Monday, January 18, 2010

Coming Out in All Directions

Over the past year, my life has turned upside down. A year ago, I was in a 15-year relationship with a woman whom I'd legally married. Soon, we endured an excruciating split-up (the divorce is still in process). During the first 30 years of my life, I'd loved only men. I'd been married for five years to a man, had lived with another for a few years, and had dated numerous guys.

Since my split with the woman I loved for many years, I have returned to dating men. Transitioning into being with a woman was a lovely, exciting (and often apprehensive) time--as is transitioning now in a new direction.

I know I'm not the only woman who has ever experienced coming out of lesbian life into bisexual or straight life. In fact, the book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women's Love and Desire by Lisa Diamond makes the case that women's sexuality is more fluid, flexible and multi-directional than not. Another book I've read recently is Jan Clausen's Apples & Oranges, her story of leaving an essentially lesbian separatist world. Another excellent book that addresses gender and sexual fluidity is Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female by Phyllis Burke. It's been a while since I read it, but the book strikes me as a good companion to Diamond's book because it is also research-based, and it makes the case that our insistence on fixed identities is rooted in anxieties, not in lived and felt experience.

And then there are my books. In the midst of my transition into loving men, my novel Complementary Colors was released--the irony being that the novel is about a straight woman who falls in love with a lesbian. And yet is this ironic? Maybe it's portentous because, if you look beyond gender, my novel is about the ways we change. The ways we are more fluid than we think. It's about the twists and turns and surprises in life's journeys.

What I find fascinating is that I was interviewed twice over the course of a year by Gary Shapiro for his radio program "From the Bookshelf." The first interview focused on my first novel, For the May Queen. And in that interview, I talk about my lesbian relationship in connection to my writing. In the second interview, about a year later, I talk about my new life and how it resonates with my writing.

Re-listening to these interviews, I'm struck by how confidently I talk about my long-term relationship in the first interview. I didn't know we were on the edge of a cliff. In the second interview, I'm more tentative. I seem tender, more hesitant--perhaps more open to ambiguity?

I don't have any huge revelations here. I just know that as my life path twists and turns, I want to keep my eyes open. Fully, completely open in awe, wonder and curiousity. Maybe this way I can see clearly whatever appears around the next corner.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fun with Syllabi ... and creative ways to help Haiti

Now is the season for syllabus-crunching. Designing a semester course is dizzying, made more so this academic year due to the weirdness that is furloughs. Because we had to take an almost 10% pay cut this year, we are also required to cut out a certain number of days from our semester. Some of the required days are university-wide furlough days. Others are ones we must designate ourselves, which means students may have some classes that meet on a given day, while others won't. For students taking several classes, the calendar contortions are mind-blowing.

On furlough days we are by contract forbidden from grading papers, emailing students, etc.--in other words, doing any work. It's like University Shabbat. But the bottom line is we are not to compromise any of our teaching and learning objectives. How do you cut out teaching and learning time without compromising anything? It's Kafka-esque.

Still, I'm grateful that my job affords so much creativity. This semester the travel writer Tim Cahill will be our Lurie Endowed Professor. He'll be teaching two classes, and giving a free talk open to the public. So a number of us have decided to focus our courses on travel and "the journey." Here's my run-down:

COURSE #1: English 117, Section 03 (Literature and Film: Travel and Transformative Journeys)
In this class, we will read books and then watch the film adaptations.

1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (by Frank Baum)
2. The Grapes of Wrath (by John Steinbeck)
3. Up in the Air (by Walter Kirn)
4. Orlando (by Virginia Woolf)
5. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (by Sherman Alexie) [Film is Smoke Signals]
6. The Road (by Cormac McCarthy)
7. Sideways (by Rex Pickett)

Course #2: English 130, Section 02 (Fiction Writing)
In addition to workshopping student stories, we will study the writing of fiction writers who will give readings on campus this semester. These readings are free and open to the public.

1. Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen (by Marilyn Chin)
2. War by Candlelight (by Daniel Alarcon)
3. Teach the Free Man (by Peter Malae)
4. Works by the current Steinbeck Fellows

Course #3: English 1A
1. The Best American Travel Writing (Eds. Wilson & Cahill)
2. Online Handbook
3. Reader comprised of works by Chin, Alarcon & Malae, as well as the Steinbeck Fellows


I am grateful to say that the reviews of Complementary Colors that have been coming out have been wonderful. I don't know why I'm surprised that people seem to love it even more than For the May Queen. Perhaps because Complementary Colors is about a straight woman's journey into loving a woman. I figured that wouldn't be to everyone's taste. But someone wrote on Goodreads that she normally wouldn't read a book on this topic but she was glad she did. That is thrilling to me!


We've had a few earthquakes here in the last couple of weeks, but of course they have been nothing compared to what has happened in Haiti. The pictures coming out of that world are apocalyptic. I know a lot of people want to help even though this is a terribly rough time financially for so many. My sister Ann is involved in a creative solution. She has put for auction on eBay one of the purses she knitted, and the proceeds will go to disaster relief in Haiti. Anyone can do this. So you may not have money to give, but perhaps you have items to sell.