I am not a bad feminist. I am a horrible feminist

 

There are two essential components of my identity:

 

  1. I’ve come a long way and I’m proud of it and I cannot stop working. I could work a little harder, but we all fall down the wagon.
  2. I am horribly insecure. Although I am proud of my work and my new directions (and whatever my future directions may be) I need constant validation in some form or another. I hate it, but it is something that I cannot help.

 

In that insecurity comes doubt. I know my work is good when I put my heart and soul into it, but there is always that voice “How could it have been better?” Not abnormal behavior for most people. I eventually receive some kind of validation, be it praise from my professors, managers stealing my ideas, grades, or scholarships. Everything goes back to normal once these things fall into place. However, there is an insecurity that I have not been able to get over, because I rarely receive any validation of it. That would be the validation of being a woman, a desirable woman to be specific.

Before I go on, let me say that I am hyper aware of my faults, traits and personality. I know how I work and why I work. I know the deep emotional issues that go behind all my insecurities. I know their roots. I know why they exist. I know why some are bad and sometimes, plain silly. Yet, they still exist because I can feel them when I am alone at night. And they hurt a lot. At the end of the day, they are real and they hurt. It is why I throw every single emotion into my job, my projects and school. Somehow I hope, in vain, that I will be exorcised from these insecurities. I hope, in vain, that when I am trying to fall asleep, I’ll feel complete.

 

I know it won’t happen, but there is always a little hope. I am most insecure when it comes to men. It is probably the reason why I most likely end up giving the impression, to new men that I meet, that I am unstable, a little crazy and a little too drunk sometimes. But, like a Jesse Spano episode, I’m just so excited that I am scared. I hate that I know that my emotional void is fulfilled by the attention of men.

 

Spare me your strong woman speeches, because I’ve heard them and I look up to some of the strongest women in the world. I preach self-love and independence and all that awesome feminist stuff. I preach it, man. But I am ashamed to admit that I do not often practice it.

 

This year has been really amazing to me in terms of my academic and professional opportunities. Yet, my emotional stability has been derailed the most. I had several panic attacks during February and March. My schedule was hectic. I was going to school, had an internship and worked 30 hours. I literally broke down because I felt like I was letting everyone down. I was chronically late to work and I was a nervous wreck at work, often on the verge of a full on panic attack. It is why my boss circulates the notion to everyone that I am flaky and unreliable, when I thought she understood the circumstances. But that’s a whole other story. I met a younger dude whom I clearly misunderstood, but if I had screen capped our conversations, I think the world would agree with me that he gave me mixed signals. My honesty might have been too abrasive. I could have drunk less when we hung out. I should have just ended things when he said he was not interested in dating. But you know me, I need attention and validation, plus I am stubborn. I also did not want to be that douche bag that ended a friendship just because we didn’t end up banging. I thought that would have been a total bro move. Remember, I’m still some type of feminist. My license might soon get revoked, though.

 

Throughout all this, and during some depressions last year, there was one person that gave me constant attention and validation. That person was a man in a position of power over me. A very egocentric perverted old man. Despite knowing his nefarious reputation, I engaged in his pointless banter that seemed harmless to me. He was also looking for validation for his outdated views and thought I would give him that. I didn’t and because he knew how to detect insecurity and also needed attention, he set out to prove himself correct and ultimately awesome. I never validated his views. I always challenged them. But I thought, no harm. It was a male professor who would constantly tell me how impressed he was with me. As the insecure little short person I am, I liked hearing that. And who doesn’t like hearing that from their professors, or bosses, or men?

 

That’s where I am a horrible feminist because I knew what was going on, yet I still engaged. There was no harm, until he started to insert little comments here and there. “Great seeing you, especially with your new flattering haircut” Uh-oh. “You weren’t in class today. Missed you” Oh no. And finally, he was smart about it, “Come to my office before the final. I have a Susan Sontag story and some jokes to cheer you up” well….ok? That’s ok….right? Never meet with professors behind closed doors. That’s elementary. We all know that, but conveniently the door closed. It happened once before, but I opened it again since I “found” the doorstop. That time we were discussing a paper. Well, the Susan Sontag story was only about how she was flat chested. He knew I looked up to this woman as an intellectual and a writer. Why would I care about her breasts? The awkwardness only got much much worse. His jokes were graphic, dirty and in every possible way inappropriate. Hearing my professors say words like “cum” is like hearing my parents say it. It’s just not right. I did not laugh at any of his jokes. I could not look at him. He tried explaining one of the jokes by using him and me as an example.

 

I stalled. I really did not know how to react. Was this the vibe I was putting out there? My feminist self told me to just straight up say, “hey man, that’s fucking inappropriate.” My student side said, “shit. I have a final for him right after this” I did the only thing I could do. I excused myself out of there so awkwardly. “Ok, well I really wanted to study for the final before class. Yeah….heh…ok…bye” as I hung my head low, as if I had done something wrong.

But the truth is, I do feel like I did something wrong. I feel like ultimately it was I who sought it out. Did I need to go to his office? No. Did I need to respond to his emails? No. As much as I hate this type of thinking, I feel like I was asking for it. What a horrible feminist, right? It is the reason why I cannot bring myself to take any action. I feel embarrassed, as most of my professors have found out. Not because I said anything, but because of some inter faculty email he sent. I had to ask our chair to change one of my requirements, and I felt a panic attack coming on. I kept thinking that he must be thinking terrible things about me or I wondered if he knew and if he did was he judging me? And, I told myself to be short and quick because what if he thought I was one of those flirty dumbass girls? Now I think that every time I meet a new professor in my department, they must be thinking “oooh this is the girl”

 

And then a million things run through my head. A million things that don’t let me sleep. A million things that are probably insignificant and exaggerated. A million fucking things that I hate. And suddenly my insecurities are manifest in this incident that I did not control. Insecurities that make me feel guilty, sad, ugly and alone. And they are out there for everyone to see and judge. And I often do not have a problem laying myself bare, but I do it on my terms and words. This blog holds many of my insecurities but I feel safe here. I never have a problem being honest, and I often am, but this was different. I liked the attention and that is embarrassing, and it’s the source of my guilt. I can understand and analyze why I liked it, but I never crossed the line.

 

I’m a horrible feminist for not confronting this issue the way I’ve confronted sexist classmates or even standing up for myself and my co-workers against petty shit at work. I’m not trying to be a victim either. I just thought, and I hoped, that I would have been stronger with something like this. At the core, I am embarrassed not just because I feel stupid, but because I know I wouldn’t let this shit fly anywhere else. It’s challenged my own core ideals. I let some dumb weak man tap into my own dumb weak traits. That’s embarrassing. That’s stupid. That’s ugly. I don’t know how to correct this. I don’t know how to reconcile my feminism with my insecurities. I’m used to laying it all out there, but this was different.

Intellectual Militancy

I recently attended the annual conference for the National Council on Public History in Nashville. It was a lot of fun, and that might be a bit of a surprise since I get the feeling that many academics hate conferences. This was my first conference, ever. As the inaugural conference in my life, I feel bad for my future self at future conferences because I highly doubt they will be as special and fun as this one.

Nashville is an interesting city. It is apparently up and coming. Like my experience in Cape Town, I could see the visible signs of a city at the cusp of a cultural renaissance. Maybe I shouldn’t say cultural because that would insinuate that all the hipsters are bringing culture. As we all know, hipsters don’t bring culture, they appropriate it. I suppose the right word is revitalization. Downtown is nicknamed SoBro and NashVegas, which is very appropriate. I walked tons on the “strip” on my first day. It was a Monday, but it was still very lively. At almost every single bar there was live music. I walked around for a bit on Saturday afternoon and it was terrible. It truly lived up to its NashVegas nickname. There were tons of drunken young tourists everywhere. It’s okay to experience that for a quick minute, but it gets irritating. I stayed in East Nashville because I did my research, and it was thee place to stay. As much as I hate hipsters in LA, Claremont and LBC, I had to seek them out in Nashville. They offer cute cool shit. There were tons of cool bars, coffee shops and restaurants. I had ceviche at one of these cool places. I have to say it was mighty tasty. I am a certified Mexican; I know what I’m talking about here. More than that, East Nashville was pretty.

Nashville itself was really cool. I had preconceived notions that I am ashamed of, but I think most Californians are guilty of it, perhaps, Californians who haven’t ventured to that part of the country. I really had no cohesive idea of what cultural identity Nashville had. I didn’t expect it to be as cool as it was. I am still unsure what role Nashville has in its Southern identity. From the conference, I got the feeling I only experienced the superficial tourist side of it. Which is fine because there is absolutely no way to deconstruct or take in the underlying racial tensions, economic divides or the encroaching gentrification in six days. These issues exist and they will always exist in major cities.

What I did experience on a personal level was how white the conference was. This is how I feel: I like my rainbow sprinkled donuts. The conference was like one of those donuts but with just peanuts on it with a colored sprinkle here and there, that only got there by accident. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone or me. It is a fact that color fades away as people climb up that academia ladder. To experience it was a startling reminder of that. I’ve always had a complexity due to my short stature, brown skin and thick body. Tall, white, slender beautiful women and men easily intimidate me. I’m slowly decolonizing my feelings. And I purposely say decolonizing because this thought has been engrained on our brown and black minds. This colonial rooted mindset that we are less than. This is why race matters, because some of us still suffer from the mental bondage that Frederick Douglass was completely aware of. It might sound extreme, but this history exists. It’s political. It’s emotional, and it’s personal.

I sat on a panel about attaining public history jobs. I sat there thinking, “think of a question think of a question think of a question.” Not because I really wanted to find out how to get a job in Manhattan and become BFF’s with the panelists, who looked like a younger and hotter version of Sex and the City, but because I looked around and there weren’t many people of color. I was probably at the wrong panel. I don’t know who’s who at these things, so if the description was cool, I was there. I did end up making a comment and it was well received and I got a much-needed boost in my public historian ego. That was a positive thing. I just really wanted to see someone who looked like me leading a panel. I wanted someone like me to address the very real issues of how it feels to be a person of color at a university/institutional/historical setting. I wanted someone like me to speak about what I am getting myself into, and at the end say: ITS OKAY, WE GOT THIS. I obviously can’t say those things because I am not there and it will be years until I am there.

The final panel I attended was a student panel addressing the intersection of public history and activism as it related to the Ferguson events. It was an inspiring talk. Students talking to students. Activists talking to activists, or believers, at least. The most important concept I grasped is that we need to push the limits of conversation. Race fucking matters. It does. No question about it. It matters. When someone says: “I don’t see color. I don’t see race” I hear: “I am ignoring your history. I am ignoring your cultural identity because I don’t want to deal with the complexity of those things. I refuse to be aware of you and myself. “ Another important concept from that panel was the importance of organization. We cannot change the system if we are not organized. Organized doesn’t mean picking a leader and following him through. The 21st century model of movement and change is collaboration. That epiphany was inspiring.

Right after that panel, I met with a professor from Arizona State University who is also a board member for the council, and a Chicana. I rarely realize the gravity of the people I make connections with. I can be a little naïve about these things, but it’s worked out well so far. I tend to have great connections with people who are genuine and have a real passion for movement, change and collaboration. This professor was certainly one of those people. We instantly clicked. We clicked about all the issues I was thinking and feeling. Most importantly, there was an organic feeling to this conversation. We threw words around like, infiltration. We talked about organization and movement. We talked about being tired of talking. This was the cocktail table plan: Infiltrating the system, to change the system. Becoming more visible, more vocal, and more annoying (ha!) to get our brown points across. Ending the discourse and being proactive about the issues. Mobilizing and organizing a collective of willing and committed students, intellectuals and academics.

This was all inspiring. I left Nashville with a completely new vision and ambition. During my flight, as I was reading about the war of 1898 between Spain and the US for Cuba, I came across some of the early history of resistance movements in Cuba. I read words like, collective, movement, militant, and infiltration. That’s when it hit me, intellectual militancy. That is where I want to go. I don’t want to change the system with violence. I don’t want to assimilate when I’m in the system. I want to assault the system with my vision because I have a voice, and I know it is important. And I know there are many many more brown girls who feel the same.

Write. Now.

Sometimes I feel like a poser. I stand in front of class and tell them to write. I tell them to read, read, read, read, read, and write, write, write, write. I tell them to move in the world like a writer. Observe people and places like a writer! Don’t just go into a post office! Smell that post office! Notice the tall metal cans of Stater Bros. ads and Subway coupons overflowing onto the floor! Feel the layer of grit on your mail between your fingers!

 

I give them prompts that say, Write the last line of story! Make it good! Make it poetry! Then I say, Now, write that story. And they do.

 

I go home and I read emails for an hour or more every day. I eat a bowl of soggy Cocoa Krispies. I grade papers until I can’t hold my eyes open anymore. Occasionally, I help my kids with their homework; sometimes they do not ask because they know I am swamped. Occasionally, I open up the folder on my computer desktop labeled NOVEL. Most often, I open then close it. Sometimes, like last weekend, I get drunk, open the file and read about eighty-some pages into it. I cry. I like it. It is beautiful and messy, but mostly beautiful.

 

But I am not a writer. At least not most of the time. I am teacher, a mother, a friend, a sister, a daughter, an activist, one hell of a roller-skater, but I am not a writer.

 

I am a poser. I write maybe three months a year if I’m lucky. But even during the summer when I’m supposed to be on a rigorous writing schedule, I am often paying back my kids in love and attention by dragging them to and from archery class and Egyptian summer camp and the beach and long-lost family friends.

 

I am a poser. I dream about writing all the time. I dream about my characters. I hear their voices in my head.

 

I woke up the other morning convinced I had spent the night in the bed between my main characters, Kate and Toph. Kate spooned my back, her dark hair clinging to her face while she cried in her sleep. While the rounded humps of what was left of Toph’s legs kicked me while he slept soundly, occasionally a snore sputtered from his mouth. I didn’t want to wake them, so I just lay there watching them breathe.

 

I think about them when I’m at my son’s baseball games and when I’m dragging my daughter to her piano and dance lessons. I’m thinking about them while I do dishes, or while I am grading stacks and stacks of research essays, or on my long, long commute to and from home through the rising and falling mountains of the Cajon Pass, or yes, in the post office.

 

But I am not writing. And it hurts.

 

I want to give my characters lives—the lives I have seen in my head for so many years. I want the time and energy—the head space—to finish this project. Sometimes I wonder if I have it in me. Sometimes I wonder if I will be one of those people who say, I had a novel once. Like one might say about an ant farm s/he had when s/he was seven, or a weird disease s/he once contracted and almost died from. . .

 

I had a novel once.

 

Have. I HAVE a novel. Now.

 

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The Elusive Search for Meaning

I write a lot about my early twenties as if they happened ages ago. It feels like ages ago. Five years ago I was twenty-three. That age has become a marker for many of my friends and me as a terrible transformative age. We drank a lot. We loved too much. We fucked around too much. I had many sidewalk drunk crying sessions over a guy that only wanted half of me, memories of my childhood that I could not make sense of, and that perpetual affliction of women, my looks. Most importantly, I would fall in and out of bouts of depression over the direction of my life. I would justify my laziness in quests for meaning. The truth was that I did not want to face reality. I was not ready to face it. My early twenties were a re-incarnation of teenage angst, only this time I was completely liable for all my fuck ups. I could not accept the fact that finding meaning takes hard work. It takes dedication. It takes sacrifice. Most of all, finding meaning or direction, for me, took a difficult awareness of my flaws, mistakes, and an even more difficult decision to completely change. There was one constant in my life, though. My passion, often infused in my will to create, has always instilled a belief in my own potential. Even in my darkest moments of angst ridden faux existentialism, I have always believed in my passion. This passion, characterized by Anais Nin as white heat, feeds my fragile ego. Even today when life gives me annoying hiccups, there is a deep-rooted passion imbedded in my emotional core. It gives me the strength to endure heartbreak, over and over again. It gives me the strength to stretch myself thin with school, internships and work. I virtually have no days off, and my sanity often depends on people urging me to relax. My passion is strict nowadays because it knows too well that I can become distracted when any little man pays me any little attention. I often cling on to that attention because it has been the one consistently emotion missing in my life. It never really works out because that is often the curse of creative and hard working women. Not that every hard working woman out there is an aging spinster, but for the ones that choose work over everything else, this is often a trait. My passion has always given me meaning. I have found a perfect way of infusing my passion into everything I do. I am passionate about my writing, my studies, my research and my commitment to sharing it. All three aspects of my life (work, school and personal) compliment each other perfectly. So, when I hear people struggling or complaining about finding meaning in their work or life, it’s a bit difficult for me to understand. I’ve heard it from countless of people, best friends, co-workers and new friends, and the first question I always ask is, “What are you passionate about?” It’s a hard question to answer. Most of these struggles have often been from men, and they have one common answer, they find passion in hobbies. They like to build things. They like to play video games. They like to play golf. I try to be sensitive, but all I want to do is yell at them and say, “NO. These are not passions. These are distractions.” We all need distractions, but realistically, we cannot pour our passions into distractions. It hinders us from taking a real difficult look at ourselves and accepting that the only way to move forward is through hard work. It sometimes saddens me. Is it a product of our disenchanted “millennial” generation? I cried to my sister today and I asked her, rhetorically, “Am I asking the universe for too much? I only ask to meet one person who can equal my passion, who can find great satisfaction in their work or studies. Someone who has a vision. Is that too much?” She said yes. She said yes because she said that it’s rare to find people with enthusiasm. I’ve dealt with people, men in particular, who expect to have that dream job right after college. When it doesn’t work out, they lose enthusiasm. Being an undergraduate at 28, I tend to meet a lot of early twenty year olds. I tend to meet a number of people dealing with anxiety and depression about their job prospects. My advice is always brutal. You will not find satisfaction right after college. You will not find complete happiness at this age. Some people might, but for most, you won’t. It’s a difficult process and if I could go back to my early twenties, I would tell myself to be patient and not to dwell in the things I cannot control. Finding meaning, purpose or an answer is sometimes pointless and it’s a sure way to become depressed. Having a vision, but accepting that it’s incredibly hard work, makes things a little easier. Not having a vision can be frustrating, but like Dan Savage says, it gets better. Being positive and accepting that things do not always work out has strengthened my emotional core. It was a difficult process and I still don’t have everything figured out. I get depressed and I get anxiety attacks, but I let myself indulge in that negativity for a short amount of time. It’s healthy to let it out, but I realize that itself is a privilege. Most people cannot afford to indulge in cries, in anxiety attacks, or bouts of self-pity, life doesn’t work that way. To put it annoyingly simple, life is a bitch. I can indulge in that negativity because no one depends on me. There is a degree of guilt in that. That guilt gives me the strength to pick myself up and realize, ok enough of that bullshit, it’s time to get actual shit done now. Sometimes I wish I could make people see the way I view life. Life was not always serendipitous, positive or exciting. Life used to be depressing, confusing and directionless. Though, I have always lived on impulse that has often been fueled by white heat. Whatever the situation was, sex, love, work, school, writing, there is something so stubborn, so rooted, within the chemicals that drive my emotions. It’s a belief, sometimes egotistical, that transcends meaning or the pursuit of. It’s a will, an indescribable need, to live my life according to a most primal need, the will to survive. My survival depends on cultivating my passion, without it my life would be boring, sad and dull. If I could characterize my generation, and some younger folk, it would be generation sad. I’m probably being too general, but that’s just my observation. But I suppose I should stop hanging out/talking with early twenty year olds, and even mid-twenty year olds. I remember being 22-25 and thinking, who the hell is this almost 30 year old giving me life advice?! Now I am that almost 30 year old.

In Paris, I cannot pronounce Croissant

I have not written extensively about my summer abroad. I honestly thought that my penchant for sentimentality and prose would instill some kind of rejuvenation of my creative spirit. It had the opposite effect as I experienced a case of writers block. Although I went to study abroad, my primary objective was simply life, to experience something completely new and exciting. And I did, for the most part. I left the country with a completely new experience of what physical love could be. I left with a new definition of sensuality. As I channeled Anais Nin, the role of eroticism is an abstract manifestation of poetry. In those subtle touches and natural embraces, I gave in to a usual part of myself that is always guarded. Like a bad basic cable movie, I learned a lesson that most women my age know very well. Some men do not call back. Most men do not have a clue who Anais Nin is.

I always refer back to sex, not just because I miss it, but because it is universal. Unlike animals, we possess sensuality and eroticism. It’s a physical poetry that we sometimes call love, but that I often confuse it with simply just fucking. That’s ok, too. I was in Paris for a week, the last week of my summer abroad. The city of love, lonely as fuck. I met Valeria and Emmanuel at the corner bar of some street in Montmartre, right before the steps that lead up to the Sacre Coeur. I had already been drinking. I was returning from an all day excursion from the Luxemburg Gardens, where I saw a very attractive young man reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast.” A perfectly Parisian ode. I went to the Louvre, because that is what we all must do. I spent three hours sweating my sickness out. I saw the Mona Lisa. It was tiny. It did not change my life. I was most impressed with the Delacroix paintings. These were my favorite. I suppose I am more of a Romantic than a traditionalist? I went to dinner by myself. Had drinks by myself. The waiter tried to impress me with his own tattoos. I believe you, you’re cool. I rode the metro by myself, intoxicated. Somehow I was not scared that I was a woman. It was a very short and quiet liberty that I experienced in Paris. I still felt those aching strings within myself, “will I be loved when I come back?” The short answer was a very brutal No.

But I met Valeria and Emmanuel that night, a West African couple fluent in French, English and Spanish. Valeria greeted me in French, but I just gave her a doe eyed look for five seconds and uttered in Spanish that I did not speak French. She spoke to me in Spanish, and I did not feel lonely anymore. We spoke of revolution, literature, America and love. Emmanuel was much more in love with Valeria than she was with him. This I could tell by the way she held her cigarette and smoked it through her smirk while she gazed at him in dominance. I probably fell in love with her, too. I fell in love with her for the same reasons that Emmanuel’s psyche fell in love. It was the unspoken poetic gaze of her sensuality. I wish I was as powerful as Valeria.

I made them laugh with my charm. Valeria said she was drawn to me. She said I had a very friendly look. I usually get told I have a very sad look to me. I suppose it was the Paris humidity. I don’t know. I told them the funny story about the French baker and me. He couldn’t understand my accent when I said I wanted a croissant. You know the French and their R’s. Valeria told me that Parisians tend to get crabby during peak tourist season, but not everyone is like that.

When I returned to the apartment I was staying at, I felt a particular kind of magic. Not just the travel kind, but also a certain romanticism instilled in my sensibilities by Hemingway, Miller and Nin. The moment that I was experiencing wasn’t quite reality, that in time, would slowly store itself away in nostalgic memories, only to be referenced when I need magic and escape from the mundane demands of routine. Traveling tricks you into thinking life is so much better outside your world. Anything and anywhere is so much better when you don’t have to show up for work, pay bills, or drive in traffic. If I transplanted my responsibilities to another country, I would be just as miserable.

Of course, the charm of Paris is its history. It’s in the buildings, on the cobblestones, in the churches and in the term Parisian itself. How fucking fancy. I wish I could transplant the magic of Paris, instead of reliving it in nostalgia. The magic of possibility, of adventure, infiniteness, space and love. Most of the times I am so wrapped up in my ego, in my pursuit of isolation, in my stubbornness to prove that I am not 23 anymore. I say that I have no time for magic, for the frivolous pursuit of companionship, but that’s just a lie because it’s downright silly. I am just scared. I do not posses the power of womanhood and sensuality that Valeria owns. Perhaps it exists in my words, but I’ve wasted them on men who see the world as a literal space, not a spiritual possibility of adventure and love. In my books, Paris encompassed all that. Valeria was the symbolic manifestation of Paris, a sensual woman with red lips smoking a cigarette. The seduction of Paris.

Breathe in, Breathe out

She died   a famous woman   denying

her wounds

denying

her wounds   came    from the same source as her power

—–Adrienne Rich

Zephyr often comes into my bedroom early in the morning to sift through my clothes, deciding what she might want to borrow.  Sometimes she asks, and sometimes she just usurps.  Sometimes I ask her to take them off, sometimes I say sure, go ahead, and sometimes I look the other way, pretending not to notice she has on my new t-shirt or leggings or boots.

 

Sometimes she just wants to use my sink, because the hot water comes out quicker. She often asks me to braid her hair in the roughly ten minutes we have left before rushing to school. I still need to choose an outfit, or I want to apply my make-up, but I look at her when she speaks. I watch her as she toys with her golden hair, a coy supplication that melts me.  I love this girl.  No matter how she looks at me, no matter what words she uses to ask, no matter what time it is or what I have left to accomplish, I braid her hair.

 

I know this won’t last. I know the backwards-side-french-braid she requests is only a phase, and she will grow out of it.  I know she will not always live with me, that she will not always steal my clothes, that one day she will have nicer things of her own.  So I ask her what style she wants today; I pause my own routine, and I braid her hair.  I haven’t once said no.

 

I have been told that love shouldn’t always be like this.  Sometimes we are supposed to say no.  But my love for her isn’t complicated.  It isn’t fraught with compromise and worry for how she might take advantage of me or our bond.  As her mother, I have provided structure and discipline throughout her childhood, and I have set high expectations, but my love for her isn’t fraught with worry for the future. She knows who she is and how to ask for what she wants, and she freely accepts attention and praise when they are offered to her. I know eventually she will stop asking me to braid her hair, stop asking for my hot water and clothes and for sips of my morning coffee, but that won’t be the end of us.

 

I wish all love was as straightforward.

 

My friends say I love too easily, too forgivingly.  They say that I let people take advantage of me and I don’t fight back.  They say I never get angry, that it’s not healthy to withhold wrath from those who hurt me.

 

They are undoubtedly right.

 

And yet.

 

I don’t give love in order to receive love. Sometimes I love those who love me back.  Sometimes I love those who hurt me.  One love isn’t greater than the other. The practice of loving is the practice of loving.  Love is its own reward, regardless of the outcome.

 

Breathe in, breathe out.

 

I don’t think it is in spite of, but rather, because my mother so tragically taught me that love is a weakness that I refuse to withhold my love or require people to earn it.  Unlike Zephyr, I may struggle to accept love, but I offer it unabashedly and completely, and I no longer see this as a source of shame, but as a source of strength.  What I used to hate myself for, I no longer work to change. Yes, I love those who hurt me.  And yes, sometimes that gives them license to hurt me again.  Does this sometimes cause me to suffer? Yes.

 

And yet.

 

As the Buddha says, life is suffering. (Or as Westley says to Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. And anyone who says anything else is selling something.”)  To deny suffering is to deny reality and to suffer more.  Loving someone who doesn’t love you back is painful.

 

But maybe not as painful as not loving.

 

In solidarity

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Snapshots of my 20’s: Twenty Seven

I did not write an end of year reflection post. I was just lazy. Twenty-seven and 2014 were truly a marker of growth for me. I still don’t have it all figured out, and I never will, but the personal progress and growth I made in 2014 was a real incredible experience.

Romance is never kind to me, but I am beginning to realize that some of it has to do with the places and men I hope to find it in. I had messy encounters with men who were really young. I was 27 and the oldest one, the one I ended up sleeping with, was 23. It doesn’t seem like a big age gap, but 23 is such an awful age to be at. I say this out of anecdotal evidence. A lot of my friends generally agree, 23 is awful. It’s a transitional age. I was really stupid at 23, and I think I’m a fairly smart lady. What was I expecting out of a 23-year-old male? Especially one who told me, “I don’t read books, I’d rather watch the movie.” I obviously don’t learn from John Waters greatest quote, “If you go home with somebody, and they don’t have any books, don’t fuck ‘em” What I did learn from my messy encounters is that I can be in control of my satisfaction and sensuality. I learned to be vocal about what I want, what I don’t want and what I want to do or not to do. That was a very important lesson in my journey towards self-love and acceptance.

Of course, my biggest adventure in 2014 was South Africa and Paris. Traveling usually, hopefully, changes the way you perceive the world. I still felt very much sheltered from the realities of South Africa. I felt generally pampered. I went on a study abroad trip. I was fed breakfast everyday. I was shuttled everywhere. I had a bed everyday. I stayed at a nice hotel our last week. It wasn’t the typical travel experience, and all those things weren’t negative things either. In retrospect, I wish I had made connections with strangers. To a certain degree I did. I met a shit ton of women. Some were beyond frustrating; people I would never talk to again. Others, like my roommate Gloria, and another student, Hayley, are still people I talk to and love catching up with. I also met Kimberley, another student from our trip. I met her before our trip because we decided to go to Paris together. I met Dr. Jones, from my history department, and Dr. Campbell from the psychology department at my school. I met Ngiri, a Kenyan student who showed us around campus and encouraged me to go for my PhD. I met Arleen, whom we all became close to. She was our guide to every excursion we made in Cape Town. She was a beautiful, warm and lovely woman. She was the first person I met in Cape Town. She greeted me after I walked up to her, as she was holding a sign with my school’s name on it, “Come my sweet child.” To hear those words after a two-day flight, where I ended up crying uncontrollably on the first flight, was exactly what I needed. She was sort of a mother figure to us, certainly the perfect representative of Cape Town.

This network of women was a beautiful experience. Dr. Jones reinforced my passion in history. During my trip, I had a drunken breakdown after another history student from our program flat out told me, “Who the fuck cares what you think! History isn’t about passion. It’s about facts. It’s objective. It’s research” She was drunk. I was drunk. Not a good time to make such bold statements. I questioned myself. Am I in the right business here? Am I too sensitive? Am I too personal? Am I too dependent on passion, not enough on academic objectivity? Am I a moron?! To hear Dr. Jones say that passion was necessary to become a historian certainly put my mind at ease. What’s more, she wrote me a lovely email after our trip telling me she admired my spirit during the trip. That meant a lot to me.

The connections I made with all these strong women reinforced my feminist spirit. To be mentored by strong women, to work with strong women, and to be friends with strong women has become so instrumental to my growth. Since my trip, I’ve made other connections with professors. Dr. Lyon has had such an impact on me. I admire her teaching and guidance. She has opened so many new ways of thinking and learning, and her guidance is invaluable. She intimidates me sometimes, but that’s good because it keeps me from being lazy or fucking up. It only drives me to do positive and productive things. Of course, it cannot be understated, the connection I made with my former creative writing professor, Angela, has been amazing as well. It’s the reason why I write my silly thoughts on this blog. Although I don’t personally know any of the other bloggers and professors, I always admire their posts and feel privileged to be in such great company. I know they’re all English professors, so I’m always stressing out about my grammar.

Twenty-seven and turning 28 was easier than I expected. I’m actually looking forward to my 30’s, you know, dirty thirties. I despise that phrase, actually. It conjures up images of women who wear too short, too tight dresses and drink too much in Vegas. When I turn 30, you’ll find me embracing it with a subtle 30’s party; an only in private good healthy dirty 30. I’m looking forward to all the possible connections I’ll be making with more strong women. I’m looking forward to growing, learning and loving. It’s difficult to be positive, and I’m terrified of something or someone messing everything up. I have to expect failures, disappointments, and sadness. It’s part of life. I just hope that when those things happen, I can keep my head up. I hope I’ll be able to deal with them in a healthy manner, in a controlled manner. I am prone to ugly bouts of deep depression, but I’ve learned to accept the things I can’t control. I’ve learned to have faith in myself, in my passion. I’ve learned to give myself a day to cry in frustration, sadness or anger, only to promise myself that the next day I have to move on.

I hope 2015 brings professional growth. I plan to cultivate my positive female network. I vow not to let any man determine my worth. I promise to make out or have sex with someone who owns and reads good books. I plan to be more socially aware, to be more conscious about food, animals, injustices, and politics. I basically plan to TREAT MYSELF. I hope to get in touch with my creative side a little more. I feel like I’ve lost my “poetic license.” I mean, history is objective, right?! I can’t employ artistic license when writing history papers. But then again, to quote my Nelson Mandela shirt that I bought in Johannesburg: History, depends who wrote it.

becoming a young man

The same year Ben found out about Santa not being real was the same year he found out that his parents would be separating. It will be one of those years of his life, I imagine, that he will run through the sieve of therapists and romantic partners and his own mind again and again to see what kind of insight catches. I was 10 when my mom died. It’s a year I return to often. A month after Benjamin turned 10, our divorce was finalized.

Ben did not take the Santa thing well. Here was a boy who did not believe in God but clung fiercely to all things magical, like Muppets and the Easter Bunny. I promised myself when he asked me if Santa was real, I would tell him the truth. One night, he asked. “Do you want the truth?” I responded. Yes, he told me. He looked sure. I looked straight into those sweet blue eyes and told him. And he shot betrayal back at me, howled from somewhere deep inside, ran down the hall and into his room, and slammed the door shut. He cried in ugly heaves, his face smeared with tears and snot, and Ryan and I sat next to him and tried to calm him. He reminded us about this dream he had in which Santa broke into his room and “rifled” (he said rifled) through his things and determined that he was good. In his dream, he had seen Santa’s boots at the end of his bed and looked up to see Santa staring down at him. This sounded pretty terrifying to me, but he was certain it was real and good. We had to assure him it had all been just a dream. We petted his hair and gently scratched his back and gave him all of the best lines about Christmas being in your heart etc. etc. but nothing made it better. The magic was gone. The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny fell in quick succession. He gradually came to accept it, but I felt horrible for lying to him in the first place.

Then, later that year, we had to sit Ben down and tell him we were separating. It went much the same way. He made a terrible noise from somewhere deep within. It cracked my heart. He ran away from us and slammed his bedroom door again, but this time he locked it against us. You promised me, he said. You promised. He was right. I had promised. Years before, he had asked my why my dad and stepmom lived in separate houses, and I told him about divorce. I told him not to worry because it would never happen to us. I believed that then. That was back during the time when I believed that I could simply bend everything to my will and make it the way I wanted it, that I could give the kids a childhood completely free of some of the struggles I faced as a kid. But we were not doing well, and hadn’t been doing well for a long time. We sat together, all three of us on the bed, and Ryan and I petted and tried to soothe him again. We listened to all of his worries. We told him we would always be friends, would always love each other, just in a different way, and, most importantly, would always love him and his brother. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. I don’t know how much of it Ben believed. I can’t blame him.

Ben is growing up. In the past few months, he started asking about puberty. So I got out my trusty It’s Perfectly NormalHe knows all about male and female bodies, sex, the changes he will go through. Given his age, he still seems to see sex as primarily a way to make babies. He’s into science. That aspect isn’t yet upsetting. But the body thing, he isn’t happy about. He does not want acne and sweat or hair sprouting out everywhere. He told me he is going to make an invention to stop all of it. I try to make it sillier. I make up a song about puberty. I ask him to imagine what his dad would sound like with a young boy’s voice. He laughs and then his little forehead wrinkles again with worry. He thinks so much, all of the time, in all directions. I’m sure he tells me just a fraction of it. He does not want to grow up.

I remember when I was a little older than Ben, and I looked around, and everything seemed less magical. I had seen divorce and my mother had died and my family was weird and I didn’t have any friends at school. I went to Disneyland for a school field trip and found myself calculating ride line times and performing price comparisons with increased efficiency and reduced joy. I could see, plainly, how crowded and expensive it was. It seemed small and hot and not worth it. I didn’t enjoy it again until I got to take my own children there and see it again through them.

Ben is growing up and seeing that life can be difficult. Magical things are tarnished, or gone altogether. I hope he will forgive me for my role in helping him to realize that. I want to smooth everything in his life that is rough, but I can’t. I am just trying to love him through it, even the wounds that I inflict. I want him to avoid growing as cynical as I can be, but I don’t know how to stop it.

I, too, have grown up and seen that life can be difficult. I had a bunch of illusions about myself that have just imploded. But it’s not necessarily bad. Being more uncertain has opened me up, too. There is so much to still learn about and see in a new way. There are so many small things to marvel at, like that spot of moonlight I notice on the floor of my bedroom at 3 a.m. when I am awake, worrying.

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Public and Private Identity

In the past months, I’ve been immersed in thought concerning identity. From my racial, ethnic identity to the way I exploit the sensual nature of my sexual identity. Everything in between, of course, fuses together to make me who I am. My brown skin, my short stature and the width of my thighs and waist invoke some to mistaken me for someone who does not speak English, and others to racially fetishize my body. When I speak, I am soft, unclear, and nervous. I do not yet posses a command or articulation of the ideas and words so grand and powerful that exist mostly at the flow of my pen. Or at the strokes of my keyboard.

Being a “public servant “, a library assistant, I deal with two and often opposing sides of the public. I deal with very white, old and conservative people. On the other side, I deal with everyone opposite of white, old and conservative. Sometimes I feel like white, old and conservative should be an ethnicity on its own. These are the people we fear pissing off. They have power in our communities. They have influence. Most of all, they have time to complain and they will complain.

This past weekend I attended one of our own programs that involved a Pearl Harbor survivor. I wanted to be directly involved because I am a public history student, and to be blunt, I have an ego about it. I am not a master of public history, but I can be bold and proclaim that I know my shit. I don’t know all my shit, but I know more shit than others. I learn everyday. I find flaws in my own thoughts and ideas. Other days I wake up and think, damn I’m brilliant. One thing I know, is that I will never know ALL the shit, ever, but I am ok with that. I am conscious that I cannot grow into a public historian if I do not implement some of the things I’ve learned. I wanted to have some degree of influence in this program. I did not, so I stood on the sidelines as half spectator, half critic.

On a side note: I’ve learned how to control my ego. Although, sometimes I can come off as snobby or conceited, I am not so in person. I love what I do and what I study and it’s an integral part of my identity, but the thing I love the most is learning from others. I love learning from my friends, my parents, my professors, my co-workers, strangers and radically different people from myself. I am open to learning about everyone and everything. I do not always agree with opposing views, but I like to learn why people think differently than me. I love people<<< take note future employers.

With that note, however, two elements of my identity clashed over the weekend that kind of overshadowed my openness to differences and radical opinions.

Our Pearl Harbor survivor brought up the controversial topic of the atomic bomb. He reflected on the fact that over the years, no one had really asked him about what he thought about the decision to drop the bomb. I was surprised and part of me hoped for a less than conservative answer. Immediately, the audience murmured with a resounding, and very patriotic, “yes,” to which our speaker echoed the same.

One of our volunteers asked the rhetorical question to our speaker. The audience became uncomfortable. She furthered elaborated on her question.

“From what I’ve read and from what I know, the Japanese were ready to surrender…”

Me, thinking, “What are you doing. What are you doing. What are you doing.” Not a question, but a proclamation of fear in my head.

“…was there a reason, then, to drop the bomb, if we knew they were going to surrender?

One of the audience members became livid. He could not find a comfortable way of sitting in his chair as he writhed in anger saying, “What is she talking about? No they weren’t. NO, they were not ready to surrender. No. No. They weren’t. NO. We didn’t know. NO”

Afterward, I overheard a group of elderly white people commenting on our volunteer. They were so offended at her question. “I wanted to ask that lady, would you ask the same to a Jew?”

I brought it up to our volunteer, who teaches history at a community college. She was very defensive when I told her she brought up a very sensitive topic. “They need to know the truth. I don’t care. We all need to hear both sides. Whatever, I teach my students both sides. I don’t care I that I made them mad”

Well, I cared. I did not say anything back to the volunteer because I was frustrated at her. I don’t know how to be articulate when I am frustrated. What I wanted to tell her, and what I thought was right, was that she should care because she’s not a community member asking a question. She was a library volunteer; therefore she was a representative of the library. The last thing I want, that we all want, is pissing off the old, white, conservative people that we serve. I get it. I’m a liberal brown girl working in a city that is mostly conservative. I’ve driven by the nearby streets, passing a blown up picture of Obama with a Hitler mustache. I get it. Yes, they do need to hear the truth, but our talk was not a symposium to debate the politics and ethics of dropping the bomb. It was a stage to reflect on public memory, a public memory that is quickly relegated to books, films and documentaries. It’s a living history stage. Yes, history is politics, ethics and horrors, but our stage was a specific memory and experience. An experience of a person we invited and by extension, she was part of as well.

And so, I grappled with this question. I was so angry about our representation and reputation (which is shaky in our community) that I did not really reflect on my own private liberal ideals of change, progress and freedom.

I asked my public history professor on advice as to how to approach this issue at work, and within myself. My public history professor has been highly influential in my growth, but she also scares the shit out of me. I am terrified of letting her down, which I suppose is a good thing. She has a firm and intimidating presence. I know she likes me and has faith in my work and me. She has these beautiful icy blue piercing eyes, that as I speak, I become more vulnerable and second-guess myself. I made it a habit to look into people’s eyes whenever I speak to them, with her, I often find myself looking away because I become nervous. But I love her. I love her in the way people come into your life at the right time. I value her advice on my professional aspirations. I want to be as fierce, articulate and confident as her one day. I want to carry that not only do I know my shit, but also I look like I know my shit attitude. What I value the most, is that she is a fierce woman helping out a not so confident soft-spoken girl. Is it slightly sexist of me to value the approval of my female professors a degree higher than male professors? I’ve had, and continue to have, male professors that are encouraging and influential, but when it comes to female professors, I value them just one little degree more. Their success, along with my mother’s, is what influences me. They made it, so can I.

Anyway, once I finished telling her my dilemma, she told me she had conflicting views on it. She understood where I was coming from. Yet, she said, it’s good to encourage that kind of dialogue. That population of old, white and conservative people need to be shown different and often conflicting sides to all stories. As liberals, we often get complacent about our opinions and we try not to risk pissing people off, but if we continue to do that, then how do we expect change to happen?

God dammit. Who am I?

She did tell me to become more confident in my abilities and to show my work that they need to incorporate me into these programs. Perhaps, volunteers need to be oriented in some ethical issues, and that if they think they cannot keep those questions quiet, then they should not participate as a volunteer, they should be part of the audience instead. She told me to let go of the exchange that the volunteer and I had. I should move forward with all this in mind.

I took her advice and without getting sensitive, I spoke to our program coordinator and now I am part of this project, a project that wasn’t a project before. I made it a project since I noticed a theme in our upcoming events, memory and survival. She loved my idea. I hate to think what reputation I could have started if I went into our coordinator’s office and just had focused on my feelings. I did bring up the incident with our volunteer and I offered some of the insights that blended both my own views and my professor’s views on the topic. I did it in a way where the coordinator and I had a lively and productive conversation about it.

It made me ponder, however, that I am in this odd place. Do I subdue my own views to appease the people of our community? Sometimes I feel like that is part of most jobs. A library setting is different. The philosophy of a library is rooted in democracy and freedom. It’s a space where, theoretically, everyone that walks into the door is one in the same. Not in a socialist way, but we are all there because we love reading, we love learning and we love the limits of our imaginations. And we love free wi-fi, too. It’s a space where we should be able to speak our minds without getting reprimanded. I am no longer confined to city politics, as our library’s management is private. Which is a whole other philosophical issue. I don’t represent the city. I represent my library. I am at a cross-roads because I haven’t figured out what my library represents, or what my co-workers want our library to represent. Do we want to be safe and build up the trust of the old, white, conservative people? Do we want to be radical and build a new reputation, a young and liberal appeal that might attract a diverse community? Or can we work towards a reputation where we are open, free, trusting and sensitive to all sectors of our community? The latter is the ideal, but so often hard to implement successfully.

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