When I feel nervous or scared or intimidated by the brawny world around me, I close off. I leave whatever goals or tasks were on my to-do list and about-face back to my comfort zone, shrinking several inches from my already small 5’2″ frame as I watch the busy world continue on around me. My text inbox racks up to 300+ messages, my emails pile as high as the caffeine I’d need to read them, and I fall down a dark hole of self-questioning and doubt (think Alice and Wonderland, but less drugs).
This is too big for me and everyone knows.
The pressure of my own expectations pile on me one pebble at a time until there’s suddenly a boulder resting on my chest. I feel small. I feel trapped. And I start wrapping everything I write, do or say with these two main fears:
Why does this matter to anyone
This doesn’t matter to anyone
This self-mutilating thought process is rough, and though I don’t find myself in that position everyday – I often struggle with letting doubt and insecurities control my ability to produce thoughtful, creative work.
I recently heard of something called automatic writing. In short, automatic writing is writing with intent to free your unconscious mind. It’s very Freudian and weird and cool.
I found a photo and sat for three minutes on the subway today, quickly jotting down every word that came to my mind after studying the patterns and red shoes on my little phone screen. I didn’t worry about grammar, or form, or how it would come across to anyone who read it. It was freeing and weird and oddly spiritual. I’m sharing below in hopes you join my hippy bandwagon:
I am here.
I do not know why or how or what purpose my life entails but
I am here.
I have wounds and scars and marks I’d like to hide but
My grandmother, Corrine Cotten, is shockingly aware and vocal about her human finitude. When I visit, she writes my name on little sticky notes and attaches the yellow squares to items of hers I may want one day. If you open a closet at her house, chances are you’ll see a pile of old quilts, pillows, hand-made vases from her sister Norma, or jewelry from her “wild days” labeled with the names of my cousins, aunts and uncles on the same little yellow squares. You can even see the various family names etched in sharpie marker on the back of larger items that are still in daily use throughout the house. Like packing up for a big move, her house is always on the cusp of that final transition. It is a weird mix of death and life, past and present, memory and moment, and I am uncomfortably aware that nothing she passes on will ever feel the same without her around. The kitchen table, for instance, is only special if we are playing SkipBo together with a cup of coffee in hand, and the jewelry from her “wild days” is only fun when she wraps it around her body and shows me the best way to move my belly so that each metal string shakes and chimes. Heirlooms won’t have that same Corrine spirit when she’s gone, but I love her gifts that give insight into her past – even if they are tinged with acceptance and muddled with final farewells.
At age 16, she sent me off with a rad, 1970’s gold belt and the most beautiful blue and crystal screw back earrings because, as she said, “you never know what will happen”. Last year at Thanksgiving, Corrine was wearing an old shirt from a church revival that said “Riot ’88”. 1988 is my birth year and I’m obviously a riot, so I LOST MY SHIT. I raved about how cool it was for a solid ten minutes until Corrine snuck off into the back room, changed into a pretty blue sweater with blue heart appliqués, and handed me the “Riot ’88” shirt that was just on her back two minutes earlier. This is who Corrine is. She is selfless, but strong with a firm voice and a soft heart. She is the cliché perfect grandmother that every child reads about in YA novels.
My whole day has gone and I’ve got nothing to show for it. I sat in front of a computer at 5am to write and, here I am; watching night fall with only a sentence or two down. I’ve done nothing to justify the adderall, three cups of coffee, leftover Indian, and three melted chocolate Lindt truffles I’ve consumed, but I keep up with the flow of bad habits in hopes that a life of monotonous suffering will somehow produce a prosperous return. What have I done all day?
I want to be a writer, or at least that’s what I’ve told myself for the past ten years. I want to be a writer, or a bird, or a duck, or even a band-winged flying fish. I tell myself I am a writer like there’s an optimistic guru hidden somewhere in my soul, but when the time is finally carved out to write I’ve got no authority. I am beat down and pessimistic. Which perhaps is a valid feeling for a writer, or a fish. I said one day I’d write about this giraffe that’s been walking around my head or about a kid named George being scared of the shore, but I can’t persuade those thoughts to leave the hidden corners of my mind. They’re trapped in a tangle of expectations, weighted with heavy soil-less potting mix like seedlings in a ten dollar garden kit under prefabricated light. I can’t force them out, so I break from the business of doing nothing to buy a bottle of wine in my sweatpants. On my way back to writing I watched dusk fall and street lamps flicker on; a whole day gone again.
Today I walked a blind girl to class. I’m not saying this for you guys to think I’m a good person and I promise not to post a discreet FB update letting you all know I’m perfect and I do perfect things for humanity. The truth is, I only offered to help guide her because the thought of being blind in a crowd of college kids made me sick with anxiety, and I could not bare to see her attempt to be independent and fail. Plus, her hijab and dope shade of red lips somehow made me think we were star-crossed boss bitch lovers. She was cool. She had confidence and she walked with power, but she got stumbled up at the college gate because a school of freshman were hanging in a circle unaware of her walking cane. I offered to make a path for us. She smiled because she was genuine and grateful, but my compassion was tinged with self gratification. I walked her for me. I walked her so I could feel better about who I am and not be forced to standby awkwardly while the Parting of the Student Sea didn’t happen. Nonetheless, she held onto my arm as I trambled through the crowd of privileged freshman and whispered how fierce she was into her ear.
I felt like Gaga guiding a group of her misfit monsters through life with that we will conquer this world together attitude and a side of haughtiness.
I steered her toward the direction of her destination with about fifteen or so feet left to walk a (somewhat) straight line to her classroom door. Just as I looked back with pride at the sea of privileged flesh we rummaged through, my new blind friend missed the doorway and walked directly into a brick wall.
(I never said this story had a happy ending)
I took a long, hard, tear inducing fall from my high horse when I realized my good deed now seemed like a cruel trick. I was Regina George and I hated every second of it. I walked away in shame hoping aforementioned sea of freshman somehow missed my humanitarian denouement. Tears were flowing out of my eye sockets like pellets of fancy Lionhead rabbit shit and I just wanted to poke both of my eyes out so I could A) make the crying stop and B) live in solidarity with all of the fierce AF blind people in this world.
It’s a weird feeling to feel fortunate for my luck to be born a middle class white chick with 20/20 vision while simultaneously being ashamed for having said luck. After my encounter with my friend at school, I became haunted with the fact that I am me, and even more frustrated that I have some hidden superiority that thought she needed me. My failed Gaga compassion didn’t embrace the independence, courage and bravery my new friend exudes everyday. Instead, my haughty walk established a perfect norm and perpetuated it. I made her an outsider, some form of otherness that needed me to grant them entrance into the cool crowd. It was as though I walked her while chanting, WATCH AND LEARN – like a distant friend that says “I got you”, but does’t actually have a clue.
Attempting and failing to help walk my friend to class made me realize I don’t actually have any understanding of the life she lives. I’m an outsider to her norm. But that doesn’t make me less normal – just as her being an outsider in my norm doesn’t make her any less normal.
I do believe there is still good being done, whether it’s with that tinge of self gratification or a pure heart for others, but can’t we do better than that? Can we help without creating some schism of normality?
A couple of months ago I wrote a paper during a visit home to Louisiana. It was a midterm about Hillary Clinton and the haltering statistics that kept her from the presidency. I’m an all-star procrastinator in general, but the 15-pages about Hill drug on for an unusual amount of time, mostly because the topic proposal I submitted months prior was geared around Hillary winning. You know, because I LIVE DEEP IN THE BROOKLYN BUBBLE.
I had loads of articles proving America had shown significant signs of progress (ie: increased percentages of career women, number of women in the Senate, the lame ass statistic guru over at FiveThirtyEight, my own personal outlook of Clinton being the political version of Beyonce, etc. etc). Equipped with some dope quotes from Judith Butler and Luce Irigaray, I planned on showing how Hillary’s win was an inevitable step in furthering the trend of gender equality. But Hill didn’t win (cue cries), and instead of writing about America’s progress my paper shifted to a dark depiction on the social restraints that still hold the female race back.
In the midst of my writing delirium, I ventured down from my hideout spot overlooking the bayou to refill my coffee cup and steal a few more sugar cookies. While I sat in the kitchen, a sweet friend of the family asked what I’d been doing all day:
“Writing”, I said.
“Writing what?” he responded.
“A feminism paper.”
“What’s your husband think about that?”
I could talk for hours about the irony in that line, but I’ll let Bey take care of that shit.
I recently heard someone say, “they belonged” in New York. She didn’t mean she deserved to be here, rather she couldn’t survive anywhere else. After roaming across the country at a young age, she landed in East Village and fell trap to its charm. She’s been here 15+ years and now calls NYC home. When I met her, she was celebrating the anniversary of her move to the city. While she basked in the empowerment of her growth and independence, my heart hurt. I felt an urge to exonerate my roots – a strange deviation from my usual mindset.
Sometimes roots feel like a trap. They meander around each other like a snake – coiling in a stationary wheel and wrapping with it a wistful nostalgia that you belong. Some people stay – some escape; nature has no preference. Life still grows from the dirt, leaves wither and bloom, branches break and rebuild. Sure, to anyone in the whimsical leaves, the roots are stifling, but that’s because you know their power. You have explored the crisp air, experienced the roughest part of seasons, and learned to mold and reform in the feeble stability of your freestanding stem. You are adventurous in your careless evergreen, but the roots are charming and infectious. They are you; you are one in the same.
There is comfort in the absolutism of my roots. I understand now that they are part of who I am, and my desire to roam is a desire to expand – not escape. Because there is no escaping. The past is where it belongs. It is planted as a means to stabilize your future. Growing into something wilder doesn’t mean you are any less you, you are just a little bit more.
I woke up the day after the election to a text from a friend that said, “I didn’t think this was possible.” I opened CNN, along with all of my social media accounts, to make sure this was really happening. I thought for sure someone was going to let us all know something disastrous happened at the polls. Maybe they miscounted 49% of the votes?
As the reality of a Trump presidency started to breathe itself into existence, I set out to blame everyone. I blamed the third party voters for wasting their ballot. I blamed the black community for not showing up like they did for Obama. I blamed the DNC who ruined us when they pushed for Clinton instead of Bernie. I blamed the Christians who voted against abortions, but for misogyny and rape. I blamed the working class in America who wanted change – no matter who gave it to them. I blamed the liberal media for deceiving us into thinking Trump didn’t stand a chance. I blamed SNL for sensationalizing Trump’s persona by mocking him, subsequently drawing more press and attention to his campaign. I blamed Fox News for turning him into someone relatable; someone a guy could chat with in a locker room.
I turned into everything I hated about Trump, blaming everyone but myself. Because after all – I was the progressive thinker who voted Hillary.
In my state of naivety, I scrolled through Instagram for a break from the news, but my heartache deepened. In my feed I saw Khloe Kardashian bragging that her Lip Kit sold out in 6 seconds, I scrolled through selfies of intelligent women with Snapchat puppy-dog noses and flower crowns, spotted Kyle Richards advertising a hair vitamin with over 10k likes, and watched Kate Upton share her secrets to “the perfect brow”. Is this what ruined us? Do we not believe in ourselves? Are we too caught up in the hype of media, the hype of selfies, of being pretty? Are we too afraid to think independently? Are we afraid of taking charge? Are we afraid of being powerful, instead of sexy? How else could 53% of female voters elect this man? Do they not know their own value?
I wanted to throw my phone across the room, or anywhere that could magically make the female race look more like it does in my head.
I am not insinuating that the state of our country rests solely in the hands of our Instagram feed, but if you’ve been wondering what is keeping us from being seen as the next president of the United States – It’s your selfie, it’s my selfie, and it’s our need to promote our beauty more than the authoritative person that lives behind what the world wants us to be. Why is this how we choose to represent who we are? Why is this the norm for women? If we want to be perceived as powerful, we need to start representing that in our feeds instead of doe-eyed selfies with porcelain skin. If we want the media to stop placing us on an impossible standard – we need to stop trying to meet that standard. There are lots of reasons we lost and there are copious people we can fault, but it is hard to deny the fact that we lost because Hillary Clinton was compared against an ideal version of what society thinks a woman should be. She lost and we will continue to lose until that depiction of women is shifted.
When the results started rolling in Tuesday I felt threatened. I felt lied to, betrayed and even undermined by a nation that could actually vote and side with a man so bitter towards progress and equality. On Wednesday, when I had to continue on with my life, everything seemed pointless. Why go to school when no one will ever see me as a leader? Why educate myself when I’ll only ever be seen as a number between 1 & 10? This isn’t the life I voted for.
This election, if nothing else, has given me a strange urgency to tell you your voice is powerful. You are powerful on your own accord. You don’t need me, or any sensationalized media to derive self worth. I hope you know that.
Trump winning is not the female race’s fault, but maybe we can take this election as a growing pain that pushes us to a higher, more authoritative mindset. I’m not saying we can’t feel beautiful, dress well, or wear makeup. We are beautiful women, and I love the desire to express that, but we need to focus on flouting the image 49% of the United States have towards women. This win says a lot about our nation, about our gender equality, and about the female race not being taken seriously. It’s time we change our mindset. It’s time we change the mindset of everyone who can’t see past the girl. We are powerful. Let’s make everyone else think that too.