In the Interest of Full Disclosure, I Want to Cut Someone

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I would like to interrupt my regularly scheduled report on the discrimination my friend and I experienced for important news that affects everyone: I have PMS. And it’s a bad one this time. It cycles- every few months, it switches off between physical and psychological, and after a few months reprieve I’m overdue for my trip to crazy-town. Also, there’s a movement to demystify menses right now.

Right now, I should be getting back on the job search horse, but all my energies are devoted to not sitting in a corner, methodically opening and closing a switchblade. I went on a rescheduled job interview for a sales associate position today after being cancelled on once (after waiting more than an hour), and in the interview the manager told me the position was 4 to 8 hours a week. I consider it a triumph of self-control that I didn’t flip the desk and her stupid Starbucks drink onto her. However, it’s not just genuine aggravations that are bothering me right now. Here’s a sample of my thought process today while doing laundry: Where the %$&# is my &*%^ing Downy cap?! B&%#! better have my fabric softener measuring cup. It’s a good thing my menstrual rage burns itself out into naps.

Not that I’m all mean, mind you. I asked my sister if we could talk seriously for a moment, then I told her I really appreciated her bringing home BBQ from work as movingly as if she’d just promised to give me a kidney. Cured meats are close to my heart right now. I just had a heart to heart with my sister about brisket, and based on her laughing reaction, I went a little overboard. Then I almost cried ‘cuz she laughed at me.

All my fluids are escaping out of my eyes right now. PMS coincided with James Horner’s untimely death, so I’ve been listening to his themes on YouTube and sobbing uncontrollably. (Not Titanic, I have PMS, I’m not a frickin’ masochist. Also, not to be simplistic about race relations, but I think that diptard Dylann Roof and his ilk should be strapped to a chair and forced to listen to the “Glory” end theme on repeat until insanity descends. It’s not that I think something like that can actually battle racism or impart insight, it’s just that all my revenge fantasies involve film scores for some reason.) I used to listen to the Legends of the Fall soundtrack on cassette when it first came out and I was 11 or 12. I even carried the cassette with me everywhere, including school, that’s how cool I was.

PMS messes with your brain in other ways. Insane, terrifying ways. It’s not just the “Oh God, please don’t let me be pregnant, I’m 32, I’m too young to be a parent” fear even though you haven’t had sexual contact since before public opinion turned against Justin Bieber. Pre-menses likes to make you doubt your sanity in other ways- the hormonal brain actually Gaslights you into believing crazy things. During one difficult bout of PMS, I became convinced that I was mistaken about where testicles were situated on a penis, or that things had somehow changed and I was out of the loop. I had to look in a textbook to make sure (because everyone borrows my laptop, so I’m afraid of leaving penis-related things on there). Of course, I wasn’t, since the design is pretty basic and straightforward, and they hadn’t moved, but the “What if I just forgot and didn’t know it” fear is real.

Well, that covers all the bases: anger, sadness, emphasized emotion, self-sabotage, hunger, bargaining and acceptance. Glad to add my pearls to the discussion.

Denied Accessible Housing, Part Two

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Last time, I discussed the travails my college roommate Tabby and I went through to find accessible housing. Naturally, because of her disability, we ran into some trouble.  I think we left off with the apartment manager who called Tabby’s powerchair “a cart” last time, so without further adieu, here’s Inaccessible Housing 2: Electric Boogaloo.

The ironic thing is, I don’t think cart-lady meant to be malicious. In fact, most people don’t, which is a fact Tabby has pointed out many a time. It may very well be that the movie “My Left Foot” is her only point of reference for cerebral palsy. In that movie, Christy Brown’s brothers did in fact pull him around in a cart. However, his disability was more severe was Tabby’s is, Tabby got around on her own (motor) power, Tabby is female, and this wasn’t a coal town in 1930’s Ireland. I don’t know what it is about cerebral palsy that makes people lump everyone together, with no varying degrees of severity. There are shades of cerebral palsy. (Not to be confused with Shades of Cerebral Palsy, the BDSM porno.)

The actual apartment complex we were turned away from was popular with students, and right in the middle of town, with a “Now Leasing” sign up front. I won’t use its real name, I’ll call it…Crappy Gardens. We went into the front office, met the manager, who was a blond middle aged woman, and laid out our list of needs: ground floor with two bedrooms. The manager made a face like we were her abrasive mother-in-law dropping in for an extended visit: annoyed mixed with panicked.

No, they didn’t have anything like that. No checking on the computer, or at least pretending to. At least have the decency to act like you care enough to try before telling us no anyway. We thought that since she was the manager, she would know her complex without having to check, so we moved on.

Crappy Gardens was at the front of a side street with about five other apartment complexes behind it, with names like the Hacienda, or Nicer Gardens. The entire street was covered with “Check Us Out” signs. We decided to try the next one, but couldn’t find the leasing office. We decided to head back to Crappy Gardens’ office to ask for directions. I remember we felt hesitant to go in, because we did not feel partticularly welcome there. Each time we visited, we weren’t there for longer than a minute.

We went back in, and got upgraded from mother-in-law to IRS audit. This time, I think panicking was winning out. What about the other apartment complexes, Tabby asked. It turned out the same office controlled all six complexes (complexes being a set of about three or four buildings each), and no, there were no available apartments in any of those either.  Oddly, Tabby and I didn’t rise up in outrage and demand to call HUD right that moment to call her out on her outrageous lie. At the time, we started to feel like kids who have been marched back to the store to return candy they stole: in the wrong, and oddly ashamed. Not to mention that we put out and inconvenienced this nice grown-up. We went home.

A few days later, I called Crappy Gardens, pretended to be someone else, and got a different receptionist. I told her I needed a two-bedroom on the ground level and she said to come by for a tour of the available apartment any time during business hours.

Next time: Why Tabby didn’t turn them in to HUD.

That Time My Friend and I Were Denied Housing, Part One

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I talked to my friend Tabea the other day. (In this blog, names have been changed to protect the adorable.) We keep in touch regularly even though we no longer live in the same town, and she was telling me about how she went to a museum and ran into difficulties because of her power chair. As you might remember, Tabby is my former college roommate with cerebral palsy who I once walked in on changing. Ah, memories.

Tabby went to a museum and found herself dealing with the usual accessibility problems: the search for non-stair exits, taking elevators that get stuck, drunk people who lean on the back of chair.

“My life was so eventful when we lived together,” I laugh.

“Screw you,” she says, but she’s laughing as well. We both have a shared storehouse of disability horror stories from the time we lived together in a crappy apartment in Central California. If I had to choose our most memorable one, I’d say it was the time we went apartment-hunting.

Not every difficulty was due to people’s reactions to her disability, if I’m being honest. There was the apartment we called the “Haunted Apartment” because it was eerily perfect on paper- two bedrooms for $450 a month, where do you find an apartment like that outside of the 1950’s? -but when I visited it it was fifteen feet from the train tracks. That’s not hyperbole. Then there was the time we decided to walk all across town without any planning- just set out one day and walked til we got to the freeway, it occurring to us too late that we’d have to double back in the end- and stop at random apartments with “Now Renting” or “Check Us Out” signs.

“We got exercise that day.” For some reason I imagined her getting exercise as well.

“Not me,” Tabby corrects me. “I exercised my finger,” she said, referring to her powerchair joystick. It’s the kind of forgetting about her disability that I do, and I can’t decide if it’s from love or stupidity on my part. Tabby chooses to interpret it as deep affection for her unique personhood outside of her disability. “I feel loved,” she beamed that time I took us to a restaurant, and pulled our car up to the parking space and said, “Well, let’s pile out,” while forgetting her chair was dismantled in the backseat.

We hit up at least a dozen apartment management offices that day, and I learned early on to let Tabby speak up ahead of me, or else they tended to speak to me exclusively and ignore her, even when I made it clear the apartment was for both of us.

A woman told me, “I don’t think her cart will fit in our doors.”

‘Cart?’ That was a powerchair- a nice one, even. It is no longer the Dark Ages. The days of pulling your disabled friend along behind you in a rickety wooden cart are gone with the nickel gallon of gas.

But next time, it gets downright illegal.

Thoughts While Watching My First X-Rated Movie (Slightly NSFW)

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This blog is cleaned up, but I still wouldn’t read it at work.

The title is technically true; I’ve only ever seen “R” and one “NC-17” movie before. That was “Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down,” which as far as I could tell earned that rating because a woman had a believable orgasm in it, and not one of those cute, controlled fake ones, like in “The Notebook.” I don’t have an interest in pornography, but I decided to give another foreign erotic drama a whirl. It’s supposed to be a thought-provoking drama.

1. Hey, no English subtitles. Ah, who cares. This is the culture that brought us kabuki, I’ll get by.

2. If it gets too dirty, I’ll fast-forward. Also through the boring non-dirty bits.

3. Whoa, very instructional. Just in case there’s any confusion as to where a penis goes during sex, we get a close up shot. Yeesh, how mechanical. It’s like watching the inside of a clock, but gross.

4. Oh good, there’s bush. Can’t do without that. Whoa, gender equality right there.

5. Whoa, this guy has a magic penis. Within a few seconds, these women are going nuts with pleasure. I gotta tell you, the glamour shot of it wasn’t all that impressive.

6. Yipes, no preamble? Someone asks to see your vagina, and you’re just like, “Un-kay.” This is supposed to be sexy? I’m kind of embarrassed for this girl. I’m kind of embarrassed for this guy.

7. Whoa, not cute. Do that in private, old man.

8. People are watching them now. They don’t seem too bothered by it. Maybe this is a cultural difference and I’m being close-minded.

9. They’ve reached the point in every romantic relationship where they realize that other things can be placed in a vagina besides a penis. What?! How dare you, sir.

10. OH MY GOD don’t eat that!

11. Whoa, it’s official. I’m not attracted to women. Or men.

12. Peen, vadge, peen, vadge, we get it already. This is erotica? This is about as sexy as as watching puppies being born.

13. Look, even he’s falling asleep at this point!

14. Fast-forward, fast-forward. Geez, again with the sex-having? How long is this movie? Crunk this, I’m about to take a nap.

15. How is this woman not pregnant? They had enough sex for ten babies.

16. Thats it? I’m going to hell and it wasn’t even worth it. Glad I didn’t pay for it.

The 99 Cent Store Is Not A Fantasy Destination, Dammit!

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Recently, my sister told me of a fantasy she had. She looked at my face and said, “No, not sexual! Gross!” Apparently, my eyebrows were telegraphing ‘sex.’ Even more disturbing, she thought I actually wanted to hear about her dirty thoughts. Shudder. Plus, she never wants to hear about mine, so why should I listen to hers?

Her dream, once she got her tax return, was to…spend $20 at the 99 Cent Only Store. I’m sorry, but ballin’ at the dollar store is not a fantasy. Fantasies are not meant to be feasible in the real world. They’re dreams that test the further limits of the human imagination. I fantasize about winning an Academy Award for adapting my own novel for the screen. I fantasize that my narrative provides Adrien Brody with his second Academy Award-winning role. And that we meet for drinks to discuss the role in a fancy restaurant, and I am magically no longer socially awkward, and he thinks I’m intelligent and charming, and one thing leads to another…Now, that’s a fantasy!

I’m not trying to have a fantasy-off. But you have to have dreams in this life. You always have to want something, even if it is unattainable. Today I passed by a mirror, and saw a thick body with rolls and tremendous, unwieldy breasts. My shirt had crept up in back, and not only was my underwear showing, but the waist of my pants was tucked in on itself. All this was not only further evidence that I was turning into my father, it was a sign of my current sorry state. The state of someone who spend the afternoon sending out resumes and who needs a shower and a set sleep schedule. But I will shower, and I will get a job eventually, and I will get this novel finished, dammit! The sleep schedule may be beyond saving.

You gotta have dreams, man.

Also, further proof I’m my dad: I was sorry I missed a PBS special. I even whined, “I missed “Cancer!” Once my beard starts growing in full-force, the dads-formation will be complete.

My Parents Never Had Sex

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Last night, my cousin Lea came over to help us with a yard sale. My cousin and my mother grew up together, and they have a close relationship. The three of them- Mom, Lea and my Dad -always enjoy each other’s company, and my parents are more outgoing when she’s around. On this night they started talking about sex. This isn’t surprising, because Lea is pretty blunt and unembarrassed about such things. My parents are pretty straight-laced, so it was jarring to see them so uncharacteristically jocular about a subject they don’t usually discuss. In any case, I learned what the most intimate act two people can engage in is: it’s when two people are making love and one of them farts. “You’ll never see that in a movie,” my Dad said. The fart- which I have always associated with marriage -especially seems to signify a meeting of actual people, than of simply bodies. I didn’t even think my mother knew the word “queefing,” but it turns out I was mistaken. The three of them laughed over the idea, making up “apologies” to partners.

We never used to be this open. In fact, we still aren’t, without the benefit of an outside agent. Our parents don’t joke about sex without the benefit of being able to temporarily borrow someone’s attitudes, and they certainly don’t joke with me or my three siblings. Our family has a strange attitude toward sex. We acknowledge its existence, and my sister and I can discuss it with each other and with our mother, but never in relation to ourselves. The people who live in this house are not sexual people, or if we are, we are furtively. My sister and I found out one day that we had the same attitude about our parents’ sexuality: that it did not exist. My sister told me that she chooses to believe that our parents don’t have genitals, but “black bars,” like in censored pictures. I choose to believe that my parents don’t know what sex is, don’t have sexual desires, and that my siblings and I are cabbage-patch children. (Except for my quasi-autistic brother, who I believe emerged fully-formed from Alan Turing’s kneecap.) I think most people don’t like to think of their parents as sexual beings, but I especially don’t like to think about my parents navigating their own sexuality. The “trauma” of parents’ sexuality coincides too closely with the actual trauma of their own upbringings. My mother’s own background is marred by abuse, and my father’s with the guilt of his own father’s abusive actions. The boundaries they instilled in us- an enforced avoidance of sexual matters -reflect a fearful reestablishing of the boundaries which were broken with them, and the safety that neither felt growing up.

I don’t like how I learned about procreation (because that was what sex was acknowledged as, a tool of procreation). My parents sat us all down (two older girls, including myself, and two younger boys) and told us where babies came from all at once. I sense that my sister was old enough for “the talk,” or was approaching that age, and they decided to do it all at once for everyone. They probably wanted to get it out of the way, because I don’t recall receiving any other instruction after that. I couldn’t even tell you what they said; I started crying and don’t remember a thing. I didn’t even learn the mechanics of intercourse until I overheard some crude description in grade school. (I remember thinking, “That can’t be right.”)

You’d think I’d be either sexually uptight myself, or rebelliously promiscuous, having grown up in a family where sex wasn’t discussed. That is not the case. I have no problem acknowledging my own sexuality to myself. I think my sexual desires are healthy and natural, albeit inconvenient at times. I am very book-smart about sex, and I think it is because I am re-recording over how I learned about sex: I’m teaching myself the way I wish I were taught about sex.

When my parents laughed about the messy, corporeal aspects of sex, it jarred me not only because I don’t really want to hear about that from them (seriously, gross), but because it made me think that if their histories had been different, they could have been the kind of people who could have always laughed over sex rather than shrink from it in fear, and thereby teach us to fear it.

Colleen McCullough and the Overweight Obituary

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Colleen McCullough died recently. She was my favorite author. I took Tim with me to Germany when I was an au pair twelve years ago, and I still have the same ratty paperback copy I lugged around Europe. I craved the English language then, especially in the early months before the rapid-fire flufen-flafen started to settle into actual words for me. At the end of the day, I’d thumb through it, enjoying the beauty of the language as a respite. It’s the kind of book you love so much you don’t recommend it to people, out of some insane desire to hoard the reading experience for yourself. Years later, I read The Ladies of Missalonghi and adored it as well. I felt that Ms. McCullough elevated what could be written off as saccharine pap (a claim she herself leveled against Tim, her first novel) by writing with erudition, insight and an unfailing instinct to portray characters according to genuine human nature.

I found out that Ms. McCullough passed away when I followed a link stating that a famous author was called “fat” in her obituary. I didn’t know who it was who died at first, and when I realized who it was, I had tears in my eyes. At first, I didn’t appreciate the fact that her appearance was discussed first in her obituary, effectively burying the lede by leaving out her achievements. However, once I read the entire obituary, I realized that they weren’t left out, only that the author chose to begin with that statement. I thought that the author was most likely trying to create a vivid picture of McCullough as an approachable and vibrant human being. It’s not a writing choice I would have made myself, but I think it should be considered in the context of the characterization the author made of McCullough. I don’t state that people who were offended by the piece are wrong, because I don’t try to replace others’ viewpoints with my own. However, it may be the case that the author was paying tribute to McCullough by painting her as human, fallible and real, a real person. A real woman, who lived and worked in her body, such as it was. A strange kind of humanizing tribute by take-down. Here’s the link to the entire obituary to judge for yourself: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/the-thorn-birds-author-colleen-mccullough-dies-on-norfolk-island/story-e6frg8n6-1227201243185?nk=e6d434a2be29945396f592d6c037e379

We as a society are already well aware of the gendered double standard of appearance. That horse is dead and buried. To my knowledge, Tom Clancy’s weight and ability to attract women weren’t commented on in his memorial. In fact, his New York Times obituary didn’t mention his personal appearance once. What we as readers are aware of are the unwritten rules which characterize women as their bodies. Our existence as women is first and foremost corporeal, fleshly, a woman’s body, with all the socialized trappings and mystique, more so than a man’s. I don’t take original credit for that old idea; I didn’t come up with it, any more than I created it. But I think it helps us understand how McCullough’s obituary could be found offensive.

I feel I have many parallels with Ms. McCullough, even if I most likely will not be as successful as Colleen McCullough was. I as well initially studied neuroscience, I have been single by choice for long stretches, I began writing relatively late in life, and I am also overweight. My own obituary may very well include a blurb on my fatness, knowing my friends and family. Let’s be real: I might drop dead in my bed surrounded by candy wrappers I mistakenly thought I had time to clean up. (Coroner’s ruling: This person was a slob.) That’s fine by me. I know where the importance of others’ conception of my appearance lies in relation to my work, and I’m sure Ms. McCullough was aware of it as well.