Lend me some fresh air

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During recent drives, I’ve had a couple of albums on rotation in my car’s CD player, and they’ve gotten me thinking about women and anger.

Specifically, I’ve been revisiting Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill and Fiona Apple’s Tidal, originally released in 1995 and ’96, respectively. I was nine and ten years old at those moments, though it’s my pre-teen years I most heavily associate those songs with, as they both received decent to heavy radio play at least through the late ’90s.

I remember first being struck by Apple’s explicit youth; she was only 19 when Tidal crashed onto air and television waves. The biggest hit from it, and the video that played on MTV and VH1 pretty regularly, featuring in top 10 countdown after countdown, was of course “Criminal,” which I had learned to not only sing but mimic fairly closely in vocal styling by the time I was 13. Rewatching it, there is no question as to how young Apple really is. I remember being struck most, secondly, how much she looked like me. I was reedy-thin, big-eyed (also blue), with long dirty blonde hair, too tomboyish to look feminine. I had a disarming stare, too; so much so I’d been advised not to look people directly in the eye, which I eventually trained myself out of doing. Fiona did not: she confronted the camera directly throughout the entire video, no matter who she was crawling over, who was hanging off of her stark body; almost the entirety of that now-classic album cover is taken up by those eyes, those big icy blue eyes, looking right at you. I looked like her; I could sound like her. I wasn’t as angry as her — not yet. Until those particular years, I didn’t feel it was really allowed.

It can be argued it was never really allowed for her — for any woman, truly — either. Despite struggling with the aftermath of her rape, an eating disorder, depression, self-harm, PTSD, and so on… she was never given remotely near the leeway we give our beloved, “eccentric” — typically code for “unapologetic asshole” — male artists. The unfairness of this, particularly taking into account all the additional labor expected of women all our lives — the emotional labor, the caretaker roles, the inoffensive and quiet smile assumed to naturally come with all of it — can’t be understated, either. There is so little room allowed for a woman’s anger, no matter how young and talented she may be. I didn’t care, and loved her anyway, and I loved her anger maybe most of all. I mimicked it when I sang it; I aspired to it, almost.

The opening lyrics to Tidal — nothing arriving first to cushion them in any way, just a sparse, dry snare drum beat — are still probably some of my favorites that Apple ever penned — and given her talents as a lyricist, that is no small praise — and they too are directly, purely, deeply angry:

I tell you how I feel, but you don’t care
I say tell me the truth, but you don’t dare
You say love is a hell you cannot bear
And I say “Give me mine back and then go there
For all I care”

(Emphasis mine, but there is no denying that is how she sings it.) It was the most powerful, immediate, introductory “fuck you” I’d ever heard from a woman, let alone one still under 20, like me. I looked like her, I could sound like her; I could be angry like her, too.

The only woman I remember listening to during those formative years who sounded as angry, in as visceral and unapologetic a manner, was Alanis, and Jagged had only come out the year before. It is the quintessential “angry girl” album of the ’90s, but because of that assessment, it still feels underrated to me. Or maybe the proper word is really “underestimated.” You can crack as many (arguably fair) jokes about the misapplication of the entire concept of “Ironic”‘s lyrics, or make as many laughing asides about Joey from Full House as you like, but the indisputable fact remains: there was no other album as commercially successful, nor as familiar to so many mainstream music listeners of a particular decade, that was as angry as Jagged Little Pill.

My favorite Alanis song off Jagged was always “Not the Doctor.” It’s undoubtedly an album crammed full of one great song after another, which is why current teenage girls still buy it on any format in the record shop I work in to this day, but that track in particular was the one I loved most then, and still do now. I only wish that, when I was singing along to it then, I’d had even the barest inkling of what it truly meant, even if such a thing wasn’t possible; I hadn’t (yet) been used, abused, or discarded by men in the way that allows for a deeper identification with that song. But the entire thing is a screed of different metaphorical ways to say “I will not carry your extremely tiresome fucking baggage.” It’s a deeply important song for any young girl to hear for that reason alone, even if we’re not able to fully absorb it, no matter how much I wish I could have. It makes it a bittersweet listen now. Just look at all those isolated “I don’t want”s:

I don’t want to be the filler if the void is solely yours
I don’t want to be a bandage if the wound is not mine
I don’t want to be adored for what I merely represent to you
I don’t want to be your babysitter
I don’t want to be your mother
I don’t want to be the sweeper of the egg shells that you walk upon
I don’t want to be your other half
I don’t want to be the glue that holds your pieces together
I don’t want to be your idol
I don’t want to be lived through
I don’t want to be responsible for your fractured heart
(And its wounded beat)

(There are a few more, but those were the ones most identifiable to me now as things that became far too familiar to me as more than just concepts, later in life.) It’s such an adamant refusal of being the dependable dumping ground so many men casually expect women to always be.

The killer one-two punch between the two of them: Fuck you. I don’t want this. (Do better, be better. God, but the bar for men is so pathetically low.)

It’s been comforting, too, listening to these again, despite the bittersweetness. Those angry girls were everything to me then. I was still small, still shy, but when a pack of boys descended on me one late afternoon when I was 13, I finally recognized I had the freedom to be angry. I broke one of their noses even with his fingers crushing down on my trachea and his knee in my chest. He said he would kill me and I thought, I’ll claw your fucking eyes out while you do it. I screamed so loud at him it felt like my throat would tear — I sounded like a wild animal; the sound carried so far belated help finally came running from the other end of the campus — and it was not because I was afraid: I had never been more consumed by fury in my life. I was so angry there wasn’t any room left for fear. Before those girls and their songs, no one had ever really told me what hardly anyone ever tells little girls:

Own your anger. Unleash it even as they slam you into concrete and make you bleed. It will save your life.

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Proxy

Somewhat of a theme with the post preceding this one…

Let’s talk about placeholder women for a minute, shall we?

Let’s talk about substitute women.

Let’s talk about stopgap women.

Let’s talk about the myriad ways men simply use and discard women once we become difficult, complex.

Let’s talk about how hard it is to trust men, how deftly men weave webs of false intimacy, how quickly all that disappears once someone they actually respect enough to make a real effort with comes along.

Let’s talk about how all these are varying degrees of gaslighting women.

Let’s talk about how men drive women crazy with all this, then laugh at us for getting emotional about any of it.

Let’s talk about how sneaky emotional fakery can be.

Deviousness is such a feminized word, but let’s talk about the natural skill men have for it.

Let’s talk about how socializing us to be “good” women means priming us for all of this, not for anything real.

Let’s talk about being the most convenient woman around, then about what becomes of you once you’ve been humanized, and are no longer so convenient.

Let’s talk about the humiliation in discovering what you’ve been treated as this late in life.

Let’s talk about that very particular, yet so common, degradation of a woman.

Let’s talk about how she forgives herself for allowing herself to be used in such a way.

I don’t know how. Do you?

Pastedown

Being reminded how much of me has been papered over or just plain forgotten in the minds of others of late really drove home how much I need to finish writing the massive thing I’ve been trying to write for at least two months now. More than, really; going on three, now.

Maybe two or three people, if any, will ever actually read it, but I’m realizing more than ever now that most of the things I remember — both the ones I chose to, and the ones I wish I didn’t; I seem to remember everything, and can’t help this even when trying to avoid it — are only ever going to be of any real note, importance, significance or otherwise to me, and me alone. Apparently if I don’t create some sort of record for myself, no one else will bother to remember them. Maybe that’s the conundrum of life, but who doesn’t wish, even just secretly, to be important enough to someone to actually stay in their mind?

It’s a nebulous way to feel. I’ve always been easily forgotten, but when it’s among those who supposedly care, that will always sting more.

Llorando

Mulholland Drive is one of my all-time favorite films, but it can also plunge me into the depths of truly unique melancholy. I remember once standing in line outside a different theater than the one I watched it in tonight, unable to avoid overhearing some young guy haughtily attempting to “explain” what the movie means to the poor, trapped girl with him. In the moment, I just had to laugh to myself about the likelihood that such a conversation would piss off no one more than David Lynch himself. Still, the older I get, the more I work through and survive, the more deeply the film seems to affect me. Maybe it’s a film which has threads that are only navigable if you recognize the feelings explored through them.

If you’ve come to a city, full of dreams, the place itself often described the same way, and watched them all shrivel away. If you’ve had something creative that you felt was yours wrenched out of your control, twisted beyond recognition. If you’ve attempted, feeling buried and trapped by the best and worst of your memories, to re-write your own history in a far better, softer light. (Naomi Watts’ incredible duality cannot be under-praised in this respect. The smiling, big-eyed idealism and breezy confidence of her fictionalized Betty persona, compared with her brokenhearted, bitter and raw, gaping wound of a real Diane is something to behold.) If you’ve ever wanted to imagine yourself as an arrival on a film set who commands the attention and drops the jaw of the director himself, as opposed to the one more invisible nobody that you are. If you’ve ever, hopelessly naively, given your heart to a charming, flighty, selfish Camilla. It’s all there, all at once. It’s beautiful, and dark, and hopeless, and overwhelming.

Walking out of the theater tonight, though it was already after 10:30, I knew I couldn’t go straight home. My life in general has felt almost completely unmoored of late — my family, my work, my measly personal life — and all I felt able or driven to do was continue walking. Which I did, for well over two hours. I reached a point where my legs, particularly the injured one, were protesting enough that I wondered if I would make it home, though I kept on. I think I was looking for something, anything, out in the night to help me feel less alone, or at least as if I still belonged here.

I only encountered things that came across as the opposite of encouraging, naturally. Even the little feral cats I used to visit in their yard, who I had particularly been hoping to see, were nowhere to be found; perhaps I’ve been away too long, and am just another stranger to them now, though I didn’t even see any slinking silhouettes in the dark. What I did see: a dead rat; broken bottles galore. Winding my way back west, I passed a man clinging to a pay phone, one of the few remaining that still functions, pleading and sobbing over the phone line, with someone who was not here with him. I knew how he felt, too.

Perhaps the time when there may have been anything or anyone out there for me to find comfort or encouragement from is over. Maybe the time before now, even, was — as the band leader reminds us in Club Silencio — “all an illusion.”

There is a stretch of Fountain Avenue that crosses briefly over the 101 freeway. It is so dark, late at night, along this particular piece of road, no one — if there even is anyone around, which there rarely is — can see you; it’s a struggle to even see the sidewalk ahead of you. It is a safe place for someone like me to cry when she never wants anyone to see. It’s a place where, though I’ve personally never quite reached suicidal feelings, even at my most depressed, I can briefly understand the impulse that drives people to jump off highway overpasses. It is loud, and bright, and nothing beneath you will stop, even when everything stops for you. It would be over quickly, if one were to do it. It would be forgotten maybe an hour or two later, afterward. The cars will keep on driving.

Naturally, I eventually made it back, only to discover I’d worn a hole through a favorite pair of socks. A fitting end to a meaningless journey in the dark.

The scene when Camilla leads Diane up the hill in the night, through a “secret path” in the brush, and Diane looks down and smiles to see her hand holding hers, and Angelo Badalamenti’s score sweeps through you… I’m not sure any other scene in a movie can make my heart ache more. It is the last moment she still believes in the illusion of her life, and her love, as if any of it was real.

It doesn’t last, of course. Not long after, she goes mad with grief and guilt; she kills herself. But at least, for that one final moment, the fantasy of what she’d thought she once had still feels like it might have been real.

There is a house.

There is a house.

There is a house, and it is out in the woods, or up in the hills, or beside a lake, or alone in a sprawling valley. It is late morning, it is early afternoon, it’s late at night and the stars are out.

There is a house, and I know this is a dream because I know that it is somehow mine. Nothing when I am awake ever belongs to me, but this house is mine, and this is a dream. This should make it a good dream, but it is all a trick, it is an illusion.

I am running up the stairs, in the house, and they change direction, or orientation, or the light falls on them differently, when it is there, and when it is not, the dark swallows them up behind me. I run up the stairs as they disappear behind me, falling away like dominoes. I don’t see them, I don’t turn around, they make no sound, but I feel them pulling away, almost still beneath the backs of my heels. I run up the stairs; there are so many stairs. I am dreaming, and so I do not count the stairs, like I always do when I am awake, and so I know it is a dream.

He is there with me, or he was, until he wasn’t any longer. The house is mine, and it is in my dream, but still, nothing can stay; the stairs, the walls keep moving around. We are in bed together at first, every time, tangled in warm sheets, without a care in the world. He is smiling down at me, stroking my hair, he is happy to see me, and so I know this is a dream. The more I realize none of it is real, the more it unravels, the way that dreams do.

He says something he seems to find funny, but it is harsh or cruel; there is a tapping at the window; there is a knocking at the door. I know who it is, I don’t know their name, but I know who it is. It is the same person it always is, face changing like a shape-shifter; I know it is someone better, someone more beautiful, more compelling, more talented and vibrant, stronger and worthy than me; it is someone lovable. When you have never been good enough, there are an infinite number of better someones out there. That will never be me, because I am none of these things, so of course he is gone, if he was ever there with me at all. He is walking up the stairs, he is walking down the stairs, all those stairs, wherever they go, I can hear his voice, but where did he go? No, he is gone; he doesn’t speak to me, not anymore. The rooms keep moving, the walls fall away; I do not know where he went, I will never know, I only know I’ve been left behind.

There are no stairs, there are no walls, there is no bed. There was never a house. There was only ever me, the same in waking as I was as the nightmare always closes: only ever me, alone in the dark.

How do I work this?

I had a thing, for a good portion of my years in school, all the way up through high school — likely influenced at least somewhat by my godfather, a highly sought after architect of, at that time, the richest homeowners in the country — about occasionally but obsessively designing my own imaginary house. Thinking back now, I’m not entirely sure where the desire to do so came from: I loved my childhood house. (And I do mean I loved it; I was fiercely devoted to it in a way I’ve never felt about any other place I’ve lived, observed and lived within it with deep affection and attachment for as long as I could remember, photographed it obsessively once I knew we’d be moving out after 17 years living there.)

doors

Doors (Carmel Valley, 19 April 2004). When I say I documented my childhood house obsessively, before we left (June 2004), I mean it sincerely. There was a light that lived in that house, which I did my best to capture — my father imparted to me the importance of the meaning of photography, which is “to paint with light” — but have never encountered anywhere else I’ve visited or lived. I’m always looking for it, but I have never found it again. I don’t imagine I ever will. The only place it still lives is in a few achingly earnest photographs I took when I was 17 and mourning.

Maybe it was just one more way of exercising my visual thinking acuity, or just another doodling outlet or outlet for my little Lego-loving ass… Maybe it was just a little girl who’d never known what it was like to have money trying to imagine a world where you get to create your own living space, the way they entice you to do in home style magazines and those early demo computers in hardware stores: the way rich people do. It definitely is to blame for my long-lasting and bizarrely fierce dedication to the use of graphing paper. To this day, any time I move, I still create a scale model of the room I’ll be moving into, complete with loose pieces representing every piece of furniture, and plot it all out before I actually lift any boxes or hammer any nails in.

This past weekend, the landlord has been (finally) doing some sorely needed renovations on the main bathroom in our apartment, which meant all three of us needed to find somewhere else to shower for a few days, while the paint and new caulking dried. Thanks to a very fortunate bit of timing, another tenant in the building, who’d lived in one of the upstairs units, to the east side of the building, just moved out at the end of January; we were able to wheedle the landlord’s permission to leave the back door to the place open for a few days, so we could make use of the shower up there, in the now vacant unit. I’ve lived in this building for over four years now, but I’d never once ventured upstairs, or even into another one of the six or seven other units, until now. (The fact that I’m honestly not sure — still! — whether there are six or seven besides ours probably makes that fairly embarrassingly clear.)

Walking into that apartment for the first time the other day, I was a bit floored, and suddenly wished, in a way I hadn’t done in many long years, that I could afford to live on my own. It reminded me of a game I once played with a childhood friend, where we’d run across the street from our neighborhood to the freshly built houses across the street — as San Diego expanded wildly in all directions and overbuilt itself into a sprawling suburban, traffic-ridden hell arguably worse than the bits of LA everyone bitches about the most — let ourselves into one of the three furnished model units the realtors always seemed to leave unlocked, and play dream house in them. But this, now, was somehow even better: this apartment here is, for the time being, blissfully empty. It’s a truly blank canvas.

It’s smaller overall, with fewer rooms — meant for one tenant (at most two), whereas we’re able to fit three into ours fairly well — and the bathroom itself, our point for having access to it now, is certainly smaller than ours. (No dedicated parking space either, so far as I know.) But… hardwood floors! Be still my heart. An A/C unit in the living room! Fewer rooms means they’re all at least somewhat larger, too, particularly the kitchen. Though the first thing I swooned at, even before the flooring, was the large picture windows facing out onto the main street. Sure, the bedroom is the closest to the street, but I sleep like the dead, so what do I care about road noise? Those windows are heavenly. There’s a ceiling fan in the bathroom, and their window isn’t painted shut! The air flow is divine. Then, of course, I turn to my right, and discover the walk-in closet, with its own window, and die a little inside. And, of course, fall a bit hopelessly in love with the whole thing.

It’s arguably a sillier fantasy now than it was when I was a little girl; pretending this great empty space is something I can furnish and arrange to my liking. At the rate I’m going, I’ll die never having had the luxury of living alone, let alone owning (or even renting) any property just for myself. Even considering it seems absurd. Still, for the first time since childhood, I know at least one little corner of my mind will be laying graphing paper gridding over those rooms in my mind, imagining what I could make of that fresh, open space, in that fantasy world that will never be, where it’s mine to do with whatever I want. Is it better or worse to be dreaming a little about a space that’s not only not entirely made up, for once, but that’s just a short trip up the stairs from where you already are? I’m honestly not sure.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was…

 

via Daily Prompt: Permit

So goodnight, dear void.

I shut this blog down some months ago, and I wasn’t sure when, or even if, I would ever revisit it. I wrote a good amount in it, for a while, but I wasn’t yet ready to confront myself fully within it. I know this because, inevitably, any time I posted anything, I was gripped eventually, if not almost immediately, by an insane desire to scrub the entirety of it, and possibly myself right along with it, from the earth. I could, and did, write honestly, but in a way that was the biggest problem. I could write these things about myself with a clear mind in the moments of initial expression, but then merely sitting back and being faced with myself as I am, once the words were down, even in bits and pieces, seemed somehow unbearable.

I’m more accepting of myself now. And I do believe I’m at least marginally less a ridiculous asshole than I was the last time I wrote here. I am at least more comfortable now with the fact that no one will likely ever read, nor care, about a single word left here but me.

Truth is: I’m the most impassioned pragmatist you’ll ever know; my fiercely guarded heart is more readily hijacked by hope than my deeply cynical ass will ever permit you to know.

Last year, that absolute bitch of a year, once it became obvious that my only really regular reader had completely disengaged, and that I was, in effect, writing to just one more empty room, I decided it was time to close up shop. It was all just a bit too on-the-nose emblematic of what the year had already cost me, and I did not need any more reminders. I’ve already got plenty of disparate Notepad documents languishing on my hard drive, full of ever-growing strands of thoughts to peck away at, if I really feel that strong an urge to loose another echo down the chamber; doing so in yet another pseudo-public space struck me as rather redundant, if not pathetic. I’m no stranger to talking to myself, after all; no true loner ever is. What use was one more anonymous, lonely space in which to do so? I had grown too disillusioned with it, by that time, to continue sincerely.

I’m not entirely sure what I’m opening this thing back up for, even now, while we’re being honest (and I suppose that would have to be the royal We; there’s no one else here left to address). It may be a decision — now that my mental health is much stronger, and I have far fewer fucks remaining to give — driven entirely by ambivalence. I do miss the community of a space, like an old (much different) blog of mine once had, but which has also since mostly died (yet is another space I seem bound to stubbornly keep alive). Who knows? Perhaps I’m just too old for blogging in this particular platform. I had hoped for more, and even had a bit, for a little while, until I didn’t.

We shall see. For now, I’ve only restored a fraction of the original content that once lived here; either pieces that actually did result in some small form of interaction at the time, or that I might have been somewhat proud of then, even if I’m not at all sure whether I can call myself proud of any of them any longer. The whole thing may disappear again, perhaps permanently, mere months from now; then again, it may not. My patience with its apparent pointlessness remains, for the time being, open, albeit limited. I’m hardly a writer, but then again, if the notion of constructing even the barest memoirs sometime in my future is ever meant to be realized, I imagine I will have to become far more accepting of the yawning futility of this space, first.