Boxing Day – Flash Fiction

Boxing Day. Who the hell invented this stupid holiday anyway? I could have been in a boxing match last night considering how I feel this morning. I yank open the curtains, letting the bright morning sun burn my eyes. Squinting, I peer into the front yard. My neighbor is outside in boxer shorts, snow boots, and a parka, picking up beer bottles and ashtrays.

He looks up and waves. “Come on out, Greta. We’ll have a hair of the dog.”

I shake my head and turn away from the window. My gratitude for his invitation to the drunken family Christmas only goes so far. Besides, I brought a present – the scented candle my mother sends me every year despite my lifelong allergy to scents.

A vague memory of making out with the neighbor’s cousin from Winnipeg prods at the corner of my mind. Did I do that? She’d cornered me several times, excited to meet the next-door lesbian. Cute girl, buck teeth. I had scraped my tongue across them by accident. I prodded my front teeth with the tip of my tongue. Yep. Had a sore there.

My slippers are on the couch. I toss them on the floor and slip my feet into them. They’re red and green and have bells on the toes. They’re lined with some sort of fake fur. Green fake fur. Mel got them for me last Christmas. I remember her little smile, the flush on her cheeks. “Your feet are always cold,” she had said. “And you refuse to wear socks.” Continue reading “Boxing Day – Flash Fiction”

Grief and Legacy

Grief is weird, isn’t it? Sometimes it hides and you go days or weeks feeling great. Then it jumps out at you at the strangest times.

A few years ago, I went to the LCLC literary conference held by Sapphire Books. There, I met Amanda Kyle Williams, a lovely, brilliant, introverted author. She gave an incredible keynote speech and later, volunteered to speak to the writing academy students twice.

When she was diagnosed with cancer, my mother knit her a blanket which was promptly taken over by the pets in her home.

I have a few fun and funny memories of Amanda, but my favorite was when I tried to teach her a song to sing to Spike, the neighbor cat.

(To the tune of Let’s All go to the Lobby)

I like singing to kitties,

Cuz kitties like my singing

And humans don’t like my singing

But kitties like it a lot.

There’s another verse, but you get the idea. We sang it together a couple times, then I told her she could sing it as she went to feed all the neighborhood cats. Her response – “Right, because the neighborhood doesn’t already think I’m insane, wandering down the street in pajamas and rain boots with a wagon full of pet food and a herd of animals following me.”

This is only relevant because years later, for some reason, this morning I woke up with that song in my head. And as I was singing it, I was swept with such a huge wave of grief for this lovely woman who fought long and hard and ultimately lost her battle with cancer.

I was thinking about grief and how it attacks when you least expect it when I logged on to my email this morning and saw this blog post by my friend, Carleen. She was reviewing an excellent book by Anna Burke – and in the post, she referenced Sandra Moran, an author who also died way too young because of cancer.

Thinking of Sandra, reading about one of the authors who is succeeding because of her, lifted my grief. These women left a legacy – that of using their talent and their voices to help other writers find ways to bring their own voices to light.

And that’s the legacy I hope to leave. Through my work with the writing academy, through my beta reading for my students, through teaching everything from freshman comp to advanced studies in literature, I am using my voice to help other writers find theirs. Just like Amanda. Just like Sandra.

That’s why I devote so much time to the GCLS Writing Academy. And it’s why I spend time helping my students really understand the concepts we’re addressing in class. It’s important to me and if it’s important to them, I want to be there to give them every chance to succeed, just as others have done for me.

That’s the true circle of life – supporting others so they can go on to do the same.

 

Michfest and Me. Grieving a Loss, Celebrating a Life.

In February of 2012, I was broken. I had left a toxic long term relationship in which I had spent ten years tiptoeing around in the hopes of not provoking an angry, alcoholic outburst. I didn’t realized how much I had changed myself to keep the peace until I finally broke free and started trying to figure out who I really was.

I was broken. I was unsafe and I was broken. I came back home to Ohio from the Virgin Islands and I put one foot in front of the other to get through every day. I didn’t miss her, but I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know who I was, or where to go, or what to do to make a living. I didn’t know where I wanted to live. I didn’t have many friends and the ones that I had were far scattered. Living that long with someone who had a tendency to piss off everyone I knew left me without a circle of friends. I felt wholly alone.

I was unsure in my skin. I hated my body. I didn’t like being naked. I was sure I was a terrible lover. I felt insecure and nervous. I had anxiety. I was afraid.

I had heard of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival many years before and it sounded incredible. I brought it up with my ex a few times and she wouldn’t even consider it. She used to say she hated lesbians. I didn’t hate lesbians and I didn’t hate women, but I think a small part of me must have hated myself because I let her keep me from going. The thought of me going by myself wasn’t even an option.

Being single meant adjusting to a lot of things I hadn’t had to consider in many long years, but it also meant that for the first time, I was free to make my own decisions. And one of the first decisions I made was to go to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival.

I posted an announcement on Facebook and my BFF of all time immediately responded that she was going to fly to Cleveland and come with me. There was no backing out after that. I went to fest that year. It changed my life.

I’ve written before about my first fest, and my second fest, and my third. This year, I will write about my fourth and last. Lisa Vogel, the amazing Amazon who started this life changing space, has announced that fest is ending after the 40th anniversary.

I’ve gone through various stages of grief. The sadness comes in waves as I remember moments from fest or I think about things that I haven’t yet done. I feel sorrow for those who will never attend, for the girls who won’t scamper safely through the woods, unafraid and confident in a way I never was. I’ve shed tears over involuntary thoughts about the future. The community of women have gathered on Facebook and through phone calls and in person and through text to grieve together something that we all share whether we’ve been going for forty years or we’ve only been once. The understanding that there is nothing else like this in the world. The knowledge that Lisa and all of the other women who have worked to build this community year after year have created something that is so much more than a music festival. So much more than a camping trip. So much more than a week in the woods. They (we) created a tribe. We created safety. We created, we continue to create, a community of women who bolster and love each other. We’ve created a space where women can see, for perhaps the first time in their lives, that women are powerful, that women will rise up, that women can create any fucking thing that they want. That’s what fest is… it isn’t a week in the woods. It’s a revelation. It’s a revolution. It’s belief. It’s love.

Fest has brought so much to me. Every lover I’ve had in the past three years has been a fest woman. I have friends who see me and hear me and just get me and love me down to my toes. I met my current partner at fest. I learned about radical honesty from fest women. I first heard the term self-love at fest. I bought my first dildo there. I tanned topless in the sun there. I danced. I sang. I kissed. I laughed. I walked and walked and walked through the woods in the light and the dark and I wasn’t afraid for my safety. Not once. Not ever.

When I got the news, all I wanted was my tribe. I wanted my love and my family all gathered around so we could all hold each other and share memories and laugh and cry together. It felt like a death or an impending death of someone we couldn’t bear to live without. I needed my arms around my loves, so we could grieve and be grateful that whatever amount of time we have had at fest, we had that time.

Laying in bed last night, thinking about my chosen family and fest, and all of the things that it means to me, I realized that I am myself. I’ve *become*. That somewhere between that first fest when I timidly crept into the shy shower after dark and could barely convince myself to even say hi to strangers to my last fest where I gave a workshop on self love, basked in the glow of my tribe, and walked around the land like I OWNED it, I have become myself. I have found my own power. I’ve cast off the years of oppression and I’ve forgiven myself for letting it happen. I’ve not only marveled in the idea that women can create anything, I’ve come to realize that I myself can create anything. I took the lessons that the generations of women at fest have given to me and I’ve used them to build a fortress of self love around my soul. I’m me. I’m Beth Burnett. I am an Amazon. I’m a lover. I’m a mother earth goddess sexy brilliant warrior of love. I *am* Michfest.