If You Make That Face

Hit again and ‘gain
Two-fisted hammered
My face just won’t crack

Made that face long ‘go
And, indeed, it did
It stayed that way

Now my well-made face
At once young and old
Has no home with me

Bring down the hammer
Chips off the old block
Is all I can do

Proof in the pudding
I lack the strength
To destroy myself



Copyright 21 August 2020
Revised 19 April 2021
Closeup of black puppy face with protective cone around head, looking forlorn yet adorable
THAT face is absolutely priceless! (Super Puppy Draymond survived this indignity — I swear!)

Am I Not a Woman?

I think I am a woman. Therefore, I am not a man?

Are those the only possibilities?

It’s International Women’s Day, people! How shall we celebrate?

Remember that nursery rhyme about girls being made of sugar and spice and everything nice and boys of snips and snails and puppy dog tails? (What is a “snip” in this context? Sounds like a cute but annoying magical critter from Harry Potter’s world.)

I resented the bejeezus out of that poem as a kid. I did not want to be defined as everything nice! I kinda identified as a tomboy, but that term didn’t make sense to my precocious self. Shouldn’t it be tomgirl? Either way, it didn’t really capture how I felt. I liked being a girl. I just didn’t like trying to fit into other people’s idea of what a girl should be.

(Also, what’s up with nursery rhymes and disembodied animal tails? Three blind mice lose theirs to a knife-wielding madwoman and puppy dogs have to sacrifice their tails to the formula for human boys? Mother Goose is a freak!*)

I am a cisgender, straight/hetero woman who firmly believes in and advocates for equal rights for all. I believe transgender and non-binary folks are the ones to dictate how they identify and wish to be known. (Goes for everyone, really.) I have no trouble respecting their wishes. Which is not to say I haven’t messed up a few times. I have. And, yes, I do still stumble occasionally over they/them/their in reference to an individual. Nowadays, mostly when reading. Progress — one awkward step after another. Awkwardness is a small price to pay in order to convey respect, to honor people for who they are, just as they are.

There is a new app designed to help “people who menstruate” track their periods. Some folks are incensed over this wording. Supposedly, not because women are people, but because, in the objectors’ opinions, only women menstruate. And get pregnant and give birth. (And endure endometriosis and undergo hysterectomies. Relish the joys of menopause…) These people feel threatened by non-cis folks, particularly by trans women.* Somehow, if society recognizes them for who they are and stops discriminating against them, they will not only no longer be marginalized, they will rise up, abuse cis-women, and roll back women’s rights to the early 20th Century. Or worse. (And worse?)

This kind of backlash against recognition of non-cisgender identities is not new. Last year JK Rowling* went public with her anti-trans thoughts that, among other things, only women menstruate; if allowed access, transgender women would threaten the safety (and sanctity?) of same-sex spaces such as women’s restrooms and changing rooms; and that all transgender persons should undergo extensive psychiatric testing and analysis before being permitted to transition — as in days of yore. Ah, 2020!

Sadly, none of her reactionary thinking is new. The only thing new here is that transgender people are gaining acceptance and progress is being made in ensuring their rights. Over 20 years ago(!) I listened to a group of women trot out fear-based, anti-trans ideas like Rowling’s to justify their policy of limiting participants for their women-only retreat to “women born as women.” Among the organizers were a couple self-described radical lesbians who were —how shall I put it — not fans of men. (I was a hired entertainer and had no say in the matter.) Their belief was that a person born (biologically) male, even one fully transitioned to female, could never shake the male privilege bestowed upon him by society. He/she* had the lived experience of a man for most of life so far, which colored his/her future as a so-called woman. Women at the retreat would not feel safe — maybe not be safe — with such people around.

Many of the women attending the retreat had been victimized by men in various ways. Some had been victimized by women. Some of us lucky born female types, by both sexes. I have yet to meet a person who has been physically or sexually assaulted by a transgender person. I do, however, know one person who was emotionally abused by a trans person. Which to me is a weird kind of progress. One’s gender identity or sexual orientation or race or religion or lack thereof (the list goes on) does not erase the possibility of being an abusive jerk. Or worse. Or better. Even much better.

By the time of the women’s retreat mentioned above, I had had the pleasure of meeting several gender non-conforming people, including persons born with indeterminate or otherwise unusual sex organs. All of them had experienced discrimination and most had survived more than one kind of abuse. In the years since, I have met several more such persons and all have had experiences of discrimination and some have endured abuse as well. Some of those experiences have been in women’s and men’s restrooms and locker rooms. That trans women were victimized in women-only spaces did not surprise me. As a woman, I have never felt all that safe in such spaces. Not only because I have seen Carrie and Mean Girls, but because my body and womanhood have been picked over and negatively assessed by other females in such spaces since puberty and I was once physically assaulted by a gang of teenage white girls for not knowing my place. As it is, little more than convention prevents a man, looking and feeling like a man, from entering a women’s restroom. Obviously female as I am, I have mistakenly entered a men’s restroom twice. Both times I found myself inside a urinal-lined facility, I apologized emphatically while making a hasty exit, flabbergasted at how easy it was to blithely go through the wrong door!

In justifying her anti-trans position last year, JK Rowling disclosed that she has been a victim of domestic abuse and sexual assault. In Rowling’s reasoning, this history that she shares with so many women is why she so fervently advocates for “safe” same-sex spaces. And thus, those efforts are to protect women and further the cause of women’s rights, as opposed to seeking to deny transgender persons their rights. (Or to police who is and is not truly a transgender woman.) In my opinion, Rowling’s position does disservice to women, men, and transgender people. Yes, women have a long history of being abused by men. In that history there is no such thing as a truly safe place. (Sorry, but that’s just factual.) It is also true that men are not the only abusers and women not the only victims. Awareness of the problem has grown, women have learned how to protect themselves, ensure their rights, and lead the effort (with many men and gender nonconforming folks working with them) to prevent such abuses, and the societal issues that often factor in to them, from occurring. In other words, I feel Rowling’s position, similar to the anti-trans policy of the retreat organizers, pits women against men, and sacrifices transgender people’s rights in the name of promoting the illusion of a safe and loving sisterhood of the female sex. A sisterhood that embraces menstruation, the “miracle” of birth, and a rather fragile view of femininity.

My celebration of womanhood need not narrowly define woman by bodily functions like menstruation. Nor do I need to blame “others” for what has befallen women over the years. I don’t need to have enemies to get ahead. The ongoing fight for women’s rights, healthcare, pay equity, and against domestic and sexual violence will not be diluted by including others. Quite the contrary, the more the merrier and stronger. In fact there is a lesson here in past women’s movements excluding more marginalized groups (usually fellow women) for fear of weakening the effort, only to regret it later. People’s rights are not a limited resource. A transgender person enjoying their rights does not do so at the expense of any of my rights as a woman.

And just in case it needs to be said, the idea that a transgender woman is nothing more than male privilege in women’s clothing, hormones, and maybe genitalia, is a profound misunderstanding of who transgender women are.

Yes, some people menstruate. Most of those folks are women, born as such. But not all. And some women don’t menstruate — and never did. Born with clear female genitalia but no uterus, for example. Or cancerous ovaries removed before puberty. I rather envy them. I haven’t menstruated since I was 36, when a surgeon liberated me from my uterus. (I almost wrote the uterus, but it was definitely mine.) Recovery was rough. In part because of the interconnectedness of the thing, but also due to a couple life-altering deaths that came on the metaphorical heels of that organ removal. (What kind of heels would my uterus have worn? I’m thinking impossibly tall stilettos that cause bleeding blisters, painful bunions, etc!)

I am a woman. One who has not menstruated for 20 years. I have birthed no babies. I have recently survived menopause. (For me that is very much the appropriate verb and, frankly, I want a badge attesting to same!) I am also a survivor of abuse and assault. You may share my public restroom, if you like. No matter what your gender identity, I respect you as a person. Because denying people their rights based on fear and stereotypes does not ensure anyone’s safety. I will also not let my guard down in such a place. Because I am strong and aware and am not a readymade victim because I am a woman. And because it’s a goddamn public restroom FFS!

*Don’t get me started on that Aesop fella!

*I’m using “trans woman” instead of “transgender female/woman” as the shorter is how my transgender women friends identify themselves. A couple of whom have had menopause-like hot flashes. Sorry, gals! Would have spared you that if I could’ve, but, you know — estrogen!

*Why, yes, that Harry Potter reference earlier was a foreshadowing device. Nice of you to notice!

*We didn’t use “they” back then. Even so, “she” would have been appropriate in this context, but the anti-trans women would not allow themselves to use female pronouns for trans women.

Sunday Unfunnies

Content Note/(trigger warning): Among other things, the following post discusses death and grief and includes a brief description of a violent death.

Whelmed, am I. Totally and completely whelmed. More than that. Beyond whelmed. Uber whelmed. Utterly overwhelmed. Which is redundant, technically. (Look it up. I dare you!)

Welcome to Sunday morning thoughts with Underlying Conditions Lady in the midst of another prednisone-mediated lupus(+) flare. Here you’ll find a mixture of to-do lists, pain scales, grief, dogs at play, gratitude, shame, feelings of obligation, feelings of failure, loneliness, word etymologies, questions of science, questions of art, the letters P-T-S and D, and a few audiobook highlights, all in a misty fog, flavored with a soupçon of irritability á la that little bitter pill.

Prednisone, it’s a hell of a drug!*

I’m more than two weeks overdue for my monthly infusion of my DMARD, because of yet another urinary tract infection.* Antibiotics and my Biologic, a sophisticated immune system … modifier(?) … modulator(?) … Wolf tamer (?), do not get along. They’re rather at cross purposes. And this was a kidney infection, in truth. An aggressive affair. You know how colonizers be!

All I want to do is sleep. Which I do. Badly. That’s not really true. I’m working on the sleep thing. It has taken a lifetime and now chronic, debilitating illness (yeah, I said it) and the various resources of the internet to sort out which sleep disorders I do not have, the one I very well may have, the continuing role PTSD plays in my bedtime behaviors, and a commitment to being kind to myself to arrive at this place of lovingly addressing my sleep issues. That last part is the hardest. But you probably guessed that.

The Wolf in predator mode that is a flare of autoimmune disease activity and the common yet somehow extraordinary drug that is prednisone are at odds when it comes to sleep. They’re at odds regarding just about everything, really. Except they both destroy the body from within. They are terrible houseguests, awful to their hosts. No, that’s not it. It’s more like a hostage negotiation. In your home. With a repeat offender. And the only way to achieve any success is with that negotiator you hate, who wrecks your house — every single time — but is still the only one who knows how to keep the offender from stabbing you in the gut repeatedly.

But this post isn’t about having a flare. Or prednisone. Or sleep issues. It’s about … something. Being foggy? Overwhelmed. Needing a break. Ok, wanting a break. I want a guarantee that no more big stressors will hit until, say, after I finish the taxes. Yes, I know that won’t happen. I mean, I won’t even be able to get this post finished and published this sunny Sunday, due to the interruptions and intrusions of Life in the Foggy Brain Lane.

Did that sound whiny? Am I doing it? Am I doing it right?! My psychotherapist is a believer in whining. Moaning, that is. Expressing one’s pain out loud. I totally agree — in theory. For other people. Although I’ve been seeing this therapist for several months, she still feels new. Fresh. I like her a lot. I want to please her — and I know I need to be careful about that impulse, or at least aware of it — but, moaning out loud? Me? I mean, even my autocorrect avoids the word! Meaning … Moving … Morning?

What about … Mourning?

500,000 dead. Well over that. In just under a year of COVID-19 in the US. I correctly predicted the date we hit 150,000. Nailed 250,000. Was within two days of 350,000. Then I stopped that mental “exercise”. Not good for my mental health. And other things occupied my mind. Christmas in the ER. Not long after S moved out. Because her aunt died. Now it’s lonely here again. Then the insurrection was live on television. And Facebook. Reddit. Twitter. The ‘Gram. And then T died all of a sudden. I wanted to hug her mother for a week, but we just talked, masked, over the fence. Texted, a little. That was just a month after Aunt I died. (Not my aunt.) Valentine’s was Aunt P’s first yahrzeit. My Aunt P. But not only mine. I miss her. May 31st will be our dog Duke’s 14th birthday. If he gets there, that is. He’s been a very, very good boy.

This is about loss.

In less than a year five people died on our street. None from COVID-19. Not directly, at least. Three deaths were due to long-standing health problems that probably weren’t being treated as well as should have been due to pandemic conditions and were likewise exacerbated by the stressors of the pandemic and the lack of concern by so many for one’s fellow human being. One person died by an overdose that may have been intentional. And one death was of a man having a mental health crisis. Body cam footage shows he had a knife. The police disarmed him with several gunshots to his body at close range.

A descanso* marks the place up the street where he died. There was a small, peaceful, at times joyous protest there last summer. The cops parked a couple squad cars in the middle of our street, a couple doors down, and hubby and I, masked, watched them standing there, drinking sodas, talking and laughing easily with each other, their torsos heavy with armor and weaponry.

I’ve been dealing with loss all my life. I should have an honorary doctorate or two in loss by now. Except the older I get, the more unsure I feel about what I know. And don’t know. I know I feel a heaviness in our neighborhood. As if all this absence left by these losses and their rippling effects has a weight to it. We can bear this unseen weight, isolated behind masks well enough. For a while, at least. But, dense as it is, this absence is also weightless somehow. Intangible. Just out of reach. It hangs there — like a fog. Yes, time heals. But community is a balm like no other. Funerary rites are important. Displays of remembrance and communal grief. We need follow up, too. Restoration. Good grief. My neighborhood is hurting.

Good grief! I remember being very confused by Charlie Brown when I was a kid. Why was he shouting out grief? Aren’t you supposed to keep that sort of thing quiet, locked within you, gnawing at your joy and sanity slowly over time? And why did he keep playing football with punkster Lucy? Given my so-called best friend at the time told me in all sincerity that I was bound for Hell, I probably should just move on.

My basic thesis of loss has long been thus: Each relationship is unique. Each relationship makes an indelible impact on each party. The more intimate the relationship — for better, worse, both — the more intricate the connections. Death severs that relationship and thereby changes the survivor further. I had an Aunt P. I loved her. She loved me. I love her still. I am forever a person who was deeply affected and influenced by my Aunt P and now I am a person without her. I am grateful. Truly grateful. And I am sad. For the aunts and the many people who loved them. For my neighborhood. For our rabbits.* For my friends who are struggling in various states of isolation. For over half a million COVID-19 deaths here. For I don’t know how many around the world. For the healthy life I thought I would live in middle age. For my darling dog.

I grew up in the foggy Pacific Northwest. There I learned that sometimes it’s okay to drive through fog. But sometimes you are at its ephemeral mercy. You cannot control it. You have to accept its existence and wait for it to dissipate, to let you through. I suppose brain fog is like that. Maybe? Or maybe that’s grief. Or both. A heavy, obscuring blanket of emptiness. Impenetrable, even as you move right through it.

I’m just so sad.

I could use a break. But that’s not how it goes. One has to roll with the punches … adapt in order to survive … yadda yadda. No breaks guaranteed. Fine. In that case, I could use a good house cleaner. Must like dogs!

Black short-faced dog peers out from under bedding encircling her face.
Young Duchess Draymond Pugbelly is all about self-care!

*Appreciation to Rick James and Dave Chappelle! (If you don’t understand that reference, well, I just can’t help you.)

*Autocorrect actually filled in, urinary Tracy infection. Apologies to all Tracy’s out there! Also, DMARD = disease-modifying, anti-rheumatic drug. Do you feel enlightened now? Well, do ya?!

*Descanso, a roadside memorial or marker that commemorates a site where a person died suddenly and unexpectedly.

*In the near future I will write about Bunnytown USA, a 25-year adventure that concluded just before that first lockdown of March 2020.

Excuses, Excuses … Ex-Cue-Says … X Q Sez!

I have not posted anything — nope, not a damn thing — in 3 months. Here are all the WHYs, in no particular order:

  • Doubt
  • Depression
  • Thanksgiving tradition of a visit from my Big Bad Wolf, annual flare of autoimmune disease activity that dwarfs the others, leading me to deny my distress and need for help during those lesser flares, but also …
  • Prednisone is a hell of a drug!
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Broken tooth
  • The shiva of “Auntie” I
  • Pandemic everything
  • Perfectionism
  • Publishing is the problem. There, I said it. Not writing. Not editing. Finishing. Committing to transferring to this platform — in some cases to typing or {gulp} dictating first — and then I have to end it. Stop myself from writing about the next connection and the next my mind makes. Or discovers. Is it important to distinguish between the two? Is one better than the other? Ha! Define “better.”
  • Doubt
  • Fuhteegue!
  • Say it. I mean, write it. Do it. Own it!
  • Pain
  • Foggy brain
  • PTSD
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ole Friend variant
  • Another broken tooth
  • I almost got through 2020 without going to the ER.* But that’s where I spent 6 hours of Christmas morning. Viral gastroenteritis, turns out. Great news that I didn’t have a certain respiratory virus, but {sigh} I could have been treated better. Trying to follow up with troubling test results, but …
  • New medical insurance
  • It’s not “prior authorization” — it’s authorization! You either do it with or without authorization. I have enough trouble with time as it is!
  • Ok, I have to dedicate more of my loving-kindness meditation to the insurance industry. Obviously.
  • Doubt
  • Insurrection Coup Riot totally predictable yet also incredible thing
  • T died suddenly
  • MuthaFuhteegue!
  • I can’t post anything else, until I publish part 3 of Collaborating with My Wolf. And I can’t post that until I finish it. Which I very nearly have. Except that’s only true of the longer version. I could publish the shorter one right now. Except I haven’t been able to do that for over 5 weeks. The other version keeps pulling me toward disclosing my abuse history, or at least part of it, and I don’t know if it’s ok to disclose part and not all at once and that last thought reads as super odd as it feels, but I’ve kept all these secrets for so long, because I’m a good girl, and I don’t know how to spill them without confirming that I am the terrible person that I have secretly thought myself to be most of my life.
  • It might be ok to publish a post or two while working on part 3. I just can’t make the official launch until I finish and publish part 3.
  • I now have 4 other posts in Drafts.
  • Deleted the poetry posts. Formatting disaster. Category 4. Will try again. Promise.
  • Anxiety. Is that fear + doubt? Feubt? Looks German or French; however, I don’t believe it is either. I could be wrong.
  • The consistency of split pea soup, it comes on little cat feet and causes my brain to lose track of all the usual routes in its atlas. Wow. Metaphor-maggedon!
  • Pandemic burnout
  • Lupus burnout
  • I just don’t feel good burnout
  • Despite my best motivational speeches, neither the dishes nor the laundry will “do” themselves!
  • And now … taxes!
Black wolf-like dog with white fur outlining his muzzle, lies asleep in a tight curl. Watercolor effect to photo
The marvelous schipperke Duke at rest

*Yes, really, it is the Emergency Department — not Room. I do know that. The issue is that nowadays “ED” is most often used for “erectile dysfunction” and most everyone in the US still understands “ER” basically means the same thing as Emergency Department. So, yeah, I am part of the problem.

How to Get Through the Weekend without Pain Pills — in 21 uneasy steps

Preface: My former health insurance up and quit as of 31 December. My new insurance needs prior authorizations (PAs) with detailed histories (and possibly small animal sacrifices) before covering some of the meds I’ve been taking for years, including pain meds. (Yup, opioids. Ever controlled in a way that punishes legal users while not addressing the true source of the crisis, opioids.)

The need for a PA is only generated when one tries to fill the prescription. One can’t fill such a scrip early and is suspect if has more than a few leftover pills. But, one may get a 7-day “credit” of pills against the month’s supply, which then voids the prescription. So, when the PA goes through, one needs a new scrip for the remaining 3 weeks. And, if it takes more than 7 days for PA/approval? Well then, you is shit outta luck!*

The Steps, according to Underlying Conditions Lady:

1. Ration your remaining pain pills for maximum ineffectiveness.

2. Think hopeful and liver-affirming thoughts while swallowing extra-strength generic acetaminophen/paracetamol.

3. Try not to feel like a loser as “dat dumb drug dat was poisoned, ja?” — as your German aunt referred to Tylenol — does little more than reduce your lupus fever and aches a little.

4. Distract yourself with NBA basketball, podcasts, and passing thoughts of fire bombing FDA headquarters.

5. Play with the dog until everything hurts too much.

6. Go ahead and have an edible. Medical marijuana is legal in New Mexico and you have consumables. Lemon-lime-flavored, weedy gummies* and dark chocolate with a ganja aftertaste. Yum, right?

7. Try to enjoy being high for several hours. Stretch. Do bed yoga. Fall into a deep and dreamless sleep, which does, in fact, help.

8. Make a comprehensive list of all the drugs you’ve tried over the years for your multiple forms of chronic pain, and how they failed you — or you failed yourself — so that now you take opioids, because, of course, you are a loser.

9. Cuddle in bed with the dogs.

10. Play a game on your phone. Try to ignore the tinnitus. Fail at that, but win the game.

11. Nod off while playing a game or three on your tablet.

12. Toss and turn, while trying to not disturb the husband or, more importantly, the dogs, and wonder why the fuck your leg won’t stop jumping around.

13. Embrace your identity as a total loser as you take a low-dose gabapentin from your dog’s stash. Think: This should take the edge off the nerve pain. But just one pill, lest I lose my ever-loving mind. (Not an exaggeration.)

14. Do a guided meditation by way of an app on your phone. Observe your mind wander to thoughts of insurance — not very complimentary thoughts. And to the nurse who said you were “not a very squeaky wheel.” And to the fellow patient at your rheumatologist’s office who giddily declared his pain level was 0!

15. Zero? Zero! Schweine Hund! Arschloch! ¡Pendejo! You can not remember the last time your pain level was below 3! WTF?!

16. Breathe! Remember that you’re working on radical self-love, which means not using dehumanizing language, among other things. But … Fuck it! You hate the goddamn pain scale. And all this prior authorization shite. Also, reactionary and ineffective FDA policy. But mostly now not being able to sleep.

17. Eventually, you decide to make a gratitude entry in your journal and that helps a bit.

18. Next day you go ahead and take the nsaid meloxicam and cross your fingers that your stomach can take it. Maybe take one of your man’s omeprazoles. Or not really, as that’s illegal. And you don’t actually cross your fingers, but you do worry, because that’s just as useless.

19. Just go ahead and have another edible. Maybe you can read a short story or two before you nod off. (Current library loan, Ayiti by Roxane Gay!) Hey, maybe you’ll feel creative and write something. No pressure.

20. Realize you don’t have the strength to launch fireballs at the FDA; hence, you’d need to hire a catapult operator. Wonder what that might cost.

21. Recognize that you have taken a break from your loving-kindness practice, temporarily, in lieu of other meditation foci — and it shows! Give it a shot while stoned, because, why not? Direct it at yourself. It is possible that you may not, in fact, be a total loser.

Face of black dog with pointy ears, round forehead, and loving eyes.
The one of a kind presence that was Princess Holly Bollywood, she of many nicknames and much adorable ridiculousness.

*As opioids can be a little to very constipating, this may be literal for many patients.

*I still pronounce these rubbery treats as goo-mees, as did my German aunt for the 35 years I knew her, all in the USA. Never been a fan of anything gummy — worms, bears, etc. But I’ll readily take them over sweet-ass marzipan! I’m a freak!