Welcome To My Bed

Having It All: Impossible, But I Want To Anyway

Over the course of the past several days, I have started (and stopped) writing several things to be posted here.  One of them is an essay I've been kicking around for a long time about my unbridled and slightly neurotic love of my fellow New Jersey writer, Junot Diaz.  The other is a very personal bit of matter-of-fact prose about where I was when my father died (it was not at his hospice bedside, as I'm sure a lot of people I'm acquainted with have probably assumed).  The reason you haven't seen either piece, besides the fact of my self-imposed cease-and-desist, is the fault of a complicated breed of anxiety that I've been trying to chase down an name for awhile.

Confession time: I have a really hard time with the personal politics of being a writer.  I get very wrapped up in the ugliness of rejection letters, the even-worse pangs of jealousy over the success of my peers, and the general sense that I am completely missing the "community" part of the writing community I try very hard to contribute to.  I worry about how I seem infinitly more than how I am actually doing as far as any given project is concerned.  This is the unattractive truth: I have still not gotten past constantly looking over my shoulder, wondering what other people think of what I'm up to, and that insecurity rears its head at very unfortunate times, often causing me not to attempt something for fear of publicly fucking up.

I could blame this insecurity on growing up between two very opinionated sisters who have always singled me out as the "odd" one, but in recent years they seem to delight in all of my bizarre tendancies and creative projects in a way that is the most overwhelming support I could ever ask for from people who do not do the same things I do.  I could blame a long string of codependent friendships and relationships that made me believe that the only way to feel important was for me to be a better friend or girlfriend than some other candidate, even when the person I was trying to impress was the wrong person for me in the first place.  I could blame the coded language of rejection letters that comes to me as nightmare narration--a string of vagaries about why I am not worthy written so tersely as to be impossible to parse, or my troublesome take-on-everything-and-smile-through-it personality that has me often over-booking my time so that I cannot do any of the things I take on all that well.  All of these explanations are really just excuses.

I don't want to talk about Ann-Marie Slaughter's now-infamous "having it all" article, but I think I have to get closer to the bone of what I'm talking about.  We all know that the idea of "having it all" in the first place is ridiculous.  The concept was a crutch used by the feminist movement back in the day to open a window into the workplace for my gender, and I am grateful for the autonomy it afforded my generation, but the implication that women must live multiple lives simultaneously in order to satisfy the world at large is part of what frustrates me about being a woman.  I don't think my days would be so fraught if I had a penis.  Maybe that's just an assumption.  But in talking to my male friends and my boyfriend about this, it seems like the assumption may be right.  Most of them aren't constantly concerned with who's doing what and how they can be seen as the most successful of their friends (at least not that they've admitted to).  The way they talk about it, their experience of success is measured against an internal benchmark.  More "personal best" than "best of the rest".

I wish I had the emotional acuity to ignore the influence of outside pressures, or at least to process it in a way this is actually productive.  But I'm not sure I do.  For example, the Junot essay: it's about the ways we make authors we enjoy into imaginary friends, and how that person is destroyed if ever we become familiar with that same author in the process of living his everyday life.  There are turns of it that are meant to be funny in an over-the-top kind of way that I am sure are well done when I think about them in a vacuum, but when I consider my audience, I'm not sure my speaker won't be read as obsessed, insane, and definitely very creepy.  The piece about my father is even worse to think about as something others might read, as its whole premise is wrestling with what I'm sure many people might say I should've been doing in my father's last days.  Both pieces are about teasing out the ways perception alters our experience, but I can't even bear to show them to anybody.

Which is utterly ridiculous.  Junot Diaz will probably never read what I have written about him, not because I will never publish it, but because he is busy with his own reading and writing life, which I'm pretty sure does not involve any version of me, real or imagined.  And I can think of plenty of things no one has any right to tell me how to do: topping the list is how I was meant to process and attend to my father's passing.  But my problem with the politics of these sitautions remains; at once, I know it's impossible to please everyone who might stumble across this humble blog, but I convince myself that if I don't write with pleasing an audience in mind, I might as well never show my work to anybody in the first place.

At the core of all of this is the fear that if I write only for who is reading, I will lose the integrity of my stories.  On the other hand, if I write only for myself, why publish?  Finding a balance would be the obvious solution, but I'm not quite sure how to get there.

3 Sorority Girls Walk Into My Cafe --or-- Rape Culture As Reported By Undeclared Feminists

I will start off by stating, unequivocally, that I am deeply prejudiced.  I immediately dislike people involved in Greek life on their campus of choice.  To me, frat-related social activities are about as appetizing (and as bland, and as devoid of value) as Kraft Mac&Cheez.  When someone within earshot mentions an affiliation with such activities, I shut off my ears so as to spare my gag reflex.  I'm not proud of this.  I'm sure plenty of nice people pledge.  It'd just not my cup of tea.

That being said, I was at work yesterday, and three preppy, willowy blondes wandered into the cafe for coffee.  They were perfectly harmless, discussing Jell-O shots and "the sloppy girls" and campus scandal. And then the campus scandal portion of the conversation took a turn from who's-hooking-up-with-whom towards the college's cover-up of a sports-team-related rape.

I didn't hear what school they went to.  Unfortunately, the details they discussed were generic enough to belong to any school that's had such a scandal.  And that's where my heart broke.  Right at the word 'generic'.  The fact that these types of situations are generic at a college level is disgusting and horrifying.  In this particular case, the rape allegations involve the basketball team.  The girls chatted about how predatory the players were when they saw them at bars near campus--how they'd sit back from everyone else and prey upon the freshman girls, specifically choosing those inexperienced and drunk enough to be manipulated.  Now, I obviously haven't seen this behavior firsthand (the closest thing my college had to sport or frat culture was an Ultimate Frisbee team called The Red Scare), but I felt like I knew what they were going to say before they even said it.  It's been in the news so much.  Promising college athlete accused of assault or rape, denies allegations or calls the girl a slut or blames her for being drunk or some combination of all of the above.  College stands by the player, not the victim.  The media twists everything.  Lives are ruined.  The end.

I expected their conversation to veer back towards the frivolous, but it remained in a place of outrage at their school.  According to one girl, their school went nine years without passing along charges of assault or rape handled by campus police to the proper officials in local law enforcement.  Even though it is their on-the-books policy to do so.  Even though it is their moral obligation to do so.  And after 9 years, somebody finally noticed this institutionalization of rape and reported it.  I wonder what kind of reprimand the school received for this transgression of human rights.  The girls spent a good deal of the following conversation making conjectures about how it might feel to be a young woman who reported her assault or rape and have the school officials take down her statement and promise to take action only to sweep the entire thing under the rug.

I had to do everything in my power not to jump into the conversation at several points.  But let me jump in now, after the fact, and say how all of this made me feel about the attitude that colleges routinely take when it comes to assault.  The horror of this, as I stated earlier, is how generic the girls' talk of a basketball team with a rape scandal is.  As woman move towards greater social equality (we've actually statistically surpassed men in terms of college enrollment), these all-too-routine exhibitions of rage, sexual aggression, and moral lapse followed by aggressive institutional cover-up appear in the discourse more and more.  And it isn't just assault of women.  Think about Joe Paterno's disgraceful actions.  Colleges are too afraid of PR nightmares to protect their communities properly.  I am sick over this.

Sexual violence is not about sex, but power.  This kind of behavior is not even invisible in this case, but rather seen, acknowledged, and actively made to disappear.  I wonder if those responsible for the nine years of non-report at this particular school have wives or daughters, or, even more chilling to think, are women themselves.  By doing nothing about assault and rape, the school is essentially condoning it.

Eavesdropping on the three girls was an essential slap in the face for me.  Women are women, regardless of who they associate with or how they choose to conduct themselves.  It is an ugly impulse to write off members of my gender for their social choices when we have the exact same concerns.  It an ugly standard that our chief concern must be rape.  Another of the girls told a story of walking across campus alone at night that contained all of the reasons why my mother hates that I walk home alone from work at night.  Who knows if these girls would call themselves feminists.  But clearly, you don't have to self-identify as a feminist the feel like a victim of rape culture.  And you certainly don't have to be a feminist to expect to feel like you are entitled to protection of your personal safety.