Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Change of Venue

LJ's posts on all and sundry will now be appearing at: http://sistersunderthemink.blogspot.com/

Not that she has that much to say, but if she's saying it, she's saying it there. Comments welcome. Talk soon.

--LJ

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rememberance of Things Past (or, In Search of Lost Time)

Laura,

Your post was really brave and honest. Honest in that way you can even feel, experience in its call to memory. I read it and those moments I’m always either pushing away or subjecting to re-telling after re-telling, trying to make the wound at the center of the story disappear, those moments swim back to me.

My experiences, as we’ve noted often, were very different from yours in some ways, and all too similar in others. This only drives home the likelihood that while there are different cultural manifestations of misogyny, some undoubtedly preferable to others in a lesser-of-two-evils kind of way, the fact of its impact on the bodies of women is undeniable. I’m surprised by how close to the surface some of my memories are, how vividly they come back, though whether their color is inflected by the meaning I discover there or the meaning I create, who can say.

I’ve worn the hell out of the story (which you’ve certainly heard before) about my experience driving the family van home from Minneapolis when I was 15. Well, here it is, one more time, in all its glory, and perhaps in greater detail: I’d been in Minneapolis with my sisters, my mother, and my grandmother. We drove down to visit my great-aunt, who lived in Rodgers at the time. Friday night we stayed at my aunt’s house (she lived, at the time, on a hobby-farm with her husband, who’d worked in some kind of engineering-related corporate-relations kind of job that had him travelling much of his life, spending a fair amount of time in Japan). I think it was that first night that we drove into Minneapolis (my aunt driving her high-end car very aggressively and very fast, at least according to the standards of out-state Minnesota). We ate at Jerusalem’s (which is blissfully rehabilitated in my mind as the place you and I had Christmas lunch this year), where we saw belly dancers. Pretty big stuff for small town girls. The next day we visited the Mall of America. Need I say more? I, a very mature fifteen, was allowed to shop on my own and meet up with the group later. In the course of my shopping (gawking, really), I met a man (probably 30 years old, though it’s hard to say, and African-American) who claimed to be a member of Prince’s band. I don’t know if he was or not, but he did later write to me and offer to fly me out to Philadelphia, where he lived. I was totally energized by the experience—I had no idea I had so much power! My mother, understandably (from my 34 year old vantage point), was less thrilled.

So, the stage is set for the fateful ride home. I am driving this god-awful champagne-colored van with wood-panel striping. I am wearing, I clearly remember, a red tank-top—boxy across the shoulders, in a way that flatters my adolescent frame—and those short-shorts with a wide belt that were in fashion briefly in the early nineties. (I think they came from “The Limited” or “Express.”) I’m nervous. I haven’t driven on the interstate before, haven’t driven this fast before, and have limited faith in my innate capabilities. (To this day, I’m not wild about driving.) A truck, hauling sod, pulls up alongside me in the passing lane. I don’t pay attention at first. But, about the time the continued presence of the truck has started to make me nervous, I notice that the two men in the truck, both, at least in memory, wearing baseball caps, were flirting with me. Here’s the thing: I’m flattered. I’m excited by the attention. But I’m also god-awful scared. I feel absolutely out-of-control. I can only deal with one thing at a time. And I start to slow down. My mother, seated next to me through all of this—and maybe more deeply fearing the consequences of this development on all kinds of levels—starts to get angry with me. She gets so frustrated, and so emotional, that my grandmother insists on sitting next to me, because my mother is freaking me out. I have a clear recollection of the enormous relief I felt when she replaced my mother in the passenger seat.

I think, probably, this is a different version of the story than I’ve ever told you, though I imagine you were always able to read between the lines. That’s the remarkable thing about really being in conversation with somebody. The point is, your post prompted me to think about all of this in a way I maybe haven’t before, at least not publicly and openly, and that makes me enormously grateful. Because despite all the stuff that’s happening there—despite my own uncomfortable imbrication in my objectification, despite the trauma which couldn’t be spoken between three generations of women—my conversations with you make me feel like something else, something new, is really possible. Love,

Lisa

P.S. It still sucks.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I Want Candy?

Lisa,

What do I know about my own sexual desire?

Today I know that it is still, and I refuse to worry about that. This seems to be a core piece of the discussion: worry. I (loosely) remember lines from a Woody Allen movie:

Girl: I was telling my psychiatrist that I had an orgasm last week. He told me it wasn’t the right kind.

Woody: Really? Not the right kind? Funny… every one of mine is always right on the money…

In my day women could still be frigid, and even though I was too young to deeply understand this notion, it was pervasive and real, especially within some of the books from which I was getting my information about sex: “The Group”. Later on I read “Candy” which, while assuring me that the young and beautiful were not prone to frigidity, they were expected to put out or be called frigid. What a wide Sargasso Sea that is.

I was coming of age sexually in a time where women were beginning to refuse to assimilate any further in the land of the patriarchy, and were looking to revolt, or find a new land entirely. Patriarchy: it was a word I was hearing early and often, while all the neighbors in my building in Queens talked excitedly with a kind of awe about the daughter of the people who lived in 2D who was now a Playboy bunny. But frigid was still there, hanging about like the forbidding wraith the word invoked.

With this underlying fear of being cold, of not “liking” sex, came this revolt or response from women older than me that demanded sexual freedom and placed the responsibility for “good” (not frigid) sex not on women, but on the idea that perhaps some women had shitty, uncaring, inexperienced, or frightened sexual partners. Suddenly the Kinsey report was not shocking, but helpful. There was talk about the clitoris, masturbation, and orgasm without having to hide and read about them in “those” books.

But this is really back story.

My first sexual experience was rape, and since only bad girls who deserved it, wanted it, were raped, that occurrence is what offered me the palette from which I could choose to color my desire.
Right after that night, I had a series of sexual encounters (I should mention that I was just barely 14) that I initiated with boys I knew had been trying to break me down. They were awkward unsatisfying comminglings that took place in the bedroom where friends were babysitting, the 50’s classic back seat of a car, and standing in alleys. Once there were back to back encounters. It was always fucking. I would never call it anything else.

I was, like you, looking for something. In my case, along with the love, I was trying somehow to reclaim my choice. Rape had a way of removing that in my mind, and my fantasies still included that lack of choice, often to my chagrin. Yet, why should I feel embarrassed or uncomfortable with my fantasies and desires? Most likely because they did not come from me but from the culture around me, and I could not own them.

Still, as time passed things did change and I remember coming into a time when I did not have that shame. I was encouraged, almost charged, to have sex as often, freely and openly (this also meant out in the open) as possible. The small culture in which I participated and toward which I gravitated, let me try to find my desires by experimentation, accident, and design. But I will say that as the times changed, so did my feelings about my desire. As the world became chilly, as the pandemic broke over us, as youth retreated, so did my desire.

Today, as I have said, my libido is quiet. I know it isn’t dead, and the stillness may be my own doing, but that is exactly the point: it is mine. I would be lying if I didn’t say that once in a while I wonder if I am finally frigid, but then I laugh and say, “Oh fercrissakes, let’s believe in Santa while we’re at it!”

Remind me to talk about the recent realizations around vibrators that I had via others responses to my having said I never used one. That was very interesting…

L

Friday, January 14, 2011

Is This Desire?

Laura,

For the second time in as many weeks, I have encountered a truism which may in fact be true, but which I would honestly prefer not to think about that deeply: namely, women too often fail to appreciate the reality of male sexual desire. My second run-in with that notion occurred via an article recently published in The Atlantic: Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s piece “Hard Core,” which uses a discussion of the extreme nature of online pornography as a jumping off point for considering the impossibility of the sexual relationship, at least as conceived by a somewhat na├»ve feminism:

Male desire is not a malleable entity that can be constructed through politics, language, or media. Sexuality is not neutral. A warring dynamic based on power and subjugation has always existed between men and women, and the egalitarian view of sex, with its utopian pretensions, offers little insight into the typical male psyche. Internet porn, on the other hand, shows us an unvarnished (albeit partial) view of male sexuality as an often dark force streaked with aggression.

What internet porn in fact reveals, at least according to Vargas-Cooper, is the “uncomfortable truth that the women’s-liberation movement has successfully suppressed: men and women have conflicting sexual agendas.” It’s not clear to me what Vargas-Cooper believes to be the unified female agenda (though she seems to tie it closely to that above utopian egalitarianism, in principle if not in practice, where she acknowledges a more complex picture), but the male agenda—as much sex as possible, as often as possible, and preferably involving some display of aggression intended to make women feel uncomfortable, debased, or degraded, seems fairly clear.

Honestly, I don’t know what to do with all of this. My befuddlement is further complicated by having just read another recent contribution to The Atlantic, a piece by Caitlin Flanagan entitled “The Hazards of Duke” that undertakes a rather bizarrely unsubstantiated, though weirdly plausible, reading of the infamous “Duke Fuck List” composed, in PowerPoint format, by the woman a Slate Double-X commentator recently referred to as “poor Karen Owen.” Essentially, Flanagan suggests that reading between the lines of Karen Owen’s bravado-inflected prose (her list recounts sexual escapades and ranks the performance of sexual partners according to a somewhat ridiculous set of criteria) one might discover “a vulnerable creature whose desire for sex with campus big shots was at least partly motivated by a powerful and unmet desire for affection.” Does this suggestion bear any relationship to the truth of Karen Owen’s life? Who the hell knows? Maybe she was hoping for long-term relationships with one or more of these men, or maybe she just wanted a roll in the hay. What was striking, though, was how often her own sexual pleasure (and yes, I read the damn presentation) seemed to take a back seat—many of the encounters detailed were with men who lasted somewhere around the five-minute range, and happened sans substantial foreplay, making it somewhat unlikely that she was getting much sexual enjoyment along the way to the inevitable end of such transactions—the moment the guy came, and more or less (with some exceptions) lost interest in her existence.

Having no moral investment in the frequency, spontaneity, or variety of other people’s sex lives, I’m not really interested in condemning the Karen Owen’s model of female sexuality (or weighing in on whether she has brought about her “ruin” as Flanagan suggests). My only concern is that, somehow, the discussion around sexuality, male and female, still seems to be so ill-conducted as to prohibit meaningful conversation about the kinds of issues that we (all of us, but perhaps particularly women) would benefit from exploring. I know that I wish a public discussion of such issues had been possible when I affected my own style of bravado to re-narrativize my own sexual experimentation during college. Not to say that I had no positive sexual experiences at that time—I did. But I also had a great deal of confusion regarding what I actually wanted—from sex, from relationships, from the culture. And so, at various times, I was the tough girl who slept around and didn’t want to hear from you the morning after. I was as likely to escape without saying goodbye as any of my male counterparts. But I was, often simultaneously, the sad and lonely girl who wanted, well, something. A relationship? Maybe. To feel attractive and desired? Maybe. To get off? Sometimes. To feel loved and accepted? Probably, desperately, all the time. I can’t really make full sense of my sexual ramblings during college, though I certainly don’t feel devalued or ruined by them. I only wish, for my then-self, and for women, perhaps women like Karen Owen (but then again, who knows), that there was somewhere to go with all the sadness, loneliness, and confusion. So, what I suppose I’m proposing, by way of awfully long prologue, is that we spend some time, you and I, here and now, talking about this problematic question of sexual desire. Our experiences, our questions, our hopes. What do you say? I know this post began with questions concerning male desire, and I do suppose I want to return to those questions, or continue to touch on them in our correspondence. But perhaps it makes most sense to start with what we know (or don’t) concerning our own desire?

Lisa

Friday, December 31, 2010

Lisa,

Yes, I agree that in the case you (we) are describing, most of those mean, mean girls are not deliberately perpetrating acts of Meanness, but are responding to their own sexuality, and the culture at large. What the hell…I mean, women (according to what we can see in the culture) should be attractive at the very least, and sexy if at all possible, despite age and/or career position, and so many other things. I think we might exclude lesbians, although The L Word brought some new ideas about how lesbians can/should look to the popular culture at large. And that brings me to the ever-present idea of the popular culture being man (in my day the MAN in this word would be stressed) ufactured by a group with economic interests. Capitalism is part, perhaps the major part, of this problem. Are these girls (for me a girl is any female who is a teen and younger, and for the media it appears girls are any female) more visible now in response to a culture that asks them to be such, or are there other, deeper reasons?

As for our communications: in my experience, women’s consciousness raising groups were seen as subversive. I don’t think your generation could know how fucking scary it was to the culture at large for women to talk, to not see one another as the enemy, to not view one another as the foe to beat for a man. In my day, it was terrifying to the culture at large for anyone outside the pale, anyone that was seen as Other, to come together and open dialog in the hopes of bonding over their otherness and so, gain a measure of confidence, of solidarity, of power.

This legacy of divide and conquer keeps people of like background, gender, race, mind….keeps us apart to keep us oppressed, and perhaps this philosophy is why we (you and I) still feel it hard to express our need to communicate, our need/desire for our relationship to be maintained. Can we trust someone that the culture tells us cannot, should not be trusted? Can we, with our independent craziness and emotional hang-ups (I am going WAY back lol) trust ourselves?

I know both of those poems very well. Poets are among those I rely on to save me. You told me that Middlemarch saved you at one point in your life, as Salinger did for me. I rely on the artists and mad ones. They seem to have steered me clear of much that would have destroyed me.
Our friendship, our commitment to this experiment of conversation, is solid. Make no mistake.

The “weirdness” around the comments was you forgetting that I have little use for men, and not about what this means to me regarding you and this blog. I am not saying anything in code, and I am not being indirect. If women wanted to join this conversation I would be fine with it, and if your men friends feel compelled, interested, in responding to ideas they find here, they should start their own honest blog that we can read without getting our hands into it, thus giving everyone the freedom they need.

As for our disagreeing and its profound repercussions: it is often through the harshest discussion that I have learned the most about myself.

I am standing right here.

In Art and Madness,
Laura

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cool Hands and Civil Wars

‘What we’ve got here is…failure to communicate.’

Laura,

Communication, or the lack thereof (which, anyway, communicates something all the same), seems so much at the center of each of our posts that I figured I’d just tackle the issue head-on. I want to trace what I see as the major moments of non-communication—moments that occur no matter how honest we’re trying to be in our communication. Here’s what I see, anyway: 1) what I failed to communicate, 2) where we are failing to communicate, 3) how we want (?) to communicate (broadly).

1) I guess the thing that was initially interesting to me about the “mean girl” phenomenon is that I imagine in many instances the girl so-designated has no intention whatsoever toward the person who finds her mean—that person might not even be on her radar, or perhaps is registered as nothing more than a blip on the screen. So, one potential pitfall of communication: it is possible for communication (of a sort) to occur even when one party isn’t consciously transmitting any kind of message at all to the other. (This, especially insofar as I can shift our reading of the definition of communication to include the connecting line, passage, or opening itself—something like the communicating door between two rooms.) Is the mean girl even, really, mean?

2) Here’s the weird space of you and me. I can’t say what I want to say without saying too much. So I’m going to get weirdly cryptic here. We will communicate in code. If I say more than I should, I count on you to tell me so. Insofar as that is possible. Is that possible?

There was weirdness around our conversation about the comments. Weirdness that had nothing, I think, to do with whether this space (of the blog) was invaded, but about what we mean to each other. To what extent is my saying to you, “let’s consider opening this up,” always a statement of avoidance. I mean, I suppose, to what extent am I saying, “We can’t do this alone.” To what extent is your saying to me, “Let’s not go there,” an avoidance of a different kind? And here, I’m on much less certain ground. Because it’s you, not me, and I’m simply guessing. Or making educated guesses, I suppose. Are you saying to me, “I need the space we’re creating”—i.e. I need somewhere safe, that you are implicated in; or, are you saying to me, “I just don’t want to?” My response to you, as your friend, depends so much upon how I read that utterance. I don’t know how to read it. We talk about honesty, and nakedness, but in the last two posts we’ve both done our utmost to avoid each. Or at least I have. Maybe that’s all I’m responding to here—how my lack of directness could create such a situation.

3) (Which is really only still #2.) Truth be told, I could give a fuck about the comments. I see the value in them, but I also see the detriment, one we’ve only avoided by being so unrecognized. We’ve been lucky insofar as the people who’ve commented here share a common goal with us—things tend to get pretty ugly when that is not the case. And, as someone who has been forced to restrict her own consumption of this precise form of media because of the dire misanthropy that was growing there, I’m not persuaded that comments are a universal good. In fact, I think what we’re doing—trying to be totally naked in the context of a real conversation—is a good in and of itself. I will never begrudge a moment of this. Our conversation—no matter how influential to the outside world—has had, is having, a profound impact on my life. I am deeply grateful to you for continuing in this conversation with me. That said, we will disagree. Sometimes mildly, and informally, and sometimes with more serious repercussions. There are two poems that are very much on my mind tonight. I want to share them with you:

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind. (Anne Sexton, “Her Kind”)

And:

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul. (William Ernest Henley, “Invictus”)

Can you guess which of these speaks to our relationship? (Lest I be holding out on anyone, obviously I think the Anne Sexton poem speaks more closely to Laura and I than the other.) But, more than that, can you guess how terrified that makes me? Because I have to care about everything you say—even if it’s not what I believe. I suppose I don’t have to, really, but I do. I do. And that is terrifying, to me. I’m trying to keep my hands cool and dry, in the middle of my own private civil war. It’s not so civil, really. And, really, it’s not so private anymore.

Lisa

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

From Rhett to Scarlett...

Hi L,

Whoosh! There it is again…they are afraid of us. Is it the cunt with teeth thing again?

I wish I could, tonight at any rate, have some sympathy for this, but after you mentioned that the men want to start commenting again I got ferocious.

You and I agreed that the idea of men’s ideas permeating our space often kept us from the level of honesty (in our search to understand and live in our experiences of the world as women who are looking at (for?) the problems in living in the world of men) that we needed to write.

And that line was what caused some of the consternation last time. Men don’t want to be hated by women.

We have misunderstood; not all men are bad. Sheesh. Fine.

The fact is (may be?) that women are pretty much still hated in this world. Maybe not the way it appears in the US but globally I think the evidence is there to support this.

I don’t think all men hate women; frankly, tonight, right now, I could give a shit.

I just want the women who don’t see this, and the young women who may be oblivious, and the girls who are not told, to have this alternative message: men don’t necessarily see you: as a person rather than a body, as a viable living creature with an agenda of your own, as someone with power, as someone with the right to not give a shit about men.

The birth of the “mean girl” was a long time in coming in my day. I support the right for them to exist; it is still against the law to rape, harass, stalk, or murder them whether they are cock teasers, experiencing the power of their sexuality for the first time(s) or bad fucking dressers.

And how are you? : ) LOL

Thursday, December 23, 2010

“She’s fabulous. But she’s evil.”

Laura,

It’s been quite some time since we posted. I guess I haven’t had much to say. I’m not going to waste time and space musing over why that is. Instead, I’m going to jump right in with something that isn’t an essay, but is an idea that needs some thinking through. Hopefully we can think through it together.

I haven’t actually watched Mean Girls. I may well get around to it. The fact that my day of reckoning has not yet come is not a judgment upon the film; in fact, I only mention the film because it so totally fucked up what I thought would be a simple yet telling experiment. But, Mean Girls not excepted, I still find the results of my experiment worth noting. So I’m going to share. Ten minutes ago I typed some choice phrases into Google. (Hey, I’m not claiming any scientific validity here. I’m just saying I found this interesting. Bear with me.) The phrase “mean boys” returns approximately 244,000 results. The phrase “mean girls” pulls up about 3, 200,000 results. Sure, the film matters in this context. But let me assure you that even after a casual bit of browsing the results indicate that the film doesn’t account for the roughly 2,956,000 extra hits. It would seem that the concept of the mean girl is much more prevalent than that of the mean boy. (Admittedly, the term “bully” pulls up far more hits than “mean girls,” but that's a subject for a later post.)

Here’s why I bothered with the silly Google experiment: I recently had a conversation with a male friend about being increasingly troubled by porn and porn culture. My decidedly ambivalent relationship to all aspects of the sex-work industry isn’t really the point here. (Some weeks I favor legalization of prostitution in the hopes of better protections for the people involved, some weeks I feel like the tacit acceptance by government of abuses against (primarily) women, simulated or not, is pretty gross and socially problematic. I know it doesn’t boil down to anything near this simple on either end, but I’ve already mentioned this isn’t the point and I’m just not going to get embroiled in my own messy thoughts on this complex question here and now.) The actual point is this—he said something that really got me thinking. In response to a point I was trying to make about a strange notion that seems to permeate much of our culture—namely, that women exist primarily, if not solely, to provide sexual pleasure to men—he mentioned the paranoia some men feel regarding women.

Quick bit of backstory: I raised an example I often return to in my thinking about the issue—the shooting that took place in a Pittsburgh health club. You know, the one where George Sodini killed three women and injured nine others for reasons that I’m sure none of us will ever totally understand, but that seemed, even to the most conservative of journalists, to have an awful lot to do with a deep and abiding bitterness toward women, which was evidenced on his online journal. I mentioned this by way of a discussion of my own emerging bitterness regarding the way that gender gets discussed in the comments sections of online magazines like Salon and Slate. (At the time you could find a fair number of Sodini sympathizers in the comments on articles regarding his crime on both sites.) And this was only noteworthy because it seconds so much of what I’ve heard from actual, flesh-and-blood men, who are frustrated with dating, and women, generally.

Back to paranoia. My friend basically tried to lay out the mind-set of these kinds of men more clearly. He mentioned that your average guy in a gym might—and everyone’s qualifying here, because this is just so messy and awful that we’re all bound to hurt each other’s feelings, and there’s no help for it—just might, see a cute girl dressed in somewhat provocative gym-wear who is also ignoring his (obvious?) desire and decide that she’s deliberately provoking, teasing, him, just to be mean. Who knows, maybe we up the ante if she’s at a night club in something skimpy and she dances with him. Maybe we don’t. I don’t fucking know. None of us really do, I imagine. And nobody seems to be talking about it, which seems to me to be the real problem.

I’ve got to admit, I’m often one of those women dressed in somewhat provocative clothing. But it hadn’t really ever occurred to me that anyone would interpret my choice in dress as a deliberate meanness launched against them personally. I guess that’s because, like everybody else, I’ve got my own fucking problems. I’m still not sure if I buy my friend’s theory. But that, combined with my (totally unscientific) wanderings on the internet, have started me wondering. I wonder what you think.

Lisa

Friday, October 15, 2010

Of Country Cottages?

Laura,

I, too, have had Miss Marple much on my mind, although my consideration of spinsterhood has tended to focus not so much on age as on one of the mixed blessings age seems to confer upon women—let’s call it invisibility. We spoke of the perversely privileged position Miss Marple seems to occupy as she “gathers evidence” in the wake of a crime—if people take any notice of Miss Marple, which they often fail to do, they write her off as a harmless old woman, perhaps a bit nosy, but certainly nothing to be concerned with. They assume that she could not possibly matter, in any appreciable way, to their lives. Of course, as novel after novel (and Dame Christie was nothing if not prolific) proves, fatal consequences follow from this failure to appreciate the old woman.

What is it, really, that keeps us from seeing older women? I imagine one could venture a number of explanations for why a woman’s visibility tends to decrease as she ages. I wonder, though, if at the center of these explanations we wouldn’t find one common cause: the older a woman is, the harder it is to conceive of her primarily in terms of her sexuality.

I’ve got to say, there’s something appealing about the idea of being outside the economy of sex. Let’s set aside for a moment my sneaking suspicion that there is no such thing as being outside the economy of sex. Permit me to indulge in an investigation of a particular fantasy of mine, which I think helps define invisibility more clearly by indicating what it is not. I’ve been thinking much, as you know, about making a move to the country when I’ve finished my program. The dream right now is to find a job at a college located in a college-town, someplace mid-sized and somewhat cozy. I’ll rent a little house a mile or two out of town where I’ll live with my dog, who we both know could use a break from the city. Oed will frolic in the woods on our morning hikes, and I’ll take up gardening. This is a nice dream, and I have no real reservations about the desires that motivate it. I do best when I can find (and embrace) a certain degree of solitude. But this would be a different kind of dream altogether if it grew only out of a desire to cut myself off entirely from the world. And on bad days that desire motivates the dream. Still, I suppose this desire isn’t really a desire for invisibility so much as it is a desire to cease to exist. Because that’s the thing about invisibility—it doesn’t make you not exist.

Miss Marple may not be visible while she tends the garden of her country cottage—at least not to those who aren’t looking for her. But she continues to matter. And it’s in that context that invisibility confers a certain subversive power. This is not to suggest that there is no problem with the fact that our culture renders women invisible after a certain age. But let’s save that issue for another day. What I really think matters here, and what I really think is important about Miss Marple, is that she doesn’t take the fact of her invisibility as an excuse to check out of life entirely. Rather, she turns the very problematic fact that women are less visible as they age to her advantage, using it as a tool in what can only be seen as one woman’s ongoing search for justice. And justice, I should note, continues to matter to her, even though she is altogether too aware of the inevitable recurrence of evil in the world and its relationship to the unconquerable frailty of human nature. She might be just a feminist hero for this moment.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two Kinds of Sirens?

Hi Lisa,

I just worked for an hour on a piece for this blog. I have my AIM shit on so that my students can reach me at “office hours”. AIM is very annoying. Participants have all kinds of sound effects they use to signal that they are now online and accessible. There is actually another faculty member who uses a siren sound when he arrives. I did not know this until a few minutes ago.

After laboring on this piece and finding it very much to my liking I was about to save it via the “yes” button on the dialog box. Suddenly my computer gave off a terrifying wail; I jumped, my finger hit “no” and an hour of work vanished. I wanted to kill.

Is it really so necessary to announce oneself in this unholy way? Should I start bringing an air horn with me when I enter rooms, buildings, etc.?

We have talked quite a bit recently about the emergence into the culture of a disheartening level of selfishness and an unsavory kind of self-awareness. This event made me think of our conversations.

I am certain that I am not so important as to require a sound effect to announce my comings and goings. Even some Britons feel that the amount of hoopla around the Queen’s forays is a bit much. The idea that we are all so important….yech, you know the drill.

What I was writing about was a lead-in to our discussion of Agatha Christie, and in particular, Miss Marple.

I want to continue our talk.

Having recently become even more grey I am thinking more about age and being older, or old. I am not sure when “old” is correct. Am I old when I am past 50? One would think so as my recent experience would testify: in the thrift store the young clerk looks at me, then at my hair, then back at my face and asks if I get the senior discount. I ask him, "How do I know?" and he replies, “Are you 55 or older?” to which I respond with a resounding “Yes!” I am a senior at Savers.

I am not a senior on the bus, or for federally subsidized health care; too bad, as that would really be helpful. Who decides where the line is? Certainly the young man didn’t know without asking (I suppose a blessing for me, although it doesn’t feel that way) and AARP says I am but then again the Feds disagree.

Miss Marple is old. At the time Christie was writing these novels 50 was OLD (I seem to remember) and since I read them when I was young I think this idea stuck.

Marple is a sturdy, independent, formidable old woman; she has all her marbles (a play on Marple?) and is not disinclined to offer her opinion with assuredness. I loved her immediately and wanted to be like her when I was old—all except for her fashion (blech) and the country cottage. Actually, the cottage sounded nice, but not as a steady diet, and St. Mary Mead sounded downright scary!

The idea of an old woman, a single old woman, a spinster, as being someone to look to as a model of a kind seems silly, or maybe worse, sad. (That’s a lot of commas) Yet, I think she is viable as a source of inspiration for women.

So, here’s your chance to chime in. This post is certainly not what I had hoped, and the jerk with the siren has my old lady curse upon him! WWMMD?