Thursday, December 4, 2014

Like a stack of stones

I moved into my apartment in August. It's the first time I've ever lived alone.

There are a lot of things I relish about living alone, but one reigns queen: the knowledge that there is always a hallowed place tucked away from the world (minus the sounds of the 4 a.m. bar across the street, and all the cars) where I will not have to wear pants.

I'm not big on pants. I wear skirts almost every day. I like jeans, but only the thin skinny stretchy kind that feel like leggings. I bought a pair of slacks a few weeks ago, and basically the only thing they're good for is stretching my usual work wardrobe rotation out by an extra uncomfortable day. Suffice it to say that if I'm not in a situation where pants are mandatory, I probably won't wear them.

And definitely not at home.

Nights when I don't have to be anywhere (or anywhere til later in the evening) are my absolute favorite. I strut back from the brown line like the sidewalk is being built by the force of my steps. I blast music and pretend I'm Alison Mosshart. I jangle my keys so you know I'm coming. I check my mailbox. Like. A. Boss.

Sometimes I step inside my doorway, strip to my underwear, turn my music up louder, and dance. I spin gypsy circles in the hall on top of my clothes. I stomp and pounce and throw my arms around like a mime on mushrooms. (The neighbors love me.)

If you've never done it, do. It's so good. Like, good enough to be in a rom-com montage. Only in this movie, the romance is with yourself. Just you, dancing, Sundance-approved.

I've learned in my quarter-century of life that it's really important to love yourself, for two reasons: the obvious first one is that you never know who else is gonna be in love with you at a given time, and it could even be no one. The second one, and the one that's taken me much longer to figure out, is that loving yourself makes you a whole lot lovelier to the people you love. You can't take care of people til you care for yourself.

The fundamental human reality is to be alone. Sometimes you get to a point where you realize you could entirely drop off the face of the earth and very few people -- if any -- would notice. Knowing, and gradually accepting, this is what I think is the key to happiness. For every mysteriously ancient pet goldfish there's a half dozen that died within the first three days. For every genuine, supportive friend there's at least a half dozen who couldn't come to something or other because they wanted to watch Netflix together without you. For every love of your life there's probably a minimum of a half dozen assholes. Accept it. Love them anyway.

This all adds up to a lot of people talking. A lot of noise. Squinting through the clatter, I've noticed a few things that seem like simple truths:

1) Life means something.
2) Not everyone's will look the same.
3) Some of the people you love do not love you back.
4) Some of the people you love do love you back but are broken, like you.
5) As long as you love, even if you are alone, you are never a waste.

How does it feel to be on your own, like a stack of stones?

Perhaps our lives are signals. Signs.

Perhaps the purpose of being stuck on the ground is to be better able to see the whole sky.

So take your stupid pants off and look up.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

FYI (if you're the mother of teenage boys)

Dear Mrs. Hall,

I have some information that might interest you. Last night, as I sometimes do, I sat at my desk and looked through the evening's news feed. Among friends' postings about Syria, marriage equality and silly cats, I noticed your article making more than one appearance, shared by some folks very near and dear to my heart. So I read it.

I've been a teenage girl, and wow, there are a lot of teenage girl selfies of me on my Facebook. Maybe a few of them were even taken in my pajamas (because I'm a slut like that, apparently. It's cool. My bedroom was still cute).

Maybe boys noticed other things when they saw my pictures. Like, that pajamas for me -- at least during my most selfie-prone era -- usually consisted of pants and a top, which can look curiously like regular clothes, but they're for sleeping in.

I get it -- I was in my room, so I was probably heading to bed, in my pajamas, and probably not wearing a bra, since they're uncomfortable and may even cause health problems. When I look at some of my old selfies, I can't help but notice the extra-arched back, the red carpet pose, the sultry pout (I said some, not all!) because hey, that's how America teaches girls to pose. All. The. Time.

So here's the bit that I think is important for you to realize. If you are friends with me on Facebook, then I guess you are welcome to scroll through my selfies with your husband and children at the table as a family activity, on par with playing Sorry! or watching Shrek. Maybe it's a little strange, but I did put that stuff out there, so I can't complain.

Please know that I genuinely like staying connected with you this way! I hope you also enjoy seeing things through my lens (which may or may not be unique and colorful). If we're friends, I'd like to think that means you think I have some winning qualities. But I don't think any "extremely unfortunate" (in your view) self-portraits cancel that out in any way.

That selfie you don't like -- maybe it doesn't reflect the entirety of my being. I would hope not. It's a single picture. But why did you cringe and wonder, "what I was trying to do? Who I was trying to reach? What I was trying to say?"

Maybe I was trying to remind myself I'm a cute human after a long day. Maybe I was trying to reach out to my friends to show them my new haircut. Maybe I was trying to say "hey Facebook world, check out my cute room!" These are only a few of any number of potential reasons. (Truth be told, though, most of my selfies were inspired by plain-and-simple boredom. I know that's underwhelming. Sorry.)

And now -- big bummer (I can tell you're really broken about this) -- you have to block my posts. Because you are apparently unable to reconcile that this person you otherwise enjoy following is also a female entity with certain attributes that female entities tend to have, and she is not hiding in a corner, and you care about your sons, therefore she cannot exist in their cyberworld. (For the sake of this response, I'm going to go with it and pretend that this line of reasoning makes sense.)

This is not to say you don't have a right as a parent to influence what your boys can and can't see. But here's the deal. All these teenage girls (quite literally, ALL of them, according to your title) you're enlightening? They're not your daughters. You, Mrs. Hall, have three teenage sons, and it is them you should be instructing. Not us.

I know everyone is getting kind of sick of a culture that bombards all of us -- men and women -- day and night with hyper-sexualized images. These are images that get stuck in our minds, condition our behavior, and maybe even trickle all the way down into a bedroom selfie or two.

But if you're going to expect every girl to self-censor rather than teach your sons to be discerning in how they look at them, then you have an issue. The second you put the onus of dealing with this sexualized culture solely on teenage girls, while evidently doing little more than just drawing the blinds when it comes to teenage boys, then you, Mrs. Hall, with your earnest "FYI," are not lifting up young girls. In fact, you're pretty much in lockstep with the same hurtful reasoning that says rape victims wearing short skirts are "asking for it."

Again, I get it. It might just seem easier to block every young lady who doesn't pass your litmus test for modesty online. But modesty is a two-way street, Mrs. Hall, and unless you plan on following your sons around for the rest of their lives and pulling the wool over their eyes every time a woman walks by, you need to stop simply blocking and start talking to them. 

Tell your sons how, yeah, sometimes girls look sexy, and sometimes we even like to do it on purpose. Tell them that if it's on purpose, it could be for any number of reasons, and these reasons do not by default include their attention.

Tell your sons they are young men with self-control who can treat girls like humans regardless of how "modestly" they appear.

Tell your sons not to believe the lie that they are entirely enslaved to their hormones. Like animals. Mrs. Hall, do you really believe your sons are animals?

When Jesus said, "If your right eye causes you to stumble," he did not follow it with "tell that slut to take down her sexy photo or you'll have to unfriend her." He said, "gouge it out and throw it away." He said it is better to literally mutilate yourself than allow yourself to treat another person as less-than because of your own lack of self-control. Because in this world, you cannot always change how people perceive you. The only thing you can reliably change is how you choose to perceive others, and that includes being able to control yourself when it comes to images you find tempting. I hope your sons are learning to do this rather than to simply block every girl you deem too "sexy" for them to process.

I share a lot of things on Facebook. I think it's a great tool to keep in touch with friends, family, classmates, coworkers and maybe even a few random folks I just think post interesting things. I enjoy sharing articles I find insightful, quotes I find inspiring, bits of music or art that I like. The occasional selfie (which may or may not be deemed "sexy") might be one in every 100 posts or so.

Unfortunately, when we live in a world where women are objects first and people later, there is little I can do to prevent people from deciding I am trying to get attention or want to look sexy simply by existing. My God-given breasts, which may someday nurture my future children, might now and then look too visible (for your taste). My God-given lips, which sometimes smile, sometimes frown, and always try to speak truth, might now and then look too pouty (for your taste). My God-given eyes, which change color depending on the light and try always to see the world with compassion and openness and understanding, might now and then look too bedroomy (for your taste).

But according to your "zero tolerance policy," Mrs. Hall, a single "unacceptable" selfie (for your taste) would automatically discount anything else I've ever had to share or say. It breaks my heart that these God-given physical attributes would potentially cancel out every other quality I have, should I dare to arch my back too much or pout my lips too much, because God forbid I should waste the precious time He has given me on earth trying to assuage the sexist expectations of people like you.

Mrs. Hall, it's not too late! If you think you've made an on-line mistake (we all do -- don't fret -- I've made some doozies), RUN to your accounts and take down the unfortunately-viral blog posts that make it too easy for me only to see you as a slut-shamer disguising her problematic views on girls as genuine concern for boys.

Will you trust me? There are girls out there waiting and hoping to be seen as women of character and not have to hide the fact that they are also sexual beings and should not be made ashamed of that. Some young women are fighting the daily uphill battle to be able to confidently be who they are, and not have to pick a side on some Madonna-whore dichotomy created in the minds of teenage boys' moms -- just like you.

We are real beauties, inside and out.

And we do not need your self-righteous "advice."