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

šŸŒ¹Ā šŸŒ¹Ā šŸŒ¹

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

Risen like aā€”no, wait.

First you’re gonna need some backstory.

ā—Š

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.

CallĀ it my midlife crisis, if that helps.

ā—Š

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 prestigiousā€”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 clichĆ©, 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 timeā€”suddenly feeling the weight of burdens long denied and longer carriedā€”in the end, we do not despair.

We get angry.

We get loud.

We start to hollerā€”often for the first timeā€”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-relatedā€”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 Oilā€”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 toĀ 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 situationā€”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-yĀ 

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

Body Lessons (Genealogy of an Orgasm)

[CN: rape, rape’s aftermath, emotional abuse.]

This piece can now be found at The Manifest-Station.


Origin-of-the-World_modified

 

# # #

Shame thrives in isolation and silence. Thank you for witnessing these stories, and for lessening my burden by doing so.Ā 

I invite all who would like — whether you typically comment on blogs or not — to share in the comments any part of this post that resonated for you, any memories it may have brought up, or any other thoughts you wish to convey.Ā 

ā¤ alice


“Body Lessons (Genealogy of an Orgasm)” is part of an ongoing memory project.Ā 
The entire seriesĀ can be found here.

ā™¦

[Image: L’Origine du monde. Painting by Courbet (1866). Discretion by Alice (2016).]

 

Silence, Silencing, and Rape Culture: a meditation in three parts

When I received an email recently from an unknown senderĀ and cryptically titled “from your least favorite writer,” I was intrigued.

monsters_abbott-and-costello-meet-frankenstein-smiles
NOT me and the letter-writer chumming around.

Turns out, the author of a web essay published over a year ago had just located the excoriating critique of her work I posted at the time. By turns professional, embarrassed, and angry in tone, JD’s letter acknowledges some errors she wishes she’d avoided, defends some choices she made, and could be construed as an attempt at dialogue. Or, rather: could beĀ so construed exceptĀ forĀ the final paragraph, in which she offers to write more carefully about rape in the future — “in return” for my taking down the post, or at least removing her name from my critical discussion of her still-available-online essay.

In a word: No.Ā 

I offered, instead, to include her rebuttal as an addendum to my initial post. I have no animus towards this writer personally, much as I disagreed with this one piece — and I am strongly committed to the idea that the only way any of us get better at honestly discussing hot-button social justice issues is by, yknow, honestly discussing hot-button social justice issues.Ā Having gotten no response in over two weeks, I am instead going to talk with you all about what this exchange foregrounded for me: about mistakes, and how we talk about them; about blogging, and why I do it; about calling people out and calling people in; and about whyĀ asking for a call-out to be expunged strikes me asĀ the wrongest of wrong approaches to take, especially when the topic under discussion is rape or abuse. Continue reading “Silence, Silencing, and Rape Culture: a meditation in three parts”

Deconstruction of the Poet as a Young Stenographer

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Bridget Benton, “Pollen: Self Portrait at the Tree of Knowledge.” Encaustic, 2013. Courtesy of the artist. For more of the artist’s work, visitĀ eyesaflame.com

The Faithful

I went to hear the mystic speak.
He uttered desolation — and a gale began
that swept the landscape clean.
A tree with barbed-wire branches
laced its leaves together above a banquet table
built like stonehenge,Ā set for eight hundred
with a dinner of dirt
and lemons.
The mystic stomped the ground twice with his gnarled staff
and stood, complete.

From the audience a storyteller roseĀ to sing —
a drowning melody.Ā Baobab trees grew tall
and filled with cockatoosĀ and peacocks,
the air pungent with their color.
Vines crept across my faceĀ and toes.
More vines consumed the banquet
and the banquet table.
The storyteller’s final liquid notes fell in a shimmer,
and she stood, complete.

Silence.

An old and wizened woman took the mystic’s staff
and planted it in a corner of her garden
where it bloomed into a quiet elm.

[written by alice isak in august, 1990]

* * *

A couple summers when I was in college, I worked as an intern in the PR department of a large insurance company. My assigned tasks were interesting enough (they certainly beat flipping burgers!) and also left me plenty of unstructured time to do my own thing, all while looking hard-at-work massaging the language of a brochure or low-priority press release.

My own thing generally consisted of banging out poems on a massive electric typewriter.

Astoundingly, a pack of those poems has survived. I came across them recently, in the process of looking for an old photo.Ā “The Faithful” was always my favorite of the pieces, the one I thought about from time to time before I realized any of them were still in my possession. Even without remembering the specifics of its verses, I remembered the feeling I had writing it — a feeling I touched again, after many years without, when I wrote the first piece for this blog that seemed to capture my own voice, my true voice, and not some mere parroting to please another person.

Written just over two years ago, “The heart that I hold tightly within my chest, tightly holds me back” not onlyĀ echoesĀ the same inner writerly feeling for me, but also reflects a continuation of many of the same images and themes from this piece typewriter-clacked-out almost 25 years earlier: the fantastical landscapes; the conflicting world views of men (and their few female “helpmates”) and women, expressed through the incompatibility of their languages; storytelling as song, as abundance or perhaps overabundance, as a form of speaking incomprehensible to all but the select.

One key difference: theĀ later piece does not share the earlier poem’sĀ hopeful belief in a peaceful resolution to this conflict.Ā If I were to write “The Faithful” today, I suspect my grizzled crone would plant the mystic’s staff right through his foot, later to be watered with his tears and his teeth.Ā  Continue reading “Deconstruction of the Poet as a Young Stenographer”

In which THE INTERNET. RUINS. NOTHING!

Yknow how folks have been claiming the Internet was ushering in the End of Days ever since the Internet ushered in, well — itself?

Yeah. All this ish.
Yeah. All this ish.

I’m hear to tell you: it just ain’t so.

But! This being my blog, and me being a story-telling type, first I’m gonna tell you a story. (Don’t forget that “ruins relationships / ruins everything” stuff, though, cuz I’ll be coming back to that.)

* * *

Back when I was 8 or 9 — you might recall it as the time when mastodons roamed the plains and phones were things you actually dialed — my folks and I spent a summer weekend in upstate New York, at a gathering of extended family members. The house where we stayed belonged to the parents of the wife of a second-cousin on my father’s side, if memory serves: though at the time, I was pretty fuzzy on how all these people fit together.

Or where I fit in with them.Ā It’s always awkward, being 8 or 9 years old in a houseĀ full of grownup strangers.

At one point early Saturday afternoon, the woman who owned the house — and who had stepped out for a moment, from the living room where everyone was gathered — stepped back in, carrying a basket.

“Isn’t my new basket lovely?” she asked the room.

No one seemed to notice. I noticedĀ no one noticing — and felt bad for the tall woman, whose husband had promised to take me blueberry picking the next afternoon.

“Yes! It looks very pretty!” I piped up.

The tall woman smiled warmly at me for a moment, and I smiled back, relieved she knew that she had not beenĀ ignored.

Also? It really was a lovely basket, ofĀ fineĀ brown and black wicker woven into ornate patterns.

The basket in question was MUCH COOLER than any of these.
The basket in question was WAY COOLER than any of these.

Continue reading “In which THE INTERNET. RUINS. NOTHING!”