A recurring thought: a puddle of sun in a warm room, and many squishy pillows. Of this I often fantasize when tired to the point of dropping. This, aside from my nearly deadly curiousity, is why I am like unto a cat. Except, I sunburn. Perhaps I am like a sphinx cat… only less wrinkly.
It was so easy to love the rain as a child. Never allowed out in it, always admonished to stay dry, to strip off shoes and socks and hop puddles was a treat. As a bespectacled machine, the rain is threatening. I am a cyborg; these lenses and hinges are part of my body, these frames are my eyes. Rain blinds me, renders me helpless. I can’t see with my glasses on– more than spattered and speckled, they are streaming and soaked instead, sometimes mud-flecked. But I can’t see at all without them, the world blurs beyond Monet, and I don’t even have the shapes of things anymore.
Then there is the matter of the cold. New England has hot summers, hot stuffy buildings, often with still air. It’s pleasant to be soaked, cooled against the whining heat of the cicada chorus. You’d have to be mad in summer to go do anything that would get you wet in Florida. We are climate controlled, in Florida, everything a crisp sixty-something, air vents roaring. We are modern, in Florida, living better electrically, with a constant chill to every indoor environment. To get damp is to freeze. Sweaters are ironically the rule in June. Rain, and the sweet grey days that accompany it, are a foe, then. No longer hot, puddle-jumping play times, rainy days are shot through with ice. It’s what happens when you live in a giant refrigerator.
I miss the friendly way the rain had when I was a child. Were it not for my eyes, the cold, the intolerable damp, the arrow-like velocity, the assassination of Kennedy, I’d play in the puddles. Maybe in this case, I just grew up.
New England birch child, oak-crowned elf, I miss the turning of autumn, the fall of fire and gold in torrents one day to leave the trees naked and reaching the next. I miss winter. In Connecticut, I could sit at the overlook of Webb Mountain Park, and watch whole clouds drift down the Housatonic River, between the hills of Shelton and Derby or Ansonia, sky elephants come down to the river for a drink.
There was a tree in the lot across from my house, and I’d go down to the bus in the mornings, breath hanging in air, and the roundness of this tree was like a gazing ball. It would streak yellow out of nowhere, and sit a week like a catseye marble. And then the leaves would all turn gold, and they’d drop, and the hills would be bare. There would be no sky-elephants, sipping at the river, no fog curling up the hills. That would wait until spring. The woods were nude, and sitting up at the overlook, or on Sunday mornings when my mother kidnapped us to church, I would watch the hills. From far away, the reaching scraping branches looked like pussy willow fuzz, down feathers, kitten fur. This was the most beautiful thing to me about winter. The ground and her white cloak were too unpredictable, but the hill fuzz was always there, this and the pale sharpness of the sky. Birch child, oak-crowned elf, little one of the hill folk, I’d sit there, high on my glacial stones, and watch the sun set early on the naked world.
My first time at The Castle was at a ripe age of eighteen, less than a month before my birthday. I suppose this deserves a bit of situating: I moved out at eighteen, in a pissy high school huff, that covered up deeper tensions, overlaying lines of conflict that still exist today. But I moved out two whole weeks before I graduated, I will crow this until the end of my life, and lived with friends for six months before losing my handholds. Then I crawled back to my parents for all of three months. My mother threw me out for quitting a terrible job and wanting to focus on my community college classes. I have never gone back since then, more than six years on my own.
My mother, while I lived with her, was a mite restrictive, you might say. I had bought a dress my senior year that cost me $40, a black vinyl number, and I loved it. I would wear it in front of a mirror in the bathroom, the door safely locked, because I couldn’t leave the house in it. I couldn’t let it be seen. I had to carefully hide where my money had gone. I would gaze at myself in the mirror and think all sorts of things I had to pretend really really hard I wasn’t thinking.
It was this dress I wore to The Castle my first time, with black fishnets, and… my rag-tag old boots. I have since high school been attached to black leather work boots, preferably with steel toes. They looked wrong with that dress, but I couldn’t have cared an ounce. I wore no make-up, a standard practice. A novice’s garb.
I had no idea where Ybor was. Having lived in Punta Gorda, my experience of Tampa until then had been of the Performing Arts Center. I couldn’t have retraced our route. It was like a sacred labyrinth, and only now, an initiate into the mysteries, do I know my way through the dark turns.
When we arrived, my friends left me to my own devices. I was free to explore as I wanted, for the first time ever. No check-ins, no sneaking out unnoticed. I had never been before to any club, let alone a goth club. I wasn’t a sheltered kid, I postured. I knew all about breaking gender rules, I knew all about wearing black. Nit-wit idiot child. I didn’t expect to feel a wave of home hit me. It was magic, lace, vinyl, leather, top hats, canes, rivets, buckles. I was so out of place, but home in the same moment. Terribly under-dressed. And Gods, I wanted to dance. It was early, and the floor was empty, and I have no recollection of what was playing on the three large screens. I moved at first like a wooden doll.
I recognized so little of the music I heard, but I drank it in. I recall it being an endless pulse of synthpop. Everything unfamiliar until they played Kathy’s Song. The lacings of my inhibitions loosened, and all that was bound up came undone. I learned that my road inward lay in movement, that I danced my path to the Divine, as others prayed, as others drummed, took drugs, meditated. Was I supposed to buzz that way? Jaded faces, they already knew. This was ritual.
Reminisce with me. When did your secrets first unfold to you? Where did you first belong? Tell me stories in return, tell me stories of waking up.
Ever notice that when people say, “oh, grow up!” to you they don’t really mean that you need to grow up? Rooting around the subtext of this command, I find that often times they mean, “you are not behaving in a fashion that fits my accepted values, and therefore it scares me, or at least makes me a tid bit uncomfortable.” I get this quite a bit. Usually when I’ve made a mature decision that benefits me as opposed to someone else. Like ending bad relationships, or choosing to not have children, or picking a career that I’ll find fun. If you think that dictating what people’s lives should look like because you don’t feel comfortable with other’s choices… you grow up. The world is not your nursery.
Words are extremely powerful things, and I know this as a writer, an anthropology student, an academic, and most especially as a poet. Words means things, they create images, and they define. Words set boundaries and they contain. Redefining words can be a messy business, inherently neither bad nor good, but often filled with pain and anger.
I don’t know how I feel about the reclaiming of words like “bitch” or “slut.” Arguably, with songs like Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch” and Bitch magazine, the waters a bit muddier with that word. It doesn’t make it sting less, or change the intent of the speaker, when some jerk yells out his car window, “bitch!” as I’m cycling by. Admittedly, hate it though I do in its negative context, I can also see how the playing field is rotating and changing around this word. The word “slut” is another word like that, and one with which my personal relationship is much more rocky. Although I love the book The Ethical Slut, its title makes me cringe. I recognize the attempt to reclaim the word from the jaws of sex-negativity, but it hurts as a word. I try very hard to have mutually satisfying sex with one of my partners, who is a sub. Even though he wants to hear it badly, and it gives him sexual pleasure, I have a very hard time calling him a “slut.” These two words are powerful, charged with violence, misogyny, and also hope in some cases. They can hurt, they can wound.
What enrages me most, what infuriates me, what pushes me over the edge, is when people tell me how I “have” to relate to these words. I will not glow rosily, talking about how wonderful these words are now. I don’t think they are wonderful words, I don’t think the “reclaiming” of a word is any excuse to forget where it came from and what it can still mean. To call someone a “bitch” is still to take away their humanity, and I don’t know that the reclaimation endeavor helps or hurts. My jury’s out, but hearing “all those words are good for is insults!” doesn’t make the situation any damned easier, especially when my personal relationship with the word “bitch” helps me own my anger at times. All I know is words are powerful, to be used carefully, and people dictating to me how these words “must” be seen takes away my agency just as surely as an admonition directed at a child. These words are fire, and I already know that’s something not to play with lightly.
Let’s reduce this to a transaction: do you know what to do if someone randomly, out of the blue, hands you fifty dollars? I think maybe that’s why the phrase is “to pay someone a compliment.” Pay them for what?
None of us seems to know what to do with a compliment shoved into our hands like a fifty dollar bill. Secretly (because it’s not okay, you see, to be seen needy), we will gobble it up, spend it internally on candy and sweets, but for this to happen, we have to be granted the dignity to devour the words in private. A public compliment is an embarrassing thing. Acknowledging it is hard: a terse “thank you,” and then on your way. Really, we’re hungry, scuttling the beach like crabs, approaching those scraps of compliments sideways and round-abouts, wrestling with their ungainly weight, only to tear the words apart and stuff them down our craws. We need the nourishment.
Be careful with compliments, then. Sometimes they’re used as bait for traps, sometimes they’re poisoned. Worst of all, sometimes they can be used to domesticate us, slowly, timidly offered at first, and then before we know it, we’re under someone’s control.
Be careful with compliments. They nourish. There should be no strings. And sometimes, I grant you, there aren’t any. Don’t pay in compliments, expecting something in return. Give them like food to the mouths of friends.
Those who know me personally know that I don’t like make-up on general principle. It feels itchy on my face, and I have to admit it’s an awfully powerful symbol of “the feminine ideal.” My mother gets upset when I arrive at her house “before she has her face on.” My continual reply to this complaint is, “gee, that looks like a face to me.” Cheezy and ineffective. My mother still feels uncomfortable un-made-up. But there’s more to this ball of twine.
High school is rough on anyone. I don’t know that there are any who survive it unscathed, with all of the world-ending nonsense going on, the gossip, the pettiness, the cover-ups for actual violence. It’s a sad mix of illusion, carrying-on and hiding painful truths. Some had it worse than others. At seventeen, geek grrl is what I’d call myself if asked now. At the time, I was terrified of everyone around me, somewhat spiky, a know-it-all, a dreamer and a shy shy corner-creature. I didn’t shave my legs because it was a hassle, but I knew the sharks would eat me if ever they found out. I hid my legs under a layer of denim, winter or summer. Make-up cost money, and I preferred to spend on books and video games. I didn’t want to spend my precious savings of time in front of the mirror putting it on every morning, with all the steps the magazines said you had to go through to be beautiful, either.
My mother was rarely awake when I left for the bus. Seventeen, and still riding the cheese-wagon. What a ridiculous reason to tease someone. Seventeen, and still a virgin, seventeen and never kissed anyone, boy or girl. In the kitchen that morning, I said something to my mother (oddly awake), I don’t know what, a silly wish for a someone, or some such flippant thing. A strike from on high, “Well, maybe you’d get a boyfriend if you wore some make-up, like everyone else!” I cried at school that day in an administrator’s arms.
Pair this, then, with my geek grrl tendencies toward fae creatures, the stuff of myth. No stranger to theater, I know make-up is a tool, a toy, medium to tinker with. I loved putting together Halloween costumes, Renaissance Faire costumes, because of the outrageous things you could cobble together and pretend to be. I’d been a gypsy, an elf, a spider, a warrior in armor, and this year for Faire, a proud nineteen, I wanted to be a water nymph. I bought a lot of make-up. I bought Goodwill rags in shades of aqua and seaweed. I started to brush my cheeks blue, laying eyeshadow down in place of blush, highlights on cheekbones in unearthly colors. Blue eyeliner with lip gloss in place of lipstick, because I needed just the right shade. Moss green decorated my eyes, over a bed of seafoam. I was bent over the sink, poking and fixing for once, and my mother walked in. “You look like a whore! I don’t care how old you are, you’re not going out like that!” I hid my anger as best I could and I went out like that, unhappily, small, shrunk seven sizes on the inside, all my work degraded.
A fine mess I’m left with. Writing is as much an artifice as applying make-up, isn’t it? The make-up artist and I are liars, both. When my mother lies with her lashes and lips, why does it sit so uneasily, then? Why does it feel so heavy in my hand, the eyeliner pencil instead of the pen? I don’t want it. I don’t want a doll mask for a face. I don’t want to pretend but on my own terms. Maybe I’ll paint on cat whiskers. But not a perfect smile.
It’s such an easy word. It seems so innocuous at first, “guys.” After all, guys, we’re all included in that word, aren’t we? I mean, growing up, I always thought of myself as “one of the guys.”
But sad thing, it isn’t. It’s not inclusive and it’s not innocuous, and I came to find out, growing up, that I never was one of the guys. See, the guys shunned me when I grew tits, because, I was told guys don’t hang out with chicks. “It’s a guy thing.” Well, there’s a line in the sand if I ever saw one. Guys don’t hang out with girls they’re not dating, see. But woman grown, I am neither a girl nor a chick.
Football is a guy thing, and cars are too. To be a guy, you have to have a big dick. I discovered that my silicone one, even with a harness, doesn’t count. Especially if it’s the biggest one in the room. The astral phallus, no matter how hard I joked, didn’t cut it either.
So when someone walks in a room and says, “hey guys!” I know they’re not talking to me. It’s kind of funny, as “guy” used to be a term of ridicule, all thanks to one Guy Fawkes. Turning to my demi-god, the Oxford English Dictionary, I found a guide to the word “guy.” For a while, “guy” was a verb, meaning to ridicule. Guy was, and sometimes still is, a derisive little dig at some ass who is behaving in kind, deserving to be made a fool of. It was from this sense, the idea of the fool, that the usage popular in the United States likely stemmed–today it means any man. To be a “guy” you have but to be male, member and all. So sayeth the OED.
If that’s what a “guy” is, I don’t want to be one. I don’t think I ever was one, nor were any of my male friends. Even if I started to use “guy” for women specifically, it won’t wash the ridicule from the word, and the rest of the world will still mean “man” when they speak it. Yet it still slips my lips, one syllable, so easy. “Folks” isn’t the same, like it though I do. “People” has two beats, and that breaks it, lazy ass that I am. And because I didn’t grow up in the south, “y’all” is foreign on my tongue.
“‘Night, guys.” “Bye, guys.” After all, it’s a “guy” thing. We “dolls” wouldn’t understand.
A chance meeting, I bumped into a friend today after raiding the Free Table. I had already come up with a scarred, partially complete and boardless Pretty Pretty Princesses game. Oh, the evil I can achieve with its plastic dawds and tawdry baubles. My friend, at the time of the bumping, was carrying two large briefcases, battered and unlocked. They looked heavy, and the contents threatened to spill out all over the place. The threats were never made good on. He had found them in a dumpster behind a Bell’s Outlet. In them was–a life. Someone’s life, a real estate agent’s who had been in the military, graduated from a University in Maine: the diploma was in there, photo negatives of rivers, an expired Vicodin prescription, veteran’s benefits paperwork, photocopies of packets depicting houses that had been on the market back in 1994, military patches, personal paperwork, the traces of a whole life. But only traces. A paper trail. The most recent document contained in either of the cases was from 1996, eleven years ago. Was it stolen? Dumped by the owner? An ex? Did he die, and the family threw everything in briefcases, to toss it all out in one go? There’s a story in there. I’ve been privy to a person’s secrets, and pehaps I shouldn’t have looked. Perhaps I should track down the owner. Perhaps I should write more. Like an unfamiliar puzzle box, I don’t know the next sequence of twists and shifts to unlock the mystery. Is it mine to unlock?