Woman Love

Last night I was having dinner with my family, including my mom who had just gotten back from a three week trip visiting friends and family in San Diego. We were eating Tom Kha soup that Benny and I had made with ingredients from Fubon, the huge Asian food store nearby. I mentioned that I tried not to ladle any hot Thai peppers into anyone’s soup but to be careful just in case. It jogged a memory of a time when I was eating the same soup at a Thai restaurant and did, in fact, eat one of those peppers.

“That was the same night that we went to see The Vagina Monologues,” I reminded my mom. “And I was so high off that pepper that the whole night just blew my mind. In fact, that was maybe the first time that I really felt proud of being a woman.”

“I hadn’t made that connection, that that was the same night,” my mom said.

“What an amazing experience,” I said. “And I wrote it all down.”

My mom’s eyes widened. “Really!” She said. “You should look for it.”

After dinner I put on a head lamp and rummaged through the storage closet, going through my journals until I finally found it. As I read the entry aloud to my mom later that night I was struck by a few things- by how full and rich and complex my life was at that time, as a 19 year old who had returned home for the summer after a year at Chico State, and also how committed I was to getting the story down. This description is only a portion of the entire entry because so much had happened in the previous day and night and I knew at the time how important it was to just surrender to my journal for a couple hours and get everything on paper. As I was looking for this entry I found a journal labeled July 2000-August 2000. An entire notebook filled in four weeks.

Also what struck me is how, up until that night, I had been pretty ambivalent about my gender, often denying my female-ness and looking for ways to express myself as more masculine. I wasn’t necessarily anti-woman, I was just more pro-man. I felt that I hadn’t really heard a convincing case in favor of being a woman. I didn’t personally relate to many characteristics commonly viewed as female. My own identity lingered in an in-between space of not female and not male. I didn’t spend too much time thinking about labels and gender identity, I mostly just tried to pretend the whole argument was nonexistent. This was the first time I felt a power in my femininity.

vaginas

June 2, 2001

I wore a pair of soft, loose, cotton pants and a light blue long sleeved shirt with gold trim. When Mom arrived I went out to the car- Karen and Deborah were with her. They looked flushed and dazzling, excited about the night and asking me dozens of questions about my new life. We drove downtown and found a parking spot, and then went to dinner at a fancy Thai restaurant, with high white walls and small bright lights hanging from wire thread. We ordered coconut soup, spinach with mushrooms, tofu and rice and other scrumptious things. Mary arrived, looking like Judy Garland, and another of my mom’s friends who I’d never met arrived grinning and strutting with her arms in the air. She had just got back from a long mountain hike and camping trip.

I felt wonderful and strange with these five incredible women, almost like I was hanging out with my big sister and her grown up friends. I was amazed by them, awed and adoring. Watching my mom from across the table, she seemed to be someone else, distant and wild and new, and I missed the feeling of being a daughter. I was left out of most of the conversations as they soared higher and louder with each other. I was mostly content to watch and listen.

When the soup came, my first bite was of a red hot pepper. Apparently you aren’t supposed to eat them- but not only had I eaten it, I’d chewed on it for a while before I swallowed it. It was surprisingly and extremely painful, my whole mouth burned and moaned and turned inside out, my eyes watered and my sinuses cleared. Anything else I put in my mouth made it burn even worse, and it burned for a long time. Afterwards though, everything tasted absolutely exquisite.

We walked to Spreckles theater, and on the way there Mary asked me questions about what I had been going through and I told her stories about the people I know, and Scott’s farm, and my amazing life in Chico. As I told her, I felt like I was back there and I was exuberant and so thankful for my life.

When we arrived at the theater, women were everywhere. They crowded the sidewalk, they spilled in and out of the doors, they loomed and gleamed in their high heels and skirts, their collective voices made rushing waves of sound through the night of filled streets and blaring music. The night grinned and breathed, it swayed and spun, crowds of life and joy and yearning, the streets of San Diego.

The excitement was addictive- I felt the anticipation and glamour, all around me were silk dresses, high priced drinks, make-upped faces, white pillars, intricate ceilings. I hadn’t expected anything like this, especially for something called “The Vagina Monologues!”

We were ushered into the theater with the rest of the crowd and took our seats. The room was medium sized but gave the illusion of wealthy expanse. Tall ceilings, several balconies, bronze statues of naked women posing near the roof, carvings and curlicues in white and gold.

The show was incredible, inspiring, authentic, beautiful. Three amazing actors, seated and telling stories, taking on the characters of an old woman, a young lesbian, a girl who had been genitally mutilated, a woman who gave other women pleasure for a living, a woman whose husband detested hair, a woman who learned to love her vagina, and other personas. I was completely entranced the entire time. I learned so much about my body and how other women view their bodies. I felt a kinship with females that I’d never known before. I burst out laughing at surprising times and found myself teary-eyed at stories I wouldn’t have thought would affect me. I was pulled to these women, to the stage. I felt at one with the audience, the rowdy, cheering, sobbing, laughing audience. I looked around at all the women and I saw us as sisters. I imagined all the vaginas in the theater and I loved every one of them. I felt like a mother, a nurturer- and became empowered with that feeling of nurturing.

But most of all, I felt a deep pride- a pride that soared in all of us. I saw us raise our heads higher, sit up straighter, smile wider and with an ancient knowledge. I saw the love we had in ourselves, of ourselves; a love and pride that gets squelched by so many things, and fed by so little. We were awakened, we were reminded, of how glorious we are, how beautiful and how strong.

When we left, we left beaming, reborn. Tears in our eyes, we walked differently. I wanted to throw my arms around everyone. I was electrified- grinning and tingling as I strutted down the street with Mom and Deb, running my eyes over rivers of people as we fought our way down busy sidewalks. I’d never seen downtown so exciting, so packed with life, so loud and wild and bright. I could almost see the money flowing from pockets into cash registers- dark eyes and painted lips, shiny shoes wherever I looked and new smells at every block- steam and smoke billowing from vents, hot night, sharp moon, the buildings loomed with flashing windows, endless. I felt hot and desirable, awake and open, swelled with confidence. I loved the city then, no desire for quiet rivers and heavy trees, crickets and bonfire smoke. I wanted alcohol, I wanted all night dance clubs, I wanted to flaunt my body, I wanted to spend all my money and collapse drunk on a velvet couch wearing a slinky dress. This is it, I knew, I felt, I sighed, and I went home, and I slept.

 

Illustration by Wanda Felsenhardt

 

Advertisements

Who’s In Your Mirror

true self

I was 20 years old and on a Greyhound bus from Seattle to Denver, for no real reason other than I had taken a semester off from Chico State and wanted to head East for once. The drive took several days, and at one point during the trip we were stopped at some random town somewhere, it was night, and the interior lights went on. I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window across the aisle, and after so much time of being alone among strangers I was struck by the familiarity of my own face and overcome with an aching love for myself. I suddenly came to the realization that one day I would be gone from this earth and I missed myself fiercely, wishing that I could stay until I decided, on my own terms, when to go.

When I think of that moment now, it’s about confronting one’s own mortality but also about how we’re always saying goodbye to some old version of ourselves, often not realizing it in the moment. That was a self that was single, childless, still searching, still constructing my own version of the world and what about it was important to me. Part of me feels like that was the truest version of myself and always will be. Sometimes I think about that moment as a goodbye to the girl version of me, who still had so much to learn.

Here’s the thing: I have this dichotomy happening in me right now. Since Mina’s birth I’ve been grappling with this question of who I am now. When I gave birth to a child, my old self died. So suddenly and completely that I can’t compare it to any other event in my life. For the first time in my life, I felt that I didn’t matter. It wasn’t about me anymore. I stopped looking in the mirror- Mina was my mirror. When someone asked me how I was, I would respond with Mina’s state of being. For a while none of my needs were important to me, except to keep myself functional so I could care for my baby. In some ways it was liberating- so much of my life up to that point was spent focusing on myself, my wants and needs and feelings, my appearance, my identity; how freeing to feel selfless for once, without ego, without ambition aside from being this child’s mom.

But every day it got a little easier to remember my self and put energy towards doing those things I used to do. As she gets older I am remembering how to be an individual person; but now I have to get reacquainted with myself, like seeing an old friend again after years of living overseas. I slowly got back into art, music, writing, reading, biking, friends, time with Benny, time alone. But of course it was different. Motherhood has changed every single thing about me. I feel like there is still an umbilical cord connecting me and my daughter. She is still my mirror.

The funny thing is, I’ve gotten used to the feeling that I don’t matter. When I became a mother, my vision suddenly zoomed out- I saw the whole world in her, every person who has ever lived and ever will live. I saw my place in the cycle of life, I saw her place in my family tree and the family tree of all humanity. I understood my parents better, and I understood my childhood better. The combination of motherhood and growing older has given me a much bigger view of things. So much so that it’s hard to stay within the confines of my small self and my small life- I find myself often looking down from above, trying to make sense of the whole ecosystem. I’m often struck by the strangeness of the human experience, how lucky and how cursed we all are. How complex and intelligent and how foolish and weak.

Part of me wants to figure out who I am now and establish a fresh identity, and part of me thinks, “Who cares?” I don’t matter and I kind of like it that way. Working to establish an identity is the work of someone younger. I’ve heard it said that the first half of your life is for building your ego; the second half of your life is for dissolving it. I want to be pliable, flexible, open, unguarded. I want to keep a loose grip on who I think I am and what I believe in. I want to flow in and out of everyone, hear and feel others, go by different names, find kinship with the changing seasons. I want to feel comfortable saying goodbye to an old part of myself, knowing that being a part of this world means that she was never meant to stay.

 

 

I took this self portrait at Burning Man when I was 20. This was supposedly a mirror that showed your “true self”- not a mirror image but the way others see you. 

Ode to Bikes

 

SFbeaches 050

On my bike ride home from work today I felt so good. There’s something about biking that makes me feel connected to my environment, to my body, to my breath. Often, as I’m coasting downhill after a long hard uphill, I feel struck with such a profound sense of gratitude that I’ll even say, “thanks,” out loud. Who/what am I thanking? Just existence. I’m just happy that random/intentional elements in the universe have collaborated in such a way to allow me to be myself, here, at this moment.

As I crossed 82nd Ave and entered the tunnel of trees that is Mill Street I remembered when Benny and I first moved to San Francisco in 2008 and what a challenging thrill it was to embrace the city by bike. After a couple weeks of public transit I tried biking and I was amazed at how it made this huge new place seem so manageable. I remembered biking to Golden Gate Park for the first time and coasting through the magical lush forest and emerging on the other side to the ocean! It was so dreamlike the way the trees suddenly fell away to crashing waves. I knew there was an ocean over there somewhere but I hadn’t realized how close I was to it, that I could bike there.

I looked through my journals from that time thinking there was probably a very detailed entry about that experience. I was surprised to find just a line or two about it, but I did find some other stuff I enjoyed reading. It was so jarring to try to adjust to city life after eight years in a small college town, and it’s interesting to see my past self needing to get to Portland. It’s a good thing I made it here.

Beach3_Panorama

8.21.08

Today I decided to ride my bike from our apartment to Golden Gate Park, about five miles. There were more hills than I expected, although I’m not sure why I didn’t expect hills.

Every time I take the bike out I feel a huge sense of accomplishment and joy. It gives me the feeling that I have control not only over my environment and my direction, but also over my life. I suppose this is also how having a car must feel to most people, especially for a teenager. I don’t really remember having that feeling though, when mom and dad came home with the Corolla for me and Leah to share. Maybe because even with the car, there was nowhere I wanted to go.

 

9.8.08

I’m beginning to miss Chico now. At first I just missed my friends. Now what I miss is space, the room to breathe, the oaks and pines and furry redwoods. The cool air in the night, stars that you can see, the accessibility of everything, the way you can fall into adventure like tripping on a rock. I want some of that here. That feeling of belonging. Of knowing the best places. The sense that even though we come from different places we all grew up the same. Trust.

I miss swimming in the cold green deep rushing water in the midst of dry crackling heat so hot you fear it is literally baking you all the way through. I miss bike riding to a friend’s house on the other side of town for dinner and wine and sitting out under the moon with rolled cigarettes.

I saw the moon the other night, full and bright, as Benny and I walked down Polk Street on our way home from dinner at a Thai place. It seemed out of place here in the city, like it had lost its way. I felt disconnected from it and everything it represents: magic, nature, open spaces and connection with natural cycles. Finding your way outside in the dark, and quiet. I keep yearning for these things and marveling and how I got here, to the city.

But sometimes when I’m cruising down a fast hill on my bike, the sweat drying cold on my temples, I feel glad to be in a place of such rich art and culture, a place where people go to have adventures and pursue their dreams. And I’m getting better at moving through crowds without being overwhelmed, and I love the views and the bike ride through the park to the ocean.

But a big part of me is reaching forward to the afterwards and planning for a life in Oregon.

bikefam

bikerchick

Learning From My Younger Self

74826_469076958837_1931190_n

Can I say what I need to say? Is it okay to say this?

I ache. Not deeply, but it’s there; like a campfire that I’m sitting a bit too close to. It’s starting to sear my knees, so I cover my knees with my hands, the coolness a brief relief- until it’s the tops of my hands that start to burn.

I savor the ache. It means something. It means I can still want, I can still write, create, yearn. It’s an ache for my past self, my wild self who I didn’t know well enough to control, who was not yet fully formed, who was still cracked open enough to allow for such a range of possibility that to acknowledge it made me dizzy.

Yet as I biked home from work today, a little drunk and speeding through the fresh cool air, blood pumping and sweat drying and my old plaid flannel shirt flapping I thought, she’s still here, she’s still in me. That kid, that 18 year old, still hungry for experience and movement and passion and life. She’s still me.

But why do I idolize her so much? Surely I’m better now, stronger, more caring, smarter, with a certain beauty from cheekbones and laugh lines and stretch marks, glimmerings of silver at my temples. Oh but that girl- she teetered at the precipice and I’ll never again know that feeling. The certainty that life was a treasure map and I had everything I needed to get to that big X and start digging. A time when desire consumed me entirely; I was just a walking want and there was no reason why I should not pursue my every impulse.

I guess I miss feeling desires, acknowledging them, pursuing them. I’ve almost all but forgotten how to want something and go after it. I miss that selfish kid, that wild girl burning with a fire that wouldn’t stop until she had consumed the whole town.

____________________________________________________________

I’ve been reading old journals again. I can’t help myself. I’m surprised how many times I can go back to them, how they are still magnetic, throbbing with life and meaning.

It’s an escape. It’s a time portal to the time in my life when I felt the most free, the most alive, the most juicy and anguished and curious and open to magic. Sometimes I look at the warped, torn, frantic, messy pages of a journal from 2004 and wonder what it would be like to pop in on that 22 year old girl in a coffee shop and say, “Hey- it’s me. I mean, it’s you, 13 years from now. I’m 35 and I’m married and have a three year old daughter and live in Portland and well, just keep writing, okay? Because this time is more important than you realize. And don’t worry about all the flings and your heart that is constantly drawn and quartered because it’s not going to last. You’re only a year away from meeting the boy you will marry so relax. Forgive yourself. Be wild, sink into it. Take notes. Cherish your friends. Ride your bike at night, gaze at the river, go to jazz night and drink your whiskey and cokes. Don’t try so hard to find love and just revel in passion.”

Reading these journals, some of the entries flow so perfectly, it’s almost impossibly cosmic the way life fit together in a chaotically poetic way at that time, people flowing in and out of the scene, entering the room as I’m writing about them- so many interruptions and experiences happening lightning fast there was no way to keep the journal up to date. But it’s there, incomplete, and just a few notes is enough to expand it 3-D in my head and heart. I feel everything when I read it.

I think I knew who I was early on in my life, not too many years of searching and doubt- so when I read back on old journals the setting is different, the day to day life has changed, but it’s the same person writing, noticing, feeling, wanting. When I read about life in 2004 it’s almost like a parallel life. It doesn’t feel far away even though it’s impossible to get to.

“I don’t like to dwell on the past,” Benny said when I was talking to him about this stuff. I agreed but I also had to point out, “I think my past self has something to teach me. It seems like a conversation. Like the past is still alive somehow, time isn’t linear.”

All my selves, past, present, and future- exist simultaneously and if I concentrate hard enough, I can access any or all of them.

________________________________________________________________

I had a moment today, suddenly as I was driving: it was a thought of how I’ve been idolizing my younger self so much lately and that’s fine I guess, but I realized just how much my present self has that my younger self didn’t. I have a self-assurance now that’s actually based on experience and not cocky ignorance. I’ve made so many mistakes that I never have to make again if I choose not to. I don’t have to just blunder my way through, day to day. I’m a grown-ass woman and I’ve worked hard to get here. I’m at a position where I could actually give someone wise, thoughtful advice if asked. I understand gratification and I understand sacrifice. I understand selfishness and compassion. The world seems bigger now- infinite. My ego is dwindling. I think I could one day be one of those older people whose eyes glow with brilliance and kindness; who have a knowing that’s come with an acceptance of not knowing. I don’t want to lose my wildness but for a moment I was fully grateful for all the years I’ve accumulated and how they’ve laid the groundwork for what’s next. For a moment I felt like, if someone showed up in a time machine and offered me a ride back to my 20’s, I would just wave them off.

As we get older we have these choices, every day we have them- what parts of ourselves to keep, and what to let go. I think I’ve been reading my old journals as kind of a cumulative review- taking inventory. I like my old self but there’s a lot about her I’m not proud of, that I’m eager to discard; and I’m also clearing out some space for parts of myself I’m still working on, that I want to see get bigger. I’m realizing more and more that although I am a product of my upbringing, my environment, my culture- my life didn’t happen to me. I chose it, and every day I choose it. This is the adventure I decided on. Sure, I may miss that feeling of groping in the darkness, of careening off into the unknown, but making choices and committing to the path you’ve chosen is the real work.

The Nothing Ocean

So! Here’s another installment of what I’ve been referring to as diary comics, although I think they need another name because “diary comics” tends to mean comics about your day or at least recent past. These are memoir comics in the sense that they are memories from a ways back, but they are diary comics because they are based on actual diary entries.

For this one I chose an entry that was very evocative and poetic because I wanted to see what would happen to my style if I allowed for more expressive and abstract imagery. I had so much fun with this! I let myself get a little messy and I tried some new techniques, like using a sponge with white gouache paint for the ocean spray, a dry brush for inking the waves, and salt for rock texture.

Theoceanwasblack1

Theoceanwasblack2

Leaving Ramona

You guys, I made a comic! It’s been a looong time. The drawing group that I sporadically attend sometimes comes out with a zine of anthology comics based on a theme. I missed out on Cats, Movies, and so many other good ones but for this one- Hometowns- I finally got it together.

I kept it short to ensure that I would start and finish the damn thing, but once I started it was all over way too soon. I can’t wait to get back into doing comics!

This comic really surprised me; I was having a hard time narrowing down this huge topic into one doable story until I stumbled upon a journal entry that seemed to just sum up everything about that intense time into just a few sentences. When I found that it all came together pretty effortlessly. Once again journaling saves the day.

LeavingRamona1

LeavingRamona2

My Time Machine

I’ve been listening to a lot of the Mortified podcast lately. My mom got me into Mortified several years back, and since then both she and I have performed in Portland branch of the event. (If you don’t know, Mortified is a nationwide movement of people getting onstage to read from their adolescent diaries.) When I did it, I chose the time period of when I was about 17 and it’s intense stuff, losing touch with my friend group and becoming kind of a loner. Listening to the podcast, I started to get curious about who I was in middle school, and what I wrote about getting my period, my first kiss, how I felt about the first day of 8th grade. So I dug into my boxes in storage and found my 8th grade journal, delighted with the detailed descriptions of this awkward and tender time. And when I got to the end I wondered, “Wait- THEN what happened?”

So after some searching I found my 9th grade journal, and 10th (I skipped 11th because I had already gone over that recently), and then got lost in the turbulent roller coaster of 12th grade. Then of course I had to move onto my first year of college and so on. I didn’t read EVERY journal, or even one entire one, but I did a lot of sequential skimming, piecing my past together loosely in my mind. I got an urge to create a timeline of the significant events in my life.

I might still do that, but meanwhile I managed to, for the first time in my life, compile all my journals together into three sturdy boxes, labeled by time frame and arranged IN ORDER. Dang. Twenty five years of journaling, at times almost excessive. I’ve slowed down quite a bit in the last ten years, and that’s why it was so mind-boggling to find thick journals that only spanned a month or two.

Having such densely packed accounts of my experiences is such a gift; it feels like a time machine that allows me to be 12 again, to be 15, 18, 23 again. When I put the journal down I’m left dazed and disoriented, swimming in a strange stew of mixed emotions: yearning, regret, shame, confusion, wonder, joy, and also a compulsion to somehow “make things right” with people who I hurt or abandoned. There’s an urge to reconnect with people who used to be essential components to my life. But I also don’t want to get too caught up in the past, I want to move forward and create new artifacts for my future self to delight in.

In Defense of the Color Pink.

If there is a Most Hated color, it’s gotta be  pink. I don’t think any other color carries so much controversy. Especially now, in these gender neutral times, pink has even more power. Wearing it makes a statement. Refusing to wear it makes a statement. It’s almost impossible to wear pink casually, thoughtlessly.

I think I went through a pink-hating phase as a kid. Purple was obviously the superior color. Pink was my sister’s trademark. Then later purple became lame, and green was the new favorite color. But in my teens, I think sometime after my short lived Goth phase and coinciding with my punk phase, pink made a serious comeback. I came to realize that, as a traditionally “feminine” color, it had been shunned by much of society as a weak, wussy color. Boys didn’t wear it, and most girls didn’t either- only girly girls, and then it was a pastel pink. I started wearing a lot of magenta and dyeing my hair bubble gum pink. My friend Chelsea who had spiky black hair and a “Monroe” piercing liked wearing pink and red together, and she looked like a walking Valentine, singed at the edges.

Later I went through a hippie/tomboy phase, which I’m still kinda in, but I never lost my love of pink. I’m comfortable in pink, I wear it defiantly. And I’ve wondered if maybe I’m more comfortable in it than some women because I’m more masculine in a lot of ways, and pink is my way of tipping the scales a bit. Just like a man wearing pink, I feel comfortable enough in my masculinity to embrace my feminine self.

Now I have a two year old daughter. Sometimes I dress her in pink. (Admittedly, this is partly because pink clothes are often on sale.) Sometimes she wears head to toe pink. Other days she wears red and black, blue and green, or brown and orange. But I’d be lying if I said I don’t consider the public’s view of her when I choose her clothing. And the times when I feel most aware of this is when I dress her in pink. After all, I know a few moms who have actually told me, “I will never dress my daughter in pink.”

Mainly, I want people to know that I dress her in pink not because she’s a girl and that’s what girls are supposed to wear. I like to think that if she were a boy I would be just as inclined. I want people to understand that pink is just a color, a beautiful one, and choosing to avoid it is just making it more powerful. I hope they can see that I’m embracing the femininity of pink in a Grrrl Power kind of way, a backlash against all the pink haters. But most of all, I hope they see my daughter as a person first, and a girl second.

 

Beach Rocks

We spent the last week of the year at a beach house in Bandon, OR with Benny’s family. It was stunning, and the rocks kept stopping me in my tracks, commanding my attention. I loved their shapes and texture. Some reminded us of buffalo.

When we got home I kept trying to paint them. None of them quite capture them perfectly, but it was fun to try.

 

imageimageimageimageimageimage

imageimage

A Long Time Coming

Art has always been a part of my life in some form or another. I’ve always made time for art alongside work and school and relationships, and oftentimes I’ve blended art into the other aspects of my life so that it becomes not a separate category but just a way of being and seeing. I remember coming home after a day at college studying Symbolic Logic, Metaphysics, and US History, and diving into my box of collage materials and reveling in brilliant, nonsensical chaos. A few years ago I took on the challenge of creating a daily diary comic, which I did for ten months (see Blog Archive Feb 2011 to Oct 2011).

So imagine how I felt when, a few months after giving birth to my daughter, I sadly packed up most my art supplies and moved my art desk to the basement. We just didn’t have the space for it and honestly, I was having difficulty imagining a scenario in the future where I might have the time, energy, and inspiration to sit at my desk and create something.

But a few months ago we bought a house, and we have twice as much space as we did before. I was able to set up an art area again. Also, Mina has been going to bed earlier, around 8:30 instead of her old bed time of 11:00. So I have a few hours in the evening to paint.

  
  

During those 18 months when I wasn’t really making art, sometimes I would  fantasize about the art that I would make if I could. I always pictured bright, colorful paintings, messy but detailed, with some white space, with little to no outlines. It’s so satisfying to see them in front of me, coming to life through my brush, these creatures that have been waiting so long to arrive.

(Side note: This blog post was written on my iphone while I lay on the bed nursing my squirmy, teething toddler so that she could nap.)