Saturday, November 22, 2014

To Shirley...

We were the lucky ones.

We were the ones that got our grandmother twice a year for weeks at a time.

We would see her in the summer, leaving behind the heat and the sticky air and the small town gossip and drive up north to where it was just then spring, pink blossoms and her huge yard exploding with color.

We would see her in the winter, for Christmas, for New Years, for snow, for cookies, for presents, for hugs.

And when we didn't see her, we talked to her on the phone, for hours.  She entertained our little stories, believed in our little worlds, told us about her little garden fairies causing mischief again and her little poodle that could never quite catch them.

She taught me to paint, my memories of this as blurry as the water colors on those thirsty pages.  I was never any good, my creativity in the arts leaked out of me and was swallowed up by my mother and sister.  My poppies looked like red upturned umbrellas with a giant black hole in the middle, my grass and sky separated by a thick black line broke the picture up too violently, my people drawn too large or too small to scale with my simple houses.  Her pictures were like pictures out of a book, like the paintings that hung on the walls of the museums she would take us to, showing us Monet, Manet, Renoir and Van Gogh.  But she never let on that mine were not perfect.  She always praised.  She always kept them, framed them, showed them off to all of her other artful friends.

She taught me how to string popcorn and cranberries to hang on the tree.  She taught me how to make deviled eggs.  She showed me how to make cakes and would tell me all the stories about working in a bakery and helping her father and about how pretty her dresses were that she wore to her high school dances.  She was brave and strong enough to pull out our loose teeth and she promised it wouldn't hurt, and it never did.  She told me about the trouble she would get into with her brothers and sister.  She made me feel less badly about fighting with my sister because she said that's what kids do.  She made me feel like a person.  She let me know that I counted.  She filled me up.

When we would drive home, I would cry until almost Kentucky, so sad to be away from the magical woman for another boring six months.  And then our mother would let us stop and talk to her at a payphone along the way, checking in, hearing her soothing words that summer break would be here before we knew it, and oh all of the fun things she already had planned for us.  She was going to take us to Fernwood.  She was going to teach us to draw in nature.  She was going to take us to tea.

She always had short hair, effortlessly stylish.  She wore purple, even though she was so young.  She smoked, but I never remember her smelling like it.  I only remember peppermint and lilacs.  I made her a chart once; a thirty-step guide to quitting in a month.  I allowed her a pack a day, and then eased her off day-by-day, cigarette-by-cigarette.  It was misspelled and the drawings of the come-to-life cigarettes with scowls on their faces surely brought a great deal of laughter from her and her siblings as they all sat around the dining room table in her mother's house, my great-grandmother, for a family reunion.

But then she got sick.  And her heart didn't want to work anymore.  And it was terrifying.  And I wasn't allowed in the room.  And I remember my mother crying.  After hearing all of those words and too-big thoughts and so-many-months to live, I was aware of my own heart like I had never been aware of before.  I felt like I could see everyone else's heart, we were all beating and pumping and working like nothing had ever happened, like they all hadn't just been broken, like they hadn't all been pierced with the possibility that there would be one less among us.

I had just learned fractions.  I remember that.  And I remember them telling us, or telling my mom and her sister and then they telling us in words that were softer, were easier, were simpler to swallow, that she had only a third of her heart left working, the rest of it, the upper two-thirds had simply quit.  And because I had just learned fractions, I knew one third was much smaller than two thirds.  And that it wasn't good. They didn't think she had more than six months left with us.

So we moved home, we moved to her home, we moved to the wonderful place that once was but was now just a shell and ticking clock.  She wasn't the woman that once made me feel like anything was possible.  We were there to say goodbye, to pray, to hope they were wrong.

And they were.

That was almost fifteen years ago.  And the approximate 186 days after the doctor had delivered the blow that would change our lives forever, she kept on breathing.  Her heart with only a third of its power and strength and will to live kept on pumping.  She stayed with us.  She woke up smiling.

I believed in magic that year.   I believed in angels and God and miracles.  I believed they were as close to us as we were to her, sitting in her garden, helping her weed and mulch and set up her easel.

She has never stopped being part of my life.  I am a woman now, a grown up that moved far far away.  But we still share secrets.  We still talk and giggle and commiserate over the phone.  She still encourages my creativity, prints out all of my stories and saves them in a file for when "I'm famous."
Well, Gram, this one is for you.  Thank you for everything.  Thank you for staying alive.  Thank you for making me want to live this life creatively.  Thank you for making fairy furniture and reading me books and teaching me to bake.  You left your mark.  You influenced my life.  And I will forever be grateful.

Happy birthday.

All my love,


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Feminism, Memoirs and What Got Me Really Heated Tonight.

What started out as procrastination from completing my words for the NaNoWriMo contest -  scrolling through Facebook and seeing all of my proud friends clicking the button the lets their newsfeed know that they voted today, a few stragglers who are just now uploading photos of their Halloween costumes, and a couple funny Youtube videos, turned into the absolute necessity to write this blog post. 

Lena Dunham released her first book and memoir Not That Kind of Girl  a few weeks ago.  I bought it, proud to support a fellow memoirist and my local bookstore, and eager to read what she had to say about growing up, becoming a writer, and becoming the phenomenon that she is today.  Admittedly, I might have gone into it with the hope that I would be clued in to some small secret of unlocking one's creative potential, or the acceptance of one's body as it is - beautiful - and not the object of public scrutiny and constant demands to be perfect.  And, while I liked it, and read it quickly, it felt more like a longer and more literary (obviously) version of her show "Girls," which I also thoroughly enjoy and often relate to.  I passed the book along to a friend, another "Girls" lover and haven't thought much about it since.

And then I found out, during my non-writing spree on Facebook, that Dunham has been receiving numerous attacks on her book, calling her a "sexual predator," and "child molester."  

The scene that is receiving all of these complaints is as follows:

One day, as I sat in our driveway in Long Island playing with blocks and buckets, my curiosity got the best of me. Grace was sitting up, babbling and smiling, and I leaned down between her legs and carefully spread open her vagina. She didn't resist and when I saw what was inside I shrieked.
My mother came running. "Mama, Mama! Grace has something in there!"
My mother didn't bother asking why I had opened Grace's vagina. This was within the spectrum of things I did.

This scene gave me no pause.  I barely remember it being in the text, let alone prompt me to wage an all-out tweet and hashtag attack on someone for sharing a memory from when they were seven-years-old. The political and cultural critics complaints are ludicrous.  Jia Tolentino, a contributing writer on Jezebel wrote the article "The Right to a Sexual Narrative"  not only doing an exceptional job of detailing exactly who Lena Dunham is, why she is so popular, and what some of her flaws as a writer and public figure are, it also completely dispels the validity of the complaint with her memoir and it's "encouragement of sexual abuse."  My favorite lines from the article:

"To be an adult woman is to have your body be near-universally read as a sexual object when, on the inside, you often feel very different, like a Pokemon or a hungover bag of meat."

"There is enough real abuse out there. There are enough people who never got that freedom to let their own kid bodies be unburdened. Part of granting people the ability to tell their own sexual narrative is granting them the ability to tell their own sexual narrative, whether it matches your reading or not."

I have now read MULTIPLE articles about this, falling - nay - leaping headfirst into the black hole that is the internet and all connecting links to anything even remotely having to do with this case.  It's insane.  I even ambled into (a terrifyingly propagandist place where all logic and reason and TRUTH go to be twisted and swallowed up in a very minute percentage of the population's agenda) and their article about how the First Amendment protects their accusation of her as a sexual predator and their withdrawal of an apology for stringing together DIFFERENT sections of her books to piece together a case in which she was seventeen and not seven when this episode occurred.  Disgusting.  One of the articles states that "Everything doesn't need to be shared..."  I'm sorry, why the fuck not?  Not only has her sister fully supported her sister through this and given express permission (as all memoirists and writers of non-fiction are contracted to do if they are intending to write about and publish real people without changing names and dates and places - did you know that?) of Dunham's use of her memories of her and her sister's interactions.

It's unfortunate there is such hyper-sensitivity out there, from BOTH sides (some of my favorite feminist writers jumped on this ridiculous bandwagon as well, shaming Dunham for using her platform to encourage the "abuse" of the innocent), and that a work of art or piece of writing or the TELLING OF ONE'S OWN STORY is grounds for an accusation of wrong-doing.  The evisceration of the safe space in which to tell about an innocent childhood memory is abhorrent.  She was seven.  This is a non-issue.  What IS the issue is the constant control being perpetrated on women's sexuality insofar that it creates  falsehoods about a CHILD'S intent and natural curiosity.  By exaggerating, misdiagnosing, overreacting and lying about what Lena Dunham "did" to her sister is yet another example of how the media, cultural critics, politicians and uninformed and knee-jerk reactionary FEMINISTS encourage the damaging discourse over what is "appropriate" for a woman to do with and think about her body.

It is a control mechanism people, and it must be recognized as such.