Where Life Is


(Photograph by Judy Rolfe)

I woke up to the sound of my mother’s slight  Southern drawl whispering, “Get up, baby.” Her small, strong fingers rubbed my shoulders. It was dark and the moon beams cut through the bamboo shutters in the bedroom where we slept. A fan hummed next to the bed, breaking the summer heat.

I groaned. “No, mama. Sleep.”

She laughed. “But you’ll miss it.”

“What?” I asked.

“You’ll see.”

Bo was easier to rise. Me, her stubborn child who drew every moment of sleep out like it would be my last.

She slipped light sweaters over our toe-heads, her toned brown arms wrapping us in a three-way embrace. It was cooler outside of the house than I thought it would be. I was happy for my sweater and rubbed my sleepy eyes into its worn sleeves. Crickets chirped all around us, singing mating songs in three-quarter time. I had just learned to read music at church. Nature now taught me beyond the stained glass and cloth-draped pulpit.

Mom took our hands. We set across the drive, broken oyster shells popping under our feet. The stars were bright and the moon full. The sun began to break over the barrier islands east of our little harbor town. Wachapreague, Virginia. The Little City by the Sea. Population maybe 500.

We walked in silence towards the marina. Mom threw her head back at the moon, as if she might swallow it whole.

We stopped inside of the bait and tackle shop for juice. The cashier slipped two Cow Tails into the brown bag, winking at me and Bo. We grinned back at him.

Fisherman readied their boats for the day, their vessels rocking in morning high tide. We lived by the tidal report. The marshes where we played were off limits at high tide, when an unexpected swell could carry us out of the channel and into the Atlantic. Out legs were too small for the occasional trough of thick pluff mud left by low tide. We played in between the tides, pretending to be pirates, watching for jellyfish and water moccasins.

We settled onto a be chat the furthest end of the marina, near the pulley where men would raise the largest catch later in the afternoon. My stomach heaved with curiosity and fear whenever a bull shark was pulled from the channel, the town pointing and gaping at the prehistoric creature dangling from chains, blood spilling down its slick, cool belly.

I nestled my head in between my mother’s collar bone and breast. She smelled like salt and slights hints of the honeysuckle bush that grew near our front stoop. The sun swelled higher over the horizon line, turning the sky a bright red. Motors kicked around us and the remaining boats chugged out to sea. I sucked orange juice through the gap in my teeth. I was tired and happy.

“Aren’t you glad you didn’t miss this, Woogie?” Mom asked, the sky spilling yellow onto her tanned face.

I nodded yes. Bo dozed in her lap.

“This is where life is, baby. Don’t wait. It is here, right now. Waiting for you.” We stayed on the bench for a few more moments before turning home for breakfast.

There are many memories stored in the books and volumes of our minds. Most are replaced by newer memories, or amended to cover pain, or simply forgetting with the inevitable march through age. But some stay with you always.

This is where life is, baby. Don’t wait. It is here, right now. Waiting for you.


Why Coming Out Still Matters

I’m going to tell you something today. It’s personal and honest and something I have hinted at, but avoided writing about in concrete terms for a long time. Countless bottles of wine, blogs, and Netflix series have been consumed putting this important thing off until I was ready to write it. But I am turning 30 this year. I would like to enter this new decade in the spirit of absolute honesty- with my family, my friends, my community, and most importantly, myself. So here we go.

I am gay.

Why does it matter that I’m telling you this? Why does coming out still matter?

The general public reaction to anyone of cultural significance coming out – read, celebrities like Ellen Page or athletes like Michael Sam – has been met with an equal mix of “Good for them!” and “Who cares? It’s 2014. None of this should matter anymore.” (There are still the messages of hate, but I’m going to pull a Honey Maid here and embrace a message of optimism rather than fuel the haters).

I would like to agree with the coming-out agnostic crowd. I appreciate that evolved view of the world. And bravo to society for swiftly progressing on LGBT issues over the past decade. But I can’t help but think that this agnosticism may be fueled by a perceived over-saturation of news on gay rights over the past few years.  A decade ago over 54% of Americans opposed marriage equality, with 31 states banning the idea altogether via state constitutional amendment or voter referendum lest anyone get the crazy idea in their head to get hitched. The only safe-haven was Vermont. The Defense of Marriage Act seemed impenetrable. Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was a “necessary evil” for our armed forces.  Transgender Americans were on the fringes of American society. And in many states you could be fired if your employer discovered whom you loved or if your gender stated on your HR paperwork didn’t match what was on your birth certificate. America was in the throes of a culture war and LGBT rights were a grenade, the weapon of choice to throw onto conservative battlefields in South Carolina and Ohio and even California.

In the middle of this dynamic socio-political landscape I was growing up in The South. I chose to ignore my identity. Being the other was not an option. I wanted to fit in, to be like everyone else. Maybe I wasn’t brave. Maybe I didn’t give folks the benefit of the doubt.  But it was far easier to craft a story for myself that I sincerely believed than to be honest about who I was.

There has undoubtedly been a paradigm shift on the subject of LGBT rights in the past 8 years since I moved to Los Angeles. Over 54% of the population – including the majority of self-identified young Republicans,– support marriage equality. Last year Edith Windsor took on the United States, and the Supreme Court struck down DOMA, allowing married gay couples access to the same federal benefits that every other married couple receives. DADT was repealed. And now, in May of 2014, 18 states- and counting- recognize gay marriage, while other states are being forced to comply with the United States v. Windsor majority opinion. (We know, Vermont. You were doing it before it was cool.)

To the outside observer it may seem like coming out is a non-issue. Facebook feeds are peppered with HRC equality signs and YouTube proposals. Talking heads analyze Michael Sam celebrating a watershed moment with his partner. And many folks say,”This shouldn’t matter anymore.” And you’re right. It shouldn’t- but it still does.

It still matters because members of the LGBT community want to be seen the way everyone else is seen. We want to go to dinner, or pick up kids from school, or be able to love who we love in public just like everyone else. We don’t want to hide, or whisper “my girlfriend” at work to those in the know lest we offend someone or out ourselves. And sadly, even in this time of progressive change, there are those people who would like to refuse to acknowledge LGBT folks in their community, or worse, deny them the right to be seen and acknowledged under equal protection under the law. To those people I will touch on my Southern upbringing and only say this: Bless your hearts.

Coming out should be a celebration of owning your truth. And the more people that do celebrate their truth the more that other members of the LGBT community can be seen and – hopefully – accepted by all of you reading this. There is a reason gay teens are three times (!) more likely to kill themselves than their peers. They would rather end a promising young life than have their peers see them as the other, or their church turn their backs on them, or worse, have their parents cut them off emotionally and financially.

Coming out will continue to matter until there is no longer a fear that you can lose your job based on your sexual orientation or identity (Get on with passing the ENDA, Congress. This is embarrassing). It will continue to matter until American teens can be recognized in their yearbook as who they are, not who their school board wants them to be. It will continue to matter when violence against the LGBT community, especially its members of color, is merely a painful stain on the landscape of the American experience.

Every one of use wants to be seen and accepted, to walk in the light as your true self, even if it takes you 29 years to have the courage to announce it to the world.

In the end, all we have is love. I am forever thankful for my family, who love me no less for being true to myself and for always being my biggest fans; for friends that have fiercely supported me; and for all of you reading this.

I hope you are as full as love as I am. I hope you are seen.

Tagged , , , , , ,

On Becoming Your True Self

“It is my firm belief that all our lives we are preparing to be somebody or something, even if we don’t do it consciously. And the time comes one morning when you wake up and find that you have become irrevocably what you were preparing all this time to be.”


Katherine Anne Porter

Writer / Bad-ass

From “The Paris Review,” 1963

Follow this link to the full interview with this literary genius

Tagged , , ,

The Sweetness

My mother often tells me about the wisdom my grandmother gave her when she was my age. I’m nearly thirty, an age where I’ve lived enough to know my understanding of the world is infantile, at best. It’s a blessing to get out of the “I know everything- it’s the rest of y’all don’t get it” phase of life. When Mom drops knowledge on me I listen. Wisdom, I’ve learned, is like black coffee. It’s an acquired taste.

Catherine Sauls lived in the South her entire life. Every Sunday she and my grandfather loaded up their Lincoln for service at Reformation Lutheran Church. Whenever we visited from Virginia we dutifully followed our grandparents down the long aisle and had our cheeks and crowns of our head kissed by strangers. After the service Ma would head home to make Sunday supper, a meal that took two days to prepare for, a meal that could feed dozens. In the South you had to be prepared for extras; every Sunday could bring a new cast of characters: a down on his luck parishioner, or a cousin three times removed, or an old friend, or a stranger that Pop-Pop met on the street. No one was turned down, and there was always room for “just one more” at the table.

Ma religiously dressed in the second holy trinity: pumps, stockings, and pearls, even as she stood over a pan of fried okra popping and hissing in Crisco on a slow-burning South Carolina afternoon. She and my mother would talk, Mom shelling green beans or checking the temperature of the ham in the oven. Anyone could help with the little things, but the stove was Ma’s ship, and she was the only captain. There was always talking and laughing. I liked being in the kitchen with them. Something inside of me, even at age seven, told me this was where I belonged, bonded with the women who bore life and witness to each other.

Mom and I had a quick visit recently. We shared a bottle of red wine under an unusually dark California sky. This was our communion, just as cooking in the kitchen had been her ritual with her mother. Mom and Ma didn’t drink together. Despite her legendary status as a party thrower, Ma was a complete teetotaler. Not to say she didn’t have her vices. Mom would sometimes offer her a martini, to which Ma would deadpan, “You have your cocktail, I’ll have mine,” before popping a Valium.

“Your grandmother had a lot of sayings,” Mom said, her eyes glistening like they often do when she is remembering her mother.  “But if I had to pick a favorite, it would have to be this one.” Her accent changed, shedding the staccato acquired after two decades in Northern Virginia. She traded it for Ma’s drawl, the vowels tilted. “’Dahlin’, living is like licking honey off a thorn.”

Southern sayings are sometimes blunt, sometimes beautiful, but always rooted in truth. Tolstoy, chief of all things truthful for literature geeks like myself, wrote a parable along the same lines. It goes like this: A man is chased by a monster. He jumps into a well to escape, but while falling he discovers that there is a dragon at the bottom of the well, prepared to swallow him whole. The man catches a limb during his free-fall, hanging above the waiting jaws of the dragon and below the snapping of the monster. For a moment he is safe, but then he notices two mice chewing the limb. His demise is imminent. So what does he do? Lament his situation? Curse his luck? Nope. He discovers that there is honey dripping from the branch. Instead of thinking of the end, he licks the honey.

To paraphrase Jeffrey Eugenides: we are the man on the branch. Death awaits us. It could be in the form of something as big as a dragon or as nondescript as a mouse. There is no escape. And so we distract ourselves by licking whatever drops of honey come within our reach.

I’m not sure if my grandmother had Tolstoy in mind when she told my mother that living was like licking honey off a thorn.  I’ll never be able to ask her. But the truth remains the same to Tolstoy and my grandmother and my mother and me and you. We are all looking for the sweetness in life. It comes in many forms. For some it presents itself in the first snow of the year, or a kiss from a child, or a passage from a book that has the power to connect your mind and soul, or a moment tangled in the hips and sheets of a lover. It’s these things and all things.

For me I know that time spent in a Columbia, South Carolina kitchen with a woman dressed in the second holy trinity is one of life’s sweetest moments. And by writing that memory down my grandmother lives on, even though she left this earth over a decade ago.

Our time here is limited. Our capacity for the sweet moments is infinite. Live well, live now, live sweetly.

Ps, hi Mom. Love you to the moon and back.

mom and woog bw


Tagged , , , ,

Evening Reading

Tonight’s “Whoa, I needed that” moment of truth, courtesy of Jeffrey Eugenides’s brilliant The Marriage Plot:

 “…he had got into the habit of walking around Calcutta in the presence of God. Furthermore, it didn’t seem to Mitchell that this had to be a difficult thing. It was something every child knew how to do, maintain a direct and full connection with the world. Somehow you forgot about it as you grew up, and had to learn it again.” 


Tagged , ,

Saturday Verse: A Reminder to Be Present

“There was never any more inception than there is now,

Nor any more youth or age than there is now,

And will never be any more perfection than there is now,

Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now.”

Walt Whitman, From “Song of Myself,” Stanza 2

Mothers, Daughters, and Getting it All Wrong


My mother gave me one of those Hallmark books full of quotes on my 19th birthday. On each page she wrote a passage either agreeing [or disagreeing, because The Z loves a dissenting opinion. She is the liberal version of Scalia in our family] with the theme of the quote. My favorite of all of these notes in my mother’s scrawl goes like this:

Book quote:

“What I wanted most for my daughter was that she was able to soar confidently in her own sky, wherever that might be, and if there was space for me as I well I would, indeed, have reaped what I tried to sow.” – Helen Claes

Mom’s response:

“This I have always hoped for you. And it will come. You will do great things.

Mom wrote that to me 10 years ago. And it’s funny, because back then I had this preconception that my Mom wanted me to be what she wanted. I’ll blame that on the immaturity of my brain’s accountability chip, or my lack of emotional intelligence at age 19, because I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The relationship between mothers and daughters is dynamic. We love each other fiercely and quietly. In each other are the dreams of the mothers and daughters that came before us. She is you and you are her. And every now and then, in the ebb and flow of mother/daughter love, it takes looking back on a passage written ten years ago to remind yourself of what you already know: even though you are one, she raised you to be the best version of your individual self.

And for that I’ll be forever thankful.

Here’s to you, Mom. You saw greatness in me when I couldn’t see it in myself. Anything I achieve, big, small or in between, will be because of your unyielding mother love and belief in me. It will come. 

Loved you then. Love you now. Love you always.


Tagged , , ,

Popping the Costco Cherry

Ok, friends, I have something to admit. It’s shameful, really. I don’t know how I made it this far in life without experiencing this one, truly American thing:

Today I popped my Costco cherry.

My friend JP and I had to pick up the necessary fixins for a fiesta tomorrow (read: booze and pickles. You know, the essentials). I asked him if he had a Costco card. Many of my friends have spoken of this magical land where you can buy hundreds of cheesesticks for mere pennies. This must be a good place to go shopping for a party. JP, being the reliable friend he is, had a Costco card. And naturally he thought I knew what I was doing.

Boy, was he wrong.

First off, let’s talk about the parking lot at Costco. I’ve never dodged more obstacles in my life. What is it about Costco that makes people think it’s perfectly fine to saunter about while their fellow Angelenos gun their engines to find the closest spot?

After talking myself down from a parking induced panic attack, I quickly found JP. How else would I get into this exclusive club without the man with our passes? JP flashed his “Executive Card,” which I was initially impressed with, but then let down when he told me everyone is an Executive at Costco. It’s like giving a trophy to every kid on the Little League team- even the kid who picks flowers and his nose and who knows what else in center field. Lame.

But once I walked in it was walking into a dream. A dream filled with anything my little consumer’s heart could possibly desire. I found so many things I didn’t know I needed. Sure, I don’t surf, but a board was only $99?!? That sounded like a steal. WANT. But, alas, we had serious shopping to do. On to the booze we went.

Upon arrival at the wine section I was distracted by nice ladies in hairnets offering me free samples of food. Now THIS I could get into. JP then informed me that the samples were better on the weekends. I felt slightly cheated, but I still nibbled on everything I passed. Who cares if I kinda hate stuffed chicken. It was free, and free is delicious.

JP and I found everything on our list. He was careful not to let me wander, which was quite wise. I may have ended up buying an air conditioning unit, not because I need one, but because it was cheap. And oooh, look at that 12 person tent! Who cares if only a handful of my friends camp and I have nowhere to keep it. It’s CHEAP!!!

While checking out I discovered that Costco is the land of cognitive dissonance. Why? Because you have to pay with a debit card, AMEX, or cash. What?!? This is America, where I can buy a tub of mayonnaise for 50 cents. What do you mean I can’t buy now and pay later? My credit card felt shunned, like it was a college boy who got into the Playboy Mansion, only to be kicked out for wearing the wrong pajamas.

Everything worked out, though. JP came through and rescued me in line (thanks, buddy) and said he would buy me dinner. Oooh, I thought. Where would JP take me? (JP is known for picking the best restaurants). We walked outside, put our booze and pickles in the car, and walked right back to Costco.

And this is where Costco exceeded all of my expectations.

We got two hot dogs, two drinks, a weird giant hot pocket thing called a Chicken Bake (more stuffed chicken), a turkey sandwich, and a churro for the whopping total of $11.


Ok, it was awesome at the time. Now I just feel like I have a brick in my stomach.

All and all, I would say our trip to Costco was a success. And I feel better knowing now that I am more like my fellow Americans.

The Best of the Worst

First off, my apologies for being an absent blogger. I’ve been very busy with work and other life type things. But, I’m back, and with a treat for you: THE BEST WORST FIRST DATE STORIES.

We’ve explored surviving your 20s over the past few entries, with a very special focus on the messiness we like to call dating. I admittedly tend to take extended vacations from dating in the wake of break-ups or relationship mishaps. But one must always swiftly move forward, so again I find myself swimming with all of the other crazy fish in Los Angeles.

There’s only one problem with the idea of putting yourself out there: You have to go on first dates. You have to spend time with a stranger and figure out whether or not you want to make space for them in your lives. And you have to do all of this in the time-frame of a few hours in a social setting that is usually unnatural to both parties. No wonder people avoid them like the plague.

I went on one recently, and I would call it a success. We had common interests and enjoyed each other’s company and even ended the date with a walk on the Redondo Beach pier. No one said they were going to the bathroom, but bolted to their car instead. Yep, that’s a success.

But not all first dates work out that well. Sometimes fate deals you a really terrible date. And while it may suck at the time those dates turn into great stories to share on a blog.

Once again I shamelessly solicited my friends for their worst first date stories. Wow, did y’all deliver. Your experiences verify one of my life maxims: Everyone has their own flavor of crazy.

Without further adieu, I present you the best worst first date stories I collected:

Man on the Side

“So I was on a 1st date with this girl that I had met at a party for a friend. Things are going really well and we’re having a good time. About half-way through dinner she drops this line, “Yeah my husband and I blah-blah-blah.” I was like, “Wait… your husband?” And she just very nonchalantly says, “Oh yes, I’m married.” Then she clarified, not separated -but married. I asked her, “So… why are you having dinner with me.” She tells me that she and her husband have a non-monogamous agreement. He has a girlfriend on the side; she can have a boyfriend on the side. After dinner she suggestively asked me if I wanted to go someplace for a drink. I declined. “Why? Is this because I have a husband? I told you, he’s ok with it.” She couldn’t comprehend that.”

Paging Emily Post

 “…I had a guy tell me I should have taken an etiquette class growing up bc I didn’t turn my fork over on my plate when I was finished eating. I should have shoved my fork right up his…”

Church Goin’ Folks Ain’t What They Used To Be

“Met a cute guy at church one Sunday morning. He asked me to go to brunch with him the next week after church. Things are going pretty well, and we’ve each had a couple of mimosas, when the conversation turns to tattoos. I say that I’ve got a couple of them, and he asks me if one is on my lower back. When I say yes, he asks, “Do you [edit] on the first date?” I said, “umm, no?” He said, “oh, come on… never? You NEVER [edit] on the first date?” I again say no. He says, “well it’s just that every girl that I’ve ever gone out with that had a lower back tattoo has [edit] me on the first date.” I said, “Well, I’m not trying to make history or anything, but this is just brunch, and you aren’t getting laid today.” After that, I avoided his calls (and deleted his angry messages about what a bitch I was for not calling him back), and ended up having to find a new church!”

And the winner for worst first date story is….

Ayn Randy

“This is 100% true:

It was the fourth of July, we met up in central park for a picnic. He brought wine and a copy of Atlas Shrugged. Seemed like we were off to an okay start. Then he noticed a naked homeless guy sitting on a rock. He proceeded to strip down to his underwear and went over to talk to the homeless man…

And yes I let the date continue…maybe out of pure curiosity of what would happen next. he decided he wanted to go bike riding. That seems normal… but he insisted we get a tandem bike. It didn’t take long before we were flying out of central park and onto the ciy streets swerving between cabs and busses. I was in a sundress on the back of this bike with no control over where we were going or where said dress was going either.

We then went to get some food and he proceeded to try to convert me to Judaism as he was Jewish I told him I didn’t even go to church so the chances of me becoming Jewish were pretty much 0%. He also told me he thought he was Marc Antony in a previous life and that I was probably one of his lovers in this life as well.

Sadly, it didn’t work out, but the sex was great.”

Kudos to my friends for sharing, but especially for having the courage to keep dating after first date doozies like those.  It reminds me that everyone has a bad date. And if you have one anytime soon, just find solace in this: at least you’re not on a bicycle with an existential lunatic.


Ode to Sunday

I’ve been a bad blogger as of late. My apologies.

This month has been tough, for many reasons. My radio silence is intentional – sometimes, even when we want to scream out to the universe, it’s best to remember that a filter isn’t a bad thing. A filter can keep you out of trouble. So do friends. That’s what I’ve been focusing on the past month- connecting with who matters. For my friends who put up with my crap and keep me from destructing (and you know who you are), thank you. Without you I’d probably be trying to figure how to delete my ramblings off of the inter webs, and failing miserably at it.

But, I am happy to report that it appears that I am out of my slump. Time to move forward, and no better day to do it than on a rainy Sunday. This day, Sunday, is superior to all others. It’s the one day of the week that belongs to the soul. There’s no pressure on it. It can be whatever you want it to be. Every now and then you remember that Monday lurks in the periphery, and that makes the moments that much sweeter. Sunday is the day that I put my mind on pause.

Sunday is a day for the little things. A Bloody Mary (or three) with your best friend at your favorite brunch place, not because the food is good, but because they let you build your own Bloody Mary and it is a place that’s set the stage for moments in your friendship. A hike up in Griffith Park, climbing up waterfalls and tasting fresh cactus fruit off the marked trail. The Sun Also Rises, a cup of coffee, and Etta James on the speaker box. A quiet moment in church, realizing that life is bigger than just me, and that life is a series of blessings. A hand tracing the wind outside of the car window, humming along to the oldies station, and smiling at memories of my parents dancing in the kitchen.

I’ll deal with you later, Monday. In the words of my homegirl Scarlet O’Hara: I’ll think about that tomorrow.