Friday, May 27, 2011
I wrote this for a college writing course and decided to share it. I have intertwined three essay/short stories written by women, with excerpts from a body of writing called Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power by Audre Lorde. Lorde is talking to the characters in the stories as if they are real. The advice and admiration she gives them are powerful and compassionate. It is something, as women, we would all like to hear. The short stories do not have a lot of detail, but the women she talks to are all seeking the same thing...their female power. Lorde was alive from 1934 to 1992, and in that time wrote some of the most liberating works of literature for and about women of her time...enjoy.
Audry Lorde's Words of Wisdom
Audre Lorde’s words to the narrator of The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could, written as one of the Vagina Monologue skits...I am in awe of you for coming out of the past in one piece. What had happened to you was profoundly cruel and something that no little girl should have to endure.You had a mother so out of touch with her own physical desires and erotic power that she shamed you for your desire to explore yours. Your mother could not give love and therefore you did not receive love. Being five is a time to enjoy getting to know your body, exploring sensations and having the freedom to express your pleasure. Instead, you were frightened by your vagina, tried to plug it up thinking it would fill with water from the bath or putting a band aid on it or three pairs of underwear to keep it sealed away. What cruel words would make a little girl only five feel this way about a sacred, special and amazing part of who she is? It is a credit to a child’s imagination what they will think up either in a dreamscape or a nightmare about who they are and what their bodies will do. You were raised to fear yes within yourself, your deepest cravings. (Lorde, pg.539)
You were harmed not only with words from your mother, but by a male child at the age of seven. He punched you in your vagina and you couldn’t pee. This was painful and frightening, and you weren’t held nor protected from this cruel act. You were blamed for it having happened in the first place. The most degrading horror put upon a child happened to you. The rape you suffered at the hands of your father’s best friend, when you were finally admiring your body in new under clothes given to you by your father’s girlfriend. You were testing the waters, possibly venturing out to be proud of the way you look and feel pretty. You were robbed of that moment by the brutal invasion and bloody finish of someone who was trusted and then you were again punished by not seeing your father for seven years. There is no wonder to me that you shut the door on discovering the powerful erotica deep inside you. “As women, we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and irrational knowledge. We have been warned against it all our lives by the male world, which values this depth of feeling enough to keep women around in order to exercise it in the service of men…” (Lorde, pg. 537) My dear, you have been kept down not through verbal cues from the male society, but violent acts perpetrated against you. If this were not bad enough, your own mother started this hatred you now have for your body and for the power you hold inside of it.
By thirteen, your vagina was a bad place and a bad luck zone…a freeway between your legs that you wanted to take as far away from you as possible. A place you were no longer going to look at as a part of you. I say, if you refuse to be conscious of what you are feeling at any time no matter how comfortable that may seem, is to deny a large part of the experience and to allow yourself to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd. (Lorde, pg540) Your protection is exactly this…to disallow a consciousness of your deep erotic self.
However, you began to change this at the age of sixteen. A twenty-four year old woman seduced you and gave you your first sexual experience that wasn’t cruel and punishing. And I say, better than a man. Would a man show you how to pleasure yourself in all the ways possible? Would he show you the beautiful and powerful feminine side of yourself? Most likely not. Would you have even noticed him or let him? She gave you the freedom to enjoy your ‘coochie snorcher’ or as I like to call it…your vagina. “...but his erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively European-American male tradition.” (Lorde pg 540) You were trapped behind your wall of safety you built. However, you unlocked your chastity belt of pain and guilt, shame and torture and laid it aside to courageously try a new experience that brought about love for yourself and your vagina. Bravo to you! I hope in the future you believe in this joy and deep sensual feeling and know you deserve it.
You said she was your surprising, unexpected and politically incorrect salvation. (Vagina Monologue) I wonder if there was another way you would have begun to love your vagina. Perhaps, perhaps not…but you’re on your way to acknowledging the power within, the creative source, the self-affirming side and your strong femaleness. You are on your way to making your erotic self the whole of your being. Remember your power within…you have a strong erotic feminine power; don’t forget it.
My advice to Tome Hayashi, the wife and mother in the story Seventeen Syllables, is to continue to allow Ume Hanzono, your alter ego, to come out. Since your whole life has revolved around your family, I know you have a lot of fear around expressing your creativity and your erotic passion. Do you know what that is, your erotic power? You discovered it when you began to write and dream up your haikus. When you went the extra mile to get published! You tapped into a resource within you that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling. You were in it when you write, and you are in it when you are in intense discussions about it with others. You attract people to you that desire to discuss your passion. This is the wonder of the erotic…how you lose yourself in it so much, that time and place cease to exist.
You became someone else; Ume Hanzono. You allowed yourself this other life cocooned in the mundane. A fearless, driven part of yourself, a pseudo name to allow you to strip yourself of your façade of Tome Hayashi, the appeasing wife and mother who kept house, cooked, washed and picked tomatoes out in the sweltering fields and boxed them. (Yamoto, pg299-300)
Ume, you have a responsibility to stay. I do not ask for perfection, nor to do something that causes paralyzing fear. Perfection is the worst form of self hate to bestow upon yourself. No Tome, I want you to continue to elicit your erotic self from deep inside you. “This internal requirement toward excellence which we learn from the erotic must not be misconstrued as demanding the impossible from ourselves nor from others. (Lorde, pg537) You, Ume have tasted your “internal sense of satisfaction”(Lorde, pg537) and will want to aspire to it again and again, I promise.
Tome, you owe it to your daughter, Rosie, to be content, to stand up for yourself. Do you know Rosie respects you for being your authentic self? When you say you’re sorry for behavior that needs no apology, because you live with a man who is threatened of his loss of dominance, your daughter loses a piece of her and her sense of feminine power. She also loses a little respect for you each time and feels hatred for both you and her father. She feels this when you, her mother begs, and for her father denying you.( Yamamoto, 301) Again, I am not asking for perfection. I’m asking you to keep your eyes open and begin with baby steps to be true to your heart.
Rosie is angry and subjected to the type of dysfunction that will distance her from you. It is already happening with her father. When you asked Rosie to promise never to marry, because of your past of an arranged marriage and a first love gone wrong; did you ever think of the impact it had on her? Who’s to say her first love will go wrong? She may engage her erotic power and balance her life with love of another and love of herself. Allow her the chance and give her the support to do that. “The aim of each thing we do is to make our lives and the lives of our children richer and more possible.” (Lorde,pg537) Be good to yourself Tome and Ume, may you both seek deep within you to find and hold tight, your erotic power.
Hello, Panna, to you, the character of A Wife's Story, I want to say that I see very clearly your struggle between your Indian culture and the American culture you’ve grown to know and love.
The courage it took to leave your country and culture behind to finish your education was enough. However you went on to absorb and love the American way and embrace it as your own. You began to see what it was like to truly experience your authentic self, and with it your erotic woman under the surface.
When you had that moment with Imre on Broadway, when he started to dance, I think you wanted to also. Shyness is just another way to deny our erotic power to flower and grow. “For our erotic is not a question only of what we do; it is a question of how acutely and fully we can feel in the doing.” (Lorde pg537) It did, however, come out in the hug you gave Imre. You did it even when you thought he wanted you to let go. That was your passion coming out and it surpassed your fear of what anyone thought, including Imre. Another moment, simple yet poignant, was when you were not ‘unhappy’ when you had to take the responsibility for the tickets and the money when your husband was in town. The circumstances allowed you to bridge the gap between your old world and the new one. Equality seeped through and you enjoyed the view, no matter how unfamiliar it was. You walked a step ahead instead of a step behind…this was your time now and part of you wanted to seize it.
Then your superficial erotica pushed through and again you became the inferior female. You started to question your erotic power and your ingrained sense of inferiority about your sex made you feel suspect of its existence. (Lorde, pg536) This is where the surface you, rose up and wanted, no needed to deny your erotic depth… the fear came over you and you started to give in to the side that said, “you need to go home, you have had your freedom and this is it.” Your husband has had the last word and as always, you have lived with it that way. And this is where we go in the moment of fear. “…when we live away from those erotic guides from within ourselves, then our lives are limited by external and alien forms, and we conform to the needs of a structure that is not based on human need, let alone an individual’s.” (Lorde, pg539)
Alas, you did come to America seeking your PhD in special education. You set up a place to live, you maneuvered your way around one of the biggest and busiest cities in the United States. You have adapted to the way of life here and have thrived. This is not something a woman not in touch with her erotic power would do. The erotic is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. I believe once joy is experienced, there is no going back to the surface erotic and the mundane. This is the scariest choice we have to make. I believe your desire, deep down, will guide you to what it is you dream for. It may even be a path you have not thought of at all. This is the exciting part of listening to your erotic self.
Let me remind you of something you did for you and for your husband that you would not have done prior to all the challenges you faced and accomplished. “In the mirror that hangs on the bathroom door, I watch my naked body turn, the breasts, the thighs glow. The body’s beauty amazes. I stand there shameless, in ways he has never seen me.”(Mukherjee pg553) You stood there in a way you have never seen yourself…that is your freedom. Once you know the extent to which you are capable of feeling, that sense of satisfaction and completion, you can then observe which of your various life endeavors brings you closest to that fullness. (Lorde, pg537) You are such a strong and powerful woman on so many levels, I wouldn’t be surprised if you could stitch together both worlds in perfect harmony and become much more than the woman you ever could ever imagine.
Excerpts taken from the book: The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature
By Mary K. DeShazer.
Short stories and essays by:
Lorde, Audrey- Uses of the Erotica: The Erotic Power
Yamamoto, Hisaye- Seventeen Syllables
Mukheree, Bharati- A Wife’s Story
Excerpts also from:
The Vagina Monologues- The Little Coochie Snorcher That Could
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
I am at the mall. I don't enjoy the mall, but I arrive for the amazing gift awaiting all mothers that venture here. I call it the 'Big Toy' (a train for all you visual folks) . This is where all exhausted moms go with their preschool age children to let them loose and wear them out. The 'Big Toy' is available in the middle of the day, in the middle of the week and moms can go to just sit and stare. It costs nothing to come here...completely free. Fathers find relief in being here as well, however, for the purpose of my story, I am only going to discuss the mothers. If I am going to offend anyone, I prefer it be members of the same sex.This 'Big Toy' is to be my salvation. Now, the rules for the 'Big Toy' are written on a big board, that cannot be missed, and are as follows: Only children six and under, no food or beverages, no shoes, and socks must be worn. Well, I am all for rules and I am a rule follower...until today. It is 80 degrees outside (which is 120 for Seattleites) and my daughter is not wearing socks nor would it ever have dawned on me to check. You see, the sun appears here but once every seven years for an hour. So as it stands, my child is six and under, I have no food, no beverage and she has no shoes on, so technically I am omitting only one rule...the wearing of the socks.
Let me clarify, I have no tolerance for parents that think the rules don't apply to them. They let their children run around the 'Big Toy' (also affectionately known as the petri dish) with no socks on, spreading their nasty little 'other child' germs all over it so that my child comes home with athletes foot of the mouth or is sick for a week. Yes, I am a hypocrite, for today I have deemed myself exempt from this one small rule. They need to know I am Not a rule breaker...however, I am uniquely qualified to have this one little indiscretion be overlooked for today. I am Yoda, the saint of all saints when it comes to following the rules or even making them. I have EARNED this one. I have plenty of "follow the rules" points and I intend to use them all today. Alas, I never inform anyone of this.
I am not a saint today... I have crossed over to the dark side. I am not Yoda but Darth Vader with a light saber and a big ass chip on her shoulder. However, I will keep these thoughts to myself so as not to be considered a danger if provoked. I need to be here. I have no choice. It isn't an option. I am safer to all, ensconced in the 'Big Toy' foam walls, the womb of all wombs. I come here to utilize all remaining energy I have to heal rather than hide. I am crazy, exhausted, emotional, pissy and hot. There is no reason to subject my daughter to my unmanageability of life, so here we are. These feelings are just under the surface and it will only take one little 'straw' to turn them loose. I do not specialize in hiding my feelings nor putting on a facade, it is way too much work and all my energy goes into not killing anyone. My guess would be, at this moment, I don't look all that well or approachable, but I don't look homicidal...this is unfortunate for the people who are thinking of talking to me or, god forbid, confronting me.
I'm on the edge and getting ready to jump, or more likely, push someone else off. I decide it is in my best interest to call someone and discuss my state of mind. A loving, kind and patient friend answers my call and I can now take the time to explain the condition I am in. I made it, I have survived and am now safely held in the place of commonality with other like mothers. I let my guard down.
I am not completely oblivious to my surroundings however. I am a mom and I have the psychic sense that allows me to know all that is going on around me within a five mile radius, even in my condition. So I know there are two big boys playing on the 'Big Toy' who are not six and under. There are also two mothers that could care less what anyone thinks about this. My rule breaker radar is on high and I know that this is very wrong. This scene only heightens my awareness that I too am breaking one of the cardinal 'Big Toy' rules. The rule I am breaking may not be as blatant as this, unfortunately however, it has been noticed. I have been found out. This I feel in my soul and from the prickly sensation running up and down my spine. Shit! Perhaps the two moms will get the brunt of the attack. Yes, this is what must happen and I consciously cross my fingers.
I am talking on the phone and I catch, from the corner of my eye, a mother looking at me. I try to look nonchalant, hoping beyond hope she can ignore this one little indiscretion. Really, why would another mother attack one of her own kind? If you are going to go after a rule breaker, I think the obvious choice would be to go after the big kid's mothers. I mean after all, these kids can jump on, throw, push, or mow down the six and under crowd. Unfortunately, the odds of winning are in favor of the big kids' moms, with two in their corner and the possible lie that their kids are just 'big for their age'. I have no one in my corner and being single leaves me an easy target.
The mother makes movements that lead me to believe she is readying herself to begin her attack on me (in all my glory). This is probably the same woman that is letting her two year old flail her arms wildly while standing precariously at the top of the train having not made the decision yet to jump. All the while, a steady breeze coming from the big boys mowing down the younger children is making the child sway from her precipice. The woman's child may or may not live through this experience...but she will be wearing socks.
To my disappointment, the big boys leave with their disrespectful parents. My buffer is gone. There is nowhere for me to hide and no time to pack it all in. The thought of going anywhere else hasn't even occurred to me. Besides, the community pool is way too much work, pricey and requires wearing a bathing suit, which does nothing to enhance my state of mind. The bowling alley and skating rink are dark places that may match my mood but will surely again, not enhance it. Staying home requires crafty ingenuity that I am not feeling nor can I access. Here I am in this sunny place of like minded moms, with the skylight for the possible SAD mom, cushy seats that roll into cushy floors for the overly worried mom and an enclosed area with only two ways out for the overprotective mom. These amenities all help, allowing what little energy is left to be directed to recouping and keeping the facade of sanity...if there's any sanity left. This last bit is questionable for me. All bets are off now that I am the chosen target.
Now that the other rule breakers are gone, the mom eyeing me is headed this way. As she approaches I realize she isn't trying to even look friendly. This is the final 'straw' approaching. I am about to act like a crazy person. I hold my ground and stay on the phone as she approaches and says something to the affect of..."your daughter needs to have socks on." What I heard was "I am attacking you because you are alone and vulnerable and I didn't have the balls to attack the disrespectful parents of the over six kids that just left." Doesn't she know I feel the same way about the other parents? We are the same!! She just has to know, the small fact that my child's sock-less feet has no bearing on the continuity we share. I don't normally do this. I am her (the crazy version maybe) and she is me. We have a connection, dammit!
I am devastated but just stare at her. I stay on the phone and say I am leaving soon. The crazy person is still under wraps but closer to the surface. I now need to end the call that is my lifeline to sanity. I am not thinking straight. I'm not ready to leave. I need more time! Pack up my things and reel in my child? Now?? Apparently all this does not matter for the "together" mom. No skin off her back...yet. She strode away and sat back down all the while drilling the hole of shame into me. I continue talking on the phone, not disclosing the injustice put upon me. I don't know how to end my phone call so I keep talking, hoping my sanity will return or the mom will give up on me leaving. The clock runs out and again I see her approaching me...
I felt something snap inside me. I hang up the phone and I feel my body heat up and start shaking as she repeats what I heard before...you are not one of us and must leave. If this is not bad enough, another mom from the cozy womb club is rallying behind her. Now I have two moms forming an alliance against me. Do they not know who I am? I am the queen of rule following. I need this safe haven and I have all my 'follow the rules points'. I earned my right to stare off into nowhere without consequences. Why do they not understand this? Don't 'put together' moms have spare socks in their little baby bags? Could they not offer me a pair and if not, then couldn't they mind their own fucking business? We are no longer the same. I am not her and she, sure as hell, is not me. There is no more continuity...was there ever? She and I are not cut from the same cloth...I now just want the scissors to gouge out her eyes with.
And that is it, I have toppled over the edge, but I'll be damned if I'm not taking one of them with me! I am unleashed, broken open, all the energy used to contain myself has imploded within and is going to come out and I have no control of this. I stand up, turn and...to this day I don't remember what happened. Possibly a barrage of angry babble that blames them for ruining my feel good moment or big words explaining my flawless 'follow the rules' character. Or perhaps it is unintelligible garble, sarcasm, a loud shriek or just a low animalistic moan. All I know is that I am in motion. I no longer am capable of rational thought or behavior. I don't have a clue as to how I am going to leave in a calm and orderly fashion. I don't have a leg to stand on in this fight and they know it. I am breaking a listed 'Big Toy' rule and I know this is the punishment. I either withdraw on my own terms or be removed with force by some mall security person, who owns a badge and not a gun and missed passing the police test by that much. I decide to resign myself to leaving with my light saber sheathed.
As I'm leaving, words are still pouring out of my mouth in torrents. Unable to stop them, I feel the eyes of everyone in that five mile radius following me. Perhaps they are waiting for my hair to light on fire or for me to shed my human skin to reveal the lizzard like creature with the pointed tongue...the only thing capable of the barrage of filth spewing forth from it's pursed mouth. The women are performing a high five as I leave the protection of the 'Big Toy'. They act superior knowing they just won the battle with the crazy, skinless, pointed tongue rule breaker. I am unable at this moment to leave with any dignity intact. I am also yelling at my child, who is in shock and on the verge of her own meltdown, as we leave the now claustrophobic and tainted 'Big Toy' sanctuary. The shame is immense.
It takes me a long time to go back and always with the knowledge that one of those moms would recognize me. I, on the other hand, couldn't pick out those women that confronted me to save my life. I never register their physical appearance, only their behavior towards me and my reaction to it. From here on out, I always have my kid in socks or buy a pair at the store next to the 'Big Toy' just in case. That's one rule I never break again.
...To date, my daughter is no longer six and under and the option of going to the 'womb of comfort' has expired. I no longer need that 'Big Toy' to gather myself and my emotions...there are plenty of other tools I use to help preempt another episode like that one. I will not say I haven't had a meltdown of that magnitude since and I suspect I will have to tolerate a few in the future. It is just the nature of the beast for me. All is well at the moment and I haven't killed anyone to date. As some say, it was another opportunity to learn. I haven't killed them either. I'm doing ok. Wish I could say I cherish every moment that befalls me in my life, but who the hell does. What I can say is this... I don't follow all the little rules anymore and I don't care as much as I use to if I'm caught doing just that. I will always care a little and I will be ok with that too.
Thanks for reading,
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Turns out the little 'best friend' she was playing with had siblings who also were hanging around the playground...one younger brother, one older sister and one older brother, possibly more. I am minding my own business, while keeping an eye on my daughter and 'tanning'. Then from a distance I heard what I thought to be an odd comment coming from the older brother and his friends...something along the lines of..."keep your hands off my sister". Now the girls were playing on the bars and my daughter was helping the little one do turns or sit on it. This would require touching her. I let it go, not sure if that is exactly what I heard. Not five minutes later I got the verbal attack...It started with "hey you on the bench." I knew this wouldn't be good. First of all he was ruining my alone time and second my 'tanning' was now in jeopardy.
I don't like confrontation. I am not one that thrives from it, on the contrary I usually run from it. I was the passive aggressive type when younger and still have that skill to this day. So when I was all of a sudden struck with a myriad of foul language, my blood turned cold. He was pretty far away and had to yell this at me. The word 'bitch' was used quite repeatedly along with some other choice phrases. At this point we had been at the playground for at least 20 minutes if not more with no incident. This was out of the blue, not provoked and certainly not expected. I have never been verbally assaulted or otherwise at or near her school, nor in such a venomous fashion. My comment was "nice." Not in "nice to see you" but in"what the f***" nice. Well, that probably didn't help, so I decided the best course of action was just to get my child and go.
I was so angry though that I just had to ask the older girl sitting near by if he was related to her. Yes he is and she let me know he is always like this. It is sad, I can only imagine how difficult it is for the family to deal with this or possibly where he learned it. At the time, I couldn't have cared less however. To my credit, I did comment that he could use some counseling. People who know me will not be surprised by this comment. I discovered he is already in it. I thought this is good but he could use more...Then the little shit started up again. At this point I asked his sister for his name, his grade and the teacher he has. He was only in fourth grade! His sister said to me not to worry and that she will tell their mom when she gets home. That's all fine and dandy, but I wasn't done with him. So I asked my questions again. Armed with some of the information I asked for, I am good and ready to report his smart ass to the school office tomorrow.
As I was walking away with my daughter, again, he slung words that no child that age should be using, especially at an adult. I would have had my mouth washed out with soap and not been able to sit for a week! This was it, I was all done taking this crap from him. So I turned around, held both my hands over my head and yelled..."I KNOW YOUR NAME, I KNOW YOUR GRADE AND I KNOW YOUR TEACHER...SO SHUT UP!!!!", emphasizing each fact with my hands. This was not thought out in advance and I later wished something other than 'shut up' was used. Just as well, nothing else would have been anymore adult like. I didn't know his teacher and I don't have a last name and I couldn't see what he really looked like, but he didn't need to know this. I will find him tomorrow come hell or high water.
Afterwards my daughter was so impressed with my response, she repeated it, hand gestures and all. This continued all the way home and then some. I do hope she doesn't reiterate the story verbatim tomorrow at school, especially not with the hand gestures. Oh well, it shut him up. He didn't say another word.
I still feel the adrenaline writing this. This was a big step for me. I wanted to hit him which I know is a bad thing and he was too far away with too many friends anyway. I wouldn't have even if he had been standing right next to me...or so I believe. All bets are off if he goes near my daughter. So I took on a snotty little fourth grader and I don't feel bad nor fearful nor angry anymore. I believe I did the best I could in a bad situation and my daughter saw her mother stand up to a bully in a semi adult fashion. Well, it is progress not perfection. Maybe next time I can graduate to a fifth grade bully standoff. Until then, I will take pleasure in the fact that I wasn't walked all over and I didn't go to jail for assault.
So Shut Up! ( Just practicing)
After reporting this incident to the school office, to the credit of the school principal and the disciplinary system, the fourth grader was easily found and identified. I was called back immediately to give my side of things, steps were taken and consequences were given. I received an apology in writing. This was done obviously made in the presence of authority and quite possibly with the threat of imprisonment in said office until completion. Either way, this young man will think twice, I pray, before barraging someone else with such harmful and hateful words. I am still ok with my reaction to this situation since I don't think about what I should have done. So, I will take this as a sign that my action was just and fair, did no harm to myself or others and I am my daughter's hero for today.