bowl until the mixture is even. Add chocolate chips. Drop by rounded spoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 9-11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack.

Or, if you're me, skip the baking part entirely and eat the entire bowl of dough.

Guess I end up sick and hating myself in the end regardless of the recipe. This kitchen isn't going to clean itself.

Reverb 10: Le mot juste.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Here's hoping it keeps me honest.

The first prompt: December 1 One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)

One word. One word to sum up an entire year?

There are hundreds of words that describe the past 334 days of 2010 for me. I feel as if I've lived a couple of lives in these 11 months. So why not just randomly assign one and talk about it? Because I'm making this harder than it needs to be. Because the only word sticking in my head is "balloon." For no good reason. I considered "torrid," a word with a certain special meaning to me. But it has this sexual undercurrent — this sense of twisted satisfaction — to it that doesn't quite suit this year.

But that chaos. The heat. That's what I'm looking for. Stormy, maybe.

Only it's not quite that. It's close: Changes came without warning. Blue skies went a sickly green then an electric purple-black. Unpredictable winds, violently shifting red and yellow radar flares, blotted out breaks in the clouds as quickly as they appeared. A big part of the year was a blizzard of other shoes, dropping just as I was learning to do with just one. In my mind, a flurry of confusion and indecision: Family, romance, friendships, work, finances. Euphoria and dejection, paralyzing terror and near-foolish bravery were fronts colliding to create the perfect storm.

But the word "stormy," it lacks elegance. It lacks grace. It lacks je ne sais quoi. And there's a place for elegance and grace, for je ne sais quoi, here. Because storms can be breathtaking and beautiful if you stop worrying for a few seconds about hail damage on your car, about those plans you had to go to the park, about how much more awful your already-unbearable commute is going to be with all this snow. We hear on the news about only the worst storms. The ones that level trailer parks or leave entire cities under water, still recovering after five years. The ones that kill thousands of Asians on some faraway island most Americans couldn't even pick out on a map. (The ratings wouldn't exactly roll in if newscasters went on location to a family drinking soda and watching movies in their basement as they rode out a tornado watch.)

But most storms aren't like that. For the most part, we're safe inside our homes watching the rain come down and the lightning illuminate the backyard in the night with startling clarity and the occasional boom. Or tucked into a plush purple velvet armchair in the corner of a bustling Starbucks while the first big flakes of snow herald the start of yet another winter that's sure to be just as tumultuous and messy as the last.

Breathtaking and beautiful. And a reminder to enjoy the sunny, perfect days when they come. To play hooky once in a while.

English can be ugly. Brash. Halting. Overly simple. But in my second language, the word I'm looking for is appropriately beautiful: "orage," the French word for storm.

And I wouldn't mind if it were the same for 2011. In another life, I'd be praying for next year's word to be "peace" or "stability" or even "boredom," but this tempest suits me pretty well. As long as I can maintain my barometer of perspective. Because really? In most situations, as a sweet little orphan once sang, the sun'll come out tomorrow. Bet your bottom dollar.

Purple.

I'm wearing purple today.Just following 140-character orders. "Turn your Twitter avatar purple to support the fight against gay and lesbian bullying!" "Wear purple on October 20!"

I do as I'm told. Purple's not the worst color on me, after all.

But a lot of people didn't get the memo. Maybe they hadn't heard about it; maybe it's not their fashion statement of choice. I'm lucky to be connected almost constantly with a diverse group of people through Facebook and Twitter, so I take days like this for granted.

October 20, for the uninitiated, has been declared Spirit Day, named for the purple stripe on the LGBTQ flag, which represents spirit. (As for the other stripes, red represents light; orange, healing; yellow, the sun; green, calm; and blue is art.) This day isn't I can't remember now which came first, Tyler Clementi jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate at Rutgers outed him on the Internet just for fun, or a group of insanely young black men torturing another man, a member of their gang, in the Bronx after finding out he was gay.

It…numbs me. I don't handle bad news well. I watched a video a couple of months ago of a girl throwing a bucket full of tiny puppies, one by one, into a river. Laughing. And I was just…cold. For the rest of the afternoon. A young girl killing helpless dogs that did nothing wrong but being born near where she lived. Ordinary people tormenting fellow human beings who happen to have a different sexual preference. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church picketing a funeral, rubbing salt in the wounds of people who are already mourning. When did we become such monsters? Or has there always been this part of our population that was just evil, and the pace of Internet news has just made it easier for word of them to spread?

It's a bit heartening to hear that the Pentagon has ordered recruiters to start enlisting openly gay men and women into the military. It's a small victory (hooray, now gay people can sign up to die just like straight people!) but one that took centuries to come to: Sodomy was grounds for military discharge as early as the Revolutionary War, and gay servicemen found engaged in sexual acts in the 1940s were given dishonorable discharge. Really. REALLY. Because having sex with men somehow makes you less qualified to kill or otherwise follow orders blindly.

I have never understood this. I have never understood any of this.

Gays, lesbians, are no different from us. ("If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" Christians, Jews, gays, straights…we're. all. HUMAN.) Same-sex relationships and sex may not be your choice. Hey! Turns out? It isn't theirs either. It's a biological preference they were born with. And they should be allowed to embrace it. With no fear of repercussions, emotional or physical. Screw the Bible. It was written hundreds and hundreds of years ago. And it’s a work of fiction. Screw your prejudices. They have no basis in reality.

Homosexuality is not a choice. Hate is.

It honestly hurts me sometimes to know I'm part of a group of people — white, American, straight, affluent — responsible for such a huge portion of the oppression in the world. I'm being dramatic, but really. I could have been anyone. It is by sheer happenstance that I was born into the life I have now, and I guess that makes me lucky. I guess. What I guess also makes me lucky is that I grew up in a home where these things just weren't discussed. I don't remember going to church, and the times I do remember, there was no fire and brimstone. Just shiny offertory platters and the sound of a million-dollar organ filling the sanctuary.

I fell hard for one of my best friends in high school and asked him to be my date to the Sadie Hawkins dance. He turned me down and came out. I was one of the first people he told; it was his senior year of high school. He was surrounded by an accepting group of friends; his mother's support for him never wavered. And 10 years later, he's married. We aren't in touch anymore, but I'm pretty sure he's still the same guy he was, with his flannel-lined jeans; boisterous, nerdy laugh; and obsession with video games.

I was raised with the understanding that humans are humans. People are people. And I feel sorry for those who weren't.

If all this bullying and cruelty in the world makes me sad, numbs me, I can't…even begin to imagine how isolated and hopeless the kids living it every day must feel.

And that's why I'm wearing purple today.

As meaningless a gesture as it might seem from the outside — one person commented on my Facebook today that purple seemed a bit contrived, and asked why people weren't just wearing rainbows today, because that's "what LGBT people tend to identify with" — it's an opportunity for all people, including those of us who were born without much of a reason to be oppressed at all, to show support for these teens (and anyone, really) living in this world that is far more cruel than it should be in 2010.

It's not going to change the minds and hearts of people who hate gays for no reason. Haters gonna hate.

But if one person sees me today in my purple sweater and ridiculous purple stocking cap, sees me and understands that I'm one spirited grape of a girl, supportive and loving in a sea of blood-red rage — especially if I'm one of five, fifty or a hundred they see in their travels — then I'll consider this day a success. Even if I never find out who it was I helped.

Click here for videos from Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project.

Empty nest.

I'm painting a cabinet robin's-egg blue.
The cabinet will sit next to a tiny oven in my tiny new apartment.
The apartment's tiny kitchen has plenty of room to store plates and cups but only two tiny drawers. Not nearly enough room for my forks and spoons and knives, for all the expensive spatulas and whisks and other bizarre silicon implements I've used only a handful of times.

I'm moving. Into a tiny new apartment, on my own again.
Because the Knight told me he wanted to stay in ours. On his own again.
In the building I've lived in and loved for the past two and a half years.

The big bed we shared, the one we spent a day picking out and weeks waiting to be delivered, will be his big bed soon.
Just his.
Somehow, in the past week, I've gotten used to sleeping alone in that bed. And now I'll have to get used to another new bed, my old double bed in a different place.

You wanted a fresh start, he said, so here's your chance.

My new block is a one-way street lined with trees and narrow old buildings. That beautiful, crumbling architecture is cut up into awkward little apartments and paved-over backyard patio spaces. I saw the apartment on Saturday morning, signed the paperwork that night and picked up my keys Sunday morning. My furniture will make its way there on Saturday afternoon; this all has happened in the bleary blink of an eye.
The neighborhood is quiet, just far enough away from swerving, honking Division Street to allow for some peace. For someone, anyway.
But it's a different quiet than I'm used to.
Lincoln Square is never noiseless; it's always been softened by this idyllic hum of soft white noise. Birds and whooshing traffic off Western Avenue. The occasional crack of a bat knocking one out of the park. The palpable, near-audible vibrations of the guitars up the street at the Old Town School.
The quiet of the East Village — this foreign, far-off place — is uncomfortable. The birds don't sing so close to the alley. I don't hear the neighbors, and the Knight will never play his guitar in the next room. I already miss the click-clack of the upstairs neighbor's heels at 7 a.m.
The silence feels pervasive. The hum of my air conditioner masks and deadens everything. Isolation.

Still, I know it can get better. It will, eventually.
I know, because it always does.
Right?

The sun was shining yesterday, and the heat finally broke a little.
When I showed up with my first carload of framed photos, the next-door neighbors' little girls were shrieking and splashing in their hot-pink baby pool, playing with My Little Pony figurines.
I had those when I was little. And hundreds of plastic miniatures that we kept in big, cylindrical tins that originally held corporate holiday gifts of butter, caramel and cinnamon popcorn. I don't remember playing with the figurines, really — there were never story lines or characters associated with them — from what my mother tells me, I just lined them up on the edge of the coffee table, over and over, and it kept me entertained for hours.
Nothing like a good sense of order to placate me.

For now, my life is in total disarray.
Almost everything feels awful and wrong and broken, though I know this decision is good and right and possibly the only way to fix those broken things.
Nothing is ever simple.

Nothing but this: a new paint brush, a quart of oil-based paint, a bare wooden cabinet. Last night, I started slopping on that first patchy coat of "Cloudless," the color I'd picked out.
It doesn't really go with anything right now, but I wanted it robin's-egg blue.
The particleboard and wood grain still showed through after the first thin layer of color, but I sat back when I was finished, sandy-eyed and sleepless, and started to visualize my life taking shape again.
Hoping this empty nest, with its little splash of robin's-egg blue, won't feel that way for too long.