A "Book Of Life"
My life in years, written in 2004-2005, revisited in 2017


November 10, 1970 - November 9, 1971, this was the year of great changes. They were changes I could not control, and in some helpless way, I sort of just went along with the flow. I was growing weary of giving Dad advice on his marriage. I was weary of the whole thing. They tried to seek counseling from a Christian source. Would counseling from a non-Christian source have done more good? Possibly it may have, for maybe that person could have reached both parties, and not be trying to push a Christian view of the way their marriage should be.

Eventually, it was decided things could not be resolved. Dad kept getting bursitis in his thumb whenever he'd go home. Much of their difficulties were due to their simple inability to really communicate. Neither could see each other's side, and I never sensed from them that they were a true partnership. It's not just the lack of hugging and kissing, as evidence of affection. My staid fundy Aunts and Uncles also never showed affection publicly, but somehow I got from them that each set of them were a pair, a team partnership, and their sense of union to each other was evident in other ways.

I understood this better when I became in partnership myself. Meanwhile, at age twelve, I had the sense like my world was falling apart. Picture that card from the Tarot, the tower which is aflame and people are falling out windows. The Saturday my Dad told me to put my things in the car, that he was leaving, was the shredding. I had to behold my Mother's shrieking and felt helpless and guilty. Did she not understand earlier, how much in peril their marriage was?

Maybe she had just thought Dad would never do it. Her hesitency to truly comprehend was broken through utterly that day. The tearing apart was utter and final. Dad's mother welcomed us into her home. Divorce was not a thing approved of, but likely, Dad's parents had never approved of the marriage in the first place. My mother never felt truly welcome, and avoided going to family gatherings. This could have began the rift, "You never want to go anywhere with me!", Dad might have declared, never gaining a clue as to reasons why. His cluelessness was also their undoing.

Was me then, trying to please, and not knowing how,
to please one means to disappoint the other.
Oh, the agony of that moment, the leaving,
all so in a rush, and my mother crying, crying, crying...
Didn't she see it coming?
It is all the end,
and it is a beginning,
and I'm not sure what the beginning will be.
I wanted to get away,
to forget the look and sound of those awful sobs.
I wanted to get away to where things were orderly and clean.
I couldn't do anything about it,
the sadness and the gray ghosts at that house on the corner.
I couldn't, so I just wanted to flee.

I wanted to flee,
I couldn't help.
The immensity of her pain scared me.
'Demons', my gramma said,
and she only half understood.
I only half understood,
and the other half was filled with fear.

JAL, 8-10-05

And so, somewhere in spring of 1971, they were granted a divorce. Life at Gramma's was a bit different than life had been earlier. I appreciated regular cooked breakfasts and tasty suppers. My mother had never got up early enough to make breakfast. Sometimes I enjoyed my Gramma's company, and sometimes it was strange, for there were subtle messages of disapproval. I did not sit right, talk right, and a matter of other useless things. I could not entirely please her, and I felt awkward. I did not know why these things mattered. They all had something to do with encouraging 'femininity' in me, and it mostly felt foreign to my nature.

My world had definitely become more complex and I was just beginning to truly perceive it.

My mind became alive that year. Rather than being mired in the few unsolvable puzzles I faced, I enjoyed the mind expansion my growing awareness was causing. A quote of Henry David Thoreau was posted on a wall at school. I read it and it was as if he was speaking directly to me:

"If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away." (From Walden Pond)

The words seemed to fill me. I felt as though I did not keep pace with those around me. I felt new, and so full of wondering. Others did not seem to wonder much. They just took the course laid out for them. I cocked my ear to hear MY drummer. I knew it was new music, which I'd never heard before. I pointed myself in that direction, and knew I'd go `a different way'. That's all the clearer the vision was, then. But it was like a beacon, leading me eagerly onward.

This quote was a comfort, a voice from a fellow traveller, that gave me a hint to trust myself. I did not know then how utterly and completely my path would differ from those of my relatives, but I felt full of curiousity and eagerness for what lay ahead.

The following photo may have been from the eighth grade. I didn't take such good notes on the back as my mother did for my earlier photos:

This summer was spent visiting my friend Debbie a lot. Living at Gramma's, I was then nearer to Debbie's house, and it wasn't such a long walk. There were other friends as well, C and K, from church, who also went to my Junior High. I can't remember much about that school, and it's probably because I spent only two years there. Later, sixth graders would also attend Junior High.

I remember down the road from the school was a wooded area that C and I used to explore. It was not soon after cleared to make way for an addition to the hospital.


I don't remember so much about school itself. I'd get a ride with Debbie, even though it wasn't a long walk. Or am I thinking of High School? I remember graduating, however. I had a white dress with little flowers on the front empire waist bodice and tiny pleats in the skirt section. My hair was the full sweep of waist length hair by now.

This was a dress I'd made myself

Was this the summer I read Wuthering Heights, and got so involved in it? I wondered why Cathy chose the respectible but boring dude, and not the romantic and passionate Heathcliff. I knew I would never choose the 'conventional'. I felt my imagination beginning to come alive, and I enjoyed creating for myself stories in my mind, romantic stories of passion. I became the characters as I imagined the stories. Mostly, these stories stayed in my head only. However, there was one story which didn't, and it is a sad memory which impacted me greatly in years to come.

*   *   *

Twelve years old, maybe thirteen. It was summer, and I don't think I'd started high school yet, but I think I had graduated from junior high, so I think I was thirteen. I remember the lined paper and the yellow folder which held those sheets. I'd began a story on those lined sheets. The premise of this story was 'what would it be like to suddenly wake up in a guy's body? I put the folder underneath the bed. It could stay there until my next inspiration.

It didn't stay there. Gramma picked it up. Why, I don't know. Maybe she was mopping the floor for dust and the sunny yellow cover caught her eye.

She opened the cover and read it. I heard about it when I came home later from school. "What is this horrible thing you've been writing? It's shameful! How could you even think such awful thoughts?" I blushed deep crimson in reply. I put the folder away. I never again attempted to write a story, any story, not until many years later, and this event and its effects had been dealt with.

Then, the feeling of shame, complete and utter, filled me entirely. I knew then that I had to keep all those fantasies of mine to myself, that no other human being could ever understand them. A great sorrow filled me, and I felt positively alien. I could NEVER please Gramma! Well, maybe on a good day, if nothing controversial was discussed, it was possible. But increasingly, I felt awkward.

Years later, I told it to Laura, my transgendered spouse, as an example of my own transgenderal musings. Even so, it was not then immediately apparent how much the transgendered aspects are truly an aspect of my own identity. I am not as one who would seek surgery and live in the role opposite to my birth gender, but these feelings are in me. I am glad to now know the wholeness of being.


November 10 1972 - November 9, 1973

The blouse was an orangish gold, the wool vest a dark forest green and the tie was olive green

High School was a big building like a maze. A few courtyards helped alleviate its prison like ambience. I hated the bathrooms, for there were always so many girls in there trying to smoke and not get caught. It was difficult to get a toilet and often I had to be assertive. I was not able to fit freshman choir into my schedule, so I was placed in a sophmore group of singing girls. I loved the choir teacher, a very heavy set woman who was in another way larger than life, for she really got good results out of our young voices. She showed us how to put emotion into what we were singing, and I have never forgotten that. I wore a flannel pajama set for one choral piece at the Christmas concert. We were to be as on Christmas Eve, sneaking out to catch a glimpse of Santa. I loved singing and it was the favorite class through out all my four years in High School.

I can't remember any of the other teachers in my freshman year. But I do remember one incident which ended sadly, but brought a lesson I never forgot. A movie I'd watched March, 1997 brought it back to me fresh:

We watched an intriguing movie this evening. Harriet the Spy wasn't the greatest movie we've seen, but, oh, did it cut to the core! Harriet had a little notebook in which she wrote down everything she saw and thought. She wrote observations of all her school mates. Even her friends did not escape her scrutiny. And she recorded some very unkind things. This book was supposed to have been private. But kids being curious, it was soon an open book. When everyone found out what she'd written, she became very very unpopular.

This resonated so well with my childhood, for I too had taken pen in hand to defame. It was the freshman year of high school. Our assignment for English was to describe someone we knew in such detail that everyone could tell what they were like. I didn't have a clue who to write about. After class, I discussed the assignment with a friend. K. and I had a good laugh as we described another friend. Yeah, wouldn't it be funny to write about C.? She always told us tales in which she had met some boy who took a liking to her. I'm not sure why, but I was certain she was making up the tales to impress us all. Was it because the idea of getting all excited over some stupid boy was foreign to me? I'm not sure, but I was certain the stories were at least exaggerated. K. egged me on, "Yeah, you should really write about C. She really deserves it!"

By then, my head was swirling with all sorts of things to put in the article. We revelled in the 'fun' of this. I went home and honed the article as best as I could. I thought the mystery of who the person was would be a secret to K. and me alone. So when I read it out loud in class, I was totally shocked when the aftermath occurred. Somehow everyone in the class knew I had written about C.! I was mortified. And most certainly C. knew I had written about her! She had one final conversation with me before she never spoke to me again. She told me how she had thought I was so sweet and innocent, and how her grandmother, who was raising her, thought I was so sweet and innocent. She said her grandmother was always telling her, "Why can't you be nice and sweet like Joan? She'd never say or do anything to hurt anyone." "Well, my grandmother was WRONG!" By then, I felt so terribly bad. Unlike Harriet, who managed to patch everything up with her friends, there was nothing I could do to undo what I had done. Even K. didn't have much to do with me after that. In fact, after that, I was pretty much the loner all through high school. All my friends were suddenly busy with boyfriends. I felt totally deserted.

In that rememberance that day, I spoke of great regret, finding it the one thing I would do differently in life. In retrospect, perhaps in no other way would I have learned the power of words. I learned never to put anything in print that I would mind if it got to be public knowledge. One can never know before whose eyes or ears these words will land, and once released, the words can never be taken back. I've remembered that. In all my years of journal writing since, I hope I have kept that. There is only one individual of whom I have really spoke badly, and it was about someone to whom I would have said those things to their face. But that is a story for another day.

Meanwhile, my fourteenth year was the beginning of painful isolation. Even Debbie and her parents moved away to a big house on the west side, so I didn't see much of her. She had a boyfriend, as well. This sudden boy craziness was something that didn't seem to grab me. I did have one friend that was a boy, he was short and slight, very musical and creative. If he was also given to 'boy-craziness' at this time, he did not say so, but kept such matters to himself until much later.

With all this isolation, I had plenty of time to read, and one of those books was by a woman who was alive when the Nazi persecutions were going on. This was a Christian woman, Corrie Ten Boom, whose family helped many Jews to escape. Not only her more optimistic view, in which lives were saved, I'd also read the harrowing journal of Anne Frank, and the eyewitness view of being one so trapped and hated. I began to think about the immensities of evil which this one man, Hitler, had set loose upon the world. From these ponderings, I had a large epiphany about my families fundy religion.

I thought about the nature of the Divine Being, and what His nature would be like. I knew nothing of religious history and of the many conceptions of deity that came prior to the one established by Christians. I just reasoned of what such a being Should be like. I'd studied the horrific actions of Hitler, who tortured and killed so many people in his insane view of the best type of human. It was not a far step from being horrified over his actions, to realizing the God of vengeance believed in by many Christians was much like that. This vengeful deity sends people to an everlasting torment in hell, because they not believing in him have been deemed unfit. Hitler's torments at least ended when the person died, but the vengeful god's torments were eternal. I myself would never do such a thing, so I reasoned that the Supreme Intelligence had to be at least at wise as I was. I kept this realization to myself, however. But in one 'fundy' Sunday school class, when the teacher exclaimed how so few intellectuals were Christians, I could only think, ''Shouldn't this tell you something, if the best and brightest won't have it, that maybe there's something WRONG with it!''
(Now I do understand many Christians don't believe in a literal eternal physical hell, but that was what I'd seen up until then.)

I rejoiced in the capacity of reading to open worlds to me and I soon had a teacher to inspire such. I begun the sophmore year while still fourteen, and I had a history teacher who gave us lists of possible books to read and review. I can't remember his name, but he was possibly in his forties, and had curly brown hair in the longish style popular then. He was not so much for the lectures, and remembering dates and names, but rather for getting 'the large picture' of history. It was via his reading lists that I discovered a writer and philosopher who would become very influential, Ayn Rand. But I think, however, the discoveries found there were when I was fifteen.


November 10 1973 - November 9, 1974

I can't remember the first book of Ayn Rand that I read. I do remember that in the space of a few years, I'd read them all, fiction and philosophy, including the books of her fellow Objectivist, Nathanial Brandon. His Psychology of Self Esteem helped me to remove some of the mental garbage left by a religious upbringing which taught that human beings are wretched sinners. A rational selfishness seemed the only sane way to go. I didn't understand why Rand disapproved of all things deriving from intuition, though. She spoke of such things as being from the 'drunken' Dionysian viewpoint, whereas reason alone was of the more worthy Apollonian way. I, however, understood her atheism, for I'd already decided the idea of a vengeful creator deity was bogus.

An announcement of this to my Grandmother brought about a case of high blood pressure. Her face did seem more often unusually red, lately. But I kept my source of inspiration private, for such literature was contraband in my household. I smuggled them into the house, by cramming each new book purchase into my purse, and hiding them in the bottom of my underwear drawer. I would read them in my bedroom, pillow at the ready, in case I should be intruded upon. At first hint of nearing footfalls, down would come the pillow over the book, and I would feign sleep. I'm sure Gramma must have thought I was getting an excess of sleep, though she said nothing.

What was the background of the world outside, to all these interior mental endeavors? I'd just experienced a crushing disillusionment. I had learned of Watergate, and how some employees of President Nixon's reelection committee broke into the Democratic party national headquarters, wiretapping it to gain private knowledge. In 1974, Nixon gave the investigating committee of this incident the transcripts of his own phone conversations, but investigators found key passages had been deleted. Nixon was charged with obstruction of justice, and he admitted to the cover up, and then resigned in 1974.

I felt so disappointed. I had had this vision of our elected officials as being honorable, and to learn they weren't deeply saddened me. My view of the world just wasn't the same after that. I'd seen how adults could be mistaken, as in the strange view of God most of my family had. Yet I understand they were sincerely seeking after what they thought was right. To choose what one KNOWS to be dishonorable puzzled me. Yet, I had a vision of things COULD be different and that was the inspiration for my own life.

All of this mental life, and I was the shy one at school. I remember riding to school in an old blue car that belonged to a neighbor a few houses down from us. These girls seemed 'wild' in a way that was foreign to me. I loved the music that blared loudly from their car speakers, though. WLS in Chicago brought us all the latest music. Roberta Flack sang ''Killing Me Softly With His Song'' and I wondered who the singer SHE sang of was. There was a depth of passion to this song. I played Elton John's ''Goodbye Yellow Brick Road'' on the piano, singing loudly:

So goodbye yellow brick road
Where the dogs of society howl
You can't plant me in your penthouse
I'm going back to my plough...

I didn't know what a 'yellow brick road' was, but I had a clue the song had to do with being your own true simple self, and not getting caught up in a facade of glamor to impress. And the Carpenters, I had several of their cassettes, and many songbooks, which I loved to play and sing. Music has always been a comfort to me. Gordon Lightfoot's song ''If You Could Read My Mind'' also was given a loud rendering:

If you could read my mind love
What a tale my thoughts could tell
Just like an old time movie
íbout a ghost from a wishiní well
In a castle dark or a fortress strong
With chains upon my feet
You know that ghost is me
And I will never be set free
As long as Iím a ghost that you canít see...

I felt myself to be the 'ghost' in my familial situation. Not a one of them, Gramma, my Dad, nor my Aunts and Uncles had a clue as to what was going on in my head. I didn't see any solutions to it, I just lived in my head, and wondered what lay out there in the wide world beyond.

I might have been only fourteen when Dad took Gramma and I on a vacation to Missouri. This was the 'jail' at Silver Dollar City. It, however, serves as perfect metaphor for the frustrations of my youth, when the world at large loomed beyond and rather distant.

A special on John Denver was on the TV in 2005, when I first wrote this bio. He was singing his ballad called 'Annie's Song'. I began singing along. I loved playing this on the piano when I was a teen, it has a lovely rolling left hand, and for a few moments as I listened to him and sang along, it was like I was listening to ME playing and singing it back then, as well. I was BACK THERE! on that hard piano bench, bare thighs sticking to it a little, playing that song and singing, seeing the window to the porch to my right, and the window slightly to the left, the brass colored piano light: me, then, exactly how I felt then!

And my eyes filled with tears, with this potent memory.

"Rhymes and Reasons", that's another song I played. Also 'Calypso', I'd belt out 'Calypso' loudly:

"To sail on a dream on a crystal clear ocean
To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm
To work in the service of life and living
In search of the answers of questions unknown
To be part of the movement and part of the growing
Part of beginning to understand

Aye, Calypso the places you've been to
The things that you've shown us, the stories you tell
Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit..."

Yes, I enjoyed those songs. Why do they in this age seem naively simple, oddly childlike? But then some might say I'm 'naively simple and oddly childlike', (when they're not saying I'm 'possessed by a devil', or some such... Grin!)

Oh, I loved 'Carry on Wayward Son' by Kansas. I used to belt this one out...

Carry on my wayward son
There'll be peace when you are done
Lay your weary head to rest
Don't you cry no more

I'd sing loudly, feeling a kinship in that 'waywardness'.

Yes, I sure did enjoy playing that piano!


November 10 1974 - November 9, 1975

I made the ivory crepe blouse myself and the sweater was in earth tones

It is hard to single out the separate years in the span from fifteen to nineteen. These years together represent a phase of my life, and they blend together. Suffice to say, I was reading and rereading the Ayn Rand books then, and that was the general theme. But there are some distinct elements.

I again had a history teacher this year who was radically different than the standard teacher mold. This teacher would pose stuff to us and want us to challenge him. The rest of the class couldn't handle it. They were all so set in the ways of 'what does the teacher want for us to tell him' that they all mostly sat there dumbfounded. They'd stare in shock at me, as I was the sole one to counter him, time and time again. They never understood that the teacher was trying to make us think on our own.

I've always been the independant cuss, so I enjoyed that class. I remember I'd carry whatever current book of Rand that I was reading around with me to my classes. I'd look at the back of the book, with a sketched portrait of the author, and be amazed that a woman wrote them. It was rare at all that anyone should think serious thoughts, and that a woman should declare herself loudly thrilled me. It is with this perspective now that I think of another favorite author of mine, a fiction author, whose initials are also A.R. and whose name takes only one more letter, Anne Rice. As I've read Rice's self descriptions, she like me, is also one who identifies beyond her gender. Reading her books, I've always felt I could 'get inside' her head. I am grateful to women who write, and all the inspiration they have given me through out the years.

From Teen to Young Adult

As I said, it is hard to single out the separate years. And thus the following rememberance covers the span of quite a few years:

A stream of consciousness ramble about gramma and I in those years...

Strong willed gramma,
strong willed me,
each with an idea of 'how things should be'.
She pushed, and I pushed back.
I scared her, I know,
red faced gramma, blood pressure rising,
the day I told her I was an atheist.
Knowing no other, I only knew
I didn't want her god.
That was then,
this is now.
This is me then.
I did not know it,
the seeds of my strength grew in that pushing.
The easy path wouldn't have done it.
I loved her, but I could not please her.
This was the beginning of defining my own identity.
I was beginning to draw it in in large sketches,
black and white, thin line, at first.
But the day I first took pencil to defining 'me'
began in these days,
push and push back,
dance of Horus and Set all over again.
I loved Gramma, I needed her,
and I needed this struggle.
I can't really know from my perspective
what she thought of it,
though her reddened face,
showing rising blood pressure,
gave a clue.
We pushed back and forth until the day I moved out.
And then,
to my surprise,
she wanted me to come back home!
Maybe she missed the struggle after all,
The contrast of my vibrant youthful noisy activity
to the now silent house.
Young and old,
Horus and Set,
who knew then that the dance was so necessary?

Thirty years later, I do now.

JAL, 8-10-05

June 12, 2004
November 10 1975 - November 9, 1976

I can't find the original color photo, so this is scanned from yearbook, hence the striations. I wore a yellow blouse. I rather like my serious expression here.

I was first drawing a blank about year 17, then as I looked at the dates, I remembered I graduated from high school in June of 1976. This was also the year of the bicentennial, so some fuss was going on about that. I remember the golden yellow dress I made for graduation. I designed it myself using the top of a blouse pattern and putting it with the skirt bottom of another, with a big ruffle on the bottom. It had a 'sweetheart' neckline, quite a feminine thing for one who normally doesn't wear such. I vaguely remember an inspiring graduation message about conquering our world, and felt that acute wondering that causes me to dream. I bid goodbye to my friends for the summer, and we all joined our separate families.

And then come September, I began Junior College at the local school. I rode the bus to classes and had to transfer at the mall, which gratefully was an indoor mall, so I could wait inside for the second bus instead of freezing in winter. I had vague plans of getting an associate degree in Art, so began with required general classes and art classes. Some of the classes were held in alumimum buildings, the permanent structures not having been built yet.

The most memorable teacher was one of my art teachers, who taught the methods of the old masters. She was thin, of average height and short black hair. She was single, never married and I think she was Buddhist. How this was revealed, I don't recall. But I will never forget what HER art teacher told her, ''To be a great artist, you must suffer.'' I sat there, with dreams replete, and asked myself, did I want greatness THAT bad? I was scared, but I was willing to go through the full depths of experience in order to have the pure vision.

Little did I know then, that some serious suffering lay ahead not too many years ahead for me. But for then, I was in the eye of the tornado.


November 10 1976 - November 9, 1977

A young man with longish dark hair saw me at the Junior College and asked me if I wanted a ride home. I was shy, hesistent to get in the car of a man I did not know, and declined his invitation. Twenty seven years later, I wonder if my life would have been any different if I had taken his invitation.

Twenty seven years later, I am more daring. I may still be scared, but I know that sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks. I don't want to remain forever stunted by my fears.

But THEN, fears were large to me, and were to become even larger. Yet, still, I was in the eye of the tornado.

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© Joan Ann Lansberry