Shiny Crappy People

Shiny Crappy People

The other night I watched the first episodes of a documentary about the Duggar family, made famous on TV thanks to TLC and their own (as the documentary makes clear) greed, venality, and ambition. I couldn’t sleep afterwards, because although it was unsurprising that grotesque acts of abuse toward women and children occurred in a patriarchal evangelical church that minimizes, dehumanizes, degrades and hyper-sexualizes women and children, to witness the testimony of former members including one of the Duggar children, now an adult, was deeply disturbing. Disturbing as well to see the materials these individuals were taught from, ‘God-based’ home-school instruction that essentially rendered them both un-educated and un-hirable in the real world, trapping them in ‘the life’. This ‘from on high’ instruction included a book parents could and did use to learn how to discipline their children, and do it in such a way as to evade criminal charges of child abuse; many of these church members did this in the pursuit of compliant, frightened, perfectly honed children, who were ideal victims for more abuse.

When men who believe they have been given instruction from above on how to be ‘Godlier’, watch out. When these same men determine that controlling women and children regarding what they wear, how they style their hair, what they can read, watch, etc., etc. is the holier, more Biblical, ‘Godlier’ way to go, creating strict rules for all kinds of behaviors by children and adults, but especially women and girls, watch out. Under those conditions, abuse is right around the corner, if it isn’t already in your home, your church, and your place of business. 

Worship and believe if you must, but do not worship individual men, or groups of men, as interpreters of belief, whatever belief or system of religion you choose, because men are flawed, power corrupts, and absolute power – such as an entire congregation imagining their pastor has a direct line to the Almighty – corrupts absolutely. I never watched the Duggar (shit)show on TLC; I thought the entire premise was gross, that the mom in question was being utilized as a heifer in a barn, only with less respect, that the kids’ ‘fake happy’ lives and souls were being pimped, essentially, for TV ratings, and I did not want them – the Duggars or their church – to benefit, as evangelical Christians, from me or my actions by even one thin dime. 

I was raised Catholic, but left the church (even if my mother kept dragging me there) once I realized around the age of ten that women were second class citizens in that organization. Why would I, why would anyone, belong to any institution or club, any organization or supposed fountain of spirituality or learning wherein they are relegated to permanent lesser status, and not because women are or ever were incapable of ministering or spreading the word, which women do every day, but because they were born with the wrong genitalia? Aren’t we in America, where anyone can do and be anything, if they work hard enough, and long enough, and smart enough? Not in most churches, synagogues, or houses of worship we ain’t. Thanks, but no thanks. My mother’s – and her Catholic friends’ – many hypocrisies probably didn’t help, either, nor did that Priest who came to the Catskills from who knows where, a man who clearly hated every minute of it, poor thing. He pronounced sin as ‘seen’. Hey, when you’ve already rejected the church, and it’s just because your mom forces you to go there, still, while you live under her roof, hearing about the ‘wages of seen’ might just put you out for good. Except I’d already left the building mentally, and any belief I had as a child. Cogito ergo sum, I think therefore I am, and for crying out loud, no, no, no. Levels of heaven? Levels of sin? Women can’t be priests, but – another priest a few years on – the guy with the shady past, toupee, and mirrored ceiling can be? No thank you.     

Worship and believe if you must but practice a small ‘c’ catholic approach to life, to reason, to all subjects worth studying including spirituality, by opening your mind and heart broadly; read and see and experience it all, dip your toes in waters not native to your original soul and soil, unless, that is, you’re too frightened by what you don’t know, and cannot possibly understand, from a position you may have convinced yourself to think of as being ‘a higher place’. I would assert that in not having a broad-minded approach to life, living in fear and under the control of ‘higher ups’, secure in your untested and supposed moral superiority, means that rather than living on high, you’ve decided to live small, crouched and cowering, and if you’re a woman or a child very probably suffering as well, in a corner. 

Another Mistake I Made, Bigly!

Another Mistake I Made, Bigly!

Because I always seek to serve and educated others (well, sometimes), let’s go into another mistake – actually a series of mistakes – that I made from which you too can learn! While I cannot of course keep anyone from making the necessary errors they will and even should make in life, lessons everyone has to encounter to learn and grow and be better, do better, why not try? There are, I believe, certain universal truths women can share with one another about men, women, life, and sex, and all the rest of that jazz. Per my previous example in this space, do not pity fuck, ever; let whoever he is go down on his knees and beg, weep and beat his man chest, the answer is still no. Now, think about how useful it would be if we all shared various good to know truths with one another, heading off at least a few mistakes and missteps better left un-stepped. Personally, I believe it would be very useful. Very.

And, by the by, young women are as entitled as young men to be young, and foolish, to make mistakes, be unlikeable and unlovable, to take risks, and not be tainted or judged for it. And, young women – all women, and girls – should be safe to make mistakes, to be young and dumb, without paying the highest price for same, as well as safe in general, in this and all worlds. By the by.

This second mistake I share with you appeared in the form of a former football player at a big public university in Michigan, a man built like a brick shit house. I described him that way to a friend of mine, who thereafter referred to him as the Brick House, breaking into the disco hit every time I saw her; she still occasionally does this, so at least I get a laugh out of it even all these years later – and can you believe it, that song has its own Wiki page. Gosh. Now, I have to admit that I am not, generally speaking, attracted to thick-necked football types, but let’s put aside gross generalizations unfair to the many very intelligent and mad hot players of the concussion happy game and get to it. Brick House had left football and Michigan long behind him by the time we met; I was in my early twenties, he was in his mid-thirties. He was a poet; he was a poet, he had a master’s degree in poetry! He was also an actor; we met in acting class. At first, I found him really unattractive, quite unattractive. Not for me. Vital lesson one, ladies: please trust your initial instincts when it comes to men and a gut lack of sexual attraction – because let’s be honest, we can talk ourselves into fucking almost anyone, and that can be a very dangerous thing. And by we, of course I mean me. Mistaaaaake.

So, there I was, in class with this Brick Shit House (so unattractive) but, hmm, he did have a speaking voice that was compellingly deep and gravely. Miss Thing over here is drawn to men with voices; nice hands are compelling too, but back to Mr. Brick House. He was clearly smart, very much so, and I can be caught, surprised and a little overly pleased, thrilled almost, by having my (clearly idiotic) prejudices being upended, as in ‘Oh my, he’s not an over-muscled dolt, he’s a smart hottie with thighs the size of tree trunks! Yuuuummm.’ Our acting teacher, previously mentioned in this space, thought we would be perfect for one another and pushed me at him, which I resented (embarrassing!) but, I had to admit an interest had been sparked, even as his push was another red flag I shoulda, coulda, woulda paid attention to as that guy thinking we’d be a good pair was not just a red flag, it was a literal sea of them. Mistaaaaaaake.

We began flirting with one another, and went out to the movies. We talked, a lot, on the phone, and as the older and wiser man he was, and I was perfectly willing to believe he had to be (N.B.: age is just an arbitrary, mostly meaningless number, people), I allowed him to set the tone of our relationship, which he did by asserting that yes, he was older and wiser, and yes, he’d been here before, numerous times, thus he wanted to get to know me (!!!) before anything sexual happened between us (!!!). He wanted us to get to know each-other. Awwwwwwww. That’s so nice. That’s so unusual! That’s so special. I was touched, genuinely taken aback and pleased as punch. Oh, but, by the way, he was dying to jump my bones. Dying. Awwwwwwww. How sweet! How sexy! What a turn on – and, huh, a relief!!!! Mistaaaaaaaaake.

Of course, he was – like a Brick Shit House – full of shit. Ladies, vital lesson two, pay attention: if a single, available, presents as straight man does not want to fuck your brains out, putting off sex out of respect for you, until you know one another better, or for some other reason including religion, he is lying through his teeth or has something serious and seriously bad to hide. He is a liar. Deceiver. Fibber. Falsifier. Prevaricator. Fabricator. Teller of untruths. Bullshit artist. If a fellow does this he is either married, about to be married, lives with his girlfriend/fiancée/wife, is in the closet, has a seriously bad STD, is a religious wing-nut best avoided, or – well, let me continue and I will share option number whatever, as that very nuanced reason applies here.

(Look, I’m not saying it can’t happen, a man wanting to get to know you before sex, I’m just saying the odds are stacked against you, and against what he’s saying being true. And don’t let any dude set the pace of your relationship, no matter the context. Why? Because I said so. Okay, okay because the best, healthiest relationships are equitable partnerships, constantly negotiating terms, yet as human beans we tend to go on as we begin, so begin with parity, duckies.)

About a month into our no-sex relationship, we auditioned for Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, directed by that same encouraging us to couple acting teacher. After the audition, we ran off to our respective and separate jobs and homes, but later that night, Brick House called me in an uproar because he was sure I would get a lead role, I was so much more talented than he, I was also younger, sooo good looking, I would go on to stardom, I would cheat on and eventually leave him, and he was a total loser. Awwwwwwwww. Staaahp! So not true, you silly! I comforted him, best I could, and then he surprised me by saying, I think we should have sex. What?! What?! Now? But, I thought we were going to wait, in fact you said let’s wait ‘til July, and that’s only a month away, less! He responded by saying that the July thing was an arbitrary date, completely meaningless, and that he wanted to have sex. Um, okay, but, um, Brick House, what about us getting to know one another? That was a line, Mahhhhhj. A line. A line. A line?!?!

Okay so here’s where I truly fucked up. Women! Do not do this! This ‘line’ thing should be a deal-breaker! Because, instead of being angered by the lie, the line, the manipulation, I instead went to confusion, to compassion – for him, already established in the conversation, poor sweetie, even though he’d gone on to say it was a deliberate ploy to plump up the sexual attraction, one he’d used before. You have? Most of all, I went to a place of being stunned and even more idiotically compliant, because– after all – he was older and wiser, a man with whom I had begun to seriously fall in love, and his deceitful ploy had succeeded in ramping up the frisky, big time. June is busting out all over!! I was horny as all get out. So, while there was no way I was getting in a cab that night after the day we’d both had, I agreed to meet him the next day, as we had previously planned, but hoo-fucking-ray for sex. Yay. To my credit, I did think, I hoped, maybe a good night’s sleep would make him reconsider; maybe he hadn’t been lying, playing me, exactly, more that he was speaking from his insecure place in this post-audition moment, the poor sweetie, maybe he really did want to continue to get to know me better. Because ding, ding, ding what I’d begun to fall in love with beyond the voice and the hands and the tree trunk thighs was the feeling of being respected, of being valued, and of being treated less like a possession, a trophy, a piece of ass or prey, and more like a human-fucking-being. I also thought that having sex with him when he had just admitted he was depressed was bad idea, right?

Ah, yes, Brick House’s depression. I was having a hard time getting out of bed myself at that point in my life, but his black moods were on a whole other level, it seemed. This was yet another red flag in that sea of red flags I blissfully overlooked, rationalized, and undervalued as I got to know him during those weeks; I even thought, egotistically, naively, that I could fix that, maybe? Yeah, sure (I couldn’t, you can’t, get out now). He had shared with me that his father and grandfather had known Ernest Hemingway and his dad, back home in Michigan (how cool is that!? So cool); they’d gone hunting together in the upper peninsula, the setting for many of Hemingway’s stories, classic stories I loved. And, the tale Brick House shared went on, his dad, Brick House Sr., and his grandfather, Brick House the 1st, had committed suicide, like Hemingway and his father, which was another point of connection he was – celebrating? Noting. Pointing out. He even owned, he kept, the gun with which his dad and grandfather had killed themselves. I know I said something like, ‘You have the gun?!!’ but, I was twenty-four and dumb and inexperienced as a box of rocks. And in love. Or lust. Whatever. Blind to the waving Texas-sized red flag flying in my baby-face, programmed to think anything, anyone was fixable with enough love and TLC from a willing, nurturing female such as myself. Mistaaaaaake.

The morning after he came clean about his ‘line’, we found out we’d both been cast in small roles in Twelfth Night, and when we spoke on the phone, I did make an argument for waiting, still, because it was clear to me that he was not feeling good about himself and his prospects in general. But, I also really, really wanted to have sex. Oh my. Ladies, if you have an engine like mine (100 horses, galloping), it is vital you take many deep breaths, and do not plunge headlong into bed with men who are not what they represent themselves as being. Now, of course it’s important to believe in people, and to open one’s heart, but – FFS – keep those horses in the barn until you’ve sussed out what’s really going on if at all possible, and please, please, please take this opportunity to learn from my mistake! The internet, which didn’t exist at the time, is a great help. Look him up; scroll baby, scroll. Insta. Fakebook. Tweeter. My Space. Reddit. Linked-In. Search. Review. Protect thyself!!

So, hey, we did it. We tried to do it. Y’see, Brick House was unable to maintain a hard-on, and I had so little experience with sex at that point, I wasn’t sure what to do, if anything, especially as he was off down the road of anger and distress at a 90mph clip. Also, to put it bluntly, his penis was tiny. Tiny. Think five-year-old’s pinky finger. I’d never experienced that, and my first response after a silent, ‘wait – what is that? is that it?’, was to go to the place of whatever, it’s okay, right, if you love someone? Maybe? Sure. No biggie (Ouch). But, hey, hands, tongue, skin on skin, whatever the specifics, it’s sex and it’s all good. I certainly wasn’t going to say anything about it. Nooooooooo. No. He’d already established he was capable of aggression, and potentially of violence, another red flag I totally ignored, when he’d punched me on the shoulder after I tapped his playfully with my fist. Tap. Boom. Ow. Ouch. Owwww. What was that? In my face: don’t hit me, don’t you ever hit me. Ooook. On St. Mark’s Place. I will never forget it, but at the time, I let it go as intense and weird but, okay he must’ve suffered physical violence, the poor sweetie!


After the non-sex sex, and no discussion, he turned his back on me, and eventually fell asleep. I was left wide awake trying to figure out what had just happened, and what I was going to do or say, if anything, about it. I finally fell asleep too, turning my back on him, opening my eyes several hours later to find Brick House was already awake and in the mood to try again, evidenced by the presence of a teeny pinky finger poking me in the region of my bodacious bum cheeks, as well as the smile on Brick House’s face when I turned my head to look at him. Okay, I’m in!! I guess?

Again, a total failure. He could not stay hard, after which he said, you know why this happened, don’t you? No, no I don’t. I really don’t (I really didn’t). It’s because you, Mahhhj, have marriage written all over you, that’s why. What?!! I do? And I actually looked down at my body to see what, if anything, was written there, and repeated, I do? I don’t think so, Brick House, I don’t think I do. Do I? He insisted, you have marriage and children and crippling convention written all over you. The pressure is so intense, I can’t deal with it. I can’t perform. This is on you.

A conversation ensued that I will sum up as he accused and blamed, I defended and tried to comfort, saying it didn’t matter, and then he finally came clean: historically he was unable to get it and keep it up with any woman over the age of eighteen or nineteen. The partner he’d moved to NYC with, a relationship he’d spoken about as having been important and lengthy, but failed, had been with a former student of his in Michigan – a former high school student he met when she was fourteen and he was thirty – who was attending NYU. She’d broken up with him during her Sophomore year, and here we were, a couple of years later.

His shame was so great, as was my ignorance, we barely ever spoke intimately again; I’m not even sure I tried to talk to him about it because I felt so clueless, so naïve. I didn’t know how to help. But he’d also made it clear he didn’t want my help, my support, my pity, or, finally, me. He said it that morning in bed: I was too old for him. Too old? I’m too old? He said he’d thought he’d give it, me, ‘a try’ because I was that attractive, but – I was too old for him. At twenty-four. We got through Twelfth Night by avoiding one another as much as possible. I felt sorry for him, a lot, but I was also finally angry, angry at him for blaming me for his issues, for not being up front about stuff, for manipulating me, for taking steroids (another confession after our failed attempts at sex) in the false hope that massive muscles would compensate for a lack of penile inches. And I was angry at him for rejecting me, for not trusting me to love him regardless, angry too for his being as intelligent as he was and as stupid. Well, we were both that, intelligent and stupid. He moved to California for his acting career (running away, I thought) shortly after Twelfth Night closed, and we casually stayed in touch via snail mail for a year after that. The Brick House made it out of his thirties and beyond alive, which is good, because whatever his flaws, I cared about him, and he was in a lot of pain. I found him on Facebook recently, while writing this, but I haven’t and won’t reach out, ever: not a mistake.

Don’t do it, ladies. Let these errors in judgement of mine, my credulity in the face of ‘mature’ male certainty, my dismissing his having punched my arm, accepting his insistence on putting off sex, etc., etc., be your cautionary tale. Whether it’s sex or religion or your body, don’t give your knowledge of yourself away to anyone, however ostensibly wise they might be. Be a skeptic, your own advocate, and private investigator. I lived it, and learned from it, and now, thanks to the interweb, so can you! There’s a wonderful memoir called Pure, by Linda Kay Klein, which is particularly powerful regarding the harm evangelical religion – total male certainty and total male bullshit – does to women (and men) with its emphasis on virginity, and women’s bodies being tainted with all manner of temptations for girls and women to suppress because men can’t help themselves. Whatever. Be skeptical in the face of wisdom, certainty, and maturity, which is very likely to be bullshit dressed in the robes of what we – our collective culture – think of as inherently respectable and credible, i.e. white men who have advanced degrees and deep voices.

They say when someone tells you who they are, believe them. Well, okay, but also, please, question whatever it is they do tell you, because it might not be the whole truth, and nothing but. And, trust your gut, because if he doesn’t do it for you on first sight, that might indicate a little something (pun intended). Men and boys are uniquely vulnerable in a culture that prizes size (penis, truck, car, wallet, house, influence, etc.) over substance, and yet this is the system we have, one that men have built, one that feminism seeks to fix, to cure, and reconfigure. I might be a size queen, but then again, I might not – preferring, always, substance over size, because in the long run it really isn’t the meat, it’s the emotion, it’s the human being you are in bed with, because sex lasts for – how long? ten minutes? five? twenty? thirty? – but a great conversation laden with laughs, and a relationship based on love, humor, and acceptance, now that’s a keeper, and can last a long, long time.

World on Fire

World on Fire

Today the entire region in which I live was covered in smoke, the sun was red from sun up to sundown, when it was visible, that is, due to the wildfires in Canada. It was hard on my eyes, my nose, and I cannot imagine what it was like for anyone whose respiratory system is compromised, or whose job required them to be out in it all day. The smell of smoke was unavoidable. This all day darkening of the skies was a visible, palpable and disturbing reminder of the effects of climate change, and we need reminders because far too many of my fellow upstate residents and citizens of this country as a whole do not give a flying fuck about sustainability. In fact, in a town not far from my own the local municipal board voted to put a moratorium on the installation of solar panels on commercial buildings; they officially put a ban on solar panels on all commercial buildings and properties because they believe they must show how pro-fossil fuels and anti-sustainables they are. Idiots. Hopefully they’ll lose a challenge in court.

It was oppressive, the air and darkness at noon; it was disturbing and weird. As well it should be.

George Carlin said it best, as he so often did, ‘The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are. We are.’

In other news that includes a portion of the population shoving their heads up their asses, we had on CNN, in a Town Hall format, former S.C. Governor Nikki Haley being patently cynical and cruel because that’s GQP Presidential hopeful politics for ya. I confess I couldn’t watch it all, in part because her pandering to the worst of the worst part of the GQP base was revolting. She claimed that the reason why so many adolescent girls are depressed and struggling in the U.S. is because of trans-girls, the existence of trans-girls – although she called them biological males, biological males who are invading girls’ bathrooms and sports. This (non-fact, made-up) nonsense is so traumatic to our girls they cannot handle it, or themselves, thus they are suicidal and depressed. Sometimes my eyes roll back in my head so hard at this shit it’s a wonder they don’t get stuck there, permanently blinding me. Nikki Haley is a shitty human, trying to pin a real and troubling mental health crisis among teen girls on other, trans, girls, trans-girls who are being attacked daily for merely existing, and are in an especial state of vulnerability and crisis due to the cruelty of people like Haley and her regressive ilk.

Maybe, just maybe our girls, and boys, are in crisis because we’ve just been through a pandemic, on top of which we have politicians who are such shitty bad people and crap leaders they keep attacking one another, and vulnerable trans kids and all of the LGBTQIA community – in other words, the kids’ contemporaries, friends, family and community members. Maybe it’s because our shitty crap leaders keep doing nothing about the number one killer of children in the U.S. (guns) or about reining in social media and their purposefully addictive algorithms, or about climate change, or about a dozen other issues that really fucking matter in peoples’ lives.

Deep breaths.

And if you think kids aren’t aware of the moves made to prevent the relief of student loan debt, you too have your head up your ass. Our children are bombarded from their earliest age by algorithms, advertising, and messages of how much they are supposed to matter but how little they really matter, because the overwhelming issues we face collectively – climate change being one of them – gets very little attention, while oh yes, the media goes wild covering (not that they shouldn’t cover it), cranks like Nikki Haley attack trans-women and girls because she can, and, hey, this tranny sex stuff riles up the conservative base.

Deep breaths.

If you are concerned, actually concerned, about girls’ sports then fund and promote them equitably, and condemn those in the GOP who speak out about ending or eroding (as Betsy DeVos did in part during the Dump Presidency) Title IX protections. If you are concerned about top tier athletes who competed as male having begun their medical transition, then competing as trans-female athletes, then legislate a humane, common sensical solution, e.g. those who’ve gone through male adolescence and competed cannot then compete as a trans-female athlete for two or three full years after they transition. Do something, instead of speaking hate, particularly for political gain. Stop pandering and do something, find solutions and common ground, because it’s there, even though it might be on fire, or shrouded in smoke.

Do something about guns, the new number one killer of children in the U.S. – a shameful fact, absolutely mind-blowing – or is it? After all, we have been telling our children since Columbine that they matter less than guns, that a constitutional amendment written when even the sharpest sharp shooter couldn’t reload a musket in less than three full minutes should remain the standard. Do better and be better. I suppose the good news is that Nikki Haley doesn’t stand a chance of being elected President, and I very much doubt Dumpster-fire would ever, in a million years, choose a woman as a running mate, yet the whole enterprise is sickening, involves far too much money, and so many pure bullshit lines. Some of those lines are literally harmful, truly putting trans-kids at further risk, a population so small that anyone, any human being could target them is sickening.

The sun is rising red again today, not as red as it was yesterday, but red. We need to do something radical, and radically compassionate, about so many real and actual challenges facing our planet, and our country. May the whole world know peace, and healing. And soon.

The Greatest Dress, Ever!

The Greatest Dress, Ever!

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” ~ Wm. Shakespeare, King Lear

My mother once bought me the greatest dress, ever. I was thirteen. This dress was epic, so epic I even wore it once. Once, and only once – because she demanded that I do so, after complaining time and again that it was hanging in my closet unloved and unworn, a sign (one of many) that I was an ungrateful child. And yes, she regularly quoted that bit of Lear at me, as living with me, to her point of view, was indeed sharper than a serpent’s tooth. So, I did it, I wore the fucking dress – to shut her up, if for no other reason; I finally put on the greatest dress ever. I had tried it on, initially, when she bought it, even though merely eyeballing it told me right away no, and no, and no, no, no, no. I wore it to church, look Queen Lear, under a puffy winter coat I absolutely refused to take off, which worked out okay for me as the cavernous Catholic Church in Margaretville was never heated adequately, and, quite frankly, fuck my mother and her fucking truly horrible piece of shit dress.

Fine. I will admit it was a truly lovely tartan, primarily royal blue and black, shot through with red, orange and green, made from an okay, not great material combo of 70%-30% rayon to cotton. It had a blindingly white Peter Pan collar turned sideways that came to the base of my neck – much too tight a collar, in fact, that had long tails where it met at my right collarbone, one draping down the front of the dress, and one dashingly designed to toss over my back. Matching two and a half inch cuffs, also in white-white-white, ended the long, to the wrist, very tight (too tight) sleeves. A matching tartan belt came with, to cinch the waist, a belt that was less than an inch wide, and about seven feet in length. The dress, depending on whether I moved in it or not (I will explain) came to about three inches below my knees. But, it didn’t ever really come to that length, not because of the belt, precisely, or my burgeoning adolescent curves, but rather because, from the too tight neck to the hem, it was tightly pleated. Ever see a dog in one of those prevention collars, conical plastic bell-like structures? The dress was like that, sort of, only turned around, widest part of the cone facing my feet, and it was pleated. And tartan. It fell from the neck, just below sideways Peter Pan, in narrow pleats, pleats, that sans the belt made me look like an odd Scottish circus tent. If I used the belt and moved – as in walking, the top half would slowly yet inexorably begin to grow, rise, and billow out, giving me an ever-expanding puffy bust, similar to that of my dad’s cousin Harriet, the one who smoked a pipe and could balance a dessert plate on her truly magnificent boobage, which was puffy yet also solid AF. If I didn’t wear the belt, and moved, the bottom billowed out in a way that was equally unflattering, embarrassing, and tent-like, a tent that was not tethered to the ground; perhaps I should’ve added fishing line weights to the hem? That would’ve been nice.

The dress was an abomination, and seemed to typify my mother’s desire to turn me into an entirely undesirable freak, a joke, a punch line, a virginal, Scottish circus tent or trained, grateful serpent. She had and regularly expressed very strong ideas about the professions that were appropriate for women, of which there were three: teaching, nursing, and nun (nun-ing?), which begs the questions, do nuns get paid, and is nun-ing actually a profession? Isn’t it a rather calling, and in case you were wondering, I felt zero call, or instead a call to holler ‘no fucking way, Jose’ with regard to becoming any of those extremely limited options. That dress did have something in common with nuns’ habits, as with the exception of moving or the billowing hemline, it covered me from my neck to below the knee, including my arms to the wrist. My two sisters actually did become, respectively, and respectably, a teacher (my older sister) and a nurse (my younger). Isn’t that fabulous?! As for me – still waiting for that danged call!

Shortly after this dress debacle, my older sister went off to college; she had graduated from high school a year early, and her absence ushered in a very tense period at home. First of all, my mother missed her terribly and was worried sick (her precious, precious baby, in a city, in another state, in unknown territoryProvidence, R.I.!!). Secondly, because I was no substitute, rather a punishment, given that I was ungrateful, difficult, and wholly incapable of carrying on an adult conversation (gossip) over coffee (never tried it, have never had it) after school or on weekends when my dad was at work when mom liked to sit at the kitchen table and drink copious cups of java. Thirdly, because my sister’s out-of-state private art college education was expensive (RISD), including bills for art supplies that arrived monthly, bills that could not be questioned, ever, and my parents were spending their life savings to that point in support of this absolutely essential experience for my older sister. After all, she was going to be the next, American born, Picasso, a fantasy my mother indulged without regard to her eldest child’s actual temperament or personality. My dad locked himself in his den every time one of those art supply bills came in (I peeked, more than once, and was surprised to find that porcini mushrooms and silver bangle bracelets were considered art supplies) after which he would call my sister while I listened from the living room (pretending to read) while she – Picassette! – cajoled and charmed him out of the black depression and financial anxiety that otherwise ruled during his all too few hours at home from work. Good times.

Anyhoo, given I had rejected her dress, that beautiful, tasteful dress, the first one she’d bought me and me alone in forever, hand-me-downs from the great artist on high being the rule, my mother went full-in on refusing to buy me any clothes. I knew my dad was freaking out over costs, so there was no way I felt I could approach him, even if such a thing were conceivable in the first place, which it was not. But, at least my dad’s clothes, his outside stuff mostly, I could occasionally grab, because he kept everything forever, never shopped, and some of it didn’t fit him anymore. Plus, he was cool about my borrowing his clothes, even if it bemused him as to why I would want to do so. If he’d asked, pockets, dad, pockets, plus, you knowall this unsaid, that person, your wife, and y’know. You know, right?! Without my saying it, he knew, telling me to be nice to your mother, be nice. Yes, okay. Sure. Almost forty years later, as he was dying, he would apologize to me for not doing more to protect me from my mother. Good times.

Eventually I used pinking shears to cut the tartan tent dress into squares, which I burned in the burn barrel up above the wood shed. At least, that’s what I think I did. It might be a fantasy of mine, made up at the time, while the dress languished (my little sister didn’t even bother trying it on, it was that awful) unloved, and unworn, in the head-banging closet at the top of the back stairs.

That is the story of the greatest dress ever. One day I hope to recreate its awfulness – because even now, it seems impossible to me that anyone – anyone – would consider that a fully pleated dress, pleated from the neck to the knees, with an off-center Peter Pan collar was in anyway attractive. It might’ve worked, it might have, on a completely skinny, flat chested, no hips eleven-year-old boy or girl who could tie that strip of tartan belt around their waist twice. It didn’t even have pockets, forchrissake!

On Living, and Spending the Holidays, Alone

On Living, and Spending the Holidays, Alone

I have lived alone for all of my adult life. Yes, there were times I had roommates, but those times were few and far between, and far lonelier in many ways than actually living alone, as anyone who has had an incompatible roommate or partner can attest. There was one boyfriend who was going to live with me in the mid-eighties, but he confessed he was screwing his ex behind my back forty-eight hours before he was scheduled to move in; he said I didn’t need him the way she did. I said well, you’re not air or water or shelter, Bill. Or food. He said he knew I would eventually cheat on him. Whatever, although he was not the first or last man I was involved with to say that, to make that claim – each one of whom cheated on me as a kind of preemptive strike, I guess was their thinking? I have never cheated on a partner, it’s just not in me to do so, but – all’s fair in love and war, or so I’ve heard.

In my twenties and thirties, I suffered living alone, and being partner-less (though I much prefer the term ‘partner-free’) while all around me people, men and women, were constantly seeking to pair up, were pairing up and getting engaged, getting married, including numerous friends and acquaintances who divorced and paired up again, and so on. During those decades I was not a happy camper generally, but I definitely suffered from deep loneliness, as well as depression, neither directly caused by the other but as two lanes running parallel to one another. I dreaded the holidays spent alone, and dreaded holidays even more spent with my ‘nuclear’ family, where I felt misunderstood, judged, unloved, and more alone than when I was alone. Oh, the joy of getting back to NYC after a Christmas or Thanksgiving spent with my family of origin, especially if I went straight to Studio 54, where I could lose myself and all of my troubles, big or small, in the music, on the dance floor, surrounded by others doing the same. 

Creating my own family was an option, but I didn’t want to parent, felt no need as so many women and men seem to do, to have and raise children. Plus, I was afraid of the parent I might be: too angry, too much pain stored inside waiting to come out like that creature in the film Alien. I was cautious, too much so, perhaps, scared to try, and dated too many assholes, eliminating them as potential co-parents one by one. I also knew single parenting wasn’t for me, believing that children deserve both parents on their side, especially as one parent (me) might be annihilating or nuts like my mother. No thanks. I knew women who married men or partnered with men they didn’t really love, to make children they very much wanted. Some of them stayed with these men regardless of the disconnect, regardless of no or bad sex, or barely concealed contempt. Others divorced and railed against their exes for not understanding they were glorified sperm donors: how dare he demand half, half of my apartment, my money, half of my child’s time. How dare he. 

And men I could’ve created families with were always, always in relationships with other women, even if I became involved with them not knowing this initially, because men lie like dogs all the damned time, and the mess, the mess, the stupidity, the dishonesty, the rationalizations – it was all too much. It probably didn’t help matters that during those decades I had peeping tom after peeping tom, was constantly harassed and flashed on the street, was being stalked, and was – until I was almost forty – thinking about killing myself daily. I remember two men I was involved with running out the door the moment I spoke honestly of my mother, and how much I hated her, hated her, and loved her, and loved her, and hated her. They were probably very wise to run, but it seemed I was being punished for my honesty, and that didn’t inspire a sense of being safe to share anything about the life I had led and was leading. 

I hired therapist after therapist, did drumming circles, and a past life regression, had my tarot cards and astrological chart read, took risks I should not have taken, and prayed for divine intervention I didn’t ever believe would come from a deity I thought was pure bullshit. In my twenties I read about and tried to believe in reincarnation (how wrong can a jillion Hindis, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs be?!), if only out of the hope that I would get another chance, a second, third, and fourth chance, at living a better, happier life – a different life. I participated in sweat lodge and during one I was sure I was going to die, and welcomed it, until I realized I had never lived, or had lived my entire life to that point under a dark cloud, or, more apt, a slab of granite, and that it was up to me – and me alone – to change that. I was thirty-eight, and was only then able to envision a life where I might be happy, truly happy – yet, always, the imaginings were of me on my own, alone. 

Having a sense of humor helps, more than helps: it kept me alive. Surviving is key. I knew women who created from pain, created family, fought for it, and some of them did well, many of them. I could not, perhaps because I am so goddamned stubborn, and my standards are so fucking high, which is another way of saying I built a wall so impenetrable no one could get over it, around it, under it – in. And I struggle, still, to ask for what I need, because for almost forty years I had no needs, other than to survive that day, that hour, that moment of life. Air and water. Shelter, food. And sure, a fella if he wants along on this ride, mostly on my terms, because I know like I know like I know that my independent streak, which is wider and deeper and broader still than any wall ever built, runs me ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time: ‘Oh, give me land, lots of land under sunny skies above, don’t fence me in!’ 

Perhaps if I had allowed myself to love and be loved by that boy from high school, the one who I dreamt of recently, a dream in which we were both old, as we are now, and lay in one another’s arms naked and old and kind to one another, as we never were in life. Who knows. We were both surviving families that were rife with pain and shame in a small town, a place where preserving the public illusion of happy family often felt like all I (I cannot speak for him) had to hold onto. For my part, there was simply no way I would expose him to my family, my mother, by bringing him into the fold, into the house, my lived experience. I regret this. Bessel van der Kolk wrote of the healing power of love while the brain is still developing, as a teenager, in his 2014 work The Body Keeps Score, a book I wish had been written when I needed most to read it, but that’s the way it goes, eh? 

I have friends who live surrounded by family, including a beloved friend who is also in business and vacations annually with her husband’s family. I shudder at the thought of all that, although I acknowledge how well it works – for her. Everyone must find their own way, their own comfort, their own level; we are all like water. Spending holidays alone can be rough unless you love your own company, which I would argue is important every single day, and hour, regardless of holiday status, and – somewhere around forty, I found myself loving it, loving myself, finally, loving and giggling at my stupidities, my quirks and false starts, my life-saving humor, my ass-hole-ery, my fears and tears, my inconsistency, my humanity. 

Expectations – and convention – being what they are (an oppressive force that is very hard to overcome), it isn’t necessarily easy to live alone, to live single and child-free, yet all paths – every one – have rocks and twists and turns, compromises, rationalizations, swamps, bogs, periods of loss and despair. Anyone who tells you their marriage is perfect is lying, and – in my experience – most likely of all the couples you know to be on the direct route to divorce, and soon, although stasis, fear of change, are as powerful as convention. Anyone who tells you raising kids is or was a breeze is also lying. I have found that, for me, living alone is a great gift, and it means I have to do the work of reaching out and making plans possibly more than others do – and, I know too, now that I’m in my seventh decade (holy fuck, how did that happen?) that if I have a bunch of social engagements in a twenty-four hour span, and by bunch I mean two, I must have a day, or more, of recovery. Must. Yes, introversion and introverts are real, and I’m one of ‘em. 

Deep breaths. Gratitude, and curiosity about what’s next. All these are important while the vast mass of peeps celebrate whatever TF holiday it is. Because no one, no one person, has a perfect, trouble-free life, and loving what you have right now- whatever that is – is a muscle, a skill that needs work. For me, for me, for me. I try, I truly try to undertake to do that work joyfully, to do the hard work. Whatever I do, I also try not to suffer over my occasional suffering, the familiar scar and pain of loneliness; I observe it, acknowledging the sometime throbbing scar, and let it go. And so, while others parade and grill, I write, and then write some more, and read, and call friends, maybe, and dig in the dirt, and attempt stillness for a least five minutes, and walk – repeatedly – my miniature pony-sized dog.