Funk Life With Community and Woodpecker

From Flickr user DNAMichaud
From Flickr user DNAMichaud

I have traditionally avoided funks by being addicted to productivity. If I am constantly in a flurry of activity, I cannot introspect enough to be depressed.

I become anxious if I’m not getting stuff done. (I think, lately, because I’m scared of facing myself.)

But this semester, I have intentionally lightened my load.

The result? I have been in a 3-month long funk of rage and sadness.

The usual thing (writing) isn’t helping. Neither is working out. Though I’m still doing both. Less than I’d like to be.

I have been getting much, much less done; and I’m trying to be okay with that. It’s hard.

I’m not saying this to elicit pity, so if it is your impulse to say something like, “It’ll get better!” and “You go girl!” please don’t. I know it will get better. I am totally going.

I am sharing about my funk because funk shouldn’t be taboo. Because women’s funk especially should not be taboo. A lot of us have memorized lessons that say, “contentment is not your birthright: internalize and adjust, you can make everyone happy.”

I’m calling shenanigans on all that. That shit is a recipe for an eternal motherfunking funk.

There’s a lot of media about women in extreme funks: substances and addiction, abuse, approximate or near life-ending funks.

This funk I’m having isn’t anything like that.

This is a low-grade, sometimes ignorable funk. But ignorable funks are dangerous: my intuition is lower, I feel like checking out. Ignoring things that are important can have lasting physical, emotional, and financial consequences.

But funks are also a healthy part of the process. And I’m learning how to use it to be a better person, instead of just ignoring it or launching back into a frenzy of hyper productivity. I’m making conscious, deliberate, steps toward no mo funk. Or low mo funk.

Part of my funk is the result of plugging into books about women, about feminism. Intentionally becoming more tuned in to my daughter’s education (which is fucking depressing and a post for another day). Paying attention to politics.

Looking at myself and the ways in which my religious, rural upbringing has shaped the way I think about myself and other women, how I have voluntarily believed(and sometimes still believe) I am not worthy or deserving of things that, frankly, I want. Basic things like professional fulfillment and money and self-assurance, confidence, and to be taken seriously by people in authority.

I’m staring the fact that I talk myself out of a lot of self-confidence directly in the face.

I’m trying to figure out how to stop getting in my own way when I want to communicate in important and meaningful ways.

I am trying to get to the locus of my fear.

I am trying to become a better woman so I can teach my daughter to be powerful and self-actualized and know how to ask for and pursue what she wants without feeling like an imposter.

And over the last few days, I’ve had a couple of experiences in my communities that made me feel relevant. And strong. And proud.

So I want to take this moment to be grateful for my communities and share them with you.

One of the communities, the best one is the Wilkes Creative Writing community. Just being connected to so many productive writers gives me the warm fuzzies. So many of my peers, friends, colleagues, and teachers from Wilkes are doing amazing things.

This is 5 out of 900 things that just crossed my Facebook feed yesterday and early this morning.

The fabulous Trilby wrote me special to ask for a submission to her new online journal, Red Lit. (You should check it out and submit, too).

And an editor at a tiny press who has my manuscript has been sending me poems and links that my work reminds him of, challenging my thinking and being generally awesome.

And the facebook group dedicated to raising awareness to Opt Out of Standardized Testing for PA has provided assurance that I am not, in fact, insane. And encouragement and advice when I was seriously millimeters from letting apathy win.

I had a wonderful, long, simpatico conversation with a district administrator when I showed up to opt Child out of the PSSAs.

And last week, after a failed hour with Angie’s List and web searches for talk therapists in my region, I put out a Facebook update asking for recommendations of secular (you wouldn’t believe how difficult this is in my area), female talk therapists so that I can get help to untangle this mess in my head. This mess that I don’t even have specific words for. My friends delivered. And I even have insurance. Thanks, Obamacare.

It feels good to do things that give me power and that I want to do. Small steps.

Anybody care to share a moment of funk? Or a month or year? How did you get out of it? or How did you cope?

A Good Chat, a Good Chap: Writing About Alive People

from Flickr user CraigeMorsels
from Flickr user CraigeMorsels

One of the many things that I laugh at myself about is that I’m 32. There’s really no call for me to be writing a memoir. I’ve got no business.

I don’t think it would matter what I was working on, I’d feel like I had no business writing it.

Another thing that gives me chuckles and massive, intestine-twisting anxiety in equal parts is that I’m writing a lot about alive people.

Some of these alive people are people with whom I’ve not been on the greatest terms for some time. A lot of them are members of my family.

And this is shitty, but I really am not worried too much about writing stuff about my parents. They might be upset with me for a while, but they won’t stop talking to me forever, because they love the hell out of their grandchild. Who knew that having a baby at 24, which is one of the many things I’m writing about, would protect me from memoir backlash in the future? Ha!

I’m working through an edition of Writing the Memoir: From Truth To Art, and the section on writing about people who are alive says (this is a paraphrase),

You have a responsibility to the people you’re writing about other than yourself, you don’t necessarily have to stop what you’re doing, but you have to understand that what you’re doing may have larger consequences for them, and is it worth it? The limits of responsibility and how to define them vary from writer to writer, from story to story. Some people do it this way, others do it another way, your answer will depend on your sense of ethics and your willingness to open yourself to legal trouble. More on that in the appendix.

The appendix says that memoirists have to worry about defamation and invasion of privacy. There are a bunch of things that a work has to be in order to be defaming, and one of the things is false, so I feel fairly safe from that one. It also says you’re probably okay if you change names and avoid specifically identifiable information, which I would do anyway, because I worry about getting sued, and when pressed, about potential harm to the people I know or have known, even though some of them deserve my ire.

I’m not sure I’m fond of the idea of literary revenge. It strikes me as unproductive and ultimately unsatisfactory. I am trying to be fair, even when it is hard.

Of course, I’ve thought a lot about this.

Good Chap

Over the past several weeks, you’ve read some stories involving others. Sometimes those stories have been intimate, like in the post about my sister and I showering together.

I sent my sister the copy I intended to use, and she said, “well, that’s not exactly how I remember it, but that’s the beauty of narrative, right?” She gave me her blessing.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the first time I ever gave a guy a blow job. It was a thing I really hadn’t thought about in probably years, and it just leapt off my fingers.

And that hasn’t been posted yet, but it will be.

And I felt like, since that guy is still alive, and since we have friends in common, and since I thought it would be shitty for him to get a phone call something like this:

“Hello.”

“OH MY GOD, DUDE, APRIL WROTE ABOUT YOU ON HER BLOG!”

[silence]

“I DIDN’T KNOW YOUR PENIS IS RED!”

it would be classy of me to spare him by getting his permission, or at least say, “This is what I’m doing.  I’d love to use your real name. What are your thoughts?”

Because that guy possesses Mad Literary Respec, he said, (paraphrasing again, to protect the innocent) You totally weren’t required to ask me, but I appreciate it that you did. I’m cool as long as you don’t use my real name.

Then I said, “Dangit. Your real name is perfect.”

Then he said, “How about Leo?”

Then I said, “Baller.”

But Penelope says that you should never be afraid to get permission or to negotiate.

And doing that, which is sometimes way out of my comfort zone, is one of the many ways in which I shall grow, a lot, by writing this thing, and already have, and some of the other gajillion reasons I really don’t care if it never sees the light of day beyond this blog (though I’m totally operating under the assumption that somebody will publish it. How’s that for self-aggrandizing paradox?).

So what I’m saying here is that the more I write, the more I find that there are so, so few hard-and-fast rules that I should just do it, go with my gut, and work out the rest of it later.

I offer the same to you: Just do it. Carpe Diem. Now or never. Feliz Navidad. Etc.

Shit Got Real or One Bite At a Time

I’ve been writing this post in my head for a while.

Been wanting to give you and me a break from the memoir drafting stuff.

From flickr user MrsDKrebs
From flickr user MrsDKrebs

It is hard, hard, hard to be in self-examination mode, and to stay there, and to stay sane. I spent a lot of last week weeping. Part of it is I was half sick, but I’m feeling good today, forward momentum for the first time in like nine days.

It doesn’t usually take me that long to get it back.

I’ve learned some shit about myself and some of it ain’t easy to deal with. And none of it is easy to accept responsibility for. But at the end of all of this, I hope I’ll be a better person.

But that’s not what I mean by Real.

What I mean is that I am finally, finally, finally actualizing. I have been thinking about myself as a writer since I was a kid. But I have spent an absurd amount of energy and ambition and intellect trying not to be a writer.

And for about the last year, I’ve paid lip service to being a writer, and have been looking for the way home, and have been doing a lot of right things, but somehow missing the mark.

And it’s true that almost no writers get to be only writers. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about centering myself around my sense of myself as a writer.

Doing that helps me to make better choices about all the other things that are compulsory owing to adult responsibilities.

I suddenly do not feel like I’m missing out on some mirage on the horizon if I take an afternoon off, or if I take a long walk for no reason other than to walk, or if I take a day off, or if I just don’t do anything for a little while. I feel like I’m recharging. I feel like I’m getting back to the bricks of the story I’m always writing in my head.

I feel like a writer, I am all right with it. It is the rightest, goodest thing in my life. Owning it is the best thing I have ever done for my mental health.

Yes, Child is superb, but I generally feel like a fuckup of a parent. I am a better writer than I am a mother. I’ve had loads more practice

How I got home:

1. I write every day. My own work. Not stuff I’m getting paid to write, not articles, not blog posts. I make my own art five out of seven days. I view the writing I’m being paid for or the blog as other work, and I do it at a different time of day, and I think of it as separate from my own writing.

2. I read every day. Not shit I’m getting paid to read, shit that helps me be a better writer. Shit that is neither shit, nor uses the word shit as liberally as I have in this blog post.

3. I learned the value of spending time around other writers sometimes. I am giddy, giddy, giddy about going to AWP in like eight days.  I will hear smart people talk about writing for an entire weekend, and if I am brave, I will hunt down writers whose work I like and tell them I like it. I will also get a literary tattoo with my friend, Brooke.

4. I feel comfortable with my sense of myself in a way that is difficult to describe. It is like finding the perfect pair of Jeans? I have spent my life looking for this perfect cut, color, fit, and here they are, and now that I’m wearing them, I never want to take them off? That they make me feel and look so, so fucking good that I am more confident and capable willing to wrestle adversity to the floor? That’s an imperfect analog, because it feels even better than that.

In my next memoir

I will try to figure out how and why I have always known I am a writer, but got the idea that it was an invalid thing to be, or that I could never make any part of a living at it, or that I should try like hell to be something, anything else.

In the meantime, I’ve got about 145 pages out, another ten or so in progress, and ideas for at least a hundred after that, not counting the fleshing-out I’ll do in revision, or all of the trash I’ll make of things I’ve put in that don’t belong. This reminds me of that old joke: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Paydirt:

If you are an artist, be an artist. There are lots of people who will tell you why that’s a damn fool thing to want to be, and they might be right, but you’ll know if you have a choice, and if you don’t, don’t fight it. Just do it. And celebrate it. You won’t be thwarting that central part of yourself, so you’ll do better in all the other parts.

Disappointing the Christian Republicans, It Hurts: 1997 – present

The last bit of this reads like I’m a PhD.  I’m not. I have a BA in English.  In the larger piece, that is clear before you get here.

Hanging out with some friends this weekend, we were talking about our parents and how it’s easy to say, “I don’t care what they think,” but that we never mean it. On some level, no matter how grown up and independent and smart and knowledgeable we become, we  will always crave our parents’ approval.  I am no exception, but I guess I don’t want their approval enough to engage in things I think are barmy.  Onward.

From Flickr User BuckDaddy
From Flickr User BuckDaddy

There are two classifications that are deeply important to my parents. The first is Christian, and if you can claim that one, you get a pass on everything else, even if you do not also espouse the second, Republican.  It helps if you are the Rush Limbaugh sort of Republican, because like a lot of my peers with Jon Stewart, My parents’ only source of news and analysis is Rush. They use terms like “feminazi” and “Slick Willy” without irony. I stopped paying attention, but I shudder to think what that lunatic is saying about Obama beyond “produce your birth certificate, Towel Head!”

When I told my father that I didn’t think I believed in God anymore, he wrung his little hands and said, “Where did we go wrong?”

I have attended a couple of holiday church services with them since leaving home, and each time I do, my poor dad gets this watery-eyed hope on his face that breaks my fucking heart. It is so important to him. I want to rub his back and say, “Dad, I love you, but this is not the answer for me. Don’t worry. In my own religious absolutism, my soul is just fine.” I also want to shake him and say, “If all this supernatural shit you believe about God is true, isn’t it reasonable to expect that god can be anything to anyone? How can you presume to understand anything about God?”

My father used to be my guide in all intellectual pursuits. To his credit, he gave me the sense of what it means to engage in critical thinking. He was just not expecting that to backfire on him. He was expecting me to continue to inoculate myself in his traditions and rhetorics and do the correct kind of critical thinking.  He cautioned me as I announced that I’d be starting college not to let those “liberal idiots” in academia turn me into one of them.

I can’t be sure, but I think he got the following from Rush, which he repeats with glee whenever anybody mentions educated people’s opinions.  BS PhD = Bullshit, Pile higher and deeper.

And so it is that I am a massive disappointment to my parents.

The Misogynist Rhetoric Runs Deep: 1980 – present

This is the beginning of a piece about sexual assault:

This is from Flickr User Hey Paul Studios
This is from Flickr User Hey Paul Studios

It is deep inside me, a sliver of an idea, an idea that I have tried to banish by reading feminist criticism, by performing in The Vagina Monologues, by reading those sad, captioned photos online that have rape victims holding white signs with handwritten quotations from their abusers, by paying attention to politics, espousing liberal, evolved beliefs, by talking about myself as a feminist, even though there are a lot of women—outside the leftist intelligentsia—who are afraid to call themselves that. I have no difficulty thinking of a woman’s right over her reproductive choices as not remotely debatable by anybody with a lick of sense. But I cannot shake this ugly little kernel of a thought that on some level, women deserve to be raped.

The misogynist rhetoric is so, so deeply ingrained. Take this list of facts and rhetorical oddities and crimes.

  1. My parents are fundamentalist Christians who oppose abortion, gay marriage, and still talk about liberty.
  2. I was raised with the notion that a woman’s place is at home. My mother trained me well in the domestic arts. By the time I was 12, I knew how to cook, clean, do laundry, and sew. I enjoyed cooking and doing laundry.
  3. I was taught to fear sex. Sex makes you have babies, and if you do it wrong, you can go to hell. Sex is sacred and not for discussing or for doing with strangers.
  4. My mother has often told me that I “think too much.”
  5. God punishes the wanton.  If women dress slutty, then the men around them have no choice but to do their Godly duty and teach them a rapey lesson.

Naturally, in college I learned that 100% of what I knew about being a woman and sex and having a spirituality was useless. My sense of spirituality was all about feeling guilty and asking God to make it stop. My sense of womanhood was slavery to a husband, baby making. My sense of sex was so broken and hung up that I’d become afraid to lose my virginity: I clung to it as this remaining bastion of legitimacy for the dogma that authored my childhood, my sense of how men and women are supposed to interact, and my own ridiculous, misogynist reflexes about why and how women come to be raped.

So around my twenty-first birthday, I set out to prove that God wouldn’t punish me for being “bad.”

I Buy My Parents Underwear For Christmas: 1998

Kelley took loads of pictures of my family. Here’s one of my parents, probably around the time I bought them underwear for Xmas.

Picture by Kelley Stevens. My cute parents.
Picture by Kelley Stevens. My cute parents.

I am in the Point Mall because I am in the school chorus and we are having a holiday concert there. This is a strange place, I think, to have a concert, but we go early enough to shop. I go into a boutique shop full of expensive, ugly, decorative things, and spend one of my hours for shopping rearranging words on a metal display in vague, surrealist streams, as is my present style. I have a drawerful of poems at home with streams of unpunctuated lines like, “…and the window in my mind is growing teeth…”

I get a brilliant idea. Are you ready for a nonsequitur?

I will buy my parents matching leopard print nightwear for Christmas. I am, after all, their oldest child, and I have never been grossed out by the idea that my parents have sex. I have walked in on them more times than I care to count. I want my parents to do it. I do not want my parents to get a divorce, and as far as I can tell, the only real perk of marriage is sex.

The rest of it looks like a dreadful strain: cleaning, washing stuff, taking sick kids to waiting rooms full of other sick kids so then everybody in the house gets sick, and doing it all while your husband works 80 hours a week? My parents should be encouraged in the realm of carnal pleasures. I know about the birds and bees, and have since I was five. My brother was three. The whole business is the forbidden fruit, the exquisite privilege of adulthood, and when God sends my mate, a reward for being good. It does not even occur to me that there is something a bit demented about living vicariously through my parents in this way.

Mom’s is easy. I pop into the Vickie’s Secret, and after a moment, I locate the perfect nightie. It is short, strappy, and leopard print sateen. I spend my own money, which I have earned being a hostess at a restaurant.

Dad’s proves to be more difficult. I begin a frantic tour in pursuit of gaudy men’s undewear. I start with the obvious choice, Spencer’s. My older, worldlier friends have told me about this store, and I am titillated. Spencer’s is full of mysterious and sinful things that get my heart going pitter pat and my belly dropping and churning. I can’t look away, even though I know I should. Is that a plastic penis? In a box? Oh my.

A week later, I find a pair of silk leopard print boxers in Kmart in Carlisle. I am relieved, for the force of my gift will be lessened considerably if there is only pervy nightwear for my mom.