A smile

smile copy

What It Feels Like #3

The first instance I can remember was when I was walking home from school. I was just in 7th grade, when my body was just beginning to undergo all its strange changes. A large truck honked at me and I jumped, wheeling around to see if the driver was someone I knew and instead was met with ugly hands formed in a lewd gesture that I only understood years later.

Fast forward to when I have recently graduated high school. I was sitting on a bench outside work for an opening shift but my manager had yet come to open up the doors. A man was walking by when he spotted me.

He said, “Good morning. How are you?” I looked up and said, “Fine thank you”

“Why don’t you smile for me”

Without thinking I smiled on command. “That’s better. Beautiful.” He walked away. With a stupid, joyless smile still plastered on my face, I felt nauseated for reasons I couldn’t place.

It happened when I was asking my boyfriend for directions over the phone on a windy afternoon, my hair flying all over my face. I heard two brief honks as if to say “hey, you!” followed by the howling laughter shooting out the mouths at least two young men. I start to shout back “Fuck you” until I realize I’m still on the phone and silently give them the finger instead.

A reaction, a smile, attention.  It’s easy to give them what they want without even trying.

It’s hard to talk about these sorts of things with the males in my life. This is because, in their words, it’s largely invisible to them. For them it seems street harassment is almost mythical, something you only read about or see on television. It’s not like I can ask them for much anyway, as I can’t always be holding a man’s hand to ensure safety from harassment. I shouldn’t have to.

I could go at length about how my own family has reiterated that women are predestined to suffer at the expense of men, and how a woman’s primary goal in life is to exhibit grace under pressure. I know that if I were to ever bring this up to them they’d tell me to cover up, as if my existence is a sign that already says “Asking For Trouble”. There’s something profoundly twisted and wrong about the idea that it’s a woman’s responsibility to accept this and play the game.

I’m tired of inadvertently taking on the role of public plaything for male passersby. I’m tired of having to tug my shorts down and my shirts up so I can avoid leering glances on public transportation. I have to make myself small, I have to keep my eyes down, and I have to become nearly imperceptible so I might walk outside the house free from harassment. After spending upwards of a half hour getting ready in front of a mirror, I intentionally put on a wrinkled shirt or mess up my hair or smudge my makeup hoping the imperfections might deter strangers from taking interest in me. I thought that getting glasses and wearing them regularly would be an extra shield between myself and the outside world. Instead, at the bus stop again a man whistles at me like he would a dog. On my way to donate items to the nearest thrift shop a man whistles at me long and low from his car window, slowing down so he can see the reaction on my face I cannot hide before screeching off with an audible laugh.

Passively casting my eyes down is not enough now, though. Doing my best to refuse men the satisfaction of visibly upsetting me by ignoring their advances is not enough. Erasing my features, dimming my presence, folding into myself to take up less space is not enough.

I’m trying to do the opposite. Giving in to the social controls forced upon me by slimy men on the street is no longer for me. I’m not exactly busting out the low-cut shirts and lifting my head defiantly as men on the BART indulge themselves, but I am keeping my eyes forward. I know I don’t deserve to feel shame for being a girl and having a girl’s body. I know I’m entitled to my voice much more than these men are entitled to lob their unwanted attention at me.

No more stewing in resentment of city scum and the general patriarchy for me, though. Now I believe in something a little more powerful than that: self-love. I’m learning not to let the noise of harassment get to me and force me to diminish myself. Self-love says, I deserve to dress how I want and feel good about it without having to compromise for anything or anyone else. I think that is more dangerous to the patriarchy than shabby clothes and a deep frown could ever be. Men on the street don’t deserve my full smile, but I need to remember that I always do.

 

I feel itchy in my own skin

What it Feels Like #2

What it Feels Like #2

I like to be as transparent as possible when I’m on social media and have since let go of anything that may inhibit me from self-promoting my blog or asking candidly for help.

It never ceases to amaze me just how responsive people have been to my need and how encouraging people have been. I don’t consider myself a very good friend when physical distance is involved. In fact I find long-distance friendships very difficult to maintain, with few exceptions, if there’s little to no promise of meeting up in person in the near future. Still, people I have not seen since high school or literally in over 5 years are always the first ones to lend a supporting hand. I’m so grateful. It inspires me, really, to spread that amount of sheer kindness around.

My mother taught me to depend on kindness. My aunt taught me to be wary of kindness. While I understand now that they used kindness as a crutch or a red flag as a means of survival, I’ve found that exuding kindness is necessary for my own.

I’ve always strived to be self-reliant and have been infamously stubborn about demonstrating that ability to look after myself. At the same time I’ve also always held on to the idea that people are inherently good, and only relatively recently recognized that they will typically be responsive when asked for help. So far this ideology has taken me much farther than I could ever hoped.

Every so often I still feel selfish. Sometimes I’ll spend days on end fixating on my physical flaws and punishing my body until I realize that my worst flaws are most likely the ones I can’t see. Then I’ll work myself into a frenzy mass-messaging friends I haven’t heard from in months or years or lavish them with praise and encouragement I somehow cannot bring to give myself. It’s a strange tension that I’m working to even out.

When I still lived with my aunt sometimes I would be so engrossed with something, whether an assignment or a book, that I would work well past sundown. My room already was not well lit and it wouldn’t be until I heard her presence in the room and she tugged the pull chain of my nightstand lamp that I would realize it was nearly pitch-dark in the room.

I have so many people gently illuminating the space around me when I’m too preoccupied with busy nothings to know how long I’ve been sitting in the dark.

Tiny Stitches

 

 

weird copy

What it Feels Like #1

I treat writer’s block much like the way I treat depression: I don’t. I don’t discuss either very often because, I think, I have been conditioned throughout my life to believe that neither exists.

The past several weeks have been brutal. I took on too many ambitious obligations than I could handle in a summer and I became stuck. I couldn’t bring myself to perform the simplest tasks. I made elaborate to-do lists. I organized all the necessary tools I needed to do all my jobs efficiently. Somehow all my attempts to facilitate my own sudden lack of motivation proved futile. I outwitted my own preemptive measures to get myself on track. I felt I was letting the people who were depending on me down, and consequently I felt I was letting myself down.

I spent uncomfortably long moments staring blankly at my laptop screen, or laying still facedown on my bed, reading and rereading passages from my favorite books without comprehending the text. All food became unappetizing. I spent long walks aiming nowhere and ending up nowhere. Running on a treadmill didn’t feel any more productive or appealing than sitting on my bedroom floor trying to figure out what I even wanted.

I’ve written extensively about how significant writing is to me in order to recalibrate my system and find my center. This time, however, I couldn’t put anything down except mundane recordings of the day’s events or half-hearted, bland descriptions of how I was feeling. I was unable to make connections like I used to, and I showed no signs of feeling strongly about anything. I didn’t express astonishment or wonder. I didn’t express deep sorrow or spitting rage. It was as if everything I was feeling or experiencing was trapped within my shell of a body. They couldn’t come out.

I felt without a voice, and I felt scared.

I didn’t know how to manage the confusion and hurt and muted frustration I was feeling in a constructive manner. Any structure I had to my daily life fell apart and each day blended nauseatingly into the next. Without writing or any means of expression I started to lose track of what I even wanted out of life anymore. Waking up in the mornings became increasingly difficult because I couldn’t find reasons to get out of bed. Everything I did was based purely off my various whims and I became prone to binging as  well as long stretches of inactivity.  I knew that something needed to change or else I would succumb to complacency.

On one such whim I found myself at Michaels where I, without planning to, bought fabric, thread, and a few embroidery hoops to try something new. This was my first attempt:

lilycrop

Something about this clicked, and now I’m completely hooked.

I’ve always been one to gravitate toward detailed work with my hands. Embroidery requires a certain eye and a definite focus that I’ve been lacking these past several weeks. It takes its fair share of time and attention I haven’t been able to give anything else until now.

Lately I’ve been especially drawn to embroidering phrases and quotes, a new physical manifestation of my often repetitive thoughts. It reminds me a lot about what my 8th grade core teacher said about the significance of his requiring us to write in cursive. He said, cursive demands that you think in words and ideas rather than individual letters. You need to have the entire picture in mind before you can even think to out pen to paper. I haven’t stopped incorporating cursive into my writing ever since.

Embroidery is very similar. It takes a general plan and detailed structure before beginning or the final product will be messy and unpresentable. Spending upwards of 20 tiny stitches on a short word forces me to think long and hard about my work and what I’m trying to say or convey.

Thus, I’m beginning a joint writing-embroidery project of a series of themed embroideries with related pieces on what I got out of the process. The first series: What it Feels Like.