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Holding the Disk At Bay: The Power of Clear(er) Self-Perception

From Flickr user Dani P.L.

From Flickr user Dani P.L.

The current working title of my memoir is I Am Coming In From the Other Side: This is Me Finding My Way.

While drafting, which took place over a couple of years, starting in mid 2011, I had to get into sticky, uncomfortable places with myself. I had to think hard and look hard about choices I’ve made and why I’ve made them and whether or not I’m proud of those choices. I had to take a hard, honest look at interactions I’ve had with other people and figure out what was really going on.

I had to think about my parents, a lot.

There were moments of triumph and pride and breakthrough, yes.

But there were also dark moments of crippling self-scrutiny, self-pity, and clear, sharp anger with myself, with situations I put myself in, frustration with myself at all the things I couldn’t possibly have known.

There were moments during the drafting that I felt clearer than I’ve ever felt.

But then, after, about a third of the way through the fifth or sixth round of substantive revisions, and at a fortuitous break in my generally high levels of productivity, I felt like the clarity shattered around me. Like I was standing inside a light bulb that someone BBed.

I understood, beyond intellectually, the titular metaphor in Plath’s The Bell Jar.

I understood the impulse to end it all.

Those two things scared the shit out of me.

I spent too much time on TV and not enough on writing or being a connected mother and partner. I wept what felt like constantly. I couldn’t even think about myself, but I worried about myself unrelentingly. It was like being numb but in deep, un-feelable pain at the same time.

So I started going to therapy, which was a thing I’d been thinking about doing for a years.

I now feel  like I’d been fingering the edges of this great disk of anxiety that was just kind of hanging out inside me, barely holding it at bay while it influenced me in ways I didn’t recognize and couldn’t understand.

I have only just begun to untangle this with my counselor.

But I have reinhabited myself; my self-comfort, self-confidence has started to return. My focus on the important day-to-day stuff sharpens with startling ease and quickness. I found my way into my MFA paper. I have begun to learn how to recognize and stop specious feelings of guilt. I have started to practice, at my counselor’s urging, really looking at what’s happening when I have a stress response or when I get a big feeling, so I understand triggers and can use them for good instead of evil.

Nothing in my life is different except for my understanding of what’s going on in my body. I needed help to figure it out.

I also needed the honest desire to do so.

I feel powerful and alive and hopeful in ways I have not for some time. Getting these back are like re-encountering old, dear friends with whom everything is easy and good.

So you’ll be able to imagine the empathy I felt when watching this documentary trailer: The Brainwashing of my Dad. I wish I could give money to the Kickstarter Campaign, but I missed it.

My dad experienced a similar thing ten years after Jen Senko’s dad. I cannot WAIT to watch that movie, to look at the locus of my dad’s strident, wrong-headed politics, to have affirmation that the religious right (or whatever its most current name is–T-baggers?) are intellectually irresponsible.

The ideological, philosophical, and religious differences between me and my parents, and my personal, persistent inability to shove myself into a box that would please them, are really the root of my desire to write  a memoir at all.

And even though it has been hard and intense, I’m really glad I had the freedom to do it, I’m really glad for the lessons about myself I’ve learned in the process, and I am wildly grateful that I live in a time where even poor people can get health insurance and afford to go to counseling.

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More Things For Writey Folk: Resources

Hi!

These last two Wednesdays have been gobbled up by life. Yesterday, I was going to tell you the story of Child’s sleepover + the strange overheard conversations + the way in which my child’s personality and her friend The Anarchist’s personality are well-suited for sustained play. I was going to post pictures of egg dyeing and everything.

Alas, egg dyeing happened precisely 3 hours later than it was supposed to, so I set them up with three dozen eggs, 9 colors, some “magic crayons,” and made dinner in the adjacent room without remembering to take pictures, which would surprise nobody who knows me.

In productive news, I made a new logo, see?

new logo!

new logo!

And now I’m going to share more writey folk stuff.

  • There are a lot of writing workshops available at community arts centers. Check your local one. If you live near me (North Central PA), you should keep checking here + subscribe to my blog so you get an email every time I post, I will post details and perhaps even my next newsletter, if I can figure out how to get the dang subscribe widget to work. A number of folks have contacted me about the workshops I offer at a local college and why they never run (not my rules), so I’m going rogue (again), and I’ll be offering Wednesday night workshops starting at the end of June at The Pajama Factory. Details to come, but in the meantime, you can make suggestions or requests here.
  •  The Review Review. SIGN UP FOR THEIR NEWSLETTER. It is special. This is tidily organized information you need to break into the lit mag scene, or stay sane in it, including job opportunities, even paid ones (a rarity for us writey types), and tons of useful, enlightening articles, posts, and interviews, like this one by my good writey friend Beth Bates. (tech note: at the time of this writing, Beth’s website proper was not loading, I suspect server maint, and I didn’t want to send ya’ll on a wild goose chase. But please do check her website, http://www.bethbateswritingediting.com, it is bea-you-tiful).
  • Lit Reactor. I found out about these energetic, passionate humans at AWP. They gave me a free T-shirt. Aside from a really cool logo and turbo-professional website, this is a place full of what seem to be excellent, targeted writing workshops available online. Online learning ain’t for everybody, I reckon, but if you live in like BF North Dakota or something, maybe it’s your only option, or maybe you’re too busy to get to a class, or maybe you just love, love, love to interact with people in modern-day forums (online learning is fun and flexible). PLUS, their “magazine” tab is chock full of humorous blog posts, earnest commentary, and essays about craft. It’s important to read essays about craft if you want to be a writer. It’s important to read all the time if you want to be a writer.

Thanks for your patience!

See you next week!

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Three Neato Inspiring Things for Writey Folk

From Flickr user Cali4Beach

From Flickr user Cali4Beach

  • First, Button Poetry. I’m sending you to their foundation page, but there are loads of wonderful, educational, inspiring, well-performed, energetic pieces on their YouTube channel.
  • Next, American Life in Poetry, a free column edited by former US Poet Laureate Ted Kooser. It’s lovingly posted each week, and is a great place to find new poets to read/love/internet stalk.
  • 750 Words is a semi-social online writing experience. It is not for blogging or for writing for public consumption. A lot of people who want to write have told me they’re paranoid about sharing their work, but that they’re at a loss for maintaining accountability. This is a site to help build the discipline to write every day, based on the concept of Morning Pages. You can make friends, get rewards, and have “friends” or writers you follow. Try it free for 30 days, after that it’s $5/month–cheaper than 3 pages a day worth of pens and paper for sure.
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Funk Life With Community and Woodpecker

From Flickr user DNAMichaud

From Flickr user DNAMichaud

I have traditionally avoided funks by being addicted to productivity. If I am constantly in a flurry of activity, I cannot introspect enough to be depressed.

I become anxious if I’m not getting stuff done. (I think, lately, because I’m scared of facing myself.)

But this semester, I have intentionally lightened my load.

The result? I have been in a 3-month long funk of rage and sadness.

The usual thing (writing) isn’t helping. Neither is working out. Though I’m still doing both. Less than I’d like to be.

I have been getting much, much less done; and I’m trying to be okay with that. It’s hard.

I’m not saying this to elicit pity, so if it is your impulse to say something like, “It’ll get better!” and “You go girl!” please don’t. I know it will get better. I am totally going.

I am sharing about my funk because funk shouldn’t be taboo. Because women’s funk especially should not be taboo. A lot of us have memorized lessons that say, “contentment is not your birthright: internalize and adjust, you can make everyone happy.”

I’m calling shenanigans on all that. That shit is a recipe for an eternal motherfunking funk.

There’s a lot of media about women in extreme funks: substances and addiction, abuse, approximate or near life-ending funks.

This funk I’m having isn’t anything like that.

This is a low-grade, sometimes ignorable funk. But ignorable funks are dangerous: my intuition is lower, I feel like checking out. Ignoring things that are important can have lasting physical, emotional, and financial consequences.

But funks are also a healthy part of the process. And I’m learning how to use it to be a better person, instead of just ignoring it or launching back into a frenzy of hyper productivity. I’m making conscious, deliberate, steps toward no mo funk. Or low mo funk.

Part of my funk is the result of plugging into books about women, about feminism. Intentionally becoming more tuned in to my daughter’s education (which is fucking depressing and a post for another day). Paying attention to politics.

Looking at myself and the ways in which my religious, rural upbringing has shaped the way I think about myself and other women, how I have voluntarily believed(and sometimes still believe) I am not worthy or deserving of things that, frankly, I want. Basic things like professional fulfillment and money and self-assurance, confidence, and to be taken seriously by people in authority.

I’m staring the fact that I talk myself out of a lot of self-confidence directly in the face.

I’m trying to figure out how to stop getting in my own way when I want to communicate in important and meaningful ways.

I am trying to get to the locus of my fear.

I am trying to become a better woman so I can teach my daughter to be powerful and self-actualized and know how to ask for and pursue what she wants without feeling like an imposter.

And over the last few days, I’ve had a couple of experiences in my communities that made me feel relevant. And strong. And proud.

So I want to take this moment to be grateful for my communities and share them with you.

One of the communities, the best one is the Wilkes Creative Writing community. Just being connected to so many productive writers gives me the warm fuzzies. So many of my peers, friends, colleagues, and teachers from Wilkes are doing amazing things.

This is 5 out of 900 things that just crossed my Facebook feed yesterday and early this morning.

The fabulous Trilby wrote me special to ask for a submission to her new online journal, Red Lit. (You should check it out and submit, too).

And an editor at a tiny press who has my manuscript has been sending me poems and links that my work reminds him of, challenging my thinking and being generally awesome.

And the facebook group dedicated to raising awareness to Opt Out of Standardized Testing for PA has provided assurance that I am not, in fact, insane. And encouragement and advice when I was seriously millimeters from letting apathy win.

I had a wonderful, long, simpatico conversation with a district administrator when I showed up to opt Child out of the PSSAs.

And last week, after a failed hour with Angie’s List and web searches for talk therapists in my region, I put out a Facebook update asking for recommendations of secular (you wouldn’t believe how difficult this is in my area), female talk therapists so that I can get help to untangle this mess in my head. This mess that I don’t even have specific words for. My friends delivered. And I even have insurance. Thanks, Obamacare.

It feels good to do things that give me power and that I want to do. Small steps.

Anybody care to share a moment of funk? Or a month or year? How did you get out of it? or How did you cope?

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RAGE AGAINST THE PENIS PUMPS!

From Flickr User ChadMageria

From Flickr User ChadMageria

Samantha Bee did a spot on The Daily Show about Medicare funding penis pumps. Now, I know the spin is outrageous, and sometimes rhetorical, and meant for entertainment, but usually there’s truth to what they report on The Daily Show.

I thought, I can’t believe it. Sometimes dear Sam Bee goes over the top.

So I googled.

Lo and behold: The Atlantic, CBS, NBC, hell, even fucking Fox News corroborated. But only in the context of the government paying an average of $360 per pump. I googled that, too. There were a number of fine, fancy, multi-speed models for well under $100.

Then I cried. For like an hour. Big sobs. For people who are born one sex, but identify as another, whose choice to do so is suspect. For anybody who was not born into favorable class, race, ethnicity, sex. For my sweet girl, who has to grow up in this world full of asinine, inexcusable double standards like this one.

I cried for the shot abortion doctors, for myself and other women who’ve paid thousands of dollars for birth control, for young, poor, or sick women whose access to reproductive choice is constantly under attack by the very same population who need a medicare funded penis pump. By the very same population who called Sandra Fluke a harlot for advocating for the women’s health issues related to birth control.

By the very same population who would not consider gender reassignment a viable option for government funding, or other-gendered people to be a part of this conversation at all.

Look, It’s not about the penis pump. It isn’t.

I identify as a sex positive feminist, that is, I am a feminist who likes sex and thinks people should have it if they want to, whatever kind they choose, and does not, in general, view it as another conquering act by men, but instead a mutually enjoyable pastime, when between consenting adults.

Of course, I know that makes me a slut.

But let’s be for real. Penis pumps and birth control (including abortion) are not perfectly analogous. First, do penis pumps ever prevent life-threatening medical events? Do penis pumps ever prevent men from living in constant pain and/or extreme bleeding? Are penis pumps ever a surgical procedure requiring anesthesia (and therefore its own set of separate life risks)? These are honest, not rhetorical questions. We’ll get to the rhetorical part later.

So why is there no debate about government funding for penis pumps (only noting the fact that medicare is over paying), but there’s constant debate about government funding birth control, abortion, sexual reassignment surgery, etc.

Penis pumps do fall safely on the spectrum of reproductive choice, for whatever reason a man wants or needs one (recreation, medical inability to achieve an erection, curiosity), the ability to get and maintain an erection, a healthy, normal part of the male sexual experience, is a reproductive choice. To ejaculate or not to ejaculate?: That is the question.

Why the hell is nobody picketing the penis pump clinic? Unnecessary ejaculation (that is, sex for pleasure) is interpreted by both orthodox Judiasm and Catholicism as sinful. Where are the lines of Catholics outside the VA clinic? Why has nobody ever anywhere written a sign that says, “GOD SAYS NO PUMPS!” and “PENIS PUMPS ARE MURDER!”

Let me be absolutely clear, I have no issue with government funded penis pumps, as long as government funding things that make it easier for men to enjoy their sexuality are treated with the same scrutiny as those that enable women, transgender people, and homosexuals to do the same.

Here are two recent pieces of news: From the National Women’s Law Center discussing the state-level overreach into reproductive choice; And a piece in Rolling Stone about the stealth war on abortion. You can read as much as you want about that, just google “laws preventing women’s access to reproductive choice.”

So now, in the case of the government funded penis pump; I’d like to use some of the rhetorical devices that have been developed by enterprising conservatives for discussing non male, nonwhite, non cis-gender, use of, pursuit of reproductive choice, enjoy:

Men who can’t get erections do not deserve access to penis pumps because they’re being naturally selected against.

God hates men who need penis pumps.

If a man really, really wants an erection, the penis has a way of just getting it up.

An inability to get an erection must be God’s punishment for bad sexual choices in a man’s past.

If a man is being raped, his body has a way of shutting that whole thing down so he can’t maintain an erection. What if these penis pumps, that act against God’s will, are appropriated by rapists?!

If a man can’t get an erection, it’s because God doesn’t want him to.

Penis pumps are unnatural, an abomination, a cosmetic device. A man should have other ways to derive sexual enjoyment than via his penis.

A man does not deserve a penis pump because his inability to get an erection is not a life-threatening condition.

A man does not deserve the choice whether to get an erection, wanting to get an erection when he can’t makes him a slut. A gigolo. A person of low moral standards.

I know! Let’s make a law: if a man wants a penis pump, he should have to endure a probe ultrasound (into his urethra), without local anesthetic, narrated by his doctor, to ensure there is actually a medical problem that warrants one.

Can you think of any others?

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An Ode to My (Unintentionally Feminist) Auto Mechanic

From Flickr User motor74. A much newer edition of my car.

From Flickr User motor74. A much newer edition of my car.

There are about 3 things in my life right now that I wish were different. The main one is that I wish I hadn’t landed, as an adult, a mere 100 miles from where I grew up, in the same state. I wanted to be someplace more urban. Or at least some rural scene that is less familiar. Like in Alaska or something.

A good mechanic is hard to find anywhere, though.

I’ve found my good mechanics more often by talking to other women than by luck.

My car is not a country car. It rebels against potholes and ice. It has about as much get-up as a 90-year-old mule. It is tiny, great for parallel parking, and has a manual transmission, which is the only thing that saves me in the snow. It is also inexpensive and great on fuel. It would be a great city car. I would be a great city girl.

Recently, a terrifying noise started coming from someplace under my car.

A loud tapping or ticking that I could feel in the steering column and under my feet as I turned hard to the right. Or left. Or soft to the right or left. I worried it was a bad shock because suddenly whenever I went over a small bump, my head hit the ceiling and Child complained about being car sick. On the way to school. Ten minutes.

I worried it was my axle which, when I thought about it, was more like this: I hope it’s not my fucking expensive.

So I called my auto mechanic. The trusty and affordable Bob Creveling of Creveling’s Garage & Towing.

I found Creveling’s by accident. My car shit out last winter parked in front of a girlfriend’s house for coffee after dropping our kids at the bus stop. A super nice country-dweller helped me get it started, then we took it up to Creveling’s. I had no clue what was wrong, and extremely limited financial resources.

Bob Creveling asked me what was happening, listened, nodded, and offered a hypothesis without talking down to me.

When he figured out what was wrong, he explained it to me and answered my questions without acting like I had no right to be asking them.

When he gave me the bill, it was under $100.

I wish I could tell you this is normal in my experience.

It is not.

I bet other women will attest that it’s not.

I bet other women have horror stories about paying $4,000 for repairs that they later found would’ve cost $600 at a different garage.

Here are other times Bob + Renee Creveling have gone out of their way to make my car work without costing a million dollars: My muffler got a hole in it and was making a terrible noise. A new muffler would’ve cost $600 before markup. Bob welded it back together and charged me $90. My car needed a tuneup (new spark plugs). It has these fancy iridium tipped sparkplugs that cost $20 each. They didn’t mark them up, at all.

Once, I took my car there for an oil change and waited. It was spring and they allowed Child and I to sit on the back porch of their home (they live in the same building as the garage) and watch their little TV. They gave me coffee. When my car was done, Bob came and sat down and had coffee with us. He asked Child about school. He asked me about life. We talked about country beauty, the sound of the creek.

Not in a creepy way. In a nice guy with good people skills way.

In a way that evinces trust of human kind, sincerity, a desire to be kind and to do right by people.

So when I drove up to Creveling’s gingerly on Monday morning, I was already a little in love with the Crevelings.

I avoided bumps and I tried to steer gently. I didn’t go too fast.

Bob accidentally locked my key in my car, then lent me his car so I could go get my spare set from town, twenty minutes away.

When I got back, he offered to drive me somewhere while he looked at my car. I just walked down the street to the Trout Run Hotel (ahem, bar, always fun people watching/listening) and had some lukewarm coffee while I read stuff.

About an hour later, Bob showed up, told me what was wrong with my car, and asked me if I could find a ride home. The driver’s side ball joint and spring were shot, and I needed new rear brakes to pass inspection. He said he thought it would be better if I could avoid driving the car.

Then, when I went back to Creveling’s to meet my ride, he invited me into his garage and showed me, while my car was on the lift, what was wrong with it. He showed me the parts that were broken, explained how they were broken and how that would affect my car’s life and my driving experience and my tires.

He said, “You women need to know your cars so you can avoid getting taken advantage of. I’ve seen it so many times.”

I said “You’re right. Thank you. So, so much.”

The next day, he stayed at work till 7:30 to get my car done. He called me to let me know it was ready.

Wednesday morning, Fella drove me up the hill. He said, “Did he tell you how much?”

I said, “I didn’t think to ask. I know it will be fair.”

And it was. I was expecting close to a grand. My bill was $400.

I love my mechanic, his staff, and his life partner. If I ever do get to the city, I will want to take them with me. I will have anxiety about leaving a garage I can trust.

Anybody else have a bad or awesome mechanic story to share?

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