Top 10 Ways to be a Not-So-Normal American Couple


My partner Sara and I are beginning to lose touch—

Lose touch with what it means to be an even remotely “normal” American couple.  Some might say that’s not such a bad thing, but I promise you, we have gotten so far from the center of the bell curve, we can’t find the bell any more.  We can’t even hear it ringing in the distance.

So–in light of this loss, today, I bring you the top 10 ways you too can be the most un-American of American couples:

#10.  Station armed guards outside your house. 

This is sure to eliminate any and all illusions of privacy. 

(If you are new to the blog, my partner Sara and I live in Haiti where threats to security are common.  Click here to read a post about this.)

 

#9.  Argue frequently about how you will generate electricity. 

Sara and I have been known to have some of our hottest arguments around just how long we can safely run our generator, especially on days when we have no or very little electricity from the city. I don’t like to be hot.  Heat makes me irritable, bitchy, and stressed.  So during the hottest nights here in Haiti, I’ve wanted to keep the air conditioning on, or at the very least, a fan running—neither of which are possible without electricity or our generator running.

(To read an entire post dedicated to Haiti’s infrastructure issues click here.)

 

#8.  Do without television.  

Instead watch DVDs of “30-Something” for evening entertainment. I knew things were getting bad when over the weekend Sara and I watched back to back episodes of the show’s first season and felt like we were enjoying a special treat, hovering around Sara’s laptop like kids in front of Saturday morning cartoons.

“Oh, boy!” we exclaimed elbowing one another.  “Isn’t this great!”  We would have broken out the popcorn, if we had a microwave to pop it in.

 

#7.  Go to bed before dinner.

Not out of passion, but because you’ve become dreadfully boring and tire easily.

 

#6.  Have no hot water in your kitchen sink.

Not to mention no dish-washer.

 

#5. Develop an active fear of kidnapping.

On average—there’s a kidnapping a day in Port-au-Prince—usually of foreigners, often of ex-pats working for NGOs on earthquake reconstruction.  And in fact, a number of these kidnappings actually happen in Petion-ville, where we live, since most NGOs have set up their operations from this location.

Many ex-pats are kidnapped from their cars.  To alleviate that risk we drive with seatbelts on, windows up, doors locked.  It’s harder to be pulled from a vehicle that way.

 

#4.  Stage incidents of international canine trafficking.

I know most folks don’t traipse the planet, canine companions in tow, but Sara and I, for whatever reason, see fit to move our mutts to whichever corner of the globe is hosting the latest in earth-shaking disasters. 

For example, it was challenging to take a 40 pound, blonde terrier to Vietnam, where the meat of medium sized, light skinned canines is still considered a delicacy.  And though it ended well, concluded with Ralph arriving uneaten in Hanoi, it proved so crazy-making along the way, we “sanely” decided to bring him here to Haiti this past summer. 

However, that trip proved less eventful—except for his traveling companions on the flight from Miami to Port-au-Prince—the 10,000 chicks he still hasn’t stopped chirping about.

(For an entire post on pet-transport mishaps click here.)

 

#3.  Appreciate the difference between “trash” and “stash.”

Sara has “placement issues”—a problem she blames on her training as an architect and which she insists I knew about prior to our partnering and simply can not change.  Bottom line—Sara likes to arrange things: drawers, cupboards, closets, the contents of the refrigerator, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup arranged in tidy rows—like items lined up together—like soldiers—an army of condiments ready for edible action.  If an object doesn’t fall neatly into rank, the solution for Sara is simple—throw it in the trash.

I, on the other hand, tend to collect things—and not the kinds of things most would consider collectables, but which I gather in the name of “potential art”—items I prefer to call “collagables”—buttons, beads, ribbons, rocks, shells, business cards, bottle caps, maps, matchboxes, newspaper clippings, play bills, and, among other things, sales receipts—in my mind the most under-rated and readily available of all the collagables—a free gift with each purchase, so to speak.

Sara insists my stash is trash!

 

#2.  Agree on only one thing. 

That there are too many white people in America. 

On one of our recent trips back to the US what stood out to both of us most, even though our home is in an ethically-mixed neighborhood, was the overwhelming huge number of Caucasian in the city where we live.  At one point Sara turned to me in the grocery store produce isle and asked:  “What do you notice about being home?”  My response was immediate, “There are so many white people in America!  I had forgotten.”  It surprised us how quickly we both had become conditioned to what seems an appropriate ethnic mix.  We had made a shift that we noticed only when coming “home.”  If this can happen for us, it can happen for others.  Come join us.  Make the switch.

 

#1.  Be denied the right to marry.

This one I think speaks for itself, but if not please watch this video:

 

Sara reminds me, that though we don’t have the right to marry in Kentucky, we at least now have an openly gay mayor in Lexington, so that’s a step in the right direction.  (To  read about Jim Gray click here.) 

However, Sara also insists that, by far, the weirdest thing about us as couple is that I asked her to brainstorm with me about “what makes us weird as a couple.”  I’m not exactly sure what’s so weird about that, but Sara says my not recognizing the strangeness of that request makes it even weirder.  I don’t know.  You be the judge.

At any rate, remember that “normal” is a difficult to define category.  I appreciate that.  But if you recall the 1960s television sitcom, “The Odd Couple,” you’ll see that I’m not talking so much about individual issues that separate us from the crowd.  I’m looking at the entire constellation of individual quirks that combine to make a couple what most others would consider strange.  I’m looking at the “Odd Couple” factor, if you will.

Felix Unger and Oscar Madison epitomized for a generation of Americans just what it meant to be uniquely coupled in the 1960s.

But If Felix and Oscar were the not-so-average pair of heterosexual bachelors in the 60s, I would argue that Sara and I are the same for this decade’s no-where-near-single lesbian couple—a uniqueness not related in the least to the reality of sexual preference.

In fact, Sara and I give whole new meaning to the notion of “odd couple”—sexual orientation not withstanding.

We may be weird–

But we do want to wed!

What sets you and your partner apart from the crowd?  What makes a couple “weird” in the country  you call home?  Do gay and lesbian couple have the right to wed where you live?

A holy yes?


I’m one of those people who, for better or worse, can only write what’s true.  And the  truth for today is ugly:

I’m overwhelmed.

I’m tired.

I’m disappointed by my seeming inability to cope.

I need a massive infusion of grace.

A holy yes.

So I offer this poem about my struggle to even write:

Country we come to only by leaving 

There are no words

            with weight and

            density

                        only a limp

                        phrase which

                        sags in the

                        center like

                        wet clay

            dampening the tips of

                        fingers

            moistening the verbs

the hinges are in place

            but there is only

            the low blank

            noise of sentences

                 (alone)

I remind myself though that writing is never a solitary  act. 

That is the holy yes!

Yes?

Not-so-instant replay


I’m preparing a post for next week about why Sara and I are weird as a couple.  (And the fact of the matter is, we are way, way weird.)  However, that new piece won’t mean as much if you haven’t read the one I’m re-posting below. 

I wrote what appears here only a few days into the life of this blog, so few of you will likely have seen it in its original incarnation.  It was called “Top 10 Reasons I’m Pretty Much a Freak.”  Hope it entertains you over the weekend.

Let’s face it.  I’m not normal.  My partner Sara has always said I was weird—actually her word was “eccentric”—but you get the picture.

At any rate, amid all the seriousness I face living in Haiti, I’ve decided to lighten things up here today by offering you the top ten reasons Sara still insists I’m what you could call—well—“quirky:”

#10.  Left to my own devices, I eat mostly from what my friend Milana and I call the “white food group.”  Edible items in this category include: baguettes, bagels, butter, cream cheese, sour cream, lots and lots of sugar—sugar cookies, cakes, unimaginable amounts of pie crust—and if I were a drinker, which I am not—wine!

#9.  I’m a double fisted drinker.  Not with wine, of course, but with hot and cold beverages, mostly hot tea, Lipton (though since we’ve come to Haiti, coffee has become an option), and Pepsi Max, when I can find it—(Coke Zero, otherwise).  Now, for me, this only works in one direction.  Namely, if I drink something hot, I have to have the cold cola to accompany it.  However, chilled drinks can stand alone—not always needing the hot accompaniment.

 #8.  I tend to collect things—and not the kinds of things most would consider collectables, but which I gather in the name of “potential art”—items I prefer to call “collagables”—buttons, beads, ribbons, rocks, shells, business cards, bottle caps, maps, matchboxes, newspaper clippings, play bills, and, among other things, sales receipts—in my mind the most under-rated and readily available of all the collagables—a free gift with each purchase, so to speak.

#7.  I have a lot of bags.  For a fairly inclusive cataloging, I refer you to a post from 13 July 2009  “Not dog on grass—Not bag on floor—Not bike on . . . .”

#6.  I never use a top sheet.  Don’t believe in them.  Never have.

#5.  I pretty much live with a saint— We’ll call her Saint Sara the Orderly.   (And I have saintly siblings, but I’ll leave that for a later post.)  Sara has “placement issues”—a problem she blames on her training as an architect and which she insists I knew about prior to our partnering and simply can not change, as they are, in fact, evidence of her Saintly origins—rituals of the Order, so to speak.  Bottom line—Sara likes to arrange things: drawers, cupboards, closets, the contents of the refrigerator, mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup arranged in tidy rows—like items lined up together—like soldiers—an army of condiments ready for edible action.  Need I say more.

#4.  My partner does disaster response.  She’s a disaster response expert.  Now there aren’t a lot of these people on the planet (though there are quite a few of them in Haiti these days).  I believe (and you are free to disagree), that’s it’s the relative scarcity of this species that makes disasters so, well, “disastrous.”  In all seriousness, I’m grateful that Sara does this kind of work.  It helps make meaning in our lives.   And though that “meaning” often means traveling a lot, we’re not exactly heading to what most would call “vacation destinations.”

#3.  My mother wears clothes pins as fashion accessories.  Actually, at age 72 she uses them as a mnemonic device, so let’s not get all uptight about this one.  However, for further discussion of this semi-strange sartorial habit, I refer you to a post from several days ago called, “Airing Family Secrets Via Haute Couture.”

#2.  I taught at Oral Roberts University.  This may speak for itself—except that I might mention having arrived on campus in 1986, just after Oral sequestered himself in the Prayer Tower for a number of weeks, claiming God was going to “bring him home” if believers didn’t donate 6 million dollars.   I know some of you may be too young to remember this, but it’s true.  He did it.  I was there.  And the play the drama department performed that semester just happened to be—“Death of a Salesman”—I kid you not!

#1.  My father was in the mafia–pretty much, that’s what it boils down to—Enough said.

Now, none of these items in and of themselves makes one weird—not even two or three.  It’s the global picture I’m getting at.

And I haven’t even included here the biggest reason I’m a weirdo.  But, let’s face it folks, we don’t know one another well enough yet for me to share all my secrets.  It seems though the picture’s becoming clearer—

Bottom line–I’m pretty much a freak. 

How about you?

So, I Lied . . .


. . . sort of . . .

I said I wasn’t going to post today–that drunkenness and lounging on a Florida beach would interfere.

But I had to share the video below. 

Whether you support gay marriage or not, whether you support the rights of Iowa lesbians to form civil unions or not, please watch this video of Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old University of Iowa student, who spoke out against legislation that would outlaw civil unions for gay couples in his state. 

Zach, with a rhetorical prowess rivaling that of Barack Obama, shares his experience as the child of a lesbian couple.  The video speaks for itself.  Please watch.

You might also like to read an article in the Huffington Post (click here) about Zach’s brilliant defense, his defense of something that shouldn’t need defending–a right that is priceless to gay and lesbian couples–one heterosexual couples take for granted.

I may have told a well-intended lie, an honest lie, of sorts, saying that I wouldn’t post today.  But in the US we are only now reversing “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”–a law that requires gays and lesbians serving in our military to lie about their sexual orientations–to lie about their very identities.

We are only now allowing women like me to write openly about their partner’s service to the planet’s poor.  Fifty years ago I’d never dared.

We are only now allowing gay couples to walk the main streets of America hand-in-hand with the ones they love, often the ones they’ve committed to for life–to stand strong and proud and committed.

Committed to America, committed to one another, committed to love.

Confessions of a Desperate, Writing Neurotic


Sara (my partner) has been saying for weeks that I should blog about this—this being what I wrote last summer about my struggle to write.

“I swear, it’s funny as hell,” she says.

Repeatedly—

So I gave in this morning, agreeing, maybe it is funny—

Or pathetic—

You decide.

But first a bit a background— how it all got started.

Just after the Christmas holiday, Sara returned to Haiti ahead of me.  And because of this, over the New Year’s weekend, she was doing what Sara does to relax.  What she calls “piddling,” what I would more accurately describe as “recreational organizing.”  This can come in many forms: straightening closets—obsessively earnestly rearranging items according to color, all clothes on wooden hangers only—ordering and reordering items in the refrigerator—neurotically enthusiastically arranging jars and bottles in tidy rows, like-items soldiered together according to kind rather than rank.

(a subject for another post, perhaps?)

At any rate, you get the picture—

Over this particular weekend, however, Sara extended her reign of organizing terror to the contents of my drawers, my closets, cabinets, shelves.

Now I have mixed feelings about this. 

Sometimes I don’t want my stuff touched—because in her cleaning frenzy, Sara is inclined, at times, to throw things away, pieces of paper she thinks useless but which are, in fact, important to me.  On the other hand, Sara is extremely good at organizing, really good, as you might expect from someone who behaves this way for sport.  So sometimes I agree to let her “piddle” with my precious possessions, but only if I can extract from her, my “everything-is garbage-gal,” the promise that nothing, absolutely nothing—not even the most seemingly senseless scrap or decades old sales receipt— will be discarded.

On this weekend in question, I extracted such a promise, and Sara came upon such a scrap—something I had scribbled on index cards—the contents of which she says I should blog about here.

But—before I lay my naked and neurotic writerly self out to me mocked and laughed at—I offer a disclaimer, of sorts—

Namely—that real writers, good writers, famous writers do indeed write about the kind of stuff I describe below.  I’m thinking specifically about Natalie Goldberg, who in her book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, outlines the basics of writing as spiritual practice and in Chapter 1, “Beginner’s Mind, Pen and Paper,” addresses the writers struggle to find the perfect pen, the even more perfect paper.

(And remember, as well, that this was NEVER meant to be read by anyone but me—so it’s bad, it’s raw, it’s, well, neurotic.)

So, without further adieu here’s what I wrote on 13 June 2010, what I scribbled in pink ink on unlined index cards:

When I have tried to journal recently I’m always bothered by the notebook I’m writing in—I know that sounds crazy—and surely it’s a mere excuse—but I truly believe I should be keeping my entries in another format—

Perhaps, typing them on my computer—if the paper is lined, perhaps, it should be unlined—if it’s plain—perhaps, it should be graph paper.  If I write in blue ink, probably, it should have been black or green or gray—any other color than the one I’m using.

So here I’m writing on an index card—knowing that it too will feel wrong—and using pink ink—equally incorrect, I’m sure.

Most everything about writing feels wrong—doing it—not doing it—doing it in the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon—equally problematic.

Now, these index cards feel too small—not enough space—I feel confined—God knows I’ve got it wrong again!

But I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter.  It’s better to get it wrong than not to have gotten it at all.

There you’ve GOT her folks—Kathy, the “Writing Neurotic,” evidence that she does indeed exist.

So laugh if you will.  Mock if you must.

But, where in the name of God’s good implements of ink, does Writing Neurotic come from?  Does she live in other writers?  Does she roam from writer’s body to writer’s body, circling the globe, imparting authorial insecurities across the entire planet?  Or does she only live in little old me?

Tell me—

Have you ever been possessed by Writing Neurotic?  Has she come to your country, your city, house and street, forced herself uninvited into your office, taken over your desk, borrowed into to the deepest and most secret corners of your scribbling-obsessed self?

If she has, I want to know.  I want to join forces with others who’ve been haunted—track her down—bury her once and for all, far from WordPress  and Freshly Pressed—ban her forever from the Blogosphere!

Please note:  I scheduled this piece to post yesterday before news broke that former Haitian dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier  had returned unexpectedly to Port-au-Prince. 

To see an article from Yahoo News about this potentially ominous development, click here.  To see the piece I posted  as soon as we got the call that Duvalier was at the airport, click here.  To read an article from CNN click here.  ( Thanks to Mrs. H. over at “A. Hab.’s View of the World” for the CNN link.)  And finally, to see a helpful piece from MSNBC.com, click here.

I will try to keep you updated as the story develops.

Luxuries Most-Missed in Haiti: an Inventory


Item #2—(Without a doubt)—bandwidth—

First a bit of context—

Most of you reading this post will do so using a high-speed internet connection, the speed of which exceeds the old dial-up connection by hundreds of times.  Do most of you even remember how slow dial-up was?  Yes, I know, when you think “dial-up,” you think dinosaur, not so much from the last decade, but from the remote history of the previous century.  (Does anyone even use dial-up any more?)

More context—

I have given up my career teaching writing to live on island with the infrastructure of 19th-Century London, given it up, hoping to make meaning from the work of ACTUAL writing, rather than the work of merely teaching writing.  Given this, the tools of the trade tend to matter.  At least they matter to me.

Herein lies my problem—namely that I’m blogging, and blogging requires bandwidth—or, at the very least, the option of up-loading text and images at a reasonably decent speed—and by “decent” I mean—able to post 1000 words and one photo in not more than 8 hours. 

(Let me be perfectly clear—I’m not talking about writing time—I’m referring to the time it takes to upload a word document and a photo or two—something that from our home in Kentucky I can do in a matter of seconds—copy, paste, save, upload (image), save, post—not a complicated or time-consuming process—5 minutes max, if literally everything imaginable goes wrong.)

Not so in Port-au-Prince—

Not so by a long shot—

For example—

One day over a month ago, I decide to change my blog’s theme (big mistake), which ultimately involves uploading a new header image (even bigger mistake). 

The process begins around 9 in the morning.  I have been awake for several hours—since 5, actually.  I’ve had my French lesson, which is challenging and something I sometimes even hate. (See “A Tale of Miserable Failure: Moanings of a Second Language Learner” to fully appreciate my struggles with the language.)  I have been to the gym—

I am eager to get started but remember that posting to my blog the day before and the day before had not gone well—had taken considerable time—

Here’s how it all goes down—

9:15 am: I make myself a cup of coffee.  I need to be fully fortified.  Caffeine should do the trick.

9:21am: I position myself on the corner of the couch, open laptop.

9:23 am: Click the Internet Explorer icon on my desktop and wait for my Yahoo home page to load.

9:26am: Still waiting.

9:27am: Text begins appearing on the screen.

9:30am: Text still loading.

9:33am: The first image—a photo of Michelle Obama—begins appearing.

9:35 am: More photos———

9:38am: With Yahoo fully loaded, I decide to forego checking email.  (It might take too long.) 

9:39am: Sigh—click “WordPress Dashboard” on Favorites drop down menu.

9:43am: Dashboard still loading.

9:50am: I decide against checking stats.  (It might take too long.)

9:51am: Sigh—click “Appearance.”—Sigh—Click “Theme.”

Fast forward————-

10:01am: First page of themes fully loaded.

(You see where this is going)

Fast forward——————-

Around 6 in the evening Sara comes home. 

I am not in the best of moods.  I am not welcoming.  I am not gracious when asked how my day has been. 

I share.

Apparently, I share too much.

I share too vigorously.

I use a few too many expletives.

“You wanna know how my day has been?”  The rhetorical question is Sara’s first clue—things may not have gone well.

“I’ll tell you how my day has been.”  Sara takes a step back.  I have that look in my eye.

“I have just spent 8 hours pounding my f—ing head against a f—ing virtual wall.  And I’ve accomplished  nothing.   Absolutely.  Nothing.”

“Nothing?”  Now Sara has the look—duck and cover—duck and cover!

“Nothing—a big, fat, mind-numbing NOTHING!”

“In that case, I think I’ll get something to eat.”  Sara leaves the guest room, where I am hovering as close to the router as humanly possible without morphing into router myself.  I’m hoping it might increase my chances.  Improve my reception. 

I’m hoping it will keep me sane and Sara able to live with me, not living with enough bandwidth.

Fast forward several weeks—————–

Sara shares the other morning, once we’ve decided to schedule my return to Haiti, “I’ve had Steve from IT working on our internet connectivity.”

I’m thinking—

Wise woman.

Maybe this means it will only take half a day, a mere 4 hours to post 1000 words and one photo.

I’ll keep you posted—

I hope.

A Rant! A Rave! A Prayer?


I miss Sara terribly when we’re apart, but now that it’s been four days since she’s returned to Haiti, I’m experiencing the separation more intensely.  I tend to isolate when Sara’s gone.  I want to be alone.  I want to sleep.  I can barely tie my shoe or utter a coherent sentence—let alone clean the house, cook a meal, or walk the dog.  It’s a sad state of affairs. 

Yes, yes—I know I exaggerate, but I did have one small victory yesterday afternoon, having managed to extricate myself from the green chair I’ve been living in for days and drag myself kicking and screaming to the grocery store.  But then again, hunger’s a pretty strong motivator, and the only thing I want to do more than absolutely nothing is eat—eat everything—eat any and all things unhealthy and heart-attack inducing— I could so Twinkie and Ho-Ho myself to an early grave, it isn’t funny.

It doesn’t help that I’m on a diet. It doesn’t help that the date I return to Haiti has yet to be determined and will depend on security in Port-au-Prince over the next several days.  It doesn’t help that Kentucky, besides being famous for its fried chicken, is in fact one of the most boring places on the planet—no rioting, no cholera, no real election fraud to speak of.  Things are so comfortably tedious and middle class, that even the excitement phobic find themselves twiddling their thumbs and begging to be mugged, praying to be clubbed by a decent natural disaster.  Even a blizzard would do.

Obviously though, I shouldn’t tease about these things.  Obviously I should change this ornery desire to be anywhere I’m not—and never where I am—never in the here and now, in this city, in this state, on this day.

Please help me, God, to be content in the coming year—grateful for today, in this house with warm meals and clean water to drink.  Please teach me to be grateful for the little things and thankful always for the heart-pounding passion that makes me miss Sara when she’s away. Please keep her close.  Please keep her safe.  Please take me to her soon.

How do you handle separation from the ones you love?  Does humor help?  Writing?  Prayer or mediation?

(And thanks for the fabulous feedback and comments on my previous post.  Please share your thoughts and feelings on this one, as well.  My readers rock!)

 84TVN44FY898