Friday, July 27, 2012

Unwrite Your Life!

Hello, blog babies!

Upon reflection, I have realized that my last post, though earnest, was a bit of a downer.  So I figure maybe it’s time for an upper--or, at least, a post that wouldn’t sound weird if you read the whole thing in an up-at-the-end valley-girl accent.

How do I think I might accomplish this?  By listing things, of course!

At any given time, I have lists floating around in my head.  Sometimes I write them down, but usually I don’t.  Basically, I prefer to keep my entire life-schedule memorized at all times, thereby eliminating the need for a planner--or written down lists.

I’m usually surprisingly good at doing this.  Or, let me rephrase--I’m surprisingly well organized compared to a lot of other people, considering that I never write anything down.

It’s not a foolproof system, obviously.  For some reason, even if I can remember 15 different meetings/work times/classes for weeks on end, even when the times change (and in the jobs I’ve worked, they changed quite a bit,) I cannot seem to remember more than two grocery items at a time.

But, alas, there comes a time in a young man’s life when she must admit that owning a planner is maybe the adult thing to do.  So...I don’t know...I guess I’ll get one of those sometime...maybe.

In the meantime, I’m going to write down some of my life-lists right! here!

Right now, my three working lists are: Things I Seriously Need to Do in the Next Few Weeks, Things I Want to Do Sometime Before I Die, and Things I Would Do if I Got the Novel Published and/or Won the Lottery Despite Never Buying Lottery Tickets.


Things I Seriously Need to Do in the Next Few Weeks:

-Trade in my car!  I’m actually working on this one.  This very Saturday, I have plans to see some cars.  I love Cherie (the 2001 Hyundai Elantra I’ve been driving for 3 years and yes, I named her, and yes, she has a gender, shut up,) but she’s getting on in years.  I can’t even drive her to work without experiencing a paralyzing-death-fear anytime I hear a sound I cannot immediately place.  And, um, not a huge deal or anything, but I’m sort of moving to Seattle in a few weeks?  Yeah, that’s a thing.  And Cherie is not gonna survive that trek.  So, sadly, I must put her to pasture and start anew.

speaking of Seattle...

-Find a new place to live!  I could write SEVERAL paragraphs on this one, but it takes up about half of my waking thought already, so I’m gonna breeze right past it instead.

-Find a new job!  Basically, I’ve been going on and searching “creative writer.”  I’ve found a few good ones, several more mediocre ones, and ones that at least sound better than how I get my money now.  So...yay?  I’m also halfway signed up with a tutoring service.  Yay for my SAT scores getting me paid!!!

-Buy a new computer!  Seriously.  Seriously.  I’m on Momsy’s right now.  It’s burning my fingers.  My own personal computer has been incapable of turning on for three months.

-Really, really, figure out what I can leave behind, and start packing all of it.  I’ve got way too much stuff.  It can’t all come with me.  I’ve already donated a mess load of stuff--mostly things that have been in storage for 5+ years--the kind of stuff I didn’t want to take to college with me but just couldn’t quite part with yet.  I’ve parted with a lot of it now, but I still have almost a whole box of Buffy magazine cutouts.  It kind of looks like I’m a Buffy-obsessed serial killer.  (Which surprises no one, I’m sure.)

Alright.  This is getting a little long, so let’s break it into parts, shall we?  We shall!

Here concludes part one.  Part two will, of course, be--”Things I Want to Do Sometime Before I Die.”

Night night, blog babies.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That Old Friend, Shame

(Warning: this is a long post, and it has no pictures.)

Today,  I read something that brought me right back to my teen years in a way few things can.  I say “few things can” because I have spent a lot of emotional and intellectual energy repressing this part of my life.  I don’t like to think about it, because even after all this time, and even though I have come to love and respect myself in a way I couldn’t then, a few things still have unmitigated power to reduce me.

I should clarify: by “teen years” I specifically mean the years that I was 12 and 13.  Mostly, I mean the year I was 12, aka 6th grade, but I dealt with a lot of emotional fallout the next year, too.  Specifically, I mean my suicide attempt when I was 13.  (This is a big bomb to drop in a throwaway sentence, but believe me when I say that it is a separate story, which bears mentioning here because it is a part of my emotional landscape.  Everything has a context, and this is a part of mine.)

Here is the piece I read, for anyone who is interested:

The author primarily talks about the awful psychological effects of racism, and the experience of being categorized a racial “other.”  Especially the experience for a kid or teenager.  Of course, I am white, so I have never been forced to go through this.  But I understood and empathized with everything she said; I kept thinking “god, I know what you mean.”  Why?  Because when I was a teenager, I was overweight.  Still am, in fact.

I don’t like to talk about it.  I don’t think it’s anybody else’s business.  And I’m not done being ashamed about it.  I’ve known other fat girls (and fat men and fat women and fat anything) who own it, but that will never be me.  I can, on occasion, be totally comfortable with my body--but I never totally banish that last layer of shame.

It was at its worst when I was 12, which is kind of funny now, because looking back, I know that I didn’t have anything to be ashamed of.  But shame isn’t about truth.  It’s about perception and emotion.  And, oh boy, it’s about paranoia.  That Iago voice in your head telling you that you will never be good enough, that no one will ever love you.  Shame is the thing that answers that voice when you find something about yourself that, you think, proves Iago right.

I have one perfect moment of shame that will forever be tattooed on the walls of my head.  One time, in sixth grade, I walked to the front of a classroom to turn in my homework, and I heard the two boys who sat behind me giggling together.  I don’t remember if I asked my friend what they were talking about, or if she told me spontaneously, but I do remember exactly what she told me they’d said.  One had turned to the other and said, “Look at the fat in her butt jiggling when she walks.  Jiggle, jiggle.”  The other laughed, extensively.

Wait, let me backtrack--at first, I did not remember EXACTLY what they’d said.  I remembered the words “butt” and “jiggling.”  I’d forgotten the word “fat,” until I thought it over again.  I’d suppressed the word.  And then I remembered.  The weapon of the word “fat.”  The word I have obsessively avoided for most of my life.  The word that can make me feel like I am somehow worse than everyone else.  Somehow less than nothing.

Like I said before, I will never be a fat girl who owns it.  I will never be someone who names her blog “A Fabulous Fat Girl Takes Manhattan!”*  I love the woman who does that, but I will never be her.  I don’t have her courage.

*(Ahem--as far as I know, this is not a real blog, but one I invented on the spot.  If it is a real blog, I promise I did not mean to step on any intellectual property toes.)

I ended up “telling” on those boys.  And, like these things often do, it ended up biting me in the ass.  I informed a counselor, who checked the story with the several students who’d heard them.  The boys were pulled into an office for a scolding, and the worse offender was sent home for the day.  Somehow, this resulted in the following rumor: “Sara got [Boy 1] suspended for five days because she’s a bitch!”

A--Not true.  Kid was back the next day, yet the rumor persisted for weeks.  As in, random people came up to me weeks later and asked, “Aren’t you the one who got [Boy 1] suspended?”

B--Really?  I got him suspended with, what, the power of my mind?  I get that we were all 12, but did NONE of these kids think, for even a second, that you can’t actually just decide to get someone suspended and then do it?  Did NO ONE say “okay, but, actually, what was the reason they gave for suspending him? Because ‘Sara said so’ is not a real thing?  Guys?”  Apparently not, because for weeks after, I was plagued by dirty looks from every single one of his popular friends.  And an occasional audible muttering of “bitch” from Boy 2.

Of course, I was immune to that by then.  I crossed my arms and rolled my eyes and bought even more black clothes.  But deep down, I felt deeply, violently threatened.

And I got the message.  I had developed breasts and hips a little too early, and as someone with hips might be, I wasn’t stick-skinny.  And that gave boys the right to sexually harass me.  And if I had the gall to challenge that right, I was a bitch, and their friends would make sure I knew it.

I got the message, but every day, I do my best to ignore it.  I think, on the feminist side, I succeed.  I get in shout-you-down fights with men twice my size or age, and I don’t back down.  I paste feminist links on facebook, and I tell anyone who will listen that I will never be a housewife, and that women need to be paid the same as men or we don’t get to call ourselves civilized anymore.  I define myself however I damn well please, and I ignore anyone who tries to tell me what to do.  (Except my mother, but she mostly just tells me to do my share of the dishes and to follow my dreams.)  And I never, ever let anyone walk me to my car, because I will not live my life in fear.

But I don’t succeed in every way I could.  Despite my ardent feminist fire, I let myself hate my body.  I hear those boys giggling in my memory and it tears me down.  I see anyone look at me sideways and it tears me down.  For years and years and years, I wore the baggiest clothes possible because I just wanted my body to disappear completely.  I didn’t want anyone to have the faintest clue what it looked like.  And I succeeded there--I looked way fucking worse than I should have.

I’ve spent much of the past year dealing with my body.  I started dieting and exercising.  The exercise was wonderful--I ran a mile for the first time in a decade.  Apart from the day I got into college, it was my proudest moment ever.  And it made me feel good about my body, which was new.  I felt powerful.  I had crazy new leg muscles, and I could do that weird crow yoga pose that had once seemed literally impossible (in spite of the fact that I watched other people do it.)  These were good things.

The diet has been less wonderful.  Far more effective, of course--exercise makes you feel great, but you won’t lose weight if you end up eating what you burned.  But as effective as it is, dieting isn’t the best thing for mental health.  I’ve lost a whole crap ton of weight, but not always in the best ways.

I had a friend once who said, “Sometimes the best feeling in the world is going to bed with your stomach growling.  It’s like you’ve won.”

I know two things about that: it’s one of the most fucked-up things I’ve ever heard, and it’s completely fucking true.

Exercise made me feel physically powerful.  But dieting made me feel powerful in another way.  I felt like I had so much control.  The need to eat is second only to the need to breathe, so if you can control that, then you are completely your own master.  Or, at least, that’s how it feels.

And, in a way, it feels like you’re meeting the challenge.  And, somehow, throwing it in the challenger’s face.  You CAN be that beautiful woman on the TV/magazine/billboard ad.  Because you can decide not to eat, and that will MAKE you that woman.  So fuck everybody!

It’s fucked up.  It’s massively fucked up.  It’s wrong and it’s harmful, and NOBODY should ever want anybody to feel that way.  We shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies.  We should be ashamed of the forces that make us ashamed.

We should be ashamed of a culture that allowed two boys to get to sixth grade without ever telling them they could not talk about another human being like that, and we should be fucking ashamed of making a 12-year-old girl feel like their dipshit idiocy was on her.

But the truth is, we aren’t.  We keep on making fat jokes.  We keep on making fat jokes about PEOPLE WHO AREN’T FAT.  We talk about women’s bodies like somehow it’s our business.  Like somehow they fucking OWE it to us never to age, never to gain weight, never to have “frumpy” hair.  And if anyone tries to call us on it, we claim long and loud that they’re “asking for it.”

“She’s the one who’s fat, so she’s asking for it.”

“She decided to become a celebrity, so she’s asking for it.”

“She wanted to run for President, so she’s asking for it.”

Over a year ago, an 11-year-old was gang-raped in an abandoned house in a small town.  People spent weeks after that proclaiming that she had been “asking for it.”  An 11-year-old.  Up against more than a dozen adult men.  And the people who didn’t blame the girl?  Blamed her mother.

Her mother.  Not her father, or both parents.  Not the people who heard noises and did nothing.  Not the more than a dozen ADULT MEN WHO RAPED A CHILD, ONE AFTER ANOTHER.  Her mother.  Or the girl herself.

Here’s what it is: I am a feminist, and I am ashamed of my body.  I am angry and self-serving and I don’t give a shit what anyone else thinks about me, but I am ashamed of my body.  I am an adult, and self-sufficient, and white, and privileged, and confident, and I have never been raped.  But I am so, so ashamed of my body.

I can only imagine how everyone else feels.

Monday, July 16, 2012

This is Not the Poster You're Looking For

From time to time, every single person on this planet is irrational.  For most people, their irrationality presents itself in their belief systems.  Some of these belief systems are religious, and some are cultural.  Christians believe a woman once gave birth without ever having had sex, even though we know that’s not how reproduction works.  And if anyone told them it was happening again, they probably wouldn’t believe that--because, obviously, something like that can only ever happen once.  Jews believe a dude parted a sea by telling it to part, and they believe that a miracle is when oil lasts longer than it should.  Children believe a fat guy can fit down their chimneys, and adults believe it’s somehow kind to convince children of this lie, only to break their hearts with the truth later.  People, from time to time, are irrational.

I don’t blame them.  I’d like it if people were irrational less often, and I’d like it if they guided their irrationality with kindness, or any semblance of a true moral code, but I don’t blame them for holding to their beliefs.

Mainly because I kind of believe in aliens.

Alright, let me qualify: I don’t entirely believe in aliens.  I believe that the universe is so incredibly vast that it’s stupid to assume this is the only planet with life on it, and I believe that wherever there is life, there is also the possibility for intelligent life.  And I believe that people lie.  Governments, companies, people on the street, people in your homes.  People lie.

So, in short, I believe that maybe things have happened on this planet and people have lied about them.

So, now, let me rephrase.  I do not actually believe in aliens, or in anything mystical, or in anything greater than what I can see with my own eyes.  But I want to believe.

I guess you could ask me why I’d want to believe in aliens over god, but then you’d be missing the point.  The point is that belief does not come to me naturally.  So you ask me to believe in god, to start up cold, to look in the face of evil done in the name of religion and to pretend it doesn’t matter because god is real, well...I can’t.  I can’t believe in an altruistic all-powerful being when children starve to death every day, but the Catholic hierarchy sees fit to scream at some nuns for being more concerned with helping the poor than demonizing gays and women who have sex.  I can’t ignore the evils of religion, and I can’t believe in something with absolutely no proof.

But I can maybe believe in the possibility of aliens.  Nobody started a war over aliens.  Aliens don’t hate gays.  Aliens don’t care about abortion.  Aliens don’t care about you, one way or the other, except for curiosity’s sake.  Sure, people claim that aliens have captured them in the night and raped and/or performed surgery on them, but I don’t believe those accounts.  And even if I did, that would be a lesser evil to behold than most.

And maybe aliens could represent something a little greater than myself.  Maybe if aliens exist, other things exist, too.  Maybe there are more things in this universe than dreamt of in my philosophy.  Like weird little gray men who want to know what makes us work.  I can go with that.

A lot of this belief--or semi-belief--can be represented by one simple poster.  Here it is, hanging over Agent Fox Mulder’s desk.

I love that poster.  It’s beautiful.  I love that whole desk.  It’s not dissimilar to mine---covered, graffitied almost, by the evidence of its owner’s passions.  And that shining symbol at its center--I want to believe.  I want to believe in endless possibility.  I want to believe we are not alone.  I want to believe that humanity’s struggle might gain meaning, not oblivion, from a universal context.

I doesn’t mean I do believe.  Only that I want to.

So when I thought I’d found that poster at an open-air market in the middle of my college campus a few years ago, I thought it was kismet.  I’d scoured the internet for years looking for that thing, only to find message board after message board telling me that the only one that ever existed was the one on set and that it was lost to the sands of time (which here means: a private collection) years ago.

Of course, when I looked at it a little more closely, I realized it wasn’t the right poster.  You can see a little string coming away from the little saucer, the quality of the picture isn’t clear enough, the trees aren’t high enough.  I felt a little deflated.  And then I bought it anyway.

It’s not the right poster.  It’s a cheap imitation.  But I decided it didn’t matter.  The poster is only a metaphor, anyway.  It stands in for the real thing.  The real thing is somewhere I can’t touch.  I’ve only heard of it in whispers, and I have no real evidence that it even exists.  Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t.  I can’t ever know for sure.

But I want to believe.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Brief History of the Written Word

“There was a girl, and her uncle sold her, wrote Mr. Ibis in his perfect copperplate handwriting.
            That is the tale; the rest is detail.”
American Gods, Neil Gaiman

Here’s a fact: I started writing stories when I was about five years old.  I wrote a story for school—in Kindergarten or first grade, I can’t be sure.  I wrote it and illustrated it, and my teacher laminated the cover and bound the pages together with plastic rings, and she had me read it to the class.  I can’t remember how I felt about reading it aloud, but I’d guess I didn’t like it much.  It’s not that I have a problem speaking in front of other people; I’ve voluntarily performed in a number of plays.  No, the problem I have is with my own words.  When I write something, for the most part, I like to pretend it has nothing to do with me.  It’s an illusion that shatters the moment you start reading aloud.

Like I said, I don’t remember for sure how I felt about reading it.  But I do remember how I felt about the thing itself.  When that teacher first told me she was going to “publish” my little story, I walked into a different world.  At five years old, I felt that I had done the most grown up thing you could ever do: write a book.

At 23, I feel more or less the same.  I wrote a book, and it’s kind of freaking me out.  I haven’t sent it to a publisher, or even an agent.  Until two weeks ago, mine were the only eyes ever laid on it.  But it’s a book, and it has a plot, characters, chapters, an ending.  The thing itself is finished.  Also, one other person has read it now.  And she didn’t tell me it was the worst thing ever.  So, you know.  It’s been a weird week.

If somebody went back in time and told my earlier selves what their first novel would be about, I think they’d be concerned.  Not surprised, exactly, but concerned.  So what’s it about, you ask?  Well, sir.  Indeed.  Um.  Okay.  Let’s go with…an impoverished teenage girl in southeast Missouri who deals drugs.  I’d say recreationally, but that would be flippant.

Like I said, I don’t think younger Sara would have problem believing you if you told her.  But she would probably wonder a great deal about the intervening years to come.

Of course, if you told her what I’ve told you, you wouldn’t really be telling her the novel.  You’d be telling her a sentence, and it would suffice to stand for over 98,000 words.  There was a girl, and she sold drugs.  And there was a girl who wrote about her for a number of years, until she came up with this finished thing, and then, finally, she had to stop.

There was a girl, and she sold drugs.  You read that sentence, and it stands for the novel.  You read the novel, and it stands for something else.  We try to tell a story under the story, and we hope nobody throws rocks at our heads for the effort.

I wrote a story when I was five, and I wrote a lot of stories after that.  I don’t know the number.  I can tell you it’s well more than ten.  I’m feeling weird about this last one.  It’s longer than the others, and I spent more time on it.

It’s a stupid old cliché, but here it is: I feel exposed.  I’m a very private person, usually.  But I just sent what feels like my life’s work out to what feels like the whole universe and it makes me feel a little raw.  On edge.  Every once in a while, I’ll remember a name, or a sentence, and I’ll wish I spent more time editing.  And then I’ll take a breath and try to remember that you can’t edit forever.  I’ll try to remember that I mostly hate Kubrick, who edited everything for fifty thousand years, so there’s no point editing that long.  At a certain point, you push eject and you walk away.  Email it to everyone you know and wonder if you’ll ever get any money out of it.

There was a girl, and she wrote this thing.  I don’t know if I can tell it any better than that.