A Way Back From That Hurt

It has rained all day. It is dark outside. I don’t mind. It seems appropriate. 

I wrote an essay for The New York Times about the beach. It’s humor. I mention this because I have already received an e-mail, from a stranger, explaining to me why I am wrong about the beach. Thank you. 

Here is the trailer for Fifty Shades of Grey. It makes the movie look like it is going to be awesome and ridiculous, in the way of the books. I wrote an essay about Fifty Shades of Grey. You can read it in this book I wrote called Bad Feminist that comes out on August 5. 

I was at the grocery store and there were new corrections. Of course. Le plus ca change. 

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Last night, I baked a brownie pie because earlier in the week, Ina baked a brownie pie along with some other man foods because she was having construction workers over for a manly lunch—tiny, individual meatloaves, buttermilk mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts with pancetta, and this brownie pie.

This was a particularly amazing episode because Ina made a centerpiece for her guests out of “construction materials.” If you are not picking up what Ina Garten is serving, I do not know what to tell you. 

I don’t really love chocolate so it was safe to bake a brownie pie. First, I buttered and floured my pan. I was in a bad mood so I was extra meticulous about preparing this recipe. There is a certain submission I enjoy in following recipes. You are given exact quantities and exact instructions and your only task is to follow those instructions. Your only task is to do as your told. There are times when I want my only task to be doing as I am told. A pan was never so well-floured in my kitchen as this pan. 

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Next I added 3/4 a stick of butter to a bowl over simmering water. I’ve often seen real cooks do this sort of thing and I have found it intimidating so in general, I have avoided working with chocolate. Last night, I was not deterred. How hard could it be?

Yesterday, sports personality Stephen A. Smith ran his mouth about the women in his family and how he has always cautioned them to not provoke their men into violence. Smith was running his mouth because he is paid to run his mouth and also because he is a misogynist with no imagination and even less heart. He was referring, of course, to the “punishment” handed down to Ray Rice by the NFL, a two-game suspension for an incident where he knocked his wife unconscious and dragged her limp body out of an elevator. 

Le plus ca change. 

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When the butter melted, I added two cups of chocolate chips and combined them until I had a creamy chocolate situation.

Smith’s bullshit was galling on so many levels but for women, this is not a new message. Our job, throughout our lives is to not provoke men into beating us, raping us, cat calling us, whatever. Men, so many people would have us believe, simply cannot control themselves so it is our job, as women, to not only live our own lives but make sure men don’t hurt us. 

What I know about relationships is that they are hard. I know that when we are arguing with our significant others, we can do terrible things. We can say terrible things. We hurt each other and hope that there’s a way back from that hurt. 

When physical violence enters a disagreement, though, something changes. I don’t think it’s ever right for one person of any gender to nonconsensually strike another person of any gender. Violence is not a reasonable option.

Some pundits have said that Rice’s wife, then fiancée, struck him and he was simply defending himself. He has the right to defend himself but I am unclear as to when self-defense becomes knocking a woman unconscious. I am particularly unclear about how a professionally trained NFL football player who outsizes his partner significantly, cannot make a different choice. 

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Over at the mixer, I added three eggs, a tablespoon of instant coffee, a cup of sugar and a lot of vanilla. I do not pay attention to instruction when it comes to vanilla or basil. My submission is, in all circumstances, complicated. I will submit, but I also love to push. I love to see how far I can push before there is push back. Push me back. I dare you. I want you too. 

Sometimes, when my youngest niece is acting up, her mom very calmly says, “Is there a better choice you can be making here?” It’s adorable and so loving. It is hilarious to witness because a two-year old, melting down, is not going to make a rational choice. And yet. For whatever reason, this approach works in its own way. My niece will quiet and look at her mother and consider her options. She finds a way to make a better choice. 

Perhaps, we should pay more attention to the ways of two-year-olds. 

In the throes of an argument, it’s hard to make the right choices. It’s hard to do the right thing when you’re all hurt and anger and instinct. But. We are humans. We are not animals. 

As women, we should not have to live our lives with this Sword of Damocles hanging over our heads as to whether or not our partner is going to be human or an animal. We shouldn’t have to try to not provoke. In some relationships, anything becomes a provocation—saying something, saying nothing, how you dress, how you act, how quickly you do or don’t answer the phone, your tone of voice, how you clean the house, how you drive the car, how you look someone in the eyes, how you avoid looking someone in the eyes. There’s always a finger on the trigger. 

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The chocolate was set aside to cool because if I added it to the egg mixture while it was hot, it would have cooked the eggs. This is another little thing I picked up from Ina. She teaches me things.

I’m not trying to make any grand pronouncements about domestic violence. This is not an issue we can neatly intellectualize. Relationships are complicated. Shit happens. People fuck up. People endure. People hurt people. But, don’t think violence is acceptable. Don’t think there is any circumstance that justifies what Ray Rice did. Don’t think that if we’re all good girls, if we’re properly meek, if we don’t provoke our men, we’ll be safe. Good girls get hurt all the time.

We are not the problem. 

I refuse to quietly accept that there is one set of rules for how men live and another set of rules for how women live. And still, at night in a dark parking lot, I will walk to my car with my keys splayed between my fingers like blades. Ain’t that some shit?

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Once the chocolate cooled, I added it to the egg mixture and let the mixer do its work. 

In tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine, there is an interview with me by Jessica Gross for this week’s talk column. It feels like a big deal in the way of such vanities. A recent interviewee was Chrissie Hynde. Another was Laverne Cox. I have no idea why I’m in the mix but I am going along for the ride.

It is a lovely interview, I think. I am proud of it. And also, there is a full-sized picture of me. This is my body. This is what I look like. I am changing my body but this is my body. 

There are all kinds of pictures of me out and about and it has been harder than I can explain, to feel so exposed. It’s one thing to write as if you have no skin. It’s another thing when photography is involved.

As I’ve said before, I don’t think I am ugly. I don’t hate myself in the way society would have me hate myself way but I do live in the world. I live in this body in this world and I hate how the world all too often responds to this body. I hear the rude comments whispered. I see the stares and laughs and snickering. I tolerate relationships where I am dating someone too ashamed of me to acknowledge our relationship. The list of bullshit is long and boring and I am, frankly, bored with it. Whatever. It is what it is. This is the world we live in. Looks matter and we can say but but but. But no. Looks matter. Bodies matter. 

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In a separate bowl I combined a cup of walnuts, a cup of chocolate chips (but I again, bad at submission, freestyled and used half a cup of white chocolate chops), and a cup of flour, some baking powder, and salt. I mixed it all together. Do you want to know why? Ina says that the flour will keep the walnuts and chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the brownie pie. I am guessing Ina knows everything. Then I added these dry goods to the chocolate batter and folded them together. The idea of folding, in baking, seems kind of sexy. 

With pictures of myself out and about there, are inevitably, all manner of cruelties directed at me. Mostly, I don’t talk about it. What the fuck is there to say? Wah, a bunch of assholes were mean to me on the Internet? I mean, honestly. That’s every day. And yesterday was just another day. One troll took the care to include me in his thoughts about my appearance, saying something like, “She’s fat and gay, is anyone surprised?” I don’t remember the exact wording and clearly, this is someone who is not terribly bright. We all see that. 

Ignore the trolls, we say, and mostly this is true. Trolls need to be ignored. They are there to poke at your tender places because they have nothing better to do. 

But this is more than trolling. I don’t care about that guy, but when I hear things like that, all my worst fears about myself are confirmed. When I hear such things, I am reminded that no matter how hard I work, no matter what I achieve, in most ways, these accomplishments mean nothing. I can be cut down. I can be put in my place. I was, I guess, put in my place. 

Don’t think I’m going to stay there. You have no idea what I can take.

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I put the finished batter in my perfectly floured pan and then put that in the lie oven for 37 minutes at 350 degrees.

It’s always going to be something, right? Fine. I don’t have to smile my way through it.

Or, maybe this tears at a raw and open wound. There is someone in my life who reminds me that everything I’m doing is well and good but won’t matter as much until I lose “the weight.” This person means well which is why I am referring to them as this person. I don’t want you to think less of them. But for nearly twenty years, I’ve been told this with every new job and every new accomplishment. It’s draining to the point where I mostly don’t talk about anything I accomplish with anyone. What’s the point, until I lose “the weight.” Nothing I do matters until I discipline my body, until I submit to society’s will.

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The brownie pie came out of the oven and it smelled delicious. It looked good. This was probably the best thing I’ve ever baked. I took a picture. I inhaled deeply. I threw my beautiful creation away. I know how to submit. I will submit. You have no idea what I can take. 

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NEWS! Rumpus! NY Times! Backlash Book Club!

News! I’ve stepped down as Rumpus essays editor but the lovely Mary-Kim Arnold is taking over! I am this week’s Talk subject in NY Times Magazine.  I got to talk about Chapter 2 of Faludi’s Backlash with Rebecca Traister and Donna Shalala.

I am overwhelmed. I am grateful.

We Lie the Most to Ourselves

I did nothing this weekend so today I will be working my ass off and then I will rinse and repeat for the rest of all time. Or something. 

We have places that can be marked on a map with bright red Xs and beneath those bright red Xs are memories and moments we have shared. This could mean nothing. It could mean everything. We have places. 

I baked last night—cherry brown butter bars. I don’t know why. I was bored. I had a lot of cherries. I still have a lot of cherries.

First, I melted some butter and I did it in a pan instead of the microwave because I was like, “Let me keep stepping up my cooking game.” 

No sleep last night. None. I was up thinking and staring at the ceiling. I was mostly up because I have chronic heartburn. I take medication but sometimes my stomach stares down that medication and laughs, cruelly.

All night, my stomach churned with acid. My stomach is still churning. 

When the butter was melted, I added sugar, vanilla, and a pinch of salt.

I have chronic heartburn because I used to make myself throw up after I ate. There’s a word for this but it always feels strange to use that word with regard to myself. I didn’t do it for that long, I tell myself. That’s not really the truth. I did it for about two years which isn’t that long but it is long enough. Or, maybe I don’t want to use the word because it was so long ago, which is absolutely not the truth. I stopped making myself throw up about three years ago. 

Next into the butter sugar melt went flour. 

When you’re fat, no one will pay attention to disordered eating or they will look the other way or they will look right through you. You get to hide in plain sight. I have hidden in plain sight, in one way or another, for most of my life. Willing myself to not do that anymore, willing myself to be seen, is difficult.

I was not fat and then I made myself fat. I ate everything and I felt safe. I needed to feel safe. I needed my body to be a hulking, impermeable mass. I wasn’t like other girls, I told myself. I got to eat everything I wanted and everything they wanted too. I was so free. We lie the most to ourselves. I was free in a prison of my own making. 

With the flour added, this thing started to look like dough. I pressed it into the bottom of a parchment lined pan. I don’t have a square baking dish so I used a round baking dish. 

I got older and I kept eating mostly just to keep the prison walls up. It was more work than you might imagine. Then I was in a great relationship with a great man and I was finishing my PhD and my life was coming together and I thought I could see a way out of the prison I had made. 

We suffered a loss and it broke me. I needed to blame something or someone so I blamed myself. I blamed my body for being broken. My doctor did not dissuade me of this blame which was its own kind of hell—to have your worst fear about yourself affirmed. 

I put the crust in the oven at 375 for 18 minutes and set to pitting cherries. Here is my cherry pitter. I am very fond of my cherry pitter. 

My body was to blame. I was to blame. I needed to change my body but I also wanted to eat because eating was a comfort and I needed comfort but refused to ask the one person who could comfort me for that comfort. This was something I had long known so well. Before then I had often joked that I wasn’t bulimic because I couldn’t make myself throw up but when I really want to do something, I get it done. I learned how to make myself throw up and then I got very good at it. 

I pitted a quantity of cherries—enough to fill the bars. I eyed this visually. I am not so much with measuring things that feel complicated to measure. See also: parsley. 

When the crust was ready it had puffed slightly and was lightly browned.

I am fat so I hid in plain sight, eating, throwing up, eating, I am perfectly normal and fine, I told myself. One day, my boyfriend found me in the bathroom, hunched over the toilet, my eyes red and watering. It was a nasty scene. “Get the fuck out,” I said quietly. I hadn’t said more than a few words to him, to anyone, in months. 

He grabbed me and pulled me to my feet. He shook me and said, “This is what you’re doing? This?” I just stared at him because I knew that would make him angrier. I wanted to make him angrier so he could punish me and I could stop punishing myself. He deserved to punish me and I wanted to give that to him as penance. He is a good man so he wouldn’t give me what I wanted. He uncurled his fingers and let go of me and backed out of the bathroom. He put his fist through a wall which only made me angry because I wanted him to put his fist through me. 

It was time to prepare the filling so I cut up a stick of butter and put that in my saucepan. 

After that, he tried to never leave me alone. He tried to save me from myself. Ha! Ha! Ha! I’m better, I told him. It’s over. I was better, I suppose. I was better about hiding what I was doing. He couldn’t follow me everywhere. I learned how to be very quiet. We were better or as better as we ever were going to be and then I graduated and I moved and I was finally living alone and I could do whatever I wanted. I was an accomplished professional so it was easier than ever to hide in plain sight. 

In a separate bowl, I whisked two eggs and some sugar then added vanilla, a bit of flour, a pinch of salt and I went rebel by adding some almond extract. 

In the new town no one really knew me. I had “friends” but it’s not like they came over to my apartment or knew me well enough to know anything was off. When out to dinner, friends remarked on why I went to the bathroom after I ate. “I have a bad stomach,” I politely demurred. It was a half-truth. 

I was, immediately, extraordinarily on the rebound, involved with a guy but the one time he caught me throwing up he said, “I’m glad you’re working on the problem.” 

For him, the problem was my body and he never let me forget it. He punished me and I liked it. Finally, I thought. Finally. He made his cruel comments and gave me “advice” which only reminded me that everything wrong with my body was, indeed, my fault. “Why are you with this asshole?” so many people asked.  The longer I stayed with him the worse he made me feel and the better he made me feel because at least, someone was telling me a truth about myself I already knew. 

I added the cherries to the cooled dough. This was relaxing, carefully placing the cherries.

Something had to give. Something always gives. My grief began to subside. I was way too old for this shit, I realized. The heartburn had started up and I realized I needed to stop punishing myself. I had finally, after more than thirty years, found a best friend who saw the best and worst parts of me and even if I didn’t talk about what was going on, she was there and I could have told her what was going on and it would have been fine. That’s a powerful thing, knowing you can reveal yourself to someone. It made me want to be a better person worth revealing. 

I wanted to stop but wanting and doing are two different things. I had a routine. I starved myself all day and then I ate a huge meal and then I purged myself of that meal. I made myself empty and I loved that empty feeling. I ignored my yellowed teeth and my hair falling out and the acid burns on my right fingers. “Why is my hair falling out?” I asked the Internet, as if I didn’t already know. 

The butter needed to brown and I wasn’t entirely clear on how I would know the butter had browned but I decided to go with common sense and my eyes.

I became a vegetarian about three years ago now. People always ask why I became a vegetarian, particularly so late in life. “I’m not a moral vegetarian,” I say. “I just loved meat too much.” And my mom has been a vegetarian for most of my life. These things are all true. 

When the butter was browned, I whisked it with the eggs and then poured the mixture over the cherries. I may have overbrowned the butter a wee bit but worry not. 

The truth was more complicated. I didn’t know how to tell people the truth because it would mean confessing this secret that really, no one knew about me and that no one would probably want to know about me because a fat body is a problem that needs to be solved by any means necessary. We have to worry about the emaciated girls being fed through a tube in the nose, not girls like me.  And also, I was really so old to be dealing with what we think of as an adolescent problem. I was embarrassed. I am embarrassed. You can’t look up to me. I’m a fucking mess. 

I can’t even believe I am writing this right now but I was up all night with my stomach killing me and also I had seen The Purge 2: Anarchy and I guess I needed to purge in a healthy way. I became a vegetarian because I needed a way of ordering my eating in a less harmful way. I needed something to focus on that didn’t involve bringing my guts up every day. I thought I would only be a vegetarian for a year but it seems to be sticking. I am finding better ways to change my body. My body is not a problem. My body is my body and I am ready to live in this body without keeping it a prison. 

I baked the bars in my lie oven for forty minutes and when they came out they were probably a bit overdone. I just really hate my oven. It never can make up its mind about how to perform. Regardless, the bars are delicious and I recommend making this for brunch or something. Ina really loves brunch. She likes to brunch with friends. 

The word heartburn is rather misleading. It has nothing to do with the heart. Or it has everything to do with the heart only not the way you might think. 

My Whole Damn Heart

I was watching Barefoot Contessa and she made a pasta dish, pasta with pecorino and pepper, that looked delicious so I decided to make it. In case you were wondering, Ina’s three favorite herbs are chives, basil, and parsley. I approve. 

First I boiled some salted water for the pasta. 

This week has been long. To come back to this life after living that life is like going from technicolor to black and white. We. Us. Me. I am quieted without you. A best friend. A best everything. I don’t have easy answers but I am here. We are deserving. 

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Then I chopped a quantity of parsley. The recipe said something like two table spoons but who has time to measure that in terms of parsley? Not I. Then I added two scallions because I wanted to give a little kick to the dish. I love freestyling on Ina recipes. It makes me feel like such a rebel.

This has been a really good year. I’ve been afraid to say that aloud, but man, this has been a really good year. Great things keep happening. I can’t wrap my mind around it as a whole so I focus on the smaller pieces of good and try to fit them all together. I am allowing myself to enjoy this. I’m allowing myself to believe I’ve earned this. Yes, luck is involved, but I work hard. I will always work hard. It means so much to be able to share it with youin the ways I can. 

I wrote my novel with my whole damn heart. An Untamed State is the clearest representation of who I am as a writer, as a woman. That book is my whole damn heart. 

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The recipe called for a thick egg pasta. I don’t like thick pasta. I like angel hair but I wanted to be as true to Ina’s intentions as possible. I used fettucini which I don’t love because it is so thick but I made sure to boil it extra so it would be soft. BOIL BOIL BOIL. 

When the pasta was ready, I drained most of the water but left a little because Ina said so. Then, I put the pot back on low heat and I added a lot of cracked pepper, butter, parsley, the rebel scallions, heavy cream, and some parmesan. I couldn’t find pecorino. Whatever, hard Italian cheese is hard Italian cheese. I tossed the deliciousness together. 

You have questions. I have answers I hope might help. 

Hi Ms. Gay,

I’m a 21-year-old virgin. Sort of like Mireille (though she was a bit older). But different than her, I’m a virgin in all senses of the word. I’ve never kissed a boy (or anyone) or really gone past any of the ‘bases’ or anything. And I know that out of all the things to be, this is not the worst. I’ve realized that a lot of it has to do with me—being scared about what happens when you enter the uncontrollable situation that is the realm of love. You described it so very aptly in the first round of question-answering that you did (big girl self-esteem issues—though I wouldn’t classify myself as a big girl, I certainly have those issues. I think maybe ultimately, it all stems from not feeling worthy, regardless of what it was that spawned the issues). I’m bad at asking questions of life and better at just responding, but here I am asking you. Because I think of myself as a feminist when I have to give it a title and I don’t think virginity necessarily makes anyone more valuable or less valuable. I also don’t think that men should be the defining factor regarding the worth of a woman, but I often feel that this lack of experience means something about me, that I am somehow unloveable and undesirable and never will be loved in the way that I want. I’ve had situations that have hinted at possibilities different from this, but at the end of the day, I always come back to this lonely feeling of being unwanted. This isn’t really a question anymore. I’m just not really sure how to deal and was hoping that maybe you could lend some insight.

Thanks,
Not Cinderella  

Dear Not Cinderella,

Call me Roxane. I’m just a girl, who will try to answer your question. You are not unlovable and undesirable. You are only twenty-one. There is a lifetime between you and being unlovable or undesirable.  

Virginity is kind of a foreign territory for me because I never really got a chance to be a virgin. I only say this because I don’t want to lie and tell you, oh I know exactly how you feel. I don’t. But. I do know you are lovable. I know this because you’re gutsy and I love gutsy people. I know you’re gutsy because you reached out like this. 

I do understand thinking, “I am never going find someone who wants me.” This is something most people feel at one time or another. During long spells of being single, I find myself thinking, “I am going to die alone.” I’m not proud of this and it is super dramatic but it’s hard to feel differently when there is no evidence to the contrary. It is hard to have hope when you don’t see any potential for evidence to the contrary. It’s hard when you don’t believe you deserve any evidence to the contrary. Self-esteem is a motherfucker. 

Conventional wisdom tells us we shouldn’t put our self worth into whether or not we are desirable to others but our human hearts really don’t follow conventional wisdom. It’s nice to be wanted. It is nice to be loved. It is absolutely okay, in my book, to want to be wanted and loved. We deserve nice things. 

Right now, please know you are not unlovable or undesirable. I know, without a doubt that the right person, nay, the right people, are going to come along and you are going to rock each other’s worlds. Try and allow yourself to get out in the world and be in situations where the right people can find you. Meet new people! Go to events and stuff. This is me winging it because I am shy and I don’t know what outgoing people do to meet others. I mostly use the Internet. Eeek. 

Virginity is this THING in our culture but it doesn’t have to be. Your virginity has absolutely nothing to do with your self-worth. Try and hold onto that which I absolutely know is so fucking hard to do but please do try. Your lack of experience only means that there are a lot of good things ahead of you. You are a glorious, undiscovered country. 

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I added some more cheese to the tossed pasta and then tossed all that together and I started getting excited because I could tell that there was soon going to be a party in my mouth. 

Hey, Roxane.

I am not one to normally email people I’ve never met. But you tweeted a bit ago about people emailing in for love advice. Well, you’re a great writer and blogger and I enjoy reading all that you write — so here goes:

Love is sometimes a road paved with unanswered questions, and maybe questions that will never be answered at all. My road is 500 miles long and leads to a boy named S. We went to college together and at the end of senior year I fell for him (I wish it had been sooner). Graduation came and we went our own ways. Now, 4 years on, we live in different states but are still very good friends. We text, video chat with other friends, tweet, etc. I miss him. He isn’t happy where he is and would like to live where I am. But finding a job out here in his field is easy to want, hard to achieve. I want him to be happy, so I hope he moves soon, even if it’s not to here. But I will see him soon at an event. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything about my feelings (I don’t think he knows; maybe he does), but I am so excited/nervous to see him. Any advice on how I can at least show him I care? Should I make a move? Would it make our friendship awkward if he only sees our relationship as platonic? And, of course, there’s the distance problem. Gah! Unanswered questions galore, Roxane.

Sincerely,

Q without the A

Dear Q without the A,

Thank you for the compliments! You make me blush. I think you already know if you should make a move or not. When a friendship turns into something more, it can be terrifying. What if the feelings aren’t reciprocated? What if they are and you embark on a relationship and that relationship doesn’t work out? What if the friendship is then ruined? Was the relationship worth sacrificing the friendship? There are so many questions without easy answers. What are you willing to sacrifice to tell him how you feel? Once you can answer that question, you will know what to do. 

To show him you care, maybe you could be more affectionate than you normally are. Or you might look at him in a certain way. I’ve found that even when we want to hide what we feel, we can’t, not really. 

I do think  the friendship will still be there if you declare your feelings for him and he wants to be platonic because true friendship is a foundation that can withstand most anything. 

My opinions on distance have changed in recent years. Distance is inconvenient and often painful but it is not insurmountable. When the relationship is strong, when the relationship is something you both need and cannot get away from, distance is nothing. 

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Here is what the dish looked like when it was done. It was delicious, absolutely delicious. Total date night dinner. Very rich, though, and not something I would put in the regular rotation. Maybe someday I will make this for you.

Here is one last letter:


Anyway, there is this guy that has just really, really blown me away. I just started taking a karate class in my town, and he’s one of the black belts who helps Sensei with training us. He’s smart, funny, a geek (the first time he came in, I *heard* him before I saw him and he was ranting about Spider-man in the movies versus the comics, then proceeded to make a Princess Bride reference) and it doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly kind and patient with not just me but the other students as well. He loves dogs, and he actually brought one of his fur babies to class, which really made my day. 

My problem is that I want to find out more about him/possibly make friends/possibly ask him out, but I don’t have any real relationship experience, I’m not sure how or if him being a more experienced student and me being a beginner would be problematic or not, and he is incredibly attractive and I feel like he is WAY out of my league. I’m not small and thin, I’m trying to develop some appreciation for my body’s shape (it’s hard) and from past experience I’ve dealt with guys who absolutely do NOT like girls who can (in this case, quite literally) throw them, even though every time I end up tossing him, he bounces right back up with a smile and laughs. 

I’m just a mess inside because I really, really want SOMETHING with him, even if it’s just friendship, but I’m afraid of approaching him because for all his talking, he’s never mentioned a girl friend (or boy friend, I certainly wouldn’t judge). I’m also a bit of a mess when it comes to him because I just found out that he is somehow a person I have no problem turning my back on, and having him put his hands around my neck from behind (for practice and such). I CAN’T do this with the other people in class- I start shaking, I tense up, and instead of doing what I’m supposed to, I panic. When I was a teenager, I had a nasty experience with an older guy who, after giving me a ride home, grabbed the back of my neck and tried to force my face into his crotch. I got away by twisting and breaking his fingers and booking it.

So…I’m kind of a messed up ball of emotions. I’m happy because he’s nice and I enjoy seeing him, I’m frustrated because I’m a coward and insecure, and I’m confused because I’ve only been in two month’s worth of classes with him and somehow I trust him to such a degree already.

Any advice or suggestions would be welcomed at this point, before I drive myself bonkers.

 Dear Bad Ass Finger Breaker,

I love that you are taking karate. I want to drop about a hundred lines from The Karate Kid, but I will try and control myself.

WAX ON WAX OFF!!!!  

Clearly, self control is not my strong suit. 

It’s good that you trust this guy in ways you can’t trust others. It means  you’re letting someone in and it is good to let people in, to break down force fields. 

This league thing keeps coming up and it sucks that we have this way of thinking about how people pair off. She’s out of his league. He’s out of her league. He’s out of his league. She’s out of her league. Fuck all that, she says, recognizing this is far easier said than done.

I tend to believe I am in the paltriest, most unworthy of leagues. I am generally the person who thinks she wants someone who is way out of her league. It’s a terrible feeling, particularly when it is tied up with body issues. What right do I have, I often tell myself, to want him or her? What right do I have to express that want when I am just me? It takes courage to overcome these harmful things we do to ourselves, to believe we are worthy and deserving. 

It is so damaging that we equate small and thin with attractive. This is not true, she says, recognizing that this, too, is so hard to believe.

It’s amazing that you can flip this dude around. He might think so too. You won’t know unless you find out. I wouldn’t dwell on the conflict of interest thing. It’s karate not college, you know? What you need right now is courage. You dig deep down and you reach the best parts of yourself. You do what you do when you want to look and feel good, whatever that might be. Ask him out for coffee or to go to a comic book store or a movie. Find the courage to look him in the eye whether he says yes or no. The bravest thing we can ever do is ask a question for which we do not know the answer. I already know you are that brave. 

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As per usual, there was a correction at the grocery store. I sure did take a picture. I move in like 11 days! I have so much to do! It will get done because it has to get done. This weekend, though, I am just taking some time to breathe and to be. 

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I know now why we found each other. We earned it. Here is a glass of all I want for you. Open your eyes. See how it swells with so much want and possibility, how it threatens to shatter but holds steady and strong. Close your eyes. Drink. 

Beneath the Same Sky

I love looking up when I am in Los Angeles.

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Everywhere, palm trees, blue skies. 

The cars, though, are ridiculous. I am not a car person but I have brothers so I know some basics about ridiculous cars. I saw a Louis Vuitton Bentley or somesuch and I thought, “Why would you do that to such a pretty car?” It basically looked like it was covered in tacky decals. It was truly the worst thing one could do to a car. Why would Bentley even allow that?

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I saw a Maclaren and it seemed cool, sleek, worthy of James Bond. I saw a black Lamborghini that basically looked like Batman’s car. I peeked inside and there were all kinds of buttons and gadgets and consoles and I wondered how that car is even driven.

I drive a Ford.

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Coming home is always a coming down. 

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This place feels like a different planet. This place is a different planet. This is my backyard. I stand on my balcony sometimes during the day, and sometimes during the night, and remember that you are there and I am here, but we live beneath the same sky. I too have mapped the distances between us. There are tolls but I am willing to pay them. 

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A photographer came to my house today. I am loathe to have my picture taken under any circumstance, so it was trying. It was also a lot of fun. “Let yourself enjoy this,” I reminded myself, and so I did. She and her assistants were here for two and a half hours, posing me like an action figure. I am a writer. It was all surreal. I took pictures of them taking my picture. 

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Speaking of Bad Feminist, let’s do a giveaway. 

The first SEVEN people to buy Billie the Bull by xTx and forward me the receipt (roxane at roxanegay.com), will get a GIFT BAG including Bad Feminist, An Untamed State, a t-shirt, a tote bag, a magnet, a key chain, and a pin. Along with the receipt, send your name, address, and t-shirt size.

The next oh, EIGHTEEN FIFTEEN  FIVE people to buy Billie the Bull by xTx and forward me the receipt at roxane at roxanegay.com, will receive a magnet, key chain, pin, and copy of Bad Feminist. Along with the receipt, send your name and address. 

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Last month, in Los Angeles, these buildings were covered with an ad for the iPhone 5C. This month, the ads had been painted over. It was a blank canvas and startling to come upon, these huge swaths of nothing, and how temporary that nothingness is. 

Something I Googled: How do you let someone go? The answers were not satisfactory so I moved on to another search, recipes, probably. Who knows? I am always searching for answers. I am an inquisitive person. I enjoy the delusion that the most difficult questions might be easily answered. 

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I had dinner with my friend Mallory and we enjoyed these Parker House rolls that also had parmesan cheese baked on them. It was kind of a holy experience. I can’t even get into the burrata but it was so good that Mallory shouted, “I hate you for not having put this in your mouth yet.” It was… that good. 

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I love murals. I love how bright the colors are. I love how they remind us that art and beauty can be found everywhere and anywhere. 

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In a Westwood cemetery, rests Marilyn Monroe. All the marble slabs around hers are gray. Marilyn Monroe’s marble slab has turned pink over the years because when people make the pilgrimage, they touch the stone. They caress it with their lips. The marble of her memory has pinked with human oils. She has been dead for more than fifty years and still, people mourn her. They leave a piece of themselves with her. It is astonishing, the hold love can have on us, how unwavering and constant it can be. It is not something you can let go of, whether you should or not. 

Recent ITEMS of Note That Have Also Made Me Feel Like I Might Make a Go Of This Writing Thing

1. OPRAH (genuflect)

2. VANITY FAIR (It Girl???)

3. THE AV CLUB

Best opening with a conclusion that lives up to it: AN UNTAMED STATE”

4. THE L MAGAZINE 

Here is an interview, that will also appear in the print magazine. 

5. CBS NEWS 

I offer some thoughts about the inequalities we must address as a society. 

6. CHICAGO MAGAZINE

An Untamed State, Best Debut Novel, 2014

Halfway Between Her and Hollywood

I keep coming back to this place. I stay longer each time. Things are softer each time.

Los Angeles draws me in.

Because the freeways are glittering and hypnotic and chaotic and overwhelming. 

Because the sprawl.

Because the streets stretch over incredible distances.

Because not far, there is blue water. 

Because not far, there are mountains. 

Because there is so much to see, and it is all so different from everything I’ve ever known and I want to know more of this different.

Because the weather, the air, the sun impossibly bright. I did not know I needed the sun. I did not know a person could be the sun.

Because it feels like home in a way no place has felt before. 

I take a vacation; it is a much-needed visit.

Los Angeles is a woman and we have lunch, at a place where we have lunched before. There is no small talk. That evening, drinks. There is no small talk. There is nothing small between us.

I go to a casino. I am the only woman at the poker table. For the first hour, I purposefully play terribly. The men around me act like men. There is talk of sports and I pretend I know what I am talking about because I read about LeBron James and his Decision. My friend Sal Pane, who is my main basketball person, would be so proud. When the men say vulgar things, they look at me and apologize as if my ears are too delicate for such things. Then, I play for real, and I take all their money. I drink. Cocktail waitresses, not beautiful, mostly worn but so young to look so worn, walk around in tight ugly spandex dresses, their faces caked with make up, dully droning, “Cocktail.” They carry trays heavy with drinks. They smile wanly at the lame pick up lines they are offered. They leave the drinks with a little cart. Waiters walk around with stained aprons, the pockets heavy with menus—cheap bar food and, strangely, a robust menu of Chinese food. I have a salad, not even a Caesar salad, and it is surprisingly good.

The next day, a brunch with a person who could make something amazing happen. I want to share this moment with her and so I do. With her, the good things seem real. We are in a crowded West Hollywood eatery, one of those tiny restaurants that seems to deliberately make it difficult to get a table but makes the wait worthwhile. After we are seated and our food arrives, the bacon is amazing, she says. I am pretty sure she has been ruined for all other bacon. We taste from each other’s plates—her pancakes, my potatoes. During the brunch meeting, I am asked by our companion why I am staying downtown. I explain that it is halfway between her and Hollywood. She is a compass point. She is true north.

A bookstore full of mysteries to explore and then a futile errand and my first Slurpee, sweet and slushy and cold.

Twice, in different parts of the city, I am recognized and it is unbelievable but it feels real because she is there to witness. I don’t know how to make sense of people recognizing me. I’m… just a girl with words and a foolish heart.

We get sort of lost downtown in a place that feels like an entirely different country—bright everything, dresses that look like confection, crowded sidewalks, street vendors, food carts.

She is right about most things. We are bossy with each other but not in a bad way. We are two halves of a whole. It has always been this way, always will be. Always.

We’re back at the hotel. We have a drink in a fancy place with an incredible view. “Look at the tiny cars, the tiny boxes” she says.  “Maybe Lord of the Rings” is on,” she says. Then we’re in my room, an extravagant room, an unexpected upgrade, bigger than my apartment, you can get lost. We get lost.  There is so much between us and nearly no air and still we breathe.

There are words we say to each other, small acts of possession that sound natural to the ear and feel natural to the mouth.

We will never, not ever call each other, “bae.” What is that, even? This is our first, “OMG WE ARE OLD LADIES” conversation. It won’t be the last.

I think about unstoppable forces, and how there are two of them. We are on the same page in different books.

After she leaves, I go to a reading for an anthology I have a story in, but where my attendance is not expected. It is a needed distraction. It warms me to see how my presence is appreciated, how my (????) showing up is a joyful surprise. I enjoy my friends. This is what life could be like, I realize. I decide to figure out a way to move to the city. For me, to be clear.

The reading is good. I share from a story I’ve not read before, borrowing someone’s copy of the book. I sign things. “This is what my life is becoming,” I realize. It feels unbelievable but I have promised to work on accepting these good things and how I have made them happen.

She texts me the name of a song, and later during the trip, it will unexpectedly play in the car at the best and worst moment. There are, across the days, all manner of signs. They cannot be ignored.   

The next morning, she is there again. We go to one cemetery and then another and the weather is perfect. Something pleasantly sharp shoots through me. We never seem to argue but when we drive together, she says, “slow down.” It is endearing and familiar. We are on a freeway, traffic is light, and I say, “The 405 doesn’t seem so bad,” because I always hear people complain about the 405.  “We’re on the 10,” she says dryly.

Before long we are back to the hotel and we lose ourselves once more.  

I return to the casino, play higher stakes. This time, I am serious from the moment I sit down. No girl games. The menfolk are the menfolk. They love to analyze how I play. They think they know what I’m doing. They are nearly always wrong. One man in particular is the complainer at the table. For seven or eight hours, he regales us with the story of a hand we play early on, one where I used discipline to fold trip Aces against a potential flush. He simply cannot believe it. This is why women are good at poker. We know how to play smart, think ahead. We aren’t afraid to lose when we know that eventually we will win.

He also is rude to the dealer, never lets up. She is a kind woman so I try to be as soft as possible with her. I tip her well. Solidarity. I hate him. She, not the dealer, tells me to decimate them so I do. I take all their money.

We have a bucket list.

Another stolen moment, lunch, another cemetery, fatigue, comfortable quiet, In –N – Out grilled cheese. I ask her to do something so these separations we live with won’t be in vain. This is goodbye, always difficult, always too soon.

There is so much to say.

I meet a friend in Hollywood and she is delightful. We go to The Grove and wander the farmer’s market. In a moment of vanity, I buy a copy of Vanity Fair that mentions Bad Feminist. I am referred to as an It Girl. I have never been an It Girl before.  My friend and I go to a fancy old hotel and lounge on a settee and enjoy drinks. We have an incredible dinner and lively conversation. I have trouble ignoring my phone.

The final morning, I quietly slip from the anonymity of the hotel. I leave for the airport and I am filled with so much feeling. She works near the airport and I think about stopping there, to let her know I am in the parking lot. I want to stand in front of the window with a boombox over my head. See me. Say anything. Say everything. 

The airport, as always, is a pit of grime and despair. I will never understand how such an amazing city has such a shitty, shitty airport. 

She has pushed me away. I will stay away so things can be easier for her. Easier isn’t the right word. Nothing is easy about this for either of us.  I am bereft. I am full of joy and these lovely instances of remembering a conversation or a moment and smile. My cheeks ache tenderly right now. We just always have so much fun, so much everything.

This is not tragic. This is life—messy and complicated, difficult and inconvenient, enthralling and unexpected. This is love. If and when she wants me to return, she only needs ask. I will be there. I will always be there. I have no regrets. I will leave my heart halfway between her and Hollywood.

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