Sunday, November 1, 2009

heavy, heavy. you get so heavy on me.

(that song from Showgirls has been rattling around my head all day.)

I'm not sure if I've ever been happier to see the back of October before in my life.

For the last several weeks I've been struggling with a number of things. The first is the ceonsor inside me. There are things I want to write about here, things I want to say about my feelings, about my responses to things, about my opinions, and I'm finding that my self-censor is really kicking in. At this point, I'm not sure how many people who used to read this blog is still reading it, but there's something in me that's feeling "I can't say that online", or "what if that posting follows me into my future?" This morning I read a great post about insecurity that felt like wine in a mouth too used to water. But writing here lately has just been the umpteenth thing that has made me feel part-brittle glass candy window, part-exposed nerve. So I've been hesitating with how transparent I should be about my own process.

But that's not what I believe in, and I know it. I believe in the artist's responsibility and the discovery possible when making one's self vulnerable and all that shit, and so I'm going to ignore the censor inside me, and just be myself. The internet is a strange and complicated place, but the work I'm doing is right now meeting a need of one kind, and hopefully will meet a host of others in the near future.

So I'm plenty accustomed to running up against other people's expectations. Being a Christian means I am exclusive, pro-life and anti-gay, I patently deny the reliable and breathtaking perfection of evolution and I believe the world was created in six 24-hour days; being a woman means I want to have kids, and if there's any other ambition I have with my own life, it's because I'm denying some inherent part of my womanhood; being black means I come from a broken home, I'm lazy, and I can't utter a grammatically correct sentence. Yeah, whatever big deal. It's true that when people come up against the stereotypical mold-breaker that I am, instead of considering their mold, they ask me what's up with me, but I'm over that too. It's just happened so often that I'm by and large tired of considering it. When I stop to think about it, sure, it still frustrates me, but hey, it's a part of life.

But now not only do I consciously or otherwise grapple with the baggage that goes with these labels, I have a whole new set of crap to deal with for being a Bride.

Gag.

Recently I've been having a really hard time about the place where these pieces of myself that I love intersect with these pieces of myself that the world thinks I must be. I've been knocking into other people's perceptions of what I am and should be by being all parts of myself, including this new part, this intended woman. If I'm a woman getting married, it must mean I'm doing it the old fashioned way, and that I'm planning the whole kit and caboodle--my honey just shows up at the finish line in a tux, right? The ring that I wear that commemorates the promise we'll soon make to each other, that's something that I demanded from him, that I picked myself, and without it I wouldn't have committed my life to his because I don't Take that Walk for less than two carats. Choosing to swallow my maiden (wow) name and use his after we marry means that I am a participant (witting or otherwise) in a narrow-minded, patriarchal system designed to reinforce my nature as chattel property in the world.

These are just a handful of the missiles that I feel like have been zinging right at me, heat-seekers that are just great at finding my weak spots and needling right into them and causing me pain. Friends, family and strangers mean well and are very encouraging, and after it all I walk away feeling kind of knocked around. On a good day I can remember my holy middle, the center of who I am and what I want to be, and take some of these words with less impact than others. But I began all this by saying that October, not so much full of good days.

It gets harder when that stuff that makes you feel like who you are is at odds with who the world wants you to be pops up in your own relationship. My Honey has never intentionally made me feel like there was someone or something he wanted me to be, but lately our positions in our relationship have become roles: based on current confluence of events, we're both struggling with concepts of who's responsible for taking care of our home, and what that actually means, financially, emotionally, physically. Often we can completely blow off traditional roles, and just do the things we need to do to make our lives work, but sometimes we find ourselves neatly squaring off in traditional roles and that makes things really complicated. I'm out of the house working all the time (how I long for the days when taking three hours to write the thing I wanted to was my work for the day; these days just posting here is a luxury I can seldom afford) which makes me feel quite career-oriented, and yet I'm making crap money for all the working I'm doing, especially compared to him. So I'm not really a breadwinner, but I play one on TV. On top of which, there's nothing like building a life together to show two people what they prioritize differently and how they make financial choices. Oh yeah, and then there's the giant-ass commitment they're in the process of making, huge emotionally, relationally, and despite our best efforts, financially. It's getting to be more than I can bear, all these arrows.

This weekend we talked about how we came to establish our ideas of gender and race. I asked him about what kind of employment and financial behavior he saw modeled in his family, and talked about the idea of the man as the primary income generator, a concept which feels like a huge wall I'm trying to scale, down which I am continually sliding. He told me a story of his parents living in grad school housing at a Big Ten college while his father completed his Ph.D., and all the times his dad had been out of work, the one to make them lunch or do laundry or make beds, while his mom worked as a surgical nurse his whole upbringing. My response to him was that despite the cultural or familial egalitarianism he grew up in, that he still bears all the privileges of being a man, and perhaps operates in the paradigm gender roles have set up without knowing it. Male privilege is as imperceptible to men as white privilege is to white people, I said; they spend time swimming in the very thing that keeps them alive without even knowing it.

I suppose his upbringing goes a long way toward denying or ignoring the gender roles I'm chafing against right now, but I've still been having a hard time with the idea that because he out-earns me that he's the one in our relationship who's thoughtful and careful about how we invest, and I'm the one who buys eight pairs of shoes and squeals "Charge it!" in delight once a week. I feel like being the woman in our relationship, underemployed and underpaid makes me the girl who makes thoughtless and careless decisions about our money. He doesn't feel this way. I know it because he says so. But something about the way we're interacting is making me feel like these roles are being laminated into our lives. I know that most of that is coming from my internal struggle; I don't know how to rid myself of it, and I don't know how to cope with what I'm feeling.
There aren't too many people in my life who actively make me feel like who I am is unacceptable; the ones who do are mighty powerful, but I'm blessed to, by and large, be surrounded by folks who like me as I am. But lately all of these intersections of vectors--woman and bride and black woman and wife and writer and lover and partner and indie bride and traditional bride and labels labels labels--they're all just so oppressive right now. I feel really burdened.

I remember the first time I learned that I could decide what I wanted my marriage to be, I felt liberated in a way I'd never known before. The church didn't have to tell me whether or not I could keep my job or give away my last name, my family didn't have input on what my husband did for a living or how he loved me, my friends didn't have to tell me that how we choose to have sex is great or abhorrent, or the world couldn't make me believe that my expression of wife, lover and partner was anything less than perfect because it was what I wanted it to be. But this realization is fleeting. It evaporates. Today it feels so thin that my attempt to wrap myself in it is less like a cozy blanket and more like a layer of Saran wrap. This is a new level of vulnerability for me, and right now I'm feeling pretty wrecked.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Still reading (and loving) your blog....