The hair

I’m going to skip over the fact that I neglected this blog for an eternity and just post a creepy story I wrote recently. It’s supposed to be about the intersections between hair and female power. I think about these concepts a lot, and was horrified/inspired by some reading I did recently about the symbolism of hair (specifically blond hair) as power during Victorian times.

 

the hair

He loved his wife best while she was sleeping. That beautiful hair glowing in the moonlight captivated him more powerfully than he was comfortable with. For hours after she went to sleep, he would look at the glossy locks swirling out from her head, covering the pillow and dripping out onto the sheets like a too-thickly-applied coat of paint. At times he would stroke it gently with his fingertips, feel its silky sturdiness, taking care not to let the hairs pull on her head and wake her. Other times he would gather a small section to rub between his thumb and forefinger, back and forth, back and forth, feeling the hairs roll over one another.

He grew certain the hair was speaking to him. He could see how it flirted with him, a faceless temptress. He felt as convinced about the hair’s messages as he would’ve had he been reading text, had the strands twisted themselves into a thick cursive, spewing out letters like an elegant alphabet soup. What he gleaned from the hair made sense to him in a way few other things did.

In the daytime, he and his wife floated orb-like. They moved about their home ruled by different planets, out of sync, self-contained. When she would say something to him from across the long dinner table, he would reflexively look up towards the ceiling. It was there he followed her words with his eyes, saw them vaporizing into the air before they could reach him, losing form, atomizing and drifting upward.

Night again: his relief. Him and the hair. He became comfortable speaking quietly to it, learning that this did not wake his wife. Quietly, he recounted the day, the thoughts that crossed his mind. He would often tell the hair how beautiful it was. He began to notice himself referring to his wife in the third person. She did this, she did that. It felt natural.

A small wave of discomfort entered his mind as he dwelled further on this thought: cleaved apart in his mind, the hair and the woman who was his wife. Unsettling. Just then, a streak of moonlight passed by the window, the hair flashing the reflection. His head snapped to attention. Immediately, he sensed a fierce energy emanating from the hair. He looked away and slept uneasily.

The next day he sought out his wife. He felt a pull to be near her, to listen to what she said, to ask her how she was doing. He found her in the garden, pruning the roses. As she swirled toward him, the hair followed her momentum, swinging onto her shoulder. He was startled by how dead it looked on her head, like a pelt. He forced his gaze to her eyes. “How are you?” She looked confused and snipped off a rose that wasn’t dead yet.

He ran away. He felt ill. He skipped dinner and hid in his office, fretting and then falling asleep, head on his desk, a stack of post-it notes embossing a square onto his cheek. Time trickled by. He woke up during the eerie handoff between moon and sun and tried to figure out how he felt. He thought of the hair: glorious, powerful….frightening. He thought of his wife. Them together.

His stomach leapt with a sudden desire to hold the hair in his fists, to caress his face with it, to tie it together with a ribbon and stow it somewhere. He wanted to carry it with him in his coat pocket, always with him: safe, kept.

Drastic, he opened up his desk drawer and searched for the scissors. He didn’t know how he would explain this to the hair or his wife, but he didn’t care, it had to be done. He walked back toward the bedroom with scissors pointed blade down, safety posture.

He stood at the precipice of the doorway and raised the scissors up, opened them. He could not see his wife well from this vantage point, just a rumple of sheets and pillows over a form. She must have slept poorly. He walked around the bed to look at her and the hair, the fear rising in his belly. He saw her face: eyes open, unblinking. Body not moving. The hair in two thick luminous ropes, clenched tightly around her throat.

 

The day I tell everyone how I sobbed during the cheesiest part of Frozen

I often fantasize about being totally impenetrable in various ways. 

Sometimes it’s intellectual: I’ll be faced with a hard task or decision and fantasize about ways to move forward entirely scientifically, down to the last bit of minutia. Every micro-element validated by peer-reviewed findings from Google Scholar, every piece arrived at logically with a citation, and no one can argue with my conclusion.

Sometimes it’ll be about physical strength: I’ll imagine being so tough and strong, no one could ever hurt me or treat me like I’m weak. (Probably a component of why I’ve been involved in fighting sports since I was 10.)

Or it’ll be emotional. Like, when I knew I wanted to buzz all my hair off but was afraid of what people would think or say, I imagined posting my new cut with a Facebook post to end all Facebook posts pre-empting anything hurtful someone might throw at me, like how I looked better before, how they don’t get why I’d do this to myself, etc. I would make the perfect rock-solid statement to justify myself and my decision, and neutralize any painful thing that could come my way.

Obviously, this is all ridiculously impractical. I know that science doesn’t have the answer to every aspect of life (especially academic research!). I know human bodies are always to some degree fragile. And I know there’s no way to avoid all possible emotional pain without totally shutting down. It’s all me just fantasizing about living a life where I never need to be vulnerable.

However, when things challenge me deeply like they’ve been challenging me here, it gets so tempting to re-engage with these impenetrability fantasies. I have to remind myself that no matter how awesome it sounds, even if it were practical, I don’t want that life. I’ve tried being a perfectionist, wearing thick protective armor, and holding everyone at arm’s length: it was honestly just lonely. I felt like a defective unit from the people-maker factory, more robot than human, incapable of honest love and connection. Over the past several years, I’ve become more comfortable that life contains risk, uncertainty, and imperfection. I’ve learned that if I want deep love, I have to trust people with a living piece of me they can choose to care for or harm. And I’ve grown to find peace and beauty in all of that. (Most of the time.) It’s been gratifying to grow into feeling more and more resilient, more and more human.

So nowadays when I feel like I want to crawl in giant shell and tell everyone and everything to go away, I stop myself and write about it instead, or I listen to “Let it go” from Frozen.

YES, FROZEN. When I first watched it, I was dealing with some hard things, trying to hold them all in, outsmart them, and be strong and perfect for the protection of myself and others. Watching that lil’ princess finally storm away from all the expectations and people and hiding and restraint, watching her let herself be free, seeing her ice-magic herself an awesome new dress and hairdo and fancy house where no one could ever see her cry, I was like “YES GIRL! Let it GOOOO!” But of course in making herself free in some ways, she was also building herself into an isolated palace where no one would ever reach her. I felt her in that moment, because Disney is smart and knows how to reach peoples’ neurons. 

Anyway, long story short, being raw is a journey for me, and something I still struggle with. But I’m over here doing my best with Elsa. 

Luchador’s mother — story bit

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about pain, strength, and healing — and also spending a lot of time at lucha libre. It has struck me how much tenderness there is be in something so seemingly brutal, and so I wrote a little scene on it. I still have a lot to learn about the history and culture of lucha libre, so I hope I’m not doing anything blasphemous or appropriating subject matter that’s not mine to write about. Maybe I’ll take it down once I think about it more, but for now, here’s my scene.

Luchador’s mother

We did it for all the mothers out there. The masks hide our faces which are squashed and ugly: peeled pistachios, sandwich bread with the crusts removed. We want them to focus instead on our weatherbeaten bodies, our biceps, our tattoos, our bellies full of canned beer and spinach. 

In the ring, we howl and yelp, curse obscenities, thud deeply into the ground and scrunch our faces. We want the moms to gasp, put their hands over their mouths, furrow their eyebrows in concern. When you can generate that kind of concern, our rise from the ground is made all the more noble. We un-twist our legs from the painful-looking contortion, set our mouths in a straight line, and gather the strength not just to stand, but to enact revenge on the one who harmed us. We are indefatigable and moreover we are brave. The moms are relieved, they sit with quiet pride, plan the meal they will feed us later. Oh, this feeling. 

The show is over and me and my fellow luchador are backstage embracing closely. The bare skin on our chests is touching. We each cry a little through our masks, for joy, for equilibrium, for something not yet grasped. We pull apart and bring the other’s bruises to our lips. Our breathing slows. We clasp our rough hands together, the tattoos on our fingers making art together, we can see each other through our eye holes and affirm the other’s nobility. We are grand in the eyes of ourselves, our mothers, the Lord. 

I bless my mother for teaching me this virtue. I think back to a time when I was small and I tripped while playing in the yard. I fell to my hands and knees: I remember the concrete stinging my skin, shock running up my body. My limbs were okay, but the fall had upset me, taken the buoyancy from my play, agitated something inside of me. I caught my mother’s eye as she read her newspaper inside. I wanted her to pay attention to me and hold me, and so I cried. But she knew as I did that the physical pain was trivial. She pressed her lips and set her eyes forward and continued reading. I will tell you that at that point my beckoning tears became tears of shame. I learned through her eyes that I was going to be fine, and carrying on like this was inappropriate. I stopped crying and made a point to internalize this lesson. I played more forcefully now, rolling around on the concrete, smashing my trucks together, making sure to leave bigger scrapes on my body than the ones from the initial fall. I took shelter deep within myself and let my body heal me, I smashed the pain apart between the trucks’ bumpers, I collected the shards and shoved them into my little jar, I closed the lid tightly so they could not leave. As a child, the lesson is hard, but it teaches you to carry yourself with strength and nobility. I have passed along to various other children I have come into contact with.

I have at times in life struggled with my posture. To reliably align it, I imagine a knife in my abdomen, drops of blood trailing behind me like little red acolytes. This image keeps my head high and my eyes set. Rib cage up.

Me and this beautiful luchador, together in nobility, we squeeze our hands one more time before letting go, parting the curtain, and walking into the ring. We regard the sea of mothers and take our bow. Nothing will hurt us.

That tomato leaf smell

Sometimes my mind feels like a pinball machine — zooming in opposite directions every five seconds, triggering happy lights and sounds on some journeys, falling into a pit of existential crisis on others. My likes, my dislikes, and even my identity can seem so volatile.

But one of the few things I’ve found to be consistent is how I feel when I am around growing plants, specifically growing vegetables. They make me absolutely buoyant. I feel radiant, like jumping around — sometimes the feeling seems almost too ridiculous to be genuine, but it is.

One veggie thing I adore in particular is the smell of tomato leaves and vines. This like became heightened after I found a tomato leaf candle at an arts festival last summer in Rogers Park. I would get way up close to it while it burned, breathing in the joy and peace, having a quiet moment in my first solo apartment.

Here in Mexico, I’ve been really wishing I could smell a tomato plant and get that little hug from home. I’ve been poking my head into nurseries, and even scanning the streets. Well, yesterday I took a trip to the college botanical gardens and finally got my wish. Plants galore, and so many tomatoes. Here’s a little collage of the trip.

 

 

Brain is full

I’m settling into life in Puebla, and the second week was exponentially better than the first. I feel more capable of getting through discomfort in healthy ways, I made a friend, I have a go-to coffeeshop, and I’m getting more comfortable with the me that’s underneath all of the protective layers I’ve been peeling away. Overall, I’m just feeling more resilient to handle whatever comes. 

But now that my own personal period of peak destabilization is passing, I’m getting loaded up with tons of destabilizing ideas. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago, I would have told you I spend a decent amount of time thinking about gender, race, class, power, and cis-heteronormativity. With my beautifully radical set of friends, what else are we going to talk about? But wow: the readings I’m being assigned and my conversations with the program director are rocking my concept of the world harder than it’s been rocked in a while. I’m being deeply challenged and deeply humbled. 

I don’t think I’ll do a great job of expressing the complexity of everything as I’m still absorbing it, but one of the main things I’m thinking about now is how to make art (or really, contribute anything) within a world that will immediately try to suck you and your art into existing structures of power. Because art isn’t just predominantly made by cis-het white men, it’s also interpreted by them. So whatever a marginalized group creates runs the risk of immediately being used to support a narrative that “others” and oppresses them, essentially using their “different” biology to contextualize and explain the art. For example, something a woman creates will be thought of in the context of her womanhood, something a Mexican man creates might be said to “a Mexican observation on [x]”. Whereas something a cis-het white man creates will exist outside of that constraint because his identity is default. 

I’m also struggling with how to represent important things like gender and race with the understanding that these concepts (and so many others in our society) are constructed by our society as tools of oppression, and talking about them can sometimes just aid the machine. While people perceived to be a certain gender or race absolutely experience issues that need to be recognized and addressed specifically (see: Black Lives Matter vs All Lives Matter), how do you talk about a marginalized group without adding scaffolding to the giant machine that’s using these constructs to keep people down? And how do you talk about groups without flattening the richness and diversity of experience within them, and actually oppressing others in your quest to dismantle oppression? (I’m looking at you, white feminism!) 

I could go on and on about other things sending my brain spinning, but that’s probably enough for now. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do, but I’m really glad to be in this headspace and learning, especially since with my many privileges, I run a high risk of making the world worse if I don’t actively try to fight these power systems.

One day I’ll write about something totally light, like avocados and ice cream! 

Words are on vacation!

Taking a break from words and posting a few photos from the past couple weeks.

* Some images of parks/Chinatown from my stopover in Mexico City.

* A beautiful image of a nun adorned in flowers, taken at a religious art museum that used to be the Santa Monica Convent. It was the first convent where lower-income indigenous women could join, and the history was fascinating. A very austere place, but radical for its time. Upon entering the convent, families could only visit the nuns twice – once when they were inducted, and once when they were buried. It has a lot to do with what I’m writing about now, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

* Training with lucha libre fighters (their hands are over their faces because they are masked rudos), plus a beautiful image of a luchadora I found in a book. Learning lucha libre has been an awesome source of fun and stability here. They say if I train with them for a couple more months, they’ll give me a mask and costume and let me perform! Definitely learning some crazy moves I’ve never seen before, but MMA is a good foundation.

* Miscellaneous photos of the space here at Arquetopia, street art I’ve seen in Puebla, and random little tinkerings of me getting tired of writing and playing around with someone’s leftover charcoal and modeling clay. I have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s fun getting messy and out of my head! And now I have a little earring holder.

Lions – first bit of a story

Second art share! This one is very unfinished, and there are elements I don’t terribly like, but the themes have been on my mind lately. It’s about powerful female friendships — something I cannot overstate the influence of in my life. (Thanks to my partner for sparking the initial idea while we were watching Planet Earth.)

Lions

I stared ahead as she licked the blood off my back. Some of the blood was mine, some was the antelope’s. 

It was ten years ago that she found me and marked me as her hunting buddy. You. She was tall and lean, seemed even taller than she was with her head high like that, looking at everybody directly in the eyes. I was smaller than most of the other lions, head low enough to see the scars on her belly when she approached me. The first sign I could trust her. She saw me with my volumes on hunting strategies, my scratched-out equations for striking at the right angle. Books on antelope psychology. She saw the big tree branch I dragged home one day — nearly strained my neck to bring it all the way back. I used it to sharpen my claws, nudged it forwards and backwards to strengthen my neck muscles, propped it on rocks to practice my leaps.

I’d been watching her, too. She was the fastest runner I’d seen. Others would pretend not to notice, keep their heads forward and track her with their eyes. And she was so cunning. I once saw her slide up to another lion who had been hunting near us  — he’d caught a whole wild turkey — and when I looked back, seconds later, he was sharing the turkey with her, no apparent malice in his eyes. I don’t even know what she did or said. 

That day, she strode up to me like she always did, quick-paced, eyes forward, jaw tight. Two feet from me, she sat and curled her tail around her body. Stared at me. It was far closer than I’d usually let others near. Her presence was not a threat, but it was a pointed question. Sitting, her long front legs hid her underbelly. I stared back, trying to hold her eye contact. She could see that I was uncomfortable. Up close, I noticed how beautiful her mane was, how many thoughts lay behind her eyes. Giant brown caverns, born from the earth. 

There was no reflective moment, no measured choice. We followed the next steps like we were actors in a play, doing the moves sequence by sequence. I got up — stepped back to preserve a little of my space, and oriented myself towards the direction of the river, where we knew the animals would come to drink. She rose and strode alongside me, in silence — she knew I was in. Again she walked closer to me than I was comfortable with, but as the minutes went on, I began to grow accustomed. I lifted my head like hers and pierced the sky with my gaze. 

Our first kill. She spotted the antelope first, and I signaled for us to lurk lower under some nearby brush. I distracted it and she leapt up from behind, our movements dance-like in their choreography. Her arc from overhead, me springing from below. We toppled it, dirt and blood working their way into our fur as we rolled, but it was over. As we feasted, I noticed how she nudged the good bits towards me, looked to make sure I was getting my share.

Settling in

While this week contained some beautiful moments, I have to say it was also pretty challenging for me in many ways. Most everyone I’m meeting is interesting and kind, but it’s disorienting and isolating to be disconnected from nearly everything familiar and comforting to me.

I also think having clear plans for the future — whether in terms of location, of tasks I’ll be doing, or of people who’ll surround me — can be stabilizing, because I get to think of whatever’s happening in the moment, however uncomfortable, as somewhat temporary. I can say to myself: Sure, the present is like this, but in [x] amount of time, there’ll be [y]. It’s hard sometimes not having that to hold onto. I know it’ll teach me something, but right now it’s definitely uncomfortable. I always want to stay conscious of the privilege inherent in what I am doing, and maintain gratitude that I have the opportunity to learn these lessons at all. That’s important. But the hard days still come!

Last night, though, was a blessing. Sometimes, being lonely or sad makes me wall off even more…I think because I feel fragile, or because I want to hide this ugly sub-par version of myself from other people. But last night, I went into the kitchen for dinner and was just wrapping up when another resident walked in. I had noticed some pain and depth behind her cheerfulness a few days earlier, but hadn’t had a chance to get to really talk to her. This time, I closed my book and pushed aside the wall, and really tuned into what she was saying, getting to know her story. She was so genuine and open, it made me want to match her, and we ended up having a beautiful moment of connection. When two other residents came in, the energy carried through. Sitting there with the three oldest members of the residency, I got to learn more about what they’d all been through in life, and they gave me some wonderful perspective when I told them about some things I’d been struggling with. We were all just raw and supportive of one another, and they reminded me it’s normal to feel weak and confused sometimes — it won’t last.

All of that left me feeling so connected and at peace, the most hopeful I’ve felt since I got here. And I wanted to take a moment to document and be grateful for that.

First art share

I’m feeling bold today (further emboldened by the fact that I haven’t actually shared this blog link with anybody yet, so I’m basically writing to a void…), so I’m putting up the most recent semi-complete thing I’ve written. It’s my first poem — I was inspired to try writing something in this style after reading A Bestiary by Lily Hoang. It’s a bit dark, like most of my writing. Hope I’m not alarming anyone. This one’s about finding my own space.

 

Clean Paper

I’m not a person, I am a vase

A medium-sized vase.

You write something on your notepad with fierce bold lines, pushing your pen down hard with rage and passion

I am the page two pages down

Blank white but embossed with the imprint of you

Why write.

The bumps from your words cause me friction, each up-down of my pen reminding me “not your own not your own not your own…”

You’re a mountain range, visible from outer space. I’m the fuzzy little grass growing on top, making you soft.

I could be covered by snow in an hour, the deer could stamp me down or eat me, at my best and most glorious I’m the stairway to heaven for a lightweight insect, shepherding it three inches closer to the sun.

Maybe someone will take a picture of me and put me in a nature magazine.

You can’t see the cavities you leave on that notepad, how the sweat on your hands curls the paper, makes my ink bleed

My deepest wish is a new 500 sheet ream under the Christmas tree, complete with protective wrapping, or blank pages folded up inside my mailbox from an anonymous donor, or a grocery store receipt machine out of ink before the clerk notices it and I come home with a long, empty little scroll…

I dream white paper, white walls, sand washed smooth by the waves, tree trunks with nobody loving anybody etched on the bark.

Take your pen somewhere else, or write in invisible ink like me

..

But 

..

I fear that moment. When I’ve run far enough away with my treasure — 

Hidden in a cave where no one can find me

Pages so sharp and clean they’re practically a weapon

Pens on pens on backup pens: everything is ready

Me regarding the paper, bringing my right hand up close in the perfect three-point-grip they taught me in kindergarten

One millimeter away, I halt, the earth’s ice crawls up my legs, freezing them, the cold traveling upward —

It is there that I fall and I die

Time has snatched me because I had nothing to say

My epitaph will say Thanks for Being a Great Friend.

Not quite there yet

Stopped in Mexico City for a day before heading to Puebla — mostly for cost efficacy (a $146 direct flight!!), but also for a chance to get a peek at the capital, which I hope to revisit in more thoroughness later on.

The city is beautiful, and I’ve loved walking around seeing monuments and city parks, trying new foods. It’s also nice to feel a little anonymous — nobody looks twice at me in this big city. But I also feel kind of like I’m in a dream…kind of cloudy and disoriented. It kept catching me by surprise that I’d need to speak Spanish outside, that I have to check a map to figure out where I’m going, that I’m a foreigner in a place I’ve never been. 

Usually, I’m all about this —  and in particular, the chance to hear and speak Spanish is a highlight of being in a Spanish-speaking country. I love the chance to practice and use something I’ve learned and want to get better at, and I also associate the sounds with being at Mama Tina and Papa Chilo’s house (my great-grandparents) as a child. I was always so happy there, listening to them talk to each other, playing Double Solitaire with Mama Tina, running around the garden, getting to take a candy from Papa Chilo’s special drawer. But here in Mexico City, even all the Spanish just feels like part of the cloudy dream. Part of it may have to do with the red-eye flight I took to get here (see: cost efficacy above!), but I think it’s also something else. Although I’m absolutely so excited and grateful for this time in Mexico, I also spent a lot of time before this trip in denial that I was leaving at all. Facing the reality that I would be leaving my Chicago friends and especially my partner with no real idea of when I’d see them all again — it was too much. And I think that’s part of the reason I feel like I’m not all the way here yet. Denial is powerful! 

I take the bus to Puebla in about an hour, and I think it’ll be nice to unpack my things, make the space a little my own, and know that at least I’ll be in the same location for four weeks. I think there, my brain will get the chance to catch up to my body. I’m also really looking forward to spending time writing. I’m nervous about it, but also so ready to see what comes out, and what it feels like to write most of the day. I’m feeling especially bolstered after starting Your Art Will Save Your Life, which a friend gave me right before I left. It’s been a good way to calm the little voices that come up, saying “you’re being self-indulgent and impractical!” or “you’re not a real artist and you’ll never make anything worthwhile!” So that’s nice.

Okay, off to Puebla. Already feeling a few of the clouds lift from my mind, thanks in part to sweet, sweet coffee hitting my brain after an actual good night’s sleep.