Friday, February 29, 2008

Is that the price of it?

(a letter between writers)

You and I, we know that sex
is the thing, force that drives the green fuse
through Dylan Thomas' flower,
that drives the red fuse to our slick
and dirty hearts. Great art has a muse, gorgeous bitch. I worship,
I listen. I writ(h)e.

There is always a thief
at those gates. I told you I always manage to fuck

the wrong way and I do and you do, we
fuck wrong and it's fine if we wish to be damned

as long as we don't write about it.

My thesis director, kind enough to touch
my dirty manuscript, read those stories about sex and sale
(why haven't I grown up, yet?) He purses his lips.
I make him uncomfortable. He tells me to leave
all that business out.

What can I do but accede? I cannot make him read it.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

in which hyperventilation ensues

I came back from my first dissertation meeting, yesterday, with my marching orders. I promptly stuck my head between my legs and made pathetic little noises until someone handed me a beer.

*eee, eee, eee, eee, chug*

Perhaps this would be a good time to state that I have been writing thinly veneered autobiographical fiction. It is helpful to write what you understand, and I've had an... interesting life, so I'd been writing fictional stories containing 90% or more of details of my own life. I chose to fictionalize it because the content is poisonous and I'm afraid of being taken less than seriously when people find out what I've been up to, and because of the effect my story is going to have on the people around me. Specifically, I am very afraid it will come up in a re-shuffling of custody arrangements and because, frankly, when you end up being the family secret keeper, it is really, really hard to convince yourself that you are not going to be beaten or otherwise punished for telling or that anyone will believe you or gives a shit. The people I told growing up, the few of them, certainly did not. My youth pastor, in Texas, told me not to be a whiner when I tried to tell him. He had a huge button that had a black circle and slash through the word 'complaining.'

Nobody likes whiners. Unless it's amusing.

My marching orders are, predictably, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. They are good orders. And I have to get this story out of the way before I can start telling the other stories I have to tell.

But it's dark back there and I'm afraid to go back in.

In fiction, I can pretend it all happened to a character who I can name after anyone: people I knew growing up, people I dated, names from a naming book, whomever. I have to go back as me with non-fiction, fighting the fear that comes from what I experienced and what I have been beaten into believing (I'm saying that on purpose, because even if you don't believe something, if you've been put in enough pain, you'll say what the fuck ever to make it stop. Jesus? Sure, I'll believe in anything you say. Abstinence? Well, only while you're watching.)

I'm being funny. But it's not funny. I'm scared pissless; the worst of it is about the two people who have done to my life what the Vikings were supposed to have done to coastal English villages; my parents.

Do you freaking ever outgrow the need for approval from your family? I really shudder to think what I would keep secret if I thought that they would love me. You know, without telling me that I have to earn it by keeping my mouth shut or by agreeing with everything they say. Of course, if my parents did love me, I don't know how I could tell. And yet, and yet, some part of me, some cowardly, terrible part of me wants to keep my mouth shut because, get this, I'd hurt their feelings. How much does someone have to hurt you before you can totally shut them out?

Do they have to torture you? Check. Viciously abuse you? Check. Keep you awake for nearly a month to get you to sign custody papers after you tell them you're queer? Oh, double-fucking check. Tell you, the court, your sig-o and everyone in sight that you should be jealous of your own daughter, who is so much more loveable than you'll ever be? Mom does that every few months, just in case I forget. Both by just telling me and by comparing me to my daughters, petting their hair and smirking at me. Do they have to tell you that you're ugly and the only way anyone is ever going to love you is if you get lucky? Got that the first time at 12. Give you to people they knew were molesting you and beat you for being a lying slut when you talk about it? Fucking Bingo at nine or ten, my memory gets a bit fuzzy around that period. Try to get you committed when they figure out they'll never make that perfect little girl out of you? I had Yahtzee at fourteen. Being a homeless teenage hooker, which, FYI, is the rapist equivalent of winning the lottery, was a better choice than living at home.

I can tell myself these things until I get cross-eyed, but the minute I see them, all I want out of life is to be told, sincerely, that they love me, that they're sorry. That they don't blame me for what happened between us and they're sorry they ever told me I was just born evil.

Why? Why, for fuck's sake, do I still care? I'm thirty and there's a mom and dad shaped hole in my guts that won't ever come out and cannot be otherwise filled. It will be there until I die, but leaving it gaping is still better than trying to make them fill it.

I will dance on their graves if they go first.

And cry for them. It wasn't enough to alienate their natural children, I'm watching them alienate their grandchildren. They seem, to me, to hunger for that familial love, both of them active church elders who teach Sunday school classes and whom small children (that they are not raising) adore. But when it's offered them, they will fuck you up for being vulnerable. There is no trick too nasty, no surprise to painful, no statement too condescending. No pleasure, no matter how small, that they will not stoop to rob me of.

When I graduated with my BA, my mother told me it was nice to see that I have something, since I can't make a relationship with a man work. My father told me that it wasn't like I was doing real analysis or work or anything, but that he feels so much more tolerant of this kind of stuff now and he's really proud of himself for the personal growth.

When I was a kid, he told me an artist was an unsuccessful whore. I was taking painting classes at the time. If I ever get a hold of a time machine, I might amuse myself by stepping back in time and saying a few things. Writing is the next best thing. I'll be retrospectively witty.

It's an MFA I'm earning. In writing, but still an arts degree.

In some ways, writing about it is exquisite revenge. I could not make anything up that is nastier or more bleak. It's out there, I know it is, but I cannot imagine it. In other ways, if I can step out from under it, I'll be free. They won't be just my secrets anymore. And all the relatives who have told me to can it, accused me of trying to 'ruin their love' for my parents will have to see. Or not, if they never pick it up.

I may lose my family. More than I already have. For telling the fucking truth.

Since I was a little girl, I've been dreaming of being able to give those experiences away. To be able to touch someone and get perfect understanding, albeit horribly, by making them see me. I have been horribly invisible. Some of you, if anyone's reading this, know what happens to invisible children. We become vessels for things, for urges and actions which no kid should have to endure, and it shapes our adult life. Sometimes it breaks us.

I came so close. So very, very close. And I will make other people see it. Will they hate me for it?

If I show you who I am, you can judge me. I will have to chance it. In some ways, I am eager to be judged, to know what I can blame on myself. I am secretive and full of judgments. I am my own hell because I have everything I've done and everything that was done to me with me almost all the time, breathing over my shoulders.

I don't want to go back into the dark. But that is where I will find myself. And I am not a child, anymore. I will go, and bring back what I find.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

an open letter to drunk girls

I guess this is more about ethics than anything else.

A couple of times now, I have been out at a party, and a very drunk woman has flirted with me, heavily (ending up sitting in my lap, stroking or grabbing at an arm and/or asking me to play with her hair), ending up disappointed with me for not going further.

Here's the deal: if you are drunk, I am absolutely not going to have sex with you unless I know, from what you've told me sober, that you are interested. And if you're too drunk or I'm too drunk, I'm not gonna have sex with you, either.

I suppose it's just because I want to know you're actually interested. I've been a few people's daring date, by which I mean the date you go out with just to fuck with someone's head, and I don't like it. Even with casual sex, I'd like you to have the balls to tell me yourself, sober. I don't like being told by rumor, I hate it when someone has to get falling down drunk to ask and I worry that I'll wake up in the morning, especially because I like BDSM, and that person will have decided that what I thought was play was actually assault.

No, thank you.

Slightly, very slightly tipsy, I don't mind as much (though I tend to not respond even then, because I worry I haven't read the person right. Some people are very good at appearing sober when they are blackout drunk. I am one of them.)

And, frankly, your erotic responses are better, despite popular opinion, when you are sober. I want to have sex with someone that curls their toes, makes them scream themselves hoarse, if they're the type or make little noises until I get that loud one that says I've done good enough to have made them forget to be inhibited. I want my lover, even if it's just a temporary arrangement, to remember me pleasantly or be shocked by me for days afterwards (preferably a mix of the two.) If the other person is so drunk they don't know half of what you're doing, the effect can be lost without pushing them until you could hurt them, something I am quite capable of but do not wish to do to someone until I am sure I understand what they want and can take. And I really, really don't want to bottom for someone who cannot stand up. I am oddly delicate in a few places that I won't have broken again.

Guess I don't do casual sex, then; I could totally do a friend, but I want to know them. Sex, for me, is a way of knowing. If I'm fucking someone, I can guarantee you I'll know at least a little of them by a few times, if not more than they might want me to. Perhaps this is my control side coming out, but I want to melt my lovers down, to make them feel remade. I want to get under their skin. I want them to be talking about me years later with a sheepishly awed expression. I have a variable success rate; sometimes my concentration and the chemistry is better than others, but I'll give it a damn good try.

Finally, I suppose, I find only being asked when the person is sloppy drunk to be disrespectful. It makes me wonder what they're ashamed of: me or their desires. I understand shame. I do. I just want them to come to me and talk about it. Never made fun of anyone in my life who came needing to talk. If they're too ashamed of me to ask sober, why bother? I have to be asked. Anything else is too much like taking advantage. (But for the record, a little begging makes me want to fuck someone sideways, in and out of the public eye, backwards, upside down, I don't care. I like and I don't care if it's PC, if other people think it's disrespectful or if people think it's misogynistic. Looks just as good on men as women. If, of course, I like the person.)

So please, everyone, try to fuck sober, or at least sober enough to know to use contraception or be safe. If you need to work up your courage, think hard about what you're doing and don't be afraid to talk to someone. Look around. There's bound to be someone else in the room, in the city, in your life who you can talk to. The more I know about lesbians, the more visible they become. They're more places than you might think. If you meet a woman in a bar you want to go home with, for the love of god, wait until you've sobered up to ask or go home with her.

And if you're asking me for sex, do not be drunk, cause I'll play with your hair and pet your head or get you home safely, but I will not fuck you. Well, not and respect myself in the morning. It has happened. I was sorry.

this is the way girls do it

I've been doing a lot of reading, recently. I'm actually sitting here with Dagger: On Butch Women in my lap and I finished Brazen Femme in a voracious evening and hated to be bothered to eat dinner.

I had no name for it, growing up. I had no name for the desire to protect the women around me, to open their doors when they walked, light their cigarettes (I still love the smell of smoker and perfume or cologne) and occasionally kick their boyfriends asses.

But it goes further than that. It's the trying not to look in the changing room before gym or games. I played varsity basketball, softball, volleyball, assistant coached pee-wee football (wasn't in that changing room, so no one get huffy) with my father (I ran with them and warmed them up and did sprints with them) and earned a brown belt in shorin-ryu, mostly in my freshman year of high school. The tryouts for varsity entailed running for two and a half hours and puking outside the back door. Anyone who could still stand after two and a half hours, hadn't left and could go on to shoot basketballs was on the basketball team (anyone who could sink them at a good rate was on varsity); anyone who was still standing after two hours of running was on the volleyball team (but I hated those fucking butt shorts); and since no one wanted to play softball, if you kept showing up they gave you a uniform. Give me an excuse to get physical, any day. I did the lawn work for my parents and my neighbors, a pair of little old ladies in their seventies, twelve hours of lawn work on Saturdays. I also did about forty-five minutes of aerobics plus weight-lifting a day. (I'm lazy, now.)

Would you believe I still thought I was too fat? The hips freaked me out.

It's also the way that everyone reminds you to be a girl. I cannot count how many times I was shooed away from something because girls didn't do it that way, or it was only for boys. On reading these books, those responses (that used to baffle me), make more sense. Why was I being reminded of what girls do and the way they do it so much?

Heh. Probably because I wasn't presenting like a 'real girl.'

I got that one from everyone, as well as being the only girl who, at Christmas, got makeup from just about everyone, as well as coordinated outfits that I would have died before wearing, though I made a go at the makeup because I understood that makeup was what girls were supposed to do. I was trying to be obliging. I can wear it and feel okay about it, but it all seems like too much trouble, mostly. I asked for a plastic pony, a truck like my brother's, a SheRa, a pair of 501s and a chemistry set. I also asked to go hunting, but that was for boys, so they took me fishing instead. I still wish I had time to go fishing, and yes, I eat the fish. I don't fish just for the pleasure of killing.

I still get wet while target-shooting, so it's probably a good thing they didn't take me hunting. I might have had to sit down and discretely rub myself against the seam of my jeans, which would not have been noticed, but the sitting down would have been interpreted as girlish weakness, which would have pissed me off. As a side note, I was the undisputed queen of semi-unobtrusive, hands-free masturbation from the fourth grade up, though if I didn't watch myself, I'd be overtly masturbating while doing homework, in class, using the seam of my jeans, something that no doubt looked as if I had to pee.

It's the way you don't have many female friends, and the girls you are friends with make you feel oddly protective and sweaty. I had a best friend for awhile in high school who was a red head's red head from a family even more religiously conservative than mine. She would sometimes slick lotion over her legs while she wore a skirt or boxers/would change clothes next to me before gym and I had to work very, very hard not to watch her. She caught me a few times and I apologized and starting changing in the bathroom stalls, because watching the other twenty or so girls change out (small religious high school) like to kept me from ever getting dressed and going on to gym. I got an email the other day from my best friend in junior high discussing her crush on me. If I had had a name for it and had not been so painfully confused and shy about the whole thing (boy, have things changed), I could have been dating her (I mean, as much as you can date when the only path you've ever heard of (outside the nebulous injunction to never lay with a woman as with a man in Leviticus) involves boys, who, frankly, are not terribly attractive at that stage in life.

I mean, seriously, they're snotty and weird and stupidly obsessed with your genitals, which they have such *charming* names for, until they're in their thirties (and still, sometimes, they don't understand respect. I like blue language, as you can no doubt tell if you've been reading, but there's a difference between the way someone who loves or respects you says 'cunt' and the way someone who thinks, to borrow from Madonna, that being a girl is degrading says 'cunt.') I have had boy crushes before, and still have them. We do not, as a society, raise boys to be thoughtful, responsible or responsive. You just about have to grab them by the hair and treat them like bad puppies.

It's also little things, like borrowing your father's clothing. Somewhere, at my parent's house, is a picture of me, at four, in my father's Caterpillar knitted wool cap, determined expression on my face and head full of reddish brown Shirley Temple curls to mid-back and holding up his briefs around my hips. I have nothing else on. Whenever I went on a date, I would borrow something he owned for luck. Socks that stayed up and were not too thin, button up shirts that were comfy and not designed to over emphasize your hips and breasts (which I use to my advantage, now, sometimes) and/or in god awful flower prints and pastels (it was the nineties), and the coolest, longest lasting jeans ever. His feet were too big to wear his shoes, though.

Mostly, like the butches in this book and the femmes in Brazen Femme, I wanted to be strong and tough. I wanted to be all muscle, to be the fastest and the strongest. I wanted to be the bitch you did not fuck with, and while I started out thinking I had to do that in boy clothes (which I'm still more comfy in), I can be that bitch in a miniskirt as I get old enough to not give a shit. Just don't try to take my boots away. I love me some boots. My closet has one pair of heels, a pair of black No Sweats, a pair of Adidas, a pair of cheap ass black flip flops, a $130 pair of knee high Grip fast, cleated with nails and what looks like old tire treads and a pair of engineer's boots. I'd go miles out of my way for a boot sale; if they sold BDU pants at the same place (they are way comfy and kinda sexy with a wifebeater tank top), I might have to live there.

I've mellowed out a bunch in my old age, though. I think dating boys for this long is what did it. Hell, I didn't even really have a name for these feelings until a few years ago. I assumed they were neurosis of some description. Having children of my own also made me feel hesitant to discuss or admit these feelings, since it was proof that I was a 'girl.' I've had kids since I got knocked up at seventeen. I have been hesitant to talk to people about my feelings because women with children are often judged as being somehow not serious or otherwise weak/easily manipulated by culture. Mostly by women who have not tried to raise kids of their own, I think.

The pleasure of reading those two books has been finding out definitively that the way I do it is the way girls do it. I'd been worried that I had to given up the joys of being a girl to be myself. (I thought I only had two choices, and that didn't feel right.) Well, girls do it this way too; they're just queer girls. I don't have to give up the proud ownership of my clit to be myself, more of a relief than you might think.

What can I say? I like my pleasure, people.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I forgot to mention

Strength is also opportunistic, by which I mean that sometimes strength may be found in utilizing the opportunities that you come across.

I always hated this expression and derivations of because my mother loved to tell me it when I was torn up: 'this is character building.'

*sighs* But there have been many opportunities for me to grow up, practice self-control or improve my situation that have basically ambushed me and tore a hole in me, then waited to see what I would do about it. I always hate to mention this, because it seems colder than the Ice Queen's ass, but at least seven times out of ten (and, privately, I suspect all ten worked the same way), when someone or something has clobbered the fuck outta me, it's been a chance to solidify my self-control or learn something about the way I work (and no, I don't think we're born knowing what we need to about ourselves. There are whole chapters of myself I probably could have lived without knowing, but it has been illuminating, if not pleasant, to be in hell.)

FYI, the expression about being wise meaning you know how little you know is unfortunately true. The more I know, the less I know, if you catch my drift. And I have designated myself wise, so you should trust me. And send me money, because Jeeeeeeebus wants to do a miracle through.... oh, sorry, wrong channel.

I suppose the unfortunate part of being strong contains a lot of moments in which you gather up the bleeding fragments of yourself and get on with it. After all (Ice Queen's other cheek), no one has the time nor the pity to console you for your pain. And if, by some miracle, someone does, it is a bit like winning the lottery (the odds thereof and the fact that being suddenly given that kind of compensation will make you act like a jackass) and a bit like being seduced (because you will sometimes end up trying to milk the person, sympathy or situation for more.) So be careful of your reactions to pain, not because you're trying to be macho, but because you can lose the chance to do something by being overwhelmed, something I have loads of experience with.

Feel free to disagree. This is terrible news or advice when you're in pain.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

so what is strength, anyway

To which I can only supply my own definition. I reserve the right to be wrong or to have a definition which is not useful to anyone else. Who knows?

Strength is different between men and women. In this culture, at least in my observation, women have a far greater opportunity to be strong because they are asked to bear more. And by asked, I mean expected.

This does pertain to childbearing; taking sole responsibility for the lives, health and mental wellbeing of another human being (or three) is an act which will test you and provide you with a lot of opportunity to be strong or not, sometimes a lot of both.

This pertains to sexism. Bearing up everyday when faced with overwhelming pressure to fail or to prove insufficient, as well as to conform to stereotypes which make you out to be frail and twist the words out of your mouth when you speak is also a great opportunity to be strong. Or not, for which I have no judgment, because people have good and bad days, months and years.

I suppose at this point I should say that I am a bit narcissistic, not in that I am incapable of empathy (I am often moved to empathy and sympathy with people); but in that I can't do anything about the way you're going to act except for to talk to you, avoid you, or otherwise work from the outside to deal with you, so I concern myself not with whether or not I am being acceptable (because I often cannot manage to be acceptable and feel as if I am consistent with my principals, though I will often try to be reasonable because I am not alone on the planet), but with whether I think I am doing the right thing, while watching to see what effects it has on the people around me. My job, however, other than my responsibilities toward my children and loved ones, is to make myself a better person, a project which takes up all my spare time. I am not a nice person on the inside, and the legacy of my childhood has been a lifetime of bad habits and detritus to deal with.

To give you an example, I believe that I engage in charitable or kind acts because I want to. I hope and intend for them to have a good reaction-- I want to help-- but sometimes I can't be sure that I actually helped (for instance, donations) or that the person who I give to is being helped. Even though I don't know what effects my actions have, though I assume the effect is good, I still feel as if I ought to be aware of my own enjoyment in it. It doesn't stop it from being a good thing to do, I just witness my own selfish pleasure in it.

In other words, I'm a skeptic of myself, something I think is a healthy habit, considering some of the baggage I'm hauling. I don't spend a lot of time hating myself, nor thinking about my worst qualities (the last year excepted, but there are some extenuating circumstances), but I am skeptical of my own motivations.

What does this have to do with strength? Realism. Popularly, strength is a matter of being some kind of rock, which this will sometimes sound like but I assure you, this has more to do with having no safety net than it does the self-aggrandizing search for ways to prove myself more macho than. I'm not sure you can be a skeptic of yourself without wondering how much you might have contributed to the bad situations which you have encountered, but sometimes you don't know until it's time to mop up the mess you already made.

I've always hated the idea that to be strong is to never need help or to otherwise be inhuman. No matter how strong, alpha or otherwise aggressive you may be, there comes a point when, if nothing else, your body won't let you take it anymore. Christmas before last was that point for me; it resulted in me collapsing (not fainting, but literally being unable to move from muscle exhaustion; my body said 'enough of that shit' and cut my puppet strings) and requiring three days in bed and an ER visit I should have skipped (though the CAT scan pics were fascinating. My brain is an interesting place when I'm trying very hard not to be claustrophobic in the thumping, screeching, over-sized cocoon that is a scanner. My freaking hair was standing on end.) I think, when it boils down, that I want to define strength as a combination of drive, stubbornness, resourcefulness and a refusal to unnecessarily submit to whatever life throws at you, long past the point when you want to bow out.

The key, I suppose, is hanging on past the point where it may be fun for you. Not unnecessarily; it would be stupid to hang on to something for the sake of hanging on (*kicks her dunce cap under the table*), at least after you realize you're hanging on because you can. I would say that the difference is in choosing a path that you think is necessary (and must be done) and following that path to the best of your ability, entailing a set amount of cost along the way. Let's be realistic; I am a very strong-willed person (see the rest of the blog), but there are things I am, currently, unwilling to sacrifice to get a given result. It depends greatly on the value of the goal versus the value of the thing sacrificed (which I am stupid enough to go through with sometimes, even when I know that what I give up is worth more than what I gain.)

History is full of monsters with similar ethos; the only response I can make to that is the fact that I consciously remind myself to listen. I am fully capable of ignoring the people around me and/or running them over and using them to get to goals. Of course, I incur personal damage that way to the way I view myself, a cost I am usually unwilling to pay to make a given goal.

Of course, discussing this in economic terms completely ignores the emotional toll and/or benefit of being strong (which I often prefer; despite the high level of disclosure in the blog, I am uncomfortable with talking about my emotions on this subject.) I often think of being strong, when I realize I'm doing it (occasionally, I'm bull-headed and don't immediately snap to it), as stripping down to a point. What I'm actually doing is ranking my emotions and determining the inner cost of being strong.

I gotta tell you, being embarrassed, while not pleasant, does not rank high on my list of things to pay attention to. Sometimes I chose to do things that embarrass me just to keep the unpleasantness of it in perspective. The low sort of ranking also applies to being angry, being happy, being in pain (a whole other subject), being grieved (it happens a lot, actually) or being discomforted. I am frequently discomforted and have noticed a positive correlation between discomfort and progress toward goals, so I usually take it as a good, if minor, sign that I'm getting somewhere. (Illogical, yes. Also comforting.) Even though I know things are not this way, I usually go through a mental process in which I focus on the goal and tell myself that the particulars (when I've decided they are worth disregarding) are irrelevant and that I must reach the goal. I will reach the goal.

And then I change to suit. I'm not sure how else to put it. When you want something, you adapt as best you can (I'm going to pointedly refuse to discuss the overwhelming rate of partial success which tends to be what I get) and you get it. And frankly, if I get even part of it, I take it as success.

So there you go. It's a sketch of strength that is not perfect, nor absolute. Just don't get in between me and the goal, because then I'll have to plot around you (and getting around someone without hurting them/hurting them as little as you can is a better test of skill and fortitude than running over them, which requires only viciousness.)

Now, if you'll excuse me... *pulls out her dunce cap*

the children of the night are in the other room, playing Final Fantasy X

You Are A Vampire

You have a real thirst for bliss, and you consider yourself a true hedonist.

And you're not afraid to walk alone in life, if it means getting what you truly crave.

You truly enjoy entrancing people. Not to mention the ensuing pleasures of the flesh.

Your tastes have been called decadent and bizarre. You usually give in to your temptations, no matter how primal

Your greatest power: Your flawless ability to seduce and charm

Your greatest weakness: Human flesh

You play well with: Werewolves

damn skippy


memory is a killer

I wanted to write this down before it passed. I said in another post that the body remembers-- odd how that works, isn't it? The body remembers, sometimes leaving the brain clear as a bell and the body quaking.

My boyfriend's mother lent me a 1935 Singer to do some sewing on. I've been teaching myself how to sew, partially for the hell of it, partially because I want to make sure I have clothes that fit me (small waist, big butt) and that I like the look of. For some silly reason, the bobbin (bottom thread) snapped for the second time in ten seconds, which tends to happen with this machine and I. It probably has something to do with the way I'm threading it. In any case, as I tried to thread the machine again, I noticed my hands were shaking.

It's been years since the last one, so I'd forgotten that if my hands start violently shaking and I suddenly get extremely frustrated, I should probably step away from the sharp bits and anything mechanical. For the record, I am usually very mechanically inclined; give it to me and I'll take it apart (when I have time for exploration), figure out how it works and sometimes I can make things better, sometimes not. I love machines, I do.

My hands were shaking so bad I dropped the bobbin, unspooling it across the floor, which means that I'd have to mechanically respool it on the Singer to insure that it feeds smoothly when I finally get it spooled. After the second time I'd dropped everything, I had to get out of my living room full of people.

It rises like an invisible tide, a drowning pool full of something you cannot, at first, recognize. I thought I was hungry. Sometimes I get irritable from hunger.

The shaking became a quaking so severe I could not hold anything. The boyfriend, who also has things in his past that come at him this way, went to hug me and I flinched, tightening every muscle in my body, leaning away and then not quite into his hug.

My mother had a sewing machine, a Pfaff from about the same period. In one of her many attempts to teach me womanly skills, in case some man somewhere could be fooled into using me as a wife, she and I had a rather nasty fight over the bobbin I snarled and managed to break in the machine, causing it to need to be sent to a repair shop. I suppose it wasn't the nastiest fight we ever got into, but it was during that period that the (so hard to type; don't want to say it) abuse was the worst, right before I ran away from home (and stayed gone.) She and my father both used to enjoy saying the most hurtful things (we never loved you anyway; no one will ever love you; you're pathetic and useless; things of that ilk) and occasionally smacking me upside the head until I developed a tic for awhile, a spasmotic shudder that shook my neck to the side if anything got close to my head. It wasn't so much what they said as it was the fact that hurting me was so fun for them. It was joyful for them when nothing made them happy, making them act as if they renewed their love for each other that way (they touched more afterward; sometimes they went and had sex or cuddled afterward, satisfied with one another, again. As an English grad student, I know catharsis when I see it.) I don't have problems with it now, but what was happening also made me occasionally have convulsions. The brain overloads because you cannot quite blank it out, nor can you control what will happen. Made gym class a horror, and I love to play sports. Made sitting in anything but the back row impossible, because anyone sitting behind me made me cringe. The body moves, leaving the mind clear enough to feel ashamed that someone else would see a movement we cannot control, the body recoiling from yesterday's events today, tomorrow, and fifteen years later.

My head was clear. I stood in my kitchen, memory marching through me like hell's brass band; sound and picture, riot and fury through me and touching, but not enough to carry me with it anymore. No fear. Not any more. I suppose you get better at it, in time. The fury passed, leaving grief. I have my own place and I can grieve, now. I didn't cry for years, no matter what happened, and now I can cry. Straight-faced, even breathing, eyes spilling down my face as if they belonged to someone else. If I chose, I can tip it over, make it into a more obvious grief and howl it out, which I will not do in front of my kids, because I am their rock. They are not mine. And the amount of grief did not feel as if it merited it. Self-control, years and years of practice, is a wonderful thing. The body shakes, you get angry but you can chose what to do about it. I can chose to yell, which I didn't. I can chose to be vicious, and I didn't. I can chose to go stand in my kitchen, in the other room, and let it pass through me. Pass through me and away, because I'm not fifteen anymore, and this is my space.

When I'm done writing this, I'll go back to sewing. This is my space, my life, and I am nothing if not brave in my old(er) age.

Friday, February 1, 2008

on being a bitch. a love letter of sorts

Yep. I use all kinds of interesting words here. Today's post will be laden with the word I hear about myself the most and my ponderings on the subject.

To each bitch there is a manner of becoming. Some bitches are born. Some bitches are made by a happy coincidence of outside influences and her reaction to them. And finally, some bitches make themselves in response to the desire to be bad or in response to a life that seems determined to make a bitch of her. If you're reading this and no one has ever called you a bitch, please, join us. Come to the dark side. It's important.

I am bitch D, all of the above. If you have read this far through the archives, you know that I was my mother's bitch, and by bitch I mean the girl shaped vessel into which she put the darkest of her feelings about being trapped at home to raise the kids despite her ambition to earn a BA in music theory. There are a lot of women in the family whose ambition was sidelined by marriage and children, as if the purchase price for love and relationships was the death of their selves. To some degree, I was also born a bitch, because whatever made me (biology or something deified) made me almost incapable of STFU for extended periods, and bitch is what they call uppity girls who don't STFU. Also girls who can be cruel. (Yo!) It will all come barreling out, whether I like it or not. Sometimes to my humiliation, sometimes to my benefit and always to my alienation, because no matter how far along we might have gotten in terms of rights, no one quite knows what to do with a dyed-in-the-wool bitch, including herself sometimes. Overt modesty, chastity and humility are not my forte. I have been extensively punished for this, as most bitches are, in a variety of ways. I will go into this momentarily.

I have also made myself. Bitches, when they achieve bitch-hood, have thrust upon them a stereotype of sorts, which they have to decide how to process. This I will also go into momentarily, but for now, just remember that as far out of the mouse you go, there is always someone who intends to mold you so that they know what you are and can safely ignore you. Which is absurd. Bitches are not safe, at least in that way.

On the subject of safety, I wish to introduce bitch ethics and bitch safety. If you are a bitch, and I am going to suppose that you are, if you're interested in reading this. If you're doing bitch research, I hope you find this edifying.

Bitch ethics are a bit complicated and tied into bitch stereotypes. I'm not so much talking the femme fatale bit here, which tends to come up, as I am all the assorted bad girl stereotypes which may be lumped into or poured over our bitch selves. Let's name them, shall we? Sing along! There's the bad girl with a heart of gold; the femme fatale; the gold-digger; the significant other stealer; the power-hungry bitch; the disobedient bitch; many, many permutations of horny bitch and the disloyal, manipulative bitch.

Let's talk honestly, bitches. How many of these bitches have you been? There is a certain reward to compliance, ain't there? With the stereotypes, you know what you're supposed to do next, right? Pivot on hip here, sneer there, grind out cigarette with foot, etc. What kind of bitch are you?

For the sake of bitches out there everywhere, Be. Your. Own. Bitch. The problem with conforming constantly to stereotypes is that they limit your behavior to the kinds of things that stereotypical bitch would do, something I know I ran away from. I was being choked to death in the other lives laid out for me. I got kids. I like kids. But no matter what happens, I am not going to give up going to school for them (and I have been explicitly punished for being a bad mother because I went to school and needed a babysitter. We're cruel to one another, bitches.) Bing nothing but a stereotypical bitch is just as bad as always being the nice girl. In both stereotypes, in order to be successful, you end up being dead. Watch any horror movie, read classic literature, look at the life of Marilyn Monroe. Good girls, bad girls, all girls who transcend to stereotype die. And then they die again, because they are not remembered as people, but as an inhuman uber woman who is foisted into other women as a model for their behavior and to make them despair.

This is not a new point, bitches. Any good close look at the lives of women held up to our emulation will quickly illuminate the rotten core of depression, self-denial, abuse and/or sacrifice; most of these qualities or actions will not be based on choice, but rather on the expectations and strictures placed on these women by the people around them, well-meaning or no, conscious or unconscious. The more popular or well-known you are, the tighter and deeper those things bite.

I am not saying to never act like a particular kind of bitch. There's no sense in being paranoid. I am saying know those bitches and slip them like a pair of itchy panties when they do not suit. (Had to work a lingere reference in there somewhere.) Same rule goes for nice girls. Wanna be one? Fine. Just know how and slip it when you don't need it. You own you, bitch. And don't you ever forget it.

Bitch ethics are deeply dependent on a bitch's knowledge of bitch stereotypes, partially because one of the components of ethics has to do not only with how we treat others, but also with how they perceive the way we treat them. Stay with me, here. I am going to leave the subject of what specifically to do, in terms of bitch ethics, open. You get to chose what kind of bitch you wanna be. I could really give a shit, as long as you are consciously choosing to be that kind of bitch. I've done a little bit of everything, in terms of bitches, while trying myself out. There are a list of things I try not to do, because I may be a bitch, but I try to be a dignified one. (And by dignified, I mean I gotta look myself in the eye, in the morning.) Bitch ethics, to my mind, are the struggle to remain acceptable to myself in the face of some rather specific, stereotype-oriented pressure to do otherwise.

In terms of how other people see your bitch ethics and actions, I exhort you to remember that the people around you (in the same basic society as you) are fully stocked with all the bitch stereotypes, or at least you may assume so for the sake of a working definition. They think they know what you're supposed to do next and will interpret your actions to fit. (I once had a teacher who kept repeating 'you know I have a wife, don't you' when I asked him if I could talk to him about our Aristotle reading. I finally told him I tend to prefer pussy [yes, in those words], so I thought he was safe. To my reading, this was less something I was doing [standing six feet from him] or wearing [sweats] and more the kind of bitch he thought I was. Sometimes being a bitch can have unintended and really annoying side-effects, because people tend to interpret aggressive as wanton; thank you, slutty bitch stereotype. Trust me, I am a horny bitch frequently, but I am also a very, very picky bitch.)

It is completely possible to be doing something ethical, through even a religious understanding of ethics, and have it interpreted as something highly unethical because of that stereotype. I have walked women to their cars after a late night class, not because I wanted to fuck them (it's a theme for me), but because I wanted to insure our collective safety, and had them treat me as if I were trying to get in their panties or, if I stumbled over something in the dark, as if I were completely otherwise inept, because I was not 'suave' enough to fit the stereotype they though they had identified in me. For that reason, a bitch has to be aware, but capable of ignoring the implications. Or I'd have crawled under a rock and given up, already. Take heart, bitches. I know what you mean. And so will other bitches, if they're self-aware of the peril of being one.

Being a bitch is very, very perilous. Some of you know that. For those of you that don't, being a bitch has resulted in the following, for me: I've been punched; locked in a freezer by my manager because I have an attitude problem; treated like a spectacularly bad-behaving dog that just shit on the carpet; ignored or treated as if being a bitch meant I was stupid or otherwise mentally inadequate; challenged by men who want to know why I think I'm macho (CONSTANTLY); had men compete with me as if I were another man (they tend to think it's a compliment of sorts); had people read my bitch bumper stickers and kick out my glass, call the cops or try to peel them off; had that old 'but you look like such a nice girl' canard used on me; asked why I'm so 'unnatural' (some of this is correlated with queerness, but there is more than one kind of queer girl); had guys threaten to fuck some sense/straight into me; threaten me for looking at the same girl (don't you dare turn her to your team); treated by other women as if I were trying to make them less or as if I am sleazy (that happens to bitches a lot); had other women call me names, ignore me, refuse to talk to me, treat me as if I was incompetent or stupid or male because they could not figure out what to do with me or my demeanor annoyed them; been told to be more charming, nicer, sweeter, I'd be so much cuter if I'd just act like more of a girl and, most stingingly, told I wasn't much of a feminist because I only made the real feminists look bad by being so tacky/loud/horny/disagreeing/questioning policy (to which my response is usually 'when was the last time you jumped into a domestic/hid someone at your house from her partner/bought someone groceries for a woman and her child/drove a stranger to a shelter/refused to back down no matter how much it scared you because you were debating a man?' I'm not saying I didn't almost piss my pants every single time. I'm not saying I wasn't shaking. I've actually had my knees knock. I'm not saying I haven't mellowed as I aged and had kids. I owe them sticking around. I am saying don't beat your fucking girlfriend or kids in front of me. I will call the cops, make a stink or otherwise try to stop you. Not on my fucking watch, fuckers.)

Let's quickly talk about rape, ladies (which isn't easy.) The paragraph above covers physical violence (of which there has been much for me, over the years) and the discouragements tossed to bitches by the people in their environments. (There are male bitches, but let's face it: the modern 'bitch' is a word from a class of words specifically designed to make women feel shitty for being nonconformists.) I have had to deal with a unfortunately large amount of that, beginning before I quite knew what sex was and continuing on to this day in threats. I will rip a motherfucker's balls off with my teeth before that happens again, like many of the women I've talked to. Rape is a specific sort of threat aimed at all women, whether they are so comfortable conforming with the lives given them that they do not notice or not. It is also aimed at men who do not conform. Yes, it's horrible. Yes, it's catastrophic. You need to know, as bitches, that you are under a special sort of threat for it. Because I am a bitch, I can almost guarantee that I will hear something about it almost half the time I talk to men, especially men who are angry and not, for various reasons, good at being subtle. I also see threats in commercials, on TV, I've lost count of rape scenes in mainstream movies and in newspaper articles. Being raped will make you sensitive to that kind of thing.

Bitches, know that the threats you will get for noncompliance are going to be heavily based on the idea that something may be raped from you. Don't let them have the satisfaction. Be safe, but do not back down. No matter how strong, how powerful, how fucked your situation is, you can still hurt them. Do not let them have your fear and resist as strongly as you can. You don't owe them shit, most especially not compliance based of fear.

And don't feel bad when you do comply. You especially do not owe anyone guilt. The act of surviving is, in and of itself, a bravery. Bitches are brave as all fuck. We are the bravest people I know, as are all non-conformists.

In any case, being a bitch, a real bitch, is dangerous. You should know that for every time you've been a bitch, every time you've refused to comply and been uppity without backing down, for every time you've stood up, it issues a challenge to the people around you and they frequently will not take it well. This can result in anything. In white collar, intellectual settings, this will result in gossip and general nastiness, including being passed over for endorsements and positions. In other settings, it can result in anything from being passed over to being assaulted. I have been grateful, since I was a little girl, in a quick mouth and mind. In one of the high schools I went to (the religious one, if you know me personally), I talked a bunch of stupid little boys out of assaulting me by pointing out that they were liable to get caught. I probably should have just hit one of them and got it over with. They made a lot of trouble for me over the two years I was there. I talked a guy out of shooting me at a party after I broke up a fight with the same argument, talking to him about the horrors of jail for a white boy as he held the gun to my head. It's a good one.

So bitch safety is important. Remember, bitches, at least at this point in our societal development, you cannot always count on the people around you for support. So be very, very careful being a bitch. Find people you can count on to hang out with. Be careful where you are, where you go and who you talk to. A broken heart, hurt feelings or being passed over for a position are a whole lot less painful than having your ass kicked by some guy twice your size (unless you have to support a family; then it's terrifying. College is expensive.) So (jokingly), I suggest you hang out with the white collar crowd some. It annoys the piss out of them, anyway. (I'm a blue-collar bitch, in case you haven't guessed by now.) Just be careful getting close to them. They aren't always bitch-friendly, though they will sometimes pretend to be. If you are comfortable, chances are quite good you are conforming somehow and most people will defend their comfort. Viciously.

More seriously, though, ask yourself why you're a bitch. What does it mean to you? What will you give up to be a bitch and how can you make being a bitch work for making your world a better place?

For me, the answers are as follows: I'm a bitch because there's nothing else I can ethically or naturally be. Seriously, I am a default bitch a great deal of the time, but not angrily. Being a bitch, for me, means that I am actively involved in creating a world for my daughters in which they are less constricted by stereotypes that ask them to kill themselves or their dreams and selves in order to be acceptable. As a net result, I am making a better world for other women. I'll give just about everything up for being a bitch, not because I believe that I should have to sacrifice, but because being a bitch is fairly natural to me and because I want to be actively involved in making the world a better place. Not by giving up my life, though I will risk it, unless the lives of my loved ones are at stake. It don't happen often, though, and hasn't happened, yet. Every single time I stand up and refuse to back down, not because I am wrong and afraid, but because if I'm right, motherfuckers are not going to shake me, I make rhetorical space for other women to also stand up, in the lives of the women around me and the lives of the men who encounter me. It also gives me a clear picture of when I am wrong, which I reserve the right to be (and hopefully to change my mind.)

I love you, bitches. Every single scarred, scared, non-conforming, angry, steel-toe or stiletto wearing, lonely and full of friends, uppity one of you. I believe we're making the world a better place. Even when I don't agree with you.