Tuesday, February 23, 2010

best birth control in the world

Lately I've been ping-ponging. Some days I feel like a smart, steady, engaged and engaging woman who knows what she wants, who is completely unafraid of her own life and its trajectory, who is able to be a good partner to a good man. Other days my brain is replaced by the gelatinous, conservative terror that two artists co-habitating and making a go of this thing called life is utterly ridiculous, and at least one of us has to get a job she loathes so the other can make art, because if we don't do life the way the old generation modeled it for us then we'll never be able to do things like have kids, but maybe we don't want to have kids, but it'd be nice to be able to if we want to and with the economy looking as shitty as it does what kind of bright idea is it being a writer in the first place, oh god my parents were right, I'm a total failure.

sigh. crazy, right?

But I've been kind of living there, in Crazyville. My honey and I netflixed (oh, the nouns you can turn into verbs) the first dvd of the first season of Mad Men, and have been watching it, and at the end of every episode I'm seized with a fear that one or both of us is going to make a series of choices that we think will manifest the other's happiness, and that we'll blink and wind up ten years deep in a life we hate, being a person we hate who's married to a person we hate. Thankfully, he's not frightened of this, and able to talk me down from this place. (I can't imagine what I'd feel if we checked out Revolutionary Road; I'm crazy about that time period for all its repressed and tidy beauty, but that shit is just kinda bad for me right now.) But this kind of fear can feel really binding, in terms of what kinds of choices we make now, and how those choices will affect our future. Child rearing isn't something we spend a lot of time talking about these days, but I'm spending more time than I expected thinking about how what I do now will or won't enable me to have theoretical kids in the future.

This weekend, I spent the day in charge of a six year old girl of whom I am ridiculously fond, known as the Only Child. I picked her up at a friend's house and took her to my place where she reunited with my honey. (Incidentally, as soon as she saw me she asked where he was: she wanted her friends, Johnny and Steven, to meet him. Almost as crazy about him as I am.) We did some arts and crafts and watched A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving--the only kid friendly stuff I have in the house are books, and she read all of them in the car--and then bought her some lunch and took her to a swim class, then home for the remainder of the afternoon.

I have written about my ambivalence about being a child care provider here and here, and I recently crossed it off my list of ways to earn money. But her mother came to me and asked "if I needed to make extra bucks for the wedding" and shit yes, do I, so I took the job, despite it's deplorably bad timing.

I learned something that I never knew about having kids around: when she was there, my honey and I spoke pretty much to her only, and snatched teeny bits of conversation around her. It was like we spent the whole night orbiting her, and would high five or say hello only as we passed each other by. At the end of the night I returned home tired, irritated, and feeling like I hadn't seen my fiance all day, and missing him for his absence. I was surprised by how little I felt like I could be myself, who I am with him, with a kid around too.

"Oh, that's just 'cause it's someone else's kid," he said confidently, "it'll be different with ours."

I'm not so sure. I can say right now that while I'm fencing with the identity question of what it means to be a wife, I haven't at all begun to battle what it means to be a mom, and society wins that fight right now. That child, as much as I love her, made me certain that I can stop, like full-stop STOP, worrying about when and how to have kids and what we'll need to do it. After one day with her I was reminded that one of the biggest reason not to, is because I don't want to share my honey with a child.

Yeah. Okay so looking at that in print, it sounds like a sick reason not to become a mother. But there it is. That's who I am today, and denying it won't change it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

girls girls girls.

dislcaimer: there are some days when I consider the recent trajectory of my career as an artist and I marvel at the amount of my personal life I choose to expose. I believe deeply in taking some of what is happening inside and making it happen outside for others to see. I suppose I wouldn't be writing here otherwise. But sometimes I wonder about the why: is exposure of my personal life some freakish titillation and need for attention, or am I ever really creating anything worth looking at?

This morning I was going to sit here and empty my brain before taking another crack at the writing that looms above me. I was going to write about craft and language and the power of words and names. But I'm not. Today, I think I have to write about porn.

I recently finished a book called The Book of Vice, by Peter Sagal, host of NPR's Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me. It's an incredibly funny, informative and thought-provoking book, and the last chapter, which was about porn, really made me get quiet, and a bit morose. It put me in an argument that I've had with myself and with others many times before. After which, I turned to my friend Rachel's blog and saw this post, which featured a woman named Cindy Gallop and a website called makelovenotporn.com. There is perhaps a less poetic way to say how I am feeling, a way that sounds less like a lyric from a contemporary Christian worship song, but I feel like the waters of my soul have been stirred. Usually that describes something great and mysterious, eh, some unnameable connection with the Divine. But today I feel my Holy Middle aching.

I don't tend to think of myself as conservative. But I don't watch porn. I don't want to watch porn. I don't like porn, and I wish porn wasn't as mainstreamed and normalized as it is today. I am generally fiercely vocal about this issue, but right now, today, I can't feel self-righteous about it. I don't feel like shouting and getting irate and worked up. I don't feel like I have right or might on my side to make a compelling argument for why porn isn't just boys being boys, or good clean (and dirty) fun, a victimless crime, or everyone does it so what's the big deal. Right now, today, I feel grieved and a bit wounded. I feel like the arguments made po-porn are of no consequence to me, and it just makes me feel bad and I wish, not that I was desensitized, but that it was less prevalent.

I remember when I was a girl, I found a porn rag on the playground at the KinderKare right next to the apartment complex I lived in. I remember looking through it and seeing things that I didn't understand. I knew they were for sexual pleasure, but I didn't know why they were particularly pleasurable. They seemed utterly, wholly and entirely unrealistic. Who would be able to bend herself into a position like that, to get her legs to stay that way and make her breasts do that? Why would she let someone stick that in her? Why would any woman wear something like that, it looks so uncomfortable? And why would she do it in a barn of all places? I felt horrified at my discovery, indicted by my possession of said discovery, and ashamed. I don't know why I felt ashamed; maybe because I knew enough about sex to know that what I was looking at was vaguely sex-ish (because it could hardly be called sexy) and that kind of thing was for adults and not kids. I don't know. I remember, before the gaggle of girls I was friends with came over to where I was, on a jungle gym platform at the mouth of a covered slide, I folded the magazine into quarters and shoved it into my shirt. One of them could see the magazine protruding from my chest, and made some joke about how my boob was laying on the side. I remember the cackle of her laughter and her red tongue in her open mouth. I shrugged her off and found a teacher and gave her this magazine and told her where I'd found it. Later, my mom picked me up and took me home, and the teacher told her I'd found the magazine. I remember little about talking with her about it, but I know she told my dad. He came into my room, and I asked him, "why do people look at that kind of thing?" My young-girl brain thought it was the kind of thing I was supposed to say; on some level I knew the reason why people looked at those kinds of things. It was the same reason that I'd folded up the magazine and given it to an adult. But what I didn't know was the why underneath that; nobody ever really lives that life. Real people don't look like that. So why would somebody look at that kind of thing?

I remember being woken up by my father once while I was in high school. This wasn't an unusual thing: my dad was an early riser, he often drove me to school, it was his job to wake me and get my started on my zombie walk so I could actually get going. But one night, at I don't even know what time, I woke up, and there he was sitting on the edge of my bed. The hall light was one and back lit him, so all I could see was the silhouette of his shoulders and head, the light catching the pens and id in his pocket, the face of his watch. On the edge of my bed, in the dawn of morning, my father apologized to me about having looked at porn on the Internet. He used few words, and whether because he couldn't look me in the eye, or because it was so dark and I was still half asleep, I never saw his face, just heard the breathy struggle of his words trying to say sorry for having done this thing. I'm not sure what made him apologize to me, and I still don't know. Maybe he did it under his own steam, was struck thinking that the girl moaning lasciviously while sucking the anonymous cock on screen looked about the same age as his only daughter, and even had her high cheekbones to boot. Maybe his wife, my mother, walked in on him and out of feeling insecure and rejected, berated him, striking a crippling blow at his (presumably fragile, knowing my father) sexuality, and demanded that he apologize to every woman in his household for enjoying the degradation of women so thoroughly. I don't know what drove him to my room while I was sleeping. I know that the literal and metaphoric shadow of my father seemed frightened and vulnerable, two ways I'd never seen my dad, and I put my arms around his neck and told him it was okay, and the next morning, I woke up, not sure if what had happened was really real.

Now, this dialogue bears the potential to veer into a number of different directions: what a poor job my parents must have done talking with me about sex if I can't possess my own sexuality enough and get so thoroughly creeped out by a skin mag; the problem of Christian men and pornography rooted in the puritanical nature of the modern American church; the nature of fantasy in relationship, and when healthy sexual fantasy becomes mental and emotional infidelity. But I don't think I'm trying to go down any of those roads. I don't really know if I'm asking a question with any of this; instead I might just be trying to find my way into what trips me up about it so.

I've never been keen on looking at porn as an adult, with my partner or by myself. Maybe that's okay with the porn industry. The porn industry is likely thinking only, "where's your wallet, and how can we get into it?" and not, "how can we use this medium we've created, albeit with flimsy story and mediocre production value, to help facilitate a healthy sense of sexuality for you and a fulfilling sexual experience for you and your partner?" One of the porn stars in Peter Sagal's book counters that porn is all about fantasy, and only about fantasy, that nothing in porn is real and if you can't see that then you're dumber than a box of hair. However, Cindy Gallop counters this argument rather effectively, asserting that failed policies like teenage abstinence ed, together with parental reluctance to teach kids about sex, and the oversaturation of hardcore in America means that people are learning about sex from the porn industry. In which case, why are we teaching people that this fantasy they've learned is the reality they should pursue? Sex isn't like what you see in the movies, she says, and not only shouldn't you sleep with someone who tries to demand you recreate that experience, you should learn that porn fantasy isn't reality. I ask, and perhaps this is demonstrative of my struggle with porn, who among us can stand up to the fantasy? And who wants to? I am decidedly not going to shave or wax my vagina to look more like some pre-pubescent panting doll baby. Pole dancing may be a great way to get exercise, but the last thing I'm interested in doing when I go to the gym is learning how to strip, and I have better things to do with my time.

But I'm not against sexual fantasy. Something that I realize as I write this is that I can count on both hand the number of times I've fantasized about someone who wasn't my partner; I'm monogamous even in my fantasy life. And I like it like that. In previous relationships, I liked imagining where and how and when I'd do it with my partner. In my current relationship I fantasize all the time, but about my partner. For all the lusting I do after Jude Law, Downey, Jr. Terrence Howard or Morris Chestnut, not a one of them has shown up in my fantasy life to fix my plumbing or bring me a gluten free pizza or to finish taking a shower at my place because his water got turned off. My fantasy guy is the guy I'm marrying, and I like it that way.

Like Cindy Gallop, I think I am against the perpetuation of the fantasy as reality, and I get bummed out by thinking reality isn't enough. I don't want to hear evolutionary hoo-haa about how humans aren't supposed to be monogamous and men are visually stimulated creatures; seems to me this is just a scientifically veiled excuse to let them get away with bullshit. I don't want to hear the sociological hoo-haa about how the porn industry is now run by women and it's all about women taking charge of their own sexuality; women can exploit and degrade other women just as effectively as men can, and having a pussy doesn't mean you don't or won't objectify pussy. I want to hear about men and women and men and men and women and women who have sex that is healthy and safe, whether anonymous or monogamous, and if it's augmented and theatrical and prop-heavy, party on, but what it's not is sexist, misogynist, and violent, physically emotionally or relationally.

This isn't the "do what you want just don't try to foist it on me or do it in my face" argument that gets parroted about so many things. This is an earnest and sincere cry for help from a woman who loves sex and having sex, who loves her womanhood and the personhood of other people, and who wants the world to evolve to a place where we don't need the oversaturation of unrealistic fantasy to get off. Sex is good and natural and fun, and what it doesn't have to be is overexposed, commoditized and hyper-fantasized. Let us all rise to meet the best of ourselves. Literally.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Evanston Athletic Club, 8 February 2010

At the gym:

Two women who aren't identical twins, but both of whom are a dead ringer for my best friend from high school.

A cross-trainer machine who insisted my heart rate was 50 beats per minute, despite the fact that I'd been on the machine for ten minutes. And, you know, wasn't dead.

A squat white woman in a black and white swimsuit who has lost her belongings. She wanders from one bank of lockers to another, trying her combination on all of the black Master locks, hoping one of them will click open, holding her socks, her bra, her red-orange coat, her purse.

A woman in a long sweater who is on staff wanders with her now, through the locker room, trying to suggest this lock, that lock, have you tried this one yet, no that one has an Ace on the front, mine didn't have an Ace on the front, are you sure you're in the right bank of lockers.

She's a trooper. She's red in the face, tossing her short brown hair off her forehead as she tries to open one lock after another. She isn't crying or shouting--me, I'd be doing one or the other by now.

It's like walking through your own jigsaw puzzle.

I can see that the health club employee is starting to get nervous, probably thinking of the list of phone calls she as to make, trainer time cards that need her signature, even that blouse at Anthropologie that she was ordering when someone came to get her saying, some old lady had lost her things int he locker room. She is chipper, perky even, her eyes never displaying the creeping impatient frustration that her rigid posture makes clear. Never knowing what is the right amount of helpful to be, what is the most efficient way to get this old Biddie her shit and get her out of here so she can get on with her life without having to hold the hand of addle-brained senior citizens.

She makes me nervous, too, this old lady. How narrow is the line between forgetful and unfit, between distracted and disgruntled. How easy it is to feel, or even be considered, crazy because you can't remember which one of these black Master locks is yours.

When the woman in her bathing suit finally finds her locker, the club employee is visibly relieved, heaving a great, "Oh that GREAT!, fan-tas-tic, I'm so glad." I feel the breath I didn't know I was holding rush out in a whoosh. The locker owner, who has seemed nonplussed this entire time, is I'm sure grateful to have the things about her who remind her who she is, and not have to wander some beige anonymous locker room looking--quite literally--for her identity.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

it's a nice day for a white wedding.

I'm supposed to be planning out tomorrow's class, but I had to do this instead.

So I took a hiatus from reading wedding blogs for a while, but I've recently returned to one of the blogs that makes me feel saner, known as A Practical Wedding. It's chief writer, Meg posted what's known as a wedding graduate post, a kind of review of one's own wedding with any advice to pass onto those as yet unwedding-ed. Today's post was from a bride of color, which for those of you who haven't spent any time searching for diversity in the blogosphere, is a rarity. I really enjoyed reading it, as well as the comments, and through a blogger known as The Happy Nappy Bride (I myself quite nappy, though today, not much so happy) I discovered an article published in a 2006 issue of the Washington Post called "Marriage is for White People."

It has not escaped my perception that much of the African American experience in this country, in whatever state of blended family it exists, is often unmarried. So yes, all the evidence that supports a theory like this, I get it. And I often declare many things for white people, sometimes with irony, sometimes absolutely serious: Classic Rock; sweaters tied around the neck; pumpkin pie--as opposed to sweet potato; country music; swimming; ice hockey; the state of Colorado.

But I had a really hard time with this article.

The article takes a slant of marriage chiefly as a vehicle for raising a family and providing financial security. It celebrates the non-traditional concept of families, that they come in all shapes and sizes with varying participants. The writer writes about the changing face of social relationships that one black woman told her, "with today's changing mores, it's hard to know "what normal looks like" when it comes to courtship, marriage and parenthood... Moreover, in an era of brothers on the "down low," the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the decline of the stable blue-collar jobs that black men used to hold, linking one's fate to a man makes marriage a risky business for a black woman. "

Risky business? It's 2006, and black marriage is still being equated as a business transaction?

The picture of marriage that gets painted doesn't get any rosier for the writer, based in her own experience, or others. "Today, people have become economically self-sufficient as individuals," she writes, "no longer requiring a spouse for survival. African American women have always had a high rate of labor-force participation... But now instead of access only to low-paying jobs, we can earn a breadwinner's wage, which has changed what we want in a husband."

What? My increase in earning potential has changed what I want in a husband? There's more that really upset me, but I can't in good conscience keep quoting this article, so go read it.

I was stunned and really disappointed. When had life become so bleak that we spoke about marriage in such a mercenary and callus way? I tend toward idealism, I know, but I couldn't get over how much making babies and making money seemed to be the author's priority in marriage, and how little it was about commitment, companionship, sex, love, affection, intimacy. There's one sentence at the end, a throw-away about "intangibles" that makes these reasons for marrying someone seem just stupid, as though anyone would want to marry someone they loved and respected were naive.

I don't know why I didn't hear this writer talk about healthy marriages in the black community, marriages where, regardless of earnings or family size, both partners love and respect each other, they make time for each other and enjoy each other. Maybe it's because these are the things that are for white people. Maybe we as African Americans don't believe we deserve someone to love us unconditionally, to encourage us when we stumble, to hold our hand and expect our best while still loving us at our worst. Maybe what we deserve is absence, infidelity, dishonesty and expectations, and if we get it in a relationship whether we're married or not, why would we get married.

As my day gets closer, this is something I've been considering, the lack of marriage in the black community. I'm the first girl in my generation on both sides of my family to marry, and only the second cousin total. I have a female cousin several years my senior, with two sweet, adorable daughters, who has never married their father. My own parents have been married for 33 years this August, and while their marriage is full of its own flaws, they make it work, and do so happily. I think they do more than tolerate each other. I think they have it good. And my parents were piss-poor when they married, so I'm pretty sure that for all the reasons they did it, it wasn't because my father was earning some ridiculous salary, and marriage was a good financial move for my mother. In my extended family, many of the women have married more than once. Several sisters married men just like their father, and well, it came back to haunt them in a number of destructive ways. Several sisters are still unmarried, and have had children as such. But also there are women, black women, in marriages that are working.

I reject the notion that for the black community marriage is about who can provide you with an offer worth, as the article says, "giving up your freedom." I know I'm sensitive to this, but it still bothers me. I'm disappointed in this writer that the best she can do when answering the question about why black marriage is on the decline is answer because it isn't fiscally prudent any longer, because black women can do bad by themselves, but they can "also do pretty good alone, too." There are more reasons to marry than sperm donation and paycheck donation, and to ignore those is to reduce black women to insignificant means. Black women deserve the kind of affection, understanding, companionship, tenderness, support and intimacy as much as anyone else. This is why I marry, and any sister not considering these things does herself an incredible disservice.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

say that again, that's good.

one of my students in class: "Crackheads are like cockroaches: they don't die!"

Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses: "The charm of language is that, though it's human-made, it can on rare occasions capture emotions and sensations which aren't."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thank you, Joe Brainerd.

I remember that when I was a young girl Dots were my favorite candy.

I remember the last meal of meat I ever had. It was a McDonald's Chicken Snack Wrap. If I'd known that would be the last time I ate meat, I would have made it a better meal.

I remember my mother used to prepare liver with bacon and onions for my father.

I remember it made me sick to watch her dredge that gelatinous blood red meat in flour and then fry it in dripping.

I remember she only tried to make me eat it once and I wouldn't. After that, whenever she made liver, I had a bowl of Corn Flakes for dinner.

I remember the orange lights on the highway when my parents and I moved from Warren, Ohio to Cincinnati.

I remember how small and gray and fragile my mother looked after she came out of her hysterectomy surgery.

I remember the corners of my father that used to poke into me when he would hug me when he dropped me off or picked me up from summer camp. I remember his pocket protector would bite into my legs and chest, and somehow whenever I remember my father I think of the plastic corners of him that poked at me.

I remember how angry I was at my parents for not telling me right away when my father fell asleep at the wheel and totaled his car.

I remember when I came home from college and discovered that my mother had left my father and taken all the furniture with her. The house was empty: all of the pieces I'd climbed on and lounged on and slept on were gone. My room was still the same, but nothing else was.

I remember the cavernous silence around that time.

I remember the smell of an aerated football field on a Friday night before a high school game.

I remember jumping up and down and screaming with CP when Ohio State scored their first touchdown at the 2010 Rose Bowl.

I remember Tang.

I remember Alpha-Bits.

I remember Candyland and Checkers and Chutes and Ladders.

I remember watching thunderstorms blow in on the flat land of southwest Florida.

I remember the slick feeling in my mouth after I got my braces off.

I remember the best sleep of my life in a bed in a hotel room in Champery, Switzerland.

I remember the sick feeling in my stomach when my friend Eric Hartman went into Diabetic shock and had to be rushed out in the middle of a band performance. His face was so red and he could barely hold up his bassoon before he collapsed.

I remember years later, after we were both out of high school, I let him go down on me. It was amazing.

I remember when I asked an older girl who was in a church fashion show with me, why her slip was black--because the only slips I'd ever seen were white--she yelled at me, "None of your business!" and I didn't know why she'd gotten so angry.

I remember being a Brownie, and going on camp outs.

I remember watching Wheel of Fortune, and not knowing what the phrase, "Your mother wears army boots" meant.

I remember Emily Everheart and Brooke Burns.

I remember wool school uniforms.

I remember imitation patent leather Mary Janes.

I remember jellies.

I remember going to see The Nutcracker. At intermission I went down to the front of the stage and peeked into the pit orchestra. One of the musicians was standing up for a stretch, and he winked at me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I'm feeling rather discombobulated today. Ungrounded, Ellen would say. Powdery snow is falling from the sky this morning, "perfect packing snow" my sweetheart calls it as he stomps it off his boots, after coming back from a coffee run. Reminds me of the sweet wintery thing I love about February, but also reinforces the crappy night's sleep I had, and the anxieties that wouldn't let me rest easy. My sleep's been disturbed since planning the wedding has moved into the next gear, and although I'm not waking up screaming about showing up naked or anything quite like that, well, there's enough anxiety to keep me up.

Point one: I love February. I love it because it means that January has come and gone, and while in Chicago that fact has absolutely nothing to do with warmer weather on its way, I love that February is the shortest calendar month. I love the idea of the promise of March only a few weeks away, and if I keep my head down and tunnel through I'll be there soon. Spring might not meet me there, but still. I love that it's spelled weird, and has a ton of different pronunciations, and I love that when it feels like it, capriciously but still with some regularity, February adds an extra day, because sometimes a girl just needs a 29. Most of all, I love St. Valentine's Day. Scoff if you will, and yes, I know that it is just a minor holiday that the Catholic church co-opted from the Romans' Lupercalia, a kind of pagan spring cleaning. So what, I don't care. I love the legend of Valentine, I love the red roses (although not so in love with the seasonal price tag), I love the Snoopy bearing lacy greetings of affection, I love chocolate wrapped in red foil (even though I can't eat it), and I love Romance. St. Valentine's Day may be as co-opted and commercial as Christmas, but it makes me warm and fuzzy on the inside, whether I'm single or attached, and I just love it.

Point two: Getting married soon is making me feel a bit... mortgaged. I'm not feeling over committed, just given away. I'm so discouraged by the need to please other people. I've read a lot of wedding lit (there's a phrase I never thought in my whole life, that I'd use) that says that the wedding day is not about bride and groom, it's about family and friends and loved ones you collect around you. And I get it, I really do. But for pleasers like myself who kinda suck at setting boundaries and will give away the farm just to get the jacked up, hollow expression of affection we're thirsting for, maybe it's alright if this one day is in fact about me and him, and everybody else is gonna have to stretch a little outside their comfort zone, or else stay home. What I'm saying is lately I'm feeling how profoundly absent any parental figures are in my life, with a genuine expression of love and pride, and that absence makes me just want to fall. I am weary, weary weary, of doing things because they would be nice to do and they sound like nice ideas, because it means I have to fake my way through them, and pretend I'm having a good time, when in fact I just want the whole thing to be over so I can go home, put on sweatpants and watch a dvd of Two and a Half Men.

I am both blessed and fortunate to have a remarkable coven of women around me in the midst of all this. (I'm reclaiming the word coven, much like the word nigga.) They are capable and excited and all so amazingly supportive of the life I'm making with my sweetheart. They can't replace the thing I wish I had, but I'm glad I have them in my life.

All that to say that perhaps I'm in the heavy grip of winter doldrums. Working out, eating well, missing the sun, sick of the snow. A good day is a day when I can hold my head up on my own.

O Lord, Come by here.