Thursday, March 31, 2016

Use Your Feminist Seal Whiskers

"Rather than rely on sight and sound," The Atlantic explains, "Seals use antenna-like whiskers --  precise instruments capable of sizing a herring down to the centimeter."

We all have seal whiskers. We call them bullshit detectors.

My whiskers are on my chin, yesbut they're also the helplessly transparent organ of my face, in the expressions that I make when I'm watching the news.

Human faces might only express four basic emotions. We need a fifth basic emotion. Feminism. Feminism face.

I make a fear-disgust face, watching Donald Trump. Reading ma blogs. Fear-sadness face watching a Beastie Boys video with my son, 11, that so shocked me that I let out a shocked mother-sheep bleat of upset. No he didn't! Did Mike D really just push that girl? 

It was Fight for Your Right To Party. And I sang along in 1986, live. The Beastie Boys opened for Madonna.

Whose party? Whose rights? is what I wonder now. Clearly, it was theirs.

I tell my son, "If you ever push a girl off the couch LIKE MIKE D and then get on top of her and kiss her even though she DOES NOT WANT IT like she's a used tissue or something you'd kick with your shoe,  I will haunt you." I will shake my chains. Son, I will be that voice in your head.

I'm haunted by my time at Smith College, when I woke up to the water that I swam in, and realized it was rapids for girls. Or grrrls. Or wymmin.  We were salmon twisting in uncomfortable leaps upstream in competing messages. Be cute. Be good. Twirl ya pearls. Are blowjobs sex? Has anyone ever hit you? Your body is a battleground. Has anyone ever pushed you or used you as a tissue?

Have you ever ----? We talked in late night sisterhood conversations that I don't have with anyone anymore, even with my wonderful amazing sister. I, who marched on Washington, haven't felt brave. Other issues -- called more important -- have dominated.

The water has gotten hotter, and like the frog in the joke that doesn't know it's being made into frog soup because the temperature has gone up imperceptibly we've gone from Free To Be You and Me to inured to bikini toddler girls, sex for social power, violence, ass breaking the internet, revenge porn, and politicians who can say she's bleeding out of her wherever and --  

I'm the one who doesn't want to be that sharpie?  That downer, the so-called shrill woman?  It's to the point that I've censored myself.

My great-grandmother was a major suffragette in Western Pennsylvania. She was baller. She stood on a soapbox. She was outspoken. My third wave feminism by contrast, has started with a funny twitch of my whiskers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Middle Aged Adolescent Bubblegum Pop

In perimenopause I'm having a second adolescence. Squee! Like, gnarly! Like, wicked pissah!  I'm seriously you guys so excited to be having a second adolescence. Heart-shaped dot on the i with marker ink that dries puffy and stawberry-scented! OMG! Strawberry!

I got this set of Japanese pens yesterday! (I really did. ) OMG! Souffle! 

I was at my best, most confident quirky hardcore lady-type when I was 14ish and wore board shorts, and didn't shave my legs, because: Heads Together Bookstore, and had rushing crushes on people for whom I illustrated notes of love with big puffy letters who had names like Spaz, Stephan (pronounced Germanly Schtay-fawn) and R--, and the 17 year old guy on the bus who had a pet rat, and dissipated just as fast.

But the ride! The ride on the tide of my own hormones! No other drug in the world compares. I think I once skipped skipped! to R-- 's house.

Now of course, my hormones are ebbing. They're seeping out to reveal windswept dry beach, a wrack line littered with fishing line and empty soda bottles. I'm not so much of a skipper.  I turn over rocks. I examine the situation from many angles.

So I'm letting myself do what I want. That is the whole of the law.

Do what thou will applies especially to music, the very symbol and soundtrack of love in the early '80s. Music was everything. I listened to B94 FM. It was Pittsburgh's pop station. It's logo was a bee wearing sunglasses, in a cool way.

Though I have tried on other tastes to be pleasing mostly to men with late-day scruff --  classical, grunge, Latin jazz, and I have a small thing for Metallica's song Orion, and Rage Against The Machine, punk -- but ultimately I am simple cotton-candy (or very difficult cotton-candy; everyone over the age of X knows "it's easy to be heavy, hard to be light.")

I just want to dance like Snoopy and wave my arms around the purpose of music is to make 'ya smile. Just keep truckin'.

I am rapidly becoming some sort of Wise Wymmin Herbarium of Dried Medicinal Leaves while my son is blooming, yet we are overlapping in our musical tastes. We're passing the torch of bubblegum pop back and forth. Like my head is home to the bunny that lays Cadbury creme eggs,
we've been falling all over ourselves for MIKA. (Above, the video.) LURV.

My son and I sing loudly, "Sucking too hard on your lollipop, love's gonna get you down." In my 30s I would have gone into a painfully extended exegesis over the lyrics. But now? It's skippy is a complete thought. That is the whole of the law. Play it again.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Husb. Rides His Bicycle

Your interests at 11 stay with you. I had a cheap plastic microscope. I had a notebook. Both are still true.

We grow intellectually into but not out of our tween interests, is my argument. The ages from 11-13 are formative whether you like me had a bowl-cut mullet or not. I look at my son, 11, flying his helicopter remotely.  What tangled web will he weave? 

Husb. grew a beard early. He's of the hairy phenotype. My son will have fuzzy forearms. I choose to see it as an asset. He has that going for him.

Husb. when he was 11 wanted a bike. In rural Costa Rica where he grew up with an outhouse it was not like it was in the '70s in Pittsburgh where I grew up. My grandfather asked me when I was 11, "Bike or a dinghy?" We were a water people.

"Dingy," I said.  I rowed its creaky oarlocks around the cove at my grandparents farm on the Eastern Shore. I can still hear the sound.

Husb. would have said, "Bike!" and bounced around my grandfather in circles like a Jack Russell terrier. "Bike! Bike!"  I like to think of my husband in happy dog form. I nip. I herd. I am a working dog. Husb. has those spring-loaded calf muscles. He is joyful.

A bike for Husb. is what I've been wanting to give him for awhile. When I met him he was Mr. Mountain Bike. He wore a singlet and carried his bike over his head up muddy hills like an ape. I watched.  He had an earring that was made from a spoke.

I understood the type. In my family the men are like this, but about boats: old, classic, wooden, half underwater. The more woebegone the better. "The Emily's sunk," was not an uncommon report.

This is their sport: struggle and triumph. They pit themselves against the odds through the application of objects: pulleys and sailcloth patches and wing nuts and wire which are kept like reliquaries in The Tool Box.

Husb.'s has stickers on it, of another life, another time: lubes with double entendres, bike shops long out of business. Still the 11 year old remains. He's wide-eyed. "I'm going to buy you a new mountain bike for for your 50th birthday," I said. He said, "You are! Wait. You are? Are you?  A new bike? OMG. Really?" Bounce bounce bounce.

It's so fun to be married to Tigger, I think to myself.  Tigger on wheels.  Life is short. How rare it is to make someone happy and not grind their gears.  There is so much crap in the toolbox.

When I think of Husb. at 11 I think of the open road, immense richness, tire-rutted and lined with banana trees on the cafetal he was warned not to go into because of La Llorna, the central prohibitive female ghost of Latin America. She doesn't live around here.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Space Buns

Space buns, mini buns, or puff ball pig tails, call them what you will, I labored to make them for my daughter, 8, who embraces The Feminine Mystique exemplified by this photo, above, of space buns. She draws eyelashes on her drawings of cats. "So everyone knows they're girl cats."

"I know they're girl cats" I said, "whether they have eyelashes or not."

"Yes, but how? You can't see their vaginas."

Eyelashes being the commercial popular stand-in for vaginas, of course. I saw a woman recently, probably a mother, who had so many expertly applied eyelashes made of plush lynx fur or whatever animal I was like, Holy vagina on your face!

Instead I said, "Wow, you look so awake."

"Mommy," my daughter asked me, "Why Don't You Look More Like Adele?" which is something I've asked myself. Why don't I look more like Adele? Because I am not Adele.

I said, "Shit. Are we really having The Conversation? The one girls have with their mothers? That one? Not about sex." Swear words are just are just words; used in the wrong context is what makes them inflammatory. I'm pretty sure this was the right context.

"Mommy is Mommy," I said, and I'm sure its horribly embarassing for everyone involved, especially for my daughter. She sees Other Mothers all the time looking like Adele and with space buns. A lot of mothers are really unimpeachable in their look, which is Straight. Out. Of Central Casting. I distrust a culture that (where?) Spanx earns multi of millions of dollars. "And you are you, and at this moment in time you like eyelashes a whole lot and draw them on cats because -- pressure, conformity, tradition, and shit.We're born naked, and the rest is drag. RuPaul said that."

 She said, "What?" I templed my fingers.  Heehee! Oh! The fun we are going to have!

I told her: "Mommy's drag is wannabe European gamine, Smith College grrrl, had a huge crush in the '90s on Pixies bassist Kim Deal, or as she called herself deliciously at the time, Mrs. John Murphy."

Rumpled. Boho. Cardigan-central. Comfort shoes. It's a choice, I realize. But have you seen me walk in heels? It makes Isaac Mizrahi cry. I poked myself in the eyeball last time I attempted to wear eyeliner, in a color labeled Coal Commander which is the artist formerly known as Gray.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Love In The Time of Major Surgery

It is one year to the day that Husb. went to the hospital to have a tumor called an amelblastoma removed from his face, and the diseased jaw bone replaced with bone from his leg, his fibula.

The surgery involved two teams of doctors (Team Face, Team Leg),  a bike-chain-looking graft, and the good-looking tall humorless Canadian Dr. Lubek wearing microscopic glasses to reattach Husb.'s neck arteries with the extreme precision that only tall good-looking humorless people have, while I waited in the University of Maryland Hospital's "Healing Garden."

The "Healing Garden" is the place where the family waits. It looks like an airport, but with more plants. Ficuses in big pots. And banana plants with their enormous enfolding tropical leaves. I was there for ten-plus hours.

Other families got their news and drifted out on little clouds of hope. They carried ubiquitous balloons. Teddy bears, if the patients were kids.

Around 6 pm it was just me left, with my father, and a woman, with her mother, waiting for news of her husband who had stomach cancer.  We talked softly clutching the itchy hospital pillows. We could rest if we wanted. Neither of us wanted to rest from our waiting. I bought her a hospital-basement mocha. She bought me a muffin.

I watched her cry on the shoulder of the hospital priest. There was no privacy.  I leaned into a banana plant to avoid looking. I inhaled, imagined we were exchanging gases and it comforted me, that banana plant. Her husband's situation was not good.  I wonder what happened to him. I suspect he died.

But I was called out before her and never saw her again. My news was, "Power of attorney: Would you sign the paperwork for a tracheotomy?" I said yes. I said yes to a lot of things. Paperwork. Hope. I hung all my hope like a string of pearls around the porcelain statue of Lubek who was so handsome. The lizard part of my brain said, Go for it.  

Say yes! to slitting open your husband's neck and sticking his leg bone in there. No problemo! 
Lubek told me reassuringly, "Surgery is an organized car crash." "No problemo!" I said, dazed. He was just so very tall.

I nodded in agreement, though I had no understanding. Team Face came out to tell me that "first cut" was at 8 am. "Terrific," I said, and took a sip of mocha. "Now we wait." As if all this was normal magical realism. Blood seeping out of my husband in all directions. Later, the ventilator.

Husb. asked me this morning to remember what it was like. He was unconscious.

I remember the smell of banana leaf, I said.  I realized that was lame.  I have a tendency to go straight to seed. "It was inevitable, the scent of bitter almonds..." wrote Gabriel Garcia-Marquez who died two years ago in April, and everybody knows that is the cruelest month.

Love In The Time of Cholera for a time was my favorite book ever.  It was my gateway to knowledge that "sense" was something literature did not have to make, necessarily. Art imitated life in that way. I was freed from Puritan narrative where there is a reason for our suffering: we deserve it because we're clods.

In magical realism there was something that was even older, and mine, and leafy, and untamable. "It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love." Love.

Love In The Time of Major Surgery smells different than Love In The Time of Cholera. It smells not like flowers: like flesh. It's liver-red and pulpy. My cheeks are streaked, and my hair matted; I've been in it up to my elbows in it. I'm glad for it.

I know what we're all made of: wailing and mirth, bones and sinew under skins that look so different (me and oh, for example --  Lubek); if you cut us we bleed. I've always said that the best boyfriend would be the one who, when you had your period, would make hand prints on the bedroom wall.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Heidi Grows Up

My son, now 11, is starting ::hereIbitemyknuckleandchokebackmytearsalittle:: to become a man. He wears deodorant in Spice Ball Xtreme Dirt Bike Blue Diamond, or something. He's getting hairy. He's eleven.

Girl, you'll be a woman soon. (I'm a big Neil Diamond fan and I don't care who knows it.)

Heidi Grows Up, A Sequel To Heidi (above) is a sequel nobody wants. She's wearing a wan half smile, at best. There's a lot ahead, Heidi. That Alpine mountain off in the distance like a New York egg cream; you're going have to huff up it. You're probably going to want to throw away that bouquet of flowers.

Same for my son. That's middle school. And here, in Privateschoolandia, that means put an Under Armour logo on it, lacrosse sticks, time trials, LAX (saying it like that) and face-off-and-get-off (a LAX expression), and pre-algebra, and first crushes, and the conversation about the heroin epidemic, and sex, and how the amazing Dutch talk to their children about sex and love and respect at the same time, together, and that's so amazing and progressive, and god knows what other monsters under the bed exist for boys.

I know, for him, "Tough" is going to be one of them.

He asked me last night when I kissed his forehead that smells like hay, "Mom? Am I tough? Am I. You know. Tough."

It's a word that as a girl, never even crossed my mind. Even now as a grown-up woman I never think about toughness. I think about my triceps and how I don't have them. ::Ibitmyknuckleandchokedbackmytearsalittlemore:: at his age I was concerned with being cute.

Both suck. Tough and cute. "They're straightjackets of gender." Yeah, I said that. I said that to him. "In neither one can you move about the cabin as you are free to do once the plane reaches altitude." I told him that. About altitude. And gender. Mixed metaphors about flying and growing up as I mumbled something something something Heidi. She had to grow up too.

And he was like, "What, Mom? What is that? Wisdom? Why don't you just take me to the library. To the puberty section."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sea Otters

I frequent thrift stores because of the finds. I always always find something.

Over the weekend what it was was right up my alley: a porcelain miniature of sea otters frolicking on a bed of porcelain kelp complete with rocks and little porcelain sea urchins painted purple (which is what sea otters eat.) It was true to my experience. It was called "February on The Coast," by Franklin Porcelain (above.)

It was my delight. It was the kind-of-adorable-kind-of-tacky embodiment of exactly how I perceive my family when we're sleek glorious curious and happy. We're sea otters, really. We're Nature's most playful. 

With my prize in my paw, I jogged into the house feeling jaunty -- I, huntress, I, octopus garden gardener,  had found an ornament for my desk! I was going to tell everyone -- then I

slipped and fell.  The beautiful tacky porcelain otters of my family went arcing into the air over my head and then you know -- gravity, law of -- they came down. Hard. They crashed into a million pieces on the wood floor.

Angry Octopus was my exact face. Good thing I picked him up in the thrift store's bargain bin of toyland suck and missing doll's limbs.

Because it's now Angry Octopus (and not the teddy bears picnic of sea otters) that sits on my desk with its legs hanging down over the screen, suckering. Totemic. Karmic balance. Eyebrows low and suspicious of fripperies like fun and otters.