Thursday, October 23, 2014


Joe's Neighborhood

How to…

6/12/2013

joes1“How to” books are everywhere. How to lose weight. How to become stronger. How to fix your dry wall. You name it, there’s a “how to” book or pamphlet or Internet site out there.

“How to” information seems almost spiritual in its scope, doesn’t it? If you just find the right handyman site, you’ll be able to change the corroded washer hidden somewhere in that dripping faucet and save your marriage. Or, if you just do steps one through 18, you’ll pass your bar exam and make millions in a downtown law firm while drinking margaritas on the patio at Dos Rios. You want to be younger? Here, drink this five times a day and eat only sausage pizza. See, “how to” information is like going to Lourdes. It can save you.

What if you want to be an author in Des Moines? You want to write fiction for young adults, you want to write fantasy, you want to explain your life in a memoir. How do you do it? What is the “how to?”

Rachel Eliason is a nurse at Iowa Lutheran Hospitals in the mental health unit. Coming from a small Iowa town, she has lived in Des Moines most of her adult life. She loves her job, she loves the people who work with her and she loves her patients.

“However, there were two things I can remember I wanted to be from very young — the two Ws,” Eliason said. “One of those Ws was to be a writer.”

DM Art Center

How to?

joes2Well, for a starter, Eliason said she writes. She has stacks of notebooks full of her thoughts, stories, fantasy writing. She has hundreds of novels… with just a page or two done on each. But around five years ago, she began to complete her stories. She joined the writing groups that meet at Beaverdale Books and the Urbandale Library. She became a columnist for the local publication, ACCESSline. And she joined the self-publication community at Amazon. If you put her name in your Kindle, five books will pop up on the screen. It’s amazing. She has a blog, she has a Twitter account and she even has a YouTube channel. All of this has been done to get her writing to the public. And so she has.

But what about the other “W” that Eliason has pursued from a young age?

“I always knew I wanted to be a woman,” said Rachel Eliason, formerly Richard Eliason.

This was a complicated “how to.” She had no idea what this meant when she lived in rural Iowa. She knew she wanted to be a writer, but “the other one was very much hidden,” she said.

“I had no realization of the world of transgender. It was more likely that I would wish to be a wizard. I just kind of buried this urge and was very much in denial a good chunk of my life.”

Eliason met a woman, fell in love, and had a kid. Seven years passed. As her marriage began to unravel, she came out as a gay man. She soon discovered this also didn’t work.

“Being a gay man wasn’t satisfying if I had to be the man,” she said.

So after research, therapy and joining like-minded folks for support, off to Bangkok she went. And Richard returned as Rachel.

How did this play? Her work group responded “surprisingly well.”

“My fellow workers see and hear everything in our job in mental health,” she said. “A few were surprised by the transformation, and a few said they knew all along that I was female. They all welcomed me.”

And her son?

“My son has done well with it, too,” she said. “When I told my son, he said that you have to do what makes you happy. When we go to school events now, he loves to mess with people by saying, ‘This is Rachel; she’s my dad.’ He finds the confusion funny.”

So, no problems?

“Well, I was nervous about my patient population,” she said. “Not because the mentally ill are any more conservative or ‘trans’ phobic, but when they’re angry, they’re going to say whatever hurts you the most. So, I thought I’d have to endure slur words, but really it’s only happened a time or two.

“Listen, Des Moines has been enormously accepting,” she said. “I always thought I’d live in a big city, like Seattle, but the big city has come here.”

Really? So, the message on how to become a writer?

“People want to be an author, but don’t want to be a writer,” she said. “You have to write.”

And to become your true gender?

Eliason smiled.

“I have to pick up my son from school.” CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

Upper Iowa