Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Feminism.

So there’s this song that came out about a year ago by a preppy band called 3OH!3. The hook to the song is “shush girl, shut your lips / do the Helen Keller and talk with your hips.” It’s a super catchy song and, I have to admit, that line never bothered me, but I was shooting the shit with a few of the girls at work – not the super conservative religious republican ones, the girls who aren’t offended by me on a regular basis – and I got the most shocked and offended response from the person I least expected. It stuck with me for two reasons; first, because moments like that help to show me where the line is with people, and now I know where hers is and second, because it was such a surreal reaction that it occurred to me I might be pushing the limits of what even the most liberal people find offensive.

My mom is sort of a lesbian. I’m not really interested in explaining that any more fully – it’s complicated, lengthy and in no way amusing – but it bears repeating because she is thereby inherently a feminist to a certain degree….and by ‘certain degree’ I mean she strikes me as bat-shit insane about 90% of the time. She belongs to a book club that only reads books written by women because they feel that when men write women, they write them the way a man would want a woman to be, not the way that a woman is. She goes to a music festival every year and declares that the most enjoyable experience of her entire life is ‘the sound of a thousand female voices with not a man amongst them.’

This strikes me as nuts, okay people – like clinically, prosecutably insane.

I have no beef with strip clubs and porn stores – and not just for single people, for married ones, dating ones and every iteration between – I couldn’t care any less. I believe in the awesometasticness of high dollar hookers. I’m all kinds of in favor of porn. I point out attractive girls when we’re out in public and have taught my brother and my nephews three very important lessons – if you take video/pictures of your naked teenage girlfriend, don’t distribute them because is a federal crime, don’t sleep with the crazy girl and if you ever hear the word ‘no’ back the fuck away and dont come back with out a signed affidavit. I have friends who are strippers and, single or in another life would absolutely be a total strumpet. I’ve vowed that if Mike ever dies tragically I’m opening a brothel with Courtney and that, once in a while – okay, fine, more often than not it feels amazing to be man-handled a bit.

When I have a home improvement project I have no problem batting my eyelashes, pulling out the little girl voice and leaning over the counter at Home Depot to inspire people to help the vulnerable little thing with the power tools despite the fact that when something breaks in our house I’m the one more adept at handling it. I once convinced an AutoZone employee to not only come out to the car to tell me the make, model and year but also convinced him to install the O2 Sensor for me…in the parking lot…for free….and all it took was a damsel in distress smile. I’ve never moved my own furniture. When we move, I am the designated “door holder and beverage provider,” I seldom carry more than two bags of groceries when we go to the store, I have take the garbage out twice in the last year and cleaned the bathroom once. I work in a call center – 98% of our incoming calls are from men and when things get tough and people get upset, I drag out the little girl voice and start making jokes that hug the inappropriate line so tightly they should be wearing a body stocking and a pink wig because helpless and sexually charged beats angry and screaming any day of the week.

I am a very lucky, very spoiled girl and I am aware of that, but here’s the thing – I get that most feminists think I am one of those people setting the movement back by decades every time I pull out the flighty cocktease routine and I’m well aware that almost every man I’ve ever had in my life since the age of 13 has, at some point, said “God I wish you had a sister. Please tell me you at least have similar friends,” – I just don’t care.

Very much like my take on racism, my feeling on the feminist movement is thus – I think we have progressed past the point where I need to consider myself part of the persecuted sex. If anything, women have more choices than men. I can decide to become a powerhouse in business, or to stay home and take care of kids or to be single and happy. With the exception of my grandmother and my quasi-mother-in-law, I don’t feel pressured into marriage or kids or career. I know that I could be whatever I wanted to be – including the president – if it struck me as such. Are there people I would have difficulty getting past? Of course. I work in a company with no female executives because they have a hard time penetrating the good ol’ boys club. Thing is, they have a hard time with that because it’s not a club for the kind of person they are, not because they’re female. The good ol’ boys club loves me, because I like strippers and scotch and witty sexual repartee.

So tell me ladies, who has the problem here?

What brought all of this up is actually NaNoWriMo. I started this year with nothing but two characters and no concept of a plot or where the story was going. 30,000 words into it, I can tell you it’s going no where good. It’s 50K in a month and I had no plot. It was never going to go anywhere good and the text itself won’t be something I ever take pride in, but what I can be proud of is the fact that I did it – that I did something in a month most people won’t do in a lifetime and that part is kind of cool. Think of it as a literary wedding cake.

Last night, Mike and I were talking about it because I hit a big milestone, making 30K of original fiction. That’s a line I’ve never crossed before and it’s kind of cool. Nonetheless, we were discussing the fact that is donating a paperback proof copy of your novel to nano winners, which is sort of awesome and its something I wlll probably claim. Mike offered to let me hide it somewhere and I told him that wasn’t necessary, I wouldn’t mind having it on the bookshelf where we, you know, keep the books as long as we all promised to keep the same rule we always had – ‘don’t read it. And if you do, just don’t tell me, m’kay?’ He suggested that might not be the best idea since everyone who comes into our house likes to scrutinize the bookshelves and then I’d have to explain something I didn’t want to explain and my uber religious grandmother and my super feminist mother would both try to have me committed upon reading it.

Here’s the thing, the opening scene involves a two thirty am visit that is followed up with partial nudity and a half a bottle of tequila. Remarkably, the scene ends with no pre-marital sex but I don’t think either of them would see it that way…and if they made it past that page they’d find more drinking, more inappropriate sexual repartee and at least three examples of sex that they would consider violent, degrading and offensive. Worst part is, all I’m talking about are a few instances of pinning someone to a wall…its about as vanilla as it gets :) Yet, there I was getting twisted into knots knowing that they would invariably want to read what I'd written or know about NaNo and I would have to explain it to them - that I would have to apologize for not having a compelling urge to 'protect the gender.'

I guess, and forgive me for being pedantic, but I feel as though the feminist movement of today passes judgement on my lifestyle just as much as the bra burners of the sixties abhored the women who still wanted to stay home and raise children and - frankly, I'm fucking sick of it.  The whole point of the feminist movement is and was to give women choices - to protect us from being boxed into the pre-ordained life society set forward for us, but now that we have those choices, we're being told which ones to take by the very people that purport to be protecting them.  I appreciate that I grow up in a time when I have the freedom to choose to be and do anything I want and I in no way rail against the women that got me here - who took jobs and got divorces and refused to have children and demanded rights and freedoms through the generations so that I could make my own choices for myself.  And I'm sorry if you disagree with my choices - it's a real bummer that your boyfriend's eyes grew to the size of dinner plates when I said I like strip clubs and wish I could sit down and have a two hour conversation with a hooker, but thats between you and him.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Just One Mistake

This is a rough time of year in the household of one Epiphany-Halcyon household. It marks the anniversaries of a lot of unpleasant events in our shared past as well as my favorite, and thus most feared holiday and this year it was compounded by several factors outside of our mutual control what with his family imploding and mine dying. It’s nothing more or less than either of us expects out of the fall and I think, to this point, we’ve taken the hits fairly well. (Him more so than me, but what would be the right in the world if I wasn’t the one on the business end of the emotional breakdown.)

The last few days have been difficult and it’s for the stupidest, most self-imposed reason.

In 2006 I attempted NaNoWriMo with a concept and research I loved. I made it approximately 3000 words in before I fell behind, unable to do the thing that everyone kept saying – just keep writing. At the time, I knew it was more than I said it was. I said I wasn’t inspired or that I was busy. It wasn’t any of that – I was afraid. I wasn’t the only one that loved the concept and the research. Everyone who knew – and the scope ranged from family to friends to online buddies to total strangers – they all loved what I was working on. Hell, when people hear about it now they still love the concept and urge me to write it. They tell me that it’s so the epitome of me and what I should be doing.

I cannot express to anyone what kind of pressure that feels like to me. In the end, I caved under it. I stopped writing and, two weeks in, the computer I’d stored it all on crashed and I took that as the universes way of telling me it was OK to give in to that.

I won’t say I spent the years between then and now regretting losing the research. I have an excellent memory – the research is still there…and as far as having lost the characters, I didn’t lose them…they’re easy for me. What I will say is that, since then, I haven’t considered participating in NaNoWriMo until this year and this year it was an impulsive decision and one that part of me regrets.

I’ve never written and completed a piece of original work. I write bits and pieces of things I never finish and I won’t admit why to myself.

I’m scared.

People that love me read the little bits and swear up and down that the characters are real, they fly of the page and demand to be heard….that I have a voice entirely my own and that I should do something with it. The thing is – as wonderful as it is to hear that kind of praise, it’s the second most terrifying thing in the world. (the most terrifying thing in the world, as near as I can tell right now, being the panic attack I had last night that had me convinced for about five minutes that there was a good possibility I was having a heart attack and was literally going to die right then and there.)

It’s terrifying for two reasons. 1) because it could all be a lie. The thing is, it’s a lie that it feels so good to hear that it’s hard to be willing to ask for objective feedback – and even if I could ask for objective feedback, how do you evaluate the validity and truth of that?

That’s the second scariest question I’ve ever asked myself. My mother has read some – bits and pieces of what I’ve written. Linda has read literally almost everything. Courtney has read some… These are three people whose intelligence I respect but whose opinions I can’t trust for obvious reasons. My mother is my mother – if that one needs explaining you probably need therapy. Linda is the most encouraging person I think I’ve ever known, other than my grandmother. (Don’t take that the wrong way, Linda – my grandmother is the most encouraging person ALIVE – EVER… SINCE JESUS) Linda finds a way to compliment the worst things that I’ve ever read, and she’s found a way to praise some of the worst things I’ve ever written – so how do I know if what she’s saying is an honest assessment or a gentle hand for a friend? It’s similar with Courtney.

Where’s everyone else in the conversation? As for real people who are really in my life day to day, King is the only person who I ever allowed to read a word I wrote. The sad thing is, the only reason I let him do it isn’t because he asked in such a pathetic offended way, it was because brilliant though that man was, I knew if he said something that hurt me I could turn it back around on him so fast it would have given him whiplash, because that man and I could hurt each other so effectively. Why not Chris, who I adore so much – whose uncomplicated friendship has been a reminder to me through so many difficult years that uncomplicated friendships can exist? That’s easy. Because I adore him. Because he’s one of the sweetest people I know. Because as gently as he has scolded me from time to time over the nine years I’ve known him, he would never ever say something he thought would be hurtful. And if he was honest and he did tell me he thought it was awful I would be devastated – partly because the truth can hurt and partly because I would be so embarrassed as to have admitted to being so deluded. Because I’m so afraid of losing the respect he’s offered me that I hesitate to do anything that could earn it. It’s more of the same for why I’ve never given any of it to Mr. Halcyon. If he said something nice I’d never believe him and if he said something mean, I’d never forgive myself.

Which, I suppose, brings me nicely to the second element of my problem, 2) because what if it all is a lie? What I if I ask for honest assessment and they look back at me and laugh? For a person who has spent their entire life able to float their failures and missteps on a raft of potential, what would it feel like to have that potential stripped away, and how do you move forward from that? A while back (a long while, I might add) a friend of Mr. Halcyon’s got into a nasty car accident and lost some of her mental faculties. Since that happened I’ve always told him that should something ever happen to me and there is a question of coming back from death with brain damage, let me die because I don’t want to live knowing I can’t do what I’ve done before.

I told my little brother when he was eleven that if he learned one thing from me over the years about social interactions – one lesson I wish someone had taught me when I was a kid – it would be to go big or go home…to fake it until you make it….to rock who you are, whoever that is. I’m funny, I’m not sweet. I’m smart, not pretty. If you need someone to help you finish an assignment, call me. If you need someone to go out for drinks with and have a blast, call someone else. People don’t ask my advice until they’re at rock bottom, willing to do whatever I tell them to to get out because while my advice may be right, I don’t know how to deliver it sounding gentle or kind.

At the end of the day, I seem confident and, while not together, I seem like I’ve learned to make my life work for me. To an extent I am and I can. I’ve learned how to take my limitations and live with them and I’ve learned to wear my scars like a badge of honor. I’ve learned to be good at the things I’m good at and avoid the things I’m not wherever possible – and when I can’t, to make a game out of the failing. I’m doing okay. But honest here – the confidence is a lie. I don’t feel like a smart girl. I don’t feel like a funny girl. I can joke that I’m an acquired taste, but I believe that every friend I have tolerates me because they feel sorry for the crazy girl.

NaNo has been rough. Rough at first because I was afraid I couldn’t do it and rough now because I’m starting to think that I can…that 1667 words every day isn’t all that much and that I can hit the 50K mark at the end of a month. That should be something to be proud of and even stripping away the element wherein pressure and writing long after you know you should have stepped away to take a break or not editing comes in… I feel as though I can be proud of what I will have done because what I’m doing isn’t good…. And of course the people who I’m willing to ask tell me that is and I think they’re lying but I won’t ask the people who wouldn’t be.

NaNo has been rough because in an effort to not let the plot or the characters be the thing that held me back, I wrote the thing that I know…. a damaged girl who has been fortunate to happen upon people who are willing to not only believe in her despite her self-destructive behavior but who are also willing to take care of her despite the way she abuses them. Sound familiar?

This character is every color of damaged I’ve ever been… and the thing is, writing from what I know means that the other presence is a dangerous one. The other presence, the person willing to take all of the shit, pick up all of the pieces and put that person back together…the person who makes that girl feel safe and comfortable when she needs it and pushes when they can get away with it…. That person is someone I’ve known and, for my particular situation, they’ve never been healthy.

Fixers have their own unique set of neurosis – they’re their own brand of damaged. They’re the guy that falls in love with you because you’ve set no boundaries or limitations on your relationship who ends up hurting you in the end when he realizes you didn’t have it in you to love them the way they wanted you to…. who comes around a bit too late or a bit too early. The relationship that you will always know would have been dangerous and self-destructive for both of you because neither of you were right for the other but that had the right spark…. The person you shouldn’t be with but you kind of want to anyway…

That guy – he’s been a common character in my life and over the years I’ve learned to spot him from a mile away and it takes everything I have to push him away because I long for that safety and that comfort. I’m always just one mistake away from tearing my life apart around a man like that.

Writing what comes naturally to me, while hopefully cathartic in the end…while hopefully reading honestly…. It’s difficult for me to write because it’s hard not to miss every incarnation of that guy…particularly since that guy, he believes in everything you do. If your mother is supposed to love you unconditionally and believe in anything you can do, that guy is somehow more dedicated to the pursuit.

Why not let Mr. Halcyon be that guy… why not give him the opportunity?

Part of that guy he can’t be. He can believe in me and he can build me up when I feel torn down by my own hands. He’s the guy who rushes home because you ask him to but if we walked out of the house today and got mugged, I’d be the one to defend him, not the other way around. Not because he’s weak or incapable of defending himself but because when faced with a fight or flight situation, he immediately goes to the third option – negotiation. And the thing is – that’s why we work. The very reason we aren’t self-destructive or unhealthy for one another is because he understands the principle of negotiation and can handle my crazy thusly.

To distill the difference between him and that guy – the thing I have had such a hard time saying goodbye to is that moment when you’re presented with a danger small or large, that guy steps between you and the hazard, and then handles it.

A friend of mine names all of her men-friends and her conquests. Over the years we’ve described men as “the desk” and “the water cooler” and “the big heart” and the only term I’ve ever found effective for describing “that guy” has always been ‘the wall’ because that’s always been the way they’ve looked to me in a moment of fear…like a wall suddenly materializing between me and the monster. Thing is, walls also have the capacity to trap you – to collapse and to prevent you from getting where you have to go… and in my life, they often do.