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The Many Faces of Marriage

August 23, 2013

Memoirs of A Geisha

See this face?

I almost named this post “Memoirs of a Geisha.” But before we slip down a rabbit hole, let me return to partnership, love, romance, and sweet plans.

I’m getting married

Married! We’re doing it in two parts, the first a tiny little thing I’ve called the stage fright wedding, with a miniscule cluster of loves holding space for the man and I to make it real. Stepping off the silly of “stage fright,” it’s also about the powerful feeling of making this move for ourselves. In a tiny ceremony, we can focus on each other. We can make it about the two of us making choices in each other, planning our lives more intently than the gathering.

Then the following summer, we’ll have the big wedding bash, with friends, and family from far away. We’ll have tasted what marriage is for the two of us, and then on that steady ground, post-beta, we’ll launch Wedding 2.0. Public vows, parties, cake and community. Celebration of not only what the man and I have done together, but in the arms and eyes and hearts of friends and family.

Fun prep + play

Leading up to our tiny start, I’ve been finding a dress, planning lodging and location, and doing fun things like heading to the makeup counter with a girlfriend to get my wedding makeup done. We started at a gorgeous, famous San Francisco bar, heard stories from afternoon regulars that reached into the way back of SF’s uber-fab socialite history. Then we slipped over to Sephora, where I sat under the lights, and layer by layer became the creation you see above. I’d open my eyes after a layer or two and wonder where the look was headed. My makeup artist had told us she liked to focus on a bride’s natural beauty and keep things neutral. I loved that idea. Neutral. Natural. My Style Statement is Sacred Natural, after all. At one point I opened my eyes and realized the train had run off the tracks. Makeup lesson learned: Neutral tones do not necessarily a natural bride make.

I came home and mugged for the man. We laughed and danced. I wiped off the brows and the foundation and unpeeled the eyelashes. Then, with still-fabulous eyes, we went out for neighborhood tacos.




My birthday street










Cake Ferocious delicious


(from Susan Miller’s Astrologyzone Premiere app)




Voice = Freedom

June 26, 2012

2012 San Francisco Gay Pride Parade. Over 1 million in attendance! June 24, 2012. Photos by Pema Teeter.

What does love look like?


ONE MILLION voices surging in celebration and as many heartbeats collecting in the streets. Two million hands waving in solidarity, ten million fingers reaching into the simple, sweet liberation of being seen, being heard, being loved, together in one place, on the current of a legacy of freedom-fighters begun by one voice and then another, in the clamped quiet dark of oppression, and then a collective, and an ever rising tide, till freedom sounds like life out loud, together and apart, in joys and broken hearts, and the courage not to hide, till hiding un-becomes.

It gets better, indeed.

There is freedom in the light. Person, place, purpose, regime. What’s yours? Let your voice take you there.



Disclaimer: Run now or hold your peace

No parent wants to read about their child’s first sexual encounter under their own roof. And so for that reason, I caution my dad and anyone else who feels fatherly or motherly toward me, or anyone squeamish about teenage love to click away right now.

See you clickers in the next post. 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 . . .


For all who have stayed. Welcome. To the night I got naked. With a girl. In my brother’s bedroom. It’s a passion play that, like all good dramas, begins its slow turn much earlier.

She and I were best friends. On this night, we turned lovers, in a willful gesture that I learned was desire. It took over me as if I was watching myself on a movie screen. And yet, I lived each moment in the heat that spread in my heart, my gut, my skin, exploding my head. Each choice. And then the next. I was 16.

My dad was a preacher. My mom slept nearby on the living room couch. My brother was no longer. At least, not his physical form. He had died suddenly, nine months before, at 17.

The end of innocence

His room was intact. I would go in there from time to time, to make his absence real. And to pierce the mute, open doorway standing at the end of the hall, that no one walked through anymore, but which shone blue from the paint on his walls.

It had a bigger bed than mine, covered by the blue and red afghan our grandma crocheted. I would sit on it and stare out the window. Run my hand over coarse yarn and stare out the door. Stare into his closet. Velcro my eyes to the song lyrics he had written on the pad still on his desk. The cartoons he had drawn. His life still in the lines.

But this night, the scratchy afghan slipped to the floor. My best friend and I, we’d been to the beach. Heat from our sunburns made the room feel like day. Street lamp light sifted the darkness telling us it was night. All of it transcended time.

Resurrection mix tape

Dawn came. Then morning sun. Then sleep.

It was Easter Sunday. My dad woke us ten minutes into slumber, to get ready for church.

Pastel floral farm skirt and my favorite greenish cropped top. What I wore that day is sealed on my memory, as is the way the sun slanted through the windows and her next to me in the pew in black pedal pushers. Somebody preached. About Jesus dying for our sins. And coming back to life. While I flashed on fresh sins I could still feel. And felt alive in them.

The people here hurt for me and my family’s loss deeply. They wrapped me in love as much as I would let them. And I knew with fearful certainty that if they knew the sins I knew, they would reject me without argument. That was the day a new piece of my spirit struggled free, while my relationship with religion ground to its end.


As it happened, it was my job to drive Grandma to church. That wasn’t going to change. So I went, every Sunday, for the next three years until I left for college, smiling to see the folks that raised me in this community, and dying inside to think we wouldn’t be having this conversation if they knew what I knew about me.

If you’ve ever been a closeted gay teen stoic at church, you know that hyper-self-awareness can widen into silence and separation. Turn into rejection and resentment. Years into the shut-down, I became allergic to all things holy. The day, a decade later, that I sat in traffic behind a Christian fish symbol bumper sticker, and raged at the intolerant audacity of a blindly religious vocal majority, I heard the silence in my car stab back at me. My outrage, the silent echo suggested, might be a bigger fish to fry than the one on the bumper.

A modern chance

There was no where to go in the traffic. No one to hear but myself. I’d learned enough to know that inordinate venom is usually the tip off to a personal problem buried so deep you can’t see it. It was there, gridlocked behind the Christian fish car, that I missed spirituality.

If I were a preacher, I’d be fourth in a generational line of them, starting with my great-grandfather on my dad’s side. Church, before there was a building for it, used to be held in the very house that I lived in. My dad as a boy would set out folding chairs in his living room for the congregants, which, if you’ve ever crammed into a living room and shared stories and reverence, you know is a silly name to call each other when it feels rather like family.

I missed…a feeling. That family. The reverence. The sensation of awe and peace and wonder that my dad called “the spirit.” I missed people caring and loving and coming together just to be together in a sacred hour. As much as I had grown to detest all things related to a religious tenet that would kill me if it had a modern chance, I even missed praying.


And so there in my car, I cracked open and allowed myself to feel, allowed myself to wonder, and to wander through thoughts of God as God related to ME and not a religion.

That was the beginning of what has become an increasingly spiritual journey. I remembered the reverence with which I absorbed nature on the walks to school and in the national parks we traveled with my grandparents. I remembered the joy and gratitude of stewardship that my grandma modeled. And I remembered that I had as much fascination for a fundamentalist’s diehard faith as I had vitriol for what it espoused.

I think they call this collection of attributes “humanist,” and maybe that’s what I was becoming. But what I knew in the moment was that access to spirit was no longer trapped in the church box. It was no longer separate from me and my heathen ways. Access to spirit is mine if I want it, even if religion has its party without me.

Thank God.

In the Pulpit with Ronna Detrick

In addition to stripping down and exploring through memories, I’m gearing up for Sunday morning in the pulpit with Ronna Detrick, spiritual adviser and conversation sparker extraordinaire, creator of sacred community through conversations on God and women. Please join us for her inspired invocation of the divine in all of us, as we talk about new ways of understanding and incorporating faith, beliefs, spirituality, and gorgeous, significant story.

Sunday Services you want to WAKE UP for!
with Ronna Detrick, Spiritual Director and creator of Inspired by Eve.
and guest, Pema Teeter, Story Charmer
May 27, 2012
10:00 am (PST)
We need congregation. We need sacred space.
 And we need conversation that is unscripted, unedited, and unboundaried.
 We need each other.

Dial: 530.881.1300 Code: 590920#

(Skype callers: Add ‘freeconferencing.5308811300′ to your contacts.
Once you’ve dialed in, locate the key pad and enter the access code. )

Smart, engaging conversation about topics that matter. Soak up community wisdom. Even worship. It’s divine.

I hope you’ll join us.


I don’t think I’ve ever told you.
This is what makes my life worthwhile.
In all your fragile quirkiness.
In all your blazing radiance.
Tap-dancing down the street, sweaty, in a hurry,
so serious in the seriousness of it all.
Or dragging your one club foot, a reluctant dog you’re yanking along.
Or crying in your car, a stranger, next to mine at the stoplight,
your gaze averted, your fingers tight with shame around the steering wheel.
When I nudge your exquisite body and apologize
as we shuffle past the canned soup, the frozen peas,
the hefty seductive eggplant,
the pregnant watermelon.
You, whom I’ve seen perhaps a thousand times, more.
And each time, I’ve forgotten
to tell you I adore you,
to bow, weeping, before your magnificence,
to skim the soft down of your arms,
to nuzzle and breathe you in as if you were the sea,
a bouquet of lilacs,
the first morning of snow after a long drowsy autumn.
Grappling with the price of peaches,
grapes from Argentina,
conventional or organic.
Your forehead a beautiful worried twist.
Or your heart so wide it’s breaking,
wondering if Jennifer Aniston will finally be happy,
finally married to beautiful what’s his name,
your prayers for her, a perfect snowflake,
as she shines out from the cover of People.
I just need you to know.
Even if this morning you were standing at the mirror
with your tweezers, inspecting,
shouting insults to your one excellent face.
Or changing your sweater, shirt, jeans, dress,
over and over again,
trying to articulate the right you to help you tolerate yourself and meet the day.
I couldn’t live without you.
Couldn’t imagine the world.
A glorious field of wildflowers.
Each one, as precious and everyday as dandelion,
delicate and commanding
as Cosmos, Impatiens, Morning Glory.
You, the gentle unfurling fists of fern
tight-roped high in the forest trees.
You.  A perfect rose,
all thorned and finicky,
petals cupped around the light of dawn,
fragrant, silent
remembering yourself: glorious heart of the Divine.

by Johanna Courtleigh

# #

I originally asked Johanna Courtleigh if I could the post the beginning of her gorgeous, healing, John of God journey to Brazil. She writes about it with such beauty and openness. Then she sent me this poem, with a subject line in my email that said, “more waking up!” and I read it, more buoyant with every line, “heart so wide it’s breaking.” To read Johanna’s journey—and her proper bio—posted in the Wake Up series, start here, then head over to her blog to continue. It’s a breathtaking story.

# #

Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series is the month of March in meditation on WAKING UP. What does it mean? What growth does it spur? What wonder and challenge? GUEST POSTS and personal queries will appear here throughout the month. Read all the posts in the series here…


A glimpse of love’s legacy

I never noticed the two of them as they were seated by the hostess. They were just another couple in for lunch. Conversation with my client and a smoked turkey sandwich kept my attention until our meals were finished. He headed for the restroom before our return to the office.

It was only then, seated there alone at the table, that my attention was drawn to her, at the next booth, facing me, alone. She sat still, head drooping, expressionless, seemingly, staring through the finished plates remaining on her table, her mouth partially open as if in a stupor, motionless.

Knocked out

Dishwater blonde hair was combed, acceptable, but not coiffed as she once would have insisted. Aged beauty faintly hinted in her tired face. She had been exuberant and playful, beautiful and sexy once. Never would she have gone out in public dressed like this back then, wearing a waist length jacket with the sleeves rumpled and the shoulders not pulled down primly, and plain dark brown slacks. She would have “knocked them out” with her stylish attire.

Her husband, neatly dressed and hair well groomed, appeared from the men’s room and returned to the table. As gently as if he were lifting his first born from a cradle, he helped her slide out of the booth and stand to her feet facing him. His gray hair belied many years as her mate, her companion, her lover, and father of her children. She was his girl, once, and she still is today.

Negotiating passage

Gently he helped her on with her coat, first one arm, around her back, and then the other, patiently waiting for her slow, clumsy movement to accomplish the task as much by herself as she could. The warm smile never left his face. The blank stupor never left hers. Adjusting her coat nicely and handing the cane to her, they turned together and proceeded toward the door, his cheerful gait slowed to match her laborious plodding.

Carefully, he opened one door and held it for her as she slowly negotiated her passage through it, then the second door to the outside, again he waited patiently for her unsteady gait. Across the walk way and the parking lot they marched together in slow motion, he firmly by her side, holding her arm, supporting her, never pushing her or hurrying her alone. Many miles and many years they had traveled together to arrive at this moment, taking these steps, across this parking lot.


In today’s world of disposable everything including marriage and families, I witnessed a man’s man escort a queen, his queen. Into the sunset they stroll on, he at her side steadying her by the arm, on their way to forever.

Whether she knows him now I know not. But this I do know. He knows her. He has known her. He has loved her since the day they met. He has worshipped her. And, he will be there, steadying her, supporting her, guiding her, loving her, till the moments cease, and there are steps…no more.

# #

I met my dad when I was born, and we have been getting to know each other ever since. Preacher, people-person, privately pensive, Jim Teeter is a lot of things. Storytelling—and the observation that leads to it—seems to runs in our lineage. There will be stories to tell a very long time.

# #

Story Charmer’s Waking Up Series is the month of March in meditation on WAKING UP. What does it mean? What growth does it spur? What wonder and challenge? GUEST POSTS and personal queries will appear here throughout the month. Read all the posts in the series here…

If you’re spurred by what you read, and you want to write a post in reply, email me (hi) at (storycharmer) dot (com).

Join the conversation. Leave a comment. Write a post.

Let’s wake up together.


On budgeting. In love.

January 11, 2011

I have this story I love to tell about the day I turned my money around. I was broke. Busted, disgusted, can’t be trusted, as my college roommate used to say. So much so that I wondered if I wasn’t broke, but broken.

I was also training for a marathon. Running is free, after all. I loved the daily run. It felt like an accomplishment, not ever having been a runner before. I had unlocked the secret for myself, which was that running is a technical sport. It’s not just an activity where you throw yourself at the road, run really fast and it’s over. You can time your pace, feel each muscle, call on other muscles when those are tired. You can build your stamina by way of strengthening your heart, and you can strengthen your heart with a stretch of road and a wristwatch heart monitor.

You can also let your mind unspool out there on the path. And if you have a mind like mine, you know it’s like taking the dog out to play. You have to let it run all over the place at some point if you want to have a relaxing night.

Not love

For all I loved about running, I HATED the first mile. It’s horrible. It hurts. For the first eleven minutes of every run, I negotiated, one side a chorale spectacular resounding the suck factor and saying I was stupid for even trying. The other side just shouldered the weight, like a grim old man shoveling snow. Nobody else gonna do it ain’t no sun gonna clear it but me coffee’s gonna taste good this mornin, ‘f I don’t stroke before I git there.

So one morning, when I looked up and saw I had run two miles without so much as a peep from my choir, no aching joints, no pleading psyche, I gasped. I laughed. I searched my mind for what had occupied it so intently that I couldn’t feel the vice of my nemesis first mile.

It was my budget. I was juggling it. If I give $10 a week to x and pay my gas bill a little late, then pay y $25 every other…

Not broke

I wondered at this a second. Being broke took up every waking moment. I hated it more than I hated the first mile. But…I LIKED this juggling. It was a puzzle. My mind took it to task and I got all kinds of satisfaction being clever enough to figure it out each moment. In that moment, I was a changed woman. I decided that if I loved budgeting my debt so much, why not budget my millions? Within a few months’ time, I had queued up two job interviews at investment companies.

I got the job I wanted. My broke got healed. I’m not budgeting millions, but I’m not busted anymore either. I AM still enjoying the strategies of money.

So it occurs to me this morning to apply this to love.

The Law of Three

My dad used to tell me that I brought home strays. Which may explain why, in my late 20s, I finally instituted my Law of Three:

If the romantic interest was

Addicted (to even smoking or coffee or Tic Tacs),
On medication for depression, or
Deep in debt due to irresponsible spending

I could not date them.

Having the occasion to pull out the old Law of Three in a recent conversation, I wondered if it wasn’t a little outdated. Nope, still applies, I thought. We all have our issues, but these are the ones I personally need to stay away from.

Increasing the love budget

This morning, I stopped in my mental tracks like I did the day I was running for my money. In setting my standard here, at these bottom absolutes, am I not budgeting my debt, not my millions? If it’s all the same exercise, why don’t I juggle abundance instead of poverty? Poverty of spirit, love, vision, opportunity, happiness. Abundance of the same.

Same coin. Different side.

Same game. Different pride.

My friends, it’s a brand new awareness and I don’t know how to end this post. Seems silly to say it’s a new beginning. Jesus has the corner on that market.

Existential pie chart. Of love.

Maybe borrowing from Joseph Campbell is best here. We’re born whole. We break into pieces. We spend the rest of our journey questing for the pieces and bringing them back to the whole. Peace.

I was broke. I was broken. But that run keeps reminding me, when I’m ready, of different pieces I left behind…and where to find them.

Hm. I’m listening to Pandora right now. The lyrics, “Heaven tastes like this.”

Just looked up the song. “All That Money Wants,” by The Psychedelic Furs.

Don’t you just love serendipity?


French Christmas Eve a la Antoine

Grams hits 100!

Neon ring toss NYE

What's the New Year's most auspicious bird? You can, I can, pelican!

Back to the grind

Happy New Year!


Love Poem

December 9, 2010

I wondered why the covers felt so cold.

And then I smelled the fresh paint on the walls.

You not near, night sleeps with me instead.

I open my eyes and the walls watch me back.


-Pema Teeter, ca. 1994

Been telling that story a long time, I see. That one’s changing too.

{ 1 comment }

Feeling the love…

5. At dinner with Dad, I am three, my brother is four. Somebody burps and Dad looks under plates and forks for the barking spiders.

4. Three nights after Grandpa dies, I have a dream about him. He’s waiting for me after school next to the tree in the main quad. I run to him, hug him, tell him I love him over and over. He smiles. He hugs me back. He knows.

3. Walking through a nondescript, gray, San Francisco neighborhood, hand in hand with my first boy-love, Christophe. We are 19. I can feel. Every centimeter. Of his grasp. Our hands fit like they were made this way. My chest is lit up. My hand is light itself. I can’t believe the wonder.

2. Sitting under the stairs chatting with Teo in his tiny temporary bedroom. We were roommates once, starting when I was 30 and he was 10, the child of my friend and housemate. Now he is maybe 16? Maybe 15? We no longer live together, so I am visiting, and gain special entrance to the hallowed alcove. I barely remember what we talk about or for how long. We just hang out together. And when I leave the house, I float across the street into the night. What is this feeling in my chest? It hurts like it’s breaking but it’s making me levitate, overflow. This must be what parents feel. I think I’m in love.

1. A party full of awesome people as background, trying to keep mellow my buoyant joy at sharing a leisurely hang with the two people I came miles to celebrate, the graduates, Adena and Teo.

What are your favorite moments of being in love?