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Toward Integration: Part II

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Every woman has a well-stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.

–Audre Lorde

Every day a student tells me a story that broadens my world view.

Last week, a young woman told me about working at a bakery counter in a chain restaurant. Every single day, women come up to the counter and look through the glass with wide eyes. Alone, or in pairs, they pace back and forth, talking to each other (or themselves), as if they’re about to commit a crime. The ones who come up to purchase something look at her with pleading eyes, asking her not to judge them. They are buying for their children, they say, or an office party or their book groups, and they explain the details. If they’re buying just one or two items, they offer a rationalization,”I worked out this morning,” or “I’m just going to have this one macaroon,” or “I’m celebrating” or “It’s my cheat day.”

I asked her what men say if they ponder over a baked good. She tossed her head and laughed out loud. “Never. I have never heard a man give me a reason why he’s buying a pastry. He gets one or he doesn’t, but there’s no explanation or weird ass shame.”

The next day, a student told me she’s in cognitive therapy to cope with a persistent sadness left over from childhood trauma. Her therapist suggested maybe she’s depressed because she’s overweight. My student told the therapist she’s trying to lose weight, but when’s she’s depressed, all she wants to do is eat. Instead of encouraging her to see her emotional eating as a strategy to manage repressed anger, the therapist put her on her scale and recorded her weight. Every time she came in, she would weigh her, and if the number on the scale didn’t go down, she would scold her for not making more of an effort. My student asked me if I think it’s ok that she stopped going to therapy.

In her newest book Hunger, Roxane Gay details the way she is treated publicly for living in a fat body, “where the open hatred of fat people is vigorously tolerated and encouraged.” She tells the story of being gang raped at age 12 and how it changed forever her relationship with her body: “I was marked after that. Men could smell it on me, that I had lost my body, that they could avail themselves of my body that I wouldn’t say ‘no’ because I knew my ‘no’ did not mater. They smelled it on me and took advantage, every chance they got.”

It’s nearly impossible to feel safe in our bodies after we’ve been sexually assaulted. Most victims initially react by turning their anger inward and blaming themselves. Whether the perpetrator is known or unknown, it feels too dangerous to fling it outward, even among family or friends. There are centuries of social conditioning to keep us quiet.

Anger is difficult for many of us to recognize or name. Because it’s more socially acceptable for a woman to be sad than angry, female anger rarely looks like the “norm” of male anger. Other than the rare times women snap and “lose our shit” (coming across as a raging, crazy woman), we frequently turn our anger inward, registering as depression. And sometimes we construct a blockade of protection against whatever it is that has made us angry. This protection can be layers of extra body weight, self-medicating through various addictions, or overcompensating to make a bid for love (codependency).

Psychologist and columnist Avrum Weiss argues that “Men have always had a problem with anger in women.” He quotes studies that show how “boys are socialized to feel OK about their anger, while girls are taught to feel ashamed. Angry women make men feel uncomfortable, even threatened. Sad women make men feel gallant and protective.”

Through a yoga practice, I have worked to recognize and acknowledge my feelings, positive and negative. But even after years of dropping into my body to feel, I still struggle with anger. When it begins to surface, I panic.

After being molested repeatedly as a 7 year old child, I learned to live outside my body.  I no longer possessed the ordinary sensors healthy people do. I could withstand hunger and thirst and other sorts of deprivation by watching the girl who felt them, as if from a distance. For years, when I would get injured, I did very little to defend myself or to heal. When sick, I never took time off.  And when confronted with violence, I made myself small, burying the feeling part of me so deep, I didn’t recognize it as mine. I compartmentalized myself so completely, the girl who was being abused wasn’t me. I could feel sorry for her, and sad, but not angry. By 16, I struggled with anorexia and a suicide attempt. After two hospitalizations, I learned to perform normalcy through the more subtle self-abuse of bulimia.

I had become caught in a cycle of repressed anger and self-punishment. I had so much unresolved pain, when it began to hurt, I didn’t think about how unjust the situation was that brought me there. I just wanted it to go away. And so I ate whatever I could find that would fill the gaping hole in me. Then I would experience intense feelings of guilt and shame and vomit it up. Guilt and shame reinforced self-hate, which told me I deserved the pain. I didn’t know how to be angry at the pain in my past; instead, I was angry at myself for causing pain in the present, and that feeling of anger would send me right back to shame.

Audre Lorde says that “Anger is loaded with information and energy” and we can “tap that anger as an important source of empowerment.”

In my second semester of college, I took a course in the humanities and the assigned reading included The Bell Jar, Surfacing, The Women’s Room, and The Feminine Mystique. The professor made us write an analysis that required us to look back at the past 100 years of women’s magazines, including Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping (circulating since 1883 and 1885, respectively). The products advertised in these publications varied over the years, but the majority of the slogans and hooks were frighteningly similar. She encouraged us to to notice how the advertising was aimed toward getting women to feel inadequate so they would to spend money. I began to see the the institutional ways we are taught to feel bad about ourselves. And I got dramatically angry.

I haven’t counted a calorie since.

When I began to acknowledge the systemic cause of my anger, something significant shifted. Recognizing the rationale, I was freed from its control. As a result, I adopted a more intuitive eating style. Since early college, I haven’t gained or lost more than 10 pounds (except during pregnancy). I eat what I want, when I want, and I never step on a scale. I’m not perfect about my choices. Sometimes I binge on sugar or forget to eat altogether, but I no longer allow my weight or anyone else’s perception of it to dictate what I put in my body.

Both genders suffer from the scripts we’ve been handed. When we perform gender, we limit access to our full humanity. Our expectations that we should narrow our field of emotions to those we’ve been told are appropriate for a good woman (or nice lady) limits our ability to combat shame and to integrate disparate pieces of ourselves into a cohesive and healthy personhood.

I asked the two students this week what they thought about their scenarios. They both declared vehemently that it was fucked up. I told them I didn’t have the answers, but the first step toward healing is recognizing there is something wrong.

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Quiet Street

Once you realize that the road is the goal and that you are always on the road, not to reach a goal, but to enjoy its beauty and its wisdom, life ceases to be a task….

― Nisargadatta Maharaj

Where I come from, like anywhere, there are rules. Some are written, but most are unwritten, passed on member to member, generation to generation, word of mouth, tongue in cheek, morphing as they circulate, like an ontological plague.

Learning the official promise and bylaws at the Organization was easy. At the beginning of meetings, everyone recites the pledge: “I promise by the strength of Christ to be brave, pure and true. I will fulfill my duties at school, home and club; do my part in [the Organization’s] activities, keep all dates and promises and read at least one verse in the Bible daily.”  

It takes a little longer to learn the laws, but anyone who wants to be recognized by leadership, to earn a pin or a neckerchief, to move up into Phosterians or RHLA, strives to live by these, as well:

A member is brave. He/she will not shun duty. He/she realizes that bravery in standing for the right is greater than mere physical strength. Coaxing of friends and jeers of enemies cannot persuade him/her to do wrong.

A member is pure in body, mind, speech and conduct. He/she will not defile his/her body with tobacco, liquor, or other harmful habits. Because he/she keeps his/her mind pure, his/her speech and conduct will also be pure and he/she will choose to go with a clean crowd.

A member is true to himself/herself, to parents, to all leaders, and to God. He/she will not lie, steal, cheat or gamble. He/she will honor his/her parents and be respectful to those in authority. He/she is reverent toward God.

In theory, these were the only rules, but in practice, the parameter of acceptable behaviors was vastly more complex. To thrive in this Organization, you had to learn the boundaries–meaning, the bi-conditional logic of what is and isn’t godly.

The Organization obtained its current property when my mother was a young child, leasing the initial 4 acres of riverbed from a local philanthropic family in 1952, and then acquiring adjoining use rights from the Southern California Water Company and the Los Angeles Flood Control District. My family turned a former garbage dump located at the end of a cul-de-sac, surrounded by suburban homes, into a sanctuary of ballfields, and the bowl of refuse became a worship center to a close-knit homogeneous ideological community that has thrived for decades.

However you approached the entrance to the Organization, an unofficially zoned no-noise buffer emanated approximately a mile in each direction. Upon entering that perimeter, no matter what was taking place prior, everyone would hush, and the participants on the bus would be quiet until we drove down the driveway into the basin of fields. Whatever your age, whether you entered the property by car or bus or bike, the blocks of homes outlining the entrance were all part of Quiet Street. If you wanted to stay in the fold, you made the journey silent as a contemplative monk.

The practice of silence served two purposes, but the second one didn’t occur to me until long after I left.

Ostensibly, we were quiet to respect the residents in the surrounding homes. If they weren’t bothered by our noise, they wouldn’t complain to law enforcement of our presence. We all understood that what we did in that basin was unconventional (and, of course, holy) and only those who fully understood God’s purpose should be privy to it.

I walked, biked and drove through Quiet Street thousands of times from my first memories as a toddler through my teenage years, and each time I did so etched in me an unwitting meditation practice. We left what we called the Outside–a world of commerce, temptation and worldly pleasures–to pass through the silence of those transitional streets, to cross the threshold of the cul-de-sac thoroughfare and burrow down into our spiritual home.

A student asked me today how I learned to drop down into my body, how I learned to be still and practice inner-knowing. I didn’t explain Quiet Street, nor quote how at the end of all our exploring, we will arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. What I did share was a simpler truth: throughout my childhood, the practice of mindfulness was integrated into my daily life. Learning to be silent, learning to be reverent in the midst of chaos, learning to pause and respect the physical space of a spiritual journey, is a practice I am deeply grateful for, and one I continue to honor.

 

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Some tips for young journalists

I did not think of language as the means to self-description. I thought of it as the door — a thousand opening doors! — past myself. I thought of it as the means to notice, to contemplate, to praise, and, thus, to come into power….I saw what skill was needed, and persistence — how one must bend one’s spine, like a hoop, over the page — the long labor. I saw the difference between doing nothing, or doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. Reading, then writing, then desiring to write well, shaped in me that most joyful of circumstances — a passion for work. — Mary Oliver

 

I accompanied nine of my students to the College Media Association Convention in New York City this week, and here is a small sample of what we learned:

Meredith Talusan, Executive Editor @ them:

“Part of it is just being at the right place at the right time, but the way I look at it, as long as I’m doing good work, the opportunities will present themselves. I’m most interested in the quality of my work.”

We should have a Chief Content Officer.

Kimberly B Johnson, Associate Editor at Konbini:

Brand Identity

Obtaining the Knowledge

Finding the Stories

Becoming the Expert

When you immerse yourself in a culture, the stories find you. Small companies will give you more freedom over your platform.

Joanne Lipman on That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (and Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together

We all have unconscious bias. We have been taught to overestimate boys’ skills and to underestimate girls’ skills, which starts in infancy.  For example, by objective measurements, parents overestimate their boy babies’ crawling abilities and underestimate girl babies. As early as six years old, boys pay themselves more (in Hershey kisses) than girls do for the same tasks. In fact, in repeated studies, boys paid themselves more at every age than girls do.  And in college, professors call on male students more frequently than female students.

Women get interrupted more often than men, even if they’re Supreme Court judges. And often, it takes a man repeating what a woman says for her idea to be heard.

Open secret: women are not as valued as men are in our culture.

Advice from journalists at VICE

Modern storytelling requires a multi-platform news delivery system, and the world is hungry for what youth is creating.

Have a portfolio with links to work you’ve done, posted on platforms like Medium.

Keep an updated Instagram site.

Do something that gets you out of your comfort zone, and keep producing. Master your craft. Be consistent and reliable, develop a personal style, and be adaptable (code-switching).

Take as many informed interviews as you can and don’t give up.  Self-learning is crucial. Look at professionals you respect and find out the trajectory that got them there. You might be surprised.

It’s not about internships or degrees. It’s about active links to your work, and strong storytelling with multimedia delivery, regardless of platform.

Some of the perks of working for VICE  include: no dress codes, options to telecommute, and free snacks.

From various students, advisers and industry professionals, during presentations and conversations:

Twitter is mandatory for journalists. Your social media accounts should be your name. Avoid dashes, underscores, or any symbols difficult to remember. Be as consistent as possible across all platforms. Building a following on every platform will help with engagement, sourcing for stories and brand building.

When people visit your social profile, are they impressed? Does your social media presence look like you?

When someone wants to hire you, they will cyberstalk you. Period. Be sure you know what they will find.

Your photo should be consistent across all platforms. Create a brand for yourself. Become a logo. Cover photos should be thematically consistent. (Look around at the background and be sure there’s no clutter or diversions.)

Your bio: must-haves: name, what you do, what you’re passionate about, and don’t mention anything in your bio that you’re not willing to post about.

If you want to get hired in this industry, you need a website. Use Google to search the best domain to buy your name. Maybe use WordPress, but buy your name, rather than use a .wordpress. Make the effort. Figure out how to do it and take the steps.

Generate content and post on your own website, in addition to social media. Everything should link to your website, which should have all your social media icons. If you start a blog, make sure you post regularly. Give your contact info on the site.

Don’t have a private social media account.

Connect on LinkedIn – make sure you have a professional presence – which may be a duplication of your website – connect with as many people as you can on it.

To truly do personal branding well, you need to treat your own social platforms like that of a brand; any brand that performs well will have a clearly defined strategy. Set an objective. Define your audience. Set you voice and tone. Create specific goals for each platform, and decide how you will measure success.

Outline a list of words/adjectives to use that define and describe your brand. Always use an image with a post when possible, and size your image for each specific platform. If you’re not professional on a platform, make it private (even though, of course, nothing is ever private).

Use hashtags in a sentence, whenever possible. Try Hashtagify.me

Monitor and keep a constant eye on your network/beat, follow members of your community on social media, set up google alerts and use google trends.

Engage and be social on social media. Get involved in the conversation.

Grow and become a node for information and serve needs that are unmet by other organizations

Be (and stay) active on the social accounts you decide to focus on. Don’t be afraid to schedule tweets to keep your feed active.

Block people you don’t want following you.

Consider Trello/Slack integrations

Adopt newsletter strategies that can help with workflow issues.

Understand the difference between digital content versus print content.

Consider Apple News, traffic drivers, partner platforms, algorithm de-prioritization – developing communities you can talk directly to – you can’t trust any other platform to prioritize you.

Instagram stories – cover live events, show behind-the-scenes, and cover sports

FaceBook groups – Your publication can be enhanced by developing a community – by being an authority on everything on campus, delivering content they can only find through us – form a community group, make it private, create a barrier of entry, an air of exclusivity and connectivity

Lauren Duca, American Writer on “Establishing a Unique Voice in Today’s Media Landscape”

We should practice radical transparency – We’ve been doing a performance of objectivity in journalism, pretending the truth is a math equation. But we have new tools now. We don’t have to rely on the appearance of being true; we need to do the real work of researching and showing our process to the public. Legacy newsrooms used to be filters and provide accountability, but there were always holes in that. False information has always been presented to the public eye. We need to rethink how we factor in as journalists.

It’s impossible to keep track of the news at all times. We need to offer the public guides that they trust.

Freelance is powerful work because you’re not owned by anyone;  you can speak your truth, and you don’t have to wait to start.

While there are certainly new challenges in the digital age, there’s also an opportunity for diversity of voices, for independent channels, for stories we’ve been numb to for many years.

Read and reread The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect by Bill Kovach

Journalism is a trade, not a profession, and you learn by doing. You have to be motivated by your own sense of ethics, and have a commitment to verification. People may label Duca a“deranged feminist,” but she is transparent that she is writing opinion, not polemics.

Duca tried to sum up her career trajectory, the bottom line of which is that she was always desperate to find out how other people did it, and what she noticed is that you can master as aspect, but as a journalist, the ground shifts under our feet.  When you’re searching for stories, think about what excites you, what you want to tell your friends later when you get drinks, what have you been strangely exposed to.

You have to write to be a writer. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. No one really knows everything.

New journalists much challenge power by empowering citizens with information.

Media companies are desperate to tell stories online and young people are particularly adept at producing stories online with an emotional connection. Know your strengths. A freelance career is tough, but you can use the time to learn your field. The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm is a fabulous book.

The more you build your foundation, the stronger a journalist you will be. If you want to start a column (and you’ve been told that no one cares what you have to say), consider what you are uniquely bringing to the conversation. And then be rigorous in bringing it.

The truth is not a math equation. If you’re drawn to defending someone, and you are committed to verification, do the work to prove that position, be willing to learn and stay open, keep people around who will challenge your perspective, so you don’t get caught in the echo chamber of your mind.

If you’re a young woman and you do responsible work, but continue to receive harsh criticism, recognize that some people don’t think a woman (especially a young one) has the right to an opinion. Newsrooms traditionally blindly accept patriarchy as the norm in the media. As yourself who is controlling the lens.

 

Infinite Game

…every love story is a ghost story…

Last week, a friend brought me 80% Dunkle Schokolade from Germany and I couldn’t taste it.

He opened the packaging like performance art, broke off a shape resembling a scar. I watched him do this, grateful for the gesture, mesmerized by the movements. I reached out, tried to appreciate the taste and quality and texture of his gift, but it felt cold in my mouth.

I wondered if it was his kindness that scared me.

This morning, I made coffee and I saw the bring pink hues of the Haitian art packaging that protected the leftover chocolate on my desk. I turned it over to read the history, looked at the list of ingredients, curiously fingered the ridges of the foil. Then I wrapped myself in a red wolf blanket, warmed my hands on the coffee mug and held the chocolate next to the heat of the drink, softening around my fingers till it was pliable, like clay.

I licked the chocolate and a wave of resistance sprung up like a flavor, unspoken goodbyes choking me as I swallowed, a machine gun of memories punctuating the background, loud and violent, like a backdrop of war. My parents, my grandparents, the Field, Phosterians, Chapel, the Trip, Quiet Street, Devotions, driving through grooves of mud so thick, getting out is more than dark and dirty.

I hadn’t thought to tell him that Europe is not always a college playground, that sometimes abroad is the only place you can think of to go, but it’s not far enough away.

I dipped the chocolate in the coffee and rolled it around with my tongue and the coffee and chocolate calmed me, like a cigarette. I sensed the taste of fig, with a touch of floral and a tinge of nut, and it was warm and layered and acidic inside of me, the way a lover moves inside of you, and the bitter sweetness alternated in syncopation, like a heartbeat.

 

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Like Water

“The river is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the rapids, in the sea, in the mountains, everywhere at once, and there is only the present time for it, not the shadow of the past, not the shadow of the future….” –Siddhartha

Years ago, I spent a few December days in Laguna Beach, diving through winter waves, immersed in what felt like the beginning of everything. I was full of energy, and I would wake up early to walk down and watch the sunrise on the beach. It was always dark and always cold, and I carried a blanket and coffee, snuggling into a little indented sand nest to watch the water as the first light reflected like an hallucination on the horizon. On the second morning, as I was watching the sun hover, I saw something leap from the water. I got up to get a closer look, and several more creatures surfaced from the sea line, cavorting through the waves. When I saw flippers and flukes, I knew these were dolphins at play, plunging and rising, breaching and striking, looping like a dream, or an omen.

A couple months ago, I invited a shamanic healer into my home. She brought flowers and herbs, branches and twigs, and she chanted through ritual movement in a Limpia ceremony, releasing whatever block impedes change. When she left, I followed her instructions to bury the remains and wait for growth.

This week, I sat in a women’s moon circle, and I attended my first private session with a spiritual adviser.

I sound like a woman in crisis.

My documentary filmmaker friend says that erotic thrillers are about women in crisis. He says Americans are uncomfortable watching women on screen unless they’re sexualized, but that’s not really what these films are really about.

Americans are uncomfortable with a lot of things.

I like to think I’m a person who is comfortable with discomfort, likely because I’ve lived long enough to know all sensations pass. When I run a trail near my house in the early mornings, particularly when its cold out, or on days I haven’t slept, or when the voices in my head are angry and unkind about my decision to get up early to run in the dark, I close my eyes on the trail, deliberately slow down my breathing and repeat in my head over and over, “flow like water.”

I picture myself immersed, flowing downstream.

I like thinking about water.

Lately, I’ve been studying the symbolism of the second chakra, located in our lower abdomen, about two inches below the navel and two inches in. Even when you interpret chakras as metaphor, I think it’s useful to find a place in your body to feel the seed of energy you want to explore. The main functions of the second chakra are related to pleasure, emotion, and creativity. When this chakra is healthy, it is the pathway through which we experience a sense of abundance, well-being, and delight in sexuality. When our energy is flowing freely through this channel, we generate authentic human connection and an ability to welcome others and new experiences. When our second chakra is blocked, we feel cold, disconnected and apathetic, afraid to take risks, afraid to trust, afraid to change.

I remind myself that change is the only constant, that change is chemically necessary to life, that passion arises from engagement and that we can’t engage if we aren’t open. But that doesn’t quell my discomfort with change.

Vicki was a student of mine many years ago, in many classes. When I met her, she was bright, vibrant, charismatic, hard-working, beautiful and pregnant. I adored her and she soaked up everything I offered. After graduating from our college, she asked me to meet her for coffee, and she continued to pick my brain throughout graduate school, and then over many lunches where we talked about the publication process, her decision to teach or not to teach, how to get hired, how to juggle children and partners, how to compete as a woman in a man’s world. We emerged from these exchanges without hierarchy. We rose to the surface as friends. Vicki is now my colleague, and does many of the things I do or used to do, with grace and charm that exceed mine. Sometimes after she has orchestrated a public program, male colleagues will say to me, “you better watch out!” or they ask how it feels to have competition, or whether I feel “threatened” or “sickened” by her success. I look at them, puzzled, as if I don’t understand the question. But if they seem genuinely open to hearing my feelings, I tell them the truth: “Every time she shines, I feel so full of pride, I can barely contain it. This is why I do what I do. This is how the river flows. Only a poor teacher has students who don’t surpass her.”

Yogi Seane Corn has a deal she makes with women who ask to pick her brain. She says she will answer anything they ask her, as authentically and generously as she can, but only if the mentee promises to do the same for a younger women who approaches her some day, particularly if she is intimidated or insecure by this rising woman’s intelligence or beauty or charm. She says when we recognize a contraction of fear in our body–that a younger woman will usurp or outshine us–that is when we know we must open ourselves further, that are bodies are telling us to give her more. She says that being generous takes away the power of lack. The moment you stop being generous, you stop the flow of energy and you begin to die.

The truth is, I love to watch Vicki dive in head first. I love to watch her swim in warm waters. And I let her know, as often as possible, that if she’s tired or wants a break or needs an extra oar to row, I’m here, in whatever capacity she requires. I want my students to surpass me, just as I want my children to. And when I operate from this place of abundance, I can feel my second chakra open, the energy flowing toward new experiences, toward openness, toward change.

I think of Gloria Steinem’s prayer for “the courage to walk naked at any age, to wear red and purple, to be unladylike, inappropriate, scandalous and incorrect, to the very end.”

Over the years, I have watched dolphins from the shore, and have looked down or across at them from various boats, but I haven’t yet found the right moment to dive in. I have been many places, danced in many waters, but I have not yet swum with dolphins.

 

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Sonnet 42 as it intersects Light of Love: How Sad ladies write the prose of my heart

I once took a literature class where different genres of writing were surveyed. We had the novel, the short story and the poem. We had to write a paper for each style. When I wrote my paper for the poetry section, I wrote about two ladies: Edna St. Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker. I compared and analyzed their respective poems, Sonnet 42: What Lips my Lips Have Kissed, and Light of Love. I had just recently lost my virginity and it was awful. I lost seven pounds, wait, that was actually pretty cool. I felt disgusted with myself. I felt broken. I felt exposed. Most of all, I felt worthless. I was 22, and those poems spoke to my broken heart and body.

Since then, I have only been involved with 21-23 year olds. I grow older (I am 28,) but they stay young. I blame it on my Dorian Gray syndrome. Damn I look good, but I am nothing but rotten, broken, and ugly inside. And I am cursed, a side effect of growing up in an unorthodox Mexican-Catholic household. I look at myself and I wonder if perhaps I am just plain too ugly to be loved. I think about what makes me me and I think, maybe I’m too conceited about my work to be interesting. Maybe I’m not quirky and submissive enough to be cute. I’m just a fat ugly angry feminist that boys (BOYS) find repulsive the next morning. I’m a mistake. I’m a pity fuck. I’m a drunk fuck.

None of that is true, of course, but in the deepest depressions that boys conjure up within me, it all feels so painfully true. I semi-fucked a 22 year old, and I fucked my ex-lover (28) in the same week. Ironically, it was the ex-lover who made me feel better about myself. We have the oddest (and unhealthy) connection, so I told him about my woes with the 22-year-old incident. Incident. It’s the old “he’s ignoring me after sexing me” story. Over and over, I get told to not mess around with early-twenty year olds. I get the funniest anecdotes, “Like my aunt says, ‘don’t mess with young guys, you can still smell the similac on their breath.’” They’re not mature enough to communicate effectively, or to have the proper decency of not ignoring someone so cold. But, young or old, male or female, people do not know how to handle MY communication, MY honesty and MY vulnerability.

Someone once told me I was too intense. It was not a bad thing, but that the intensity of my honesty scares people. I’ve been told at work that my co-workers cannot handle my transparent communication. In my un-feminist crevice I just think, “pussies.” I suppose it is something I need to tone down, and it is a principle that sometimes works against me. I’ve learned to just tackle things head on, rather than let feelings and thoughts marinate into something nasty and sad. But, toning it down might be a practical solution.

My ex-lover told me not to take it personal, but I suspect he said that because he was once a 22 year old that was fucking me and had no attachment to my heart. So he thought, but that is neither here nor there now. His sympathies were biased. It was personal. The friendship that I built up with the 22 year old was a bit strange, but it felt nice to have someone listen to the idiotic nonsensical fantasies that I have about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It was nice to have someone make an effort to have coffee with me. It was nice to talk on the phone. It was nice to receive compliments. It was nice.

And it was a mistake.

Sonnet 42: What Lips my Lips Have Kissed

 

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning, but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

 

Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Sunday hurt as it rained all summer day. Rain as rare as affection in July, laid bare next to me. In the awkward hours of the night when it intersects with the dawn, he held me and stroked my arm, and at times I let our fingers interlock. In my gut, I knew I should have pushed him out the door as soon as we were done.

Joy stayed with me a night —
Young and free and fair —
And in the morning light
He left me there.

Then Sorrow came to stay,
And lay upon my breast
He walked with me in the day.
And knew me best.

I’ll never be a bride,
Nor yet celibate,
So I’m living now with Pride —
A cold bedmate.

He must not hear nor see,
Nor could he forgive
That Sorrow still visits me
Each day I live.

 

Dorothy Parker

 

I have felt this loneliness since I first attempted to make love, but it was just a fuck gone wrong. It extended to years of stubborn love. In between, I kissed ugly boys who were just as ugly as me. This reoccurring theme of being a mistake breaks me in these melodramatic ways. I write self-indulgent prose where I dilute myself into thinking it’s important, it’s different, and it’s edgy. It’s melodramatic and insane. I carry the weight of those mistakes on my salty face and my sunken eyes. I am a descendant of the howling woman who scares men away in those awkward hours between dusk and dawn.

Don’t fuck with writers. We are the exhibitionists who keep their clothes on while you lay naked.

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 solidarity

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Photo credit: @natgeotravel on Instagram

Tagged ,

The Personal is Political

“…man is defined as a human being and woman is defined as a female. Whenever she tries to behave as a human being she is accused of trying to emulate the male…” Simone de Beauvoir

Recently, I was given the responsibility to serve on a panel about Rape Culture, and afterwards, to lead a vigil for victims of domestic violence. At first, I wasn’t sure in what capacity I was being asked to contribute. But when I was told that I should present a linguistic and/or narrative perspective, I ascertained an angle from which I could attempt to set the stage for why the onus for rape so frequently falls on the victim.

The feminist movement as we know it today started with consciousness raising, a practice in which women came together to share their personal experiences with one another, to find, generally, a consensus about the particular challenges of being a woman in our collective culture. These early “second wave” feminists coined the idea that the personal is political, and they actively encouraged women to tell their stories.

There are narratives that lead us to believe it is normal to colonize women’s bodies. Even though we are socially against “forcible rape,” we are somehow immune to the subtle ways we teach and reify that women’s bodies belong to men. Do we even need repressive apparatuses when we so clearly have internalized these ideological ones? Why is it that men predominantly set the rules of political engagement? Aside from the dominance of their greater physical strength, where did this culture of hierarchy and subsequent double standards start?

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1

There is immense power in words.

I told a couple of stories on this panel, which I have abbreviated here:

Story one: Once upon a time, Adam was pure and free of all sin and perception of sin. He communed effortlessly with both animals and God, until one day he told God he was lonely and God said, ok, I will make you a companion. And God created Eve out of Adam’s rib. And she became his helpmate.

“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him.21 And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;22 And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man.23 And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

Story two:

A woman committed the first sin and our reproductive challenges are direct punishments. In many communities, when a girl gets her period, it’s referred to as the curse, and the subordination of women’s bodies and minds are often rationalized as a dictate from God.
The man said, “The woman whom you gave me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. Genesis 3:12-16

I was relatively comfortable discussing these stories, since they are canonical and have nothing to do with me. I was relatively comfortable listening to my two colleagues explore the sociological and legal parameters of rape culture, even when they clearly articulated the relationship between childhood victims, the internalization of blame and shame, and the subsequent tendency for repeat victimization. I have read all of these basic theories, and they make sense to me. And I was fine. We were each presenting an educated set of perspectives, with research to support our claims. Which was predictable and safe. Until a woman from the audience raised her hand and told her story, in tears, asking for an explanation for why her rapist didn’t stop, how he could continue to violate her over her tears, how he could shame her after, vilify her to her boyfriend, and she kept asking for an explanation for his pathology, asking why, why, why, admitting a desire for vengeance (because, of course, she didn’t report or press charges at the time). Suddenly, I felt like I was going to throw up.

I stayed seated, but I couldn’t speak.

Someone else answered her.

This young woman spoke at the Vigil too, as did other women, all of whom reiterated how important it is to tell our stories, how in the telling of them, we release other victims from shame and blame. I managed to share a healing meditation, supported by candles, and I invited the circle to care for one another, but I didn’t share my story.

If the personal is political, I owed them more than I shared that night. In respect and tribute to the brave women who spoke that night, and to the brave survivors both male and female who tell or have yet to tell their stories, I was raped as both a child and an adult. Here is the beginning of my story, with minor details changed to protect my family of origin:

Ken hangs onto the molding of the doorway like a spider, cavalier, appearing disinterested, like he has nothing better to do. I think if there was an earthquake, he would hold on tighter, bracing himself for imminent disaster, but it’s obvious he doesn’t have to. I am clearly not a threat.

I am lying on the thin red bedspread, my seven year old bottom peeking out under my dad’s old football jersey, knees bent, calves up, ankles crossed. But of course Ken can’t really see that. I am perched up on my elbows, watching him linger, so he can only see my face, and as usual, my face betrays nothing. I have three siblings who share this room with me, and it feels arbitrary and random who might pounce and when. I don’t face away from the door, not now, not ever.

But they are in the kitchen. And I am here on this bed, watching Ken in the doorway eye me with his half-grin and his wide eyes like headlights on my chin. He is one of the boys my father used to coach, who is well past the 19-year-old cutoff, making him too old to compete. Mother says our father asks these boys to watch out for us while he’s on the road and that we should be nice to them and grateful they care for us, because they’re not bound by blood.

So I try to smile and be polite to Ken, even though I don’t know what he sees when he watches me, or what he’s protecting me from when no one is around, when he smoothes the baby blond wisps of hair away from my cheek and runs his hands along the length in back, pets me like a kitten, demure and soft to touch. I know my grandfather has asked my mother to cut my hair, but she hasn’t, yet. Women don’t have long hair where I come from. Maybe I am too young for her to see me as a woman, so I’m not significant. Her own hair is dark and coarse and shorn tight like a boy’s. Maybe she is proud of herself for producing what she is not, or maybe the blond hair and light eyes remind her of her husband, a man who still loves her in a way no one else has.

I don’t know. She’s never here. Father is on a coaching trip for the next ten weeks, and if I were a boy, and eight, mother says he would take me. But for now I am seven, and my father already has his sights set on my brother as his athlete, and I keep thinking that maybe Mikey won’t have the moves, and our father will reconsider and train me instead. That’s my plan, to get trained by my father so I can compete and get out of here. I wonder if my mother is coaching this evening as well, but girls don’t get to go on the same trips, and she never really tells us where she is, so I don’t think she will train me, even if she could. She and my father have many serious responsibilities that keep them on the Field or on the road for hours, days or months at a time. I have been told they work for the Lord our God and the fulfillment of His Kingdom. I only know that home is the worst place anyone can be.

* * *

I stand in the kitchen with my siblings, watching my mother gather her things to depart for the evening and I ask her softly to stay, to please stay. I must have the sad face on, a look of need, because her body hardens as she turns to look at me.

“Stop it!” she hisses in a whisper, her face contorted in controlled anger. I close my eyes and pull the emotion in like a syringe, softening my face before the tears emerge. I take a deep breath. Nothing. I have swallowed the sadness and it lingers in my belly like a dead animal waiting to rot. But my face shows nothing anymore. I am sure of this from the way my mother turns away again, that I have managed what she most respects and demands. I don’t show my cards.

She has told me since I was three that the worst thing a girl can ever do is cry for herself. The goal of womanhood is not to shed a tear for either physical or emotional pain. Childbirth will bring pain, but you can’t let it get to you, she says. The Ticuna Indian girls don’t cry. Not even when they are eleven years old and everyone pulls out all their hair til they’re bald. They don’t cry even then. The community circles around the girl, torturing her, but she can’t show fear, can’t lose her composure or show any signs of distress. This is what it is to be female, my mother says. But when her hair grows back into fullness, she can get married. That’s the consolation. Marriage. That’s how we become women.

You have nothing to complain about, she says, you have it good. Your life is easy. No one has pulled out my hair in handfuls, so she has a point. It’s also true that things are easier without my dad, easier when he’s gone travelling with his boys. It’s true that his rage and random violence is more difficult to manage than her predictable whispers and the tightness of her lips, pursed in displeasure. It’s true that I have very little to fear from her, as long as I keep my emotions and my needs to myself. As long as I don’t ask for anything, I can remain in her presence. Need or vulnerability or desire for comfort, affirmation, human touch are sins in her world. What’s important is to meet other people’s needs and to be polite. Especially to father’s boys.

* * *

All I want for Christmas is a Jewel Magic. I want to make jewelry that will protect me, jewelry like Wonder Woman’s bracelets, jewelry that will ward off hostile invaders. I don’t know how I will make this jewelry work, but I know if I can create pieces myself, that I will make them strong, durable, and pretty, and they will be sufficient against whatever weapons he can use on me.

Ken doesn’t really use weapons, though. He’s nice to me. The last time he came over, while my parents were preaching at Phosterians, he sent the other kids outside with Big Stick popsicles and said I was special, so he had brought me something even more special, a 15 inch Marathon bar, a braided chocolate covered caramel bar I had never seen the likes of, and this was the largest version available, and he said he would sit on my bed and read to me while I ate it. I sat cross-legged across from him, far enough away that he could barely nudge me with his feet, and I sucked on that gooey chocolate bar for an hour, making it last while he read to me from Strong’s Concordance, and I would cross-reference and quote back the passages from the Bible I had memorized. He said I was as smart as a circus monkey. I asked him to read to me about Esther, because Grandmother said she was so beautiful and clever, the King gave her anything she desired. The King sought her out from the whole land. He brought her to the Kingdom for such a time as this. I loved the sound of that, loved the way my Grandmother imitated the drama of Esther’s words, how she went into the King without his solicitation to save her people, the Jews.

And now Ken is reading it to me and I think there must be hope in revealing the truth after all, that the King must have loved her enough, he could stand the pain of her words, the secret knowledge that she was a Jew too, that she had hidden that from him, but revealed it now when she needed to to save her people. If he killed her people, as he planned to do via military edict, he had to kill her too, and she would tell him this. And according to law and tradition, he should have killed her for deceiving him, and for making a request of him unsolicited, and of course, for being a Jew in the first place, but he had come to love her, and he raised his sceptre so she could enter safely and make her request of him. Ken runs his hands along father’s jersey, along my waist, and removes my panties. And I recite the verses and keep thinking, the King forgave Esther’s deception and told her he would honor her request, even if she wanted half his Kingdom for herself. He would give her half his Kingdom, even though she lied by omission.

And the King saved her life and the lives or all of her family and her whole tribe of people. I don’t know what will happen if I tell Father about the way his boys touch me, if I tell him what they do when he’s not here. Maybe when I grow up, I will have the courage, like Esther, to tell him, or to tell someone the whole truth, and maybe someone will love me some day and I will know he loves me by his forgiveness and “I will go in unto the King, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish.”

Moonmen

I can feel the strain of time

as I hear the months go by

I had pictures on the wall

that have made it past the door

 –

You can be me if you’d like

I will be kind oh I’ll be kind

to those who are me they will see

the space between the moon and sea.

 –

Though the tides have all but crashed

the pull is stronger than I asked

the waves have called me to their door

to reach the moon below the floor

 –

And when I wave you will not see

the craters’ impossibility

And when I drown you’ll look to find

where I was kind where you were kind

 –

Ben is waiting by my bed

asking about the books I’ve read

Steal a cloud, my little prince

You’ll live a thousand days like this

And if you don’t let’s share a grin

about the moons and suns we’d spin

around a sea you cannot know

where there isn’t a below.

 

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