Monday, May 27, 2013

Happy Anniversary Dear Birthday Memorial Squirrel

It's a big weekend here in Brevard. The weekend of the annual White Squirrel Fest, and the one year to-the-day anniversary of when we first visited North Carolina to see if we wanted to live here. On top of that, today was also Noah's birthday and tomorrow is the last day of school. Noah's family gave him a super new smoker for his birthday and we've spent the last two days smoking meat and drinking beer and sitting in the backyard. We managed to walk downtown to the music festival, where we ate shaved ice and the kids jumped in a castle and the musicians did their bluegrass thing on stage while the sun gave up its ghost to the mountains behind them. Noah did spend most of the day Saturday in the emergency room getting 23 stitches plus 3 or 6 inside (he can't remember) for a laceration on the bottom of his chin suffered when his face met the pavement Friday night. The girls are off the walls, the teachers are surrendered, we parents are wary of the wide stretches of time ahead. My job has gone down to part-time and I found myself again, and can consider myself something besides a worker bee once more. Today while the girls were in school, we sat on couches in the cold hush of a movie theater and watched the new Star Trek movie, sipping beers in celebration of my husband's birthday and my sexism meter only went off a little bit. The lady at the ticket and concessions counter handed me back the two twenties that I'd used to pay her plus the ten dollars change and I did the honest thing and sorted it out. What it says about me that I sort of wish I hadn't, I don't know. This week I will work two days, rest two days, and spend one day in the woods with some friends and their children. If I know my friends, someone will backpack a thermos of sweet tea vodka into our beach beneath the trees, the sandy southern shoals, and we will watch our children splash in the amber river, their hands grabbing for fairies and fish. Balance is restored. If I could ever bother to remember anything, I'd know it will always go this way. Forever and ever, amen.
 (One year ago)

This weekend:

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I Will Trade My Bears For Gold

It is the evening after my second day at my new job, my 9 to 5 gig at the library, and I am exhausted in a way I did not know it was possible to be. It has jarred me roughly, this switch of life, and I am in tatters after the full eight hours on my feet, wearing my social face. When I drive home from work I cry because I'm too tired to take care of my daughters and I want to take care of them. After three hours of socialization my eyes glaze over and I can't understand anything anyone says and find it difficult even to make eye contact. Eight hours leaves me collapsed in my bed in the darkness. Twice last week I dreamed of bears.

It is humid here tonight and the air smells like vacation. My feet and legs and brain feel the farthest from vacation I have ever felt, but as I drive home from Target where I had to go to buy the dreaded khaki pants and trainers, work attire, it feels and smells just like the time I went to Florida. My best friend and I flew to the gulf coast for a concert, and after spending the day camping out at the gates to get front row seats, and a few hours screaming our hearts out, we ended up in some joint that memory has left hazy around all the edges. The only clear detail is that I was served the very best cheeseburger I'd ever had, and that we were young women and two young men approached us and we joined them for a night of revelry. We needed a ride back to our motel room and they drove us in their truck, three of us in the back of the flat bed with the aqua-scented, the maybe coconut scented breeze in our hair and that song by Nelly that was big that year playing on the radio. A song that was wistful, that knew it was young. We drove to the liquor store and back to our motel and as the night wore on, a strange thing happened. My best friend was beautiful in an exotic way, a way I could never be, with Mexican chocolate eyes and silky sheets of black hair and cinnamon skin. She was also model-thin, and for years I'd played the shadow to her allure, I had never been the one that was beautiful. But as this night wore on, this night in Florida by the sea, it became clear to us that for the first time in our young lives the men were more attracted to me. It baffled us both. When the time came for such things--not for making love, I did not go so far as that, but the time for making pairs--I was paired off with the  better catch of the two, and I remember catching my friend's eye across the room, both of us in wonder. The world was upside down. I have a picture of me taken that night, somewhere. I'm wearing a white halter top and I am smiling with a confidence I rarely catch on myself in pictures. We were young and in Florida and these boys were kind and I was beautiful and when someone said skinny dip--maybe it was me--and we ran out to the motel pool and climbed the gate that was locked around it, my friend hugged her hands to her chest but I left my bikini top and bottom on the concrete and I jumped full in. We were not yet 21.

I remembered all this as I drove home from buying the damn khaki pants, too tired to even be moved by "Thunder Road". But a woman at my new job has had a dream of me. I waited for her to say bears, but no. She said, you were swathed in gold. A gold, diaphanous dress that was luminous, drenched in light, that flared like a mermaid's tale and on your head was a crown of gold filaments, sparkling in the sun. I will take this for a good omen and anyway, it's a blessing for an exhausted mother of two to drive home in the evening and remember that time in Florida when the air smelled like coconut and her body sliced the water like an innocent and torsional mermaid, a Melusine, a thing that changes shape and is free of shame in her unswathed skin, as if the story of Eve had never been told.

Monday, May 13, 2013

In Which My Husband Is Sweet Unto Me

(with clarification*)

A legend of us is that on one of our first dates, Noah and I were playing cards with some friends at a hipster coffee house in Lodo and at one point Noah looked at me and said "I like my coffee like I like my women: bitter and strong".  Now, folks were so afraid of me in those days that chairs pushed back from the table and the music screeched off and somebody may have broken a bottle over a bar for an impromptu shank, I don't know.

I am happy to have been upgraded to "sexy and strong".

This is some marketing material for Asheville Beer Week and Oskar Blues Tap Takeover at Walk with New Belgium. Anything look familiar?

Vesuvius Golden Ale has been aging in that chardonnay barrel for over a year. Without my knowledge. It's a specialty offering, so it won't be canned, just on tap in Asheville.When I texted Noah that I was surprised they let him name it that, he texted back "Bitch please. I do what I want."

I am pretty excited about this.

Now I have to go clean my house because my book club is coming over tonight to discuss my very own book. The one by me that I'm going to self-publish (but haven't yet)*. It's a big day here. Here's a hint about this book of mine: someone compared it to Tarantino (sorry, Elizabeth) and for themed snacks, I'm serving angel food cake. Angel food cake and Tarantino, what? Could there be a more perfect marriage?

Happy Monday.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

School Dress Codes and Dirty Feminine Flesh

One of the most feminist things I've ever done may have been allowing my daughters to walk shirtless through a nature park. It was about two years ago, to the best of my memory, which will have made them 4 and 6, or 5 and 7. We were walking around a giant man-made lake in the hot summer sun. This is Colorado sun we're talking about here. In Colorado, you are very close to the sun. We were overdressed in jeans and when Noah took off his shirt, the girls both heaved sighs of relief and copied him, whisking off their tops and baring the flesh of their torsos to whatever cooling breeze might come.

I didn't think much about it until we encountered a few other scattered walkers. Then I looked at my six or seven-year-old, a first or second grader, shirtless, and wondered. If we would get stares or even comments. But we didn't. People either smiled or ignored us, passing by. Renewed by the sun and wind on their skin, the girls stopped dragging their heels. They hurried along, kicking at rocks and amassing pocketfulls of acorns and leaves, and eventually we returned to the car, hot and sweaty, and drove them, shirtless, home.

Twice this week I have been told through institutions--the school and the summer care program--that days are approaching when swim suits will be needed. These situations call for distincly different limits for boys and girls. Boys are told to wear swim trunks. Girls are told to wear one piece bathing suits or tank-inis. However, if a girl wishes to wear a bikini--a five or six or seven or eight or nine-year-old girl--she must wear a t-shirt. To cover her body.

So boys are allowed to show their flesh. The entirety of their torsos: shoulders, pecs, nipples, bellies, belly buttons, upper backs, lower backs, all of it. Girls, customarily, don't even need to be told to cover their nipples--of course they will. (Whether I believe they should have to or not). But a girl is not allowed to show this arbitrary strip of flesh from the top of the rib cage to the bottom. This is the area bared by a bikini, this is what they require my daughters to cover.

They must cover it because it isn't considered "modest". It isn't considered to be "modest" because male students and teachers might find it "distracting".

I'm not going to get radical on you and suggest women and girls start going topless. Even though my mom has told me that, as a child, she frequently ran shirtless in the summer. Even though in Asheville, 45 miles away, men are free to bare nipples but a woman who does so faces jail time. And I'm not going to entertain the idea that these rules are for girls own protection. They are not. They are for protection of the male sex-drive, an excuse for boys and men to never have to learn to respect the female body and not, as the above poster says, to over-sexualize it. 

I could write this essay about how troublesome it is that men have been taught so little respect for the female body that even a child's female body is considered somehow sexual, when the truth is a girl's chest is no more inherently sexual than a boy's, and a woman's chest is only sexual because western men have decided it so. I could write about how, with this rule and rules like it, we once again make girls and women responsible for male sexuality. Our culture tends to look down on the burqas of Arabic cultures and consider our school dress codes a different matter entirely. But rules like these are no different from burqas by their intention, only by degree. In Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis", her memoir about growing up in Iran, there is a scene in which she stands up and demands a male teacher explain to her why women must cover their bodies simply because men have decided they are arousing. I could make that same argument at my PTO meeting today, it would make every bit as much sense. It would be just as applicable, and just as relevant, as an argument made by a woman in the 1980's, in Iran.

Imagine if I asked your sons, your brothers and husbands, to cover their legs because I found them sexually arousing and distracting.

My daughters have been aware from a very young age that our society has severe limits on what is acceptable from a female body. (I realized this when my three-year-old Ayla asked me if her legs were "skinny like a pretty girl's") They have told me about a girl at their school who is casually referred to as "Fat Kylie". (There are no boys burdened with a "Fat" before their names, though there are certainly overweight boys) They are growing up in a world that assaults their bodies and their feelings about their bodies with persistent, overwhelming regularity. Here, from their school administrators, they recieve yet another lesson. The lesson that male flesh is free in a way theirs is not. Their body, like their voices, is dangerous and must be stifled. The lesson that there is something inherently wrong with and shameful about their feminine flesh--if there wasn't, why the need to cover it up? It is a subtle message, but clear. Your bodies must be covered because they make men lustful.

Lust is bad.

Your bodies make men be bad.

Your bodies are bad.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Mile 140,021

Last night Ayla came to me with tears in her eyes to ask about time and space and the origins of the universe and also, is Santa Claus real? I was sipping a cocktail in the dark and waiting for something to start. I was waiting for a tv show to start in the dark when Ayla came brimming with questions and tears in her eyes that she was trying to hide from me.

I know this is made in a factory, she said, picking up a throw pillow. But see how it's stitched together here and like, someone must have done that. I know these books are made from trees but I don't know where did the first tree came from and all the ones after that and everything is like, made by someone but I don't know where they came from. Some people said that apes turned into humans but I don't know how that's true. And is Santa Claus real, or is he like, real like the Easter bunny? I'm not crying, my eyes just water when I yawn.

(She was trying so hard not to cry, she was smiling through these tears).

Weeks ago, Indy came home from school in one of her moods where she stomps around the house and says things very loudly and with unpredictable emphasis. Usually nonsense things like "WHY are the TORTILLAS in this CUPBOARD?" or "WHERE did my DOLLY put her SHOES?" But this time she came home in a mood and said to me, in a steely way like someone out of True Grit: "Ayla and I found Easter candy wrappers in your closet and we now we KNOW the Easter bunny is you and I DON'T believe in Santa anymore." Her air was of accusation and hard truths, and I stood in the kitchen at three in the afternoon nursing cold coffee and a broken heart. If I could do it again, I would never tell my children these fanciful lies in the first place, but I have, and so here we are. Sunday night after bedtime and Ayla is asking about God and Santa with tears in her eyes and I can't tell if she's crying because Santa might not be real, or beacuse she knows I have lied an am lying to her right now. I raised my cocktail to my lips to buy myself time, to try to find a way to save both our lives.

140,021. Those are the miles on my car today as I drive out of the leafy birth canal of Pisgah forest, the trees a thick canopy, a semi-dark passage bearing me into the mysteries of life and light. The sun has returned after ten days of rain and the trees are green like Crayola. My husband has just asked why I want to move to Los Angeles/Paris/Taos and I have heard stupid reasons fall from my mouth like betraying stones and I have understood them, at last, for a fanciful dream; the kind of fancy I have entertained long past the time when it's seemly. Nevermind, I think. Nevermind. I have driven this red van across Monarch Pass in the snow hoping not to slip and plummet to our icy deaths, along Trail Ridge Road, backbone of the earth, where I saw cars crawling a thin blue line between mountain and sky and knew I was headed to that narrow road at the very crest of the world and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I have sped through the red deserts of Utah and the silver deserts of Nevada, seen Joshua tree at dawn and finally stood in the pacific ocean on a gray morning after Christmas, when the mimosas have been drunk and the champagne is gone. And then one day I got in this van and drove it east, through farmland and plains, crossing rivers wider than mountain valleys to the land where I am now, this earth that is wet and spongy and misty like any unknown feminine place we pass through on our way toward our life.

I don't believe in signs and portents. I might gamble with my life on prayer and instinct, but I wouldn't bet a dime. I don't know what to tell a child about the origins of the universe other than that I just don't know myself, and nobody does, even those who will tell you they do. Imagine yourself by the ocean, under gunmetal light and restless palms. You have experienced the isolation and vast majestic landscapes of the west. You have been wrapped in leaf-shook arms and cradled by the gentle curving comforts of the south. Tell yourself you have been guided, if it helps you sleep. You have tasted these pleasures, each distinct and in their time. Tell yourself that they have touched you in some deep place and that surely they must have worked magic on the rushing river of your soul, magic that is beneficial and will aid you on your way. Even if you lacked the wisdom to see it at the time.

(I took Ayla by the hand. I put her back to sleep)

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