Monday, September 30, 2013

Last post of September: The courage to write

This is the final post of September. My commitment to post every day in September was ..... well, it was a failure, I suppose. I missed either 3 or 4 days. I don't care. Perfectionism is over-rated. I'm satisfied with the month's output, and I hope you are too.

One post in particular, "Censorship Down Under" -- a post I almost didn't publish -- got significant attention. A lot more people than usual responded to it on Facebook and in the comments section, and several people wanted to talk about it in real life.

And then late last night an editor at Blogher, a huge women's blogging network where I occasionally cross-post, picked it as the editor's choice on their Love and Sex page. I was so flattered and honored I blushed right here at my computer when I read the email from the editor telling me she'd chosen it.

I've answered a few comments there, and as of 2:45 am, the time I'm writing this, there were over 2500 reads. That's a shit-ton for me. Later this afternoon, she added the Great Wall of Vagina section of last night's post, which I uploaded this morning. I theorized if she liked one vagina post, she might like another. She did.

I will say it's odd having somebody else edit my writing, which she also did. She also took out the photo of naked vaginas that I agonized over including in that post, and used one that's not so graphic. But you know what? I was a magazine editor for 10 years. That's the way the business works. I'm just grateful that she highlighted that post, and not just because it made my ego swell up to the point I had to have an emergency brain drain put in, but because it started an important conversation with both women and men.

And that's what most writers pray for every night when we get on our knees beside our beds -- right after, "Please let me win the lottery let at least one person read what I wrote tonight."

I've been substitute teaching in a friend's creative writing class at a magnet school for the arts recently. I've taught there twice, and I'll be teaching another 11 days in the next month.

I teach both a senior and a junior class, and creative writing is like their major. It's what got them into the school, which requires an audition for the 7 magnets in the school.

Friday I had them write on an index card whether they felt safe -- because I think it's terribly important that students feel safe in a writing class. I asked them to tell me why they didn't feel safe if they answered no.

The senior class is small, only 9 kids: 7 boys and 2 girls. All of them said they felt safe. They are comfortable sharing their writing with each other and with me. They support each other, and so far, I haven't seen any bullying or mocking. Good-natured teasing, but no meanness.

The junior class -- 18 kids -- is just the opposite. Most of them said they don't feel safe. They are reluctant to share their writing in class or with each other in groups. They said they don't want anybody to see their vulnerability. Some of them will share, but many won't. I've heard some of the girls in the class are bullies. They don't pull any shit in front of me, but I probably know which ones would if they thought they could get away with it. I suspect they are intimidating even when they aren't doing anything. I know all to well how bullies function.

I told that class today if they didn't get over it, they would never make it as writers. Or actors or dancers or musicians or artists. I said if they couldn't get over their own fear of showing vulnerability through their words with their friends and family or their classmates or even with strangers, they would never make the connection people need to feel in order to invest their emotions in the writing.

I told them if they ever wanted to be writers, they had to learn not to give a shit about what other people think. Yeah, I'm a hypocrite, but the caring is why we do it and the not giving a shit is how we manage to put it out there one more day.

I was probably banging my head against a brick wall with most of them. That's what teaching is like. The ones who got it, probably already had it. The ones who are afraid will still be afraid.

Although I want to, I'm not sure whether to tell them about this experience -- partly because I'd have to talk about vaginas in a high school writing class. I'm not even sure if that's appropriate. Partly because they can google like nobody's business, and I'm not sure I want them reading my blog. Boundaries. It's not like I post photos of my own vagina -- although that was suggested today -- but I'd still feel a little funny if I knew they were reading here.

But I would like to tell them about how I took a risk, and it paid off. Not in dollars, but in emotional connection with people who read and understood. I want to tell them about how I couldn't sleep after I published that post in the middle of the night, because I had admitted I didn't really like looking at those naked vaginas, that they made me uncomfortable. And about how I worried I'd lose readers for posting the photos or for being a bad feminist or for writing about vaginas too often.

Not that I'm beating myself up about worrying. I'm not. Plenty of people understood and acknowledged why it was a risk.

I just want every one of those kids to write something uncomfortable and then share it -- with strangers, classmates, friends, family. I want them to experience cutting themselves open and examining their feelings and reactions in words, even when they don't like what they see. And even when they don't know how other people will react. And even when it hurts. Especially when it hurts.

I guess it's not something that can be forced. I just hope someday they get to experience writing something difficult, sharing it, and receiving back the gift of understanding, conversation, reassurance and connection like I did this week.

That will give them a reason to keep opening up and keep writing.

Thanks for reading this month. I'll probably take a break for a few days so I can get a couple of good night's sleep, but I'll be back soon enough. Stay tuned!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Sharing

Tomorrow is the last day of September and the last day of my commitment to write every day. To be honest, I didn't meet the challenge amyway. I dropped a few days when I went adventuring in Chicago and the wilds of Illinois. It was totally worth it, and someday you'll get that story.

Tonght I want to share with you a few items readers sent me this week after all those inspiring vagina conversations.

First, a pair of uterus earrings.

I was really stunned glad when I saw these sold 5 years ago, so thank you, grilled cheesus, nobody can buy them for me. I think this is the tackiest thing I've ever seen, and I remember the 80's. I've seen seen some tacky. Not only is this more than a uterus -- it's the entire female reproductive system -- but it's the ugliest thing I've ever seen. These earrings prove there's a reason the uterus and Fallopian tubes are hidden away inside a woman's body and that they aren't made out of Shrinky Dinks.

The reader who sent me this will receive a vagina-shaped whoopie cushion in the mail. Thanks for playing.

Another reader sent this example of vaginas and the use of metaphor. 

(I have no idea where this came from.)
These look nothing like the photos I posted the other day.  Obviously gay people need to see those photos more than most of us do.

And finally, a reader sent a link to this art exhibit called The Great Wall of Vagina. The panels consist of rows of molded casts of women's lady bits. The artist is a guy named Jamie McCartney who says he's trying to show women that our vulvas all look different. Or something like that.


I'm going to admit I'm conflicted over this body of work, as is the friend who sent me the link. My first reaction is that I'm not sure how this is art any more than the plaster cast of my hand I made in kindergarten is art. Or the imprint of my teeth my dentist made when I needed a crown. They look more like forensic artifacts than art.

My second reaction is strongly that I don't need some guy trying to fix my vulva dysmorphia by getting a bunch of women to take off their panties to he can cast molds of their pussies. I don't need a man to do that. Back the fuck off and don't try to fix us as if you're doing us a big fucking favor.

As I said to my friend, this has a Hugo Schwyzer feel to it. There's a difference between men supporting feminism and men taking it over because they want to "help" us. And it's like art: I can't define that boundary very easily, but I sure as hell know it when it's been crossed.

You want to make this about women? Make your show anonymous. Don't fucking get famous doing something feminists have been doing for decades, which is to show real women's bodies to women. Why the hell didn't any of them get famous? Because they're not men, and the real problem is much bigger than how women perceive their vulvas. I really don't want a man to get a bunch of kudos for this.

It's patronizing. How about you get famous for casts of penises or ball sacks or beer bellies? Why not help out your own tribe by showing a wall of their genitals with the color sucked out of them? Is it because pussy sells?

Or is it because you wouldn't be able to come up with such a clever title? The Great Wall of Vagina? Really? Is this a serious show or is it not?

Third (or maybe it's fourth or fifth), this isn't what real vulvas look like. I posted a photo of real vulvas. Yes, they show the many varieties of lady snowflakes, but they are a representation. Maybe that's what makes them art, but it's also what makes this feel so patronizing.

You're saying women should see ourselves as we really are and appreciate our differences, but you've given us colorless, mashed vulvas masquerading as art. That's not what I see when I put my head between my legs.

And yet, some women seem to be impressed by it. They seem to be soothed by it. They seem to be reassured and normalized. Empowered. That is, I suppose, a good thing.

I don't feel empowered by a man showing me what vulvas look like though. I like those college girls in Australia doing it, owning their power, slapping it on the cover of their newspaper. I don't see how women gain any power or authority over their own bodies by seeing this guy's pussy casts.

Oh, dear. It appears I've gone off on a rant. Maybe I'm not as conflicted as I thought.

What do you think? Have I gone off the deep end? Do any of my women readers feel empowered by this wall of vulvas?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The ubiquitous vagina

I have shit-tons to write about .... I really do ...  but I stayed at the wrap party for Medicine too late tonight, and I need to be kind to myself and take me to bed. (Don't bother looking at the time stamp. I back-date these every single night. It's not cheating. Just night owl behavior.)

I have one little story to tell you though.

Tonight I said to one of the other party guests, an acquaintance, "Hey, thanks for your comments this past week on the vagina photos. You really ... ummm ...." He was looking at me like I'd just said vagina and he didn't know me or my vagina. "Ummm .... the vagina photos? ...  on my blog? You said something on my Facebook page about pubes and .... ?

"Oh!" he said. "You're Reticulated Writer? That's you?"

"Well, yeah," I said. "You didn't know that?"

"I had no idea," he said. "Great blog!"

"Thanks," I said. "I just assumed you knew you were talking to me when .... you know, we were talking about vaginas and shaving and stuff."

"Nope. I had no idea that was you," he said. "Now I know."

"Yep, now you know," I said.

Huh. For about a second I felt a nanobit of famousness. Then I slapped myself back into reality.

I wonder who else I've talked to who's a reader and has no idea this is me here talking about vaginas.

For the rest of the night, during the viewing of the film and a sassy game of Words Against Humanity, the ubiquitous vagina came up over and over again. I think I've started something.

Trending here on Reticulated Writer: the vagina. #vagina #reticulatedwriter

You heard it here first. (Sorry. No photos tonight.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Please lie in my obituary

Like a fool, I decided to paint the white trim on the front of my house. I'd scrubbed down the entire porch recently, and the peeling paint on the trim looked even worse in comparison.

I'd already scraped as much of the old paint as would easily come off a couple of days ago. This evening was the time to paint, and I was determined to do it all at one time. I dragged out my extension ladder and the paint I'd used to paint behind the new landscaping I'd put in a couple of months ago, and stuck a paintbrush in the back pocket of my cut-offs.

As soon as I started stirring the paint, my next-door neighbor Dustin showed up on his porch to smoke a cigarette, drink the rest of his half-empty pint of whiskey and watch me. Dustin is LeeAnn's step-brother who moved in after Tyler, who turned out to not be related to LeeAnn at all although he told me he was her brother, but was born in prison to a crack whore, and who stole her 7-year-old son Nathan's commemorative state quarter collection and sold it. She kicked him out after days of screaming and recriminations. But that's not the story for tonight.

Shortly after Dustin sat down on the end of their porch closest to my house, 11-month-old baby Brit crawled out through the open front door, sat down beside him and stared at me with her pretty blue eyes.

Dustin asked me if I'd heard that NASA was offering $10,000 to people who would agree to lie in a bed for 70 days so they could determine the effects on humans of lying in bed for 70 days. I said that one had somehow slipped by me. He said he was going to apply (and he seemed pretty sure they'd take him) because then he could just lie around and play video games and watch TV all day.

I said it sounded kind of boring, like when you have the flu and you start to go crazy after 3 days. Just then LeeAnn came out and sat beside Dustin. She plopped Brit down in the grass. Brit immediately picked up one blade of grass and started chewing on it.

LeeAnn said she thought Dustin was crazy to think he could just lie in bed for 70 days and not suffer severe consequences, like weight gain or maybe an embolism. I started painting the lower part of the trim and agreed with her. I said given 70 days, I could probably make $10,000 and avoid the weight gain and the embolism and the boredom of lying in bed for 70 days.

I asked if he'd be able to get up at all. Like to go to the bathroom.

LeeAnn said he probably wouldn't care if he had to poop in a diaper, but I said it was one thing to poop in a diaper once maybe, but to do it every day for 70 days might be kind of embarrassing. I said I didn't think I could poop in a diaper knowing somebody was going to have to change it, so my bowels would probably become impacted, and I'd get kicked out of the program.

Every once in a while, Nathan would run out of the open front door, stick up rabbit ears behind Dustin, laugh like a maniac, and run back inside. Or he'd just run down the sidewalk as fast as he could go. He can do that for long periods of time.

We continued to talk about the NASA program as Dustin and LeeAnn smoked, and Brit crawled over to my yard to explore my extension ladder, which was still in the grass.

The neighbor down the street, Cash, who drives a bright yellow pickup, walked by on the other side of the street and shouted, "Hey, Miss Redhead! You always out there doin' something, ain't you? You gonna get up on that ladder? I bet you are."

I told him I was an idiot, and yes, I was going to climb that ladder. He said I should be careful. Mmmm hmmm.

I told Dustin I didn't think lying in bed for 70 days would be good for his mental health, and it seemed like the kind of experiment where they could be doing other experiments he knew nothing about, and once he got in there they could strap him down and do anything to him.

LeeAnn said he might even become suicidal if he couldn't see other people for 70 days.

Dustin said they'd have to let him have sex or he probably couldn't do it.

 I said the family would probably get a letter saying Dustin was dead and had strangled himself with his diaper ....

LeeAnn said NASA probably wouldn't tell us how he'd died. They'd probably pay us the $10,000 to keep quiet, and we'd all say he'd run off to Las Vegas with some girl.

Dustin said he might actually do that, and then I lost track of the conversation about him going to Las Vegas, and then something about how he thought LeeAnn should become a prostitute in Las Vegas .... because it was time to put up the extension ladder and paint the parts that were over my head. Way over my head.

I stood the ladder up and raised the extension with some difficulty -- after I tried once and had it upside down -- and finally clicked the latches into place. I tried to set it against the house with the base on the outside of the stabby bushes I'd cut back the day before, but it didn't seem very steady.

So I tried to lift it over the bushes, which are about chest high and about 3 feet wide, but it was top heavy so when I lifted it up, the top of it fell over backwards behind me .... slowly .... awkwardly. I felt an unpleasant twinge in my back. LeeAnn asked if I needed help, and Dustin said he'd come over and do it. I said no, I'd get it.

I finally wrestled the fucking ladder over the fucking bushes, set the feet into place, and propped it against the house right in the middle of a big window. I said I thought I could reach both sides from there. Dustin said to just make sure I didn't lean too far to one side and fall off. I said I'd certainly consider his advice.

I had a little green plastic bucket that I'd poured the paint into (and then discovered it had a small slit up the side, but by then it was too late) because it had a handle. When I looked up at the ladder, I realized there was no place to put the paint while I painted. LeeAnn and Dustin noticed my predicament too. LeeAnn said maybe she could hold it, but I said I didn't want to go up and down the ladder.

I decided to get some rope and tie it to the ladder rung toward the top. I climbed over the bushes, up the ladder. and got it tied on to the side of a rung, but I have to admit that ladder didn't feel all that firm. I painted the trim on the sides of the window and then yelled back to LeeAnn and Dustin and asked if it would show if I didn't do the board above the window under the eaves. LeeAnn said it would because the new paint was brighter and you could see where it stopped ...  I said that's the problem with starting any project. It always leads to another one.

I climbed to the top of the ladder and painted that top board .... all except for the 2-inch squares where the top of the ladder rested in 2 places. I said I didn't know how I'd get those 2 spots because the paint was wet around them, and I couldn't prop the ladder on the wet paint, so maybe I'd tie a brush onto my broom and get them that way. I had no intention of doing that though. A close examination of the paint on my house will reveal a number of issues larger than those 2 spots.

I moved the ladder to the middle section and propped it with the feet just outside of the bushes this time. They were poking through, trying to push the ladder away from the house and scrape me as I climbed up. I'm pretty sure it's not the right way to prop a ladder, at such a shallow angle, but I climbed up anyway, slowly and carefully.

When I got to the top, I looked down at the newly trimmed bushes, and they looked like giant ice picks sticking up down there. I said I was glad LeeAnn and Dustin were out there while I was painting so if I fell onto the bushes they could call 911 before I bled out.

Then I realized those bushes were quite sharp and if I fell on them they really could do some damage. I said I didn't want to die after being impaled by bushes while I was painting the house. What an embarrassing obituary: "Reticula died unexpectedly when she was impaled by shrubs after a fall off an improperly set extension ladder. Her friends expressed shock and said that wasn't how they imagined she would go. Her children were too embarrassed to be named in the obituary, but are happy to be named in her will ..... "

LeeAnn said I shouldn't worry because they wouldn't let that happen.

 I said I didn't think they could get to me in time to catch me if I fell, but my heart was warmed by the idea that they would try to catch me ....

She said no, she meant the obituary. They wouldn't let the bush stabbing go into the obituary. They'd say I was participating in a secret experiment for NASA, and was last seen booking a flight to Las Vegas ......

I finally finished the painting about the time Dustin finished his pint of whiskey. It was dark, and I didn't feel like it, but I cleaned up my pail and brushes while they smoked one last cigarette and argued about whether LeeAnn should go to Las Vegas. Dustin said he was going with or without her, because he'd never been on a plane and he wanted to fly.

It took just as long as it always does to get the paint out of the brush. That's the worst part: the cleaning up .... even worse than climbing a ladder that's set into stabby bushes at a low angle.

By the time I finished, it was too dark to admire my hard work, so I have no idea what the trim looks like, but it has to look better than before. LeeAnn had taken the kids inside to feed them. Dustin was doing something on his phone, still sitting on the end of the porch closest to my house.

Maybe he could spend 70 days in bed. I don't know. I'm pretty sure I couldn't, not even for $10,000. I'd probably fair better in Las Vegas. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Shelf of broken dreams

In July I suffered through tolerated celebrated my birthday. Most people consider the birthdays that end in zeros their big birthdays. I don't. My big birthdays are the ones that end in fives. I didn't realize that until this year's birthday.

I didn't recognize that there was a pattern to my years -- a wobbly pattern, to be sure -- but I'm calling it a pattern. I've always done big things during my 5-years, or big things have happened. Here are some examples.

I started school when I was five years old, and learned to take tests and count the slow seconds on the clock.

The year I was 15, I probably smoked my first joint, and I got drunk the first time right after my 15th birthday, which may have set the pace for the rest of high school. It doesn't seem that significant. What is significant is that I fell in love for the first time that summer, and also set precedents for choosing the wrong men and taking a very long time to heal from a broken heart.

The year I was 25 two big things happened. First, my dad dropped dead of an unexpected heart attack at age 46, leaving my mom with 2 kids at home, and 2 more barely out the door. It was my first deep experience with death and adult grief. A few months later when my neighbor's plane flew into a mountain, I was one of the few people who knew how to deal with the grief, if such a thing is possible. I knew something about life that was hard-won.

Second,  we decided to get pregnant with my son Drake. Balance.

Fast forward and I sold our house during a 5-year and bought another one. It was in the same city, which was a first for us. Air Force families don't do that very often. Another 5-year I indulged in an enormous mid-life crisis, lost a bunch of weight, and decided I'd better start living a little harder if I wanted to suck all of the juice out of my life.

Past 5-years have been both positive and negative, obviously. I don't know what to expect this year, except that this will be the 5-year to end all 5-years.

I was telling Drake about my 5-years, and he said he predicted "a rich boyfriend and a muscle car parked in front of my house."
I'm not saying "no."

"Mine or his?" I asked. 

"Yours, of course," he said.

"Both of those things would be big and unlikely," I said. "But I'll be glad to let you drive the one that's possible when you come to visit."

I talked to my daughter Elvira about it, and I said I wasn't sure what might happen this year. I told her what Drake had said, and we agreed he didn't know me very well.

I said I hadn't had a real best friend in several years. Lots of good friends. An embarrassing richness of good friends, as well as my kids and their beloveds. But not a best friend to go places with and share intimate best friend experiences. It takes a lot of work and some fine good luck to find and keep a best friend for any length of time. (It's not me. They find spouses eventually who become their new best friends.) I've had a true best friend for most of my life, except for the past few years.

I told Elvira that could be something that would happen this 5-year. And I said I also wanted to travel more. And I wanted to let myself fall into adventures.

But I don't really think I have that much control over the 5-years. I was just trying to dream. Because ...

Shortly after my birthday, I was listening to a speaker talk about dreams. He told a story about when he was a kid and he wanted to be a drum major, but his dad squashed that worthless wish. He talked about dreams, and how they often get put away, forgotten.

As I listened, I tried to remember what my dreams were when I was a kid.

I couldn't think of any. Not one single dream. I started to feel anxious. Surely I had dreams. Everybody has dreams, right?

I tried to listen to the speaker, but my mind was working in the background looking for dreams. C'mon now. There has to be a dream back there somewhere. Sift. Sift. Sift.

College! That was a dream. I wanted to go to college. I received about as much encouragement as if I'd dreamed of being a lion trainer.

OK, I thought. College. But college itself isn't a dream. What did I want to do? What did I want to study?

As I sat there listening, I couldn't remember wanting to study anything. (As I wrote this I remembered tossing around wanting to be a doctor or a psychologist. Yes, that would be it. A psychologist. I'd help people. It wasn't much of a dream. Lots of kids choose psychology because they can't think of anything else to study and it seems achievable. Like them, I didn't realize the years of school and licensure it would require. I did get a social work degree though, so close.)

Doesn't matter. What I really dreamed about was getting the hell out of that small town and living in a city.

But I couldn't remember any dreams that morning during the talk. Not one, except that vague dream: college. In fact, I haven't been able to remember any dreams until I started writing this tonight. And then I remembered when I was 7 I dreamed of being a writer. And I always yearned to play the piano. And .... that's it. Leave as soon as I could, write and play the piano.

I did all that. But those don't seem like enough. Why can't I remember having concrete dreams that would move me forward in a direction?

What I dreamed was vague. To have a career. To be a liberated women who knew what she wanted and didn't care what other people thought -- especially men. (Maybe that one is still in the box.) Those are character traits, not dreams.

The speaker said it was time to realize those dreams, to get that old, dusty shoe box down off the "shelf of broken dreams in your heart closet."

I wrote it down because it hit me so hard. If something big was going to happen this 5-year, I needed to figure out what my dreams are. It has to be now. I need to use this special year while I've got it, but I need some dreams.

I mean, I'll take the muscle car if it happens and it's cheap. The boyfriend -- rich or not .... well, if he's been sitting on a heart-shelf in a dusty box, he's probably desiccated  I don't want dreams that are half-dead or not achievable.
The best friend .... maybe. I can't force that one, and I can't call it a dream really. I'm OK with having lots of wonderful friends, and a few who are close enough to get past the sand beaches of my island.

So far, I've had a couple of surprise adventures. I'm not sure if they came out of my shoe box though, because they were more a result of my saying "yes" to whatever was offered, whether it was comfortable or not. There's definitely value in that. I'll be writing more about those adventures. They are a valid part of 5-year.

But they're too fresh to be dreams that have been shoved to the back of my heart closet in a dusty box.

I'm sorry to say, I haven't located the box, much less opened it. Writing this helped. I realized I did have a couple of dreams, and I've achieved them. Writing. Piano. Leaving home when I was 17.

I'm still searching for my shoe box though. I'll let you know if I find it.

Do you have a shoe box on your shelf of broken dreams? Is there anything in that box that you want to dust off and make happen? Inspire me! Tell me one broken dream.

And I'm sure one of these days I'll find that box and tell you mine.

(All photos stolen from the interwebs.)

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Followup to "Censorship Down Under"

Wow! You guys love you some vagina, don't you?

When I hit publish on last night's post, I felt significant trepidation. It was the first time I'd posted actual photos of actual vulvas and labias. I thought it would be too much for some of you. Boy howdy was I wrong! That post struck a few nerves, but they weren't the ones I feared.

The discussions on Facebook -- both the Reticulated Writer page and my personal Facebook wall -- kept me busy today. I wish I could share them all here, but that's not possible. I also wanted to give thoughtful answers to the comments on the actual post tonight as well. Go check them out if you haven't already and join in the conversation.

I was going to post something about Ken, one of the assholes on this season's Project Runway. I'm still going to take a run at him with my sewing scissors, but not tonight.

Tonight I just want to go to bed (it's almost 3:00 am) and think about how different I feel compared to last night at this time. Last night I had trouble falling asleep because I was worried I'd gone too far, and readers would be offended by the photos. I was worried my feminist friends would hate me for my reaction to the photos and for my conflicted feelings about them. I was just worried.

None of that happened. What happened were the most inspiring, woman-nurturing, grounded, vagina-loving conversations .... I couldn't have imagined better.

Turns out the natural-vagina haters haven't won after all.

Thank you. I should have trusted you. You've given me a gift today: a reminder of the power and beauty of women's bodies. A reminder of how many men love us just the way we are. A reminder that we are beautiful and fuck you Vogue and Cosmopolitan and Playboy and porn in general and every other magazine and movie and advertisement that tells women and girls how we should look instead of celebrating how we do look from the follicles on our heads to our vaginas to our toenails.

Thank you. I feel so uplifted tonight. I feel infused with the positive woman-loving energy I engaged with today.

So Ken, you're going to have to wait, you out-of-control, bullying asshole.

"Tonight Reticula wrote into her story that she feels beautiful and powerful and vulvaful simply because she is a woman and she is. And .... vaginas are pretty and awesome." (See this post if that sentence makes no sense.)

Here's one thing I want to share with you. A reader posted a link to Vulva Love Lovely today on a thread on my personal FBW. Here's an example. (Get me this for Christmas! Please!)

Mermaid vulva

I'm definitely getting my daughter Elvira this one below. She starts decorating for Halloween in August. And who doesn't love some Halloween vulva?

Halloween vulva

For those of you who aren't really fans of the vagina, don't worry. I really am going to move on tomorrow to other topics. At least for a day or two.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Censorship down under (NSFW)

Warning: This post contains graphic photos of real women.

A couple of weeks ago my friend The Hot Italian sent me an article about vagina censorship. Seems the oldest student newspaper in Australia, Honi Soit, published cover photos of 18 vaginas (vulvas really, with some labias poking out). Just before the paper went to print, the university decided to stick a black rectangle over the juicy parts of the photos to avoid a lawsuit.

Australia has a law that only a closed slit can be shown. Most women don't really look like that once they've passed through puberty. Black rectangles to the rescue. Or not.

Turns out their rectangles were unacceptably transparent: the vulvas were visible. The university pulled the entire run of the paper.

You might ask, "Why the hell would a student newspaper want closeup photos of vulvas on the front cover of their paper?" I kind of wondered that myself. It's sensational, right? Vulgar? Pornographic? Unnecessary? Meant to send a message?

The answer is the last one: meant to send a message. As this article explains, they were tired of the way vaginas are portrayed in the media, when they are shown at all: shaved clean, surgically altered, pale, girlish. They wanted to show what real lady bits look like, because a lot of girls and women think they're deformed; they don't look like what we've been told is the ideal.

In fact, the author of the article notes that 12,000 Australian women a year have labiaplasty. I imagine the rates are higher here in the U.S. That's a lot of labias going into the trash.

I can see their point about the mystery and misrepresentation of female genitalia. Unless we're lesbians, most women don't get a good look at adult vaginas other than their own (and rarely that) unless it's in porn. And those vaginas don't look like my vagina. At least not the modern vaginas.

Their other point is that the vagina isn't just a sexual object. It's a body part like any other, and there's no reason it shouldn't be out there, free and proud. Hiding vaginas makes them seem dirty and only useful for sex.

They made some good points. I looked at the photo of the censored vaginas first. Here it is. I have to admit, even censored this photo would have caused a stir at any of the universities I attended.

Then I followed a link to the original photo, which one of the editors tweeted. And I'm going to admit this even though it's hard: It was a little strange looking at those disembodied vulvas all in rows. My first thought was that I should look away. They looked too private, like they shouldn't be posing like that.

And they didn't look especially attractive, alone there without their tummies and legs and breasts and faces. I had to puzzle about my reaction for a few days, because I was uncomfortable about those 18 vulvas, and that's not what I would have expected.

 I'm still conflicted. Yes, on the one hand, I think we should stop chasing a surgically altered ideal of women's bodies. It's damaging to women and to men. I doubt there are many readers I have to explain this to, so I won't. The editors of the paper made valid points about why they wanted to show those 18 vaginas on the cover.

On the other hand, why these disembodied close-ups? The answer: there's no reason not to. My discomfort comes from my own socialization and indoctrination. Just like I find perky, round breasts, flat stomachs, smooth round asses, and long, thin legs most attractive, I also find those closed up, pale vulvas more acceptable too. Shame on me, but I do.

It's not how I want to think, but I have to be honest about this. Even though they look perfectly normal, those vaginas don't look like what public vaginas are supposed to look like.

It's some hard brainwashing to reverse.

(I'm going to cut myself a tiny bit of slack here and say that I wouldn't find most parts of the human body attractive if they were photographed this way, not even breasts. It's too clinical, which I suppose is one of the effects the editors were going for. I could never understand it when a guy I was dating wanted me to send him a photo of my breasts. They look much better in context than they do in a static photo all alone. Same with my nose.)

The other thing I realized -- not to get too personal -- is that I don't much think of my pudendum (that's the latin name for female genitalia) visually, like I do my breasts or my hands. I think of that area as a feeling area. I don't see it; I feel it there. I never think what it looks like.

That's no excuse though. These women are trying to normalize the visual.

I suppose I could go on and on about whether penises would have been censored (maybe not), and whether circumcision is just as bad as labiaplasty, and the unlikelihood that a student newspaper in Australia is really going to change anybody's mind about vulvas. (Yet here I am in a small midwestern city writing about it.)

I decided to go with my own reaction because I'm disturbed by it, and I'm sad and ashamed and I doubt I'll be able to change it -- certainly not by looking at or writing about these 18 vulvas.

I do think this photo changed something though: It changed the women who undressed, stood still for the photo, and agreed to have it printed on the cover of the oldest student newspaper in Australia. I know for a fact it changed them a lot, because I've recently experienced a similar adventure. As my friend Moxie would say, "It made them feel like goddesses."

Those women are changed forever. And 18 changed women is better than 0 changed women. Who knows? Now that those 18 young women risked showing their real vulvas to the world, maybe 18 more will do it. And be changed. Maybe they won't react like I did -- in spite of myself.

Maybe they will persuade 18 other women not to surgically remove their labias just because they think they should look like porn stars or little girls instead of real women.

I debated fiercely with myself about whether I should post the original, uncensored photo here. I believe I will lose readers if I do. I believe I will disappoint other readers if I don't (but I doubt they will stop reading because of it).

I struggle with knowing I don't find those photos attractive. I know it doesn't fucking matter if I find them attractive. They just are. It's not even my business whether they are attractive or not.

Trying to define what's attractive is how we got into this mess in the first place.

Then again, as much as I've written about vaginas, I've never posted photos. This isn't a sex blog.

I finally had to wonder what I would want me to do if I were one of those brave young women who bared their vaginas on the cover of their school newspaper. I have no doubt what the answer to that question is: "Yes. Override your own discomfort and post the photo. Be one of us."

For that reason, here is the uncensored photo of real women's vulvas, some with labias poking out. This is what we look like.

That's all I have to say. I would love to read what you have to say though. Comments are open below. Grab a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and let me know what you think.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Peanut butter and hibernation

Reticula attended a fanfuckingtastic production of Hairspray this afternoon. When she went home, she considered taking a nap, knowing she should go for a bike ride on the first lovely day of fall. Knowing a nap would only slow her metabolism down, but a bike ride would do all kinds of wonderful, positive things. So instead of writing a nap into her story, which would only give her dreams to write about, but not real life, she wrote a bike ride into her story.

And not one damn thing happened that would be of interest to any of you. So much for that story. (If this makes no sense to you, read the post before this one.)

Tonight I posted on Facebook that I needed to write something, but the first day of fall was making my brain want to hibernate. Two readers posted ideas: peanut butter and hibernation.

I've never heard 3 words that have as little to do with each other as peanut butter and hibernation. I'm going to have to split them up and write about each.

I eat too much peanut butter. I'm making up for the years I didn't eat peanut butter because I thought I was allergic to it. I got really sick from peanut butter cookies I made years ago -- that kind with the Hershey's kiss on top -- and after that I was afraid to eat it. I knew it wasn't the peanut butter, but the flu, because my son Drake had it too, but I still couldn't eat peanut butter. Let me just say the story has to do with throwing up in the Kansas City airport while traveling with a toddler who also had it coming out of both ends. I had peanut butter trauma for years.

At some point I started eating it again, but only Kroger brand natural crunchy peanut butter. I love peanut butter on apples. And ants on a log. And a big scoop to lick off a tablespoon.

I have never had sex with peanut butter. Chocolate, of course. Whipped cream, which is for beginners. But never peanut butter. That should probably go on a list somewhere. There are still things I intend to try in the decades of life I have left to me. If that idea interests you, call me at 1-900-reticula. I prefer crunchy, and smooth really doesn't appeal to me, so take that into consideration.

Hibernation is an appealing concept, especially because I live in the midwest where we really do have gray, dreary winters. I'm a chilly type, so I have to wear layers, and sometimes they drag me down. It would be easy to burrow into the couch with a fuzzy blanket and refuse to come out until the daffodils bloom.

I don't dare do that. It would make me insane. I've tried it. I became insane.

I'm one of those people who is so extroverted, I'm an 11 on the Myers Briggs E/I scale. If I go more than 2 days without human contact, I start planning my own suicide. (Come to think of it, that's redundant. You can only plan your own suicide. If you plan someone else's, that would be murder. Interesting.) The longer I go, the lower I go.

All it takes is a quick trip to Kroger for natural crunchy peanut butter and a 2-minute conversation with a friendly checkout clerk, and I'm reset for the rest of the day. Coffee with a friend can hold me for 2 days. A party .... again, I can only go 2 days.

Anyway, this is one reason I would never want to relive my 20's. I didn't know myself in my 20's. And having grown up in a small town where I knew everybody all my life, I didn't know how to get out there and make friends after our numerous moves. I got depressed. Super depressed.

And the more depressed I got, the more I isolated myself, which made me more depressed, and so I isolated ..... It was a wicked cycle.

And it couldn't be broken by busyness. I was always busy -- creating, writing, gardening, reading, painting, sewing, canning, cooking, walking my dog. It could only be broken by human contact.

It took me a few years to realize I can never hibernate. No matter how cold it gets; no matter how deep the snow gets; no matter how gray and unappealing the dragging dark days of winter get, I force myself out there and act like it's summer.

Because, while I honor the seasons and I honor the concept of embracing the dark, the intuitive, the pain of life, I don't want to kill myself. I embrace the dark with other people.

I would make a terrible bear. Or Eskimo.

Last winter I suffered through a nasty case of food poisoning. Not to get too graphic and make you suffer too, but I couldn't leave the house for several days. I had my internet and my smart phone. People called, texted, messaged, Faceboooked, emailed ... I listened to part of a concert over Alex's cell phone and the band yelled "hi, Reticula!" to me .... yet by day-3 my kids were ready to hold an intervention (which would have had to have taken place in the bathroom). I went a little crazy.

But it helps to know myself. It helps to know what's causing it and what I need to do. Because depression lies its fucking ass off. And this is serious. Depression is only eclipsed by addiction and alcoholism when it comes to lying.

Depression tells me I feel too shitty (no pun intended) to go out. I just can't take talking to people. I'm too tired. I'm too anxious. Loud noises make me jump. I'm better off alone. I suck. I'm too depressed, and nobody likes me anyway.

That's why I'm glad I know myself well enough to say to depression, "I see you there, trying to make me hibernate here and go crazy with you. I don't care how exhausted you make me feel, I'm going out. And I will fake it until I make it ... without you, you fucking liar."

So, no hibernating for me, no matter how cold and gray and snowy the days. I'll be the one digging out -- both the snow and the blues -- and finding a friendly smile to fill my heart. Maybe it will be yours.

How about you? Peanut butter: crunchy or smooth? Hibernation: healing or depressing?

I just realized the only thing that tied these 2 topics together takes place in a bathroom, hopefully out of ear-shot of anybody else. There you go. In the end, this turned into another poop post.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Reticula wrote a blog post ...

Note: I didn't post yesterday. Time Warner is a temperamental bitch, so when I got home too late from a party, I couldn't get online. I will be lucky to get this post through tonight. I did send a notification last night to the Reticulated Writer Facebook page from my phone, which you will have seen if you have liked that page. If not, what the fuck? Like the Facebook page already!

As anyone who knows me can tell you, I am hard on myself. My mom has always called it "thinking too much." Maybe, if such a thing is possible. But the truth is, I’m just hard on myself. LtColEx once told me he rarely got mad at me, rarely fought with me, because I was so hard on myself there was no point in his getting mad at me too. (It wasn’t true. He did get mad at me. He had other ways of showing it.)

Even my kids say I’m too hard on myself. I expect too much or I disappoint myself too easily. You might say I carry around a bit of perfectionism.

Most of the time though, I disagree with them. To me it’s just being honest, authentic, seeing things like they really are. And yet, it’s not a very effective strategy for changing behavior I don’t like. I’m still overweight. I still haven’t made the call to that lawyer that I should have made months ago. I don’t write enough, and I don’t write deeply enough. I’ve never published a book. (I say published because I wrote a book and had a contract and everything, and then the publisher fucked me over, so I have at least written one book.) I don’t do yoga or ride my bike often enough. I watch too much TV. I’m never a good enough friend. I don’t play my guitar or the piano often enough. My house is a mess. I need a better job. I don’t volunteer enough. I cry too easily. I forget birthdays sometimes ….. You realize I could continue this list for hours, right?

I’ve been thinking about how to rephrase or re-conceptualize the way I think about all of these failures of character and behavior. I need a new strategy, because the nagging bitch of a voice in my head is so ineffective, I seem to do the opposite of what it tells me.

Otherwise, it would have nothing to nag about, I suppose. I wonder what that would feel like.

I decided I need to think of my life as a story. A story I’m writing. And I need to think about how I want to write my story and what I want to happen ….  And then I need to intentionally live the story I want to live.

Of course, I can’t control everything in my story. Life has a way of throwing rocks in the path. Even in the theatre where we’ve got a script and blocking and hours of rehearsal in the bag, something unexpected always happens. But the same thing happens when a writer tells any story. It has a life of its own in addition to the life the storyteller breathes into it. That’s what keeps that shit interesting.

So instead of verbally abusing myself, I’m going to summon a new voice by asking, “What should happen next in the story?”

It’s certainly worth trying, because the constant criticism in my head doesn’t solve the problem. I can look at myself in the mirror and see that I’m overweight and berate myself about it, but here’s a fact: Doing that just makes me want to comfort myself with dark chocolate, a glass of chilled Chardonnay and an episode of Breaking Bad. I’m tempted to do that right now.

That’s not what I want to happen in my story though. Yes, I do. No, I don’t. Yes, I really do! No, keep writing. That’s what comes next …. more writing.

In my story, I don’t want to comfort my pathetic self with those things that only encourage my inner critic. I want my protagonist to do something that gets her high. I want her to put on my shoes and go for a brisk walk. (She needs to get another dog into my life too. Anybody know of a black standard poodle who needs a good home?) I want her to hop on my bike and ride 20 miles. I want her to turn on a yoga video and find my balance in those stretches. That’s the story I want my body to tell. A story that feels good and shuts up the critic.

I am a writer to my bones. I write in my head for hours every day. And then sometimes – not often enough, obviously -- I get my fingers into it and actually write words on a monitor or a piece of paper.

What if I got my critical voice together with my writing voice and somehow persuaded them to work together? What if every time my critical voice sniped at me about something, my writer voice took control and wrote a healthy response into the story of my life that I could manifest? Is that possible, do you think? Is it possible to change my life by writing my life as it happens?

I’m going to try it and see. I hope I don’t start talking about myself in the third person. Reticula wrote, “I hope I don’t start talking about myself in the third person …”

... on toilet paper.
In a novel this could go totally awry. I could find myself writing my story all over my house and leaving the scraps of it everywhere: on squares of toilet paper in the bathroom: Reticula brushed her teeth and decided to skip flossing until bedtime. In the kitchen on brown paper bags: Reticula put the chocolate chips back into the freezer and drank a glass of water instead. In the bedroom: Reticula went to bed at 1:00 instead of writing until 3:00, and woke up feeling like a human for once.

I can imagine my house littered with the story of a writer’s life, a literary hoarder’s nightmare: words on the walls and my arms and skittering down the sidewalk toward the neighbor’s house.

I’m inviting and making big changes in my life this year. I’m going to write more about that in the next couple of days.

And I’ve already started writing a new story about my life by forcing aside the need for control and expectations and just going along with an adventure. When Moxie asked Reticula if she wanted to go to Chicago on September 7, Reticula didn’t even ask why. She just said yes, she would get someone to cover for her at the theater and go. She could not have known how far she would stretch in just 3 days. It was like a yoga marathon of living …..

I will go on more adventures like that.

Enough about me. What is the next thing you would write into the story of your life? What will the hero in your story do next?

My hero is going to bed now. Reticula published a blog post and then went to bed. She flossed her teeth. She did not read the latest Margaret Atwood novel until 4:00 am, because she decided instead to get to church on time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

It's just another full-moon Wednesday night ....

I promised I'd post every day this month, and all I've got tonight is  .... nothing. It's Wednesday night. The moon is almost full. I've invited big changes into my life, and they are happening. But I'm doing it all alone. I think that's how it's supposed to be for me. It must be. It's how things must be for red-headed bastard step-children.

I'm thinking who and what I will take with me as I change. The what is easy. The who ... that will be a surprise, but not to me. Because I'm doing this alone.

I don't have to be alone tonight -- there was that boy who walked me to my van-- but it's what I choose.

Yesterday another young man -- oh, these boys -- walked past me outside the library as I was unlocking my bike. He said, "They told me all the redheads were gone, but I knew they were wrong. And there you are. You are the most beautiful woman I've seen today." The girl who was with him had no front teeth, but she smiled and nodded; she's a victim of the meth.

I said, "Thank you. There are still some of us here."

He said, "My name is Enrique. What's your name?" He held out his hand.

I took his hand. "My name is Rose," I said, because that's the name I chose for Tuesday. And if I had chosen a name when I was born, I would have chosen Rose ... on Tuesdays. Red-headed bastard step-children don't really own their names anyway. They just borrow them.

"Rose, you are beautiful," he said.

I just smiled. I thought he might ask for money or to use my cell phone, because everybody wants something, don't they? But he didn't. He walked on by, and I put on my backpack and rode down the sidewalk toward home.

Tomorrow I'll put on my public face and write something for you about vaginas that will make you laugh, and when I see you, that's what we will talk about.

Tonight I'm filled up with the moon and her secrets, which I can't share. I just can't. The moon is lodged tight in my swollen trusting throat, but she's shining and soon she will wane. Then maybe I'll share some secrets. Or maybe I won't. It doesn't matter anyway.

Maybe you have a secret you want to share. Tell me. I'm good at keeping secrets ... Like the moon, I keep secrets much better than I share them.