#yesallwomen

I do this thing with the internet where I read way too much about one thing–a news story and the flood of responses to it, usually–and then spend days filled with disjointed rage at whatever happened and what it says about society and culture and i sputter on and on to c about it, trying to explain both the event and the cultural context (he’s lived in Denali a long, long time, and it’s only kind of America) until, exhausted, i just go back to pictures of cookies or flowers or something that i’ll be able to talk about in public without feeling completely weird, and feeling guilty about the degree to which i’ve chosen isolation and denial over engagement and participation.

But then sometimes i think, you know, that’s a silly thing to think, and really oversimplifies my community as being somehow separate from the rest of Society (and when i say that, i say it like a teenage stoner wearing shoes scribbled with anarchy symbols…do kids still do that?), as if that’s even possible. And just to get to my point, the latest internet black hole i’ve fallen down is #yesallwomen, and the platform the internet offers to the new generation of misogynists, and the women and men who are sharing stories of assault and harassment in an attempt to demonstrate just how common, even universal, it is for women to live with fear and anger about the societal expectation that men will feel entitled to their attention, at the least, and that violence will be a likely result. Fucking society, man. And as i read my friends’ Facebook posts about harassment on campuses and streets and bars, my first thought was bitter and simplistic: and that’s why i’m glad for the lack of public places and populated streets and bars with strangers in them in my life. But then I started realizing what bullshit it is, the way i’ve separated myself from the problem, the way i’ve forgotten.

As many of you know, I used to be something of a regular at the Denali summer dive bars. I’m not gonna say I regret it, or claim it was a waste of time–it was fun, a lot of stuff happened there, i’ve got some good stories. But I was thinking today about apologists, and the way transgressions are spoken of in a place thought of by many as NeverNeverLand, Denali/Denial, and the way actions are separated from context everywhere, and, perhaps, even more so in a place where context is often separated from context. So you do a shot with a guy, someone everyone likes and you think you should too, and later he asks you to kiss him, and your first strategy is to remind him that he’s married, which he declares irrelevant, and persists, until, on a shuttle ride home, he dives over a seat and latches his teeth on to your shoulder, through two layers of clothing, and there will be bite marks in the morning. Ha ha, silly drunk man.

Another night, another man, someone i knew struggled with addiction and general awkwardness, and I felt for him, I wanted him to be healthy and feel comfortable, because that seemed like something a human should want for another human. Once, he told me I was “the best intellectual we’ve got,” and that meant something to me, then, so i’d talk to him. And he thought that meant eventually I’d go home with him, and when I made it clear that I wouldn’t, and that, that night, I was going home with someone else (yeah, i played that card), he turned to leave, and then turned back and kicked me, hard, in the shins, and if not for the drunkenness would have taken me with him when he slammed into the wall behind me.

So I’d mention these incidents, and be met with an eye-rolling, “oh, _____ (insert name of legendary Denali drunk), what do you expect. Depending on the charisma of the drunk in question, there would be an affectionate grin or a disgusted snort. Those were the first moments I thought of today, and then others, and they bore me, and they make me angry.

I remember reading out loud in high school my “autobiography as a writer,” which at the time fit on two sides of one sheet of lined notebook paper, written in pen, because even in 2000, that was how school sometimes worked. I wore shoes scribbled with anarchy signs. And I remember summarizing the stories I’d act out with dolls and sticks and stones as a child, sort of the gestation of my writerly self. There were complicated stories of women’s kingdoms in the sky, where Totally Hair Barbie reigned over a group of flying horses and women who had arrived there via a portal in a closet in a terrestrial shelter for abused women, and they would swoop down to earth on occasion to exact vengeance on their oppressors. “Everyone knows the Ken doll is a rapist,” I remember reading. The girls in my class kind of laughed, and my teacher smiled. I was proud of that line; I knew I’d entered into a more complex relationship with the audience by including it, and I liked the approval. I’m right, I thought. They do know.

And i think now, how the hell did I know? I was and am now surrounded by good men, enough of them that I rarely saw good men as a luxury, but the norm. And yet, I knew to watch out for the Ken doll.

Last i heard of my Ken doll, he was strung naked from the ceiling of a kid i hung out with in high school, who’d taken him home first to film a portion of a group project for English, and then kept him, and then described his fate as a morbid art project, and eventually I stopped asking. The biter retired, is featured on a t-shirt. The kicker hitchhikes a lot. I used to pick him up, but I don’t anymore.

restless

IMG_1323I wrote a little spring poem last week, with a room full of people who were also mostly writing spring poems. It was a guided exercise where we wrote words associated with a place, and other people added words to our lists that they thought matched the originals, and then we wrote something using their words rather than our own. This was in the midst of my last weekend with the thesis, a pleasantly interactive and scribbly evening to interrupta lot of last-minute neurosis. Sans scribbles, my (revised) anticipatory pasque flower place poem:

 

The river is restless. Cold

breeze greets new flowers

in constant push-pull with the sun’s warmth,

the scent of pollen and decay.

Squirrels dance slinky lines through spruce branches.

My clumsy foot

kicks my coffee, a brown stream

over tundra, bound for the river.

 

(Thanks to Nicole Stellon O’Donnell!)

social media: a personal history

In junior high, i’d make one of my best friends sit and listen to me read from my journal. We’d already covered most of the documented territory in more conversational form, but i wanted her to hear the written version: raw, yet unedited, crowded with the run-ons and long parentheticals that still plague me. this was not an exchange of any kind; she didn’t, nor did she wish to read me her murkily constructed secrets. Sometimes she groaned. Often she made excuses to go home earlier than what i knew was her family dinner time. There may have been nose-picking. This was very much something i did to her, and may have had something to do with the eventual strain in our friendship. My journal was not interesting. There were boys and questions about God and extraterrestrial life (often conflated), and i had nothing of what i might now call “voice” that was not directly borrowed from Anne Frank or Anais Nin(how does a pubescent American know what a diary should sound like?), but I was determined to have an audience, and she resented being cast in that role.

And then: the internet came. It made me nervous, and i really believed it was a way for the government/aliens(/God?) to monitor us. But it was also an audience. After a brief flirtation with chat rooms (X-Files and atheist babbling, mostly), i found online journals. They weren’t blogs yet–this was 1999 (after typing this, i learned from Google that “blog” was actually coined in April of that year–but teenagers in Flagstaff weren’t talking about it). But there were online journal sites, and i stayed up late night after night making one on angelfire.com. It was a steep learning curve, and the only time i’ve felt digitally ahead of the game. I taught myself some basic html and started posting, and then i found friends.

I found this network of 3 or 4 strangers who all “knew” each other, at least digitally. i went about making myself known to them. Commenting wasn’t an option then, but you could link your website with theirs, and somehow they found out. The details escape me. Of my first online community, i remember that one woman worked in a pet store, and sometimes she told funny stories about hamsters. The one male of the group was concerned about getting burrito farts in the face if he gave bad cunnilingus (or good?), and suggested that the next advanced mammal have their genitals closer to the belly button. I wrote mostly about Monty Python and learning to drive. The only evidence of my first blog’s existence is this internet artifact: a link page from one of my fans (scroll down to “The Page of Eternal Indecision” (it goes nowhere)). The “voice” is drastically different than how i wrote in my “paper journal” (which you can read more about here). It was performative, hid the fact that I was in high school, tried to be funny and relatable (to an audience of sexually anxious 20somethings).

After the angelfire stage, there was another site, which didn’t require code and you could just hit a button and out it went. I was less silly there, and a little melodramatic. I eventually shut the site down with some closing post about how i had a boyfriend and couldn’t blog at the same time (somehow, maintaining an online presence for my audience of 3 seemed impossible if i were to make our weekly stick juggling dates downtown. So much for having it all.)

Toward the end of high school, i had a brief stint on diaryland.com, where i narrated in specific detail my interactions with a city councilman on whom i had a huge, hopeless crush (perhaps this is the nature of teenage crushes on local politicians), and which would have been a terrible life choice in the age of Google but felt pretty damn invisible at the time. But you can’t be in college and have something called a “diaryland,” and so i learned to import, switched to blogger…and from there, the path was easier to travel. Everyone and their dog was on it. By this point, blogging was a thing. Audience just happened (sometimes with unanticipated consequences (see comments)).

My paper journals have suffered. The latest volume is mostly notes on workshops and classes, menstrual cycles, and an occasional meteorological observation. The internet is letting me do what i wanted to do all along, when i forced old friends to listen to my dull redundant inner truths, and sat down new friends to peruse four 3″ binders of photo albums. Facebook is my teenage brain made public, acceptable, and almost expected as a form of interaction. This is the one area in which i feel almost in step with my generation: the ease and desire to share and be recognized. Over and over and over again.

love’s a feeling like a warm dark stone

WHAT IT MEANS TO STAY HERE
(Wendy Xu)
I lie in a bed and away from all
my thoughts. I pledge all kinds of things
to the moon, how it speaks but not
to me. Giant land snail, you
are my friend. African prairie buck, you king
of going unseen, black horses moving
through the night. The wilds mean
many things and often we go on
into it. We put our precious bodies
in a tent. We have a lifespan and O how
we live it out. I don’t know much
about anything. I drink my coffee and wait
for what is next. My fine house blows over
on a Tuesday and the anthem of what
this means is awfully sweet. Where
shall I wander before I finally
am gone? What do I bring back
in my careless hands to show you?
(brought to my attention by LEC, who said it reminded her of me, so now it reminds me of me too, and staying. As do most things, when it comes down to it.)

———————————–

IMG_2074.1

When i first came to Alaska, i felt claustrophobic in the forest, trapped by scrawny, frizzled spruce trees and dense shrubs that blocked the sky, the horizon. Escaping the taiga was the main reason i jumped then at the opportunity to live and work at or above treeline, where i felt like i could see, move, and breathe easier. I’d always felt uneasy surrounded by too much green, too many shadowed things. The tundra felt enough like the desert–is enough like the desert–to become a home. A few winters here have cured me of the idea that the forest is a green place; green is, rather, something that happens, a brief and showy event, superficial and somewhat overwrought. We anthropomorphize the “lazy willow,” whose leaves turn to yellow by the end of July, finding the whole endeavor not worth the effort. Dig your fingers in and find cold in the earth, wet and blackened. That black, the shadows, the texture and chromatic departure from the gray scale that trees offer, became more like a shelter than a cage. Sometimes the horizon is too much to take in uninterrupted. Becoming a forest dweller caught me by surprise.

A cloudless April weekend in Nome felt uncomfortably bright, and on Monday when i woke to gray skies and haze, i felt a tension i hadn’t recognized dissipate. L said this was the brightest time of year, maybe even the brightest days, when the light is back and the snow isn’t gone yet. I wanted to say how do you stand it, the view from her kitchen table out over the tundra and then the ocean, glaring white, beating in the window, sunlight like some growing spilled thing, creeping into cracks and around the curtain. Not used to it, i felt so small, and so irrelevantly visible in that land-and-seascape. IMG_6422 copyIn the days i was there, the warmth started its work on a small hill just outside the window, and while L worked i gravitated to its darkness. I lay with my book and her dog, face against the dried brown lichens, some familiar, some not. The air wasn’t much above 30˚, if at all, but the hill gathered warmth from every direction, and before i fell asleep i noted the heat distorting the air, radiating up from the dark patch of tundra.IMG_6435I think we crave a certain balance, and what might seem like extremes do balance over time. I’ve had several conversations recently about how manic and exhausting the people seem who have just arrived from somewhere else, and, conversely, how withdrawn and dull the rest of us must seem to them. This must be, in part, about light. Who wouldn’t be a little manic around the light if it didn’t follow the dark, if you just showed up in it with no opposite extreme?

doing something

Of a quiet night sometimes I think of the Metropolitan Opera, Yankee Stadium, Central Park, Indian food, people of color, Film Forums I and II, our many city friends, my old haunts in SoHo and the Village, and I want to scream. And deep winter nights Juliet thinks of hip galleries, the Santa Monica promenade, outdoor swimming pools, funky clothing stores, yoga classes, movie stars, and admits she wants to kill me, burn down the house, and drive nonstop to Los Angeles, where her lucky sister lives.           -Bill Roorbach, Temple Stream

The readings were packed, not because people loved either poetry or me, but because they’d already seen that week’s movie.        -Margaret Atwood, Negotiating With the Dead

While i’m actually doing it, i would so much rather speak publicly to 200 strangers than to 10 people i know, though having done it, it’s much more fulfilling having spoken to the 10. Or, unexpectedly, 45-ish, in an unremarkable room lit with Christmas lights and old brown carpet on the walls. “I’m really surprised so many people are here,” i said to one friend, before we started reading, and she responded, “What, you’re surprised people want something to do on a 40 below night in January?” Which is what it is, and that’s as good a reason as any. It’s the same reason i play bunko, or started giving a shit about whose dogs run fastest, or, though it’s hard to admit now, this far in to it, the reason i started spending a good portion of my meager income on yarn. Something to do. c and i still joke that that’s why i’m living in this house (it was, at first). We all need something, and though, in my constant love/hate with social/cultural isolation and the goddam Parks Highway and all, i really do appreciate–revel in, even–the fact that listening to 3 people croak our way through some obscure stories about animals and road signs is really the big thing for a Saturday night. And then, that people are still talking about it weeks later. Pretty great, really. Makes me want to go out and buy bean bag chairs.

I’m often struck by how easy it is to feel so damn important here, like democracy and community fitness and creative discourse will all collapse if i don’t check my email for a weekend–convincing myself of this importance is one of my cyclical pastimes, something i do every couple months out of boredom, like the shipping pallet projects. But that feeling dissipates just as easily 10 minutes out the door, and i look around and wonder how i ever got so full of it, occupying myself with all these little civic and social duties when really, it’s all spruce trees and snow for miles and miles and miles, and everything else fades into them.

I’ve got to get back into blogging, for myself if not for my readers. Comments/encouragement appreciated. Thank you.

out of what little earth and duration

I’ve been thinking a lot about memory: its failings, our mechanisms of retaining it, the sort of nagging sense that none of it matters.

* * *

In October, i helped pack the recorded memories of one woman into boxes and then into a moving truck, and the sheer weight of them–the physical weight, in back-straining pounds–convinced me that digital is the way to go, for the sake of portability and the ability of posterity to move it from one place to another, if necessary. Or, more likely, for it to just disappear. If every person to live and die on earth produced as many journals and scrapbooks and annotated, cross-referenced single-paged autobiographical narratives as this woman, c’s mother…i was going to say something about running out of paper, or drowning in it, but no. There is no meaningful “if”; we don’t, and even if we do, the paper just becomes stuff. Our capacity to absorb the others’ memories is limited.

* * *

I used to be such a good journaler. Every day, all day, through math class and dinner. When i didn’t bring my journal to high school, i’d write on tiny scraps of paper and tape them in later. Notes on what i and the interesting boys (there were 2) were wearing, and who said what to who, and the weather. I created my first online journal (before the word “blog”) in 1999 on Angelfire, then Diaryland, which have both been eaten by older, clunkier internets. I mostly wrote thinly veiled anecdotes about drama club and Monty Python, applying great cultural significance to my musings. It was a different voice than the journal scraps, less annotated boy wardrobe (“T-shirt. Trenchcoat.”) Gradually, the documentation shifted into emails, conversations, less urgent processing and more obligatory factual transcription. Now, the paper journals have been mostly abandoned, and i blame Facebook and healthy interpersonal communication, school deadlines and housework.

* * *

I’ve been remembering Columbine, my first conscious introduction to this part of American life. I remember being surprised at how quickly the conversation shifted from universal mourning and memorial to a divisive “us vs. them” argument. I don’t remember when that shift stopped surprising me, but it certainly doesn’t now. A week after that shooting, everyone in my high school wore white, and it was suggested that we do so every Tuesday for the remainder of the year. In my journal, i noted that my trenchcoat friends changed styles that day: a tasteful choice, i thought. Later that day, we were released early because of a bomb threat, and the picture in my scrapbook of my three smiling socially outcast white-shirted friends said “jumping on the trampoline on bomb threat day.” After a couple weeks, when my dentist and my gym teacher had made jokes about how i was going to “shoot everyone,” i and others stopped playing the white T-shirt game, started rethinking cause and effect and empathy. Maybe “evil” wasn’t the “cause.”

There are entries in the paper journals of that year that i can’t stand to look at, the anger was so aimless and all-encompassing. And then it passed. But to have lived with it for years…?

* * *

Friday afternoon, my first instinct was to write something, anything, in response, and the default has become to write it publicly: I just heard about this, i too spent all day in a school, i have thoughts and feelings and and and. But why? I called my mom. I made pasta. The temperature dropped below 0 again. c and i cuddled on the couch and watched a mediocre 2004 documentary about the Fox News monstrosity. At some point this weekend it dawned on me that “media” and “mediate” are the same word (duh). And trying now, i am still only thinking of how the way in which a life is commemorated is determined by the stage at which it ended. By how complete the documentation is perceived to be. Memory, i think, is key. To something.

Will kids wear white t-shirts to school on Fridays? What will actually be remembered?

* * *

I just re-read this tonight.

Nativity

In the dark, a child might ask, What is the world?
just to hear his sister
promise, An unfinished wing of heaven,
just to hear his brother say,
A house inside a house,
but most of all to hear his mother answer,
One more song, then you go to sleep.

How could anyone in that bed guess
the question finds its beginning
in the answer long growing
inside the one who asked, that restless boy,
the night’s darling?

Later, a man lying awake,
he might ask it again,
just to hear the silence
charge him, This night
arching over your sleepless wondering,

this night, the near ground
every reaching-out-to overreaches,

just to remind himself
out of what little earth and duration,
out of what immense good-bye,

each must make a safe place of his heart,
before so strange and wild a guest
as God approaches.

-Li-Young Lee

 

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