I Am My Project

I have been in a creative funk; unable to write compellingly; unable to focus on moving photographic work forward. My “Feminine Mystique” project, which at the beginning of the year I imagined myself deeply engaged with by now, is creeping along at the proverbial snail’s pace. I have felt that I am pressing against cosmic headwinds to do anything at all.


I have been working very hard at reinventing my look. Last year I began exploring a feminine space. I did a lot of writing about it. As fall began coloring the landscape in yellows, oranges and reds, I began coloring my lips in natural and coppery pink, wearing my hair down with 60’s style headbands, wearing my nails longer and pulling tunic like garments out of my closet that I hadn’t worn in ages because they connected my outward appearance with the intense feminine I was feeling inside.

I have always had a strong feminine side, though I did not manifest it much outwardly. For a long time I have preferred the company of women more than most men I meet. And when I say I prefer the company of women to men, it is not only about sexual attraction. I identify with them more deeply than I do men. I like cooking, keeping the house, talking about the things women talk about. I don’t watch sports, I am not interested in fast cars, I have no desire to be a corporate titan, or a corporate anything at all. I don’t play golf, tennis or racquet ball. I do yoga. I have always operated at the fringes of what is normal for my sex and generation, making forays into alternative ways of conceiving myself and then scurrying back to the outer boundaries of normalcy.

In place of the creative projects I envisioned at the start of the year, I am spending a ton of time on women’s clothing sites looking for women’s clothing I can wear. I purchased my first sweater dress from Poetry in early December and it looks great on me. People have been complimentary. I wear it mostly over black slimline jeans. In that configuration it presents more as a tunic than a dress. I have also worn it with tights. In that configuration it presents very much as a dress. I have purchased some colorful knit tops and a couple of statement necklaces. I get compliments on these too when I wear them.

For the past few weeks I have been focusing on my spring wardrobe. The goal is to present in a feminine way without looking ridiculous or pathetic. To walk a fashion line that swings back and forth between feminine and masculine. I ordered a pencil skirt to see how such a skirt would fit on me and discovered that I might not be able to do pencil skirts which might also nix some of the denim sheath skirts I was lusting after. So now I am focusing on tunics and leggings, shirt and sweater dresses, and A line skirts. I have started looking for tops to go with the skirts. I am very enthusiastically putting time and resources into my look, which I have never done before.

Black and gray Marimekko A line skirt on a model.

Denim A line skirt with button front closure.

Model wearing blue tunic shirt.

It finally occurred to me that my creative project is what I am putting my time and resources into, and right now, that is myself. I am a caterpillar that has spun its transformation cocoon and is busy reinventing itself. What kind of butterfly or moth will I become? I am spending most of my time and a lot of my money, as well as psychological and emotional energy into revisioning my outward appearance. My artwork is me. Until I figure out my inward/outward self, I won’t be able to make art or write much. But when I have this transformation firmly in hand and have rolled it out to public spaces, I have no doubt that I will start making art around it.

This is a complex undertaking in which I continually feel I am risking things. I am risking people’s respect (am I doing this in a dignified way or in a way that makes me seem ridiculous?). I am risking the stability of my friendships (who among my friends will understand and who will distance themselves from me?). I am risking the stability of my marriage (How much change and how fast can our relationship handle?).

I am excited and scared. I also feel gratitude that at the age of 68 going on 69 I am able to reinvent myself like this. It is a beautiful gift to my aliveness.

It’s Always Been Michael, Never Mike

Self portrait of author in black and white.

Whatever calls you, whether it’s the ocean or art or family or democracy, isn’t out there. It’s inside you. Like all the cycles and rhythms we describe in this book, it comes and goes, accelerates and decelerates, falls away and rises again. Like a tide, inside you.

— from Burnout, by Emily Nagoski, Amelia Nagoski

I am assembling an outfit to express feminine me. I am building it around a lovely “Petrol/Teal” funnel neck sweater dress. I have spent hours on the internet shopping for accessories to go with it. The right shoes, the right leggings, the right pair of socks, the right bracelet. Masculine me settled on a basic uniform years ago. Black crewneck long sleeve t-shirt, black slim leg jeans, Hoka sneakers, black leather belt with silver buckle, grey or black over the calf socks. Masculine me isn’t into makeup and is happy with a five day stubble.

Feminine me is tossing masculine me’s uniform aside. Boring! She has brought purple, magenta, blue/green, and blue into the mix. Her preferred clothing purveyors are J. Jill and Poetry. She likes contemplating questions like, what color lipstick looks good on me? Should I get purple highlights in my hair? Should I get my brows done? What sort of eye makeup should I wear? She reads articles on hair styles, makeup tips, facial cleansing and moisturizing routines. Masculine me doesn’t seem threatened by this development. He seems, if anything, a bit amused, and quite willing to sit on the bench while feminine me blossoms, though he’s prepared to step forward if circumstances warrant it.

This makes it sound like I have split in two. That’s not how it is. My masculine and feminine are a continuum. They coexist in a yin-yang sort of way, moving to the front and back again in a fluid dance of gender expression.

It is hard to describe the feeling of letting my feminine flower. It is often intense. When I first started wearing lipstick. When I first wore a dress. When I first did these things in public. Each of these moments came with feelings that washed through me, sometimes as a gentle wave, sometimes in a raging torrent. Do you remember how it feels to fall in love? That’s how it’s feeling to me to get my feminine on. It’s scary too. I know some people won’t understand.

It is tempting to view this as “coming out of the closet,” but I haven’t been in a closet in any kind of difficult or conflicted way. It’s just that sometime during the past year, feminine me started asking for more space to be. In my mind. On my body. Amongst my community. I am lucky to have the luxury of giving her that space.

In retrospect, I can see she has been with me from the beginning. Michael, until the 1990’s, could be a boy or girl’s name. That means that from the day I was born, room was made for feminine me, in my name. I have always been Michael, never Mike. Mike is the Marlboro man as far as I am concerned. I have never wanted to be the Marlboro man. Perhaps the death of my father, an overbearing patriarchal figure, set her free. Perhaps being at a stage of life where I don’t really have to care what people think helped too. Perhaps, even, she sees that now is the political moment to smash the patriarchy.

I don’t know where feminine me is taking us. All I know is that she is presently at the wheel and determined to immerse us in the feminine.

This post starts with a quote from the book Burnout. It was revelatory to me when I read it. It helped me realize that my meaning-core is calling me to a hero’s journey to the divine feminine. I will read about her. I will write about her. I will make art about her. I will express her. Connecting with her will be the touchstone of my being for a while.

Joseph Campbell claimed that women had no need to undertake the hero’s journey because they were already in the place where that journey winds up. This seems to me to be a conflation of biology and gender, as well as a failure to understand the masculine-feminine continuum. The hero, Marlboro Man, and the divine feminine, Marilyn Monroe, are the yin and yang of Western Civilization. The divine feminine is not the goal of all hero’s journeys. And I believe that women often have need to undertake the Hero’s journey which may return them to the divine feminine or not. All men and women are capable of being the hero or the divine feminine. We need more women undertaking hero’s journeys and many more men connecting with the feminine divine.

May the divine feminine receive us all warmly and shepherd our growth. May we be among her many beacons of light to a world so desperately in need of her.