I could have been your woman of the road

12 08 2019

Allrighty, then: dmf asked in the comments if I differentiate between naming and defining. Good question! I don’t know!

I mean, I think I do: although the concepts are clearly linked, naming seems to be more about marking out the boundary lines and defining, filling in those lines? With the proviso that the filling can affect the lines? . . . maybe? To really make the case would require greater philosophical and linguistic chops than I possess; in any case, as I’m interested in the political dynamics of naming, I think I can fudge on this.

But I can’t ignore it completely. If I say, for example, that I am a woman (which I do, and I am), then I’m making a claim to at least of the qualities of “woman,” as well as claiming that some qualities that others might say are necessary, are not.

To bring this home: I am neither a wife nor a mother. I’ve been ambivalent about ever becoming the former, and pretty consistently set against the latter, but never have I felt that I am less of woman for lacking these qualities.

Why do I say I’m a woman? It’s a grab-bag: my body and its functions, my recognition of a continuity of female identity from childhood to adulthood, my willingness to answer to being called a girl, then a woman, my understanding that others view me as a woman, my irritation when others don’t recognize me as a woman, my clear sense that I am not a man, my insistence that my woman-ness makes me no less human.

There’s nothing particularly elegant in that identification: Some of the pieces are mostly relational and others, funneled through social categories; some are positive (I am this) and others, negative, (I am not that). I don’t say much about personality or temperament or affective attributes, mostly because I’m considering the social-political aspects, but, sure, there probably are additional qualities of my woman-ness which are psychological.

And I should point out something else: While I was a tomboy as a kid and have tended toward the androgynous as an adult, I’ve never questioned that I was a girl or a woman.

Okay, two something elses: The original is that I’ve had some difficulty coming to terms with what it means to be an adult. On the one hand, this is easy: I have more than enough years to qualify as an adult. I have jobs, I take on many of the usual tasks of adulthood, and, yeah, I more-or-less look my age, i.e., I and others recognize me as an adult.

On the other hand, I’m physically small, I live like a grad student, and those nonessential markers of womanhood? I’m neither wifed nor mothered, which are among the (nonessential, but pretty damned clear) markers of adulthood. I don’t own a home or a car and my work-life is cobbled-together, with only semi-regular hours. I still don’t know who I am.

The second else? Eh, I’ll save that for another post.

I’m straying from the original point—if there even was one—but I’m noting that while I am firm in my claim on womanhood, I’m kinda pro forma in claiming adulthood. I put myself inside of those lines, because, yeah, sure, I’m an adult, but I’m not sure I fill out the category all that well.

I don’t know how or that this helps me figure out political identity or political adversaries, but it might. Maybe there’s something about what is firm and what is uncertain, what I send out and what I protect, that will give me some sense of what others advance and defend.

Or maybe not. I claim no clear lines for any of this.

When I grow up I want to be an old woman

19 03 2011

Allie knows me too well:


I’d put in things like “opening mail” and “keeping on top of coursework”, and I do manage to clean the cat box every day, but otherwise, yeah.

Wally Torta Muzik (Muzik Torta?) has the same thing going on:

My father used to ask me when I was going to grow up. Except he often used to insert “the hell” between “when” and “I”. And I would answer him “April 12, 1978.” . . .Now, suddenly, in a warp of time, space, and some a them string-theory dimensions, I find myself way way over on the other side of April 12, 1978 without having made the slightest bit of progress in my quest.

So I’m in good company, I guess, even though I can’t really draw.

Which mean I’m behind good company.


h/t: Hyperbole and a Half and CrackskullBob

U li la lu lau (pt I)

25 11 2008

Good question. (Dammit!):

What are you expecting to see, that you’re not seeing? A plot? This is a serious question.

When I first read this, I thought Pfft, plot. Nooo.

And then I thought, Well, maybe. (This is where the ‘dammit’ comes in.)

Because I keep blowing apart my plans, I think that the plans don’t matter. But they do: I am simply not able to carry them out. Plans and plots aren’t the same, but I think I often use plans as plots, i.e., as narratives into which I can insert myself and give meaning to my actions.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as I recognize that I’m the one creating the narrative. Too often, though, I think that I treat these narratives as pre-made, dropped out of the sky or fashioned like set pieces to be rolled on to an empty stage; or, to put it another way, plot is something which happens to me.

But, of course, it doesn’t, and treating my life passively, waiting for something to happen, feeds both that passivity and my confusion with my life. I was a restless teenager, couldn’t wait to head off to BigTenU, couldn’t wait for my life ‘really’ to begin. I disintegrate, blah blah, go to grad school to hide and recover and hoop-jump for the Ph.D., which would then lead me to the serious (grown-up!) life of a professor. So that doesn’t take, and I think, Well, you’ve spent most of your life trying to end it, now that you want to live, perhaps you should, you know, live.

Okay! I’m gonna do it! I’m gonna live my life! (Cue sound of wheels screeching to a halt. Birds chirp. Uncertain looks around.)

I have, for the most part, given up on plans. This isn’t all bad: it’s forced me to think about what I want to do, what I can do, and who I’d like to be and become, even if I do often fret about rather than answer these questions. But perhaps I need to rethink this—especially because I do too often fret about rather than respond.

[Stop. Rest chin on palm. Squint at screen. Sigh. Curse.]

Shit. I have to recant: I haven’t given up the plans and plots, I’ve simply sublimated them into these questions, inflating them beyond the practical and sending them up into the sky (where at some point the answers to them will drop down. . . ). I think I’m being practical when, really, I’m a-lyin’ to myself.

Why the sublimation and inflation when the questions themselves can actually be answered? Because I think I have to provide The Answers and the once-and-for-alls, that, these questions only have to be answered once, and then I’m done.

Ha. For all my philosophical skepticism and uncertainty, I’m a right-proper self-authoritarian. (Could ‘plot’ be another name for ‘order’?) So I need to allow the dissenter some space, to say, Hey chickie, working answers, you know, work. I can deal with drafts for my writing, so why not with my life? Not in the sense of ‘rehearsal’, but in the sense that this is what you do: you try, and do over, and do over, and do over, and move on. And if writing draft one or two or five is all writing, why can’t living here and then here and this way and that all be living?

Insert Lolcats caption here: Life. Ur doin’ it. . . alreddy akshully.

(That sounds better than Getchyer head outta yer ass. Or clouds, as it were.)

The questions aren’t the problem, and even a little fretting isn’t all bad. But I do know that worrying about getting the story right can get in the way of writing the story; I know enough to write, and then to clean it up in the rewrite(s). And in these stories plot doesn’t descend over the characters, but comes out of them. Even if I had different ideas at the outset, I let my characters take over and veer away, if that’s what makes sense. I don’t worry about it; I let them be.

I don’t worry about it because, as I’ve told people, I write to find out what happens: If I knew at the outset, I wouldn’t bother writing.

Dammit! Look what you’ve done, C.: A goddamned lesson!

Still, not a bad one. And if I don’t remember, smack me upside head every once in awhile, to jar it loose.

Once in a lifetime

23 11 2008

I have a little problem with reality.

Mainly, it’s something that’s out there, a place where I ought to belong, but I can’t quite come up with the password or secret handshake or underground tunnel or whatever the hell it takes to gain entry. I can see it—I think—but then I fall back and wonder, Hm, is that it?

And if reality is over there, and I’m over here, then where the hell am I?

I blame my confusion on (at least) two things, one of which was my, ahem, extended stay in grad school. As high school and college friends were off doing the things regular people do, I was buying pizza at 2am to eat with fellow grad students in the computer lab. They took out car loans; I took out student loans. They bought suits for work, I washed my jeans.

Yeah, that’s a little glib, but not much. They were becoming adults, and I was becoming. . . a grad student. I got older, sure, but plotzing over a stalled dissertation is not the usual path to adulthood. And I finished—yay!—but then what? A coupla’ post-docs, and resignation from a profession I never got the hang of. A move to Bummerville, an escape to New York City, and. . . this.

Not that I have a clue what ‘this’ is.

So: When did you know you were an adult? When you left home? Got your first apartment? Moved in with your boyfriend or girlfriend? Got a mortgage? Got married? Had kids? Got divorced? When you look at your life do you say, Yep, this is mine? Or do you find yourself in the midst of a Talking Heads song: Well, how did I get here?

I know, we don’t all have to live the same lives, and it’s not as if anyone’s life is going to make sense all the time, but shouldn’t I be able to recognize something in it as mine? Or, more accurately, shouldn’t I be able to recognize myself somewhere in all of this?

Yeah, the second reason may play into this, namely, that long personality-destroying depression, but, really, how long can I continue to point at my voids and blame them for my. . . voids? Besides, don’t people without a history of self-destruction gape at their own lives, too?

So, what do we do? How do we know we belong where we are, or where we’re going?