Today my love and I play pinball at the laundromat and drink beer and wait for the blankets to dry. We have a lot of things. This is my fault. I think every book and blanket and pair of shoes has a story, and that when you get rid of things the story gets lost. It isn’t true of course. But it feels true. That’s the problem. I cried once because I had just realized I could never know all the stories of all the people in the whole world. I was twelve. That year I was very into thinking big thoughts and crying about imaginary things.
The truth is, you can learn a lot of stories. So many you will never remember them all. Last week, we were in Berlin, which was not as cold as you would expect – a good thing, because my luggage was lost – and the East German make-up artist and the West German film festival employee told us their stories. The thing about this film festival is that they had a lot of employees who drove us from one place to another and made sure we had our tickets to everything and timed the make-up, the press events, the red carpet, the awards show arrival, with an incredible efficiency. Everything we found in Berlin was efficient and impressive. Grocery stores, coffee, hotel. Our guide spoke four languages, and in English she told us that when the wall came down, she was nine and her best friend’s family had just snuck through four countries to get to the west, which was two blocks from where she started. She didn’t know this about her best friend until after the wall came down, and they could just walk the two blocks back to the friend’s old house – which was empty by then. The neighbors had taken everything after they left.
The East German make-up artist said that when the wall came down it was “like nothing.” And then she said “I mean like nothing else that I can ever describe.” She said it was “so big” and “so open.” She said that before the wall came down, you always knew where you were because if you walked far enough you’d come to the wall. Even if you were drunk, you could just follow the wall home. Sometimes, she said, it feels too open now. Sometimes, she wishes they would put the wall back. “From the East and the West is very different,” she said, “we are all brainwashed different.”
I told the make-up artist how I was embarrassed because the only German phrase I could seem to remember was “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” which would get me exactly no where. She laughed and laughed, curling my hair. “You are funny,” she said. Which is nice to be told, especially when it is mostly true by accident.
I recently wrote a letter to a lot of strangers about my grandmother, who is the most amazing whiskey-drinking, Bella-Abzug-admiring, pro-gay-rights Catholic feminist dime-store piano player. And since Stephen and I just wrote a movie in which the mother character is kind of a villain, I wanted to tell you that my own mother is actually completely amazing. My mother has been very excited about the movie, and she’s been watching everything you can find on the internet about the Berlin Film Festival, and really I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about it, since I just keep doing things that don’t make really great mom-conversation pieces – like her friends are all “my son just cured cancer” and my mom’s like: “oh my daughter’s a sex radical and she just co-wrote a movie where the mom character is evil.” Or at least that’s how I imagine the conversations go. (It isn’t true, by the way, about the mom character – she isn’t actually evil – who is?). But see, my mom really loves me and tries to understand me even while she decides what we can and can’t tell my grandma. Even while I keep doing things like being a sex radical that she really, really can not understand, and has all kinds of complicated feelings around. Because in her own way, my mother was a sex radical too – in that she grew up Catholic and wanted to be an altar boy and prayed daily and believed everything and then, sometime around 1973, decided that birth control, abortion, and divorce weren’t mortal sins but choices that people might actually have to make sometimes. My mom has done a lot of changing in her life, and she’s changing for me too, even though I don’t make it easy.
Last year, when I got married, my mom called me crying because she couldn’t pay for the wedding, which I guess she had gotten it into her head that she was supposed to do for some reason. Is that a tradition? I never wanted her to pay for the wedding, of course. I tried to tell her: “Mom, your daughter is a big queer, and there are a million queers out there whose parents don’t even let their kids come home to visit. It’s enough that you love me so well.” Or that’s what I tried to say.
I’m so, so grateful for my mom. I wanted to say that here. At my wedding, she did the splits on the dance floor. Oh yeah, my mom also used to be a gymnast and actually knows how to do the splits. All my friends cheered. She put her arms straight up in the air. My whole life she tried to get me to fight the patriarchy by not wearing pink or ruffles or girl things. At my wedding, she wore a pink dress, because of course, it is my favorite color.