It’s been a while since my last post, and I haven’t “done” much but boy have I been busy. I’m gorging myself on texts, music, films, things that inspire me. I’m gestating a hell of a baby that I hope will reveal itself in time with an outpouring of words on a page.
What’s been foremost in my mind is the fact that women’s voices (for there is not an Everywoman to invoke, but there is certainly truth to be found in each and every diverse female voice that is published) are so bogged down with cultural, religious, medical, institutional expectations and limitations even when they are trying to be ‘free’ of those, and write outside the box.
I know this because when I try to write something truthful about women, and therefore female sexuality, I notice immediately there is a hesitation, or a repositioning, or a way of speaking, that I have to consciously grapple with. What words do you use to describe ‘down there’? Every word I know is courtesy of somebody else. Or some cultural phenomena. Medical description. Shakespeare, even. If I had to come up with my own word for it, it wouldn’t be of the ‘beef curtains’ or ‘gash’ variety. I agreed when the Vagina Monologues told us to reclaim the c- word (excluded here because maybe you don’t agree). But what would your word be? From the prosaic, to the poetic, I don’t feel there is one ‘correct’ way to define it. I agree with the Mills and Boons of the world – there are a million different (some hilarious) ways to describe female junk depending on context (haha – that’s got to be one of the most prosaic). It harnesses the existing and historical values attributed to the word, and adds another important one, in -my- context.
So much for my idealism. Now, when it comes to writing a truthful textual, sexual identity, I don’t think it’s possible to be truly divorced from the context an identity is formed in (or desirable). The only way to be authentic is to claim it as your own. Acknowledge the sources. Embrace what empowers you. Dispense with those that limit your expression. Intense self-investigation is required. It bears thinking – how has your sexual identity been shaped by your history? Your upbringing? Your schooling and Phys Ed classes? Your local clothing store?
A great litmus test that I have just discovered, is to consider your ass. How do you feel about your bottom? Do you think it’s beautiful/functional/sexual or all three? Have you noticed how many texts blatantly ignore bottoms – even in sexually explicit narratives – as if it doesn’t exist? (According to this illuminating text by Tristan Taormino how many women have tried anal play – over 50% – and depending on which study you read from 20-45% of women have anal intercourse regularly. More than gay men – fewer than 30%) Because apparently women aren’t supposed to like it. And heterosexual men are supposed to be the ones who instigate it – but not too much – then they’re judged for being closet homosexuals. But there are up to 60% of women out there, maybe including you, that enjoy it. So why the hell can’t it be included? I recall @HelenRazer calling out 50 Shades for threatening sodomy at every page and never fulfilling it. I have a dear friend, who is another author, told by their editor to cut out a mention of two main characters enjoying anal intercourse because… it wasn’t “necessary”. But it was an important part of the characters’ dynamic. And.. hang on.. it’s just a bottom. It’s part of your body. As much a part of your body as your hands, and just another of your natural born tools for living, playing… whatever you want to do with them… as any thing else. So why the silence?
The other problematic aspect of textual sexual identity is the tendency to fall into genre. I don’t like genre, because I feel it is too limiting. But audiences, publishers, PRs love it. Some authors love it. Everybody wants you to fit into a pigeonhole because it’s easier to describe you that way. It’s easier to sell. And safer – easier to understand. I want to divorce myself from that – at least in the creative process – it’s necessary. If it so happens that what I say or am means that I fall into one, or many categories, so be it. Extrapolate this to my personal identity – I refuse to live my life in a category. I have nothing against those who self-identify with one particular gender, genre, or other definition. But for me, all my life, I have struggled with not fitting into a particular expectation or narrative just as a person and it’s taken years of my life in worry and wasted effort. I now have shrugged it off. As a very clever William Tindall puts it in A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce (Syracuse University Press: 1984) describing Ulysses apparent inaccessibility:
“It may seem a pity that a book celebrating mankind and its virtues, should separate itself from men by obscurity. But if, in the sense of separateness, Ulysses is less responsible than its theme, so is most good literature of its time; and if morality in this sense means conforming to the habits and expectations of foolish men, this kind of immorality may be a virtue…” (p 126)
So I hope that I can write truthfully, I pray that I can write – at all – and I wish that something in this post has opened a dialogue within you and affirms for you whatever you think, have been told, or want to say – it’s all ok.
Today I ventured into a somewhat steamy Manhattan in search of the booklover’s mecca Strand Bookstore.
Situated conveniently near my most frequented L-train stop, Union Sq., I was somewhat surprised again at my newfound proficiency to map and follow a route to a destination. I’m killing it here! Seriously, I’m excited. Feeling more and more like a NYC native every day. Well, almost.
Venturing into Strand requires two things. Firstly, patience – for almost nothing is where you think it would be and the place is huge, and secondly time – a logical compliment to the aforementioned.
The thing is, if you have both of these things, the journey is completely worth it. They even conveniently provide carts for you to wheel around your selections.
Which brings me to the third requirement. Restraint. Kid in a candy store doesn’t fit – because the inhabitants of Strand books tend to be mainly of an older, less hypoglycaemic variety – at least at midday – but I imagine a suitable analogy might be happy hour. If only Strand did a happy hour so one might consume their latest find whilst imbibing a suitably matched cocktail. Has anyone done that yet? Cocktail matching to books? Oh, but they should! Another trend forecast by yours truly – as always, feel free to rip off, just be sure to credit me via a tribute – or I will accept cash.
The variety is mind-exploding and I had to keep reminding myself that I am not in the business of collecting books, nor am I on the payroll of a benevolent benefactor who would smile, bemused at my purchases later “Oh, look at all those magnificent books you found. What a clever girl”. Etc.
Nor do I have a bookcase yet, in fact, though I do have several coffee tables (three, remember?) ready to be covered in neatly stacked, colourful spines of different sizes, twisting their way up to heaven.
I realised whilst browsing and making decisions on what I should purchase that I have an innate distrust of hard cover, bound books, unless they’re covered in plastic, and that I much prefer the ritual of either breaking the spine of a new paperback or creating my own fissures in a pre-loved, dog-eared, well-thumbed paperback. Am I alone in this? I particularly mistrust the bound, hard-cover, gold embossed varieties – whose contents rarely thrilled me as a youngster and in fact by their very impression precluded my ever touching them.
This love is compounded by the intimate experience of smelling a really old musty book.
Now, those who know me know that I was recently seduced by the Kindle, which I still own and which has been neglected since my coming to NYC. I must point out that my little electronic friend still has his place in my life, however he is now primarily a conduit for the pulp fiction of contemporary authors for whom I would be hard pressed to find a charming pre-loved version. It seems wrong to read classics on a Kindle. Just as it now seems wasteful to read a thousand page plus Youth Adult fiction in hard cover. I mean, really? Why do they even bother publishing Twilight in hard cover? Add to the questions I raise that are important and should be answered.
After much wandering and frustration (why are all the authors I like at the top of the 14 ft tall bookcases?) I edited my selections, took my stack to the check out and realised promptly I had still managed to spend around $50 today without even meaning to. I swear I should just put a jar at the door that I deposit money into instead of leaving the house..
I have also been seduced into joining yet another online fraternity, this time Goodreads via which I can share and you can follow my literary whims and errors. Sadly the site is currently “over capacity” due to a high proportion of geeks proselytising their reads but feel free to find and friend me. Failing that, ignore this post and let’s be done with it.
Here’s what I bought and why I’ll be doing not a lot apart from sourcing good cafe’s to read in for the next week or so.
I promise another adventure soon. I have a vintage clothes adventure brewing in me.
Strand Books strandbooks.com 828 Broadway at 12th Street
The creation of an identity is intrinsically artificial – we only need to look at the artful construction of self-presentation to see this grand production made vivid in a gesture, a manner of dress, or a way of thinking. All cues that can be learned, modified, honed to perfection for the absolute achievement – in successfully manipulating ones life into a spectrum of acceptable experience – for the self and inevitably for others.
It’s a distasteful thing, to think of your own self as something you pieced together consciously – as if this could not possibly be authentic. As if it’s a departure from your naturally born being – that pink, bleating organism that opened eyes upon the world and just was.
Yet the necessity of the construction is – to me – evident in the process of day to day life. That elemental forging of a being through one’s assimilated experiences and choices – perhaps in the misguided pursuit of happiness – cannot be cast aside to reveal Ground Zero. That in itself is a duck and weave from the reality of the very nature of being.
No, I didn’t take LSD today. But I digress.
Two mind-altering things did happen.
Firstly, being a Saturday (and a rare opportunity to wander New York together) the H and I decided to venture into W’burg proper – more accurately into hipsterville. Arriving early on a Saturday had two advantages – firstly that it was not busy (though most shops had barely opened), and secondly that the atmosphere hadn’t yet rustled up the anticipated 40 or so degrees that had been forecast.
The first scenario involved an uninterested and hirsute roadside bookseller who just happened to have two books on sale by authors I had been thinking about over the past two days. Both female writers whose work I admire, in charming editions that were $5 a piece. Of course I bought them. And have already started to re-devour each. I can already feel the words of these women infecting my consciousness, as all good literature does, and I love it.
The second was a run in with a second-hand store owner whose store I admittedly browsed at length whilst stealing glances of various items, mentally stashing them into potential holes in our unfurnished home. Let’s just call it the Junk Store. In half an hour of un-airconditioned wandering I found 3 items in the entire store – a shed filled with piles and piles of rubbish. This must be the most satisfying part of all – the feeling that I edited my way through thousands of lifetimes of knick knacks and memorabilia. Discarded, salvaged, priced to sell.
Approaching the cash-register happily, I then placed each item amongst the refuse that had been previously collected on the counter. A dour faced woman eyed me suspiciously, then glanced at the first item.
“I’m not selling you this,” she says.
“Pardon? I don’t understand?”
“You changed the sticker. I know what this is meant to cost. I just priced it myself.”
As happens with all my brushes with authority, I quickly examine my conscience for a memory of having done something wrong.
“But I just picked it up off that shelf – that one there – and I didn’t do anything to it.” My pitch is starting to rise and falter slightly, panicking because unlike the guilty, I haven’t a response prepared. I check my sweaty hands, front and back, to see if somehow maybe a price sticker has rolled off onto them?
“Listen, lady, that’s what you all say. You walk up here and you say innocently, “I didn’t change the sticker, I swear”, but I know what it should cost – I just put the price on.”
By now I’m exasperated – even feeling a little teary – and not wanting to let this carrion of a woman reduce me to a scene I take a breath.
“Look, I didn’t do anything. What is it supposed to cost then – I will pay whatever it’s supposed to be. I just want to buy it.” Deep breath.
“No, I’m not selling it to you. That’s our policy. If you change the sticker, I won’t sell it to you.” She sets it aside, amongst the detritus, and starts ringing up the other items on the cash register as I consider telling her where to stick them. But I really want the item in question now – it’s a matter of principle, of clearing my name…
I take one more breath, and finally retort “Why don’t you check the cameras then. I have a clear conscience, so you can say whatever you like. I didn’t do anything wrong. And you know, I understand your position, but I really don’t appreciate being accused of something I haven’t done.” I stare her down.
She looks back at me. “Alright, alright, I believe you, that’s why I’m selling it to you.”
Incredulous, I watch as she totals the tally – $13 – and starts to wrap each item in newspaper. Finally she wraps the item in question. I hand over a $20, mentally scanning for something satisfying to say to this woman who is doing exactly what I wanted her to do anyway, what she should be doing because I haven’t done anything wrong, but no words come.
She hands me my change, and a plastic bag emblazoned with repeating red “Thank You”s that’s filled with newspaper and junk and saying nothing nothing! what a loser! I walk out of the store to find the H in a pink mist of frustration.
It occurs to me on the way home how hilarious this is, but not before I have enjoyed stewing in a funk of a mood that matches the weather for obnoxiousness.
Why so hilarious?
Not because I realise that I shouldn’t really give two flying ones what she thought of me when I knew I’d done nothing wrong. When I knew the person that I am wouldn’t bother doing something like that. Because from a tender age the thought of shoplifting leaves me with a telltale blush of shame over my face and chest.
Hilarious, my dear readers, because The Incident was over this:
And that…. is that. The moral of the story is, if you’re going to feel like an arse, it might as well be over one.
For those interested, these were the other two items. One day I’ll have a surface to display them on.
Today was really just a lovely, lovely day.
It didn’t start out perfectly but perhaps that’s the point. After some thunderstorms the other day and a temporary cooling off, the temperature has started to climb again. When I woke up this morning I was really keen to make myself an iced coffee, and remembered hubby had come home with two ice cube trays last night. So I was almost ready to go, dissolved the instant coffee powder, added sugar, opened the freezer and…
He put them in the freezer, STILL WRAPPED. Not just empty, but he didn’t even take them out of the packaging! I can’t write what I actually said but it was something along the lines of $%&^%)#
After much angst over what to wear I headed out to catch the M train – which I CAUGHT – SUCCESSFULLY! – to Broadway and Lafayette in my first foray into SoHo. For the uninitiated it’s a bit like Surry Hills in Sydney, formerly dubbed “The Wastelands” it now primarily consists of fashion boutiques and clothing retailers, chic cafes and men in strange combinations of clothing and this week, the Everlane pop-up store.
I arrived about 10 minutes early, so not wanting to seem way too keen, I hung back a little and took a shot of the beautifully done front windows.
Inside the ultra-friendly staff helped to navigate the carefully curated collection of designer esssentials. Everything pictured is available online (for shipping in the US – if you want something sent to my address get in touch and I’ll help sort it out!) except the backpacks which are preview only and were only available to order today.
The Classic Tote (pictured in top shelf and left hand side rack below) are super thick, well constructed in heavy raw canvas with an interior pocket and stud fastening. The straps are a gorgeous chocolate leather colour and it’s the perfect size to fit a MacBook, plus a few essential items. I ordered one in black (I know! All those colours and I pick black – but I don’t have a black tote and really need one) at the incredible price of $30.
Also on show were these Weekender bags, which are priced higher at $95. They’re super-roomy inside but would easily fit enough for a quick weekend getaway and would make a great gift for someone. I’m thinking someone who has EVERYTHING and needs nothing and is a nightmare to buy presents for… hopefully they’re not reading this blog post. But again, it’s the details that make this a designer item at a deeply discounted price. Heavily reinforced straps, chic colourways and stripe motif, pocket detail.. just.. clever.
I also had a sticky beak at the belts and of course those gorgeous tees I blogged about here. I ended up buying two of the v-necked tees – one in black (of course) and white (for something a little different 🙂 haha) and that was that. A well-constructed, classic tote with leather handles and two designer tees for $60 with free shipping. Crazy.
So my earlier giddiness and excitement over the brand was entirely warranted. The presentation and service was what you would expect from a designer label, without the ridiculous price tag – exactly what their messaging promises. Really just a refreshing fashion experience, all in all. So I was strolling through Soho and spied McNally Jackson bookstore – an independent bookseller with a two-level store at 52 Prince Street with an actual self-publishing service! Someone stirred that little beauty into action while I was there. I wondered what they were publishing.
After perusing the fiction and biography shelves I found myself in the poetry corner and picked up two books – an intensely beautiful book by Pablo Neruda (The Captain’s Verses) and also decided to revisit Field Work by Seamus Heaney – a collection of poems from which we studied in high school and has never left me.
Interestingly both books were written by the authors in some type of (either necessary or self imposed) exile. I’m certain I don’t feel exiled but it could have to do with the feeling of displacement of being in a new city.
I settled down with a coffee and a bagel and before I knew it had read the entire Neruda. Just, breathtaking.
Post-poetry and lunch and in a nice haze I visited hubby at work (the entire office waved to me in unison – kind of first day at a new school style) and had my first trip to Trader Joes – like Norton Street Grocer but WAY bigger, and cheaper. I will blog about it some other time – it’s seriously worthy of its own post at some point.
And I got home, and had TWO parcels! So exciting.
And there you have it, just a really nice, really good day. Hope you have a great one.