Month: April 2015

The dumping zone

Nothing in my house is new. I wonder if I could live among objects that don’t carry stories. Would I feel welcome at home? Or like I’m walking through a museum with blank placards, peppered with sticky notes of prophecy? You’ll have wonderful and awful conversations on this couch. Breakfasts will happen at this table, and here, maybe, you’ll rest.

This short telephone table here, it holds my keys and detritus, it’s the dumping zone. But before this, it sat in a living room with one purple wall. It held up a tacky blue lamp, next to the couch that was the only new thing in that house. My sister’s glitter-speckled nail polish spilled onto the tiny table as we piled together on the couch and floor, tangled dog and human limbs, laughing and arguing about movies over milkshakes.

This tiny table sat next to those moments of assemblage I remember as possible home – doors fully open but not mine every day. There were beds I could sleep on. Sometimes it was my sister’s, under the abstract floral curtain. Sometimes it was my brother’s floor, on a spare mattress, staring up at the shadows of a Lego pirate ship.

Sometimes I found myself on the hide-a-bed in the basement, in later years, in those times when I was banished from my main home.

From my own bed, I watched treetops sway out the fifth-floor window. I’d crack it open in the middle of the night and blow secret cigarette smoke out, looking up at stars and down at police cruisers, watching them while they waited for our apartment doors to open. And maybe the next day I’d be banished, grabbing a few dresses in a plastic bag before stomping out into the uncertain world. I’d bounce around other beds, and then finally back to my most possible home.

I’d never known such darkness as there was in that stony basement. I’d lose myself in Sims, building imagined fantastical homes suspended over pools, designing little lives that fit into neat patterns. I found a secret hack to refill the bank account. It was so impossibly simple on that screen, a dream I lived until 4 or 5 am before crumpling into the hide-a-bed.

Early morning felt no different than midnight. I’d stumble upstairs anyway, accept the offering of a sandwich in a brown paper bag and try to live the Sim-perfect routine, the one I’d mastered in the dark basement, except in the daylight world. Go to school, go to work, study. Find a home, go to it.

The basement could have been my home too. It was an offer to get away from the too-soon onset of adult life, from fighting. Just go to school and be a kid, they said. You don’t need to maintain home just yet, just live. Just live here.

But I fought and begged for my tiny corner, my room on the fifth floor. I pleaded, why can’t I just pay some rent and call it even? I wanted a door I could lock, a window I could quietly smoke out of, an explosion of branches reaching up into the sky, pulling me out of this mess on the ground.

Long after we left the fifth floor and the others moved away, I searched for new possible homes, for places that could hold the possibility of tangled dog and human limbs on a couch. I held onto what was left, bits of furniture and scraps of stories, patched them together, and called it home.

The dog lived out her years here and died on the kitchen floor, and I cleaned up a bit, then a bit less. I quit smoking and looked out the windows at the one spare treetop. And I pulled out this old table again, rickety but still holding steady. It greets me when I come home. It’s the dumping zone.

Spotty

There are a lot of things I see framed as choice, when they’re really about maintaining the illusions of free will, of not giving a fuck, or of resisting the dominant paradigm. I want to see my actions as autonomous, as a source of strength. But I’m coming up against the constraints of one so-called choice, and it’s a huge and tiny internal war, one that also shows quite plainly on my face.

When I discovered femme identity, I found a gender and aesthetic that felt like home. There was strength and softness there, and the recognition of beauty rituals for self-care.

Queer femininity taught me to uproot hidden strains of misogyny that lurked and lingered in myself and others, craftily masking themselves as authenticity, self-acceptance, or concerns for health. I could be pretty and tough and feminine, and none of these elements contradicted each other.

I never felt like I had to wear makeup. I enjoyed it. I’d go out without it sometimes, but more often than not I felt better with it. It was my femme armour and I wore it with pride.

Then this weird thing started happening on my face. It was a kind of acne or infection or I don’t-know-what. It hurt and itched, and it was always red and spotty. I’d never had perfectly clear skin, but I’d never been as blighted as this before in my life.

I tried maintenance and treatment: A different face wash, aloe vera, tea tree oil, and then concealer and some powder.

I soon realized that the spotty thing got a bit better when I was home all day, makeup free. The decision seemed simple, and an obvious tradeoff: take a break from wearing makeup, and let the spotty thing clear up. But I pouted. I insisted that I wanted to wear the makeup, it was my choice, and by my politics, my right.

Eventually discomfort won over. I committed to taking a break, just until the spotty thing went down, then I’d re-introduce bits of the makeup routine.

But the spotty thing would not go down. Just when I thought the last spot was healing, poof, another one appeared and brought its friends. And every morning I woke up to the same awful conclusion: My self-acceptance was bullshit. I hate my face.

It didn’t matter if I was in a good mood, if life or relationships are going well, if I was otherwise healthy, or felt secure in my strengths and successes. Every day, when I saw my reflection in the mirror, it was the same Face Hate voice. This sucks. There is no way you or anyone else could see this as pretty.

If I stay on that train, it hits all of the obvious points of self-deprecation, true or not. No one will love me like this. Anyone who says I’m pretty or even beautiful are clearly lying (and maybe they’re not, but they still say what’s going on with your face? No one loves the spotty thing.) The Face Hate voice is highly unoriginal, repetitive, and cruel.

I tried to embrace the face. I’d take a selfie and stare at my own mug, willing myself to find something to appreciate. That used to work in other periods of self-deprecation, but it was more like a pat on the head than a shift in vision. I stared and stared and saw nothing.

I tried to reason with the hate I have for my face, but it won’t budge.

Dear Face Hate: Don’t you know that aesthetics aren’t the most important thing about this human being? Why don’t you back off and consider all her other good qualities. Nope, it says. You’re cool and all but your face still sucks.

Dear Face Hate: Didn’t the gods of the spotty thing get that no-makeup sacrifice I made? I thought we had a deal here. Nope, it says. Spotty thing is gonna stick around, and so am I.

Dear Face Hate: You’re boring. Why are we doing this everyday? I don’t NEED to be pretty. And it laughs and laughs and laughs. It doesn’t need to say anything, because it knows that if I truly believed that, it wouldn’t be here. I have a choice, right? I can always pick up the brush, and apply pretty if I want it that bad. Do I?

I know that I have the privilege of choosing to wear makeup or not – none of my jobs require me to (overtly or not), so I can stick with this stubborn, uncomfortable experiment. But as much as it sucks, I’m learning that despite my femme politics, I’m so much more affected by heteronormative patriarchal standards of beauty than I’d ever want to admit.

The voice of the face hate sounds like mine, but it’s not. I didn’t put it there, but I also thought myself immune to it, and never noticed its insidious entrance until now.

I’ve come to treat it kind of like running the gauntlet. Get up, shower, brush teeth, then there’s the mirror and the tired refrain. Yeah ok, what’s new? Still hate the face. What’s next? Then I move on to breakfast.

Breakfast used to get quickly passed over in the morning chaos. But an unexpected benefit of skipping makeup is extra time for a tasty meal, and a little bit more room for groceries too.

I wish I could close with redemption, with some positive message about self-compassion, about accepting yourself, even about breakfast. I could post a token photo, bare all and invite reassurances, stand face-naked in all of my vulnerability and hope for absolution. But I know it’s not that simple. There’s no quick fix.

If there’s anything I can accept, it’s that love – for self and others – is turbulent and not always kind, it’s the imperfect state of progress and the slow nature of change. Something will shift, eventually, but for now it’s still spotty.

 

 

Five Star

Chair day

If I have to start somewhere, and I do, it’s going to be the chair.

I’m starting with the chair because before the chair, there wasn’t nothing, but there was nothing great. There were places to sit, and they worked in the way that a handful of nuts works in the midafternoon, just to keep dinner at bay. There were places that held up my bones and muscles and ligaments, this structure that supports me, but they didn’t give much in return.

I sat because sitting was necessary and I wrote and edited because that was necessary too, with deadlines and publication schedules and everything that just has to get done. Now the time to be bound by time is gone, but something needs to take its place. I turn back to the words because I know them and I want them to be home.

But I’m not just mind and words spewing out through fingers, I’m this bag of bones and ligaments that need to assume a posture, they need to settle – I need to settle – and focus, dig into the visceral feeling, burp it out over this keyboard, stretch, and then go back with the technicians edge and polish it up.

Enter the chair.

The chair is a place to sit, but more than that. It’s a throne, a glorious place to be, a solid foundation that yields just a touch with the gentle kindness of a minor lean. The chair is a commitment to diligence and discipline. It has to be, because I’ve never spent this much on a goddamn piece of furniture in my life, and if it isn’t a commitment then it’s a warning sign of reckless behaviour.

Or is it symbolic, a gesture that I’m taking the work that I do while I’m sitting in it, myself included, seriously? Does it really need to be anything more than a chair, why must I justify the writing by a chair, and then justify the chair by writing? Aside from this – this vaguely chair-focused word-vomit – have I even written, or written anything worth reading? Perhaps this was all just a rotten idea.

Pause.

This is the process, it always is, and it always looks the same, or close enough to the last round that I can discern the pattern. Commitment. Optimism. That first creaking lunge, an adrenaline rush. Settling in. An ache, a distraction, heads buried in hands, doubt. Paranoia, questioning, fear, fuck it just run away. Or not.

The trick is to start, and if I have to start somewhere, why not here? So I tell myself, start with where you are. Start with where you will sit. Start with the chair.