Tuesday, January 31, 2017


So, my day job requires management of many kinds of tasks. Today I gathered price proposals for an office party, conferred with our file clerk and a paralegal about how to strategically reorganize a client file, called a forensic accountant to figure out how to send client documents to her most efficiently, sent those documents, followed up with the assigning attorney, and fixed a minor mistake I made regarding our offsite storage. Among other things.

Since August, I've been asking one of our vendors to send me a copy of our contract and straighten out for me what services we pay for and what services we don't. I need this information before we re-up with the vendor. Since August I've been asking. This is the end of January.

Yesterday I got a perky email from a different person at the same vendor saying hi, here's your contract, I'm taking over your account, how can I help you with this upgrade? I wrote back with three detailed, matter-of-fact paragraphs about what I wanted to know from him and what I was seeking for our next period of service, and I thanked him for sending me the contract at last. I read the email a few times for clarity before I sent it.

At one point I put in "I'm sorry if this seems rude, but", and then I took it out. Because I don't need to apologize to our vendor for seeming rude. Our vendor needs to damn well apologize to me for taking four months and two salespeople to send me a five-page document I asked for. But my natural instinct is to apologize when I use brevity and clarity to demand an answer.

There's research on women and "I'm sorry" at work, most neatly and positively summed up in this Refinery29 article, but also debated in Cosmo, the NYT, and elsewhere. Women say they're sorry a lot. There's a connection, I think, between this cultural habit and the research on powerful women seeming like bitches while powerful men seem assertive.

In late October, I met with a salesman in a similar field but for a different purpose. Partway through our conversation, I remarked on something to do with how large our firm was compared with other family law firms in the area, and he said "Let's not compare sizes." I don't know exactly what my face did, but he ramped up his sales patter to sales babble for a few minutes, and then things got almost back to normal. The meeting didn't last much longer. Defeat gave a sort of slump to his shoulders as he handed me his card before leaving. He knew we weren't going to be doing business.

Either he slipped, or they don't tell you in salesman school not to make dick jokes to female office managers.

The harm in this situation was minimal (mostly me thinking "what a dumb thing to say"), but it was a reminder that in another room, with an office manager of another gender, the same comment would have drawn him closer to closing a deal instead of pushing him farther off. Which was a reminder of the difference between me and some other person with different genitals doing my job in another firm. I felt my long hair on my back; I felt the makeup on my face; I felt the skirt I was wearing; I felt the jewelry on my fingers. I saw his suit and his bald head and smelled his cologne. I felt my gender all over me, when previously I had felt like a professional human having a meeting with another professional human.

This afternoon, I exchanged a few more emails with the vendor after my initial one. In his first reply, he was cold, just shy of insulting, but he gave me the answers I sought. I replied with with a little more warmth - "this email has made me feel better about [vendor] than I have in a long time" - but his second reply was almost as cold as the first.

I don't know whether he's trying to set a we-don't-have-to-like-each-other-to-work-together tone, so as to cut through all the salesman folderol (which I would appreciate), or whether he has written me off as a bitch and is treating me accordingly. If the latter: again, all I did was ask for what I wanted without apology. I was well within my rights to do so, particularly considering the four months of goose-chasing I've been doing with this vendor.

But I have a female-gendered name. And he has a male-gendered name. And I think that means I'm supposed to apologize and submit, even if he's the vendor and I'm the purchaser.

Sorry, no. That's not what this firm is paying me to do.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017


Yesterday was my first day of classes for this, the final semester of my M.A. (Partly because I have a job I feel good about and am eager to write multiple projects that have been building over the last couple of years, I don't feel that weird about the M.A. ending. Except I don't know how I'm going to get chances to swim around in my natural environment - the classroom - once this is over.) It's going to be a supportive semester, because two I-hope-I-can-consider-them-friends are teaching two of my classes, and a woman I consider a mentor, even if I'm too shy of her to reach out much beyond the confines of the class, is teaching the third. The syllabi indicate that a lot more is going to come out of me than go into me, creatively, in the next four months.

Anyway, last night one of the professors was talking about the multiplicity of identity in human experience, and his belief that a person has no fixed self, because the self is changing from moment to moment as skin sheds and digestion occurs and gravity yanks ever downward. Physically, but also metaphysically; every millisecond I have one millisecond more life experience than I had before. I agree with him: to put it in an adage, you never step in the same river twice.

This made me think about David Bowie. My husband is a bigger fan of his than I am. I like Bowie conceptually, metaphorically, and intellectually; the pleasure I take in his music is significant, but not universal. Meanwhile, Matt likes Bowie's music. A lot. (In some ways, this example illustrates our dynamic.) He likes Ziggy Stardust, and I like Lodger and Heroes.

We've only listened to Blackstar once, but we found ourselves repeatedly making eye contact across our computers while we listened, amazed. It was about as unevenly wonderful as late Bowie ever is, but here's what blew my mind: he kept experimenting. He knew he was dying, and he kept trying new stuff anyway. He tried new sounds and new collaborations, and he evolved in his creativity, in what he knew would be the last thing he'd create for us.

I mean, if you have terminal cancer, why would you bother to keep evolving? You have a definite end point ahead of you, a point where your identity can flux no longer. Mustn't you find contentment, then? Stop pushing against your own skin for once? Make the album that brings you comfort, that doesn't press you into discomfort when you're already uncomfortable enough?

No. The river keeps moving; Bowie has no fixed identity aside from the multiplicity he's always been. The fixed identity is change.

If he can do it, so can you. Let the river run.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Of a Reading and a Writing

For the last week and a half, I've been posting loose poems to a selected audience on Facebook every day with the hashtags #fillfacebookwithpoetry and #freetheverse. (Also #freethedrought, but that's a weird private joke between me and my friend Jason.) I am not now and have never claimed to be a poet, but the purpose of these poems is not necessarily aesthetic brilliance so much as it is resistance against the dominant discourse that's on my Facebook feed.

This is an ironic move, because the dominant discourse (on my feed, not perhaps on yours) is political resistance and fury - so, resistance against the resistance, which is itself against a conservative movement that some would label a resistance as well. I'm aware that I am making few friends with my stance, which reads a lot like head-in-sand, but what I think and feel about the liberal resistance discourse is complex and unpopular, so I decided to try and go in a different, and non-combative, direction.

The poems more or less serve as daily diaries. For instance, when I spent all day reading on Sunday: 
We begin with
Return to Peyton Place, the quickie
cheapie sequel
she wrote when her habits were
too expensive to keep, and
too hard to break
Much more sex than in the first. But
such a pleasure to walk around
in those corrupted skins again. 
Then, the doorbell, and
three copies of Odes intended for
the crone, the sex goddess, and
[my own] mother.
Plus a book by a miracle woman
with pages so beautifully
perfumed that opening it seduced me
before I read a word. 
Later, the first novel of a friend
(a friend, I think, I hope)
whom I wish I had better charmed, the once we met,
not knowing the power she held in her hands,
the ends of nets she grasped
which stretched all across the firmament of
SoCal lit. I don't think she had fun with me. 
(Nearly finished. Very beautiful.) 
And a dozen pages of
a strange good hostile memoir thing
with a title I envy
and a height that won't fit the shelf where
my Ws go. 
I need to return to my own work, but
for the moment
for the [Sunday] moment
the people inside me do not nag;
they converse with the others, new
company, over for an afternoon chat
on the sofa with a soft lamp
and a cup of Portland Earl Grey. 

Like I said, I'm not much of a poet. I have no problem with that. It means I get to play, without fear that someone will say "You suck!", because I'll just say "Yep, thanks!" and keep doing my thing. In this case, my thing is being received pretty well, by non-poets at least and by a few poets who really love me. And it's doing me good to do a little shaped writing every day, working at the craft a little but with no stakes. I like picking and choosing what to include in the daily account and I like listening to the words for assonance and crackle. 

I intended to do this only through the weekend, but it's getting to be a habit I enjoy. I'm tossing out to the universe the idea of building a chapbook of these poems, titling them by the day I wrote them, but I can't figure out a natural end point for them. 365 poems is way too many, isn't it? Chapbooks are like 80 pages. Maybe I'll write 365 of them and then pick the best ones. It wouldn't be a diary so much as a selected diary in that case. Whatever. Your thoughts are welcome, because I certainly don't know what I'm up to. I'm not a poet! 

As for the reading, I'm listening to the audiobook of Robert Hare's new classic on psychopathy, Without Conscience. It contains almost everything I've ever wanted to know about psychopaths. They are fascinating creatures, so hard for us normies to comprehend. I think, based on what's in this book, that I've known three in my lifetime.

School starts Monday. I'm ready. I'm ready! 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Catching Up on Visibility

A whole pile of good things happened to me in the late fall, and my own chickenheadedness prevented me from putting news of them here. I have a few weeks of quiet before my final semester of grad school starts, so I'm catching up with all kinds of things, this blog among them.

In late November I went to Portland for a writing workshop. The trip was an unqualified success, both personally and professionally. (Except that I unintentionally caused a really bad meltdown on the part of my friend's toddler.) The Saturday I was there, I participated in a reading series called Burnt Tongue, and here is video of me doing so. I forgot to bring any makeup to Portland, so I did this reading without eyeliner or mascara. You have been warned.

Here's the full Burnt Tongue reading (it's long, with many wonderful, wonderful people and their work).

The piece I read is a pared-down version of a feminist manifesto I wrote after years of telling myself I couldn't and shouldn't. I wanted to revise/build on Hélène Cixous; primarily I wanted to point out that men and women live in their bodies differently, which I believe to be true. I could think of all kinds of reasons why not to write this, but they seem dumb to go into now, after the reception my reading got. Four people clutched me and said YES on the way back to my seat, and all the other friends who have read it have praised it. I wrote it in mid-November, finally, after a series of mildly sexist encounters and the comments of a woman who was totally ensconced in the patriarchy and couldn't see it. I wrote it (not only, but with her in mind as the inciting incident) to explain to her what she couldn't see. Mostly, I couldn't let my thoughts go unclarified anymore. I'm not finished with the manifesto, but I have big plans for it.

It was incredibly kind of the people who run Burnt Tongue to let me do this reading, and I'm grateful. The material was virtually brand-new and it was important to me to put it in the world. As always, I love to read my work, but I felt a bit funny doing so on ground that was so unfamiliar to me - not my town, not my writing community, etc. I think, I hope, I added to the event.

A few weeks later, I posted a picture on Facebook of the back of a Skinny Cow truck.

In the ensuing comment thread, my friends pretended to be the marketing department of Skinny Cow, and made up extremely funny dialogue about why/how they put this monstrosity together. A pair of fairy godmothers later, the conversation was transformed into a column for Funny Women at the Rumpus. The whole thing happened very quickly, and I couldn't be more surprised and proud that I instigated it.

There's another bit of news that hasn't come to fruition yet, so I can't tell you, but I am losing-my-mind excited about it. Check back in February.

And, at the start of December and the end of the semester, I wrote a 20-page scholarly paper comparing concepts of the Jedi Path to G.W.F. Hegel and Walt Whitman. The process of writing this paper was not something I would ever repeat or recommend, but I did get it finished and I did get a good grade on it. If you are a Star Wars nerd and you want to read it, please let me know, because I uploaded it to my website and a few other nerds have already read and enjoyed it.

It's a surprise to me that my last post, about Columbine, went over so well. I think about Columbine so much, but I believed that made me weird, and surely no one wanted to hear my opinions on it, because I basically have opinions about everything and only Matt wants to hear them all and why should this be any different? But I got a lot more feedback on Facebook than I usually get for these posts, and a lot more site hits. Don't know what to do with that information, but now I have it.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A Meditation on Truth and Columbine

For a few weeks now I've been listening to the audiobook of Sue Klebold's A Mother's Reckoning. Her son was Dylan Klebold, one of the pair of shooters at Columbine High School in April of 1999. The book is an attempt to shed light on Dylan's life, death, and choices.

It is harrowing.

Dylan was born in September of 1981, thirty-two days before I was. When he was a senior at Columbine, I was a senior at my own high school. As I've grown up, and Dylan has remained permanently seventeen, I've continued to prick up my ears at mentions of what he and Eric Harris did that day. I read Dave Cullen's meticulous journalistic study of the shooting, Columbine, twice in a row, some sections over and over. The book provides a useful little chapter that situates psychopathy better than anything else I've ever read, but that isn't the only reason. Columbine brings me vividly back to the experience of being a senior in high school in 1998-99 - what it was like to be that specific age in that specific year. When Cullen writes about American teenagers in 1999, he's talking about my peers. Eric and Dylan are hundreds of miles from where I was, both geographically and emotionally, but I recognize their area code. That experience, reading about these monstrous peers of mine, is frightening, familiar, discomfiting; it's a feeling that's not quite pleasant, but that I can't seem to quit wanting to be inside of.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Resolute, 2016 Edition

Every year, I post last year's New Year's resolutions with a short analysis of how well I think I succeeded at them, and then I post this year's. So, here are last year's (in greater detail here):

1. Don't get dead. Success. I really like this resolution. I like living my life by it. It does good things for me.

2. Throw things away. Fail. As I write this I'm looking at piles of boxes I still haven't unpacked after moving in September. They're all things I saved in our storage space from our life before a one-bedroom apartment. There's a lot in here I could throw away, and I haven't. I feel pretty well-balanced about this problem in general, but when I look around I know there's more I could do.

3. Spending and saving are both okay, but balancing them is even better. Faaaaaail so bad. I like buying things and I bought way too many things this year, thanks in no small part to discovering Small Press Distribution.

4. Get off the internet. Fail. I wish I'd remembered this better.

5. Explore the middle. Big success, and it helped define my year. I got better at seeing the space in between black and white in myself and in others. I learned a lot about that space, what's valuable about it.

6. Try writing every day. (Key word: try.) Fail, but honestly, the failure was more useful than the success would have been. I tried writing every day for a couple of months, and it truly did not work for me. What I produced was mediocre. I started looking at it like a chore. So I learned that I am not the writing-every-day type, and this was my first real college try at doing it, so now I'm able to say, to people who insist that this is the only way writing gets done, no, it isn't. Without feeling a rush of shame that I haven't really attempted it.

7. Write it down. Big success. I'm always carrying a notebook from here on out. It was useful in a hundred ways I didn't expect, and excellent work came out of the notes I jotted down.

8. A three-tiered goal resolution.

     First level: share some of the Ceremonials project either with my mentor professor or with a workshop class. I shared it with a different professor than I had in mind, and I shared it with different people than I had in mind, but I'd call this an altered success.
     Second level: take writing (or perhaps yoga) workshops all four seasons. Let's see: I took one in the spring, one in September, one in late November. I didn't take one during the summer. C+.
     Hardest level: teach a writing workshop. Success! So overall, this resolution is in the plus column.

Since mid-September, I have been behind. I haven't done things on deadline in any way. I've started things later than I should, and ended them much later. I've been sending birthday cards a week or a month late (but I have sent them, usually), I've been leaving the laundry for another week, I've been letting this or that lapse for just another couple of days. This has been true at work, school, and home. This resolution post is a perfect example; usually, after revisiting it throughout the year to see how I'm doing at my goals, I work on this post for the last couple of weeks of December, honing it, considering what I want for the next year, before setting it to post at 6 AM on January 1st. This one, I'm writing it mid-morning on New Year's Day.

I haven't given my resolutions much thought. My life has become so scattered, so much about choosing which thing is most urgent and leaving behind all the stuff that can wait, until it's a faint shape in the distant past, that I haven't been able to consider what's ahead in any but the most practical ways.

I'm sad about this. I don't want to be one of those busy-busy-busy people. This happened because too much demanded my attention at once in September and I just...never caught up. I hoped to do some genuine catching up over the days between Christmas and New Year's, but I caught an ugly cold and spent that time dozing and coughing and reading instead. Maybe throughout January, before school starts, or...maybe in May, after school's done. I hate to think it could take that long to feel settled again.

So, with that in mind, here's the best I can do on resolutions.

1. Stay calm. Nothing good happens when I get wound up and panicky. A lot of people I know are "staying angry" about the politics of the year ahead, but that brings out the worst in me, not the best.

2. Get off Facebook. No, really, I mean it. I think it's crossed over into doing me more harm than good, and it so often makes me deeply sad, and yes I miss a lot when I don't go on there but once or twice a day will do, not constant awareness. It's hampering me from keeping my own counsel and from saving my best thoughts for my work.

3. Stay a healthy distance from smug. Smug has done no one any good in 2016. I want nothing to do with it in 2017.

4. Go toward the crazy, weird, awesome, instinctual. I tried doing this a few times this year: when I included a personal story in my introduction to Mulholland Drive, when I wrote a serious academic paper about Star Wars, when I decided to go on and pen a feminist manifesto even though I didn't feel like I'd read enough. Every time I met with support and success. I think I'm ready to shake off convention and do it my way - I think I've learned enough and lived enough not to make a muff of it - and now I just need to close up the fear.

Four is a lot fewer than I usually have, but former resolutions have continued to serve me well: don't get dead, cut back on complaint, stop rereading yourself, listen instead of talking. Also, it's mid-morning on New Year's Day and I have a cold and this post has got to go in the can, so this is what I've got. 

No matter how you lived in 2016, I'm willing to bet you're ready for 2017, so seize it. Paint it red. Make it your own. I'll be on the couch, dozing and reading poetry until I'm better. Happy New Year.