The Work of Woman

The world is forever ending,

every generation chasing the same

catastrophes and atrocities their parents

learned before them. Migrating in search

of herds of hatred, anger, and fear to feed upon.

 

But for each inky night that swallows up hope,

there is a woman who stands up,

though her soul is broken,

and crosses the room to light a fire

and places a potato in a pot

or the very last grains of rice,

because stomachs must be fed

and laundry doesn’t care for cataclysm.

 

A woman who, in her grandad’s pickup truck,

her forehead resting against one chapped hand

as she mouths the music on the radio,

drives to the bank for the loan,

because the chemo won’t pay for itself.

 

A woman who rises early for work at the factory

and pins a yellow Star of David on her coat,

because the rent is due, and it’s been almost a month now

since they took father and Misha away.

 

A woman who has watched a thousand men

ascend the ladder ahead of her, but who shows up,

measures her smiles and speaks calmly, firmly,

because her message is important and must not be dismissed.

 

A woman who weeps and arranges the shattered

pieces of her heart into the shape of a poem

to send out into the crumbling world,

because somewhere in the desolation

are the ears of others listening for signs they’re not alone.

 

A woman who leans over the cradle of an infant

she did not birth and will not raise,

but who she will pick up and comfort and feed,

becoming for only a moment a mother

in place of the mother who didn’t make it through the night.

 

A birthright, this numb inertia

that keeps life slowly wading forward

through the scalding lava of destruction

as the world ends

and ends

and ends

work

The Work of Woman

50 Shades of WTF?

The book I recently finished writing deals with themes related to sexual consent.

Because of this, I needed a narrative device to make the romantic relationship so overtly consensual as to be hyper-consensual.

The end result is that I’ve been writing a relationship that has elements of BDSM at a time when 50 Shades is all the rage. Yuck.

First things first. I am not a member of the kink community. However, I took care to ensure I was accurately portraying that relationship dynamic. Probably MORE SO because it isn’t one I have ownership of.

Sexuality is deeply connected to identity, and just as I would take care to responsibly portray someone else’s culture or race, I felt I needed to treat these people with as much respect as possible.

Second things second. What I’m writing is not porn. (Though my mother might disagree with that statement). So it is by definition inherently more complex than spanking and tampon yanking. The stakes are higher.

Sexuality and identity get messy fast.

Third. I really did try to read 50 Shades and the writing was so awful, I couldn’t get through it. But the books are universally accepted as badly written, so that is not my point.

My criticism is not of the book. My criticism is of the devotees of the books who argue, “It’s just a book. Relax.”

Incidentally these devotees tend to be the same women who go through relationship after relationship, then look at me and say, “You’re so lucky. You have such a good husband.”

Oh, you mean the man I chose? He didn’t fall out of the sky. I picked him. What’s more, we work very hard to maintain open communication and respect for one another. Luck has fuck-all to do with it.

If you’re following along on this conversation, you’ve heard “It’s just a book. Relax.” a lot. If I were a sociologist, I would conduct an experiment to examine the relationship patterns of the population of people who enjoy this book.

But I’m not. I’m a writer. And as a writer, my central point is this:

Stories matter.

To say, “It’s just a book” is to say, “It’s just a romanticized projection of our rape culture’s social norms that reflect what we wish to attain. Relax.”

I know it’s easy for me as a reader and a writer to place a premium on stories. Much the same way that in Hollywood, the movie about show biz always wins the Oscar. (I’m looking at you here, Shakespeare in Love).

But how can anyone say, “It’s just a book?”

It’s “just a book” about a horribly unhealthy relationship idealized as romantic.

Relax?

To be absolutely clear – the kink is not the abusive aspect of the relationship portrayed in the story. The RELATIONSHIP is the abusive part. When we equate stalking with love – we have a problem.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “If only he would completely violate my privacy and pressure me into doing things I don’t want to do, then I would know he loves me” then you, my dear, are the reason every woman who is raped is tagged as “asking for it.”

This is precisely why I developed such respect for the BDSM community as I worked on my book.

They’re grown ups about their sexuality. They don’t tolerate wishy-washy assholes and their petty drama.

As Louis CK puts it, “I’m not gonna rape someone on the off chance that she’s into it.”

Seriously, ladies? I’m trying to raise daughters here. Could we please just grow a modicum of self respect?

Do I really have to post 700,000 links to articles about how narratives are important and influence our emotional development?

Do you need studies that prove our ability to empathize is learned from stories?

Will you shut the fuck up about it being “just a book” if you see anthropological reviews that detail how narrative is the embodiment of what we are, what we wish to be, and what we must be warned against becoming?

Or are you a grown up?

This is basic.

Stories matter.

It’s never “Just a book.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go revise mine to amplify the consent aspect of the relationship. I know it will never sell 30 gazillion copies.

But I’d rather be broke than sell women shit-sandwiches and call it candy.

50 Shades of WTF?

Tweening

My eldest daughter entered the tween years this summer. Like so many other phases of parenting, this one caught me off guard.

Phases. You know they’re going to happen. Other parents tell you about them. You read about them in human development books (at least, you do if you’re married to a psych dweeb).

But nothing really prepares you for what a new phase will look like on your child. This is partially because how their biology hits them is unique for each kid and situation.

When my eldest was three, she developed a stutter that came and went for about a year. It was something I refused to make a big deal about despite the advice of other, older moms. First, because I was concerned that making a big deal about the stutter would cement it in her identity as a personal trait. Secondly, her doctor wasn’t worried, so I wasn’t either.

One day I noticed that the stutter appeared for a few weeks, and when it disappeared it left behind a new language tool, (such as use of multiple adjectives or subordinate clauses). “Okay,” I thought. “This is just her brain hard-wiring itself.” The stutter was, I thought, a result of her brain firing up new neural connections. It disappeared shortly after her fourth birthday. No one had ever told me that a stuttering phase might accompany a verbal explosion. It was unique to her.

Then there was the kid phase. This happens around 6-ish, when your child stops seeming like a baby/preschooler/snuggly love-bug and starts being a kid. A great kid. A kid you’re happy to know. But a kid with things to do and people to see, and who may or may not make mom and dad a priority. This is a phase where you step back, take a deep breath and watch them begin to grow in directions you never imagined. They develop interest in things you could not possibly care less about. But you fake it for their sakes.

The tween change has been different for me. I wouldn’t say that my daughter is on the threshold of puberty, but she’s definitely within spitting distance of it. It’s terrifying. Not only because of the wealth of dangers that accompany coming of age in our society, although goodness knows, that’s bad enough. It’s the anticipation of watching someone you love prepare to undergo a transformation more difficult and delicate than they can possibly apprehend.

I’ve done things to prepare her of course. She’s heard since she was tiny that the human brain continues to develop decision-making apparatus until around 25 years of age. That all the years up to then are critical to her cabeza.

She knows that women have periods wherein they bleed to shed unfertilized eggs.

These factoids come along with more dogmatic platitudes: “School first. Then you can worry about boys.”

But the thing the tween phase didn’t prepare me for is this. When I look at my daughter, I feel like I’m mothering an infant again. Not that she is dependent on me. Rather, it’s that sense that you get as a new parent. That part of you that says, “My god, this human being is beautiful and precious and her life has tremendous potential and that is a TON of responsibility. How do I not screw that up!!!”

Part of it is that she is truly a beauty. I’m not just saying this because I’m her mother. She’s a knock out in the making.

But she is beautiful beyond just the beauty of her features. Hers is the beauty of becoming. Sharing a house with her is like living with some mythic animal that is dangerous and beautiful, and entirely innocent of both. Sometimes when I look at her, I see the fat-cheeked, extroverted toddler that flirted shamelessly with strangers, and sometimes I swear I can see the long-legged, thin nosed, driven woman she will be in a few years.

Before becoming a parent, there’s no way to understand how fiercely you will love your children. You love them so much it’s scary. So much you feel like it will break you in two. So much that you want it to break you in two if that’s what they need from you.

It’s a conflicted love. You want them with you more than anything in the world, so you can keep them safe and share their every experience. But you want the world for them too, as imperfect as it is. A world far beyond anything you’ve ever experienced, full of opportunities beyond what you could ever provide.

So you ease them out into that world a little at a time and feel them slipping away, little by little. Until one day, the weight shifts by just a fraction, and they are more gone than here, leaving you to rejoice for the new adventures they’ve found, while your own heart breaks and mends and breaks over and over again endlessly.

Tweening

LOVEVOLVE

(Originally published in Orbis International Literary Magazine, May 2008)

 

Finding selves alone lacking,

we traffic each other’s traits

with specious selection;

 

Love – prime ordeal,

a reckless leap of faith –

like a fish finding footing,

forsaking dorsal to the dirt.

 

Love – the blind belief we can evolve

into something without scale.

LOVEVOLVE