Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just a Girl?

"Just a Girl" has been popping up on my iPod often recently. Every time I hear the song, two things happen:

1) I'm thrown right back to high school, when Gwen Stefani was one of my role models (to be fair, she still is).

2) I think about how deadly accurate the lyrics are.

Let's have a listen, shall we?

There are so many great lines to choose from. Maybe you relate when Stefani sings, "What I've succumbed to is making me numb." Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, may have felt that way, so she pushed back against the princess complex springing up in our culture. Or perhaps Stefani speaks to you when she says, "Oh, I'm just a girl--my apologies." Madonna expressed a similar sentiment with "What It Feels Like for a Girl" several years after "Just a Girl" debuted. For me, it's a different line, though.

At the heart of "Just a Girl" is the observation that "they all sit and stare with their eyes." Presumably the "they" in question is men, and the male gaze is often a topic of discussion in pop culture, from the recent controversy surrounding Blue Is the Warmest Color to Cate Blanchett questioning a photog about his pan of her dress on a red carpet and much more, stretching back to time immemorial. It even has its own portion of a Wikipedia page.

I won't lie: I like attention as much as the next person, and sometimes I've been known to seek out the male gaze. This is natural, I think. But there's a difference between wanting to show off and being leered at. The first arises from my own power. The second arises from someone else claiming power. This is unacceptable.

There is a great deal of advice on the Internet about how to regain your power and stop being a victim. While I admire those trying to empower their fellow humans, I feel we need to change the system entirely. Teach your sons not to gape at girls walking past. If you find you do it yourself, look away. Smile politely but don't freak us out, because we live in a world where women often do not feel safe. Louis C.K. has a good take on this:

Sure, he's wrapped this truth in comedy, but it is still a fact. Note that C.K. is NOT saying that all men are violent rapists, but that when it comes down to statistics, men are more of a threat to women than women are to men in a physical sense. Women are trained to always be on high alert around men they don't know--or even men they do know--because our society refuses to teach everyone the same thing: don't hit, don't rape, don't abuse. When we stand on more equal ground on that front, C.K.'s comments will fade into irrelevance. Speaking of which, I think now is the proper time to point out that "Just a Girl" came out in 1995, and not much has changed in the intervening 18 and a half years. As a woman--nay, as a HUMAN--that bothers the shit out of me.

You've all been put on notice. It's time for us to change.


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Looking Into the Past

I am 27 years old, and I work (and live) among college students ranging from 17 to 23. I was one of them not so very long ago, and when I listen to them--sometimes eavesdropping in the cafeteria, sometimes counseling them--I'm thrown back into the past, confronting my early-20s self. That girl, she is me and is not, and I keep learning from her.

There are things I know I should never do again, and things I still have time to do that I put off for various reasons (valid or not). Thanks to the mistakes I made in my most unstable days, I am a better, stronger person now, simply for having survived them. When it comes to writing, I have an abundance of source material at my disposal because I lived through those years, even if I did not thrive.

I'm hardly the first writer to take this approach, whether it's a memoirist or a historical novelist. After all, so many people give the advice to write what you know (which is a flawed instruction, but still). I invite you all to reach into your memory and see what's there to discuss today.


Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Adventures in Rejection: Sticking with It

Remember back in November when I told you about that poem I submitted 22 times and had rejected 15 times? It was pretty intense. But I've broken my own record: a poem of mine called "Naître" went out 29 times and was rejected outright 19 times. In fact, the first time I sent it anywhere, it went in tandem with "Thursday." Then the day came when I had a beautiful e-mail in my inbox from Hillary-Ann Crosby, editor of a zine called Vagina.

Fun fact: I've never been so proud of myself in my life as I was when I realized I could now put the word vagina in my résumé. That's probably (definitely) the twelve-year-old boy in me rearing his head. Better fact: after awhile, I stopped keeping a mental note of all the places "Naître" had gone. Like "Thursday" before it, I believed in this poem strongly enough to try again and again. But After the lesson I learned from "Thursday"--that you have to persevere--I relaxed about the process. 

I still send out submissions like crazy, at least three sets of work per week. And, of course, I have my trusty Excel file so I don't forget about any of my babies out there in the world. These things are important, because I know I can't give up. While the rejections still sting and sometimes make me very cranky, my experience with "Thursday" and "Naître" has proven that silly old maxim true: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dear Diary

After using it for quite some time, I'm running out of pages in my diary. I wondered how long I've been utilizing this little green notebook, so I flipped to the front and checked the date: October 27, 2011 (coincidentally, Scott Weiland's 44th birthday). I re-read the first seven months' worth of entries, and for the first time, it struck me: I could track the decline in my mental health through those words.

I wrote about how overwhelmed I was, and mentioned that I was convinced I would break soon. On June 1, 2012, the entry I wrote crystallized the moment when I knew I wasn't okay: my handwriting resembles my own and does not--the basic shapes are there, but its lines are shaky and erratic; my words freak me out a little even now when I know I'm much better.

So I finally realize why diaries are useful. Yes, some of the entries are painful to read, not always because of the trauma but sometimes because of the mistakes and immaturity recorded. Yet because they capture moments when we are, perhaps, at our most confessional and open, these paragraphs can help us learn from the past. Not to get all Rafiki on you, but he was right when he taught us that while the past can hurt, "you can either run from it or learn from it."

Here's hoping I can take a few lessons from the words I felt compelled to write.