Joyce…

explains that each line of the following experiment (minimalist biography) contains precisely 140 characters and comprises exactly one theme


was born in a blizzard, the last baby delivered in a tiny hospital her great-grandmother built, heralded numerologically by 2’s: 12-2, 22:22

grew up on a ranch, riding horses, fixing fence, shooting guns, cleaning stock tanks, breaking ice in winters, and checking water in summers

was a driver at 10, has driven from Tucson to Tucumcari, Tahachapi to Tonopah, has hauled bulls and toted water in split-axle bobtail trucks

excelled in math, writing, literatures, languages, and music in school and hung out almost exclusively with similar academic and music nerds

studied piano, voice, and guitar, sang Rolf in Sound of Music and Billy in Carousel, and won a spot in the Texas All State choir senior year

resided now and then in northern and southern Cal, southern Colorado, western Kansas, southern France, southern Malaysia, and all over Texas

studied on west coast and south coast, but did not coast through her studies in English, Rhetoric, Computer Science, and Business Management

operated an educational software company during the dot-com boom, founded and funded by classmates, friends, and professors from grad school

ran away from a divorce by taking a job in France, not knowing the language or a single soul, feeling exiled and lonely, but also quite free

has flown single engine airplanes with her pilot’s license and jumped out of single- and double-engine airplanes with her skydiver’s license

worked after hours and on weekends to write a dissertation, and to everyone’s astonishment, actually completed it, defending on her birthday

reinvented herself as a professor at 38, wrote a book and several articles, and discovered that she truly enjoys working in higher education

believes in free will, pluralism, open markets, fairness, persuasion, rationality, and the power of communication to make grand ideas happen

was there to see both her parents die two years apart, and realized how lonely it felt to become an orphan, no matter at what age it happens

knew by age 4 that she felt different, then struggled for 4 decades to deny this difference to family, friends, colleagues, and even herself

realized one day when looking in the mirror her cold eyes held no laugh lines, her only wrinkle a vertical crease from her constant frowning

eventually arrived upon the edge of an abyss, somber and foreboding, and shuddered at the possibility that such darkness was her only future

realized only recently just how distant and fearful she used to be, hiding her nature behind blue eyes, academic language, and a stoic beard

lost one friend but gained scores of them upon revealing her true nature, and knows that these friends are integral to her current happiness

works with wonderful, smart, caring colleagues and students and cannot wait to get to work, to experiment and theorize new ideas on rhetoric

has grown quite close to her little sister after our parents’ deaths and coping with life changes, and loves our exchanges like never before

married a partner who completes her, even in odd times, and eventually discovered facets of love undreamed of by earlier versions of herself

has 2 pre-teen boys, as different from each other as fall and spring, and adores watching their critical, emotional, and ethical development

feels as if she has belatedly joined the human race, and now can hardly wait to experience future adventures, relationships, and revelations


Since this exercise can go on forever, once you get the hang of it, I would probably suggest two variations. First is a genre composed of 140 Tweets, perhaps a biography or a philosophical treatise, so that you get 140 x 140 characters, and if you had a really big book to write, you would have 140 chapters, each containing 140 tweets.

The second is a highly refined version of this post, but constraining yourself to an entire biography in ONE TWEET. Here is my effort:

born a farm boy in TX, schooled in CA and TX, worked in France, married with 2 boys, professor of rhetoric, private pilot, changed sex at 46

[see also TwitteRhetoric]

As Slade’s words began to sink in and I tried to process what I was feeling in between the gulps of grief and the reminiscences of our youth, I found myself feeling, then understanding, two different kinds of loss.

Putting myself in Slade’s head, I can imagine having a range of negative feelings, but with his repetition of my word “loyalty,” it seems to me that the predominant feeling must be betrayal, the feeling that Caesar feels, knives in his body as he turns to see his friend Brutus plunging his knife too — and the pain in his voice saying et tu, Brute?, not the pain of the knife inflicting mortal blows, but of the betrayal of a trusted friend, one who, in today’s lingo, was supposed to “have his back.” The loss Slade feels is permanent, painful, and personal, and it topples a fixed and happy memory of our relationship, sitting on his mind like a dark ink stain on the front of his Armani dress shirt. And I can relate to that, and am tempted to feel the same way about Slade’s rejection.

But I am also aware of a second type of loss, not one that falls into a nostalgia of the past, congealed in our minds like the Jello that remains uneaten at a dinner, where things are either quite right or are terribly wrong, but rather one that provides an occasion for possibility and promise, tinged with sadness but also pointing towards an integration of past, present, and future where we are whole and free from pain.

As a vision of this second type of loss began to materialize in my mind in the hours and days after Slade’s email rejection, I became aware of an accompanying soundtrack: the Grateful Dead’s “Cassidy,” in which the singer comes to grips with his friend’s death, recalling various epic deeds, but finally picturing his loss as a flock of birds that all take off simultaneously, each a particle of a larger flock. He ends the song by letting go, letting the spirit of his friend go:

Fare thee well now. Let your life proceed by its own design —
Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I’m done with mine.

The Grateful Dead have lots of songs about letting go — “Bird Song,” “Box of Rain,” “Looks Like Rain,” “Black Peter,” “Brokedown Palace,” “He’s Gone,” and “Cassidy, to name just a few that come to mind. These songs always manage, beat or hippy-style, to spin their losses philosophically, as either the release from pain or the setting free of a spirit. In these songs, loss could be a death (of Cassidy, of Phil Lesh’s father, of an original band member nicknamed Pigpen) or a breakup of a lover, and the sense of both missing someone and of letting them go runs through their lyrics. The singer celebrates the loss even as he cries over the grief — we cannot hold someone against their will, and we cannot hold back their life’s journey to satisfy our sense of possession, grief, or anger. Our memories of the one we’ve lost serve as a meditative starting point, rather than an ending, and these Grateful Dead songs are the beautiful results of losses.

This philosophy feels a bit to me a bit like the end of Kerouac’s On The Road, a story of beat-generation writers and adventurers. And perhaps this is not surprising, for not only was Kerouac’s footloose roadster Dean Moriarty based on Neil Cassady (as Kerouac experienced him and wrote him), but Cassady’s death is also the inspiration for the Grateful Dead’s “Cassidy” song, and the vastness of the imagery is evident in both works.

On the last page of On The Road, the narrator recalls his friend Dean walking away from him, not looking back, and is propelled into a reflection on the vastness of America and its industrial and agricultural and natural wonders, his narrative point of view pulling upwards like a giant aerial camera shot in a movie.

Dean, ragged in a moth-eaten overcoat he brought especially for the freezing temperatures of the east, walked off alone, and the last I saw of him, he rounded the corner of Seventh Avenue, eyes on the street ahead, and bent to it again…. Old Dean’s gone, I thought, and out loud I said, “He’ll be all right.” And off we went to the sad and disinclined concert for which I had no stomach whatever and all the time I was thinking of Dean and how he got back on the train and rode over three thousand miles over that awful land and never knew why he had come anyway, except to see me.

So, in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, all that road going, and all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now that children must be crying in the land where the let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? The evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old. I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found. I think of Dean Moriarty, I think of Dean Moriarty.

This cinematographer-philosopher’s vastness and the his recollection of Dean Moriarty — his loss of Dean as well as his vision of their adventures across America — are tied together in a mutual cause-and-effect relationship, for not only does the act of reflecting on Dean call to mind the immensity of the country, but thinking about the vastness of America also causes the narrator to think of Dean Moriarty. In other words, the loss isn’t a self-contained, festering sore, but rather it’s an expansive feedback loop that occasions philosophical grandeur.

Which, in my own grand stream of consciousness of loss, brings me once more to Walt Whitman, master of similar poetic techniques that tie together both the tiny and the vast. At the end of “Leaves of Grass,” the narrator bids the reader farewell and dissolves into the very landscape that has formed the fabric of the poem. This loss of the narrator is not to be mourned, but instead creates an opportunity for the reader to look everywhere for the poet — in the air, the dirt, the water, the rocks:

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me, he complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed, I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on shadow’d wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.

I depart as air, I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies, and drift it in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

Am I over-thinking this? Am I grasping for a more philosophical, expansive explanation of this loss than is called for? Perhaps. Perhaps it’s just a plain old rejection.

But my feelings are my own, and I own up to them, and I know that these feelings about Slade’s rejection do not necessarily have to involve despair or depression, and I believe that life’s downward twists have more meaning than simple explanations convey. Make no mistake, my sense of loss feels like a hole in my body filled with a stinging emptiness, but I think it also serves as a catalyst for reflection and understanding and hope.

Maybe the only thing that will come from my reflection is this essay. Maybe this experience will serve to keep me honest and educate me as to the likelihood of future acceptance and rejection. Or maybe these words will be diffused into the air and water and rocks and become part of the fabric of vast narratives.

And when you see the birds wheeling to the sunrise-orange sky at the beach, when you think of the small towns and universities and plains and mountains and islands and country roads and highways that have defined the geography of your life, when you contemplate the thousand tangles of fate and fortune that bring us together and split us asunder, when words fail you as you lie on your back in the grass, scanning the skies for the planets and stars and comets and satellites in the deepening dusk, perhaps you will catch yourself thinking of me and looking for me underfoot.

I will wait for you.

I wrote a couple of days ago about growing up clueless and about how my life seemed to be a race against gender dysphoria until it finally caught up with me in 2006. I’d like to tell you about what happened after GID caught up with me, and what has happened to my life-long enemy.

Something really interesting has happened to me since I started what the Standards of Care call the RLE, or Real Life Experience, which means living in your target sex full-time. I have noticed that I don’t have any distress about gender at all — no waking up in the middle of the night wringing my hands about being a woman inside, no fear of being utterly consumed by this nasty feeling, no shame about how I’m made, and no fear about my “secret” being discovered.

This is not to say that I don’t care about a bunch of little projects involved with becoming myself, including clean up electrolysis and laser, smoothing out relationships with neighbors and old friends, working on my voice, going to therapy with Mary Jo and the boys, and trying to build a suitable wardrobe. No, all those things are still important and I still feel annoyed at how fumblingly clumsy I am about so much of femininity. But what’s missing is an urgency or a desperation to simply DO SOMETHING, to take steps to quit hurting so much. In fact, it’s remarkably calm inside my psyche, and it’s an unusual feeling for me — it’s been a really long time since I felt something like this inner calmness, and I have to confess that I’m a bit confused about what to do with it.

I don’t believe I’m sad, and I don’t think this feeling is grief, although a member of my support group suggested it might be grief. It’s a kind of loss, yes, but the loss of something I am happy to see leave my life. It’s possible that I grew close to my torturer, as in the Stockholm Syndrome or as partners in an abusive relationship sometimes do. Maybe Gender Identity Disorder gave me an edgy quality, teaching me to be defensive and secretive in my youth, but ending up ruthlessly driven to try to survive in these past few years. It was not only a tormentor, but a motivator (a creative one, at that), and it drove me to do and think all sorts of odd thoughts that people without GID probably never have, like “If I win this solitaire game, then maybe I’ll magically be turned into a girl,” or “If I hit 5 yellow traffic lights in a row, then it’s a sign that I should change my sex,” and that sort of thing.

As GID has faded and left me, I guess I feel depleted and a little tired. I am fairly certain that the happiness of being free at last to be myself will fill those empty spaces, but at the moment, they’re just little gaps rather than white-hot crises. A let-down of sorts might be inevitable.

In my “Clueless” post, I described a life-long race to try to stay ahead of GID, lest it caught me and destroyed me. But what I ultimately learned and began to realize about a year ago was that no amount of running or fighting or struggle would defeat this beast. The only way to destroy it was to give in to my transsexual nature, and in accepting it and loving myself for being made thus, the power of GID over me would be wiped out. The paradox that simply baffled me for months upon thinking these thoughts was that to defeat Gender Dysphoria, you had to embrace it, deflecting its energy, Kung Fu-like, instead of trying to butt heads with it in a direct battle.

In picturing this metaphoric fight, I am reminded of John Donne’s Sonnet that begins “Death, be not proud” and continues in Donne-like logic to explain to Death that although he thinks he wields great powers, he always loses because in dying, we (Christians, in Donne’s case) live again, thereby robbing Death of his imaginary powers. Logically and ironically, Donne’s last line proclaims, ‘Death, thou shalt die!” It’s typical Donne, logical and clever and pleasant to read and enjoy.

Go read it and, just for fun, picture GID where you read “Death.” It works almost without modification and it expresses the triumphant, in-your-face feeling that transsexuals get when they finally discover what do to about their life-long distress. You can almost hear their collective self-whisper, “I figured it out — if I “surrender” to these feelings, then the distressful feelings will have nowhere to grow and they’ll leave me alone.”

She said she wanted to do this
told all her friends
bragged about the big jump
laughed and joked all the way to the ladder

So vulnerable climbing the steps
painful progress to the top
fighting with herself not to reveal the fear
and to show bravery to the entire pool

Worried, but trying not to show it,
we below also balance bravery with fear.
light-hearted encouragement:
“It’s easy, honey! The water’s fine!”

Treading water, necks tilted back looking up, yelling encouragement
to the one we love, seeing the fear and excitement on her face
fatigue in our arms and legs, but we don’t dare call it off ;
we paste the supportive smiles on our weary faces.

She’ll jump in time; everyone does eventually
you don’t see little old men and women living up there,
camped out on the threshold for the rest of their lives,
faint-hearted youthful adventurers who weren’t able to muster the courage,
dreams unrealized, failure their legacy.

But it seems like it takes forever, and we’re tired of treading water.
can’t she see how easy it is? How easy it will be?
it’s as easy as falling down.
Driving home she will go on and on and on about the day,
about jumping over and over and over and over
and about how much fun it was and who she jumped with;
amnesia about the trepidation we now see in her body language
as she stands up there in the wind,
knees locked, jaw set, fists at her side,
toes dangling over the edge,
alone.

We have all been there, facing our demons,
and having finally jumped off our own high boards,
we float to the frothy surface, grab a breath,
and look up at the board and ask what was the big deal?

* jumping off this high board,
* holding her breath longer than ever before,
* swimming all the way across the deep end,
* touching the grate at the bottom of the pool,
* doing a flip off the low board,
* changing in the bathroom with all those people watching:

She will face these gateless gates of summer,
open them, pass through them;
her life, her jump, her indecision,
in the twinkling of an eye it will be gone

[see also “On the High Dive“]

Standing on the end of the high dive,
having climbed up those long, high steps in full view of everyone at the pool,
knees trying not to wobble,
going higher and higher, taking what feels like forever
until standing safely on solid surface.

Stable and dry (nowhere to stand forever, but known and safe for now),
The rough non-slip surface is reassuring
against the wind and the oscillations of the board,
a dry, high haven.

Once you jump or fall,
the laws of physics take over
and there’s no stopping the inevitable:
you’re gonna hit the water.

But is dry what you desire?

No, you want to jump
and feel the butterflies fluttering in your stomach
and hear the wind rush by your ears
and hold your breath
and experience the exhilaration and the fear together,
and become enveloped by water below.

Lingering at the very edge of the high board,
everyone down below — family, friends, students —
treading water and yelling Go ahead, it’ll be ok.
Take the leap; you are as good as wet already.

Trust is easy with their beckonings below,
but fear — irrational or rational — still lingers and swirls around you
like the breeze in your dry hair,
suggesting so many ways to fail:
Drowning
Accident
Broken eardrums
Cowardice
Poor form
Suit falling off because of the force of the belly flop
Dying of embarrassment.

But your water nature is your destiny
and despite these fears, real and imagined,
you must step inevitably off the high dive
through space and void and into that pool.

Toes over the edge
Dangling
Painted red
Get them wet

We’ll be in the water waiting for you

[see also “Beneath the High Dive“]

I’ve been having an awfully hard time of things lately, crying at night, descending into bad places, and not recognizing all the good things I’ve got. I have my health, my family, my job, my intellect, my friends. I work in an industry (education) where I am virtually assured of tolerance and perhaps even happy acceptance. I feel like I’m on an adventure where I get to do everything I ever dreamed of doing, and am able to do everything I need to do to stay sane and healthy.

There is another part of me, probably unrelated to transsexual issues, that weighs on me. I am afraid of letting people down, of being rejected, of being seen as a failure. I’ve always been like this, and I think it must have to do with my role in my family as the golden child. For all my family’s faults, and there were many, they could always count on me to achieve good things, things worth bragging about at the drugstore, holiday gatherings, and country club soirees.

It’s not that I don’t want to do good things, but I feel obligated to not screw up, to uphold some sort of undefined standard for several generations of my family, most of whom are dead. That familial expectation has evidently been burned into my synapses; although I’m aware of it and understand it intellectually, I seem to be helpless to resist it emotionally, and am thus tossed into the ring to fight without gloves or training against an invisible opponent who left the building years ago.

I grieve, but I am not always sure of the object of that grief. I grieve for my dead parents. I grieve for my masculine self, who is disappearing. I grieve for my children’s innocence. I grieve for the happy little child I was at one time — she’s buried under decades of sadness and I only give her a slim chance of surviving. I grieve for my wife, who is losing her husband.

I also grieve for my golden child status — I cling to it somewhere, somehow, even though I feel it harms me. And I grieve without an object of grief — and this formless sadness is hard to deal with. This is definitely the hour of lead, as Dickinson puts it, and I have to find a way to both outlive it and also somehow get to “letting go.”

O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night,
In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.

William Blake