Xenogenesis

lilliths_brood_cover_artI recently finished reading Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis trilogy, and just had to share.  Published under the collection title Lilith’s Brood since 2000, it is made up of three novels: Dawn, Adulthood Rites, and Imago.  Butler is an excellent storyteller, with a “hard science fiction” bent in this trilogy that is satisfying as well as thought-provoking.

The series takes place in an interesting sort of dystopian future, where humans have destroyed Earth and each other almost completely.  An alien race steps in to save what is left, hoping to trade genetic material to ensure the survival of both humanity and themselves.  The aliens believe humankind, if left unaltered, contain a “Contradiction” between their high intelligence and their hierarchical nature that will lead to eventual demise in every scenario, as was already proven by our destruction.  A fascinating thought to consider, isn’t it?

While my own personal prose style preference strays closer to that of Amor Towles, thematically Butler does a masterful job of exploring sexuality, race, species, gender, and humanity — deftly and also in an entirely un-preachy way.  While decades old at this point, Lilith’s Brood is almost frighteningly relevant to us today.  Are we doomed to obliterate ourselves without some kind of outside intervention?  Can our intelligence outweigh our hierarchical strivings?  Is our stubbornness a boon or a hindrance?  It may be that history will have to play itself out before we can answer these questions, but Butler gives us a powerful nudge to think about these things sooner than later — all tied up in an engaging alien-encounter package.

Octavia Butler cover art by John Jude Palancar.

On men, power, and a yearning for something better

small_woman_symbolI wrote this all in a rush of words about a year and a half ago, just to get it out of my system for myself.  I think perhaps it’s time I shared it, as it remains as pertinent as ever.  #metoo

  –C.M.D

I’ve got this very particular kind of yearning going on.  Expansive.  A yearning in just about every area of my life, small and large and in-between.  I had an unpleasant epiphany that I am not sure I have the energy to write out, about men and power and women.  I realized that even though I consider myself lucky to have never been assaulted, some of my most embarrassing moments as a young girl were because of men and their behavior — and I finally realized they were not my fault.  Because they were not overtly sexual or “abuse” it never occurred to me to frame these encounters this way, but a great blog post on Cup of Jo and an excellent piece by Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker on how men implicate their victims in their acts made me rethink things.

“…one of the cruellest things about these acts is the way that they entangle, and attempt to contaminate, all of the best things about you. If you’re sweet and friendly, you’ll think that it’s your fault for accommodating the situation. If you’re tough, well, you might as well decide that it’s no big deal. If you’re a gentle person, then he knew you were weak. If you’re talented, he thought of you as an equal. If you’re ambitious, you wanted it. If you’re savvy, you knew it was coming. If you’re affectionate, you seemed like you were asking for it all along. If you make dirty jokes or have a good time at parties, then why get moralistic? If you’re smart, there’s got to be some way to rationalize this.”

–Jia Tolentino

Joanna Goddard mentioned that every woman has these kinds of moments, and that we all seem to consider them “nothing” because they are so pervasive in our daily lives.  Her account of being a harassed and kissed by her boss at only 14 years old made me cast farther back in my memory than I ever have when thinking about whether I have had issues with men being inappropriate (until now I have only considered my life as an adult).  I was so surprised to realize that yes, I have, and that they are some of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood.  That I was sweet and shy was not my fault — what kind of man thinks it is appropriate to tease a 5 year old about having hair on her legs?  Are they already supposed to be hairless, the better to attract?  To be sexy?  I was mortified, petrified, and so, so ashamed of my body, for reasons I did not understand. And I hated every moment that I had to sit in that truck next to that man.  Why is the ability of a man to say whatever comes into his head so much more valuable, more legitimate a need, than the comfort and perception of safety of the woman (or girl) he feels the need to speak to?  Likewise I was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be asked about Morro Bay by a man in Home Depot.  I had never been to Morro Bay — the jaunty hat I was wearing was a souvenir I was given, and I liked that it was a sailor hat.  I hated being approached by a stranger, and hated being put on the spot.  He felt large and loud and looming.  I don’t think I ever wore that hat again.  Typing it out or trying to describe that encounter… it seems relatively innocuous.  But I think there is something to gut feelings, and in hindsight… well, he was certainly not offering to help me find my parents.  And that is not including all the microaggressions that are just “nothing” to us.  The older men who have called me diminutive names.  The harassment I got from boys my age in school.  The boy in 2nd grade who would chase me around the playground, for example, so instead of playing I spent my recesses hanging around the yard duty (who did nothing to stop him from hassling me).  The boy in 5th and 6th grade who would taunt me with ”monkey legs” during P.E., who left me, again, mortified about my body.  But insults and harassment mean a boy “likes you.”  If you complain, you’re told “boys will be boys,” and what’s the harm?  Is it any surprise that we grow into women who don’t speak up?

It is somehow terrible to realize and freeing to consider — that these embarrassments were not because I was too shy, or to naive to get the joke, or too sensitive, or overreacting.  The women I was so sad for in the Weinstein bombshell — those articles that made me feel ill — they are all of us.  I am part of that.  I am a women that blames myself.  It is so insidious and cruel, to turn the best things in us into liabilities, into faults, into reasons why we deserved what we got, what we get. And in a twisted way, it almost makes me feel more helpless.  To know that, albeit in comparatively small ways, men have successfully made me feel small.  And they have made me feel responsible for that smallness.

I don’t know what the answers are. I want so desperately to believe we have come a long way, that things are better than they were, but then I see the way these courageous women are belittled when they speak up.  “Why did she wait so long to say something?” “Why did she accept a settlement?” “She must have been in it for the money.” “She was asking for it.” “Welcome to Hollywood.” I am left with such melancholy, that there is so little regard for half the world’s population.  That I am a part of that half.  I should be respected as a person, regardless of whose daughter or sister or friend or wife I am.  I should not only matter in the context of the men I am related to.  Add this yearning to the rest of the pile.  I am a pile of aching yearnings, big and small.  I am yearning for something better.

status quo

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Agusti Puig, Tiny figure and shadow, mixed media on canvas, 24 x 18 in, 2017

 

today I rock the boat

ripples in a pond radiate out into my world,

effects unknown but stillness is hoped for

in a far-flung eventuality

where I receive comfort and hope

solace and acceptance

instead of giving until I am empty

pouring myself out into a mold

I have not chosen

until no longer recognize

the shape I have taken

in the name of harmony

cost unrealized until it becomes

too high to bear.

ragged and strung out are my

feelings

soul

breath

a collage I am finally able to view from above

if not with clarity, then compassion

and a small bud of resolve

to pick up the pieces

and reshape them

until the self I so long to be

blooms

even if the glue

must be my own

sinew and bone.

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

 

 

conditional retraction

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‘Sitting Woman with Legs Drawn Up’ by Egon Schiele (Narodni Galeri)

 

(for now) there is stillness amidst

what was once her maelstrom

whirling slowed into a lilting-soft song/dance

less frightened, more eager

no longer slamming her body against the walls

of an invisible cage

(for now) she is perhaps not sated, but quiescent

he has soothed the beast within

brought her light

velveted the darkness

into an appealing purple twilight

she has sheathed her claws

(for now) they do not reflect the cold moonlight

instead (for now) she allows his warmth

to thaw her edges

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

 

 

On home, and tea

acs_0133Thanks to Erin Boyle I stumbled across a beautiful mediation on home, travel, and belonging in Candace Rose Rardon’s essay, Home is a Cup of Tea.  She combines sweet sketches with simple musings about traveling, moving, settling, loving, and living — and how we define “home.”  Like Rardon, I have fond memories of drinking tea.  The tall, narrow cupboard in my childhood home full of tea tins, the fun of choosing a flavor for that particular afternoon, and the steamy, milky sweetness in my cup.

Even though the world may be extraordinarily challenging and difficult right now, we can pull strength and resilience from a sense of home, whatever that might be for each of us.  Some days, a cup of tea and a quiet moment to recharge are exactly what is needed.  Then we can jump back into the fray, renewed and ready to face the day.

missing vocabulary

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I wish there was a word for that feeling of wishing you had a part

in the happy memories of someone you care about (perhaps too) deeply.

 

It comes with a surge of envy for those that do,

and a queer ache in the chest,

and sometimes even a pricking of the eyelids.

A stab of sadness that feels utterly at odds with the happiness of their memory.

 

I’d hand you that word with my palms wide open — like a gift —

to show you my aching, and how I wish to be more/closer/deeper a part of you.

–Charla M. DelaCuadra

 

 

the challenges of feeling empty

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Depression is a difficult thing to talk about.  I know, because I suffer from it.  Lock, stock, and barrel, I deal with depression and anxiety both.  I do think the stigmas around mental illness are slowly beginning to change, but preconceptions and judgements still linger.  Even when people mean well, it can still be a challenging topic to deal with.  Especially since these disorders are largely invisible.

In some ways, I think some of the difficulties surrounding depression (and anxiety) can be attributed to the language we use.

“I’m so anxious about my meeting today!  I can’t wait until it’s over.”

“Ugh, I’m so depressed they got rid of the pumpkin spice latte already.  It’s my favorite!”

Sound familiar?  The fact that we use the same verbiage to describe both fleeting emotions AND majorly debilitating illnesses often makes it difficult to be taken seriously, no matter how well-meaning someone might be.  No, a walk around the block will not make me less depressed.  Unfortunately, encouragement to look on the bright side will not make my anxiety any better.  But someone listening, just being there, or simply acknowledging how difficult things may be can sometimes make a world of difference.  And if you aren’t sure what might help?  Ask.  It’s that easy.  A very dear friend recently asked me what helps when I am feeling bad, and I felt so seen.  His kindness in that moment made me so grateful.  Similarly, I almost cried when my doctor described panic attacks as one of the most terrifying experiences out there.  Up until that point, the episodes I had experienced were described to me as “only” panic attacks (as opposed to a cardiovascular issue).  The validation and relief that came with that simple shift was staggering to me.  I felt seen.  And I felt understood.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to explain is when people say you can “just ask” for help:  “Just reach out — I’m here anytime!”  Unfortunately, depression is insidious in that way.  It isn’t simply feeling sad. To me it feels more like emptiness.  Like inertia.  All the color drains from the world, I can’t appreciate any of the good things in my life, and I want nothing more than to curl up into myself and cease to be, for fear of being a bother to anyone.  As much as I try to “logic” myself out of negative self-talk, on the bad days, you can’t convince me I am anything other than lazy, weak, a downer, a failure, and a burden to everyone I care about.  It takes an immense amount of willpower to even get out of bed some days, much less send someone a text that I’m feeling a little down.  (I won’t ever say more than that, for fear of being a burden.  Or a downer.  You see?  Insidious!)  That being said, if I can get there, if I can send that little text, I am forever grateful if someone says, “Hey, you’re not a bother.  I know it’s hard, but you’re strong.  I believe in you.”

I had a rough day recently, which made me think I should put some of this out there, in the hopes that maybe someone sees this and feels a little bit less alone.  Sometimes, that can make all the difference.

Then and now

Very recently I had the pleasure of visiting with a friend I hadn’t seen since high school.  We had a lovely afternoon catching up and laughing at the antics of her small son.  Life took us on our own paths, and then somehow dumped us out into a fortuitous afternoon — one where we could just walk and smile and enjoy a moment in time together.  It got me thinking, about thens and nows, and about the people we become.

Certainly I am not the same person I was 18 years ago.  It was more than half a lifetime ago, and since then I have experienced joys and sorrows, victories and defeats, pain and love.  But in some ways, I think I am still that girl, too.  Idealistic, quick-witted, a bit self-conscious?  That girl is still there.  She is deeper now, though, and more multi-faceted.  Hopefully a little wiser.  Maybe a bit more of a realist, but no less a romantic.

The way we grow, the paths that we carve towards change — these make for quite the journey.  I get caught up in the day-to-day so often that I forget sometimes how far I’ve come, and how far I still can go.  Thank you, C, for unwittingly prompting this meditation on self.  It was lovely to see you.  And to see me, in a slightly different light.

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