OMG y’all, I’ve got foster kittens! They are so cute and a lot of work, my needy little buddies, “feed me, play with me, snuggle meeee!!!”
No, I’m not complaining. 🙂 They make me laugh and laugh, they tug on my heartstrings, they are super sweet, and hilarious, and smart, and really quite well behaved for 3 month old kittens. They are available for adoption and have very distinct personalities. I am calling them Little Sister (aka Farah Fussy), Blue Steel (name courtesy of my pal & lifelong kitten wrangler Alishia Bigelow), and Shy Guy (who plays Mario Kart?).
I will be doing individual blogs for them over the next week or so depending on my Aural Elixir performance, production, and composition schedule. Maybe you are looking for a new best friend and family member? Maybe one of these kittens is your perfect (purrfect) new companion? If not, please help spread the word & share, share, share! They are wonderful kittens and I will miss them more than I care to admit but once they find their forever (furever) homes I will be able to foster more kittens or cats from Duncan’s Place, A Cat Sanctuary and together we will save lives!
Sadly the leading cause of death for cats in America is their local animal shelter, 7 of 10 cats don’t make it out alive (via Alley Cat Allies). Caring people in the community are the only ones with the power to change these awful statistics. Through networking, fostering, donating, volunteering, and adopting we can support our local animal shelters and rescues, show them we care about kittens, cats, puppies, dogs, rabbits, birds, hamsters, and other pets. We are slowly and surely moving toward a No Kill paradigm for our nation’s animal shelters, thanks to the many, many combined efforts of animal lovers just like you. I’m amazed and grateful at the myriad of ways people can cooperate and improve the lives of animals everywhere. Let’s save them all!
What does it mean to be a woman?
Over the years, I have heard and/or noticed a variety of hegemonic implications about being a woman:
It’s not safe to go out at night, especially alone.
Family, husband, babies should be the #1 priority.
Dressing up/looking nice means wearing skirts, heels, make up…
Women shouldn’t be bossy, it’s off putting.
Men are natural leaders, women are natural followers.
Women are meant to thrive within the domestic sphere, women do not belong in the outside world.
A woman needs a man to survive, succeed, be fulfilled, and be truly happy.
Women are judged first by their looks and must maintain societal standards of beauty in order to receive approval (and be valued by) from husband, family, peer group, self, and community.
Women always have good manners, they do not burp or fart, ever.
Women do not enjoy sex the way men enjoy sex. Women are not overtly sexual like men unless they have mental health issues or are sex workers.
A good woman can not be a prostitute.
Women are expected to be good, it is a defining feature of womanhood.
Women are closer to nature.
Women are better with children.
Women need to tame the beast in a man & love him unconditionally, so that he can become a Prince. (Stand by your man.)
“Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.” Bell Hooks
My 40 year old observations on the implications of being a woman, being a human, and gender limitations:
Beyond societal conscripts, gender does not define or even necessarily restrict anyone. Given the right tools and support system, a person can achieve just about anything.
We are all delicate yet resilient in both body and mind.
Anyone can be tough, fewer risk being vulnerable.
Everyone wants to be heard, respected, appreciated, loved.
Everyone is different but also very similar.
Sexuality is incredibly variable and pleasure is not defined by gender.
There is little difference between genders as far as ability to experience emotion, follow/break social norms, interact with nature and children, work, or experience love/sexuality.
Some men look good in heels.
“A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Gloria Steinem
Anyone can pee standing up, with a little practice.
While women have traditionally dominated the domestic sphere, in particular the kitchen, men continue to dominate the culinary profession across the globe.
Feminism is important because through mindful, intersectional feminist ideology, everyone – all genders, all beings – will be able to experience a more expansive life with unlimited options, free from oppression and strongly rooted in compassion, honesty, integrity, and equity.
“What goes unsaid is that women might be more ambitious and focused because we’ve never had a choice. We’ve had to fight to vote, to work outside the home, to work in environments free of sexual harassment, to attend the universities of our choice, and we’ve also had to prove ourselves over and over to receive any modicum of consideration.” Roxanne Gay “Bad Feminist”
There is no static definition befitting the act of being a woman because womanhood is more like a verb than a noun, it is fluid, constantly in motion, shaded differently by each individual’s perception. There is no singular way to be a woman. There is no definitive thing that can happen to make one more or less of a woman, even though there are certainly things which individuals may feel enhance or detract from their personal sense of femaleness. A human biologically born XX with all the standard issue female genitalia is not more of a woman than a person born XYY who defines herself as a woman, or an intersex person who sees herself as a woman, or than the transgender woman who chooses not to undergo surgery (for financial, personal, or spiritual reasons) and still defines herself as a woman, menstruation and mammary glands do not impact a person’s femaleness, even motherhood does not create some magical demarcation in the landscape of binary gender. I don’t see any valid reason to challenge others on their harmless claims to gender identity. We all embrace characteristics which some societies have assigned as female and other has designated male when really these distinctions are imaginary, social constructions, man made meaning. I believe that someday we will move beyond the gender binary and a person’s gender identity will not have any societally construed implications or stereotypes about their character. I’m fortunate to be cowriting today’s blog with a female friend and Phenomenal Woman. What are your thoughts on being a woman, defining womanhood?
My concept of woman used to be very different. My concept of woman now is like a sculpture I made that I am systematically smashing. I don’t think I have a real concept of woman anymore. How can you define something that doesn’t exist? My life has been shaped by the void of woman, the space where this idea should have been, or was. Maybe it melted away and that’s where the nothing or something came from. I won’t say “hole” because there’s not a hole. If the thing you used to have, being gone, leaves no empty space, there is no hole. I don’t see (or don’t want to see?) a way to be a woman that isn’t individual, personal, distinct, and therefore meaningless on a large scale. I think I have for a long time been laboring under the idea of woman as caretaker, slave, source of all good things and all disgusting secrets. Woman needs to be sanitized, cleaned, shorn and painted and tied up. Woman has secrets, and one of them is that she loves too hard and she will always pay for it, but her loving makes the grass grow and the world turn and you can’t ever tell her that she’s made it because then the whole thing would just come tumbling down. It’s the longing that makes her useful. Woman always has to be the one stretching herself out like a bridge, because no one else will ever try to close the divide. Reject. Rejected. I reject that is what I’m saying. I don’t know what woman is or how she is different or what she means because how can I know? How can I know in a world where woman is supposed to have different feet? Where woman is supposed to somehow have different jobs? Do men make the software with their genitalia? I can’t think of another reason why they would say that this is a man’s job. “You got more testosterone in the womb, I can tell from looking at your fingers, that’s why you’re good with technology”. Oh that’s it, I’m not really a woman, I’m partially a man. Wait, aren’t you partially a woman, not-really-a-man-who-said-that? How can we know that our brains are different if it was made clear that we wouldn’t survive past infancy unless we smiled real pretty? Or cried less, or played with trucks, or were little princesses, or or or or…
I can’t think of a definitive difference. Women are smaller. Usually. Mostly. Sometimes men are smaller. I’ve met a lot of very small men. Women have higher voices. Unless they don’t. Women have breasts and uterine tissue and clitoral hoods. Except for when they don’t have any of those, or maybe only some of them. Woman is a performance art piece, meticulously crafted out of thin air and bravado, so that we won’t be killed (or maybe so we will be! What fun!). Women are weaker, except we know that’s a lie. All these exceptions. Do they prove the rule?
It’s interesting, the ongoing – possibly neverending – debate about the power of nature versus nurture. I wonder at the various ways our mothers and other other female family and friends influence us as we learn to define ourselves as girls and then women. Thanks to my progressively minded parents, I didn’t feel especially constrained to gender norms. I had Barbies but I also had trucks. I climbed trees, rode bikes, played with bugs, sang songs to snails, dressed up like a princess and did not feel that I had to act or dress a certain way. I loved playing in nature, creating imaginary adventures with friends (boys and girls), even attempting to travel back in time (that’s for another blog, in the future, or maybe the past!). This all changed as a pre-teenager and suddenly appearing “normal” and doing “girl things” seemed very important, especially since at the time my number one aspiration was being somebody’s girlfriend.
“Women talk about love. From girlhood on, we learn that conversations about love are a gendered narrative, a female subject…Femaleness in patriarchal culture marks us from the very beginning as unworthy or not as worthy, and it should come as no surprise that we learn to worry most as girls, as women, about whether we are worthy of love.” bell hooks, “Communion: The Female Search for Love”
It’s like my romantic interest in boys caused my misguided alignment with patriarchal norms. Thankfully it only lasted about 5 years but they were a very uncomfortable five years of being a good girl, attempting to please everyone, wearing dresses, high heels, everyday makeup, good manners (a surprising amount of rules there!), and constantly finding fault in myself and the women around me. In a way, as I was settling into my teenageness during the advent of grunge, the music of Pearl Jam and Nirvana and the style of the grunge scene brought me into a period of fiercely independent, non-femme, almost non-gender identity and started my journey toward feminism. During this time, I began to connect with my mother’s rebellious side and was almost compelled to behave in ways that would have never been acceptable or even possible for her when she was a teenager.
I feel very moved by a Gloria Steinem quote from her autobiography in which she says “Like many daughters, I was living out the unlived life of my mother” (Steinem, 22).
That quote really got to me too! My Mom died when she was 48, I was 21, and I’ve always felt I needed to be or do extra to make up for her lack, the space she left open. She was very politically active, as well as an animal rescuer, and generally outspoken about oppression and social justice issues. I almost feel like I need to live extra hard, in response to her living such a short life and just in case I follow in her footsteps. I mean, who knows how much time any of us have? It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind and forget to notice the tiny miracles and possibilities present in each moment. When The Dead Poet’s Society came out, I remember my Mom getting very enthusiastic about the phrase “Carpe Diem!” I like to think that she lived the best possible life she could and her soul has moved onto other ways of being, helping and thriving. Still that doesn’t erase her impact on my childhood, which was undeniably immense and I like to think mostly positive. I’m lucky really, so many of my friends have Moms who they struggle to connect with or have had to cut out of their lives due to the toxicity of their Mother’s mental or emotional state. My Mom was wicked smart, witty, kind, compassionate, and just a lot of fun to be around. We had a brief few years at odds, you know, teenagers, but for most of my life she was both my beloved mother and my very best friend. What was childhood like for you? Tell me more about your family experience and impressions of being a woman.
OK, I was born in Beaver Creek, Ohio, in 1987, to an Air Force Second Lieutenant father and a Stay-At-Home mother. I am one of 5 biological daughters, of whom I am the middle, smack dab. My dad was raised by a single mother in a very poor part of Los Angeles. His family was Russian Orthodox dissidents who immigrated to the States before WWI. His parents had left the Molokan church and his mother raised him in a religion called “Eckankar”, something I didn’t find out about until after I was an adult. My mother and my mother’s family have been Mormon since Mormons were Mormon, so her marrying my dad, a non-member, was seen as quite rebellious. We all believed in God, and we all wanted so desperately to be good and to make our God and our parents–rather interchangeable beings–proud of us. My family moved around the US frequently when I was young, as a military family, so the only childhood friends I have are my sisters, and while we were close knit we were also extremely hierarchical and cruel to one another. My dad was gone on Temporary Duty (TDY) for many months at a time when I was young, and my mom was left to raise all 5 of us as practically a single mom–though of course she would have the financial support of my dad. I don’t remember this, but my mom tells a story about when I was in kindergarten and dad had been on a 6 month TDY to Israel. Because of the time difference, he could only call late at night, after us kids had gone to bed. I was asked about my father in school and nonchalantly replied to the teacher that I didn’t have a father, that he had died. This prompted a call home to my mother, and my dad made more of an effort to call us during the day after that. I can’t help but think that my father’s absence from my childhood made an impression on me in certain ways, but I’d be hard pressed to put my finger on anything specific. I have a good relationship with my parents to this day, and I don’t want to give the impression that I’m passing judgement on them. I had a great childhood, it just didn’t have as much love in it as I think we needed.
My mother is a cold woman. I say that with respect and love. She is not demonstrative; we rarely hug, and when we do it’s awkward and there always seem to be too many elbows involved. It is unusual for her to tell us that she loves us. These things don’t come naturally to her. What does come naturally is thought. She is brilliant. Before marrying dad she was double majoring in Computer Science and Chemical Engineering at Brigham Young University, with a full-ride scholarship. After she had transferred to Arizona State University to be with him, she had two children and still managed to get through a decent amount of classes. Once she found out she was pregnant with a third daughter, however, she knew something had to change, and with the help of a counselor was able to go through her extracurricular credits and find out that if she took another semester of carefully curated classes, she could graduate with a degree in Classics. So she did. Women have to give up things in order to be mothers, she says. Sometimes I wonder if she regrets it. If so, I’ve never heard a breath of bitterness on that account.
So my childhood was one watching sacrifice. I watched my dad, a family man to the core, sacrifice time with his children to give us a life he never had, and stability he never had. I watched him join a rigid and astringent religion in which he did not believe, to keep the peace at home. As a child, however, I didn’t understand that he was sacrificing. He wasn’t as much a part of my life as my mother was. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to identify with him in the same way as I was supposed to learn ‘how to be a woman’ from my mother. I watched my mom turn her blistering intellect to cloth diapers, planning halloween parties, and figuring out how to make her children clean their rooms. Our childhood was one of strict gender roles. Given our religion and sex, we wore dresses and played with dolls and ponies. We all said that we wanted to grow up and marry our father. When I was 5 or 6, I had a mini rebellion where I told everyone I wanted to be a boy, because boys got pockets and pants. I cut off one of my ponytails and would kick out the screen in my room to sneak over to Jonathan Weber’s house and play in the mud. This desire to be male was not an expression of what sex I thought I was, but rather the gender role I felt was superior. I found myself deriding anything feminine, refusing to play with ponies. While I eventually left off the tactic of shocking people by telling them I was a boy, I carried my denigration of the feminine through to my teenage years. It is difficult to be a Mormon girl and hate skirts. I wore them because I was supposed to, and because I was taught that you do what you’re supposed to, but no one had ever told me that as a woman I was ‘supposed’ to be emotional, so I wasn’t. I took my mother’s mothering to heart and tried to operate on observation and intellect alone.
During this time of stressful self-orientation (oh, is that what you’re calling puberty these days?) I was doing poorly in school. At the end of my high school career this turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me, since I didn’t have the grades to go to BYU, I was able to convince my parents to let me apply to CU Boulder, which had a much more lenient culture than that bastion of Mormon indoctrination. It’s a cliche story: ‘religious girl leaves the bosom of her family and falls into the wicked ways of the world’, but it’s mine, what more can I say? I started studying Linguistics, with a minor in Classics–just like my mother. The schism really became palpable when I took a course called “Language and Gender,” and felt as if I was hearing music for the first time. I learned about gender being a construct, about sex being a spectrum, about the Hijra and the Two-Spirited, uptalk and vocal fry, hypercorrection, covert and overt prestige. I drank in, and still regularly return to, Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. Suddenly I was tearing apart everything in my life that I had previously only vaguely questioned. What was a woman? What was a good woman? Why did I feel such pressure to be carrying, sifting through and categorizing the emotions of everyone around me? Why was I so bad at that? Did that make me a bad woman? Was my mother a bad woman? I was still going to church and institute, a kind of college-level Mormon doctrine study, but at this point it was just because I needed my parents to continue paying my tuition, which they made contingent on my ecclesiastical attendance. I understand why they did this. If I had gone to BYU, my church attendance would have been policed by my peers, sisters, and the honor code of the school. But complying and consenting to attend physically did not mean that I wasn’t parsing, analyzing and developing a healthy skepticism of the church and its teachings.
The LDS church professes to be the one path to salvation on the Earth, and I was always taught that “religion is not a buffet”, that you take it all or leave it all. One hallmark of the church is their refusal to allow women full partnership in any kind of leadership roles. When I get pushback these days from my family about becoming inactive, it’s not the complete and utter lack of scientific evidence, the inculcated racism, or the devastating homophobia that I point to in order to explain my falling away. Though any of those would be and are valid, inexcusable flaws in the doctrine, the reason that I give for leaving is that I cannot take part in a church that considers me to be inferior simply because I inhabit this body. My great-great grandmother was one of several wives, so I am myself a product of polygamy, and I use this reason because I can speak on it with authority. It’s not that I wouldn’t have left if I were a straight, white man, it’s that the emotion available to me because of the personal wronging underlines my words with power, and it’s not something anyone can discount. Being a woman is many things in our world. Being a woman is many things it shouldn’t be in our world.
In the end, there is really only one thing I believe anymore about the reality of being a woman, about the concept of womanness, and even this is nebulous. In The Chalice and the Blade, author Riane Eisler introduced me to the concepts of contrasting “dominator” and “partnership” models of society. The dominator model, “ popularly termed either patriarchy or matriarchy…[is] the ranking of one half of humanity over the other. The second, in which social relations are primarily based on the principle of linking rather than ranking, may best be described as the partnership model. In this model–beginning with the most fundamental difference in our species, between male and female–diversity is not equated with either inferiority or superiority” (Eisler, xvii). Without giving women some kind of “natural” ability to care, or putting them up on a pedestal as the “fairer sex”, Eisler painstakingly documents how the association of stereotypically “feminine” traits with weakness and stereotypically “male” traits with strength has altered the course of our global culture from even Neolithic times until the present day. This dichotomy has led to a culture of violence, of hierarchy, of might-makes-right, and Eisler’s book truly spoke to me, and moved me, as a student of Anthropology, Archaeology, Linguistics and Gender.
To think that there is another way to be, another way to not just be women and men but to be human, is a revolution on which I don’t think my brain has finished turning. It’s difficult to overstate the effect this book had on me, my life, and the way I look at the world. Now I try to look for ways to connect, to be vulnerable, to emote and absorb the emotions of others in a way that links me, inexorably to the people around me, and I’m finding that I’m slowly healing the female-specific wounds that I gained or gave myself during my life. I don’t know how to be a woman, but I’m learning how to be a human.
Leaving your family to go to college is hard, breaking free from an oppressive religion that has been a cornerstone of your entire life, wow, that’s epic. Round of applause for your fortitude, vision, and self-love! The older I get, the more it seems we are all just learning how to be human. Thanks friend for the intimate and inspiring blogversation & thanks to you gentle readers. Here’s some fun bonus content, a song I write years ago entitled “Phenomenal Women.”
Eisler, Riane. The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1988.
Hall, Kira, and Mary Bucholtz. Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. New York: Routledge, 1995.
Hooks, Bell. Communion: The Female Search for Love. William Morrow, 2002.
Steinem, Gloria. My Life on the Road. New York: Random House, 2015.
The longer I experience life as a vegan the more I am convinced all humans should be eating a plant based diet. Now, I know that sounds extreme but in addition to my personal journey, I have been studying psychology, nutrition, and social justice issues which have intersected and highlighted the myriad of ways humans benefit physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually from eating plants instead of animals or animal products. This is the beginning of an ongoing blog series on historic and current topics involving veganism, psychology, feminism, and environmentalism.
Some people would say it’s hard to go vegan but honestly, it’s simple. Empower yourself with knowledge about the experience of the animals whose bodies we are using, abusing, consuming, and destroying, along with the devastating impact animal agriculture has on the environment. Read books, read blogs, read articles (watch out for fake news!), watch documentaries, visit some local farms or dairy, make connections to the beings who give us their milk, eggs, and flesh. Connect with natural world; observe the consequences raising animals for food or fashion has on the earth and water. And then once you have gathered enough information and prepped your mind as well as your pantry, just stop eating animals and buying animal products. Just STOP. You make the real, honest connection that meat is animal flesh from a body, a body that belonged to a creature who wanted to live, a body that shared many of the life experiences as other animals, even humans.
Make the connection that leather is dried skin, most people are wearing some dead animals’ dried skin on their feet. Do you really want to be walking around in the skin of another sentient being? It’s a bit creepy, if you think about it. We have created special words to help us disconnect from the commercialization (and oppression) of other Earthlings. For me, animal products are exponentially less appealing when we call them what they are, body parts, pieces of dead animals who probably had terrible lives and a negative impact on the environment.
“Eating meat doesn’t just harm animals – it can also harm you! Consuming flesh takes a terrible toll on human health, taxing your digestive system and increasing your risk of life-threatening disease. Authorities such as the British Medical Association confirm that vegetarians have lower rates of obesity, coronary heart disease and high blood pressure.
The meat industry also endangers public health on a global scale, from fostering deadly viruses to contributing to starvation in the developing world.” (http://www.peta.org.uk/issues/animals-not-eat/meat-health)
So you decide you love animals and you don’t want to eat them because you love them so you stop eating them because who needs extra cognitive dissonance anyway? Start with one meal- no meat, then do a day, then go for two days, then a week and before you know it, you will never want to eat flesh or bodily secretions ever again. There are so many options for delicious meals without meat, a ridiculous amount of free recipes online, as well as many different support groups, social media groups, meet ups and so on. There are plenty of writers who focus on the abundance of physical health benefits of a well balanced vegan diet so I’m not going to focus on that in this blog series. Similarly, while the oppression and abuse of other sentient beings is never acceptable, animal cruelty and exploitation are not the focus here. I am primarily interested in using this space to examine the ways plant based diets and vegan lifestyles help people experience improved mental health, emotional health, and perhaps even a deeper connection to their own spirituality.
“Between 1993 and 2002 there was 6 times increase in the amount of antipsychotic medications prescribed to children and teens. Studies show that ADHD and possibly depression and other psychiatric illnesses in children may be related to their habitual diet.
In many studies, high intake of animal protein (meat, fish, and dairy) has been linked to increased incidences and severity of behavioral and mood disorders in children. Also, toxins from fermentation of animal protein residues in the human colon have been shown to correlate with exacerbation of symptoms and/or negative behavior in these disorders.
Studies have also shown that in utero exposure to N-nitroso compounds in cured meats is associated with increased incidence of childhood brain tumors. By contrast, research has shown that vegetarian and vegan children tend to score higher on average on IQ tests then non-vegetarian children.” http://www.wholevegan.com
I believe that veganism is the answer to many of our global, communal, and personal problems, so much so that I wrote a song about it. Here are the lyrics:
I’m done with blood,
no more replacing trees with mud
I won’t pay for the killing of our planet, of other Earthlings.
We can save all of us, just take my hand,
Protect the water, honor the land.
We will choose compassion, we will save the Earth,
…Go vegan and no body gets hurt.
When I look into their eyes
and I hear their cries-
haunting me in the dead of night-
endless suffering, the animals’ plight.
The most important thing is to stop oppressing,
stop consuming other beings.
LOVE is the choice for me.
*We can save all of us, just take my hand,
Protect the water, honor the land.
We will choose compassion, we will save the Earth,
…Go vegan and no body gets hurt.
So I’m gonna go green,
for the planet, animals, you, me,
to slow climate warming
and end animal farming.
*We can save all of us, just take my hand,
Protect the water, honor the land.
We will choose compassion, we will save the Earth,
…Go vegan and no body gets hurt.
Words & music by Jesse Maclaine, Aural Elixir.
Sometimes, it seems our modern lifestyle is doing a colossal amount of damage to our mental and physical health. We are extremely disconnected from nature, each other, and even ourselves. Everything is goal oriented, material oriented, status oriented, the physical is so over emphasized and all accomplishments must happen immediately, there is no time to waste. Yet all this rushing and exterior prioritizing inevitably leads to lack of self care, rejection of self knowledge, quieting of our instinctual voices that tell us when to rest and we end up chronically ill. Will humanity ever be able to adjust to modern life or make the choice to adjust modern life to favor our needs as they have evolved for millions of years. Modern life may be the death of humanity if we do not tune in to our wild sides and learn how to reconnect, care for ourselves regularly and thoroughly, and create space for everyone to thrive, especially ourselves.
Being in the city, I was constantly bombarded by noise, endless errands, non stop deadlines, 24 hours of entertainment, mobs of people, giant buildings, light pollution such that the night sky almost always appeared orange- never black and certainly never any stars. I felt like I was going mad, my anxiety was overwhelming and claustrophobic. I was in my late twenties and 9/11 was still keeping the entire country on high alert and the intensity of my need to escape the hustle and bustle of city life was pervasive and incessant. I literally felt like I was out of my own skin, over exposed to the elements and deteriorating faster and faster every day. I heard the expansiveness of Colorado’s mountains calling me home. Luckily, I got the husband on board in April, in May we drove up and found a place to rent, then in June we loaded up our four kids and our belongings and drove to our new home in Colorado. Honestly, that move probably saved my life, body and soul.
Now, I can visit New Orleans and it feels like home but in a different way than visiting the mountains or my original mother (our original mother) the ocean. All three share a similar terrifying, awe inspiring, thrilling, and captivating power, a certain ineffable mystery like the infinite expanse of the night sky. All call to me in an ancient, nearly indecipherable yet omnipresent voice which I seem to hear very clearly while so many around me seem to be oblivious. Perhaps because I spent my whole life training my ears to hear songs. I’m not just talking about listening to music (which is in itself a singularly complex skill), I’m attempting to convey a more comprehensive, multi-dimensional sort of listening; an ongoing quest for melodies, harmonies, rhythms, words, stories, characters, archetypes, myths, legends- any component which may lend itself to any particular story I am growing at one point in time or another. My ears and mind are forever functioning as composers, poets, writers, and even comedians. When the ancient voices call to me, I hear them booming through my consciousness like thunder, inscrutable, demanding and absolutely right.
““Construction of identity” is rarely a deliberate, self-conscious process. Early in life, sense of self is associated with the security, protection, and acceptance that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers feel when effectively cared for by adults to whom they feel an attachment. By the late preschool years and early school years, sense of self comes to be additionally associated – positively or negatively – with attributes that parents value and model for their children in the way they live their lives. Over the school years, peer values and peer pressure come to play an increasingly influential role in how older children and young adolescents think about themselves. “Cliques” – the “in crowd” versus the “out crowd” – become important components of identity. Identities that have been strongly developed prior to these years often protect against the developmental difficulties associated with these years.” Wikipedia
Identity, sense of self, self confidence…so much to unpack in this seemingly simple tale of a troubled young girl. Icarus Girl is one of those stories that haunts the reader. It doesn’t seem especially frightening during the reading but afterwards, one is left thinking – almost always a hallmark of an excellent story. Though it was hard to tell if Oyeyemi’s occasionally immature writing style was a reflection of her own young age or the youth of the character, that seemed to draw the reader in even more. I found myself connecting to the main character Jessy through shared childhood experiences and though the ending was not especially fulfilling, the characters seemed alive, vibrantly unique and real. After finishing Icarus Girl, I feel inspired but also unnerved. How easy it is to discount the perception of a child, so easy to get caught up in our adult lives to the point of distraction even when others around us are troubled, too easy to claim the nonexistence of things we can’t see.
I always wanted imaginary friends as a child but I expected them to be like the ones I saw on television, showing up in full human form but only visible to me. Thankfully this never happened but throughout my childhood I had more than a few unexplainable experiences. I quickly learned not to bother telling adults because adults just claimed it was my imagination, end of discussion. These experiences were mostly unintrusive until my teenage years when I began exploring books about the spirit world. I learned that many people have interactions with spirit and there are infinite ways to ground yourself, reinforce your energy so you are insulated from spirits, not disturbed by every stray spark of energy that notices your ability to see. So from this vantage, Icarus Girl was not just a story but something that may or may not have really happened or could really happen. Even though as adults we speak of things being in spirit, people on the other side, someone smiling down upon us, etc., we give no credence or support to children when they speak of similar things. Perhaps, this is why I felt it was such a disturbing tale.
“Once you let people know anything about what you think, that’s it, you’re dead. Then they’ll be jumping about in your mind, taking things out, holding them up to the light and killing them, yes, killing them, because thoughts are supposed to stay and grow in quiet, dark places, like butterflies in cocoons.” ― Helen Oyeyemi,
Another aspect that created a strong emotional response was the detached or frenetic behavior of Jessy’s parents. My parents both worked full time, in fact all my nearby family worked full time. We were a small family, not especially invested in sharing emotions or close personal connections. I was quite young when I began to notice the difference between my family and the ones I saw in pop culture. My family was not very physically demonstrative, I don’t remember any deep emotional, thoughtful, or academic discussions. We were a family of TV watchers, book readers, but not so much talkers. As long as the status quo was met, all was relatively calm but as soon as someone did something unusual, people would freak out. It was always shocking to see big reactions to things that seemed insignificant to one not indoctrinated by society’s rules. As an adult, I have intentionally distanced myself from people who look down on my free-spiritedness and anyone who would disparage my artistic pursuits as frivolous or worthless. Close minded people have no place in my world. I was lucky to have many adult figures in my childhood who were excellent role models and supporters of my creative life, especially my Mother and Grandmother.
My Grandmother and Mother were both intelligent, strong women but they rarely violated social norms, at least not in public. My Grandmother was a vegetarian and it often seemed like my conservative Uncles would try to bully her into eating meat. She would gracefully decline and laugh as if wasn’t incredibly rude for them to continue to harass her decades after she chose to stop eating animals. She was also a jazz singer and would frequently sit in with the house band if we went to a restaurant with live music. It was strange to see my usually ebullient Republican Uncles, rich with white male privilege, sink in their chairs and get embarrassed at my Grandmother’s confidence and brilliant talent. She may not have been especially famous, but she shined just as brightly as any star. She was an incredible singer and songwriter whose love of music enhanced her life in ways that non-music lovers will likely never understand. She was also psychic but that was a taboo topic so I wasn’t able to get her to discuss much about her extra special abilities.
My Mom was psychic too and an excellent singer but seriously pragmatic, not a fanciful, optimistic, dreamer like Grandmother and myself. Mom was like the bridge between my uptight Uncles and my free-spirited Grandmother. She seemed to understand everybody but during my childhood and teenage struggles, she was working multiple jobs and being a housewife and didn’t have the energy to hear, really hear my problems. My sense told me that she wouldn’t have been able to understand, so unfortunately I didn’t even try. Distance and a better foothold on adolescence allowed a space for me to share more with her, somewhere around age 15, and we truly connected on multiple levels. Before she died suddenly of a heart attack at age 48, there were a precious few years in which we were best friends and I knew I could talk about anything with her.
As an adult, I get it, the problems of a child seem less significant than paying the mortgage, making the groceries, organizing meals, cleaning house, working those jobs, finding harmony in a marriage, endless responsibilities clouding our ability to see when those we love are in need. It was strangely frustrating to relive some of my childhood issues while reading Icarus Girl but I wonder if that was the experience for most readers. As a society, we tend to underestimate the struggles of children and the best ways to help them become resilient, intelligent, empowered, compassionate adults.
“Children who can better cope with frustrations and challenges are more likely to think of themselves as successful, valuable, and good, which will lead to a higher self-esteem. In contrast, children who become easily frustrated and discouraged, often quit or need extra assistance to complete a task. These children may have lower self-esteem if they start to believe that they can’t be successful and aren’t valuable.
External factors, such as messages from other people, also color how children view themselves. Young children with parents, caregivers, and teachers providing them with positive feedback about their abilities and attempts to succeed (even if they aren’t successful the first time) usually have higher self-esteem. On the contrary, when parents, caregivers, or teachers are regularly negative or punitive toward children’s attempts to succeed, or regularly ignore or downplay those achievements, young children will have a poor self-image and a lower self-esteem.
Peers also have an impact on young children’s self-concept. Young children who have playmates and classmates that are usually nice and apt to include the child in activities will develop a positive self-image. However, a young child who is regularly left out, teased, or bullied by same-age or older peers can develop low self-esteem.” Angela Oswald, MSW. MentalHelp.net
Growing up is hard. People are always asking you what you want to be. Some people spend their whole lives just figuring out WHO they want to be, others spend their lives running from that question. Introspection isn’t easy but it is a necessary part of knowing yourself, becoming self-actualized, and ultimately evolving into better and better versions of yourself. One of the ways we improve ourselves is by looking at others and emulating their qualities, ideally the positive ones. I still see many aspects held by both my Mother and Grandmother as ideal human qualities to which I aspire. At the same time, I don’t want to “be” anyone but myself.
“‘D’you still want to be like me, Jessy?’ she said as Jess gazed on in admiration. Jess thought about it, then realised that she didn’t, really. And that she hadn’t for some time. For a little while it had seemed to be … OK just to be her, Jess. She packed up the rest of the coloured pencils as she racked her brains for a tactful way to say it so that Tilly would be nice again, but when she turned around, TillyTilly had gone.” Helen Oyeyemi,