Monday, July 28, 2014

Saying No

It’s Saturday night and you are on your way to meet friends for an evening out. You are catching up with one friend as you wait for the final member of your group to join you. You are laughing about something. You forget now what it was.

A man approaches.  He is a stranger and not necessarily menacing, but…you can sense it coming.

A grin breaks his face open and there is a hint of swagger in his walk. Maybe he is thinking he is about to make your day.  He speaks.

“Can I just say...?"
“No.”
You say no.  You say no with a straight spine, a straight face, and an even tone in your voice.

“No, you may not.  Please leave us alone. Really.”

His face darkens.

“Really?”

Yes, really.

You say no, and in saying no you stop him from what he thought was going to be the highlight of your day. You are firm. You won’t allow yourself to be “complimented,” objectified, verbally assaulted. He is shocked, then enraged. He sends a stream of expletives and insults your way. Now you are a “dyke” because you didn’t succumb to his charms. Now you are “ugly” and “dumb” because you weren’t grateful that he deemed you worthy of his attention. He leaves your friend alone, maybe because she didn’t turn around when he approached. Maybe you were his only target.

You aren’t scared of him. You are furious and fearless, even in the face of his threats. He is now your target, the way you were his. He is every man you backed away from, every man who filled you with fear and shame. You stand on the corner, looking him in the eye, never averting your gaze as he showers you with invectives.

“Remember my face!”  He shouts as he crosses the street.

“No,” you think. “Remember mine.”

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Feeling it.

Activation

There is a rhythm
a beat making me believe
this is the way
Still right
to write
the things bubbling under my skin
making me tingle
feeling the goosebumps
without the chill
without the fear
A hand guiding me
stroking my shoulder
Embracing who I was always supposed to be
pushing
reassuring
arousing
It comes at night
stays until
1 2 3 am
excitement
uncertainty
knowing
The opposite
of my quiet epiphany
at 29
At 42
I am
stiffening sinews
summoning up blood
I am
a greyhound in the slip
straining against the start*
let’s go

*From Shakespeare’s Henry V

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

#YesAllWomen

I find myself thinking about all of the times I have tried to make myself forget.

I think about that time at a friend’s quinceñera when an older boy moving through the crowd squeezed by me, his hand brushing my crotch. No, not brushing. His hand didn’t slip; he pushed his palm against the peach taffeta of my dress and between my legs. I was two weeks shy of turning thirteen.

One of my father’s friends told me I was beautiful after he forced his tongue into my mouth as we stood in the entryway of his home. He was in pajama pants and an undershirt. I was in jeans and an oversized men’s shirt. It was my first day of high school.

“She’s fuckable.” That’s what a boy said about me when he heard I had a crush on him. I was sixteen.

I think of how when I spoke of my assault at 14—because I know now that it was an assault—I was silenced by some of the women and girls in my life. “No one wants to hear about that…”

A colleague, someone I considered a mentor, tells me over dinner about how he met his wife. When I say I hope for that kind of longevity in my own life, he tells me that my problem is that I am too independent. Then he tells me that there is something about me he cannot shake and that he is all caught up in it. I spend the next hours, weeks, and months, feeling anxious whenever I encounter him, wondering what I did to provoke him, rather than wondering why he thought it was OK to say that to me in that moment. Or ever.  

As I get ready to leave the house every day, I check the mirror. I think I look nice, but I also know that somewhere along my walk across town a man will make a comment that I am supposed to take as a compliment. It is not vanity; it is fear.

I think of the time a man asked me my ethnicity as I passed him on the street. And when I apologized (!) and said I could not speak to him because I was late for an appointment, he followed me down the crowded city street, berating me for half a block.

I ignore a catcall on my way home from work and am followed, my “admirer’s” words escalating. I have to seal myself off, steel myself, and hope that the light does not turn red before I can get to the intersection.

I think about all the times I walked home alone after a night out with friends and made it safely to my apartment. I think about how my girlfriends and I text each other to say we are on our way to the meeting place or that we have made it home from the meeting place safely.

I think about how I make a point of meeting dates at a restaurant or bar where I know the staff.

I think about the night I sat at the opposite end of a bar from another single woman during happy hour, both of us waiting for friends who were running late. I think about how the man who sat between us is the reason she and I became friends that night.

I think about how the women I am closest to all have stories like these.  I think about how we recognized that silence in each other for months or years before we were brave enough to share our experiences. I think about how those friendships have been deepened.

I think about the guilt and the shame that comes with the silence and how this movement has brought all of that noise back to my surface; how it has allowed me to reevaluate and remind myself that none of it was my fault.

I think about how thinking about all of these things tonight makes me frightened of trying to date again because although all men are not “like that,” all women have experiences like these.

I think about believing that I can still be fearless with my heart while protecting my body, my being.


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

End of the First Quarter


Today was a rough writing day. I opened three different word documents and tried to make sense of things I typed up in October. I opened my notebook and wrote for all of six minutes before writing "This is shit," closing the notebook, and going to the kitchen for tea and Oreos. Then I took a nap. It happens. I expect there to be more rough writing days as I figure out my rhythm in this new life. I also expect there to be plenty of good writing days.

Armed with tea and Oreos, I opened my notebook to the first entry of the year. Here's what it said. 
 
January 1, 2014

Resolutions? No. Affirmations? Maybe. More like promises to myself. Gifts to my own heart and soul. A vision for the next twelve months.This is hard because while I am great at planning for others, I find it challenging to put myself first. But I need to try for my own happiness and strength and security. What are these things I can do for myself in the second half of my 41st year? 

Push my own limits emotionally and mentally. Find a new place in the world. Make room for myself in it. Learn new things. Be braver, be gentler, be more open, be more protective of myself, trust myself more. Love more deeply – not just others but myself. Find my center. Protect it. Make it count.

What about tangible things? What will I do?
Get paid for writing
Make good contacts with other writers
Apply for writing jobs and get one
Write in a notebook a minimum of three times a week (it’s a start)
Have more solo dance parties
Purge the unnecessary physical items
Write more letters, put more love into the world.
Read more of the unread books on my bookshelf
Up yoga to two times a week

Be: brave, scrupulous, fearless, loving, calm, centered, active, considerate, animated, balanced, generous, thoughtful, kind, intense, ambitious, understanding, patient, fabulous, chic, empowered, enriched, enamored, fruitful, voracious, prolific, unencumbered, believing, rhythmic, engaged, rapt, ridiculous, game, open, cautious, concerned, discerning, romantic, free, freeing, freed, subtle, outrageous, enigmatic, enthusiastic. Be. 

So, yeah. That's a lot. But, you know what? I'm getting some of it done (especially the yoga and the solo dance parties). And I'll keep working on the rest.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Reflections on a month at the Vermont Studio Center

I received a grant to spend the month of October living and working alongside fifty international artists at the Vermont Studio Center, an artists’ residency and retreat in Johnson, Vermont. Here is my take on my time there. (originally published in the January/February 2014 issue of the Arts Council of Greater New Haven's Arts Paper)

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Everything is still outside the studio buildings. The Guhon River gurgles outside my studio window and an occasional car drives down Pearl Street, but the town is quiet. Inside the studios, painters, sculptors, and writers from all over the world are working on drawings, paintings, installations, essays, and stories. The Vermont Studio Center provides artists with the opportunity to work in residence for two to twelve weeks at a time. We live together, eat all of our meals together and share our work, whether it is in the casual setting of the Red Mill Dining Hall, during open studios events, slide talks and readings, or over a drink at one of the two pubs on Main Street. We have everything we need to be productive—time, space in which to work and live, plenty of coffee, meals, and a community to support and encourage us. We also have access to visiting artists who meet with and mentor us in one on one sessions. I am amazed to have four weeks to work in a studio of my own, as free from the distractions of my “regular” life as I want to be, and that I get to share the experience with a group of people with a similar goal: to create.

Maverick Studio
I go to my studio in the Maverick Building every morning after breakfast with a thermos of coffee and some fruit. It is warm for October in Vermont, so I open my window and set up my easy chair close enough to set my bare feet on the windowsill. I write a prompt at the top of the blank notebook page, set a timer, put my headphones in, and write in longhand for sixty minutes, unedited and uncensored. My intention is to expand on some of the themes I began working on in my graduate thesis, but the free writing exercises take me in a different direction.  I follow. When the timer goes off, I unfold myself from the chair, reach for one of the books I brought with me, and read for another hour. I take a walk to get more coffee around 11:30am and sit on my favorite bench by the river before lunch.

I find my friends in the dining hall, some of whom have come to the Vermont Studio Center from as near as Boston and as far as Alaska, and we debrief about our mornings. There is excitement for the painter who has sold three paintings from her MFA show at Johnson State College up the road. I ask a fellow writer about the progress she is making on an essay she asked me to look at the day before.  She says she’s figured out how to finish it. I hear snippets of conversation in English, Spanish, French, and Chinese coming from nearby tables as I clear my dishes away.

I return to the studio to type up the morning’s work after lunch. I don’t look at what I’ve written too closely in an effort to keep myself from editing as I go. I wait until the end of the week to print out pages and mark them up with notes and rewrites. I am able to get my routine and rhythm to a place where I am averaging fifteen hundred to two thousand words per day. Is it all great work? Only in the sense that for the first time since I completed graduate school in January I am writing every day. I was afraid when I arrived at Vermont Studio Center that I wouldn’t have anything to write about. I realize during these weeks away from my life in New Haven that what is most important is to write every day; to create a habit and maintain it every day no matter where I am.