Wednesday, February 25, 2009


That last post was inspired by Kate Harding's wonderful musings on her excellent blog Shapely Prose, which is a safe space monitored by Kate and her whip-smart co-bloggers. I posted there about the content of "The Ugly Truth." But it got me thinking: Why do I feel like I should only talk about this in a "safe space"? And the answer was: Because I am ashamed. Because I still think it's my fault. Because my first response to the violence directed at me was, "That was crazy, but I probably deserved it." On her blog, Kate discusses the gendered nature of violence like this (and not just the violence itself, but the victim-blaming as well) as symptomatic of a deep and enduring misogyny in our culture.

The Ugly Truth

So, the whole Chris Brown and Rihanna thing. Wow. Didn't want to comment on it, I go.

I was initially flabbergasted by all of the quotes from celebots putting in their two cents about how Chris Brown is really, underneath it all, actually a nice guy, and it's not like this has happened before. It's not like he has a *history* of beating women. He just screwed up! She was probably being mouthy! I couldn't believe that people actually think this way, in this day and age. Until I remembered: up until very recently, you thought that way too, Screwsan (and just because you thought it about yourself doesn't make it any less of a shitty sentiment).

I knew a nice guy once. We dated for awhile. Then, one time, after we broke up, when I was arguing with him on his front porch, he strangled me. He'd never been abusive before. He wasn't violent to me when we were dating. It was easy for his friends to take his side--after all, he's nice and I'm...well, I'm a mouthy bitch. And even those people who stood up for me and helped calm me down didn't really see this as a domestic violence issue. Neither did I. After all, victims of domestic violence are a certain way, they live with a pattern of abuse, and it often takes them years (as made-for-TV movies starring Candace Cameron tell us) to bust out of their terror-filled lives. Those kinds of domestic violence victims and abusers are all over the media, seared into our brains. It's a horrible reality that many victims of domestic violence live this way. It's very important to educate the masses about the cycle of domestic violence so that victims of it may feel empowered enough to leave their partners before they are killed.

But this trope of domestic violence is only part of the story. Then there's all the rest of us (and by "us," I mainly mean women here), who lead "normal" terror-free lives. There's all the rest of us who have nice boyfriends, boyfriends who, you know, only screwed up once and felt really really bad and would never do it again. (Or ex-boyfriends who only screwed up once and even then, after the fact.) There's the rest of us, who will not lead violence-filled lives, but may just be touched by violence. And we will ignore it. We will internalize it. We will learn to not talk about it, because he was a nice guy and he didn't mean it and it was only once. We will blame ourselves and our bad luck at relationships and our big, bitchy mouths. We will think that because there is no "cycle of violence" present in what happened to us that there won't ever be one. We will shrug it off and tell ourselves, "It's no big deal. i walked away from it. I'm not a victim of domestic violence."

But that's not true. And that kind of thinking is dangerous. That kind of thinking gives violence a foot in the door. That kind of thinking makes polite excuses for something we can't afford to be polite about. Violence in relationships (whether they are new relationships or old relationships or over relationships), violence against women, is never ever ever okay. Even when he's famous. Even when you're famous. Even if he's never done it before. Even if he's a nice guy. Even if you're on his front porch and you are angry. It's not fucking okay. It's abuse. And it's common. And it's probably happened to someone you know.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Black Silk Boxers With Hearts

When we were 16, I gave you a pair of black silk boxers with red hearts for Valentine's Day. They frayed, looked a bit tawdry, were older than our years, silly, slightly creepy, easily stained, warm. Like us. Cheap and happy. I miss you.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Letter from Cat

I've had a lot of coffee today, which means another blog post! I kind of feel bad about not posting since November and I just had what could end up to be a really dumb idea, but I'll roll with it. This semester I'm taking a fiction workshop. Every Monday in our fiction workshop, we write "creative responses" to the book we've been assigned to read the previous week. The responses are only 1-2 pages long and they're freewriting exercises, which means I can write whatever weird and stupid crap comes into my head without having to worry about polish or revision. I thought I might start posting some of my creative responses here because a) they're short and b) that way I'll potentially be posting at least once a week again and c) the three of you who read this blog can see firsthand the sort of silly crap one produces when one is in the process of being overeducated in writing. Plus maybe the anxiety of knowing that my creative responses will be posted will make them...not better but more productive somehow? Anyway, so here's my creative response from this week. I should explain that my workshop has an experimental bent; that I've recently been playing with collage and appropriation (aka stealing and plagiarism); and that I've been obsessed, all week, with the blog True Wife Confessions. So to make my slackitude work for me, I decided to write a piece that used my favorite sentences or clauses from a number (and what a number) of TWC posts and work them into a...not really a story, but...something. The rule, more or less, was I could use no more than one sentence or clause from each post. Here's what happened:


Letter From Cat
(as excerpted from the blog True Wife Confessions)

Hey you,

These weak, underachieving drama queens are out of control. I put up with a string of asshole roommates. But you take the cake. True, you are affectionate (greatly so!), playful. I don’t dislike you, but I feel like I have way too much weight on my shoulders. I just want to be the freaking cat. I am not your friend. I do not want to sit by your bedside table and watch you fade away into your final slumber.

Living with you sucks the joy out of my soul. Your body is seriously out of proportion. You stink. Your gibberish makes my skin crawl. You do anything I ask at the snap of a finger, and you know what, it’s annoying. When I don’t feel good, you inquire as to my pooping. Just how hard is it to change the litter box?

You asshole rat-fuck gutless piece of shit bastard. Your girlfriend is a crazy ass bitch. I swear she is the ugliest human being I have ever seen in my life. One night in September, while you were sleeping, I peed on her toothbrush. I wish I could just kill her sometimes.

Your best friend…I tempted fate and decided to sit with him and watch TV. I really screwed up!!! One thing led to another, and we indulged in some very inappropriate touching. I don’t know what happened exactly. I’m glad it has stopped but I still think about it often. It makes me so sad.

I miss you so badly when we aren’t together. I’m starving for attention. I’m starving. Chopped liver? That’s what I want. Nothing more and nothing else.

I think I am starting to forgive you. You cuddle with me, rub my back. This is how you stole my heart to begin with. You were always under the surface. Yes it took a long time, but you were dedicated to pleasing me. I love you. I mean…I don’t dislike you, managing your ego. Get a job, seriously!

Here’s a confession…I hate you. I’m tired of smelling spit on your hands. I’m tired of all your excuses. Just so you know, you won’t be able to find three of your favorite sweaters ever again. When I see you I will act like everything is fine, but under my breath I will be saying have a nice day bitch. Lol.

After 45 minutes of licking, I’m going to take a nap.

Shut up shut up shut up,
The Cat


Which I think basically sums up my feelings about cats and their feelings.


Fucking Yoga (A Rant)

You know, I like the act of yoga. I do. It makes me feel better than anything in the world. Without it, I’m prone to back pain and sore joints and strained muscles, especially now that I’m a wizened old hag. Yoga keeps me off the anti-Ds. Yoga feels really good to my body. But the culture of yoga, I have to say, often annoys the living shit out of me. It’s so restrictive. Good yogis don’t eat meat, or smoke or drink or toot a line now and then because they’re out on the Lower East Side and the DJ’s really good and beautiful people are dancing and some cute boy invited them into the bathroom and gave them a bump and then made out with them all night long. You know what I mean? I’m speaking hypothetically here.

I’ve never been much of a joiner, especially not when joining means behavior modification in pursuit of a “better” self via enlightenment or spirituality or whatever, which I’ve noticed can sometimes lead to viewing those around you (beneath you, really) with pity and disapproval, because this helps you to justify the fact that your life is now bacon-and-cocaine free and maybe a little bit boring. I think this is the same reason I’ve been resistant to organized religions. I don’t do well with proscription and I’m not a very goal-oriented person. If I had any, my mantras might be something like: “Make tremendous mistakes” and “Are you going to eat that.”

I think the culture of yoga can be incredibly helpful for many people. Yoga teaches you to have compassion for yourself, which many people—say addicts, or abuse victims, or people who, for whatever reason, don’t like themselves very much—could use a lot more of. In that respect, the belief system behind yoga can be good and healthy. But the thing about yoga culture and some of the people steeped in it is I get the feeling that they never lacked a healthy amount of compassion for themselves. And now they have permission, via a faux faith-based exercise regimen (which is the way it’s often practiced in America), to think about themselves all the time.

And look I’m a no stranger to narcissism—I’m a writer. This blog is like a tribute to narcissism. But at least I don’t pretend to be doing good works while flexing my awesomely toned muscles in front of a room-sized mirror. I mean, I’m still, metaphorically flexing the muscles in the mirror, but I goddamned well know I’m not helping anyone or putting any good vibes or auras or whatever-the-fuck out into the world. And I certainly don’t talk in an irritatingly soft voice and pretend like nothing ever pisses me off. Fucking yoga instructors.

Which brings me to the real, secret, selfish reason behind today’s yoga rant: My local yoga studio has a “public-school teachers and single parents discount” that just makes them affordable. Since they have no student discount, I thought I’d take them up on the teachers’ prices because, hey, I teach in the Utah public school system. I went for a trial class but was turned down for the discount on my first visit by a yoga instructor named Jim who refused to speak above a whisper. So when I got home I emailed the owner, explaining my situation (I teach at the University of Utah and would like the teacher discount) and was turned down again:

I offer the discount to teachers to honor their work with our youth. Not so much the money or lack of it, but the stress they are under and the good job they do. This is the same reason I offer the deal to single parents.

I’d just like to draw your attention to that phrase, “honor their work with our youth,” because that phrase in particular makes me want to punch this person in her calm yoga face. If you haven’t been to a lot of yoga classes before, this might sound like a totally normal and reasonable sentence. However, “honor” is a big yoga word and for me it conjures the image of a middle-aged, social X-ray-type in two hundred dollar yoga pants bowing to herself in the mirror and reverently whispering “namaste” in order to “honor” herself. I don’t know why this bothers me so much. Maybe I’m jealous that the hot-for-50 lady is hotter than me, mediocre-for-31. Or maybe I’m jealous because she can afford $200 yoga pants and mine are Old Navy brand and six years old. Or maybe, looking at that lady, I sense she’s never lacked for being “honored” in her life. Probably something like all of the above.

So that expression, “honor,” just galls me in the first place. And then there’s the rest of the email which is galling in general because it insinuates, by negation, that the work I do is less stressful and “good.” Forget for a moment that the line between teaching college freshmen and high school upperclassmen is flimsy at best. And let’s assume that I don’t do “good” work at all, that my desire to become a college professor is completely self-absorbed and maybe I’m bad at it. Maybe I’m poisoning young minds and bodies with episodes of “Family Guy” and the occasional donut. That’s fine. I’m not a special ed resource teacher who works with behavior-disordered and mentally disturbed youth. But you know what? Not all teachers are good and deserving of awesome yoga discounts. In fact I’ve met some pretty shit ones in my day, including:

-the pretty girl who teaches kindergarten until her doctor-boyfriend becomes her doctor-husband.
-the jock who may know something about coaching football, but not much about American history.
-the Dude who loves to sub because it’s easy.
-the “Mostly, I wanted to keep having summer break” teacher (note: actually the majority of teachers, according to a recent survey I read somewhere once).
-the one who sleeps with--or gives the appearance of being willing to sleep with--students. (related, tangentially, to the arrested-development high school teacher who cannot or will not relate to adults and instead seeks to relive glory days of own youth.)

I mean, as long as we’re going to generalize about groups of people and the “good” “work” they do or don’t do!

Look, I know most teachers work like crazy and that it’s a demanding job. I’ve seen season four of the “The Wire.” Seriously though, I get it. Teaching is hard. I’m not saying teachers don’t deserve an awesome yoga discount. I’m just saying I do too. My stress levels since beginning my PhD are absolutely through the roof. Not to mention that, no matter the false distinctions this yogi’s email makes between “money” and “stress,” when one’s annual salary is $12,000 (approximately 1/3 of the beginning annual public school teacher’s salary), the two cannot be pulled apart. And although from a professional standpoint I think education reform is very important in this country, personally, I just kind of get annoyed when people say shit like “honor their work with our youth.” Think of the children! I kind of hate the children, if you want to know the truth.

(sidenote: why isn’t she offering discounts to social workers and cops, whose burnout (and suicide) rates are far higher and faster than those of teachers?)

But anyway, you know, whatevs. If this yogi had just said, like, “Sorry, I can’t offer you a discount because I can’t afford to” and stopped there—fine. I would have had some measure of respect for that. But this flimsy and illogical response to my assertion that I should, under the terms of what’s listed on the yoga studio’s website, qualify for this discount, is sheer bullhonkey. And maybe that’s what this comes down to in the end—a sort of side-stepping of reality. The reality is: there’s something on your website that says I should be able to receive a discount. Don’t hide behind the pretty, silky veil of “honoring good works” when really, you just want me to pay full price.

I’ve noticed over the years at different yoga studios around the country that there is a nearly pathological resistance to discussing money or discounts, and yet yoga is incredibly expensive and very much caters to the sensibilities and cultures of a certain class. And I do mean “caters.” I don’t for a minute take for granted that yoga instructors or studio owners are necessarily of the same class as their clients. Maybe that’s why they don’t talk about money—it’s just not something they think the upper-middle class likes to do. Maybe they’re right. Maybe instructors and studio-owners are a bit trapped by the class system in which they’ve chosen to do business, which causes people like me, who have weird class hang-ups anyway, to throw shitfits on their personal blogs. I don’t know. As usual, I don’t know anything. Except that I should probably just buy a DVD and shut the fuck up already.