Wednesday, June 8, 2016

No More Delusions

Denver has been weighing heavily on my mind—not the city, but the character in Toni Morrison’s Beloved.  Denver’s insightful and feisty as hell, like when she asks Sethe and Paul D, “How come everybody run off from Sweet Home can’t stop talking about it?  Look like if it was so sweet you would have stayed.”

When Beloved comes, Denver kinda likes having someone her age in the house, but then she sees that Sethe is consumed with Beloved, far more than she was ever consumed with Denver.  How lonely that must be, to see your mother’s face light up for someone but not for you?  But Denver’s a scrapper.  She doesn’t feel sorry for herself nor does she reside in delusions.  Instead, she mobilizes herself and starts problem-solving.  She gets a job and starts to open herself up for a life and a love of her own.  I need to be more like Denver.

After communicating with my family for the last six months I’ve come to the same conclusion that I came to so many times before: These mu’fuckers are crazy!  Communicating with crazy people is exhausting!  And I’m equally crazy because I keep trying to make it work.  
I keep thinking about the family members whom I actually want in my life.  I miss them, and I tell myself that I can tolerate the other crazies if I can maintain a relationship with these people.  But that is a delusion; enmeshed families don’t work like that.  You can’t communicate with persons D, E and F without communicating with persons A, B and C.

I feel so terribly sad.  I love my family despite everything.  I keep trying to re-write the past and make it less painful.  I keep trying to make myself over (which is the ultimate delusion), so I can be whatever it is I would have to be to maintain a relationship with them.
  • Delusional Attempt #1: Brain-Dead Angèle
    Willing to pretend I don’t know all the fucked up shit about my family that I actually know.
  • Delusional Attempt #2: Docile Angèle
    Willing to eat the massive mounds of shit my family flings at me and never complain!
  • Delusional Attempt #3: Woman of Steal
    Willing to allow my family’s emotional ammunition to explode all around me and pretend that it doesn’t faze me in the least. (Oh! Is that shrapnel in my flesh?!)  
I can’t do it.  It’s simply not possible for me to be an active member in this family and lead a sane life.  From now on, I’m channeling my inner-Denver.  I’m not going to feel sorry for myself nor will I reside in delusions.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Brioche…I Mean Withdrawal

For the last four days, I’ve limited my sugar consumption to ≤ 24 grams per day, which is the recommended daily allowance for women.  That is significantly less than what I usually consume. I keep telling myself that a low-sugar diet is better for my mental acumen, my physical health and my creative process.   But I’ve been dreaming about French-toast style brioche with extra maple syrup.   

I cannot eat brioche this weekend.  Addicts never adhere to boundaries.  They spiral out of control.  If I eat brioche this weekend, it’ll be cookies next weekend and pie the week after that and pizza the week after that then it’ll become cookies, pie and pizza in one week.

Fuck boundaries!  Fuck health!  Withdrawal sucks!

~ Hours Later ~

Dear God,

Thank you for my health.  Although I would give my left tit for some brioche right now, please know that it’s just the sugar addiction talking.  Thank you for my liver, kidneys and gall bladder, which detoxed all the shit I have consumed throughout my years of hedonism. 


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

My Name Is Angèle, and I’m an Addict

One of my friends was in town last weekend.  Even though we speak on the phone every week, she doesn’t come to town often, so I was excited to see her.  I suggested that we meet at this little breakfast place that serves great French-toast-style brioche.  While we waited for the waiter, she told me about her latest therapy appointment and some revelations she had made.

The waiter asked if we were ready to order. My friend went first, but when I asked for maple syrup with my brioche, the waiter said, “I’m sorry.  We’re out of maple syrup.  We only have the regular kind.”

My mouth fell open.  I clasped my heart.  My friend gave me a sympathetic look.  All of my closest friends know that I abhor imitation syrup.  These so-called “regular” syrups are made primarily of corn syrup, and they taste like sugar-flavored ass.  I was in such a state of shock that I could not even speak.  What kind of breakfast restaurant runs out of maple syrup on a fucking Sunday?  

I had been rationing my sugar intake all week!  The only reason I didn’t eat ice cream or pizza or cake or pie or cookies or fresh-baked bread or any of the other high-sugar dishes I could subsist on was because I was holding off for my Sunday reward!  I went to the gym four times last week as opposed to three (Have I mentioned how much I hate working out?), so I could eat my French-toast style brioche!  Goddamnit!!

Finally the waiter said, “I apologize.  Would you like to order something else?”

I still couldn’t speak.  I was too busy calculating the distance between the restaurant and the nearest grocery store.

“No,” I said.

The waiter left to put in the order.  I fumbled through my bag for my wallet and keys.  I looked at my friend.  “I have to go buy some maple syrup.”

My friend looked stunned, but I could tell she was trying to hide it.

“The store’s not far.  I’m sorry,” I said scooting out of the booth. “I know this is extreme. I know I have problems.  I can’t do cheap syrup.  I been dreaming about this brioche all week.  All week.  I just can’t.  I need my maple syrup.”

“I understand,” she said.

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay,” she reassured me.

I rushed out of the restaurant, ran to my car and sped to the grocery store.  I ran at least two red lights. I sometimes speed through a yellow light, but I scarcely ever run red lights.  Did I mention that my friend doesn’t come to town often?  Did I mention that she was talking about her therapy appointment?  She wasn’t crying or anything, but she was talking about something that was emotionally difficult.  God, maple syrup is love in a bottle.  Did I mention that I’m a fucking asshole?

I was gone 24 minutes.  On the way back to the restaurant, I realized that I am worse than an asshole. I’m Gator!

Yes, Gator (Samuel L. Jackson) from Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever. The main differences between me and Gator as addicts are: 1) our preferred addictive substance, 2) sugar and sugar-addiction are socially-acceptable and 3) I’ve never stolen for sugar.  But the other symptoms of addiction align pretty damn well.  According to Mayo Clinic drug addiction symptoms or behaviors include, among others:

        ·         Using the drug regularly—this can mean daily use or even using several times a day
        ·         Having intense urges for the drug
        ·         Over time, needing more of the drug to get the same effect
        ·         Making certain that you maintain a supply of the drug
        ·         Not meeting obligations and work responsibilities, or cutting back on social or recreational  
         activities because of drug use
        ·         Doing things to get the drug that you normally wouldn’t do, such as stealing
        ·         Focusing more and more time and energy on getting and using the drug
        ·         Failing in your attempts to stop using the drug
        ·         Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug

They forgot to mention the tell-tale symptom of addiction: Prioritizing the substance above your personal relationships.  So there you have it—My name is Angele, and I’m an addict.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Notes on Shatter Me

I finished Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi not too long ago. Shatter Me is a young adult (YA) novel about Juliette a 17 year-old female protagonist who can kill people by touching them. Juliette’s parents don’t want her because who would want a kid who can kill you if you tried to hold her, and she’s spent most of her life being ostracized and thinking she’s a monster.

When the book opens, Juliette is in a mental institution/prison. She’s been institutionalized for three years ever since the Reestablishment (the dystopian authorities) found out about her power. The outside world is a hot mess. Normal people are eating some kind of processed food substance that expands in their stomach, the Reestablishment keeps popping people off, there are a shit load of orphans because murder/execution is so commonplace, the ecosystems are all off balance, and, of course, there is the Resistance, the people who are trying to fight back. The plot is, for the most part, cliché, but the writing pulled me in.

Juliette is the most interesting character in the book. It’s obvious that Mafi put lots of time into developing her character. Unfortunately, the other characters are two-dimensional and cliché. Adam, Juliette’s love interest, was abused by his father when he was a child, and there is no mention of a positive adult influence in his life, yet somehow, he becomes well-adjusted, kind man. This is highly unlikely and disregards the basic principles of psychology, but whatever, Adam is pretty and fine and Juliette needs somebody to make out with. Warner is the novel’s antagonist, and he’s a sinister fucker. He’s the head of a division of the Reestablishment’s army even though he’s only a teenager, and he’s obsessed with Juliette. He wants to possess her and coax her into his plot for world domination. Warner is also cliché, but he has good fashion sense.

My 3C’s rating is below:

Competent Writing: 3
This book is well-written for a YA book. Mafi doesn’t use much challenging language nor does she patronize her audience. The writing is quite accessible for YA readers. Mafi has an impressive command of metaphors and similes. I don’t know how she came up with so many! I think she over used these literary devices, but that, I’m sure, has to do with the fact that I am an adult. Kissing is nice, but honestly, it ain’t all that! Mafi’s writing for teens and people in their early 20’s. When I was in that age group, I wanted emotions to be on full blast all the time because I was frustrated, and I had so little control over life. I hadn’t experienced much, so reading about a 17 year old having explosive kisses was…well, explosive! Mafi’s abundant use of metaphors and similes allows readers who have never or have rarely experienced things like uncontained power or a steamy, kick-ass kiss feel Juliette’s intensity. It also suits Juliette’s character perfectly because Juliette has been denied human interaction for about 99% of her life. For poor Juliette, a conversation with Adam is not only jaw-dropping because he’s lonely, it’s also jaw-dropping because people have detested her and avoided her for much of her life. She’s not used to people looking her in the eyes, listening to her ideas and being kind to her.

Character Development: 2
As I stated before, Juliette is the only well-developed character in the text. All the other characters are surface at best. If this rating were for Juliette’s character development alone, I would give Mafi a 4.5. Of course, Juliette thinks she’s crazy! She’s been neglected for her entire life. Of course, she wants to be different. She can kill a motherfucker by touching him! Also, I love that Mafi developed a diverse group of characters. She’s given us an Asian-American character, a black character and white characters. Sadly, that’s a rare occurrence in the writing world. I also like that Mafi points out everyone’s racial features rather than referring to the white people as “man” or “woman” and the ethnic people as “black” or “African-American” or “Asian.” My only racial complaints are that, 1) Mafi refers to Castle’s skin as “chocolate,” as if he’s a candy bar not a human; and 2) that there are no Muslim or Iranian/Iranian-American characters in the book, and if there are, they weren’t revealed.

Content: 2
Again, the plot is basic. Can’t say that I was surprised by any of the developments in the book, except the scene in the white experiment room (that was awesome!) and when I realized that Castle was black. I am, however, surprised at how suggestive yet obfuscating the kissing scenes were. They read more like sex scenes. If you’re kissing in the shower, you’ve entered the realm of making out.

Total 3C’s Score: 7/12
Shatter Me is a well-written YA novel with a compelling protagonist. I read this book because: 1) I want to explore YA since I usually read literary and adult mainstream fiction or non-fiction; and 2) I want to read more texts by marginalized (ethnic) authors. Mafi is Iranian-American and Muslim and comes for a middle-class, possibly upper-class, family. This is the first book I have ever read that was written by an Iranian-American or a Muslim although no one in the book falls into either of these identities.

Shatter Me is Mafi’s first published novel. Although I enjoyed the book, it isn’t indicative of what she’s capable of. It’s is just her warm up. My guess is, she’ll grow and get better and better with time.

Friday, January 22, 2016

“I’m sorry it happened…but it doesn’t define you.”

Although some people are born with clinical depression, I’m pretty sure I was not. I’ve heard people use “chemical imbalance” as a synonym for clinical depression, but according to Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Publications, “chemical imbalance” is a gross simplification of real clinical depression. The aforementioned webpage states that a clinically depressed person may have multiple chemicals that are imbalanced, and there are neurological, genetic and situational factors that also come into play. My doctor believes my brain was altered by trauma, which resulted in what I call “acquired clinical depression.” Remember, I’m not a doctor. I’m just making up a term to help me convey my experience.

From the peer-reviewed articles that I’ve read (and I have read too many over the last 10 years to cite), I learned that clinical depression relates to how one’s brain regulates and produces hormones. These articles explain how, for example, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland work in people who have clinical depression and those who don’t. People who don’t have clinical depression (or a history of drug or alcohol addiction) may experience situational depression after a loved one dies or after they were fired unexpectedly, but they move through the depression, and their brains, for the most part, continue to function like normal. Their hypothalamus does not “react” to the death or job loss as a “circuit-damaging tragedy” (my term), e.g., their hypothalamus will continue to synthesize oxytocin (the love/trust hormone), and their pituitary gland continues to secrete it. This helps them feel love and trust for the important people in their lives. The memory of the painful event may arise, but it will eventually feel less devastating. People who are clinically depressed may have a hypothalamus that doesn’t function as it should. My hypothalamus interpreted the childhood trauma as a circuit-damaging tragedy. She has to bust her ass to produce oxytocin, and she doesn’t produce as much as the hypothalamus of someone who’s not clinically depressed.

The way my hypothalamus functions definitely affects my relationships. When I tell people that I have trust issues, they never believe me, but eventually they ask me, “Why don’t you open up more?” or some cliché shit like that. I always wanna say, Fool, I told you I have trust issues! You didn’t believe me.

By the time I was in high school, I had seen enough talk shows and read enough about basic psychology to know that my aloofness and lack of trust was, in part, a repercussion of trauma.

One night at the Christian depression support group that I go to, we talked about our experiences. I spoke about the trauma, my brain functioning and how I’m dealing with depression now. I’m ridiculously succinct when I talk about all this. I should be. I been talking about this shit in therapy for more than two-thirds of my life.

At the end of session, someone told me, “I’m sorry it happened…Just remember, it doesn’t define you.”

In true Angèle form, I shut down all emotions, smiled and politely said, “Thank you.” 

I thought about that discourse the entire way home. Am I sorry it happened? The trauma helped me develop some amazing survival skills. People often compliment me on being resilient and empathetic. When things don’t work out the way I want, I bounce back like no body’s business. When I taught at the college, I worked well with the difficult or troubled students. I made myself available for them; I set high expectations and clear boundaries with them. I never made things easy on them just because they wrote a reflection essay about having a disability, being beaten as a child, being raped or witnessing their family being shot and killed by soldiers. I said, “I’m sorry you went through that,” I listened if they wanted to talk, suggested they speak to the campus counselor, and in the next class, we moved forward with the curriculum. I didn’t treat them like they were doomed. I treated them like survivors.

Does the trauma define me or doesn’t it? My entire day revolves around alleviating the effects of anxiety and depression. I would love to sleep later every morning, but I have to meditate, or the anxiety will take over. I have to think about every morsel of food I put in my mouth because the wrong foods can tip the hormonal balance, and the depression will take over. I still suck at eating right. I have to force myself to go to the gym, or the depression and anxiety will fuck with my head (releasing enough endorphines is not optional for clinically depressed people). I hate this one. I had to develop a system for taking my ayurvedic supplements (for my hormones) because I used to zone out and forget whether or not I took them. Every night I have to wear a mouth guard because the anxiety is worse when I sleep, and it manifests in me grinding my teeth. I even cracked a tooth from grinding and chomping down so hard when I sleep. I have to talk myself out of leaving my husband about once every six months (That’s actually an improvement.), not because he’s hurtful but because I love him and he loves me and my psyche believes love is dangerous. It leads to trauma.

As I readied myself for bed that night after my support group, I thought, It does suck! And damn if that pain wasn’t as debilitating as ever. It hit me like a scorching blade to the heart. I collapsed to the floor. I didn’t even have the strength to lift my hands to wipe away the tears. I didn’t ask for this shit. I was just a kid, and I was a good kid, a baby actually. Whether I like it or not, the trauma kinda does define me. As powerful and resilient as I am, the trauma can level me in a matter of seconds.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Notes on Dragonfish

Dragonfish is a novel written by Vu Tran. The book opens with a powerful female protagonist’s voice.  At first, I didn’t know who she was, and I didn’t care. The writing is so succinct, so poignant that I wanted to keep reading her forever and ever. Then the text switches to the true protagonist’s point of view (Robert, a.k.a. Bob), and it’s like a beautiful, gargantuan, iridescent balloon deflates.  About two-thirds into the book, I learned that the powerful female protagonist is Phạm Thị Hồng, or, as Robert calls her, Suzy. Hồng/Suzy is a Vietnamese immigrant who was once married to Bob, but left him after he beat her. She moves to Las Vegas, remarries then disappears after her second husband pushed her down a flight of stairs.  Yeah, poor Hồng/Suzy done had a tough life.

Tran switches between Hồng/Suzy’s perspective and Bob’s perspective throughout the novel. From what I can tell, Bob is white. Just about every other character, save a cop friend of Bob’s, a Latino bouncer and some passers-by, is Vietnamese/Vietnamese American. I am inclined to think that Tran was trying to “write for a broader audience.” This is one of the bullshit phrases that people in the literary world (e.g., MFA professors, agents, editors) use to get people of color to write for white people in the hopes that their books will sell better. If this is the case, it hurts Tran’s novel.

The chapters that are written in Hồng/Suzy’s voice are beautiful, damn-near flawless as a matter of fact. Sonny’s character is fascinating. Tran also does a good job of capturing Mai’s feeling of being untethered in the world. In fact, all the Vietnamese/Vietnamese characters are conceptually well-written. The only problem is they are filtered through the perspective of a white protagonist who isn’t believable.

The Bob chapters are, for the most part, awkwardly written. Tran attempts to incorporate flashbacks and a first-person omniscient point-of-view with Bob’s character, but he does not succeed consistently, and sometimes he doesn’t succeed at all. For example, when the hitmen/brothers come to Bob’s home to bring him to Las Vegas to meet with Junior, there is a flashback to when Bob went to Vegas looking for Suzy a few months prior. At several points, I wasn’t sure if Bob was in Oakland (his home) or in Vegas. Was he talking to the hitmen/brothers or a bouncer in Junior’s restaurant?  I know Tran studied at the best MFA program in America. I think these choppy transitions may be the result of having a limited amount of time to workshop a piece in class, so workshoppers often have to break a novel into “short-story” segments to get feedback. Later there is a scene when Bob is in a Casino and talking to the hitman/oldest brother and Mai. Bob is giving the reader all this insight into the brother’s life. It’s not written as an assumption or as acquired insight on Bob’s part; it’s written as omniscient fact even though there’s no way a white man who doesn’t usually hang with immigrants, even if he is a cop, could understand those intimate details of an immigrant’s experience. Conversely, there’s one part of the book where Tran pulls off Bob’s first-person omniscience.  It occurs after Tran reveals that Hồng/Suzy left her letters with Happy. Tran does a good job of developing Happy as a character who would never snitch, so when Bob realizes that Hồng/Suzy left the letters with Happy as a means of revenge, the reader realizes it as well. It’s subtle, and perfect.

Perhaps if part of the book had been written in third person or if Bob had simply been written as a white-identified Vietnamese-American, his character would have had a bit more believable in his extrapolation. Instead, Bob reads as a two-dimensional character.

My 3C’s rating for Dragonfish is:

Competent Writing: 3
The Hồng/Suzy chapters alone make Dragonfish a well-written book. I can’t emphasize enough how much I love the way Hồng/Suzy is written. Tran unfolds Hồng/Suzy masterfully in her chapters and, to some degree, in the Bob chapters as well

Character Development: 2
Hồng/Suzy, Sonny, Mai and Junior are powerful as hell. They’re all so flawed and beautiful! I know Hồng/Suzy got issues. I know she’s irrational. I know she needs medication and some therapy, but I love her so fucking much! I love crazy-ass Sonny too. He’s such a scrapper, and he’s so charming even though he beats women. Junior is one of the best-written villains I’ve read in a while. At first, I thought he was too soft to be a villain, but once I realized that he was trying to make his father happy, I understood why he kept letting Bob get away with all the shit he was pulling. Bob was the only weak link on the character development front. He was written like a typical mystery-novel cop. Nothing new there. More importantly, he was poorly written. If he wasn’t the main protagonist, this wouldn’t have affected the overall character development score so much.

Content: 2
Overall, the plot was blah then at times, it was riveting. Much of the plot was too formulaic—the typical things one would expect from a mystery. I was riveted by Hồng/Suzy’s psychological developments, but again, I like psych-drama. People who like action and mystery wouldn’t be as excited about it. The only thing that made me uncomfortable was that Tran never explains the psychological mechanics of the rape scene between Sonny and Hồng/Suzy. It’s just written as Hồng/Suzy being crazy, and there’s a lot more to it than that.

Total 3C’s Score: 7/12
I read Dragonfish because 1) I want to read more texts by marginalized (ethnic) authors; 2) the title, the cover and the concept of the book are compelling; and 3) I want to explore mysteries since I usually read literary and adult mainstream fiction or non-fiction. Even with its flaws, Dragonfish is well worth the read. I would definitely read more of Tran’s work. I try to keep in mind that this is Tran’s first published book, which is pretty damn impressive, and that ethnic writers are functioning in a white-centric publishing world (and larger world). This has a huge effect on the choices they make when writing a book, sometimes to the detriment of the text.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Worldly-Me Versus Godly-Me

Worship is important to me. For some reason, I am only just realizing this. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I would go to a different church each weekend. I would alternate between various Catholic churches and a Unity church. In undergrad, I rarely ever went to church. It’s hard finding a church when you’re in a city/town that’s not familiar, and you don’t have a car. I tried a non-denominational church near campus, but I wasn’t feeling it. In an effort to be general and not too religiously specific, the services ended up feeling spiritless to me. I also tried a Universalist church near campus, but that felt more like taking a science class than going to church. There wasn’t enough focus on the soul or faith for my taste.

Over the last few years, I have pretty much stuck with a Catholic church, a Christian church, a Buddhist meditation center and a Hindu meditation center. It used to be that when I chanted at the Hindu meditation center, I felt the most connected to God. I would feel this intense energy running through my body, and I would cry (Tears are a tell-tale sign for me since I prefer to avoid emotionality.), but lately the Hindu meditation center has been feeling basic to me. Now, I cry damn-near every time I go to the Catholic church and the Christian church, especially the Christian church.

I enjoy the Christian church so much that I am entertaining the idea of joining. This is madd strange because I am not a joiner. Outside of childhood, I have never been an official member of a church. Before I make the commitment, I wanted to try some of the different classes and volunteer opportunities the church offers. Their Bible study bored me although the people were cool. I found the questions and evaluations to be simplistic and surface. The volunteer opportunities are nice. I feel like I’m contributing and serving my community, which is important for me. Recently, I noticed that they offer a depression support group, so I figured Why the hell not? 

The group was small. The people were friendly, but not in that bullshit way. They seemed genuine, which is requisite. We’re not allowed to curse in the support group seeing as it has a Christian focus, so you know that was fucking hard for me, but I still liked it. We delved deeply into various forms of depression, medication, eastern healing, coping options, even cannabis options (that surprised the shit out of me). There wasn’t a heavy focus on the Bible or Christianity, but there was the right amount for me.

I usually feel numb as I walk through the world, but after the group, I felt okay. Okay is a form of peace for me. When I feel okay, that means I’m really kicking ass on the self-care front and/or that I’m surrounded by good people. Numb is my normal. In an extreme state of depression, which is rare, I feel fearful, anxious, angry and sad. In an extreme state of anxiety, I feel euphoric or excessive boredom. I recently read that boredom is the opposite manifestation of anxiety. I never thought of that, but it’s so true for me.

I never feel happy. Haven’t felt happy since I was about three years old, but I’m damn good at riding the happiness wave that other people feel. I tell myself: This is a moment when normal people feel happy then I look at the happiness in their faces. I love that their happy. I love that they feel safe and secure so I smile and feel a sort of residual, albeit muted, happiness. Sometimes I get a sliver of contentment, like when my husband and I are hiking or just hanging out and he smiles at me as if I’m a crush who’s become his girlfriend. I think contentment is another form of peace. I feel unadulterated peace when I meditate. Peace scares me, which is partly why I meditate begrudgingly. Peace is the opposite of anxiety, and without anxiety, I’m left with a ravenous whole. Worship (i.e., chanting, meditation and prayer) fills that hole. It remind me that peace is not scary. It’s actually a good thing.

When I start crying during worship, it means I feel joy, which is a gradation of happiness. It’s such a nice feeling although it’s short lived. Like, this one time at the Christian church, the pastor said, “You can’t be in charge of your life and have God be in charge of your life. God will take over.” I wanted to be mad because I want to be in charge of my own life, but when I’m in charge of my life, all I do is destroy things. Then I started crying because I used to love to fuck shit up (I kinda still do), like my relationships, but now, I can’t do that anymore, and trust me, I try. I used to like to pick fights with my husband because I believed that creating a little anxiety on the outside would balance out the over-abundance of anxiety that I felt on the inside. Now, when I feel antagonistic and I know I’m about to start some shit, I feel this tiny speck of peace then it grows and envelops me. It checks Worldly-Me, shuts her down with the quickness. It’s like Godly-Me takes over, and I feel this ubiquitous calm. My brain stops running like a psycho marathoner, my heart rate slows, and I feel okay. When I’m not worshipping consistently, Worldy-Me has free range, and it’s a fucking anxiety fest!

Godly-Me is kinda boring. She rarely ever drinks. She always wants me to exercise, and she’s always trying to get me to eat green, leafy shit rather than fun shit like cookies and ice cream, but she’s so fucking sweet and consistent. She’s kinda growing on me.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Two Sides of the Marginalization Coin

The personal essay demands that a woman of color writer dig as far as she can inside of her experiences in order to excavate something that she once thought that she could never put into the words. The art form forces her to see herself as complex as the world in which she exists. When she rethinks what an experience meant to her and her alone, she inevitably centers herself, a right that she was never afforded.

~ Morgan Jenkins, “The Personal Essay for Women of Color Confessionalists,” Book Riot, September 21, 2015

I remember sitting outside the front door of one of the buildings on campus when I was in undergrad. It was a sunny day, and I was waiting for something or somebody. Can’t remember which, but I had time to kill, so I started journaling. A class must have let out because people started exiting the building.

This white boy, who I did not know, came up to me and started talking. I responded cordially, but I didn’t close my journal. It sat open on my lap.

“I always thought people who kept a diary were self-centered,” he said.

Okay, I thought. Is he trying to be combative? I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and said, 

“I don’t think it’s about being self-centered. It’s about self-reflection.”

“Like, nobody’s life is so interesting that they need to write in a diary every day,” he said. It was as if he hadn’t even heard my last comment. I opened my mouth to speak, but he continued talking. “I mean, we’re all just livin’ life, ya know?”

I went back to journaling. He continued to stand in front of me. I could feel the expectation, of what, 
I didn’t know and didn’t care, in his presence.

“I guess you’re too busy to talk to me,” he said. He had the nerve to sound hurt.

I didn’t respond.

Finally, he sulked away.

I went to a predominantly white college for undergrad, but I grew up in predominantly black working- and middle-class neighborhoods in a predominantly black city. Black people were the center. When I was little, we had to get in a car and drive to find evidence that white people existed. Sure, I saw them on TV, in white magazines and in white books, but TV shows, magazines and books weren’t real life.

In undergrad, I realized that, in most societies, white people and their experience were considered the center, the norm, especially in western societies, and that people of color were considered minorities and were, therefore, marginalized. I also learned that, in large part, white TV shows, magazines and books reflect marketing dollars that are largely provided by white people, and because black people provide limited marketing dollars (I won’t even start on the educational and economic marginalization that contributes to this reality), we have a limited number of black shows, magazines and books. So, the U.S. is not only white-centric, but media perpetuates that white-centricity, which in turn pushes people of color into one of two corners (which are really two sides of the marginalization coin):
  1. Blend into whiteness, pretend that you’re colorblind and hope you can collect some residual privilege by accepting white-centricity; or
  2. Acknowledge the marginalization and the stereotypes imposed upon you, and try to change them.

When I participated in class, volunteered as the student representative on faculty search committees, and later, when I interviewed for jobs, some white people would tell me (and still do tell me), with a hint of surprise in their voices, that I was poisedarticulate and intelligent. What the fuck did they expect me to be?

They expected me to be a stereotype, a caricature. They expected me to be invisible, you know, like dark-skin black female characters on TV shows who don’t have a criminal record and aren’t trying to steal someone’s husband or the black characters in most of the published novels that are mostly written by white people. They expected me to be that singular dark-skin model in white magazines who takes up an entire page, or they expected me to be a rarely-seen background prop like the rest of the dark-skin black models in white magazines. They expected me to keep my mouth shut and blend in, like a good little colorblind black girl. Silly people.

Even when I am silent, my voice reverberates. I couldn’t blend in, even if I wanted to. God didn’t intend for me to be silent or to blend. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

New and Different Sub-Genres

I prefer reading literary fiction (especially magical realism), literary non-fiction (especially memoir) and poetry (especially narrative and dramatic), but lately, I’ve been trying to branch out and read different mainstream sub-genres. 

I always said I didn’t like mysteries until I read Gone Girl, so I tried reading mysteries. I tried five different authors (two bestsellers, one literary author and two midlist authors), but I couldn’t get through the first hundred pages of most of the books. Don’t even remember those authors’ names and don’t care. I got tired of the formulaic elements (e.g., repeating information that had already been stated; the divorced police officer; the male character who doesn’t mean to be a tyrant; the woman who can’t help her helplessness). I enjoyed the literary elements of Dragonfish by Vu Tran, but I didn't vibe with the formulaic mystery elements. I’ve decided that mystery is my least favorite genre, except for romance. Gone Girl captured me because it was more of a psychological drama than a mystery.

I tried reading horror.  I tried Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The pacing of Frankenstein bored the shit out of me. Dracula was beautifully written, but eventually, that bored me as well. I tried two books by Steven King, two by Octavia Butler and two by Tananarive Due. I couldn’t get through either of the King books. A friend tells me I have to find the right King books for my personality, so I’ll keep at it. I liked Kindred by Butler but could not get into Wild Seed.  I have, however, read a couple of Butler’s short stories and loved them both, so I’ll keep reader Butler one way or another. I loved The Good House by Tananarive Due but couldn’t get into the African Immortals series. Due has a new book of short stories out, Ghost Summer, so I will give that a try. I will stick with horror because I like those magical realism elements and the psychological themes.

I know I don’t like reading sci-fi although I enjoy some sci-fi movies. I thought I might be able to get into fantasy since it’s a mainstream and less nuanced version of magical realism and sure enough I read three books that I really enjoyed: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. Like Kindred and The Good House, these books capture my attention with character and plot development, but I rarely feel enamored with the lyricism of words. That’s what I mean when I state that fantasy is less literary than magical realism. I feel the same way about horror, young adult (YA) and mainstream fiction. The sentences in these sub-genres exist solely to drive the story, not to be lyrical or beautiful. On the rare occasion when a horror, YA or mainstream fiction writer does write lyrically, they over-use the lyrical quality to the point of bastardization, e.g., the similes and metaphors in Shatter Me.

I’m reading Sleep in Me a memoir by Jon Pineda, and it’s so refreshing to read literary work after reading so many mainstream texts.  Here are some of his lyrically poignant sentences:
  • When referencing the defaced images that he and his friends saw in Penthouse and Hustler at the local gas station when he was a pre-teen: “We didn’t really think of [the images] as being violated, didn’t know the various forms violation could take.”
  • “Along the rear of Hill's house ran a creek where part of the land ended and formed a small promise of open water.”
As I mentioned, I read a YA book titled Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi. I also read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’m surprised at how at how well these books hold my attention. Does that mean I’m trapped in an adolescent mindset or is it just that I’m a sucker for character and plot development? I feel like I know Juliette and Adam and Hazel Grace and Augustus. And early in the books, I’m drawn into the plot. My main issues with YA are that the books seem quite rushed and some of the details are far too vague. For example, what is the name of this tracking serum that Adam and the other soldiers take in Shatter Me? Mafi never tells us. What medicines and medical supplies did Hazel Grace have to take with her to Amsterdam? Green only mentions her oxygen tank. But even with these drawbacks, I’m now open to reading more YA texts.

Part of why I’m disenchanted with literary fiction these days is the dearth of plot development. Literary writers can describe a thumbtack and make it seem beautiful and lyrical, but their books too often lack in the plot department, which means I have a hard time sticking around long enough to find out who the character is. I tried reading Mr. Fox and Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, and I could not do it! Mr. Fox had a kick-ass beginning, but it quickly petered out. Boy, Snow, Bird never got off the ground. For me to dig a book, I need something to happen—soon! Perhaps this is a generational thing. Perhaps that’s why older, established literary writers think young people don’t read. I’m grown and if I’m bored reading literary texts, a 17 year old is sure as hell gonna be bored too.

I find character and plot development to be weak in lots of mainstream fiction books as well. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty was on the New York Times Bestseller’s list for ages. (Spoiler Alert!) Talk about weak ass character development. Someone is raped and processes this by becoming a chronic gum chewer. Really? That’s all you got, Liane? Don’t even start me on plot: A teenager decides to auction her virginity online and her parents are upset. They're not outraged, but upset and quite peeved. And, of course, everything is resolved in the simplest way. I can’t even deal. I am more likely to believe a 17 year old who can kill people by touching them than that simplistic foolishness that’s written in Big Little Lies.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Importance of Breasts

I’ve never had a healthy relationship with my breasts. Ever since I can remember, I’ve viewed them as a burden. I’m pretty sure this had a lot to do with the fact that my mother had enormous breasts.

I remember watching her dress when I was a toddler and wondering how she stood upright with all that cone-shaped weight dangling from her chest. Back then, the popular bras contorted women’s breasts into the shape of missiles. When she was fully dressed, her appearance baffled me even more. Why were her breasts so pointy? Didn’t it frustrate her that these pointy cones were always in the way? They pressed against doors whenever she opened them; they disrupted table settings at restaurants because every time she sat down her breasts pulled the tablecloth down too; they were an official landing ground for bread crumbs, spaghetti sauce, noodles and virtually anything else she ate. I wanted no part of them, but my mother warned me. “Yours’ll probably be this big,” she said. But I would scream, “No!”

My breasts are not as big as my mother’s, but they’re pretty damn big.  This pleases my husband immensely! Oftentimes, he greets me at the same time that he greets my breasts. He’ll come home and peck me on the lips while simultaneously caressing the sides of them. Sometimes he simply wants to check in with them. I’ll be minding my business, and he’ll come up to me and caress my nipples. “Ahh,” he says then he’ll go back to whatever he was doing. During these moments, I roll my eyes and let him have his way. Male obsession with breasts baffles me, but then I am equally obsessed with his penis. I greet it and check in with it at regular intervals just like he does with my breasts.

My point is this: I have always perceived my breasts as appendages to be dreaded, tolerated or ignored. It’s rare that I get off when my husband takes my nipples into his mouth or caresses them. That’s how it’s always been for me. Breasts’re just there? His skills are better used on other body parts that I’m more interested in. During sex, my breasts often get in the way, especially during a good ramming. They move so vigorously that all the weight converges toward the nipple at rapid speed then my breasts feel like balls of inflamed nerves. They actually start to hurt. I have to hold them still, so I can enjoy the ramming and my orgasm, which means that instead of enjoying the tactile sensation of my man’s chest, his arm muscles, his thighs and his ass, my hands are serving as a damn brassiere.

I’m at the age now where I have to get mammograms. Sure, I’ve read about women getting mastectomies, and I’ve seen images on television and in movies, but it’s always been a topic that existed in the garbage disposal of my brain. For the first time, I’m seriously thinking about my breasts in a new light. I like that they’re symmetrical. I like that they’re proportionate to my body. I like that my husband loves touching them. I like that they please him. I like that when he’s sleeping, he rolls over, slides his hand into my night shirt and rests it between my breasts, all without waking up.

I asked him how he would respond if I had to have a mastectomy, and he said, “I would be sad, but I would adjust. Wouldn’t you be sad?” he asked.

I thought about this then said, “I would be inconvenienced, but it’s easy for me to say that with two big healthy breasts.”

I had my first mammogram a few days ago. I do not have a history of breast cancer, or any other kind of cancer, in my family, and all the women in my family lived long lives. I am, however, concerned about breast-size, my eating habits and my typical American lifestyle. The matrilineal women in my family all had large breasts, and I know large breasts are correlated with breast cancer. My mother, grandmothers and great-grandmothers had a scarcity of food for most of their lives; whereas, I have an over-abundance. Also, they did not have to deal with excessive acrylamide and Bisphenol A (BPA) entering their system. They didn’t eat fast-food French fries on the regular like I did nor did they drink and eat out of plastic containers for much of their childhoods.

The mammogram went okay, I guess. Ain’t nothing fun about having your breasts squooshed between two cold, plastic trays. It wasn’t excruciatingly painful, but it was painful at times. I’m blessed that I have insurance, so I can get these preventative tests done without a problem. It makes me fear for women who don’t have insurance or access to doctors. It makes me fear for their babies who may lose them pre-maturely. It makes me understand the importance of breasts and female health beyond my own existence.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Womanness Is Not a Negative

The following quotes have been weighing heavily on my mind:

1.      In Things I Should Have Told My Daughter, Pearl Cleage critiques an interview with Joan Didion that appeared in The New York Times (June 1979).  Part of the interview focuses on Didion’s cooking and her desire to make a new set of curtains.  Cleage writes:

“It bothered me a lot.  Couldn’t figure out why.  Thought it was because [the interviewer] seemed to be making [Didion] a woman not a writer… a wife, a cook, a serene domesticated pussycat. [Didion’s] real life seems very far removed from how and what she writes, which is not serene, not womanly, but extraordinary, passionate, hyper-conscious, controlled, cynical.” 

2.      In The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, Anna Wulf refers to menses and, quite possibly her vagina, as “The wound inside my body, which I did not choose to have.”

When I first read these passages, I was irate!  Why does Cleage place domesticity in opposition to being extraordinary, passionate and controlled?  Why does Anna Wulf refer to menses and/or the vagina as a wound?  Although Cleage and Lessing wrote these pieces around 1979 and 1969, respectively, their words reflect a ubiquitous social perception that womanness is a negative.  We can all recount stories of men disrespecting women through verbal and physical means, but we scarcely ever acknowledge the disrespect women inflict upon other women.

It’s such an old argument that I’m tired of reading about it, and I’m tired of talking about it.  But it’s such a rampant problem that we clearly still need to talk about it.  So here it is.  We all play a role in this internalized gender oppression.  We pick sides as toddlers: the “pretty” girls on one side; the “smart” girls on the other side.  Since we’re toddlers, we really don’t know what the fuck “pretty” or “smart” means.  All we know is the adults said “pretty” girls do certain things, like play with dolls and make-up, and the smart girls do a different set of things, like play with building blocks and word games.  At this nascent stage, we are largely subject to our family’s biases.  We either align with their biases or we don’t.  Whatever the case, we come out knowing that “girly” girls and “brainy” girls don’t mix.  Even if we switch sides, we know that we must criticize our “opponents.”  Transgender women are just as susceptible to this bullshit because you can’t be a woman without being sucked into this dominant social paradigm.  We all know what that paradigm is (We live it): Womenness is minimized, dehumanized, tortured or monolithically sexual.  

The “girly” girl versus “brainy” girl wars exist at every stage of our lives (Women with children call them the “Mommy Wars.”).  These wars prevail because we both despise and cling to the dominant social paradigm.  We kinda want to support other women, yet we kinda want other women to bow down.  We want to acknowledge that men have set this paradigm into motion, yet we don’t want to believe that they still have that much power over us.  

Only in the last fifty years have we (i.e., the collective we, not the women we) begun to accept the idea that a woman should not need a man to apply for a credit card, to purchase a vehicle or to lease an apartment.  But some women were perfectly okay with that system.  Others weren’t.  They wanted to earn their own money.  Others could not focus on financial-sexism without focusing on racism and/or homophobia.  They knew that money ain’t worth shit if your life is in constant danger just because you are who you were meant to be.    

It took a while, but we finally started to realize that it was all connected: work and finance; gender, race and sexuality.  Yet, the perceived negativity of womanness persists.  I think the above passages shed light on a simple reality of our everyday existence, a nasty belief that we all (I’m still talking the collective we) pretend that we do not possess: the idea that womanness is a dismal, unconscious, out-of-control existence—a wound.

It’s true that women are often limited to the dominate stereotypes that we must enjoy domesticity and all things related to children.  Yes, these stereotypes annoy the fuck out of me, but I also reject the notion that my ability to bake or sew stands in direct opposition to my ability to be an extraordinary, passionate and controlled writer [or insert profession here].  I reject the idea that I, or any part of my body, is a wound simply because it’s doing what it’s meant to do.  As a child-free woman, my period is one of my best friends even though she sometimes annoys me.  My period signals that my life is going according to plan, that both my husband and I are cautious during sex because we don’t want children.  My period is a symbol of freedom to me.

Let me be clear, I do not think Cleage and Lessing were trying to start shit or be hateful.  I don’t think they dislike women; on the contrary, their bodies of work reflect a commitment to the female experience.  I do think that we must evaluate how internalized gender oppression permeates every facet of our lives, and we must be unyielding in that evaluation.  Otherwise, we will never learn to eradicate the womanness-as-negative mind-fuck.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nuanced Exhaustion

I’ve been contemplating the nuance of exhaustion. After writing non-fiction, I feel exhausted from purging. It feels as if I’ve been carrying around huge, round metal weights that didn’t have handles.  Not only did I have to carry around these painful, caustic weights but I also had to balance them all without dropping any of them. After I’ve drafted a chapter, I feel like I’ve finally set all the weights down in their proper place, where they can’t hurt anyone. I’ve secured things as best as I could. There is finally a sense of balance. Now, I can recuperate.

The exhaustion I feel after speaking with my family is quite the opposite. It is a matter of taking on the burden of weight rather than relieving one’s self of weight. I also put on literal weight when I interact with them. I end up eating unhealthy food consistently in an attempt to self-soothe. My family is comprised of people who have bottomless wells of need and pain but limited means or desire of purging these things. I am not referencing financial means, I am talking about clarity of self. If one is unhappy in one’s life, one can either make a plan and change it or accept one’s life. There’s no need to hurt unassuming people or to try to make other people miserable.

I re-read my “The Blessing of Solitude” post, and it made me smile. I’ve tried to make a quiet, peaceful life for myself. It’s far from perfect, and, at times, my level of peace is tenuous, but I keep at it. In ways, it was difficult being estranged from my family, but I felt less tumult than I do now. I’m trying to find balance by limiting my correspondence to family members who don’t drain me and only talking to those who do drain me once every two to four weeks. I’m trying not to revert to my old coping strategies of cutting off my emotions completely and disappearing. I’m trying so hard.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What’s It Like Being Married to a Writer?

My husband just finished a major project at his job and decided to take a few days off. He said he wanted to do what he wanted to do for a few days and not have any responsibilities. I love solitude and require lots of it, so I could totally relate.

On the first night of his stay-cation, he seemed restless. I am a planner and a fixer, so I asked him if he wanted to visit his best friend who lives out of state; he said no. I asked him if he wanted to take a solo road trip; he said no. I let it drop. The next day we went out to eat with friends, and he told them about his stay-cation and how I go on writing retreats and come back refreshed, so he thought maybe being alone for a while would help him feel refreshed.

I often wonder what it’s really like for a normal person to be married to a writer. Even the most extroverted writers are solitary people. We can go hours, days and, in some cases, months with little to no human contact.  For the last few years, I’ve gone out-of-state on a four-day to two-week writers retreat while my husband stays home. When I’m writing at home, I tend to respond to my husband’s questions with grunts. He’s learned to distinguish my writing expression. He says I stare at my laptop with a crazed and obsessed look when I write. Now, when he sees that look, he asks, “Are you writing?” If I say, “Um hm,” without looking up, he makes himself scarce. When he leans in to kiss me good-bye, my eyes remain glued to the screen. I tilt my head ever so slightly in his direction and semi-pucker my lips. Sometimes he laughs and holds his lips just out of reach. I keep typing and semi-puckering, and he says, “You don’t even know I’m here, do you?”

“Um hm,” I say.

If he goes out, he’ll sometimes call hours later and ask, “Are you finished writing?” If I give an intelligible, “Yes,” he comes home. If I don’t, he asks for an estimated time of completion then he comes home when I’m better suited for human interaction.

It certainly must be lonely for him at times.  He says he likes his alone time, but that’s somewhat of a lie. He occasionally likes his alone time. I usually like my alone time. In truth, he prefers wife-in-proximity alone time. He likes to sit on the sofa and read his Kindle while I’m reading my book.  He likes to caress my feet or my leg. I need both my hands because I like to underline beautiful sentences. If he had his way, we’d be fully intertwined during the reading process. He likes to listen to music with me in the next room. He likes that when I take a break from reading or whatever I’m doing, I go to him and kiss him on the top of his head while he’s sitting in his chair. He likes to pull me close right before I leave the room and kiss my stomach or nuzzle my breasts. He likes to work on his car for a bit then come inside, talk to me for a while then return to his repairs. My husband thinks he is a solitary person, but he’s not. He’s a coupler.

Sure enough, after brunch that day, he went to do his own thing while I stayed home watching television. Within two hours, he returned.

“I went to get a massage,” he said. “I thought about going to the movies or something, but I missed you.”

I shake my head.

“What?” he asks, shyly.

“You’re so cute.”

“I can’t help it,” he says. “I like you.”

“I more than like you.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Fallow Period

I have not worked on my non-fiction manuscript in three months, well, not in any substantial way. At times, this disturbs me immensely. I have set a deadline of completion for myself, and I believe in sticking to my deadlines. Back in October, I set quarterly ticklers on my calendar. I have wasted an entire quarter to-date. I shouldn’t use the word “wasted.” It makes me seem like a lazy fuck when I am nothing of the sort. It also makes it seem like the fallow period isn’t important in the writing process when I know full well that it is.

I’ve been reminding myself that this is and has been my over-arching pattern for years. I write for three months; I lie fallow for three months. But I must have this manuscript finished this year! And I really don’t have time for this fallow shit!

During these fallow months, I have been researching for another manuscript, and I have been interacting with my family.  Some conversations with my family…okay, most conversations with my family exhaust me so much that I could sleep for the following 20 hours.  The fallow period is supposed to be a period of inactivity and recovery. I do not, however, feel “recovered.” I’ve been eating shit on a daily basis—wheat, sugar, ice cream—my crisis foods. I haven’t been exercising consistently. Have I mentioned that my family exhausts me? I don't have the energy or skills to interact with multiple family members on the regular, so I decided to put limits on the number of familial conversations I can bear in a given week. On the other hand, I have been less active when it comes to writing although I have not been wholly inactive.

I read some books and short stories during this time, nothing live-changing except for Alice Munro. I was reading her short story “The Bear Came over the Mountain,” when a simple line in her story led to a deluge of ideas for a novel I’ve been researching off and on for years.

I first developed a Notes.doc for the novel back in 2012, but the inception for the novel happened in 2010. I kept having this dream about a scrawny lil white girl.  She was feisty and vicious.  Couldn’ta been more than 13 years old.  She looked positively feral.  She never talked in my dreams, just stared me down as if daring me to ignore her.  So naturally, I did precisely that. What do I care about some scrawny, cranky lil white girl.  But she was a persistent little fucker.  She started to grow on me. I have a soft spot for feisty, vicious, persistent kids, probably because I was one.  So, I started paying more attention to the dreams.  I figured out that she was German.  Then I really wanted to drop her ass.  How am I supposed to write a book about a German white girl.  Yet, there I was researching German states and female German names and German schools.  Before I knew it, I loved her…was down-right protective of her.  I had a basic idea for a plot, but I didn’t write anything down. I wasn’t ready to commit (I’m a bit commitment phobic). I knew that if I made the commitment, this book would be a huge undertaking.

She crouched down in the recesses of my mind after that. I guess she just wanted a little attention.  She let me be for two years.  Then she came back, not as an aggressor or a dream, but as a whisper.  It was creepy hearing her in that gentle, vulnerable state.  It kind of freaked me out. I didn’t know she could be so fragile.  When a feisty, vicious, persistent person shows their vulnerability, you need to pay attention.  I went back to her immediately. I did not deny her. I did research obsessively for months. I expanded the plot and the characters.  I had committed myself at that point then let it sit some more.

Munro’s short story brought me back to her, now the plot is a whole different animal. It’s far more layered and complex. That seemingly unrelated short story easily led to about 16 hours of research for that novel’s plot.