All The Black

I was about eight years old the last time I saw that kitchen we had back in Jacksonville.

When I remember it, I don’t immediately think of the white walls or the white refrigerator or the white panels of the floor. I’m not even positive that they were actually white. They must have been repainted when we packed up our things and moved, but all I truly remember about that kitchen is the black.

The charred black wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room, the soot lining the countertops… even the sky was pitch dark when it had happened, but I didn’t notice it until the morning, when I stumbled out of my bedroom and saw the broken glass and the ashes of old artwork collecting in the entryway.

It wasn’t a big fire by any means, because we still had a kitchen after it had burned out, but it was enough to incinerate any evidence that I had attended kindergarten by consuming all the work I had created and taped up above the counter. Not much else was there to destroy, besides some barely-singed magazines, there was only the broken candle holder that held the blame for the flames.

I was maybe five then. I had three additional years to account for between the fire and when we left Jacksonville, so I wonder why I don’t have more to remember about this kitchen. Shouldn’t I recall that those linoleum panels were the place where I learned to tie my sneakers, or that this was where I had exploded an entire bag of flour during a rogue science experiment, then attempted to wipe it up with a wet sponge? But the details of those clean, white memories, with soft shoelaces and filmy glue, are less ingrained in my mind. I can’t remember if I tied my shoes with two bunny ears or just one. I can’t remember what my mother said when she found me amongst the sticky, powdery mess. I mostly remember the singed walls, and all the black.

MELAINA’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

Fanfiction is Not ‘Cultural Mythmaking’

One of the most continuously infuriating things about being a writer is that everyone in the universe earnestly believes they could be one as well, regardless of actual skill-level or, indeed, the possession of opposable digits.

The reason I bring this up- other than being British and therefore obliged by heritage to complain about everything all the time- is that I recently read someone describe fanfiction as “cultural mythmaking”. Naturally, this activated some primitive, animal part of my brain and I spent the following five minutes howling inarticulately at the sky in rage and despair before face-planting into my laptop’s keyboard. Then I looked up, saw the offending line and triggered the cycle again- howl; face-plant; look up and see line; rinse and repeat. This continued until the laptop ran out of batteries. If it had been plugged in at the time, I’d be there still, worrying the neighbours with my ghostly wailing (they’re more used to my wailing being a little too articulate and full of swears, so I imagine the change of pace would alarm them, if nothing else).

Anyway, back to the point. Being a writer is a pain in the arse. You can spend a year or more meticulously crafting a novel with a unique setting and set of characters, or a similar length of time researching and compiling a rich factual text. And then someone who’s written a five-page unpunctuated slash-fic screed about how Sherlock once fucked a pumpkin wanders up and demands to be treated with the same level of legitimacy. At which point I can either accept that my chosen vocation is never going to be taken seriously or I can buy a shotgun and start sweeping little embarrassments like that under the rug serial killer-stylee. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but Option B is frowned on in most civilised societies.

Obviously, I didn’t extract all this fury from the simple comment that fanfic is “cultural mythmaking”- it’s just that that particular line (steeped in pretension as it is) is a perfectly encapsulated expression of the attitude I’ve come to despise in recent years. So let’s sit the fuck down, shut the fuck up and start dissecting it.

“Cultural mythmaking”… what does that term imply to you? It suggests a grandiosity of purpose; that the people involved in the endeavour are engaged reshaping (and even bettering) our collective cultural heritage and it implies that what they’re doing is deeply artistic in nature. Well, they’re not and it isn’t.

You see, folks, the main difference between actual writing and ‘fanfic’ is that actual writing consists of a multitude of different disciplines and failing in any one of them will result in either not getting published in the first place, your work being ignored once it’s out there, or you getting pilloried by any and every critic with an ounce of integrity. For one thing, in actual writing, you don’t just get to pick up characters that already exist and slot them into new settings and scenarios. Even if you take a pre-existing character (be it a real historical person or a literary figure), you have to reimaging them from the ground up, structuring a wholly new interpretation. And let me tell you, creating a cast of characters isn’t easy: you don’t just sit down and dream them up. For them to read well, you have to get inside their heads and work out what makes them tick on a fundamental level. It means dredging up notions, character traits, goals and desires lodged in your own brain that might be at odds with your real personality and subjecting them to the cold light of day. You mine yourself for raw data.

The same goes for setting: new fictional settings and real places alike have to be assessed anew and given a distinct feel and character that, again, can only come from mining yourself. Real writing involves spending a lot of time knee-deep in an internal quagmire of raw ideas, looking for usable pieces in the murk. Fanfic isn’t an expression of internal landscape in the same way. The skillsets involved aren’t comparable.

Luckily for me, I write schlock, by and large. I don’t write literature- just tacky horror and sci-fi novels. I never have to wade too deep into the quagmire: all the conceptual fuel I need for what I do floats near the surface. But I know writers- serious writers- who have actually gone into whatever abyssal plains lurk near the bottom of them and come back up with works of real significance (what can I say- I move in wordy circles). I get annoyed by the disregard for actual writing because… well, I’m easily annoyed, but I imagine proper writers- people with way more to contribute than me- must be constantly fucking livid about it… and they have every right to be.

And all of that’s before I get into the actual, technical disciplines which are required to be at a certain level. There’s the one’s you always have to use, including structure, pacing and phrasing (nobody will read a tediously-phrased book… or even an article). Then there’s the stuff you only need sometimes but you have to know how to do all the all time- everything from juxtaposition, subtle foreshadowing, pathos and bathos to knowing exactly when to break the tension with a cheap joke or a throw-away line. If I were to actually sit here and list all the aspects of writing as a discipline that you have to have down pat for both fiction and non-fiction (in which I rather pompously include this column), it would run to hundreds of pages.

Yet everybody thinks they can do it. Of course, technically, anyone can. Anyone can write a story or a poem or an article. But whether it means anything, whether it actually signifies something beyond a way to fill your evening if the telly breaks… that depends on skill, a level of commitment and a willingness to recognise that there’s room for improvement in your work from the get-go. Getting to a point where you can legitimately call yourself a writer can take years. Case in point: my first novel was utter drivel compared to what I produce nowadays (and, indeed, in general, really), because it is an actual discipline and that implies a learning curve.

The same people who described fanfic as cultural pissing mythmaking also described proper writers as an elitist group. Darn fucking straight we’re elitist. Most writers are lovely people who would never actually say that they’re better at one they do than yer average Joe Bumcrack in the street is ever likely to be. Well, I’m not lovely. I’m an arrogant bastard, so I’ll put it plainly. Of course we’re elitist: to be this good takes ages.

P.V. TIMS COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

The Language of a Hug

image

I prefer to face the outside seating area when I go to the cafe. It doesn’t matter whether I am alone or am with someone; I rather look over the people seated and into the treetops, than to watch the people walking in and out.

People-watching is almost a writer’s trait, so I can’t help observing little things that don’t really matter but somehow find their way into my words. Today was no different…

I sat on my own, facing the trees as usual, with a cup of coffee, a muffin, and my Kindle. I was paying more attention to the book that I had only just started reading, but looked up every so often when a squeal, accent, or colour caught my attention. That was how I ended up watching two women in their early thirties, have to hold back from running toward each other and then hug like friends with fond memories of each other meeting after years. I was pretty sure I was right because there was a, “You look great! Let me look at you again,” without letting go and then another warm hug.

It made me nostalgic, and got me thinking of hugs from people I miss dearly and that make me smile. More than the hugs, it was the words that went with them. Words like “I’m going to have to kiss your cheek too because I haven’t seen you in too long and just a hug isn’t enough,” even though it had only been a couple of months. Words like “Hang in there, little one… It’s going to be okay,” at a time when you thought that you could easily be Chicken Licken and the sky could be falling down. Words like “I’m only going to give you a little hug because if I stay too long, I’m gonna start crying,” because it’s better not to say goodbye like you won’t see each other again for very long, even though you know that’s the truth. And words like “I’m going to be weird and hug you for long because I can’t hug you tight,” while leaning forwards with your bums sticking out because you were still very swollen and she was worried about causing you pain.

There’s something warm, comforting and innocent about watching close friends hug. It’s nicer still, when one of them is you…

JASLEEN’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

The Land Before Online Time

image

Can we take a moment to appreciate how perfectly stupid the title of this story is? I’m quite pleased with myself.

People my age like to talk about a time before there was an Internet. Before cell phones even. It was absurd! If you wanted to hang out with your friend Justin, you’d call his house and probably have to talk to his fucking mom! If Justin wasn’t home… Well shit… That was the end of that. Find something else to do, or call another friend if you have more than one (I didn’t).

Sometimes you’re already out and about. Transporting yourself via skateboard of course, because you’re 13 and you don’t give a shit. What do you do then? Well if you’ve got a quarter (I didn’t) you find a *payphone, but usually you’d go to Justin’s apartment and buzz at the front door, and probably have to talk to his fucking mom! I can imagine what my friend Rian would think if I just knocked on his door today, without the prelude of a text or a phone call. He’d probably pee his pants when the doorbell rang, wondering what the police want this time. Then he’d open the door to see me standing there, and the look on his face would read something like “What in the actual fuck is going on here? Are you ok dude? Have you finally lost your one remaining marble?”, but the only thing audible coming out of his mouth would be “Uhhhhh”.

*Payphones are like outdoor phones they used to have in public places like the street corner. I know, weird right? There might still be one at your local mall in some dark hallway covered in a generation of dust. If you do find one, and the *receiver is in tact, dial 0 and say something perverted to the operator.

*Receiver … Fuck this

I just looked at my phone and the desktop has a little message thinger that says Labour Day All day. That’s right ya’ll! All fuckin’ day! Thanks phone! It’s not even a cell phone anymore. It’s just a phone. What is a landline? Fucked if I know.

I was in the 9th grade when the internet became a household luxury. Not in my house apparently. They had a couple computers in the library at school that were Online though. Usually they were occupied by someone bigger than you wearing a Fubu shirt. They were those nice computers with the CD-ROM thingy. You could entertain yourself for 15 minutes just making the little CD tray go in and out. Or maybe it was the 90’s and you were on drugs.

There used to be Internet lessons in the library, but only like 10 students at a time because your school was budget and there were only 5 computers (2 people per). The man teaching the lessons doubled as the librarian and he was old enough to have a patchy grey beard. In hindsight this leads you to wonder, how on earth Mr. Whateverthefuckhisnamewas knew so much about the many wonders of Netscape Navigator. His first lesson was How to Use The Yahoo Search Engine. Google? What the fuck is a Google?

"Here’s how it works kids. You just type in whatever you want to search for"

Thanks Mr. Whateverthefuckyourfaceis. I never would have figured that out.

There wasn’t much on the internet those days, but most of the websites were rad ass colours like purple with yellow text. Extra chunky pixels too - just how I like ‘em. The first thing I searched was The Screeching Weasel Story, which I’m sure you can still find on the internet or in the liner notes of Kill The Musicians. It was actually the first time the concept of writing seemed cool to me. It was the second time a dirtbag named Ben Weasel changed my life in as many years, and the first time the internet had something to offer. I still had mixed feelings though, because Enema Fanzine had an editorial about how unpunk it was to use a computer. Today every punk and their mom is online.

Since their crude beginnings these webs have had to offer me a whole lot more (porn) -who said that-? It has changed my life indefinitely, and to be honest, with all the freedom and possibilities it provides, the greater feeling I have towards it is, in a word, trapped. Trapped like in a bubble of boobies and follies that surrounds me and my computer screen and is hardly ever broken. We used to do crazy things like go outside and kick a ball or whatever. We used to walk around bright eyed, bored, with nothing to do and we loved it. At least we’d come home at the end of the day with a story to tell. We’d lay in the grass and recount our observations to people who actually cared. You can’t tell stories about what you did on the internet last night. No one wants to hear that, and what is life without a story to tell?

I need to get some fresh air. I need to go outside and sit down on the curb. I need to call up an old phone number and talk to Justin’s fucking mom.

ENDNOTES: If you’d like to join the fight against the McDonalds corporation, please visit this totally current website. And if you’d like to learn how to speak Klingon, please direct yourself here.

SZARY’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

I Do Not Understand Humans

I will be thirty years old next month and I still cannot grasp how this civilized life is supposed to work. I am really not that much of a hermit but I still try to avoid as many social engagements as I possibly can. My discord starts early in the day when I arrive at work and I am greeted by my coworkers. Most of them will provide some sort of salutation and then the two of us will not speak again until the next morning. What is the point? If that is the only interaction the two of us will be having then I can do without it. It is a filler to my day that does not need to exist. If my life was a novel those small interactions would be held under scrutiny to Chekov’s Gun Theory. The reader may ask such questions as: “Who is this person and when will they propel the story?”, “Tomorrow they say the same thing? Well, will it eventually stop someday to show a significant change in the protagonist’s life?”, “Only if that character dies? Will that affect the protagonist?” The answer is no. It is just some social contract that someone made up so that we must grit our teeth behind a false smile every morning.

What are some of those salutations? My personal favorite is good morning. What does that imply though? Does it mean that this morning is good? In what context? Do you request that I have a good morning? How the hell do I do that? I have no control over most things. I could have a great morning by not having this false conversation with you. Another favorite is when someone shortens that greeting and just says mornin’. Yeah. It is the morning for us. Wonderful observation. Honestly though, I was a little uncertain what time of day it was. When I saw the sun on my way to work I was not certain if it was rising or setting. Thanks for the confirmation. It would be swell if you come tell me when it is lunch time. I know a bell will ring, but I need to be certain. Maybe it is just me. I kind of feel we are all worth more than a social obligation.

What happens when you try to force that obligatory salutation into conversation? You end up with miscommunication. I was talking to a coworker one day and as always we were gossiping. Is there a better way to show unity than teaming up against a common enemy? She was talking about a girl that was very skinny and suggested she got that way by (she opened her mouth and inserted her finger a few times). I knew what she meant but I personally do not like to poke fun at eating disorders so I retorted with “Giving blowjobs?” I even made a quizzical expression but she did not catch the sarcasm. The point is that small talk is for people that have ideas in common. Our views on what is socially accepted are too far apart to be gossiping together.

I hope no one gets a wrong impression of me. I desire the unity of mankind but I do not think that is possible in today’s society. When we all had the common goal of surviving it was a lot easier. Now everyone in America is spoiled and most goals are the accumulation of wealth and beauty. It is all over everything. There is not enough incentive to be smart and productive to humanity but plenty to be dumb, attractive, and urban. Recycling is not cool, but wastefully pouring beverages on bitches from the top of your SUV is. I honestly cannot see the appeal to that kind of behavior. It makes me want to abandon society and just roam the land living off of it. I already have a bag packed in my closet full of survival gear in case I ever snap and want nothing more than to walk off in to the bush shaking my head. After all, we are nothing more than intelligent animals without the common sense to know how to coexist with each other or even our environment. How many times have primal urges called upon you to strip yourself of possessions and run off into the night? Civilization requires currency, surviving does not. Currency divides the herd and makes us weak. Unity is strength. What will it take to quit fighting?

I am not here to tell you that your beliefs are wrong, but let us be honest here: religion is the number one cause of segregation. I was born a Christian and I can remember my mother teaching Sunday school at a Pentecostal Holiness church. Later I started attending a Southern Baptist church because of a few pretty girls I knew attended there. I was the new guy so the youth minister asked me where my previous church was and everyone was appalled that I went to a Pentecostal church. It is really just two sides to the same coin but I quickly learned that Christians do not even like other Christians that attend different churches. Their ideals are wrong and only what their church thinks is what will get you in to heaven. Well, guess what? I don’t want to go to heaven! There is going to be a bunch of pricks there and the only sustenance is milk and honey. Plus I won’t know anyone and everything is made of gold and precious gems, including my giant fucking mansion. I have never been materialistic. Hell doesn’t sound so bad though. Drugs, rock n roll, and butt sex. I love butt sex!

All of that is what made me atheist. I soon realized that those guys are just a bunch of pricks too. They think they are so smart and that everyone else is wrong. Sounds a lot like the religious if you ask me. Most just seem bitter and try to make those with faith feel as shitty as they do. I am not about that. I have that drive for unity, so now I identify with Secular Humanism. I am not saying that there is not a god, known by whatever name you choose to call it, but rather that hope does absolutely nothing to help anyone. Prayer is the least possible thing someone could do to help a situation other than nothing at all. Action is the only course that gives results. Humans are the only ones capable of action one hundred percent of the time. It is all about the power of humanity and brotherhood but it still cannot bring humanity together by itself. People have to want to change. They have to want to stop being selfish and wasteful. But they won’t. They would rather waste precious, life-giving resources than to actually do something that could help their fellow human. And yes, I am referring to the ice-bucket challenge. That is why I cannot understand humans.

JAMES’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

A Response to Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh’s blog post about the suicide of Robin Williams is really, horribly, outrageously awful. From the generally demonizing language he uses to describe the act of suicide and therefore, by extension, the people who commit suicide, all the way to the words “joy is the only thing that defeats depression,” his post blatantly misunderstands and misrepresents this mental illness. It perpetuates false and damaging ideas about depression specifically and mental illness generally, the kind of ideas that stunt society’s ability to understand and therefore handle and treat mental illnesses.

I know I’m not the only one who is incredibly over individuals perpetuating ignorance that effects people on a societal level. I really only read the blog hoping he’d have something worthwhile to say – and he did, when he spoke about the effect of suicide on friends and families or the danger of slogans like “Genie you’re free” that have cropped up around Robin Williams’ suicide. Maybe if he had spent more time on those topics the post over all would have been a more positive experience, but for the most part reading the post was just frustrating, for so many reasons.

Walsh claims to have struggled with depression, something which I won’t contest (I don’t know and won’t claim to) but this claim comes off more as an attempt to create an aura of authority through experience rather than a genuine revelation. The only reason this point bothers me is because what Walsh actually does is lord his success in that battle over the people who are currently losing it or have already lost. Joy is the only thing that defeats depression? If you’re depressed you often are incapable of finding joy, especially in the love that surrounds you. Depression obscures your sense of reality and self (which he actually did a good describing) and makes you incapable of seeing how you have earned or deserve the love others give you. You feel guilty for taking up their love, which you imagine would be better spent on someone else. The way Walsh frames it, you’d think a person who’s depressed could simply wake up one morning and decide, “Hey, you know what would be a better idea? Joy. Joy would be better. I’ll do that instead.” Then bam – just like that they’ve found the light again.

That is not how it fucking works.

Walsh calls depression a “spiritual problem” without defining exactly what “spiritual” means in this context. The fact that this is paired with his ongoing talking about “light” and “darkness” and joy and love being the reason we exist and the things that brought us into existence leads to a very Christian-feeling paradigm being forced onto the issue. Aside from the fact that this excludes and alienates people of other faiths or no faith, it paints depression in broad, simple strokes as a matter of good vs. bad. On a very basic level this might true: choosing to fight and live despite how hard it is is the best possible outcome. Choosing suicide is the worst possible outcome. But this has nothing to do with depression itself.

Furthermore this dichotomy blatantly disregards chemical causes for depression. Depression is a chemical matter, regardless of how you look at it. Sometimes it’s caused by an event or a series of events which leaves a person wounded and unable to heal themselves. That is the kind of depression I’ve been fighting this past year – the kind of depression one of my besties has also been fighting for a year and another has been fighting for two. Sometimes shit happens and we have to fight through the aftermath, and sometimes that fight can be almost insurmountable. (Aside: this is the only thing I can think of as making sense as “spiritual” – the kind of depression which results from an injury or multiple injuries done to the heart and soul, the emotions and mind.) But even this kind of a depression involves chemicals in the brain: something bad happens and your brain responds to that stimuli. The chemical levels in your brain are altered by that stimuli and that can have a lasting effect. The event itself, the memory of it, the injury it did, can continue to affect those chemical levels, or perhaps those chemical levels continue to respond to ongoing struggles with the reality of those events. No individual experience is exactly the same.

While I believe very strongly in therapy over medication, chemicals do play an enormous role in depression and I recognize that sometimes medication is the only thing which can elevate a person to the place of being able to find light in the darkness. While therapy can help us process events that have caused depression or other disruptions in our mental processes, sometimes medication is needed to get a person to the point of being able to take that work and use it to heal. And sometimes a person’s brain just plain has a chemical imbalance. My first bout of depression, in hind sight, seems like little more than puberty-induced hormonal shifts gone awry. There was no triggering event, but there was a deep and inescapable sadness which I doubt I would have gotten out if it weren’t for the help of medication which aided in balancing out the chemicals in my brain, allowing me to work through the otherwise very average teen-age stuff I was dealing with.

A lot of people experience chemical depression. A lot of people experience depression as the result of an event or a series of events which leaves them wounded and struggling to heal themselves. It is true that suicide isn’t the answer to those things, that suicide leaves a permanent mark on the people around you, that it isn’t something which sets you free and that some of the ways in which people have portrayed the suicide of Robin Williams may be damaging or misleading. Nonetheless, it is still incredibly ignorant and equally as damaging to so readily dismiss the vast and varying complexities of depression by trying to put it into a framework of dark vs. light, simplifying it to a spiritual battle akin to Heaven vs. Hell. Claiming that looking at depression in this light reveals greater complexity only serves to obscure the degree to which depression and the people who are losing their battle with it have been belittled and dismissed. Rather than revealing the complexities or diving deep to understand them, this tactic disregards the complexities of the issue.

The claim of complexity in Walsh’s argument seeks to hide the misleading over-simplification of the issue – something which perpetuates misunderstandings and falsehoods, carrying on a long tradition of misunderstanding and misrepresenting mental illness in a way which leads to individuals and society as a whole to being unable to adequately talk about or address mental illness. I am done with that misrepresentation, and I am incredibly over the damage it has done. If we’re going to prevent more tragedies like this one from unfolding at such alarming rates in the future, we have to be able to seriously talk about mental illness without perpetuating falsehoods and stigmas. We have to be able to delve deep into the actual causes of all mental illnesses, educate ourselves and each other, and work toward better, more accessible mental health care (and this includes removing the stigma that can be and often is attached to those who can access mental health care and do seek help). We need to stop talking about diseases such as depression as though they are solely a spiritual battle between light and dark, and talk about it like a real world issue everyday people are dealing with. We need to talk realistically about how we can help people instead of chalking it up to their willingness to find and achieve joy, because things are never that simple.

ENDNOTES: This piece was written in response to this blog: http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/08/12/robin-williams-didnt-die-disease-died-choice/

TAHNI’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS ARTICLE?

Fits

My mother liked to tell stories.

“I once diagnosed a girl with epilepsy.”
She was a C average student, qualified for MENSA at age 12, dropped out of high school at 17, and never stepped near a med school.

“How?”
My teenage self was intrigued despite incredulity.

She sat in the couch adjacent to me, a long, three-cushioned sofa that stretched for most of the wall, with a pillow on her lap, a journal and clipboard balanced on top, and pen in hand. She got a wistful look about her more for show than for honestly being so taken by the memory.

“When I was in the hospital on suicide watch, there was a girl there who was going home, and she was so excited. She was there because she had what they’d call ‘fits.’ Well, a couple days later she was back and I was confused, so I asked her what happened and she said, Well, I had a fit. She said she remembers taking a shower, and next thing she knows she’s on the living room floor. Her family filled her in on the rest.

“She’d gotten out of the shower and saw her family playing checkers. She wanted to play and they said, Okay, you can play the next game, and she went ballistic, flipped the board, yelled, screamed. And she remembered none of it.

“So in the doctor’s office while he was taking the stitches out of my wrists I said, ‘You know, I think so-and-so has Jacksonian epilepsy. He asked me why I thought that and I said because she couldn’t remember any of it, and none of the medications they’d given her worked, and he was just kind of, Oh yeah sure. Well, the next day she’s jumping up and down, happy, because they finally diagnosed her and when I asked what it was she said what I’d said. And I ran into the doctor later and said, You’re welcome.”

My mother never explained how she knew what Jacksonian epilepsy even was. Just that she diagnosed a girl in a mental hospital in 1975. She only mentions the hospital if it’s relevant, and only bits and pieces here and there.

“When I woke up, I thought I was dead until I saw the monitor and the IV and cried.”
“The doctor I had was cute.”
“They let us eat all the ice cream we wanted.”
“I never wanted to leave.”

LISA’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

Two Victors

image

It’s only an estimate, but I’ve done the math. My father died while I was in a run-down hotel lobby in Newburgh, NY, picking up my race number for a half marathon that would begin in just under an hour.

Dad, at 62, was still an impressively healthy athlete. He swam a mile a day, rode his bike twice daily and played volleyball every weekend. One of the big regrets of his life was that he could not persuade me to take an interest in the game, despite the fact that I “had the shoulders for it.” That Saturday morning last June, while I was driving north from New York City to Newburgh, he went out riding along the marshes in our hometown of Galveston, TX. The woman who lives in the old Victorian house along this secluded road saw Dad standing next to his bike just before 7 a.m., kickstand down, staring out into the marsh. Weeks later, when she met with my mother and me, she repeated several times, “It’s such a peaceful place to go.” A few minutes after 7, a kayaker was driving toward the boat ramp just beyond the old Victorian house where he saw Dad laid out in the street beside his upright bike. Dad had suffered a massive heart attack. We have been told he may have been dead before he hit the ground.

While local EMTs were trying to resuscitate him in the street, I was going about my meditative pre-race rituals: applying sunscreen and chafing stick, organizing my gel packs and water bottles. I sat in a parking lot and wrote a race blessing on the tops of my feet in sharpie. It was an Edmund Hillary quote I use for all long races: “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” Dad was in transport to the hospital when I lined up with the other runners. We complained about the heat, the race was supposed to start 15 minutes ago. Who’s in charge here? After more grumbling the air horn sounded and we inched forward.

My father was pronounced dead painfully close to the moment I crossed the start line. And then I ran for two and a half hours.

As I ran in New York, phone calls shot around town in Texas. A cousin on the police force heard the radio and thought, “That sounds like Joe Murphy.” The woman who lives in the old Victorian house called her friend Mona who called a friend who is married to a woman whose dad knew my father. Was it really Joe Murphy? Who knows his wife? I watched boats sail up the Hudson River. I noted several dream homes. I was annoyed at the lack of water stations along the route.

An hour into the race, I took a walk break and called my mom, just for a few minutes of distraction. She talked to me cheerfully about nothing at all. Had I heard about the old army surplus store closing after 40 years? Where were my friends and I going to eat after the race? After a little more pleasant nothingness she said, “This is a race. Stop chatting and start running.” I obeyed. Less than two minutes after our phone call ended, police showed up at my mother’s door. And I kept running.

The young police officers didn’t tell her that Dad was dead. They can’t, legally. So they asked her, did she know where her husband was? And then, what was he wearing when he left with his bike? Mom answered dutifully and the officers shared a look between them. They said Dad had been “found” and Mom would need to go to the hospital immediately. They would be happy to give her a ride. My mother, forever a cool customer, drove herself. The nice young policeman offered to bring the bike back to the house; later, my mother told me she “just knew.”

As I ran through the Hudson Valley, my right hip started to ache, and I became increasingly worried about sunburn. There was no cloud cover or shade, and the sun was brutal. When I started to overheat I poured water over my head, which filled my eyes with sunscreen, all adding to the burdensome surprise that the race organizers hadn’t closed the streets to traffic. I was in the 10th mile when my brother and mother identified my dad’s body.

On their way out of the hospital, my brother pulled out his cell phone to start making calls. My mother refused. “I’m not doing this on a cell phone. I’m going home. We’re doing this at home.” When she arrived, cars were already parked in her driveway. She had told no one, but it became apparent that many many people had known before she did.

In the 12th mile, I bottomed out. The heat. The badly paved roads. The hills. My fucking hip. The unbearable sun. Those stupid dream homes. Fucking cars everywhere. I was cooked. I thought about calling my mom but my battery was almost toast and I needed the GPS to track the race.

It was at this point that I heard a male voice yell from behind me, “Hey you. RUN. Let’s go. This is a race. Are you kidding me, walking in the 12th mile? Let’s go!” I turned and a wiry middle-aged man was yelling at me. “Just fake it. Let’s go. Run. Run with me.” I am a feminist but have always responded to strict authoritative males. So I ran. We ran. The entire rest of the race, I ran side by side with this stranger, our feet in perfect sync. We didn’t speak a word all the way to the finish line. Once we crossed I thanked him. He told me his name was Victor and we parted ways. In Texas, a plane ticket had just been bought on my behalf to leave LaGuardia at 6 that evening.

I met up with my friends and we drove over to Beacon, NY to have brunch. I pulled out my phone and it was dead. We ate a beautifully extravagant meal: beer, sausage, cheese fries. Triumph. Our bodies were trashed, every ache and grimace a trophy.

At this point, my mother had been trying to reach me for two hours. Finally, in an unbelievable moment of clarity, she realized that in the cell phone she never uses, she had the number of one of my racing friends. How on such a day she could remember this I will never know. Just as we were paying for our meal, and I was promising myself not to worry about the cost until tomorrow, my friend’s phone rang, my mother’s name on the caller ID. I answered and then came the simplest string of words and most life-altering sentence I’ve ever heard.

“Molly, your father died this morning.”

The rest of the day is a hysterical blur: racing back to Manhattan, stopping at my apartment for 15 minutes so I could shower while friends threw clothes in a bag. At LaGuardia a ticketing problem arose. A middle-aged gate agent took me under his wing; he changed my flight immediately, gave me a business class ticket, gate passes so my friends could wait with me at the gate, as well as five drink tickets so I could “make some friends” on the plane. Just before I dashed off to security he took my bag and we hugged goodbye.

His name was Victor.

By the time I sat in the family living room in Texas I’d been up almost 24 hours. How did I wake up in New York to run a race and end up in Galveston without a dad? How was I carried along by possibly the only two Victors I’ve met in my entire life? If it were a dream, it would mean something. If it were a dream, the Victors would be a lesson in accepting help, in surrendering to powerlessness, in becoming, somehow, victorious in the end. But the next day and all the days after that would only continue the whirlwind that began in the marsh that June morning.

I long for that race, the one I hated running, with the bad roads and the heat and the sun and the cars and the not enough water stations. Those seemingly miserable 2.5 hours before the world ended. Before I ever met anyone named Victor. The road, when the journey was still linear, when I could put one foot in front of the other and be assured that I was still moving forward.

This story was originally published at thehairpin.com

MOLLY’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

The Sprite Self-Help Metaphor

Not to brag, but sometimes I am simply a fountain of profound thoughts. Though usually, at rare moments like these, I unintentionally do something absurd that stabs the mood to death. In this particular case, I blame the Sprite.

Oh, Lemony Sugar Fizz, I don’t know why I’ve continued to trust you after the many times you’ve wronged me (i.e.: coming out of my nose during a humiliating dog-training class when I was 6, and causing all my elementary school post-cheerleading tantrums), but I simply can’t deny myself that caffeine-free goodness. A Sprite is what I was drinking after Mike and I pulled off the expressway and into a McDonald’s drive-thru just before midnight.

We were on a nighttime drive back to Chicago from a concert in Champaign, which is essentially three hours of blackened highway with nothing around you but the occasional cornfield or Adult Superstore! billboard. Growing up on the oceanside east coast, I’ll never get used to that. However, after a solid ten minutes of watching the fields blur past you at about 70 mph, I grew bored, so we talked. Not just small talk, but the kind of talks that my mother used to tell me about when she was reminiscing on her college years. The ones where you stay up until the morning, discussing things through a sleepy, honest haze that delves into the subconscious on an intense level that is impossible to achieve when the sun is out. The same can be applied to road trips, so I suppose this was something of a double-whammy.

As we destroyed a large bag of fries in the parking lot, we discussed girlfriends. “I think the biggest complaint I’ve received from girls is that I don’t open up enough,” he admitted. “They never know what’s going through my head.”

“I find that ironic since all you’ve ever really done is open up to me,” I said, probably with my mouth full.

“I guess so, but that isn’t typical of me.”

“Why not?”

“I just don’t want to complain all the time. Or risk sounding like some whiney, negative person with endless problems.”

I nodded and swallowed a gulp of Sprite. “I know what you mean. I used to be one of those people. I got so used to feeling miserable and having a surplus of issues that I began to wear them like charms. It probably made me feel special or something. ‘Look at all of this damage! Look at how I’ve survived. My life sucks and it’s awesome.’”

“Exactly,” Mike said. “I know people like that now.”

“But eventually I realized how common it is to feel depressed,” I continued. “And that being sad didn’t make me unique. It was pretty much what linked me to the rest of the world. And then I got out into the world, and I found things I love doing, and I had to accept the fact that I wasn’t sad anymore—I was happy. You know what the weirdest part of all that is? It’s so much harder to admit that you’re happy than it is to admit that you’re sad.” On that last thought, the goddamn Sprite caught up with me and erupted into this sudden belch-speech, so I becomingly burped the word ‘sad’.

Mike and I started laughing, and while I damned the carbonation for its terrible timing, my mind wandered off to why I had said that. Why is it harder to admit that we’re happy? I think it must have something to do with the hidden comfort there is in a bout of depression. Everything remains the same: bleak, but no surprises. No expectations. Happiness is always a risk. It requires opening yourself up to a variety of feelings, with unlimited results. Will I feel pleasure, will I feel pain? (Or both?)

Overtime, sadness becomes familiar. Joy is something you can never really get used to. And much like Sprite, we should continue to seek it, no matter the risks involved.

MELAINA’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

Happily Unemployed

image

Well, let joy be unconfined: at the same time as my first column appears in a proper online magazine, I have also lost my ‘real’ job. I say “lost”. That makes it sound like sound I let it slip down the back of the couch without really meaning to get rid of it. Perhaps “hurled violently into the sea in a fit of disgust” might be more appropriate. For the past two weeks I have been a proud, reluctant employee of the General Post Office, which I innocently imagined would be a bastion of homespun sanity in a changing world. Spoiler warning: it was no such fucking thing. In fact, it was a nest of loud-mouthed, patronising bullies all apparently intent on making me commit homicide by sheer force of personality. Minor errors would be met with ten-minute, demeaning lectures, while repetition of such would earn a full-blown shouting fit from the manager (a woman who can best be described as Genghis Khan with a couple of melons shoved down his top in an unconvincing attempt at drag).

But don’t mistake this for a whinging, self-involved pity party: it’s anything but. I’m now unemployed again, but I couldn’t be happier about it (well, unless the government started offering free blowjobs to the work-challenged- then I could be happier. Unless it was members of the government who were delivering the blowjobs: that would just be horrifying. Imagine Vince Cable’s wispy Yoda head bobbing up and down at crotch height, his watery little eyes squinting in grubby effervescence. Yeck. It’s enough to put you off yer cornflakes). But I digress. My point is that I’m just not meant for the cut-and-thrust world of business-orientated dickery. Everyone with a modicum of corporate power seems to swagger about like they’re running a Fortune 500 company when, in this case, what they’re actually doing is flogging a few scant pennies out of a failing post office in the armpit of Bedfordshire. I can’t be doing with it: any environment that encourages that level of towering pretention just gives me a headache. Expose me to that rippling pool of wank for too long and I’d go all red and break out in hives.

I suppose the system’s supposed to function on the basic assumption that money blinkers the workforce enough that they’re so focused on climbing the financial ladder- or just clinging onto it for dear life- that they don’t notice what an idiot quagmire they’re stuck in until it’s too late, they’ve sunk and bingo: the world has one more swaggering, pretentious wanker in it.

Unfortunately for my employers, who foolishly invested two weeks into “training” me (by which I mean “bellowing at me”), I don’t care about money. I know I should. I don’t have much of it, so logically I should regard it as a precious resource. But I just don’t. I can’t. It’s just bits of paper with the Queen’s ugly mug on it (except Scottish money, which comes in a variety of exciting colours and consequently brings out my inner magpie, but I again I digress). Time has more value than money. You can borrow, steal, earn or even set fire to money. Time, not so much. You never hear about someone getting mugged for the paltry twenty years in their chrono-pocket do you? Consequently, I find it very hard to give up my time to do something I hate with people I hate even more just in return for something as trivial as money. Sure, it can be used to procure me caffeine and fancy hat, but so can threats of physical violence or the exchange of sexual favours.

We’re supposed to regard unemployment as some kind of moral failing- something to be ashamed of and cower away from. But that’s just dumb. I’m a shambles, but I’m not doing any harm… unlike the people at my former place of work. They’ve got jobs and what do they do with them? They pout, shout, bully and bluster. They make the world a substantially worse place to live in just through the simple act of crapping on their subordinates. Whatever else my faults, you could never say the same thing of your humble narrator here. Besides, I’ve obviously made the smarter life choices. My life consists of doing precisely whatever I like (provided it’s inexpensive) whenever I want, whereas their lives consist of talking down to the elderly for a living in a pre-moistened buttcrack of a Post Office.

I suppose what I’m trying to say, in my own roundabout, rambling way, is ‘take heart’. If you’re unemployed or working a shitty job because you’ve got nothing else to turn to, don’t let it affect your sense of self-worth. You’re not a burden on society: it’s odds on that you’re worth a thousand times more than the kind of nobheads who float to the top in the system we have at the moment. Work should be dignified and fulfilling, but it isn’t, and it’s not your fault that it isn’t. It’s just that the bastards are in charge and sometimes the best you can do to fight them is refuse to play their game, refuse to buy into their self-justifying capitalist bullshit. I tend to refuse more explosively than most- outright walking out of positions that make me uncomfortable or simply irritated. But I suppose most folks aren’t quite in a situation where they can do that. So push that coffee break a bit further than is strictly allowed; take your time serving that poor clueless anachronism in the queue; deliberately and subtly fail to sell your company’s latest moronic, customer-exploiting promo. Remain a human being in the face of a system and people who insist you be an automaton. And if all else fails, set the place on fire and run for the hills.

P.V. TIMS COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

Teach Your Children Well

image

I was one of those half-day preschool kids. For the most part, I think it’s because my mother worked from home, and so she wanted me to have the education, but didn’t need me gone all day. But also, it was by design. I didn’t do well with staying in one place for very long.

Do they even have half-days for preschoolers anymore? Is there a law now that requires you to drop off your newborn for algebra lessons and tutoring so he or she can become a Mensa scholar before potty training? That’s the case, now, right? I’m pretty sure that’s how it goes. I’m also pretty sure this is why I teach high school.

When I was in pre-school, I was only there until lunch. Most days, my mother would pick me up and we’d eat lunch together at home and talk about our days while I practiced my cursive. She was kind enough to let me believe my successive letter “e”s were actually cursive, and let me “read” her the story I’d written her later in the day.

I don’t remember individual days from my pre-school years. My memory’s good, but it’s not that good.

One day, however, sticks out. That day, I was a full-day preschool kid. I’m sure we did the normal things in the morning. We probably talked about the days of the week. I’d bet we learned about the colors of the rainbow, singing my favorite song. Perhaps there were finger paints.

I never enjoyed finger paints. Or watercolors. Even that young, I was all hard lines and defined edges. Subtlety didn’t speak to me.

When lunch came, I’d eaten with the rest of the class enough times to know what to do, so I helped pass out juice. I probably looked out the windows, expecting my mother to arrive at any minute.

After lunch and requisite time outside (another thing I don’t think happens anymore), and after I’d become absolutely distressed my mother hadn’t showed, the other kids dutifully made their way to the darkened side room I’d never been in: The Nap Room.

I stayed put on the balance beam in the main room and wouldn’t budge. I wrapped my tiny hands around the edge of the board. This death grip would come in handy years later when teenage boys thought flirting meant tossing girls into pools. But at the time, I was only holding my spot until my mom showed up.

The teacher explained I’d be taking a nap with the other kids today. From my vantage point on the balance beam, I could see the whole parking lot. My mother wasn’t coming.

I told the teacher, “But I don’t stay in the afternoon.”

“Today you do.”

I tried a different approach, “But I don’t take naps.” It was true then and it’s true now. My ability to slow down, to turn off – even for a brief period of time – has never been a strong suit.

The teacher assured me I didn’t have to sleep. I only had to lie down on a cot, and I had to be absolutely quiet so the other kids could take their naps.

I released my grip, took my place in the darkened Nap Room, and closed my eyes. I tried to match my breathing to the shallow ins and outs around me and I did not move. They wanted quiet – I would give them quiet.

I squeezed my eyes shut and counted all the numbers I could remember. When I lost track, I started back at one. I didn’t have a blanket, because I wasn’t an afternoon kid, so I balled my fists inside my sleeves, squeezing them and releasing with every number. “Keep your eyes shut, keep your eyes shut, keep your eyes shut.”

After twenty minutes, but what felt like at least three lifetimes, my mother tapped me on the shoulder. She’d finished her work early and I didn’t have to stay for the rest of the day. “Did you have a good nap?” she asked over her shoulder, gathering my finger painting from the teacher, who nodded and winked at me.

I don’t remember any of the kids from preschool, or from the Nap Room that day. We probably learned the days of the week. I’d bet you everything we learned the colors of the rainbow, and I can sing you the song if you’d like. I’ll never enjoy finger painting, even though that wasn’t the last masterpiece my mother brought home.

My childhood memories are hazy, as they should be.

But god damn if that wasn’t the day I’m absolutely sure I learned how to lie.

KATE’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

Sex Ed and Shame

There’s a topic which seems to be coming up more and more in my life of late. The topic being sex, and every time it comes up I find myself having to revisit and revise the way I think. And a lot of it has to do with my upbringing.

My earliest memory of learning shame on this topic was probably when I was about five or six years old. I was spending the weekend with my Grandma Betty, as I often did. This particular time, she’d taken me to the Getty museum. I was too young to appreciate most of the art, but I loved being with Grandma, even if it was a boring place. I remember her shielding my eyes whenever I came up to a statue or certain paintings. I have vague memories of my eyes being shielded as she guided me through whole rooms. She may or may not have muttered disgusted things.

Years later, I visited the Getty again as a teenager with an adult friend. She found it very peculiar that I would walk through whole rooms with my hand in front of my eyes, or that I would look at a statue but raise my hand so that that part right there was blocked out by my hand. I somehow had gotten it in my head that it would be some kind of mortal sin to look at a naked man.

And it was always referred to as “private parts” because when I was taught the anatomical words “vagina” and “penis” by my Grandma at a young age, I said things that brought Child Services to our door. Not that I understood at the time why the nice lady was playing games with me and asking a lot of questions, but I did later. It’s always a source of irony to me that Grandma couldn’t stand the image of a naked body, but somehow found it important to teach me the terminology.

So, at age ten, when my parents pulled out The Wonderful Way that Babies Are Made, I promptly freaked the crap out and never spoke of it again. You do what with your what??? As if I wasn’t already terrified of the screaming agony of childbirth I’d heard about. Never, I vowed. The problem was, my silence and lack of questions left me with several misconceptions after reading the book. For about a year afterward, I thought hugging someone of the opposite sex could get you pregnant at any age. Until 13 or 14 I didn’t realize you had to actually take your clothes off, and I’m pretty sure I still thought all that had to happen was “the privates touch.”

Between ages 14 and 17 I attended a private school that did very little to talk about the positive aspects of sex. It was supposedly a vague enjoyable thing after marriage, and a world-destroyingly horrifying thing to do before marriage. In retrospect, I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to get slammed with images of herpes, statistics about AIDS, and facts about Chlamydia as your source of sex education.

Around 15 or 16 I got very heavily involved in text-based roleplay. Around 17 I experimented with erotic roleplay with someone who didn’t know much more than I did. Around 18, when I was off in college, I experimented with erotic roleplay with someone who knew a lot more than I did.

What is that word? What does that mean? I’ve never heard of this before. Terms that I now realize are commonplace, and even technical terms, I was learning for the first time at college. Online. Because of an erotic roleplay. Through Wikipedia. Needless to say, I was pissed. Why wasn’t I told about these things? Why wasn’t I prepared?

I struggled a bit back and forth with what I was doing, fairly certain I was not doing “the right thing.” I took it to a Christian forum, putting the question to them. That was… not a wise move. I think only one person took the time to not judge me and actually try to help. In the end, I withdrew from that roleplay. However, off an on over the years (and always with an extreme sense of guilt) I would look up smutty fanfictions to learn about sex. I had a fear of imagining real people in sexual situations, so I would place cartoon characters there in my head instead. That couldn’t be wrong, right? They weren’t real. They were even a step removed from live action actors, I reasoned.

I spoke to my therapist on and off about this. Was fantasizing okay? What was the line? Was I going to hell for all this? Though I had severe difficulty wrapping my mind around her answers, she told me fantasizing is healthy and normal as long as it doesn’t become obsessive. She said the same about masturbation, which was even harder to wrap my mind around, especially given she is a strong Christian mother and grandmother. She was the last person I would have imagined telling me these sort of things, but maybe that’s why I was able to listen to her.

I began to be extremely frustrated with my parents. I should not have had to learn these things from strangers, I reasoned, I should have learned it from my parents. When I brought this up to my Mom in frustration one night, I finally got my answer. Apparently the parenting books of the time said to only talk about it as much as the child wanted to talk about it, and I had never brought it up to them again. This reminded me exactly how reticent I had been to discuss the topic, and I stopped being upset with my parents. The reason made perfect sense.

But it didn’t change the fact that I didn’t really know anything beyond what roleplays and smutty fanfictions told me. I didn’t even know what anything looked like. Private school is fond of skipping anatomy. So I finally worked up the courage to purchase a book called A Celebration of Sex. Why? Because it was about freaking time I educated myself properly.

Of course, as it was nonfiction, a genre I have difficulty processing, I managed a chapter then set it down to collect dust. However, I will be returning to it, I think. I’ve spent far too long in ignorance, and I need to understand. There’s been far too much shame surrounding this topic in my life, and it’s time to tear it down and look at it for what it really is.

DUSTY’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

Femininity and…piercings

I didn’t really think I was going to write one of these about piercings, but this morning happened. Of the physical changes I’ve made recently I felt like the lip piercing was a relatively minor one yet the reactions from my family unit have been…interesting. For the most part not necessarily negative, but also not particularly positive.

The best part of finding out that my mom is really super weirded out by the fact that I let a guy stab me in the face with a needle and that she’s mildly uncomfortable with it is that, wonderfully, I don’t mind in the least. I can confidently say I don’t care what people think of my lip piercing because it makes me feel good about me, which I’ll get to in a moment. Besides feeling so comfortable with other people not necessarily liking it and finding that it really affects my own feelings about it in absolutely no way, most of the people who haven’t been overly fond have been relatively respectful about it. They just don’t say anything about it or, if they do, they focus almost exclusively on the pain involved in having a piece of metal shoved through your lip rather than disparaging my choice to do exactly that.

This is apparently not true when it comes to Grandma’s Boyfriend, who was exceptionally unkind about it at breakfast this morning. The dialogue looked something like this:

Grandma’s Boyfriend: Take it out.
Me: No. I sold my writing desk to get this.
Grandma’s Boyfriend: No one likes it.
Me: That’s not what I’ve heard. [aside: the vast majority of my friends have told me they are quite fond of the piercing and some of the people most important to me have partaken to some extent in their own body modifications]

Grandma’s Boyfriend: They’re just not telling you they don’t like it so they don’t hurt your feelings.

Me: You don’t seem to realize that piercings are not that big of a deal anymore.

Grandma’s Boyfriend: How is anyone supposed to kiss you with that thing in your lip? [as though making sure I’m as kissable as possible is or should be the top priority in my life]

Me: Kissing isn’t exactly a thing I’m worried about right now. [I’m moving to Sweden in two weeks and besides, haven’t actually been in a relationship for several years now. What is my top priority in reality? School. School and writing]

Grandma’s Boyfriend: That’s good, since no one’s going to want to kiss you with that thing in your lip.

At this point Grandma returned from the bathroom and we were interrupted by the waitress, so the conversation was derailed. What I would have liked to say: “If someone is going to judge me so harshly based on the modifications I have chosen to make to my own body, they’re really not worth my time. They know where the door is. They can let themselves out.”

His opinion didn’t get under my skin. As we’ve already established, his harsh opinion means pretty much nothing to me, especially considering that he was using shitty scare tactics to try to undermine my sense of self and security in myself: imagine someone telling a little girl no one would want to be with her because she wasn’t dressed right – maybe she was wearing boys clothes, for example. It’s the same kind of manipulation, with the same design and the same goal in mind: control. Convince someone (very often or perhaps most obviously but not exclusively women – men have to deal with it all the time, too, only in different forms) that if they’re appearance doesn’t conform with previously established “norms” then they will be facing a desolate future of loneliness where their only friends are shitty rom-coms and the bucket of ice cream they’re crying into. It’s classic body policing. We see girls and women of all ages and backgrounds being targeted in this way to control their expression and action, and it’s super fucked. Everyone should be able to express through their body what they want to and how they want to without someone trying to scare them out of doing so or shitting on their decisions to do so.

While his opinion means nothing in the big picture, it was outstandingly annoying that it was a conversation that happened at all. It was also a little surreal considering that, to be completely honest, I don’t encounter that kind of body policing on a regular basis. I live in something of a bubble – those friends I previously mentioned? I cultivate them carefully. If someone isn’t respectful of my decisions and concerned about my wellbeing as a human person they love and who loves them in return, they don’t get to be a part of my life. Life is pretty damn short and I’m not about to waste what time I do have on people who push me to conform to their ideas of who or what I should be rather than supporting me in developing into the person I want to be. So even though I wasn’t anticipating Grandma or her boyfriend to like my lip piercing, the lack of surprise didn’t make it any less annoying that I had to sit through that conversation for the sake of – wait for it – politeness (it’s arguable whether I was entirely polite during the conversation or not, but I didn’t flip him the bird or tell him to mind his own damn business or walk out, so I feel like I did a’ight).

The reason his opinion didn’t get to me, though, is because the piercing makes me feel good. There is an association in my brain with things which require a certain amount of pain to obtain, things like piercings and tattoos: the willingness to undergo pain to achieve a certain outcome correlates in my mind to a certain kind of bad-assery that I’ve always wished I had within myself. This past year has been tough. I’ve lost a lot of my sense of self and have been relegated to a relatively timid and shy creature who keeps to herself and deals with social anxiety on a somewhat regular basis (although it’s not super intense, mostly just wildly uncomfortable). So, as I’m making my recovery from the year, I wanted to do something for myself that would give me some of my confidence back.

There’s a certain amount of magic that happens when you alter your appearance. If you look at yourself in the mirror and see you’ve achieved a certain effect, that aspect of yourself might be boosted or reinforced. If you think you look beautiful, you feel beautiful, and maybe from there the confidence you gain from that allows you to project beautiful, and, so the theory goes, other people pick up on that confidence and may be more likely to see you in a similar light. That’s kind of what the lip piercing is: I accepted the pain to achieve a specific outcome (my brain’s translation: bad-assery, even if minor bad-assery) in addition to which piercings and tattoos tend to be somewhat more associated with certain groups or sub-cultures, such as punk, which are then associated with certain tougher attitude (though, as previously mentioned, this correlation is decreasing as piercings and tattoos become more mainstream).

Those things combined makes me look at my lip piercing and think “Hey, look at that. A tiny reminder that I have a little bit of a bad-ass in me.” And with that reminder in place, I feel a little tougher where I used to feel weak; I feel a little more confident where I used to feel timid. And I act accordingly – more boldly, with greater flare, if you will. Maybe the effect will wear off as I get used to the piercing, but hopefully by then the boldness will have re-ingratiated itself to the rest of my personality and stick around for good.

Femininity and…tattoos.

TAHNI’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS ARTICLE?

A Clean Slate

As I was driving down a country road yesterday, I came to the life shattering, world altering realization yesterday that there are many aspects of life I know nothing about. Which you know, seems like somewhat of a no-brainer considering I am an 18 year old white girl from rural New Jersey…But, still it came as quite of a shock.

I don’t think I ever thought fully about the gravity of that statement.

I know nothing.

I was simply driving down the road, like I do everyday. This time, I was contemplating my relationship with my two best friends, their romantic relationship with each other, and how they differ. I wondered if my relationship with them was lesser because there were no romantic intentions—and that was when it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I don’t truly know how these platonic or romantic relationships differ because I have never been in a romantic relationship.

Suddenly, I felt very, very, young….Which was something I hadn’t felt in months, to be honest. I had just been thrust into a world of college tuition, student loans, and future careers. I spent my entire high school career pretending I knew more than I did so I could look like a promising college applicant…and now none of that matters in the slightest.

It doesn’t MATTER what I got for a final grade in my Precalc class
It doesn’t MATTER how well I annotated Oliver Twist for my English Class
It doesn’t MATTER what my AP scores were, or what I got on the SAT.
I am a clean slate.
Who knows nothing.

The truth is, I haven’t been a clean slate since I was six years old and I entered kindergarten, I was always working towards something more, always preparing for the next level.

I’ve graduated, I’ve made it to my adolescent end goal: College.

What do I work for? What do I seek out? What do I want to know?

Driving down the road I was left with all the simple things I still didn’t know, like the ins and outs of relationships with other people.

I was left with all the life lessons I’ve yet to learn.
I want to know everything.
I want to LEARN everything
I want my blank slate to be filled with things of my choosing.
I want it to be rid of SAT scores and Algebra II tests and those stupid things I did as an underclassmen in high school.

Maybe us blank slates are the most optimistic because we’re yet to be marked up by the world. We still have the illusion that it’s our choice, or maybe I’ll stay this way. Clean, but desperate for more.

I’ll let you know when I get some fresh marks.

SAM’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?

If only I could make others think the same way

I wasn’t a big baby, so I really can’t say where my appetite sprung from. By the time I was enough months old to begin eating food that constituted less than 100% mush, I was eating five meals a day. And I do mean full meals – baby ones, whatever those are. I don’t know whether to say I got better or worse, as my meals became more solid. I am going to settle for it being a good thing because chubby babies are adorable and I was still fitting into the clothes for my age.

Weight wise, things began to change because I was a sickly child. I wasn’t skinny, but after each time I became ill, I would be bordering on underweight. For most of my life, there has been constant argument between my weight and I – I would lose it while I was ill and then gain it back while I was well, and lose it again when I became ill… and so it went on. That still happens. My only concern is that I eat healthy, whenever I can eat, so that my body gets the nutrients it needs; and then I eat junk at the weekends because diets were never my friends, a girl needs her chocolate, and cakes and Nutella are my weaknesses.

My weight has never bothered me. To tell you the truth, I have absolutely no idea how much I weigh. It stopped mattering to me a long time ago; and really stopped mattering to me when I put on four kilograms from going to the gym for two months. That was the first and only time I have gymed; it will also be the last. I only ever get weighed when I go to the doctor’s and even then, I pay no attention to what the scale says because I have decided that every scale is different; and my weight is affected by what I am wearing, how much liquid I have had to drink, and whether or not I have eaten anything before.

So, let’s just say… I don’t give a shit about what I weigh.

There was a time, during university, that I had put on a lot of weight in three months and my own mother didn’t recognise me when I came home for the holidays. I didn’t care; I was a student who couldn’t be bothered to eat sensible food for the sake of fitting into her clothes.

It’s only now, that the watch I have been wearing for over two years is spinning on my wrist, I am having to pull up pants that never used to fall down, and my father called me to say that he is getting concerned about me, that I have begun to think about my weight. Don’t get me wrong, I am not worried… because I know what has caused the drop and that there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. I am simply monitoring my energy levels and having to take supplements, because I can’t afford not to keep an eye on them. I am getting a little better with each week and I know that in a few months time, my watch will stop spinning, and my pants will stop falling… but my father will continue to worry until all the colour is back in my face and I am able to spend a full day in five inch heels.

The whole perfect body size and shape has never affected me – no one else has my skeleton, so who are they to tell me where I should and shouldn’t have fat. As long as my body functions are within the normal range, and I feel healthy, that’s all that matters.

JASLEEN’S COLUMNS

HAVE AN OPINION ABOUT THIS STORY?