Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
It's a web comic that I started reading less than a year ago after I spent a week or so reading it over my honey's shoulder. It has been one of the most interesting conversations for me about the nature of good and evil, the forces that walk the earth, and the transformative power of love. Plus, it features devil chicks, a talking pig, Obama, and Jesus Christ as characters. I really enjoy it.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Friday, October 23, 2009
I tend to be pretty ambivalent when it comes to the spread of democracy in the world. I mean, I think it's great to have a system of government that acknowledges the power and importance of each person (despite the fact that people, as large groups, often tend toward stupidity and fear) and allows each of us to select our leaders and have our voice be heard in how our country operates. But lately I've been feeling pretty disgruntled with the job that democracy has done its citizens in this country: I often get discouraged that this idea of our government taking care of its members means our government taking care of a certain subset of peoples. Others are ignored, enslaved or imprisoned, and exterminated. But there are other parts of the world that I think would benefit from a government a bit more focused on the people and their needs, and not the narrow margin of what a military minority needs, or what a dictatorship wants, or how small pods of people will take over a country and use it as a personal bank account.
Enter September 28, 2009. On this date, three weeks from this past Monday, 50,000 people gathered to protest a ban that had been put on a rally for democracy. Soldiers at the soccer stadium where the protest was, opened fire on protesters, killing 157 people (so far) and wounding 1200 more. But this isn't the thing I want to write about. I want to write about the fact that women in Guinea have been raped, on city streets in broad daylight by soldiers as part of this military action to crush this protest.
For the first time I heard about this story Tuesday on NPR, about women in the streets of Conakry, who were stripped, beaten, raped and sodomized by male soldiers and their weapons. You know what I mean. Soldiers were violating women in as many ways as they could think of. There was a story of a woman who was dragged to a villa, stripped and drugged and gang raped by soldiers, some of whom were masked--the whole thing is very Eyes Wide Shut, only desperately more fucked up. She managed to escape her fate because one of the male soldiers who came in on the next shift to have his way with her recognized her, and helped to get her out. (Are you fucking kidding me? What would he have done to her if they hadn't known each other?)
The reporter quoted the words of soldiers: "A woman's place is in the home. If you want political rallies, we'll show you political rallies."
How is it I just heard about this story yesterday? It's true, I don't have cable, but I also don't live under a rock; I work really hard to stay informed. Some dolt who lies about floating his six-year-old away in a balloon makes national headlines, but this manages to skate by me for three weeks.
One in four women in this country is the victim of rape. That's in the quiet of homes and the shadow of empty garages and poorly lit jogging paths, all under some guise or other, that of family, or of marriage, or of breaking and entering, or that never-watching-but-seeing-all eye of night. But on this day, women who'd gone to a soccer stadium to express their desire for a government with the people in mind were taught not only that their country doesn't care for them, it doesn't care about them. They were taught that women should have no voice in expressing their desires for fairness and justice. They were raped in broad daylight, as the odd adage goes, in public.
Imagine that for a moment. Imagine walking down the street, down Addison, in front of Wrigley Field, or down State Street in front of the Harold Washington Library, and imagine a man in a green uniform stops you and holds a gun to your head while his buddy pulls out a knife longer than your hand. He cuts the waistband of your new jeans, the ones that make your ass look so good, without taking care to avoid cutting your skin, and he shreds the legs so that soon you are standing only in your panties. He rips open your oxford shirt and from far away you can hear the buttons skitter on the dirty sidewalk. He slices off your bra, leaving your breasts exposed to the autumn air, and it's cold and you wish your nipples weren't hard, but it's cold and you're scared and he laughs and licks his lips and whispers something with fetid breath in your face about how intelligent sluts like you study too hard and need to lighten up more. He's going to show you what the government can really do for its citizens. With one swipe of a lion-like paw your underwear is in his hand. He doesn't even have the decency to pull you into an alley or doorway, he just rapes you right there on the sidewalk: there's a cigarette butt smoldering less than a foot from your face, you can smell the smoke, and you can hear the el is still coming and going, and all you can think of is the blinding pain you're in and it's wet between your legs, is that blood, and all you wanted to do that day was go to work. Or to school.
Streets of Chicago may not have much in common with the streets of Conakry. I don't know what kind of a country Guinea is. I don't know if anything like this would ever happen in this country: I tend to believe we're not that far off. A few months ago I found out about a documentary called Dream Worlds 3--incredibly disturbing--about sex and power in the music industry that displays how horribly women are treated and objectified in this country, and not just by movie stars, but by anonymous assholes who think its cool to spray women with Colt 45. It's not enough for me to shrug my shoulders at the Evil stalking the surface of the earth and sigh about the fallen state of the world. I can't fly to Guinea and prosecute anyone, I can't even vote on a sanction or condemnation or whatever bureaucratic slap on the wrist the UN has come down with . But it can't be okay that women are treated like this in any part of the world. There must be something to do.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
- "dressed down" to go to the symphony: ie. jeans and flats.
- took a spin class.
- liked the spin class.
- talked to a perfect stranger about his sexual health and my own, for the purpose of advising his future decisions.
- allowed a man to put a big honkin' diamond on my finger. And LOVED it.
- shopped with any degree of regularity at Whole Foods Market.
- lived with a man before I was married to him.
- bought tight jeans because they were tight, instead of jeans that were more comfortable.
- joined a club--in the membership, dues-y sense of the word.
- seen an acupuncturist on a regular basis.
- been the type of person who would consider attending benefits and writing checks over volunteering with my time and talents.
- been the type of woman who would request that her partner "wear the sexy thing to bed I like."
- been the type of person seduced into moving into an apartment by the stainless steel appliances.
- been the type of woman who loves to wear high heels.
- considered having a kid not to be the worst fucking thing in the world to happen to me.
The thing I'm learning about myself is that I make a lot. A LOT. of snap judgements, and almost every time they blow up in my face. This list just forces me to confront that I'm not the woman I swore I'd be when I was 17, or 21, or even 26. It would seem to me that a lot of the things I am/do have made me less conservative than I used to be, but not all of them. Some of them perhaps are things to be ashamed of: despite the fact that there are some things I just have to buy at Whole Paycheck to stay healthy, I'm still not so keen on spending money there; I miss volunteer work: a good fundraiser is fascinating, fun, and frankly good material, but I miss the pitching in--although nothing is standing in my way but me. And I never thought I'd even consider having children. I suppose the good thing, and one of the most interesting, about life is that it changes you. It allows you to forgive yourself for being too tired to put on another pair of binding tights to go hear Diane Reeves tear it UP at the Symphony Center; it allows you to delight in the choice to build a home with your partner without feeling the pressure of having to commit to something you aren't yet ready to. It allows you to find the different ways to speak to God, to hear His voice and commune without using words that are threatening or challenging or discouraging. Allowing your life choices to surprise you every now and then is freeing, and kind of difficult, but it continues to be worth the thing I learn about myself.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Please, don't believe me. Go listen, and discover for yourself.
This isn't a post about me shaking my fist at the white man for being white and privileged, which I sometimes do here. This isn't about my righteous anger. This is about a disease that is killing women like me in the city where I live.
I don't have a lot of experience with breast cancer. The first women I ever knew who found a lump was in my fifth grade class. She was black, her name was Kari, and she told all of us girls about it though not without her fair share of discomfort about it. It was just a cyst, if I remember, not a tumor, and the body cysts all the time, right? But I was in fifth grade: do you remember fifth grade? Being old enough to wear shorts under your skirt so that when you climbed the jungle gym you could hang upside down without unwittingly showing off your underwear, and your teacher reading A Wrinkle in Time, one chapter a day, and hanging on her every word, and eating tuna salad sandwiches that your dad packed for lunch that got soggy because they'd been smashed up against a bag full of browning apples and a juicebox. Science experiments and spelling quizzes and picture day and band class; all of this ease and satisfaction and entitlement of late elementary school life grossly interrupted by the appearance of something growing in the as-yet-not-fully-developed breast of an 11-year-old girl. I didn't know much, but I knew that things weren't supposed to grow in your breast.
In college I did a lot of volunteer work for to raise money for breast cancer research, but it never really knocked through the bubble that I'd built around myself. It was a noble and necessary good work I could do, but nothing with any significance for me.
Then, last year, my grandmother found a lump.
I was pretty surprised--duh--but I mean, indignantly surprised. Like, how dare this happen in my family? I mean, sure there are a number of health risks that plague black women: heart attacks kill more women than men (or at least used to) because we ignore the signs, thinking something else is wrong with us like indigestion or heartburn, or we don't care enough for ourselves because we're caring for everyone else. Heart disease had claimed family members, hypertension ran in my bloodlines too, even diabetes, yes, okay, but wait, breast cancer? We don't get breast cancer in my family. That's a white woman's disease.
All kinds of blind spots I had about this fact, this fact that had grown in my grandmother's breast, been cut out once before, and had grown back again.
God, was I freaked. It was all I could write about for a while, tethered to my arm like a soggy red balloon, following me into my work, into my art, into the doctor's office with me. It changed the way I filled out paperwork. It changed the way I gave myself a monthly breast exam. It changed the way I thought about my mother's body, my own body.
Cancer is one of the great mysteries of the medical world, right? We have ideas about exposure to chemicals that cause chemicals, and ideas about what fruits and veggies to eat that can lower our risk, but really. We're dealing with the creepiest kind of guerrilla biological warfare inside the body, right? One day a mammary tissue cell or a pancreas tissue cell decides it wants to be something different, and convinces a few friends to make the same change, and then they tell two friends, and so on and so on, and then it's about what your body is doing to itself.
I started writing here in part to talk about my own tumors, fibroid and non cancerous, living in my uterus. Sometimes I hate that they're there, all silent and bulky and not good for much, just taking up space and getting in my way. They make me feel heavy and unhealthy and they make me want to shout at my own viscera for choosing not to do what it should do. But they're nothing compared to the struggle that women go through with cancer that destroys their bodies with an insatiable appetite, warring on the healthy parts of themselves. To learn that the racial and socio-economic segregation that still grips Chicago not only guarantees substandard housing and severely limited access to quality food at an affordable price, but now also means that black women who contract breast cancer are twice as likely to die from it as white women here, it moves me to a deeply sad silence.
(as evidenced here by all these words.)
I'm not a sociologist, or a geo-pathologist or anything even remotely close. But I do think WBEZ's reporting on this matter is thorough. I am a black woman who has been touched by cancer. It hurts me, and frankly, it scares me, to know that in my hometown there's a disease gunning for me and mine. And it's winning.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Helen (if I might call her this ) was one evening abandoned by the other office girls who'd gone to one of many ubiquitous bridal showers, to which Helen had, ahem, not been invited, and, in a fit of revenge, Helen wrote an essay for a Glamour magazine contest that won her a trip to Hawaii. When she returned, she did so with a tan and a new attitude. She worked her way around the office girls who'd scorned her and past some of the men she'd worked for, until she was more highly paid than many of the men in her firm.
What an awesome story, I'm thinking as I read this essay. This has all the makings of the kind of stories we love to hear: humble beginnings, starting at nothing, overcoming adversity of poverty, loss of parent, physical disfigurement, and alienation by coworkers, to become a wildly successful copywriter and to marry a Hollywood producer divorce eight years her senior, a man more interested in companionship and stability, and not so much raucous sex escapades. This woman is getting what she wants, doing it her way, and she's not suffocating underneath a feckless husband and insatiable babies! Jackpot!
Until I read that Helen crafts her book, Sex and the Single Girl, for Marian the Librarian and Miss Moneypenny, as a How-to manual for stealing husbands. She says, "I'm afraid I have a cavalier attitude about wives." Her book seems to be a crystal clear guide to changing your life so that you can catch a man, and what better place to shop than at the office, where the career fellas are already attached but looking for something new?
(Inicdentally, this is where John Edwards begins to show his face, married to what many consider to be an amazing woman, heads and shoulders smarter than himself, who's also conquered many trials, including cancer and the loss of their 15-year-old son. Rielle Hunter is not far behind, painted in the article as an avid follower of Helen Gurley Brown's advice, with the small but fatal mistake of hoping that when you land the married man that you fall in love with him and hope that he will leave his life behind and start a new one with you. Helen warns that for all the painting and changing and trapping you do, that this expectation should never be kept. The wife will always, win, she said, if "she's loving and smart." It's a really provocative article.)
Yes, it's true. I'm sensitive to something like this. I'm about to marry a man and standing on the precipice of a lifetime commitment to another human being in a country where getting a divorce is as common as a getting a latte, well, it makes me a little jumpy. Sure. But I found myself pretty down in the mouth about the idea of empowering women who were heretofore wallflowers and by teaching them how to engage in extra-marital affairs.
This is such a loaded issue. For one thing it presupposes that men are nothing more than brainless bots, ruled only by their hormones and few fleeting emotions, and that they're just looking for the best lay. We women are cunning and insensitive Dionysian she-warriors, who are competing for our favorite man-toy to satisfy us in whatever way we choose, and men are just pretty, entertaining, but ultimately disposable. But that ain't right; that ain't the world we live in. The world we live in is full of flawed, frail men and women who often get confused and make bad choices, who are frightened of what could go well, or what could go really wrong, and who act out because they can't communicate their needs.
So why, in a world where relationships are complicated, where eight out of ten couples is either unhappily married or divorced, where successful monogamy is an endangered species, why would we want to divide each other by being the thing that comes between two committed people?
I don't know. I suppose there's some subset of the straight male world (and perhaps of the gay male world too, although I lack the experience to talk about it) that behaves as if love is a battlefield. Men are absolutely competitive, attempting to lure and impress women from everything from their sexy cars to their knowledge of literature or politics to their ability to perform acts of kindness: whatever they think will get them the score. So I guess it should be just as cutthroat for the straight ladies as Pat Benatar says it is. If men must compete over who is taller, smarter, more sensitive or a better partner and provider, why shouldn't women compete over who is taller, smarter, more sensitive or a better partner and provider? I tend to think the answer is because on a bad day women are capable of the most hateful, bitchy, unkind, judgemental and damaging behavior possible. We women are so kind to each other, and we have practiced our tools of competition and unkindness for a long time. We compete over our looks and cloak this competition in an arty label like "the fashion industry." We compete over who is more authentic in her own sense of beauty based on what she does with her hair, or who is a better partner based on her earning potential, or for crying out loud, how wide her hips are. We compete all the bloody time, and not to our benefit. So it disappoints me to know about Helen Gurley Brown's inception of such a cavalier attitude about commitment and such a willingness to battle over "someone else's man."
I don't like thinking about what makes marriages dissolve, what causes them to fail; I prefer to think about what happens in my own relationship that causes success or struggle. This means I don't feel too threatened by the idea of some spectacled, scotch-drinking, Salman-Rushdie-loving, leggy blond sweeping in and stealing my husband (to-be); I work really hard on my relationship and how to make sure that his needs are met and that we're hearing each other. I just wish that women everywhere thought enough of themselves not to pick at someone else's relationship. Each of us is worth having a love that is ours, just ours, delightedly and fully and for as long as we can take it ours, instead of consoling ourselves by playing fast and loose with someone's borrowed honey. For fuck's sake we're women: we're better than that.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
He came into the bedroom where I was putting on finishing touches. My locks are in that fantastic albeit frustrating stage where they make a great sized but irregular bun, and in a fit of going for the shape of the bun, I tied them all up in a black scarf at the nape of my neck. He came in and a torrent of words fell out of me, about how I wasn't sure that this was the right shirt to wear and wearing it meant I had to wear a sweater and I didn't want to wear a sweater because the shirt was so cute but if I didn't I knew I'd be cold and that my hair wasn't cooperating and I couldn't really see it despite holding a hand mirror in front of the bathroom mirror and what do you think how does it look?
He looked at me, hands in his pockets, eyes smiling behind his spectacles, and said, "I think I'm glad I'm marrying you."
It's nice to have a man in my life who, completely spontaneously, can speak his heart, and make all of my tiny irritations not matter as much anymore.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
The second is for all of you Mamet fans out there.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
"He threw a stick of cocoa butter at the wall." (I've never heard of cocoa butter coming in sticks, but I'm willing to concede that my eavesdropping skills need improvement.) "When I asked him what was wrong with him he told me he was just mad because he'd had an hour and a half commute home from work." She laughed uneasily and adjusted her purse strap on her shoulder.
"He isn't mean, he just throws things," she said.
Wasn't there some part of her, some little teeny voice that screamed at the top of its little teeny lungs, "hey! Maybe this guy is kind of dangerous and unsafe if he gets so angry that he throws things! This is a bad idea!"?
Guess not. It might be more common than I know that women soothe and silence that part of themselves by saying, it's okay, honey. Instead of throwing that quart of ice cream at the wall, he could be throwing you at the wall, and he's not, so just stay quiet, stay under the radar, and thank your lucky stars that he's not mean, he just throws things.
I don't have much else to say about this. I'm just so disappointed. There are some things that I think with the world shrinking and Americans becoming better informed, that should just fade away as a behavior of antiquity, and domestic abuse is one of them. I thought we women were too smart to continue to allow ourselves to wind up in these situations. But I'm wrong. And I'm sad about it.
Monday, October 12, 2009
The question on the table was what’s the smoothest, least awkward way to talk to your partner about their sexual history, and specifically about being tested for stds. I was pulled into the conversation because the only other members of it had been monogamous—married in fact—for over ten years. I was proud to tell him that when my sweetheart and I had talked about sex we’d done so candidly and thoughtfully; it hadn’t really been so much about smooth or cool, but it had been about honesty and safety and clarity. The last time I’d gotten tested was before we began having sex, we’d both gotten tested for a battery of tests, and we’ve worked together to make sure our sex life is as healthy as possible in as many ways as possible. It felt really good to be talking candidly with someone I barely knew about what a condom protects you from, what a birth control pill does to a woman’s chemicals, how I’d handled the complicated nature of being a woman with a past in a relationship with a man with a past. I felt educated and empowered and wise. I felt grounded in some solid, beautiful healthy energy of the Earth Mother Goddess.
But I’ve been thinking back and I realize it wasn’t always that way.
By and large the sex education I had was "Don't have sex until you're married." I don't necessarily mean I didn't know what sex was--I consider that intercourse, but I had all of the mechanics down, no sweat. But sex. What it is to get naked and sloppy with another person, and to feel all this weird, confusing amazing stuff in your body, or to feel nothing at all in your body, or to feel violated and frustrated and frightened, or more intimately connected than you've ever been to another human being. Nobody talked to me at all about the possibility of this inside of sex. My parents both preached abstinence as the ultimate method of birth control. My mother talked plenty about condoms, so I knew what one was and how to use one, in case I decided I didn't want to wait; but the idea of not waiting as an option wasn't ever discussed. My own sexuality was something my parents had caused me to fear, like there was some kind of growling, out-of-control hellcat swimming in the viscera between my legs, and the only way to staunch it was by starvation, at least until I'd been saddled or blessed, whichever way the wheel turned, with a husband. I think back to my parents and how we talked about my sex life and I imagine them chanting, "Don't have sex until you're married. Don't have sex until you're married. Don't have sex until you're married," much in the manner of Bart and Lisa Simpson. (P.S. the clip is really long and not great quality, and I never, ever thought I'd be referencing the Simpsons in this blog, but dig it to see what I mean.)
So learning about the physical how of sex was done, but learning the why of sex never happened. Abstinence was labeled with the blanket instruction of sex before marriage being the will of God, but why that was never became clear either. And so, the year I turned seventeen, I met a boy with beautiful brown eyes who didn't listen to me. He asked me, and I spent a year thinking up creative ways to say No, over and over and over again. Until one day, I got tired of saying no, so I looked at him, shrugged, and sighed, "alright, fine."
He didn't mess me up too badly, but there was definitely a good bit of healing to be done afterward. But the reason I bring him up isn't because he was a bad listener, and might have coerced me into losing my virginity; I don't feel he did, after all, I'm the one who said yes, despite the fact that the only reason I said yes was because I was weary of saying no. I don't bring him up because he was my first, because it was some magical moment, or because it was horrifying and traumatizing.
I bring it up because my sexual relationship with this boy was unhealthy. I believed him when he said he was a virgin, and while I still think he was telling me the truth, I can now accept how crushingly naive I was to accept his word without any physiological evidence thereof. I let him touch me without any protection; I was the girl who put herself at all kinds of risk because her lover didn't like to wear a condom. At the time I was taking the pill to balance out several other hormonal imbalances, and I let myself become the woman who would dose herself with her own birth control so that she could avoid her period, thereby being able to have sex with her boyfriend more often. I didn't realize until I was out of that relationship that the sex in that relationship hadn't been about how he and I could build and nurture intimacy, how we could play together and find delight in each other, how we might express our need for closeness, or healing, or vulnerability or protection through the union of our bodies. Instead it had been about how often he could get off, and how much he could inflate his own ego by how much he could make me get off (unfortunately for both of us, precious less often than I allowed him to believe).
In each subsequent relationship, whether sexual in some nature or not, I grew more and more aware of my own sexuality, more in touch with what I wanted emotionally as well as physically from a partner, and more in control of my own physical and sexual health. This journey was not without some hiccups and snags, of course, but by the time I met my partner, all the subtlety and double-speak, all the embarrassment and shyness, all the (yes, I'll say it) guilt and shame was gone from my own sex life. I had absolutely no problem asking him about his sexual history, talking with him about mine, and discussing what each of us would need within our relationship to feel safe, emotionally and sexually. That doesn't mean that I'm always so great at hearing him talk about past relationships or past conquests, or his porn stash. But it means I can ask him how many partners he's had, and tell him how many I've had, and it means we can talk about those experiences we've had that have been damaging, and those we've had that have been healing.
More important than the fact that I'm in a relationship with a wonderful man who doesn't make me feel guilty for wanting us to get tested, or ashamed of wanting to have sex a certain way, I feel empowered enough to know about my own body. I feel like my health is important enough to me to know the difference between equine and bio-identical hormones, and how to use a speculum to look at my own cervix, and how to use the Fertility Awareness method. I know not to allow any partner to ask me to put myself at risk for his own gain or pleasure; I know that my partner feels safe and enjoys sex when I feel safe and enjoy sex, and I know how to talk about sex without worrying about how lame or awkward or embarrassing I might seem.
So now I can talk to people I don't know very well, hopefully without making them too uncomfortable, but also without pulling any punches. I can tell this young man the truth about sex, insofar as he asks me, because his life is at stake, his physical as well as emotional health. What he chooses to do is going to affect him as well as his partner, and any subsequent partner either of them has. He deserves a woman who will talk with him about the squelchy stuff at the risk of being awkward, and every woman deserves a partner who will tell the truth, and protect both of them all kinds of illness.
(It's true, he didn't ask me about the why of sex, just the how. One thing at a time, you know?)
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
It was odd to watch her take photos of this black woman on the bus. I found myself wondering, is there something, anything, untoward, objectifying in this? I don't know anything about fashion, and if you know me, you know this about me. So maybe it's totally legitimate to take pictures of strangers on public transportation. I recently discovered this fashion blog, some famous guy, who shoots pictures of strangers on the streets of Manhattan wearing things I could never pull off and looking very cool. So maybe there's something to this idea of just pointing your digital Fuji at strangers, asking from behind the viewfinder and then snapping away.
But the whole thing was odd. Three retirees chatting about Chicago, and how several of them don't live here anymore, and then this woman pulls out a camera and takes a picture of one. I don't really know what I think about it, it's hard to say. I don't know what the subject was thinking, but as this woman snapped several photos, the black woman turned to to a stranger she'd been chatting with, another black woman of a similar age and station in life, and they exchanged a look.
Can you belive this white lady? the first look said.
I know, honey, you know how they are, the second look said.
This is the weirdest thing that's ever happened to me on a bus.
Don't worry, she won't hurt you, just let her have her little fun.
The woman being photographed looked at me, and my eyes said, I know, auntie, I know.
After the fashonista had satisfied herself, she turned to me, and promptly asked if she could take a shot of my hands. I was wearing a beloved pair of fingerless gloves, knitted purple and decorated with purple fringe (thank you, Painter), and she thought they were "absolutely adorable." So I let her photograph my hands.
I hid one finger under the hand of the other, because it had a big ugly band-aid on it.
I felt a little bit objectified, but I've looked at her blog, and neither my hands, nor the leopard scarf have appeared. So maybe I'm just objectified in my own head, but not enough to be put on someone else's blog. It is however, a good deal more fashionable than my own blog, and maybe I could stand to learn a few things from the photos she snaps of people on the street. Oh, for a personal style not dictated by cheap clothes and midwestern weather...