Fail

“You are in this space to be inoculated against feeling that your failure is the end… Your rightness does not help anyone.” – London Coe

London Coe spoke at a conference I attended last week. Her theme was failure and how in doing, you fail, and how there’s no way to prep for that other than to do. And I really appreciated her talk, her encouraging us to be open to failure, to embrace the failure of others. To acknowledge it and keep moving. I am really frustrated with the current state of the world and this overwhelming feeling of fear. WE HAVE FAILED. Let’s move on.

This inability to acknowledge our weaknesses, our shortcomings, our inability to be honest and open and vulnerable.

Say it. Say you fucked up and let’s move on.

Especially I feel this pressure at work. Don’t fuck up. It’s lessening. Most of it is in my own head. I have to get comfortable with saying, yeah, I messed up. I have to let that pressure go. Pace myself. A fuck up here, a fuck up there. It’s not the end. What a lot of time we waste, trying to ensure we do everything just so.

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What we talk about when we talk about women

International Women’s Day came and went, and it left me feeling a lot of things. It’s only been recently that I even noted this day, that I even realized it existed. Was it really a thing before the Internet?

According to this New Yorker article about Kim Walls, the day has been around for 108 years. But what are we celebrating when we celebrate International Women’s Day and what are we supposed to be reminded of?

On the campus where I work, a student org hosts a panel featuring women from campus and asks them to share their experiences of being women in the world. Topics range from feminism to sexism to gender roles. I participated last year, and it was the highlight of my year. I thought it was such a cool way to hear the stories of women on campus, and to connect women across the faculty/staff-student divide. I did not grow up with many female role models, and I do appreciate that this might provide a way for college women to identify someone they can follow. To reflect on their own experience as up and coming women.

I was asked to step in at this year’s event because one of the panelists had a family emergency and needed to step down. I have been sick all week, almost delirious in my waking moments, sleeping when I’m not trying to catch up at work. I agreed because I was going to be in attendance at the event anyway, and I wanted to help out the students. But now, days later and with a return to a state of health, I feel I made some major mistakes in my participation. Both with my presence and in my topics.

I wish I had stood up and said, “no, I won’t be participating after all. I think we should leave this space empty to recognize mothers. To recognize women whose stories we’ve missed because they turned away to be with their children. Because their children called and they answered. Because they had no other choice. Because they had no one else who could step in or because they felt it was only their responsibility to bear. If this is really a day to celebrate women, let’s let this absence fill us up. Let’s recognize it for what it is: The sacrifice of a mother. The reason we’re all here.”

But I didn’t think to say that in the moment. Maybe it would have made a difference, maybe it would have resonated, maybe not. (Thanks, Ofelia). I talked away, rambled away, through the congestion in my head and the ache in my throat. Not saying much of substance, not connecting the shiny points in my mind I wanted to share with the audience. I wanted to talk about the internalized misogyny I grew up with. I wanted to talk about how long it took me to recognize it as such, thanks to an intro women and gender studies course in college. I wanted to talk about how much that class made sense to me. How easily I absorbed the concepts and the scholarship. I wanted to talk about how I flipped to the extreme, from modeling my personality on toxic masculinity to modeling it on flighty femininity. I became superficially kind. Superficially sweet and giving. How unhealthy that can be.

I wanted to talk about how I got to grad school and still didn’t feel safe. Still didn’t feel like I had feminist mentors in my life. Still felt like the world was out to get me, was waiting for me to fail, was waiting to say, I told you so.

I didn’t recognize my voice as something to be heard. I didn’t recognize the lack of complex, positive female images in the world. The missing from my tv, my movies, my books. How so often, the women roles were written by men. Men who had incomplete ideas of what it was to be a woman.

I wanted to talk about how I’ve watched the women around me hate themselves, hate their bodies, and spread that hate to other women. I wanted to say, “yes, I’ve dealt with a lot of shit from men, but what’s become more shocking and stinging to me has been the lack of solidarity from women.” How quickly the women in my life have failed to choose my side, have failed to recognize my failings for what they are — a woman in the world trying to build her voice.

I wanted to talk about how 53% of white women voters chose the current President. The man who said, “grab them by the pussy.” A man who uses the word pussy and thinks women have a pussy, yet women still believe he will lead the country somewhere worthwhile. That doesn’t even roll off the tongue, “grab them by the pussy.” It doesn’t even ring. Maybe he will create the jobs, maybe he will make America great again, but do you think it will be great for anyone with a pussy? Do you think there will be jobs for the pussies? I wanted to talk about the women who stand by their man.

Do you know women make up 50.8% of the U.S. population? So, why aren’t there more of us in places where it matters? It’s 2018, and we have the first senator to give birth.

Excuse me?

What about the fact that we still don’t have spaces for transwomen, for women of color, for anyone a little different cognitively or physically or emotionally? How often are women in charge of the spaces, yet they’re still not making space? What about how white women still aren’t recognizing the experience of men of color?

I’m thirty years old. I’ve become financially independent. I’ve had the privilege to control my own reproduction. I’ve had the perspective of a multiracial world. The struggle is real, and it’s different for everyone, and you have to get out of your own head. You have to get out of your own world. You have to remember there are stories you don’t have access to. Stories you don’t have a right to. Stories you’re ignoring. You have to think about how you’ve been groomed, how you’ve been taught, what lies you’re carrying around everyday, spreading like spores.

You have to make space for the maybe of life.

And what does it say about me, that I’m ruminating over this? Over my miss? That I feel, as a woman, that when I’m given the space to talk that I better not mess it up. That I better make it right. That I better say what I want to say perfectly. That I will only have this time and this chance, and that I better not let anyone down. And how heavy it weighs, when the moment passes.

 

MPLS

I think there’s a special place in hell for people who fly with their pets. Can you imagine what that’s like for an animal? I can barely stand to fly. Maybe if you don’t have a car, or are moving across an ocean. There seems something inexplicably cruel about making a dog hang out in an airport.

An airport is the only place I feel 100% comfortable being alone. Where I feel like I can be truly obliviously alone. I watch the people. I eat the weird food court food. A couple next to me wolfs down root beer floats and onion rings. It’s 830 in the morning. I sit in the sun. The sun flooding through the wall of windows. My coffee is steaming.

Travel is maybe the time I feel most like myself. I am everything and nothing. I am from nowhere with somewhere to go. I have a million stories that might never get told. The pace, the fleeting presence, the people from everywhere. Maybe we should be nomadic. Maybe we should always be ebbing and flowing. Moving onto the next. Maybe our homes and yards should come to an end. Our boundaries should be tested. Our minds should stop being made up. Travel does not show me something I don’t already know about myself. Travel reminds me who I am and what I’m capable of. Travel reminds me of all the skills I’ve learned and the knowledge I’ve gained. I’m not alone when I travel. I’m not a weirdo when I travel. I become a part of a larger whole. I find my place in the world of busy bodies.

20 years of dead children

When Columbine happened I wasn’t quite twelve, and I was horrified. I remember reading the articles, staring over and over again at the video footage of the shooters stalking the halls with their guns. I remember reading everything, anything, trying to understand why they did it and what the warning signs were and which of the victims said what and where they died. Where they were hiding and how anyone survived.

I was traumatized.

A friend read Rachel’s Tears — about the girl who said she believed in God and then was shot? I remember the drawing of the flower with the 13 tears. I remember that cold, sick, hollow feeling in my chest. What if it happened here.

I remember one of my best friends getting arrested the next year. Someone had found plans and maps, notes and anger. He was going to shoot up the school. The cops came and everything. He was put on house arrest and we were never classmates again. We would talk on the phone and he would complain about his ankle brace.

Arkansas? Newtown? I don’t know. Washington state? Where do these things keep happening? I don’t read about them or dream about them or stare transfixed at the news about them. Not again. Not anymore.

Florida. 2018. It’s been almost 20 years since Columbine. Can you believe it? My eyes well up just writing that sentence. Just thinking those words. 20 years. This has been my whole life. My entire adolescence and all of my adult life to date. I found myself at the library last night, my favorite place. My favorite ugly building in all of downtown. Feeling so good and cutting myself off in the middle of it: what if a shooter came in right now. Where would you go? Would you have time to live?

We have drills at work. Everywhere I’ve worked. Colleges. Where would you go if someone came in with a gun? Don’t run. Hide. Do you know where the light switch is? Do you know where to sit to avoid the trajectory of a bullet? Think about it. Think about it now before it’s too late. Play dead. Block the door. Take these drills seriously. This is serious.

I have changed. This has changed. Our mindset. But nothing else. The violence and the pain and the death continue. We continue to fail.

Keep a list

Last night I watched Lady Bird. We had to drive to the next town over, but we paired it with Laotian food (boba tea, Sai Oua, and the noodle soup special of the day) and a stop for grocery store candy bars, instead of movie candy, and a beer afterward.

I felt emotionally wrecked driving away from the theater. The beer helped a little. The Olympic women’s cross country skiing event helped more, I think. The release of adrenaline.

Why aren’t there more movies like this? Why weren’t there movies like this in 2002? I grew up with Heathers, Clueless, 10 Things I Hate about You, Mean Girls. Funny, memorable films, but nothing like Lady Bird with a character that is complex and vulnerable, open. With a story that didn’t culminate in boy loves girl, but in girl loves girl (self) and all the people that have contributed to self (best friend, parents, hometown). There’s been nothing like this before, where the girl retreats, but then reaches out, pulling everything in her universe closer to her. Sustaining herself on all that’s been good and reliable and strong. It made me feel happy for her and happy for the world we live in that this story can be told now, told well, told to open, accepting audiences.

Nothing was wrong in the film, nothing was traumatizing. The mother/daughter relationship was real, was full. The teenage girl was self-absorbed but was conflicted, trying to sort out, who am I and who are you? Where does that edge live? Support, safety, hope.

And it made me sad, made me cry, feeling that sureness, that vein of solidarity throughout the film that I felt, still feel, was missing from my life. That feeling of, if only you had grown up with a catcher, with someone to catch you if you fell. With some trust. You should be able to go through life with some bumpers. You should be able to spiral outside of yourself and trust that you will bounce back, off of someone who loves you and wants you to be the best version of yourself. Anyone–friend, parent, teacher, sibling.

That was the difference I always felt. The separation between me and them. The kids at school. The customers in the grocery store. They grew up with nets, with bumpers. I felt like I was careening through the sea, “decks awash.”

Alone. I felt terribly, incredibly alone.

And I wanted to grab my housemate after and shake him and tell him, you are my parent now. My mother, my best friend, my net. You catch me when I start to fall. You help me step out of harm’s way. You want me to be okay, but you’re not forcing me to be okay. You reach for me, but you don’t hold me, don’t keep me. You are my bumper. You let me bounce away, bounce back.

I feel safe and steady now. I can see the shore.

 

Fertility practice

I’m starting a writing project for the month. I’m interviewing friends with a uterus on their sexuality and experience(s) with fertility. I want to learn more about what shapes their understanding of sexuality and fertility, and what that experience is like for them, and more importantly, how and why it differs for each of us.

I realized I probably should start with my own story before I blast the stories of others.

I also realized, during my first interview, that any chat about fertility might start with sex. One’s relationship to/with sex and one’s opinion of sex.

I like sex. I’ve always liked sex. I started masturbating very young. So young I didn’t even have the words to describe what I was doing. Nap time? Great, feel good time. I had a brief moment of doubt somewhere in later childhood because I read that perhaps masturbators (ers?) are sinners and all going to hell. And I thought, Oh, no. why god? But then I got over it because I realized I was harming no one and doing nothing and if enjoying myself was a sin, I was going to make peace with the idea of a long and terrible afterlife. I don’t believe in a God who would think that way of people. That is another post.

Masturbation was one thing. Sex another. I started reading teen magazines (mostly YM) at a young age. My mom thought it would be a good way for me to access the things girls are supposed to know (how to hate your body, how to waste your money on make-up, how to worry about boys). I was mostly interested in the advice columns. In the scared entries from teens who thought they were dying of an STD. I learned the word “blowjob” from one of these articles. (What the hell is that?) I had to later ask a group of friends at a sleepover. I think we figured it out.

I became convinced from my teen mag reading I was going to get an STD if I started having any sex. With my mouth, hands, or vagina. There seemed no surefire way to protect oneself. Pregnancy was another reason to abstain, but not my number one. While my mother had terrified me with her stories of conception, I was more afraid of photos of genital warts. (She first conceived me on accident and later my sister: “I’m good at making babies,” she would say.) I wasn’t sure what I was good at, but I did not want to be good at making babies.

I was a late bloomer. I read Are you there God, it’s me Margaret around the time I started wearing my much loathed training bra–age 10. Puberty, overall, seemed terrible to me. My body was not the same. I couldn’t run as fast. I couldn’t shoot a basketball. Why was this necessary? And I was terrified of starting my period. My mother hated having her period. I heard no good things from her during those times of the month, and there were enough sights and sounds to support my idea that having a period was one of the worst experiences in life. Luckily, my body held off as long as it could and I didn’t start until right before high school. Freshman year was also the year many of my peers began having sex. Lots of factors contributed to my decision not to have sex. My mom had started having sex at 14 and had gone on the Pill then, but always told me her story with a hint of regret. She wondered, maybe she was too young? But no one had discouraged her, and she seemed to enjoy her experiences. Knowing my grandmother, who is very sex positive, mom’s sex mindset makes sense to me. My grandma is very much in support of decisions we make as women to feel good.

I remember stumbling on some marriage and sex book in my mother’s library. I wasn’t taught to feel ashamed about sex, only that it was something to be careful with. Only that it could kill you and that babies were forever.

I had a boyfriend in junior high and another in high school. We would rub against each other, and expose a bit of our bodies to one another, but it was all pretty innocent. I spent most of high school trying to figure out my own body and had little interest in boys. I went to a small town school and all the boys around were boys I’d known forever. After reading The Pact by Jodi Picoult, I realized I felt a bit incestuous thinking of my male peers as possible sexual partners. I waited to get out and meet strange boys.

Finally, when I was 20, I had the sex. It wasn’t what I expected. It wasn’t anything. It wasn’t memorable or painful or sweet. It just was. With a soon-to-be boyfriend in his bed. Sober. We used a condom and spermicidal lube (much later I learned I was painfully allergic to spermicide). I was fine and happy with all of that. It was very casual. I hadn’t let sex become Sex, even though everyone seemed to want that for me. (Mom, friends, siblings). I was so excited to finally tell my mom during Christmas break I had achieved losing my virginity. Weren’t we more of the same now? But when I told her, she was surprised, explaining she thought I had lost it long ago, at 15 or 16 to the high school boyfriend. I couldn’t believe how little she knew me.

I had lots of sex with college boyfriend. I had gone on the Pill the year before because of menstrual issues (debilitating cramps; irregular periods). I felt comfortable with my body then as a sex body. I felt comfortable with college boyfriend (who had lost his virginity as a teen) to teach me the basics, what I needed to know to be a good sexual partner, but I lost a sense of myself in this relationship. I didn’t know what I should be getting out of it, and I didn’t know what I should be expecting from sex.

Then there was the boy who always wanted to have sex with me; there was the boy I really wanted to have sex with; there was the boy who was around and would say, “no one can hear you.” Trying to turn me on, but creeping me the fuck out. There was the boy who would close his eyes, who was afraid to take charge; there was the boy who thought he was really good at sex, then there was another like him. There were a few girls, here and there. Drunk girls. Sober girls.

There was one, maybe two, pregnancy scares. Only one I can remember. The boy with all the want. He named it Hank. Made me a grieving mix CD for after the abortion. “For Hank,” he titled it. Of course I wasn’t pregnant. I was on the Pill. I was too careful. But the body still seems unknown to me. Capable of anything, even after all this time. I’ve tried since to better understand ovulation and the cycles of the body. I started seeing a doctor who taught me about temperature change and mood swings. I began to track days and weeks. I began to understand how my body marked time.

In between, once a year, sometimes twice a year, I visited my doctor. I got the STI tests. I filled out the forms. I worried a little, every time, that my test results would come back life changing. I was lucky, most of the time, that I knew what I knew, and I was safe enough.

I took a break. As much as I liked the physicality of sex, I needed an emotional connection to coincide. I have never done the one night stand. I tried once, but quickly realized I was not interested in sharing a bed with a stranger or in talking to them the morning after. People, they’re the worst. And my body is mine, my own. I don’t have a desire to share it with anybody, with everybody. I need a password and a secret knock and an upfront deposit. This shit is mine. You can get in line.

The break from physical relationships was worth it. I was able to articulate my own feelings around/about sex. I was able to reflect on my sexual escapades and rate them. To realize what was good and what was not. I read a lot about female orgasm and sexual trysts and tried to understand what I would need from a future partner. Tried to understand what would make the sex good for me. Began to practice the words I had always been afraid to say to partners previously.

Now, I’m in the best sexual relationship of my life. I’m also in the best physical shape of my life. I feel the two are definitely connected. I’ve taken the time to invest in myself physically, mentally and emotionally. I feel comfortable and confident and content. I’m also on the most convenient form of birth control–the nexplanon implant. I’m finally able to enjoy a sexual relationship with 100% confidence– no babies and no diseases. No fallout. The ambiguity has gone.

And my fertility story is simple in comparison: I don’t know if I want children. I was taught early-on, and I saw firsthand, that children mean giving up a bit of yourself. Children take you away from yourself. I have no desire to be separated from myself. There is nothing that needs filled. Nothing I am missing within myself.

Children are a physical experience for a woman. Am I ready to share my body with a third person? For an extended period of time? Am I ready to see it morph and mutate and give it over? Give it up? I don’t know. I don’t even know if I am fertile, if I can have a child. I’ve never tried. My current partner would make a good parent. That could be fun, but that is not all the fun. That is not the only fun we could have. But suddenly, I realize the option isn’t always going to be there. If I want the experience–the physical challenge, the knowledge that results, then I need to decide. I’ve spent all this time running away from procreation, only to find myself in the middle of the maze, face-to-face with it. I should make the most of my body’s capabilities while they exist. I should take advantage of my pelvic floor and my mental stamina. So they say. I hear the clock of my friends’ bodies ticking. Hear them talk around it. Like the crocodile from Peter Pan. One big twitching clock. They are Captain Hook, living in fear. What do we do? Why does it matter? Who do we become after we pass the plateau, the child-bearing plateau? What helps us ascend, what causes us to stop and rest, what sends us over the edge? So I’ll be asking my friends, taking notes, thinking about it. What is it like living with a uterus?

Fertilization

There is always work to be done. There are always things to write about. I pull myself into my quiet center. Away from the day.

I love to read about pregnancy. I love to read about miscarriage. I love to read about abortion. I love to read about female pain. In general, I find the female body powerful, impressive, mysterious. I find the constant battle (conflict) with pregnancy fascinating, overwhelming, mind-boggling. How is this not all women talk about? (Patriarchy?) How is this not all anyone can talk about. The ability, the capability, the interest in, the obsession with, growing a human inside of you. Secretly, obviously, regularly. On and on we make babies. Fertilize the eggs and watch the tiny humans come into the world. On and on we deal with human after human. Each life carving out another path. Leaving another wake.

Bloody and painful and dangerous = the female body. And yet we allow it to go on unknown. We allow the experience to remain mysterious. We continue not to obsess over the powerful process, the life-altering decisions. The tiny humans we bring into the world to make something of it. To become something of it. We forget all that came before. All the thoughts and actions that led to each and every one of us sitting, breathing, destroying.

Why? Why am I here, we ask of God (of the universe). Instead of asking, demanding of, demanding from our mothers: why!

How many of us are accidental? How many of us are unwanted? How many of us almost killed our mothers, terrified our fathers, broke up marriages, scared off dreams, took something irreplaceable with our coming into being? How many of us were demanded, willed, sought, chased? How many of us had to be coerced into existence, tricked, bargained with, prayed for? How many of us came into life quietly, unnoticed, a surprise?

These are the stories I want to hear. The stories of conception. The stories of growth. The stories of rounding bellies and backaches and heartburn. Softening pelvises. How did we come to be? Were we happy daydreams or horrible nightmares?