I’ve spent a lot of time reading about blogging, following the rules, trying to control my content, trying to paint a particular picture of what and who I am.
Why? I don’t know now.
The rules say 500 words. The rules say you gotta do a picture. The rules say keep it approachable. The rules say certain times of day. The rules say tagging, metadata, SEO. Keep a schedule. Don’t post too much. Don’t post too little. LOTS OF WHITE SPACE PEOPLE CAN’T PAY ATTENTION!
The rules are a nag. They are useless to me.
A few months back, I turned 36. So for a few days, I posted on Facebook & Instagram with the tag #DGAFage36.
Here’s an example from Facebook, Nov 2, 2016:
I get real big anxiety about peeing in cups, peeing outdoors, and peeing in portajohns. I have since I was little. When I was pregnant, my biggest worry on a regular basis was whether I’d be able to, and if I could, whether I’d hit or miss. #DGAFage36
At this moment, on Feb 21, 2017, I am a mess. I went from starting the birth year feeling very empowered and content and hopeful to losing my way, spectacularly.
I need to retrieve my confidence. I am afraid in ways that I wasn’t afraid 10 years ago. And not the normal, getting-to-know-my-own-mortality shit, either. Some days, I’m afraid to go out into the world.
I have a few strong, powerful, good women in my life who have helped me realize that I need to DO SOMETHING. So since I still have 2 weeks until I can get into therapy, I’m starting here. With a public declaration that I am actively working to retether. And that part of this work is not giving a f*ck.
This is accountability. This is practice.
So henceforth, this blog won’t be about anything specific or focused, not that it really ever has been. But I used to try.
Trying is good at work, when there is a thing, person, or cause to keep you moored. When trying as part of a team means something in a defined structure.
But in my life, I’m discovering that trying is inextricable from people pleasing, and it will drive me bananas–trying toward my own slave-driver, neurotic standards, or what I guess about others’ standards, or the internet’s copious, contradictory advice about itself, is a surer way to land at the bottom of whatever abyss I’m approaching.
Today, I want to write about writing about whatever the f*ck I want.
Tomorrow, it might be something else, like how much I’m enjoying Anthony Bourdain’s old CNN show Parts Unknown on Netflix. Or how much it makes me want to stab myself when people compare me to Lena Dunham. Or nothing at all.
Or maybe I will never write about either of those things. I don’t have to, you know. And I #DGAF.
Comment if you want. But no pressure. Not closing w/ a question to drive engagement. Not following dem rules. #DGAFage36
During these last lazy days of summer, spend some of your afternoon spinning around in your desk chair looking at these lovely lady entrepreneurs of the interwebs. Some of these would be fantastic bookmarks for holiday gifts.
Goddess Leslie Hall
Leslie Hall is one of my new feminist heroes. Her YouTube channel is a treasure. And if you want to buy some things she made, you can just visit her website.
A very strange woman I know recently got serious about selling some of this spectacular soap she and her people make. Check it out.
An annoying vegan told me they might be doing gift packs + wrapping for Xmas at very, very reasonable prices.
So, if you like whales, and I totally do, this thing is happening. It’s a newly funded kickstarter an acquaintance of mine ran to make researching whales a) easier, and b) less stressful for whales by COLLECTING THEIR MUCOUS. USING ROBOTS. Huzzah! Girl Power!
Lady Lucy’s Madness
I really love knowing creative people. Mad Lucy makes the most excellent accessories I have ever seen using doll parts, clay, sequins, eyeballs, and all manner of other fantastic things. Visit her Etsy store for more info.
Sojourn of a Hungry Soul
Laurie Cannady’s memoir is beautiful and powerful and astonishing. I’ll be introducing her at her book launch in November, at Lock Haven University where she teaches. Reserve your copy on Amazon or at etruscanpress.org.
Today I drove 40 miles south, then a few hours later I drove back. I saw at least ten cars pulled over, but only got a look at four of the drivers. Two black; two white. I wish I could say I believed there’s a chance the six drivers I didn’t see were white.
Christians, if you’re going to drive like assholes, maybe don’t have those WWJD bumper stickers or icthyses placed prominently on the rear end of your car which I will undoubtedly see as you cut me off.
Brokeass white people with Romney Ryan stickers left over from ’12, one of these days I really will rear end one of you. Know how I know your asses are broke? You drive Jeeps and Ford Escapes from ’89 that almost look lacy for all the rust. Your cars make more noise than semis, and not cos you installed a muffler enhancer. And at least half of you drive around shirtless.
Anybody reading this have any experience with 4th graders and pickup lines? Asking for a friend.
Thinking about law school and getting a PhD with equal lather lately. Anybody know the starting salary for a social justice lawyer? HAHAHA.
Sometimes, I eat onions then I smell really bad.
Nobody in my family loves the Green Ralph Lauren cologne the way I do. Anybody who wears that wanna follow me around so I can inhale deeply your delicious odor like a sweaty perv?
My student’s incomplete is due on Monday. I will turn in his grade on Friday. Don’t know why I feel so anxious about whether or not he will actually turn in his incomplete. Maybe it’s related to the fact that I haven’t been brave enough to view my scores on rate my professor dot com.
Finally, I’m 34. It’d be really unfair if I were really perimenopausal. If, in fact, I am, I am looking for a gynecological surgeon for some pro bono work on my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. You may keep them for study. Say you found them in a dumpster. I don’t care.
It also blew up the internet a little. You Go, Susan.
I’ve been noticing these past six months or so as a teacher and person-who-occasionally-reads-and-writes-emails-in-a-professional-setting and a person-who-has-relationships-with-other-people-that-sometimes-include-talking-about-important-shit, that people in general do not see nuance.
Roxane Gay, in her book Bad Feminist, agrees with me. I am obsessed with that book right now. It is saving and affirming my life.
But people are even less likely to be able to see and appreciate nuance if a situation is emotionally charged in any way.
I become a dreadful adherer to the divine principles of black and white when I am upset. We all do.
And therein lies some of the danger of the immediacy of internet publishing (tweeting, blogging, rocking out an essay for Slate, etc).
Discourse between Jennifer Weiner and Jonathan Franzen could be so interesting, complex, and helpful.
But because they both have the platform and freedom to reply in the heat of the moment, and because they are both super brainy people with big opinions, and because they genuinely rub each other wrong, they do a lot of name calling.
Jennifer Weiner’s not the only woman lobbying for equal representation for women in publishing.
While punchy and entertaining, her remarks are defensive. She ignores the nuance. She sort of takes what JF said about her out of context. She writes as if he just randomly decided to say something else inflammatory about her.
That’s not really what happened. He was asked, specifically, about women writers and Jennifer Weiner. My girl Susan even mentioned VIDA.
Something else he didn’t do? Slam all women writers.
I think he asked an important question, “Do we want Jennifer Weiner to be the spokesperson for equal representation of women’s writing?” to which I would add the following questions:
Why aren’t there many male spokespeople on this topic?
How is it not clear that crime novels and romance novels and other commercial novels have the same value as each other, and if some are reviewable, well damnit, so are they all?
Why does Jonathan Franzen get to ignore the fact that there are other spokeswomen on this topic, some of whom I’m sure he’s actually read? Some of whom probably also have a fraught relationship with Twitter!
These are important questions, all of them, and even though he’s a blowhard some of the time, Jonathan Franzen would be interested discuss. So would Jennifer Weiner.
Jonathan Franzen actually said *this is an important issue.* And the problem with the idea of Jennifer Weiner being perceived as The Spokesperson is that a) she is not, and b) she is not the only kind of woman writer. There are lots of us.
The bigger problem, as I see it, is that Jonathan Franzen (and many other white male writers) are able to live in a world of total ignorance of this conversation.
They just don’t know how many of us women writers are speaking out–on twitter, on our blogs, as teachers at universities, as public figures, sharing the VIDA count link every year, getting together with our lady writer friends and guzzling wine and talking talking talking about this very shit.
They don’t know because they don’t have to, because the stakes are very very low for them.
But who wants to pay attention to a conversation full of name calling, especially if they are on the long end of the privilege stick?
I like Jennifer Weiner. I heard her speak, shook her hand. She is funny and warm. I would have coffee with her without thinking twice. I bought one of her books for my mom for Xmas. New.
But these two are publicly quibbling over a VERY IMPORTANT ISSUE, that I doubt, when the rubber hits the road, they differ on much at all.
Imagine if these two leveraged the breadth variety of their audiences to raise awareness and !Action! on this issue? Weiner’s already made strides.
I think that Franzen must be ignoring information that is certainly at his disposal, since he claims “[Jennifer Weiner makes] no case for why formulaic fiction ought to be reviewed in the New York Times.”
The thing people have seized about that statement is, “Jennifer Weiner makes no case.” (she does, it’s in her rebuttal)
I haven’t read anything that notes how Franzen’s got the wrong stick here. Nuance, anyone?
NY Times Book Review lets you search all reviews since 1981. I typed in Stephen King , got numerous hits of reviews both by him and of his books on the first page. Then I typed in the less-famous-and-way-less-notoriously-tight-with-the-intellectual-lefties, John Grisham, and the same.
Just for funzies, I typed in Anne Rice and got two articles. One from 2014, a year after Times Books’s controversial hiring of a female Editor Pamela Paul, and another, on the second page of results, from 2008. (I also found the review of Weiner’s most recent).
But Franzen says something else, too, in that interview. Something surprising. Something I think Jennifer Weiner would have to wholeheartedly agree with. He says what people read doesn’t have to be emotionally complex, that adults reading YA Fiction aren’t doing anything wrong, even though other Grumpy White Dudes think so.
I think Franzen would have to agree that fiction on par with Jodi Picoult, Jennifer Weiner, and Stephen King, is the same kind of delicious, ready escapism.
And some other day I will write about the problem that almost everyone mentioned in this little blog post is white.
So let’s all unbunch our panties, boxers, or dingleberries, shall we, and have an actual conversation. Let’s ask honest questions and discuss them after taking a break to scream, privately, into our pillows, about how much of an arrogant prick the question asker is, or what an entitled c-word.
I’m not glad Rodger is dead. I feel badly for his parents. I think the whole thing is awful and probably, in its rawest most elemental parts, not even Rodger’s fault. I feel awful that I live in a world that would foster an Elliot Rodger and his manifesto. I feel yucky that not enough people (including therapists and police) Rodger reached out to in his time of misogyny said, “Dudebro. Chill. Someday, you’ll have sex and it’ll be great. For now, concentrate on being smart and kind. Let me help you. PS, women are awesome + smart people just like you, not property, merchandize, or beasts to be tamed.”
Honest to god, I didn’t get the #YesAllWomen thing the first time I heard it. I was like, wait, what? Yes All Women What? What single experience could possibly read across cultures for all women? Clearly I was not spending (any) time on Twitter.
I began to pay attention in my own life. I wait tables for money in a brew pub. I love my job. I love people. I typically have a great time at work. But sometimes, way more often than it seems I notice, I act to protect myself. This behavior is ROTE. Most of us don’t even think about it, we just act. To be nice. To be ladylike.
Anecdote: I waited on a table of a big family. A sweet older woman grabbed my arm and read my tattoo. She looked at me quizzically. She said, “You don’t look like a feminist. You look cute.” #YesAllWomen
At the brew pub, I waited on a pair of old guys visiting from a big city. One of them, after most of their second pitcher of beer and about three hours of bossing me around (read, taking up a table through the dinner rush), told my tits that he’d treat me like a queen if I ever visited his city.
Instead of saying what I wanted to say, which is “Stuff it, Perv.” I mustered a phony laugh and a “Sure!” from my reserve of phony laughs and crazy-agreeable lady speak. Jack ass didn’t even tip 20%.
I asked myself why I did that.
I did it because of fear. Because I was scared that if I told the old guy to go fuck himself, he would wait for me and do something mean and shitty or just stalkery and frightening to me after work.
I started to pay attention to my feelings around men I don’t know all the time: when I’m running, if I’m alone somewhere, if I’m picking up my kid at school, if I’m walking across a parking lot.
I realized, unconsciously, I give all strange men, regardless of their race or age, a wide berth. Yesterday, I was at the park running and there was an old guy sunbathing with his newspaper. I was a little frightened of him because I couldn’t reckon out why the heck he would be hanging out at the park with half his clothes off, reclining like it’s his fucking living room. He coulda been the sweetest dude on the planet, but the alternative was too horrifying to attempt to find out. #YesAllWomen.
Which brings up two things. 1) my personal belief that if we are going to end sexism, racism, and all other bigotry, we must accept that we are complicit and begin to see ourselves as part of the problem (that means, stop saying, “but I’m not a racist,” because it’s just not true); then act, moving forward with empathy, with a conscious desire to change our thinking, our emotional responses, and our unconscious and intentional reactions to the subjects of our bigotry. Here’s a humbling appeal from a woman of color to us white women who do not always provide the empathy we demand. And 2) some men, those who would doubtless put themselves in the #NotAll category, do not see this problem for a number of reasons, but the two main ones are lack of empathy + lack of visibility. Here, give this a think.
Anecdote: YESTERDAY, I drove in my car past a very beautiful young woman who was wearing a pair of short black shorts and a sheer tank top with a black bra underneath. My first thought was, “she looks great, I love her outfit.” My second thought was, “But is she trying to get raped?” My third thought was “Ohmigod I can’t believe I just thought that bullshit. Followed by a long self-hating lecture I’ll spare you all from outlining how she can wear whatever she wants and she is powerful and beautiful it is not her job to act to circumvent rape and rape is not a result of women wearing awesome outfits and so on. WE ARE ALL PART OF THE PROBLEM.
And as a counterpoint to lack of empathy? Of awareness? Some men, young men even, are starting to notice and want to help to affect change. Here’s an appeal for more empathy, for all people to be feminists. Let’s all try to be more like that writer’s son. Like that writer for raising a son who can look at himself unflinchingly and honestly.
I’ve been crabby this week. Short with the people I love + generally feeling full of rage. I have these periods occasionally. Ones where, when I learn things about myself and the world around me, I am pissed off. I don’t think this huge social problem is all that’s making me grumpy: I’m at a transitional period in my life + I’m sorting through stuff in my mind that I don’t always understand until I talk it over with my therapist.
And here’s the bullshit thing about my crabbiness: I’m pretty fucking privileged. I get to feel crabby on nice furniture in a house that has plenty of space and always food in the fridge. The ridiculous and horrifying things that have happened to me at men’s hands are pretty minimal compared to what other women have experienced. I know that where I work, there are at least a dozen people who would have my back if some stalkery nonsense happened. I happen to be heterosexual and white, so I live with a nice, tall white dude which is a fine asset. I have a baller education and the freedom to get more, which is also a huge, huge privilege.
I guess the thing that makes me mad is that it matters I’m white and heterosexual. I just don’t understand why it can’t be the same for all humans, regardless. I mean, I can explain why, I can regurgitate the things I have learned (in college, not in my conservative upbringing), I can even sort of understand the fear that makes some of the bad stuff happen.
But here’s the part that I don’t get: We live in a culture where we can use a device that has enough advanced tech in it, it can tell when it’s laying on a table, in a purse, or check your pulse. It can teach you anything you can ask it about. Why the hell can’t we get our shit together to teach our children, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances that differentness is not a cause for oppression. Differentness doesn’t mean that another person’s experience is invalid. All humans have experiences that exist even if we can’t see or understand them. And differentness is a thing to be honored and experienced and edified by. All of us with the same opportunities, working together to make the world awesome? If I could snap my fingers and make one thing happen, I would eliminate hate. We would be so powerful and so. much. happier.
And I’m not the only one trying to make sense of this, weighing in on the Blogosphere. I hope I’m not the only one who’s working hard to abolish her revolting racist, sexist, classist, ageist, internal garbage with which I’ve been acculturated.
And for some vaguely related historical tidbits, read about the sadly departed Maya Angelou’s history as a sex worker and how uncomfortable book people–the people whom I would wish to be least narrow about acceptable behavior, sexuality, ideas from women–are with her stint as a prostitute. Or about how the Christians are trying to stop Harvey Milk’s Forever Stamp legacy. Because, y’know, he was gay and stuff, and as Westboro Baptist is so fond of reminding us, “God Hates Fags.”
Scream in the comments if you want. Tell me which link you liked best. Share your #YesAllWomen story. Or tell me how I can be a better ally if you are part of a group my straight, white brethren are so fond of oppressing.
I used to feel outright hostile toward fitness/body progress shared on social media.*
So I asked myself why.
All I could come up with was dumb fear that:
a) I will be judged when I backslide,
b) I will be judged because I am still chubby, even though I exercise,
c)I will become one of those one-gong bangers and ONLY post about fitness.
Here is why I have decided to change.
a) Fuck people who judge.
b) see letter a.
c) Why would I ever worry about that? I am far too interesting with too many pursuits and obsessions to limit myself to posting about fitness.
In case you are also loathe to mention progress on social media, I encourage you to adopt a self-restricting policy: I allow myself one weekly post (on Facebook only) about fitness, typically after my first running workout of the week, and typically discussing my amazement that I continue to make progress and it ain’t even that ouchy.
All the exercise bloggers and google searches you can imagine will tell you that exercise helps you sleep better.
That is truth.
I get good rest, and I require fewer hours of it, then I wake up with beautiful, fully-formed thoughts happening in my head, which often, eventually, make it to the page.
Running between 1.5 and 2 hours each week with increasing intensity has, in the first five weeks alone, given me back more energy and a more whole sense of wellness than two years of more Zumba than that (even though I still love Zumba and go when I am not feeling too shin-splinty/muscle achy).
More energy means I do things–even dumb small things like bending over and picking up a sock, or putting shoes in the closet or doing the dishes instead of sitting round thinking about how I’m too bushed to do those things. My body feels better, so I am more efficient which means, you guessed it, more time for writing.
And also more food. I love food.
Running is trusting your body.
Writing is trusting your mind.
This is a symbiotic relationship, and weekly practice helps me extend that self-trust to other areas which is a thing I struggle with.
Getting sweaty reduces stress.
Reducing stress reduces anxiety.
Lower anxiety means fewer excuses about why I am not writing, fewer minutes wasted fighting with my inner critic.
The current working title of my memoir is I Am Coming In From the Other Side: This is Me Finding My Way.
While drafting, which took place over a couple of years, starting in mid 2011, I had to get into sticky, uncomfortable places with myself. I had to think hard and look hard about choices I’ve made and why I’ve made them and whether or not I’m proud of those choices. I had to take a hard, honest look at interactions I’ve had with other people and figure out what was really going on.
I had to think about my parents, a lot.
There were moments of triumph and pride and breakthrough, yes.
But there were also dark moments of crippling self-scrutiny, self-pity, and clear, sharp anger with myself, with situations I put myself in, frustration with myself at all the things I couldn’t possibly have known.
There were moments during the drafting that I felt clearer than I’ve ever felt.
But then, after, about a third of the way through the fifth or sixth round of substantive revisions, and at a fortuitous break in my generally high levels of productivity, I felt like the clarity shattered around me. Like I was standing inside a light bulb that someone BBed.
I understood, beyond intellectually, the titular metaphor in Plath’s The Bell Jar.
I understood the impulse to end it all.
Those two things scared the shit out of me.
I spent too much time on TV and not enough on writing or being a connected mother and partner. I wept what felt like constantly. I couldn’t even think about myself, but I worried about myself unrelentingly. It was like being numb but in deep, un-feelable pain at the same time.
So I started going to therapy, which was a thing I’d been thinking about doing for a years.
I now feel like I’d been fingering the edges of this great disk of anxiety that was just kind of hanging out inside me, barely holding it at bay while it influenced me in ways I didn’t recognize and couldn’t understand.
I have only just begun to untangle this with my counselor.
But I have reinhabited myself; my self-comfort, self-confidence has started to return. My focus on the important day-to-day stuff sharpens with startling ease and quickness. I found my way into my MFA paper. I have begun to learn how to recognize and stop specious feelings of guilt. I have started to practice, at my counselor’s urging, really looking at what’s happening when I have a stress response or when I get a big feeling, so I understand triggers and can use them for good instead of evil.
Nothing in my life is different except for my understanding of what’s going on in my body. I needed help to figure it out.
I also needed the honest desire to do so.
I feel powerful and alive and hopeful in ways I have not for some time. Getting these back are like re-encountering old, dear friends with whom everything is easy and good.
My dad experienced a similar thing ten years after Jen Senko’s dad. I cannot WAIT to watch that movie, to look at the locus of my dad’s strident, wrong-headed politics, to have affirmation that the religious right (or whatever its most current name is–T-baggers?) are intellectually irresponsible.
The ideological, philosophical, and religious differences between me and my parents, and my personal, persistent inability to shove myself into a box that would please them, are really the root of my desire to write a memoir at all.
And even though it has been hard and intense, I’m really glad I had the freedom to do it, I’m really glad for the lessons about myself I’ve learned in the process, and I am wildly grateful that I live in a time where even poor people can get health insurance and afford to go to counseling.