E is for Elders

Last year’s E. Not a fan of this year’s E.

My best friends are nearly all in their late 70s and early 80s. My inner circle looks like a Geritol commercial, FFS. They all grew up when my parents did, but our age differences add a richness to our experiences.  We feel like family. The good kind of family.

We step up and step in for each other, we seek one another’s wisdom, and rely on each other for early morning drop-offs at the airport. For a civilized midday meal in good company to talk books and to swill vast quantities of wine. For helpful and honest feedback on the pages often tentatively offered up for critique. For constantly rescuing me, for cheering me on, for pushing me forward, for celebrating, and for mourning with me. For allowing me to just be myself. For providing sanctuary and wise counsel, for having all the sports channels and for loving pizza and beer.

It’s been a rough couple of years, and I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to write that all of my elders, my wise women, my friends came through. We have weathered this storm so far, to this sliver of land for a moment. We have problem-solved, Zoomed, healed from all sorts of maladies, most of them pretty damn serious, too. Prayed for one another, listened, helped, hawked my personal belongings to strangers for top dollar at my garage sale. Fed each other. Waved goodbye and hugged hello.

Two of my friends have this print in their living room, of four dogs sitting, forward-facing all, in a red rowboat. One dog, rope in her mouth, swims in front, pulling her friends in their boat, called Friendship.

The Five Friends, in Friendship

We often laugh and remark on this print. How life imitates art. I am the dog with the rope in her mouth. I am pulling my boatful of elders. And they are sustaining me.

Shameless Self Promotion

As I embark upon this new adventure, I’ve been pondering ways to integrate my past experience with all things technological with my writing life and my new life as a therapist—how to intertwine computer support, writing, and therapy? I believe I’ve hit upon a solution and am launching a computer support service for writers.

As any writer who has been to a workshop knows, these days it’s all about platform. Platform. Platform. Platform. Marsha. Marsha. Marsha. (Sorry.) Not everyone who writes wants to promote themselves. Some of us just want to write. But the hard truth of the matter is that regardless of what you write or who ends up publishing your writing, you are going to need a platform. For the uninitiated (and sorry if this sounds preachy or redundant, but I’m guessing there are some out there who don’t know), platform is the means by which you promote yourself and your writing and starts with the basics: A Facebook page, a Twitter account, a website. I’m sure, just by virtue of my age, that I’m unaware of the latest social networking tools, but I’m according to this website, FB and Twitter are in the top few still. If you want to sell a book, you need to have an audience and an online presence. This summer at the PNWA conference, one agent said that if we even wanted a publisher to look at our work we needed a minimum of 10,000 Twitter followers. At the time, I had fewer than 80.

I’ve managed to build my Twitter following to nearly 600, but this endeavor is time-consuming. Enter me—budding therapist, aspiring writer, retired technology guru. I can help you build your Twitter following. I can put that Twitter button on your WordPress site for you. I can show you how to create lists and give you tips on generating a following. If you don’t have a Facebook page or if you have a FB page but just one for family and friends, I can help. I can show you how to create an author page and generate followers. If you want a website but aren’t sure if you should go with WordPress, Blogger, or SquareSpace, I can help you decide and walk you through the fine points.

For eight years I worked at a Catholic elementary school helping teachers integrate technology into their classroom. Before that, I taught computer repair skills to adult learners, and prior to that I taught freshman composition to community college students. I’ve taught some of the most difficult subjects to the most challenging students (come on, have YOU ever taught a room full of teachers or displaced workers?) I can certainly help you build your platform. If I can talk Mrs. Koreski into having an interactive whiteboard in her classroom AND teach her to use it, I can help even the most tech-phobic and recalcitrant writer build her platform. I’m even willing to manage said platform (for the right price).

So, lock yourself away in your writing garret if you must, but if you want to sell that shit, you’re going to need a platform. I can help. Drop me a line: pamela.s.helberg@gmail.com

Coming Out. Again and again and again

It’s fitting that National Coming Out Day should fall during Mental Health Awareness Week. The two are inextricably linked.

We wore our cowgirl outfits to the wedding, after all the invitation had said country chic and it was being held outdoors in Jackson Hole, Wyoming with the reception to follow in a barn. Me: black cowgirl hat, pointy-toed boots, Western shirt with pearl snaps, bedazzled cowgirl jeans. The Little Woman: ruffled skirt, black cowgirl boots, black Western shirt with longhorns on the shoulders, pearl snaps. We had road-tripped down in our Jeep, all 1600 miles or so, through eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming. We were excited to see the family, to celebrate with my cousin Brad and his soon-to-be wife Megan.

TLW grabbed my hand when we got out of the Jeep and waited for my brother and his family and my father and his wife to debark from their vehicles and join us as we walked to the front of the (very upscale) barn. I let Nancy hold my hand then, but I could feel that familiar uneasiness creeping in the closer we got to the venue, and when I didn’t immediately see anyone we knew (i.e. members of the family) or anyone else so duded up, I pulled away and dropped her hand.

“So that’s how it’s going to be,” she said. “Really?”

At that moment, self-preservation trumped self awareness. I pretended not to hear and walked a little bit ahead, suddenly flooded with shame and hoping that either the ground would swallow me whole or that a whole posse of cowgirl lesbians might be waiting for us just around the corner. Of course neither happened. Around the corner waited only straight (as far as I could tell) normally attired wedding attendees—maybe a bit more casual than normal wedding attendees, but still, straight, suit jackets, dresses, the occasional cowboy boot. I wanted nothing more than to turn heel and run, to safety, to the familiar, to someone I’ve never been nor will ever be: a taller, thinner, more feminine, more socially acceptable me.It did not matter one whit in that moment that I was surrounded by people who loved and accepted me. It did not matter in that moment of panic that my brother was also wearing a cowboy shirt and cowboy boots and jeans and a cowboy hat. It didn’t matter that I had come out to my family years ago and that TLW and I were as accepted and loved and as much a family unit within the extended family as my straight cousins and aunts and uncles. All that mattered to me was my obvious otherness.

I did not flee. Even when I realized we were 45 minutes early and would have to mingle and make small talk or stand awkwardly with each other and sip the lavender water. I silently cursed the lack of pre-ceremony alcohol and our obsessive punctuality. I talked myself down from that internal ledge and tried to see us as others might. I tried to look at the individuals in the crowd and not at the crowd itself. I feigned interest in the barn and the surrounding grounds, and I eagerly greeted familiar faces as they trickled in. I reminded myself that I was 50 years old, goddammit and beyond (hahahaha) caring what other people thought of me and my life choices. I berated myself into behaving as if I actually believed that.

Eventually, I talked to enough people, had enough wine, ate enough dinner, spent enough time to re-inhabit my body. No one laughed at me. No one made fun of me for being a lesbian. In fact, just the opposite happened. I relaxed and opened up, and TLW and I danced. We danced together, alone, with strangers on the dance floor, and as we danced a funny thing happened: acceptance.

The wedding invitations had included RSVP cards to mail back. Each card asked for a song request, what song would we like them to play at the reception? TLW told me to put down “Same Love” by Macklemore. I seriously doubted that our song would get played—partly because it’s really not a dance song, partly because it’s gay. But wouldn’t you know it—about three quarters of the way through the evening, I heard those notes, grabbed TLW’s hand and pulled her onto the dance floor as I whooped and waved my hands in the air. We were the first ones out there, but not for long. My cousin wrapped us in a huge embrace and thanked us for coming. Strangers and relatives alike joined us on the dance floor in what felt like an enormous celebration of love. Period.

I wish I could bottle the feeling I had at the end of that night, wear it around my neck and sprinkle it over me before I walk into new situations, because coming out isn’t just a one time event. Coming out happens over and over and over again, every day, every week, every month.