Thursday, May 27, 2010

YOU SHOULD READ THIS POST BECAUSE I TALK ABOUT SEX A LOT IN IT

I like to read imdb.com discussion boards and blog postings about my favorite shows, especially when they aren't shows my friends watch. Reading other people's reactions to pivotal scenes or characters is almost as good as getting really into a show with a friend and dissecting plot holes and continuity problems over coffee.

One such show for me is Showtime's The Tudors, a 16th-century glorified soap-opera/fuck-fest that stretches historical accuracy to its limit. I love it. In this history, Henry VIII is not a fat old ginger. He's a pouty-lipped, blue-eyed, toned, sexy 30-ish womanizer guy who screams a lot. Someone is always killing or screwing someone else, and the costumes and sets are gorgeous and lavish. The show is totally wrong but totally good, in fact enough of both to attract the ire of old cranky British historian queen David Starkey.

The show is in its fourth and final season, and I went to the imdb.com boards to see how people reacted to the portrayal of Katherine Parr (the sixth and final wife, who survived Henry). Then I started poking on the other boards.

It appears that sexist double-standards are alive and well. Not that this was big news, but I was still irritated enough by something I read today to mention it.

Here's what somebody said: "I'll admit this period of European history never really interested me, but it seems to me that someone was always f-cking someone else. I mean, how many bastards did King Henry have running around the Royal Court that nobody knew about?"

I have a big problem with the way this question was phrased. Because first they talk about loose women, then refer to King Henry's sundry infidelities and the bastard child that resulted from one of them. So, who was the "loose" one again? I'm not trying to say that the women who mothered his illegitimate children were blameless (if, in fact, there was more than one), but it's pretty well-known that, in those circumstances, if the king set his eye on a woman she was better off sleeping with him than bruising his fragile ego by rejecting him. Women involved in adultery and premarital sex certainly had a choice in the matter (and most of them slept with regular men and not with kings), but they had much less of one than their male counterparts, and with far greater consequences for submitting to their carnal desires.

I guess it's a sign of our still not-so-enlightened era that so-called "loose women" of history continually get condemned for having had more sex than society deemed appropriate, while it was acceptable - indeed, expected - for a man to fulfill his urges as he saw fit (especially a man with money and a title). Henry had two wives executed for adulteries they may or may not have actually committed, all the while trying to include his illegitimate son in the succession without anyone batting an eye (except maybe, you know, his wife and a couple of holier-than-thou courtiers). But he was never to be held accountable for it; after all, he was a a man, a King, and supposedly God's representative on Earth.

All of these hypocrisies can almost be ignored or even excused given the times, like the xenophobic grandparent who in ignorance blurts out racial slurs at dinner. But what's disturbing to me is that someone is watching Henry put away and execute wife after wife while banging ladies-in-waiting and servants to his member's content (we'll just take it for granted for a moment that events in history happened exactly as they do on the show), yet they can't believe the women are so loose!? Many of the female characters featured are far from chaste, but in 2010 are you really going to hit the women harder (no pun intended) than men for it?

But to get back to the original question, yes, some women were "this loose." Like other posters also pointed out, people have been getting it on since the beginning. The only variation between back then, way back then, old times, a while ago, and now is how the culture deals with it. It seems rather naive to believe that just because something wasn't widely recorded, it must not have happened. That's like saying that, because we can't be sure of Anne Boleyn's exact date of birth, then she just wasn't born.

I mean, damn. I shudder to think of how people will view sex in 21st-century Western society. From TV one would gather that all people do all day is just fuck - never going to work, sleeping, eating - well, okay, they would know we eat. So, they would watch TV from 2010 and see sex and fast food commercials, and then commercials for supplements to help take off the weight after all the fast food to become fuckable again. And they would conclude that life in 2010 is some neo-primitive post-modern urban eat-'n'-fuck free-for-all.

But um, I got off topic again. Another thing pointed out by other commenters is that the promiscuous ones are the most interesting to portray, and if they weren't on the show no one would watch the damn thing. What about all the other women around the country at that time who waited for marriage to have sex and never strayed? They're just no fun, are they? If I remember correctly, there were no graphic sex scenes with Jane Seymour (wife #3) or (so far) Katherine Parr (wife #6), because they were the least sexy of Henry's wives. They were the "good" ones - the pious ones. Like today, some women were slutty and some weren't, but because The Tudors depicts a royal court and not a nunnery, sex=ratings. What is portrayed on this and other historical dramas (I'm looking at you, Shakespeare!) is a very exaggerated version of reality. For example, Anne Boleyn resisted Henry's advances for years, while the show wants us to believe she kind of halfheartedly murmured a "no" that really meant "yes" a couple of times and then opened up her legs soon after. In any case, she still got her head chopped off by that guy who divorced his first wife ('scuse me, annulled, because that's totally different and more acceptable), tore his country apart, and broke with the established religion more or less so he could get in her knickers. (I LOVE oversimplifying history!)

So, conclusion: 501 years after the accession of one of the biggest tools in English history (I mean, literally the biggest, the guy was really fat), the women are still going to get censured before the men do.

Henry, I hope enough of your bulk has rotted away in your gingery grave so you can roll over inside it while I call you out. The posters on imdb.com may not have realized it yet, but you were a total douche. You did a pretty good job with that whole church thing (there are still damn Episcopalian churches EVERYWHERE!), but you're still a turkey leg-eating, France-invading, wife-killing despot. Oh, and you stole shit from nuns. That's just fucked up.

I'm out like gout (which our monarch friend also had, by the way).

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Brits, Blogs, and Babbles

I've been creatively constipated since I graduated last spring. I have been writing, composing, and playing music much less than I used to for a variety of reasons. However, I've experienced a very recent and unexpected revival of my identity as a writer and avid reader. It's one of those exciting times when I'm discovering new interests and information while reviving old ones as well.

I thought about blogging here and there for a while, as that and other amateur writing have been a new reading interest of mine in recent months. But it was really the suggestion of my "loving sister," as I once drunkenly put it, that made me think I needed to turn all those angry Facebook status updates about my job/other things that piss me off into a marginally funny bitch-fest for those interested to read. A blog was born, and I named it Is This Desire? because I like the P.J. Harvey song/album and because I like to talk at length about my desires. (Who doesn't? I want a pony, by the way.) I hope someone is enjoying it. A little bit?

Another new love affair: history. I have always had a soft spot for historical fiction, and one of the things I love about it is reading the stories and then finding how little is rooted in fact. In the last few years I have really taken to the British monarchy and Tudor era, thanks to the hugely successful Philippa Gregory novels (The Other Boleyn Girl, The Virgin's Lover, etc.). Say what you will about her work (which admittedly devolves into glorified romance paperback aesthetics at times) - and snooty historians have had plenty of commentary to offer - it's really good shit. And, without it, I never would have touched Alison Weir's The Six Wives of Henry VIII - which is 656 pages and non-fiction, by the way. I certainly wouldn't have wound up reading it cover to cover.

It's safe to say I'm officially Tudor-crazed. For what other reason could I re-visit the same episode in history over and over? And for what other reason did I immediately check out four more books on British history? After all, the information I've acquired on Tudor politics, while still quite modest, is so disproportionate with my scant knowledge of all the other periods and figures of English history that nothing makes sense; it has no context. What about the Stuarts, Plantagaenets, and Windsors? The wars with France, Spain, itself, France again - even America? I have to know more. This is what is so great while at the same time difficult about history; no sooner does one curiosity get satisfied than five more arise.

But even this fresh obsession cannot take precedence over jump-starting my personal writing renaissance. The blog has helped, but I need some real motivation. I've found it in Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, a book on writing practice recommended by a friend. (I read another of her books, Long, Quiet Highway, on a long plane ride about seven months ago, which inspired me so much that something opened up inside of me and I wrote feverishly for hours over the Atlantic Ocean while the curious German flight attendants continually refilled my tea.)

Ms. Goldberg has taught scores of writing workshops, but she's not a pretentious academic asshole. She talks about the process of unlearning conventional writing education and using as few rules as possible. She explains that writing practice is not about sitting down to practice writing a memoir, novel, poem, etc. It is the crazy experimentation, the worthless chicken scratches and self-pitying prattle in our journals that shape our voice. There is something about the way this woman de-mystifies writing that makes me, seemingly magically and fearlessly, able to just do it. If I ever achieve even a shred of success as a writer, I will owe her a great debt.

I've started writing more in my notebooks, mixing and matching genres at will, digesting memories and encounters as they arise. And I've found that, with all the craziness that makes up one's life experience, I feel less inclined to air out my petty grievances about work now that I remember how much I enjoy discussing other topics. Not that my writing has quit being self-indulgent and laced with a certain degree of entitled bitterness, but I think I'm finally learning to accept it and harness it in any way I can. Today, for example, I opened up a purple, sequined journal I've owned for six years but haven't filled because I only write in it every few months or so. I put on a recording of Beethoven string quartets and, with a shaky hand, began discussing a difficult topic that I have been worrying about but avoiding. I scribbled twelve pages (having had to start the CD over), showered, and then re-opened the journal to write another page of additional things I had thought to add (aren't showers amazing that way?). Also, I'm now about 3/4 of the way through that particular journal.

I'm glad to be back into writing and literature. Now I just need to muster up the drive to pick up guitar, violin, and piano again. And compose. And, like, sleep. Damn. There's just too much to do and read and see and think about for one curious person. Maybe I should just forget the books and sleep and have lots of ignorant dreams.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Forward and Backward

I was able to get my preferred seat during my morning break at work - in a small back booth behind the fireplace, out of view of the staff and most of the customers. Eating my sandwich and salad, I watched pedestrians walk past the main door. The little foyer is comprised of windows and glass doors that form an irregularly-shaped polygon, and the glass panels reflect off of one another. When someone walks past, you can see them through the glass in a normal way. However, once they disappear behind the wall, their image is reflected a second time off the door, though backwards as if they were walking the opposite way. Their actual bodies take them where they should go - work, school, the doctor's office - but their reflections for just a moment act as ghosts of the mind returning to where they would rather be.

We go where we are supposed to go and do what we are supposed to do and pretend it's exactly what we want. But there is always something inside pulling us elsewhere - the bus stop, a warm bed, another state. I felt myself being pulled out of the booth, but to where I was unsure. If I knew, I probably would have figured out a way to get there by now.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Things That Suck

I had lunch with a friend today, and we talked at length about our stagnant professional lives. Like me, she graduated with a music degree. Like me, she looked for "grownup" jobs and found only food service. Like me, everyone keeps telling her how lucky she is for having any full-time job at all, even though she doesn't feel lucky and the people saying so have better jobs anyway.

She asked me,

"Do you ever find that you talk to people you used to be friends with, but you have nothing to talk to them about?"

The answer was yes, and it was a horrible realization. I told her about my blog and how I can't think of anything to write for it, save discussions on either my job or the latest book/movie/TV show on which I feel like commenting. Then I thought about my favorite blogs and what make them so great: they're about people and the things they do - not the things they watch, see, or read. They're about people living their lives. In many ways, I'm just not living mine right now. I wish this weren't so, but I can't make my life into anything it isn't. Perhaps this is just an extra push toward improving the circumstances around me; even if drastic life changes are brought on by the need for something to write about, at least they've come to fruition, right?

On another note, I had to park pretty far away from work because of street sweeping today, and ended up on the same street where I used to park when I visited my ex-boyfriend while he was living with a she-devil of a roommate who drove him out within the month. It has been almost eight months since she threw my shoes at me and told me to get the fuck out of her house, lied to her landlady and said I was living there full-time, and told her brothers that my boyfriend had kidnapped her dog just to get them to threaten assault on him. (Yes, there's a huge back story to this, but I don't feel like describing the whole debacle.)

The point is, it's been eight months and I barely had more than a few minutes' worth of contact with the bitch at a time, but my hatred has not left my soul; it has merely grown dull like a throbbing ache. I took one look at her apartment building today and, though I have the perspective to know she was wrong and that she's just a jealous, ugly, insecure piece of shit, and that she had to fabricate and manipulate just to justify her shrewish behavior, the desire to spray-paint the word CUNT on the hood of her car has not left me. I now know how and why people have such a hard time forgetting the ways in which they were wronged. I'm too much a godless heathen to embrace forgiveness, and too much a coward to embrace violence. So instead, I keep my hate for this and all the rest of the world's scumbags neatly tucked away somewhere, all the while hoping some crackhead defaces her property and/or she gets hit by a bus so I'm not tempted to make either of those things happen myself.

Anger has this weird way of seeming very focused until you try to examine it, like a bright spot in the corner of your eye that goes away when you try to look at it. It comes from so many places and then gets fired off in so many directions, it is impossible to pick it apart. I'm tired of being angry. Can I just take a vacation from it for a while? Or forever?

On an even less related note, is it really shady to say I am familiar with Microsoft Excel when all I really know how to do is type numbers into boxes and hit Ctrl+S to save?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

1983

Today I took an order from a young couple who were carrying a baby with them. As I tapped the buttons on the screen I imagined my mom and dad, who nearly twenty-seven years ago themselves walked around the same area with my infant sister. My parents went to the same school I went to (and near which I work now), and I see ghosts of their early life sometimes. My boyfriend lives a couple of blocks from their first apartment, and he and I go to the same convenience store for sodas where they once went. We've shopped at the very Kroger where my mom bought ice cream when she was pregnant, and from where they walked a half-dozen bags of groceries home because they had no car. Even the now hip, brightly-lit shopping and dining area around the cafe where I work once housed the cockroach-infested bar where they met.

I thought of my parents when I saw the young couple with the baby because, when I looked on each of their left hands, neither had a wedding band on their ring fingers. Over a quarter century ago, my mom met my dad. They dated for about a year, and then she became pregnant. She wore a fake wedding ring to avoid the humiliation of being judged, and because of this I check the left hands of every couple with a baby or woman who is obviously pregnant. I hate to do this, because I don't want to judge or wonder about people who are going through the same ordeal my family once did. It shouldn't be an ordeal anyway.

Growing up, all we were ever told about my parents' courtship and early married life was that the wedding happened when they were twenty, and that it was 1982. Then my sister was born in 1983, and I in 1986. When it finally came out that the wedding was actually in 1984, I wasn't shocked. The math had always worked; the stories had not. Later, I got more details of what really happened: the wedding was small, and the grandparents fussed over making sure my sister didn't accidentally make it into any pictures. I sometimes pass the Catholic church where they had their ceremony. I've expressed regret that everything had to be shrouded in such shame and secrecy, and both my parents have simply said,

"We were just so young."

When I saw the ring-less couple with the baby today, I hoped they weren't ashamed. I hoped that if they were to marry, it would have nothing to do with their old-school parents and that their baby was in all the pictures.

I rang up their total. It was $19.83.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

America's Next Top Couch Potato

I am at a loss of things to write. It's like staring at a blank word document before beginning a paper, except this is supposed to be "fun" writing. Today, I don't really have anything to say. I have the day off, and I'm meeting my boyfriend in about an hour and a half. I need to shower still, and I'm sitting bra-less on the couch listening to Rasputina. At least I managed to turn the TV off, having watched only two America's Next Top Model reruns, a show which admittedly I do enjoy. Odd enough, considering I have no interest in fashion, which is in my eyes one of the world's most fickle and wasteful industries. When I get sucked into reality shows like this I imagine myself in it. Who would I be? What role would I play? How would I come off after they finished editing the footage of me? A quiet girl, kind of awkward, pensive. Probably a snob, since no doubt I would criticize some for being shallow and ignorant. But that's neither here nor there - I'm short and chunky and wouldn't even qualify for one of their so-called "plus-size" spots. So instead I watch, feeling fat, knowing that later I'm just going to go out and pick up a really-creamy-really-bad-for-you coffee type drink, and I just don't care.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rom-Com Mother's Day Revelations (and the triple chocolate chunk brownies that made them possible)

I celebrated this Mother's Day with escapism. I began the day by quietly placing a signed card with a Starbucks gift card inside on the kitchen table as I slipped out of the apartment just before dawn. Because I can remember dates, but not far enough in advance to send cards and buy great gifts and ask off work.

After I returned a quarter past two and we debated over who was obligated to choose the Mother's Day mother-and-daughter-do-something-together activity, it was decided that I would drive with my stepdad to the grocery store and pick out some nice steaks, potatoes and a movie. Amazingly, only brownies were added once we got to the store.

Then it came time to select a movie from one of those little DVD rental thingies. This is always an ordeal, because the only common ground the three of us can find are comedies, and within that category only contrived rom-coms or quirky indies. Of course, grocery store video kiosks do not at all specialize in the latter category, so one can imagine where this is going.

The plot of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past [and every other rom-com of its kind] goes like this: There's this guy, and he's a jerk. Such an over-the-top kind of jerk, in fact, that he seems fully aware of the way he preys on insecure women and just doesn't give a shit about it. To balance out the extremely sociopathic behavior of the male lead, we find out his parents are dead and he is denying the one true love he ever had, so instead the viewer is supposed to care about this guy because the writers threw in some childhood trauma. In this day and age, who really has time to build nuanced, round characters anyway? So then the hunky dude goes to his brother's wedding and colossally fucks up everything as much as he possibly can, after which his dead playboy uncle returns in ghost form to show him what a tool he is, a la Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Of course, he learns his lesson in time to put everything back together and make the poor lady fall in love with him again, and suddenly everything is platinum and there is, once again, justice in the world.

As the credits rolled, my mom remarked,

"Now, if only every idiot womanizer got visited by three ghosts..."

But I wasn't thinking about the womanizers. I was just thinking about the womanized - the tools of the sex-crazed, the victims of deep-seated insecurities and parental issues. I wondered about the women who sleep with men like that and cry when they leave in morning. I wondered which of those - the oversexed swine or the helpless damsels, that is - deserved to be pitied less.

During my senior year about a year and a half ago, I went to a party at a fraternity my ex almost joined. It was like any other state school kegger at a Greek organization; co-eds ambled about from dim room to dim room holding plastic cups of beer that was only free for the women the "brothers" wanted to sleep with, while hip-hop music blared from the speakers in the semi-finished basement over the squeals of wide-eyed 18-year-old girls. I drank fruity jungle juice in hopes of rendering the whole night tolerable, only to discover no one was interested in conversation with a frumpy pledge's girlfriend. I went to the living room - oddly, the least occupied room in the whole house - to sulk, and a gaggle of young women emerged from the basement. An artificially dark-haired girl with a pixie-cut approached me. She had a tan even though it was January, and she had the appearance of someone who hadn't always been overweight, but had only very recently and rapidly grown chubby.

"Whoever he is, he's an asshole," she said to me with a sympathetic expression as she sat down next to me on the couch.

I looked back at her and managed a weak smile. The poor girl. It wasn't a "he" at all. It was this poor, self-conscious thing with her too low-cut shirt and heavy eyeliner. It was this group of girls, for whom the unreliable attentions and flirtations of fickle, self-absorbed 20-year-olds either made or ruined their collective evening. I was that girl once, and arguably in that moment still was (after all, I was extremely bitter that no man was interested in talking to me beyond obligatory pleasantries because he neither found me attractive nor had hopes of getting in my pants).

I left the party - drunk and depressed - with my sober and loving boyfriend, hopped on the back of his motorcycle, and wrapped my arms around him as we rode through the windy cold to my apartment. Snuggled under the comforter in my bed I tried to articulate my reasons for spending the better part of the evening on the couch reading magazines and glaring at people, and he told me I was reading too much into the whole experience. He then fell fast asleep moments later, snoring like all the other bastards lucky enough not to be burdened with excessive negative thoughts in the middle of the night. I sat up in bed - still drunk - and wallowed in pity for myself and pity for those girls and pity for everyone in the world who would continue to do stupid things just because they were insecure. This is the way the world is, I thought with deep despair. I cried in the dark like a self-loathing sot, wrote about how devastating my revelation was, and finally closed my eyes.

I was not visited by three ghosts that night. I did not begin any lasting life changes in my brooding. It didn't all tie together in an unimaginative and predictable denouement. I have just since settled into the realization that this is, in fact, how the world works. There is no shortage of awful people willing to inflict harm on others, however it is those who are discontented with themselves who allow such offenses to take place. That is what bad romantic comedies and bad frat parties and long nights have taught me.

My mom refuses to watch depressing movies, and says that their purpose is to be "uplifting." She does not want to be frightened or disturbed by cerebral screenplays and trippy montages. She also believes in justice and people getting what they rightfully deserve. I watch movies to see the world how it is: shitty and chaotic. Somehow, I find this cathartic, while neat endings make me physically uncomfortable. Sometimes these differences feel so vast.

Nonetheless, I found myself watching the whole movie. I enjoyed the jubilant redemption at the end, even if there was no payoff whatsoever. In moments like these, the huge gaps between me (with my fucked up view of the world) and everyone else don't seem so huge. This may or may not have been the best gift for Mother's Day I could have given to someone who sometimes appears to worry about my unrelenting cynicism.

Or, if not, the brownies hopefully helped.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beginnings

This is not so much a beginning as a continuation of what has already been started. I've started three other blogs in the past, and deleted all of them for either being embarrassed of their ridiculous contents or because they were project-oriented and the project didn't exactly get finished.

The contents of these posts do not promise to be any less ridiculous; however, it has become evident to me that I simply will not write every day, or even every other day, or even every other week if left to my own devices. Discipline eludes me; inadequacy terrifies me.

I am starting a blog again, and not trying to pretend it's about anything or anyone but me. No projects, no subjects, just my thoughts. I am reminded of a comment a writing teacher made about one's fears on sharing and publishing writing: "You may think, 'Who am I to burden the world with what I think?' "

I plan to burden you with what I think, so get ready.