Crying and Getting Fat.

26 May

This blog may be evolving into more of an MS blog than anything else, or maybe that’s just what I need to use it for right now, I don’t know. I’ve always let this be just kind of an unbranded space for me to say whatever about anything. Honestly, it’s more for me than a specific anticipated audience in my mind, and I am always just grateful and surprised when someone else is interested. But lately I find myself waking up in the mornings needing to do this first or else stew in my own misery. Sadness, or any kind of negative emotion, needs to be moved somehow. Through crying or yelling or punching something or, in my case, writing. The point is, you can’t let it just sit on you or you’ll get suffocated. 

I woke up this morning in pain again, the vision in my left eye shot to hell, my legs working about as well as a newborn giraffe’s, and well, I just sobbed. I cried and cried and just let myself go. I hobbled down the stairs for coffee and cried in front of my family. I cried in front of the mirror, like you do when you’re a kid, because it’s so fascinating to watch how red and distorted your face gets. There’s something soothing about watching it in the mirror, right? Like, ‘this desperate, hysterical troll couldn’t possibly be ME, right? So that means I must be fine!’

Anyway, I cried and cried and gave about zero fucks about it.

Mornings are rough, because I think in the back of my mind, I still keep thinking that this is all like a really nasty flu that will go away. But as morning stacks up upon morning, an unwelcome thought looms large: maybe this is just morning now. Maybe this is how morning will feel for the rest of my life. Maybe I will never have another morning where I wake up feeling like a goddamn hummingbird and eat a nice, light fruit and yogurt parfait before hitting the gym like a blue ribbon trophy wife.

Maybe my body turned seventy overnight. Maybe I’m going to feel seventy for forty more years.

How does, how can, this happen so fast? It just seems impossible, and I think that’s why it’s not quite sinking in all the way. A year ago I was in the best shape of my life. I was hitting the gym four times a week, I could do five miles on the elliptical without batting an eyelash. Sure, I drank and smoked like an idiot, but I’m a comedian. That’s just a given. 

The fact is, I was 20 pounds smaller a year ago and I finally felt like “yes, this is a body I genuinely like.” And other people liked it, too. When you’re a woman, it’s just assumed that you desire feedback about every aspect of yourself from the rest of the world, so it’s impossible not to know you look good. This is why hot girls always know they are hot, period. They just pretend like they don’t because men (at least the white ones) prefer to date a woman who is unaware of her high market value. It’s way less scary.

But I digress.

Anyway, the point is, a year ago, my hotness stock peaked. Now, I am unable to exercise like I used to, taking daily steroids that blow me up to the size of the Stay Puft marshmallow man, and eating my feelings at night when I’m alone and sad. I’ve gained twenty fucking pounds. My Twitter avatar is of me in a bikini a year ago, and every time I look at it I feel guilty, like I’m lying to the world, and I totally am. I look at myself naked in the mirror and can’t believe anyone would want to look at me, much less touch me, much less have sex with me (NOTE: I am sure if I were looking at another naked woman who looked exactly like me, I would say she looks great, but alas, that is not the way we view ourselves). I know I’m not supposed to say any of this. I’m supposed to say I love my body no matter what and say I love my “curves” and something about “real women” and yada yada yada and my health is more important than any superficial body image concerns and blah blah blah, but let’s get real here, folks: I got kinda fat. And that’s hard. And it’s frustrating. And I feel like there is less I can do about it now that I’m sick.

I feel like at LEAST until you’re forty, you should have the option of being skinny if you really try. Like, sure, you can let yourself go at Christmas and put on 10 pounds, but if you get your shit together and get to the gym, you can take it off in a month or so. I feel like at 29, you should at least get to entertain the fantasy that you’re not yet at your physical peak, that you still have time to get your idea of a perfect body if you buckle down and do the work. 

But holy shit, maybe this is it. Maybe this is my new body. And how shallow am I that weight gain is even on my radar as a concern when my legs are not working right. I don’t know, I blame America. Or Obama. 

And why should it matter anyway? I’m a comedian, not a model or actress. But it seems like these days, you can’t make it as a female comic unless you’re also worthy of a Maxim spread. They want you to “have it all.” Fuck that, by the way.

But whether you’re a comedian or you have MS or you’re just a regular American woman going through the aging process, I think we all eventually come to this transition: ‘the world isn’t telling me I’m pretty anymore, so how do I feel good about myself now?’

And here’s the proposed silver lining here: maybe we are only allowed to truly come into ourselves once we extricate ourselves from all this pressure to be gorgeous. Maybe, as we are slowly forced to let go of the bottomless need for outside validation that girls are trained to develop — the need to be constantly reassured that we are desirable, that we are not invisible, that we are worthy of things and people — maybe only then are we truly free. Like any addiction, the need to be told we are beautiful sucks up a lot of time and resources. I mean, Jesus, think about all the things we could do and create with the time we spend researching diets and getting our nails done and shopping for the perfect cocktail dress and painting our faces just right. I won’t lie, I am the very worst of offenders in this regard. There is nothing wrong with investing and taking pride in your appearance, but man, I could have been writing a book or saving the whales or some shit. 

Since I started to get sick, I have been distracting myself from it by writing jokes and blogging and filming Barbie Lifetime movies. It makes me forget about my symptoms and my fear and escape into my own imagination for a while. I have probably produced more creative material in one week than I have in the last six months. My work, however silly and stupid, has been an invaluable sanctuary to me during this time. But perhaps more importantly, it has also allowed me to transfer my basis of self-worth to a deeper and more stable place. It feels one hundred times better to receive praise for something I created than for some contrived selfie I posted on Twitter. Why? Because getting attention is easy. Getting respect takes work.

And here’s the kicker, and I swear it’s true: I have gotten much, much more attention from men since I stopped focusing on my attractiveness and started focusing on my work. Even before I was diagnosed with M.S., this was a transition I was consciously trying to make in the months prior. I do not think it is a coincidence that in that same period of time, I found the man of my dreams.

Really, when I look back at years of old Facebook pictures, the times when I was skinniest and prettiest were the times when I was miserable and couldn’t get a date to save my life. I was trying too hard. I was putting out this energy of “love me please god love me love me love me,” and people can unconsciously sense that, and it repels them. I do know this about love and attraction: pull and you will get pushed. Push and you will get pulled. When you don’t have to do either, and you can just be, that’s rare and that’s love. When I started focusing on what I wanted to do instead of who I wanted to love me, the right person came into my life. And he makes me feel more desirable than a thousand “likes” on Facebook ever could.

So as much as it is hard to accept that I have gained weight and swollen up on steroids and sometimes I walk funny and run into shit; as painful as it is to think that maybe I was already as pretty as I’ll ever be…maybe it’s time to grow up. Maybe it’s time to let go of all that and become the boss bitch I was meant to be. And frankly, I’m ready for that, and it’s a relief. 

I’m not saying I’m going to just let myself go and wear wolf t-shirts and stop wearing fake eyelashes. I’m not saying I have magically risen above all basic human ego drives and will now resign myself to an admirable life of sacrifice and high contemplation. I’m not saying I am hideous and giving up on myself. I am just saying that I am embracing what may be a new phase in how I define my own worthiness, and I think maybe the world will follow suit. 

 

 

 

 

 

One Day At A Time

24 May

For those of you who read my last post, I was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and was feeling super Oprah and gung ho and inspirational about it all. “I got this!” “I’m a badass superhero!” “I’m the (before-we-knew-he-was-a-sociopathic-asshole) Lance Armstrong of M.S.!” Whewee look at me! Give me a pretty trophy!

And, uh, I’m realizing now that that MAY have been the “denial” stage.

I am finding out very quickly that this bizarre disease is kind of like having a bipolar girlfriend, which is ironic, because, ya know, that is already me. In a bitter (but kind of hilarious) turn of poetic justice, I am getting a taste of my own medicine. One day she’s cooperative and kind, the next she is Courtney Love on her period. What I mean is, one day I’m doing fine and having almost no symptoms at all, and the next I’m barely mobile. This probably has to do with the fact that I am only on steroids every other day, so maybe if that gets adjusted it won’t be like this.

But frankly, it’s scary and I’m scared.

Neurological symptoms are different than other kinds of symptoms I have experienced, because you don’t know what the hell to expect. When you break your arm, your arm is gonna hurt for a while, and you know that. When you get the flu, you’re gonna get a fever and a cough and maybe puke, and you know that. With M.S., it’s a damn free-for-all and you end up adding strange new symptoms to the list every day with the fear that the list will only get longer. Okay, so my vision is terrible and my neck is stiff and I have a headache; no big deal, I’m used to that. Okay, so my toes and calves are tingling, that’s one I’ve had before; no prob. Okay, so I walked into a door frame because my balance is all outta whack; embarrassing, but par for the course.

But wait a second what the hell is this shooting pain in my face?! I get this in my leg, not in my face. LAY OFF THE FACE, M.S., IT’S THE MONEY MAKER. OW! Man. This is no joke; this HURTS! The pain is like, shooting down into my jaw. Huh. Maybe it’s not related to the M.S. and I need a root canal or something. Better Google it.

“Face…pain…M…S…”….Oh. “Trigeminal Neuralgia: Common M.S. Symptoms.” Gotcha. Damn it.

It seems like it’s like that every day. Sitting waiting for a prescription at Walgreen’s watching my leg jerk around involuntarily. Trying to apply my slutty fake eyelashes with a hopelessly trembling hand. (Brief aside — no matter how sick I get, I will always make the application of slutty fake eyelashes a top life priority, even if I haven’t showered and I am wearing a muumuu).

So some days are terrifying introductions to new deficits and pains, and some days are totally great aside from a little fatigue. I am already a crazy person, and these fluctuations make me feel crazier. But from what I have read, this is just how it goes for a lot of people. It’s just a mystifying, unpredictable disease, period. That is why it’s so important to just take things one day at a time and not torture yourself by worrying about the future. But after spending days in the hospital unable to walk on my own, it’s almost impossible not to think about the hard stuff.

‘Will I end up in a wheelchair? When? Will I have cognitive problems? Speech problems? Will I lose my creativity, my writing ability, the quick wit that I have based my whole personality around? Will the people I love be heartbroken as they watch this happen? Will I get fat because I can’t exercise enough? Will anyone want me then? Who will take care of me if I eventually can’t take care of myself? Will they resent it? Will I go blind? Will I die earlier than I might have? And if all of this or some of this happens, will I have done my life’s work before I can’t anymore?’

And then I’m wallowing in self-pity and playing out all kinds of ridiculous Nicholas Sparks novels in my head where I’m swimming in the ocean for the last time (preferably with some kind of adorable dolphin friend), hobbling triumphantly down the aisle at my beautiful wedding as my parents tear up, accepting an Emmy award with the rest of my writing staff, decked out in a fire engine red Calvin Klein gown in a bedazzled wheelchair, gracing the cover of “O” magazine with Montel Williams, and we’re back to back with our arms crossed looking like a couple of M.S. badasses. I go on Ellen and dance with her to “We’ve Got The Funk” in my wheelchair. She gives me an Audi convertible and an Edible Arrangment. We kiss.

Then I get worse, and one day my hands are too shaky to type. I throw my laptop across the room in tears of frustration as my adoring husband rushes over to console me. “BUT IF I CAN’T WRITE ANYMORE WHO AM I?!” I scream, pushing him away out of anger, and I tell him to go, just go, get out of here, that he deserves a better life with a normal woman. Then I compose myself as he hushes me, rocking me back and forth as a softly weep.

I eventually go blind, yet as I slowly lose the ability to see the outer material world, I develop a psychic inner sight and become a modern-day blind prophet, much like Teresias of ancient Greece. An old, wise crone living in a cave in Tibet with the Dalai Lama, serving at his side as an enchanted oracle, maybe going on CNBC to pick some stocks every now and then, just for shits and giggles, just to show I am still a down-to-earth woman of the people. I’ll wear my silken paisley head scarf, of course, but maybe a nice navy skirt suit underneath. I want to be the kind of blind prophet people can really relate to, ya know?

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Like this lady, only with more Botox and a slick pair of Ray Bans or something. Maybe a teacup Yorkie on my lap, too.

Anyway, these are the ludicrous places you go in your head when you have a very, very active imagination. These are the new life plans taking shape in my beautiful, warped, disturbed brain.

Today, though, I just made some eggs and am about to do some laundry. Might treat myself to a nice stroll around the park and a spray tan later. Maybe write some new jokes and catch up on Game of Thrones.

All of that seems just a tad more manageable than planning for every unfortunate contingency that could befall me.

One day at a time, Erica.

One day at a time.

Well I guess I probably have multiple sclerosis.

17 May

As many of you know, I recently had a week-long stay at the hospital after the vision in my left eye started to diminish and I had difficulty walking. After a litany of testing and some alternative diagnoses along the way (is it just viral meningitis? Devic’s disease? Some kind of psychological somatic disorder?), some lab results came back a couple days ago that strongly suggest multiple sclerosis. There’s still a small chance I don’t have it, and the average time it takes for a definite diagnosis of MS is 13 months, because you have to have at least two episodes of symptoms. But the results from my spinal tap are all consistent with the diagnosis and so we are proceeding with treatment. It’s a hard pill to swallow, for sure, but it’s a relief to know what I’m dealing with. These days, there are all sorts of good treatment options available, and it’s much better to be diagnosed young, as you can do a lot to slow the progression of the disease. Only 30% of people actually end up in a wheelchair, and life expectancy is no different than a normal person’s. I think I have good reason to be optimistic about my prognosis. 

Still, this marks an unexpected and bizarre turn in my life. One day I was out with friends at a Reds game, and two days later my legs wouldn’t work and I couldn’t pee on my own. Up until about six weeks ago, I had been in probably the best shape of my life after starting a regular exercise plan. My energy increased significantly, and I don’t think I even got so much as a cold over the winter. But I started to get so exhausted that I woke up every day feeling like I ran a marathon the day prior, and on the few days when I could force myself to go to the gym, I couldn’t do nearly as much as I used to do. At first I thought it might just be a depressive spell, or a thyroid problem, but when the vision in my left eye suddenly went all blurry, I knew something was wrong. 

So here I am at 29 with a chronic neurological degenerative disorder. My own body is attacking my brain and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I mean…shit. I like my brain, even though it has always been a little “off.” I don’t want it to get all scarred up. I hate thinking about that. 

And I hate thinking about the possibility of becoming a burden to those I love. I am not one who is quick to ask for help in general, or even talk about my problems with other people. It scares me to think that eventually I might have to ask for help every time I can’t bend over to simply pick something up off the floor or lift a heavy box. I prefer to do everything myself, because I don’t owe anyone anything and life is simpler that way. I prefer to live alone, but if I get to the point where I physically can’t do certain things, I might have no choice but to live with someone else. The unwelcome reality is that I AM going to need help sometimes, and I need to make peace with that fact and be able to ask for assistance without feeling guilt or anger. I just can’t stand the thought of someone else secretly wishing they didn’t have to take care of me. 

My boyfriend and I have only been together for five months. He didn’t sign up for this. Would he decide he didn’t want to be saddled with the responsibility of being with someone who might end up disabled? Wouldn’t he want a regular girl who could walk right and wasn’t such a downer? Frankly, didn’t he deserve that? And if he did leave me, what were the chances I would ever find someone I liked that was willing to accept the fact that I was damaged goods?

Amazingly, my boyfriend did not for one second entertain the idea of leaving me. In fact, he was an angel through the whole thing. He came to the hospital and stayed overnight with me. He joked around at a time when I desperately needed a laugh. He cried with me when I desperately needed someone to cry with. He held my hand through the whole hellish thing. I will never forget that, and if anything, it brought us much closer. 

I was also reminded of just how many wonderful people are in my life. I had all kinds of visitors and flowers and other goodies sent to me in the hospital, more well wishes than I could count, and my mom and dad by my side trying to get to the bottom of this. I should have felt unlucky, but with that much love and support surrounding me, I felt very much the opposite. So again, thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone; from the friends who called and visited to the sweet strangers on Twitter sending me get well soon messages. You have no idea how much that meant to me and you are the best.

I have more than my share of flaws and hang-ups, but underneath all that I know myself to be a very strong spirit. I can deal with the physical symptoms and limitations, but the part that truly bothers me is the idea that my future plans and aspirations may be thwarted by this disease. I was going to move back out to LA soon. I was going to give another shot at stand up and comedy writing, and this time, I felt more than ready to take it on. But what now? If I can’t predict when these symptoms might subside and I can’t know yet whether any permanent damage will be done, I can’t plan my life. Will I need the constant assistance of my parents? Will I have to stay in Ohio? And for how long? It’s maddening to have part of my autonomy compromised by this illness. I like to run my own show and do things my own way. But among the list of things I am trying to make peace with, taking things one day at a time is at the top. 

One thing I have decided for sure is that having MS will not stop me from doing all the things I have set out to do. I mean, thank God my passion is telling and writing jokes instead of like, fuckin rock climbing or something. Richard Pryor had MS and he did just fine for himself. Once this “attack” of symptoms subsides and once I am on long-term treatment and confident I can direct my own care, I will get back to LA and pound the pavement and make things happen for myself. There are many areas of my life in which I completely lack confidence, but I do believe I have what it takes to write comedy for television and that I have the kind of networking and business sense required to land myself a professional position in that field. I write every day, I write a ton, and my well of ideas never seems to run dry. This is what I was meant to do and I will absolutely not settle for less. I get one life. I might have to change and alter my lifestyle significantly because of this disease, but I will not alter my high expectations for myself and my career. The world may eventually convince me I can’t do this, but I sure as hell won’t be the one to say so. I saw a quote from Michelangelo the other day that really affected me: 

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelangelo

This isn’t going to stop me. Even though I have been doing it from Ohio, I have worked hard to create opportunities for myself over the past year. I have enough irons in the fire now that something is bound to come out of one of them. I have a gut feeling that I’m getting very close to being where I want to be, and when opportunity knocks, I’m going to answer the damn door, even if I have to limp to get there. I will make adjustments, but not compromises. I will slow down when I need to, but never stop. I will be better to my body and it will be better to me. 

It’s a diagnosis, not a death sentence. Plus, if I ever do end up in a wheelchair, you better believe it will be studded with rhinestones, tinsel, rosettes, and perhaps even its own lava lamp. But I don’t anticipate that happening. 

Love you all! Until next time, be well, stay well, and kick ass. In conclusion, here is the legendary Richard Pryor doing a hilarious bit about M.S.

Why I’m Done Thinking About Feminism Or My Fucking Body Anymore. :)

22 Mar

Ever since my show-stopping exit from the womb (I am told it involved confetti and an original musical number), I have been a devoted feminist. My vaginal vitriol began at a young age, probably because I never really liked being a child OR a girl – both positions that, in my view, seemed to entail an inherent lack of authority and entitlement. Some of my earliest memories are of thinking to myself, ‘Goddamn it, why doesn’t anyone listen to me? I know my shit over here.’

And then I grew up (well, physically, at least) and became a comedian. Mostly because I am in love with the process of writing and performing jokes, but also because people have to listen to me when I perform. Much of my subject matter is based on feminist values, but I pride myself on getting my point across through the back door; satirizing myself and letting the audience draw their own conclusions rather than preaching from the pulpit. Comedy is a sneaky teacher. A laugh is really just an involuntary response to the truth, and if you can make people laugh by presenting a truth in a new way, you can affect peoples’ value systems without them really knowing it.

Good comedians make people laugh, but the best comedians are culture-shapers. I have always aspired to become the latter, and so I think a lot about my underlying message, the precedent I am setting, and the image I am projecting. As a woman practicing what has traditionally been viewed as a man’s art, this set of value considerations gets complicated very quickly.The fact is, in a culture that encourages women to constantly seek validation for their physical attractiveness, it IS hard for a woman (me) to shift her mindset and get to a place where she doesn’t need that anymore. It’s a tricky dance you do with yourself in your head.

If I write a cheap joke about my tits that I know will get a laugh, but I’m not proud of it, do I tell it anyway? “Does this shirt make my boobs look fat?” Will the women in the audience hate me for it, or will they relate? Will the men be distracted by it? Am I stooping to a lower level as a comic? Am I setting myself up to be exploited? Or am I just telling a funny joke and relating the realities of my experience as a tits-haver?

And good lord, will someone please just tell me what the hell I should wear up there?

Should I talk about my body? I think about it a lot, and so do other women, so it definitely seems relatable. If I say I think I’m fat, will heavier women hate me? If I say I think I’m thin, will all the women hate me? Will I accidentally make other women feel shitty about themselves in an effort to relate to them? Will they hate me because they think their boyfriends want to fuck me? Do I kinda WANT their boyfriends to want to fuck me? Why?  If they want to fuck me, they won’t laugh. People don’t watch porn for the giggles.

Wait a second, how DO I feel about my body, exactly? I like it, I think, but maybe not. I kinda like being all cushy and curvy and stuff, but I do look big on camera. I like myself in a dress, but not a bathing suit. Probably most people would say I am a little chubby, but not FAT fat, ya know? I mean, I work out and everything. But I guess I’m still about twenty pounds heavier than I should be. Maybe I should lose some weight. All the popular female comics these days are pretty small, at least the white ones. They’re the ones getting deals. Nikki Glaser, Iliza Schlesinger, Amy Schumer. Hell, even Lisa Lampanelli is skinny now. And they’re all really talented, too, so it seems like you have to be both these days. Nobody my size is famous. Maybe I should take a hint.

But if I were a good feminist, I wouldn’t even think about this stuff. I would just own my body. I would be proud of it and say so. I would inspire other women to embrace themselves unconditionally.

But…is that funny? Is it honest? Is that my job as a comedian?

Is all of this worrying sucking the fun out of what I love to do?

Yeah. It is. So I’m not gonna do it anymore.

What a fucking waste of time. I just want to write jokes and make people laugh. Truth be told, I don’t want to talk about my body or my vagina or feminism at all anymore. At least not directly. I just want to get up on stage and kill it and let my performance speak for itself. I don’t want to be thought of as “the best female comic in town,” I want the audience to forget my gender as much as possible and just laugh. I don’t want to be booked on shows as the “token chick,” I want to be booked on shows because I get the most laughs per minute, which I often do. It’s not because I’m a woman, it’s because I work hard on my jokes, and yes, I want credit for that.

Don’t get me wrong, I always appreciate someone telling me I’m funny. It’s just annoying when it’s followed by “especially for a girl.” The implication is that the audience member or fellow comic was comparing me to all other women in the world, rather than other comics they’ve seen. I’m a comic. Compare me to other comics.

And I don’t want to talk about my fucking body. I don’t want anyone else to, either; whether it’s complimentary or not. I do not want attention for my body when I am telling jokes. I just realized this when I did a set in my underwear for a touring show, and I hated it. It was a mistake on my part. It’s a great concept for a show, and my set went well, but I’m up there in a corset thinking “Jesus, didn’t I choose this art because it’s the only one where women aren’t supposed to be sexualized? What am I doing?”

And I don’t want to talk about my sex life. I don’t want attention for that. I don’t want to act like I’m some self-proclaimed badass slut and tell a bunch of hackey, low-brow jokes about blowing a bunch of dudes. I don’t want to get booked on Stern. I don’t want a spread in MAXIM. I want a set on Conan.  

But above all, I just don’t want to talk about any of this shit anymore. When I talk about it, I think about it. And when I think about it, I’m not thinking about jokes. I’m thinking about feminist guilt or whether eating a fucking cookie will ruin my career. It’s wasted time.

And maybe, just maybe, the world isn’t as biased as I’m imagining it is. Maybe it’s all in my head. Maybe I’m not giving people enough credit. Maybe part of me enjoys playing the martyr, when my experiences don’t really justify it.

Whatever the case, maybe it makes sense to assume all that, because I can’t control other peoples’ thoughts anyway. All I can control is the quality of my work. So I’m going to just let all of this go. I’m going to do what I think is funny and let go of the pressure and the resentment and the futile attempts to be a size 4. I’m not only sick of worrying and wringing my hands over it, I’m just bored by it anymore.

I am releasing myself from the prison of giving a fuck about this.

I’m going to let my jokes inform peoples’ opinions, instead of the other way around. That’s all I can do, but it’s a lot. THAT’s the way to become a culture-shaper.

International Men’s Day: Reflections and Ruminations.

19 Nov

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Today is International Men’s Day, and perhaps unsurprisingly, I have some thoughts on the topic.

At first blush, the idea seems rather ludicrous to a devoted feminist such as myself. An international celebration of men’s rights? Why don’t we just go ahead and put White History Month on the books while we’re at it. Do we really need a special day to advocate for the special interests and issues facing modern men? Isn’t that pretty much taken care of by, oh I don’t know, like, every government in every country? You’ll forgive me if the idea of a bunch of dudes gathered around the barbecue congratulating one another on the inherent advantage of their genitalia strikes me as a tad unpalatable in a climate where women are still making 77 cents on a man’s dollar.

Yet, upon further reflection, I’m less sure that I hate the idea (and I hate to be unsure if I hate something.) 

Hear me out. I’m not saying I’m a huge fan of the day in its current mission, which is more than a little vague, broad, and contradictory. I’m simply saying that the concept itself may have some merit. 

As an outspoken, irreverent, and largely career-focused woman (okay, I may not have much of one to speak of yet, but my primary focus right now is changing that), I know how frustrating it is for me when well-meaning people ask me when I’m going to get married, or expect me to have a strong opinion on baby shower colors, or act appalled when I curse or make an off-color joke. It’s frustrating to feel like I have to be one kind of woman or the other because people have a hard time digesting complexity. For instance, I fucking love babies and want one, but I’m also the kind of woman who says “I fucking love babies.” And while I am one of the most deeply sensitive and nurturing people I know, I will also go right for the jugular with no holds barred in the very next second if someone attacks me or someone I love. I can be a somewhat confusing admixture of both traditionally masculine and feminine traits, and I feel emotionally validated when others fully accept me as such. And because of the cultural progress achieved by the feminist movement, it becomes easier and easier for me to be all of who I am without social condemnation. 

But maybe men are getting screwed in this department. As far as I know, there really isn’t any mainstream movement supporting male integration of traditionally feminine roles and qualities. Stay-at-home dads are still viewed as somehow weak or submissive, taking paternity leave is still far from the norm, little boys are still expected to forgo Barbies for G.I. Joes, and men are still cast in the role of romantic pursuer (and dinner-payer). Is this really fair? And are we doing enough to curb these limiting expectations? Shouldn’t a teenage boy who loves musicals and hates football be allowed to cultivate his interests without being called a “fag?” And for that matter, shouldn’t a gay man be allowed to play intramural football without his straight teammates raising an eyebrow? Would it be so strange for the Boy Scouts to have a merit badge for visual arts? 

In short, shouldn’t our concept of what it means to be a man be a hell of a lot more comprehensive than it is now?

Perhaps there SHOULD be an International Men’s Day, and perhaps its mission should be to broaden the woefully narrow scope of traditional masculinity. And wouldn’t this be good for women, too? Maybe if men weren’t put under so much pressure to be muscle-bound stockbrokers driving their Hummers to a Fantasy Football draft, their insecurities about not living up to this standard wouldn’t compel them to create similar insecurities in their female counterparts, as so often happens. I can honestly say that as I get older, the primary qualities I look for in a mate are things like compassion, empathy, emotional honesty, and communicative prowess. I mean he’s gotta be funny and attractive, too, but he doesn’t need to be in a high tax bracket or know how to fix my car. I’m not looking for an “alpha male,” I’m looking for an “alpha person.”

And so, in conclusion, I would like to honor International Men’s Day by offering a brief makeout sesh to all those wonderful men out there who are strong and confident enough to stay at home with the kid, let me yell about politics at cocktail parties, and enthusiastically take the fuck out of a ballroom dancing class with me. Y’alls is sexy gangsta kings and never forget it. 

Oh, and the makeout sesh costs only $450 (or 3 easy payments of $200).

The New “C” Word.

6 Aug

feminist rants

My dear reader, as a prelude to this offensively wordy rant, please first honor me by asking yourself the following question:

Of all the scathing things to say about a woman, what singular word is the most acutely and permanently damaging to her reputation?

There are, of course, the old standbys. Your simple, time-honored “bitch” is probably at the top of that list, but perhaps due to the very frequency of its employment, it has lost a lot of its zest; it’s impact; it’s “oomph,” if you will. Hell, in this day in age, you can call your own grandmother a bitch for failing to produce a seven during Go Fish and everyone shares a good, hearty chuckle. Nah, “bitch” is child’s play these days.

Then there’s your standard “slut,” or the more formal, less fun “whore.” Labels of promiscuity are some of the most classic, universally understood lady slanders there are.

*A brief aside: many scientists theorize that such terms are the reason that language itself came into being. The story goes that an ancient east African cavebachelor (affectionately dubbed “Fucking Genius” by Oxford anthropologist Ann Bowling) discovered the phenomenon of the clitoral orgasm somewhere about a few million B.C. As a result of this development, many cavewomen from a nearby tribe began leaving their communities for days at a time to visit the strategically remote hut of Fucking Genius. This disrupted the functioning of established family units, prompting cockholded cavehusbands to seek a cathartic verbal outlet when their wives were too far away to physically beat the piss out of. Thus, though there is ample evidence to suggest these early humans had a previous awareness of the need for verbal labelling, it is thought that “whore” preceded both “fire” and “watch out” as the first universally recognized phrases of the oral tradition. Thank you, Fucking Genius! For language and so much more!*

But I digress.

While “slut” and “whore” are still commonly wielded as weapons in the war against women, they too, have been dulled down with repeated use. Nowadays, such terms are proudly emblazoned on the asses of hot pink sweat pants, or tastefully inserted into a cheeky Twitter handle. No, I’m afraid “slut” and “whore” just aren’t the degraders they used to be. Out of the running.

“Cunt,” on the other hand, well now we’re getting somewhere. I think we can all agree that “cunt” still packs a real punch. Though the British seem to throw it around with about as much hesitation as you’d throw a live grenade, it remains a real eyebrow raiser here in the states. “Cunt” is “bitch” squared. It’s locked up in a special safe in the back of the misogynist arsenal, only to be deployed in the most serious conflicts. Yes, “cunt” is a contender, to be sure.

But I will argue here that “cunt” has been trumped by another, infinitely more potent “C” word. A word that, uttered by any source at all, has the power to subject a woman’s reputation to the kind of deep, penetrating, irreversible damage characteristic of nuclear radiation. A word made ever the more insidious by its easy acceptance in even the politest of societies. A word whose truth seems only to be validated by the very act of fighting it.

And that word, my friends, is “crazy.”

—————————————————————————-

It’s the new Scarlet Letter. It’s the new leper-maker. It’s a downright epidemic, our modern fascination with the “crazy chick,” and it’s a huge fucking problem. Not just for its predominantly female targets, but for all of us, and I do mean all of us.

It seems like every time you turn around, someone is calling an attractive woman under forty a crazy bitch. It’s not just the men doing it, either; the women are guilty, too. Don’t get me wrong — the word is often uttered through glossed lips or typed by manicured fingers. There’s plenty of girl-on-girl crime happening out there. I’ll be the first to admit that in my younger, more insecure days, I said it about girls I was jealous of, or laughed and agreed with some handsome jackass when he said it about some other chick. My hands aren’t entirely clean here, either. But in my personal observation and estimation, men are the quickest to draw that particular gun, and fire it far more indiscriminately.

Which makes sense, because it’s an efficient gun, no? “Crazy” is the AK47 of insults: you don’t have to be very specific to achieve the desired effect. This is why it’s a particular favorite of stupid, lazy people. Witty people, on the other hand, are snipers; taking the time to zero in on their target’s most vulnerable spots before delivering the calculated, fatal blow. Smart people put in the effort to truly customize a thoughtful, considerate, and personalized shitty thing to say. But in this fast-paced, busy world we live in, who has time to craft a gem like “you have the empathic capacity of a toasted almond” when you can just throw the trusty ole “crazy” blanket over your offender and call it a day?

But “crazy” wouldn’t be such a reliably ruinous nametag if not for the media’s continued commitment to covering the follies and misadventures of every already-exploited teen starlet under the sun.

“I have an idea,” said some asshole, a long time ago, “let’s find a lucky few pretty girls with horrible parents, sexualize the shit out of them from the age of 13, speculate publicly on every five pounds they gain or lose, give them unmanageably hectic schedules (and a little cocaine to keep up), and pay them millions and millions of dollars they have no idea how to manage!! Oh, and then film it and take pictures and stuff! YAAAAY I SURE AM GREAT!”

And that person made a million kajillion dollars, has his or her own hovercraft, and shits into a platinum toilet, because that’s fair.

Meanwhile, we’ve bought all of this hook, line, and sinker. We wait with baited breath for the next Amanda Bynes tweet; the next Lohan arrest; the next Britney bender. Our appetite for the Great American Hot Mess-stress is insatiable. We want more, we want it now, and we’ll pay whatever for your magazine as long as it promises us floor seats to the next big breakdown with breasts. I mean, honestly, how the hell else are us normals supposed to feel better about our lives? What, we’re supposed to just LET a woman be gorgeous AND talented AND happy? Ha! Sorry, suckers, the last time I checked, we live in America, not Afairica! If you don’t like it, you can tote your proud little vagina on up to communist Canada, because them’s the breaks around here, lady girls.

I mean, seriously. How far have we really come from Victorian English doctors extracting ovaries to cure “hysteria?” Whether we like to admit it or not, the term “crazy” STILL carries an inherently feminine connotation, and it is still being used to rob women of their credibility. And if you’re a powerful woman who isn’t crazy, you’d best believe we’ll try our damndest to make you that way.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a scrotum and already BE crazy, congratulations, you’re an unlikely hero! Pssssht, you’re not manic as a hummingbird, Charlie Sheen; you’re quirky and misunderstood! You’re not a sociopathic monster, Chris Brown, you’re a reformed sinner! You’re not a self-mythologizing lunatic, Gary Busey, you’re a — you know what, I can’t even joke about Gary Busey, that dude is awesome.

But you get the point.

And not surprisingly, this fanatical double-standard of a media witch hunt has trickled down to, well, everywhere. And I’m here to call bullshit, because this trend is far from harmless.

My theory is that there IS an association between gender and what our society thinks of as “crazy,” but it’s a matter of correlation, not causation. Hear me out. I’ve noticed that “crazy” gets thrown around a lot to describe any woman who acts or makes decisions based on emotional or intuitive strengths rather than established, readily citable facts. For example:

“How can she say I’m cheating on her when she hasn’t even seen any of these texts from Amber to prove it! She’s crazy!” Or,

“What do you mean you ‘have a bad feeling,’ Bessie?!’ This is ‘The Unsinkable Ship’! You’re hysterical. Now just calm down and find your ether kerchief. We’re getting on the bloody boat!”

And this is what we call intuitive (sometimes referred to as “emotional”) intelligence. For either biological or social reasons, women use it more. I don’t know, tear this claim apart; be my guest, science people. I’m not Charles fucking Darwin, I ate pizza before 10 a.m. today and don’t have a real people job. I’m just a student of the world seeing a pattern. Anywho, women seem to act upon this sort of right-brain intelligence more often than men, and calling it “crazy” has been a super easy way of making women wrong since like, forever.

Here’s an idea: maybe all women aren’t crazy and some men are intuitive idiots. And maybe on some level, men are threatened by women, because we can and have learned shit like algebra, but some (and I do mean SOME) men can’t and haven’t learned how to listen to their own feelings, much less interpret and cater to the feelings of others. There’s no textbook for that. It’s pretty much trial, error, and natural aptitude. A girl is not “crazy” for crying when a guy thoughtlessly suggests she “try Crossfit sometime” while she’s wolfing down a well-deserved PMS burrito on the couch next to him. That is not her being crazy, that is him being a dumbass. I don’t care how it was meant. Sorry, but it doesn’t take Dr. Phil to anticipate how those dots might be mistakenly connected to result in hurt feelings. That is just a lack of emotional savvy. What exactly makes men think their brains are inherently healthier just because they trust its left hemisphere more often? Emotional decision-makers have a leg up in many areas, including social interaction. Gentlemen, if she has to carry your conversational dead weight at a cocktail party while your awkward ass hides out in the corner inhaling cocktail shrimp, I’d say some burrito tears are a fair trade-off.

But all gender inequalities aside, here is the biggest problem with “crazy:” if we keep “crying wolf” with that word, we may as well be begging to get eaten by a real fucking wolf. That is to say, when we keep watering-down that term, it doesn’t mean anything anymore. And when it doesn’t mean anything anymore, it can’t be used as a crucial red flag in a situation that is actually dangerous.

For example, I think we can all agree that your angry ex-girlfriend sending fifteen unanswered texts in a row is eeeehhhh kind of in a different ballpark from your Uncle Rolf wallpapering his entire house with tinfoil to shield him from secret Russian mind-control lasers. So why in the sam hell would we use the same word to describe both scenarios?

BEING EMOTIONAL IS NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING OUT OF TOUCH WITH REALITY. I cannot. Stress this. Enough.

Similarly, a gothy high school chick checking out of the library with a book about Wicca is not the same thing as overhearing a depressed kid under the bleachers muttering about shooting up the football team. I am by no means making an infamous “buying-pot-basically-makes-you-a-terrorist” argument here. I’m not saying you’re an accomplice to a horrific school shooting for calling your ex crazy because she cried a lot. Of course not. What I AM saying is that the term “crazy” doesn’t accurately describe either situation in a way that’s going to help anyone involved.

And it certainly isn’t going to help innocent sufferers of mental illness to get help for themselves. Every year, a staggering and heartbreaking number of people kill themselves, kill others, hurt themselves, hurt others, hate themselves, and hate others all because they are suffering from a very real and treatable mental illness they’re ashamed to talk about. This just doesn’t need to happen in the frequency it does, and obscuring these serious issues with that shitty, unspecific, (did I mention shitty?) word “crazy” is not helping.

So here’s what I’m proposing:

Drop “crazy” from your vocabulary entirely. Just do it. Today. Let’s make it the new “retard” and make anyone who utters the word feel like a grade-A dickwagon. If you’re frustrated or angry with someone, or you think they’re being too emotional, or you don’t agree with their choices, say so, but don’t throw “crazy” out there because you’re too lazy to identify what you’re actually taking issue with. That word is holding back women, it’s holding back our intellectual evolution at a society, and it’s indirectly contributing to an epidemic of unfathomable acts of violence across the country.

I mean, really, aren’t we just better off without it?

Oh, and speaking of things we might be better off without, maybe we oughtta lose those little metal hand-held death machines that literally anybody can get. Just a thought.

Glad Tidings, and NPR 3-Minute Fiction

12 May

Look Ma! No crippling depression!

Look Ma! No crippling depression!

Bonjour, mes copains!

It has been quite a while since I have posted here, in part because this blog has served primarily as a therapeutic exercise for me during difficult times. Now that those difficult times are fewer and further between, I have less cause to pour my heart out here. I admit, I’m a little conflicted about keeping the blog public. Going back and reading through it is a little hard for me, because it’s a chapter in my life that I would prefer to remain closed. However, the comments and messages I receive from readers have convinced me to leave it up.

I was especially touched by a comment on my last post. It was from a therapist I have never even met who somehow stumbled upon my entry from when I had just left treatment. She said she was going to share it with a patient of hers who was going through a similar struggle. That meant the world to me, and reminded me that my rare and perhaps controversial openness does have the power to help people, or at least make them feel less alone. My heart goes out to all those coping with mental health issues, and take it from me, there IS such a thing as remission. Popular opinion seems to suggest that remission is an impossibility with regard to mental illness; once you’re labeled “crazy,” you’re crazy for life. I’m here to tell you, that’s absolute bullshit. It’s like any other illness: find the right medication regimen, make the necessary lifestyle changes, take ownership of your own care, and you’ll be fine. You’ll have good days and bad days, but so do “regular” people. Above all, never feel ashamed, don’t be so hard on yourself, and be patient. This is advice I need to heed more myself.

Anyway, things have continued to go pretty damn well for me! I’m really enjoying my newfound passion for exercise (it’s amazing how much better I feel), my various writing projects (and good lord, there are a lot of them going) are progressing slowly but steadily, I’m doing marketing work and writing ad copy for my dad’s cosmetic procedures business, and taking on some other freelance work here and there on the side. In addition, I definitely want to start some advocacy work in the mental health sphere. I’m really passionate about this issue, and it seems to me that it is ripe for reflection on a national level. There is no reason I shouldn’t be using my writing and speaking talents to help initiate change, and also help comfort and reassure others who are coping with these problems — because the astronomical number of sufferers is downright shocking compared to the small number of people who are open about it. It’s high time for this ridiculous stigma to dissolve so that we can institute some much-needed reforms.

Aaaaaanywho, the real reason for this post is to share a short piece that I just wrote for round 11 of NPR’s 3-Minute fiction contest. I just heard about this series, and it’s pretty effing rad. I believe they give a new prompt every week (though I’m not positive about that), and the prompt for round 11 was “Finder’s Keepers.” They wanted stories wherein a character finds something they have no intention of returning. My submission deals with the issue of what “returning” means in such a case, so it perhaps stretches the prompt a bit, but hopefully in an interesting way. This story was a rather difficult exercise for me, as the contest dictates a 600-word limit and my original draft was 846 words. Thus, I had to cut it down significantly. This was a valuable exercise for me in particular, because I tend to me rather long-winded and repetitive at times. Cutting the piece down forced me to examine which words and phrases packed the most punch and which ones were expendable. Ultimately, I don’t feel like I lost much, if anything, in the editing process.

I hope you enjoy, and as always, thank you so much for reading! Love you all. And Happy Mother’s Day to all, by the way! I love you, Mom!!

———————————————————————————————————————

OUR MARTIN

He didn’t have much time left. He slipped in and out now. He couldn’t keep the days straight, and had lost the warm look of recognition when the children came to visit. In a rare moment of clarity, he had grasped my hand and said,

“Bring me my memories.”

It had slipped out of a copy of Great Expectations as I was retrieving the old photo albums for him. The book was one of those intimidating, gilded numbers that sits on the shelf undisturbed for generations — an excellent hiding place.

The letter itself had nearly disintegrated, barely legible underneath coffee stains and smudged cigarette ash, devoured over the years by someone’s greedy eyes and hands. The penmanship was small and deliberate; not a single error in the sea of words; perhaps a fourth, a fifth draft. Someone had worked until they were satisfied.

“June 8th, 1954”

“Dear Martin,”

Oh…

A wave of nausea, an electric jolt. The blood draining from my face.

“I expect this is the last I will write you. I have heard from cousin Kay that you are getting married. I hope the day is just lovely, and I wish you all the happiness you can possibly stand.”

“It is clear to me now that you do not love me, Martin.”

Stop reading, Anne. This ghost doesn’t belong to you.

“I must tell you, Martin, for my own peace of mind, that I love you. I love you with all my heart. St. Louis is just swell, but my heart will forever remain in Joplin with you. I know it’s silly, but I find I cannot even drink iced tea anymore, as the taste brings me back to those times with you under our tree.”

A tree. They had had a tree.

“I love my job as a typist, but with each day that passes, lunching alone, working at my needlepoint (it’s still simply laughable, I’m afraid), it becomes clearer that my life was meant to be a more quiet, solitary affair.”

The words tumbled over each other down the page; a sort of fever dream. I let her feeling wash over me, this woman I had never met, never even heard of…this lonely stowaway sleeping soundly inside a book.

“I don’t want you to feel badly, Martin; not ever. I always knew it would never really be. I didn’t shine like you. I never told you, but I know you only spent time with me because your dear mother asked you to do me the kindness. I know I’m plain, and have always been rather bookish and shy. I haven’t a clue how to style myself, I’m afraid, but I tried. You are the only person who ever made me feel beautiful, Martin.”

I fought the rising lump in my throat.

“I heard your bride is just lovely! Kay said she was a petite little blond. I imagine you are over the moon! You always loved Betty Grable.”

A smile crept across my face, for he had made the comparison many times.

“If I never see you again, Martin, I hope your life is everything you dreamed. I want you to know that the summer we shared is the brightest spot in an otherwise rather dull collection of memories, and it will sustain my heart for a lifetime.”

“Love Always,”
“Margaret.”

And now I was back in the quiet study, the grandfather clock faithfully keeping time in the corner. Steadying myself on the bookcase, I tucked the letter back into its leather-bound coffin and replaced it on the shelf.

Wherever you are, Margaret, I’m sorry.

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