quiet ache, slow burn
my yearning heart in your hand
“keep it safe,” I beg
quiet ache, slow burn
my yearning heart in your hand
“keep it safe,” I beg
I 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.
I 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
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.”
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.
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
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
even if the glue
must be my own
sinew and bone.
(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
Thanks 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.