Bevin's Blog I'm blogging the relentless pursuit of my joy

2015-09-03

Dollypalooza is Friday, Look at Our Amazing Silent Auction

You guys, last year I produced Dollypalooza on a faithful impetus after a really profound and spiritual visit to Dollywood during a difficult time in my life. (Dara was going through chemo, my super generous friend and philanthropist Jess whisked me off to Dollywood, we went to Night of 1,000 Dollys in Knoxville and couldn’t get into the club it was so crowded.) So I risked literally every penny I had to secure the $2,000 bar minimum at the venue and the stipends I promised all of the best Dolly performance artists I knew in NYC and Philly. It ended up being a huge success, even though the show started at 11PM! We also raised $1,400 for Dolly’s Imagination Library charity through our raffle and Jess, our matching donor!

Dollypalooza-061-IMG_2230-20140906Me, West Vargina and Sequinette backstage at Dollypalooza last year. I love that my abundance tattoo is above not one but two beauties in Perfidia wigs. Photo by Tinker Coalescing.

This year I wondered if I got the venue for an earlier show (7PM doors, 8PM show) if we could get more folks in the house and if we could raise even more for the Imagination Library. I am aiming for $10,000. Maybe that’s bananas, but we worked really hard to get silent auction prizes and raffle prizes that might get us close! Like Dolly says, “You’ll never know what you’re capable of until you’re brave enough to try!”

The show is on FRIDAY! I can’t believe I got so wrapped up in planning I forgot to BLOG about it and tell my readers to save the date. (To be fair, I have been relentlessly talking about it on instagram and snapchat–queerfatfemme on both.)

IMG_20150902_164503This is what you see when you flip through Time Out New York this week!

I am so excited about our line-up this year. My incredibly talented friends who I am always dying to get on stage World Famous *BOB*, Darlinda Just Darlinda, Lady Quesa’Dilla, Sequinette, Merry Cherrie, Nath Ann Carrera West Vargina, Shomi Noise are all performing–Shomi and West Vargina are doing Melissa Etheridge & Dolly Parton’s duet for “Come to My Window.” Crimson Kitty, a longtime NYC drag producer and performer, is a huge Dolly fan, I can’t wait to see what she is creating for the night. Ula Uberbusen is a TN native and I’m really excited to have someone from Dolly’s home state performing burlesque! Luz performed a tap dancing routine at the Heels on Wheels Open Toe Peepshow and I immediately put it into my secret part of my heart to want to see them tap dance to a Dolly number.

Darlinda Just Darlinda is a burlesque performer and producer who is known for her goofy, outrageous and wildly charismatic acts. Darlinda gave me four Dolly acts to choose from I and I chose the one she said was edgiest. It’s New York City, I love to make a crowd remember about how performance art should push your buttons sometimes. Also, as a producer, I know that edgy doesn’t mean racist, misogynist, oppressive, sizist, etc… and I ask each of my acts to acknowledge a performer respect clause when I book them. In addition to anti-oppressive stuff I ask that they not spray anything into the audience without checking in with me first. This way, no one in my audience gets non-consensually sprayed with hair gel, water, melons, kit kat bars–all things I’ve had to duck to avoid at shows I’ve attended! My hair takes a lot of work!

I’m really excited for Lady Quesa’s story telling. At Everybooty at BAM, a huge 5 floor pride event I went to this summer, I saw her perform a 10 minute storytelling act followed up by a drag queen act that just had me rapt.

Nath Ann Carrera is going to do two numbers and DJ the dance party after the show! Her co-consipirator on the Woahmone parties Nica Ross is doing a custom Dolly visual for dancing! (My friend Jess made a playlist of 60 Dolly videos to be used for the visuals.)

tammyworldfamousbevinbeachAt the gay beach with World Famous *BOB* in her custom donut bikini, and my friend Tammy Cannons visiting NYC from Carbondale, IL–she managed to perform three times and get in the Village Voice dancing at a concert. She did NYC right! (And got me to be out after 2 AM two nights in a row on a Monday and Tuesday! We had a great time!)

I’m so honored to co-femmecee the show with one of my idols. The way I feel about Dolly is very similar to the way I feel about World Famous *BOB* as an artist and mentor I truly adore, feel connected to, especially with gender and positivity. I loved her from afar and have since been so blessed to work with her onstage several times and develop a friendship with her. She is such a positive, radiant light in our world and I’m so excited to watch all of the ways she continues to do it on and off stage. She started as a burlesque artist, having worked her way up in the New York City scene. Now in addition to being genuinely world famous, she is going to college for her degree in gerontology studies, she “volunqueers” (her word) at a queer teen program in NYC and producing burlesque shows at the elder queer center in NYC. The way Dolly gives back to people, BOB does that, too.

I kind of structured the whole night so I could be free to just hang and watch the 45 minute set by Doll Parts, the local Dolly Parton tribute band. They are so great!!! I went out to see their sold out show in Park Slope for Dolly’s birthday with Dara and Avory and immediately approached them about booking Dollypalooza! It’s a really fun Dolly upbeat show.

meperfidiaandmywigMe, Perfidia, and my wig who I have named “Darling.”

As a gift to myself for the show I bought a wig created and styled by Perfidia. Perfidia does World Famous *BOB*’s wigs, and Lady Quesa’Dilla, Sequinette, West Vargina’s, too. Perfidia also does the wigs for Hedwig on Broadway. When I went to pick mine up (by the way each picture he showed me with my wig had a different piece of Dolly memorabilia), he showed me the signed photo he has from when he did the wigs for 9 to 5 on Broadway!!! I have been lusting after a Perfidia wig for 2 years and never knew these were the hands that did Dolly’s hair for Broadway. (Since she produced the show, she was responsible for all that hair being good!)

Behind the scenes I have even more help this year. Camille Atkinson (who sings Light of a Clear Blue Morning on the sizzle reel for 2014’s show) is stepping in and “playing the clipboard” as my stage manager. Her work streamlining the performance preparation and venue logistics has helped my sanity soooo much!

I could not be producing this show without the incredibly capable and thoughtful work of my partner Dara. She went to town assembling our selection of silent auction prizes (see below), sending press releases, creating tool kits and trainings for flyering and soliciting prizes. She’s also helping me figure out logistics… I am bananas right now as part of last minute event stuff, but she has taken on so much to ensure it is successful. She is truly a blessing beyond my wildest dreams!

bevindaraprideMe and Dara doing our first karaoke duet (this is a big step in a relationship!) during Pride 2015 at Everybooty. We did Islands in the Stream, naturally. Photo by Tinker Coalescing.

My roommate Damien Luxe is doing karaoke on Dara’s little vintage home karaoke machine from 7-8pm at the venue while the silent auction is getting warmed up. Here’s hoping the Dolly Karaoke cds arrive in time, but we have lots of cute things to choose from if not!

Also I thought since the show is long (three 45 min sets with 15 min intermissions) I thought people would get hungry so I got the Empanada Lady to come cater. She sells empananadas at Khane Kutzwell’s party SWEAT and Dara realized we should text Khane and get her info! Even though I’m gluten sensitive I will be popping a LOT of probiotics and eating a dinner of empananadas!!

If you’re coming to the show, remember the FAN CONTEST: Cash prize for the best fan outfit of the evening! Last year Posadas won! Who will take it this year?

fan-contestPhoto by Tinker Coalescing

I am really excited to have all of this Dolly Parton fan energy in one spot! We’ve gotten some really great press so far. We’re in this week’s issue of the New Yorker magazine! We’re a full page article and photos in Time Out New York. (Performers, send your producers super hi res photos when asked it really helps get great layouts!!)

I officiated a wedding this past weekend–my first gig as a vendor, not as the friend who was asked to officiate a wedding. The couple knows how I feel about Dolly Parton and in addition to my fee for the customized ceremony I wrote for them, they donated $50 to the Imagination Library in my honor! I consider it $50 raised through Dollypalooza, and hopeful for the remaining $4,950.00 to present for our matching donor to meet our $10,000 goal!

merriecherrydollypaloozaMerrie Cherry will always love you. This is her bringing down the house last year, photo by Tinker Coalescing.

And if you want to buy any one of our silent auction prizes, I am taking proxy bids via email–queerfatfemme at gmail. Just send me your name, phone number where you can be texted at 9PM on Friday night and your max bid for the item. We’ll text if you win and arrage for you to call with your credit card number. You’ll pay shipping (if applicable) for the item.

Here’s what I wrote up for the silent auction on the Dollypalooza website!

I believe like Dolly believes that folks ought to Dream More, Learn More, Care More and Be More. Part of loving Dolly is giving back. 100% of the proceeds from the silent auction will go to Dolly’s charity, the Imagination Library, which gives one brand new book per month to kids in need all over the US and in a couple other countries.

All of the prizes are donated or created by Dolly Parton fans! Through a generous matching offer from a donor, all of the proceeds from the silent auction will be DOUBLED, so your money goes twice as far!

We also couldn’t stop there. We wanted to give the Dollypalooza fans the opportunity to throw five dollar bills at the Imagination Library so we are also doing a Raffle! Each ticket is $5 and you could win:
A 2 night stay in the Dollywood Cabins (a one bedroom condo) plus two tickets to Dollywood
$100 gift certificate to Sam Ash Music Stores
6 tickets to Dollywood!! Tickets to Dollywood

(ALSO I FREAKING LOVE TO SAY “YOU GO TO DOLLYWOOD” AND “YOU GO TO DOLLYWOOD” AT THE END OF THE SHOW. Living the Oprah Dolly Mash-up dream onstage!!!)

SILENT AUCTION PRIZES

1. Trip to Dollywood
Including tickets to the park, a stay at the brand new DREAM MORE resort and airfare from NYC to Knoxville!
Donated by the Dollywood Foundation & Jessica Milligan
*Airfare through United airlines, subject to limitations on availability of flights through United Mileage program, and offer of flights expires on September 4, 2016.

Dream More Resort

2. “All you gotta do is smile that smile”
Teeth Whitening Procedure
Location: West Village
Donated by: Excel Dentistry (see photo below of the actual dentist!)
Value: $500

excel dentistry

3. “Dolly of Many Colors”
Original Painting of Dolly
Harvey Del Rey, Los Angeles-based pop artist
16 x 20
DollybyHarveyDelRey

4. “It Takes a Lot of Money to Look This Cheap”
One of a Kind Handmade Needlepoint Pillow
by Jessica Milligan
Renegade Butch Arts & Crafts

JessCheapPillow

5. Dolly Silhouette
One of a Kind Handmade Needlepoint Pillow
by Jessica Milligan
Renegade Butch Arts & Crafts

JessSilhouettePillow

6. “Tough Titty” Saw
Hand painted saw based on Dolly’s quote, “If you don’t like my language, all I can say is tough titty!”
Original Art by Nik Scarlett

toughtittysawnikscarlett

7. “Last Night’s Lovin'”
Her Name is Rio Vibrator Set
Part of Je Joue’s innovative “mix, match, and play” collection, includes the motor plus two attachments: the Pebble, which offers pinpoint vibration to the clit (or other erogenous zones), and the Classic, which offers both clit and G-spot stimulation. The motor offers multiple speed settings, plus is easily removable making clean up a snap.
Donated by Babeland
$105 value

4652-a-ooh-her-name-is-rio-set

8. Autographed Occasions Cookbook (includes recipe for Dolly’s birthday cake!) & $40 gift card to Baked
Dolly’s Doughnut Bundt Cake recipe!
Donated by Baked
$75 value

Dollys_BDay_Doughnut_Cake_web_jpg_315x2000_q85

9. Dolly Make up bag, Cropped Leggings or Low Top Sneakers
Donated by Kayci Wheatly
“I love to illustrate my favorite people, but sometimes I illustrate people I don’t even like. I’m a whore like that. But that’s not the case with Dolly!”
Make up bag valued at $28
Cropped Leggings valued at $48 (only available size medium)
Low Top Sneakers valued at $82 (custom size)

dollysneakers

10. Cup of Ambition Screen Print
Hand Printed Silkscreen Poster
PatchworkPrintshop
Valued at $40

dollycupofambition

11. Dolly Saint Art Print
Portrait of dolly as a saint while smoking…
Donated by: Dirty Lola

saintdolly

12. “People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair”
Cut & Blowout or Blowout & Styling
Brooklyn, NY
Donated by Topher Gross Hair
Valued at $125

13. Love is Like a Butterfly
Original painting by David Shouse Mitchell @dsmitchellart and @davidshousemitchell #dsmitchellart

davidmitchellbutterflypainting

14. Glittered Vintage Dolly Record Albums
Six hand glittered vintage Dolly albums in frames donated by Michel Rosenthal, glitter is hard to photograph, here’s a video.
Valued at $75 each

glitterdollyalbum

15. 90s Vintage Country Singers Framed Poster
Includes Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson, Garth Brooks, Reba McIntire, The Judds, Dwight Yoakem, Clint Black and Randy Travis among others!
We looked everyplace we stopped along the World’s Longest Yard Sale and this was literally the only Dolly-related thing we could find. Dolly fans really hold onto their memorabilia!!
Donated by your co-femmecee for the evening & show producer Bevin Branlandingham & Outreach Coordinator Dara Barlin

90svintagecountrysingers

16. Dolly Cufflinks and a Dolly Necklace
Donated by Dan Dana Designs.
$15 + $20 value

17. Dolly altar candle and print
Donated by LastCraft
$25 value

dollyaltarcandle

18. Dolly Parton name necklace
Intentionally sized to accomodate big boobs, the chain can be adjusted as needed.
Donated by Geeky and Creepy who can do custom journals, frames and other art for any Fandom!
$20 value

geekyandcreepydollynecklace

19. Painting of Young Dolly
Original Print w/ Frame
Donated by Adriana Raby
Valued at $117

adrianarabydollypainting

20. Dolly Flask
Donated by Miss Marcie Online
$20 value

dollyflask

MERCH
A limited number of Flaming Idols Dolly votive candles will be on sale at the event for $10!

flamingidolsdolly

**About the 6 tickets to Dollywood Raffle Prize: Tickets are good through 1/3/16, can also be used as a discount towards a Dollywood Season Pass ($40 off season pass). Pro tip: If you buy a season pass in November & December it’s good for the following year, so you can go back again (it’s worth it). A Dollywood Season Pass costs less than 2 day’s park admission so get a season pass if you’re going to Dollywood for more than one day. It’s totally worth it. The Smokey Mountains are SOOO beautiful. $420 value!!

2015-07-08

How Getting Neutral About Food Helped Dara Drop Sugar

When I posted my thoughts about being a good ally to fat folks by getting neutral about food, Dara and I have had a lot of conversations about it, including a pretty startling revelation that I wasn’t aware of. It turns out that Dara, working to get neutral about her food self-talk in order to be a better ally to me as a fat person, was able to transition to a low-sugar anti-cancer lifestyle a lot easier with food neutrality than if she had kept up agonizing about food being “bad” or “good.” Her words on this are below.

bevindarapridePhoto by Tinker Coalescing.

What Dara says is in alignment with what Health Coach Isabel Foxen Duke says about the diet-binge cycle. Hating your body creates the desire to emotionally eat which is a feedback loop that causes more body hatred. When you get neutral about your food it helps you detach from emotional eating as well.

Some background of Dara’s choice to go for a low-sugar anti-cancer diet. We believe pretty strongly that her breast cancer was the result of high stress. Prior to doing the Anti-Candida Murder plan I read the book The Candida Cure, which talks about how when your body is stressed out, your blood sugar spikes–just as though you ate a donut. Lots of studies show lots of things about preventing cancer reoccurrence but for sure creating a less stressful lifestyle comes up a lot. Lots of studies talk about how cancer feeds off sugar. So, we believe stress becomes sugar and sugar feeds cancer. (Dara did a video blog about this theory when she announced she was stepping back from the global initiative she started and self-funded.)

The eating plan she follows is based on Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Cancer diet, if you’re interested in reading more. Lots of green veggies, plant-based whole foods, a little bit of meat (that’s not in the Kris Carr plan, but you do what you do), whole grains, yadda yadda yadda.

Anyway, here are Dara’s words about getting to food neutrality.

IMG957531Dara doing paddleboard yoga during our trip to Key West.

When Bevin first asked me to stop talking outloud about my uphill battle with cutting sugar from my diet (a step that research suggests prevents cancer recurrence), I had mixed reactions. I mean, cancer is a whole different thing than body positivity, right? Surely, the same rules of food neutrality don’t apply to me?

Because I love my partner deeply, and so respect the work she does in the world to help everyone love and value their bodies, I decided to give it a try. (I mean, I could always use the Cancer Card to say, “Baby, this just isn’t working for me” and know I would get a free pass.) Instead, I decided to give it a shot… and in doing so, I had a surprising and powerful realization: IT ACTUALLY GOT EASIER TO SAY NO TO SUGAR!

I don’t know how it happened to be honest, but I think it got easier to say no to sweets because instead of badgering myself (outloud often) about whether or not I should eat something, and what it would mean about me, and my lack of discipline, or my willingness to commit to staying alive… instead of having this agonizing back and forth, I instead just said a simple ‘no thank you.’ And that was that.

What would normally take up at least 10 minutes of space in my brain, and cause unknown quantities of anxiety and self-flagellation pretty much just went POOF! Gone. Buh-Bye!

It made me realize just how much my anxiety about what I was eating was wrapped up in my head. How much of a victim I was to my own insecurities and doubts. Making the decision to be neutral about food put me back in control, and enabled my rational brain to take the lead, while my negative internal chatter was forced to sit quietly in the back of the room.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy to turn down cookie-cake or a jelly-filled donut when offered – and I’m not even saying that I do turn it down all the time. But I will say that it no longer consumes my thinking like it once did. And I no longer feel guilt or shame about my decisions. I feel stronger, more in control… and (as a result of the fact that I now eat less sugar) can say that I have a better chance of living the rest of my life cancer-free.

IMG_7020At the Dyke March in 2014, just about a month after her last chemo treatment.

I am grateful to Bevin for helping me better understand the idea of body currency and food neutrality. As a fat ally, I have for sure sought to prioritize ways of being that enable all bodies to been loved exactly as they are. But this side benefit of being able to apply the concepts to my own health, to be able to live a longer, happier life? That one I didn’t see coming.

It’s true what Dara said, if she needed to keep externally processing about food to support her anti-cancer goals we would have come up with another solution, another way to talk about food that isn’t laden with shame and guilt. We work together to mutually support our goals. I’m really grateful that I had a way in which I needed her to work as a thin ally to me and it ended up enhancing her goals!

You can read more about Dara’s cancer journey on her cancer Tumblr page as well as read my posts about going through chemo and her diagnosis process.

2015-05-04

How Castro Valley is Not the Castro

Among my army of incredible friends and community, we have a few aesthetic tropes that are common–tattoos chief among them. When I was younger and still shedding muggle ideas of normalcy I remember being sort of shocked when someone would just get a tattoo on a whim. You didn’t plot this for years and meticulously scour for the right artist? You got it off the wall?

Not everyone thinks like a Capricorn with a Virgo rising. I’m an Earth sign. Permanency is a big decision. Some people tattoo on whims and some people tattoo with great plans and down payments and sessions. Most folks blend a bit of both.

That’s not the tattoo point I wanted to make. There’s a pattern in my tattooed friends’ bodies. They get home state nostalgia tattoos. They come in lots of types, an esoteric homage, a sign, but most common is a map outline with optional home city starred.

Here’s what I’m talking about.

17184687429_3ff3439afa_zHeart where the hometown is. Photo courtesy Amanda Arkansassy. You can check out the livefeed of the show she is co-curating on June 13th, Y’all Come Back Now: Queer Stories of Southern Migration.

17368951392_f4c6b7bee4_zHere’s one of just the region–Southern Illinois. Photo of Matthew Baccus.

17184687499_f1bbe5117f_zMatt and his best friend Meade have matching soil tattoos to indicate Southern Illinois. A home town tattoo is a great mile marker to get when you leave someplace.

This tattoo trope is so common that, when crowd sourcing for an image to use I got enough offers to start a whole USA collage art piece. And Victoria said her tattoo artist told her she would cross over into hipster in a forever way when she got her Minnesota outline.

It’s a Thing.

But it’s not really a Thing I can get behind for myself. I’ve thought about it a bunch, as an ex-patriate Californian of Bay Area origins. I moved to the East Coast in early August 2000. I needed a good dose of time and space from where I grew up and it’s not all healed yet. I created survival tips for returning to my home town. I don’t want a tattoo of my home town.

I do love and appreciate California, especially anywhere but my hometown. The redwoods, San Francisco, Yosemite, Santa Cruz… I even developed a deep appreciation for Southern California, which was a steep climb considering the regional disdain for our So Cal neighbors that Northern Californians instill. (Not all folks feel this way but it is an attitude you’d notice.) I kind of love LA now. I adore Palm Springs, where my beloved Grandmother lives.

When we were driving to Northern CA for my partner to have a work meeting in San Francisco during our post-chemo road trip last Fall, she made the mistake of confusing my hometown of Castro Valley, CA with the famous district of The Castro in San Francisco. The two places are only a 30 minute drive apart, but could not be further from one another in many ways.

I wasn’t so excited to show Dara my hometown, but it was very important for me to dispel any confusing thoughts she had about the two places. I share below some of the highlights.

Castro Valley is known by most folks who live or have lived in the Bay as a place on interstate 580. Coming in from the Central Valley, it’s just past Pleasanton/Dublin, just before Hayward/San Lorenzo. This is what it looks like to enter Castro Valley.
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In contrast, The Castro, is known the world over as a hive for gay liberation and historically was a haven for queer folks who needed a place to be accepted. Now it’s a lot more expensive to live there, but is still a destination for LGBT tourists. This is what you see when you drive into The Castro. Very different from Castro Valley.
15818102011_b0dcdda220_zNote the mega giant Pride flag on the right, the legendary Castro theater ahead to the left.

In Castro Valley, I had Dara drive down the main drag, Castro Valley Boulevard. “The Boulevard” as it is known. Here’s one of my favorite spots from when I was a teen. The Starbucks. (Back in 1995/1996 Starbucks was not yet ubiquitous.)
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In the Castro, we strolled across the street from yet another cute new indie coffee shop in The Castro.
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Things in Castro Valley are pretty regular and suburban looking. Because it’s the suburbs. 15634168219_7eaba6c0e2_z

Things in The Castro look like a vibrant neighborhood in a major metropolitan city, because it’s the city. “The City” is what we would call San Francisco in Castro Valley.
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When I was a teenager my best friends and I would hang out at this McDonald’s a lot. Hanging out at fast food places and Lyon’s were kind of the thing to do. There’s not even a mall in Castro Valley, we would have to go to Pleasanton or Hayward for that.
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When I was a teenager I didn’t find any girls to make out with in The Castro, but we could have smooched here. I don’t think we would have even been able to hold hands safely in Castro Valley.
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The most significant landmark in Castro Valley is the three crosses leaping up from the hill at Three Crosses church, one of the two (maybe more now) mega Christian churches in town.
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The Castro, as seen from Twin Peaks, has a very different significant landmark.
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On my visit to The Castro I was sad to note that the place I bought my first Pride rings is closed… But that was almost twenty years ago so it had a good run.
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In Castro Valley, the streets are just streets.
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In The Castro, the streets are actually paved with rainbows.
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Anyway, now you know why The Castro and Castro Valley are not the same thing. And this is only just a whisper of why I’m not leaping to get a Castro Valley hometown nostalgia tattoo. My mom’s house is cute, but when she talks about selling it to downsize for her and her wife’s retirement… I’m okay to let it go.

I see my friends who have so much pride in and love for the places they come from inked on their bodies. And I’m sure they also feel some complexity, too. Hopefully this is a piece of solidarity for those folks who feel really great to let their hometowns go, and hope to do healing work around it.

2015-03-16

Florida Keys: Curating the Sunset

My second favorite thing we did on our trip to the Florida Keys was curating the sunset. I absolutely love doing this. By curating the sunset I mean, finding out when the sunset is going to start and finish in my vicinity and setting aside the time and effort to go enjoy it. This means not just noticing that the sunset is happening but finding the exact right place to watch it happen.

I call things like sunsets “God TV.” If it’s something naturally occurring that is interesting to watch, I call it “God TV.” I like watching the sky turn all the different colors, notice the changing shadows around me and finding a spot to watch it that affords a lot of great ambiance.

The Keys are ALL ABOUT THIS. Most notably there is a sunset ritual every single night in Key West. My pal Maura in a super helpful email to me about my impending visit to the Keys that watching the sunset from the Mallory Square sunset celebration was very Lez and woo in a satisfying way. I could not agree more.

16766270835_edcd34fe77_zStreet vendors and performers line the square. The sunset celebration is free, but Dara decided to jazz it up by buying this non-alcoholic frozen pineapple coconut juice concoction. Beautiful and delicious!

16558999917_1633abaf18_zHere you can see the big crowd just in front of us, it was pretty thick the length of Mallory Square by the time we got there.

I have not been in such a diverse crowd of collective rapt attention on something spiritual since I attended my Uncle’s ordination as a Deacon in the Catholic Church (it was a very long ceremony in a HUGE cathedral). Sure, lots of them probably just thought the sunset was pretty, but there was a significant payment of attention to something I felt very reverent about. It was churchy, even if it wasn’t a brick and mortar institution. No religion or belief necessary, just payment of attention. Crowded but not loud, at least during the 2 minutes or so the sun was really sinking.

4731417391_0f4900890d_zMy cousin Sooz (yes, I have a queer cousin, it rules) at her dad’s/my uncle’s ordination.

16765201512_95c905e4c0_zWe creeped up through the crowd to get a better view.

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16559009917_cb5388b3f9_zI was obsessed with all the creatures we met, and the different kinds of pelicans were a highlight.

Outside of Key West I found it pretty easy to pinpoint a good sunset spot. A quick yelp search of “Islamorada sunset” in the restaurant category got me to Lorelei’s Cantina, a spot on our road trip back up to the mainland to catch our flight home. It’s this huge outdoor bar and restaurant where you don’t even have to order anything, you can just grab a plastic chair and chillax watching the sunset while listening to live music. It was so beautiful and such a disappointment when the sunset was shrouded in a rain cloud.

16644041818_5ff227d273_zThis is the big mermaid that looks out on Southbound Interstate 1, the two lane Overseas Highway that connects all of the Keys. The parking lot was VERY crowded so this Escalade just decided to park blocking the sign.

16145663324_4eb599f559_zThe view was spectacular but sadly the clouds did not cooperate.

16560705517_461654b905_zI swear to the Goddess that while we were sitting watching the clouds covering the sunset the dude-fronted Jimmy Buffet style jam band that was playing did a Dolly Parton cover. I realized I knew all the words.

The same thing happened with bad weather luck when we went to see the sunset at a beach in Key West the night we had a hotel room in town. We were at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park’s beach, which is just off of old town Key West (the neighborhood with all the cutie pie wooden buildings). It was $2.50 for each of us because we came in on bicycle not car. We sat on the beach, I was so regretful I didn’t wear my bathing suit, the one day I didn’t just have it on under my dress, and I wished I could have gone swimming in the gorgeous clear blue water.

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We didn’t spend enough time at the beach during our vacation overall, which was my own fault. There were just so many fun things to do in the Keys that sitting still for a few hours a day was not a priority. We did a great amount of taking it easy and letting things flow in terms of planning so I never felt stressed, I just was so absorbed by my surroundings at all times that I didn’t ever crack that copy of Southern Living magazine I dragged all over the Keys.

But I got to the beach twice, both for sunsets. The time the sunset was a bust at Fort Taylor I still saw a couple of tiny schools of fish from my ankle-deep vantage point, and we watched an entire flock of seagulls leave their rock to go fish for dinner. Hundreds of birds taking off at once is a breathtaking vision you only get to see when you watch God TV or as intro cutaways on one of the coastal Real Housewives franchises.

16144219244_cd4c9d5459_zWater so clear I felt totally fine swimming in it. I get the creeps when I can’t see the bottom, even in the deep end of a dark pool.

The best sunset we saw was our first night in the Keys. It was about 10 minutes from our cabin on Big Pine Key, about 2 keys North of BPK. (Do they abbreviate in the Keys? I hope so.) Bahia Honda State Park has been voted one of the top 10 continental US beaches for several years. I heard this from a few sources. I’m not sure what this list is, or if we just happened to see it at a particularly sea grassy moment, but it wasn’t super amazing. It was cute, don’t get me wrong, but I kind of had big expectations for the beach.

16757039142_39611c34b5_zI saw this on the beach and because of the intense blue and plastic looking filmy bubble I thought surely this was manmade, like a condom or a plastic bag. I am the kind of person who appreciates nature AND picks up litter. (I was a Girl Scout for so many years this kind of habit never dies.) So to find out if it was litter to be picked up with a stick for the garbage can… I popped it. It was clear it was organic matter and I left it alone. Found a couple more on our beach walk. Thank Goddess I popped it with a stick because a later google search told me this is a Portuguese Man o’ War jellyfish and I could have gotten stung and gone to the hospital! The Wikipedia says that sometimes whole beaches close down when these appear on shore.

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We got there and the first place we went was SO seagrassy we didn’t want to sit in it, so we kept walking. Then we bailed on that beach and crossed the parking lot into the info center, who told us that they beach they’re known for is on a different part of the key. Which meant that to see the good sunset view (pointed East) we would not get to be on that super cute part of the beach. We did check out that super cute beach on the way out after sunset and it was quite pretty. We would like to go lay around on it on a later trip to the Keys.

Undeterred, I went out to a third beach of theirs, this one was Gulf Side (to think I walked from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico in just the span of minutes) and started following the shoreline. Dara followed dutifully along as I searched for something I couldn’t even fully articulate to her. “I want to watch the sunset,” I told her, not even sure myself what I was looking for but knowing that once I saw it I would realize what I was looking for.

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We walked the length of the beach and I took off through some palm trees up a nature trail that went under the abandoned railroad bridge. Dara had suggested a few spots on the beach that might be a little less crowded but gave up when she saw I was on a mission. I climbed under the railroad tracks, went to the chain link fence under the bridge to take a couple of photos, retraced my steps and went to the other side of the train tracks, back to the Atlantic but much further down than we could see from our original vantage point in the thicket of washed up sea grass.

16138168973_200ebb52d4_zThat road in the background is the Overseas Highway I’ve mentioned.

16135808124_de577ca163_zUnder the train track bridge.

I found an inlet of trees that looked like a great make-out spot, then went down a rock “scramble” onto a patch of nearly empty beach. With a perfect view of the sun, just about to start lowering. We took some photos and cute video in the surf and laid down to watch the sun take its journey. We soaked this in for a good thirty minutes before the incoming tide convinced us to move down the beach a bit. We did some yoga while watching the sun’s descent. It was so profoundly beautiful. Worth every bit of work to find the just right place to watch it. The curation of the moment was almost as fun as the moment itself.

16138173863_ae0ddc6128_zAs a fat person I’m used to being the one who is being coaxed down rock scrambles. But I have a lot more bravery for nature because of my scouting past, so I lead Dara in these matters. It’s a really interesting to have the table flipped and me being the brave one offering a hand to the person behind me. But I’d like to think knowing how uncertain a rock scramble can make me feel helps me be a more supportive partner when I lend the hand.

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16570745720_1560559ce6_zDara is such a wonderful partner in crime for adventure. I have so much fun with her. She’s instagramming now after this trip, @daremedara if you’re instagrammy.

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16550904177_52dd24bcf9_zThe moon rise on the other side of the beach was so pretty.

16572055289_1319b04a29_zMoney shot.

I rarely, if ever, curate a sunset in Brooklyn. There are so many variables here–it takes me 30 minutes to drive to a spot to get a good, clear view of a sunset, only if that’s the direction of the sun that time of year. Buildings that are in the way sometimes are not in the way other times. Weather is a huge variable. It is often cloudy. I make it a point in NYC that when I see the sunset colors in the sky I take a pause and notice them.

Out of town I make it my unspoken priority to ensure that we are exactly where we need to be to enjoy the best sunset possible. I love organizing my day around this. It feels so natural and cleansing and really meaningful. I came back from the Keys and I know, as I start working towards the next phase of my life, I want to make it a priority to have abundant access to beautiful sunset viewing options. I can see this ritual becoming a big part of my self care.

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2015-03-10

Florida Keys: Paddleboard Yoga as a Paddleboard Novice Fatty

To escape the brutalities of New York City Winter and Seasonal Depression, I asked my mom to give me cash instead of a present for Christmas and my birthday this year. I parlayed that into a pretty cheap vacation to the Florida Keys (her gift was enough to cover my $180 round trip flight, share of our $130 car rental and 3 nights at our cabin). Part of the way this gift helped me combat seasonal depression was putting a lot of time into researching our vacation. I went down the internet and you tube rabbit holes about things to do in the Florida Keys many Winter nights. (The FloridaKeysTV you tube channel is a treasure trove, btw.)

IMG957561All photos in this post are by Tara McCabe, who lets the class send themselves the photos she takes during the class from her phone when you return to the marina!

It was a you tube video that brought me to Paddleboard Yoga! As soon as we saw it, Dara and I decided this was a top priority vacation activity.

I’ve been doing yoga off and on for six years but I’ve never been on a paddleboard. If I want to scoot around on water I prefer a kayak, where I can sit and enjoy the water while paddling. The idea of doing yoga on a paddleboard seemed scary in a fun way–I have a hard enough time with balance in the studio! Dara had never been paddleboarding, either, and she is not a huge fan of yoga but was totally sold on the adventure.

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We made a reservation with Lazy Dog Paddle Yoga (the studio? paddleboard rental place? featured in the video) and drove down to Key West from our cabin on Big Pine Key. The marina is not in the main tourist part of Key West and is right off the only highway through the Keys, the Overseas Highway, a 2 lane affair with breathtaking views.

We arrived 10 minutes before the class just in time for our instructor Tara McCabe, who founded the Paddleboard Yoga classes with Lazy Dog owner Sue Cooper, to give a paddleboarding basics class to those of us who are new to paddleboarding. A lot of the paddle mechanics were similar to kayaking but the positioning of the arms was different and I felt like I needed to have a lot more control over the paddle given that I was going to be standing up for travel. Tara mentioned we could kneel on the paddleboard while we were first getting used to how the paddle worked to navigate, which was really helpful.

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Since we were traveling from the marina to a little inlet off the canal nearby, where the yoga class would be held, we launched in groups of 3 or so from the boat ramp. As the rest of the class was getting outfitted with their boards and paddles Dara and I signed extensive waivers and paid the $30 each for the 9:30-11AM class. We could bring a towel and a water bottle with us strapped by a bungee to our board. I did some last-minute additional sunscreen application and left the rest of our bags inside the Lazy Dog shack.

We were handed one paddle each, sized to our height, and got on our knees to be shoved off into the marina. Dara went much faster than I did and I slogged along, getting used to the way the board moved. I followed Tara’s advice and waited until we were out in the canal and had made our hard right turn before I stood up on the paddleboard and began using the paddle in the correct holding from the top form.

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Being among last to arrive in the group, and the slowest paddleboarder, I felt okay about it. One of the lessons I learned early on in my yoga practice is that there is no way to “suck” at yoga, you just got at your own pace, paying attention to your own body and where your limit is. Running my own race instead of worrying about where my skills, physical ability and flexibility fits into the rubric of the class helps me just enjoy and settle in. I am often the least bendy yogi in a class but it doesn’t make me any less capable of getting all the benefits of the class and the practice. So when I was solidly holding up the rear of the paddleboard group coming into the alcove I was already fine with it.

Once in the alcove everyone dropped their anchors (these little heavy circles of some kind of metal that were clipped to the bungees on our boards) where Tara told us. She had a good sense of where the boards would drift and where folks would be best placed so as not to bump into one another. A couple of people chose to hug the mangroves for more access to shade. Mangroves are trees that line virtually every shore in the keys, with spindly roots that poke out of the water like stilts holding up the trees–mangroves are essential to the Florida Keys as they help secure land and prevent erosion. Dara was next to them during the class and said that sometimes the mangroves tickled her as she drifted into them on her board but it felt really nice.

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I intentionally wore a fatkini to the class. I sometimes am fat in public in a political way and sometimes I think showing skin is important to be like, I’m fat, I love my body and this is how I feel comfortable. But lots of people in the class, including some guys, were wearing clothes over their suits or wearing water clothing or something that you would buy in a surf shop.

Tara (pronounced with a long A) was an incredible instructor from start to finish. I loved learning paddleboarding from her, as she delivered the lesson with the patience and sweetness of a good yoga instructor. She made sure at the beginning of the class, when we all settled into our spots, that folks were reminded that yoga is not a competition and to run their own race. I know this already, but it is always nice to have a new-to-me instructor reinforce it as a class culture.

She provided great modifications to all of the poses and reminded everyone it was an all levels class. I tried to put myself into harder poses and would sense my limit and settle into wherever that was. Being in the middle of the board by the handle was the most helpful spot for balance. When preparing for this class Dara and I anticipated that one of us would fall into the water, and it turned out to be me while getting into modified Warrior 2. I don’t even know what happened or how but suddenly I was in the water. I was the first in the class to fall. (The only other person who fell toppled during a handstand and I think that was pretty badass.) Since where we were was very shallow it was really easy for me to hop back onto my board. And it did cool me off!

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I loved the sway of being on the board during poses. I loved the moments where she had us do a pose and stick a foot or a hand or arm into the water. I actually really enjoyed doing it on the board versus a mat, because I felt like there was more cushion on my board than a traditional mat (I think this was because of the type of board I happened to be on). I also found downward facing dog much easier on the board for that reason–I was most worried about falling

Tara’s meditations were great, too! At the beginning of the class she called out the full moon we were experiencing, letting go of the junk from the Winter and opening up to the coming Spring. What she was saying was definitely right-on for me. During our shavasana/end of class corpse pose, she suggested we put a towel over our head if we wanted to (which I did, it helped with shade) and put our hands out into the water. While floating there she said, “Bevin, I need you to pull your hand up,” so I did, very used to surrender during yoga to an instructor. I kind of thought she was paddling by me as she floated among the class a bit while teaching.

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It turned out there was a tiny snake that was slithering by and heading for my hand. The raise gave him enough startle that he headed in a different direction, into the mangroves. Tara said she was glad I didn’t ask why so that she didn’t startle the class with news of the snake during the shavasana.

And then before we opened our eyes she serenaded us with a ukelele version of “I Can See Clearly Now,” which was so profound, being in that beautiful, warm place with no clouds in the sky and melting away the agita of a long, cold Winter.

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My sunscreen game was NOT on point for this adventure. Next time I am going to load up on sport sunblock SPF 80+ and reapply right before shavasana. (I was using Neutrogena dry touch waterproof SPF 55.) I got a really odd burn in parts of my body (especially my knees, which from being on the board rubbed off the sunblock and then got burnt during shavasana).

After we all grabbed our anchors and delivered them to Tara’s board before we headed back to the marina, we stood up and paddled back. I was in the back of the pack, again this time on purpose to visit with Tara. She would warn us when boats passed about what kind of wake we were in for. Unfortunately, in a deep part of the channel one of the wake waves really got me and I kind of toppled to the side and fell from my standing position. It took a lot of work for me to get back on my board. Being a fatty, it can be hard to pull yourself back up onto a board or into a floating vessel, depending on your upper body strength. (I have some but not a lot.) Tara was ready with another modification for me, this time having me try to get back on the board not from the side but from the back. That part worked, with some patience and some wiggling like a seal on a surfboard. I made it back to the marina by staying mostly sitting on my board. It was faster when I was standing but I wasn’t ready to chance it again. Also, standing required a lot of tension in my thighs to hold myself balanced and they were kind of exhausted by the end of all of that paddleboarding and yoga.

Paddleboard yoga was a total trip highlight! Dara and I had so much fun and felt so peaceful afterwards. I was super achy later, mostly my arms because I hadn’t done any serious paddling like that in a long time. I would highly recommend Lazy Dog for all of your paddleboard and paddleboard yoga needs, and Tara for yoga! She teaches at Shakti in Key West, leads guided paddleboard meditations through Lazy Dog, runs Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga training and founded the Paddleboard Yoga at Lazy Dog!

Next time we go to the Florida Keys, Dara and I intend to try doing it twice during our trip as well as a meditation!

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2015-01-30

Lung Leavin’ Day: A Really Powerful Fear Releasing Ritual

When Heather Von St. James was diagnosed with mesothelioma, as a new mom, she was full of fear. In her own words:

I was only given 15 months to live, and had to undergo a life changing procedure. On February 2nd I had my lung removed, which my sister declared LungLeavin’ Day. We celebrate it every year by writing our biggest fears on a plate, and smashing them into a fire. LungLeavin’ Day grows bigger every year.

An interactive page has been created to tell Heather’s story. You can smash a virtual plate and do a little ritual right at your computer! It’s a very cute site.

LLD_plateHeather, doing the Lung Leavin’ ritual. Photo courtesy Heather Von St. James.

I know first hand how powerful it is to have a project to pour your fears and intention into in the wake of life altering change… When my ex fiance left me seven years ago I started my podcast, which gave me a positive thing to focus on rather than my resting thoughts which were all about fear and not knowing how to live a life different than the one I had planned out. That podcast lead to starting this blog and reorienting my career towards helping shift people’s feelings about their bodies and loving themselves. It transformed me.

When my partner Dara was going through chemo for breast cancer, her chemo karaoke video production and her cancer vlog were incredible for her to orient herself towards looking for the positive. It also gave her something to focus on in the meanwhile to get to the next moment.

20140508_183224Dara, behind the scenes of Chemo Karaoke. She bought that cape at the Brooklyn Superhero Store.

One of the most powerful things you can do with your fears is to name them and let them go. Tapping is helpful, as are rituals. Most of the time our fear and pain just want to be acknowledged. I’m fond of the idea that emotions are energy in motion–no emotions are “bad” or “good” they just are. Letting them flow through rather than stay bottled up is the path of lease resistance to getting towards other emotions that are better. Like hope. And empowerment.

Heather’s Lung Leavin’ Day movement is really wonderful. I love the idea of using this ritual, even if you’re not dealing with cancer.

LLDPhoto courtesy Heather Von St. James.

Living in our culture is a petri dish of fear and worry. It takes a lot of work to focus on the positive and let go of the anxieties that hold us back. Lung Leavin’ Day is a great way to do just that. If you have access to a firepit, go to the thrift store, get some plates and smash those fears away with yourself or your pals! Even if you can’t do it now, maybe set a date in the future for this ritual. Fire is great spiritual energy for leaving things behind!

One of the things you can to do be supportive of folks with cancer is let them take the lead. I wouldn’t push a positive spin on cancer on anyone, people need to have their own process. But if someone you know is doing that positive spin, do whatever you can to show up for them. It was so moving to Dara to have thirty of her friends in a room chanting “Dara” and lifting her up during her fourteenth week of chemo.

20140508_185422Dara’s friends patiently waiting in the event room at the chemo infusion center for the big last scene of the video.

Heather is now a 9 year cancer survivor. Her Lung Leavin’ Day concept and website are wonderful ways to share an important movement.

Cam_Lil_HVSJ FamilyHeather and her family. Photo courtesy Heather Von St. James.

Here’s more info on mesothelioma and the treatment.

2015-01-22

That Time Dara and I Met Abbi and Ilana from Broad City and the New Yorker Wrote About It

When Dara was going through chemo last Winter and Spring, sometimes all she could do was watch TV. TV was great because it gave her something to focus on other than the constant state of nausea she was in or how uncomfortable or painful her body felt.

IMG_7020Me and Dara, about a month out of chemo at the Dyke March. She let me paint “Fuck Cancer” on her still bald from chemo head. Because all of my friends know how much I love Broad City I periodically get texts from late adopters telling me I was right about how great it is. I try to live a spiritual existence where being right doesn’t matter to me but I do enjoy being right about cool cultural things that are awesome.

It was really important to Dara from the very beginning of her cancer diagnosis to keep it positive, so she was super interested in finding shows that were up lifting. It was also hard with “chemo brain” to watch anything complicated. She burned through Parks and Rec—so much so that I ended up missing a few episodes of the last season because I couldn’t keep up with her. She was a little stressed knowing Parks and Rec was nearing the final episode available and a friend of hers, Lalta, suggested she turn to Broad City, a new show on Comedy Central executive produced by Amy Poehler, the star of Parks and Rec.

We started watching Broad City right away and absolutely loved it. We have since watched each episode multiple times, and scoured you tube for episodes of their Broad City web series, the pre-curser to the more polished and lengthy Comedy Central show. As a cancer caregiver the belly laughs afforded by the antics of these women were really helpful medicine for my spirit, too, and Dara absolutely loved it.

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Abbi and Ilana are so charming and hilarious. I think it does what 2 Broke Girls and Girls tried to do with the early twenties women living in Brooklyn situation but with an authenticity and reflection that the others miss. It’s goofy, adventurous and New York is an important part of the show, including the street harassment, subway weirdness and other hassles of trying to live day to day here. I appreciate that sometimes Ilana’s character takes on being politically correct but to an extreme where she maybe doesn’t get it. Dara calls the show a modern-day Cheech and Chong for women.

I especially love Lincoln, played by Hannibal Buress, who you might remember from blasting Cosby for the rape rumors and Cosby’s trash talking of the Black community back in October, igniting the recent round of scandal. (If you haven’t watched Hannibal’s original comedy act in Philly about that, do.)

By the point in chemo where we stepped deep into the Broad City hole, Dara was bald bald. Combined with the perpetually youthful aesthetic so common among masculine of center queers she looked even younger, moving towards an 8 year old make a wish kid aesthetic.

20140603_173316I want to say that Dara’s diagnosis was not terminal like an actual Make a Wish kid. We knew that. But she does look kind of like an 8 year old.

It was coming up on her 39th birthday, for which she was in the thick of planning her “Chemo Karaoke” video where she wrote a parody of Pat Benetar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” and got a ton of friends together to shoot it in the chemo infusion center at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. This was a huge project for her and it was great for her spirits, giving her something to focus on and made chemo kind of a project or a game rather than the really physically, emotionally and mentally devastating ongoing medical procedure that it actually is.

One night after our second round of watching Broad City, I said, “What if you made a Make a Wish video and asked Abbi and Ilana to write you into their show?” Dara immediately countered with, “I should get them to come be in my Chemo Karaoke video shoot!”

So we did it. Why not? It was a low-stakes, really fun way to spend an evening, making the video. And even if Abbi and Ilana couldn’t come to the video shoot, at least it was a way to say thank you for producing art that was really delighting us during a time that was pretty shitty. Obviously their art production is at a totally different level and reach than mine, but it always feels really awesome when people tell me that the things I’ve written, workshops or performances I’ve given made a difference in their lives. It’s never a bad time to make someone feel good about themselves, as my bestie Rachael likes to say.

20140507_230933 (1)They make Broad City toilet paper.

We had no idea how to get it to Abbi and Ilana. I tweeted at the Broad City account knowing it might not go anywhere. Then I thought, maybe through six degrees of separation we could do it, so I posted it on my Facebook wall. Turns out I know someone who knows someone who dates an executive at Comedy Central and that I know someone who went to high school with Ilana. Boom. Within 24 hours we had an email from their manager.

Abby and Ilana were busy writing the second season of their amazing show and couldn’t come to the shoot. But they did invite us to be their guests at their show the night before Dara’s birthday party. We were excited, in all our internetting we never realized they were still doing their live improv show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.

14299828758_e9fc7bab10_zWe got four tickets, so Dara’s friend Allison (second from left) who flew in from Atlanta for the video shoot came with us and our awesome friend Donna (far left) came along as well.

When we got there we had a huge surprise. First of all, they saved us seats in the front row. Then after they came out and performed their first act (a very full energy improvised dance to Drake’s “Started From the Bottom”), they did this whole long intro about a special guest joining them, and it turned out to be Dara! Ilana’s brother Eliot Glazer brought out a cake and sang Happy Birthday and Abby and Ilana gave her a bunch of Broad City schwag.

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Ever relentlessly documenting my life, I videotaped it.

The whole thing was surreal and it was so wonderful to see Dara so happy, when during chemo the state of just not being incredibly uncomfortable/in pain/nauseous/whatever is a victory.

The show was great and we watched them play Fuck, Marry, Kill with Natasha Lyonne. Afterwards we were out on the street and ran into an old friend of ours and were chatting for awhile and realized Abbi and Ilana were coming out of the theater. Dara decided to go up to them and thank them for everything. It was really sweet and a nice connection. They filmed a chorus of Hit Me With Your Best Shot with the gusto of seasoned improv comedians.

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Improving Hit Me With Your Best Shot with Abbi and Ilana:

It was all so thoughtful and fun and really awesome of them to do that for Dara. The next day during the epic shoot for Chemo Karaoke, it was a great story to tell. And the cake was delicious! Billy’s bakery is the shit, I worked around the corner from them for a few months and fell in love with the banana cake. Trust me. Trust Ilana and Abbi. It’s the best one.

While Dara was talking to Abbi and Ilana, a reporter from the New Yorker sidled up to me and asked my name and Dara’s name because he was trailing them to do an epic piece about Broad City. I had to go through this whole fact checking thing after the fact with someone from the New Yorker*.

IMG_20140618_180212They didn’t send me a copy of the magazine, which I think would just be polite, if you’re going to spend time doing ten minutes of fact checking.

Broad City is shooting to the moon right now! Season 2 just premiered and it’s hilarious. Abbi and Ilana interviewed Sleater-Kinney for NPR (I could not figure out how to get into that event). You can catch all of the first season of Broad City on Hulu, and I think for a limited time on Comedy Central’s app and website without plugging in a television provider. You need a tv cable provider log-in to watch Season 2. And it’s worth it!

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Here’s the finished produce of Dara’s Chemo Karaoke video:

*P.S. If you’re reporting something and someone’s name doesn’t sound “real” to you, don’t euphemize it by saying “[H]er girlfriend, who goes by the name Bevin Branlandingham.” Everyone is entitled to use whatever name they want, even if it sounds made up. No need to add the “goes by the name” because it is condescending and unnecessary and will result in many texts and tweets from uppity queers about lack of respect for chosen names. Like why couldn’t he just say, “Her girlfriend, Bevin Branlandingham…” Just saying.

2014-12-09

Craft Tutorial: Awesome 80s Menorah

I’m a total crafter and I also totally adore the holidays (my birthday is Christmas Eve; I love all things glitter and sparkly). Since I am a deck the halls as much as possible person and I decided that after the really difficult year I had that I was going to go as all out as possible I encouraged Dara to get a menorah for Hanukkah so we could represent her cultural heritage in our holiday melee.

We spent a good amount of time looking online for a really cool menorah, even googling “awesome menorah” to see what came up. I saw a pez dispenser menorah and told her I could easily craft it for her. And so, the Awesome 80s Menorah began.

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To make an Awesome 80s Menorah like the one above, what you’ll need:

9 toys that represent the 80s to you, one that is a little bit taller than the rest (or some type of platform to raise it) for the shamash
2 VHS tapes of your favorite 80s movies
Felt for the base
Nuts to act as candleholders
A hot glue gun and a whole lot of hot glue sticks
A set of Hanukkah candles

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1. The first thing we did was gather our supplies. I really think the “craft” in this project is the curation of the toys used to create it. Dara and I went to a candy store in Williamsburg called Handsome Dan’s and got everything we used. We spent a long time (and a bit of cash) curating the right mix of emblematic 80s toys. They had some arcade game controller candy holders which we loved and thought was a little kitschier than only using pez dispensers. We loved the Tetris block as a way to elevate the shamash (helper candle). And the non branded My Little Pony looked enough like the 80s version that we thought it worked really well.

You could easily curate this from Amazon. Like this Star Wars set of pez.

You could also use 80s Hot Wheels cars or something else in the toy genre that expresses your nostalgia. Whatever.

2. I ordered the VHS tapes we used as a base from Amazon. Used tapes are only like $4 including shipping and came pretty fast. Dara’s favorites were Top Gun and the Breakfast Club so that’s what we got. You’ll need 2 in order to have a large enough base.

3. Once I had the candles we were going to use I went to the hardware store and bought nuts to create the candleholders. I checked to see that it fit the candles but I wish I had gone a size up, so when you buy it get some that are a bit bigger than your candles, and get double what I got, two for each candle holder, which will make your life easier.

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4. Now it’s time to get crafty! Measure twice, cut once is my belief so take everything out of its packaging and set it up. I chose to get rid of the candy in the holders so that it wouldn’t attract mice or insects and be easy to store. That’s your call.

I played with the placement of everything, with Dara’s input as well as my friends Dewey and Johnny. It was really helpful to have extra eyes.

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5. Cut a piece of felt just smaller than the size you need with both VHS tapes together. Cut another piece of felt just smaller than the bottom of one of the VHS tapes.

6. Hot glue the VHS tapes to their cases so they don’t slide around, then hot glue the smaller felt piece to the bottom of one tape, and hot glue the other tape to the bottom of the other VHS tape to make a long stand. (The orientation of the connection of the tapes is totally up to your design discretion, I went with the way the names of the movies looked best when viewed from the front.)

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7. Glue the nuts to the top of the toys, making sure to not have a huge puddle of glue in the middle, or just take the hot tip of the gun and stick it in the nut to melt the little puddle of glue.

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8. Now that your stand is constructed, start gluing the toys to the stand. I started with the center and worked out from there, paying attention to the photo I had of my practice run. (Measure twice, cut once or glue once.)

9. Insert candles! If you find your candles are a little too big or don’t fit quite right, you can use a razor to shave them down so they fit. If you took my advice and double stacked nuts, you can take a tiny bit of foil to the base of the candle and slide them into the nuts.

Voila! Have a Happy Awesome 80s Hanukkah and don’t forget the gluten-free sufganiyot, which I will be making at our holiday cookie making party on Saturday night (okay, they’re donuts not cookies but who cares)!

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2014-12-01

Queer Fat Femme Holiday Gift Guide

It’s Cyber Monday (I kind of hate that it’s a thing now but it’s a thing now) and I am fresh from watching so many movies about how the spirit of the holidays is not about capitalism it’s about feeling warm and generous. I, personally, love all things glitter and magical and really appreciate the holidays in a take what you like and leave the rest sort of way. I love that people decorate their houses in glitter and lights. I also enjoy supporting small businesses and queer owned businesses. So if you’re going to participate in gift giving, I’m super into connecting people to small businesses. I’m also into giving people good gift ideas.

My holiday gift guide this year is not compensated–I included small businesses owned by folks I know and indie businesses suggested by my followers who commented on my instagram and facebook posts asking for their favorites. I also threw in a couple of wild cards from more corporate origins that were just good gift suggestions for folks struggling with what to give. I’ve got ideas for the femmes, queers, masculine of center, pets and woo/spiritual folks on your list!

My astrologer once told me that money is energy in 3D form and I totally believe in being mindful about putting your energy out there, especially when you’re doing holiday shopping. So here is a big list of possible holiday gifts for all kinds of folks on your list, enjoy!

IMG_20141201_151407The Medusa Bustier modeled by Art Queen Caitlin Rose Sweet from the Leather Coven Instagram.
Leather Coven, “LUXE LEATHER AMULETS FOR ALL BODIES by chicano FTfeMme papi Mateo” was by far the most popular suggestion when I crowd-sourced gift ideas, but they were already on my list! I met Mateo at Hampshire College at a queer conference I performed at with Heels on Wheels and was impressed forever with the design Mateo was wearing! I’m so excited to see Leather Coven taking off lately, with queer babes of all sizes sporting some of these gorgeous designs. I love the Pentagram Harness ($56 and up depending on your choice of hardware) and the Medusa Bustier ($52+) and love love love that the designs work well both for fashion and for kink!

Leather Coven takes Etsy gift cards, which is great if you don’t know your intended’s measurements, or you can just order the gift and send the measurements in when you give the gift. (Their instagram is worth a follow–@leathercoven!) Cyber Monday savings through 12/1 (that’s tonight!) enter code CYBERSAGITTARIUS at check out.

IMG_20141201_151436Vinyl & Sequin Bow Tie as seen on GNATGlitterKink Instagram in the Gender: Queer photo series with Jacob Tobia and Sunny Frothingham. Photo by Chelsea Pieroni.
GNAT Glitter Kink. For vegan kink & fashion harnesses and for other accessories in an array of flamboyant glitter vinyls! I especially love the Vinyl & Sequin Bow Tie for the flamboyant Dandy on your holiday giving list! $25. Use code CYBERME for 25% off through December 1st!

Brownstargirl Tarot! I’ve had my tarot read by Leah Lakshmi Piepzana-Samarasinha many times since 2008 and she’s so amazing! She offers readings all over the world via skype, google hangout, phone and in person where she might travel (based in Toronto right now). Tarot, one and a half hours: $60-140 sliding scale, Tarot and numerology combination reading: $100-160 sliding scale, Group, couple or two-person readings: $80-130 sliding scale. I love what she says about sliding scale: I appreciate my clients with access to financial wealth sharing it as a form of economic justice and accountability. I appreciate this because I love working with other raised or currently poor and working class folks, and if you’ve got money, honey, your paying at the higher end of my sliding scale allows me to make a living while providing high quality divination to badass broke geniuses who have access to less cash.

If someone you know loves woo, get them a reading with Leah! It’s going to help center them for the New Year, or gird them for the Winter ahead!

bobby-pins-print_thLockwood Shop is owned by my friend Mackenzi, who has exceptional taste in gifts. I’ve successfully shopped for 90% of my holiday gifts at her store over the past few years. For bobby pin identified femmes what about this bobby pin print? ($28)

Whisky stones ($22.95) are a great choice for the drinker on your list. For the little one (or space inclined one) on your list, the Galaxy Night Light is so magical. ($8) You should cruise the website to see all of the other things they have, including lots of Queens and NYC inspired gifts. And if you’re in Astoria definitely stop by and get one of the Shop Keeps to help you shop!

il_570xN.681311055_io9hJessika Fancy is a queer femme in Portland, OR with some amazing jewelry and fashion designs as well as gem essence blends. I adore the Full Moon earrings (out of stock right now) and the Queer Magic Femme Hands patch ($11). Maybe someone you know is going through a rough patch and a protection blend aura spray for $14 might help them out a bunch?

Jessika Fancy is also part of the Spinning Wheel Apothecary, that makes seasonal woo boxes!

il_570xN.603522703_jbzvAdam Rabbit Jewelry: So many raw crystal designs at really great prices! These raw amethyst chunk earrings are only $15! Raw crystals are so powerful. Amethyst is great for healing and developing patience and calm. I really appreciate crystal jewelry designs that leave the crystals looking like a rock.

Peacock_necklace-berryKelly Horrigan Handmade! Kelly is really great queer designer and I love all of her stunning pieces of jewelry and clothing. Her peacock feather leather designs are so striking (I’ve seen them in several colors) and for my queer holiday gift guide I had to highlight her new Yoni necklace design.
Yoni_necklace2Regardless of whether or not you identify with a yoni, you can totally wear one as a necklace. Through December 2 you can get 45% off in her online store with code CYBERWOW.

slide3The IRing is a little kickstand device that you adhere to the back of your smartphone case and it acts as a vertical or horizontal stand for your phone. My partner Dara has one and it’s actually really handy. The adhesive doesn’t screw up your phone case, allows you to take it on and off though it is very sturdy once applied. You can hang your phone from a hook, a carabiner, or watch videos. It’s such a great stocking stuffer.

The reason Dara is involved with it is that there is a special fundraiser benefitting a non-profit supporting school improvement in the urban school community. If you buy an IRing for $20 and enter the code “SchoolsThatCan” (all one word) $8 of your purchase price goes towards Schools That Can.

P.S. I star in a video Dara made to promote the fundraiser.

il_570xN.540347972_el51Mister Sister NYC is a vegan bakery run by a queer in Queens. I’ve had the vegan fudge and it’s so delicious! You can get a vegan fudge gift pack for $12! Would make a great stocking stuffer for your vegan or non-vegan pals.

il_570xN.691982428_6iplFemme Anarchist. So much amazing queer and feminist schwag! I love the above glitter queer broaches for queer visibility! ($9.99) Or the Femme necklace for Femme visibility! ($12.99) I also love the trans inclusive feminism always pin, cats against cat calls pin, riots not diets patch, pizza slut necklace (to my friends: no one else get that for Miss Mary Wanna, I already ordered it), or baby got books necklace. A stocking stuffed with prizes from this shop would rule! Use code FEMMEFATALE for 10% off!

IMG_5032Age of Eleven. A friend of mine has been raving about the concept of a crystal dick. That’s right, crystal power in the form of a penis and insertable. So imagine the healing power of a quartz phallus. For $249 you can use it as a toy or a massage wand or an altar piece or whatever you can imagine doing with a penis shaped crystal. They also sell yoni eggs, earrings, necklaces and other jewelry.

cats-are-the-new-kids-3Best in Show SF has a great online store with tons of unique dog and cat items. I especially love the Cats are the New Kids / Dogs are the New Kids tee shirts. ($29.95, sizes S-XXL) Also comes in tote bags and coffee cups.

Paco Collars: I absolutely adore this word bracelet ($40-$50) for a simple way to say something custom to a person in your life. I think the leather is sooo handsome and I really like their font choice. Paco Collars also has a custom dog collar feature on their website and some really great leatherwork for dog and cat collars.

image6For the woo person in your life who loves affirmations, I really enjoy the I Can Do It page a day calendar from Louise Hay. A friend turned me onto it a couple of years ago and I find it really uplifting and enjoy writing folks notes on the back of the pages. It’s $8 right now on sale at the link above. If you need it to be on sale later I just got a circular in the mail that offers free shipping and holiday savings with the code 6124.

Self Serve Toys: Literally anytime someone mentions Albuquerque to me I tell them they need to go to Self Serve Toys and say hi to my friend Matie (even people I’ve never discussed sex toy shopping with). She’s owned and operated this store for five years! It is a gorgeous store and very well-curated.

My gift suggestion is the NJoy Pure Wand from Self Serve, but pretty much anything you need from them you can call and get recommendations. The NJoy Pure Wand is a great indulgence present ($109) that is a welcome addition to a sex toy supply, especially for people who enjoy a g-spot or p-spot stimulation. Check out Matie showing you how wonderful this toy is in this video. “This toy feels different than anything or anyone you’ve ever had inside you.” Shipping is free for $100 orders or over, or flat rate $5 for anything less than that.

il_570xN.683521950_cge4Right in the Childhood has cute masculine of center accessories, like this Lego Wonder Woman Tie Bar. ($17)

il_570xN.679721099_7cshYes Ma’am Designs (you know I love that name!) has fantastic accessories, including this flagging red duct tape clutch!

2014-11-20

Post Chemo California Road Trip Part One: San Francisco, Santa Cruz, the East Bay and I-5

Our post-chemo trip was postponed a few months, but we made up for it in October during an epic ten day Southern and Northern California road trip exploring new places and visiting familiar stomping grounds for this California native. I chronicle the trip in these blog posts. Check out the post chemo road trip tag for all of the posts!

When Dara was ending chemo we were supposed to celebrate with a family vacation to Southern California in June. It happened that her family was going to be staying in the same Southern California town that my family immigrated to from Canada in 1962 (how random/fated that they picked Oxnard for their trip, though technically my family is in Camarillo, too) and we were going to maybe get them to meet. We had enough airline miles to make the trip free. All the plans were set and we were traveling just as soon as we possibly could after Dara’s last chemo treatment.

Except that post-chemo trip got canceled because Dara’s father passed away very suddenly and we went to Las Vegas instead. The miles tickets were able to be postponed, but we couldn’t change the destination. We had a trip via LAX to take within the next year, and decided that in the Fall we would finally take that post-chemo trip, only by now Dara would have hair and we wouldn’t need to obsessively clean the airplane seats and tray tables with antibacterial wipes. (Chemo would make her immune-compromised for at least a month following her last infusion.)

14806615819_1c38c0932b_oSo many pro con lists were incorporated in figuring out exactly how to plan this epic journey.

When we conceived the new incarnation of this trip we decided that Dara would buy a cheap ticket to Las Vegas a couple of days before I left in order to get her dad’s car so we could save on a rental car. Mercury was retrograde, so our trip was really difficult to pin down. We adjusted dates of where we were going to be a few different times as curve balls came at us and hoped we didn’t annoy our friends too much with furtive texts like, “Oh shit, our cabin trip got changed to Big Bear so now we’re moving things forward two days.” Camping became cabin, destinations were shifted, etc…

The thing about being from California and knowing lots of people from my adult life in California, is that anytime I am there I can see about 2% of the amount of people I want to see. And if I’m there for a holiday, which I usually am, it’s even more difficult to see friends since they tend to be out of town or busy. I try to trust my gut about who is on my mind and hope everyone understands.

Dara had a few work meetings (she’s a consultant in education research, action planning and grant writing) we had to schedule around, and I wanted to make sure we squeezed in as much adventure and relaxation as possible. We’re never going to have a post-chemo road trip again and I wanted it to be fun and meaningful.

15796314336_2223a44853_zDara in her work meeting outfit during our drive up I-5. She’s so cute dressed up for work!

Our first stop after my 11PM arrival to LAX was to Lebec, CA—we were driving up to San Francisco for Dara to have a work meeting early the next evening so we needed to get out of the way of LA traffic. We stayed in a kind of crappy Motel 6 with weird tasting water and had a Denny’s kind of breakfast. A true road trip meal.

I deeply wanted to stop at Harris Ranch for steak but there wasn’t time. I love that place and recall fondly many trips with my mom driving down I-5 to visit my Southern CA family and stopping at Harris Ranch for her to get steak and eggs. (I never liked steak until my late twenties.)

15200027324_724da6cec1_zSidewalk colors in San Francisco.

This time around Dara and I also postponed a trip to the Madonna Inn, which I used to stare at longingly when mom and I would take the 101. I didn’t even know what that gorgeous, huge, white building was on the inside until I was an adult. Staying at one of Madonna Inn‘s gorgeous theme rooms is on my bucket list and I was really sad when timing meant we had to drop it from the itinerary.

Making very swift trips from Southern to Northern CA was a trade-off for how much fun we had in both places. We drove through the East Bay from I-5. We were in a rush, but since Dara got confused by my mention of my home town, Castro Valley, and the neighborhood we were staying in San Francisco, The Castro, I decided she needed to have a trip down the main drag. I’ll save the distinctions for another blog post, but trust me. Castro Valley is not The Castro.

20141015_170248I made this bouquet at a place in the Richmond district of SF called Intention Flowers, which is just woo enough to be perfect. I love arranging flowers.

We were in San Francisco for a day and a half and hit up some of my favorite haunts and explored a few new spots.

While Dara was at her work meeting, I went to Burma Superstar with my friend Sophie Spinelle of Shameless Photography. Shamless just turned five years old! My shoot was one of her first. I adore her and really appreciate friendships where not seeing one another for months or years you still pick back up where you left off.

15371294390_1487444fb6_oI saw Sophie’s adorable apartment and she has a real working land line! So retro!

Burma Superstar has incredible food. Their Tea Leaf Salad is so savory and delicious–it won an award in Sunset Magazine which says a lot. I also had the Basil Chili Pork Belly at the recommendation of the super helpful waiter. FYI they will absolutely lie to you about the wait, though. When they said 20 minutes they should have said an hour or more. But the extra time with Sophie was so wonderful.

The next morning I headed out solo to meet up with my friend Megan Beene at Tartine, my favorite bakery in the whole world. Their croissants are magnificent and totally worth the stomach ache for this gluten intolerant fat femme. Megan got stuck in Bay Bridge traffic so we had fifteen minutes to catch-up before work but the hug was worth it! The Tartine line is always out the door because it is no secret to tourists.

15837592472_49d3c4c004_zWith Jess and California gas prices in The Castro.

I met back up with Jess and Dara (we were staying with Jess and Claire in the Mistro, the area above Dolores Park that is both the Mission and Castro) and we went exploring. I fell so in love with Best in Show a newish pet store with a very well curated selection of dog outfits and accessories. Macy would love this owl sweater.

20141016_223822I also fell in love with Wilbur Milli, their adorable rescue pup who is blind and bumps into a lot of things with his nose. This could also be the trip called other people’s puppies as we hung out with lots of dogs everywhere we went.

Jess introduced us to her favorite store, Local Take. What a treasure trove! Another well-curated store of local artists’ wares, from home goods to clothing. Dara bought a wooden tie that has received much acclaim. I checked in on Yelp and scored us a free stainless steel water bottle which we take everywhere now.

15796337576_f0fbe8b5a6_zDara’s wooden tie!

15634592188_e01d373689_zWe made it a game to take the cutest/cheesiest couple photos during our whole trip. I loved this one in the dressing room at Local Take.

We had lunch at Orphan Andy’s, a charming super gay diner where I tried a pork belly omelette. It was pretty good pork belly, but kind of a weird flavor combination within the omelette.

That afternoon Dara and I took off solo to Twin Peaks to catch the view. I love it up there. Another place that is tourist-central for a reason. So many good photo opportunities.

15820017925_376b5facc3_zStandard Twin Peaks stunning view.

15200576703_e9e5aa5207_zStandard Twin Peaks “I can hold Market Street with my hand” photo.

15634609388_7c9e79de15_zI wanted to sit in the dirt on the cliff to look at the view for a bit. Even a few steps away from the tour busses was more peaceful.

We stopped at Bi-Rite Creamery for ice cream and since it was a cold cold day in San Francisco it was deserted and we got to try many of their flavors without the pressure of the typical line behind us.

That night I stayed in to play Settlers of Catan with Jess and Claire while Dara had another work meeting.

15812384366_1565142e34_zCute Castro Kiss.

We hit the road pretty early the next day to have lunch with my mom and see her classroom (she is a high school teacher and changed schools within the last couple of years) on the way to another of Dara’s work connections in Santa Cruz. Mom took us to the best Mexican place ever, La Piñata in Hayward near the San Lorenzo border. If you’re ever in the East Bay I highly recommend it.

I basically never eat Mexican on the East Coast because the food at La Piñata is what I think of when I think of Mexican and nothing holds a candle to the delicious soupy refried beans covered in cheese and perfect enchiladas I remember from my youth. If any ex-Californians have restaurants they recommend in NYC for Mexican, let me know.

15635185790_3e1e34b821_zOne of our cute couple photo attempts from Twin Peaks.

Dara was meeting my mom for the first time, which meant I picked her outfit. I needn’t have feared, though, since Mom and Dara basically talked education policy the whole time and got along famously.

In Santa Cruz, Dara had an afternoon meeting with a former work colleague and I was going to meet up with a friend of mine at the beach. We could have taken 280 but I am definitely a backroads kind of girl and knew I had to defy google’s directions to sit in traffic on a boring suburban freeway and head through the mountains and to the Pacific Coast Highway. Basically, when in doubt, I take the scenic route and it makes life infinitely better.

15804445536_4986450a6f_zThis is way cuter on the side of the highway than a cement wall and strip malls.

15829649952_3ecedee57b_zTaking a five minute let’s look at the view on the side of the road break.

I met up with Jen Hollywood at Rio Del Mar State Beach. We spent forever trying to find each other because we each went to different spots but it was a wonderful hour long catch-up. We even saw a seal pop its head out of the water! California magic!

20141017_162917Jen Hollywood and dogs!

15642269619_1e17757198_zI did not catch the seal head but that’s where it was, right in the water under the pier! If I lived in Aptos I’d drive the 5 minutes to the beach every day for the sunset.

That evening we stayed with Dara’s lovely former boss and her husband and had an amazing conversation. Their house is gorgeous and basically straight out of a renovation photo from Sunset Magazine, my favorite CA travel and lifestyle magazine. As someone who aspires to be a late in life minimalist, I had to resist the urge to take a ton of photos to put in my vision book. (I try not to scare people I’ve just met by introducing them to my tendency to relentlessly document everything.) Imagine having enough kitchen cabinets that everything goes away and you just have acres of counter space? I am a total city dweller that dreams of pantry space and walk-in closets. Also there is a backyard writer’s house. Dream home!

When I was a teenager I had a couple of friends who lived in Santa Cruz and I have always adored staying there… this just made me even more set on coming back. The forest and the ocean meet-up in this beautiful, peaceful, hippie, woo, place full of birds, hybrid cars and great coffee.

I’ll continue our journey in another blog post about our post-cancer cabin trip to Big Bear!

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2014-09-16

Post Cancer Treatment Life in a Nutshell

It’s been awhile since I posted substantively and when I get to this point I get into these quagmires, “But there’s no context for me on my blog anymore!” I like this space to be an ongoing narrative of who I am and what I’m doing at the intersections of these identities of queer, fat and femme. So to kick off more posts about what I’m excited about, here’s a newsy update.

IMG_20140816_203125Dara and I had a great “progressive dinner” date where we went to three different restaurants for different courses. This was for the vegan ice cream course at Van Leeuwan in Brooklyn.

Post Cancer Treatment

Dara is doing well post-cancer treatment. She is really loving life, she has a zest that is similar to her love of life pre-treatment, except her zest is more gentle and self-loving now. She has a way of really being present and relaxing into the idea that a day doing nothing is the perfect way to keep from working too much.

IMG_20140822_220118Me and Dara at a rooftop party a couple of weeks ago. I love when you get to tower over a sea of blingie skyscrapers.

We have so much fun together. We had fun during cancer, she often tells me I “made cancer fun.” My opinion throughout was why should cancer treatment not be a series of tumblr post worthy, good photo opportunity adventures? So that’s what it kind of was. But even as we made the best of things, it was still with a bit of a pall covering everything. Without most of that damper we’re having even more fun now. Everything feels a bit more joyful, with the gratitude of not being in cancer treatment.

We’re doing tons of new stuff. We went to a park neither of us had been to at the foot of the George Washington Bridge on the Hudson River to take a tennis lesson. I haven’t played tennis as an adult and I never took to it in high school; I don’t mean to brag but I lettered in badminton. I was all set on racket sports and didn’t need that clunky tennis racket to cloud my badminton focus!

IMG_20140821_204956

But tennis as an adult! It’s pretty fun and quite a workout. I’m sold! Dara and I went to another tennis lesson in a different park and it wasn’t nearly as fun, so now we’re on the hunt for the perfect city tennis situation.

She has her zest back but not quite her endurance… she injured her knee and two other body parts within a week. She has insomnia from the Tamoxifin, a hormone blocker that she has to take forever. Or like 10 years. So that’s another ding for energy.

We are hoping to go apple picking and camping this month! And next month we’ll reprise our trip to Southern California we were supposed to take in June when her father passed away suddenly. It feels healing to schedule out the adventures we want to take and folks we want to visit. I feel really lucky we’re able to do that.

Lucky is a great way to describe how we feel post treatment—we saw the movie the Fault in Our Stars, about a teenage girl with terminal cancer. It really hit home how temporary love can be. And even though the length of love is sometimes short, it can still have important, life changing intensity.

I feel like Dara’s cancer treatment was a life changing intensity time for me… as it was for Dara. We’re excited to see what our relationship is like after cancer treatment. I think we’ll both be different after treatment. (This was also why I declined to move in with her after cancer treatment—I want us to just have fun together for awhile instead of adding another pile of stress to the end of what has been a really difficult year for me.)

Macy’s Recovery

20140821_175210Family selfie.

My beloved dog Macy had surgery for a ruptured disc in July and her recovery is ongoing. Her intense separation anxiety post-hospital has finally waned. Perhaps it was taking her to that first tennis lesson with all that noise and flying balls that convinced her that insisting on being with her people 24/7 wasn’t necessary, but she is finally able to be left at home alone again. For awhile I couldn’t even leave her in my bedroom for two minutes without her wailing. It was very intense.

Macy has to begin pricey physical therapy for her hind leg. She is walking on all of her legs, which is huge progress from the surgery, but she’s limping really hard, her body is shaped kind of like a comma when she walks, curved to the right. She can’t jump onto furniture and she can’t push open the doors in the house anymore like she used to, and she’s bearing 80% of her weight on the front legs which can lead to more problems down the road.

I hope that the physical therapy involves hydro therapy because it is very cute to watch in you tube videos. It’s also very successful at strengthening weakened legs so I’m hopeful for a full recovery.

IMG_20140816_214812The third stop on our progressive dinner date, short ribs poutine from Mile End. Macy in her “accessibility backpack” that enabled us to take her all over the place this summer when she couldn’t be left alone. She even went to an outdoor YoYo Ma concert with Dara in the Berkshires! I picked up the backpack on Amazon for $44 and think it’s a great value.

Macy’s only ten years old and she’s otherwise perfectly healthy. Her veterinary neurologist expects that she’ll live out her days (Shih Tzus live to be about 16). So here’s a pro-tip, if your friend’s dog has had major surgery, don’t say anything like “She’s had a great life!” It’s really different to have a pet diagnosed with a chronic illness or an injury than to get a terminal diagnosis! She has had a great life (she was photographed in Time Out New York and Curve Magazine before I ever was!) but she has a lot more life to live!

I am still visioning for Macy to make it into People Magazine and Southern Living Magazine, two of my favorites. Maybe even Oprah Mag. But mostly, I’m still visioning lots of fun adventures for my charming and magical Shih Tzu!

Plus Size Party Girl

Instead of producing monthly parties, I’m now focusing my energy on less frequent bigger productions. Though, in lieu of all of that, I took a hiatus while Dara was going through treatment.

I just finished producing Dollypalooza, an Epic Fan Tribute to Dolly Parton on 9/5 (get it?). It was the biggest production I’ve ever taken on single-handedly. (Way to come back to party planning with a bang!)

bevingroupsingdollypaloozabyJenaCumboDrae Campbell, Miss Mary Wanna, Me, World Famous *BOB* and MILK from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 6. Photo by Jena Cumbo for the Village Voice.

It reminded me of the intensity of Picnic Day when I was in college. That was the UC Davis open house—all departments, student organizations, sports teams, etc… put on some kind of exhibit or event. There was a parade, six stages of entertainment, a student activities fair. Legendary events during my tenure on the Picnic Day Board were the dachshund races in the basketball stadium, cockroach races in the Entemology Department and the fistulated cow demonstration by the College of Agriculture. The fistulated cow was a cow who had a hole cut into her stomach so people could put on a glove and reach their hand into the cow’s stomach to retrieve partially digested grass–cows digest the same food several times. It was rightfully shut down by animal rights protestors in the late 90s.

Obviously, there’s a lot that goes into coordinating that kind of event, involving a board of 20 and 500+ volunteers. There was a frenzy that overtook me and the entire board of organizers of Picnic Day the week before the event. I remember super late nights in the Picnic Day office laminating photographs into security passes. Dollypalooza was the closest I’ve ever come as an adult to that feeling. I love planning and executing major events, especially unusual ones that bring people joy. The lights in folks’ eyes when I fliered for Dollypalooza let me know I was on to something.

IMG_20140906_153536Me and my hero World Famous *BOB*–as her performance she told an amazing story about meeting Dolly Parton and had everyone from the show on stage at the end to group sing Hard Candy Christmas.

We made almost $700 for the Imagination Library in the raffle, Dolly’s literacy charity that sends books every month to kids in need, and it was an unforgettable show. I am brimming with ideas for next year. But I definitely know I can’t take on anything like that single-handedly again. I’m super grateful for Dara’s help—she did some amazing PR work that got a videographer from ABC News to come by, and some interest from People Magazine. My friend Jess, who brought me to Dollywood for the first time, took over the raffle and made that part so easy for me. We also figured out how to do a contest to send the performer who brought the most people in the door to Dollywood and got a raffle donation from Dollywood Cabins! At the end of the show, I felt like Oprah telling people “You go to Dollywood! And YOU go to Dollywood!”

IMG_6337The gorgeous view from the Dollywood Cabin I stayed in last May.

Mental and Emotional Health

Seeing a counselor with the Lesbian Cancer Initiative was the best choice I made as a caregiver during treatment. She pointed out to me going into post-treatment that I would have an adjustment period, and so would Dara. It is a significant energy shift.

IMG_20140829_162150This isn’t for the LCI but it’s from Callen Lorde, my physical health provider.

I’m in the weird process of looking for a therapist for the first time in my adult life. I’ve got about 50 possibilities from friends and am whittling it down. I am intentionally being really public about this process because my mental and emotional health are really high priorities for me and I want to encourage folks to feel empowered about seeking help. While things feel like the “calm after the storm” right now, I also think that the amount of life traumas I’ve faced in the past 12 months is unusual and I’d like to sort through them with a professional. Last night I had a dream about a friend of mine who passed last November and I’m about to go to Atlanta for the first time since her funeral. Crisis mode means you just scoot from one trauma to the next without digesting time, and I want to make sure I can go back in and digest things. Kind of like a metaphorical fistulated cow demonstration.

So that’s me in a nutshell (I really wish I had a picture of me in a nutshell).

Oh, and the first stop on our progressive dinner date (all in outdoor venues that allowed us to have our special needs Shih Tzu) was crispy kale salad in the backyard of Battersby… It was a great date!

2014-07-16

Macy’s Surgery and the Power of Showing Up Imperfectly

The first time I visited my beloved Shih Tzu, Macy, after her ruptured disc surgery, I freaked out. I didn’t even realizing visiting in a vet hospital was a thing but once I found out I could do it I knew I’d be there every day. Macy’s there for me through thick and thin, I knew I needed to be there for her.

I couldn’t visit until the day after her surgery. When I went in, they put me in the same exam room we had seen the veterinary neurologist for her initial consultation, watching Macy painfully hobble around the room. Now I was in the room alone, waiting for Macy, who wasn’t even 18 hours post-op.

The vet tech brought her into the room cradled in a towel and set her in my lap. He left and I was staring at Macy. I didn’t expect her to look so crappy. There was the obvious stuff that I had never thought about, like the rectangle shaved over her spine with the frankenstein stitches woven across. But then there was the stuff I didn’t expect; the pleading, confused look in her eyes and the sour smell of a dog that has gone through it and bathing isn’t in the cards just yet.

IMG_20140708_161532Our first visit post-op.

I felt panic and shock as I held her. I began calculating in my mind how quickly I could leave. They said I could visit not that I had to. Would she even notice if I was gone? Did my being there matter?

This panic lasted for about a minute and I started to talk some sense into myself. I am the kind of person who believes we are more than just our bodies—our spirits matter. If I was in a coma I think I could still sense that people were in the room with me and that my loved ones would matter to me. I know that Macy’s consciousness isn’t developed in the same way as mine, but I also know that me showing up for her would matter in some way I couldn’t explain.

So I stayed. I sat with her, in a way we don’t usually do in our day to day lives. Quietly, lap sitting, togetherness. No TV, no work, no distractions. I cried a bunch, I told her it was going to be okay, and while doing so was half telling myself. I showed up for Macy.

20140713_190929I really appreciated everytime the hospital brought Macy in with a flamboyant blanket or towel because I felt like they really saw my gender.

I’m never really positive how Macy feels about me. She’s not a lap sitting dog, with the exception of butch laps. With me she prefers to be four feet away at all times—when I work she sits in her bed four feet to my right. When I cook she sits in the kitchen four feet away and watches me. When I’m in the living room she’s on the couch just out of arm’s reach. Sometimes I get a complex about how little she wants to snuggle me and how much she wants to snuggle Dara.

In the week after her surgery I visited Macy every single day. Some days we just sat together, some days we worked on physical therapy exercises her neurologist showed us. I got daily calls after her neurological exam. She stopped making physical progress for a few days (the vets expected this) but when I visited I could tell things shifted for her. One day she was much more “herself” again. Later she seemed to almost get excited about things, especially when I started bringing in high value snacks like chicken and sausage. I was glad I was visiting because I could tell from her spirit progress that was different than the surgeons.

20140709_143004 (1)This is Macy’s little walking tool–it’s a harness for her back legs to keep her moving and give her practice using her back legs as she acclimates to mobility.

It’s been really difficult during this time because my girlfriend is going through radiation therapy for breast cancer on the Upper East Side. If you don’t know NYC geography, she’s basically an hour away via train. She got an apartment around the corner from her radiation hospital so she wouldn’t have to endure a daily commute for her daily hour long radiation appointments. It’s sucked so much to not be able to be supporting her as I thought I would be doing this month, and to not have her support during Macy’s recovery. We did squeeze in a visit one night (benefits of the hospital being open 24 hours) and another visit the next day where we did some good walk therapy. Macy loves her Dad and will always come when Dara calls.

20140711_170632Dara’s mom was in town and came to visit Macy, too.

My initial discomfort with seeing Macy in the hospital really got me thinking about the power of showing up for people in their time of need. Showing up sloppily, imperfectly, but with a big heart and good intentions. It matters.

The shock of seeing Macy in that condition reminded me of how folks must have felt the first time they saw Dara with a bald head after the chemo hair loss began. How hard it must be to see how tired and out of it she gets. It’s easier for me because I’ve watched this happen gradually, but it is difficult for folks to witness it when they haven’t seen her for a few months.

Sitting in your own discomfort with shock and change, having faith that you’ll get through it is an incredibly powerful gift you can give to the folks in your life who are suffering.

I’ve seen how important it has been to Dara’s spirits during recovery from surgery, chemo and now raidation for her friends to show up for her. Sometimes all she can do is sit and watch TV with people but it means a great deal and definitely puts her in a better mood.

IMG_20140714_113430The hospital was really amazing and sent me photos of Macy in her crate.

People have been showing up for me in the past nine months in amazing ways. Little texts of, “Thinking about you, sending woo/prayers/love,” make me smile. I think that positive energy has so much power and being thought of is really nice. Folks have brought meals. Folks who keep inviting me out even though I haven’t been able to go out as much and often have to decline—it’s nice to be remembered. The people who relentlessly play phone tag with me in order to have a catch-up. It all matters.

Dara convinced me to take a few friends up on their offer to pitch in for Macy’s astounding medical costs, the whole thing is in excess of $7,000. When I first heard the price tag of what it might cost (we had to pay for a $1500 MRI to find out if she even needed surgery), I couldn’t even fathom how I was going to pay for it. I was lucky enough to know I could borrow the money. However complicated I felt about asking for help with pet medical expenses, I knew I had to open myself to whatever help we could get. We raised $500 in the first 24 hours, and it’s already up to nearly $2,000 a week later.

MacyEstimateThis is the initial estimate of her prognosis–the low end was if we only got the MRI, the high end was if we got surgery. It didn’t include the vet visits and blood work leading up to surgery.

And the thing about crowd fundraisers? It’s about opening the channels to letting people support you. I feel like sometimes we pass around the same $20 to each other when we need it. I think it’s amazing. Katie from Empowering Astrology blew my mind when she told me that money is just energy in 3D form. She’s totally right—we’re passing energy to each other. The person who donated $2 and said they wished they could pay for the whole surgery—that meant so much to me.

My BFF Spunky told me when I thanked her for donating to Macy’s fundraiser, “It’s literally the least I can do.” Because our friends, especially our far away friends, often want to show up for us in tangible ways that they can’t do. But money is energy. And for me, going through this, knowing that a great deal of the financial burden is taken care of? That blows my mind. It has enabled me to take some of the stress off the shelf and focus on caring for my beloved Macy.

It can be so hard to think that what you are able to do is not enough for your friend or loved one. I had no idea whether visiting Macy in the puppy hospital mattered to her or not, especially in those moments when I had to give her back to the vet techs. Saying goodbye was awful. It wasn’t perfect that I could only be there for an hour, or a half an hour, or whatever, but it was something. I had to trust it was going to help her get better and not feel so lonely.

IMG_20140714_145911Me with Macy on Monday when I got to take her home after a week in the hospital!

Since Macy was discharged on Monday I can’t leave my bedroom (where she stays in a playpen on bed rest for at least the next week) for five minutes without her barking her scared, “Please don’t leave me alone” bark. The vet said it’s normal for dogs who were in the hospital for a long time to feel really anxious and have a difficult transition home. What I’m realizing is that Macy missed being four feet away from me at all times just as much as I missed her being close to me. And I realize it mattered that I showed up for her.

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