Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Living and Reliving

It's funny, the way we make patterns in our lives - the way we live with habits we think we will not break. 

My childhood was tumultuous and strange. Sometimes I tell people little details about my life, and the overwhelming response is always, you should write a book. And here, on this blog, I feel I've begun the process of constructing my own narrative - the words which build upon each other, which illustrate, which eulogize. Very few topics have been off-limits, and if my prose has been purple, it's only been in an attempt to do justice to the crazed dance which is life.

Patterns. I read over my words and they echo back at me, and themes emerge - home, faith, illness. Justice, pain, regret. And through all of these themes are the threads of how I've lived. 

Too often, we place upon ourselves the burden of the past. We carry it with us. All the hurt and trauma, the joy and passion, the moments we remember gladly and those which we long to forget. Within us lie snapshots and vignettes of our families, our friends, our selves, a handful of days which stay with us and make us who we are. As I read my own words - an exercise in vanity, without a doubt - I notice those memories and realize that I've been reliving them. 

Trauma is like living in the past, over and over, not just remembering it but experiencing it anew. And I think a lot of life is like that, not just the difficult bits. Many memories are enriched by that reliving - my sister's birth is made more poignant by the years I've been lucky enough to know her. My relationship with my mother is more glorious because I live in the moments when we were on our own, and I rejoice in the ensuing years of adult friendship. 

But some memories become habits - worry stones we turn over and over between our fingers. We return to them, we cherish them, they lie like quiet waters within us. They are there when we are lonely and scared, and they are familiar, our childhood blankets worn thin and filthy. 

I've read the old blog posts, the old facebook memories, and in so many of them I write about drinking. 

Alcohol has been a constant in my life, from cocktail parties I attended as a child to teenage gatherings to gourmet cookouts to afternoons on the deck. And why not? Alcohol is everywhere. Costly advertisements during the Super Bowl show thin, attractive people working out, busting their butts over weights and interval training, and then rewarding themselves with beer. Another commercial shows a young man who doesn't even want to drink but who is urged by the spectral force of fear of missing out to grab a case and party with friends.

Women are encouraged to drink. We're told by memes, by jokes, that we deserve to drink - that all our work as single women or wives or mothers or professionals requires a bottle of wine at the end of the day. Drinking, the world seems to say, isn't just for the boys any more. There's so much out there for the woman who does everything - chocolate wine, birthday cake vodka, cosmos and margaritas. And we cool, tough girls get to drink the real stuff - bourbon, rye, whiskey - and smile through the burn as men congratulate us on our assimilation into a drinking culture which has elevated toxic masculinity and made it sexy.

And there's nothing wrong with drinking. But these messages with which we are constantly bombarded are bits of that tattered security blanket. Drink to feel good, to relax, to hide, to smile. Drink because everyone drinks. Drink because your parents drink. Drink because, what else is there to do, really?

Breweries, vineyards, upscale liquor stores; fun runs with a plastic cup of cold relief as a prize. Sexy twenty-somethings and craft cocktails, college students and beer pong, weddings, birthday parties, brunch. 

Five months ago I stopped drinking entirely. Personal reasons, medical reasons, any reason. 

Alcohol has been a theme running through my life, through my writing. It's been a companion, a signal of creativity and la vie boheme. I've been the cool girl and the classy girl - mixed drinks with homemade syrups and cold beers savored on hot days. And I never knew how wonderful life could be without it.

Life is so good. 

I'm thirty years old. I carried around my security blanket, I shouldered all the memories and the habits and the curses of my forbears, I believed the commercials and I laughed at the jokes. And I realized, slowly but inevitably, that I didn't want to do that any more. I didn't want the comfort of a lie. And I was lucky in that I stopped and could stop and wanted to stop. 

Everyone should do what is right for them. I'm never going to judge anyone else's consumption. If you, dear reader, enjoy drinking and feel good doing it, then great! All I know is that my life has improved, and that I've been able to discard the remnants of so many hurts, so many moments, a handful of desperate days. Choosing to abstain in our alcohol-worshiping culture may seem almost perverse - but abstinence can be the gateway to healing.

In five months I've done more healing than I had in ten years. Here's to today, and tomorrow, and every moment I choose not to relive, but to truly live. 

Cheers.  

          

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Gagged

I haven't had a lot to say.

Every day we wake up to a new horror. America is in the firm and maniacal grip of a callous and dangerous madness, the madness of nationalism and deceit, of vanity and the vainglorious, of hatred, of cruelty, of ignorance. And the horror is compounded again and again by the knowledge that it will all get so much worse. Today, we hear the words of this country's demise through executive orders. Tomorrow, these usurping tyrants go to work.

Every promise will be fulfilled.

I don't know what to say. I scroll through my Facebook feed, through twitter, and I read powerful statements of protest alongside the shocking actions of our Republican administration. Resistance is present, through marches, through protests, through discord and disagreement, and I sit, comfortable in my home, and observe.

I've always carefully curated my online presence, revealing mostly the mundane and the pleasant on Facebook. Recipes, snapshots, evidence of contentment. I've been a bit more honest here, but Facebook has been the land of the smiling Alice, the nice Alice, the Alice with very few ugly things to say. I've felt it to be an exercise in propriety, almost - a new kind of facade which shows some, but not all, as if I allow a flash of ankle under long skirts but no more.

Niceness. I fight myself, I hold back all the things which I could say. Sometimes that is wise - but now, more than ever, it is a shallow and selfish lie.

Niceness is feminine. Niceness is proper. Niceness is polite.

When millions of women across the world marched on January 21st, they were criticized for abandoning the rituals of niceness. Nice faces turned away from what they perceived as vulgarity. Reproductive organs, and any reference to them, have been criminalized, codified as disgusting or inappropriate, constrained by law and by the common American tongue. To say, pussy, is to betray our national niceness. To grab it is celebrated and rewarded.

When a woman owns her body she is shamed. When a man assaults it, he is made president.

Niceness. I have a few friends who openly support this president, and I may have others who voted for him but stay silent. Most of my friends and family number among the majority of the country who bravely say, resist. I've been struggling against my self-imposed but socially sanctioned rules of propriety, trying to find a way to stay true to myself but avoid offence. What of those friends who voted in a monster? How can I keep them?

Or were they never my friends at all?

Do I want friends like that?

Do I want to be friendly with people who would imprison the children in my neighborhood, as Donald Trump wishes to do with immigrants? Do I want to maintain my smile, my affection, as my closest friends and family are denied equal rights? How valuable is niceness in the face of climate change and the very real possibility that we are past the point of no return? Will one or two friendships outweigh the loss of everything this country is supposed to be about? Will quiet chats and quick waves justify knowing that these people, these friends, are willing to hand our country over to a sexual predator?

Am I still supposed to be nice?

Niceness is a convenient tool. It is a gag. It binds us - it binds women most of all. We are told to be pleasant, to be neat, to be quiet and calm and dignified. We are told to smile. And if we step out of line, if we curse, if we name our body parts, if we yell in the street and demand representation, we are labeled as vulgar, crass, unladylike, nasty. Society brands us as hysterical, again and again.

Niceness is not in any way what we need right now. Gentility and reserve are the costumes for afternoon tea, not for rebellion. I'm scared to rip the layers of niceness from my online and real life persona, because everything I feel right now is so, so not nice. I am angry and bitter and restless. I cry and yell and curse. I find myself contemplating a volcanic release of the defiance I have stored within my body and brain. What destruction will I unleash? What bridges will I burn? How many nice people will I enrage?

To remain nice is to take the coward's way out. I have the luxury of a safe home, a stable life, and I could sit here for the next four years and be nice. I could make tea and be silent. I could be ladylike. It would be easy.

But that life is for someone else.

To hell with niceness. I am relieved, I am grateful, and I am determined to be nasty.