What We Leave Behind

I have moved. It was time. I had been in Los Angeles for 17 years – longer than I have lived anywhere else. I was born in Chicago, and only a few months later, spirited away to Eugene, OR, where dad was getting his Architecture degree. When I was five, we moved to Billings, MT for a cool six months – literally. This was where I stood waiting for the school bus at snowdrifts taller than I was. It was where my first, beloved cat, froze to death. My parents didn’t enjoy Billings much more than I did, and we moved to Kearns, UT (well, first to a small cottage on a large estate on the outskirts of SLC, that had been a sister-wife house back in the day) and I spent my school-aged years the only brunette -ski amongst a sea of tow-headed -sens. Right after puberty, we moved to a suburb of Chicago, an experience nearly as fraught as the season in Billings. It was not a good time for me, but I survived my teen years in suburbia, spent a few years of young adulthood in New York City, and a few in Milwaukee, before ending up in LA.

Seventeen years is a long damn time. I would never have guessed I would have survived that long, but I did. Eventually though, the cost of living, my aging out of young adulthood, my consistently quiescent job, and the growing economic disparities became wearing. De’s stretch of unemployment didn’t help, but ultimately it was her job that got us out of the downwardly-mobile trajectory we had begun even before the corporate mismanagement came to a head.

And now I am here – nearly back where I started. She gave me the same offer she did when she got the job in LA: want to move and split the rent? It wasn’t a difficult decision. My industry is circling the drain. I surely wouldn’t have my job more than a few more years, and even had I continued, rents were rising so fast I would have been spending a huge portion of my income to live in a bad apartment in a bad neighborhood, knowing that no future job would come close to paying me enough to live on. Besides, I’m never sure what to answer when someone wants to know where I’m from – what’s my home town – maybe the greater Portland area could be that town? After all, it’s not like I had any attachments to LA.

Except… about six years ago, I went with a friend to a concert by Vox Femina Los Angeles, in which another friend was singing. It was a singular experience. This was no glee-club, or barbershop chorus, or bunch of well-meaning ladies singing their hearts out – which I am not disparaging – the world could use a good deal more group singing; it’s healing and inspiring and everyone should get to experience it. But for myself, as a trained musician who studied musical theatre performance, and has loved choral music since I was a wee toddler in Eugene, hearing a professional group is always a revelation. While the singers are all volunteers, Vox is a professional-caliber group, who with the leadership of Artistic Director Iris Levine, and pianist Lisa Edwards, sing of women’s experiences, so often dismissed, bringing beauty and harmony and enlightenment to their audiences. I was touched…

…So much so that about five years ago, I auditioned for them. Reader, I did not get in. I gave it an extra year off to get my shit together, and thought I’d give it another try. Three years ago, I succeeded. I was on my way to joining them for their 20th anniversary year. As much as the chorus meant to me as an audience member, it was increased at least ten-fold as a participant. Every woman in the group is a wonderful singer, better than me. As a musician, being an an ensemble that out-classes you is a great way to challenge yourself to get up to that level. I had not been musically challenged in years. But even more than that, there is an ineffable strength in a group of women. There was a social comfort I felt in that group that I rarely got anywhere else. When the 2016 election results came in, we were in a rehearsal. We spent time mourning, crying. And then we rehearsed harder through the sobbing. What would I have done that week without them?

The music, as well as being diverse and challenging, always had something to say. For several years I sang in a church choir, and was always fascinated by how singing something in a group, with intent, sometimes felt like it opened the universe to me. For someone who has wobbled along the path of agnosticism-gnosticism-atheism-secular-humanism for the better part of two decades, having a non-religious message we were all focused on was like spell-craft.

We sang at the 2017 Women’s March. We sang on stages that are usually occupied by world-class symphony orchestras and chorales, jazz ensembles and cabaret artists. We sang in a hollywood recording studio for a Grammy-winning artist’s record. We sang with three other womens’ choruses from around the world. There were some moments that were so transcendant that I was certain the constellations themselves would be rearranged the next time I looked.

(I suppose right here I should offer a small apology/explanation to my fellow choristers. If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t let people get to know me for at least half my time. I am a natural introvert, and also, had just a little bit of the exact right kind of trauma at just the most appropriate age that I learned to hang back, get the lay of the land, and observe for about a year before getting involved. If I had realized how limited my time was going to be, I would have pushed past my wariness a little faster. You are all super-cool, intimidatingly interesting women, so please don’t consider it snobbishness on my part.)

Iris has pointed me to a women’s chorus in this area, led by a composer whom I’m pretty sure we’ve sung at each concert since I’ve been in Vox, and I will be looking into it as soon as their season starts up again in the fall… but of course it will not be the same.

The worst part about this move was the timing; if it had been three weeks different in either direction, I would have been able to sing in the last concert of this season, in which Vox will share the stage with our immensely talent trans and non-binary siblings in the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles. But the stresses and requirements of a long-ish distance move do not allow for much time to be given to practice, to rehearsal, to commitment. And I am bereft.

But I am here now, listening to frogs croak a dissonant and intermittant chorus, instead of with my sisters, hashing out the last regular rehearsal before the concert. Aside from the amphbians, it’s quiet. I’m surrounded by green, by fresh air. There are no helicopters hovering meters away from my balcony. This morning I got up, opened up my laptop, and continued the process of slowly fading away from my job as I trained my successor. Since we passed the Shasta National Forest – once we were near Crater Lake on the drive up here – I’ve felt… something. A “rightness”. Portland is not so far from Eugene – was I homesick all this time? Maybe this can be my home-town – and a little piece of my heart always in that LAFCC rehearsal room.


In Which I Am A Bitter And Unsuccessful Shopper

If someone is being paid big bucks to write an article in a New York based publication about how LA sucks, they are almost always wrong, so very wrong. There are a billion ways it sucks, and these “journalists” never get anywhere closer than “there’s a lot of traffic”, and “my waiter says she’s an actress”. Let me use this weekend’s attempted participation in capitalism to illuminate a couple of ways in which LA actually, for real, sucks.

After the movie yesterday, De and I decided to do a little shopping as long as we were in Burbank – namely, to check out a few shops we had seen and been curious about. Also, De is on the lookout for some sort of crystal-new-agey-airy-fairy-hippie-dippie-occult joint where she can get some candles or charms to use on her Altar of Female Empowerment/Employment. We stopped at one small occult place, which was incredibly dimly lit, had two dudes working behind counters on opposite ends of the tiny space, and seemed to traffic mostly in jewelry best associated with 80’s heavy metal albums, a few Norse runic talismans, and the odd smattering of Anton Lavey pics. Look, I am pretty pagan-adjacent and I know Satanism has nothing to do with the conspiracy theories of past decades, but really… there is a type of dude who gets involved with neo-paganism for the Anton Lavey and the Nordic iconography, and that’s the type of dude who figured that pagan chicks were easy – or at least naked – with a few neo-nazis thrown in for good measure. Because American Christianity just doesn’t provide them with enough white male phallus worship I guess.

So anyway, the next place we checked was less dudely, but ultimately much more commercial. Soooo hipster manic-pixie-goth-girl. I found a skull purse I would totally have bought if it weren’t black, but perhaps more of a mermaid sequin/iridescent purple, but again… only a few jewelry/candle/incense things that were uber-ironic; the rest was pretty much like Hot Topic’s kitschy yet pretentious older sibling. De is an atheist, but she feels if she buys a candle or rock that supposedly has some sort of spell or charge, there should have been a sincere witch doing the ensorcellment. As an agnostic with a healthy respect for all the shit in the Universe I don’t understand, I am considering a mid-life Baba Yaga crisis in order to help out, because this is just dire.

The last stop was at a new place called “Qurves Boutique”, which purports to be a boutique for plus-sizes. For those of you have never had to clarify “FAT women’s clothing” when asking for the women’s clothing department of a store, let me lay a few things out for you. Number one, every fat lady knows what her size is, in which brand, in which cut, in which store, in what sub-brand. There are very few fucks given by the average fat lady about what the damn number on the tag is; only that a store that says it’s for “plus sized” people has something that would fit on your plus sized body, regardless of whether the tag says “Arbitrary Low Integer” or “Super-Jolly Elephant!!!”. Also, if you have never had to trek up to the third floor, where they keep luggage and housewares, to find the single rack of clothing that fits you, I am roughly a size 16W or 1X– which is proportionally different from a 16 you might find in the regular women’s clothing section of a store, although to make things more confusing, I am a 16 not-W in Old Navy jeans, and an XL in their shirts. A 1X is not the same as an XL. Got it? Basically, if go to any half-assed plus sized department and pick up a 16W or 1X off a rack, it will go over my rack/gut and may or may not look decent.*

Anyway, so we go into this alleged “plus size” boutique and I take a shapeless greige, spaghetti-strapped jumpsuit off their rack, note immediately that it would probably be a size too small for me, even if I would wear such a thing, and note that at a size 3X (per the tag), it is the largest size in the store. A decade ago  would have knocked over that rack of overpriced dumb-ass looking schmattes (or at least made bitchy passive-aggressive comments as I shuffled the hangers noisily) but yesterday I just rolled my eyes hard enough to sprain them and laughed and laughed, only because if I’m going to be pissed off about clothing sizing, I’d rather be full of rage that even the department stores that do carry a desultory half-rack of ugly polyester shit don’t carry anything about a size 24 in the store, so if you’re a size 26 or above you’re relegated to mail-order shopping. I mean, that makes me want to kick some dicks in right there. The fact that someone a size smaller than me is WOW SO FAT YOU’RE SO BRAVE YOU GO CURVY GIRL!!! in Los Angeles county is just… typical.

So what we did after this so we could participate in consumerist culture was go to Ulta and buy a dupe eyeshadow palette, because I don’t eat my feelings.

* (why we essentially get three sizes in knits – 1X/2X/3X and pretend that three sizes is sufficient for the majority of women, or why my dad, who is in fact unambiguously fat, does not have to shop in the Big & Tall departments of stores, and is a regular size because dudes are allowed to fat and participate in capitalism, and also, why I personally feel angered by people failing at Capitalism by not taking my monies in exchange for goods, when I am in my heart of hearts pretty fucking EAT THE RICH Marxist are other topics for other times.)

Saving the World, One Women’s Chorus At A Time

The last couple of weeks have been rough.

It is never a surprise that there are homicidal misogynists out there. Women are all too accustomed to accumulating insults and hostility from small to large. What has been new over the last, say, year and a half, is the amount of legitimacy afforded by media gatekeepers to the vile idea that women are not human, do not have any right to control what happens to our bodies. Well-respected media outlets have published writings by well-compensated white men positing that perhaps women who have had abortions be put to death and also that women allow femicidal terrorists to sexually assault and rape them for the good of humanity. A humanity which necessarily excludes women.

I hate to be reminded that lots of people don’t think I’m a person. Lots of people enjoy talking about us like we’re merely the life-support system for orifices to be used for mens’ gratification on demand, or for a life-form that not one of these concerned neck-beards gives half a damn about once it can breathe on its own.

Luckily, I have a weekly respite from these reminders, and happily, we had the equivalent of a retreat last week.

I have written about Vox Femina before, and if you haven’t read it, it’s worth clicking through and giving about 2 minutes of your time to. For many artists (and folks, I am from the midwest and am deeply uncomfortable referring to myself as such so please forgive my unbearable pretension) regardless of level of skill or remuneration, the act of creating art – making music, channeling drama, writing, making people laugh, drawing, painting or sculpting – lights up parts of the brain that nothing else can. Paradoxically, my anti-social heart is drawn to singing or performing in ensembles. Go figure.

Vox Femina is the rare amateur group that combines high artistic standards with an explicitly feminist message and every Tuesday I am surrounded by 40 amazing women as we work through the best way to present the meaning of the music. After a week of being reminded that society considers me an afterthought, these women are a balm to my soul. This year we were invited by the Vancouver’s Elektra Women’s Choir to participate in their Tapestry International Festival, along with Japan’s Frisches Ei and Gardabaer Women’s Choir from Iceland. Each choir had a set of their own music, and each director had once piece that we all prepared together to sing as a massed group.

The director of Gardabaer brought a (pleasantly menacing tbh) piece called “Spinna Minni” based on witches referred to in the Voluspa (not the schmancy candle people), written and sung in the first person, where we sang about spinning (like a thread) peoples’ fates. At some point, the Alto 2s got to cackle. This was great! The director of Elektra brought a piece called “Da Pacem”, a traditional Catholic prayer for peace. The Japanese director had us sing a piece called “Sunset”, which had a lush, some might say schmaltzy, feel, and which the cursory translation provided to us indicated was a fairly typical sentiment about the beauty of a sunset, but which the director actually pointed out, was the same color as fire and blood, with a plea for peace near the end. We brought… well, look, I’m going to link to a performance Vox did a few years ago here. Multiply this by three and you’ll get an idea of the scope. This is a song with text written by a member of the Lakota nation, beginning with a woman feeling alone, joined by her mother, sister, daughter. Her extended family comes in to support and finally, the entire community bands together, ending with a rallying cry. *

There were a few things I noticed: despite the language barriers, I really felt like this was just three times the amount of female strength and support I experience on a weekly basis. It was also a snapshot of what made us unique – it was the first time, for instance, that I think I really appreciated how “political” we were. As someone who spent a lot of time importuning or thanking a deity through song in various churches throughout my lifetime, I am quite comfortable with music that has a direct message. The second thing I noticed is that the Japanese song called for us to remember the terrible, and to work for peace, while Da Pacem was asking The Almighty to bring us peace, as if we puny humans were not responsible for all the wars and subsequent peace ourselves. Hmmmm…

This conference, these performances, were all about the power of women. Women supporting and uplifting other women, regardless of cultural differences. Women combining their voices, both literally and figuratively. If there was in-fighting or ego clashes, I didn’t see them. Spending four days almost entirely in the company of women was the vacation, therapy, and church I never knew I needed, all rolled up into one lovely Vancouver retreat.

The world has become terrible – or perhaps it’s more just that the terribleness has become un-ignorable for the white lower-middle-class. It seems like there’s nothing I can do to fix that, but if I could live in a community of singing women, that would help immensely.

(* here’s a thing you didn’t know – I auditioned for Vox the season they premiered this. I did not get in, which was shocking to me, because I usually only stuck my neck out for “sure things”, and also, I have a pretty unique AND blendy extremely deep voice. My friend who was a soprano in the group gave me comp tickets to this concert, which is when I realized they had at least four other women who could sing as low as I did and I wasn’t unique AND then they sang this piece and I immediately got over my butt-hurt and ego-boo and knew I was going to have to keep on trying until I got in. I needed to be a part of a group that understood how great women are, and could also sing. Two years later I tried again and succeeded. And I am so proud to get to sing this song with all these strong women.)



There is a species of post that is being shared an awful lot on the social medias. Often, it’s a screenshot purported to be from a Teacher, or the Friend of a Teacher. Attributions are stripped, it’s been shared from public posts of people the sharer has no personal knowledge of, multiple times. They resemble nothing so much as “glurge” as defined by Snopes – back in the day (like the 90’s), before the social medias, these were emails forwarded multiple times (you could tell by the number of >>> in front of the plain-text body of the allegedly inspirational or cautionary story). Half of these seem to have been lifted wholesale from some “Chicken Soup For The Soul” book, or regurgitated from 70’s or 80’s era urban legends. They are designed to elicit anger, fear or smugness and are emotionally manipulative in the extreme.

The latest subgenre I’m seeing are in response to the epidemic of school shootings and mass violence we have in this country. In it, a teacher or someone who knows a teacher says the real basis for young men who assault women and purchase weapons of war to slaughter multiple people is actually a lack of respect for authority. To which I have to say FUUUUUUUUCK YOOOUUUU.

Look, I could take one of these delightful sermons and deconstruct it line by line, but honestly I just got my blood pressure under control and I’d like to keep my more effective birth control pills, so I’m just going to address some of the absolute bullshit reasoning I’ve seen in these posts.

Number One: Respect is EARNED. I have never run into a person who immediately demanded respect who was not later revealed to be a lying, ignorant sack of shit. I have met plenty of people worthy of respect, who led by example, who proved to know what they were talking about. Kids are not stupid; they may not know the mechanisms by which power is earned and exercised, but when they see you say one thing and do another, they learn what a hypocrite is even before they have the vocabulary for it.

Which leads me to the next point…

What authority, exactly, should kids learn to respect? The serial sexual assaulter, deadbeat, racist, slumlord and tax-evader who, with the help of a foreign power, has been elected to the highest office in the land? The various other criminals and rapists that the GOP has been attempting to get elected to lower offices? And by all means, for anyone composing these posts and screen-shots, please do not say “government” or “politicians” won’t do anything about mass slaughter when it is One. Single. Party.  That is responsible for the lack of change in this case. They have held the legislative branch since 2010 and now they have the executive as well. During the 2016 election cycle, the NRA contributed $106,000 to various Democrats – and $5.9 MILLION to Republicans. For those who may have done even worse in math class than I did, that is 56 times more blood money than the Democrats got. One party holds the reins of power, and one party has accepted the most money from a lobbying group. The people who could effect change refuse to do so.

Your kids have seen you vote for people who excoriate the poor, the weak, the stranger, the gay. You take them to a church on Sunday where the person they’ve named the denomination after says we should care for the poor, the weak, the stranger. They start to question their reading comprehension, or they learn to hate people different than they are, unless they learn they’re the different one. In that case they learn that your love may be conditional.

But even more distressing, yes – your kids pay attention to what the adults in their lives do. They hear you when you make non-sequitur comments about the appearance of women, they hear when you talk about women in sexual terms. They see you vote for these sexual assaulters. Your daughters learn that they don’t matter. Your sons learn that women are worth less than they are. They learn to be entitled to women’s bodies.

When I see the word “discipline” in a piece of social media doggerel it almost always means beating. If pressed, they might use a cute euphemism like “spanking”. You abuse your children in the name of discipline; they learn that violence is a viable option to their frustrations.

These emails often repeatedly mention prayer, which, hey, if you’re the praying type, go for it. If meditation helps you to clarify your actions, enjoy. But let’s be clear – prayer is for you. God is not Tinkerbell, who will appear if only enough people clap because they do believe in fairies, they do! God is also not a vending machine who will dispense your wishes if you put enough prayer tokens in. But prayer without action is another empty gesture that kids can see right through. Your prayer, your flag, your minute-of-silence – these are merely symbols. If you refuse to honor what they represent, you teach your children that actions are meaningless. If they see through your hypocrisy, they may begin to effect change rather than being concerned about how “respectable” they look to others.

But one of the most baffling things about these posts – has everyone over 30 forgotten what childhood and adolescence was like? I remember my friends were fairly opinionated and not actually wrong about stuff that often. I also remember the many, many adults who were not worthy of well-regard, let alone respect. Probably the same percentage as I know now that I’m an Old. The suspicion engendered by these posts makes me wonder what they’re trying to sell me.

Kids have seen your lack of action, your hypocritical support of venal abusers, your reliance on violence to solve problems, your hatred for the different, and a few of them respect that authority enough to become monsters. The rest… well, those will be the newest generation working to overthrow your tyranny.

What’s your damage, Heather?

I have two nearly identical pairs of jeans in my dresser. Both were bought in the last three months. Neither of them fits. One pair is a skosh too big, threatening self-pantsing every time I bend or shift. The other is a teeny bit too snug; I am uncomfortably aware of the zipper abrading my lower gut-flap. The jeans themselves are perfect – they are 98% cotton, which is nearly impossible to find in women’s jeans these days. They do not flare. They are meant to be worn cuffed, which saves my stumpy ass from having to hem them. They would be perfect for someone I’m not. Someone I was three months ago, or someone I may be in the future, but there are no guarantees.

My closet is filled with “almost” clothes. Brightly colored tunics with flowing lines and scoop necks that now expose my bra. Half-empty molded cup bras gaping at the top. Pants just roomy enough in the seat they look sloppy in a way you can’t pin-point. There are some dresses that are still wearable, but I estimated the size of the tights I originally bought to go with them incorrectly and now they sag at the knees and ankles. I do not have the money to replace my wardrobe. I do not have the money to replace my bras, which at around $75 apiece, are the most expensive part.

My body is no longer my own. It no longer wants to use its own insulin to break down glucose. I’ve given it enough delicious potatoes and pastries throughout its lifetime that it’s just given up. Sorry dude, you’re Polish and Polynesian – I thought you wanted the starches. They sure were delicious, and satisfying, and happy-making. The medication I’m on now to help it remember how to use insulin plays merry havoc with my appetite, so much so that I’ve designated various states of being: Not Hungry (food? Oh yeah. I should probably eat a thing!) Unhungry (I’m hungry, but also slightly nauseated) and Oogy (ugh. Food. Gross). I’ve stopped giving my body all those carbs it doesn’t know what to do with, and have begun developing a list of items I can consume for each state of being. Not Hungry? Here is a meal with meat and vegetables. It will be delicious as soon as you start eating it. Unhungry? Have some almonds and some protein, an artisanal lunchable with something salty to remind you to enjoy eating. Oogy? Look, if there’s anything that doesn’t turn your stomach, just eat it. Don’t even look at the nutritional info. If nothing appeals, at least have a protein drink through a straw. Food is not enjoyable. Food is fuel. I think about it constantly. What I “can” have, what I “should” have, what is poison, what I miss, what I don’t.

I was very fat. I am now slightly less fat. I am still fat. I will always be one kind of fat or another. Nonetheless, my doctor is thrilled. Because she doesn’t know the end-game of this process.

Because my body, which is no longer my own, has responded to these depredations not by shrinking, but by deflating. As if waiting for my metabolism to figure out what I’ve done to it, and deciding it can make do with the limited food intake by slowing down again. It’s leaving room. This is temporary. This is not permanent. Like me and my skosh-too-big jeans. Waiting for me to own my body again.

In Which I Determine That L.A. Is Neither Paradise nor Sodom By The Sea

“Los Angeles is deceptive, just like it’s main export – movies.”

Look dude, I know you think so. Everybody thinks so. This was a cliche when the first eastern european emigre hauled ass out here, fleeing the east coast mob, to start a chicken ranch or a movie studio. Blah blah blah, artifical, woof bark, everyone’s so fake, oogly moogly everyone’s an actor/screenwriter/waiter. You could run out your toner drum printing out these “hot takes” dating from back when women rouged their knees, stack them up, set them on fire, and they’d blaze for nearly as long as our delightful fire season, the smoke giving off an acrid whiff of the sour grapes of a spurned lover. “I never wanted you anyway, plus you’re so fake!”

What makes L.A. alarming to people who lack the self-awareness to know any better is ironically, the reason those first studio execs gave instead of “running from the mob” for their move to this remote coast – the sunshine. It’s the sunlight that makes the city incongruous to those who only know it from our main export. Camera angles and back-lots and vast numbers of crew members can do a lot to make a place sparkle. The reality is that the sun illuminates the city without the benefit of a “kicker” to fill in the shadows. Lacking a perceptible rainfall, there is rarely enough water to sluice the layers of plant matter, brake-dust, general detritus and assorted filth off the streets with any regularity. The sprawling ex-urb that makes up the “city” of L.A. never got tall enough in most places to dim the daylight here, so the Orange Death Orb seems to highlight the crud making any moment of contemplation – say, waiting for a bus in a bus shelter with an oddly useless shade-free awning – turn into a meditation on how gross everything is. Better not to have any spare moments for contemplation then, and also, this may be why no one wants to ride the bus.

I never set out to write a defense of this city; I don’t think it needs one. Neither is it a love letter. My feelings for the places I live are always ambivalent at best. But I don’t like know-it-alls, and I especially bristle at the ignorant tearing down an easy target to make themselves look superior. So, with that in mind, please consider this essay both a tourism ad and a minor warning for the lovely, filthy, sunny, happy, lonely, shallow, meditative, hard-working Town of Our Lady Queen of the Angels; we really don’t give a shit if you think we’re all fake. We’re too busy getting on with our lives.


Hey all! I’m kind of wiped out from all the physical activity the rest of the Voxxies participated in. (I’m actually fending off an allergy-cold thingie, so more prone to fatigue than normal). Please meditate on this sad story of what happens when a woman efficiently and expertly does a whole bunch of unpaid and unappreciated labor for her husband yet fails to worship his masculinity properly. I’ll be back after my nap to continue my commentary!IMG_20170506_105833081~2