Goo

I missed my post last week. As self-punishment, I will share a very personal essay I performed at a recent variety show. It is called…

Goo

I could define the moment when I started to leave the comfortable, safe nook of being Daddy’s Girl to enter ‘womanhood’ by my preoccupation with my scent. Previously, I was happy to believe my father when he told me antiperspirant is the devil and deodorant is unnecessary. Then I started to really stink. Maybe the first time Daddy was really wrong was when my B.O. betrayed me. Thanks for that.

Armpits, okay, that’s easy for me. I put on my Tom’s of Maine after showers and don’t think about it. I think, though, you might not be aware of this secret world of crotch stink. I, and other women who have been brave enough to tell me, live in fear that the whole world can smell our vaginas. Is there something wrong down there? Am I diseased? Am I a slut? Is my body communicating to me about ovulation? Am I emanating pheromones? Could my pheromones be a little more selective in who they attract? Finally, if I catch myself liking my own scent (and Fat Bastard reminds us everyone likes their own brand, don’t they) is it because I’m a perverted narcissist or am I just happy my juice smells healthy?

Then there is the matter of which Goo do I put on my hair and skin? Most of this Goo is scented (or promises not to be). Some of the Goo smells delicious and wonderful out of the bright green bottle, or when it is another woman’s hair. Then I put this same Garnier Fructigoo in my own hair, and over time it turns into odor of rancid apricot sunscreen. I repeat for many weeks until I swear off Garnier fucking Fructis for life; this Goo will never be the Goo for me.

Perfumes come in artfully shaped bottles and ethereal colors, like witch potions. The boxes are thrown out, stickers removed, and thus there are no ingredients listed, like hard liquor. That is how I see them on bathroom shelves and counters, crowded together like bar booze or wizard elixirs. There is no test I can take to see which lab-concocted smell won’t turn into rancid apricot sunscreen on my body. I go online and read reviews where women tell me their “chemistry” goes really well with one thing or another, and I wonder if she smells like me. So far I’ve figured out that my chemistry is decidedly opposed to being smothered in “fruity” Goo.
It gets worse. You find a Goo that isn’t awful and is maybe making your skin/hair moisturized. Over time, however, the Goo leaves “deposits” on you. That is the term accepted by Girl Experts: deposits. For optimum Goo satisfaction, you are supposed to switch products, so that your brand new Goo can wash away the deposits from your last Goo.

There’s more. You can’t put most Goo in your Vagoo. It will disrupt your “feminine balance.” Everything you have learned from lotions, soaps, etc. for your skin does not apply down there. Some of the things advertised as safe are a lie. So when I can smell my own crotch when I’m trying to have lunch with my dad, I am secretly panicking about the limited number of solutions at my disposal. Meanwhile, after a day playing frisbee, he smells like a salty animal and doesn’t really seem to mind.

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Eye Exam

Hello. I am currently dictating my blog post to my parrot.* He is typing with his talons. I hope he is doing a good job. He probably is – he is basically human but very little and also green. His name is Birdbird.

parrot-with-laptop---macaw-birdbird

I thought my eye sensitivity would diminish at some point tonight (and I could more quickly write this post), but it has not. It turns out my eyes are dumb and one of them decided to be farsighted and the other decided to be nearsighted. So we had to put the extra dilating drops in them to figure out exactly how much. It’s funny — the doctors make you bleary blind and then you can’t even see the price stickers on the frames they try to sell you and then they give you film sunglasses in an envelope and say it’s perfectly safe to drive home.

The doctor put up the usual test — a chart on the far wall. I covered my left eye. I read all but the last row. I covered my right eye. Startled, I read the entire chart.  “I thought this was my bad eye.” Through a series of tests — flipping lenses, cards of letters, those stinging drops — I learned something about myself I had never known. My left eye is farsighted, and amblyopic.

Last night I sat in the hot tub in my parents’ backyard. They were out of town. I glimpsed my nude body below me — something I don’t see often. I am not familiar with my topography. I think we all find our own bodies strange to some degree. Yet, I am entirely comfortable in my strangeness. For 7 years of my life, I believed this body wasn’t mine, and so, I am used to my body feeling alien.

“This is why I tell parents to take their kids for eye exams,” my doctor said. “If we had caught this when you were 10 or 11, you could have had a chance.” Point blank, she told me, “You will never have normal vision in your left eye. It is what it is.” This eye had always been that way, the other compensated, and now that the dominant one is starting to change, I am noticing the discrepancy more and more. Luckily, for whatever reason, my brain continued to use partial information from this amblyopic, or lazy eye, and its vision is fairly ok. Just a little farsighted.

Younger, disinvested in my borrowed host body, I ignored inconsistencies. I took the eye tests and passed them robotically. I didn’t bother to explain that I often closed my “bad” eye so that I could see better. I didn’t mention my surprise at doing well for these simple readings of letters on flash cards. I was an alien, someday I would go home, and these things mattered little.

Now I’m here. I’m very much human. It might be nice to have better vision, yes? It might be comforting to recognize myself more often in the mirror. Oh, but the losses are small, in my case. I am glad to be learning my body like it is new. And glad to not have learned to suffer at its limitations, to assume ownership of flaws. So, now I’ll take these vision quirks, and the sense of wonder at still being able to find something new about my physical self, even at age 25. When my hair starts turning gray, I imagine I will feel the same.

It is what it is. At least now, I know.


*I love my bird. I got him when I was 4. For political reasons I have to say I don’t think it’s humane to own a pet parrot or exotic bird. They are wild animals and need to be able to fly, have friends all day, and eat a variety of foods. There are other pets more suited to domestic life. That said, he was born in captivity and has never been able to fly due to deformity. I think the life I give him is ok but could be better. Some parrots also have very little chance of being reconditioned to the wild and I support rescuing them. Please choose birds that could use a second or third or fourth home!

My Older Brother’s Birthday

Most don’t know about my older brother, Ian. I don’t often talk about him, and not even until recently did I think I had the right. Though I think of him from time to time and though I know he will always be a part of me, I am timid when it comes to saying his name. It has taken me the better part of my 25 years to claim the grief of losing someone I have never met.

Today would have been his 27th birthday. I didn’t expect this, but tears crawled up to strangle my throat when I wrote this. Each June 13th does not get easier, it gets harder as I catch up after years spent thinking his death was not a shadow that fell on me.

It becomes clearer that his ghost has informed so many parts of me. Losing their first, at 4 weeks, changed the way my parents held me as a baby. I think that grief, too, is carried tenderly like something so small and delicate and breakable even though it is what crushes us.

This year will be the first I spend without my parents on Ian’s birthday. My younger brother has already done this. For years I’ve watched my family plant trees and flowers in his remembrance, and I’ve carried small handfuls of soil and patted them down. This year I’m in Michigan, and all day I will be gazing at the ground looking for a place to plant a seed. Perhaps I’ll find a grassy patch by a house I do not know, opened to me by borrowed family, people I’ve never met who may be welcoming or may be cold — I’m never quite sure what Katelyn’s extended family thinks of me, thinks of us, thinks of what we represent, though so far they have said nothing. Perhaps I will sneak away to the shade of some tree and call my living brother.

I am motivated to write this because friends of mine are carrying their own griefs. I think I ought to say that mourning follows me just as it might follow them. Each grief is as different as the person or people who inspire it; I cannot measure the shape of my grief and hold it to anyone else’s and expect to pass along the same condolences that work for me. Yet I will nod at yours if you will nod at mine as we walk by each other in these familiar long corridors of pining, back and forth, back and forth, every year marked, every year counted, and remembered.

R.I.P. Ian

6-13-88 — 7-13-88

 

Is the Oppressed Life like PTSD?

I struggle with trigger-induced panic. Often, it is easiest to say I suffer from PTSD, though I haven’t been formally diagnosed and do not want to diminish the experiences of others who may have it worse than I do. I know I used to feel helpless when others threw around the word “depressed” as if one could become such by the mere awful occurrence of a bad grade. “Oh my god I got a C- I am depressed.” I promise my use of the label PTSD is not so cavalier.

Lost-panic-typewriter-drawing.jpgYou see, it is true I fit the rubric. Exposure to trauma: check. Subjective re-experiencing of the trauma … hmm, one aspect of it, quite a lot. Newfound hyper-vigilance: definitely. Duration of symptoms for more than 1 month: you betcha. Significant impairment: well, is not going home with the pretty girl significant impairment? Being afraid to be barefoot? Flinching violently when I am touched?

Living life through this lens of panic has changed me. I avoid the strangest things, yet so gracefully, habitually, that I go weeks without noticing. My triggers also, over the years, have spread over more and more stimuli like a sinister net. When I am my most terrified, I imagine the cobwebs of fear will spread until I am forced to be completely immobile, lest I stir my spider of panic.

Ferguson and “Shirtgate” and finishing writing my book (which delves a lot into my panic) (oh yeah by the way I finished writing that) got me wondering if living in oppression is not unlike living with PTSD. Seemingly small infractions, micro-aggressions, seem to illicit a “disproportionate” response. That is, people who don’t know what it’s like to live with triggers and oppression do not understand such reactions. A guy tells me “bitches are crazy,” and instead of feeling mildly annoyed, I feel really sad. A guy asks if he can “watch” me have sex with my girlfriend, and instead of being bored with something I’ve heard before, I feel like my party is ruined.

Granted, this “disproportionate” response tends to only happen when I have a false sense of security, and am startled back into the realization that sexism is, like, prevalent. I’m not going to be as frequently shocked or upset at sports-bro-dive-bars because I’m inured to their stench. When I think I’m having a grand ol’ time busting gender/sexuality norms at a groovy kickback and someone blindsides me with one of these things, then, yes, it shakes me a little. Or a lot.

Sometimes, also, the things that really get me are ones that I know others do not see. I feel helpless because OH LOOK AROUND THIS IS EVERYWHERE… but I know I’ll be hard-pressed to convince someone who doesn’t want to be convinced that the way that guy talked to me was totally indicative of a major sociological problem and not, as my opponent might put it, “just being friendly.”

Yet, to the person with triggers, there is a landslide of connections to cause such panic. Someone runs their hands over my hands in the wrong way, and that connects to one event, which connects to another event, which connects to all of the events ever that have made me feel the monolithic spider’s legs closing around me, her venom dripping on my forehead, and I am reduced to a scared, fight-wild and flight-wild animal.  “Reduced to?” More like detonated.

I know the people without triggers don’t exactly understand. I know this, because the most aware, most well-intentioned, most loving people in my life still require multiple reminders to steer around the land-mines embedded in my skin and in my psyche. They seriously don’t want to hurt me, want to do the opposite of hurt me, but because they lack my vigilance, my daily lived experience, they can’t help but tread on my toes sometimes. (Ouch, foot metaphor hurts for multiple reasons.)

The difference between this PTSD thing, and suffering caused by oppression, is the locus of responsibility. People close to me and who know about my ish ought to be considerate, but healing is pretty much on me. This is my own private monster. The onus of easing the pain of and eradicating oppression, however, belongs to everyone.

Besides that, though, the requests for support I make of intimate friends (for my PTSD) and those with privilege are very similar. 1. If you don’t understand, stop and listen and be receptive to my perspective / the perspective of the oppressed. 2. If you mess up, be willing to try better in the future. 3. Be mindful of the difficulty faced, and how its systematic nature means it can affect every aspect of (my) life. 4. Do not feel guilty per se, but do feel like you have the responsibility to be respectful. 5. Do your own research. Answering questions can sometimes be fatiguing for me / the oppressed, and I  / we don’t know everything.

At the end of the day, if you knew something seemingly-small that you keep doing really hurt someone, would you still want to do it?