New Year’s Realizations

dancer

This New Year’s I had a lot of resolutions floating around in my head. Things like, check your phone less. Make more art. Call up friends more. Drink less. Read more books. Keep going to the gym. Make some goals and come up with plans to follow those goals.

But lists and charts seemed lacking. Instead I wanted to make a “vision board”: a collage filled with images of your aspirations, the people you want to be, the concepts you want to invite into your life. I wanted to see what my goals might look like, what color and shape they would be.

My vision board became a vision box. Which is kind of great because I was looking for an image that represents opening to reveal myself inside. I envisioned an open mouth or a cave maybe. I didn’t find it but realized later that a box is the perfect symbol for that.

box

Making a collage is about noticing what you’re attracted to. Feeling for that twinge, no matter how slight. Waiting for that moment when the pieces fit together in a pleasing way. Trusting your impulses- Cut this face in half? Seems weird but ok. Completely cover up this image that minutes ago, seemed essential? Sure. Glue the fish on sideways? Whatever you say.

I noticed that I was vibing with yellow. And women. And water and mountains. Some images just looked good to me, and some I chose for their pure symbolism: dancing woman, drawing woman, reading woman. Old woman. Mountain goat. Singing bird. Arrow in the target.

readinggirl

In yoga class yesterday the teacher said, “Lead with your heart.” The pose felt amazing, and vulnerable- chest out, arms back- but I also thought, what would life be like if you always led with your heart? Not “follow your heart” as people often say, but slightly different. Lead with your heart is more active, intentional, decisive. Heart as a flashlight, a steering wheel- not a leashed dog pulling you around.

I don’t have very specific goals and I never have. I’ve always just been drawn to a certain kind of artistic lifestyle without any real idea of how to get there. When I was a kid someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I said, “happy.” But I realized recently (well, really my insightful mom suggested this theory) that it’s maybe not a result of a lack of imagination or a lack of drive, but from a kind of guarded protection against desire. Sometimes I have a desire or a goal and I immediately shut it down for one reason or another, the excuse often being, “I’m not the kind of person who does that.” Which is total bullshit. I don’t let the want get big and substantial enough to gain momentum. Because if you have no real desires, you’re not vulnerable. Desire can have a kind of power over you. But isn’t desire the strongest kind of power? It can be if you have the resources, the persistence, the smarts to get that thing you want. Otherwise you just have the want and no path to it; you are at its mercy. Easier to just not want it.

I think that’s what my brain has come to believe, for some reason.

redbird

Well, I’m going to practice wanting. Big things. Seemingly impossible things. I want things of epic proportions. I want to live in Switzerland in a little chalet, and eat exquisite fresh cheese for breakfast and learn to play the violin. I want to be a professional illustrator and be best friends with Carson Ellis. I want to bike along the West coast, from Canada to Mexico. I want to be a contestant on So You Think You Can Dance. I want to make all my own clothes. I want to be an expert gardener. I want to weave. I want to go surfing. I want to write a memoir. I want to go on a road trip and visit all my friends and camp in Yosemite.

I want half of my income to come from art and writing, and the other half to come from barbering. I want to have enough money. I want Benny to have a job he loves. I want to live in a clean, uncluttered house with a porch and a studio and a yard, and a big enough living room that it feels easy to invite people over. I want to be wild and colorful and giving and gracious and loving. I want to be loose, warm, open, alive, uncalculating, free.

I want to cook beautiful flavorful food. I want a spiritual awakening. I want to learn to tap dance. I want to feel connected to people without being afraid that they will take something from me- my time, my energy, my attention, my freedom. I want to be willing to work hard for something I want. I want to grow my hair long and wind my hair around my fist like power. I want to be remembered. I want to be admired. I want to be humble. I want full days to myself, days where I never have to speak or make facial expressions and I can be completely internal, or just forget myself entirely and become what’s around me.

I want to be Prince. I want to float in water at night, looking up at the stars. I want to destroy my phone. I want to sleep in a tree house. I want to swim with a whale. I want to walk through New York City. I want to understand the workings of things. I want to make things out of clay. I want to meet again everyone I’ve ever loved- including my mom, dad, sister. I want to remember my own birth. I want to know my ancestors. I want to live to an old age. I want Mina to outlive me. I want to accept people as they are. I want to take risks. I want to feel possibility as a tangible thing in my hand. I want to soften.

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