September 30, 2009

Cultural Imperatives

Every month at work we have an all-staff lunch where everyone pitches in. We try to sit with those staff members we don’t see often or don’t know well. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now, and everyone looks forward to it.

Yesterday our table fell into discussion about cultural imperatives after a number of us quoted lines word-for-word remembered some details about a movie that others had not seen. Those who had seen “Princess Bride” agreed that one must see this movie to be considered culturally literate. Then people started chiming in on what they thought were cultural imperatives. Time ran short as we agreed on the following:

• “Princess Bride”

• Any Monty Python movie

• “Mr. Tambourine Man” as emoted by William Shatner *

I posted something about it on my Facebook page and got a few more suggestions:

• “Brokeback Mountain” story and movie

• “Godfather”

• “Blazing Saddles” or any Mel Brooks movie

I can’t help but notice that most of them are movies. Given a little time to think about it, I can think of a few more. But I’m curious as to what you would consider a “must.” What would you add to this list of cultural imperatives?

*Not culturally literate on this particular one? You can find it on my playlist on the right-hand column! You must sit all the way through it to hear the closing refrain.

September 28, 2009

Monday Mystery

This time you have to guess.
It's beautiful and functional—if perhaps uncomfortable—with a carbon fiber inner structure wrapped in leather. This is a prototype. Give up? Check it out.

September 25, 2009

Toward Life

I wrote this in July while I was in Florida and shortly after the phone conversation to which I allude. The recent campaign to encourage awareness of suicide and its prevention has made me decide to post it.

An online friend of mine named Al is a passionate and intelligent man who reached out to me at moment of deep grief. He has lost his best friend, who took his own life in a moment of surrender to despair. Al called me to talk because he knew of my own experience with my father’s suicide many years ago.

I was eighteen and Dad was fifty-five. He moved out of the house when I was nine. I saw him one weekend a month, but many of those days were filled with words unsaid. We didn’t have much time for those spontaneous conversations that fill in the jigsaw gaps of who we have become, but it was a gentle silence of mutual love. I knew without a doubt how much my father loved me.

When I learned of his suicide, the first thoughts of my young mind were—of course—of guilty ownership. Somehow I had contributed to his death. What could I have done to prevent it? My thoughts raced with all the what ifs. What if I hadn’t asked for help with college tuition? His death gave me the benefits that allowed me to stay in school. What if I had told him more how much I loved him? I wasn’t alone in that kind of thinking; I learned from his friends that my older brother was convinced that our father couldn’t live with the thought of a gay son. I’m willing to bet my two sisters had similar thoughts of their own responsibility.

Over time I have come to understand the folly of “what if.” We simply don’t have that kind of control over what other people do. Control of anything but our own actions is an illusion.

While I can accept now that I could not change the outcome, I still mourn briefly at moments I have not been able to share with my dad. And a few years ago when my husband and my daughter reached the same ages as in that tragic year, I looked at my daughter’s complete devotion to her father and imagined how she would be irrevocably damaged in similar circumstances. Perhaps for the first time I truly allowed my anger full expression. How could you do that to me? I was so young. I loved you so much. I needed you here.

The devastation of that act has repercussions even today, as I struggle every day to give the ones I love access to my heart. Having been burned to the ground by someone whose love was certain, it has been a long and difficult journey for me to give anyone the power to do so again; and in recent years I have succeeded in keeping the walls down. My husband wields his power gently, and it is a gift without measure.

Al’s best friend left behind similarly devastated loved ones, people who cannot fathom the depth of his despair. We who choose life will never fully understand. There comes a time when we must acknowledge that “I don’t know” is a sufficient answer. It is the first step to forgiveness.

Al and I talked for over an hour. I don’t know how much help anyone can provide for such grief, except to say, “I’m so sorry.” We connect over terrible pain and memories. It is what we must do, for ourselves and each other.

We come together in our vulnerability. It is our humanity that binds us. Our most difficult moments become our finest as we seek our commonalities, accept our differences, and forgive ourselves and each other. Can we seek those moments of reconciliation with purpose and without pain? Let us try. Let us all move toward life.

If you are young and gay or questioning and need to talk to someone about thoughts of suicide, call the Trevor Project at 866-4-U-TREVOR / 866-488-7386 any time day or night. They will listen.

Anyone can call 800-SUICIDE / 800-784-2433 any time. They will listen.

September 22, 2009

The Indianapolis Museum Of Art

Last week I had a few hours free on a sunny afternoon. I was downtown, so it wasn’t too far to visit the Museum of Art, a place I have not seen since the children were little. But I didn’t want to go inside this time. An acquaintance of mine has made a name for herself as the master gardener of its grounds. I found out last week that her reputation is well deserved.

Image courtesy of

The museum is situated on the former J.K. Lilly estate, with several buildings on 150 acres in the middle of the city. The Lilly mansion is there, and the landscaping includes a ravine garden and formal garden. Both were designed by the same landscape architect team that designed Central Park in NYC, and you can see the similarities. Come join me on my first walk through the gardens.

Naturally, artworks are on the grounds as well as inside, and this famous sculpture by Robert Indiana has its home here. The original purplish sheen will return as the surface oxidizes back from some recent repairs.

On a sidewalk through the landscaped parking, I found the path to the ravine garden.

From the path above the canal, you can see this beautiful footbridge area.

From there I walked toward the canal that separates the gardens from the 100-acre park. The park is going to become an art park, populated by outdoor contemporary installations that change over time. The grand opening is scheduled for next June.

At one point, I had to choose: ravine or formal? I went up.

Emerging from the trees, I came to the Lilly mansion.

From the courtyard you can see both gardens. This is an area merging the ravine with the formal garden.

Leaving the courtyard toward the museum, I walked through the formal garden.

A few twists and turns took me to the entry gate to the mansion. The bridge goes over another street on the grounds. I’ll find out where it goes on another visit.

I came full circle back to the museum. I can see I’m going to spend a lot of time getting to know this area now. While the weather is good, I’ll spend most of it outside. When the weather turns, I’ll go inside and see what awaits me there.

Before the past couple of years, my interest in the outdoors was limited to the untamed portions. My thanks for this new interest in gardens go to Greg, Patrick, Jeaux and JeepGuy, all of whose photos and musings gave me the desire to experience it for myself. My dad, who was a landscape architect and whose gene for said skill entirely missed me, would be smiling.

September 20, 2009

Today on Bilerico: Missionary

On weekends Bilerico contributors are asked to dig into their archives to pull out "timeless" pieces that are not dependent on today's news. Today I posted a lightly-edited version of "Missionary" that will be familiar to some of you. Those who haven't read it can find it here.

September 19, 2009


It's Talk Like A Pirate Day, mateys!

Amaze your lubber mates with your favorite letter, arrrrrrr!

The Incense Of A New Church

Incense of a New Church by Charles Demuth 1921

A censer swings through the aisles of a new church, the smoke curling through the sun’s rays streaming from stained glass windows; and its scent is pleasing to God.

This new church is an institution that people seek because it gives them community peopled by those who welcome the weary, the edgy, the common, the fearful, the different, the strong, the powerful, the broken. All are welcome here.

This church is an institution that people do not hate or fear. It is the natural outcome of community, growing into a stable yet malleable structure that gives a framework for interaction in the journey and celebration of faith. Its doctrine is a magnet, not a weapon, drawing its members through the power of God’s unconditional love. It can be trusted with power because it does not demand it.

This new church celebrates diversity as a sign of success. It embraces questions as the means to spiritual growth. It is open to the change that is inevitable over time as new members bring new understanding to its tradition, its culture, its doctrine.

The new church is here. It can be found in individual communities of faith that are independent churches or that have set themselves apart within the mainline denominations.

If you seek a welcoming community of faith, don’t give up until you find one. Find one whose leaders make you like who you are when you are with them. Find one you wish to share with others from the sense of joy you gain as a participant. Find one that exemplifies servant leadership.

If you are in a church that needs to grow, become a part of its growth by asking questions that others may be afraid to bring up. Become inconvenient. Be persistent yet patient. When you speak up, you will find many who agree. One voice will become many.

Change is inevitable. The church has a rhythm of dying and new life. It will live anew if the death is its traditions. If it is not, the death will be the institution itself. Those are the only choices. From the funeral pyre, the new church will rise.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

September 15, 2009

September 14, 2009

Walk This Way

Apparently I walk too fast.

I went to a movie recently with my neighbor Dee. ("Time Traveler's Wife:" total chick flick, not my normal fare. But I got to see Eric Bana naked.) Dee came running up beside me as we walked from the parking lot to the theatre.

Me: Oh, I'm sorry. Am I going too fast again?

Dee: No problem! I can just jog next to you.

This is an email from another friend to the gang about our walking date:

Looks like it'll be another gorgeous day to walk. Last week it was just Birdie and myself, and I managed to keep up with her by wearing my roller blades!

Okay, fine. I walk fast. So sue me. I don't know why, but it just about kills me to stroll. It takes a concentrated effort to slow down. On the plus side, I've got a strong heart and strong legs. Won't you join me up here at the front?

Today on Bilerico Indiana: Senator Lugar Responds

Bilerico contributor Jillian Weiss made it easy this summer to contact my senator and email a letter of support for ENDA legislation. Recently, Dr. Weiss asked to hear about any responses. Read about Lugar's interesting response to my email on Bilerico Indiana.

September 11, 2009

How I Met My Significant Other

I was a freshman in college, alone on a campus of 22,000 students at the University of South Florida. I didn’t know anyone. I had just turned eighteen when our dorm floor—all freshman girls—was invited to a party at an all-boys dorm floor. Only a handful of us went, to a handful of boys in one of their dorm rooms. The frozen daiquiri was the drink of the year, and our host had a blender full of lime slush.

We all sat on the floor and talked while Led Zeppelin played in the background. Abe sat opposite me and focused on me pretty early on. What struck me then was that he listened more than he talked. He looked at me when I spoke. This was not what I was used to seeing. No bluster, no false bravado, no aggression, just questions and interested responses. And such kindness in those beautiful brown eyes. I wanted to know this boy.

I learned more about that night many years later. When I stood to leave, Abe offered to walk me back across the quad. Apparently our host started to rise to join us, but behind my back Abe waved him off. He sat back down, the entire exchange unbeknownst to me. Abe and I headed back to my dorm, where we agreed to another date. The rest is history.

It’s a long history: 38 years together, 31 of them married. Lots of ups and downs, and a few years back we reached a new high in our relationship that has held. Abe is a man of integrity, faith, hard work and a very dry sense of humor. It’s so dry that it took me years to know when he was kidding. But he does love to make me laugh. And he still makes me melt with those eyes.

It started with Jazz and went on to Jeaux, where I caught it.

September 5, 2009

Woman Bites Gator

I forgot to tell you!

A new item on O'Leary's menu is Gator Bites, batter-dipped and fried alligator, served with mustard sauce. Well, you know I had to try it. Not bad: mild, bright white, more like fish than chicken. Kelly had a similar reaction. In this dish there was more flavor in the batter than in the gator.

Alligator season comes and goes in Florida; they open the season when the population gets too great. I'd tried grilled gator many years ago at Kelly's barbecue. It's better fried.

Image courtesy of Columbus Foodie.

On My Way Home

It’s been short and sweet. I had gray skies all the way down to Sarasota, which is excellent for driving, and once ensconced at home the blue skies came out. I have two friends from school days who are “must see” appointments every time I come down. We spend hours talking, each of them about different aspects of our lives. With our histories we can talk about things with each other that I cannot with anyone else. We have deep roots.

I saw Lynn on Thursday. She asked where I wanted to eat, and I replied, “Outside, of course.” When she learned I’d never been to the Venice Pier, we were off, well before sunset.

We had dinner outside on the deck, right at the entrance to the pier.

It was packed and there was beach music. After dinner we walked out to the end of the pier and continued to talk about our families of origin. This is the view of Sharky's from the pier.

We stood at the rail and watched the moon rise over the gulf, lighting up tall clouds to the west. A school of fish nibbled at the surface, lighting up the phosphorus like twinkling lights. That went on for about an hour.

It was 1:15am when we finally looked at our watches. A few intrepid fishermen were still on the pier. The restaurant had long been dark. We had stood the entire time on the pier, and I finally realized my feet were sore. It was time to go home.

The next day I had lunch with Kelly, and we ate at O’Leary’s on Island Park at her request. She and I talked about our relationships—friends and lovers—while we sat under the palm thatch. We continued our conversation as we walked around the bayfront park, sitting on the same bench where I had conducted business a couple of days prior. A blue heron tiptoed up and watched nearby.

One side of the walkway goes by the marina. This boat’s owner is clearly a Seinfeld fan.

We could have talked longer after only four hours, but Kelly had a prior appointment with a longtime friend whose time remaining is short due to recurrent cancer. Kelly confessed that she has had similar thoughts to mine about remaining time in our lives.

As I sit here in the ATL airport—refusing to pay eight dollars for WiFi to post this essay—it strikes me that I’m going home, again. I felt the same way when I was headed to Sarasota. Home is where my heart is.

September 4, 2009

Armadillo Cam

Quite possibly the best 17 seconds you'll spend today.

From the Museum of Animal Perspectives.

Update: Better link! Check out the other animal cams.

September 3, 2009

Outdoor Office

Yesterday afternoon, I took care of business on my phone. I also took this shot from my phone, between calls.

Sarasota bayfront from Island Park

September 1, 2009

On The Road Again

I'm five miles from the Florida border, having driven 360 miles today from Highlands, NC. I and my parents are on our way back to Sarasota. We'll get there with ease tomorrow.

This is a speed vacation. (Not on the road.) I just had a few hours in Highlands. Naturally, I spent some of it at SweeTreats getting online. (Chocolate with Butterfinger and brownie mix-ins.) Instead of spending time with you all, though, I was purchasing used textbooks for Sheba's classes.

Highlands is in a temperate rain forest. Last night the humidity reached 100%, and the trees dripped on the house all night. We had a wildlife encounter! This squirrel has figured out how to reach the hanging birdfeeder by dangling by his toes from the screen.

A too-brief two days in Sarasota and it will be back to work.