Tuesday, September 16, 2014

the great chocolate robbery

Note: please forgive any weird font/formatting issues. I'm posting under unusual circumstances, using the Blogger app on my iPad, which doesn't let me select fonts or do a preview. Here goes nothing. I'll fix it later.

Since I started doing weekly posts at the beginning of this year, I've always gone in with a specific focus, something I'm going to talk about. Well, that's not on today. I'm digging back into an older tradition for this post, where I'm not talking about a *thing* but instead talking to you in a loose way about what's actually going on. 

I'm doing that because otherwise I wouldn't be posting at all, seeing as how I'm reporting to you live from Children's Hospital here in Seattle, where my youngest boy was admitted early yesterday morning. No panic, he's on the up-and-up, but he had a bout of severe asthma, as bad as we'd ever seen it. He came close to getting sent up to the ICU, is how bad we're talking about. And Fred—who's kind of a veteran here at Children's (Fred : Children's = Norm : Cheers), and whose chill nature and joie-de-vivre are tough to knock off course—was brought lower than I'd ever seen him. Real distress. Horrible to watch. I had to turn my face and cry into the wall over and over. But he's turned a corner and is on the slow rise to getting discharged tomorrow, so the crisis part of the show is over. 

I've had no time to think, though, and I don't know where I'm taking you today. This is pure, old-school winging it happening here.

**********

What I'm wanting to talk about, what I'd been planning on talking about in a the-thing-I'm-talking-about way, I guess, is the body. Well, not the body. My body. A little history thereof. What better place to talk about the fraught history of a body than inside a children's hospital, too? That's got something to it. 

If some cosmic police sketch artist were floating by and capturing some lifelong essence of my body to take back to his home planet/precinct, there would probably be a head, then maybe some rudimentary heart thing dangling from the head like a pocket watch, and then some feet. The body would be missing. My body's been missing, or I've been missing from inside of it. 

This is the part where I get a hitch in my typing finger/a contracted feeling in my gut, the internal shut-the-fuck-up-Tina mechanism kicking in. The words stop flowing. They back up into each other, take turns shoving each other to the front so they can hide and not have to walk on stage. Nobody wants to say it. This happens every time I talk publicly about my sexual abuse, which looks like it's on deck today.

Every time. That's funny. I've talked about it here all of twice, and then once I kind of talked about it on Facebook. And after the two times it came up here, I sort of thought, okay, well, good. I talked about it. All done! I shall never bother the world with this again! Because I thought that to talk about it was unbearably depressing and maudlin, and it was my job to be neither of those things. But it's not unbearably depressing and maudlin; it just is, as they say, what it is. It's a common thing, and a tough thing, but I'm not forever tainted by it, like I might have thought and not wanted to draw people's attention to. And furthermore, that is not my job, to be neither of those things that I'm not anyway. 

So, heads-up. This is probably not the last time I'm going to talk about this here. I may just be getting going. I don't know. It needs talking about, no? This taboo is oppressive. I want out from underneath it. 

But let's get back to the body, the birthplace of it all. 

**********

I had a psychic reading at the beginning of the year. I like to get those every now and then, although I don't come at them with anywhere near the same frequency/urgency I used to when I was in my twenties or thirties. I have much more of an "I'll find out on my own eventually anyway" and "I got my own internal compass working fine" thing going on these days as an old lady in her mid-forties. In any case, it was pretty interesting, this reading, but one part particularly made me laugh. The reader told me that one of my superpowers was my body. 

Ha! Oh, ha, hahaha. That's adorable. My body! A superpower. Oh, go on with you. 

I might have laughed or snorted aloud, because she went on to say, smiling, that a person's superpower isn't usually an area that gives no trouble. The opposite, actually. And then I stopped laughing, because I suddenly felt like she was on to something. 

I thought about the concept of the daimon, which I first read about in this very quirky and wonderful book I was in love with in the mid-late '90s called We've Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy and the World's Getting Worse, which is a conversation in letters traveling back and forth between the famous Jungian psychologist James Hillman and a writer named Michael Ventura, who was (is?) a columnist for L.A. Weekly. (Read it, it's a joy.)

Let's see how garbled my explanation/comprehension of the daimon is. I'm going to see if I can wing it without the help of Google. So, my understanding of the daimon is that it's a combination of an individual person's destiny/innate genius/central bugaboo. It's your thing, you're born with it, it lies latent in you, and it will fuck with you until you solve it/conquer it/own it/live its expression. I don't have my copy handy, but I remember Hillman and Ventura giving a couple of examples. Winston Churchill was one, who apparently struggled in school, had problems with his speech and language. And the other example that sticks with me was a great Spanish matador (whose name escapes me), renowned for his bravery, who was a huge mama's boy as a child, perpetually hiding behind her apron. The theory of the daimon says that something in you knows your fate from the beginning, and so you unconsciously struggle with it/fight against it. Winston Churchill, Hillman and Ventura explained, will have understood somewhere in his being that his words were eventually going to shape world events, and he buckled in advance under that pressure. The matador, similarly, could feel that that the bull was out there waiting for him, so when he clung to his mom, he was dragging his feet against facing his future opponent. 

So when I think of my body as connected to my daimon, somehing stirs. 

**********

Before Fred went into the hospital, before last week's Emmy post, I was sitting at a cafe brainstorming about and starting to make an outline for what was going to be my next post, which was going to be about the body. I was going back through time and chronicling the struggles my body had given me, back from the beginning, to search for threads. I was in the section about my childhood, jotting down some words. Heart murmur, I wrote. Eczema. Sick a lot. And then I wrote down allergic to chocolate and before I could get the word chocolate out, an existential nausea took hold of me. A shoe dropped. 

Fuck. I knew it in an instant, for the first time in my life. I was never physically allergic to chocolate, as the story had always gone. I got it, I knew it, I knew it before the thought could form itself into words. My chocolate allergy was psychological. 

I got sick a lot, as I said, as a kid. Missed lots of school. Apparently, every time I ate chocolate I got bronchitis. I was frail, I'd always been frail, it was just who I was. Oversensitive and frail. We all accepted it. We were all frail. We were frail together, as a group, our family. It was our thing. 

What I knew, bodily, in that moment in the cafe, was that chocolate figured into my sexual abuse. My dad had given me chocolate as a lure, or a reward. And so later I was "allergic" to it, and fell ill when I ate it. The knowledge dropped in a wordless, complete package. It popped open, all mine, irrevocable.

Son of a fucking bitch. I'd never questioned it. Yep, allergic to chocolate. I was given a whole lot of fucked-up carob brownies as a child because, aw, poor Tina, she just can't metabolize it. Son of a goddamn bitch. 

I sat there in the cafe and wept, a complex weep. Something was simultaneously being taken from and returned to me. Awful, gratifying. 

My mind doesn't remember everything, but my body does, and it's starting to slip me information. It's starting to tell me what it knows. 

**********

I never liked using my body, when I was a kid. I hated P.E., hated sports, hated anything where you had to put your awareness in your body. I didn't like having my awareness there. It felt weird, dangerous, vertigo-inducing. I was not interested in dropping into my body long enough to figure out how to throw or kick a ball, or how to balance, or do a cartwheel. Fuck that noise. If you want me, I'll be indoors hiding behind my brother's bed with my face in a book, eating purloined loaves of bread. 

Early carb cravings. Comfort food. Repression mechanism practice. 

Bear with me while I wander around. I don't know where I'm going, exactly, or how far I'm taking this today. 

Here's what's new. I've been taking yoga. I've always resisted it, but it started calling me lately, and I started taking classes at a studio in town that teaches something called Viniyoga, which translates to something like "yoga of adaptation". It's a gentle form, meant to be adapted to the needs of each student. From my very first class, my body loved it. The class moved so carefully, so respectfully, and never asked of us anything our bodies didn't willingly want to give. I had a hard time not calling out THANK YOU FOR THIS CLASS during poses, it was such a revelation.

For whatever reason, something in me has stopped fighting my body and shutting down awareness of what it knows. I've stopped struggling. I'm open, I'm willing to go in, whatever I find in there. I'm to the part in the story where I stop fighting my daimon and let it drive. I do cobra and butterfly and lion and cat and cow, unlocking myself. 

**********

I've mentioned here before that when I sit in session with my teacher, Jim, I've been getting these shooting pains up my spine, along with more pictures of my abuse. In the session before my chocolate revelation, the pains were so strong they made me cry, and they wrapped around my waist. I saw a picture which I will not describe, one that gave me horror, and no sooner did I see it/narrate it out loud than a pain shot through my head, like my brain was getting squeezed by an invisible hand, retribution for having seen what I saw. I cried out and held my head when the pain struck, and at the same moment, Jim said, "You have to let go of doubt."

**********

I'll tell you what makes me mad. I scan back over my life, and I see myself struggling along the way, struggling in my body, struggling with self-doubt. All that sickness in my childhood. The painful, disfiguring masks of eczema that started visiting me in my early 20s, just as I started to suspect somehing was amiss back in my past. How I froze so easily, got paralyzed by doubt and shame, hid my problems and made them worse. How my hands used to shake. How easily and often I cried, and how I wondered what was wrong with me, why did I take everything so much harder than everyone else? Why couldn't I deal? Why couldn't I function? How I was afraid to give my opinion because it was probably wrong because I was made of doubt, I was practically a solid block of doubt. And then closer in the past, the illness I had just a couple of years ago which almost killed me, where my body went on strike. No more, it said. No more until you listen to me. No more until you respect me. No more until you pay attention. 

The whole thing, all of that, all stemming from this grave violation to my tiny body. This whole life operating unconsciously in response. This disembodied head floating over some feet, this needless frailty. 

No more, all right. 

**********

Fred comes home tomorrow. It's for sure. 

I'll tell you one last thing I know, and then I have to sleep. I know that what mom and dad are carrying in their bodies unresolved gets passed down to their children. Here, a mysterious burden. Good luck. I didn't want to deal with it, so you try. 

I have lots of work to do, but it's okay. I can work faster now that I'm not erasing all my work with this endless, godforsaken doubt. 





Wednesday, September 10, 2014

bringing the emmys alive in 5-7-5

Welcome back, everybody! Boy, do I have the post for what you're still talking about three weeks later around the water cooler, and that's this post about the Emmy Awards. From 2014. 

Here's the thing. You know I love the red carpet. You know I do. Also, you know how you find a fresh song you love and you play it 12 times a day for weeks and you know you're sucking the magic out of it but you keep cueing it up anyway because tomorrow when the song will be dead is the future and the future is some stupid rumor that's probably not even true? The future is true, everybody. I'm there now standing on a mountain of dead songs, and maybe if we're not careful a pile of dead red carpet posts. 

I want to talk about the Emmys but this is the fifth red carpet post I've done this year, which might be more than all the red carpet posts from all the previous years of my blog. I have to protect this form from extinction. I have to be wily. So I'm doing somehing new. With every photograph, I'm giving myself three minutes max to write a haiku about it. I'm timing myself with a timer. Here, look:



A timer. And then I was going to say, "And listen:" but the Blogger app won't let me upload the video I took of me pressing the button and playing the 'Alarm' sound for you, which I've decided after extensive sound trials is the best way to clock out of writing a haiku. It sounds like this:

 {{{BLONK}}} {{{BLONK}}} {{{BLONK}}} {{{BLONK}}} {{{BLONK}}} {{{BLONK}}} 

But more horrible. 

Let's begin!


Poofy risk taker
In blood-dipped maxi-tutu,
I salute you{{{BLONK BLONK BLONK BLONK BLONK}}} 

(Three minutes is hard.)




Here, fresh from battle:
Samurai Debra Messing.
She lost but she lived.


Lucy Liu looks nice
In my Mommy's old nightgown.
I loved that nightgown. 



Orange creamsicle,
What are you hiding in there?
Floral lace bike shorts?



Christina Hendricks
In flaming persimmon:
That shit is not fair.



Cylons and Klingons!
Commence fighting over your
Cranky, pointy bride.


Modest lady in
the most popular color,
So sweet and so smug.



I'd love this cape more
If Christine Baranski would 
Fly around in it.


Cheerful PoMo elf!
Tell us about Thunderdome!
That sounds super fun! 


Kate Walsh looks like a 
Statuesque jonquil
In this flippy gown.


Your shiny gold can't
Distract me from my question:
Are you wearing braces?


Camilla Alves
Has mad sophisticated
Paper snowflake skillz.


Little pink bundle 
We call Zooey Deschanel:
You take teeny steps.


Once upon a time,
A dress that was a mullet
was Jon Hamm's girlfriend.


Vanessa Williams.
I don't know what to make of 
Your minty peplum.


Katherine Heigl
Is the benevolent queen
Of this parking lot.


This lady looks great.
I just really, really think
This lady looks great.


Allison Janney's
Rosy, wine-y velvet gown 
Looked brighter on stage.


Everybody loves
Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
That's all. Move along.


I love blondes in red,
And five syllable names like
January Jones.


Hey! Howard Johnson's.
That was a line of motels
With this color scheme.


Seth Meyers' lady.
Like a star high school athlete
All girled up for prom.


It's Freaky Friday!
But with Mayim Bialik
And Kate Middleton. 


Hey, look at my ass.
Oh, gross. You're looking at it. 
But look at it, though. 


Saturday Night Live.
Katie McKinnon from it.
She seems kind of mad.


Looking tough in a 
Fancy army parachute:
Sarah Silverman!


Hi, I'm Danielle Brooks.
Does Tina like me the best?
Fuck yes because RAD.


Look, Kelly Osbourne.
I'm always gonna be like,
"What'd you do THIS time?"


Lampshade-shaped lady,
You made time and space stand still.
Is what it looks like.


Listen, you fuckers.
Robin Wright can kick your ass
Even without feet.


Michelle Dockery
Is a flight attendant on
Heavenly Airlines. 


A little mesh bell
With a confusing waistline
For Kiernan Shipka



Kaley Cuoco!
Technicolor butterfly,
I rescind old snark. 

The end.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

mrs. hulot's holiday



Hey, lovely readers.

I'm going on a little blog vacation. I'm a couple of weeks late to be French and take a full August off, but I'm borrowing that spirit and disappearing until September 10th, when I'll be back to my regular weekly schedule. 

I love the discipline of these weekly posts, by the way. No matter how I feel about any particular post, there's satisfaction in showing up when I said I would with the best thing I could give you that week. So I'm going to keep going with it after this break. It's good vitamins and I love it. 

One of the things I'll be doing while I'm gone is working on my application for Hedgebrook, which is a writer's retreat/residency for women near here on Whidbey Island. (I already wanted to go, but then I saw an episode of a great local TV show called Art Zone which was all about Hedgebrook, and I boo-hoo'd all the way through it, I wanted it so much.) I started to apply last year but I chickened out because I wasn't really ready; I couldn't articulate the answers to half of the questions on the application. This year, though, I am ready, and coming here and talking to you each week has contributed to that in a big way. 

(I don't tell you enough how much your presence here means to me, you readers, because I get bashful, but you fuel my engine so very much. When it's 3:00 am on a Wednesday morning and I have a couple more hours of writing to go to have a post ready for you, the knowledge that you're out there and you care gives me the burst of energy I need to finish. Thank you, you guys, for showing up here on the regular, and for commenting. Never fails to make my day.) 

I've noticed, too, that my posts used to naturally form themselves to somewhere in between 1000-1500 words, but lately they're stretching out nearly twice as long, which development has me curious. It seems like I'm trying to cram some thinking into this blog that would live more happily/comfortably in the book, and I keep staying up destructively late to finish these posts, so that ain't what. Time to readjust and go give that project my love and attention for a minute, and then we'll see if the blog springs back into a less unwieldy shape. 

Wish me luck with Hedgebrook! (Or not. You don't have to.) The idea of spending time in a cabin with nothing to do but write and think makes me weak in the knees. I need to get my game on to convince them to let me come. 


So, off I go to a mental seaside resort in the meantime. Meet me back here in September, yes? 

Love,
Tina

P.S. Please enjoy this ancient trailer for the film that inspired the title of the post.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

love song for the gymnasts



A few weeks ago I wrote a post examining how I developed my ideas of womanhood, and I wanted to answer that today with a parallel post about manhood. Something loving, something light, some kind of ode. And that's where I'm aiming, but we have to start somewhere darker—no choice, or else this is going to run about an inch deep.

(The bear will make sense later. Hold tight.)

In Hinduism, to get to the other gods you have to go through Ganesha, the placer and remover of obstacles. He's the doorman. You worship him first and only then are you clear to interact with the rest of the pantheon. To get into my Hall of Men, I have to stop and address Dad. If you've been following along, you know that's fraught, but the first stop is the first stop. 

In an earlier post, I showed you this paper towel tube
and explained it a little, how it's supposed to be a model of my energetic spine, with the electrical tape marking where the blocks/trouble bits are. See the tape at the bottom? See how thick that part is? That's the big one. That's the sexual abuse. We're going to talk about it a little bit, get some things clear and then move on, I promise.

I was working with my teacher, Jim, today, and I started getting some shooting pains in my lower back, sharp and intense, a little like labor pains. (When a baby is faced the wrong way, you can get what they call back labor, and this was like that.) When I checked it out, it seemed clear that this wasn't a chiropractic deal, or something else purely mechanical. This was an emotional iceberg starting to melt and crack. I sat there and observed and waited, and then I dropped straight into my old tiny consciousness. I'd say I was around two. I seemed about that size. 

I was in our old living room in New York—don't worry, nothing lurid/sensational is coming—on a normal, peaceful afternoon. Nobody was around in this glimpse. What I picked up, though, from this sudden bit of mental/emotional time travel, was my mindset back then. I didn't feel like a child. I felt the same as I do now, person-sized. Neither adult nor not-adult, just awake, conscious, present. And I was very sad. Calm, but gravely sad. I saw in this bit of time travel that my small self felt that the people around me didn't see me as a person. They saw me as a thing, an object. They had no consciousness of my consciousness. 

My mother took fine care of me as an object. I was a clean object, fed, dressed in pretty clothes. But I was not used so well as an object in other quarters. That understanding was there. If I had to make the feeling concrete, I'd say I felt that I got used sort of like a towel. Something you wipe yourself with, something you leave your dirt on. Something you don't think about. Something...well, you're not even actively, purposely disrespecting it. Purposeful disrespect would have been a step up. This was something more careless, and thus more profoundly disrespectful. 

No horrible particulars. That's not what I got in my trip back today. This is just what I knew. This is how I knew myself to be cared for, or not cared for. And so I was resigned to it, but so sad, and there was a pervasive feeling of loneliness.  

Okay. So, that. That, and the pain shooting in my back today from what I buried down there, that old stuff starting to move, making me cry out a little, with the stabbing feeling, the surprise of it. We start there, manhood. (I warned you we'd begin dark.) But shit, I need a little rest, and we're barely out of the starting blocks. The worst is over, though. Let's sip our drinks. 

<pause button>
<unpause>

Men reading this, I'm going to #notallmen for you, so you don't have to. I love so many men, and I'm not predisposed against you. I carry the normal, streetwise, savvy amount of wariness because of some of you, since I can't see into all of your souls immediately on sight. I'm married to a wonderful man, and I have two sons, and a beloved brother. I have male friends that I cherish, bunches of them. And here we are on earth together, being humanity. I have huge tenderness for you as a group. 

But we have history to contend with, personal and societal, and it's not all great and it has to be addressed. Patriarchy, I'm looking at you. You've done so much wrong, and you're reluctant to stop. This doesn't need more explanation, does it? I hope not. I don't have time. If you need more, you can google "patriachy" and "wrongs of" and keep yourself busy for a while. And we know, right, that it doesn't operate by itself? We know collaboration is required, and collaboration is alive and well. And you know that you're in play, right? You, reader, whoever you are, male or female? You're either helping it along or you're on the dismantling tip. You don't fall into the "neither" camp. I'm implicated, too, with what I agree to and don't agree to, and I'm not necessarily working to bring that fucker down very hard myself. So, I feel you. It's heavy. But this discussion is going to float away on a cloud if we don't ground ourselves in those facts. 

It's tough to trace the exact fallout from the sexual abuse—I keep flashing on the title of that book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—it's like that, sort of too big and close in to see clearly, but can we doubt that I got the message that girls/women are objects for men's pleasure? I was practically vaccinated with it, like the world's smallest geisha. 

Probably not the smallest, either. Oh, world. Bent, in pockets, beyond belief.

**********

I'm thinking about The Fonz now, who was one of the earliest alpha males I knew about. This was a man among men. He snapped his fingers and a couple of identity-less babes flocked to his side on the double. They were always pretty and they didn't say anything. It was never some mouthy bookworm. No, lady, shut up and decorate that arm. Okay, I see. Men don't want to hear you say stuff. Okey-doke. (I was never a Fonzie girl, by the way. Potsy was the one for me. There seemed to be some consensus that Potsy was a dick, which I didn't get. He's cute! He sings! What'd he ever do to you?)

Then there were The Monkees. Adorable scamps! People say we monkey around!/But we're too busy singing to put anybody down! They were funny and sexy, but also they were good guys, safe, and that pulled me in. The more I think about it, the larger those Monkees loom. They were my first love interests, and I imprinted on them hard. They were larrikins, is what they were, which is an Australian term I'll explain a little later when we meet the Rowleys. 

But let's go back and turn off the television and see what the real-world men were doing in my neighborhood. My dad—whom, of course, I loved, and who was much more complex than a plain figure of harm, so we're not going to monsterize him—wasn't what you'd call the classic All-American male. Harvard-educated, wine over beer, vegetarian when it was still an oddball thing to be. (And he was in the army during the Korean War, where a vegetarian was a super-duper anomaly.) Classical music listener, dead against rock-and-roll. Huge reader. Brought a book with him everywhere, showered the rest of us with all the books we could handle. Inveterate punster. Beret-wearer. Computer guy, math guy. 

What really made an impression, though, were the sorts of men he admired, and didn't admire. My dad was the smartest guy going, as far as I could see, so I paid attention. 

There was his own dad, Fritz, whom he adored, who died when I was two. Fritz was a huge intellect, a gentle and funny man, and his life was organized firmly around his spiritual principles. He and my grandmother founded a Theosophical camp on Orcas Island, Indralaya, and right there in the meadow next to the main lodge was a driftwood sign painted with the word AHIMSA, which is Sanskrit for non-violence. Fritz spent a lot of time in India at the Theosophical headquarters there in Madras, and someone made a cartoon poster of him sometime in the 1920s. He was dressed like Robin Hood/Peter Pan in a little green suit, wearing his trademark round spectacles and sporting a halo, and he was aiming an arrow at a mosquito, who also had a halo. The caption read "Fritz Killing a Mosquito at Adyar", so that gives you a sense of his rep. Namaste, I greatly regret this, but off you go. 

And we had a friend of the family, John Verrall, a composer, ancient when I met him, and the quietest, most ethereal man I ever saw. I mean, he was barely corporeal, he was so quiet and frail. Dad treated him with infinite reverence, so I guessed he was perfect. When the Verralls came to visit they barely ate or drank, and the conversation was so soft and slow that we might as well have been conducting it in a sleeping baby's crib. 

He had other heroes—Paul Robeson was one of them, for example—but these two shared the throne. 

Dad was also clear about what kind of men he didn't admire, and that included bullies, drunks, loudmouths, gladhanders, salesmen, Republicans, rednecks, hippies and the overly ambitious. Big men in suits acting like big men in suits*. Men slapping each other on the back around barbecues. Loud men, cocky men, aggressive men. Bums, he called them. 

*I'm with him on that one. Your captains of industry, you can keep them. I couldn't be less interested. They're interested enough in their own damn selves.

I know it could be a tough sell to listen to this kind of list after what I talked about earlier. Like, who's this guy judging other men? If they didn't molest their kids they're all ten steps ahead of him. But my grandmother, his mom—who, as I mentioned in another post, was not exactly kind to him—said that he worked harder to be a good person than anyone she knew, which may have been the only nice thing she ever said about him. He failed, sometimes, devastatingly, but that doesn't mean he didn't try. I saw him succeed lots, in fact. 

Life is complicated. 

**********

What is my Platonic ideal of manliness? When I call that up, what do I get? 

The first thing that arises is the idea of soundness, like a structure is sound. The wood isn't warped, there's a nice, resonant thump when you test it. The thing doesn't fall apart. There's a feeling of not just strength but health. 

Then I see something like a dancer, a male dancer lifting up his partner, and the solidity and generosity conveyed in that gesture, the willingness to be in a supporting role. 

I was out to dinner with a friend the other night, and we were talking about our favorite qualities in a man. For her, humor was at the top, and for me it was kindness. I've grown more stringent about that. I used to let a less-than-stellar kindness rating slide if enough other things were in place (good looks, intelligence, humor, etc.) but now I've crossed into a zone where I don't respect a man who isn't kind, plain and simple. A man who isn't kind doesn't seem fully grown to me, no matter his age or accomplishments. Conversely, a man who is kind is a big man in my eyes, all grown up, and that stirs me. 

And then there's an ingredient that's more keen, something like true aim. It's not just strength and softness, but acuity. That doesn't in and of itself make a man for me, but it definitely puts the shine on one who's got everything else in place. 

**********

Part of me wonders whether this is a constructive or a destructive exercise. I don't want to foist my ideas of manhood on anyone, in the same way that I don't want want someone else's ideal image of womanhood projected onto me. Part of me thinks it's better to resist fixing my ideas about this. We desperately need fluidity in our conceptions of gender. Big portions of humanity are suffering because of this lack. (I'm thinking about the GLBTQ population in particular, though everyone suffers when we carry on like it's the dark ages.) I'm more inclined to dismantle whatever notions I've built so far.  But I don't know how fixed my ideas are until I pull them out and look at them, so here we are. And some fixed ideas are values and principles, which are good, particularly since I'm raising sons. They need to observe some of those, so they can build their own. 

There's work to do, too. 

Finn was playing next door at his friend's house one day, and his friend got hurt/upset and started crying. His dad browbeat him, telling him that boys don't cry. The fuck they don't, buddy. And then Fred had a pal over for a play date, and all the boys were outside drawing on the driveway with chalk.
We had some pink and purple chalk in the mix—girl colors, don't you know—and the boys were making a huge show of scribbling over them, yelling "Destroy the pink! Destroy the purple! We hate pink and purple!" It was a symbolic display, as violent as you can get when you're talking about sidewalk chalk in a little kid's hand, and it kind of took my breath away. This was one of those teachable moments you hear so much about, but I was too stunned to catch it properly. I didn't know what to say, and I didn't want to shame them, but it made me sad. Femaleness was not just something to distance themselves from as hard as possible, but something deserving of contempt and destruction. Fear and hatred, somebody's, had made inroads into their beautiful little minds. 

**********

Don't get the wrong idea. There are some classic displays of manliness that give me a thrill. Oh, baby, there are. For example, I'm a football fan—a Seahawks fan, to be specific—and it doesn't get much more old-school Y-chromosome-y than that. The crush of it, the grunt and thud, it talks to me somewhere ancient in my brain. I didn't grow up with any of that stuff, either, so it's exotic and maybe a little erotic. It's bloodlust, after all, and not bloodlove. And it's not good! Physically, for the players, it's not good. It's awful. They're hurting themselves. It's like we're all gathered in a Roman coliseum watching a very slow execution that gets completed later, offstage. But there it is. Fuck it. I love it. Let's go, football season. Get here. 

And since I'm a heterosexual woman, a discussion of manhood isn't complete without at least a glance at what makes my blood flow/makes my pupils go heart-shaped, and that's not all high ideals, you know? Without some roughness, without some push, my bell does not ring. It's all well and good to be John Verrall at the dinner table, but if Richard Sherman doesn't show up a little in the hay, then I get disgruntled. 

The night I had dinner with my friend and we talked about the qualities we went for in our men, we walked past some guys playing bike polo. They were young and pretty but for me they didn't do a thing. I don't get off on straight-up handsomeness, and youth is boring. I like a face that makes me wonder where it's been. I like crinkles and scars, or at least something a little crooked, a little bent, a little fucked-up. A touch of the criminal. Christopher Walken, say, over Bradley Cooper. 

Old-school manliness, with its implications of sex and violence: yes, ma'am. I'm not immune. It's a paradox. I want progress, I want evolution, but at the same time, vive la différence, you know? That old binary can be so sweet. 

I wrote a short autobiographical story once about a romance I had when I was traveling in Italy in my early 20s with a half-British, half-Sicilian mercenary. Not a figurative mercenary, either, but an actual one, in the British army. He'd killed people. Five, to be exact. Chilling. He loved guns, too, and took me to a gun shop in Florence to show me his favorites. Not my scene, man. Hoo boy. Anyway, I showed this story to a male friend, and he really liked this guy, though his regard may have been for the character as character more than anything. But maybe not. In any case, he liked his James Bond-ness, and something like his amorality. He said admiringly that this guy was a man, and even gave him a shout-out for being a liar for some reason. This was interesting to me, because the stuff I liked in my temporary, unsuitable boyfriend was the other stuff, his sweet side, his romantic side. The other stuff was the BUT.  But maybe also it wasn't. Maybe I liked being near all that wrongness. Maybe I appreciated being with somebody who wore his danger right out where I could see it. 

(I vaguely remember reading some book or seeing some movie a million years ago where a woman was talking about how nice it was to have the kind of stormy boyfriend who loves you but hates all others. Like you've won some kind of special prize, or tamed a lion or something. I related.)

**********

If the subject is men, and ten billion words says it was, I have to end with my favorite clan of men, the clan whose name I've taken as my own. All hail the Rowleys! And they are a clan of men. Since sometime before 1943, a female Rowley has not been born. Dave's dad, Stan, hit the scene, and then came Dave, and then his brothers Mick, John and James, and then the next generation, Mick's kids Daniel and Bryson and Brodie, and then our Finn, and then Mick's youngest son, Kalani, and then came our Fred bringing up the rear. All us female Rowleys had to marry in. 

I took Dave's name not just because I fell in love with him, but because I fell in love with his whole family. They exemplify everything I love in the other gender. The Rowley men are kind, above all, but they're also funny and quick and tough, not afraid of a fight. (Not like my family at all, god bless them.) They're blokey, as my mother-in-law, Larraine, would say. Australia has a lot of testosterone running through it, and the Rowleys certainly fell in a pile. They have a streak of the larrikin, too, which term I promised earlier that I'd explain. A larrikin is a lovable rogue, a good guy who makes a little mischief, a character, and that's the Australian temperament, right there. I had a big thing for Australians when I was a teenage girl, and I would have shit myself if I'd known I'd end up marrying one. 

The one I married comes as close as humanly possible to my Platonic ideal of manhood. Dave is sound and kind and true, and he's old-school and new-school all at once. Poker but also poetry, yoga but also surfing. He's thrown a punch, but he knows his way around a meditation cushion. And he's got me and Finn and Fred firm in his grip, lifting us up like that dancer, steady and stable and giving. 

After I met him and fell in love, I wanted to clean house. I wanted to examine what I was carrying around about men, because I didn't want to bring any baggage along that would weigh us down, so I jotted down the following. (I made it into a song later which a friend of mine recorded for me, backing me up on clarinet. If I hadn't lost the CD I'd just play it for you, but I did lose it, so you're reading it.) 

Here goes, here's what I was packing. 

Love Song for the Gymnasts

Men are bespectacled bears 
Intelligent and animal 
Bulky and refined
A study in contrasts

Men are of the head and the muscles
The brain and the muscles are working
There's an atmosphere of work
Whether straining work or effortless

Men are serious
And not to be disturbed without good reason
Men require good reasons
There is the question of what is allowed

Men are prone not to think much of you
Unless you do something surprising
Such as you might see 
In a traveling circus

Something involving a parasol
And you atop something tall with wheels
Something where you make a loud noise
Like ahhhhhhhhhhh

Men get warm
A thick deep warmth like syrup
And when they get warm
They get strange and unpredictable 

They talk to you with their eyes
In two different languages
Purposely twisted together like ropes
To mix you up with their homonyms 

Men get cold 
Like sudden unseasonable weather
And it was because of something you did
(It really is)
Even if, of course, it isn't

Men hang their heads in shame
Standing in their own draft
They've done something horribly wrong 
that you can't understand
But it would be wonderful if you did

A holy surprise if you did
They would drop to their knees for you
They explode in perfect gratitude
Like gymnasts out of nowhere

Striking the mat, the beam
The vault in a cloud of powder
A sudden conflagration 
Of angle and force and something else

Something harder and hotter and more insistent than joy
It's a breathtaking display
It prepares something hot in my chest
Something radiant and aching and painful and good
Which no one but a man can give

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

the force had better be with you


Back when I gave tarot readings for dollars, there was a card in the deck that I always stumbled over a bit. The fucking Six of Pentacles. (Swear's mine. It's not officially known as The Fucking Six of Pentacles, though it might as well be be because it addresses something that screws most people up in one way or another.) The Six of Pentacles has to do with giving and receiving, and whether you've got a healthy relationship to the particular end of the equation you're occupying the most heavily at the moment. 

They say that when you're doing readings and you have a little trouble interpreting a particular card, that card might be something you have problems with in your own life. Hello, there.

I never gave a lot of conscious thought to how I gave or received until I worked with a writing teacher who used to talk about the importance of getting your receiving valve functioning. She said that it's particularly common for women to have their giving dial cranked all the way open and their receiving dial jammed somewhere near the off position. It was jarring to hear about this whole receiving mechanism business, for some reason. I pictured a twin set of copper pipes running through me somewhere, and while I was cool when I contemplated the one that flowed outward, it made me feel weird to think about the other one. When I imagined giving special attention to things flowing in my direction, it made me feel selfish and demanding, like some kind of pop diva with an elaborate dressing room rider. Tina requires fourteen boxes of Tazo Refresh tea; one bag of fun-sized Kit Kats; a case of 1998 Argyle Pinot Noir; a handmade silk Snuggie; two Wagyu beef cheeseburgers; a first edition of the collected poems of e.e. cummings; one adult male panda, etc. Obviously I'd absorbed some cracked ideas about give and take, and I preferred to identify exclusively as a giver, which was a nicer thing to be, and safer, too, or so I thought.

A huge portion of my identity, in fact, was built around being a giver. And let me tell you, while I did give a lot, it didn't spring from a totally saintly impulse. I gave all kinds of things, and I might have thought I didn't have any expectations in return but, oh, I did. 

When you give compulsively, you can fall into the trap of imagining that that's all you're doing, but I think if you're jammed into giving mode, your whole system goes out of whack and some part of you tips into unconscious thirst. You might sport a nice, crisp martyr complex, and if you don't get flamboyant enough recognition for your efforts, you're going to give off the smoky odor of resentment. Or you burn yourself out, get emotionally labile/crumbly and become an unwitting drain on other people. I bet I could pick up some affidavits on that front if I cast back through the years. Sorry, folks!

I didn't know I was an unhealthy, compulsive giver. I thought I was just a peach, doing my thing. I wanted to give! I gave money, elaborate gifts, shoulders to cry on, sex, attention, cigarettes—whatever anybody wanted, whatever seemed valuable. And I didn't know when I was overdoing it, either, because I didn't know how to check that out. 

I had no idea how to drive this thing—this body, this bundle of life force. And honestly, I didn't care. My stance towards myself, if you can call it one, was neglect. I didn't take care of things for myself. I flunked out of college, though I was intelligent enough to have made it through. I wouldn't pay my bills on time, even though I could have, and was constantly in danger of having my electricity/water/phone service shut off. I ate only enough to justify my next cigarette. I'd put off taking out the garbage, developing a fruit fly colony that I was constantly trying to vacuum out of the air. I bottomed out when I neglected a summons to appear in court (way too long a story for today), further neglected the warrant for my arrest and spent nine hours in jail ('nother day, I promise), where I learned, to my surprise, that I was actually real. I'd neglected myself so dreadfully because I sort of thought I wasn't, and so how I treated myself didn't seem like an object of any importance. 

What, you may ask, was my damage? You can never totally pin that kind of thing down, but this post addresses some of it. (Warning for those who haven't read it: not easy material.) 

Short form: there was some emotional neglect (and worse) passed down through the generations. I was taken care of physically and financially, and given a great education (which I squandered), but beyond that there was a hole. In any case, I got that I didn't matter, and I thought a good way to matter was to figure out what people wanted and give it to them—shower them with it, even. 

But it wasn't free, nope, not with this giving tree. I wanted things back. I wanted to be loved, adored. I wanted to be a lavish, un-ignorable presence. I wanted to be a big, sparkly fountain to which everybody would flock. World-famous, super-delicious, the best source of love and happiness and comfort and pleasure going. I wanted to be addictive, you see, and impossible to abandon. 

There's a Hindu goddess, Lakshmi, who's the patron saint of all this. She's the goddess of prosperity and abundance and love and beauty—a more maternal Aphrodite, more domestic, sweeter. You see her in all the imagery sitting or standing on a lotus blossom in her rosy red sari, with gold coins showering from her hands (four to choose from, with those four arms—more to give with!), hair flowing to her waist, a lavish figure, huge doe eyes. Everything about her is lush  silky, spilling over. She doesn't just give wealth, either; she gives happiness, and if you chant her maha mantra 125,000 times, you might be granted some of her happiness-bestowing powers. I know this because I tried it, though I petered out several months before the powers were due to hit.

Once not long after college, I went on a road trip with my friends Scott, Hunt and Dan back to our campus to pay a visit to some of our friends who were still in school. This was in 1991, after the biopic of The Doors had come out, with Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison and Meg Ryan as Pamela Courson. I was obsessed with the movie, in love with the idea of the sixties, all that excess and free love and abandon—and those round, colorful granny sunglasses that Meg Ryan had were cute as fuck, so I got myself a blue pair and wore them everywhere. I kept my hair long and dyed it auburn, and dressed as hippie-chic as I could. When the guys rolled up to my house to pick me up and head out on the road, we decided to adopt nicknames for the trip based on our initials. Scott became Simon (&) Garfunkel Rock, Dan became Dr. Mealymouth Shithead, Hunt was a contrarian and chose MC Dum Boy for himself, and Dan handed me the jackpot with Truly Lavish Karma, which was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to project. If I'd have known of Lakshmi then, I would have squee'd with the Lakshmi-ness of it all.

**********

I used to divide people into two categories: brittle or lush. I preferred lush people by a wide margin. I was attracted to people who gave it all up, or appeared to. I didn't like it when people held themselves in reserve, because I never did, and I often mistook reserve for brittleness. A brittle person was any blend of the following: rigid, judgmental, cold, unaffectionate, uptight, or generally uncomfortable with feelings. I'm still not nuts about people who dip very far into that list, but I've come through experience to appreciate reserve.

**********

In August of 2012, I got sick, which I've mentioned here a couple of times before. What started out looking like a cold eventually had me bed-bound for upwards of six months. I couldn't function, couldn't take care of our kids, and suddenly Dave had to do it all. 

The first problem was air. Bronchitis turned into asthmatic bronchitis which turned into a pure, debilitating asthma, which I'd never had in my life. Let me just say: breath, man. You don't want your breath fucked with. When the asthma kicked all the way in and I was locked in bed, I'd have hours where I couldn't guide any in-breaths at all. I'd feel an episode coming on and stack three pillows right in front of me, and then I'd bend over and lie limp on my stack with my mouth hung open, pure emptiness, waiting for inhalations to visit. I didn't get upset about it; I couldn't. Feeling took breath. Not available.

At other times, I'd get what felt like a brief, electric twinge-thwack to the heart, and then a black, downward-pulling feeling would creep up from inside my guts. It felt like death was pooling down there, trying to suck me in, and I'd physically hoist myself up as far as I could to stop myself from sinking into the pool. My guess is that these were panic attacks. 

The next phase of the illness after the asthma passed was adrenal fatigue. On a good day I could sit up in bed and watch a movie, maybe have a thin-voiced conversation with Dave or the kids for a little while. On a bad day, I couldn't sit up or talk or hold a book or even a fork, but just lie on my side. Dave would come in to ask me something and I'd give a barely perceptible shake of my head to wave him off. I couldn't field questions, or movement, or anything. I read an inspirational quote on Facebook on a good day that I'd mentally clutch on a bad one, "All you need is a thin breath, a heartbeat and now," which was a fine thing because as often as not, that was the tally. 

Then my immune system went down and my lymph nodes went haywire, at which point my doctor diagnosed me with CFIDS, or Chronic Fatigue Immune Deficiency Syndrome. Hadn't enjoyed the journey thus far, flipped a little at the idea that this could rage on indefinitely, but my doc had some ideas for how we might treat it, which involved adjusting my diet and giving me one thousand supplements. 

This kicked me into the final, shittiest few weeks of my illness, where I was throwing up all day and night. I couldn't eat—if I choked down a pinky's worth of steak or three bites of refried beans  in a day with the help of medical marijuana and intensive self-coaching, that was good work—and eventually couldn't even keep liquids down, and now things were looking grave, as in possibly "the". Scary times. I was admitted to the hospital, spent a couple of weeks there while the doctors gave me IV fluids, ran tests and scratched their heads, and then my ship began to right itself. 

I got better. A year and a half later, I'm totally fine. 

But of course, naturally, I look back and ask WHAT DID THAT MEAN? How do I interpret that long, horrible dream? Because I'm not walking out of there empty-handed. I'm grabbing some meaning because you better fucking believe I am. 

Here's what I think: I went on strike. I shut down to make a point. I wasn't making a point to anyone else, either; I went on strike against myself. Me, the management, with my brute incompetence and total lack of empathy towards my worker/myself. I used to give to get love way past the point of resistance. I'd feel an energy drain in my middle, anywhere between a trickle and a firehose blowing energy out of my solar plexus, and I'd be like, oh, there's that thing again. Oh, well. Nothing to be done. Love to get. Carry on. And I finally revolted. I could either start over and get it right or I could get the fuck out of this body, and I went with the former. 

**********

When I was in my freshly post-illness, strength-gathering phase, I was delighted and amazed by how simple my needs were. I didn't need to be anything other than alive. Sitting in the sun while the breeze ruffled the grass/my hair and my kids darted in and out of my arms was fullness itself. I'd get up and let my bare feet push against the earth, and I'd try to feel the energy from the planet seeping up my legs, going wherever I wanted it to go, and it felt so good it was absurd. Absurdly Lavish Karma. 

I became fascinated by—what do I want to call it? Life force? Energy? Chi? Prana? I was mesmerized by the thing which moves us, the thing which animates us, the thing that corpses don't have. Are life and energy distinguishable? Are they different? I'm still awestruck by it, whatever it is, that force. I don't need a different god than that one. 

I think about all the energy I poured into others, and that I wanted them in turn to supply me with, and duh, I see now there's an obvious middle way, with an eliminated middleman. These days I meet my own needs first, nearly without exception, so I can give from a position of strength. And if I only have five spare energy dollars to spend, then that's that, and I'm not borrowing against myself. Five dollars is fine. I can spend that thoughtfully and with love. 

One of the funniest, best real-life gifts I ever got, in fact, was from my friend Kristen on the birthday right before I got sick. She gave me a brown paper lunch sack with nothing but a three-pack of travel tissues in it, with an orange and yellow bow (one of those stick-on bursts of ribbon curls, which looked hilariously/pitifully festive on that crumply sack) and a note she'd written on the bag in ball-point pen, pointing out that maybe these might come in handy because I cry a lot. She nailed me, with love, and it was so spot-on. It's right up there in my All Time Greatest Gifts Received pantheon, which has some doozies in it, and I bet it cost about $3.48.

(I don't cry with anything like that kind of frequency any more, by the way. I cry like a normal, not-that-weepy person, which is a sign that I've made some good adjustments.)

I give less than I used to. I give a lot less, even. But when I give, it's more often because I genuinely want to, and not so much because it's the opening gambit in some unconscious, would-be emotional trade. I'm taking the gamble that my value isn't based on what I give, that I have intrinsic value already. 

I also pay a lot more attention to how the people I interact with drive their energy ship now, and I gravitate toward the ones who seem to manage their energy well, who seem attuned to how it works. I relax and open up in their presence. They make me feel springy and refreshed.  And the converse is true, too. I have a little mule in me which digs in its heels and doesn't want to go forward if I'm in an exchange with someone whose energy seems out of balance/out of control, or somebody who's perpetually resentful, which is another sign of not-great energy management. I hold myself in a bit more reserve now. I'm not first-come, first-serve like I used to be. It's like dancing or tennis: your own game is better with a good partner, and I'm choosier about who I mingle my life-force with and how I mingle it with them after my little trip to the underworld.

**********

We have a friend visiting us from New York right now, her name is Baly, and this last Sunday we went out with some friends of hers. We had a glorious trip on Lake Union in their boat, and at the end of the outing, during the golden hour when afternoon was swinging into evening, we all visited a community pea patch in their neighborhood. It was a huge, multi-tiered garden filled with Guinness-Book-of-World-Records-sized produce all aglow in that neon amber sunset. Massive, swollen zucchini, lemon cucumbers, fat marionberries, towering NBA sunflowers, the smell of rosemary and mint and lavender and basil wafting around: it was a balls-to-the-wall pea patch Garden of Eden. Finn and Fred ran around shrieking in amazement. Hell, we all did. I fell in love with some monster chard with fuschia-red stems so dazzlingly lurid I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the whole garden. This place was stupid, nuts, bananas with life force. It was completely aspirational and not just in the vegetable sense. Whoever the stewards are, they're wizards. Ballers. They're full-on, flip-around-in-mid-air gardening Jedis. 

And I love Jedis. You know I do. You see Yoda sitting over there in my sidebar. He's not just there to look pretty. He's a reminder (and that garden is a reminder and my crumply bag of tissues is a reminder and my illness was a king hell reminder) that there's nothing cooler and more interesting and more important than learning to work the goddamn Force, and to do that, you have to know when to dish it out and when to take it.