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I came across this old post and found that it still resonates with me. Written in 2007, this was a few weeks into my current employment with the Department of Veterans Affairs…so some of my perspectives here lack the education I have today. It is a good snapshot of how I was feeling eight years ago, just coming out of Brandeis University, and not connected to the military community at all, like I am now. Guilt for not having served in a combat zone continues to be a topic that comes up between myself and veteran friends.

Conscious Engagement

Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War. Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War.

It’s sad to admit, but I was almost going to leave out the “Gulf War” part of the title, because I didn’t want to trigger any negative responses. The word veteran is pretty easily used among my friends, and we say how proud we are of veterans. But “that damn war” is a different topic altogether.

Of course, no one blames the soldiers. They are the ones dying. And their families are the ones suffering for the loss of the youth and strength of their loved ones. As one friend reminded me, the ones who don’t die have a more difficult battle: coming home scarred. Missing limbs, unexplained ailments from the desert, gone wrong in the head. There is radiation poisoning from depleted uranium that gets passed down to their kids. There…

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Portland Pride Parade 2014. The 44th annual parade celebrates legal marriage for same sex couples this year.

Portland Pride Parade 2014. The 44th annual parade celebrates legal marriage for same sex couples this year.

My Tara was in the parade for the first time this year! It was exciting to get ready and to show up early and wander through the staging area, which I haven’t done before. Tara had cut up her Madison High School Gay Straight Alliance T-shirt and made a really awesome shirt out of it. Sadly, it was cold and rainy before the parade so she kept a sweater on and I couldn’t get a photo of the awesomely creative dragon-spawn I call my kid. Even sadder: I never even saw her in the parade. She wasn’t with a float, just a group of kids, and I spotted her group as they were already past me, and I couldn’t pick her out. I am So Bummed.

Tara and my Uncle Jim in the staging area. She was between floats 50 and 51, and he was float 79, so even though the parade had started at this time, we were still at leisure.

Tara and my Uncle Jim in the staging area. She was between floats 50 and 51, and he was float 79, so even though the parade had started at this time, we were still at leisure.

Dancers with Maracatu PDX

Dancers with Maracatu PDX

Yup. It's Portland. It rained. But it didn't seem to damped anyone's spirits.

Yup. It’s Portland. It rained. But it didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits.

She was so funny. "The rain is melting my hair!"

Lotta Marie Liquor was so funny. “The rain is melting my hair!” (it still looks great.)

Rainbow Balloons are required at Pride Parade

Rainbow Balloons are required at Pride Parade

We saw plenty of vuvuzelas this World Cup Sunday

We saw plenty of vuvuzelas this World Cup Sunday

Well, I could have guessed that Indians are proud, too

Well, I could have guessed that Indians are proud, too

I don't know who this guy is/ is representing, but he's awesome.

I don’t know who this guy is/ is representing, but he’s awesome. Look at the little tyke in the yellow rain slicker in the background.

Maracatu PDX had wonderful costumes

Maracatu PDX had wonderful costumes

Here's another couple of dancers from Maracatu PDX

Here’s another couple of dancers from Maracatu PDX

This fashion hasn't gone out of style yet, and probably won't.

Old fashions haven’t gone out of style yet, and probably won’t.

I got a kick out of the softball players, the Fairies and the Cubs

I got a kick out of the softball players, the Fairies and the Cubs

Things warmed up a little when this float came by

Things warmed up a little when this float came by

 

Ok, I’ll say it: this had to be a crushing blow to a dog ego, if there is such a thing. There were lots and lots of parade dogs this year, all decked in finery from pink tutus to monster costumes and rainbow clown collars. Oh, you poor doggies. I hope your people took you home and gave you bunches of love for putting up with our human silliness. 🙂

monster dog

monster dog

I didn't know their spots came in those colors!

I didn’t know their spots came in those colors!

Portland Pride Parade 2013 with Poder Latino Oregon!

Portland Pride Parade 2013 with Poder Latino Oregon!

I’m a little late, but I want to get these photos out to you. Last month I met a friend in Portland’s Chinatown and we watched the Pride Parade. I hadn’t seen Eliot since I lived in Humboldt, which was before I went to school in Boston, which was so long ago! Nine, maybe ten years, it’s been, and that is entirely too long to go without seeing a friend.

He introduced me to Amanda, and then we were able to catch up on old times while cheering our support for the floats and banners and people as they passed.

Our ladies of Bridgetown

Our ladies of Bridgetown

The Timbers Army loves LGBT!

The Timbers Army loves LGBT!

The parade was smaller than the last couple of times I’ve seen it. Fewer drag queens, which is a disappointment. More company support, which I LOVED. You know, banks, churches, high schools, airlines, etcetera, marching in T-shirts shouting “We are happy to serve everyone,” or “We hire anyone who is qualified.” There were lots of politicians in the parade, publicly announcing that they want to represent all of their constituents.

People of faith were out in support...um, wait a minute... is this a real church?

People of faith were out in support…um, wait a minute… is this a real church?

Nike, one of the area's largest employers, came out in force

Nike, one of the area’s largest employers, came out in force

I was pleased to see Uncle Jim and Uncle Larry driving the square dancing float for the Rosetown Ramblers. Jim drives it every year, and Larry typically drives the bowling float for the Portland Community Bowling League, but I didn’t see the bowling float, so the Uncles were in the same truck this year.

The Rose City Rollers are Portland, Oregon’s all-female flat track roller derby league

The Rose City Rollers are Portland’s all-female flat track roller derby league

The weather was great! There were some clouds early, it cleared up and became warm and sunny by the end of the parade.

Portland is certainly the most eclectic, accepting, diverse, and liberal place I’ve ever lived. It feels good to be in a city where most of the time strangers see you first as a human being, and second as whatever your outward appearance might be. That also makes it more startling when insensitive, non-inclusive, or even hateful words and actions are tossed around. But…I suppose it’s unavoidable that when you take people from 600,000 different walks of life and put them all together, that sometimes we’ll be awful to each other. Considering that this is the case in every city, most of the time Portland does a damned good job of embracing all of its people.

Enjoy the photos.

Ssssssssssizzlin!

Ssssssssssizzlin!

The audience, I kid you not, does not look much different than the typical group of people one finds on Portland streets.

The audience, I kid you not, does not look much different than the typical group of people one finds on Portland streets.

Sorry I caught you in an unflattering expression, but dahling, you look FABULOUS!

Sorry I caught you in an unflattering expression, but dahling, you look FABULOUS!

Red Dress is always a great float

Red Dress is always a great float

The Pug Contingent

The Pug Contingent

Eliot, me, and some of our fair city's bridges in the background.

Eliot, me, and some of our fair city’s bridges in the background.

New dress and fancy shoes

My little girl is now out of Middle School and on her way toward being a high-schooler. Very cool, a little scary, and a recipe for adventure. Life is so full of doors of potential. All around us, doors stand in their frames, just waiting for our inquisitive minds to try the handle and see what it’s like to walk through. Nothing brings that thought to mind lately, more than my thoughts about Miss Tara graduating from the 8thgrade. How often I wonder where her life will take her, and how eager I am to sit back with a bowl of popcorn and watch her leap into it!

me, my girl, my mother

Last month we attended the Portland Title VII Indian Education graduation ceremony. Tuesday’s ceremony was at her own school with her classmates. It was really fun to be there with all that Eighth-grader energy and with their proud family and friends. I tease Tara, tongue in cheek, that I’ve got Gypsy blood, and always on the edge of being blown into the next town with a change in the winds. Contrary to my natural instincts, I’ve allowed societal and psychiatric pressure to coerce me into holding still for awhile for her sake. It paid off when I watched her classmates graduate and knew half their names and could tell you something special about almost as many of them. Holding still helps me connect to my community, and that’s a beautiful thing.

goofing around in the cafeteria

She’s a cultural minority at Harrison Park School, like all of her classmates there. It’s probably the first time I’ve experienced a clearly demarcated group that has no obvious physical qualities that make up the majority. The group is so unlike her very white upper middle class elementary school in Beaverton (on the other side of town). Sorry Beaverton, but over here we SO have it going on! The students beaming as they crossed the stage were descendants of families hailing from places as diverse as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Nigeria, Mexico, and, uh, Oregon. There were American Indians, Muslims in their headscarves, tall and dark, short with red hair, loud, quiet, smart, popular, shy, and all obviously loved by not only one or two who might be related to them, by also by supporters throughout the auditorium. There were cheers, yelps, clapping, and whistles scattered amongst us all when a new student made their way into the spotlight to collect their certificate of promotion.

My neighbor, Herbert, also the parent of a graduate

It was obvious when a student was popular: sometimes the place would erupt in a roar of appreciation. And I often could guess why: they cheered for the sweet-natured but fierce team player on the volleyball team, the beautiful chess champ, the tall traveling athlete who cherishes friends, the pianist, the scholarship winner, and the one who makes everyone laugh. What a great group they are. I am proud of my girl and proud of her classmates. I’m so glad to have witnessed their last three years together.

My mother sewed a dress for Miss T, who had chosen the design and the fabrics. (She also sewed her own dress that you see in the photo above.) Tara felt like a beauty in her lovely dress. I was delighted to see my tomboy in GIRL clothes! She thought at first she wanted to wear my old combat boots with her dress. It was a way for her to match the dress code and retain her individuality. She wasn’t ready to make a clean break from her typical fashion preference (ripped jeans, Vans, and a hoodie) to satin and tulle. But… after twenty minutes in front of a mirror in the dress, she was rummaging through my closet and pulled out my Kenneth Cole sandals. It was a sweet moment. It’s not always easy to accept growing up gracefully, and I understood the small steps she was taking to try on a new role.

happy graduates

All the graduates ended up in the cafeteria where we gathered for photos and hellos to old friends and goodbyes to dear teachers. The graduates were bursting with high spirits and joyous celebration. They decided to gather at Jonah’s house for ice cream afterward, so Mom, and Aunt Eireanne, and I went home and left T with her friends to celebrate their special evening together.

wearing my own letterman's jacket

As an aside… The following night my girl was getting ready to head out to Cirque de Soleil with ex-boyfriend Mark. Looking through the hall closet for something warm to wear, she pulled out my old high school jacket. Talk about bringing it full circle. I wore that jacket not too long ago. Let’s see, it was about 6 weeks ago. No, more like a year or two ago. Well, actually – now that I think about it – that was 23 years ago. She wore the jacket and I reminisced. I can’t believe I’m the mother of a Freshman.

Me at the Pride Parade with some... nuns?

That’s me on the left in the purple. These guys were so great. We saw a couple of them waiting at a bus stop in the morning, on their way to the parade.

waiting for a TriMet bus

What a flippin’ awesome city. When they saw that I was getting my picture taken with them, they ran up and posed for Mark to get the shot off.

Made in Oregon

I’m delinquent in updating my photos from Pride ’08 in Portland. Man, what a blast. A friend of mine at work went, and she said she was bored the whole time and couldn’t wait to leave. So, maybe a pride parade isn’t the BEST way to spend a Sunday afternoon for everyone, but I can’t imagine WHY NOT!  hee hee

Please enjoy the photos. I haven’t much else to say except that it was a delight.

Our group. Larry on the right in the red shirt

in finery

sexy legs

I enjoyed especially that I got to meet Larry, another of Mark’s friends from meetings. We couldn’t help but talk about Kevin. Mark kept saying “That fucker. So selfish.” Because Kevin was at Pride ’07 with us, and he recently overdosed and killed himself. That’s part of why I needed to be there, because I needed to remember him, and I dragged Mark along because he needs help expressing his emotions. Hopefully he moved through a little bit more of his pain.

Jimi Hendrix

As an aside, we went to a memorial service last Saturday for another addict who died too early. This time, Mark’s friend was Michael’s father, and he had only met Michael a couple times. The service was beautiful, and very interesting because the family is Indian, so we were able to see a lot of tradition that we had not experienced before. Anyway, Mark again was thinking of Kevin. I was glad for another opportunity to work through his feelings. Although, Mark doesn’t like it. He says he doesn’t like remembering someone because it brings up all the pain again. Well, yeah.

package

Charlie's angel

I’m beginning to feel that if I remain this close to the AA community, I will have to continue to process loss. Loss in different ways of course, but including death, which is a blow.

Oh hey, this is not supposed to be a downer post!

This is supposed to be about these great photos!

Love and love and love to you.

This Jimi Hendrix imitator was so much fun. He’s spotted around Portland with some regularity. He gave kisses and hugs to everyone. We looked down the street and saw a lovely one prancing around in her teal pumps. Yeeow! If I was a guy with legs that smokin’, I would want to wear a short dress too.

The sign says, "Old Trannie seeks young stud"

Raising money in red dresses

Wendolene

don't care

This person is the best!! For some reason he reminds me of the characters from Wallace and Grommit. Wendolene, maybe. Ha.

Those teeth!

And then, there was a woman with the giant hat. Her shirt says, “I just realized I DON’T CARE.”

Ha ha. That’s really funny.

faithful sisters

evil rabbit

Comments from the old blog:

kiya

I am very proud of who I am. I am proud because I know that GOD is proud of me because he wakes me up each morning, and I feel that I have a will to keeping on pushing that wheel.

crystal

Yay! Thanks for sharing this, Kiya! Oh thank you for your strength and your will. Sorry for not getting all my photos up before you looked at it, though. I was drawn away by the sunshine… Ok, I’ll put the rest up now!

My growing girl in a cherry tree

It has been fun watching my daughter grow up. I’m not one of those moms who ever says, “Oh, I just want to keep her a baby as long as possible.”

I adore my kid. I think she’s so smart, and so funny, and so genuinely caring. I can’t help but be proud of her amazing life. I have already learned from her. What a gift she is to me.

We’ve been brushing up against the “growing up” topics for about a year now. We’ve had many many “period” talks, till her questions of the mystical nature of being a woman were somewhat satisfied. And then the more practical side came up. “Why do people use tampons? Doesn’t it hurt?”  I realized that we needed to address it for real. So I bought a box of pads and a box of tampons and we sat at the breakfast table and I had her open up whatever she wanted. She poked at them, and pulled and wadded and then tore one to bits. I got a glass of water for her and she poured water and dunked them and played with the adhesive parts and opened a couple more.

After awhile, I could tell she was completely satisfied. She looked up at me, and then started cleaning it all up. She asked if she could take some of it to Dad’s house and leave some at my house.

No more mystery. Not as scary. Now all the stories her 5th grader girlfriends tell her won’t freak her out so much anymore. Man, I wish someone had done that for me. I got all my education on the playground and by stealthily reading the backs of boxes in the feminine hygiene products aisle at Shaver’s grocery store.

Sunday it was stage two. She asked if I would speak with her in her bedroom. Alone. So we trotted up there and she explained that some girls had teased her about the hair in her armpits. She said, “I didn’t realize I was at the age where I was supposed to be shaving! I didn’t know it was time.”

So, I explained that there is no “time.” It doesn’t have anything to do with age. It is completely up to her when she shaves or even whether she ever shaves. I really tried to diffuse the peer pressure, but it was too late. She had made up her mind that it was time. Which, I guess, is the way to go about it – wait for it to be her decision.

I did try to beat her little friends to the next one though, and told her to wait on shaving her legs. “In fact,” I said, “If you never shave your legs, the hair will stay light and fine. Because as soon as you begin, it comes out like whiskers and then you have no choice.” To my pleasure, she had already heard this, and was glad to hear my reinforcement of what someone else’s mom had said.

She wanted me to recommend a brand of razor. And I told her what I use. And since I always have extras, I gave her one and popped her into the shower and gave her a 5-minute crash course. She was scared about how to do it, scared of cutting herself. I told her about how to move the razor, how not to ever share or  borrow, how some people’s skin needs to be wet or it breaks out in a rash.

This stuff is *so* exciting for me. It’s silly to be this excited maybe. And I’m not a girly girl by any means, so girl stuff in general usually causes me to roll my eyes. But I can’t help but feel a thrill that my little one is not so little anymore.

Good luck my love. Go out into that big world and be who you are!

Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War.

Dressed in my blues, sometime in the Spring of 1991. Just after the swift conclusion of the first Gulf War.

It’s sad to admit, but I was almost going to leave out the “Gulf War” part of the title, because I didn’t want to trigger any negative responses. The word veteran is pretty easily used among my friends, and we say how proud we are of veterans. But “that damn war” is a different topic altogether.

Of course, no one blames the soldiers. They are the ones dying. And their families are the ones suffering for the loss of the youth and strength of their loved ones. As one friend reminded me, the ones who don’t die have a more difficult battle: coming home scarred. Missing limbs, unexplained ailments from the desert, gone wrong in the head. There is radiation poisoning from depleted uranium that gets passed down to their kids. There is traumatic brain injury.

This does not describe every veteran. Many odd vets are like me. I don’t have physical scars, yet I’m burdened with conflicts. I am proud to have served my country. Proud to have sacrificed some comfort and some personal freedom in order to be at the President’s beck and call to answer some future unknown summons and do the job I was trained to do. It’s a proud calling. It’s just that, among civilians and military both, my calling was support staff. I wasn’t in the battle. I worked in weather, ensuring that the aircraft could take off and land safely. A critical part of every operation is support staff…but support staff (in any possible meaning of the word) are rarely lauded as they deserve to be.

Out of frustration of the pressure of this social inadequacy, I and other members of my unit volunteered to be sent directly to the desert sands, at the onset of Operation Desert Shield in August of 1990. Our offers were rejected because our mission at that time was too important for us to be let go. We were in Alaska, and our mission was support of the Star Wars program (it has since been declassified, so I can tell you and I don’t have to take you out, heh heh).

But the thing that sticks with me is the idea that our image of ourselves: “defenders of the country,” prompted us to volunteer to be sent directly into battle, rather than stay safe in Alaska. Isn’t that curious?

Then there is the civilian side of it. I just came from years at a University: not the best place for solider support. People asked me how I could agree to become a soldier when it meant that I could have to kill others. People asked me how I could agree to support the Air Force when I believed that war didn’t solve problems. Didn’t I ask all these moral questions of myself before I joined?

Well, actually, no. I believe in my country. I had committed myself to the support of my nation, and committed myself to obeying orders as I was trained to do. I didn’t think about politics, or morals, or peace tactics vs. war tactics. It was simple and elegant: I wanted to give of myself to the country I loved and was proud of. I left it up to my superiors to decide what should be done with me.

I did not ask moral questions when I volunteered to join the Persian Gulf conflict. I was a member of the US armed forces. My country was at war. I saw myself as a warrior, and I felt impotent while stuck in Alaska observing weather for secret spy missions to Russia. The mindset is hard to explain unless you’ve felt it yourself.

McCormick & Schmick’s is a seafood restaurant that – at least locally – offered up free dinners to veterans last night. My partner and I went to sample the fare, but sampled more of the atmosphere than we were expecting. The place was jammed with members of the 187th Helicopter Company, Vietnam Vets and their spouses. I met a woman with the 187th group in the bathroom who was visiting from Texas. I asked if she was a veteran. “No, I’m with my husband-” she began. Then she said, “Yes. I am a veteran. I stayed home all by myself and raised 5 kids!” I saw her point. “You served your time,” I affirmed.

I am glad that our nation stands behind our soldiers now better than we did during the Vietnam War.

It feels like there is a persistent collective recollection of how we further injured returning Vietnam Vets by taking out our political frustration on them. Americans are careful not to do it openly anymore. But… I can see the confusion lingers with us still. While we do not spit on vets any more, many of us have unvented anger. Many Americans are frustrated about the war, and have no one else to engage with. Washington authority is this Wizard of Oz idea, mystical and powerful and unattainable. Returning vets ARE attainable, sitting in a University class for example.

My message here is getting to be about as convoluted as my feelings. But the final point I’ll come back to is this: aside from all the anxiety I feel about the war we are in that I don’t believe in, and aside from the strange sense of shame I feel for having been a soldier but not having been in a battle, and aside from the pure anger I feel about how our military is a perfect hegemonic weapon to keep the weak and poor down while buoying the strong and rich, I am proud to have served. I am proud to have been a solider who supported Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I love my country fiercely, and I have done something about it.

Character and Accomplishments go together in my life, and the Pride part is where I get unsteady. I am glad that other Zaadzsters echo these thoughts in their own answers to this question.

Anyone raised with a strict Protestant Ethic might flinch away from the word “pride” as I do. (With my best friend deeply enmeshed in co-chairing her local Pride festival…. I suddenly wonder how many aspects of politics are touched by that choice of word…) I recall so many frightful lecture sessions where my mother screamed at me not to be proud of anything, and to never think that I was capable of any accomplishment. I was supposed to learn that anything done was done through God’s will only, and if something was done well by my own hands, then I must immediately thank God for it.

“You are nothing!” she screamed, trying to teach me this important lesson about humility and pride. “You can’t do anything without God. You are worthless without God! Never be proud of yourself or tell anyone that you did something. It is all God’s good work and you are merely skin and bones to carry out his work!”

Erm. I think she went a bit far. But maybe I was a hot-headed girl and needed to be reigned in. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to shake off the effects of those lessons, however. It makes me feel tremendously guilty now, when I put a lot of work into something, and think “Wow, I did a really good job.” Then, I glance around and see if anyone noticed me taking credit for something my own hands made.

I’ll probably swing the pendulum the other way and set back my own child with the opposite overdose of emphasis. “You are so smart! And capable! And thoughtful! Good for you!” Like many children (too many children) these days, mine will grow up thinking she’s brilliant  and may be in for a dreadfully rude awakening when she gets into the world and finds out she’s just another person – no better and no worse.

My accomplishments are incredible. No humbleness there. I think what I’ve done, how I’ve grown, how far I’ve come from where I began, and how I’ve reached out to the touch the world in a positive way… I think all these accomplishments are truly praiseworthy. I am proud of myself. (no one heard that, right?) But I do not believe that my story stands above others’ stories. I am in awe of what some of my friends have crawled through to get to the beautiful human being that they are today. I remain humble enough to know that I have much to learn, and that I can only learn what I need to by being silent sometimes and learning from others.

My character has both created my path and has been shaped by my journey. My character constantly changes, and that is due to the experiences of my life: attempts and failures as well as accomplishments.

One of my many guises

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