cut on the bias

Ever seen a cat walk around with a piece of tape stuck on the bottom of its foot, all kerflummoxed and sad? That was me at the Ann Taylor store this weekend; also Talbot’s, Banana Republic, Brooks Brothers Women, J. Jill, J. Crew. Oh, and the Armani Exchange. They sell giant crosses and Italian horns.

Normally, I avoid Ann Taylor — I am cognitive dissonance itself in a cardigan twin set — but needed a size-0 Grown-Up Lady Costume (GULC) for a professional event. So I betook myself to the fancy-person outdoor mall in Scottsdale, where all the late-middle-aged women had beautiful, terrifying faces that forcibly reminded me of a baby’s butt: Two smooth, round cheeks waaay up high. The “vampire facial” is a thing in Scottsdale. A doctor INJECTS YOUR OWN GELLED BLOOD INTO YOUR FACE.

Kohlrabi smoothies are big there, too.

Teachers generally wear jeans in case they have to flush a pack of stoners out of the heating ducts, so I always just try on four pairs at Lucky, pick the ones that aren’t too tight on my CrossFit thighs, and have them hemmed because who the hell has a 36-inch inseam? Casual clothes shopping in my late thirties is easy because my body has taken on a shape and a horizon. It’s basically what it’s going to be. The cement has set here. Barring some freak metabolic illness, I’ll never again put on or drop 20 pounds in three weeks.

But I haven’t needed dress-ups in years, which is why, if you were at the outdoor Scottsdale mall this weekend, you saw me weeping on a bench outside Ann Taylor’s. I needed a suit and a shell to wear under the suit that wasn’t a tank top and also “neutral pumps” and nylons to go with them. It reminded me of doing a Rubik’s Cube as a kid, where I’d get one side all lined up and then realize that, in doing so, I’d screwed up the other side. Every GULC I tried on was either:

tight, frilly, patterned, itchy, like I was about to sing Gloria Gaynor onstage in bad drag


gray, boxy Shamewear for women who’ve had the audacity to age and still appear in public.

I felt hideous and greasy and bloated. In the World’s Most Facile Metaphor, I got stuck with a dress over my head and panicked. My short haircut, which I love, was suddenly wrong for every outfit. In the feminine stuff, it just looked mismatched; in the Shamewear I became a Pocket Bulldyke.  (I love bulldykes, but I’m not one).

There’s something wrong with my body, I thought. The gym isn’t working. I eat too many carbs. The florescent light showed every little dimple, every rolling hill-ette. What looked so strong and powerful doing box jumps and power cleans the day before was suddenly all wrong wrong wrong. I was 15 again.

I am fat fuck, I texted my girlfriend. I go on big big diet. 

She was, as always, the best — You have a beautiful body. You just need to find a style that works for you — and sent me a dozen links to non-shame-spirally things.  I sat down and drank a mineral water. A shoe saleslady hit on me (“You should…come back after your event and tell me how it goes”). I re-achieved equilibrium and thanked God I didn’t have to shop more often, because apparently, I still feel despair about my body given the right set of culturo-retail circumstances. And I’m a size 0 who owns every book Andrea Dworkin ever wrote.

Shit. No wonder we’re all going nuts.

From Feels to English, parts 1 and 2

I shouldn’t have gone to the bar. My Friday nights are about a nice pot of oolong and a little Jane Austen, not drinking with 24-year-old work friends. But they can be a real kick in the pants, as my mother would say. So I went.

All of them were late except for Zach, who’s always early because he likes to get a jump on the drinking. Zach gets the highest evals whenever the Dept. of Ed comes to count our beans, and word is it’s because of that young dood flirtiness that lady bean-counters go nuts for. Why can’t the DOE hire more dykes?

As Zach and I sat with our drinks (club soda for me because alcohol allergy) , our friend Sharee called me to say she’d had to park a mile away.

“Be careful,” I said. “Because I bet you’re walking in four-inch heels.”

“I’m all good!” she chirped. “I have a gun!”

We hung up. “She wasn’t kidding,” Zach said. “You know she’s a serious Republican, right?”

I knew. On paper, Sharee and I should despise each other — she’s hyper-armed, hyper-femme with rich parents and a Mitt Romney sticker on her car — but we enjoy hanging out as long as we don’t discuss anything substantive.  She may not like the idea of gay marriage, but she’s always excited to look at wedding gowns online with me.

“She’s young,” I reminded Zach.

“She’s 24!” he said. “And you know I’m an anarcho-Communist.”

“The age of reason is 26,” I replied, because it’s true.

Sharee’s problem is that she has no problems. She’s never been turned away from a doctor’s office because she didn’t have insurance; never taken an ice-cold shower because the heat got cut off; never had to choose between food and medicine; never waited in line at the Social Security Office; never suffered any of the million stinging privations and humiliations of living a real adult life without parents to fall back on. She’s earned almost nothing for herself, yet opposes any sort of social contract because somehow she knows; she just knows, she’s never going to be weak enough to need it. She doesn’t feel vulnerable, even though she’s  a young woman (of color!) who makes less than $35,000 a year as a public employee. She’s smart, she’s educated. And yet.

I’ve read Right-Wing Women. I get it. But some days, it’s all I can do not to say, “Romney sticker, huh? Hey, Sharee…do you have a pussy? Go ahead and check! I’ll wait.”

I said as much to Zach, who got irritated.

“The mistake people make,” he mansplained, “and I’m not saying you’re the only one — but the mistake some people make is, they think women only care about birth control and abortion. Women are full human beings, right? They care about EVERYTHING! Taxes, the economy, education, what-HAVE-you.”

Then Sharee showed up, all smiles and concealed weaponry, so we let it drop. I’m left with a gristly question: Am I wrong to think contraception and abortion laws SHOULD be vitally important to all women? Does this belief serve to narrow/marginalize women’s status, or is it true that without reproductive freedom, everything else is moot because a woman who can’t control the means of her own reproduction is not free? 

I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Maybe I shouldn’t care. I’m never going to need the Pill again. I don’t see young straight women fighting for my right to marry. But Friday night, I felt sad and old. Because it just felt like we’ve lost.

*I’m aware that this post is more of a beginning instead of my usual narrative arc. It feels like I left something on the stove. Please hold for Part 2.

OK, here it is:

Part 1 of this post left me feeling cold and void and dumb as a box of rocks. It didn’t say what I wanted to say because I couldn’t translate what I wanted to say from Feels to Standard Modern English.  So I asked my lovely online friend Moira if I we could spin and spiral together in Q-and-A format. Moira is an exited erstwhile member of transcult/sex-poz-landia who blogs at Here’s a partial transcript of our IM:

P: Frustrated by post. WTF am I trying to even saaaaaaaay.

M: It was a beginning…I thought the most developed part was the bit about how your friend doesn’t see herself as ever needing a social safety net. The implications of that are huge. More to explore there.

P: OK! What else what else.

M: The other place I’d expand is responding to Zach’s reversal.  Love that he’s an anarcho-commie, btw. That is perfect and hilarious.

P: YOU CAN’T BE ANARCHO-COMMIE IT MAKES NO SENSE. It’s probably some lefty-dood thing where he gets to have sex with ALL the laydeez. And OMG he totally reversed me. Vulcan mind trick. How he do that?!

M: He implied that your argument diminished the humanity of women and reduces us to our reproductive capability. In fact. the only thing that *does* that is the social control over reproduction. Which you’re arguing AGAINST!

P: I feel so dumb.

M: No, that’s part of it! You’re not dumb. It’s designed to make you flub and stutter. It’s a mindfuck.

P: I did stutter! I never stutter! Like, all of a sudden, I was on the defensive.

M: Yup. It’s like judo. Uses your own strength against you.

P: And yet I was the only non-drunk person at the table.

(Redacted: Here is where we talked about drinking a little).

P: What’s your take on young conservative women?

M: Preliminarily: It’s in some ways a mirror image of 3rd wavers. Very I-ndividual solutions. Your friend carries a gun so she’s “all good.” It’s a fallacy.

P: SHE is all good. Not WE.

M: Exactly. And it isn’t even true for her, as a supposed island. She’s (a) more likely to be assaulted by someone she trusts, and (b) can be overpowered and have her weapon used against her, just to name 2 things. That model is, “He’ll have to go find someone else to rape, instead of me.” And that’s when it works how it’s supposed to!

P: This is so what was in my feels. WHY COULDN’T I PUT THIS IN WURDS.

M: None of us are islands. It’s not a weakness, I grew up going to (redacted place of worship) every week — singing the same prayers, Alone, I don’t know the words. In a group, I know them all.

I’m so glad to know Moira. Go check her out!



How To Attend Teacher In-Service Day

8:10 a.m.: Sign in to welcome-back meeting 10 minutes late. Take a doughnut. Don’t bother looking for a jelly-filled or chocolate one –all that’s left is half a cruller. Goddamn it. Find your friends at the back table and think for the thousandth time how much teaching high school is like being in high school, clique-wise. Sit between your Music Dept. friend and the AP Language guru, who’s wearing his best ironic T-shirt with tiny letters; something about Idaho and soccer. Fist-bump him. Say, “Dude, how many kids you got this year?” When he says “A hundred and seventy-eight,” nod like that’s what you expected. Do not smile. You only have a hundred and sixty-two. Score.

8:14 a.m.: Big news: No one is allowed to have microwaves and refrigerators in their rooms anymore because electricity bills. Think about salads and get indignant: If they think you’re bringing soggy PB&Js to work every day, they have another think coming. Start sketching preliminary drawings vis a vis how to hide a fridge in your supply closet. Maybe if you took a screwdriver and removed two of the shelves?

8:58 a.m.: Resist the urge to check your phone. Last year, some guy from the Science department texted during the welcome-back meeting and some bad shit went down. Hide your phone in a side pocket of your bag and kick the bag real far under the table.

8:59 a.m.: Your Idaho-shirt friend thinks you nudged him in response to something that was just said. What? you mouth. School trips, he mouths back.

9:01 a.m.: Someone from the History Dept. (you can never remember her name but she’s conservative and long-winded so you call her William F. Buckley, Jr.) is APPALLED about the cancelled-school-trip situation. “This is unacceptable!” she’s saying, and you zone out, thinking of a hundred and sixty-two names to learn. Somewhere in the mid-90s, everyone started calling their sons Jaden/Kaden/Aiden; such a pain in the ass. Yada yada learning opportunities; yada yada curriculum, blah blah Spain blah France. You have been to France. You want to tell her Italy is better. Gelato!  The David! Venetians peeing grand arcs into the canals!

9:02 a.m.: Your Music friend passes you a note re: the complaining History teacher. NEMESIS!! it says. I HATE HER. Nod sympathetically.

9:15 a.m.: Restroom break. Check your phone. You have a text from Idaho Shirt. Educator Bingo, it says. I made squares. Get M&Ms from vending machine plz k thx.

9:35-10:28 a.m.: Play Educator bingo with buddy, who has laid out two copies of 25 hastily-drawn squares with edu-speak buzzwords. “Loser buys drinks,” he whispers. You are both listening intently now. Rigor, you hear. State standards. Best practices. Evaluation. Value-added Measurement. Achievement gap. The hot Theatre teacher stretches languorously. Your buddy gets distracted, misses Assessment, and you move in for the kill. “Dos Equis on Saturday,” you whisper. He points at you, traces a heart in the air, and presses his hands to his chest. “You complete me,” he whispers back.

10:38 a.m.: Make three (gramatically-correct, as befits an English teacher) lists on back of syllabus: (1) With Whom In This Room I Would Sleep; (2) With Whom I Would Never, Ever Sleep; and (3) With Whom I Have Already Slept. Wish that the third list was shorter.

11:15 a.m.: Meeting adjourned! Go to your classroom. Be thrilled that the pile of cockroaches is gone — the last one you killed in late May was so big, it made direct eye contact with you. You felt like a murderer. Start cleaning out supply closet. Try to find last year’s examples of great college application essays, the ones that begin with “When I left my small village in China to find a better life…” or “Having a prosthetic leg has taught me all about awkward conversations…” Make a file.

11:57 a.m.: Notice that someone has absconded with your stapler. Dicks! You will never trust again.

12:01 p.m.: Meet the new Math teacher on your floor, the one with career terror in her eyes and an apple applique on her blouse. She has transferred from the middle school and refers to her husband as “the hubs.” Give her all your extra rulers. You have, like, 800 rulers. You do not know why that is.

12:42 p.m.: Lunch with friends. Compare new tattoos and syllabi. Using subtle emotional manipulation, lobby to teach Macbeth. Lose. You get Hamlet. You are justly kill’d by your own treachery.

1:48 a.m. Check your e-mail. Learn that your state is changing its evaluation criteria. File this away under Things You Can Do Nothing About. Soon, you know, they will replace teachers with robots. Wonder what else you can do with a Master’s of Education. Wonder about homesteading in Oregon. Wonder about raising alpaca goats. Weigh how bad things would have to get for you to join the Peace Corps. Resolve to never do any porn, no matter how fierce the demand for 38-year-old women with big traps who can do a back handspring.

2:30 p.m.: Attend club-advisor finance meeting and tell horror stories like you’re sitting around a campfire: “You guys, I heard there was this teacher one time who sponsored anime club, and he forgot to fill out juuuust onnnne form when he took the kids to see ‘Totoro,’ and then, oh God, the district stuck him with three hundred dollars in matinee tickets.” Gasp. Say, “That’s pretty bad, but also? This other guy? He borrowed a set of supplementary textbooks for Science Explorer Club, and when the kids didn’t return them? He got stung for three THOUSAND dollars.” Shudder. Resolve to be totally strict about the forms this year. Barter with the Art teacher — if your GSA club can have a bunch of pink and purple glitter, his manga club (???)  can use your poster boards for whatever the hell they need poster boards for. Pinky-swear. Wonder for the thousandth time if he is gay or just exceedingly well-dressed, for a teacher anyway.

2:52 p.m.: Wonder if you’ll get in trouble for leaving (“ghosting” as the kids say) before exactly 3:05. Decide to risk it.

2:53 p.m.: Decide you better not. Start designing a unit plan: Dystopias And How To Prevent Them.

3:45 p.m.: Wonder why you’re still in the building. This unit plan is going to ROCK, though.

4:48 p.m.: Decide you are definitely leaving now! and you are Not Kidding!

4:58 p.m.: Wonder: How come there are no cats in “Animal Farm?” Also, is the asexual reproduction scene in “Brave New World” too much for sophomores? Flip through the books again.

5:02 p.m.: Remember that this is when they lock the parking-lot gates from the outside. Race to your car. Drive home imagining what you would do if you were locked in the school overnight. Decide that you would go to the Science lab and lie down before the soothing black lights of the reptile terrariums. You would fall asleep listening to the snakes and frogs cold-bloodedly rustle and settle; to their thin black tongues reaching out and tasting air; to the quiet clicking of pebbles.