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The Cleverness of Death

Published October 1, 2016 by auddity

A little while ago, my friend’s dad died very suddenly. I didn’t find out the circumstances right away, but I knew enough to know he wasn’t sick or anything. So while my friend and her boyfriend were focused on his mom who was suffering from illness at the time, it was my friend’s dad who ended up dying. It got me thinking that death always seems to evade my expectations and show up out of left field. Like when my friend’s dad died when we were in high school. It happened so abruptly while I’d been preoccupied with the inevitability of my own dad’s death. Or when after graduating college, my friend and I made the unspoken agreement to get in touch with each other again when Dad died, never dreaming that it was his brother we should have been worried about. It’s like just when you think you’ve got a handle on things, no matter how awful the situation may be – you’ve at least come to terms with it, life comes out of nowhere and kicks you in the shins.

I didn’t really know how to feel about it at the time. How odd that we would end up having this in common, losing a parent so young. And sadly her boyfriend joined us shortly. What a terrible club to become a member of. I’m trying to think back and remember what I wanted during those last few days when my dad was fighting in a hospital bed. I tried to be sensitive when I texted her, replacing “What happened?” with “How are you doing?” I figured if she wanted to tell me the details of his passing she could be the one to volunteer that. I didn’t want her to feel obligated to talk about it if she didn’t want to. I think what it comes down to is that everyone grieves differently; so while I may have some idea of what she went through, it doesn’t mean that she necessarily needed the same things I did when Dad passed away.  

I remember feeling so guilty when my high school friend’s dad died. He had been healthy, it was just a freak accident, while Dad was already on permanent disability with no signs of getting better. I almost wished I could’ve traded places with her – or more accurately, traded my dad’s life for her dad’s. Obviously life doesn’t work like that, and I am glad for the eight or so years we had with Dad before he did actually die, but that guilt was there. It just seemed so senseless. I didn’t have that same guilt when I found out about my college friend’s brother, I was mostly just shocked. I think the reason I didn’t feel a sense of guilt was because Dad was already so far gone at that point, that the misery of losing a sibling equaled the misery of watching my father deteriorate before my eyes. I didn’t have anything to barter with anymore.

After all of this, you would understand if I spent my days in bed with the covers pulled over my head. Some days I’m tempted, believe me. But what kind of a life is that? All of this has taught me that death can strike at any time, and it will always outsmart you. So if it alludes prediction, then I refuse to predict it! I will not become a slave to the fear of loss, I will live my life in spite of death. Besides, my dad’s passing was not in itself a wholly sad event. Since his illness was so drawn out, the moment he finally let go held relief for him and those who loved him. With that in mind, I view his death as something to quietly celebrate – a remembrance of his life and his strength, not merely his death. My dad has been a source of strength and inspiration for me since before he died, and I’m not going to let his dying change that. I may not be able to outsmart death, but I can rise above it.

You Don’t Know Me, I’m a Damn Enigma

Published April 25, 2016 by auddity

Please allow me this rant: You don’t know me, so stop misidentifying me.

I have recently been misidentified as a lesbian and as bisexual. The first instance was by a friend of a friend, to whom I’d come out as queer a few weeks before. Her flub was unintentional and well-meaning; we were discussing a coworker of hers and she said, “She’s a fellow lesbian,” and continued with her story. I didn’t think it was worth it to interrupt the flow of conversation to correct her, but it stung a little. I thought, “Well, at least she remembered I wasn’t straight,” but in reality, it just goes to show that lesser-known identities are often erased by the gay-straight dichotomy. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to explain what my sexual orientation means to me, and describe where I fall under the queer umbrella. Now, I don’t dislike talking about this stuff – in most cases I love it! – but it can get old sometimes, especially when the person I’m talking to has literally no idea what I’m talking about.

That was the case with a coworker, my teaching partner, of whom I am not a fan to begin with. She used the word “gay” to mean stupid, and instead of letting it go, I took it as an opportunity to speak up against that kind of usage. I asked her politely, “Could you not use that word in that way?” She asked me why, so I told her I found it offensive (even though me asking her to stop using the word should’ve been sufficient). She quickly insisted that she and her family didn’t have anything against gay people, it was just a word they used. This woman worked with special needs kids for several years before coming to my school, so I tried a different approach; I explained, “You using ‘gay’ in that way is like if you said ‘retarded’ to mean stupid.” I could tell she still wasn’t really understanding what the issue was, so I told her that it was personal to me because I’m queer. She looked blankly at me so I elaborated, “I don’t identify as straight, but I don’t identify as gay either.” Her face lit up, “So you’re bisexual!” I shook my head and realized I was fighting a losing battle. I asked her to please not use that word around me, and just left it at that. Our three year-olds were about to arrive and I didn’t have the time or energy to give her a lesson in gender studies.

What bothers me the most, and it was there in both cases, is that assumption of knowing. It’s like Amy Poehler in Mean Girls, “I’m not a regular straight person, I’m a cool straight person.” No. Don’t assume you know anything about me just because you’ve watched the L Word or you had a gay friend in college or whatever other asinine excuse you want to throw at me. You don’t know me, so stop pretending like you’re in on it, like we’re part of some club, like you’ve got me figured out. Until you put in the work to actually educate yourself, you can shut up about all of this. Just stop.

I can only imagine what genderqueer, genderfluid, and transgender folks go through. They no doubt experience this kind of thing on a regular basis. The same with people of color, especially those who are of mixed ethnicities and/or racially ambiguous. I deal with a small fraction of this and it drives me crazy. If you don’t know, don’t assume! Find an appropriate way to ask or do some goddamn research.

Don’t Blame the Victim: Rape Culture and Internalized Victim-Blaming

Published December 12, 2015 by auddity

Trigger Warning: This post may be triggering to those who have experienced assault.

I wrote this a few weeks ago, but delayed in posting it because it seemed so personal. I’m out of practice sharing things on such a public platform, especially something like this, with so much shame attached to it. But that’s exactly why I feel I need to post it. Sharing my experience can only help to cut through the shame and contribute to a larger dialogue about assault. 

Last night I went to a friend’s house for a girls night. It was great – we watched a movie, worked our way through three plus bottles of wine, and overall had a nice chill evening after a long week. After a while the other girls left and it was just me and my friend drinking and getting all philosophical, as one does while getting slowly drunk off of cheap wine. I left her apartment around 1:30, but she only lives about a twenty minute walk away from my place, so I wasn’t concerned about the time. There were still some people out and I spent most of my walk marvelling that you can see some stars in the night sky above Astoria. I didn’t feel any sense of urgency until I turned onto my street and I heard someone crunching leaves behind me. They were probably several feet behind me, not right on top of me, and I tried to tell myself I was overreacting and there was nothing to worry about. I sped up regardless, though, because society tells us that a young woman walking alone at night has to draw these kinds of conclusions in order to stay safe. I breathed a sigh of relief when I pushed open my front door and fished out my keys to unlock the inner door, thinking that even if someone had been following me, there was no way they’d have the nerve to follow me inside. My heart sunk when I heard the outer door open behind me. I glanced at the man and gave a small smile. I opened the door and he followed without hesitation, I think he even thanked me. I thought, “Okay, I don’t know all my neighbors yet, maybe he lives here. Or maybe he’s visiting someone in the building.” I was still clinging to the hope that what I thought was happening wasn’t actually happening.

We walked down the hall and when I reached the stairs he asked from behind me, “Miss, which floor do you live on?” I answered the second floor, praying he was about to ask me about one of my neighbors – the person he was there to see – but my fears were confirmed when he asked, “Miss, do you have a husband?” I said no and quickly turned to continue up the stairs. I think I called out “Have a good night” over my shoulder as I left because I was still trying to be cordial, which he returned courteously enough, but before I could get far enough out of reach, I felt his hand extend and brush against my butt. He said something like, “Miss, I have a really big dick,” but by this point I was hurtling up the stairs without hesitation. I opened my door and locked it behind me, still in shock that that had actually happened. I expected to hear him climbing the stairs or feel the door rattle as he tried to open it, but neither happened. I watched for him through the peephole until I heard the front door open and shut downstairs. He had left my building. Only then did the panic come. I started crying and hyperventilating as I hung up my keys and my jacket, going through the motions of the normalcy of coming home. I ran to my room, which overlooks the street, and checked to see if he had lingered outside, but there was no sign of him.

It all happened so fast. There was no time for me to be scared until after I was safely behind my locked apartment door. I spent the entire ordeal in a haze of denial that it was even happening. Everyone told me when I moved to Astoria that it was a really safe neighborhood, certainly safer than Harlem, where I lived for the previous two years. But nothing like this ever happened to me in Harlem, and if it had, I lived in a much bigger building so I could’ve easily gotten off the elevator at the wrong floor and taken the stairs back down to shake him off. My building now only has six units, two on each floor. So this guy not only knows where I live, he knows that I live in one of two apartments on the second floor. I left my apartment once today to go to the grocery store and I found that I was jumpy and uncomfortable walking around my neighborhood. The probability of him coming back is unlikely, but the threat is still there, even if it’s only in my head.

I had been drinking last night, but I was not so drunk that I was stumbling around. I walked straight and with purpose; I was alert and aware, especially when I heard the leaves crunching behind me. If God forbid I had been falling down drunk, I would hope that the first instinct of a fellow human being would be to help me, not to take advantage of me. But that’s not the world we live in. It’s bullshit, what people say – that what a woman is wearing has anything to do with her being harassed or assaulted – I was all bundled up in a coat, scarf, and mittens, in a baggy sweater, jeans, and sneakers, my hair unwashed and in a bun and he still thought I was worth following. Even if I had been in a short skirt and stilettos, that would not have been an invitation nor an excuse for him to follow me into the place I live. It is unfathomable to me that this man thought he had the right to follow me, enter my home, and verbally harass me, simply because he is a man and I am a woman.

The worst part is that as soon as it was over I felt guilty, like it had been partially my fault. I mean, I did let him in the door. I was too afraid of being rude to admit that this guy was following me and put my safety first. My instinct was to scold myself, “You should have known better,” “You shouldn’t have let him in,” “You should’ve threatened to call the cops.” But I was drunk and tired and I didn’t want to believe I’d suddenly become this vulnerable, simply by turning onto my street and walking to my front door. This is exactly what’s wrong with our society; we’ve become so used to victim-blaming as a way of explaining away rape culture, that I internalized it, my fear and disgust for this guy and what he did was quickly joined by my guilt and embarrassment of how I’d handled the situation. You know what? How I handled it is irrelevant. I shouldn’t have been forced to navigate that situation in the first place. No one should feel that they have the right to exert that kind of power over another human being. What did that guy even think was going to happen? That I was just going to be like, “Oh you have a big dick? Well then certainly, come right in!” The scary part is that if he wanted to, he could’ve forced his way into my apartment. And I have to live with that knowledge – what could’ve happened – and that I would’ve only been able to do so much to stop it. No human should feel that they have the right to do this to someone else. It seems absurd that we have to teach this, but we do. We need to stop blaming the victims of assault and start educating young men (and women) about consent. I thank God that this guy was more bark than bite, but I know that for all the situations that turn out like mine, there are countless others that go the opposite way. We have to fix this. This is not okay.

I saw this again today and it is such a simple yet affective way to illustrate consent:

 

I also love this standup routine about the absurdity of rape culture, although it could potentially be triggering for someone who’s experienced sexual assault.

 

Hello Friend,

Published April 22, 2014 by auddity

I am writing to you as if we are old friends because it’s much easier that way. An old friend knows your history, so you don’t get bogged down by all the backstory, and you can focus on the present. Not that there is anything wrong with reliving the past. We all have stories to tell and we should tell them often. A good dose of nostalgia is healthy every once in a while. But sometimes you just want to live in the now. Of course, all this will be history one day. I’ll look back and think how silly I was thinking I could start in the middle.

As you know, I live in New York City. I’ve been here for…nine months? Ten months. Wow, almost a year. The time has flown by. I definitely still feel green here. But I get the feeling it takes years to be a true “New Yorker.” I’ve been scraping by for a while now, but I think I’ve finally got my foot in the door. I hope that once I’m more stable financially I’ll be able to really take advantage of everything the city has to offer. Take more trips. See more sights. Order more food. But I also realize that may be something I just tell myself. Maybe that’s just my excuse not to branch out as much as I could. There are inexpensive things that I could be doing that I don’t. Like thrifting and eating at food trucks. Things I want to do, but are foreign to me. I didn’t grow up doing them so they are unfamiliar and as stupid as it sounds there is a certain level of anxiety surrounding those things. I’m familiar with garage sales and diners. And even though I may want to venture into a small no-name coffee shop, I will sooner go to a Starbucks because it is familiar. (But even then I will usually order something simple because the variety of drinks is daunting – talk about anxiety!) Am I missing out on opportunities because I am afraid to take risks? This, coming from the girl who came out as gay, then as pansexual, then as queer, and then as nothing. You may laugh Friend, but you do indeed have to come out as “nothing.” Not identifying as anything is not a concept most people are comfortable with. I am fearless in some situations, but timid in others, and the latter are usually very trivial. I suppose everyone experiences anxiety about things, but some of the things I worry about are laughable. Ordering food is a big one. Starting a new job is always tough. I always want to skip ahead to when I am done with training and am skilled at least to the point of competency if not proficiency. Actually, that’s how I felt when I moved here, but I doubt I will ever truly know this city. I have to constantly remind myself not to wish away any of my experiences, even if they are awkward adjustment periods because time has a tendency to run away from us.

Speaking of which, I’m starting a new job! It is a summer job teaching art classes once a week starting in May and summer camp three days a week starting in June. I’ll still be working at Barnes & Noble, so I feel like the summer is going to fly by and I’ll be starting my second fall in New York before I know it. Fall in New York always seemed so romantic to me — like that line from You’ve Got Mail about freshly sharpened pencils — but I feel like it was somewhat unremarkable last year. In fact, I can’t really remember much about it at all. I was definitely still getting settled here, so hopefully this year will be more memorable. I’m going to try and live each repeated experience better than the previous, or at least live it fuller.

Well Friend, it’s been lovely. Thanks for listening to my babbling. Or reading it, that is, assuming you made it this far! Take care and be well.

Single By Choice?

Published January 6, 2014 by auddity

Happy New Year! I took an unintentional hiatus, but one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to get back into this blog. I love writing it and I hope some people out there still enjoy reading it! Anyway, here’s to 2014. I’m coming back with a vengeance!

You know what’s a really stupid question? I mean, besides that one. When I tell someone I’m single and they ask me if it’s by choice. What the hell kind of question is that?! Oh yes, I get marriage proposals all the time, but I shrug them off because I’m single by choice. I understand where the question comes from, but it really puts a lot of pressure on me to answer positively. Because who wants to admit that they are single not by choice? If I absolutely must dignify that question with an answer, I usually go with “Kind of,” or “Yes and no,” but it’s really a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. If I say yes, then while I may come off as being independent or content in my singledom, I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth. Because the truth is that it would certainly be nice to have a sig oth. If I say no, well then I’m sad and lonely and pathetic, aren’t I?

But it’s not even that. I can handle being seen as independent or lonely, respectively, because I am certainly a little bit of both. What bothers me about the “by choice” question, is that it very subtly takes the idea of “choice” away from me. It implies that it is so damn easy to find a person you want to be with that if you don’t already have one, you must not want one. Surprise! We can’t all just walk out the door and bump into the love of our life like they do in the movies. I really wish people would stop talking about relationships like they happen that way. The idea of single by choice forces my hand; either I am unhappily single and my fulfillment is dependent on another (albeit absent) person, or I am happily single and not interested in the human connection that comes from being in a relationship. Neither of these is a completely damnable condition. However, neither of them describes me, not completely anyway. I do thrive on human connections, but I am also pretty content. Yes, I am single and while I’d really prefer not to be, finding someone to date is also not the focus of my life right now.

Single by choice also implies responsibility – like it’s “my fault” that I’m single. I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough to rope myself a partner. My bad! I jest, but every time someone asks me this question I do start to doubt myself a bit. Should I go out more? Am I too timid? Am I wasting time not intentionally looking for someone? Why don’t I go to more gay clubs? What if I missed my chance at happiness and now it’s all downhill from here?? It sounds crazy, right? That’s because it is. We put so much pressure on ourselves and on each other with the way we talk about love and relationships. What’s so wrong with just being single? It’s like how people used to ask me if I was a virgin by choice. Every time I had that conversation with someone it made me feel ashamed – it highlighted the fact that it wasn’t my decision to remain a virgin. It left me feeling out of control. And if I took ownership for it, if I told them it was a conscious decision to wait, then I was praised for being “strong-willed,” or “moral,” or even “lucky” – when all I really felt was young. So, so young and inexperienced and left out of a club that one by one everyone around me was joining. Since finishing college I don’t get asked that question so much anymore. People aren’t so forward out in the real world. They just ask me about my dating life and make their own inferences from that.

I didn’t mention that the most recent “single by choice?” was prefaced by the always interesting “do you have a boyfriend?” question. People are not as forward post-college, but they are also not as forward-thinking. And I don’t feel as safe coming out as I used to. That could’ve been a prime coming-out opportunity. Impromptu New Year’s Resolution: I will do my best to take advantage of those opportunities in the future. There was a time where I would’ve seized that opportunity without hesitation; this time I saw it and watched it float by. But it could have been a really good teaching moment, or even a bonding moment if that person was queer! Part of my personal brand of queer is to be an ambassador as well as an ally, regardless of whether I am single or virginal or neither or both.

The Other L Word

Published August 27, 2013 by auddity

I recently had a conversation with a dear friend about loneliness. She has just experienced romantic success (I described it as “living the dream” – you go girl!) and another of our friends is in a steady committed relationship as well. We talked about another friend who is actively dating and navigating that world. And then we talked about me. We talked about loneliness.

While I am single, my friend said she didn’t think I was one of those people who was “desperately lonely,” who can’t function on their own. I said I would call myself “moderately lonely.” But the thing is, the other day I was riding the subway and a woman sat down next to me. She kept nodding off and her arm eventually slumped into mine. And I didn’t pull away because I liked the feeling of her arm against mine. I liked the feeling of human contact and, well that sounds pretty damn lonely to me.

Then, because I am me, my brain launched into a future scenario where I’m riding the subway home with the person I’m seeing and I lean into them because I can just slump into their arm whenever I want. I can touch them whenever I want because they’re mine and I am theirs. And I relished in the knowledge that we were going home together. Oh, how lovely. That sounds like home. But alas, I rode the subway home alone and tried to engross myself in my book because when people engage me on the subway they are never Prince(ss) Charming and they are usually asking me for money.

But even though my book is very good (Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro), my brain launched into another scenario where I’m also riding the subway home but this time I am alone. I have several stops to go before home, but I look out the window and we’re pulling into the stop closest to where my person lives. In a split-second decision, I propel myself out the doors and rush out onto the street. I race to their apartment (it may or may not be raining) and ring their buzzer. They don’t answer (not because they’re not home, but we’re in some fight or other), so I ring all the buzzers until someone lets me in. I pound on their door, disturbing all their neighbors, but I don’t care. When they finally open the door, I kiss them or confess my love or something equally dramatic and grand. I’ve always been one for grand gestures. We make up and live happily ever after.

But this is crap. It’s all nonsense because, as I also discussed with my friend and several others, I have not been attracted to anyone in a really long time. Our conversation came in the wake of someone who identified as straight implying she was attracted to me, if only momentarily. While part of me wanted to pat myself on the back like, Yeah, still got it, the other part was solidly uninterested. That’s the problem; I am generally just disinterested. I mean, I certainly still see people who I think are attractive, but I am not attracted to them. The last time I had a new, exciting attraction to someone that I actually wanted to pursue was about two and a half years ago. Now, I know people go through dry spells, but that is a long time. So yeah, I’d say I’m moderate-to-desperately lonely.

I’ve been emailing back and forth with this really nice guy I met on OkCupid (yeah, I know I said I’d quit), but after a few exchanges I lost interest. He’s a really interesting guy too, he’s well-traveled and he speaks a bunch of languages; we’ve talked a lot about books and movies and we seem to have similar tastes. The poor guy has been waiting for my reply for probably over a week now, but I’ve just lost interest. I’ve told myself it’s because I’m not in the place to meet someone that way, that I’d need to become friends with someone in real life first and then gradually transition into something more (that’s the same excuse I gave when my friend asked me if I’d tried going to any gay clubs since moving to the city), but how can you know a thing like that? Relationships can come out of left field, but you can’t sit around waiting for them to happen. Also that tactic would require, you know, making new friends. I think deep down I’m scared that no matter where I look, online, in a club, or in a friendship, I’ll never find someone I want to be with. And that, my friends, is a very lonely thought.

What I cruel joke, a particularly harsh irony; a romantic without attraction is just a dreamer, never a lover.

A Beginner’s Guide to Caring for Your Ghosts

Published August 13, 2013 by auddity

There are several people with whom I have long and complicated histories. Maybe it’s me; maybe I attract this kind of dramatic relationship. Maybe it’s just coincidence. Regardless, when you have such an emotionally charged relationship, as I did with these people, it usually ends badly. With all the layers, everything tangled up and twisted in on itself, it’s hard to straighten it all out by the end. For everyone’s sake it’s best to just leave the tangled mess alone, just let it lie. But we as humans – or maybe this is just me – just can’t leave well enough alone. We can’t bare the idea that it was all for nothing. That all that crying and fighting and caring and love didn’t amount to anything but the memory of when things were good, when you used to be close.

My own personal rule for myself is to not contact these people. No matter how tempting it is to check up on them, to test the waters just to see if it was real, what we had, and if it still exists in some form, I do not initiate contact. Little things are okay: a facebook comment here, a status ‘like’ there, but absolutely no texting unless they initiate it. No email, no phone calls, nothing that directly addresses them or our history. Unless something major happens, like a death or serious illness, I stick to these rules – because underneath it all, I still care about them, obviously, or these rules wouldn’t be necessary.

After a while, the urge to reach out lessens, until it’s just the ghost of an urge, like an echo, like a scar that’s healed but still occasionally itches.

I don’t need to know if the impulse is one-sided; I just assume it is. If they have their own rules about contacting me then we’re in unspoken agreement that we shouldn’t dredge up old memories, and if they don’t, well, then it means they’ve succeeding in moving on where I haven’t yet. There are people I used to feel this way about, who I don’t now. They slipped out of my life, and where speaking or not speaking to them used to be of the utmost importance, now I simply don’t care. I guess there’s a turning point somewhere where enough silence leads to indifference. But the opposite of love is indifference, and I still care, no matter how hard I try not to. I don’t necessarily care to speak to them or even whether they still care about me; but I care what happens to them and I care enough to still have to check myself every now and then. Is this crossing a line? Is this? I don’t think I’ll ever totally reach indifference with these particular people. There’s still too much there, even after all of the silence. And that’s okay. We all have our ghosts, right?

How to Care for Your Ghosts:

  1. Don’t blame them for your choices. It may be very tempting to blame them for your shortcomings, but it’s you who stalked your ex’s photos for hours on end last night and so it’s your fault you got to work late, not not your ghosts’. They may influence you while they’re around, but at the end of the day, they’re just reminders of the past, you’re the one living in the present.
  2. Don’t try to banish them. They’re there for a reason. You’re obviously working through some shit, and they’re just there to aid in the process. When it’s time for them to leave, you’ll know, but until then don’t be a jerk. Make them feel welcome; indulge them a little, maybe give them a snack – haunting you is probably hard work!
  3. Get to know them. You’ll never move on if you don’t understand your ghosts: why they’re there, what they mean, what they’re trying to tell you. Spend some quality time with them. Take them out to dinner and a movie. Ask them about themselves, really listen when they answer you. Maybe you’ll learn something about yourself along the way.
  4. Appreciate them. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. You might find you miss them when they go. Don’t take them for granted while you have them around.Take time out to acknowledge them – it isn’t all about you. They’re here for you, after all, the least you could do is return the favor.
  5. You’re not crazy. Everyone has ghosts. Own it; listen, learn, understand. Just, maybe don’t talk to them out loud in public. That’s crossing a line.
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