Cultists page 3

2019-06-13 12.09.34

The pastels are getting more fun and more interesting to use as I work with them!  I’ve got a bunch of pages to scan and tart up in Photoshop, most of which I’m pretty happy with.  Been sticking them up on the corkboard so they don’t smear.  I guess people probably use some kind of fixative on pastel work they want to keep?  But because of who I am as a person, I just scan it immediately and then assume the originals will melt away, like dreams after breakfast.  Yes, all this agonizing over googling “pastel fixative.”  If I didn’t have to contemplate the cosmic significance of every little fucking thing, I would get a lot more done around here.

I’m going to mess with the little pages you see here over the next few days and then I’ll put ’em up.  For now I give you the third page of our little prayer for wi-fi.

Sunset Eyes

Gonna have to figure out how it’d be best to display these all together and arrange a page for them, as it seems likely there’ll be a lot more.  New keyboard should arrive today or tomorrow, which will be lovely as it will almost certainly arrive a fraction of a second before I have chewed off my own arms in frustration with my current keyboard (which is working orders of magnitude worse after I meticulously cleaned it, of course).  The up side is, I could smoke all of you out on the pile of ground bud I found under the keys.  Apparently the keyboard needed that and now it’s suffering.  But I don’t permit weakness in my peripherals, so its replacement is on the way.

 

Desert Desires

In the morning:

I send a song to you. I choose it carefully.

There’s always a reason.

I’d tell you if you asked;

no one ever asks.

I only seem to do this for one person at a time –

it’s my way of courting.

Like leaving flowers at your door

A mouse corpse on your mat

I did not make it; I simply caught it.

Dead things say “I love you.”

 

Around 10 AM:

I light incense in two places around my apartment,

and I ponder rituals that could accompany this moment.

Like everything, I insist on doing this backwards.

I crave faith, conviction, a sense of meaning

I cherish catechism; my fingers naturally curl to count a rosary.

But though I make the moves on hands and knees,

though I see things and hear voices,

though I go through all the motions of the martyr,

I never pull the trigger

because I still don’t feel a thing.

 
Around 1995:

Religion was like any other fantasy world when I was a child

Jesus was a hero but not as brave as Ged,

A lot whinier than Frodo.

No cool powers.

Woo, he makes fish appear and walks on water?

So he’s a shitty Aquaman, is what you’re saying.

No one divided the Bible from Bradley and Bradbury

So it just seemed like it had too few dragons to me.

My first memory blinds me — the sun on the water in a copper bucket

that also contained me.

The bucket was just big enough for me, and the water

and the infinite light of the sun.

I could never see how this world needed God.

 

Every day since sixth grade:

I loved her all wrong, then and now —

Far too close in all the wrong places.

Like tongue-kissing a goddess

Like bringing frankincense and myrrh to McDonalds

Like living all my life on my knees

Before the sixteen-year-old girls we were.

Over time it’s become a genre

A color I paint in

One of the shapes that shows up again and again.

If you knew her, you could never miss it —

She’s in every drawing, every story — or something like her,

the pieces of her I stole, and kept, and tended

in my dirt-floor basement heart.

The garden I grew there spawns each day

mycorrhizal homunculi with her eyes.

They tug at my arms, whisper in my ears

Beg to be drawn, to be cherished, to be beautified

To be loved, forever.

To always be loved.

Cult doodlings page 2

Lots of pain this week.  My flesh prison is revolting, in every sense of the word.  This pleased me, though – I finished the second page of the cultist thing.  I’m gonna get sick of calling it “the cultist thing” way before we get to the title page and I can start using its name.

Our Mother

None of the working stages were worth saving, although some of them were very interesting.  I did take some reference shots for this one, which involved dangling a flashlight from a fold of a jacket in the hallway, but hey, if dramatically lit hands are your jam, we got those:

 

Yep, it’s an ethernet cable our cultist is holding.  One more page to clean up still.

At the Miracle Sausage Factory

I haven’t had a lot to show you this week, but it’s not that I haven’t been writing – there are a lot of words in a few drafts here, they’re just sprawling and unfocused and I can’t toss up any kind of conclusion.  I’m having a hard time right now if you want to know the truth.  A lot of stressful, expensive life shit coming up, but also the journey to mental health isn’t a straight line, as they say, and sometimes you fall in the Well again.

Last weekend I stumbled, because the previous week was too good.  Yep.  That’s the exciting world of trauma.

“Hey, so I see you got a gig.  Seems like somebody thinks your work is good.  I see you went on a date.  Someone wants to be your friend.  Of course… you know what’s going to happen, don’t you? 

Of course you do. 

You’ll show them that you’re utterly worthless and they were foolish even to offer an opportunity, and they will be angry at you for wasting their time by continuing to exist while not matching their exact specifications. 

That person you went on a date with will discover any moment that you’re too broken to be a good friend, can’t offer anything to anybody, and then they’ll be hurt because you were so callous and stupid as to accept their offer of friendship.

You should have known better than to accept any of those things; look at you, you’re going to drop them any minute, and then everyone will find out how worthless you really are.  It’ll happen sooner or later.  Why not speed up the inevitable?”

I know I sound like I’m being dramatic here.  I wish I could say that this isn’t exactly what happens inside me every time I’m offered any kind of opportunity.  Any kind of help.  Any kind of reward beyond the barest minimum I’ve earned.  But this is it, the bottom of the Well.  This is where I’ve lived for a very long time.  I’m just starting to get out of it now.  Last few weeks have been a little setback.

electrified steaks with legs and hats

But I am getting out.  What’s interesting about that is… the first time, it was instantaneous.  A bit of a mind flip.  I’ve tried to write about this, and that’s one of the huge, sprawling drafts I’m failing to finish, because it’s very simple and yet very complex to explain.  The short version is, I saw it one way, and then I found the right words to look at it another way, and suddenly my perspective shifted.  I didn’t understand what was happening at the time, and that was part of my certainty that if I ever fell down again, I would never get back up.  How could I?  How can you reproduce an epiphany?

It turns out that an epiphany is like anything else: if you slow it down enough, you can see that it’s composed of many different parts.  Like anything else, it’s a chemical process, because that’s what we are, arrogant sacks of protoplasm, electrified steaks with legs and hats.  Everything is chemicals, including all our emotions, and all the physical responses they create in our meat machines.

pick the miracle apart

How do I get back up again, when finding any kind of self-worth the first time was so hard that it felt like a miracle?  Walk through the miracle again, slowly.  Slower than that.  Pick the miracle apart.  Yes, this will diminish its glory.  No, it doesn’t matter, because there are more miracles ahead, and this one you must know how to execute in your sleep.

Walk through all the steps we took again.  We started with self-care.  Eating food.  Remember food?  Drinking water, not just Coke.  Man cannot live on caffeine alone.  You slip on this stuff, not a lot, just a little over time.  Usually when things are going well.  Your good mood doesn’t feel as precarious, so you don’t stress too much when you forget to eat a time or three – this is different, you’re busy, you’re feeling better.  And then it all crumbles away under your feet in an instant, and you’re right back where you started.

Remember the words we said.  The things that really mattered, that expressed what we needed to say.  Say them again.  It feels so much stupider the second time, and it felt stupid as hell the first time, but grit your teeth harder if you have to, okay?  Do it when nobody else is home.  Take it seriously one more time for me.  Just one more time, say the stupid words out loud.

I love you.  I am right here beside you.  I will never, ever leave you.

You’ve said that to a girlfriend or two, right?  A child, maybe?  Probably more than one.  You can’t say it to yourself?  I know, you’re rolling your eyes, what’s the point, that’s dumb.  Sure, okay, if it’s dumb then why wouldn’t you just do it?  Just do it for me, because I asked you to, and it’s dumb and it doesn’t matter, right?  Why can’t you look yourself in the fucking face and say what you said to at least four girls in your twenties?

I love you.  I believe in you. 

I will not abandon you, no matter how many mistakes you make.

You are worth it.  You are worth anything.  You are worth the whole world to me.

If it makes you cry when you say it, that’s a sign that you need to say it more.

If you really, really don’t want to, if you’re ostentatiously not giving a shit, if you’re still rolling your eyes at me?  That’s a sign too.  You can ignore them as long as you like.  Recovery isn’t a straight line, as I said, and I’m gonna mix my metaphors here, it’s like riding a bike.  Sure, sure, with the falling and getting back up again business, that’s part of it.

What I mean is, when you’re learning to ride a bike, there’s this moment when you’re going, it’s working, you’re pedaling, and you get excited.  You’re doing it!  You’re really doing it!  And you look back to see if your parents are watching – and turning around makes you wobble and crash.  That crash is bad, the first fall where you had any kind of speed built up behind it, and it feels like you never want to try again.  And when you do, you hesitate – you know what it feels like to fall now, how much it hurts, and you don’t want to feel that again.  But when you hesitate, the bike wobbles.  You have to pedal fast to stay up.  So your fear makes you more likely to fall.

You’re going to fail at getting better again and again, and it’ll make you want to hesitate, make you scared to trust yourself.  It’ll make the steps you took feel stupid and trite.  You’ll doubt, you’ll look back, and when you look back, like Orpheus, you’re lost.

Go through it all again.  Don’t just go through the motions – do it like a priest going through a ritual, a doctor doing their pre-surgery wash.  You’ve done it a thousand times, and each time you do it carefully, lovingly, mindfully.  Not because every time is important, but because that’s the kind of person you are.  Because it’s important to you, not to anyone else, and what’s important to you matters.

“If you find yourself at the edge of a cliff and you’re wondering whether or not to jump… try jumping.”

– John Lennon

What can you hope to gain if you scoff your way through everything you do?  That’s the thing about magic they’ve been telling us since the beginning, right?  It only works if you truly believe that it will.  Step forward with surety when you’re at your most unsure.  If you’re headed at the cliff anyway, don’t walk off the cliff, god damn it, leap.  Because it’s only exciting when you commit.  Because it’s only fun when you try.

This is the thing.  It’s not that every single day is going to be worth your time.  It’s not that every single person is going to be good to you.  It’s not that every single occasion is really worth putting on pants and getting all styled up for.

It’s that you are.  You are worth doing those things, and a thousand things more.

Be honest with yourself.  When you say, “Is it worth it?  Should I bother?  Should I ask for what I need?  Should I insist on being treated well?  Should I put effort into this thing that matters only to me?”

What you’re asking is, “Am I worth it?”

Start from the baseline assumption that you are.  That’s your rock.  You are worth any amount of effort… to you.  You are worth any trouble, any amount of time spent making you happy… to you.  This really shouldn’t be a revolutionary idea, but for a lot of us, it is.  The idea that we have a right to prioritize self-care, the authority to decide what that looks like… the society we live in would like very much to squash that idea.  It would like very much to decide what your self-care should look like, so that it can sell it back to you at bargain summer prices.

That means that self-care is a radical act.  So stick it to the man.

Say it.  Once more, with feeling:

My needs and boundaries do not make me unreasonable or crazy.

I can and will defend my self-care ferociously.

I am entitled to decide what constitutes self-care, and to change that definition as I see fit.

When I disregard self-care for even a few days, I quite literally risk my own life.

I am worth the trouble.

 

Cultist doodlings

I’ve been doing some pastel drawings around an idea I had the other day, something about cultists and ice cream.  Anyway, this is the first page of a longer story.  Figuring out how I want to depict it is interesting, between various traditional media and digital effects.  Here’s the finished first page.

Wifi Prayer 1

Working with pastels helps me get to a more simplified form of whatever I have in my head – just the places the light touches, the fewest possible strokes to use while retaining all the information.  I’m trying to work down to a style I can do quickly and easily, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever get there.  I’m growing less and less certain that it’s even necessary, ultimately, but the goal is teaching me a lot, so whatever.

Wifi Prayer B&W

After the pastels I went back and tried to draw the same scene using only a black marker – trying to work out how I could use the shadows and negative space to get all the shapes in, even while making it clear that the room’s mostly dark.  That came out a lot better than I expected; markers are a lot less forgiving than pastels, but it’s also easier to achieve a gritty kind of feel that I like for this project particularly.  To get the same feel with pastels I’m having to layer in charcoal pencil.  So it’s been very instructive!

 

 

One of the stages along the simplification route ended up with this more abstract angle on it which I also like.

Wifi Prayer AbstractI’ve got two more pastel pages to mess with in Photoshop and then I have to get my hands dirty again.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

In Defense of Making a Mess

I made a big mess of my desk this weekend playing with pastels.  Pastels are wonderful because they’re so damn forgiving while being incredibly imprecise.  If you make a mistake, just go over it with a different color, or smudge it into something else.  I think, against all reason, this is what a pathological perfectionist like me needs from a medium.  Bob Ross would say that art is about happy little accidents, and if you draw or paint or happen to be the kind of traumatized that makes you watch a lot of Bob Ross to calm the howling animals in your brain, you know what he’s talking about.

I can’t draw

There are people who can grab a scrap of paper and a pen and dash off a clean five-minute sketch that will blow your mind.  I am not one of those people, but I grew up surrounded by those people.  My living room walls are covered with my mom’s art, screenprints of giant pies over hallucinogenic patterns, photocopied pages from zines she pasted together in the 80s, shreds of tissue paper painted with contorted human figures, dark collages of book pages, cut-out letters, and splattered acrylic that cracks and flakes onto the carpet with each passing year.  My stepdad is a sculptor and potter and painter; I grew up with paintings of his that were bigger than me, canvases eight feet to a side that I imagined could crush me if they ever toppled off the wall.  My father was in a rock band when I was a kid, and his grim, restless devotion to staking out time for his art regardless of the consequences made a deep impression on me.  So I grew up saying, “Oh no, I can’t draw.”

Then I met a few more people, and realized that there’s a level of “can’t draw” that should shut me up saying that forever.  I realized that what I call “can’t draw” is actually “a pretty enviable natural talent with no practice.”  I realized that the reason the people around me were good was because they spent every free moment they could spare working on what they made, screwing up, making messes and figuring out how to salvage the work from the mess.  This is… hard for a perfectionist to hear, and it’s harder when you’re a child.

There’s something inside you that deserves to take up space out here

I’m not going to say that artists don’t make good parents, because I think that’s unfair and untrue, but I do think that artists have to work consciously to be good parents, especially around the subject of art, because artists are by definition egotistical.  We have to be.  The very idea that a stranger should give a shit what you think, what you see – to assert that as hard and continuously as you must, to declare that your vision is worth the time and money you’ll put in and the time and money you’re asking from your audience in return, you have to believe it yourself.  You have to be able to fall back on the private certainty that even when you make mistakes in getting it out, there’s still something inside you that deserves to take up space out here.  You have to be certain that what you’re doing matters, and that even if it only matters to you, that’s enough.

That is not what I was taught, unfortunately.  I was taught to be seen and not heard, taught that even when asked to participate, I was to be as unobtrusive as possible, while displaying lavish gratitude for being allowed to remain in the room.  To quote David Sedaris, a writer of funny essays about his abusive family that my family bonded over in between abusing one another: “My parents did not live in a child’s house, we lived in theirs.  Our artwork did not hang on the refrigerator, or anywhere near it, because our parents recognized it for what it was – crap.”

Don’t drag a bunch of shit out

I was about five when I saw my parents reading and drawing and talking in the living room, and I wanted to sit with them and draw too.  Not to interrupt, I knew better, I would just listen, just be part of the happy artist family creating side-by-side.  I brought out my markers and my notebook to draw in, only to be told, “Don’t go dragging a lot of shit out here.”  It became a favorite line.  Whenever I was caught exiting my room with more than one object in my hands, I heard, “Don’t drag a bunch of shit out here.”  The message was clear: our art is real and deserves to take up space, deserves to make a mess, deserves to inconvenience others.  Your art is shit and we had better not see it in the public areas.  I’m trying to remember the houses I grew up in, whether you would have known my parents had a kid if you’d just walked in the front door and looked around, and I don’t think so.  There was no evidence for my existence outside of my room, and that was called “keeping the house clean.”

Do you understand, child?  You are a mess.  Your art is a mess.  It is never acceptable to make a mess, even just for the duration of an art session, even if you intend to clean it up.  Don’t drag a bunch of shit out here.  This space belongs to our art, which is real, and our mess, which is necessary.

You know what?

Fuck that.

I’m here to make a mess.

I’m here to make a big mess, the kind you’ll spend centuries cleaning up.  I’m here to make mistakes, the kind that’ll scar me for life.  I’m here to make art, and it’s going to be bloody, and it’s going to stain, and I’m not here to apologize.  I’m not the kind who can throw out a clean ballpoint caricature that you could sell for twenty dollars, and the guy who can do that couldn’t do it ten years ago either – ten years ago he was swearing because the side of his hand was stained blue from all the time he spent scribbling.  Ten years ago he filled a trashcan with a whole ream of paper and didn’t draw a single thing worth saving.  He made such a huge mess, for so fucking long, that he took down whole forests with his mistakes.  And now he’s at Comic Con or his publisher’s office, staring at the clean, polished prints of his work, and he doesn’t recognize them… because all he can remember is the mess he made.  The mess that somehow brought him here.

This is my desk while I was working with the pastels this weekend.  Normally I do my drawing over on the couch by the window, because the light’s good and it’s an excuse to get out of my chair and keep my ass from putting down roots in the cushion.  But I was mixing media here, trying to find a good way to lay linework over pastels (charcoal pencil, turns out!), and I needed the hard surface, so I sat at my desk.

2019-05-18 12.48.20

For the first twenty minutes or so I fretted, in the back of my mind, about the pastel dust I was repeatedly blowing off the page onto the desk.  I saw the colored fingerprints I left on my keyboard and mouse while I worked, and I cringed.  I imagined my wife coming into the room, imagined her scolding me for the mess.  She’s never done that, not once… but I can imagine her doing it in vivid detail.  I’m an artist.  My brain is excellent at inventing villains who tell me to give up.

But there were moments – these pure, arresting moments – when it wasn’t simply that I was no longer bothered by the mess, no longer worried about cleaning it up… no, I felt its necessity, its essential role in the process.  My first finger is black with pastel residue, so that when I brush away dust from my page, it leaves dark streaks there.  A mistake.  Then comes in another finger, this one golden from smudging another part of the picture, and it softens the dark streaks, gives them depth and dimension, and suddenly there’s something there that wasn’t there before.  A ghost in the paint.  A happy little accident.

I try to enhance it, not by selecting another pastel but by dragging my fingers over the desk, picking up undifferentiated dust and debris and probably some skin cells and then going after the paper like a toddler, all ten fingers clawing and stroking and shoving the color where I want it to go.  I feel like a caveman – thoughtless, seeing only the lights in my head, I seize the most colorful thing in my vicinity and crush it in my fist, watch its neon-bright blood pour between my fingers, slap my palm on the wall to make it splatter.  Nothing but this.  No money, no fame, no love, no possible future could be brighter than this, could be more important than making this mess and immersing myself in it.  Even the art that results – you know as well as I do that it’ll be a fragile, tenebrous shadow of the thrashing, violently colorful vision in my head.

how can I get that perfect blue out of your eyes

No one will ever see what I really wanted them to see, and that’s part of the misery of being an artist – that we must always be cursed to know how far what we made is from what we imagined.  But… in a way, this is also the only reason to make art.  Not the followers, not the mails, not the likes, not the reposts, not even the finished product, because the finished product doesn’t capture that vision, can’t ever quite satiate that need to get it out.  It’s the feeling of sinking my fingers into clay, into paint, into earth.  It’s the scrawling, feathery symbols I draw when I spill the pencil box.  It’s that moment when I’m so immersed in my work that when someone comes along and says, “Hey, you’re making a pretty big mess there, are you gonna clean that up when you’re done?” I stare at them in feral silence, thinking, “How can I get that perfect blue out of your eyes and onto this paper?”  Maybe they can see it in my face.  Maybe that’s why they fuck off so fast.

Getting your hands dirty is the only thing that matters.  The doing, not what you’ve got when you’re done, however much or little it is.  The villain in your head starts to rant, shouts, “You’re making a mess, and for what?  You made a mistake – now it’s ruined.  You made something imperfect – so you’re worthless.  You took too long, and you wasted our time.”  And what I’m trying to say is this:

The mess deserves to be here.  It lives here.  It works here.

The doubt does not.

 

 

You Know Me – I walked past your sign to my abortion

I guess now we’re passing around abortion stories on Facebook.  I don’t know, man, I’m barely keeping up with social media here, I just got a Gram and that’s very confusing.  Too old for this shit.  I’ve been too old for this shit since I was ten.
60560143_2550599738308042_788481847230201856_n
But I endorse the aim.  I am indeed ashamed of the choice I made, as I was taught to be.  If shame were going to shut me up, though, it should have already.  I got a little long talking about this on the Book of Face, and now I’d like to get a little bit longer, because there’s a kind of prologue to this story that I’ve never told anyone.
When I was 20 I was very lucky to have Planned Parenthood and my unflappable mother, who could scream the house down over my tone of voice but received the call every mother dreads with equanimity, saying calmly, “Okay.  What do you want to do?”  There wasn’t a lot of consideration to be done, and she knew it as well as I did.  I was working at a daycare center at the time, and I took two buses to get there in the morning. At the end of the bus ride, I stepped down onto a corner claimed by an older woman with a truly grotesque anti-abortion sign, one of those with pictures of dead babies on it. She screamed into traffic every morning, Monday through Friday, through every season in Tucson, Arizona. Her brain must have been baking in her skull.
I walked past her for several weeks after taking a pregnancy test and before ending the pregnancy. I didn’t get in her face. I was scared, and ashamed. I felt stupid, criminally irresponsible, murderous. Everything she said I was. I felt that way every day until my mom took me to Planned Parenthood, where they were kind and softspoken, and they did something cold and painful downstairs while I stared at the clouds painted on the flourescent light fixture.
Afterward I sat in a little room filled with egg-shaped chairs. They brought me weak lemonade and crackers, and nothing has ever tasted so good or so necessary. I was alone for a few minutes before they brought in someone else, sat her in the chair next to mine. I couldn’t see her, but I heard them give her the same gentle instructions they gave me: “Eat a little of this. Here’s an electric blanket – hold it against your stomach, it’ll help the pain a bit. The bathroom is there if you need it. You can stay here as long as you like, and when you’re ready to go, the door out to the waiting room is right there.”
I stayed about twenty minutes. For the first five, it was silent in that room, just me and the other woman sipping lemonade in our separate little eggs. Then she started to cry, quietly, her face buried in a cushion just like the one pressed against my temple. Her tears freed mine. We both cried for a long time. We didn’t speak. I never saw her face.
I heard her get up and leave through the waiting room door. I went out a minute later. Mom took me back to her place and put on movies while I swallowed gutwrenching nausea. We watched Batman Begins and the Peter Jackson King Kong remake. I don’t remember King Kong at all. I assume there was a monkey in it. The next day I went back to my broken-down apartment where the door didn’t close and the power was off one month in three, and the day after that I went back to work at the daycare center, past the woman with her dead baby sign, still screaming. I still felt ashamed. That never changed. It was never easy and it never got better, and I was very, very lucky to be able to access the help I needed.
Here’s the part I haven’t mentioned before, because I don’t know how to feel about it.  Before I worked at the daycare center, I had a work-study job with the newspaper at my community college.  I wanted to be a journalist, for a little while, before both me and journalism took a few bad years straight in the face.  Then I got pregnant, and for two months I was very unreliable – I didn’t make it in on time, and when I was there, I spent half my shift in the bathroom drooling bile.  Fortunately I couldn’t afford to eat breakfast, so it was just bile.
I think they knew, somehow.  I was the only one in the office most of the time, so I don’t think they could have seen me, but… I think they knew.  When they called me in to fire me, they sat me down on the other side of a pressboard table and said, “Is there anything you can tell us that’s been affecting your work performance?”
I looked at the carpet.  I couldn’t understand why they were asking.  The idea that I might be fired at this moment wasn’t surprising to me – I deserved to be fired.  Why on earth would it matter why I wasn’t doing my job?  I shied away, as I always did, from telling the adults around me what I was dealing with.  Because I was ashamed, because my pain and my failure was my fault.  Because what would happen if I told them, if I paraded this private agony to keep my job, and it worked?  I would have to face them knowing, face whatever they might think, and when the pregnancy ended with no legitimizing infant to wash away my sins, I’d have to tell them what I had chosen.  I couldn’t do it.
At the time it felt like integrity, maybe.  Maybe it was just cowardice, obedience.  I wanted to be good.  I was trying to do penance, trying to take the punishment I deserved for my stupidity.  I told them I had nothing to say.  They fired me.  A few weeks later I started work at the daycare center.  I met the woman with the gory sign, and twenty or so three-year-olds I adored more than their parents seemed to, sometimes.  I worked there almost exactly a year before I got fired – for smelling bad, because we still lived in the apartment with the broken door, and the power had been cut off in the middle of June, and I couldn’t afford to wash my clothes.
I went home and made sort-of-hashbrowns out of grated potatoes and flour and fried them in oil – gas stove still worked.  Flour’s a dollar, potatoes five bucks the ten-pound sack.  Canola oil three bucks for the bottle, reuse it a few times before throwing it out.  I put a candle in a stack of potato mess and brought it to my boyfriend sitting on the futon in the living room, where we were sleeping because it was the coolest room in the house owing to its convenient broken window.  I sang him happy birthday.
There was never another scare, even though it was another eight years with that boyfriend and I didn’t have access to birth control for six of them.  I learned that lesson if nothing else.  I still want to have a baby, maybe, if I can.  It feels less likely to be possible or practical every day.  I remember writing on my blog at the time: “What if this is the only chance I’ll ever get to have a kid?”
I still don’t know.  I made the best choice I could at the time.  I was lucky to be given a  choice.

Why I Don’t Answer the Phone

I got into a conversation today about why abuse survivors feel like a burden on others.  This feeling has led me to a pretty suicidal realm at times, because it dovetails all too neatly with my other neuroses, but most people with trauma feel this way to some extent.

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This is the meme that started the discussion.

Some of it is projection – we tend to assume that people think like we do, unless we actively work to look beyond that.  So if we’re unhappy with ourselves, we assume that dissatisfaction is universal.  The bad qualities we perceive in ourselves must be tattooed on our foreheads, and the fact that these people tolerate us just shows how amazing they are by comparison.

I think there’s a larger factor here, though, and it’s that people raised by narcissists learn an adversarial game of love.  I believe that until you unlearn this game, you can’t gain energy from loving company, can’t be empowered and soothed by the company of the people you love – it will always be taxing to some degree.

an adversarial game of love

Part of being a kid is getting saddled with your parents’ values.  This just comes with the package – your parents can’t avoid expressing what they believe subconsciously, even if they’re careful about what they say and do in your presence.  So until you’re at a point where you can begin to question these things – and remember that trauma stunts emotional development, pushing that point further and further away with every blow – these things are just part of how you see the world.  These are your “received values.”

When you’re raised by a narcissist, you receive the values through a megaphone, because a narcissist makes the outside world responsible for their self-worth.  What does a narcissist value?  Only one thing: supply, or emotional sustenance.  It’s not quite the same thing as when you spend time with a friend and you feel better – that, hopefully, is a symbiotic thing, you and your friend supporting one another and giving one another energy in different ways that aren’t deleterious to either of you.

Narcissistic supply, on the other hand, doesn’t have to be positive.  Supply is provided any time the narcissist can feel that they are central to others’ lives.  Their centrality, the extent to which they feel important and focused on, is the extent to which they feel worthy.  If they’re feeling neglected, they will act out to increase the flow of supply, of attention and emotional energy, directed their way, whether this means asserting dominance, provoking others, or demanding their love and devotion.

you are valuable to the extent that you forget who you are

So the narcissist wants supply.  Their emotional state, their relationships, their worldview and view of themselves as a person are all dependent on the level of that supply gauge.  Which means that if you’re a narcissist’s child, what your parent taught you is that you are valuable to the extent you provide supply.  To the extent you make your parent feel central to your life and identity, you are loved.  In a very literal way, you are valuable to the extent that you forget who you are.

The problem with this – well, another one – is that narcissistic supply isn’t the same thing as emotional support.  It’s like living on nothing but popcorn.  It fills you up, but it’s mostly air – you’ll need more in ten minutes.  So you might learn to supply your abuser with what they need, but as soon as it becomes routine – or the wind shifts – the demands will change.  This makes every interaction an adversarial game: can you divine the way the wind’s blowing, and assume the appropriate position in time, or will you make a mistake?  In a way, it doesn’t matter – either outcome provides narcissistic supply.  Either they get you to scramble and attend to their needs, or they get to excoriate you for not doing so.  Either one reinforces their starring role in your life.

manipulate me for my comfort, but don’t you care let me catch you at it

So if you grow up being told that this is love, how is interacting going to feel to you?  Interaction isn’t a source of solace, or support – it’s like being in the room with a hungry animal, something unpredictable that you must nonetheless predict in order to be safe.  And when you try out the dubious skills you’ve learned on people outside the family, they call you passive-aggressive and manipulative.  That’s how it works.  That’s the narcissist’s edict: Manipulate me for my comfort, but don’t you dare let me catch you at it.

You learn a lot from this, growing up.  A lot of things that later you’ll have to unlearn, things like:

  • All interactions involve layer upon layer of emotional sparring that you will be punished for winning or losing.
  • All interactions are one person trying to get supply from the other, trying to drain their emotional energy.  At best, every conversation is a negotiation.
  • Your value to others is the amount of selfless energy you can provide them.
  • No one is ever being dishonest or emotionally manipulative except you. We have no idea where you learned that.
  • No one is interested in anything but themselves.
  • As a result, every second you spend expressing yourself in another person’s presence, rather than reflecting on and attending to them, is a drag and a drain.
  • Your inability to manage this situation with eagerness and enthusiasm is a disease that we need to cure for you to be normal and therefore loved.

And here we are.  If this is what a conversation feels like to you, even with people you care about, why would you want to interact at all?  Why wouldn’t you count the cost of it every second when you do?  Why wouldn’t you be certain those around you are doing the same, and why wouldn’t you, each and every time, come up short in that calculation?  You always have before.

do what the narcissist can’t

To get out of this life-sucking trap, where every notification makes you twitch and every phone call gives you a sick feeling of fear and shame as you stare at the phone, still not answering...  To get out of this state, you have to do what the narcissist can’t: you have to find self-worth that doesn’t rely on another person to survive.  I think self-worth, strangely enough, is a thing you build from the edges in, like a puzzle.  It’s going to be a very long time before you can envision the face of the person you’d like to be, the person who doesn’t live in this trap, the person who can love and be loved without counting the cost.

But you don’t have to envision their face.  Start with the edges.  Learn who that person is by watching their effect on the world.  You can’t help acting out your values, any more than your parents could, and I think you’ll find that yours are not simply the ones you were given, no matter how much effort was spent to indoctrinate you.  I think you’ll find that when you felt supported, when you felt safe, when you were able to act instead of react… your choices reflected the person you want to be.  What does that person seem to value?  How do they treat people?  Do they make others responsible for their pain, or do they strive to give more than they take, even if they don’t always succeed?

I’m going to bet that person is worthy of love.  I bet if you saw another person making the choices you’ve made, you wouldn’t even question whether that person was worthy.  Start from that value – you are worthy of love.  No one can diminish your value, and no one can increase it.  You are not required to bleed for those you love.  That’s not what we preach here.

love isn’t something you give or take… it’s something you do

Love can be painful, it can be stressful, but it is not adversarial.  They say all relationships are work, and they kick that one around the internet arguing whether it should or shouldn’t be so.  I’m gonna clarify it by generalizing like hell: everything in the world is work, unless you’re a sponge.  When the person next to you has the same goal in mind and is helping, work goes fast and doesn’t feel like work.  When the person next to you isn’t helping, or is working in a different direction, it will feel like every slogging, unproductive step is on you.

It’s not, though.  Love isn’t something you give or take – it’s something you do.  Do it for yourself first, and then if someone ain’t doing it for you, don’t do it back.

AFS #1: Should I tell my fiancée I’m trans?

So we’re currently at the ignoble stage where, in order to have anything to talk about, I’m appropriating questions from real columnists, like a mail thief who then shows up at your door to critique your marriage.  I think Prudie nailed it in responding to this question, and I think the practical advice is right-on.  Talk to your partner, for your own mental health, and get you someone else to talk to about it also.  I’m not here to disagree – I just wanted to talk about some of the underlying thoughts you may be experiencing right now.

Here’s the question, and Prudie’s response.

This is a familiar story to me.  When I was about 15, my parents sent me to a therapist.  It wasn’t explained to me precisely why, so when the therapist asked about my hobbies, I talked about Zelda and Starfox and D&D.  I also mentioned my best friend, and how important she was to me.  Almost at once, I was forced to insist that our relationship wasn’t sexual, that I was not a lesbian.  I had this conversation with my very progressive family pretty often too.  It wasn’t that they had any issue with me being gay – quite the opposite, in fact; my mother routinely ended arguments with my stepfather by turning to me and snarling, “Marry a woman!”

agony and uncertainty was where they started

It was that to them it was both fascinating – something they wanted to know about, and constantly – and yet also trivial enough to mock.  And to me it was frightening, and invasive, and diminishing to what I saw as the “purity” of my relationship with my friend.  It was dysphoric, is what it was, only I didn’t know that at the time.  I’d grown up surrounded by gay people, but because it wasn’t remarked upon in my family, none of the pain and confusion we can feel in the closet was mentioned to me.  I only saw the happy, open adults these people had become.  I had no idea that my agony and uncertainty was where they started.  I didn’t trust my family enough – for other reasons – to tell them what I felt, and when the therapist immediately started in with the same prurient curiosity, insisting that a close friendship just couldn’t be that close without something gay going on, not-that-there’s-anything-wrong-with-that… I didn’t trust her either.

This is where my life divided.  I tell myself stories about it sometimes, like the stories you’re telling in your dreams right now.  In one story, someone explains to me that trans is a thing you can be, and that I do not have to look like my family’s idea of a lady to be worthy.  I register the fact that the person I always imagine myself growing up to be is a man.  In that story, I imagine, maybe I transition, and maybe I’m someone’s husband and that makes me happy.  Or however that ends up going.  Transition is no guarantee of eternal happiness – it would just have been a different life.

In the other story, the one that’s more detailed but less narratively satisfying because it actually happened, I don’t know until much, much later that the pain I feel is not normal, that it’s not just me being fundamentally deficient the way my parents tell me I am.  In this story, I do not tell anyone that I don’t recognize my own face in the mirror, and so no one explains to me that I should.  In this story, I spend the next fifteen years trying to become the woman I am supposed to be, the woman I don’t recognize.  The “lady” my grandmother wants to see.  The daughter my family could love.  I am told that if I obey, I will be safe, and so I do.  I obey the pain away.  I obey myself away.

 

 

I was a good girl.  Just like I imagine you’ve been a good guy, a good boyfriend, a good son.  So much unspoken weight is in that, not just the words but the promise and the threat: stick to the script and you can stay.  Do what we expect, and you’ll be taken care of.  Follow in our footsteps and you’ll always be safe.  It’s understandable, to a certain extent, that our loved ones feel that way – their path is the only one they know, and they turned out okay, right?  There’s only one life they can be certain is livable, and it’s the one they’re living.

But you can’t live in anyone else’s flesh prison, and the life they’ve found livable may be toxic to you in a way no one else can understand.  I got to 30 before the disconnection from myself nearly killed me.  My body felt like a space suit, loose, bulky and clumsy, with me screaming and lost somewhere inside, far away from the faceplate.  I couldn’t see forward – every life I could imagine ahead of me felt the same, that same grinding, choked, claustrophobic feeling, that same hopeless, worthless girl starring in every frame.  That girl I didn’t recognize.  I didn’t want any of those lives, and I couldn’t imagine any others.  I didn’t want to live at all if it had to feel like that.

nothing will ever feel real… as long as the person starring in your life is not you

If you can’t get out of bed, I think it’s a decent chance you feel some of these things too.  So I want to tell you that it doesn’t have to feel like that, and also to listen to those feelings.  I don’t say this because I’m unhappy with the disheveled machine ghost I’ve become, far from it – in a fucked-up way that I spend 90% of this blog trying to articulate, I value the life I’ve had.  I just know that nothing, not love, not success, not wealth, not the desires you don’t tell anyone – nothing will ever feel real and no success will make you feel enough as long as the person starring in your life is not you.

Before I came out, I was suicidal, because I couldn’t envision any future where I was happy.  No matter how flawless the vision, no matter how happy the ending, I wasn’t in it.  That girl wasn’t me.  Her victories meant nothing, and her sorrows seemed imposed, the result of trying to cut off every part of herself that made someone else uncomfortable.  So much of what that girl feared, needed, found challenging or impossible… I can’t even see now.  The message I was given, and you’ve been given, was, “You must fold and crush the person you are until you become someone who can be happy where we’ve put you.”  But that’s not true.  The demand can be sidestepped when you see that it’s based on a lie that many families, corporations, and governments would like you to believe: “Happiness is only possible through me and my way.”  That’s not true either.

I’ve got a different message for you, while you’re being scolded from on high.  “If you’re not happy where you are, as you are… move.  You don’t need another reason.”

that’s a spicy bean

And that’s the final point I wanted to make.  I don’t mean “move” as in “don’t get married, sell your house and run off and transition and then join Cirque du Soleil or something” (although I would watch that movie).  No.  When I say “move,” I mean just that – make a move.  Take literally any step toward something you want.  A little one or a big one.  Any one.  Gamble even just a few minutes of your time on the possibility that what you think matters, that what you feel is right, that even if you’re wrong about the things you might enjoy or want, no one else is a better authority on you than you are, and your life is about trying things to see if you like them and want more.  That’s literally what life is.  “What’s this thing?  Put it in my mouth to see what it is.  Ow, it stung my lip.  That’s a spicy bean, I don’t think I like it.”  That’s all of life.  Here’s a thing – like it?  Want more?  There’s more over there, go get it.  And you are the first and last judge of what things you want more of in your life.  You might take in data from people around you to inform that decision, to tell you more about what might occur and which of those consequences you want, etc., but you are the only one who gets to decide, because you’re the only one who has to live with it forever.

So make one small change.  Talk to someone.  Start wearing a different coat.  Get yourself some earbuds so you can listen to music for a minute when you get stressed out at work, and actually do that.  Take a class on something your family thought was stupid, or go browse the memes on r/egg_irl and see if anything feels familiar.  Remind yourself that exploring this idea will not instantly result in the life you have crumbling to pieces.  Try to resist the feeling that this is an either-or, an irrevocable all-or-nothing decision between the life you have and being true to yourself.  It feels like that, because you don’t know what might happen, so you’re imagining the worst possible outcome.  But it’s not.  This is a long, complicated, hard process if you transition, and gender questioning is a long, complicated, hard process whether or not you ever do that, and it looks different for everyone.  All you need now is someone to talk to about how you might like it to look for you.

looking for reasons is looking for permission

And do it today.  Right now.  (Let me finish here first, it’s rude to run off when I’m pontificating.)  You will always, always find a way to convince yourself it’s not time yet, or it’s not worth it, or it’s too risky.  Looking for reasons is looking for permission.  You want something unequivocal that will take the choice out of your hands, convince you of the right move, and you’re never going to get it.  You will, however, assemble a thousand data points that convince you to stay in bed, so afraid to lose what crumbs of comfort and joy you have that you’re willing to pass up even the chance at not living on starvation rations.

You don’t need anyone’s permission to explore and express who you are – not your fiancée’s, not your family’s, not Prudie’s, and not mine.  You’ve been trying so goddamn hard, for so fucking long, to be what they wanted you to be, and the person who’s done that isn’t bad or wrong.  You don’t have to sacrifice everything he is to be the woman you truly are, because I’m willing to bet that woman is a LOT like the man your fiancée agreed to marry.  I bet that woman is every bit as considerate, as conscientious, as kind and as loving as you are in a man’s body.

The only real difference between that man and that woman, apart from a few years of medical nonsense and stress… is that the woman thinks YOU being YOU is worth literally any risk at all.  The voices that brought you here, the ones that are telling you to shut up and swallow this… they think that “not rocking the boat” is worth sacrificing every single bit of you.  When you’re questioning whether something you would be doing for yourself is “worth it,” remember that you’re really asking, “Am I worth it?”  To you, expressing yourself honestly should be worth literally any risk, any cost.  Start believing it now.  Then make your move.

 

Advice for Sluts

So… it may have become clear to you by now that I get around.  I’ve spent the past 30 years falling into beds with weapons-grade weirdos and navigating back out of them while drunk off my ass.  It turns out that I’ve encountered a lot of folks and situations that people seem to find… unique.  I’ve managed not to hurt any of them so badly that they won’t speak to me now, which feels like some kind of an accomplishment.  I’ve striven all my life to be an ethical slut.  I’ve often been clumsy, sometimes callous, but I hope I’ve never been cruel.

It’s come to my attention, also, that we’re short on advice that addresses sluts like me – the polyamorous and yet somehow lonely, the queer and nonbinary and transfolk who still feel invisible, the asexual people wishing cuddling was a sport, the kinky dorks who love porn but hate the slurs in the titles, the working-class Doms buying sex toys at Wal-mart… anybody out there rubbing (or not rubbing) their bits together in ways not approved by the manufacturer.  The puritanical attitude most of us were raised in permits no questions about this shit, and the ongoing tyranny of advertising means that we may not discuss any topic that would set off the ads poorly… like redecorating your living room to match the magazine.

But I’ve got nothing to lose and all the time in the world.  I’ve lived on the internet since it was built, I’ve seen every depth of human depravity you can not unsee, and nothing you’ve ever done will shock me.  And I seem to be given to ranting about other people’s issues at totally unnecessary length.  So I want to help you, if I can.

  • Are you a sub wondering if your Dom is treating you right?
  • Are you mentally ill AND poor AND queer and wondering how to even live?
  • Do you have an STD and need a suave way to disclose that to dates?
  • Do you need a translation of that weird person’s weird behavior?
  • Are you poly and not sure how to share that with your kids?
  • Are you struggling to deal with your spouse coming out?
  • Do you think you might be trans but haven’t experienced dysphoria?
  • Are you a transwoman frustrated with the paucity of porn out there that doesn’t insult or objectify you?
  • Do you just want to know what the fuck TERF means?

I can help you.

It’s okay to ask.

Asking questions about these things is scary, particularly because people the larger culture oppresses are often not interested – rightly so – in educating those with more privilege.  Many transfolk do not want to explain to you why misgendering hurts, they just want you to stop it.  But part of my privilege is a certain detachment from, well, everything, due to being a machine ghost, and I believe that if you’re asking a question in good faith, if you really want to understand, it doesn’t matter if you can’t keep up with the latest acceptable words.  Ask what you want to know, and if I can’t answer you, I can at least tell you how to phrase your question in a way that won’t get you curb-stomped by a queen in platform boots.

If you’re a weirdo, or a slut, or a queer, or confused by any weirdos, sluts, or queers, I can help.

My demographics/qualifications, such as they are, if you find them useful in contextualizing (or dismissing!) my advice:

Continue reading “Advice for Sluts”