What I Have

There’s something very uncomfortable about having. The recent protests against the profligate rich have framed the debate as being between the haves and the have-nots, but those labels can be applied to any group who feels oppressed. Any group fighting for civil rights is a have-not. Frankly, anyone who’s in a position to feel dissatisfied with their lot probably thinks of themselves as a have-not. And they despise those who have.

graph showing average income

It only takes a little over $150k a year to be in the top 10%, and the more you make, the closer you are to the 1%. In California’s Silicon Valley there are plenty of firms paying this kind of money.


So, if you have money, you can’t possibly feel good about it. Even if you donate to charities, help the poor, etc., you’re still a rich bastard living on the backs of the poor.

My father, who is on the Board of Directors for the ACLU in Arizona, does a lot of work on behalf of those people who are being racially profiled and unfairly persecuted by local government. Arizona is a haven for old, scared, politically conservative white people, and the government there thrives by playing on their fears. My father is Mexican, and looks it. My mother, on the other hand, is Scottish. I look like my mother, and therefore, no one would ever think to ask me for my immigration papers if I were ever to be pulled over. But that fact causes me nothing but shame, as does the fact that I was born in Arizona in the first place.

I’ve been happily married for nearly ten years to a man who’s interesting to be around, well-read, likes thoughtful political discussions and foreign films, etc. In short, we’re very well suited and get on like gangbusters. We often hear remarks from people about how obvious it is that we have a great relationship. That’s heartening, but I also hate to bring it up, because I am friends with a lot of people who are either in crappy relationships or wish they were in some kind of relationship but aren’t.

I guess the long and the short of it is that I’m happy. I have a good life, and I’m enjoying it, but at the same time I’m eaten up with shame because I know that so many others aren’t happy, and a lot of them think that I don’t deserve to be happy either. I don’t think anyone’s so unrealistic as to say “If every single person on earth can’t be happy, no one should be happy,” but it does seem that an alarming number of folks live by “if I’m not happy, nobody should be.”

I hope that a lot more people are like me. Enjoying happy, fulfilling lives, but doing it quietly, so as not to bother anyone.

False Modesty

Raise your hand if you didn’t know I’m an introvert.

No one? Good. You’ve all been paying attention.

Woman with two women in background

Unless your entire conversation is about “Here’s what’s going through my mind about you right now,” you have no idea. And even then, they could be lying.


One of the hallmarks of introversion is the tendency to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how others perceive and receive us. “Does he understand what I mean?” “What did she mean by that?” “I shouldn’t have said that.” “He hates me.” One of my greatest fears is being boring, so I remember things that people talk about that have bored me and I avoid those topics.

At the top of the list of boring subjects is complaints. That’s not to say that a friend or family member relating pain or privation is uninteresting to me, but you know the kind of people who can’t have a conversation without it being a litany of the injustices done to them. They hate their jobs, their friends disappoint them, their families are a misery and they have no hobbies or pursuits that bring them joy. These people think that the world is out to get them, and if you don’t participate in their view of the world, you’re against them too. I want to say “I understand that you’re going through a hard time and I wish there were something I could do about it,” but that’s where my expertise ends. I usually can’t do anything about it, and I feel horrible about that.

I’m no different than anyone else in the world in that I have problems. The most visible of my problems is my weight, which is a constant source of aggravation to me, but there are plenty of others. I hate talking about the crappy little day-to-day things that drive me crazy because I can’t imagine that anyone would find those things remotely interesting. I don’t find them interesting, and they’re my problems.

The drawback to not talking about the things that aggravate, confuse or frustrate me is that to the people I speak to most often, I come off as either never having any problems or as not caring about the ones I do have.  I’ve heard from several people I admired who’ve said “But you seem like you have everything together!” Which floors me every single time, because I tend to look at the world as though everyone in it knows something that I don’t and I’m constantly playing catch-up.

I’ve realized a common trait among the people I admire most: they’re all able to distill their own internal states and report them honestly with no fear of judgement. What does that do to people they interact with? If I say to someone “How are things?” and they say “Not great, my dog is sick and I’m distracted with worry,” I feel a few things:

  • I’m grateful that my friend has shared something important with me
  • I understand what tone the conversation should take and if my friend’s reactions are subdued or distracted, why
  • I know not to make demands on them because they’re not themselves

What this tells me is that I need to get better at being not just more honest, but more complete in my communication with people. I need to stop pretending that I’m always fabulous and ready to give my utmost to everyone, because I’m not. I want everyone to think that I’m always available to them, but I’m doing them a disservice because the truth is that I’m not always able to give people my full attention. Sometimes, life distracts me and I am unable to look away. I’m not better than anybody else just because I don’t admit to it.

A Phobia is Irrational

This past weekend, I attended my sister’s wedding. I had met her partner (now wife) once before at a family gathering in Phoenix, and so didn’t know much about her. She’s an organizer of educational programs for adults and children in Chicago, she’s a talented musician and artist, she and my nephew get along very well. Those things I knew.

Waterfall with rocks and water. Like most waterfalls.

The guests stepped carefully across these rocks to a lovely garden overlooking the pond.

The ceremony was held Saturday morning at Osaka Garden, a lovely Japanese garden hidden away in Jackson Park. After the ceremony, there was a four-hour wait until it was time to head to the reception, and I was lucky enough to get to drive to the reception with my new sister-in-law. I asked her all the usual questions – how did you meet, is this your first marriage, how does your family like my sister…

It turns out that while her family loves my sister, they don’t want her as a daughter-in-law. At least, not if it means marrying their daughter. If my sister were to marry one of their sons, that’d be fine. But not their daughter. They’ve never been accepting of their daughter’s sexual preference (as though it were their business to judge in the first place), and so they’re dismissive of both her relationships and now her marriage.

I listened to her tale of rejection and homophobia with an increasing sense of outrage. My sister is a clinical psychologist in a respected program doing amazing work in Chicago. For twenty years, she has fought tirelessly to end violence in Chicago and throughout the world by understanding the social underpinnings of violence and seeking to disrupt the situations that produce it. She’s testified before Congress, been flown to other countries to introduce these methods to other places having similar issues, and is called upon night and day to give her input on complicated and potentially explosive situations. In addition, she is the kind of person whom all her friends call for anything and everything. She is the kind of person that everyone counts on. She and her new wife met because the wife’s sister used to work with my sister and when her son was in an accident, my sister was at the hospital reading to him, rubbing his feet, giving him pep talks, every time his aunt came to visit. She was so impressed that she knew she had to get to know this woman better. In short, my sister is a catch. The kind of person everyone wishes they could be with.

But she’s not good enough for her new wife’s family because she’s not a man. If she were, and were exactly the same kind of person, women would be falling over themselves to be with her. She would be Chicago’s most eligible bachelor. But because she’s a woman, and a woman in her 40s at that, she’s not good enough.

That kind of thinking makes me angry. It makes me want to shake people and say “Finding someone you love and who loves you in return is hard enough. Why must you make it even more difficult?” It makes me want to say “Don’t you realize that having my sister in your family raises the tone of your family considerably? That having your family connected to her makes you guys look really good?” But no. Instead of embracing the fact that their lovely daughter had what it took to get my sister to decide that she was the best candidate for life partnership, they reject the whole notion. They reject the fact that my sister can be both a phenomenal human being and a lesbian.

Maybe that’s it. I hate the word “lesbian” just like I hate the word “gay,” because it makes me feel that if you have to qualify it with a different noun, you’re setting up a judgement. A hierarchy. I am in the middle of writing a novel about a sculptor who falls in love with his model, although the model believes himself to be a saint, and so can’t return that love. Much of the commentary has been around the “homoeroticism” of the work, and I feel moved to tell people “It’s just eroticism. It’s not ‘homosexual love,’ it’s just love. There’s no need for an adjective; it is what it is.”

There’s no need for a judgement of my sister and her new wife. They are what they are. And they’re both amazing.