Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Strangers. The ones that you are taught are dangerous, the only men who will hurt you. Probably dark skinned. You can fight them. You should. You must.
And there are men you are supposed to trust. The ones that live in your house. That work beside you. That sit next to you in class, or hold doors open for you, or say hello when you are at the grocery store. You aren't supposed to fight those men. You aren't supposed to see the way they look at you, or take them seriously when they are just joking, or feel threatened when they are drunk or when they raise their voice at you. Anything untoward you see, anything you hear, from a nice man, a white man, a man you know, is a mistake on your part. You misunderstood.
You get better calming those men. You get better looking out from their eyes and seeing things the way they do. Your body. Sex. The room. The world. You know what will upset him, what he needs to hear and feel and see. You know how to say things that would make you cringe if you saw another woman saying them. Because if you were watching your sister or your mother or your friend say these things, do these things, you would recognize their shame, the shame you learned to stop seeing in yourself.
Appeasing a man.
Because you are afraid of what his anger will damage.
Because keeping the anger from happening is easier than fixing what might break.
When you don't have a grown woman nearby as your ally, you have to weigh the consequences.
What happens if I don't calm him?
Who might get hurt?
How will I get home?
What happens once I get home?
How many other people will know?
We left the bar sometime after Virginia and Colorado were called. In front of me as I walked home alone, an agitated woman in her 20s was talking on the phone and asking if she could spend the night at the apartment of the person on the other end. Her boyfriend was upset over the election, and had decided to stay out and get trashed, and she had not been able to explain to him how the election upset her as well, but how she didn't want to take care of him when he stumbled home, or be around him. He had gotten angry with her for being a drama queen.
What belongs to you, once you have told a man you love him? What do you get to keep for yourself, and not have to surrender?
Is it worth wearing things he doesn't like, or "making a scene" that embarrasses him, or showing your intelligence or success, unless he can prove himself better and smarter and more successful than you? How does he react when he feels intimidated? Insecure? Emasculated?
Will he just belittle you, or will he yell? Will he keep it private, or will it become a spectacle? Will he take out his anger on passerby? How many people are you responsible for protecting in this instance?
How much is a man responsible for the consequences of his emotions, once he has a woman to "take care of him"?
I heard myself a few nights ago, soothing and shushing and changing the subject and not rising to the bait slapped down in front of me, over, over, over. I knew, he is feeling insecure. He is stressed. He is proud. He is hurting. He needs care.
This man isn't my lover. Because I have learned, to a pathological degree, to run from this sensation in a lover.
But how much can we really escape our female programming, no matter how strong we think we are?
I heard myself saying the words, and told myself it didn't matter, because I would get to leave him and lock my door, because I wasn't his wife and could pay my own tab and get home on my own feet and I told myself it didn't matter that I was letting him scream in the street and have a temper tantrum and sneer at me and pontificate about how he, too, was going to run for President.
Run for President.
I laughed when he grabbed me, because we've known each other a decade and he's been there for me, you know? He wouldn't...he just wouldn't.
Run for President.
I cried this morning and my boyfriend listened to me talk about being sexually harassed by a man I was standing next to while wearing a suit, with two powerful women next to us that didn't even hear it. Because you stop hearing it at some point. There's too much. And my boyfriend said, "I believe you," and I cried harder, because I don't believe myself anymore.
What does it mean to love a man when you can't draw the line any more between his feelings and yours, his perceptions and yours, because the ability to see the world through his eyes is what keeps you safe? When you can't distinguish the parts of your sexuality that are you and the parts that are him? When you allow your friend to tell you you aren't as smart as he is, but you run from your lover because you can't predict his next move, and not being able to predict a man's next move is just too fucking terrifying?
I cried this morning, thinking about all of the white men who will feel stronger and more powerful because a pussy grabber is President. Will it make me safer, because they are more confident and not as threatened and emasculated? Or will it put me in more jeopardy, because they will know they can do anything, anything, and because the number of possible victims just exploded, because no matter how hard white women work to appease, they will not be able to protect anyone. Maybe even themselves. I wonder about women voting for that bastard, and I think about me, sitting at that table, trying to calm him down. We can't have them angry. We can't have the world set up in a way that makes them insecure. We need them to feel calm. Shh. Shh.
White women's power comes from her relation to white men. It is a power he has to be in the mood to bequeath. She is his property, she is his reason for destroying other men, a tool, an object. A balm. She cannot stand alone. It is an abomination.
Michael tells me we will all have to toughen up. Hard days are coming.
My first step is not to answer the phone right now, as my white male friend calls to gloat about the election and tell me about his plans to reach the Senate in five years, wrapped up in a "Happy Birthday, let me buy you a drink."
I know there is a good man inside there someplace. I have seen him, I have been his friend for years. But I cannot, cannot appease any longer. Appeasing the upset white man and making excuses for him, and tiptoeing around my stepfather/my friend/the man we should be able to trust.
And this world you are building of humiliation and hierarchies will have to soothe you, and comfort you, and build you up when you feel threatened. The "subjective" values you despise are the ones that could have saved you.
My care is a gift I do not owe you. And I do not know how to fight anymore. The models for fighting are based on the idea that your enemy is a stranger.
But he isn't. He says he is your friend. He says he cares about you. He seems to care, sometimes. But only as long as he feels he is better than you.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
You can't say that you love someone because of how he handles death. You can't say, "When I need to remember why I love him, I remember how he treated me at the funeral." It is morbid. Mocking pain by making it romantic, like you wear black tulle and listen to songs about legendary suicides. But I think it a lot, even though I try to avoid saying it. I don't have the words to articulate it yet, but how someone handles death, how they react to death, process grief, respond to the grief of others...it is important. There is a trueness and a deepness to those moments, cognizant of mortality, that is so foreign to how we live and talk and act in "real life". Like the difference in how we talk and act in our sexual lives - us, and yet very not us at the same time. Wholly apart from the self we present to others on the street. And the self we present in the presence of death - it is again, wholly apart.
In my significant relationships in the past, the intrusion of death was always an incredibly awkward and terrible bit, not only for the loss itself, but for the change in my partner. For the strangeness and discomfort of watching my partner struggle and stumble and be foreign, a stranger to me. Not a person who "did it wrong," merely a person who was a newcomer to the realms of death, or a newcomer to grieving with another. A tourist: fumbling, stiff, detached. Maybe it wasn't a change in them at all - maybe it was a change in me, an unwillingness to continue being intimate once life became too real. But I know, even if I can't explain it, that there are people you want around you when you are grieving, and people you would rather avoid. And I think it has something to do with sensing who is real in those moments, in touch with their own mortality and weakness, and who is, for whatever reason, false.
One of the irrefutable truths about my love for this man is that his familiarity with death puts me at ease. Death is not something he treats as a secret, or an ill-fitted shoe, or a bus tour. It is for him a matter of course. Painful, yet inescapable, and transformative - like growth, or birth. Like waking up slowly, to allow the stiff muscles and joints to stretch. Like coming home to an apartment filled with water, from a window broken by the storm. He knows what needs to happen.
Death is a thing that happens. He doesn't turn into a different person, and I'm not afraid to look at him. I'm not ashamed of him, because he doesn't seem like he is cutting out grief's tongue, or surprised to discover grief can touch him, or acting out a part he expects he should play. He isn't fearless, he isn't always collected, and sometimes he is uncomfortable with his feelings, or with mine. But even if he runs away for a bit, he comes back. And there is a stillness deep inside of him, not of grief shut into a locked box, or barricaded outside of himself, but of grief that has been accepted, that will be acknowledged. A stillness more of a tree than a rock, yet more of a cat than a tree. Seeing, knowing, and considering.
The ability to allow someone beside you to fall apart, and to pick up the role of polite humor to the crowd not from discomfort, but to deflect attention so that person can grieve, undisturbed. The ability to be close, not through what is said but through what is unsaid. The evidence of a life lived in connection with others, relationships spanning decades, skimming along surfaces with charm and kindness because loving others means forgiveness and acceptance. No less rooted than a love that demands exhaustive honesty and constant inspection, but one in which the work of love is done alone, instead of in discussion.
In our responses to death we can see truth about ourselves and our loved ones. We can see the depth of character that is, or is not yet, present in people whom at other times we would judge and classify by traits which at these times fall into insignificance.
Do you know what it means to mourn? Does your desire to connect with a person who is in pain overpower your fear? Jim talked about us all having a boat on the River Styx, and how we may freak out when it seems like someone is dumping water from her boat into our own. I see myself there, in all of the moments I know someone is asking for intimacy I cannot sincerely give to him, and I see men I have known, avoiding connection that they fear might overwhelm them. But even in the moments we choose to connect, we can choose to be sincerely present and vulnerable, or we can choose a level of falseness. And I think one of the lessons age is teaching me, is that being insincerely present is rarely better, for anyone, than being absent.
There is something beautiful about being with a person who knows grief. The kind of beauty in taking a deep breath, feeling the air fill you in forgotten corners, feeling your heart slow and your muscles relax. Perhaps being able to sit next to a person while you grieve is not, by itself, enough to hold a relationship or a friendship together. There are certainly people who were very close to my heart at certain dark times who have drifted out of my life, with whom I'm not certain I could maintain a friendship. There is too little in common between us. But out of anything else I've learned, the ability to find connection in sorrow is the closest I have found in our winding emotions and life paths to solid, true ground.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
Friday, July 29, 2016
Saturday, July 2, 2016
A beautiful, laughing black woman in scrubs taking a walk with her boyfriend. A wispy white hipster girl with pixie hair & Risky Business sunglasses. I'm holding my coffee mug and a book, waiting for the signal at Fletcher & Huron at 10:22 am on a Saturday in June. I walk through the silent festival venue, passing a bewhiskered, muscley young man walking what appears to be a small red bear with a fox's tail. He's wearing the same glasses as the pixie girl, but without the sun protection.
The fountain creates a calming backdrop to the maddening chirp of the chipmunk, who increases his volume & frequency as he notices me watching him. His voice echoes, after a moment's delay, in the vibration of the metal streetlamp post behind me. There are sirens, far away, like the sun, muted by the morning cloud duvets.
Tiny gold florets in flowers that look like pieces of cauliflower - if only Sandra were here to tell me what they are.
The echo isn't an echo after all; it's a second chipmunk.
Just outside my apartment building is a cement trunk, dumping its load through a chute angled into my neighbor's backyard. It is probably what woke me, along with the 7 am sunshine happy to find no serious resistance in my almost transparent window-shade. Michael loses his mind over that window-shade. It doesn't block light, doesn't darken the bedroom, doesn't provide privacy. I don't want it to. It does its job perfectly, which is to suggest privacy, and to soften edges, without denying me my window to the world. I certainly sleep sounder, more deadlike, in spaces with blackout curtains. But I am not convinced I sleep better. The disorientation of waking in a space that has no connection to anything larger, to opening curtains and finding a world that went on moving without me and seems not to give a damn...I find the process of reintegrating on those mornings very unsettling, the work to rejoin the stream of life seems to undo whatever benefit I gained from uninterrupted sleep. I don't want my waking and sleeping to be so divorced from one another.
Tami mentioned last night enjoying seeing me re-emerge on Facebook, into my summer self. Slower, more thoughtful. I may have too much divorce between my winter and summer selves, between my work and leisure selves, to accommodate a fierce break in conscious states.
A butterfly landed on my bare toes and ran away when I turned to look at what was tickling me. Unless it was a lizard, or frog. It's in the cauliflower-flower stalks, small brown foot-tickler. Chipmunk Primo ran by the other foot to join his companion. My coffee cup is empty & I can't focus on Marie-Louise Von Franz. Bell towers and giggling teens on campus tours and the birds are so damn happy they don't have to wear a bra or be punctual or make good choices.
I gave up and laid down fully on the cool cement wall of the raised bed. I saw a woman who looked like Adrienne laying down on a bench the other night waiting for the bus, thoughts of "Rock on" warring with "Be considerate of others and how much space you are taking up." The former won, along with a bit of jealousy at her fearlessness, thinking I could never do that. I've sat up even now. People judge. People expect you to anticipate their needs. They shouldn't need to ask you to behave yourself.
I lay down again. The cement is so cool. Welcome back, Jolie.
The ribbon on the Mylar balloon scuffs the donation pillar. The sun makes a break from the duvet.
I wondered as I walked here about the work/summer divorce, and whether I should be more integrated. Does holding your breath for ten months so you can roll in daisies (or have your nose tickled by cauliflower-flowers) create more or less wholeness and goodness in my life? Would it not be wiser to be more moderate?
Education isn't a profession of moderation, though, for educators. No one expects a teacher to do a moderate job. They want a miracle. Miracles don't need to use the restroom at regular intervals and they don't accept "good enough."
I don't have a classroom of shining child faces any longer. Perhaps this is the time to explore moderation? Even though nothing about me is moderate, even though I work best fluctuating from extremes, unable to leave the library stacks until the entire collection has been shelf-read, unable to open my work email or follow a schedule of any kind in July. Is my window-shade moderate? Or is it just a way to get away with another extreme?
Michigan itself is extreme. This planter was the epitome of frozen desolation a few months ago. David commented last night on the copper dedication plaque for the fountain, how the plows had not been kind to it. How can his brain even connect the neurons required to look at sun-warmed metal & concrete and imagine snow plows?
The air is soft now. The sun is reminding me I haven't applied any SPF. Chipmunk Primo ran back to his start point, and then went off searching for the foot-tickler in the flowers.
I notice my bladder. Marie-Louise wrote an entire couple of pages about the significance of human urination, the unstoppable force, its significance as a symbol of human instincts & nature. I smiled reading it, thinking she had never talked to a teacher. Everything she said about urination was entirely false for anyone who's ever worked a job where they were "on the floor": factory, retail. I suppose most of her clients and friends were of a certain social class.
I don't know if breathing more shallowly all year through would be better, worse, more authentic, more stable than the sprint/collapse I live now. I know last week's training during my first week off filled me with unreasonable rage & comical distress. I am not supposed to be working. I have ten weeks off and this three days is an unacceptable encroachment of my privilege. Not sure if it would have been so inconceivable if it had happened a bit later, after I'd had a week to start breathing again.
The sun is hot enough now. I will join the crush of youthful drunk strangers at the river. I will separate my floatation device and wander down the river alone, with their voices in the distance. Slowly, thoughtfully, breathing.