Friday
Mar282014

I Understand The Addict's Liquid Cosmology

Today, I’ve been alive for 15,401 days.

*

When I try to imagine your 15,401st day, I see bottles. Lots of bottles and you are drunk. Angry. So angry that you’re crying. Yelling at the startlingly realistic figments of your imagination and I’m undoubtedly one of them. How I wish you would’ve called but that’s a brick walled digression. You are yelling, as you always did. Yelling at your mom, your ex-wife, me—all the people who failed the test you had rigged from the start. Yelling at the sun, the moon, and everything between. Yelling at the way things are, which is to say change, loss, and the relentless continuity of the never same river. You’re yelling at the water just for being water—because it won’t stay put.

I don’t know what song is playing. What books are by your chair?

But I’m familiar with the Buck knife you stabbed into your femoral artery in your inner left thigh. And I’m familiar with Dr. Vincent’s report of the blood stained walls throughout your apartment. When I try to imagine your 15,401st day, I see you—mad, ecstatic, frantic—smearing your hands through your leg’s fountain of blood and painting the walls. My God you are raving. You feel it coming now but, hysterically tenacious, you splash your life on the walls—one last exhibit—for as long as you can manage to hobble, limp, and scream. And because you taught me how to know you more than anyone else in the world, I can hear you, defiant to the last, screaming It’s a good day to die! Come on! Come on! It’s a good day to die! until the dark embraces your rage and they become the same thing.

*

Once, after you were kicked out of a treatment center in Pennsylvania, we stopped at a rest area in Ohio. Standing at the urinal in the wash of too much light—it smacked of an interrogation room—I started to cry, exhausted. What’s wrong? you asked, as if you didn’t know, and all I could bring myself to mutter was that mountains would never be mountains again.

*

I have never believed I would live this long, and so I never acted like it. A basic assumption informing my life has been that, if alcohol and drugs didn’t kill me, I would. I mean, seriously, how are people 42? How do they persist in all this waking up? The prospect of getting dressed, earning money, trading it for consumer goods, and the rest, on and on like an endlessly hungry ghost, seems untenable. But, lately, the image of myself as an old man—at first irritably and then irresistibly—has crept like a thief into the field of what I’m able to imagine. Maybe, I wonder, as this injured foot has stopped me from running, I will have a cane. The thought makes me smile, content. I will sit on a bench and talk to birds. Perhaps with a long white beard. Thinking slow thoughts, floating on memory, and stories—they never stop telling themselves—will seep from the wrinkled creases in my melted face. My eyes will be oceans that trail off into tired crow’s feet. Yes, I finally think, I will be an old man, and I will sit long and still until you can’t tell the difference between my breath and the wind.

And I will laugh! The river, man—it’s okay. Who can blame it for flowing? 

*

Once, when we took you to the woods to dry out, it was getting dark and we were lost. Me and Bryan dropped our packs, kneeled on the trail to study the map, and bickered about directions. I said left and he said right and when we looked up to consult you, you were crying, exhausted. What’s wrong? we asked, as if we didn’t know, and you said it was nothing, that you just appreciated our efforts to help you find the way.

*

I suppose it’s time now, today, to ask for your forgiveness, to make amends, and seek your permission, in spite of my failures, to become an old man. I was certainly not the best friend I could be. When you stormed off that day—the last day I saw you—I let you go, and I was relieved. I regret that relief. It didn’t hold. And I regret not chasing you into that bar with the same intensity of consideration that I’ve given to chasing you into death.

I regret my ill feelings of hatred.

I regret my failure to merely be your friend apart from the selfish desire to covet your so tenaciously earned magic. You were a seer, a poet, a force the likes of which few among us will ever cross paths—let alone be invited to study with. I am sorry that I failed in my role as your pupil to learn how to transcend that role and just be your friend. You deserved a friend. But I was greedy and selfish. I regret myself. So like an ice cube on a sidewalk in July…

*

There are ways and there are ways.

*

Some kids are walking a dog and the sun is setting. An old woman gets her mail and I remember something you said about Rilke by the refrigerator. It all comes together. I imagine myself sweeping the sidewalk in the midst of all this coming together as I sweep the sidewalk. I sweep up sand, litter, and misplaced pronouns. I don’t know how else to say it. Have I left anything out? I ask you. What can I do to make things right? There is joy in the ordinary work of sweeping.

*

You insist on discussing your faults but I will hear none of it. “I understand the addict’s liquid cosmology.” Words from a poem you wrote that today I sing back to you: I understand the addict’s liquid cosmology. My only wish is to remember and smile. To remain a witness to your life and tell your story. I will talk about you. I will write about you. When I’m an old man with a long white beard and a cane, I will sit on a bench and tell birds about you. And nothing as petty as your death will ever get me to stop talking to you because—guess what—the mountains, brother—they are mountains! And the river, man—it’s okay. Who can blame it for flowing? And there is—there really is!—a way out of the woods.

But this is only a beginning. Tomorrow is when I’ll truly begin to mend my separation from you. When I break through the wall and bring you along into the whole and seamless morning of our 15,402nd day.

 

Friday
Mar212014

A Real Fantasy With My Daughter About Imagination

“I’m bored. So bored. I’m going to die of boredation,” she said in her bed. All the birds, perturbed and concerned, stopped singing.

A door’s slow creak gained in momentum and slammed.

Not a door in the house nor a door in my head, but rather a door between worlds. The kind of door that, when open, confuses things with the clarity of some largeness that confounds. Do you follow? Please do. Come along and don’t worry. We’ll leave a trail of breadcrumbs or popcorn or pearls.

A big orange flower, not yet wilted, is drooping. The dream animals, lost in the desert, are dying of thirst. My little girl is bored. She dangles precariously on the precipice of a reified world of inanimate, impersonal matter.

“Want some candy?” I ask her and hand her a red and white lollipop. There isn’t much time. I check my watch but it’s not on my wrist. No matter. To hell with chronology.

“There’s always time. No rush. No rush,” the turtle mumbles in a slow deep voice as he lumbers lumberingly through the door. “Climb aboard.” We hop on the turtle’s shell, a maze of yellow and brown wherein it’s easy to get lost. We don’t know where we’re going. Nobody does.

I remember you, Lola Blue, on your stomach, straining the just barely able muscles in your neck to lift your wobbly head. I marveled at how you were able, already, to focus and direct all your baby energies into one concentrated act. And why? Why did you so tenaciously will your head off the pillow?

To see. Driven only by the wonder and thrill of the ability to see and all that might be seen.

“Look! It’s raining lemon drops and gummy bears from pink and blue clouds of cotton candy!” she screams, and the turtle sighs. Taking cover, slowly, he heads toward a cave on the side of a mountain as Lola catches candy on her tongue.

The mountain, to put things in perspective, is actually an irritated blemish on the back of a Cosmic Yellow Dog who is said to devour each moment in his voracious maw. It is not known if the Cosmic Yellow Dog is God’s tame pet or if he is wild and incorrigible.

Inside the mountain, the turtle, whose name was Martin, was soon gone. We found ourselves on a playground upon which a gentle snow fell. Lola listened as I stood atop the tall red slide and recited Dylan Thomas. “The force that through the green fuse drives the flower / Drives my green age.” The poetry made us feel weird, like we were dreaming, enchanted by the spell of some rhythmic witch.

“Daddy,” she said, “This isn’t real, is it?” The snow turned to tiny pink and yellow flowers that fell in slow motion, twirling humbly to the earth. I felt empty with longing. I wanted to argue about truth and beauty and justice with ancient Greek philosophers. I wanted to keep the door open and stoke the fire.

“Of course it’s real, little girl,” I replied and did a cartwheel.

“But none of this is happening. Not really. Not even this conversation. It’s make believe.”

“But, baby, here we are, you and me—talking.”

“No, Daddy. Not really.” She shook her head but her eyes were wide with hoping.

“Then why do you keep answering me?”

The question caught her off guard and she thought about it. She shook tiny flowers from her yellow hair and thought some more before saying the magic words: “I don’t know.” A choir began to sing. All the prisoners escaped from jail. Reunited lovers embraced and kissed, celebrating ignorance.

“We are strange and mysterious creatures, little girl,” I lectured. “Thrown into the world against our wills—here—there is so much to see and eat and dream. There’s no time. No time for boredom. Boredom begins where your imagination ends. There are too many books to read to possibly be bored. Too much music. Too many poems. Too many worlds waiting to be born, waiting to happen, waiting for you.”

As she became interested in her boredom, the door creaked open. Inside her clenched fist she found a magic silver key. “It’s the secret,” she said, “the secret to everything.” And, without hesitation, she gave it to you.

_____

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine

Sunday
Mar092014

Between Trees & Poems

When I leave, I borrow books of poetry
to read, yes, of course, but there is more.
Everything wants to be more and it is,
too, but only for those who are willing
to forget themselves and listen bravely,
to hear the stories in the world between
the self and things. There is always music
playing in the bar across the quiet street.
Observe this for yourself. Get still. Look
at a tree. Study it. Be patient. Until she,
shy at first, begins to whisper of leaves
to see if she can trust you. Relax. Believe.
Green leaves will grow, thrive, explode
in throes of gold & yellow & red, and fall
like old memories into the hungry green
grass. Eight silver birds will land on her
branches, sing, and fly away into the blue
sky that shelters the world of gods and
people. When I leave, I borrow her books
of poetry to read on the plane and hear
what they say. More than lines and poems,
they are poems that she once read, alone,
forgetting herself in concentrated effort
to construct meaning. What is more lovely
than somebody reading? In her bed, lit
by lamplight, just past midnight, she drags
her finger down the page, slowly mouthing
the words until she flies away into the
black sky that shelters the world of gods
and people. There are lines, underlined
in pencil, and I trace them with my finger.
Everything wants to be more than it is.
The fragments of glass in her hair shimmer
in the light. She closes the book for the
night and this prize, her solitude, creates
the substance of her strength, her small
smile, and those eyes that see beauty
haunting all the things of this world.

Thursday
Feb272014

Some Ideas About Gwen: A Collage

Start with stained glass. In church. The Basilica di Santa Maria del Flore or the Fraumünster Cathedral or the church you remember, way back when you believed in fantastic things. And then continue with color. Remember those blues? How the sun blasted through, muted but vivified by cobalt. The sharp flower yellows, the glowing heart reds, and the gleam in the twinkle of greens. So bright and yet mildly opaque, as if the stained glass ached to keep the light at bay, but not the lit hum of color. Marc Chagall said a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating.

Move next to religious feeling. Don’t bother with truth and other such nonsense, but with the intensity of feeling that swells inside the heart of the fervently religious. The devout devoured in devotion. What are they doing? Singing. Praying. Forgetting. All this in the ambitious light of the sun filtered through the color of stained glass that depicts the imagery of myths—the myths that articulate the fundamental structure of the stories we mistake for our lives. There is sacred feeling here. A sense of the immanent beyond. Everything, connected, conspiring to meet and erupt right here, abandoned, in a devoted song of lit color on glass and a Marc Chagall quote that posits stained glass as the only thing that stands between your heart and the blissfully anguished throb that pumps through the heart of the world.

But what do we do with it? Nothing. It’s a collage. Just let it be. Let the pieces inform one another and, now, grab a rock. 

Throw the rock through a stained glass window and listen closely to the destructive music that underlies all things as they come apart—shattering. I love that word. Say it with me: Shattering. It startles you at first—the initial shock of violent undoing—but then there’s a relieved sigh throughout the ting ding singing of raining glass as it gives way and falls. Do not make the mistake of thinking this negates light and color and church and religion nor even Marc Chagall. There is room for it all. We need sympathy for the Devil, we must smash the transparent partition between our hearts and the world, and—most importantly—we need all those sharp and jagged shards of colorful broken glass because we're making something.

Broken, it is no less serious, passionate, elevating, or exhilarating. It remains all this and more. Because now it’s dangerous. Now beauty—beauty can cut you and make you bleed. Add sugar. Lots and lots of sugar. And rain. Mix well.

My girl is made of razor sharp fragments of discursive intellect that dissects with surgical precision. She’s a song in an old stone church in Florence. Slivers of wit. And rain. Chips and pieces of Indonesia and America and Zurich. A religion that, as the Latin suggests, binds—she binds together the jagged parts of herself and herself to her daughters and her family to the blissfully anguished throb that pumps through the heart of the world. She’s a broken stained glass window sprinkled with sugar. All the colors, the various shades and hues—light blasting through. Her hair is a prayer of sugar. Her lips are all covered with sugar. Devoted. Devout. Devoured. What are we doing? Singing. Praying. Forgetting. It’s love!

Tuesday
Feb112014

Listening To Images

My daughter, just the other day, gave me her 4th Grade school picture and I got that feeling. You know how when you want to say something about rivers, the intangibility of memory, and a fork slicing through a piece of blueberry pie? It’s like that. But only for a second and then it’s not.

It’s frustrating, isn’t it? Because that feeling? It’s made of images but those images themselves are only symbols for water that slips right through your fingers when you try to grab it. Sometimes the content of the feeling veers away from imagery and seeks to announce itself in sound. I mean, it erupts into words but it yearns rather to be heard as opposed to dwelling in what the words mean. Like, for me, it seems to most often be about the conversation between long e’s. I want to stand on a chair or atop a tall building and yell something like She’s calm seas and bumble bees and the breeze through trees on a Japanese puzzle box. But I never do. And so that feeling stays lodged in my chest, caught in my throat, restless, urgent, waiting to explode.

In the end, there’s something strangely and tantalizingly lacking in the reach of what words are able to say. Often, in relation to that feeling and its expression, I discover that it pushes and kicks at its boundaries in an effort to be a song. I hear the fast rippling notes of an acoustic guitar that come and go like a waterfall and the lyrics drip like syrup in a foreign language that belongs not to another country, but dreams. None of it makes any sense and, it seems to me, that it’s this inability to decipher that feeling in a way that secures meaning that ultimately secures its mysterious and unfathomable beauty.

It’s just a 5X7 and—yes—it’s the rectangular limit of the picture, the boundary it erects between the image and everything else that initially stirs that feeling into being because it evokes an immediate contradiction. She is in the picture. But she’s more than the picture. This contradiction creates sparks that flicker into imagery, poetry, and music. And there she is, frozen in a blink of time, well lit, smiling, wearing a purple leopard-skinned top and a light blue sweater peppered with the silhouettes of dachshunds. And I get that feeling. That jagged inhalation. The ancient aesthetic gasp. Because—yes—she’s beautiful and—yes—pictures are great and wonderful things to preserve bits of stasis in an otherwise relentless world of fluid and flowing flux, but it’s this stasis that refuses, even in imagery, to stay put.

There she is, a 9-year-old 4th Grade girl, trapped in a rectangle but, like a song, she pushes and kicks at the boundaries, dripping like syrup into the past and the future. She was my baby, a speck of pink flesh in tiny pajamas (with zebras), and I rocked her to sleep night after night to the tune of Lou Reed crooning Pale Blue Eyes. And, still dripping from the picture, she will one day be an old woman with wise eyes that seem to float in a calm sea of memory and wisdom. Pictures accrue meaning from their befores and afters and it’s all the time that erupts from the blink of the moment—flash—that gets lodged in my chest and caught in my throat, that feeling urging itself into being more, into strangely juxtaposed images, the assonance of poetry, and the opaque familiarity of the songs that haunt our dreams.

______

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine

Tuesday
Feb042014

Why She Turns

So she slams the car door, says “Bye, daddy,” and starts running to the house. Halfway there and suddenly, she stops.

Sure, I write to remember, of course, but I also write to wonder, to poke certain memories with a stick in order to see, in and through language, what they reveal. And also to create a documented memorial to memory, for the minutia, for those fleeting things, so sly, that frequently slip by into the unspeakable realm of forgotten things.  So maybe she can one day read them too, a woman, perusing tombstones of her childhood, things her daddy thought.

And it’s all in the stopping. When she stopped. Stop.

What, spinning on dimes, changes our minds? For instance, you’ve decided with certainty that you want the carrot cake, you close the menu, sip your coffee, wait. But when the waitress comes and solicits your decision, you hear yourself order the crème brulee. It’s like that, no? Someone else emerges through you and you, from some quirky 3rd person perspective, hear them trump your carrot cake with crème brulee and you’re like ‘What?’ But then you quickly adjust to the thought that it was your idea because the spooky alternative lacks coherence and, besides, the crème brulee? It was delicious.

And she turns.

One of the first paintings I ever loved was Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Because, though ambiguously, she—a static image—wants to move and she does in your firing imagination. She’s turning. But away from you? Or toward you? And what’s the deal with the expression on her face? Is she longing for her lover? Mourning? Startled? It was the first painting that ever filled me with confused wonder that, far from irritating, lit me on fire with awe and questions. I wanted to know her but I knew I never would, that her story would always both beckon and elude me. I remember the last day I saw my best friend. He walked away as I wondered if he would stop and turn around. I remember my rum soaked step-dad walking down the hall as I wondered if he would stop and turn around.

The sky is so blue that it could make you cry if you thought about it too hard and the sun smashes through like a baseball shattering a window. And there she is, wearing a purple dress. Stopped, turned, and now standing on the white sidewalk. So present, she owns the space she occupies and the palms lean in. She has such a keen draw on my attention that she often forces me to imagine that the vast interconnection of all the things of this world are all thus locked in an effort to continue producing her, permitting her to erupt into the world with her mischievous smile and long yellow hair. What does she want? Why is she standing there?

When you closely observe, in the midst of a conversation, how fast we talk, how quickly the words come up our throats and off our tongues, it becomes easy to doubt that there’s a process by which we first think of words and then say them. Rather, language sometimes, especially when we “say things we don’t mean,” seems to have a mind of its own, as if perhaps Language itself is speaking and merely using people in the way we tend to believe that we use art supplies. Can you imagine? We use paint and brushes to paint landscapes. What if Language uses us to speak its mind? It’s just a thought. But whose?

“I LOVE YOU, DADDY!”

It startles us both. Because it’s more than the declaration of a 9-year-old girl. It was as if something grabbed her, stopped her, and spun her around. And then, wild and blue-eyed, she yelled it. A man walking his dog stops to make sense of the scene. There is a yellow fire hydrant and yellow flowers waving in the wind. And I, so often perplexed by issues of meaning and worth, feel as if the world just opened its front door and invited me in.

How separate are we? Is there such a thing as alone? What, besides ideas, stands between me and you and the infinite riches of the treasure house? She runs back to the car, leans in the window, and gives me a kiss. “I love you too, little girl,” I reply and she turns once again to run to the house without looking back. And I drive away, cruising the city’s streets as everything—cars, park benches, litter and debris—come alive and smile at me.

Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine

Saturday
Feb012014

Dear Darlena

I wrote a post about 365 feminist selfie at Babble. A woman named Darlena responded with her own post. I reproduced her post below with my responses interspersed throughout. She's in quotes. I'm not.

 

“You are wrong.”

What a crazy coincidence. I think you’re wrong. Do I get to think that? Probably not. In your opinion, I don’t get to do a lot of things. Luckily, we don’t live in a world where your opinion about what I can and can’t do matters. Oddly enough—brace yourself—I can do whatever I want.

“Now, I know that, as someone with a penis, hearing that you are wrong will make you flare up with anger for a split second, before you catch yourself and laugh it off with bravado, telling yourself that someone who thinks you could possibly be wrong obviously doesn't know anything.

Oh, wait, I don't know that.

I don't know that because I don't know anything about you. And I certainly don't know anything about your penis, or how it would possibly play into your inner monologue. I also know nothing about your inner monologue. 

Even though I have a husband, and a father, and am also full of rage, much, apparently like yourself. 

As such, with my admitted lack of knowledge, I would not presume to tell you about how you would react to being wrong, or why you would react that way.”

Actually, you did tell me how I would react and why. But then you wrote a fake retraction, which allowed you to say it and then “unsay” it because you are very funny and clever.

“Can you do me the same favor?”

Certainly. I would never presume to tell you about how you would react to being wrong, or why you would react that way because I don’t know you and also because I don’t really care about your reactions to being wrong or their motives.

“Because, frankly, I am getting fed up with you people telling me what to do.”

I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. I would offer some advice but you’re fed up with that kind of thing. Nonetheless, I’m sorry you’re having a really hard time with people expressing their opinions on the internet when their opinions are contrary to yours. That sounds really hard. I hope you’re muddling through. 

“Now we'll skip the lazy argument here (man talking about feminism full stop) because I know several men who talk well about feminism, and go right to a similar, but not quite the same argument (man thinking he is using sound logic to tell women how to be better feminists). I cannot abide this.”

You can’t abide it? Oh no. Then what will you do? I mean, seriously, you’re in quite a jam when you’re incapable of abiding something that I did, have every right to do, and will continue to do. I hope you can either get better at abiding or that it’s not too painful to not abide things you can’t control.

“Your whole argument is lost when you say: ‘The thrust of the 365 feminist selfie project attempts to destabilize traditionally restrictive notions of beauty to make room for all women in the Palace of Pretty.’

That's not what the project is about for me. You don't get to tell me what a project I'm doing is about.”

Here, you said two different things. You said my argument was lost because of that quote, which, okay, you’re entitled to your opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of my argument. And then you told me how I don’t get to tell you what a project you’re doing is about. Of course I don’t. That was a very good point. But, because I don’t know you, I have to confess that I wasn’t telling you anything. I was telling my audience my understanding of the project—an understanding borne of research I conducted. Part of that research includes the following quote from the project’s originator: “I hated how I looked on TV, but I did that [a previous 365 project] and felt more comfortable. And the same for photos. After that 365 project, I don’t love how I look, but I am far more comfortable saying, ‘I look good today. I look good in this outfit.’ This has helped immensely as I have gained a lot of weight during the stress of graduate school.” This statement, and many more like it, led me to believe that the project had something to do with the way women looked, their comfort with the way they looked, weight, and looking good. If you think that making the leap from those understandings to using words like “appearance,” “attractive,” “beauty,” and “pretty” is faulty reasoning, again, you have every right to disagree with my understanding of the project. No problem.

“I don't owe you this, but for me this project is a chronicle through picture of my achievements and struggles this year, as a person. It is about self-exploration, and documentation in a way I've never been free to do before. It has nothing to do with acceptance into your Pretty Palace.”

That sounds like a wonderful project. Good for you. Chronicle, explore, and document. What an incredible journey.

“Then you really nail your coffin together when you follow that ridiculous generalization up with this: ‘She might write a poem a day or learn about a new woman author every day. Maybe she could do a science experiment a day or plant a tree every day. Run a mile every day? Or maybe she could make it a point to seek out a sad looking girl every day and say something kind to her (NOT about her appearance).’”

Now you’re being mendacious. Why did you conveniently leave out the fact that those were recommendations I was considering for my daughter. It seems that someone like you, such an expert at what people can and can’t do, would know that you can’t tell me about projects I’m allowed to consider for my daughter. Where’s the problem with my daughter writing poems and planting trees? Are you trying to imply that taking pictures of yourself and posting them on social media every single day, day in and day out, is somehow superior to writing poetry? That’s your right. But we should really stick to parenting our own kids. 

“After attributing faulty reasoning to the project in which I am partaking (which you do not get to do), you further do not get to tell me that projects that you deem more important than physical beauty are better for my feminism.”

Right, again. However, may I decide which projects are more important for my daughter? Can you grant me that favor? I just don’t think that taking a picture of herself every day for a year—pictures that, no matter how unconvincingly you claim are not about appearance because, guess what, pictures are, after all, PICTURES—is the best thing for my 9-year-old daughter. Again, is it okay with you if I write about decisions I’m making about my parenting on my blog? I sure hope so because I’ve been doing it for about 6 years and I’ve had my share of success.

“And seriously, I dare you to go find a ‘sad-looking’ girl and say something ‘kind’ to her. You don't get to tell girls to cheer up. Neither do I. People, anyone, right now, should not be imposing their opinions on what ‘sad’ is on poor random girls who are probably not even sad anyway. Talk about your narcissism. What makes you think anything a random person has to say to a woman he is guessing is sad would make any difference to her? You're not talking about a tangible thing here, like, someone is struggling with the groceries so you help them out, or someone's got a flat tire, so you lend them a jack. You're talking about an intangible assessment of a stranger's mental well-being.” 

This is an argument against kindness and I’m not convinced. Your leap from the act, being kind, to the result, cheering up, is sloppy. I’m going to continue to teach my daughter to be kind and you, of course, as you know so well and trumpet, have every right in the world to teach your kids to be unkind.

“Which basically sums up your whole piece in a microcosm example.”

You brag below about being a scholar so I’m just going to let your scholarly summary stand on its own.

“Other insulting things you have said include this gem: ‘I see your need to redefine beauty and raise you one need to question the female defined by her appearance. Women can be more than how they look and deserve to be. Step away from the cameras. Seek new ways to appear. As you explore new adjectives through which to be defined, you will emerge as more complicated nouns than pretty ones. This is perhaps the direction toward a feminism beyond beauty.’

I pretty much can't even stand you right now, so I'm going to hand this one off to Raeven Zayas, a woman in my closed FB group for the #365feministselfie project. (It's closed, you see, because it's not for you, or the public, or anyone. It is for us.)

Rae aptly points out your weak attempt at generalizing to an entire population with your sample set of, um, two. Here's a huge clue for you, Jon, women are not the same. We are not a neatly categorizable group. I am sorry for your loss.”

Just making sure that you and Rae know that “women” is a word that includes more than 3 billion separate, distinct, and individual women. We use words like that to avoid articulating more than 3 billion distinctions because we have limits on word count. However, a generalizing word doesn’t negate the distinctions that the word conceals; they’re implied. It’s a language issue. But you know this already. You’re a scholar.

“Okay, she says, 

‘Never mind that some of us are in Grad school, and some of us are parents, and some of us are both, and some of us are neither, and some of us have fancy jobs, and some of us are tough as nails, and some of us could get a blood stain out of a white satin wedding dress, and some of us can train a horse, and some of us have survived cancer, and some of us use our pasts and our traumas to help each other, and some of us can push a baby out of us under the water at our house with no pain medication, and some of us have awesome dreads, and some of us do amazing makeup, and some of us can make a giant cake with a Magic Mike style dancer that pops out of it, and some of us are recovering addicts, and some of us have made a huge connection to other women through this project that has indeed been empowering, and some of us have realized that perhaps we aren't alone in our own insecurities, and some of us have helped one another embrace and love those insecurities, and some of us have learned beautiful things about each other that do not, in fact, have much to do with our physical appearance and our ability to Get a man.’

Oh, did I forget to quote you on that part? Hold on, here it is: ‘What if the seemingly natural, and cunning, desire of women to be physically beautiful — to either be included in the culture’s definition of beauty OR to alter the culture’s definition of beauty to include them — all stemmed from the basic desire to attract (uh-oh) a man?’ 

Yes, we are so cunning. We are so cunning in fact, that we think taking pictures of ourselves will prove to men that there is room for everybody in the Pretty Palace. Also, lesbians don't exist in your world of seemingly academic ponderings. Good to know.”

First, Rae. That’s a big long list of great and wonderful things. But then she clearly states that all those incredible things “do not, in fact, have much do with our physical appearance…” Are you even listening to yourself? Have you forgotten what started this conversation? I was simply questioning, and disagreeing with, the selfie as a radical feminist act, which I have every right to do no matter what you say my rights are, and Rae just confirmed that all the best and greatest things don’t have much to do with physical appearance. That is precisely my argument in a nutshell. That there’s much more to a woman than her physical appearance and a selfie, because it’s a selfie, a picture, an image, reduces a woman to her physical appearance. It can’t avoid the snare of reducing her to her physical appearance because it’s a reproduction of her physical appearance.

Regarding the bit about attracting a man, it appears that both you and Rae attached the adjective “cunning” to “women” when it clearly describes the noun “desire”. Read clearly, it’s still a good question. If women were subject to a cunning desire created and perpetuated by men to enslave women, then altering the definition of beauty would merely be changing the location of your prison. But as always, as you know, you’re welcome to disagree with the things I think and write. Can you do me the same favor?

“Are you even listening to yourself?”

I was just wondering the same thing about you.

“Rae continues:

‘This isn't his movement, it's ours. And if he really wants the truth, I do this for my daughter. All feminism has ever been about for me is my daughter. As a mother who has a little girl that I still get to watch grow up and find her own empowerment and struggle against harsh societal standards of beauty and will spend every day judging herself as harshly as I did about the way she looks, this absofuckinglutely is about my kid. And she will be amazing, and funny, and kind, and intelligent, and generous, and understanding, and compassionate, and driven, and stubborn, and fuck him if he thinks I don't want her to feel beautiful, too.’

And there you have it. Two different women with two different motivations for doing the same project, and both of us feeling empowered because of it.”

What a great democratic society where we get to disagree about the impact of selfies on female oppression. It’s so great for some of you and the last thing in the world I want for my daughter.

“Should we do another one? Let's do another one. This is from Rebecca:

‘For me, taking these pics, and being involved in this project is more about creating a supportive community, one where women can be vulnerable and honest about who they are and their daily lives (struggles and successes). For me, it has very little to do with physical beauty.’

I ask you, dear sir, why does our feeling of empowerment and community force you to action?”

Your feelings didn’t force me into anything; I didn’t even know about you or your feelings until you wrote your reaction to my opinion of 365 feminist selfie. What forced me into action was what I believe to be the faulty idea that taking a picture of herself every day and posting it on social media would make my daughter a feminist. In fact, I still believe that the focus on appearance that the selfie emphasizes is not the best thing for my daughter.

“Don't react with a hasty defense, you said. Think about it, you said.

I did think about it, even though I didn't have to.

Because you do not get to tell me what to do. You do not get to tell me why I do things.

You do not get to tell me what to do.”

That’s well established. Now in italics.

“Also, your scholar jargon makes you sound like a douche. And I'm a scholar, so I know about that one.”

Thank you for your constructive thoughts on my work and your contribution to its wider dissemination.

Thursday
Jan162014

I See You, Chris Delaney, Sitting In The Hall Waiting For The Middle School Bell To Ring

I see you, Chris Delaney, sitting in the hall waiting for the middle school bell to ring. I see your white leather low top Nikes with untied fat white laces and I see Dan Parker too—his 1985, first year ever, Air Jordans. And I hear us all exploding with laughter about something irreverent and rude, not giving a fuck.

They call this remembering something but, when I close my eyes, I see it; I hear it; then and there is here again—now—awhile, lingering, lingering, in something thick and slow like incense smoke. So I light some—Kyoto Cherry Blossom—and play a thick slow song on repeat about finding hope in death by a woman with a thick slow voice like incense smoke.

It’s the least I can do. This thing they call remembering you. It’s probably some clingy form of ego attachment but that’s what I’d want if I was killed by a car 28 years ago tonight. Someone to see me, hear me, be my witness. You were here, you mattered, you still do. So, again, I see you Chris Delaney, sitting in the hall waiting for the middle school bell to ring. Parker’s new Jordans, damn, so fresh.

There’s a cynical part of me that tries to make you the protagonist in a lucky story because, hey Chris Delaney, growing up and giving a fuck is hard. And you, 13, on January 16 in 1986 got to go out still laughing and not giving a fuck. But I know that’s bullshit. You missed the whole show, it’s not fair, and there’s no way to spin that story to make it right.

So I just keep making a practice of seeing you, hearing you, imagining who you’d be today, what you’d look like, what you’d say. It’s hard to give a fuck, man, but worth it, I think. So I’ll keep trying to give enough for both of us. In the meantime, have fun being dead. I’ll see you around.