Friday, August 24, 2012

Public Displays of Affection

There have been three newsworthy shootings in the last few weeks. One was the Aurora shooting at a movie theater in the Colorado community. One was the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. And one, today, was in New York City, where a shooter shot four people in front of the Empire State Building. People make very public proclamations of sadness, but these proclamations seem a bit disingenuous to me. I wonder if the public sadness -- the near wailing and gnashing of teeth that can seem to take place by people who don't know a thing about the victims -- is more a sadness over having our general bubble of security burst in such an intrusive way.

You see, terrible things happen every day. Almost every day I will have at least one moment when a feeling will grip me and send my body into terror. I will be driving along on the highway, for instance, happily finished with the work day, and I'll think, "Something bad is happening to someone right now, and there's nothing I can do about it." I'll feel panicked, helpless, and overwhelming sadness all at once. I feel an intense feeling I cannot name; it's most likely just the unnameable meaninglessness that comes up for me in the face of life's seeming cruelty. I'm seeing a therapist for this tendency of mine. It's not so much that I'm a negative person. It's more that I feel that the only meaning I can find in life is the desire to make things better, and making things better depends first on recognizing that things need to be made better in the first place. I'm told that most people don't think this way. They allow themselves to be distracted by the comforts of their lives. At least, until a shooting happens in a very public way at the right time in the news cycle, garnering lots of coverage and sparking a public discussion of how unsafe we all are.

As if we were ever safe.

My therapeutic treatment actually involves distraction. I'm supposed to do something else when these thoughts come up. I understand there really isn't anything I can do about an unknown victim somewhere in the world. But distraction feels like part of the problem. If there is any evil in materialism, it is that it tricks us into believing that life is inherently comfortable. A recent study showed that people who make less money give more to charity than those with more. They know that life is bad. They don't forget. People are dying every day, but many of us only choose to mourn when it cannot be ignored.

But I wonder if we're really just mourning for ourselves.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hurtling Toward the Grace of God

I'm currently reading Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox by Lois Banner. It's a biography of Marilyn Monroe. I'd never considered reading a biography of Marilyn Monroe; you always think you know her story. She married Joe DiMaggio. She married Arthur Miller. She was America's sexpot. She was emotionally unstable, and her death is the most talked about part of her story, shrouded in mystery and conspiracy theory. Everyone knows her, but I suspect most people have never watched even a single Marilyn movie. I have; I was a classic movie junkie as a child, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is a personal favorite.

However, this story is riveting, and as with most anyone you could ever sit down with and discuss their life, so much greater than the sum of its parts. And the book was written by a woman who teaches history and women's studies. It's interesting to get a feminist perspective on Marilyn's life story.

The other night I was lying in the bathtub, reading. I'm getting to the part of the story where things have really ramped up. It feels like I'm not hurtling toward her death instead of steadily climbing. As a biography, the book relates the facts in chronological order. I'm trudging through Marilyn's life, one event at a time. And following a life story in this way can make it feel as if you're accelerating life. I mean, you are. Instead of seeing her life in real time, I'm seeing it in a matter of weeks. In that bathtub, speeding toward her death, i began to squirm. It suddenly felt as if all of life was running toward the finish line, mine included. Most people argue this all the time -- life is short, the exclaim. But the moments when I feel that deep in my bones, actually physically feel it happening, are a completely different matter than the intellectual construction of what that means.

Exploring another person's life in this way throws the idea of choices in stark relief. At the end of a chapter, Ms. Banner comments that by deciding to take a certain film role, Marilyn unwittingly set in motion a series of events that would end her marriage to Arthur Miller. That was never her intent, of course, and it feels like an excellent counterpoint to those who talk about "good" choices and "poor" choices as if we all know which is which all of the time. It's easy to believe, for instance, that doing drugs is a "poor" choice, but I could find you 10 people in 10 minutes who feel that doing drugs turned into one of the best choices of their lives. And looking back, Marilyn could've exclaimed, "Why did I take that part?!" But the truth at the heart of this matter is that we really have no way of knowing the outcomes of our choices for certain.

I come back to this idea whenever I begin to feel myself wanting to punish someone for their supposedly poor choices. My response to those who say, "They did it to themselves," is, "There but for the grace of God go you, too." Some people pay far too much for the same choices that others make unnoticed.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Reflections on Poison and Perfectionism

I live in Dallas, Texas, where cases of West Nile have been unusually high and (last I could tell) ten people have died. That's ten people in the city of Dallas. Sometimes they tell you how many people in Dallas COUNTY have died; I think they do this to up the drama. So about two hours from now they will spray poisonous insecticide from the sky, and there's not a damn thing I can do about it.

I mean, I tried to do something about it. I wrote my councilman -- TWICE -- and when I found out he doesn't read his emails, I emailed his assistant. I emailed the mayor. I emailed the district judge. I also posted a comment on his Facebook page. Everywhere I looked people appeared upset about the spraying. And every story I saw made it obvious that they were being ignored. Threads of comments on articles 10 or 15 posts deep with variations on, "PLEASE DON'T SPRAY US WITH YOUR POISON!" and nary a dissenting opinion in the bunch. But it all started to feel like a bunch of tiny people screaming and shaking their fists as a giant put the lid on their box. The case, it would appear, was not up for debate. The scariest part is that there's pretty much nothing we can do about it. I considered driving the hour to my parents' house in Sherman for the night, but I have to go to work in the morning. It still feels like a tough call. 

It's petrifying, really.

I'm sitting on my couch at 8:30, one hour and 30 minutes from the commencement of the spraying. I look down, and I see a mosquito quietly sucking on my wrist. I chase it away to find that it has left two bites on my wrist, and I think, "Awesome. I might get West Nile AN HOUR AND A HALF before the spraying that supposed to kill the mosquitos and protect me from the West Nile while damaging my endocrine system!" It's moments like these when one really gets in touch with the feeling of powerlessness. At this point, all I can do is sit back and wait, watching to see which side is going to get me first. 

I'm already wondering if my slight sense of fatigue is the early onslaught of West Nile. It couldn't possibly be my poor sleep habits...

So here I am, sitting on my couch, pondering the complete futility of life because of two mosquito bites and a little insecticide. Earlier, Sean asked me if I ever feel like life is an endurance test. He asked if I ever felt like I was failing that test miserably. I said I don't usually feel like I'm failing it miserably, but that's because I did A LOT of work on my perfectionism in therapy years ago. I realized it's a complete waste of time to worry about perfecting things that will seem as if to have never existed (namely myself) within 10 years of my death. I do, however, often feel like I'm not sure why I do half the shit I do. I'm not trying to be perfect, but I do schedule myself to death trying to cram as much FUN and MEANINGFULNESS into my life as possible. Then I'm faced with a moment wherein I could possibly be about to simultaneously suffer from a serious disease and the side effects of a dangerous chemical and I think, "I NEVER SHOULD'VE QUIT SMOKING!"

Apparently when faced with my own mortality, I have exactly the opposite reaction from the one you're supposed to have. I'm supposed to be sitting here wondering if I smelled enough roses or some shit. Instead, I'm lamenting all the cigarettes I did not smoke. 

Although I suppose that one man's rose is another man's Camel Light.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Oh well.

I woke up late this morning. There were amazing storms here last night. Around 9:45 pm, I suddenly saw a flash of lightning that looked like veins in the back of a hand, branching out. In the middle of the night a dramatic clap of thunder woke me. I marveled at how it rhythmically echoed away from my house, punctuated by another far-off clap of loud thunder as the echoes came to an end. It made me smile like a pleased and sleepy cat. And all of this drama knocked out my power, messing up my alarm clock. 

Oh well.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Breath Holding

I am going to write one thing a day every day for this week. I thought of it this morning, making coffee, my own voice from the night before settling in my head. “I hate everything,” I said. Not just like that – there was more to it. But it’s the same complaint I’ve had from time to time throughout my entire life. I get itchy, bored, and begin to feel like I want to crawl out of my skin. It happens when every day is too much the same as the other days. Every week follows the same trajectory. My brain begins to feel like a jumbled mess of expectations and time schedules, and I start thinking, “Burn it to the ground!” over and over. I’ve learned not to burn things so easily, but I still haven’t learned how to be okay with that.

I weight pros and cons, exerting all of my energy reminding myself why I don’t want to fuck it up. “It will be different tomorrow,” I tell myself, because that’s what I’ve been taught to tell myself at times like these. Sometimes it’s not actually any different until next month, but it keeps me from disappearing for another day.

Most people say they hate change, and it drives me nuts. I love change. I love it too much. I used to only sign six month leases and move every time those leases ran out, even if it was just a few blocks away. I used to practically live in my car and feel confused when I saw cars in driveways at night.

I’m already getting distracted by Facebook.

Last night, I lied in bed with my husband and told him that I hate having to be places at certain times. Why can’t I just do things when I have the energy for them? Why can’t I just do them when I want to? Hearing myself repeat it, I know it sounds childish – or is it childlike? – but I have to wonder why that’s so bad? People talk a lot about the value of maturity, but certain supposed mature traits feel a lot like preparation for death to me. I know I have to die at some point, but I don’t think it’s an act that requires practice.

He says there's value in working hard for something, committing oneself to a goal and achieving it. He asks me if I don't agree; everyone agrees. I'm not sure. I think I want to agree, but I'm not sure. I'm always looking for a third way. 

I’m forcing myself to write all of this down because I used to be very prolific. I used to write all the time. And then I began to feel like I was repeating myself. All writers do. You have certain ways of seeing, and those ways of seeing will come out in your writing. But I started to fear that I was being too self-indulgent, assuming everyone gave a shit. So I just stopped. My stopping was punctuated with false starts; I’d start writing, and a few paragraphs in I’d collapse in a slump, completely over it. You do that a few times, and then you figure out a solution. You stop starting. Problem solved.

But it seems like every problem solved is also a problem created. When I go too long without writing – even if I’m painting and making music and taking classes in artistic bookmaking – I begin to want to die. You can’t keep overly dramatic thoughts in your head too long. They turn murderous.

So lucky you! I’m hopeful you’ll be treated to better than this in the coming days, but what is it they always say? Don’t hold your breath?

It’s just generally better to breathe.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

7 Days of Boring Sexual Gender Norms

Apparently there is a show on Lifetime called 7 Days of Sex. The idea is that struggling couples have sex every day for a week, and it’s supposed to save their marriage. Sex is great, and if you’re not getting it very regularly in your marriage, the marriage will most likely suck for one or both partners – but not always! Some people are asexual (notice I didn’t just say “some WOMEN are asexual”), and some have low sex drives. But even with the majority of people desiring some level of sex in their marriage, somehow I believe that the assignment to have sex every day for seven days is a bit…made for TV. 

I just watched a clip of one of the couples. He complains because since she became a mom, she’s not sexual enough. She also apparently doesn’t cook the amazing, intricate meals of her pre-baby days – now it’s all oatmeal and stuff instead of, I dunno, steak? He never specifies, but she’s failing on all fronts. She just rolls her eyes and says she wishes he’d be “less of a king and more of a nice king.” He says that all women have a special gift, and that gift is vagina. She looks exasperated at his lack of understanding. And he actually at one point complains that the child has taken away 65% of his wife’s affection, which seems…normal? Nee, even perhaps right? 

I’m so. Tired. Of. This. Narrative.

If the man with whom I’d had a child said even just one of the things that man said, I’d be gone – and I’d leave the baby at his house to be his fucking problem. I’m tired of the Entitled Man character running around our culture and saying, “I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE TIRED! I JUST SPENT FIVE HOURS WATCHING TV AND I WANT ME SOME SEX AND SOME HOME COOKIN’ NOW!” I can’t believe this is how it is in all households. Lifetime has another show debuting next week called The Week the Women Went. The preview is all crying babies and women saying they ain’t gonna miss a damn thing about their husbands because HUSBANDS! Oh, goody. A whole show wherein men burn the toast and cry out to God for mercy and PLEASE BRING BACK THAT WOMAN WHO DOES EVERYTHING FOR ME!
The other day, a friend and I were discussing the age-old problem of men babied by their mothers. I don’t know a single woman whose mother continued to pay their bills for them (as in took the daughters money and transported it to the electric company in the daughter’s stead because MOTHERHOOD) once they, well, were old enough to have their own bills, but I’ve known SEVERAL men whose mothers did this for them. To me, the helplessness of men is very obviously rooted in this cultural idea of the helplessness of men. My husband lived alone and didn’t have a woman to do anything for him for, like, thirteen years before he met me, and he STILL doesn’t have a woman doing anything for him. He does his own laundry and nags me about bringing in the trashcans, gender norms be damned. But I guess what gets me every time about these situations is that people act like this stuff is natural, when it’s so clearly an outgrowth of culture. A man can learn to cook and take care of a baby and be organized and do laundry same as a woman. These shows simply reinforce gender ideals that I hear parroted by teenagers and then my brain asplodes, and the cycle is set up once again for another generation of women to baby their sons into complete uselessness.

If a man couldn’t take care of himself and the kids for a week, I wouldn’t be married to him. Period.

And I don’t mean to blame the women for all of society’s ills. It’s culture. Culture tells a woman that if she doesn’t take care of her precious sons and heirs to the family throne, she’ll be a bad mother. Meanwhile, she’s told that she’s supposed to teach her daughter all the womanly arts, setting up a situation where all the women go, “Jesus, here, you’re doing it wrong! I’ll just mop it myself!” when they get married years later. People have to be taught how to do most things; that’s why humans require parenting until the age of 18. So if you’re not teaching one segment of the population and teaching another segment, both segments are going to grow up to fulfill every idea you have about them. 

And when you show and tell men that they’ll grow up to have a smiling, available wife who cooks “just like mom!” and never takes her tiredness out on you because you’re the king and you deserve it, well, men say things like, “STOP MAKING ME OATMEAL AND PUT OUT ALREADY!” instead of, you know, helping out or being grateful their wife made them anything at all.

I want to see a show where the women leave for a week and the men are shown with a baby on one arm and a frying pan on the other, skillfully making dinner and not ruining everything. I want to see a show where a guy goes, “You know, wife, I’d like to have sex with you every night this week, so I’m going to do an equal share of the work around the house! Maybe you will then be less tired and more in the mood!” I’d also love a reality show about an asexual’s experience in relationships or a female who likes sex. OMG STRAIGHT MEN WITH LOW LIBIDOS! I mean, for reality TV to mean anything, it needs to show a variety of experiences, not just be social norms Kabuki. People complain all the time about how reality TV is so dumb, but it has the potential to be so smart. It could teach us about people who are not like us, foster compassion, and help us understand the world in different ways. Shows like 7 Days of Sex are just lazy.

Maybe that’s because they’re dreamed up by men.