Girl Story

I have wanted to feel pretty for a very long time.  This is how I’ve justified my bad days, because I am working toward beauty.  One more day of commiseration, please.  I cannot leave the house, because my hair, face, and body still await several more hours of primping. 

This is my girl story.  It mostly circulates around the concept of attempting to feel and be 6,000 things at once, to wear masks that didn’t fit, to go places I didn’t like.  I genuinely don’t know where it all begins.  When does one, whether silently to oneself or aloud, declare one’s sex?  Whether the gender declaration is a reality for some or not, I have no idea, but I can’t recall a day on which I parted my awkwardly long arms and squealed “I AM A GIRL!!!!”

In fact, I feel like I came to realize my girlhood more thoroughly and accurately through my revelations of boyhood.  I remember my first crash course in differences between my boyish counterparts and me.  It was Kindergarten.  Naptime arrived after lunch.  My nap buddy was a skinny, bleach blonde-haired boy named Alex.  As I attempted to fall asleep, Alex woke me: “Pssst.”  I looked at him.  He is no different than me.  His hair is short, yes but so is Gracie’s.  He and I play Star Wars together.  He continues, “Reach down my pants.  There’s something down there that girls don’t have.”  No, no there’s not and no I won’t.  My this-would-be-sexual-harassment-if-we-weren’t-in-Kindergarten experience seemed to impact me in a rather rudimentary way.

There was something intrinsically (& outwardly) and fundamentally different between my naptime buddy and I and this would never go away, despite any half-hearted efforts to thwart differences.  I would never have a male best friend, I would never be able to successfully deal away physical or emotional traces of womanhood, I would never successful raise my voice to wild or unorthodox calls and whistles.  I’d always remain a starry-eyed napper, a little girl laying next to a different being, trying to convince herself that difference wasn’t there, and despite its incessant presence, I’d always try to make us all the same.

If there is a personal battle that is more strenuous than trying to equalize something that is not meant to be equal or the same in any way, it is mindlessly trying to perfect one’s physical appearance.  What I learned from the next phase of girlhood:  It is only an awkward phase if you allow others to define you as awkward.  The real problem with the awkward phase is that we have handed our existence over to someone else; we have handed over our freedom.  There are several ways in which my Philosophy education has made my perceptions of myself wholly a thing of the past.  I owe most of these warding off techniques to Albert Camus.  My girl story took form mostly throughout a number of depressing years in which I had zero ownership over a life, which I was neither creating nor living.  It begins when my looks and ways were only bad because I allowed them to become tangled in the world, which, if we are realistic (I say realistic and not cynical, for a reason), is an unfree one.  So here is unpretty me tangled within our unfree world.  And that’s when the hand that drew Sisyphus comes in and defines absurdist philosophy as an unlikely joyous reaction to the stagnant.  He says: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become to absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”  So if self-creation is rebellion in the face of the unfree world, then my girl story, my self-loathing begins with me in a very stationary state.

By now, hopefully, have a vision of me in a Catholic school girl uniform, sitting down, legs crossed at the ankle, with a swarm of manic, lip-glossed tweens shouting obscenities, making me feel worse and worse about myself by the minute.  This is an exaggerated picture of the goings-on of my adolescent years.  The whole picture is more complex.  The truth is, some kids really are mean.  A girl story is not simply a one-dimensional depiction of an awkward girl willingly being picked at.  In my girl story, I am pummeled on several occasions by mean boys who really did grow up to fight aggressively with cops and underage bars and girls who really did continue settled, content, and sort of sleeping while aware in their childhood suburban home.  People were mean to me, but the person who was meanest was me.  I was likely my biggest bully.  I did all the looking in the mirror, and the pseudo face painting and caking on of unrealistically shaded face makeup.  I did the stomach sucking and occasional dirty dancing.  A girl story is only right if a girl takes the time to sort it all out and realize she’s the one who’s in control.

But when she realizes it, she turns her shirts inside-out and paints her walls green, dyes her hair with a fatal outcome, goes to record stores, and selects her new favorite tunes from Urban Outfitters message boards.  By this time, by the time I’d made a whole slew of exterior alterations to myself, I’d deciphered more clearly the difference between men and me.  I’d redirected the prettiness ideal to something both unique and self satisfying, but also appealing to my male counterparts—friends that wouldn’t stay friends, and others I’d just stare at while making my way through a crowded mall or city street, on some sort of secret prowl for anything that would make even a semi-pithy attempt at garnering my attention.  All the while, I’d gloss my lips and line my eyes, like a little pretend beauty, then I’d burn my pretty curls with electricity and fire.  In my girl story, I thought I was a thing that could be played with and pulled at: a small child, a wind-up toy, a human heart.

One’s perceptions of humanity change and grow, just as mine did with age and education.  The world becomes smaller, one may travel more, one may consistently encounter those she serves food to in a restaurant setting while at a bar on a Friday night, one may care less about birthdays, take time for granted, find the neighborhood next door to be less breathtaking and more commonplace.  The world is smaller, people are both better and worse, and beauty hasn’t looked the same in years.  It doesn’t even smell the same anymore and it doesn’t wear its hair the same, either.  Perhaps it comes with suffering, watching the physically beautiful falter and completely screw me over, or perhaps it comes with genuinely feeling uncomfortable as a sheep in a wolf’s clothes (see what I did there?).  Whatever it is, though, whatever sort of strange guise or wrapping I’m cloaked in or whatever sorts of perceptions I’ve developed regarding others and their boy and girl stories, I know I’m ready to unbind others and myself.

The girl story doesn’t extend, hopefully.  If time tells, it just goes away.  I recently closed my girl story at points of ellipses.  And it was at these points that the woman story began.  It’s here where the declarations occur.  I am not shy, as I was in my girl days.  Arms are parted, heart full, I am brimming with belief, excitement, and pride.  I know when I am different and when I am the same.  My gender is not my story, but it is what gets me from story to story, my catalyst, the recurring segue, my womanhood.

Poetry Corner

Animal, Twice

The hedgehog is a real fortress: exteriority.

But, she a is deceptively indolent thing: interiority.

Throughout the days’ peregrinations, I think

that I too am a spiny, deceptive little Erinaceomorpha,

a turgid yet torpid thing.

I am interior and exterior,

a mind and some legs with straggly knees,

an expansive spirit with wiry hair and split-open-almond eyes,

a glance that frightens and wins,

and sex appeal that’s incongruous.

I am not like the moon rats, coarse, yet elusive:

see-through-able.

I am Cartesian dualistic: Chordata, Animalia

I am not hair, I am not removable,

I am a real fortress: rods, pipes, branches.

Some say the elegant are wanderers:

in foreign lands, backyards, green grasses.

But what they don’t know is we are also secret-keepers;

that’s why we’ve sprouted spines,

flanks, impervious quills.

We keep our honesty in our backbones.

We are animal exterior and animal soul,

a ravenous fortress of unyielding spires.

I am an inscrutable species of animal,

eyes shaded with pricks and dip-died rods,

a hider and a seeker, a little animal with a large umbra.

But inside:

Elegance abounds,

surging from nerve to nerve.

I am lit with breath and genius, an indelible

craft, knowledge, an unsatisfied right brain.

Wildness

Sometimes I think about myself as a tiny child, wild and messy and conquering things, climbing stairs on all fours, beating my chest, yelling geronimooooo as I’d hurdle off of furniture and fling myself down railings like a happy, yet controlled little beast.  I lose my wildness constantly just as I lost it when I came to an age of reason, as if such a thing really exists.  The only thing I’ve reasoned since then is that to be under control is overrated and while listening is good, some listening is just an admission—to servitude and docility.  But to behave is often to don a cloak of little color, to be, as it were so grossly marked and wrongly defined some time ago, an adult.

Behavior is an oddity, because surely the Capitol Hill Moms Society, many of whom I wait on at the restaurant, forcibly smiling and placating their snotty, animalistic, screeching children, sort of like this: “Hi, buddy!  Oooo look mac and cheese!! Tasty!”  But I think of the moms who sport expensive accessories and flaunt Obama 2012 bumper stickers and disproportionately large bike racks on their Honda Fits and dress their kids in Fair Trade beanies and dark wash jeans and baby Toms, I think of them and their odd techniques, their definitions of how to keep a child, how to make the child do, say, be.  They are so wildly mistaken.  This is where it starts; it starts at the women who pretend their doing something of benefit for the future generation.  But here’s the thing, those who revolutionize don’t form public policy from a social studies textbook.

If the Capitol Hill Moms Society keeps pushing behavior, then from where does the wildness come?  And when it comes, will kids be afraid of it?  Will they say: “What I this I feel?  This master morality, this inclination toward the Thelma and Louise?  Why do I feel as though the edge of the cliff, which I was once cautioned to turn from, only begs me, ‘come child, this is where you say yes to life.’”

 

There are times when the reward reaped from a risky, unpremeditated action is so grand that the act itself does not even skirt the baseline qualifications for misbehavior.  Let’s take a cripplingly bad hangover.  You’re eyes don’t want to open, your body aches and your esophagus brims with bile and other unsettling remnants of glucose.  You feel like there is an oversized snail swimming about your insides to and fro emitting a fermented slime that causes a feeling somewhat similar to being stretched out against a slowly turning, upright wheel, limbs hooked tight to the edges, eyes fixed open to a blurry edifice you’ll never reach.

There was, of course, a caveat.  You learned it in middle school, high school, too.  You learned that drinking coffee, that taking a cold shower are merely fabricated remedies, and do not, in fact, “heal” a hangover.  You learned there’d be no real cure but time, perhaps interspersed with a few healthy dry heaves and a 12-pack of ginger ale.  But you were caught in celebration last night.  It was 2:30 am and you needed that shot of bourbon.  You were pursuing a wildness that is both real and necessary to your being.  For our dry-bellied friends, the un-imbibers, that may mean reaching out to a long-lost someone or beginning a relationship with a word or a cute, unimposing shrug, or attending an anime convention because they really like anime and it does and should not matter whether a parent or a friend is condemning of the wild act.

The hangover takes place in many forms.  Often, it feels remarkable—snails don crowns and sprinkle fairy dust throughout your insides.  It is only when facing the general public, those who sit on thrones and wag index fingers and grimace, that the bile may erupt.  There is rarely any component of the wild act to be feared.  It is the dawn, what one should encounter upon waking, that throws us, that bars us abruptly before we hit the road and elicits in our minds a montage of things that could go awry.  Often caught between I want to and I would want to, if…, we lean toward what we deem to be a comfortable choice, a choice without repercussions, when in actuality, that safety, that comfort, is a fear of committing that which we were taught not to do—not to borrow trouble, nor test waters, but rather watch them ripple gently, unperturbed, just simply performing a stationary dance, like the human breath, or the feline purr.

Behavior is a highly scientific, and, what’s more, medical term.  It conjures up thoughts of labs, monkeys, mice on wheels.  You must behave; you must not misbehave.  It is highly detached from our being, and merely a step within our daily activity .  But wildness, wildness is a component of myself, not merely my actions, but my whole self.  Often, though, it is an unrealized component.  For me, wildness was something I’d subdued and even barred off for years as I focused on “being good.”  I stayed the course of what I’d perceived as goodness: not drinking, not smoking, not having sex, not talking about sex, not talking about much of anything I was thinking about, getting good grades. Before I continue, let me clarify misconceptions before they begin to occur:  There’s nothing wrong with exhibiting traits that are classifiably “good.”  What there is something wrong with, though, is aiming to please and get through life, unmarked or unbruised, to an extent where one begins to wholeheartedly dismiss a large component of self that actually craves the seat of the pants, the skin of the teeth.

It’d be a seamless anecdote if I brought in the time I went bungy jumping in Nepal and detailed the mind-numbing freefall.  You know the anecdote: AND THAT’S WHEN I FIRST FELT TRULY IN TOUCH WITH MY WILDNESS: WHEN I TOOK THE LITERAL PLUNGE, OFF THE BRIDGE AND INTO THE UNKNOWN.  But truthfully, this is not when I first confronted and embraced my wildness.  There was no first time, it simply happened, because as I grew and mere goodness left me with only more questions, I gradually allowed wildness to be, pleading it to come forth from the recesses of my soul.  Recently, I’ve felt the hangover more frequently than I had for years.  I am not often happy, but I find that when I am, it results from moments, events, or conversations in which I am deeply in touch with my wildness.  I am discussing unorthodox business ventures, I am drinking pitchers of margarita, I am not as quiet as I used to be.

I might spend an evening cracking jokes, inserting dry humor into already uncomfortable conversations, singing loudly, discussing the benefit of having cats in ones life.  And to boot, I might do this all shamelessly.  This is wildness.  As a young adult in a world of questionable, questioning young adults, I am stepping out, consuming, risking the hangover, the mind warp, the high, the decline.  And although I’m swearing and discussing bodily functions, I am not misbehaving.

I am wild.

I am reflective as I ponder how I will one day “teach my children” to act.  How will I teach future sprouted generations of me how to bar natural inclinations, how to sit still without going crazy, without suppressing a need to dance.  I have no idea.  I don’t know if I can successfully execute the best of all worlds, without being perceived as a mother who dresses in kimonos and hair curlers, keeping a home brimming with fumes of marijuana, decked in finger-painted murals.  How will I raise small humans, fully in touch with their wildness, without losing my mind?  Perhaps they will have to spend a few years sitting still, for my own sake, at the very least, but I will tell them each day about how the day will come when they’ll be in the corvette hair waving in perfect follicular patters, like a miniature tunnel of fall leaves, and then, then they will spread their arms, let go of the wheel, and invite wildness to take hold.  Then they will say yes to life.

Image

In the meantime, though, before I create new life, I’ll stack building blocks onto my own.  I’ll trust myself, ridding my mind of the harrowing fear of misbehavior.  For I’ll know, it is the fear of remaining stationary, of being without being, that is most threatening to a full and flourishing life on earth.  I will break open the lock box and be as the great god of wine: a little brunette, freckled Dionysus: unafraid, close-mouthed, fixed in an unrevealing smirk, open-eyed, wild.