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.


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. 


What I Would've Said

What I would’ve said is that I’m always, just prior to every moment on the verge of occurring, in the crazy ass superposition that might be one of two completely different worlds until the moment collapses into the less super position of shedding all its potential and merely being what it is, which is still really cool, sometimes. It depends. What world am I in? Am I perceiving the world from the perspective of what I can take? Or have I given way to what can be given? Again, these two positions are both always maybe there all the time right before one of them is. It’s just a tiny fucking switch, so subtle—flip—between vastly different universes. Blink blink. Same thing right on the verge. But then my god the difference!

If I’m taking, I’m in the self, which is another word for a non-existent maze—the very unreal thing inside of which you become real and thus become lost. In there, I’m created and perpetuated by the desire to escape. This desire to escape manifests as many forms—it’s all the stuff you think you want—but none of that works because the desire to escape is the actual thing—the ceaseless yearning—that realizes that which is caught in the unreal trap. How fucked up is that? My ambition to escape complicates the maze.

—or flip—

When I give way to giving, I’m instantly—just like that—sprung. Self and maze vanish as a bigger I than a self opens out and into the world and becomes such a part of the world, that turns as it gives, that the mere act of speaking in terms of a distinction between self and world creates disunion where none exists. This is what the old timers meant when they spoke of cleaning house and, even more radically, what the roshi meant when he told me my house was on fire—get out of the house! Indeed. But be wary of the subtle selfishness that lurks in the desire to improve the self via the process of abandoning the self. Why clean a house that’s on fire? Get out! Get out! Give it all away with no thought and let the fucker burn.

That’s what I would’ve said.



When the door opened, the light shocked the little boy’s eyes like a bright white epiphany.

“What are you doing?” a girl’s voice asked him. Not yet distinct from the light, she could’ve been a fairy or a goddess or anything. However, as she unblurred into focus, she emerged into a crooked nosed 9-year-old. She smiled as if to say I come in peace and she was missing a few teeth. Her right eye, a thundercloud of bruises.

“Nothing,” he said, timidly.

“Who’s that?” she asked, pointing at the dead man with a knife in his hand, lying in a pool of his own blood.

“He’s none of your business,” the boy murmured.

“So, to be clear, you’re doing nothing in a closet with a dead guy. Do I have that right, then?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Well move over, Rover. I’m doing nothing, too, but only in that godforsaken time out chair for—well—for forever, basically.” She shut the door and it was dark again. After rearranging a few board games, a tennis racket, and one left shoe, she sat down next to him. Their shoulders touched and he liked that very much.

“I’ve been here forever, too,” he said.

“Of course you have,” she replied. “But why? What’s to do in a closet forever?”

“It’s very quiet in here,” he said, “and safe. I do a lot of thinking.” He paused, waiting for her to ask him another question but she didn’t. The dark felt different, he thought, with someone else in it. “What about you? Why are you in time out?”

“I get punished all the damn time. Did you see my eye?”

He nodded. She couldn’t see him.

“I basically can’t stand the forced homogeneity and the hypocrisy and the robotic thoughtlessness that fitting in requires. So, yeah,” she shrugged. “The time out chair.”

He wished she would say more. He wondered what happened to her nose and teeth.

“You don’t say much, do you?” she asked.

He shook his head.

“So you like it quiet then, here, in your safe dark closet where you like to think.”

He nodded.

“Well that’s cool. I’ll shut-up then. I can be quiet.”

He listened to her breathe and, as all the muscles in his body began to relax, he watched the dark explode into a riot of writhing colors that began to morph into lively forms that he imagined—

“For a little while,” she said. “I can be quiet, I mean, you know, for a little while. But then there’s that whole forced homogeneity thing.”

He smiled at her. She smiled back.



We lit a fire on the beach and I loved her the way waves roll in and smoke lures you into visions. Ghosts. Flowing white script. Snowflakes and flowers. Her sex messed hair. And then gone. Makes you wonder about the substance of things. But then I heard the waves. Saw the shadows on her face. How do we so constantly erupt from the dark into light? We looked at the stars, wondered which ones formed what constellations, but didn’t know.

We don’t know much, do we? Or anything? Probably not. Each and every certainty is two, maybe three, questions away from a brick wall. And we, familiar with good old Heisenberg and the superposition of Schrodinger’s weird ass cat, and also too old and divorced and smart to fall in love (it is, after all, only an illusion produced by an above average surge of dopamine through the mesolimbic pathway, no?), once—a year ago today—sat on the stage waiting for the Mountain Goats to play at the Crescent Ballroom in Phoenix.

But even if we did find all those Bears and Dragons and Dippers, couldn’t we, we wondered, just connect the dots any old way? Hey, look! There’s a coffee mug. And there! It’s a Swiss Army knife. And over there. That’s us, asleep in the morning, entangled.

The cat’s dead. But it’s also alive. Nothing is definite and you can work it all out with elegant equations or just accept the nature of boxes. You want to be my girlfriend? I asked playfully with the edge of a dare on the question. Yeah, I do. She replied, confident, cocky, up for anything. And I will lie and I will cheat on her and she will die too soon of a disease whose early symptoms are headaches, neck pain, and vertigo and all we will ever do is fight and we’ll even fight about fighting and the way you’re supposed to fight and how often we fight and how we don’t fight enough and I will get drunk and I will stay sober and we will light fires on the beach and look at stars and make love in Madrid and we will always find each other exciting and interesting and we will be bored stiff and depend on reality TV to survive and we will get married and we will resist such antiquated notions of enduring union and call each other lover until we’re 92 and we will both die in a car accident on the way to the Art Institute and we will break up and die alone and take new lovers and we will stay together until our pain and rages have chiseled deep wrinkles in our old wise faces and we will both walk slowly and see the bright side and complain a lot because we don’t see or hear so well and I will notice her barely shiver, just slightly, and I will hobble up the stairs and hobble back down again and, gently, carefully, like I’m wrapping a birthday present, drape a green sweater across her shoulders and say There there, chilly girl and all this.

We don’t know what will happen because everything will; it’s all entangled and not yet definite. But here we are, one year later, not with promises or vows, but only this: a willingness to keep opening the box. Look up. What do you see? You can draw anything you want with all those stars. 



Today I remember you laughing with blood in your mouth. When we were young and wild with our heads on fire. When we thought integrity and poetry were enough to fill our stomachs. You were only ever a boy in the blue city. You were never supposed to be 50 and you aren't, but happy birthday anyway.


The Consequences Of Losing Bunny

“As truths are the fictions of the rational, so fictions are the truths of the imaginal.” —James Hillman

When my daughter, 9, recently unpacked her suitcase and discovered that she had left her oldest friend, a pink bunny named Bunny, 9, in a San Diego hotel room, she lost her mind. Here, I choose my words carefully. She lost her mind. Or a big part of it. The rich, important part.

I once caught her talking to her bike. “You are a very good bike, you know? Yeah. Uh-huh. Of course I will ride you. A good bike makes little girls happy and happy girls love to ride good bikes. I like your horn. Are you hungry? I will ask my daddy for a treat and then we’ll go for a ride. Okay? I will be right back but don’t you dare go riding without me because that would be silly. Okay? Good!”

And once, after gulping down a refreshing glass of red juice on a very hot day, she exhaled with a satisfied Ahhhh, held the purple cup to her face, and said with solemn sincerity, “Thank you, cup.”

I’m not relaying these stories as cute little anecdotes about the whimsical nature of childhood. Rather, I want to assert with the same solemn sincerity my daughter uses when talking to cups that the imagination is real. Without going into lengthy investigations into the history of ontology (the philosophy of what things are) and religion, allow me for the sake of brevity to point out that, at some catastrophic point in our pasts (both cultural and personal), the imagination, once an aspect of our experience as viable as any other, was demoted to being the opposite of what’s real as opposed to being a part of what’s real.

Everything speaks to us, yearning to be heard.

But it’s just our imagination, right? You see how we do that? We say it’s “just” our imagination. And when our children talk to bikes and cups and form intimate relationships with stuffed animals and invisible friends, we smile and chuckle because it’s “just” their imagination. But the imagination hasn’t always been thus degraded by being “just” so much nonsense in comparison to what’s reallier real. It was once collectively considered JUST as real as the scientifically measured stuff that monopolizes reality today.

And to what end? Well watch the news. Take a look outside. And ask yourself this: If we all believed, and acted as if, the myriad things that inhabit our lives were sentient; that our bikes and cups did talk to us, not through audible waves that vibrated our ear drums, but through our newly restored and esteemed imagination; that we genuinely do hear the whispers of our dead friends and relatives; that the whole world, all of it, was as alive as you and me; that, indeed, you and me were but lively voices in this enormous choir of liveliness; and we crowned it all off, this big teeming lively thing, with some fancy word like psyche or anima or soul or God—again, if we believed all this and acted as if it were true, how then would the world appear when we looked outside? Of what then would the news consist?

Put more simply, what if we were as kind to each other and the things of this world as my little girl is to her bicycle? Is racism, sexism, homophobia, environmental crisis, etc. and so on, even conceivable in a world where we feel sincere gratitude for the cup that provides our refreshing red juice?

Can you imagine?

These ideas would be certifiably insane (indeed, what is insanity but a way to label and marginalize an imagination that won’t cooperate?) if we didn’t have constant everyday proof of their reality parading right before our eyes in the children we’re raising. They are living examples of the way things really and truly are until those ways are stamped out of us by the tyranny of growing up.

And that’s precisely why my daughter lost her mind when she lost her bunny. I don’t want to minimize my daughter’s living relationship with Bunny by abstracting it into some deeper issue, so let me be clear. Her relationship with Bunny is real and it’s the primary thing. They’ve grown up together, shared all their nights together, and they’ve maintained a lively dialogue since the days my daughter first emerged into the evocative power of language. However, because she is 9 and approaching the appalling threshold where rationality begins to assume its imperial dominance (in our culture), the loss of Bunny amounted to nothing short of my daughter losing one of her last portals to a vital world where imagination retains its airy substance and becoming trapped in the rigid adult world of the way things are. And she lost her mind. She couldn’t sleep. She was inconsolable. Just like us, back when the reality of the imaginal vanished into being just our imagination.

On a happier note, Bunny has been discovered asleep beneath the hotel bed in San Diego. She is right now flying home, first class, where a raucous tea party will be had with a caterpillar, a guitar, and the ghost of my dead friend, Skip.


Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine


What's A Girl For?

“Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad. Dad.” This is how my daughter gathers up my scattered attention into one focused lump. “Watch!” She runs toward the pool, jumps, transforms from a 9-year-old girl into a cannonball, and makes a hugeSPLASH! Wet old people grimace. The sun continues to hurl 100+ temps at the valley. The earth spins on its axis, devoted. Anxious traffic crawls and honks. My daughter emerges from beneath the water, smiles at me, and swims away, a happy little fish with yellow hair. My God how I love her.

In order to avoid thinking, a lot of fathers immediately inhabit an outworn stereotype when someone mentions the prospect of boys eventually dating their daughters. They become caricatures of anger and make wisecracks about running boys off with guns or keeping their daughters locked up until some ridiculous age. But I’m curiously warm to the idea of my daughter going on dates someday. Mostly because I think she’s really cool and falling in love is a wonderful thing to do between broken hearts.

“Are you looking for Gate B-8, sir?”

“Indeed,” I reply.

“Nonstop flight to Chicago?”

“How did you know?”

“Because that’s exactly where I’m headed,” she beams, “Climb aboard!” She’s too small to climb aboard—I would crush her—so I latch my hands on her shoulders and follow her around the room. Her arms are outstretched. She’s a little airplane in a yellow dress. The clouds are fat and happy ghosts that haunt, lazily, as if from big celestial hammocks, the fearless blue sky. I listen to the drone of propellers and Bob Dylan. My daughter offers me honey roasted peanuts and a diet Coke. My eyes hone in on a suburb of 100s of tiny houses below and I dream about the various dramas occurring simultaneously and ignorant of one another. A man is yelling something about a wet dog and an open door. Another one hopelessly pays the bills. A woman paints her toenails blue and remembers what the boy said on the playground years ago. A door slams. Somewhere, two people have sex as if the fate of the world depended on that frantic brutal deed.

As she grows up, as the boys and men inevitably gaze at her more and more from that perspective of apprehending her only as an object with which to have sex, it will become increasingly important for her to not permit those gazes to construct the woman she sees in the mirror, to refuse becoming a prisoner of that perspective. In this regard, I consider it an essential responsibility of my fatherhood to provide my daughter with an endless supply of avenues to otherness, keys out of the jail of certainty and the stasis of identity. Which means taking her to modern art museums, constantly using the words or and maybe, and celebrating the myriad ways she girls in the world. There are as many ways to be as there are stars in the sky and more. Of course a sexual being will be one way for her to understand herself, indeed a wonderful way, but in the end only one facet of numberless ways to shine.

“Tick… tick… tick,” my daughter is hiding beneath my desk and tapping my ankle and ticking. I’m trying to write this essay. People are dying in the war. People are dying in the street. My neighbor is in jail for selling methamphetamine. There is more than just our story. We are more than who we are. “Tick… tick… tick… Guess what I am, daddy. Guess what I am.”

“A clock,” I guess, thinking about deadlines.

“Nope,” she grins, “I’m a bomb—KABOOOOOOOOM!”

One of my biggest hopes for my daughter is that she never sells herself short in terms of what a girl’s for. What’s a girl for? A girl’s not for anything. Nothing. Not a single thing. A girl is for holding the space between, for or. And only from this space between, from nothing, can she ever and continually participate in the groundless potential of anything. She’s everything. My daughter is a cannonball, a fish, an airplane, and more—may she never stop exploding.


Originally published in Brain, Child Magazine