My grandmother used to say, “Well, I’m gonna do somethin’ even if it IS wrong.” That’s a philosophy I’ve tried to live sometimes. I think it’s a good motivator if you’re letting fear hold you back. It’s a way to verbally shrug off fear. But doing something wrong because fear actually is pushing you into it? No. Continue reading
Toodles, Poetry! And Humankind?
Some weeks ago, it occurred to me that I have no place in the world of poetry anymore.
I have spent much of the last year devoted to finishing a first draft of a lengthy historical novel. I have continued to interact with my beloved poetry group, but I cannot say I truly was interacting with my own poetry. When the question “Should you still be writing poetry?” arose from the depths of my subconscious, my first instinct was to tamp it down, and hard, but it just wouldn’t go away.
I’ve taken extended vacations away from “poetry world” before and I’ve also been frustrated at times with all aspects of what we call “poetry,” from writing to revising to submitting to publishing, etc., but this time felt different. So I decided to look that persistent little query in the eye and, behold, I watched as it morphed into, “WHY should you (or ANYONE) continue to write poetry?” Wait. What? Me or ANYONE? Oh, no, I thought. So it’s not, “I have no place in the world of poetry,” it’s “poetry has no place in the world.” Hang it up, Natasha Tretheway. As brilliant and brutally beautiful as your work is, it’s no use. Have I really started to buy into the “Poetry is dead” tripe? Ugh, I thought. Am I nihilist? Has Game of Thrones done this to me? Of course poetry is dead! EVERYone’s dead except the assholes! Damn you, George R.R. Martin!
The confluence of the death of Maya Angelou, a strong woman with a strong voice, just the kind of woman we need now, and the Elliot Rodger rampage brought on by his hatred of women (yes, as well as his mental illness), has prompted me to take an afternoon and write this out to you, my male friends. Because this tragedy could give us opportunities to talk about so many important things, like reasonable gun control, the state of mental health care in this country, and/or the disgusting epidemic of celebrating infamy in our culture (the Kardashianization of America, if you will), I encourage you to think about those things, and discuss them amongst yourselves. However, let me be clear: I’m going to use this space to talk about the way women are treated in this culture. Before you go all “Not ALL men” on me, or make fun of the social media phenomenon of #YESAllWomen, just go read some of these “manosphere ideas” * and tell me whether you’d feel comfortable being thought of and discussed this way. I’m thought of this way, as is my daughter, and my mother, and all the women I know, by men just like those quoted in that last linked article, and those sites that Rodger frequented. Now tell me you don’t know any men who think of women that way. If you say you don’t, you’re either very lucky or very lying. I’ve known some men who think like Elliot Rodger thought. Plenty, in fact. Now let me tell you a story.
The first time I visited New York City, I was 22 years old. I went with some friends from law school. We were at a bar early one evening before dinner. One of my friends and I went to the restroom, and walking back through the crowded bar to rejoin our friends, someone behind me grabbed my hair, and jerked me back hard, at the same time, demanding loudly, “Where the f**k have you been?” Clearly, this was a case of mistaken identity and I feel terrible for the girl for whom he mistook me and the kind of life she must have been living, but I got up on my tiptoes and yelled right into his face, “Who the f**k are you?” I continued to harangue him until my friend, in fear for my safety, pulled me away. And do you know what he did? He pretended not to hear me, or see me. No apology. No acknowledgement of the battery he had just committed. Couldn’t be bothered. If that had happened to you, would you be okay with it?
That’s just one story about how some men feel that the public sphere is theirs alone, and that women are just objects in that sphere; objects that also belong to them. And it’s not even my earliest such story, by a long shot. Nor is it my most recent such story. Nor is it the worst. And here’s the thing. I never know when the next story is going to happen. Of course, none of us know what fresh hell the future holds, but I’m talking about a very real, specific unease with which I’ve had some experience, just like all women. I may have one of these experiences the next time I go to the grocery store. After all, it’s happened there before. My real experiences being treated like I am chattel span the gamut from merely annoying to truly frightening. Have you ever been leered at unapologetically, stared at from head to toe in public by someone you’d never seen before? Someone physically larger than you? Someone accompanied by someone else, also physically larger than you, also staring? Have you ever watched while someone stared at your 17-year-old daughter that way?
Have you ever been called a “whore” or a “bitch” by a complete stranger? How about by someone you know? Have you ever been called a “feminazi” because you spoke up for something you believed in? Have you ever been told you couldn’t participate in some activity because “you’re a girl?” Have you ever been made to feel that your sex life/attractiveness/physical appearance was fair game for public discussion, dissection, and, ultimately, judgement?
Have you ever worried about whether someone was going to slip something into your daughter’s drink? How about your son’s drink or your own? I’m guessing not so much. Do you ever feel uneasy when you have to pull off the highway to refuel when it’s late?
Look, I’m not paranoid. I don’t live in fear. But I do live in reality. We live in a society where there are such things as “rape drugs” and rape jokes and rape threats as “jokes.” We live in a so-called democracy where a woman can be paid a lower salary for the same work as her male counterpart, and it barely registers as unfair. We elect male politicians (and complicit female politicians) who think a woman’s birth control and contraceptive health is more their business than hers and her doctor’s. The whole issue is more complex than I can attempt to parse here, and there’s so much to consider when we start to talk about gender issues, but the point I hope I am making is that most, if not all, my women friends will recognize themselves in one of the above scenarios. And that’s just not okay.
So, if you are my friend, and you are a man, I thank you for not being part of the problem. But will you also stand with me and all the women I love and be part of the solution?
*You can go to the original sources, just as I did, but you’ll have to find your own way – I’m not going to drive more traffic to such sites.
If my friend Laura were still with us, and she could’ve spent her birthday today following someone around just to get material for her next comedic essay, she might’ve picked me. How might she describe this mess of a thing I laughingly called a schedule today? I wish she were here to write it, but I’m going to try and tell it like I think she might have told it.
Before I launch into all that, because I’m as likely as not to forget it if I don’t ask now even though I did put it in the title: would y’all sign my petition? I want to change the name of “work out” to “work in” because, if I manage to get any exercise on any given day, it’s just because I worked it in. And usually that results in my schedule not really working out.
As with many a splendored thing, this new schedule I’ve put together for 2014 looks great on paper. My first priority is writing, and I have rededicated myself to one project in particular (some of y’all who know me are thinking, She means re-rededicated). It seems like everybody and her brother has a “strategic plan” these days, so I came up with one of those to help me accomplish my 2014 goals. You should know I have certain personal challenges which are relevant to this discussion: I am not a morning person and even when I wake up early, I cannot be sure I am a fully functioning human until about 10:00 a.m.; I do not multi-task, and I tell myself that multi-tasking is the work of the devil so I can feel better about not doing it; I am a slave to lists, so much so that if I veer from the day’s list, I will make another list just so I can catalog and check off the things I actually did do – some people call that a diary, but, whatever. I’m also one of those people who gets more things done the more things I have to do.
So. Because of that last thing I mentioned up there, I thought concocting a daily schedule with “extra” things To Do built into it would be a great help to me! Let that simmer for a minute… . Continue reading
I make no secret of the fact that I love where I live, and cherish it. It’s a great blessing to me to look out my kitchen windows and see the lake that has played such a big part in my life. If there is such a thing as mindless meditation, then I often am provoked to it, just staring out these windows.
Today, in our cove, the lake is that greenblack color – not the bottle green tipped with a hint of gray when the clouds and sun dance together on its surface. This green is inkier, and the way the waves are moving just now all slow and languid, it is easy to imagine it viscous and even warm.
Further out, peering at the merging main channel, all is some version of gray: dark water leads to a bright silvery line of mist on the far shore, up to a charcoal stand of trees, and up further still to the mop water clouds.
When I watch the lake move like today, I wonder if it’s all simply the force of wind and rain, or whether the old river’s current has it stirring all the way to its red muddy bottom, knocking loose the skeletons of the farms and homesteads underwater now – old tractors, barn remnants, rusted milk buckets, lockets, lies, guns, betrayals …
Having lived near this lake most of my life, I love it and fear it. It’s not the annual tales of the sighting of a hopelessly lost alligator, or the stories about the “catfish as big as a man” that scare me. It’s the things men do, and have always done, that they bury deep, that might be buried deep right out there right now. Deep, but stirring …