So meta it burns. (Kinda.)

update your bookmarks

If you haven’t heard, you will soon: Yahoo is buying Tumblr. And I know the kind of trash that passes for information at Yahoo because every month when I log in to pay my cable bill I have to watch its Fox-ish fearmongering headlines parade across my login screen. So I’m moving back to Wordpress, this time at http://metaphlame.wordpress.com/. I’ve already imported all my posts here, though unfortunately tags appear not to make the trip. It’s not pretty right now, but that’s why you marry a web developer. I’ll hit him up for prettification later. In the meantime, update your bookmarks! And yes, this means comments are now allowed.

dear guy who almost ran me over

Dear guy who almost ran me over despite having a red light and only a red light,

If I ever see you again outside of your vehicle, I am going to almost crush your testicles with the force of my kick. Almost, because you almost killed me. Despite having ample amounts of warning time that a.) yes, it was a red light, which is generally understood to mean you must come to a stop, and b.) there was in fact someone, someone wearing a bright yellow shirt no less, running in the crosswalk you were swiftly approaching. After you screeched to a stop with half your car sticking out into the intersection—you know, where my mutilated body would be if I hadn’t stopped to shake my fist at you—you didn’t even have the balls to look me in the eyes as I glowered at you with all the scorn you deserve. You just sat there looking to your lap in shame.  So I don’t even know if there’s anything left down there to kick, but rest assured, if there is, I will kick it. Understand that I have been through this once before—some jerkoff ran his stop sign and I dislocated my own arm in my efforts to leap off my bicycle as it went under his car, totaled. He did not even call an ambulance for me. But I will not tolerate that kind of bullshit again. Had you in fact hit me I would have shoved your cellphone so far up your ass that you would have had no choice but to call 911 for me by sheer force of sphincter cramping. If necessary I would have plucked a shard of bone from my shattered pelvis and slashed your pretty tires with it until you bothered to look me in the goddamn eyes. So try using them next time, okay?

a completely cursory glance

When this popped up in a new release feed, I clicked on it, sure, because of the knitting on the cover. And I read through the description and began to sour on it.

1.) The only difference between what this book claims is happening here vs. what people have been wringing their hands over in Japan re: “grass-eating men” for years now is that there these roles are assumed to be belonging to women, and god help us all if men want to take them up. Can we all just stop pretending we’re coming at this from some saintly altruistic “well I’m just worried about our country” perspective. Every hand-wringer is coming at this with their own presuppositions about what males and females should and should not be doing with their time. Enough.

2.) Amanda Marcotte’s twitter description made me twitch in the same way. Great, wonderful, you have no interest in knitting. That’s super-important for us to know, since of course we wouldn’t want to confuse you with those other, lesser feminist bloggers who do knit. Get over yourself, woman. Would you emphasize to people that yes, while you are a trendy Brooklyn feminist writer who follows political news, you would never wear your hair in a braid? No? Then STFU. Your haste to disassociate yourself from hypothetical comrades-in-fiber labels you as kind of an uninformed jerk.

3.) I’m pretty sure that this is something the feminist chef extraordinaire over at I’ll Make It Myself might touch on…oh wait…she did. On this book, even. I’ll just let her speak to that then:

Perhaps what the WP should focus on next is the problem with heteronormative expectations of domestic life and the culture of “make me a sandwich,” as well as the topic of non-heteronormative people who enjoy “domestic” activities without buying into gender roles, why that’s a good thing, and how we can take back our activities from the gender police. Furthermore, as a culture, we need to highlight the strangeness of separate spheres and stop privileging the “masculine” above the “feminine.” As for Matchar, I sincerely hope she will address these issues as well as food feminists more in depth in her forthcoming book.

I’m going to bed. Having begun work on this. Because, you know, my husband is making me provide woolens for our family like it’s 1833. Or because yarn is my one option for validation since I’ve only been providing most of the money and all of the health insurance/savings/computer hardware for the both of us for—oh right—years.*

*And it was my goddamn choice to do so, thank you very much. 

A Familiar Turn of Events

Here’s the thing about Gatsby.

I hated it when I read it in high school. I loathed all the charcters. I resented the required infringement on my own personal reading time. Nouveau riche was just a vocabulary word. I had not yet met bonified crazily rich people, nor—before the economy tanked—was there reason for me to think they had quite so much power over me as I was being told they did. In fact, the only people my age ranting against the rich at that time were those vain prats who liked to walk around school with a copy of Marx’s little red book in their pockets just so they could say that had a copy of Marx’s little red book in their pockets. It was a form of petty rebellion as surely as were tramp stamp tattoos on other students, and I dismissed it in kind.

When I read it, I stress.

Because after I read it, my teacher delivered a kind of speech about it. Mostly about the last couple pages. And then I loved it. Then, with the meaning handed to me, I loved it. I would love to be able to say I did the work of dragging meaning out of it myself, but I didn’t. I was fed up with these people who had so little in common with me, who just loafed around fucking each other and stabbing each other in the back, and I didn’t care who got what they wanted out of life and who didn’t. But this speech that came down to us on the last day of our focus on the book focused, itself, on that specific line—“You can’t repeat the past.” And I was sold. On everything surrounding that line. The conviction that it was true and the rabid desire to prove it false. The greater societal impulses it echoed—teetering on the brink of a modernity not everyone was sure they wanted to tip over into. (And: thinking they had a choice, when they were already in the thick of it. As always.)

We went to a special showing of the movie with a band and period cocktails beforehand. I wore a flapper dress and fascinator. And throughout the first half of the movie I was playing out my response in my head. Trying to come up with reasons, already, why I was liking it so much more than I had on my first read-through of the book. I had decided to push the point of my youth—how I had played two key roles, since I first read the book, that I hadn’t before and that greatly affected my ability to give a damn. I hadn’t been that third wheel yet—hadn’t been told by the male companion of my female friend, only half jokingly, to consider fucking the dog, since I was unlikely to get any ass in high school otherwise. In any number of shots focusing on Nick’s rising disgruntlement and apartness I felt that sharp sting of sympathy for him that I knew I hadn’t felt before. Nor had I yet pursued a romantic interest, surveying the competition with a critical eye and doing away with it the best I could. This prompted a sympathy in me for Gatsby, on that score, that I’d lacked the last time.

Then that line showed up—“You can’t repeat the past.” And I thought, there are three roles I’ve now played since the first time I read the book. Third wheel, determined pursuer, and dogged reenactor. 

The second time they said the line it hit me like dart to the neck. Because I remembered how it made me love the book before, and realized where, much more recently, I’d had that epiphanic about-face of literary regard again: in Higuchi Ichiyo’s “Nigorie.” Troubled Waters. Or more specifically: in the speech that came after reading it, delivered by my professor, focusing on a single line in the text where the main character, standing not just for herself (of course) but for the entire muddled, messed-up cultural consciousness of a Japan that liked to think of itself as on the brink of a modernism it had already long since committed to: “She can’t go forward, and she can’t go back.” Not forward to the love suicide that awaits her if she follows through with her plan to escape societal obligations and debts both; not back, because her life has changed too much to allow that no matter how much she wants it. Meiji Japan: not back to the time people still remember, of samurai and magistrates and a preponderance of all-wooden buildings; not forward, to a future as yet unknown but no doubt charted by strangers, jostling for position in a crowded geopolitical sphere rife with competitors with decades’ more experience in the game.

Not to put too strong a point in it, but that line and that speech that was based on it was what made me decide that Japanese literature was something I should be doing. I took immersion language classes over the summer, tackled the entire second major in a year and a half, and went off to live in Tokyo on a two-year scholarship.

Because of one line in a short story written by a woman over 100 years dead.

So to hear that sentiment—different words, different original languages even, but something kindred in it still—jump out at me not for the first time but for what I knew was a repeat occurrence, blew me away. I could hardly focus on the filmic represenation of the book after that, so off-kilter was my brain. 

What does it say about me that some of what matters most to me in literature had to be handed to me on a plate? What does it say about my ability to take away something valuable from stories if what I’m taking away is someone else’s treatise on them—no matter how charismatically or insightfully delivered? What does it say about my level of rationality that I turned my whole life around for what someone told me a story said? Even had I been fluent in Japanese at the time—which I assuredly was not—reading Nigorie in its original form would have been a nightmare.  I know because I own a book of scanned copies of her original manuscripts, including Nigorie. Ichiyo liked to use Heian-style words and phrasings—something as foreign to my eyes trained on 20th-century Japanese as High German would be to a native English speaker. The translation we read in class wasn’t my professor’s work—someone else had already done it and published it—but the interpretation of that one line was. And I mainlined it and changed, arguably, the rest of my life as a result. 

If I hadn’t gone abroad and hated it so much, I wouldn’t have appreciated the merits of being in one place and being loved there, and I wouldn’t have come back to my alma mater and married my boyfriend (which service was presided over by the guy who taught me Gatsby, I should point out) and stopped seeking a future in a profession for which it turned out I harbored a deep resentment. I wouldn’t have gotten my master’s, or my first dog or my second dog; I wouldn’t have been away from my mother when she got cancer or when she got over cancer or when my childhood dog died or when  my sister went through her revolving door of loser relationships or…well, anything. And everything.

And at the same time as I snort at my not-so-much-younger self for her foolishness and impulsiveness and eagerness to be told how the world is (can I not just say gullibility?), I am still moved by both lines in both stories and all they mean. Even if I couldn’t have told you all they meant at first. When people asked me, in person and on application forms, why I had turned to Japanese literature, what I told them—that they believed! that I believed! that they gave me money for believing!—was that I saw in Japan a microcosm of what was happening on a global scale. I wasn’t so much interested in the ways it was different from the rest of the world as in the ways it was the same. It was easier to focus on modernization there because of the relative smallness of the country and the rapid pace modernization took there. But I emphasized, in every discussion and paragraph, that it was part of a bigger project: one limb of a much larger creature. And it was that creature and people’s hopeless thrashing against it, or besotted devotion to it, that entranced me.

Not just on a grandiose sociocultural level even, but on a personal one. I’m sure I’ve written of Oriki on her bridge here before. Wanting so much to go back, having plotted a course forward that is doable but agonizing. And Gatsby—how American, to think it will work. How often have I knowingly striven to do the same thing? If I could just serve the same meal, get everyone to stand in the same place, say the same things, maybe the feeling of ten or twenty years ago will come back; maybe the moment I fucked up will be aproached, amended and overcome—who doesn’t think that? Who doesn’t try it, at least once? And how often does it ever work? Tell it to the Civil War reenactors, the activist judges trying to take away rights already granted; tell it to the brick-and-mortar bookstores suing digital libraries and the slow-food advocates: you can’t repeat the past. You can say it all you want, but they won’t listen. Or they’ll listen, but they won’t believe. We have a willful, blind, fabulous stubbornness in this country. What is not will be. Because we will make it so.

People grumbled, I gather, about the soundtrack for this movie. I thought the contemporary tracks worked for reasons that are tangential here. But one of the few period pieces they actually allowed in was Rhapsody in Blue. And. It. Was. Amazing. Nevermind that I have always loved the song; nevermind that when the lottery was super high and I bought my one measly ticket I’d decided to buy Gershwin’s Chicago apartment and that my first order of business there would be to play the song at max volume, pounding through the gleaming mahoghany salons and pressed-tin ceilings. Nevermind that it was over-the-top. It’s supposed to be over the top. It’s rhapsody in fucking blue. It’s transcendent. It’s bombastic. It’s everything people want the 20s to be and none of what it will become—what it already is, rotting from the top down. It’s blind and bullying and magical and sure, so sure, that every barrier can be overcome. Past mistakes can be fixed. Lives can be relived, this time right.

Maybe we outside the film know they can’t. Maybe we know Gatsby’s story like we know our own, well-worn and dog-eared. But amidst the glitter and the gilt and the fireworks, and the thundering drums and pirouetting pianos of Gershwin’s literal freaking rhapsody, we can forget for a little while. We can share in Gatsby’s belief. We can wish him the chance to fix things, and in so doing gain the ghost of a chance of doing so ourselves.

order of operations

I don’t like to hear about musicians’ lives. I don’t like interviews. I don’t like listening to them talk about themselves or their music. Because it’s always so empty in comparison. They do what they do because they’re good at making music, not at talking or even being decent people. Often they’re vain and pretentious and self-serving. Bad senses of humor and a staggering lack of awareness of the world outside their various stages.

So when Stateside said it was going to focus its last segment on a musician, I almost turned the radio off. But it was Monday and there weren’t any of last night’s cable shows I could listen to online, so I kept it on. Just as noise, to keep me awake. And at first, I didn’t listen very closely. “I love to listen to musicians define their own music—” Well, I don’t. “—so tell me, how would you describe yours?” Please don’t. “Well, it’s hard to describe—” Of course it is. Just like everyone else’s, because they’re all just so damn unique you can’t describe them. 

But I started stirring when the interviewer mentioned that this guy’s life had fishtailed. She didn’t say how and she didn’t need to, really, once a couple of his soft-spoken replies (“no, I’m never up there communing with the audience, I’m nervous and scared and just trying to survive till the end of my set”) suggested all it needed to about fame going to a young guy’s head. I want you to understand that it wasn’t schadenfreude that made me pay attention. I don’t give a fig for whatever celebrity sob story is plastered across the tabloids in the checkout line. I started to pay attention because this guy’s sheepish self-deprecation and quiet down-talking of himself began to seem, given this weighty past both he and his interviewer were stepping around, less like a schtick and more like someone who had had a great fall and had to put himself back together again. And that always makes me pay attention.

Then they played part of this song:

http://mattjones.bandcamp.com/track/the-darkest-things

And he talked about how he had to be goaded into doing something simpler, something “people could take home,” and I was brought up short by that because—well, to make a long story short, like everyone else on the planet I used to love to sing when I was alone, and then I grew up and ran out of places to be alone, and I thought with kids, when you have them, while they’re young you get a chance to reset, and you can be alone but also be heard, by people who might like it and don’t know enough to judge you yet, so I’ve been gathering songs, songs I can hum and would like to sing, and I’d filed this into that category as soon as I heard this snippet on the radio.

The interviewer asked about bigger audiences, if he’d want them again, if he wanted to leave the area and go big and he said “Yeah, bigger audiences you know, they’re great, but they don’t last.” I was paying very close attention now. The interviewer asked him what he wanted, then, and he said he just wanted everything to be okay—wanted something good to come home to, and to know that what he did before he came home was something he believed in. He also, I noted, said he was 35, so he has had much more time than me to realize what a quaintly unattainable dream that can be for most people.

I know how pedestrian or, potentially, dour “I just want everything to be okay” may sound, but it didn’t in context. And unlike 99% of the musician interviews I’ve heard, this one made me actually want to listen to his music. So I did. And you should, too, in this order:

1.) The Darkest Things

2.) The entirety of the album The Black Path, the wild success of which was what sent him into that spiral

3.) The Darkest Things again

Maybe if I came to know more music this way I’d have less of a problem with lyrics. (An aside: there are a couple straight-up instrumental tracks on The Black Path; of which the one dearest to me is We Held For Nothing, which in its mere 1:04 encompasses a decade and a half of train-chasing car trips caroming over back roads of the Appalachians with my Celtic cassettes taped into my tape player-that-wouldn’t-shut.) Maybe many musicians are a lot more down-to-earth and troubled and focused-on-greater-things than I give them credit for. Or maybe I just don’t believe people have anything worth saying unless they’ve already gone to a dark place and had to come to know themselves well enough to get out of it.

Either way, this guy is fucking great. 

Pterodactyl Moments

When I was little I found a very easy analogy to convey to people what twisted my heart most: unwanted gifts. There is a scene in the first Land Before Time, where Little Foot is depressed after his mother died, and is just lying around listlessly. Nearby, despite the drought and general famine, a mother pterodactyl has procured a single bright shining berry for each of her offspring, who chirp delightedly over the prospect of eating them. As they run along to do just that, the last, littlest pterodactyl sees Little Foot there moping and wrestles with himself over whether to offer him the berry. On the one hand, he has never seen such a tempting treat and likely won’t again any time soon; on the other, this guy is clearly depressed. (This deliberation is completely visual, not narrated.) Finally the baby pterodactyl takes a deep, determined breath and marches over to Little Foot’s head and chirrups happily at him, placing the berry there. Little Foot does not move. The pterodactyl chirps cheerfully again and picks up the berry by the stem, placing the berry closer. Still nothing. The pterodactyl picks the berry up in his hands, walking right up to Little Foots’s head, and holds it out with a last, beseech ing chirp. Little Foot just sighs. The pterodactyl lets the berry fall and chirrups sadly, his attempt to cheer Little Foot up a failure.

I cried every single time.

Unappreciated gifts—ones that took time and effort and often personal sacrifice to procure—always do that to me. In Babe, when the old farmer presents his snotty thankless granddaughter with the dollhouse he worked over for months, and she just wails that its the wrong color, I am beside myself. When my husband spends weeks planning a dinner for his sister who shows up hungover, pukes into a trash can and says she’s not hungry, the constrained disappointment on his face is like a punch to the gut. Those pterodactyl moments kill me.

Which I think I have determined was what was operating Friday as I delivered, in hands that almost shook, the baby sweater I’d made for my pregnant co-worker. I’d run out of yarn and time before the actual shower earlier, so this was a late gift and one on top of the actual registry-type gift I’d given along with everyone else. This was someone I had lots in common with and would have been friends with if she weren’t a supervisor—all of them feel the need to keep that distance between themselves and us, which I understand. But I’d quietly congratulated her on her pregnancy when it became noticeable—quietly because I didn’t have anything to say like the others did, no memories or advice or anything, just questions I acknowledged as silly but which I still held (“Have you felt the need to eat dirt yet? What about chalk? I read a book where a lady in Montana munched chalk from the walls of her cellar…”) and also the I-thought-worthwhile note that unlike some given to loud pronouncements about how much they loathed children and those who spoke of them, I didn’t loathe them but had noticed the usefulness over the years of closing debate on that subject by announcing my disinterest right off. Everyone wants to tell you either what to do or why you’re too flawed to do it right, I said, and I have no patience for that kind of talk.

Anyway, she had responded warmly, so I wanted to give her something more than a registry gift. But I was late in getting it finished, and out of fancy wrapping paper or bags or anything, and out of money with which to buy these things. So I just delivered it to her in a grocery bag, sheepish and terribly nervous, I think now because I thought she’d think it lame or awkward or just too homely of a sweater. I suppose she might have still decided it was all of these things, but if so she had the kindness not to let me see it, since by the time I returned to my desk I had an email from her saying “oh my god that’s adorable thank you” etc.

And I realized this evening that that desperate nervous insistence on doing something was how I felt, too, late at night in Ginza years ago, the air from the subway too-warm and billowing up at me from the stairwell leading below, as I awkwardly begged my classmate (one of the greatest oral storytellers I have ever known) not to just walk into having children he didn’t want. He’d been talking of his plans to soon leave this country with his wife and transplant her to somewhere she knew nothing of, and where her command of the language was tenuous, and when I—in that situation myself, and concerned for their happiness, because I was finding being at sea in that way rather miserable—asked what longer-term plans they had he said oh, well, three have kids, maybe, he guessed, because wife wanted them.

I opened my mouth and closed it and opened my mouth and closed it, and yes I knew how uninformed a position I was in, childless and ten to fifteen years his junior. But I was at that time—as I would be for years to come—surrounded by people whose marriages and lives were falling apart over stupid decisions they didn’t take time to think through beforehand, largely involving kids and the assumption that “because my spouse wants them” is enough of a reason to make the rest of your sudden parenthood palatable to you, and rewarding, and to make you into someone who won’t seriously fuck up said kids. And this guy I had such respect and fondness and genuine gratitude for—I had so few friends over there and I was so helpless and flailing an acquaintance; I had nothing like his epic stories to bring to a conversation, so his willingness to put up with me tagging along on these outings was something for which I remain fervently thankful—was standing here on this street about to return to his wife whom he loved so much, in this city they both loved so much, and was going to potentially ruin it “because yeah, I guess, since she wants them…”

I guess I didn’t really beg. That would have been required too much temerity. I stepped very carefully around the mess of our mutual acquaintance’s marriage, and said something like, “yes, well…I clearly am not really in a position to say much on it but just from what I’ve seen…maybe the one thing I’ve learned since coming here…is that if it’s not something you both really truly want…maybe you shouldn’t do it. Because if you go an do it anyway there isn’t any surer way to make yourself miserable.” And he stood there and held my look and that panicky desperation seized me and I thought, “please, please, tell me this look means you know what I’m talking about, even if not who, the example doesn’t matter, just the understanding, because I like you and and you’re happy and I really don’t want to see your happiness fucked!”

I don’t remember what exactly he responded, something affirmative that didn’t shut me down but didn’t ask for clarification either, for which was grateful. We road different trains home and I realized on mine that there were little tremors fading from my hands. I tried to reason out why. I could count the number of friends I had on one hand, it’s true, and if I’d driven this guy away with my impassioned plea it would have been a disastrous blow to those ranks, but that wasn’t why I had been so nervous. While it was hardly the best of gifts, this morose and tortuously-obtained knowledge about how badly people could mess up their relationships was one of the few things I had to offer him, and I wanted desperately to give it to him and for it to stick. Because he was a marvelous raconteur, because he was charming and because he had done me a tremendous favor in being my friend. I don’t know if they ever had kids or if his wife was able to pilot her way through the US better than I was able to pilot my way through Japan. I hope they are happy, wherever they went.

Actually risking becoming the pterodactyl is terrifying, but watching it happen to others is just sad. I’d rather be scared than sad. I’d rather be anything than sad. So goddammit, if someone is going out on a limb to give you something, be it advice or some stupid knit sweater, just take it. Please. And do us all a favor.

the only problem with growing up with people telling you you can be anything…

…is that you want to be everything.

I just gave someone the contact info for an old friend and teacher I liked very much, and grabbed some of the language texts I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of off my shelf, and waxed regret despite the fact that I KNEW how bad of a decision going on in her direction would have been at the time. 

image

watching parents of high schoolers play an elegy for victims of columbine

Most of them were crying by the end of it. The conductor, too, who held them all still longer than necessary, so they could gather themselves. They were members of a community band, but most of them had children who’d attended this high school in which they were performing. Some audience members sniffled. At one point the first chair trumpet solo’ed what we had been told beforehand was Columbine’s fight song from a box seat. People really lost it then.

I was trying to understand how they’d feel, as parents who had watched this happen in 1999 but whose children had escaped unscathed so far. But I have no idea what it would feel like. I only know how it felt to watch as a student then and in the years after, and how, sitting at my desk closest to the door at work as I do, the first (and only) in line of sight as I am or would be, I scripted long ago what I’d scream, if I had the chance. (Maybe I wouldn’t. Maybe I’d be taken out in the head or the throat or something.) What I’d do, if I were at first hidden (as I often am, popping my pelvis back into place under the desk), how I’d try to do what I could from behind. How I’d probably die but then I’d been thinking I’d probably die since 1999. Like everyone else my age.

The conductor introduced this piece with that background: that it was written shortly after Columbine and before 9/11, and Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook and Boston. How now it could be seen to encompass so many more things now, though no one wished it could. Before the band played there had been a children’s chorus, and all of those kids (plus brothers and sisters, and the children of band members or the adult chorus or the orchestra) sat now in the audience, and I wondered what their parents had told them about these events. As nine year-olds, what had they been told about Columbine? If nothing, surely they would now ask, or could anyway, since the word had been put into their brains as the impetus for a whole song they had to sit and listen to. These kids wouldn’t even have been alive yet. Had their parents been forced to dredge the whole thing up after Sandy Hook? Was all this information fairly new to them? Were they frightened?

I had expected the Columbine piece even before the conductor’s introduction, because my mother-in-law told me that my father-in law had trouble getting through it; he teared up halfway through and couldn’t read the music anymore. I intuited that this was an emotional intimacy not necessarily granted to those closer to him, and my husband in his shock when I conveyed this to him confirmed it. We are each other’s emotional informants. Each of our parents shares with the other something too tender, maybe, to stand alongside the images of themselves they built up as parents over decades—too tender to be shared with your kid. So you share it with your kid’s wife, and she tells your kid and vice versa, because these are the parts of our parents we crave.

As the music climbed to its peak, not mournful but warm and welcoming, I rebelled against it with the visceral sense that the shining tones of all the instruments together were like my mom’s squeeze of my hand as doctors huddled with scalpels and tweezers over part of my face after an injury: it was consolation I couldn’t accept. I held completely and totally still, controlling my breathing, not squeezing back even a hairsbreadth, because to do so, to welcome in that comfort, would be to take in more tenderness than I could deal with. Shittily-applied topical analgesics and needles sticking through my face I could take, if barely, but someone acknowledging that that must suck, and that they would make it better if they could, would derail me. It was also, I thought, scrambling desperately to come up with analogies for the situation to distract myself from the music’s onward march, like the feeling I got when offered a tissue at my grandmother’s funeral, watching my dad cry at the podium as he attempted to read the book she’d read to him when he’d had scarlet fever when young. I shook my head fiercely when the offer came my way; I refused to look at the tissue box. Or when my calculus teacher said I’d rather not know my grade. I am more wrecked by your attempt to help me than by whatever you’re attempting to help me survive.

[[Several paragraphs eaten by crappy app. Thanks, Tumblr.]]

So I looked at the nine-year olds and the eight year-olds and the seven-year olds in the audience, surrounded by adults sniffling into tissues and sleeves, and wondered how much they understood. And how much their parents thought they understood. I imagined there was a fairly large discrepancy there.

And maybe it’s a necessary one. Maybe everyone needs to continue the fiction of the kids being all right, in order for there to be any hope of the kids being all right.

What Makes a Good Woman?

Whether it’s The Heavy or Tom Waits or The Good Men Project, there is (and, I think, always has been) an awful lot of discussion about what a good man is, or should be, and how one ought to go about becoming one. And what I’m curious to know is why no one seems to be asking the same of us women. 

Is it because we know already, or because we think that to define it is placing constraints on us that we fought so long to remove? Is the [male idea of] being a good woman just not sleeping with anyone else? Is it being able to say to one’s chosen mate “yeah, that taller/more successful/’better’ in whatever way male over there, I’m not sleeping with him, I’m sleeping with you instead?” That seems a terribly low standard. And yet I don’t see anything else being put out in popular culture (which is heteronormative, let’s be depressingly clear) as defining what “being a good woman” is.

It was this song by The Heavy that made me think of it. Why is it still acceptable to talk about being a good man, when by and large discussion of being a bad or good woman slips quickly, and likely justifiably, into accusations of sexism? If the only thing that determines whether you’re “good” or not is who you do or don’t sleep with, of course the entire idea is ridiculous and stunted and should be abandoned. (See: considering those women who don’t respond to your catcalls to be bitches, considering those who flirt with you but don’t sleep with you to be “bad,” considering those who are seen as toying with several men but committing to none of them as evil or conniving or manipulative in some way.)

So what makes a good woman? Are there other socially-cemented norms I’m not aware of? The only times I can think of the phrase “a good woman” being trotted out is when the male character talking about his good woman is reminiscing about a.) a meal she made, b.) how pretty she was before she died, or c.) how she put up with some fault or failure in him without leaving him.

Is that it? Is that all it takes to be stamped with the label of “good?” If that’s it, no wonder we have little interest in pursing “good woman” status. But if we can look at that and know it’s not worth pursuing, why are all these men still trying to be “good men?” What does it mean for them? Not beating women? Not impregnating people and then skipping off on child support? Showing up for Thanksgiving at your mother’s house? Driving a baseball bat into the face of the man who raped your sister? What makes a good man?

And why do we care? 

wild 4

That was a damn fine book.