Thursday, October 30, 2014


So, as usual, I need to fold the laundry. 

I have a lot of tops. Women's clothing is, I believe, designed to fall apart from season to season - especially if you're shopping at mid-range retailers like Target or Old Navy. Trends change every year, and stores are pushing us to adapt to what's trendy - from advertisements to lazy stitching, our culture wants us to buy, buy, buy. 

What this means for me is that I get a couple new tops every season so I can have a greater rotation of clothing, and possibly extend the life of my existing shirts. And, you know, there's the other stuff - occasionally I need a new winter coat, for example. I'm a pretty thrifty shopper - I never buy anything that isn't on sale in some way. I use sites like Ideel and Rue La La to grab nicer pieces at half the price, and I always look out for deals on clearance at stores like Forever 21. 

The issue is, of course, that none of the sizing is standardized, and very little of the sizing options actually fit me. So I'm left with all this laundry to fold, and most of it doesn't totally flatter my shape. I've got tops that are okay in the chest but woefully baggy in the waist - and then there are the shirts which flatter my waist and make my chest look like I'm about to star in my very own burlesque revue. 

Oh, and jeans! My God, if they fit my hips, they're almost always too big in the waist. So I spend my days constantly pulling up my pants. Not very dignified, and certainly not confidence-boosting. 

So I shop. I read size charts on every website and for every brand. But no matter how closely I study those charts, I never see a size which fits every part of me. 

I'm not saying this is just an Alice issue. I have a hunch that most women don't see themselves reflected at Macy's or Lord and Taylor. Part of this is just because every woman has a unique, wonderful shape. We can't all be lumped in together. Every woman is different. 

But non-standard sizing doesn't do us any favors. Who knows what a size fourteen - which I think is now the average size in America - actually looks like? It's different in every single shop. I touched on this a while ago when writing about going clothes shopping with my sister, but it bears repeating: a lack of standard sizes, as well as a misunderstanding of different body shapes, probably doesn't help women feel good about themselves. 

How can we feel confident when none of our clothes really fit?

How can we actually enjoy shopping, the gauntlet of the dressing room, when it's a total crapshoot? 

I think everyone - men and women - want to look presentable. I also think that women are held to a higher standard in that regard. Women are supposed to look good - not just professional, but attractive. Well fitting clothing, in some work environments, is a must. I have serious issues with the idea that women, in general, are required to be pretty or appealing or whatever the heck it is that society wants from us; I have issues with the fact that retailers make that unfair obligation even more troubling with random sizing and shoddy products. 

Sometimes I feel like women just can't win. 

I've got all this laundry to fold, and I've been procrastinating by googling around for a nice, new winter coat. I found one I really like, and it's on sale - and by the size chart, I am a large-extra extra small-medium. 

Yeah, you read that correctly. I wish I were making that up. I'm not. 

This isn't a particularly deep or long post. It's just a bit of a rant, I guess. It seems horribly unfair that the bodies we inhabit are usually rejected by retailers and clothiers. It seems unfair that we are supposed to be attractive at all times, and that ill-fitting clothes are another stumbling block in our search for bodily autonomy and respect. 

And I'm just tired of it. 

Can't a girl just buy a winter coat?

Can't women, every once in a while, win?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Chicness and Privilege

If I were I child, now, in Baltimore, I still wouldn't be able to afford it. 

The groundbreaking restaurants which were new ten or twenty years ago were only in my reach as a child because of my Grandpere and Grandmere, whose generosity often took the form of candlelit dinners and the brown sugar burn of a creme brûlée. The Inner Harbor - no Harbor East, yet - was within walking or bus distance, and every once in a while we'd make the trek down for Christmas shopping or a glance at the water. I remember that taking a cab home when it got dark was another ten, thirteen dollars on top of money we should not have spent. 

But we lived in Bolton Hill, we were able to call a taxi, we benefited from our private and college educations and no one, despite our level of income, doubted our worth. 

We were educated and white in Baltimore. We had access. We were poor, but we had that golden ticket to the sweet excesses of privilege. 

I've just read a piece in The Baltimore Sun, "When did Baltimore become so chic?" At first, I was nodding along with descriptions of success. Oh yes, you can come here and use your arts degree and find a better chance at fame and recognition. You can see Maryland in Town and Country. You can go to Lululemon; you can be one of the "attractive young people."

If you have a golden ticket. 

I don't want anybody to rag on Baltimore. This is my place, the history, the water, the filth, the dank smell of those deep sensory experiences and more. So when I see pieces in the news about my great city, I feel pleased, and proud - we're from here. Everyone should know how great this beautiful town on the bay really is. 

And it is great. It's great if you have access - even the limited access I had as a child. You've got museums, cafés, concerts at Peabody; you've got artscape and the sour sweat smell of the summer; you've got the ducks in the harbor and the water taxi motoring in the wind. 

You've got the Sip and Bite, and Trinacria, and church bells, and that silly restaurant in Canton in the shape of a cruise ship. You've got Thai food in Federal Hill, and Grand Central in Mt. Vernon, and Patisserie Poupon with its mural as you get onto the Jones Falls. There's the shot tower, and the Maryland Historical Society, and the streets whimpering nevermore. 

It's true - it's all true. Baltimore is a wild, odorous, manic place. 

A place that is, apparently, chic. 

But for whom?

The fast encroachment of land deals, government tax breaks, my alma mater Johns Hopkins eating up whole neighborhoods - gentrification - is pushing out those people who don't have a golden ticket. Reading the Sun article, you'd think that we're all suddenly yogis, or people who buy high quality produce at Whole Foods, beer geeks and gourmands who wait in line for a taste of the unique, people who do those things and think this town is still "affordable." 

It's not. 

It's not when you live in one of Baltimore's many "food deserts" - places with almost zero access to food. No adequate grocery stores, no adequate produce or health food but ample access to processed foods, higher rates of obesity and illness amongst those who don't have proper health care. No gym memberships to deal with high calorie carbohydrates, no trips to the yoga studio, no crossfit. Emergency room visits instead of a preventative checkup at the doctor's office. 

It's not affordable when you live in a city with great academic institutions, and you don't qualify, because the schools you've been to never had enough money for textbooks and couldn't always keep on teachers because of a high rate of burnout. Hopkins isn't affordable if no one was there to make sure, make really sure, that you achieved everything you could - if the educational infrastructure didn't let you, a student with the ability to learn and a capacity for creativity, learn or create. 

It isn't affordable if your parents were working far too hard for far too little, and didn't have any time to help with homework. 

It's not affordable when big companies come in and steal your neighborhoods, pushing you further away from your work place. Pushing out your culture. Pushing you from your roots. 

These aren't my experiences, but they are real Baltimore experiences. As I said, I had the privilege of my whiteness, my easily obtained education, my family members, my friends. And, again, even with all of those things, I couldn't afford this glimmering, chic Baltimore twenty years ago. 

I was lucky. Not Lululemon lucky. But I know I was really, really lucky. 

In the Sun piece, the one mention of anything other than economic and racial privilege was about The Wire. Paired with that reference is the word, ghetto. 

I have no doubt that the author of this piece is an intelligent, well-intentioned young woman. She put together an interesting article for people who might be contemplating moving to the city. And yeah, if you have enough money to pick up and move, and if a Whole Foods and popular bars are within your reach, go for it! If you can move here and overcome that dreaded word, ghetto, Baltimore business and government and the police force will be very happy to have you. 

No one is stopping you. Certainly not the people you're displacing. 

Can I say though - don't come here for those things. Don't come here to look at faces or bank accounts or life stories which look like yours. Come here for the whispering alleys, the Constellation, the cheap lunch counters which serve breakfast at three in the morning. Come here to meet new people, different people. Come here to invest in the community as it stands - come to make a difference.

Come to Baltimore because for you it is affordable, and because your choices can fuel a local economy (the corner shop, the dry cleaners, the salon) and not a national economy (Target, Zips, Massage Envy). I'm not kidding - if you want to spend your life here, do it with integrity. Tutor. Be a big brother or big sister. Donate to your local library. 

Don't use that word, ghetto, like it's a death knell. 

Do something about it. 

Give that golden ticket to someone else. 
If we want Baltimore to be more than just chic - you know, cool, trendy, slightly overpriced for the typical resident - we need to rethink this process of gentrification. Baltimore will go on - it always does - for people who are privileged in one way or another. But how can we praise chicness above a basic human understanding of who our neighbors are? Of how our choices, from that lucky place of whiteness or money or education, affect the real lives of the real people who live here? 

I don't care one single minute about my city being trendy or cool. I do care about the people who are forced out to cater to my privileged taste. 

When did Baltimore become chic?

Baltimore became chic when it gave up on its people. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Learning How to Say Goodbye

Breaking up is hard to do. 

Before anybody gets worried, no, I am definitely not breaking up with my amazing husband! But I am finding myself in the midst of another kind of personal loss -

I'm breaking up with myself. 

I don't know what anyone else's experience with psych medication is like, but for me, taking my medication is like erecting a glass wall between my past self and my present. I understand that everyone grows up and changes - of course, we all do - but my experience is characterized by a sudden jump in perception and memory. And the older I get the more I realize that I am really, really not the same person I used to be. 

Alice at eighteen was a total, brilliant mess. She was thin and sharp and angry, and she was creative in a mad, furious way. She loved too fiercely; she held on to her pain and cherished it. She took too many risks. She balanced on the borders of reality and reveled in ghosts in the corner and the voice of God in her head. 

She didn't realize what was wrong in her life, not completely. She had memories of her childhood but didn't feel their sorrow. She sat in the back garden and lied. 

She fell in love, she made mistakes, she committed herself to all of them. 

Now, through both processes of growing up and managing my bipolar disorder, I'm happier and safer - safer from myself. But I am also mourning myself, in some ways, because that Alice who was so carelessly, recklessly passionate would only be fully accessible if I stopped taking my medication. 

And I will not do that. 

So a part of me seems so lost. 

I wish I didn't have to feel that loss so deeply. Sometimes, when I consider my handful of pills, I think that those false chemicals should cure me of all grief, help me to forget the me who is long gone. They're supposed to fix me, I think, and why aren't they

I just want to be normal. And I suppose that I forget, in that desperate wishing for a sorrow-less self, that even neurotypical people feel sadness, feel grief, feel loss. 

Even people with properly functioning brains might mourn aspects of their childhood and adolescence. It makes sense that we all have things we regret, or things we wish we could reclaim - a good metabolism, for one, and that pain in the chest which comes from loving some girl or boy for the first time. And we all realize bits and pieces of our past, we all see them in a new light as we get older and hopefully wiser. That journey of self-discovery isn't painless. 

Challenges crop up in adult life. And I know that I sometimes find myself reacting to those challenges with emotions I've buried and hidden for far too long. 

We've been getting a new roof on our house - pretty stressful all by itself - and we've gotten a bit of bad news about our furnace. I've been in crisis mode, calmy doing what needs to be done, but in the quiet moments before I fall asleep I am gripped by old fears and uncertainties. Memories of rain, memories of water pouring down through our ceiling when I was little, come to life and haunt me. Memories of deep cold and helpless anger, memories of feeling out of control and too young and scared. And it's hard to tell, sometimes, if the way I feel is normal or if it's heightened by misfiring neurons and stress hormones and the way I relive the past as if I were there, right there, forever. 

I mourn that childhood, and I mourn that I had forgotten about it. I wish I still could. 

I'm breaking up with the lies I've told myself to survive, and it's like ripping off a bandage and digging into the wounds, half-healed. 

And I'm breaking up with the narrative of Alice, pre-medication, because if the scary parts of my childhood are exposed then it all starts falling to bits - my madness, my fury, my loves. Those are the parts of myself I wish I could keep. 

I was talking to my mother yesterday about all this stuff, and at a certain point I found myself saying that I just can't trust my memories or myself anymore. My deep connection to faith is sundered by the knowledge that it was fueled by delusion, by visions, by an unparalleled and unbalanced intensity. My close relationship with the divine - which, at the time, was tightly knit with my emerging sexuality - has less meaning, because I can't access those feelings with my handful of pills. I'm in the middle of giving up on God, not just because of my diagnosis or the difficult loss of my Grandpere, but because I just can't reach God the way I used to. 

Another thing to mourn. Another thing to put away. 

Growing up - we all do it, we all have to learn more stuff about the world and about ourselves. Broadening our experiences means understanding our past experiences in a new way. Not an easy process, whether you are neurotypical or not. And sometimes, looking at myself from the perspective of the present is like skinning my knees, over and over again, before they are fully scabbed over from the last fall. 

I'm breaking up with myself - with the comforting lies of my childhood, with the way I was dangerous, with a false sense of divinity, with old stories of love and connection, with that too-thin girl who danced on the edge of a knife. And it is a blessing to know that the beauty of my present life is here for me as I grieve - my family, my husband, my neighborhood, my home. I'm not alone as I do this. None of us are. 

That glass wall, somewhere between when I was eighteen and nineteen - it will always be there. But it's getting clearer all the time. I can see the past, and yeah, it hurts, but I can also access the joys of my unmedicated self. I can value my ability to manage water coming through the ceiling. I can remember my frenzied creativity and I can still play the piano, now, in my little music room. I can be deeply in love because I remember what it was like to feel love for the first time. I can pray, sometimes. 

Grief is hard to accept. I don't think anyone wants to grieve, and I don't think anyone finds it easy to mourn parts of ourselves which we cannot get back. I'm telling myself that this is natural, normal, to feel sadness and loss - and of course it is. 

But feeling grief is an active process of healing, too. I've got to grieve in order to move on with my life and come to terms with not only the Alice-that-was, but the Alice-that-is. 

Breaking up is hard to do. Sometimes it is all we can do. 

But every once in a while, I look at my handful of pills, and I wish it were just a little easier. 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

It's All Borked

I've read quite a lot of Harry Potter fanfiction. 

Like, a lot. 

I was a lonely child, and I quickly figured out that searching for things on the internet lead to a whole new world of romance and humor and words I wasn't supposed to understand, but did. I'm pretty sure that the first word I put into a search engine is unrepeatable here, but quickly after that I learned about fanfiction and 'shipping and slash, and I read Buffy fanfiction and Labyrinth fanfiction and stories about Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy and the ways people touched each other when they weren't supposed to. 

It was a silly time of life. I knew nothing about human interaction other than what my teenage heart told me, and I could read these fics and put myself in them - student, adventurer, lover. When seventeen-by-way-of-time-turner Hermione spent her summer hols in Rome and struck up a juggling game between Draco and Professor Snape, I was like, hell yeah. A smart girl with all the guys and a mystery to solve? You bet I was there, on the edge of my seat, waiting for more.

Now, ten years later, I will go back and read some of my favorite fics. I immerse myself in the things I used to love - big writers who have gone pro, illicit PDFs of writing purged from the internet, old caches of fics nobody really cares about, anymore. And I can enjoy them. 


You see, some of my favorite pieces are about two adult characters of roughly the same age who end up together. Some of my former favorites are about two adult characters of vastly different ages who end up together because the writer thought that might be interesting. Exciting. Perhaps taboo. 

When I was seventeen, I have to admit, I had a serious thing for older guys. I don't think that's all too uncommon, but I was reading this stuff where the brilliant student took on the brilliant professor and they were in all sorts of love and I thought yeah, that's totally okay. I was seventeen and I was pretty significantly stupid. I had a crush on a teacher and there was Hermione, seventeen and legal in the Harry Potter universe, taking lessons from Snape in power and seduction. When I was seventeen, that all made sense. 

My sister is turning fourteen in November. Not that far off from a curly haired genius with a penchant for mystery. 

When I try to reread and relive those old stories, I'm disgusted. 

This isn't a post about Harry Potter fanfiction (if you hadn't connected the dots). It's about the ways we need to respect childhood, femininity, and appropriate agency. 

I'm not ragging on fandom, here - but I am seriously objecting to the narratives which allow a student, however legal, to have an equal relationship with an adult. Even more, I have a serious problem with the way we see young women. The sexuality of young adults should be completely untouchable by adult sexuality. And if we continue to see young women's bodies as sexual in the adult eye, we are seriously failing our children, our girls. And we are teaching them the wrong lessons. 

We read in the news, and have experienced in our schools, that young women's bodies are consistently policed. Leggings are wrong, yoga pants a no-no, tank tops a smidge too small, too tight. Those rules purport to restrict sexuality (which is absolute rubbish, for shame!), but the way our society functions absolutely does not. Our society is the narrative of the young, capable (but fragile) woman who is attractive to more powerful, older males. Even our fanfic reinforces this! There's clearly a power dynamic, and all of that is about a woman who has little or no power, a woman less experienced or a woman who's body needs controlling.

I look at my sister and her beautiful body and soul, and I think about the fanfiction I read, written by adults, which would strip her of her agency and of her childhood in the name of sexual titillation. I think about the school dress code, which strips young women of their right to choose their own outfits because God forbid a boy get distracted (because somehow she is responsible for their behavior). I think about her being seventeen and reading stupid garbage fanfiction and living in a world where women are victimized because of their own flesh and budding sexuality as a matter of course. 

It is, as my mother has taken to saying, completely borked. 

Here's the thing - young people have these overwhelming ideas of how capable they are. And they are not in any way aware of the forces outside of themselves which influence their decisions. They are absolutely valid people with valid concerns and wants, and they absolutely should be able to do certain things, like wear whatever they want, read whatever they want, have access to family planning, have parents who love them more than they love their values. We, as adults, have a responsibility to make the world a better, safer, more loving and more equal place for them. Teenagers are going to get a lot of ideas of sexuality and relationships, and that's okay - but we have to plant the seeds of self-respect and autonomy, of pride in sexual identity and gender, of power dynamics and yes, safe sexual relationships. 

Hermione/Snape? Not a safe sexual relationship. Not even close. Why should older women in fandom teach that brand of unsafe sexuality and supposed love to younger women with access to google?

Why should schools teach young women and men that women's bodies need to be restricted? Need to be controlled?

I go back and read this stuff and yeah, I am disgusted. Because it comes out of a broader culture where women, especially young women, have no power. And because young women deserve the opportunity to be young and fool around and mess up on their own terms, not within the male gaze or the adult context. Because I think there are adult women out there who haven't realized this, yet. 

I'm tired of this narrative of powerless women. I'm tired of our schools enforcing powerlessness. I'm tired of looking back on myself at seventeen and thinking, my God, somebody should have protected me from what was not only inappropriate but immensely hurtful. I'm tired of thinking that we have failed our sisters. 

It's a hard thing for me to look back on what was an escape mechanism - fanfiction - and realize that it was completely borked. But it was, and it came out of a culture of young women having no agency and no respect from the adults who are supposed to protect them. It's hard for me to acknowledge that the fics I read at seventeen described highly predatory behavior because, as I've laid out, at seventeen I really didn't know anything other than a narrative of powerlessness. 

Fandom should do better. The schools should do better. Parents should definitely do better. 

Because my sister is turning fourteen, and because really, if you're into a fandom or not, we've all been a part of the story of our sexuality being taken from and used against us. 

And no young woman should think that that is okay.