Otters May Dance, but They Still Have Teeth

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.

Payment in Compliments

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.

Make-up in the Message Mixer

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.

My War with the Word "Guys"

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.

Writer, Voyeur

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?

A Purposeful Post

Again, a cover story for my blogging… covert, sneaky. I should be sighing at myself. Finding that I prefer Blogger to LJ, I am migrating here, perhaps relocating. I’m unsure if I’ll sink the LJ, but I debate whether to recreate my old blog here. There is, I must say, a great deal of flexibility to account for. That said, I write. I write for little other reason than to share– share stories, anecdotes, and revelations. To make the individual occurences universal, to leap the gap. When I was small, my father called me a little gazelle. This was because I would jump all over the house, hurdling over couch arms, bounding over chairs, bouncing into walls. I’m still jumping today, trying to bridge the distance between minds, to make connections, and also to assure my peers that the garbage barrels lined up right in a row are no challenge to my leaping ability. Small wonder those words stick. Maybe I am a gazelle. Maybe only in the most unconventional ways.