Wednesday, October 31, 2007


Happy Halloween! This Halloween, I've noticed of people getting bent out of shape because a lot of women like to dress, as some people put it "like sluts" for the night. Here's a Salon article that talks about this, and on Postsecret this week, there's even a postcard that reads "I don't care if it's Halloween, you still look like a slut."

As one of the women these people are talking about, I feel I must respond. Yes, I am dressing sexually provocatively for Halloween this year. It's even worse than that. Not only am I dressing sexy (or "slutlike", if you will), I'm going one further: I'm dressing as a sexy nun! Holy thigh-high fishnets, batman!

And I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

For me Halloween has always been about experimentation. You get to be someone or something you're not. I've worn masks, helped a boyfriend create elaborate multi-armed contraption for a computer virus costume, gone shopping for fake weapons and stuffed animals as a hunter of Beanie Babies, worn doctor scrubs and been mistaken for a real doctor (!), worn a skintight red satin gown and devil horns and danced my ass off to disco tunes with a short guy dressed as a boxer. And this year, my psyche wants to dress as a sexy nun, possibly the one thing that's the LEAST like me, as a non-believer in God with, recently, no sexual libido to speak of.

I admit that the nun part is making me feel a little guilty. I flirted with the idea of wearing the nun veil at the office, but I don't want to offend anyone. My best friend is Catholic. I worry a bit about offending her. But I'm not wearing the sexy nun outfit as a protest against God or the Church, I'm wearing the outfit as a contradiction: nun/slut, virgin/whore. It's fun. And interesting. And possibly even profound, if you think about it too much, which I'm endeavoring not to do.

One of the complaints about what the Salon article calls "Slut-o-Ween" is that it demeans women by encouraging them to become sexual objects. Excuse me, but as any woman with two brain cells to rub together knows: we're constantly being encouraged in this way, every day. It goes beyond cliche in our culture - it's just normal. Every woman's magazine, every ad for beer, cars, clothes, cruise lines, makeup, they all scream "A woman is only as good as she looks!!" That's nothing new, believe me, I've spent a lot of time studying this phenomenon.

So at Halloween, maybe those of us who choose to dress provocatively are finally saying "OK, if that's what you want, that's what you get! Check me in this corset and fishnets, blood-red lipstick and inked eyes, tiny skirt and pushup bra. See if you can handle the sexiness that is me."

As I type this, I'm wearing long stick-on fingernails, something I've never done before. It's hard to type. But I like them. They make me feel sexy. Yes, I understand that long fingernails make it hard for women to do a lot of things with their hands, and that some feminists point to the long-fingernail phenomenon as a way our society keeps women helpless. But sometimes, it's just fun to be different. To wear makeup and long eyelashes. To look in the mirror and be what all those magazines say we should be, even if on one level we know the expectation that we be like this all the time is bullshit.

To paraphrase Emma Goldman: If I can't play, I don't want to be part of your revolution. I'm as feminist as I can get, and I believe that playing with the stereotype is actually empowering. Imagine a man looking at the sexy nun, admiring her legs, wanting her, having that tingling sensation in his gut that means some deep, dark, taboo desire has been triggered, finally getting up the courage to talk to her, and realizing she's whipsmart and takes no bullshit, has a smoky laugh, and isn't about to go off in the corner with him to let him play out his lapsed Catholic fantasies unless he's worthwhile getting to know with his clothes on. Isn't that an experiment in empowerment?

You're damn right I'm sexy, and I'm a lot of other things, too. The computer virus (which, by the way, was named after me), hunter, satin devil, and doctor were all parts of my psyche that got to come out and play on other Halloweens. This year, it's the sexy nun, challenging one of the few deep-seated taboos still left: the taboo that says spirituality and sexuality are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and that one is more sacred than the other. I don't believe that, and this Halloween, I aim to prove it.

So if you're out there tonight, look at the sexy ladies and know that what you're seeing is only part of them, but a part that wants to come out and play, at least for one dark night. It's Halloween, after all. It's time to let the skeletons in thongs and 6" stilettos out of the closet.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Does my Ass look Fat in this?

I was sitting in a bar last night with a friend who had just gotten a new haircut and wasn’t sure how she liked it. For the record, I think it’s totally cute and I’m not just saying that. Anyway, a coworker of mine , whose other job is as a hairdresser, sat down next to us, and my friend asked her opinion of the haircut. My coworker immediately launched in with criticisms, pointing out straggly hairs and jagged layering, while I scowled at her from my barstool. It reminded me of an article I read on radical honesty, where the writer experiments with being totally honest, and interviews the proponent of radical honesty ,Brad Blanton. Last week, another young coworker (and yes, both of my coworkers in this scenario are young – she’s in her twenties, he’s still in college) proclaimed that he didn’t understand why people can’t just honestly tell each other when one person wants to leave a conversation. Ironically, only a couple of minutes before, I had been talking to him,(or I should say he had been talking at me) and I had desperately wanted to get out of the conversation. It made me wonder if the people who believe that are the ones who would hear that message the most.

But, I digress. My point is that I think complete honesty is a terrible idea. My friend felt bad about her hair and I had to spend time reassuring her, using the fact that my coworker is a hairdresser as proof that she doesn’t see my friend’s hair the way ordinary people would. What was the purpose of complete honesty, in that case? I suspect it made my coworker feel good, but it made my friend feel bad, and it didn’t result in any improvement of her hair. Granted, my friend shouldn’t have asked if she didn’t want to hear a negative answer, but what’s the harm in saying, “Oh, it looks cute”?

We live in a society with both written and unwritten rules of conduct. These rules are there to allow us to live relatively peaceably together, and most often these rules take into account the fact that we’re human, with human flaws. If everybody were perfectly serene and centered, with no need to defend their egos, radical honestly would make sense. Nobody would get hurt or offended, then. But we are very much NOT like that, and the unwritten rule of the little white lie is meant to protect our soft, squishy human egos from more pummeling than they already get in the world. Even in cases where someone really DOES want to hear the honest truth, it’s important to be careful. Even with friends and intimate partners, a little padding of a hard truth with a positive insight goes a long way in making life nicer for everyone. And I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t be so. Yes, I would want someone to tell me if I have spinach in my teeth or if my pants are split in the back, but those truths actually save me from further embarrassment, But do I want a date telling me "I was really bored during our date, I think you're ugly, and I never want to see you ever again?" Hell no. All that would do is make me feel bad for no reason, and I wouldn't want to say it to someone, either. I would feel terrible.

It’s not my job to teach my friend – or anyone else – how to be ego-less. It IS my job to help build positive, supportive relationships with my loved ones. And if I have to tell a small lie or half-truth in order to make a friend feel good about herself, I will, and I hope she would do the same for me. But, I really DO think her haircut looks cute.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Right about now, if the airline is actually running on time, one of the most significant people of my adult life is rising into the atmosphere in a tube of metal and gasoline, en route to his next adventure.

He's moving to Trieste, up in Italy's crotch, to teach english.

I think everyone may have someone like this in their lives, or they will. He was the person who shared (and instigated) the most profound joys as well as the blackest pits of despair for the last 7 years of my life. Sometimes the love I felt for him knew no bounds and no sacrifice was too much, and sometimes - often within the same weekend - my hatred for him was equally vast. I've cried my eyes out over this man and come closer to self-harm than ever before or since, but have also felt in his presence, for the first time, that absolute safety that comes from sharing a soul. It was, shall we say, an intense relationship.

The relationship was conflict-ridden from the start, like nothing I've ever experienced. We fought before we even started dating. We fought the first time we went out. We fought the first time we had sex. We fought the first time we went on a trip together. We fought and fought, and made up, and fought some more, and cried, and laughed, and solved all the world's problems, and had really good sex, and pretended nothing was wrong, and knew everything was wrong, and drank too much, and ran out in the rain and tears, and wrote letters full of pity and wisdom, and came together, and separated, and came together again, and separated again.

We have the best conversations and worst fights of anyone I've ever known, and for seven years we've tried to figure out how to come to a balancing point. We never did, and now he's flown the coop, followed a dream he's had for a very long time, and gone to see if it's true that Italians make good wine and pizza.

I've known for several months that this was his plan. When he first told me, we had just started communicating again after being on radio silence with each other for months. Right before Christmas last year, a last horrible and embarrassing fight, phone calls and letters that spilled out all that nasty stuff that's better left unsaid, like the rotting entrails of a carcass all over my clean kitchen floor. Then, as always, the one phone call - a 3-hour call - and then another a few weeks later - another 3-hour conversation - and then more regular calls, and then the meeting at the public place, with friends, and then the nice dinner, just the two of us, and then.....well, this time it's goodbye.

Of course this time I'd decided not to let him back into my life. We'd done it too many times - said it was over and then woke up in each other's arms. I wasn't going to do it again. I was determined. A call a month seemed OK, but then when I knew he was leaving, I suggested a nice dinner together, and then our mutual friends wanted to see him before he left, so the nice goodbye dinner turned into several get-togethers with friends and two or three meetings between the two of us. If he hadn't been leaving, I doubt I would have said yes to any of it, but because he was, I let him slowly back in, until yesterday morning I woke up and actually felt the loss of it all. This was my friend and enemy, flying away. It changed everything.

I didn't expect the sadness, honestly. Up until yesterday, I was glad he was leaving. Not because I don't value him, but because with him on another continent, I would no longer have to keep myself on alert, wary of any feelings affection, on guard against any movement towards each other. With him in Italy, maybe we can really be friends. But yesterday morning, as I woke up after our very expensive, very nice, very cocktail-laden farewell dinner, I wondered why I felt so low, why depression was percolating in my brain. Then it hit me: I'm going to miss him.

In Eat, Pray,Love, the author writes of soul mates:
"people think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants, but a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down walls and smack you awake...soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it.'
I read this yesterday, and it rang in my heart. Yes, that's what he was to me. A soul mate. The one who smacked me upside the head with the fact that I was loveable. Someone who saw the light shining from me that I never could see for myself. Someone who pushed me to my limits and beyond them, in good ways and bad, someone who taught me patience and compassion not because he necessarily embodied those traits, but because it was either go down into the pit of despair, or rise up above it. He gave me wings by pushing me out of the nest, and I...what did I do for him? Who knows, only he can answer that.

I remember the first time I realized I was in love with him. I was pacing in my old apartment, a funky, dark, subterranean place that nevertheless had its charms. I was thinking about this crazy relationship I had found myself in, and noticed this strange, expansive, hot feeling in my chest that felt like it wanted to burst out of there and fly up into the night. I stopped what I was doing, and all of a sudden it dawned on me: this is what love feels like. I once asked him, at the very beginning of our relationship, what it felt like to be in love, and he said "You'll know it when you feel it." He was right. I knew it. And though feeling love for someone isn't the same as being able to be with them, I now know what it feels like to not only be in love, but to love someone unconditionally, without any wish or hope that he be someone he's not. With only the wish and hope that he be happy, wherever he ends up. That's real love. In my sadness that he's gone away, there's also that feeling of hope for him ,that in this next adventure, he'll find that place where he finally feels at home.

This is for JP, wherever you are:
May you by happy
May you be healthy
May you be safe

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Lure of the Open Road

Last weekend, I do what I often do. I went away. By myself. With no specific plan, only a destination in mind. This time, it was the Napa valley. At other times, I've gone up to Guerneville, Truckee, and Seattle, or down to Monterey and Santa Cruz. The summer I graduated from college, I went on a 2-month solo trip to Ireland and England, and last summer I took a 2-week crazy-quilt trip to Charleston, Miami, New Orleans, and Willow Creek, Montana.

I don't know anyone else who routinely just takes off this way, but for me, these adventures are some of the supreme pleasures of my life. There's just something so thrilling about having the time to explore a place, whether new or familiar, and not to have to compromise with anyone else. Not to have to discuss where to eat, which road to take, which hotel to stay in. Not to have to smile when I don't feel like it, or act interested in something I'm not, or share my sensations and thoughts if they aren't ready to be shared. These trips refresh me, make me think, inspire me, and get my creative juices flowing again.

The wanderlust hits me about every couple of months. I feel this need to get out of Dodge, to leave behind the cat, the dirty dishes, the home repairs that need doing, the answering machine, the weedy lawn, and head out on my own. For as long as I can remember, during family road trips, I've gaze longingly at the roads curling up the dusty flanks of hills or disappearing into green forests, wondering where they went, and wanting to follow them. I always wondered what was around that corner or over that ridge. As an adult, I've made it my business to find out.

Until last weekend, I never drove on my wanderings, because I never had my driver's license. That all changed last January, when I finally conquered my driving phobia and got my license, so this last weekend, I actually rented a car. It was a milestone for me, something normal people who've been driving since teenagerhood probably can't really understand. For me, it was a stupendous step, almost as major as graduating from college.

You see, "the freedom of the open road", for me, until this year, always meant buses and trains. The freedom was always limited by public transit schedules and routes. I would sometimes literally spend hours poring over timetables and route maps on the computer, trying to figure out how to get someplace, and sometimes, as last year when I was trying to figure out how to get to Stinson Beach during the off-season, I would just give up, considering it impossible or too difficult to do.

Now, the open road has a different meaning to me. I can take any road! At any time! It's amazing. I'm enjoying the sensation of having a new experience that most people had when they were 15 or 16. I wonder how different it is for me, at 37. Do I appreciate it more than a teenager would? Who knows. All I know is that when I came back unscathed from my trip to the Napa valley, I sat down with my brand spanking new California map and it was like being let into a candy store and being told I could have anything I wanted - well, maybe a liquor store, I'm not that into candy. I could go to Mendocino! Drive up Hwy 1! The Gold Country! Anza-Borrego and Joshua Tree! Heck, I could even drive out of state!

Napa valley was gorgeous. I drove along the sun-dappled, windy hwy 128 between Calistoga and Healdsburg, the buttery yellow autumn light made the yellow-green grape leaves seem to glow, and the bronze hills looked soft, like kitten fur. Sometimes, I stopped under the oak trees along the side of the road just to breathe the warm air and listen to the crickets. I walked a bit on the shore of Lake Hennessey. I hiked in Bothe-Napa state park and went up to Coyote Peak, sitting for awhile under the pines and listening to the breeze through the tall branches. I had lunch and a tiny little bottle of wine at Jack London S.P., (pictured above) sitting on a concrete block and admiring the rolling, terraced vineyards. I wandered through Calistoga, St. Helena, Sonoma, and Healdsburg, and stayed the night in H'burg, waking the next morning to find that it had rained in the night. In the morning, I had coffee and fruit in the square, sitting in a patch of sun while glistening leaves fell all around me. It was heaven.

Now my head is full of plans - I want to spend a rainy winter weekend by the ocean somewhere, drinking something warm, curled up in front of a fire after spending the morning walking on the beach. I want to see the desert again, I want to follow rivers, to drive up into the Sacramento Delta that reminds me so much of another, much larger delta. The world has finally become my oyster, and I want to enjoy every bite. It's about time.