Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

I heard a rumor that September starts tomorrow.  I’m certain this rumor is false and I fully intend to hunt down and interrogate whatever mischeivous internet prankster is trying to end summer early on us, so don’t worry.  But before I go do that, I just wanted to jot down a quick bulleted list of neat stuff that happened this summer which I would have blogged about if I hadn’t been so busy… you know… doing life.

  • I managed the redesign of BlogHer.com (via Cerado and with the help of BlogHer’s awesome staff).  Here’s the before and after.
  • I was quoted in the New York Times in an article about blogging.
  • I launched QueerOpenMic.com (and I LOVE my new gig there as co-host).
  • I secretly started working on an incredibly interesting new startup that I’m not going to tell you about for awhile.
  • I joined the BlogHer Reach Out Tour, which will host conferences in six east coast cities in October, and I’ll be facilitating their Geek Lab.
  • Genderfork (my androgyny photo blog project) received an excellent review in Coilhouse yesterday.
  • I went to Burning Man.
  • I’m going to be performing (a hillarious story that I’m not going to share on the Internet) in the Sept 13 show of Working for the Weakened. You should come!

And you already know about my grandmother.  So I guess I had a pretty full summer.  And yeah.  Okay.  I think maybe it’s alright for it to end now.

Hello, Autumn.  Missed you.

Heads up, this content is 16 years old. Please keep its age in mind while reading.

First of all, thank you for all the kind notes of support you’ve been sending me over the last month. I’m so grateful for your comfort, inspiration, and encouragement.

sarah-tree-byamygahran.jpgI just got back to San Francisco after that three-week emotional roller-coaster. In a nutshell: I got to NH just in time (thanks to you). I held my grandmother as she died. I picked out her casket. I spoke at her funeral. I held the hands of two young cousins as they walked through everything they feared about death. I wrote. I worked. I spent two weeks living with my grandfather, helping him sort through details, clothing, trinkets, sympathy cards, visions for the future, and messy smatterings of sadness. I missed two Queer Open Mics. I left my car parked illegally. I forgot to pay my rent. I attended my cousin’s wedding. I fixed issues on four family computers. I found people. I held space for grief. I invented a new card game. I flew to Colorado and hiked beside the Continental Divide.  I threw a snowball in August.

And the lesson I’m taking home from all this is actually about dancing in China six years ago. It may seem completely unrelated, but it’s not.  Here’s what happened:

The “Dancing in China” Story

In 2002, I spent four months living in China. More than half of that trip was unplanned — I attended a 5-week study abroad program, and then just didn’t get on my plane home. Instead I set up shop in Qingdao, connected with other ex-pats, taught English under the table, and rented an apartment illegally. I spent many nights at a local bar called the Jazz Bar, which was the central hub for foreigners (and Chinese people who wanted to meet foreigners).

The bar was large and had great floor space. A local band named Angel Hair Tobacco played covers of American rock songs three times a week. It was a neighborhood pub set up for drinking, chatting, and playing darts. No one there danced.

My friends and I spent most nights playing cards, where the winner of each game always dared the loser to do something small and silly. After one particular card game, where I came out as the loser, the winner dared me to get up and dance to the next song at the front of bar.  This was a hugely bold dare and my pals laughed at the idea, figuring I would refuse to break the no-dancing taboo.

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“How Do You Make a Handkerchief Dance?”
My grandmother is lying on a hospital bed,
holding a small square of paper
in her hands
and pausing between words
as she reads it to the nurse.
“I don’t know, Sally,”
the nurse says.
“How do you make a handkerchief dance?”
“You Put a Little Boogie In It.”
She tells it to the next nurse, too.

Grandma kept things simple.
Red lipstick, jigsaw puzzles,
and photo albums.
Chicken salad on finger rolls and
As the World Turns at 2 o’clock.
Judge Judy, Star Magazine,
and the National Enquirer every evening.
But she read the Wall Street Journal, too.

And she focused on the details,
placing towels and a fruit basket on the bed
for every guest.
Suggesting a nap if you looked tired,
and complimenting your outfit.
She wouldn’t start eating until the hostess
had lifted her fork,
and always passed the food counter-clockwise.
She kept her elbows off the table, too.

But it was in between those moments
that I finally found her.
In between the hugs and kisses,
the pleases and thank-yous,
the celebrity gossip and 9 o’clock news
that I cornered her in a La-Z-boy
alone one day
and asked her about her life.
I found the pearls and blossoms of her wisdom
in those reflections, that narration,
those worries, her hopes, and all the angles of her spirituality.
My grandmother was never afraid of death.
But as long as living was comfortable, she preferred to keep going with that.

She loved through the details and I loved around them
and we met each other someplace
where line meets line.
Hand to cheek,
hour to minute,
we lost our barriers when our thoughts
melted fear back down into love,
and we decided to sit in that space for awhile,
because the weather was nice
and we had a lovely view of the birch trees.

I couldn’t fluster her.
Every time I shapeshifted,
grew into a new awkward and challenging angle of myself,
she looked me in the eye consistently,
the same way she always had,
with adoration and eager hope
for my happiness.
She loved
and fully,
teaching me by example
that we can overcome our egos
if we find footing in honesty and acceptance.

I’ve only met one person in my life
whose sole job was to love
and she raised me
through a family with thick, strong arms.

I loved being loved by her.

I think she knew that, too.

– Sarah Dopp
August 1, 2008
Rest in peace, Grandma Sally

(Extra mushy thank-you hugs to Dawn, Shaun, Amy, Devil Crayon, Marcie, John, and Jon for the last minute editing help.)