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.