Stop trying to Fix Yourself, Honey:

A Reprieve for Time Already Served

Dear Madam/Sir/Thou,

Around this time of year, we start hearing a lot about gratitude and boy do us colonizers have a lot to be grateful for! Black Friday sales, pumpkin stuff, and a delicious burst of tryptophan eaten with carbs aplenty on stolen land! Mmmm, capitalism never tasted so good.

This letter is to inform you of a last-minute stay of confinement to the jail of your own making, and that is the eternal prison of “working on yourself.” You’ve attended all the classes, sessions, seminars and assignations to “move the trauma out,” and maybe you’re wondering when’s it gonna move out, already?

It seems like the current fashion of “wellness” and “healing” has been weaponized against us, trivializing trauma by implying that being “triggered” is a sign of some kind of fragility or weakness, instead of a sign of triumphant badassery—you’re still here and I love that for you.

Someone failed to mention that no matter how much work you do, you’re still going to be triggered as shit sometimes, and possibly on any holiday of dubious origin where you’re forced (speaking of confinement) to share air with people related to you either by birth or the accident of who you’re boning, not to mention that air might be rife with delicious contagions of Covid-19. (I’m bringing cardamom carrot cake with pecans and lemon cream cheese frosting!)

I’ve been sent to communicate this stay of execution (for what is perfectionism but a kind of death?) on doing a holiday perfectly or any day hereafter. We are messy, life is messy, and love (despite what we’re led to believe by the Hollywood Romance Machine) is the messiest of all. This note may be presented as proof of “permission to be messy today.”

You can choose to yell at Uncle Pete the Knight of High Stupidity or keep the peace, but you gotta love yourself regardless, because Pete certainly does love himself down to his gouty toes, bless him. And if you feel better about it, leave Pete and gang to their beliefs and take care of you by skipping the festivities entirely—“Bye, I’ll be here catching up on Bake Off, have fun!”

The goal is to be grateful most especially when it seems like there’s nothing to be grateful for, or rather when we feel so activated that our brains refuse to let us feel gratitude or any other positive emotion; it’s not like we don’t know we’re lucky to have somewhere to go with any food to eat, we just may not feel it until the dopamine from the third slice of turkey kicks in.

I’ll start: I’m grateful today for all the people I’ve lost, and the source of my gratitude comes from, of all things, a widely circulated clip of Hollywood actor Andrew Garfield. While talking about the death of his mother he gave the greatest take on grief, which is that the tears we shed represent the love we didn't get to give the person who’s no longer here. We can cry with all the love we didn’t get to share and in doing so honor the child within, reminding that child we will take care of her/him/them, no matter whose company we keep.   

For whatever thou* has endured, let’s be thankful for breathing the planet’s (dwindling) oxygen, having enough consciousness to examine and process old hurts, and of course, for DOGS. How simple it is to be a dog at Thanksgiving *sniffs delicious cooking smells* *steals fallen food off floor* *is given more treats by unsuspecting guests**gets at least gravy on crunchies*. For the canine, life is a matter of moment-to-moment presence, with no opinion on whether said moment is enjoyable.

The dog, as my son responded the other day when I said our chihuahua “Henry Miller is happy to be here,” said, “Mom, he’s happy to be anything.” Though we humans did get those useful opposable thumbs, I suggest we regress our ever-roiling pre-frontal cortexes (corti? cortexium? gaggle of cortexias?) just enough to be “happy to be anything” too.


Your Emotional Labor Probation Officer**

*Ever notice thou is non-binary? So, not really a new thing…

**This will be our last correspondence.

Marry Me, Mariska

An Ode to the Most Trustworthy Person on Television

I have to come clean that I slipped up in my long-term relationship and had an emotional affair. It was just… it happened before I knew it, you see, and I never intended it to be so. Every day I was counting down the moments until nighttime when I could be alone with her, gain consolation and reassurance while (I’m ashamed to say) my partner was asleep in the next room. Guiltily, I would turn on my Hulu account and there she would be, just waiting at the top of the queue. Keep watching? Why yes, Mariska, I will always keep watching you.

There is more than one reason why this is embarrassing: I pride myself on being a connoisseur of ‘high art’ as entertainment. Some of my favorite films are obscure, but that’s not why I love them, I just appreciate a less mainstream story (Butterfly Kiss, Female Perversions, Fun, anyone?) not to mention the fact that I knew about Amanda Plumber, Alicia Witt, and Tilda Swinton before you did. I wouldn’t even see Titanic until years later (though Kate Winslet was already amazing in Heavenly Creatures) because I inherently distrust things that are popular.

Law and Order SVU storylines, on the other hand, are formulaic in the way mac and cheese is formulaic but put those banal ingredients together and you get something perfectly comforting that doesn’t require much discernment to digest. Even though the shows have the collective intelligence of elbow noodles, they afford a quiet reassurance—Mariska is always on her purpose catching the pervy perp, which cannot be underestimated.

I recently embarked on 90s SVUs, mainly because they remind me of living in NYC in the late 90s. Back then, I would see them filming NYPD Blue on my block on 2nd Avenue; the crew once even let me pull up an apple box and watch Dennis Franz in action (ah, to be young, hot, and aspiring is not to be denied). At the time, I also tuned in occasionally to the original Law and Order, not half because the first person I met on the street in NYC was Jerry Orbach’s son and he was a nice man (random). To be fair, I also met and hung out with Joe Mantegna, but that made me no more likely to check out Criminal Minds years later. Then there was the Benjamin-Bratt-era L&O obsession when I was pregnant that had to be accompanied by a specific brand of pickled herring. But I digress…

Guys, SVU was crazy in the 90s. First of all, the lack of political correctness is cringey af (new drinking game; take a sip every time any character says “dead hooker,” two sips if it’s Ice-T) but then there’s Mariska, not prescient exactly, but certainly always on the side of Good, which is the side of Women and Children and even Sluts. In one episode, she literally slaps a perp upside the head (this isn’t going to be so well-researched a piece that I go back and find the episode) but what? A female cop roughing up a sex offender with no consequences? Sign. Me. Up. #notallcops

Ever since I was pregnant, 16 years ago as of this writing, I lost my previous taste for violence. I, who once loved some nasty rough stuff (Fight Club, Falling Down and actual MMA) could no longer witness anyone getting hurt, not to mention touching a hair on a child’s head. Nevertheless, I found myself lulled to sleep nightly, even as the SVU storylines became increasingly more violent by the season as producers understood they needed to up the ante to jolt an ever more numbed-out audience.

I believe I can stomach the artfully arranged corpses not only because of the cheesy and predictable plots where tortured, raped, or killed women becomes ho-hum, but also because Mariska has evolved in gravitas to anchor the horror with her exceptional integrity. And beauty, let’s not forget beauty. I’m not saying it was worth all the dead sluts to get to see Mariska, but I’m not not saying that. What I’m really saying is if we counted up all the victims on SVU, I’m sure the vast majority of them were “females,” but Mariska balances the misogyny simply with her Mariska-ness.

We cannot go on without mentioning the various versions of my girl Mar’s hair over the course of 23 seasons. When she dared go short in the late 90s and early aughts, contravening the forced femme of the time, it was with cheekbones afforded her by the genetic perfection of her parents, Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay. In an era when women action stars were and often still are expected to perform the same death-defying feats in 6-inch spikes, she boldly wore boots with stacked heels. No doubt various iterations of her shoulder-length perfection were clutched by women in the mid-aughts and presented to hairdressers worldwide to butcher. Nothing against hairdressers, just that there’s only one Mariska, and just like the Rachel, anyone who attempted to replicate the original was doomed to failure. (It’s worth mentioning that Mar has done more with her platform to advocate for victims, while Aniston is still shilling water, bless her.)

My favorite Mariska is 2012 Mariska, the season before Elliot Stabler left the show, but after he convincingly played an imprisoned psycho with a heart of gold on HBO’s Oz along with pre-Oscar J.K.Simmons and the guy in the State Farm commercials. Season 12 SVU was the only one I watched in its entirety, other than that, I cherry picked eps with good titles, great guest stars (Bebe Neuwirth!), and nothing demonizing kink because I find it personally offensive that serial killers on these shows always have weird fetishes and also banging collages in their lairs. I mean, who has the time to make art, between all that stabbing and sodomizing? I also watched the 500th episode (because it was there to be watched) and I love the long, gray-streaked thing Captain Olivia Benson is doing now, thank you very much.

Sadly, this is where my love story must end, because I started dreading my nightly one-sided affair with bad television—it was you Mariska, it was always about you—even though I was only watching a few eps, it started to feel like a colossal waste of time. While there is probably a fair bit of SVU erotic fan fiction on the internet, I will not be perusing it, because I’ve already imagined it all. When I think about Mariska, I want her to be my wife, along with my other secret wives Amy Ryan, Amandla Stenberg, Patricia Clarkson and Rosamund Pike, but I still couldn’t get through the latter’s mean-spirited Netflix movie, no matter how many Golden Globes it got. These loves of mine are personal and not only about the sex part (not only, but also).

So, I deactivated my Hulu account because everyone knows once you sign out you can never sign back in. And then I had a dream. I was on SVU (as a detective? Bloomingdales counter girl? Sotheby’s auctioneer?) and in the dream Mariska was not my wife but my roommate in the old 2nd Ave apartment; I didn’t want to tell her I was on the show because I didn’t want her to make it weird. I saw her later in the dream, and she totally made it weird. Oh well, my Mariska. It was great while it lasted.

Beware the Ides of October:

How the Pandemic Illuminates Our Dark Corners

I recently went down a Wiki-hole and came across the term apophenia, which is the tendency to make too much of random connections. Having been guilty of seeing synchronicity whenever I look at a clock (1:11, 11:11, 3:33, just me?) and attributing ‘signs’ to squashed animals on the road (don’t ask), I worried at one point that my meaning-making might be pathological. It reminded me of sitting in 12-Step meetings years ago hearing people rave about how God found them a parking space. Yes, Eunice, that’s exactly how that works.   

It seems logical to attribute a sense of dread to this pandemic, which stretches on and on, worse in some countries than others, but still a factor, whether the restrictions are travel-related, severe lockdowns, masks, or you know, death. I’m seeing the pandemic put extraordinary stress on relationships and even friendships, in the sense that we know more about folks than we would have, had there not been a pandemic. In many cases, it feels like we now know too much.

How each member of a couple handles the whole plague thing can become a whole skeleton of contention. One person may be more at risk and demand greater caution or just have a harder time with impending doom, while the other might weigh the risks and opt in. For me, seeing a small group of unmasked family members a few weeks back gave me whole-body euphoria, just to be around other people, like IRL. Believe me when I tell you, before Covid, I wasn’t necessarily the looking-forward-to-a-family-gathering type.

That same week, I connected with a hot lady and thought we might be friends for a minute… until we had a vaccination talk and well, dealbreaker. I would have loved to get to know her, tricky as it can be to make new friends in middle age, but it was a difference I couldn’t ignore. A difference it might have taken me ten years to find out in olden times, so I guess thank you? For saving me time?

The way I think of the pandemic now is the same way I think about sex after you have kids, as a kind of accelerant. Let me explain…

In Quantum Theory, you can anticipate the behavior of certain particles—throw them in a reactor and their trajectory will be measurable and somewhat predictable. However, at higher frequencies, when scientists scatter those same particles and add extreme cold or heat, it forces them to collide and behave completely differently[i]. New workable theories have to be developed to manage this state-change.

Similarly, if you heat up or cool down your previously sustainable sex life with tiredness, stress, and other variables brought on by having kids, you don’t get fun things like String Theory, you get unfun things like divorce.

The truth is that the issues we experience after procreating were often there to begin with—sometimes just on a Quantum level—they were just accelerated, inflamed, and/or brought into physical being by those pesky spawn. Consider that it’s not little Jason in the next room that’s making you uncomfy with oral sex, but maybe you didn’t like it to begin with and tiredness just made you sick of pretending. Either way, it’s not poor little Jason’s fault. 

And that’s how I perceive the myriad factors faced by us vulnerable lumps of carbon through this interminable pandemic. Kids allow us to see our own and our partner’s flaws and inconsistencies in dazzling relief, just as the pandemic has revealed fault lines that might otherwise have lay untouched (like homeschooling). And just as the stakes are heightened by parental love, the Covid triple threat of sickness, isolation, and financial fear have felt real enough to merit a personal reckoning.

You might feel like the pandemic changed you—for better or worse—but my contention is that the seed energy for that change was inside you all along, Dorothy. The pandemic, like having children, dramatically underscores what’s already there but fast-tracked. Just like my potential friend was a bad match in the long run and you might eventually have started baking your own focaccia even if you hadn’t been home for 533 days straight.

My point is, if you feel unlucky in March, you’ll feel unlucky in October, and even more so if that October happens to be during a global pandemic, or in the event you see not one, but three whole possums squashed on the roadside on the way home. (Not good.)

I’ve come to believe our stress, our anger, and our paranoia are all free-flowing entities that, without careful redirection, can attach themselves to any circumstances in our lives.  So, if you weren’t already fighting about little Jason, you could fight about Covid or sex or “this focaccia is dry.”

Even in the mystical beliefs of Kabbalah, it says there is no such thing as “all of a sudden,” there are only signs along the way that you missed… But if you’ll excuse me this piece is now 888 words, so I must sign off…

[i] “The fact that the plasma behaved like a liquid surprised scientists, who had expected it to take the form of a gas.” Research by Brookhaven National Laboratory, where physicists had been studying head-on collisions of gold nuclei at RHIC, the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider.

A Teacher, But Not the Good Kind

Statutory Raper: I Hardly Knew Her

(Tw: grooming, non-violent statutory rape.)

I recently got sucked into the soapy movie-of-the-week masquerading as afterschool special A Teacher on Hulu. On the plus side, the magnificent Kate Mara and equally impressive star of Love, Simon, Nick Robinson. Mara is a hot (did I mention she’s hot?) new English teacher called Claire Wilson at Red Blooded American High School™️. Though very PG-13 in what it actually shows (no full-frontal nudity, unlike the vapidly addictive Sex/Life) the experience was surprisingly pornographic. I’m not complaining.

I enjoy any TV show that triggers uncomfortably horny feelings. A Teacher is set in Austin, Texas, but that’s not the triggering part… Ms. Wilson singles out soulful Eric Walker (Robinson) for that special “SAT coaching” and if you get the intention behind my ironic use of quotes, naturally it’s not too long before they end up f*cking in the backseat of her car. Hot for teacher indeed (sorry, I had to).

He is 17, she is 30something, but a cursory search reveals Robinson was a preternaturally young 24 at the time of filming. Phew! We are thus freed up to take the headlong dive into the ludicrously lecherous master manipulatrix “Call me Claire” Wilson, who really likes widdle Eric, sure, but is clearly grooming him…

At this point I become aware that I’m avoiding facing you, by plunging into the far too well-lit world of Eric and “Claire.” That’s right, I’m avoiding intimacy with you and I’m sorry. (Yes, you.) The truth is I could painfully relate. Not to the part about being attracted to teenagers; I haven’t been since I was one. I’m referring to being a young person groomed by an older adult and also completely unprepared for the emotional fallout of that affair.

The weird part is, though I avert my eyes from realistic violence or medical scenarios onscreen, I don’t have the same response when emotionally triggered. Instead, I’m compelled to watch, like a femme Malcolm McDowell; eyelids splayed open involuntarily, I dare not look away. Entertainment can be a way to process in a more remote way: Sometimes you just have to give yourself the gift of delicious trash to give your life some perspective.

Truthfully, A Teacher is the first time I’ve seen my experience portrayed so accurately onscreen, because just like the frat boys think Boyslice is a legend for hooking up with Mara the MILF, my friends thought I was a bit of a legend for hooking up with my pedo and none of us were legends at all, just a bunch of hormonal schmucks.

When I was that young person (in the 90s) groomed for 9 months at 15 by a 24-year old ponytail-type, there was a lot more cigarette smoke but in all other ways the story is apocryphal. Person meets person, power differential is never acknowledged, horny person is taken advantage of by pervert, then discarded, the end. (Note: I usually see being a pervert as a positive attribute, but this is not the good kind.)

This is not even to mention the other ponytail type who (M30) plied me (F15) with drugs and alcohol, though I discarded him, so it wasn’t as traumatic to my abandonment issues, thanks other ponytail-burnout! That one really hit different when one of my sons turned 15, as Eric ends up saying to Claire, that is very, very young. (Ew, ew.)

And neither of my 90s ponytail-types (ew) ever went to jail, unlike poor Claire! A Teacher is fictional, adapted by writer Hannah Fidell from her own eponymous movie and not even as nutso as the real life Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau story… do check that one out if you’re not familiar. Or even if you are (see: gift of delicious trash to give your life some perspective).

“My” charming 24-year-old idiot was a smooth talker; he had a large Rolling Stones mouth tattoo next to his crotch, which may as well have been a red flag with taste buds, but I didn’t pick up on it. He even met my parents. (Like I said, it was the 90s.) You shoulda tried to stop me, you there shaking your head wondering what happened to the children, you shoulda tried. I was as horny and needy as any teenage girl can be; done with high school by 16, the boys were climbing in the windows, bless them, but at least the older ones used the front door.

Penetrated at 16 with my full consent after being told his college girlfriend was on the way out anyway (so consent based on lies, so not consent) then six impossibly overstimulating weeks later, dumped and branded a Scarlet Woman for lol omg, not the last time in my life, so whatevs. Don’t cry for me Argentina, IDGAF. Then unable to eat, sleep, or function for around six months, just like the student in A Teacher. Eric Walker pays for his heady little spittle swap with an almost unbearable slump, as did I.

And Kate Mara was so good that she let me hate Claire a little bit, but also to have complete compassion for her, unlike for the motherf*cker mentioned earlier, who I found out a year later had also “dated” a girl (N.C.) from my old high school, who at least was 18 at the time—bless his heart he was 26 by then—and the funnest fact of all is he is still married to the woman he cheated on with us. For. The. Ensuing. Thirty. Years.

I have not fallen for that “my gf is not an issue” crap since that period in my life. Sadly, Keith Richards’ merkin (as I like to think of predatory ponytail-peen) never got “me-too”d, even though I heard there were dozens of these young chippies. On the plus side he did age very, very badly. Ew.

Without too many spoilers, let’s just say that the seminal (as in semen) A Teacher proved a handy little vehicle for processing a flipped gender version of my own experience, but missed an opportunity to go a little deeper. (No, he wasn’t a teacher and no I’m not Rose McGowan so I won’t be naming “Mr. Mara”.)

Suffice to say that ten years later when a grown-up Eric with very bad hair tells an identical looking Mara she ruined his life, um no. Or rather, je refuse. I will never give that person, J**** “H*******” Y****, or B**** B***** for that matter, the satisfaction. In fact, the break-up with the former really helped kickstart my writing and thirty years on, I might be starting to get the hang of it…

Art by me (pastels/pencils)

Planned Moments of Sadness:

What Does it Mean to Reject Torment?

Ever since this pandemic began, it seems like there’s no shortage of torment everywhere you look.

noun /ˈtôrment/ severe physical or mental suffering:"Their deaths left both families in torment."

I know the world wasn’t exactly hard up for bad news before 2019 but filtering out news was standard for a certain subset of people since 2016—and before—for mental health reasons. That’s the thing about privilege, you get to ignore problems that are deliciously far away, instead of in the literal air you breathe. Way to bum us out, air.

So, with all these people dying, locally and globally—and I include my friend Rose, who died by her own hand last December—it seems like it’s not been a real chipper time here in the US of A. I have both friends and clients experiencing a great deal of anguish now; technically still alive but dying on the inside.

Up until some months ago I was feeling a little on the none-too-chipper side myself, and the agony I was witnessing around me seemed to be inflaming my own. Since I exist as much in the energy world as the physical one, I felt clearly that I was carrying something that wasn’t mine, until I saw the reason for my torment and decided to let it go. I’m sharing because this isn’t something I always knew how to do…

Years ago, my partner had a tough heartbreak with the first woman he had real feelings for since his wife had died. The relationship was relatively short but after it ended, he spent months driving through a certain intersection on the way home from work and gazing wistfully left in the direction he used to drive to her house.

One day, he told me, he just got tired of being “like that,” so he decided he’d suffered enough; he wasn’t up for any more agony. The next day, he didn’t even change his route, he simply stopped engaging with the feeling.

“Oh yeah?” I replied, fake casually, “And how’d you do that?”

I remember this interaction because we hadn’t been dating long and at the time it seemed like a giant red flag. Was he implying that people could just “change how they feel?” Clearly this man was a guiltless Gentile, I mean, what kind of putz can stop suffering on command, how insensitive to those among us who suffer from mental health issues and furthermore…

“Well, no, otherwise,” he continued rudely over my internal mental spiral, “it’s like you have these Planned Moments of Sadness in your life and you kind of get addicted to them in a way. You can get stuck in the nostalgia of it and so the scab never heals.”

It hit me then but took years to penetrate: It is possible to get addicted to torment, even the word itself is aptly named from the Latin torquere, meaning to twist. We can ‘torque’ our own emotions into a taut ache because we feel we must torment ourselves.

verb /tôrˈment/ cause to experience severe mental or physical suffering: "She was tormented by her past."

Tomorrow is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, in fact, this last 10 days were meant for reflection and amends to those we have harmed. Though I’m not Orthodox, spiritually it makes sense to apportion the torment to a certain time of year that has a finite end—guys, we are not supposed to suffer indefinitely.

In Buddhism, the physical nature of reality is at the very least misleading and, in some strands of the faith, considered to be a literal illusion. Since this life thing may be but a dream, why not choose an enlivening and hopeful one, if we can? Even the Catholics can absolve themselves of sin with penance, can we all just take the ‘hair shirt’ off for a minute?

It’s worth noting that there are quite a few video games with Torment in the title, and since it’s been recently proven that behavioral realism does not increase IRL aggression in players, we could just treat life as a game, with the opportunity to level up if we’re skillful enough.  

A month ago, in a quiet moment, I saw clearly that I had been carrying survivor’s guilt in my body. Who was I to take up valuable oxygen, when four and a half million people have died of this stupid virus, not to mention Rose? Also, Afghanistan, Darfur, Syria, white supremacy, misogyny, loud chewing, low talking… on and on… perfectly good reasons to feel bad.

So, I decided to actively choose not to be tormented, moment by moment, letting those Planned Moments of Sadness pass through unfettered, without becoming a lifestyle choice.

Even though we’re asked to fast tomorrow (I don’t for medical reasons and won’t be torturing myself about it, see above) what is required of all of us is to retain deep empathy for the world’s suffering, without having to take it all onto, and into, ourselves.

Ideally, we can save masochism—and sadism for that matter—for the bedroom. That sweet torment administered with love…

Photo of @siennahayes.model by Randy Yokomoto

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