Let’s talk about books

I’m an English major.  And two years ago, I adopted a kitten and named him after Michigan’s interlibrary loan system (yes, really).

So I like books.

And right now, I’m reading a book that my friend Lucy recommended: Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman.

It’s a collection of personal essays about books.  Which has me thinking about my own relationship to books.

What would most surprise people, I think, is that I don’t care much about owning books.  And when it comes to the books that I do own, I couldn’t care less about how they’re organized on my shelves.

Which is, I’ve learned, something that a lot of readers are obsessed with.  Fadiman devoted an entire essay to that topic, actually: debating with herself over whether she should organize her books alphabetically or by time period.  Reading it, I was just like, “Really?”

Now, I do happen to own quite a few books.  I’m not really sure where they came from, though.  Maybe it’s that I grew up attending writing seminars and conferences, and going to readings that gave me the opportunity to buy signed copies of poetry collections afterward (seriously, I started getting my literary conference on at the tender age of 16).  But, as I mentioned above, I named my cat after a library, so it should come as no surprise to you that I’ve never felt inclined to spend all of my money on books.

But I am not particularly attached to the ones that I do own.  Ask anyone who’s ever borrowed one from me.  Usually, when they try to give it back to me, I tell them to just pass it on to someone else who they think will like to read it.  Because, as an a vocal advocate for libraries, I don’t like the idea of books sitting unread on a shelf forever– especially if it’s one I’ve particularly enjoyed reading.

I will occasionally buy a book under the following conditions:

1) If it’s something I really really want as part of my collection.  Like that new book about Banksy that was recently released.  I was all about getting my hands on a first edition copy of it, because, as a book about street art, is got this really kick ass visual quality that I love.  Ditto Rookie Yearbook One— seriously, look at it.  I’ve already pre-ordered a copy of Rookie Yearbook Two, which will be released in October.  But I digress.

2) If I find the book at an independent bookstore (which, in the case of the Banksy book, I did– at Snowbound in Marquette, MI).

3) Or, if I happen to stumble upon something cool at a thrift store or garage sale.  That’s pretty much the only time I’ll buy a book spontaneously.  Usually it’s a pretty well thought out process, as documented above.

This kind of contradicts what I said above about how I don’t care about owning books & have a tendency to give mine away.  Whatever.  I’m contradictory and have a lot of weird habits.  All book lovers (all people, for that matter) do.

And yet, this all makes sense in my head.  I buy a book because it’s super rad.  Which just makes me want to share it with others.

On the subject of e-readers (which is something Fadiman didn’t address at all in her book, because it was published in 1998): I own a Kindle, and love it.  It saves my butt when I happen not to have any books at my disposal.  For example, when I ran off to Washington for 5 weeks earlier this summer.  I obviously didn’t change my address, so couldn’t use the library there.  And I brought a few books with me, but I tore through those more quickly than I thought I would.  And so, Kindle to the rescue.  It was super handy, not to mention much more lightweight than all the books stored on it would really be.

I don’t use my Kindle all the time, because I don’t like the idea of paying $10+ for a book that I can’t even tangibly hold in my hand.  But I’m a big fan of their “daily deals,” which is like going to an electronic garage sale.  And anything published prior to 1923 is free.

And my Kindle lets me highlight and take notes, just as I would with an actual book.

Which brings me to the topic of writing in books.

The only bummer about libraries is that I can’t deface my library books, and instead have to use Post-Its.  I love writing in the books I own; it makes me feel more normal about my habit of talking to myself, or something.  Like, I know that the books can’t talk back, but I usually have a lot to say to them, so I write in the margins.  And people think I’m smart for doing that.  But when I talk to myself, they’re like, “Amelia, that’s weird.”

I recently bought a used copy of Henry and June by Anais Nin specifically because I’m familiar enough with her writing to know that I can’t get through a paragraph of hers without highlighting something.  She is that good.

Similarly, I love reading books that belong (or once belonged) to smart people.  Because I love to see what struck them as important or profound or ridiculous.

As for what I like to read: Everything.  Seriously, everything.  Poetry, YA, depressing-as-shit feminist nonfiction that fills me with rage, novels, short stories, etc.  I am all over the place.  I usually read more than one book at a time, and those books span many different genres.

My reading habits kind of resemble my disorganized shelves, now that I think about it.

So see?  It all makes sense.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Leave a comment

Things I have learned since “coming out” about my sexual assault

It’s been nearly six months since I was raped, and almost four since I first started talking about it publicly, by publishing a post right here on this blog.

Although the support I’ve received has been tremendous, I’ve also had to learn some very difficult lessons since I made the decision to speak up about what happened to me.  A few of them are listed below.

1) Survivors: Speaking out isn’t the only valid way to deal with your shit.

I mention this one first because, as a writer, I handle everything by exchanging ideas with others.  Ask anyone who’s ever gotten a whiny, verbose email from me.  When I started to question whether a creative writing major was right for me (agonizing over how I “didn’t think I loved writing anymore”), my roommate said to me, “Jesus, Amelia.  You realize that you’re dealing with this by writing in your journal, right?  Clearly, writing is and always will be important to you, so chill.”

And so, when I was raped, I knew that finally reaching a point where I was ready to talk about it would be a huge and crucial step for me.  And I made that step when I blogged about it back in March.

But then I saw a post on tumblr from a friend.  It had been “reblogged” thousands of times, which means that many other people agreed with it.  The post said something like, “I know it’s a really big deal for a rape survivor to speak out.  And I’m always proud of / happy for those who do.  But some of us deal with what happened to us differently.  Sometimes we feel like we’re looked at as not acknowledging or dealing with what happened to us, just because we don’t write or talk about it.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not dealing with it.  We have to deal with it.  We have no other choice.  But there are other ways to deal with things beyond sharing our experiences with you, and you need to respect that.  We’re not any less healthy because of how we choose to go about it.”

I felt really badly when I read that, because I had, of course, never meant to hurt anyone by doing what I felt I needed to do in order to heal.  This is partly why I haven’t blogged about my assault in such a long time; I’m aware now, of how my words could potentially hurt other survivors.

Ultimately though, by not writing, I’m hurting myself.  So I have to do this.  But I proceed with a sensitivity that I didn’t possess when all of this first started.

2) You will lose a few friends.

Maybe it’s because you happen to speak out (like I did), and the people who choose not to speak out about it can’t be around you anymore for their own health, safety, and peace of mind.

Or maybe it’s because someone you trusted straight-up decides to believe your rapist over you.

Both of those things have happened to me in recent months.

One of my closest friends is, like me, a rape survivor.  She’s also a writer, and went through it a couple of years before I did.  So when she told me that she’d lost a lot of friends because of what happened to her (like me, her rapist was a friend, and they had many mutual friends), I was shocked.  Aren’t her friends feminists, like she is?  How could you choose to believe a rapist over a survivor?  Seriously, how?

And so, still in a state of disbelief that that could ever happen, I sincerely thought I’d never encounter such a problem.  As an ardent feminist who posts whatever the hell she wants on facebook, I’m rather picky about who I “add as friends.”  Most of the people I’m “facebook friends” with are feminists, radicals, or liberals.

One such friend was particularly close with my assailant.  I was actually especially nervous about how she’d respond to my initial post because of that.  But after she read it, she sent me a beautiful email in which she told me that although she was totally stunned by my news, she believed and supported me, and would end her friendship with him.  And then she deleted him on facebook.

A couple of months later, I noticed that she’d recently added him back.

I was startled.  But I couldn’t bring myself to ask her about it.  Nor did I have the heart to delete her from my friends list.

But shortly after re-adding him, she deleted me.

And like, it’s facebook.  I get that.  I tend not to make assumptions about real-life relationships based solely upon what I see online.  But there’s no way that this couldn’t have been about me.  She added him, and deleted me.

I spent a day freaking out– feeling panicky, and unable to eat.  On one hand, I know intellectually that anyone who decides to take his word over mine was never a true friend anyway.  But on the other hand, what she did left me feeling hurt and betrayed because I trusted her and considered her to be my friend.

I wasn’t sure what I should do.  I thought about contacting her to ask what had happened.  But I also didn’t feel strong enough to handle that conversation.  I knew that I’d have to deal with hearing whatever lies he told her, and just wasn’t sure I was up to that.

I also realized that if she (who, like all of my friends, I know to be an intelligent person) believed what he told her, then our other mutual friends & acquaintances could, too.  And the thought of losing more people because of this just shook me to my core.

And then I started to question my judgment in friends.  Which, on top of being completely unfair to most of my friends, who have proven themselves to be wonderful, kind, and supportive people, also placed the blame on me again.  And I just couldn’t carry the weight of that.

So finally, I emailed another mutual friend of ours to ask how she felt I should handle the situation.  I felt very badly about that– for dragging her into it, and for sounding so gossipy.  But I just couldn’t proceed without a second opinion.  And she’s been unshakably supportive of me from the very beginning.  I told her about the rape less than a week after it happened– long before I had the nerve to blog about it.  Her advice was as follows:

I would drop it.  You alerted her to a danger, and if she chooses to do what just about everyone does (not believe victims), then talking to her just makes you think about it more… It’s hard not to be believed, but trying to convince someone almost feels like going insane.

And so, I dropped it.  But I don’t feel any better about it.  Remember, the person who sent me this email is a mutual friend.  And so, in addition to everything I mentioned above, I just hate how this experience has been tearing my circle of friends apart.

3) Being triggered is the scariest shit ever.

Long before I was raped, I knew, intellectually, how and why to put a trigger warning on certain internet posts.  But until I experienced it myself, I did not fully understand what a trigger was.

And it is, I learned, something that makes you literally re-live the trauma you went through.  And because of that, when you’re triggered, you feel like you go back to where you were the day it happened.  Which kind of negates any progress you’ve made since then.

I’ll spare the details of what exactly triggered me.  Suffice it to say that some guy I ran into made a comment about rape babies and “women’s selfishness” and life and miracles.  I was in Washington State at the time– clear across the country from where I was assaulted, in Maryland.  But in my head, I was there again.  I saw my assailant’s face, and it was terrifying.  Because on top of all the things I’d felt when I was actually raped (fear, despair), I also felt more clearly the anger I lacked the first time around (because at that point, I’d not had time to process what was happening, and was very confused and doubtful of myself).  And it just totally overtook me.  I felt filthy again; I wanted to shower, and then sleep and sleep and sleep.

I mention the experience of being triggered because I’m a firm believer in paying attention to what our bodies and instincts tell us– because those things are less influenced by rape culture than our thinking brains are.  And this was so undeniable.  Which was actually really good because prior to that moment, I’d spent a lot of time doubting myself.  What if, by outing my assailant, I’d just caused a lot of unnecessary damage?  Lost a lot of friends– hurt people I care about, etc?

But re-living it like that, via a triggering experience, and especially seeing my assailant’s face in my mind, reminded me of how terrified and vulnerable and violated I’d felt when I was raped.  It happened.  It was real.  And if people choose not to believe me, then unfortunately, they can’t be in my life anymore.

And that sucks.  But it has made me ever so grateful to those who have never wavered in their kindness, support, and love.

That is what feminism is supposed to look like.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Farm update

As previously mentioned in earlier posts, I’m spending a month working on a small organic farm in Ferndale, WA– a couple of hours north of Seattle.

In my last post about that, I was weepy and despairing.  I’d just arrived, and it was one hell of an adjustment.  I mean, that’s legit.  I flew across the country, by myself, to live with people I’d never met.  It was a lot to swallow.

That was three weeks ago.  I’ve now been here a while, and adjusted to it.  That doesn’t mean I’m madly in love with every aspect of life here, but I have come to accept it.  Although I do miss the familiarities of home (my cats and Bell’s Oberon beer, especially), I don’t really feel homesick anymore.

So, I’ll make a few statements, and then elaborate on them in detail below.

1) Holy fuck, does it rain a lot here.

  • Like, I know you hear that about the Pacific Northwest.  But nothing will teach you that more quickly than moving here in the springtime to live in a tent.  Let me remind you: I am living in a tent.  Luckily, it’s solidly waterproof.  And I have a kickass sleeping bag and polar fleece liner for it.  But again, holy fuck does it rain a lot.  I almost miss Michigan’s summertime heat– if only because I’m tired of feeling cold and damp all the time.

2) I’m just as much of a child magnet here as I was in Michigan.

  • Surprise, surprise.  🙂  I actually love it because, unlike when I was a babysitter, I can just enjoy the kids around here without having to worry too much about the minute details of their days: feeding them, bathing them, etc.  I’m especially thrilled that the little girls here have taken to me as well as they have.  I get real pissed off whenever adults talk down to children; they’re young and small, but not stupid.  And I get especially upset when this happens to girls, because, due to their gender, they’re bound to face a lifetime of bullshit that boys won’t have to deal with as they get older.

3) Let me tell you a story about the creepy conservative Christian lady who lives here.

  • So, a little background first: I’m living on a pseudo-commune.  There are three buildings on this property: a large community house, a cottage where the landlord stays on the weekends with his kids (I use the bathroom & kitchen in there), and this other little shack-like building where a single woman lives.  She’s totally unlike anyone else here, by which I mean that she’s a conservative Christian with a fucking poodle named Peaches (seriously) who wants nothing to do with the community.  I straight up asked the landlord why she moved in once I realized how much she doesn’t fit in; he told me that basically, she found the place on Craig’s List & he needed someone to move in, so she took it.
  • But wow, what a weird disaster.  When I moved in, she tried to “warn me” against the people in the community house.  That just gave me a bad vibe immediately.  I came here to find community, not to be pitted against others.
  • And it just got worse from there.  She talks to herself a lot (which is fine; I do that, too).  But because she does that, I’ve learned a lot about what’s on her mind.  And it really creeps me out.  Mostly, she just prays for the people in the community house to go away.  And she prays that their children will be safe, because she thinks they’re bad parents (they’re not).  Once, when one of the little girls was nearby and saying something about monsters, Creepy Christian Lady muttered under her breath, “At least my babies believe in God.”  Her tone scared me.  It’s as if she was trying to resign herself to the fact that not everyone else can be just like her.
  • And she’s said some very offensive things to me personally, too.  Everyone here knows that I was sexually assaulted.  I was very open about that, because being here is part of the healing process for me.  When she found out about that she asked, “Were you a virgin when you were raped?”  I said no and she sighed and said, “Oh, thank God.  It couldn’t have been that bad, then.”  Like, WHAT?  You should not be putting my experience on a severity scale as weighed by your heteronormative “Christian” values.
  • Then, for whatever reason, she asked me if I wear underwire bras.  I told her that I do not wear bras at all, because I find them uncomfortable.  From there, the conversation went on to makeup.  I don’t wear makeup, either.  When I told her that she just looked at me, totally exasperated, and said, “Honey, don’t you like yourself?”
  • I’m not trying to stir up too much shit with her, because my being here is temporary.  But I’ve managed to get on her nerves a million times anyway.  Since I got here she’s called me “irresponsible,” “disappointing,” and “a know it all” (which is especially hilarious because I’m plagued by crippling self doubt).  I’ve decided to measure my success on this farm by how often she reprimands me.
  • I’m going on and on about her, but it’s not because I’m especially bothered by her.  I’m really just fascinated.  Because, as a radical feminist, I’ve been told, many times, that most Christians are not loser jerkwads.  And I’ve tried to believe that; I have friends who identify as Christian who are compassionate and fun.  But this lady, who could easily be a caricature of the right wing, is a living, breathing human who actually, physically exists.  And she lives on a commune full of hippies.  And that is a lot to wrap my head around.
  • Her antics would be endlessly entertaining if they didn’t have real repercussions for the people she interacts with.  And her poor dog, oh my god.  She yells at him whenever he does typical, normal dog things like scratch himself with his hind legs or lick his butt.  And she puts him in the sink and bathes him once every couple of days.

4) Non-GMO food tastes really, really good, you guys.

  • I mean, I know that, intellectually.  I try to eat organic as much as possible at home.  But I’m also a slacker with a chocolate problem.  Here, the hippies in the community house are very, very strict about only eating non-GMO food.  They won’t even buy Cheerios.  I’ve had several meals with them, and I feel so, so good as a result.  Down with GMOs.

5) I wish I was learning more.

  • That’s my own damn fault, I guess.  I’m frequently given odd jobs: mowing the lawn, weeding, etc, because I’m only able to stay here for a little over a month (my best friend is getting married in Marquette, Michigan on June 22).  I arrived on the farm on May 11, and fly back to Detroit on June 15.  So it’s not really worth it to train me, because by the time I gain the skill, I’ll be gone.  But still, ugh.  I am not going to come away from this experience with too much farming know-how.
  • Then again, I’m the first WWOOFer to ever come to this farm.  I’m sure they’ll learn, as the years pass, what they want, just as I will learn as time goes on, too.  I am awesome at blaming myself for everything.

It’s been a tremendous experience anyway.  I met some amazing people who share my values.  I got to spend some time with some really cool, smart children.  I also engaged in several activities of the illegal variety that I shouldn’t be blogging about– but suffice it to say that I’ve tried to spend a lot of time outside of my comfort zone, trying and doing new things.

See you in a couple of weeks, Michigan.  I miss you.  You will always be home.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The stories we tell: on living life, and owning it

This morning I started reading a book of personal essays by Chloe Caldwell called Legs Get Led Astray.  It’s really good, and has me thinking about how I should try my hand at creative nonfiction.

A week ago, my friend Danielle told me that I have good stories to tell.  I guess we seldom think of our life experiences as important or significant until someone tells us that they’re cool or worth sharing.This is probably because when we tell stories, we can and do leave out a lot of mundane details: The long stretches of highway, the rain.  You can’t edit shit out in real life, which I think mutes the fun parts, and keeps us from believing that we’ve ever done anything interesting.

Danielle particularly liked the story of how I conquered my driving phobia one day last summer by meeting my friend Amber (who, at the time, I’d only known via Twitter) at a Hertz on a busy highway at 4:00 in the morning, and driving her to the Detroit Metro airport.

A month or so later, Amber (whose Twitter handle, for the record, is @rare_basement; she’s got quite the following) was in California, pestering Craig Ferguson endlessly via Twitter to put her on his show.  Which, miraculously, he did.

So, at home in Michigan, I turned on the TV and said to my mother, “You know how I disappeared in the middle of the night that one day in August and stumbled in, stone sober at 6 in the morning?  I met that girl at the Hertz on Hall Road at 4 a.m. and drove her to the airport.  And now she’s on TV.”

I guess that could be a good story, if I told it right.

Other things I could write about:

  • That one time I slept with a professor from Ohio (She’s eleven years my senior, is in the middle of a divorce, has a daughter who’s in middle school, and crossed state lines to be with me.)
  • Why I hated Interlochen (It’s weird to me that a place that’s supposed to foster creativity has so many RULES.  Writers are not supposed to go to bed at sundown, or keep their bathroom clean.)
  • Why I initially thought that Mitt Romney had been elected President of the United States (Because what else are you supposed to think when you wake up in a bathtub with a mean whiskey hangover the morning after the election?)

Not to mention this organic farm thing.  Oh, you know.  I flew across the country and stayed with a friend I met on the Internet for a few days before heading north to live in a tent and work on a farm for a while.  How many people can say that they’ve done something like that, you know?  But it’s hard for me to focus on the glamour that others see when I tell them about it because I’m living it minute-by-minute.  The loneliness.  The sound of rain against my tent at 3 a.m.  Those things dull the experience for me a bit.

So, I don’t know.  Writing and sharing have always been really important parts of my identity. And yet it took a nineteen-year-old college freshman (who I felt like I was corrupting every time I opened my mouth, to be honest) to be like, “Wow, you do the coolest stuff!”

I have two Twitter accounts.  One has my real name on it and I post mostly boring, mundane shit that no one cares about, with the occasional joke to prove that I have a personality.  The other one does not have my full name on it, and the tweets are protected from the public.  This morning I posted stories about how

  • I almost got kicked out of a bar in Bay City, Michigan once (I’m like the least threatening-looking person in the world, so this is an interesting story)
  • I was forced to buy a vibrator from my ex-girlfriend once after my evangelical grandmother threw mine away in protest of my sinful, sinful ways
  • I have a track record for projectile vomiting all over people I have really big crushes on

TMI?  Yes.  That’s why I (generally) keep that shit under lock and key.

But I keep it, which I think is important.  The world is full of enough bad stuff.  I don’t want future generations to think that we were a bunch of drones.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Organic farming, day 1: Big Life Changes are Hard

Per what I said in my most recent blog post, I’m currently living in a little town called Ferndale, Washington (less than an hour south of Vancouver, B.C., Canada), working on a small organic farm.  I’ll be here until June 16 (I probably would have chosen to stay the whole summer, but one of my very best friends, Sarah, is getting married in Michigan on June 22, and I absolutely cannot miss it).

I found this place through an organization called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or WWOOF.  The idea is that you find a farm through the web site, and go there to learn / work in exchange for food / shelter.  No money is exchanged.

This is something I’ve thought about doing for a really long time.  Babysitting for someone who worked in a health food store got me interested in organic food and sustainability.  And, more recently, my sexual assault experience has made me just want to be outside all of the time.  There’s something healing about nature and space, I guess.

So, I saved up my money, and here I am, sitting in a tent (yes, a tent– I’m living in a tent voluntarily because I’m insane), picking up wifi from the nearby main house.

And I want to write that gushy, optimistic post about how awesome this is, but that’s not going to happen.  At least not now.  Because I have spent a lot of time in the past 24 hours in tears.

That’s not because I regret coming here, per se.  It’s just been an intensely emotional transition for some reason.  I don’t quite understand it.  But I’m not going to deny that I feel a little bit homesick and a whole lot friendsick (which is especially weird because most of my close friends don’t even live anywhere near me).  But man, do I miss them.  And I want the biggest hug.

When I bought my plane ticket out here, everyone started telling me how brave I was to be actually doing this.  I didn’t quite understand that.  I hop on planes and fly all over the place quite often.  I hate driving, so flying gives me a sense of autonomy that I lack otherwise.

But now I get it.  Because flying solo across the country, to a place you’ve never been before, and moving in with people you don’t know is really, really hard.  Even if you want to do it.  Even if you’re optimistic about it.  Which I am because I wanted and needed this more than anything.

I felt the same way about transferring colleges, and most other major decisions I’ve made in my life, in fact.

The people here are nice.  I feel safe here.  And yet ugh, I just want to cry all the time.  And I have been crying pretty steadily since I got here about twenty-four hours ago.  Which means I’m that unfriendly asshole who just moved in because I have sought out a lot of personal space and alone time.

And so I needed to write this post because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, denying how you feel is incredibly unhealthy.  I need to just experience these feelings (which come in waves, along with euphoria and pride at my decision to be here) so that I can work through and past them.

My friend Sarah (who I mentioned above, soon to be married) is a Champion Giver of Pep Talks.  She said the following to me earlier today:

You just experience the farm, experience the emotions because you can.  They’re yours and nobody else’s.  There’s no pressure to be all euphoric the whole time.  Text me and I will listen and keep loving you.  And do some work and make some muscles, woman.  You are an amazing machine.

I thought about doing this last summer but just wasn’t prepared enough for it at the time (I hadn’t saved up enough money, etc), so had to put it off.  And I was mad at myself because my summer turned out to be lame as hell.  So I know that had I chickened out of doing this (which I almost did; I quite seriously almost bailed on my phone interview for this position), I’d be really angry with myself.  Which would perhaps feel worse than the exhaustion I feel due to all this emotion coursing through me.

Ugh.  I don’t know.  It’ll be okay.  I know it’ll be okay.  I know I did the right thing.  But doing the right thing is hard, and as a result, I kind of feel like shit and am burdening my friends with all of my feelings (see this text message exchange between me and my friend Stephanie).

Image

So I decided to burden the internet instead because the internet is bigger and can handle it.

I’m big enough to handle this, too.  I know I am.  I just also don’t believe the bullshit assumption that strength equals stoicism, or euphoria, or whatever the hell it is I’m “supposed” to be feeling right now.

At least I’m feeling something.  Sure does beat the stagnation I’ve experienced up until this point.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Some thoughts on summer, adventure, and healing

An intense need for nature

I’ve been craving nature lately.

Back in the ’90s, when my sister and I were still in elementary school and wanted to be like everyone else, my parents bought a trailer on six acres of land in Prudenville, MI– about three hours north of here.  It was their attempt at fitting in with the other Grosse Pointe families, with their large second homes on Lake Charlevoix.

My parents still own the property.  I haven’t visited in years. I usually just stay home when they go up there, because it’s nice to have the house to myself when they’re gone.

But lately I keep thinking, “Ugh, if I wasn’t such a driving-phobic wimp, I’d be there every weekend by myself.  Because even though there are a lot of gun-toting haters in Northern Michigan, there are also a lot of trees, and all I want is to hang with the trees.”

One of my best friends, Sarah, is getting married in Marquette, MI on June 22.  And it’s amazing to me, how excited I am about that.  I’m not usually the get-excited-about-weddings type.  But oh, Marquette.  And Lake Superior.  And again, my favorite people.  Sarah.  Her fiance Kevin.  Our mutual friend Lucy, and her wife Lina.

I want to climb the Sleeping Bear Dunes on my way up there.

Travel

Did I mention that Sarah, Kevin, and I all went hiking / camping in the Red River Gorge over spring break?  After what happened the last time I traveled somewhere, I was afraid to give it another go.  But Sarah and Kevin invited me along with them, and since I feel safe with them, and felt like I needed to take a really effing long walk, I agreed.  And it helped.  It helped so much.  We crawled around in bear caves, and slept outside in the snow.  It made me feel stronger than I’ve felt in a long while.

And so I want more.  More travel and more nature and more chances to prove to myself that I can do this.

For a couple of years now, I’ve been wanting to visit the Pacific Northwest.  Because mountains.  And fewer Republicans.

And finally, I’ve made that happen.  I’m going there for a little over a  month, starting May 9, to visit a friend and spend some time bonding with nature just south of the BC border.

I can’t wait and I’m also scared shitless because Acting on What You Really Want to Do is terrifying.  Terrifying.

But one of my major goals was to get the hell out of this time zone for more than 3 days and I’m doing it.

I’m honestly so proud of myself for doing things.

Therapy

My therapist and I aren’t perfectly compatible.  Sometimes she says shit that just enrages me– like the time when I told her about how a racist comment I’d heard (not from her) had offended me.  And she asked me why I was offended, and I answered, “Because feminism!” as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.  She then said, “But what does feminism have to do with racism?”

And I wrote in my diary later that day, “OH MY GOD YOU WERE BORN IN THE 1940S AND YOUR SECOND WAVE ROOTS ARE SHOWING.”

But it works, still.  Because ugh, there are so many times when people offend me and I say nothing.  And then I hate myself for saying nothing because I’m all “Rar rar feminism” all the time and feel like I have an obligation to speak up.

But here’s the thing: Slightly incompatible or not, I do feel safe with her.  Which means that I can call her on those things in a way that I can’t always do with someone on the street.  And it helps to vent my frustration, and test my ability to coherently explain to someone, “This is why you’re pissing me off.  Now stop.”

Jungle Neighbor

The only thing I dislike about living next door to someone who is obsessed with keeping up his yard is that springtime brings the return of all the powertools and so much noise.

You can’t be too picky, though.  He has a lovely greenhouse.  And I’m watching his cat this week, so I’ve spent a lot of time sitting in there, just thinking about things, and listening to the rain.

On Circa, and friendship, and home

Circa 1890 Saloon, 5474 Cass Avenue, Detroit, MI.

I don’t know how or when I became the type of person who felt completely at home in a bar.  In general, I dislike bars.  They’re noisy and dark and have people in them and people make me tired.  Especially drunk people.  And I am a boring homebody who drinks at home because it’s cheaper.

But oh, Circa.  I love you.  I love your people and your dark, cave-like quality and your shitty greasy food that my uterus just ADORES and your $1 PBRs and your sticky, unassuming little tables.

I love your people.  Did I tell you that I love your people?  I love how my friends keep winding up working there.  Kathleen serves food and drinks there now, and Lura’s in the kitchen, cooking.

It’s weird to me, how no matter how much turnover there is, I always feel at home.

Circa is right across the street from my school.  Which makes it a great little gathering place, or somewhere I go to work on homework in the middle of the afternoon– swallowing cups of coffee until I’m ready to switch to beer.

Circa played a huge role in our production of The Vagina Monologues this past February. Each cast member had to bring a stool to the show, and we each sat on one onstage.  Lura grabbed a barstool from there because it was just so appropriate.  “Of course I’m going to borrow a stool from my favorite bar.”

After the show, we all stopped there for dinner and drinks.

Anyway, after I was sexually assaulted in January, I kind of backed away from my friends for a while.  I wanted to sleep through the entire month of February.  I just didn’t come around.  I needed to deal with shit.

Then, I started dealing with stuff on my terms.  I wrote a blog post.  I made plans to travel to scenic places, because nature is healing.  And I finally came back to Circa for the first time since February this past week.

It was the middle of the afternoon.  I knew that Kathleen and Lura were working, because  the Internet exists and they had “tagged” each other there on facebook.  I decided that I needed to stop in for a celebratory drink, because the night before, I’d booked a flight to Seattle and finally started feeling whole again.

The bar was pretty empty.  I walked in and said hi to Kathleen, who hugged me.  And then I glanced back toward the kitchen, and there was Lura, wearing a backward baseball cap, cooking.

“Oh my god you’re back,” she said, and came toward me for a hug.  And then I noticed that Lura’s girlfriend Chloe was there studying, and she got up to greet me, and we all hugged and then we group hugged.  Kathleen, who’s the only straight one among us, was like, “All the dykes are piling on top of me!”  And it was adorable.

An hour or so later, Chloe and I were still sitting there.  Kathleen had stepped out to smoke, but Lura was still in the kitchen.  And she stepped out excitedly all of a sudden and said, “I GOT THE FELLOWSHIP!” She was referring to a paid fellowship she’d applied for at the Detroit Historical Society.  She pushed her phone at us so that we could read her acceptance email.

It’s impossible to explain how magical that moment felt, because you had to live it.  But it was my first day back at my favorite bar in months, with friends I hadn’t seen in just as long, and everyone was happy, and feeling productive.

We manage to feel productive at a bar, of all places, because we’re amazing.

I’m starting to heal.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Overcoming my sexual assault, step one: Admitting that it happened

On January 24, 2013, I was sexually assaulted.  By a close friend.  While his girlfriend was sleeping downstairs.

He knew that I’m a lesbian.  So he didn’t “use his penis.”

This didn’t make what he did any less horrific, however.  HELLO, lesbians have sex (and enjoyable sex, at that!) without penises.  And without men, for that matter.  By doing things to me that I’ve enjoyed doing with women, he completely delegitimized my sexuality.  And negated my bravery in being honest about who I am.  Thanks for not giving me a pregnancy scare, I guess?  What kind of consolation prize is that?

I was visiting him in a city more than 500 miles from home.  He’d moved there for grad school after college, where we met five years ago.  We were classmates and coworkers who, prior to my visit, had maintained our friendship via Skype and snail mail.

Up until that moment, I’d not understood why women don’t report or even talk about their rape experiences.  It’s such a blatantly horrendous thing, and to me, seemed so cut and dry.

But before I even said a word about it to anyone (we’re talking months before the media’s bullshit victim-blamey coverage of Steubenville), I knew that I’d been changed by what had happened.  I suddenly understood, while still lying there on his bed, the fear of speaking up– the fear of not being believed by our mutual friends: people who are no doubt reading this right now.  (Hi, guys!) 

It totally and completely fucked with my sense of trust.

Which is exactly what has kept me from writing this blog post for so long, even though silence completely goes against my instincts as both a feminist and writer.

So then I started to feel guilty for not being brave enough to speak up.  Which only made me feel worse about myself.  As someone who is highly critical of the patriarchy and all its bullshit, how did I not notice that I’d befriended someone who would use his power and privilege to hurt me so badly?  

Look who I’m blaming for this.

When it happened, I’d been attending rehearsals for Wayne State’s production of The Vagina Monologues, of all plays.  We performed exactly two weeks after I was assaulted.  The whole point of what we were doing was to legitimize women’s experiences, but I was so stunned and weirded out by what had happened to me that most of my cast mates did not even know about it.

It quickly became a giant awful mental spiral of stupidity and I’m writing now because it needs to stop.  It’s only been two months and I’m going fucking crazy living like this– in fear of people I consider to be my friends.

While the rest of ‘Merica is at church on Sunday mornings, I can be found parked in front of the television, laptop in hand, live tweeting the Melissa Harris-Perry Show on MSNBC.  (#nerdland!)  Every week, MHP shares an open letter to someone– usually a politician who has fucked up somehow (the Republican governor of my home state of Michigan has been a recipient of such a note).

But last week’s letter was different.  It was written to the sixteen-year-old Steubenville survivor– an “apology for being an adult who has failed to make the world safe for her.”

In it, MHP referenced her own sexual assault experience, adding that she kept quiet about it for ten years.

Ten years.  I can’t even really deal with the fact that I’ve been carrying this shit around with me for two months.

Now would probably be a good time to mention that I’ve not been entirely alone in this.  From the very beginning, I’ve had the support of the few people I told: my closest friends, my mom, my sister.  But I quickly resolved to keep my mouth shut, because seeing how much my news upset the people I care about was almost even worse than what had happened in the first place.  My two best friends (who I contacted the morning after the assault) are rape survivors themselves, and I know that they were triggered by my experience.  That did not cause them to turn away from me when I needed them, and I credit them eternally for that.  Both offered me money for an early flight back to Michigan (the assault happened shortly after my arrival on Thursday evening; I was scheduled to fly home three days later, on Sunday).

In the end though, I stayed through ’til the end.  I don’t need to justify my decision, but since I know (from experience) that people will ask, there are a couple of reasons for this:

1) I was still processing what happened.  Rape culture is so strong and so real that I had to run the experience over and over again in my mind (um, painful), trying to figure out what the hell I could have done differently to stop it.  Because I believed (as I still believe) that friends wouldn’t do this sort of shit to each other.

2) I was alone in an unfamiliar city.  In order to get myself to the airport, I’d have to sneak out in the middle of the night, and navigate public transit.  I was fucking exhausted, for one.  And, as a small-boned woman, I’m already wary of walking around by myself after dark (shout out to patriarchy and rape culture for that).  And what I’d just been through had certainly reinforced it.  Plus, if my plan went awry, I wouldn’t have anywhere else to go.  This is, ultimately, why I didn’t make too much of a fuss for the rest of my visit.  I was pretty cold toward my assailant– not speaking unless prompted, not paying for anything.  But I kept it civil for my own safety.  How would his girlfriend react if I told her what had happened?  Would she believe me and help me?  Or not?  Given my fear of admitting this to myself, or telling any of our mutual friends about it, I leaned toward the latter, and stuck it out, relying on text messages from close friends for comfort.

When I finally found a moment alone, I called one of my best friends (who I mentioned above).  We’d been texting back and forth all day.  She had done everything in her power to help me, including giving me her phone number at work because her cell phone was about to die.  She, like everyone else I knew, was hundreds of miles away– in Chicago.

It helped so much to hear her voice.  She let me cry, and reassured me that it hadn’t been my fault.  “You’re really sweet,” she said.  “Almost to the point of being passive.  That’s why we make such a good pair.  You keep me from being too much of an asshole, and I make you stand up for yourself sometimes.  The thing is, if he was such a good friend–and come on, you’ve known each other for years–then he knew that about you, and took advantage of you.  End of story.”

He did, for the record, eventually apologize.  But only when he realized that his ass was on the line.  I got a series of texts from him after he noticed that I had deleted him on facebook.  I received an email from him a few weeks later, when he read a blog post of mine in which I mentioned that I’d recently been through something traumatic.  He knew that I’d been referring to what happened when I visited him.  Which means he knew long before I left that he should have maybe tried to talk to me about it, or just not done it in the first place.

He wasn’t concerned about me.  He was (and probably still is) just worried that I’d tell on him.  Which, of all stupid things, only made me even more terrified of speaking up.

But I’m ready to talk now, even if it’s only to ease my own guilt over not speaking up loudly and immediately.  (See what I mean?  This whole thing has completely, completely fucked with every part of me– my body, my personality, my intentions.)  I barely recognize myself some days, which makes it really hard to advocate for myself.

One of the hardest parts about this, and why I’m writing about it now, specifically, is that I’m officially past the “acceptable time frame” for being totally unable to handle my shit.  It’s been two months.  I’m expected to get out of bed in the morning, go to class, and be cheerful / playful around the one-year-old I babysit on Tuesdays.  And some days, that’s what I want to do– not because I’m okay, but because I’m tired and want to just forget.

But I can’t forget.  And won’t forget.  Because that would be letting him win.

Also, being raped makes you more aware than ever of rape culture.  I need to speak up about this because the longer I keep my mouth shut, the longer people will keep saying stupid shit about rape.  Even people who mean well have said some really offensive things to me.  One friend, for example, had the nerve to ask me why I’d been traveling alone.

I got on an airplane all by myself because I’m a grown-ass woman who can do what I want.

And so, this is what I want: To live in a world where I can feel safe.

What I’m doing here–just writing about it on my personal blog with a very limited readership–is quite simple.

But so, I think, is my request for safety.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment