A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen

[CN: sexual assault, incest]


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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Once upon a time, a beautiful maiden in possession of all her limbs [so every version of the Armless Maiden begins] lived in the forest with her father the woodsman and her mother, the woodsman’s wife. [Or sometimes her mother is already dead, depends on which version you choose to retell.] The woodsman is seized with sexual desire for his beautiful daughter—or perhaps greedy desire to trade her to the devil for wealth—or perhaps marital desire to replace his dead wife with similar product already close-to-hand and convenient.

[Such surface details of a father’s lust often shift, the critics agree, while leaving the underlying incest motif intact.]

Angered at her strong rejection of his plans, the woodsman chops off his daughter’s hands with an ax. [Just above the wrist, or a bit below the elbow, or let’s say he takes the whole arm—at this point, you really wanna quibble details with me??] He may even demand that she cleaver them off herself [though I am fuzzy on the mechanics of how this would be done]. She flees from him into the woods, to eat fruit from the ground where it has fallen and, in general, to survive like a brutish animal.

Now, since this is a fairy tale, you and I both know what’s coming: a handsome prince, true love, and marriage. [Still that tricky “look, ma! no hands!” issue, though. Happily ever after is harder with a princess who can’t hug her spouse, care for their babies, or even wipe herself after a late-night visit to the chamber pot.] So the story hiccups into a second half, during which our handless heroine flees back into the woods, communes with herself and with nature for a number of years, and becomes such an overall loving spirit, inside and out, that her arms and hands grow back entirely. 

At which point, the Armless Maiden—armless no long—reunites with her love, scoops up their baby [grown surly preteen, no doubt, in her absence], and takes over all the housework, allowing everyone to Happily ever after, for ever after…

Do you know this story? Have you come across it elsewhere? Can you perhaps then explain to me, because I really don’t understand, why our heroine comes back to herself all sweetness and light and not, for example, royally fcking pissed the fcking-fck off?

Me, I think I might pick up the first ax my new hands could carry and go hunting myself a woodsman.

[Or maybe I just like to think I might.]

[Me being me, I’m much more likely to pick up the first available pen.]

[Which is another way of saying: I’ve been having a lot of trouble figuring out how I want to write today’s post.]

Continue reading “A Father’s Daughter’s Hand Firmly Grips the Pen”

Writing in a Time of Plague

The first time I wrote on this blog in my truest voice, it was a declaration of independence from audience. “I am done speaking to the bodies of men,” I pronounced; “To the helpmeets of men.” I decided to write first and foremost for myself and, as a distant second, to address an imagined audience of other women who had survived sexual assault. Anybody else who wanted to listen? Was certainly welcome to do so, but I would make no adjustments for their comfort.

As last year began winding down, however, I started itching to leave this stance for greener, less plundered, pastures. Tired of five years of filling-in-the-blank “current occupation: rape survivor-in-recovery,” bored with my own intimate overexposure and the incessant “I… I… I…” of confessional writing.

I wondered what else I might want to say, if I no longer felt compelled to foreground the issue of violation.

And then my country elected a rapist as president.

ratking

Continue reading “Writing in a Time of Plague”

Within Every New Beginning Lies an Ending

 

The story of this blog begins, as all good adventures do, with a quest:

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In May 2012, a woman stops. Already retreated almost to the beginning of herself, she thinks: “Only death could be more silent.”

It is not the first time the careful construction of her days has collapsed. Her life resembles a too-often-rebuilt bridge still resonating at the frequency of past traumas as yet unacknowledged. Always she forges a new prosthetic self, a new stuttering engine of dreams and hope to propel her mind forward another year (or, if she’s lucky, a few) before her life crumbles once again.

She is tired of masquerades. She decides to find her own self instead.

This blog records her journey back into voice.

Into my voice.

Of course, this is simply the telling of the story of the story-that-became-my-blog. Events were actually far less poetic, and far more jumbled and chaotic, as they transpired. In a nutshell, after a year spent wrestling myself into and out of suicidal ideation, and following three serious attempts in one month that landed me first in a psych ward, then in intensive outpatient therapy four days a week, I decided to start a blog.

As a means of proving to myself how Totally Recovered And Fine I was now, y’see.

That first post—written 3 years, 5 months, 13 days, and 236 essays/ poems/ articles/ observations ago—seems faintly prescient now, what with its humorous threading of gender and cultural issues through the weft of patriarchal family patterns and pain. But my most recent post, written already 7(!) weeks ago now, belies every early assertion I made of quick or easy resolution. On that day, I was working through “yet another well of despair…another unresolved pocket of pain and grief.” The essential thing, I reminded myself, was to focus on every positive, no matter how seemingly small.

Uh, so.

Yeah. That was then.

And now? Wellll…

For any of you who read the last pages of a book first, let me spare you the suspense: neither today’s post nor my recent hiatus signals the end of Coffee and a Blank Page! In fact, once I can get back to a regular writing schedule, you may not even notice much difference (then again, maybe you will). But I am uncertain what its function for me will become, over the next months and year.

I’m barely certain what I’ve just become, myself.

Continue reading “Within Every New Beginning Lies an Ending”

Quiet please. The vulvas are talking.

I spent my afternoon, as one is wont to do, getting interviewed on my thoughts regarding vaginas and vulvas. (As one is wont to do, WHEN ONE IS ME, I should perhaps have specified.) I’ll share that piece with y’all when it’s published—but in the meantime, an observation: ain’t it wonderful how brains are pliable, and how writing plies them?

See, I wrote this post last fall about our cultural reluctance—and my own personal resistance—to using the word “vulva.” Today, what I found? Personal resistance gone! Another plank of internalized misogyny fallen! Appears I am now fully aboard the vulva-train.

And so I invite you to join me in raising a glass to the liberation of sexual bodies and sexual vocabulary alike, and to tell me about a time you wrote yourself into a different way of thinking.

Just please refrain from using the word “moist” in your comment.

*shudder*

“Moist” is never gonna happen.

coffee and a blank page

Tacos


In a revelation that will shock exactly zero readers of this blog, I must confess that I’ve always been obsessive about using words correctly. About knowing both literal and connotative meanings. About finding le mot juste for every occasion.

Add gender into the lexical mix? At that point, “obsessive” becomes, well…

Lemme put it to you this way. I still feel pissy about the idiotic joke made by some fellow Unitarians when I was 11 and the UUA was revising the official church hymnal to remove gender-exclusive language: “Maybe we should just call this new HYM-nal an IT-nal, since you hate men so much.”

[Picture here a tween-sized Alice, hands on her hips, fuming at her male peers. . . and more than a few grownass male grownups.^]

In those days, if I heard you call someone a “girl” who was clearly a grownass female grownup? Them were fightin’ words, far as I was concerned.

I’ve since…

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The Autobiography of E. Alice Isak

dedicated, with love

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“A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” ~ Gertrude Stein
“I rise is I rise is I rise is I rise.” ~ Alice Isak

🌹 🌹 🌹

My name is Alice Isak, and I feel like a woman reborn.

Risen like a—no, wait.

First you’re gonna need some backstory.

Like many others, I started blog-writing under an assumed name. For all the usual reasons: privacy, discretion, a desire to say whatever I felt without provoking uncomfortable impasses with family or angry outbursts from a recently-ex’ed ex-spouse. And one other thing:

I hated the person I’d become so much, it hurt to see her name in writing.

Call it my midlife crisis, if that helps.

The stereotype of the “midlife crisis” centers on the experiences of our culture’s classic Everyman: a white man climbing the corporate ladder, solidly middle-class, able-bodied and able-minded, definitely straight. Midlife-Everyman is wealthy enough to trade in his car for something fancier, more prestigious—a red convertible, perhaps, straight from the production line. He may trade in his wife for a newer model as well, equally shiny and topless.

According to the cliché, when our Everyman realizes his life is half-over, he says to himself: “I am not the person I thought I would be.” And he despairs.

For many women I know, midlife is the time when we say to ourselves: “I am still the person I thought I had to deny.” And though we may break for a time—suddenly feeling the weight of burdens long denied and longer carried—in the end, we do not despair.

We get angry.

We get loud.

We start to holler—often for the first time—our own damn truths, in our own damn voices. Continue reading “The Autobiography of E. Alice Isak”

13 Partly-Feminist Ideas for What to Write About When You’ve Decided to Do a Cleanse

So.

I’m supposed to be doing a cleanse this week.

Nothing quacky or dietary-related—I promise I am not going all-juice or detoxifying my elecrolytes or any other form of woo approved only by the Dr. Oz School of Better Health Through Gargling Snake Oil—just a one-week poetry cleanse organized by a writer friend that I leapt to volunteer for. I’ve got too many unwritten words jamming up my brain right now, like rotting leaves clogging a suburban home’s gutters, and an accountability system encouraging me to get at least a few of those words out and on paper each day sounded like just what the doctor^ ordered.

[^Again, not Dr. Oz.]

According to the rules of the cleanse, I agree to write one poem (or bit of a poem, or even one single line of poetry) each day, and send it out to the group by midnight. That’s it.

We’re on day 4 of 7. I’ve managed to write only once.

Sometimes a clog is so acute that low-commitment sluicing is insufficient to break through. Daily venting ain’t enough to get the job done. In these cases, best to take a roto-rooter to the whole situation—and brace yourself for whatever mess results.

And in that spirit, as my offering to the great and terrible gods of Roto-Rootering and Writer’s Clog, allow me to present:

Alice’s Listicle of Things She’d Be Writing About Right Now If Only Her Head Were Feeling A Bit More Cooperative and, Yknow, Language-y 

Continue reading “13 Partly-Feminist Ideas for What to Write About When You’ve Decided to Do a Cleanse”