The necessary betrayal of abstraction

I have a graduate degree in Literature, and part of obtaining that degree meant taking poetry seminars. In one of those seminars, we did a section on Gertrude Stein.

I’m not sure what to do with Gertrude Stein. We had to read Tender Buttons, and I recall dreading going to class because I just wasn’t sure what to say. Luckily I had a classmate who did engage well with Stein’s work, and carried us a bit – I recall talking about Stein’s poetic formlessness as a type of resistance.

Here’s a snippet from Tender Buttons:

capture

It’s been nearly 12 years since I read this for the first time, and I still have no idea what to do with it.

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What Children Are Not

johannes-evert-hendrik-akkeringa-children-playing-on-the-beach

Children are not your opportunity for a second chance; you had your chance, and may have more chances, but your child deserves their own.

Children are not wish-fulfillment devices; if you place too many of your own expectations on a child, you’re not allowing them to discover who they are apart from you.

Children are not decorations; they don’t exist to adorn your life or make you look good.

Children are not status symbols; they should not be pressured to help you keep up appearances or compete with others.

Children are not yours to control; they are dependent on adults for a time, but they should be encouraged to grow apart from you.

Children are not your opportunity to have a vicarious life; being involved with your child in healthy ways is good, but attempting to live a different life through them is unhealthy.

Children are not your emotional crutch; your child is your child, and cannot and should not take the place of a significant other or a close friend.

Children are not your future caretakers; saying you want children so you have someone to take care of you when you’re old is an incredibly selfish reason to have a child.

Children are not responsible for your happiness; you are responsible for yourself.

Children are not your physical or emotional punching bags; they don’t exist to absorb your anger, your disappointment, or your failure.

Children are not your therapists; laying your burdens on their shoulders is not only unfair, but it will create burdens that they will then carry into adulthood.

Children are not extensions of you; they are their own unique, autonomous beings who are part of your life, but not part of your self.

Children are not in your debt; they don’t owe you anything for raising and providing for them.

Children are not servants; teaching them responsibility does not mean overburdening them with chores and caretaking responsibilities.

Children are not yours to keep; the tighter you try to hold on to them, the more determined they will become to get away.

Children are not perfect; their imperfections should be embraced, and they should be allowed to make mistakes without facing shame and ridicule.

Children are not obligations; nobody is obligated to reproduce if it is against their inclination, or would compromise their health and well being.

Children are not the future; the future begins with here and now with adults who create a world in which children are able to thrive, and create children who care about helping the world to thrive.

Playlists are the new tea leaves

On Friday on my way home from work, I was thinking about the removal of toxic people from my life. I know some people don’t like describing other people as toxic. In this case, I don’t mean that the people themselves are toxic, but that they’re toxic to me, or we’re toxic to each other. (But should anyone think that a person can’t possibly be toxic, just look at the U.S. government.)

The one lesson I’ve learned over the years is that you can’t completely rid yourself of anyone who has been impactful in your life in any way. Sometimes this is a wonderful thought, because all those people who influenced you for the better are, in some ways, still with you. But sometimes this is a rather distressing thought, because you realize that the bad shit has influenced you, too, and you can’t fully rid yourself of those influences. Our experiences and our brain wiring make us who we are, and we can’t control or undo either.

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“I came to explore the wreck”

wreck

Adrienne Rich’s poem Diving Into the Wreck is among my absolute favorite poems – so much so that I have three lines from it tattooed on my ribcage. I think what I like best about it is that it works on so many different levels, and continues to take on new meaning each time I read it.

If you’re not familiar, you can read it here.

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Scented evocations

This morning I committed the cardinal lupie sin of sitting for two hours without moving much. So, as my Access database was being a little asshole and decided to freeze up rather than export my data, I decided to stumble downstairs to the bathroom, which is inside the university administrators’ suite. One of them occasionally uses a lot of hairspray – sometimes when you go into the restroom, which is pretty small, it just reeks of that chemical smell.

I guess today she decided to do her hair in her office, because the whole hallway reeked of it. I can’t move too quickly when my joints are pissed off, so I was trudging my way down the hall, and suddenly, it was 1992. I guess the administrator in question switched hairspray brands to whatever the other girls in my junior high school were using in the early 90s. I don’t know what the early 90s were like elsewhere, but in rural Ohio, big crunchy bangs were still very much in vogue. I did not have bangs, or use hairspray. But I remember going into the girls’ rooms in the big ugly building that housed 7th and 8th graders and smelling that particular hairspray. It just lingered. So now, in my brain, that’s what the early 90s smell like.

The mid-90s smell like incense and burning candles. Had one of my first “oh shit I like girls” moments over a few lit candles somewhere circa 1996. Not that that’s a bad thing, but at the time, I had to keep my burgeoning bisexuality hidden from my mother. She was hyper-vigilant for anything “abnormal,” so even my candle usage became suspect. Apparently I was doing some sort of pagan rituals in my room. Like most teenage girls in the mid-90s, I read about Wicca and really really loved The Craft for about 5 minutes. Buuuut as far as making sacrifices to Satan or summoning the pagan gods or communing with Sauron, I was completely innocent.

I will say there’s a certain candle scent that brings back vivid memories of a certain night spend listening to Enigma’s Le Roi et Mort, Vive Le Roi in a friend’s bedroom. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, running our fingers through the candle flame. I even remember what we talked about.

I came here to say something about how scent triggers the most vivid memories for me. Are others like that?* Seeing something or hearing something can bring back dream-like memories, or pieces of things, or evoke general feelings. But one whiff of that particular hairspray this morning, and I recalled with perfectly clarity what the girls’ room on the second floor of the building that I went to junior high in looked like. I recalled with perfect clarity the face of the girl who had the biggest, crunchiest bangs that all the other girls aspired to be like. I even remembered her name, and not only were we never friends, but I haven’t seen or thought about her since 1994.

Upon emerging from junior high with the raging hormones typical of fourteen year olds, I was forced to go to the Catholic high school, which always smelled like floor wax and preached a lot about suppressing things. I opted against suppression. I had a vivid flashback to the hallways of my high school in the fall when they waxed the floors before orientation weekend. I remembered the institutional green walls – they were that mint green that was so popular in the mid-20th century, that always evoked the feeling of a psych ward to me. Or maybe that’s just because that’s how high school felt – like I was locked up with a bunch of weirdos and psychos, run by a bunch of quacks who wanted to instill in me a sense of shame for who I was becoming.

Luckily it didn’t work on me, but a lot of people I went to high school with still roam those mint green hallways…literally (several now teach there) and metaphorically (many are still very, very Catholic and hyper-vigilant for anything “abnormal”). And I think those sorts of metaphorical hallways have contributed to the state of the States these days.

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*Because I’m a nerd, I looked it up and yep…there’s a 2004 study that indicates that scent does evoke more intense memories than other senses. Click here to read it, if you don’t mind wading through a very academic article. (If you want the Cliff’s Notes version, go to page 377, second column, the paragraph that begins, “Our results provide strong support…” That will give you a neat summary of the study.)

Blankets

The temperature fell into the negatives here in Colorado this weekend. Looking out your window at a world covered over in white is always a peaceful feeling, as long as you don’t have to go anywhere. This weekend, I was lucky to have no plans or obligation. I’ve spent the past two days avoiding leaving the comfort of my house, and the past two nights burrowed under the pile of blankets on my bed.

Being warm in a comfortable bed is a lovely thing, a thing of privilege, and anyone who has such a privilege should be immensely thankful for it. But as thankful as I am to have these basic comforts, for me, it also invokes some not so comfortable memories.

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