Friday, November 17, 2017

An Atypical Thanksgiving Post

I've recently been made aware of a letter my mother wrote before she died that included some very mean things about me. Whether or not she ate her words before she died is neither here, nor there. Since then I've been pretty angry and while that may seem sad, it's actually been super helpful in my grieving process. Instead of spending all my time wallowing over what I've lost, I've been able to step back and look at what I've gained since her death. In honor of honesty and Thanksgiving, I've decided to share something I wrote several years ago.
Thanksgiving around my house is like any other holiday... a futile attempt made by my mother to gather our, what she calls selfish, ungrateful family together under one roof in some semblance of mutual affection for each other. At times I wonder if she merely wishes to recreate a time in our lives when she thought everything was fine; when our broken, nuclear arrangement pretended to wear a mask of neutrality to cover up the drunken, apathetic animosity that existed despite my mother's orders of good behavior.

I will never understand her insistence on being the main cook--her obsession with fattening our bellies with her fervent guilt basted with gravy. These tempting mouthfuls of juiciness now replaced with bitterness. 

Over the years the family has dwindled due to divorce, death, arrests and insanity. No more do we experience the array of aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, brothers and sisters-in-law, friends of family and the local kids of the neighborhood packed in our old apartment house that permeated with the scents of baked turkey, gravy, pies and cider... the scent of autumn, of family and of feigned happiness. 

Now that my mother is dead, I never have to spend another holiday hell bent on trying to make her happy, because she was unable to do that for herself. She depended on everyone else to be who she wanted us to be so that she could be comfortable in her own skin. Unfortunately for her, we were all our own people with our own minds and lives and so she suffered unnecessarily. She blamed us all for her own misery, a bed she made long before we were even born and insisted on laying in even after we were all adults.

No more guilt, no more wondering if it's okay to leave after two hours because everyone was in their own rooms ignoring each other and she couldn't keep herself awake anyway because she was a junkie on morphine before the cancer was even a blip on the radar of her life.

No more finding her sitting alone in the darkness, smoking a cigarette, hoping someone would catch her so she could manipulate their happiness into a depression that fitted her own.

Sometimes I feel like my mother was a cancer growing in my soul. From the moment she told me that I was a mistake and that she almost aborted me; to the time she slammed her ten pound bible on my chest rebuking me in the name of Jesus Christ, because she was convinced I was possessed; to the last thing she said to me: "Jennifer stop HURTING ME," when I was only trying to get her messy diaper off so I didn't have to leave her laying in her own filth--my mother has spent my entire life trying to make me feel worthless and I have spent mine trying to make her love me.

Now I'm stuck with all this baggage and garbage that I have to spend the rest of MY life working through in the hopes of pulling myself together into some kind of whole person.

But I'm thankful that it's over. I'm grateful that I now have a chance to be my own person, whoever that may be. My life no longer has to be about making my mother proud, in the hopes that she may decide one day that it was worth giving birth to me.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

It's My Manic Hubris and I Can Be Grandiose If I Want To

I have to admit, along with using the terms "positive" and "negative" to describe people, I do not feel comfortable accepting the idea that people should just "be happy." It is that type of archaic social pressure that makes some people want to eat a bullet for breakfast.

I don't buy into mob-mentality.

For the less experienced, or for the emotionally unintelligent (or for those who have never experience mental illness), happiness is a thing to be had if only you simply made up your mind to have it.

Perhaps it is easy to make the decision to be happy, but like making the decision to take out the trash, it's the follow through that matters; then you forget and end up stinking like rotten eggs for a while before you finally get around to dumping the garbage. 

One day I realized that "happiness" is an illusion and that it is more than anyone could ever hope for (if they have eyes and ears that work) to just be content and grateful for what you have instead of dwelling on that which you do not.

I told my shrink that I get really frustrated because I feel that a lot of people look down on me; that they feel superior for whatever reason. Maybe because I cuss a lot and they find it easier to watch their tongues. Maybe it's because I have a history of drug abuse and promiscuity and they don't. Maybe it's because I "over share" and allow myself to be vulnerable. Some people see vulnerability as weakness. 

Some people disdain weakness.

Perhaps some find me unreliable and unworthy because I often generalize and become hyperbolic when I'm in a bad mood. I wonder if they realize I have yet to learn how to completely control my knee-jerk reactions. I wonder why they can't just let it slide. They have no idea what it's like to be manic--to feel like a prisoner of oneself. 
"In the case of bipolar disorder, grandiose delusions are considered “mood-congruent delusions” in that they manifest from the manic (or hypomanic) state. During manic or hypomanic phases, it is believed that brain activity changes, brain waves speed up, and neurotransmitter concentrations change, particularly levels of dopamine." -Grandiosity in Bipolar Disorder:
Usually I assume most people think I'm crazy white trash and they only keep me in their lives so that they can feel better about themselves. I’m always just on the outskirts of community. I’m like the stray dog that nobody wants to see starve, but will always be shooed away when anyone’s looking. 

I find that unbearably frustrating, because even though I'm often filled with self-loathing and insecurities I can still see how freaking awesome I am. Why can't they? Why are some people so ashamed to openly care about me?

Sometime I tell myself they're just jealous. 

But they probably aren't thinking of me at all.

I asked my therapist if she thought I was a narcissist and she told me, "no, but you have narcissistic reactions." 

It's all part of the grandiosity that can come during mania with someone who has bipolar disorder. On the surface the grandiosity seems so arrogant and uncouth, but from what it stems is a desperate need to be heard and understood. It's a subconscious defense mechanism to protect myself against feelings of inferiority. 

I find that when I'm feeling my worst my emotions are amplified by my (possibly skewed) perception that other people don't like me when I'm being myself. That often my sometimes paralyzing anxiety is triggered by the thought that I can never say what I'm thinking or feel my feelings because then people will stop liking me and I'll be left all alone penniless and friendless, roaming the streets half-naked looking for a god that doesn't exist (and even if one did, it probably wants nothing to do with me). 

"So what?" asked my therapist. "If people don't like you that's not your problem." 

"I think I make people uncomfortable." 

"Fuck that. People are responsible for their own comfort."

I'm relieved to find out that I'm not technically a narcissist. I hate narcissists.

I'm so tired of apologizing. I'm literally exhausted by all my feelings of guilt and shame. In order for me to survive I have to stop caring if you think I'm being rude or over generalizing or being hyperbolic. I have to not give a shit if you think I'm vitriolic, abrasive or crass. 

If you think I ruined your life or even just think I'm a bad influence, take a number. 

I'll be first in line.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Surveying The Wreckage

I've written about myself several times on this blog, but since I am perpetually under construction, so are these posts. I've unpublished most of them. Some of this may be old news for a few of you, but it's all from a new point of view.
I know it must seem that I'm not myself lately. I've started seeing a therapist who will hopefully help me cope with my bipolarity and teach me how to put together the pieces of my life to help me become whole and to help me see what it is deep inside me that won't stop eating away at my soul. I'm also going to get a new psyche eval, which will hopefully lead to some better medication.

For those of you who are new to the show, lemme give you a bit of background. When I was sixteen, after about ten years of therapy, I was diagnosed with manic-depression, which is now mostly referred to as Bipolar Disorder.


Go back further.

I am a mental time traveler. My memories are so vivid they consume me and I exist in them like a lucid dream. I remember my life non-linearly, disassociated from myself, the child a separate entity for whom I have great empathy.

It all stems from our childhood, ammirite? Those impressionable core years that are disturbingly under-appreciated. The years that draft our basic personalities.

My mother, both nurturing and destructive. Drugs and gangs ruled the streets in my neighborhood, and since all the parents had to work, were hooked on crack or were otherwise too indisposed to care for their kids, my mom became like a den mother. Her best friends were junkies and gangbangers.

She didn't judge, and they looked out for us. She cooked them meals and watched their kids, and they gave her weed or whatever else it was she wanted. All kinds of hard-living folks sought acceptance in our home. We trusted them and they never hurt any of us.

I didn't see it, but I remember my babysitter's boyfriend's best friend had his head blown off right outside my front door.

My parents got divorced when I was just a few months old and spent my childhood fighting over me. My mother was unfit at the time. She smoked too much pot, drank too much vodka and snorted too much cocaine. She filled my head with lies about my dad and my dad constantly tried to talk me into moving in with him.

I'm suddenly four years old and my stepfather has punched me in the face because I got in the way during one of his alcoholic rages. My mother made macaroni and cheese for dinner again. He threw the pan and all the mac and cheese flew up and got stuck to the ceiling and I cried because, fuck I love mac and cheese. He straight up punched me in the face like I was a man and knocked me right out.

I was raised standing in the corner, sometimes bruised and bleeding, peeling paint off the wall in a smokey haze while my folks partied with their friends. I was sent to bed without dinner more times than I can count.

I must have absorbed all of that rage, because I was unreasonable. I screamed and bit people (and the walls). I peed in the laps of my mother's friends. I took a lot out on my sister, who was so young and sweet and just wanted to be loved. I was awful to her.

I don't remember my first therapy session; I just remember my mom was told to nurture my creativity. She encouraged me to write.

So I wrote. I wrote little stories and poems and plays. I filled up journals. When I could stop and write in the middle of a rage storm I was able to prevent myself from beating up on my sister. I was able to keep myself from bashing my head against the wall.

I started my period when I was ten and when I was 11 my mother sent me away--she signed her guardianship over and I moved to Mariposa. At the time she had me believe that it was because I was bad and that she couldn't handle me and that living on a ranch in the middle of nowhere would be good for me. (And it was.)

But a few years ago I learned it wasn't because I was a bad seed. For some reason she thought it would be less painful for me to think that than to learn that my stepfather had begun grooming me. Decades of guilt and self-loathing for nothing.

When I was in Mariposa I was nearly arrested for getting into a brawl on the bus. I broke a window when I threw a large rock at a guy's head for calling me a "dyke." I went back to LA a week later.

So I got this diagnosis and took these drugs and I had therapy and over a period of weeks I descended into total chaos. One morning I woke up and chased all of my meds with a box of No-Doze. My mom caught me. She and her boyfriend dragged me literally kicking and screaming (and begging them to just let me die) to the hospital where I almost did die. I was in critical care for days--nobody was allowed to see me. I was almost institutionalized, but being the great bullshitter I am, I talked my way out of it.

After I was released I decided that it was irresponsible for doctors to put me on that many meds when I was only 16--my brain hadn't even fully developed yet and I was filled with all kinds of hormones that were affecting my moods and behavior. I vowed to never take pharmaceuticals again.

Flash forward to now.

I look back at my life and realize that my diagnosis wasn't wrong, it was just handled poorly. I see now that all of my actions have been textbook examples of bipolar behavior. I got so heavy into drugs and alcohol that I was literally homeless for about a year--lived in my car. I should have died so many times. I should have been thrown in jail. I could have easily killed people. I was reckless and violent and I hurt those I cared about.

I broke my sister's face. I nearly slashed my brother's throat. I threw a pan at my mother's head. One day I was drunk and sparring with my younger brother. I got agitated, which blossomed into rage and I beat him with a garden hose (he was an adult at the time. The only time I ever hit a child was when I was one myself). I'm sure I did a lot more than that, but I was so fucked up I don't remember it all.

When I wasn't angry I was "high on life": maxing out credit cards; blowing through paychecks (and men); stealing from my mom and aunt. When I wasn't manic I was suicidal. I was despondent. And when my dad was killed I was inconsolable. But I blew through the insurance money like I didn't care. I bought a truck that got repossessed and the rest went on vacations, drugs and booze.

For ten years now I've been sober from hard drugs.

Several years ago my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had already been in a wheel chair for a time because of bad osteoarthritis that left her with no ball joints in her hips. Walking was excruciating and, because she also had advanced diabetes, her feet and legs were constantly infected. She had kidney disease.

So they took part of her breast and when they still found some markers they wanted to take the whole thing, but vanity got the better of her and she said no. Since she was unable to lay down they couldn't do radiation treatment, and she denied chemo. Well, in January of 2015 they found something in her lung, and while I was in Portland helping my husband and his mom care for his dying dad, I was informed that my mom had lung cancer.

When I got home I had a breakdown. Acute Stress Attack, they called it; I was put on a regimen of medications. I told my doctor about the bipolar diagnosis and that I felt I needed to see a psychiatrist and he poo-pood me, saying I just needed to manage my stress. The medication has helped significantly, but it's not appropriate for my problem.

The tumor took up 60% of my mom's right lung, and because she also had COPD and was already on oxygen therapy, they said surgery would leave her living on a ventilator. So she said no to surgery. She was given 2 months to 2 years. As angry and cynical as I can be, I'm quite the optimist, so we planned for 2 years.

She moved in with me and my husband for home care, and for two months we developed an incredible relationship. Taking care of my mother gave me purpose. She admitted to being happier with me than she had been in years. We had some really good times in those few months. Then suddenly she started gaining weight, and we thought it was because her appetite had increased since she had moved in with us. A week later she was having trouble staying awake, and within a few days they had moved her from palliative care to hospice care. She died a week later on January 6, 2016, in what is now our spare bedroom.

I blamed myself for about a year because I felt I had killed her. I'm not a doctor, but I've read a lot of medical journals and have researched every disorder, disease and syndrome I've ever heard of, so I feel I should have known she was going into congestive heart failure and that it wasn't just weight gain. I had no idea that I was supposed to slowly poison her to death with Xanax and Morphine and when I yelled at the social worker because Kaiser made me kill my mom she said, "no, you helped her die."

I wasn't prepared.

It was a nice euphemism.

So now it's nearly the middle of 2017. This August I'll have been tobacco free for 6 years. That and my medication coupled with poor food hygiene has caused me to gain about 75 pounds. I'm in the middle of my MFA thesis and I have a hoard of physical problems--disc degeneration in my back (all discs are either bulging or missing and there is blood in my spinal fluid; many vertebrae are bone-on-bone--thanks hereditary osteoarthritis!). I have headaches all day, every day. I also have PCOS, so I have horrible pains and mood swings on my period. I'm still grieving. And now I have the fear that our government will become a religious autocracy where the patriarchy completely takes over and feminists atheists will be the first to go. I either binge eat or I starve myself and I'm too exhausted to exercise.

These aren't excuses. They are reasons.


I'm fucking angry. I'm exhausted. I'm stressed out and I just want to disappear.

My homework for this week was to stop bottling up my anger. To stop trying to mold myself into what I think everyone else wants me to be so that I can fit in with society and be well-liked. My goal for this week was to be totally outspoken and honest about what was on my mind without concerning myself with the consequences. Instead of spending my energy consumed with how others perceive me and thus bottling up my feelings, I'm supposed to blow off some steam and use that extra energy to look inward and question my reactions.

I've come to some interesting ideas, but it's all still kind of confusing to me and I've only had two sessions... Still, I can't help but try to start putting things together. I keep feeling like I have the BIG IDEA on the tip of my tongue and then it's gone. Kind of like taking acid, realizing the meaning of the universe and as soon as you go to tell someone you forget everything.

I have to be patient.

I just wanted to share with whomever is reading because I don't want to go on this journey alone. I don't want to isolate and disconnect from everyone while I'm growing and changing. I want us to do it together so our friendships and relationships will be stronger in the long run. So far my therapist and I have discussed my grandiosity, anger and narcissistic reactions.

I am not completely devoid of self-awareness.

The stigma around mental illness MUST end. People like me need to feel like they can be themselves without having to bottle everything up until they explode because it's rude to be direct (at least if you're a woman). It's crude to cuss. People tune out when you raise your voice. Society has taught us all that the person who remains calm is superior. Avoid all conflict. Smile. Remain positive. Stay away from depressed people, they're toxic.

We have our place in the world.

This is mental health activism.

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Light Fantastic Toe

An essay I wrote about the short video, Hallberg At Work
            Music composer Ólafur Arnald and dancer David Hallberg create a dreamlike landscape in Hallberg At Work, directed by Erik K. Yue and choreographed by Marcelo Gomes. Bustling urban music plays in a plain high-rise studio as the world famous dancer shares this intimate experience – someone who is used to being on a stage with others in a vast theater filled with people; now solitary in front of a camera taking a closer look. Through the dance between Hallberg and the lens, we are instantly magnetized and can only watch the photography follow his lead, like how a fumbling, yet talented novice would follow a master.
            The camera starts at a distance and in a sweeping motion that seems almost like a dance move itself, it comes close and lingers, hanging on Hallberg’s every move. With slippery, shifting angles Hallberg’s joints seem highly lubricated, and the camera appears tentative, nearly insecure, in contrast to the dancer's smooth agility and confidence as it attempts to keep up, capture and understand this coryphée.
            There appears to be natural light pouring in from outside, filling the studio with quiet dusk, which lends to the picture an affected lonesome quality and makes the dancer seem more isolated. The studio is deserted and Hallberg strives mightily to trip the light fantastic by filling the void with his body.
            As the dancer relishes in his introversion, forgetting the camera in general, the energy shifts from somber and melancholy to a kind of determined force, the music and dance expressing a sense of exhaustion with the motivation to overcome.
            This may be why the framing appears careless in places. I find it hard to understand why the photographer would shoot allHallberg with such sincere interest, taking the time to idle in the dancer’s pause, it’s focus suspended on the tip of a finger, or the distant look in the eyes, and yet cut off his feet. I must assume that there is intent and not dismissal; that we should see that the camera just cannot keep up with the master dancer; that in its desperate attempts to preserve a sense of complimentary pacing, it loses track altogether.           
            Nevertheless, I want to fall on the tip of the toes and follow a kick and the swoop of a heel, but the movements are cut off from the inattentive lens. On the other end there is seemingly endless headspace, filling the void between our dancer and the ceiling. The oddly placed negative space is distracting, as would a neophyte dancer be in the midst of an expert.
            The spinning blur is effective as Hallberg is lost in the circular gesture, his arms raised in release; the loss of focus expresses this discharge of energy. As if we are caught up in the dancers relief, the camera snaps to attention when he rushes from his spot; and in a whirlwind of continuous motion the dancer unwinds, almost unsure himself of what to do next; lost in a momentary distraction, a thought we are not invited to see. The camera seems to reflect that disorientation, and in respect for Hallberg’s privacy, the lens turns away with no particular interest in anything else.
            As the dancer becomes adrift, absent-minded of its partner, the camera, too, loses itself in deliverance from motion. The two separate after the climax, like intertwined bodies no longer clinging to each other; leaving the dance and lengthening the space between; the camera now in the afterglow of this captivating experience.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Cultural Stumbling Blocks Facing Contemporary Feminism

The black professor of an Ethics class once announced that ultimately sexism was of more cause for concern than racism, because of the simple fact that most people don’t even acknowledge that the former exists. It is so engrained in our culture to be accepting of hegemonic masculinity that to challenge the status quo is considered a major social faux pas by many. A gender hierarchy has always existed, so why rock the boat now?
We don’t live in an openly oppressive regime, but you don’t have to be stoned to death for having an affair to be a victim of misogyny, and it isn’t only the physically weak “beta” males who suffer the sexism of hyper masculinity.

There are certain culturally acceptable traits within our socially constructed gender roles, and when those traits are challenged by feminism—when anyone who believes in equality for all people, but understands that in order for that to happen the patriarchal norm must be reformed—all Hell can break lose. The following are some of the biggest cultural stumbling blocks facing contemporary feminism.

Willful Subjugation
At our most basic level, our core beliefs have been forged by our upbringing and the practices of our social environment. Many of us have been raised with the belief that women are less important than men, and our society can reinforce the belief that subjugation equates to easy living. I think a lot of women (albeit perhaps quite subconsciously) find it easiest to submit to the patriarchy in exchange for the self-esteem boost that comes with the acceptance they receive for putting men on a pedestal or ignoring their horrible and destructive habits.

It is true that some women like being subjugated, or they believe that it is what is expected of them, and rebelling against those expectations can sometimes lead to punishment; this punishment can take any form, from social alienation to physical spousal abuse, or—even worse—the belief that the soul will suffer eternal damnation.

While some women have religious reasons for their willful subjugation, others do it because of previously existing gender bias in the economy, allowing themselves to slip further into patriarchal submission—women of color, in particular, because for the most part at the poverty line there is no other choice.

Then there’s just blatant cold fear of personal independence. Some women like feeling small and weak and at the mercy of a man's lust. They confuse that attention with love and respect, or it makes them feel more feminine, because that’s what they were taught femininity is supposed to feel like. Or maybe it’s just the simple attention that makes them feel worthy and valuable. Any attention is better than no attention, right? Some are so insecure and know that as long as they support the status quo they'll be well liked, and that's much more important than freedom and equality. What they don't understand is that, by perpetuating the status quo, they are helping to create a living Hell for those of us who need change.

Some women are raised to believe that we have to “use what we got” to land a man and have a family instead of getting an education or learning various skills or trades so that we can independently support ourselves should the need arise—so that when we’re put in a situation… when the need doesn’t just arise, but it explodes out of the chaos of all the horrible choices we’ve made, because we just weren’t fucking taught better—(mostly poverty stricken) women are forced to do horrible things because they don’t have the choice. They are stuck turning to the streets to survive, which seems like an obvious and hideous oxymoron.

"I love the fact that there are women out there who don't have a choice 
and they must go to work and they still have to raise kids." 

Thinking Gives You Wrinkles
One night at the gym, while a Zumba class was in session, all the ladies were furiously dancing to one of the most misogynistic songs I have ever heard. Something about being a “player” and how “bitches” are only necessary for doing stuff with the “Jimmy” and how stupid love is…

To the lady in front of me, I say, "Those sure are some misogynistic lyrics."

"Oh, I don't pay attention to the lyrics," she replies.

I’m immediately annoyed, but I have nothing but love for this woman, even if she is someone I haven’t shared more than five words with since I’ve been working out there, so I smile. "It's just a little sad to see so many women dancing so happily to music made by artists who clearly hate them."  

A few minutes later I overheard some of the ladies talking about me "blasting" them. Then they proceeded to snub me, like I was the guy getting all Aristotle* on their asses.

Sorry, ladies, I'm just trying to raise awareness. Don't you realize that even if you don't "listen to the lyrics" you're still promoting and therefore perpetuating a system that wishes to keep you marginalized? And you think you don't subconsciously pick up the idea that it's okay to be used for sex? That ultimately your mission in life is to become the best receptacle for male enthusiasm you can be? You can snub me all you want; it doesn't make what I'm saying any less true.

"Millions of girls will grow up thinking that this is the right way to act… 
that they can never be more than vacuous ninnies whose only goal is to look pretty, 
land a rich husband, and spend all day on the phone with their equally vacuous friends 
talking about how damn terrific it is to look pretty and HAVE A RICH HUSBAND!!!"

We Listen to the Wrong People
I don’t need to tell you that change is hard. It is especially difficult when everything in your culture and society (which may be nothing more than your family and friends) lives by the same philosophy, and those who raise their voices against you and your way of thinking aren't only wrong, they're just angry and bitter and want everyone else to be angry and bitter, too. A lot of women are brainwashed to believe that feminism is bad, and when you don't have a long history of independent thinking and someone you know and love and trust insists that you avoid people who challenge your beliefs, it's not a big mystery when you do.

Why don’t more people do their own research? Why do some people only turn to those who think the same way they do when confused about a subject? What’s with all this confirmation bias? What good do some people get out of only learning about that which supports their already basic views? What is so scary about getting some perspective?

Smile and Everybody Will Like You
I’m sure many of you have seen Dove’s new “Choose Beautiful” advertising campaign, “which aims to change the instinct to SETTLE FOR AVERAGE.” Seriously?!

Way to send a mixed message, Dove. You may as well have just said, “give us your money.”

“You’re beautiful! But if you don’t buy Dove, you’re just SETTLING FOR AVERAGE.”           

In the video, the headquarters has placed “Beautiful” over one set of doors for entry, and “Average” over the other. The article says, "Unfortunately, and maybe unsurprisingly, many women chose to slink by unnoticed under the 'Average' sign rather than display to the world that they acknowledged their beauty."  Uh, maybe because that is kind of narcissistic? But that's what they want; if you aren't consumed with what you look like then the terrorists win!

Why not put up signs that say, "I'm a good person," and "I could do better?" Oh, that's right, teaching people to not be shitty doesn't make money. Even if THAT'S what actually makes you beautiful.

If you read between the lines (or really, just read the article and listen to what the video is literally saying—don't just pay attention to how it makes you feel), it is quite clear that this is just another case of the media and the beauty industry (that makes billions of dollars off our self-esteem issues) pushing the stale and archaic message that WHAT YOU LOOK LIKE MATTERS.

I choose not to be brainwashed to believe that any corporation cares whether or not I feel beautiful, and instead choose to NOT worry about what I look like and focus on what matters, like expanding my mind and being healthy. Besides, Dove is an inferior product and, despite what Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, claims, they test on animals.

Women, we're smarter than that. Don't be fooled by the capitalist trolls. One way or another, they just want to keep you consumed with your outward appearance so that they can keep getting rich.

As my husband said, (time for the rad fems who don’t believe in equality to roll their eyes…) “if everybody is supposed to feel beautiful, then wouldn't beautiful be the average? The two signs would then mean the same thing.”

And because they are lying to you and telling you that it doesn't matter if anyone thinks you're beautiful or not (all while the media is telling you that it DOES matter), they are brainwashing you into trusting them, and that makes you more likely to buy their shitty animal torturing products.

When it comes right down to it, our culture doesn’t leave room for who we are "inside." It doesn't matter if we want to grow spiritually or emotionally or intellectually. What matters is that we spit shine our physical temples until they're gleaming so gloriously that we blind the whole universe with our squeaky clean perfection--or at least until we believe that we are, so that we're a bunch of mindless happy drones shelling out our money for shit that doesn't fucking matter, which ultimately means we aren’t stirring things up. We aren’t being dissident. We aren’t rebelling.

They know that even if you aren’t conventionally beautiful, at least you will go broke and die trying to be. What a good little capitalist you are!

I challenge any woman reading this to check her budget. How much do you spend in a year on beauty products? In a month? How about in a week? Make a list of all the other things you could do with that money if, instead of paying someone else to do your nails, or blow-dry your hair for you… you use that money for something else? What would you do with all your time? What amazing things could you do in your life, if you put being “beautiful” on the back burner?

Why are some women so willing to spend so much money and time trying to feel beautiful? What do you get out of it? Does your feeling pretty change the world in any way? Does it make you a nicer person? All it does is put more money into a system that doesn't give a shit about you.

The male beauty industry is “booming” (Business Insider, 2013). I wonder if men will eventually be brainwashed into believing they deserve to be beautiful, too.

As a society we are so self-absorbed, petty and obsessed with our looks, we waste so much of our time, our money and our energy worrying about how we appear to others—how we present ourselves, physically and socially—that we are losing touch with our humanity; we are losing our character and our empathy. We are losing touch with what it means to be real. To be ourselves.

 I must own this shirt.

Sometimes, It’s Personal
Some people are set in their ways, and sometimes those people are those closest to you. They are happy being the way they are. They see no reason to change, and they may even sincerely see feminism as unnecessary rabble rousing. Those people have to find their own way. All you can do is live by example, hope that they’re listening, and wait to see if life steers them in a way that clarifies a broader perspective for them. We have to pick our battles.

We need to reach out to those who are clearly unsettled, but either don’t now why or don’t know what to do. We need to band together with those who are like-minded; but do not alienate, snub or tear down those who think differently (I know a few people who might call me a hypocrite but my feelings about Trump supporters have nothing to do with this). They who hate and troll and want to tear down are the ones who give us a bad name. Let us not be like them. As feminists, we have to stick together, even if that means sticking to someone who wants to see you burn, because in the end, we’re responsible for each other. Just because there are those who wish to see us fall, or at the very least want us to shut up, it doesn’t mean that we have to let it make us shitty people. Two wrongs do not make a right.

*Aristotle believed that women were mere receptacles for a man's semen and that we were incomplete humans, more like animals than people. 

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Keep Calm and Head to the Highlands

            Last October, my husband and I went on our honeymoon to the United Kingdom.  I had never been anywhere outside of the United States (Unless you count a childhood trip to the Mexican border that I barely remember), and had always wanted to go to England and Scotland… Needless to say, I took my trip very seriously and spent several months before our departure preparing.
            Preparation consisted of reading several books on Britain – of course Rick Steve’s “Great Britain” was read and re-read.  As part of a wedding present, which also included money to spend on our honeymoon, some friends of ours gave us a book on “Eccentric London,” which was full of tasty tidbits of the darker and weirder side of the town.
All the murder by gaslight and gastropub locations you can handle.
            I could not tell you how many reviews I read on everything from centuries-old pubs to cozy bed and breakfasts.  I spent hours every day poring over everything I could find from Bath to York and from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye.  I researched Tube etiquette, how to keep from being seen as a dumb tourist (which totally didn’t work) and money conversions.  Reading all about how polite the Brits are considered to be, how quiet on the trains they allegedly are and how difficult and unnecessary it is to rent a car and drive yourself anywhere – all of my expectations were turned on their side as once we actually got there I experienced total culture shock.

Take us to our hotel, mum.
            I say “once” we got there and I literally mean that. 
            From the moment we stepped off the plane it was pushing, shoving, running with luggage while ghastly glares poured out of sullen and surly faces During the better part of the afternoon and evening the London Underground is a frightful place.  "Keep to the right!" the signs yelled, so I clung with all my might to the greasy rubbery handrail as I clutched my over-packed suitcase and struggled with my weighty backpack.
"Gerald is the man you murdered in the subway.
We thought it best you didn't see him as he's a fresh kill and still pretty messy."
            Things have clearly improved since Friedrich Engel was inspired to write The Condition of the Working Class in England, yet, still packed like sardines, many of the people of London seem to thrive on crushing physical oppression and the rushrushrushrush to wait like the rest of us.  And boy do they hate to wait.  Patience is not a virtue in dear historical London, where eyes will not meet yours unless in some sort of willful, expressionless staring contest - possibly a passive-aggressive action performed for the sole purpose of unnerving you.  But they wouldn’t dare tell you what they really think…
            The Londoners who crossed our paths (or vice versa) were “polite.” They would rather die than openly admit their feelings about anything.  They'll acknowledge your existence if they must, but they’ll do it with disdain, looking upon you with contempt.  Their cordiality is an affectation, it is mannered, and it is false.  Either that or I am way more uncool than I thought.
            One of the only Londoners whom we found delightful was a woman from the States.  We were invited to the British Museum by an archaeologist and curator who worked in the Canary Islands with my father-in-law, and we received the “backstage pass” version of an ancient Egyptian artifacts tour.  We saw a lot of very old and valuable items, but what stuck with me was the long hallway of Sekhmet statues.
Many Sekhmets
            Being that Sekhmet is the goddess of war and healing, her cult – suffering drought and hunger – figured if they created a statue of her (one for every day of the year) she would smile favor upon them.  I’m not exactly sure how many of them were made, but the British Museum has almost a hundred of them in their basement.  Each lioness-esque statue is anywhere between six and ten feet tall.  
            We also spent a lot of time on the trains.
I love a train station.
            Between the plane, the Tube and the trains, we spent a lot of time traveling.  While on the trains (or a van in one instance) traveling through the countryside (even though I longed to get out and hike through those golden hills) was magical.  What a way to see it all in a short amount of time!  I was looking forward to the next leg of our trip.
            Don’t get me wrong – I was enthralled with London’s architecture; the ancient history mixed with innovative modern designs was… magical, and my memory of the Thames will be forever locked away in my heart.  On our last day I was taking pictures on the Millennium Bridge across the river from the Tate; the air smelled sweetly of candy roasted cashews (for two pounds), and we swayed slightly and soundlessly, except for vapid voiced complaints about the ugliness of it all and our trite photographic desires. 
"You take for granted what is right under your nose,"
I called out to the shrill tinkle left mingling in the sweet frosty air.
            Once we got up to York the environment completely changed.  Perhaps, because it is a touristy place where people from all over Great Britain come to visit, there was enough diversity of personality types to give it a charm that London did not have.  (My husband blames the attitude of Londoners on their classic imperialist arrogance.)  That whole area - not just The Shambles - had some of the neatest streets and buildings I have ever seen (a close second to Edinburgh which is just, wow).
            We stayed two days in York at the most popular bed and breakfast I could find on  It was in a quiet area run by cheerful folks who had a massive Great Dane and provided a deliciously authentic English/Scottish breakfast.  We liked York and when we visit the UK again, we will be going back.
In all it's cute shambled glory.
            It was Scotland, however, where I left my heart.  I felt as if the land itself opened its arms and held me tight like old family I had not seen in years.  The wet and rainy Highlands seemed to weep endlessly and the energy of its people expressed a sort of melancholy joy that I immediately related to and by which I felt comforted.  They were witty and not as urbane as some Londoners, who came off as so properly affected.  The Scots were not only welcoming, but also they were warm, and kind and boy do they know how to cook!  (The only food that tasted good in England also came with a plateful of grease.)
But it tasted soooo good...
            The woods, thick and pretty, are painted with pink heather and wet bark so black that it makes the color of the leaves pop.  Moss covers all, which can be pretty slippery if you aren't wearing the right shoes (and I did take a pretty bad spill in Crofter's Woods), but when you're lying on your back looking up at all that majesty, it's pretty hard to quibble about a wee tumble.
            Edinburgh and Sterling are also quite high on my list of Places I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life.  Edinburgh reminded me of a much older, European Portland and Sterling is a lovely quaint town with a lively urban atmosphere.  Glasgow was neat, but all the child alcoholics tripped me out.  I cried when we left Scotland.

You would too...
            It took me the better part of a month to get over the jet lag and get used to being back in the States.  For a long time I was bitter towards London and the realization that no matter how much I researched the culture I could never have been prepared for how… different it was than what I expected.  And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it?  Expectations.  You know what they say about assuming… 

            All in all I must say I had an amazing time – I learned SO much (our trip to the British Museum deserves an essay all on its own) and I now understand with significance all that I had no idea I was so ignorant of before.  
NOTE:  All photos are my own and taken with either my Fuji Finepix SL1000 or my iPhone.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Unconditional Love and the Psyche: Moral Ambiguity in Wuthering Heights

            A reader of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights may find him or herself asking how an introverted young woman of little worldly experience could have come up with such a passionate and psychologically layered story - especially in the face of the various contradictory disclaimers made by her sister, Charlotte, who, after Emily’s death, made excuses in her grief-stricken state to silence what she, Charlotte, perceived as a barrage of criticism that came with the publication of the novel.  These disclaimers were unnecessary, however, because “literary critics repeatedly acknowledged its originality, genius and imaginative power – if they also complained about its moral ambiguity” (Murfin, 334). 
            What some readers may not know is that, while Brontë may have spent most of her life in Haworth, a small town in the Yorkshire moors of northern England, she also studied French in Belgium, was more educated than most of the men with whom her family associated, even had a stint teaching and for a time had plans with Charlotte to open up a school.  She could read and write in several languages – including Greek – she wrote poetry and stories from an early age and she had an innate understanding of the most bizarre aspects of human nature. 
            Along with an obsession she had with her father’s “Irish tales of violence and horror” (Robinson, 18), Brontë witnessed the emotional instability of her brother, and it is likely because of these things that she “cared more for fairy tales, wild, unnatural [and] strange fancies” (Robinson, 27).  This is clearly evident in her novel, Wuthering Heights, which centers around several characters, some of whom could be seen as aspects of one of the most important people in her life, her brother, Branwell Brontë.  It is “as if the novel, like an illustration of Freud’s ‘Das Unheimlische,’ were about ‘the danger of being haunted by alien versions of the self,’” only instead of herself, they are of her brother (Gilbert, 381).  Although possibly as a result of her repressed feelings, Brontë’s “strange fancies” emerged in a creative form – the act of writing. 
           Aside from her father, the closest man to Emily was her brother.  While Charlotte was away at school, Emily and Branwell were the eldest two of the surviving siblings, and they spent most of their days together.  Theirs was a yin-yang type of relationship, as “Emily and Branwell…were most to each other: bright, shallow, exacting brother; silent, deep-brooding, unselfish sister, more anxious to give than to receive” (Robinson, 45).  When his lover abandoned him for financial security and a good reputation, and he went over the edge and persisted in killing himself with alcohol and laudanum, “it was [Brontë] who, more than the others, became familiarized with the agony, and doubts, and shame of that tormented soul” (Robinson, 126). 
          Although Brontë acted as her brother’s unselfish guardian angel – consistently dragging him home from the pub after nights of drinking, saving him from dying in the bed he drunkenly set on fire in his sleep (Robinson, 127) and showing him patience when nobody else would – she was, perhaps unwittingly, storing up information to be used for several characters in one of the most studied books in literary history. 
           Branwell treated his family cruelly during this time, but Emily was forgiving and stood by his side with compassion when nobody else did; “it was she who saw most of her abandoned brother, for Anne could only shudder at his sin, and Charlotte was too indignant for pity” (Robinson, 147).  From the very beginning of Wuthering Heights, we can see the idea of forgiveness of one’s brother, as when Lockwood dreams of the “First of the Seventy-First” (Bronte, 41), which is an allusion to “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in the Bible:
"Then Peter came unto him, and said, Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I shall forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven” (NIV Bible, Matthew 18: 21-35).
If we look closer into Brontë’s life and at her relationship with her brother, we will find that, while Wuthering Heights may come off as morally ambiguous, Emily herself was a courageous and charitable woman who “had a place in her heart for all the wild children of nature, and to despise them for their natural instincts was impossible to her” (Robinson, 147).  It was because of this unconditional love Brontë had for Branwell that she was able to create a villain such as Heathcliff, a character too unnaturally cruel for some, but redeemed as a sort of Byronic hero for others. 
Heathcliff cares for nothing else other than a woman who left him for money and security.  As long as he lives without her he will suffer bitterly, poisoning everyone else around him in the process.  Heathcliff is ultimately found redeemable by many readers because of this unconditional love for Catherine, the woman he literally could not live without. 
Branwell, too, agonized over the woman he could not have and “Emily did draw upon her experience of her brother's suffering” (Robinson, 161).  In a letter that Branwell wrote about his ex-lover, he stated that his “own life without her will be hell. What can the so-called love of her wretched sickly husband be to her compared with [his]” (Robinson, 162)? Bronte reworks this statement deftly for Heathcliff, who says, “…existence, after losing her, would be hell,” and then, speaking of Catherine’s husband, Edgar, Heathcliff goes on, “…if he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years, as I could in a day” (Bronte, 141). 
Through further acts of displacement, Emily also creates the character of Hindley Earnshaw, Catherine’s brother, who likewise succumbs to severe alcoholism when he loses the woman he loves and, like Branwell, “died true to his character, drunk as a lord” (Bronte, 169).  Heathcliff’s son, Linton, could also be seen as a symbolic substitution who, like Branwell, was a small and sickly fellow who spent much of his time whining and trying to manipulate others with his ailments. 
Bronte’s whole life seemed to be devoted to her brother, and when he died she grew “thin and pale and [said] nothing” (Robinson, 222).  After Branwell’s funeral, Emily, who thrived in nature and who loved the moors as if they were a cherished friend, “never went out of doors” again (Robinson, 222).  All of the passion she witnessed, the emotional wreckage her brother became, the tragedies she lived through – these are the things that fueled Wuthering Heights, “not her inexperience, but rather her experience, limited and perverse, indeed, and specialized by a most singular temperament, yet close and very real” (Robinson, 157). 
There is not a whole lot known about Emily Bronte and the solitary life she led on those wild Yorkshire moors.  What is available – the countless accessible essays, biographies about Emily and her family and our own close reading of Wuthering Heights with a psychoanalytical perspective – enables us to extrapolate enough information to understand that not only was Emily’s life clearly affected by her brother, but she was also a thoughtful and very interesting human being. 
Her sister, Charlotte, claims, in one of her disclaimers about Emily and Wuthering Heights, that she “had no worldly wisdom,” but she also states that inside “lay a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero” (C. Bronte, 20).  These are character traits that gleam like lightning through the personalities of the deplorable and degraded human beings Emily created for Wuthering Heights, a novel so rich and powerful that, in spite of its moral ambiguity, by its very nature it must announce the utterly capable, unconditionally loving and inspired mind of the woman who wrote it.

Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte.  “Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell.” Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism:  Wuthering Heights.  Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.  Print. 
Brontë, Emily.  Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism:  Wuthering Heights.  Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.  Print.
Gilbert, Sandra M. “Looking Oppositely:  Emily Brontë’s Bible of Hell.”  Wuthering Heights:  A Norton Critical Edition:  London:  W.H. Norton & Company Ltd., 2003.  Print.           
Murfin, Ross C.  “A Critical History of Wuthering Heights.”  Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism:  Wuthering Heights.  Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.  Print. 
Robinson, A. Mary F. Emily Bronte. London:  W.H. Allen and Co., 1883.  Print.