I am my own wreckage; I am my own black box

Last week, I became someone who never had children.

Before then, I was someone who simply didn’t have them.  In March, though, I joined the waiting list for sperm from a bank that gives its donors names like “Woody” (or “Kim,” if they’re Asian). I read 17 pages of my guy’s family history and listened to his 10-minute interview.

“What advice would you like to pass on to your future child?” the interviewer asked.

“Life is hard,” he replied. “But if you can stay interested in things, it’s also a great adventure.”

“Staying interested in things,” simple as it sounds, is a full-spectrum anti-depression light box for the soul. Put me down for four vials! (It was a twofer deal). I loved this guy!

I even loved that he was only five foot eight. His family was full of short men married to tall women, so I figured they must really have it going on in terms of personality. Short men have to build character if they want to pass on their genes, my dad says. My dad is five foot six. He told me to “stop messing around and just pick the tallest donor in the catalog.”

But before I made the decision; before I shelled out $1200 for the first insemination cycle, I got my hormones and egg reserve checked. I’d been peeing on ovulation test sticks for three months but never saw the digital “O” in the window; the little open mouth of anticipation.

I felt like the urine was too close to the angels gathering here

I felt like the urine was too close to the angels gathering here.

After the doctor took my blood, she wrote me a prescription for Clomid “to get going on all fronts.” But that blister pack of pills might as well have contained Skittles, because when my lab work came back we saw that Nature had made her position clear in hard, unassailable numbers. Looking at them I felt neither pain nor surprise, which, I am told, is the case when a bullet strikes the heart.

I was too late.

The world’s most facile metaphor rose out of a rogue memory circa 1994: my friend Eddie’s alarm clock when we were sophomores in college. Eddie was not a morning person, and he had hit the snooze button so many times – and so hard – that there was a fingerprint-sized dent in it.

There was never a right time. That’s a thing people say:  “There’s never a right time to have kids! So just be brave and have them!”

Would the right time have been when I was 18 and sleeping with a dumb guy who eagerly awaited his issue of Guns & Ammo every month? When I was 22 with no work experience and struggling in a shaky marriage? When I was 27 and obsessed with a drummer who ghosted after a couple of months because I wasn’t an orthodox Jew? When I was 28 and coming out as a lesbian? When I was 32, living illegally in Canada with a transsexual who hated kids? When I was alone again, a broke graduate student at 35? Or when I was 37 and fell in in love with a woman who already had two teenagers and lived 400 miles away?

I mean, really. When?

Women do have children in these circumstances (and much worse) with no regrets, but it felt wrong to me. Irresponsible. I bought books about single motherhood (“Knock Yourself Up”) but they were geared toward women with money or a support system, neither of which I had. There was no big, warm, multigenerational family who’d say, “Congratulations, P! What’s one more kid! Come into the kitchen and help cook a big hot dish!”

Of course, I did make choices: I pursued several different partners who weren’t interested in children, and passed up several who were. I chose not to select a partner who was just OK, in the interests of having a family. When I was working as a nanny, I saw this breed of partnership close up – the woman was 30something and running out of eggs and time and fucks to give in terms of whether or not the man (or woman) she married was anything but…OK. Solid. Workable.

No shade: that’s a satisfying choice for many women. Just not for me.

So the years went by. And every time I came back to the question, I imagined all the awesome – the way babies laugh incredulously at random stuff; how they rub the hair off the backs of their heads and get bald spots like little old men; the sudden shift in consciousness when they turn three years old and become more of a real person and less of a dog or a cat who can talk. I imagined watching my seven-year-old develop near-Jesuitical argumentative skills and star in the school play as a radish. I imagined a wry, funny middle schooler; a houseful of my bright teenager’s wacky friends.

I forced myself to imagine these things, too:

  • Sitting alone with a feverish baby in a crowded clinic, afraid it’s a staph infection from day care and knowing I’ve run out of paid time off work.
  • Watching a child take her first steps, without anyone for me to turn to and say, “LOOK LOOK SHE’S WALKING!”
  • Hearing screaming in the night and being so bone-deep exhausted that I’m physically unable to get out of bed for a full 10 minutes.
  • A partner whose heart just isn’t in it. A child who sees that.
  • Getting up for work at 6 a.m. over and over and over again, after being awake all night – that unreal, hovering-above-my-own-head feeling of sleep deprivation; those grains of sand underneath the eyelids.
  • Living in a crappy school district because $$$. Knowing exactly what that means for my child.
  • A pediatrician saying, “Yes, there’s definitely cause for concern. I’m going to refer you to a specialist, but your insurance won’t cover it.”

And in the end, what I wanted was a family. That seemed like the fun part; the co-creative adventure. A family, not just me-and-a-kid. And that didn’t happen. It just didn’t.

I think of who my daughter might have been. Compact; husky-voiced. Good at math like my mother; a seismologist of the mood and motivations in any given room, like my father. An obsessive athlete; a poet; a too-fast driver with a laugh like a handful of coins tossed in the air.

I had a name for her.

Nature, though, is smart and may be offering an ineluctable mercy. Much as I’d like to be the kind of person who could handle a child with Down syndrome or the kind of severe autism that makes kids wail inconsolably and bite their own hands, I’m not. When I see middle-aged developmentally-disabled adults walking the aisles of Safeway with their tired, elderly mothers – who, when they die, will leave these grown children to the mercies of institutions or the streets – I know I couldn’t handle it. Or, fine, I could “handle” it, but I’d have a hell of a time prising the joys out of the pain, disappointment and worry. I always thought that “Dear Abby” fable about Italy vs. Holland was oversimplified; more disingenuous and twee than inspiring.

And even if adoption was easy – even if I could get a healthy baby tomorrow morning – I find much to dissuade me in this blog. I’m troubled by a system that tells women, Sorry, but you’re too poor/too young/too single to be a mother and tells the child, The woman who gave birth to you loved you so much, she gave you away. But then we chose you, so be grateful!

I wanted a part of life I won’t get, but the other parts aren’t exactly consolation prizes: Travel, friendship, books, sleep, a rock-hard set of abs, and the company of good and gentle animals. I won’t see my eyes in someone else’s face, but I’ll see a Tuscan sunset at the end of a two-week cycling trip through Europe. I’ll see Galapagos. I’ll see…whatever the version of me with a child wouldn’t get to see.

My life will have a different meaning, that’s all.

I’m not bothered by people who say I’ve missed out on the Most Important and Profound Thing a Woman Can Ever Do, because deep down I don’t think that’s true. The idea is unimaginative and misogynist across the board. Important and profound, for sure. The be-all and end-all of female existence? No.

It’s true, the only people who’d visit me in old-person assisted-living will be there by choice and can stop coming by anytime, but (a) I’ll be able to afford assisted living with the money I’m not spending on children; (b) It’s an excellent motivation to seek out, retain, and invest in friends-as-family; (c) I could die of a surprise heart defect or in the Global Water Wars long before then; and (d) People with kids die alone all the time.

Perk #1 of middle age:  Realizing just how much I’m not in control of.

Perk #2: Knowing I’m not special, and neither are my genes, and not passing them on isn’t a tragedy.

Perk #3: Understanding I can’t transfuse the meaning of, or the answers to, my own life into someone else’s, whether I’d had kids or not. I can’t recuse myself from the task of meaning- and answer-making. No one else can be the black box in the middle of my wreckage.

The older we get, the further our possibilities narrow. We begin with an infinite number of possible lives, and every day, that number decreases. One day in third grade, you have the potential to be an Olympic gymnast; the next day, you break your arm or lose interest in the vault…and then you don’t. In high school, you get a ‘C’ in physics and Yale is no longer a possibility. Day after day, you don’t leave your sad marriage, and one day you hit a tipping point and know that no one else will ever touch you again.

You choose a city, a home, a partner, a career, an addiction, and soon the only way to experience anything else is through fiction and/or lies. Avenue after avenue closes down, and all of a sudden, you’re in one specific neighborhood with a cul-de-sac. You sit there reading the last page of a Choose Your Own Adventure book you loved as a kid, and then someone comes along and takes the book away.

That’s one reason we have babies: behind their blinking, muttering faces are impossibly intricate networks of possible lives, and we’re comforted by this. We’re inspired. As we should be. As is right.

I don’t have an ending for this post that wraps around neatly to reference the beginning.

I don’t know how it ends.

do you think they know that sunday brunch is the gayest meal of the week?

Internet, I should tell you what happened afterwards! Bullet points are the most merciful choice here because it was a long-ass weekend:

  • Parents, stepmother, grandfather and cousin declared unconditional support
  • Dad sent pointed email (cc’d everyone!) to homo-loathing family member. Email included words such as “cruel,” “exclusionary,” and “apologize”
  • Dad’s repeated viewings of heartwarming GLBT films (beginning with “Go Fish” in 1993 – my fault!) inspire request: put anger aside; high road; French toast and forgiveness; c’mon. Dad’s vision: victory of tolerance over bigotry; dignity over dehumanization; set to triumphant Ani DiFranco musical score, heavy on percussion. Dad said, “teachable moment!”
  • Dad so sweet
  • But am not educational documentary made flesh; sorry. Buy homo-loather Andrew Sullivan book or Advocate magazine, OK? Find high-school production of The Laramie Project!
  • But then self began wavering! Self was suddenly Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” when redheaded daughter takes up with non-Jew! (“On the other hand…”)
  • “THERE *IS* NO OTHER HAND!”
  • Homo-loather pressured from all sides to apologize
  • Have not heard from homo-loather yet
  • Am OK with that: Apology nice; no apology also fine
  • People allowed opinions! Even terrible/wrong opinions!
  • But do not have to subject self to them if can help it, right?
  • Family did brunch thing
  • Invented new veggie casserole for lone self to enjoy with beer while watching Seasons 3 and 4 of “Queer As Folk” to help maintain militant attitude
  • Chuckled warmly at “Queer As Folk,” which was filmed in Toronto and should have been titled “Earnest Canadian Acting With Buttsex”
  • Girlfriend (“beloved life partner” to YOU, homo-loather) canceled visit due to legit family emergency of non-emotionally-wounding variety
  • Two family members emailed “family photo” of the brunch
  • Never has such a well-meaning gesture been so insensitive OR so poorly received
  • Was pretty buzzed by then
  • What else, what else
  • Oh yeah, Dad said aunt by marriage showed up wearing horrible Civil War-era badger neck-fur coat (not fur solely FROM badger neck; complete badger fur worn AROUND aunt’s neck) with badger head on one end fastened to badger tail on other; so badger looks like eating own tail, and aunt said something SO HORRIBLE! SHOCK AND AWE!  that karma was, at least, a little bit served.

UPDATE: Received – and accepted – heartfelt, genuine apology/promise to do better from (former!?) homo-loather. Also received chocolate cake. The mind boggles, pleasantly.

UPDATE 2: No one will repeat what badger neck-fur coat aunt said. By all accounts was not homo-related though. Small blessings, self. Small blessings.

My family threw a bomb, so I threw one back. Here’s the email.

Dear family,

I’d like to explain why I won’t be joining you for any of the lovely weekend events planned for Grandpa’s birthday: It has been gently, kindly explained to me (via text message) that my beloved partner’s presence makes one of you uncomfortable;  therefore, I am not welcome to bring her along.

I would like you, dear family, to imagine being told by someone you adore and admire that the sweetest, best person in your life – the person you have waited and hoped and worked for until the cusp of middle age – is a source of discomfort. Imagine that the smartest, wisest, most full-of-integrity person you have ever known; the one with whom you are finally your best self, is not welcome among the people you have loved since the day you were born.

Imagine being expected to understand this and just sort of be cool with it.

Now imagine being un-invited to the Sunday brunch you bought a new outfit for; all the while excitedly telling your partner: I can’t wait for you to spend some time with my family! You’ve never even met my grandfather; my uncle John or cousin Mike!

Imagine the person you love. Go ahead. Really bring that person to the forefront of your mind. Let him or her wash over you in all his or her inimitable verve. Think about the way he or she forgives your mistakes; encourages your dreams; gives your life form and color and meaning.

Now imagine, if you can, that your family requires you to treat that person like he or she doesn’t matter; doesn’t even exist. You are only welcome if you come alone. You are only welcome if you STAY alone. Like, for the rest of your life.

You are only welcome if you lie.

Never. That’s a thing that will never happen. If you’re surprised by this in the slightest, then you don’t know me at all.

Because that is a denial of my full humanity, dear family, however kindly it is put to me. Every gay and lesbian person knows that this denial will come, and often, but we hope it is delivered by strangers or cable television personalities with bad hair. Better the rock; the brick; the can of spray paint; the loud, ugly scream of “FUCKIN’ DYKE” from a stranger, than the gentlest denial of our humanity from our own families.

I hope you have a beautiful weekend together.  I love you all very much.

But also? I love myself.

 

— Your daughter, granddaughter, niece, and cousin,

Phonaesthetica

 

 

Congratulations, and I’m sorry: An imaginary time-travel instant-message conversation with my 16-year-old self

Phona39: Hi

phona16: hi

Phona39: How are you?

phona16: fat. everyone knows you’re supposed to see three diamonds between your legs when you stand with your feet together in front of a full-length mirror. how much do you weigh?

Phona39: About a hundred and twelve pounds.

phona16: gross. why did you let yourself go? is it because you’re old and like it doesn’t matter anymore?

Phona39: Let me tell you something about your body, little P; and about the bodies of all the women in our family: You are on something of a time delay, with a rockin’ behind –

phona16; hee hee ew “behind” stop so lame

Phona39: – which will not even begin to reach its full potential until your mid-to-late twenties. You also have a predisposition for putting on muscle, and you are very strong. It turns out you find a lot of joy in movement.

phona16: i hate exercise

Phona39: No, you don’t. What you hate – and I don’t blame you – is second-period P.E. class at Gila Javelina High School in Tucson, Arizona. You hate running around in a field of sunburnt grass, being made fun of by the teacher and that little asshole Jason Collier, who, by the way, will serve six years in prison on drug-related conspiracy charges in the mid-90’s. Any sensible person would hate this. You hate the heat and you hate running and you’re basically a hologram before ten o’clock in the morning, and none of this will change, but there’s a lot you’re going to love, too.

phona16: like, i’ll love my family, right? do you have a lawyer husband?

Phona39: Not anymore.

phona16: WHY NOT. THAT WAS THE PLAN. don’t you have three children?

phona39:  No.

Phona16: oh, my god. you’re all alone?!????

Phona39: It’s really not that simple.

phona16: why did we even set this thing up

Phona39: What?

phona16: this wack talking thing

Phona39: Here’s the only way I can phrase it that you’ll sort of understand: Plans don’t always work out. Some things happen, and other things don’t happen. Sometimes we make deliberate choices; other times we get dramatic surprises. Sometimes we get our hearts broken in very important ways. Sometimes we realize we don’t want the things we thought we wanted – and actually, it turns out we actually want the things we were afraid of and trying to avoid.

phona16: well great, because for a minute i thought you were gonna be VAGUE about this

Phona39: It’s like – well, you know how you love Nestle Crunch bars? Milk chocolate with little bits of rice in it you get for 35 cents from the school vending machine? How that’s all you want sometimes, even though you try so hard not to?

phona16: um yeah

Phona39: It’s like that on a grand scale. A dozen years from now, you won’t want those at all.  They’ll taste like wax, because you’ll know better treats – raw cacao paired with a lush red wine in a basement club in Prague; a transcendent aged cheese plate with a group of smart, funny friends in Toronto; a cracking bowl of impromptu pasta and fresh veggies your girlfriend makes for the two of you share in bed.

phona 16: ???

Phona39: There are…circumstances. There are conditions at play that, were you living in a different culture, nation, or time, you would understand as fate, justice, or the will of the gods. Right now, you live in black and white, but the grays are coming and they’re coming for you. Congratulations, and I’m sorry.

phona16: what wait what

Phona39: Anyway. What happens is, you end up having a huge capacity for love of varying stripes, not just the kinds you believe right now are worthwhile and acceptable. You find a lot of people, things, and ideas to fall in love with, and the only thing you wish you could go back and do differently – besides moving to Canada to marry a pre-op transsexual you’d never seen in direct sunlight –

phona16: what’s a

Phona39: – are the hours you’ve spent, and will spend between the you that is you and the you that is me, hating your body and finding it disgusting. Plus, you’ll also wish you’d taken up weight training early. Everything else is a learning experience.

phona16: weights are for boys

Phona39: Oh, honey.

phona16: whatever. is our hair grown out to our waist, at least?

Phona39: Um

phona16: never mind. i don’t actually want to know anymore. it’s ok

Phona39: It is OK. It’s really all OK. Better, even. I promise.

phona16: mmmhm. see you

Phona39: See you.

 

collecting the betters

Last week, a 16-year old named Maddy Yates posted a video to YouTube moments before she killed herself. Here is a partial transcript of that video:

“I know it’s not OK for me to be doing this, but I just can’t do this anymore. It feels like I’m being swallowed whole into myself. It physically hurts. Sometimes it hurts so bad that I throw up, and sometimes I just get panic attacks. I know this is selfish. You know, the doctor prescribed Prozac for depression and anxiety, but those are just fancy words for “selfish.” I know that I’m going to hurt everyone who loves me, and I really do love them too. But I’ve been like this for so long, and there’s still a chance that the worst day might still be coming. And I just don’t see how this is a bad idea because it’s like someone’s on the 12th floor, and the room behind them is on fire. And they’re standing on the window ledge and they have a choice whether or not to jump and get away from the fire or just stay and die a slow, excruciating death. It feels like that.”

Compare the stills of Maddy from this video to photos of her taken weeks and months before. She doesn’t look like the same person. Even without the transcript, you can see she is desperately ill.

I wish we could agree to stop using the “suicide is selfish” trope. A person suffering from the sort of clinical depression or other mental illness that drives a suicide attempt already has a tape running in her head, on a continuous loop, that says “YOU ARE SELFISH WORTHLESS BAD AND UGLY. YOU HURT EVERYONE WHO LOVES YOU AND DISAPPOINT EVERYONE WHO TRIES TO HELP YOU. DO THEM A FAVOR AND TAKE YOURSELF OUT.”

While we’re at it, let’s also strike the word “cowardly” from discussions of suicide. It’s used with naïve suicide-prevention intent – to somehow goad people into staying alive to prove they’re not chickenshit. There are many words to describe the suicide’s state of mind, but “cowardly” isn’t one I’d choose for someone brave enough to put a pistol in their mouth and shoot.

Let’s be real about the “It Gets Better” trope in terms of depression. The whole truth is this: If you are prone to this kind of depression, it does get better, but then it’s probably going to get worse again. Then better. Then it might get really fucking bad. Then maybe better; even much better.

But you likely won’t get better and STAY better. This particular illness isn’t linear. You have to ride the circle. You have to go up and down like a skateboarder in the pit. It is a skill you can develop.

Sadly, the only thing that allows most people to understand this is life experience. The weight and the story of years allows you to…collect the betters. The times when you are OK or even great. The more betters you rack up, the more chances you have to see a bit of the world; to get engaged enough in things so that when the really fucking bads come along, you have more to draw on. You have a little extra air in your tank from the betters.  You might wake up and think, “Today is the day I am done,” but somewhere inside you is a memory of the joy of a long hike or a great book or something else you experienced when you were OK; something to stand in for the meaning of life – and it buys you a breath or two to reconsider. It might even give you enough hope to call for help; enough time to get your medication adjusted.

Granted, while this is a lot like trying to remember feeling not-nauseous when you’re on a boat pitching back and forth and you’re lying in a pool of your own vomit, it can be done.

Not always. But sometimes.

Today, on the tippy-top of Bullshit Mountain, you will find Jillian Michaels’ Facebook post

Ready to climb Bullshit Mountain with me? Let’s go!

headless fatty on a bike

 

So. Fitness-celeb Jillian Michaels assumes that women of size feel shame when working out at the gym, in public, amongst the Thins. I call that condescending presumption dressed up to look like encouragement, inspiration, and tough-love truth. It’s a fitness neg, like when some rando approaches you at a party and says, “You’re really pretty…have you ever thought of growing your hair out?”

SCAM! Don’t fuck that guy, and don’t internalize this headless-fatty meme either. See how the woman in the photo is cut off at the neck? She’s being depersonalized because her body is somehow so shameful they had to omit her face, yet told not to be ashamed for trying. Like, don’t be ashamed to go to the gym, Fatty McFatterson, even though your body is so objectionable we mercifully protected your identity!

Super neg! The triple twisting Yurchenko vault of emotional/marketing manipulation!

I don’t hate Jillian Michaels. I have all the damn DVD’s, and one or two are engaging enough (if you fast-forward past all the “Be your best you! Everybody else is taken!” pep talk at the end).

It’s hard to be your best you when someone “cheers you on” by judging your start as a weak one before you’re hardly on the goddamn bike, or trail, or weight rack – because you don’t look like they think you’re supposed to.

It hurts when someone posts an image online to inspire you…to NOT look like the woman in the image; the woman you actually do look like today, at this very moment, except that you have a face.

It sucks to feel good about yourself for a while, then feel bad again when someone reminds you how very deficient and lacking you are.

This is the mental soundtrack for the binge, the purge, the cravings, the vomiting, the laxatives, the endless hours on some Sisyphus machine, “paying” for the binge you had when you felt like shit about yourself, or the meal you enjoyed when you felt good. The fitspo industry party line officially disowns all of the above, of course, but let me direct you to that cute little sign in every head shop: For tobacco products only.

I like your boxing workout, Jillian. But I thought your post was super-ugly. Ugly on the inside. Right where it counts.

 

 

here’s how it ends

In a hospital cafeteria last week, an old man stood ahead of me in line for oatmeal. He reminded me of my dad, except he couldn’t use his hands very well. Oatmeal was getting everywhere and he looked embarrassed yet friendly, so I asked if he was at the hospital for physical therapy.

He said no. His daughter had died upstairs that morning of anorexia.

He was alone and so was I, so we ate together. Straightening his sugar packets in a careful pile, he told me about his daughter, who’d been my age – such a happy baby; such a bright girl – but when she was 15 she got funny about food and exercise; her weight; they spent a small fortune on rehab and counselors and some days she seemed better but other days worse.

Days became years. She wore people out.  He finally let her go, to do what she was going to do. He was sad but not surprised. He needed to go back to her apartment and go through her things for Goodwill.

“When she died,” he said, “it was like watching a fish drown in air.”

This is why I use my small sphere to fight what I fight: Because it really could have gone either way for me. You think thigh gap is some new thing the Internet invented? Thigh gap is ancient; thigh gap and bikini bridges and drink this chalky shit instead of food and here is what a woman must do to please The Great Eye are eternal because woman-hating is eternal. Thigh gap is a spot of necrotizing fasciitis in my psychic tissue where the blood supply got cut off in 1987 like it did for this old man’s daughter and the only difference is mine happens to be contained.

I want us to be clear on what the current culture does to women – even if we don’t read the magazines or watch the shows or visit the sites. It’s like secondhand smoke. It clings.

It’s why I don’t play the game, but I watch it every day. It’s a lucrative game for a lot of people, and it comes to us in friendly guises like “health” and “fitspiration” to encourage us to play; to mentally buy in. The game can be hot and compelling – can feel like you’re winning, even – but here’s how it ends: A sad old man eats a bowl of oatmeal in a hospital cafeteria and tells a stranger how he used to carry you on his shoulders in the swimming pool; how you used to laugh so easy.

smart-things link roundup

While I find the words for some of my own experiences this winter, please enjoy the following roundup of lesbian/feminist/fitness/political brilliance.

Scold’s bridle by glosswitch

“Right now I’m done with the female social code that commands me to express shame at myself, assume good faith in cruel people and deny my own qualities just so that my presence isn’t too disruptive.

This abuse is because I am a woman, not because I am a white woman. I do not believe reverse racism exists, whereas misogyny clearly does. However, this abuse does need to be placed in the context of “white feminism” – after all, it’s a phrase I used in my tweet – because it’s related to the shorthand people use for a particular type of perceived female privilege (as though privilege is not a shifting, intersecting thing that everyone with access to twitter enjoys in different ways, but a line you cross which makes you less credible, less capable of experiencing pain and less capable of acting in good faith).”

Woman-hating by any other name… by Meghan Murphy

“It seems as though we are expected to divulge every single horrific trauma we’ve experienced, every personal moment of oppression or abuse, every single problem/illness/addiction/struggle we might have faced or currently be facing, publicly and via bullhorn, before we are acknowledged as credible or worthy of a voice. Without this outpouring of every-single-horror it is assumed we’ve experienced nothing but diamonds and champagne. Do I need to tattoo “working-class” on my forehead in order to avoid being called “rich” or “classist?” Because I don’t want to. Women shouldn’t have to tell the entire world every gory detail of their stories in order to have a voice. Many women are not in a position to do this, even if they wanted to.”

Check Your Privilege: Rise of the Post New-Left by Steve D’Arcy

“If a handful of time-travelling activists from our own era were somehow transported into a leftist political meeting in 1970, would they even be able to make themselves understood?”

Making Sense of Modern Fitness by Kat Whitfield

“I too enjoy doing tricep extensions with 2lb weights while looking contemplative.”

Found this through my other favorite, Fit and Feminist. Let Kat make you laugh as you navigate the bullshit-infested waters of today’s body-dysmorphic diet-and-fitness zeitgeist. She’s written a free ebook, but if you only have time for one post, make it her takedown of a certain kind of fitspo on Pinterest.

roses– how the purity culture taught me to be abused by Samantha Field (if you have an evangelical/conservative background, or know women who do, or are seeking understanding, Samantha Field’s Defeating the Dragons is the one of the best blogs there is):

“…the modesty/purity/virginity culture, especially in more conservative areas, is one of the main reasons why Christian young women stay in abusive relationships.”

…and An Open Letter to the White Woman Who Felt Bad for Me at Yoga by Maya Rupert (policy director, National Center of Lesbian Rights): is the sharpest and most compassionate of many responses to a bad personal essay on xojane:

“The problem is that at some point you got the impression that you — in all your ‘skinny, white girl’-ness — was the ideal. And that I would, if given the choice, choose to look like you.

And that didn’t happen because your yoga class doesn’t have enough black instructors or even because you seem uncomfortable around black women.

It happened because we live in a society steeped in a system of patriarchy so strong and so insidious that we learned from a young age and have it confirmed daily that you and I can’t both be happy with who we are. Because, if in order for Cinderella to be beautiful her stepsisters had to be ugly, and if in order to compliment Jennifer Lawrence we have to insult Anne Hathaway, then in order for you to be content in your whiteness, I have to despair in my blackness, and in order for you to be at peace in your body, I have to suffocate in mine.”

Back soon.

Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Retreat: I thought it was a joke from The Onion

I never thought of a plantation as a place to party, not even when I lived in South Carolina. Never took a plantation tour or attended a plantation wedding (people really do this!) because it just seemed weird. I had to drive past the Confederate flag twice a day on the way to work and back as it waved merrily above the State House in Columbia, and that freaked me out enough. I’m, like, from Arizona. I didn’t understand a lot of things out there, like cheese grits or wearing pantyhose to work or “Sugar Pig” as a term of endearment.

I was just there for a job. And, no matter how long you live in the South, if you weren’t born there? You’re a visitor.

Southerners avoid discussing the region’s racial history with outsiders, but I did manage to meet a few pro-Confederate Flaggers who had a one-sided romance with “history” and “tradition.” Their position was, the flag didn’t necessarily support the institution of slavery but merely recalled a gracious bygone era and states’ rights. (My position was, this position was disingenuous).

And I met liberal Southerners of all races who thought nothing of attending events held at plantations (they’re listed in historic registers all over the South, where the word “plantation” isn’t loaded in the same way as everywhere else) but who HATED the flag.

Sometimes there’d be protests outside the State House, and at one of them I saw a Black woman holding a sign that said, “Your Heritage Is My Slavery.” This, I thought, was sufficient reason to take the flag down. Common sense! As George Costanza said, We’re living in a society here. We’re trying to rub along together in 21st century America with all its attendant unrest and trouble; why give unnecessary insult? Why be weird? That flag is weird! Plantations are weird! I still think this.

So. I’m not the Ani fan I was 10 or 15 years ago – her last few albums were music to wear hemp sweaters to – but I connected with her work so deeply, and for so long, that the Nottoway Plantation retreat shitstorm is a big sad ugh. I recall with unalloyed pleasure my first girl-kisses with Up Up Up Up Up Up on repeat during a foggy September night; the scent of patchouli lingering on my mouth-friend (a girl who’d marked Ani’s 30th birthday on her wall calendar) and I still play “Living in Clip” real loud when I clean the house, but the magic is mostly memory for me.

If you knew that magic, you remember: Ani was singing about you, for you. She was plucking out, with duct-taped press-on nails, the rhythms of your life. You knew the B-sides; you hung the posters; you cried on your ex-girlfriend during “Both Hands” (yeah, ex-gf came to the show with you) and took fuzzy photographs from the second row. You wished you were her guitar-changer.

We didn’t have an Internet to tell us we weren’t alone.

But I’m not 23 anymore, and Ani is worth 10 million dollars. She’s an empire who no longer personally watches over every aspect of her business; otherwise RBR wouldn’t have participated in an event at a place that whitewashes slavery (an institution known for sexual violence against women; something history books gloss over) and funnels money to right-wingers. Her fan base is liberal  and progressive; sensitive to hypocrisy of any kind, and they’re quoting her own lyrics back at her (They were digging a foundation in Manhattan/and they found a slave cemetery there…)

Her no-caps response to the escalating pile-on – much of it misogynistic, abusive and demonizing in ways unique to anonymous social media – reads badly. Whether her PR people were simply unprepared for this kind of disaster and gave her bad advice, or if they gave her good advice (apologize quickly, clearly, unequivocally, and briefly) to many it reads like an oblivious elitist didn’t hear a word they said – and for them, that negates 25 years of activism.

I don’t know if it’s my place to say they’re wrong, or to opine how a plantation site should be “reclaimed,” because I’m not Black. (It was former inmates who decided Auschwitz should be a made into a museum, you know?)

Reading non-Black opinions re: Nottoway plantation (excepting Tim Wise’s piece) reminds me of my feelings when non-teachers share vehement opinions re: education politics and classroom management strategies, or when my great-uncle says, dismissively,”No one really discriminates against the gays anymore.”

I hate that. So presumptuous! I think: This is not your pain, your struggle,  your history or your reality, so you wouldn’t know. You can’t. I’m not mad at you for not knowing, just for not listening, so hush for a minute – 30 seconds, even! – and listen. Then you can ask questions.

Nobody ever went wrong that way.

Sunday reblog: notthatstupid

http://nothatsstupid.tumblr.com/post/46545127512/anonymous-sorry-if-this-is-a-dumb-question-but-i

“Most of the time our disdain for porn and prostitution is spun to sound like we don’t support women who take part in these activities, or we are “slut-shaming” them. I fucking hate that term and that brings me to my next point, which is that we don’t participate in “reclaiming” words that are sexist or patriarchal such as slut, bitch, whore, cunt etc. Those words were created to shame us on the basis of our sex and are therefore words that in my opinion, and the opinion of most radical feminists are not salvageable. This is part of an overarching difference in our ideologies, that is that we don’t believe that activities, words, etc that are patriarchal or sexist in nature can be reclaimed or made to be empowering as long as patriarchy exists. Just because you feel ~empowered~ or whatever when you proudly refer to yourself as a bitch or when you work as a cam girl to make extra money doesn’t mean you (or any other women) actually are empowered by these things. Your feelings about something don’t change the effects they have on other women or on society.”