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”

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”

Cold Hands

[NOT A TROMP POST. While this is a post-US-election piece of writing about the weird twists and turns of grief, beyond that, any similarities between my comments here and the Orange Cheeto-led sh!tshow that is our current political outlook is purely accidental. And sincerely regretted.]

* * *

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Alice, pre-trauma. Apparently very excited about milk.

One of the stranger symptoms I have discovered—as I claw my way back from the dissociative fog of PTSD that rotted out my brain over 25 years of squatting there like a toad, undiagnosed and untreated—is a limited ability to notice my body’s sensory input. I have to cook with overwhelming flavors, or I don’t taste my food. I must remember what I expect to smell, before I can detect an odor. If someone asks me whether a room’s temperature bothers me, without also specifying if they think it may be “too hot” or “too cold,” I often start to panic, suddenly aware that I have no idea what temperature the room is—and no clues from my companion to guide me.

But I noticed something interesting on my walk home this evening: I noticed my hands felt cold.

Continue reading “Cold Hands”

Recovery Is A Staircase

[CN: rape, self-injury]


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Nathan’s First Selfie #proudmom

The first time I told the story—or, rather, tried to tell it—was in 2001, twelve years after the rapes themselves. I had a psychotic break afterwards, where I heard a voice in my head telling me it would kill me before I talked again. My left wrist still bears scars of the stitches I required before that day ended.

The second time I told the story wasn’t until October, 2013. Afterwards, I stopped being able to sleep in the dark. For the next fourteen months, the only sleep I got were catnaps at dawn and dusk. Sometimes I tried drinking myself to sleep by mid-afternoon, anything to make the day be over.

In 2014, the morning of April 30, I got a call from the rape crisis center where I’d put my name on a waiting list, informing me that my first appointment would be later that week. Panicked at the thought of telling the story to yet another new person, I ended up slicing my leg open, an inch-deep trough running up the length of my calf. I lost close to a pint of blood.

Tonight, I told a roomful of people an aspect of the story I have never said out loud before. Afterwards, I stood a long time in the hallway outside that room, afraid to come home. Afraid even to move.

And then I did move.
And then I did come home.

Once back at my place, I cuddled my cat. I ate a peanut butter sandwich. I wrote this post to share on Facebook. Then I decided to share it on my blog as well.

I’m calling it:

I did good tonight.

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When he is not the photographer, Nathan bores quickly.

[“Recovery Is A Staircase” is part of an ongoing memory project.
The entire series can be found here.]

We already know. We already don’t want to know.

[CN: rape, rape culture, police violence]


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In Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities, Marco Polo describes 55 cities he has seen on his journeys to an aging Kublai Khan. His descriptions are lyrical imaginings of cities that are fantastical and impossible.

Late in the book, the Khan points out that the explorer has yet to mention Venice:

 Marco smiled. ‘What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?’

The emperor did not turn a hair. ‘And yet I have never heard you mention that name.’

And Polo said: ‘Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice. Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or, perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.’

Like Marco Polo, I never mention Venice.

And Venice runs beneath everything that I say.

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Three days ago, the Associated Press released the results of a year-long investigation of sexual misconduct by US law enforcement. Counting only those who lost their badges (how many did not?), counting only those in states that track it (how many missed from New York and California?), not counting those the states themselves did not count (how many headlines missing from the statistics?), not counting those whose misdeeds were never reported (how many fear reporting police to police?) — in six years, one thousand officers lost their badges.

1,000 officers. Not 1,000 violations.

How many victims does that math work out to?

Do you really want to know?

Two days ago, the trial of former Oklahoma City police officer Daniel Holtzclaw began. Holtzclaw is charged with rape, sexual battery, and stalking, among other crimes. He faces 36 charges, related to 13 victims. (care to revisit the math above?) When he was initially charged, there were seven identified victims; others came forward after seeing reports on the news. (how many do not watch the news?) The six-month investigation began with only one woman, reporting only one crime. The rest of the case built as police looked for other victims…and found them. (who already knew that ‘one’ always means ‘more’?)

The woman who reported Holtzclaw, a 57yo grandmother identified only as J.L., did not already have a record, as his other victims did. (rape or imprisonment, which do you choose) J.L. did not live in the poor neighborhood he targeted; she was only driving through. (blow job or death, which frightens you more) Holtzclaw is on trial today not because he assaulted women, but because the last woman he assaulted was less vulnerable than the first twelve.

When charges were filed last year, The Guardian reported: “All 13 of the victims are black; Holtzclaw is listed as Asian or Pacific Islander in court records. It’s not clear whether race played a role in the alleged crimes.”

How “clear” does something need to be, before we know what we know?

You knew before you read this far in my story, didn’t you, how likely that Holtzclaw’s perfectly-precarious, vulnerable victims would turn out to be black?  Continue reading “We already know. We already don’t want to know.”

On Jackie, UVA, and Why #IDon’tStandWith Rolling Stone as a Mouthpiece for Survivor Stories

I collect stories written by rape survivors. I find the details and textures of first-person accounts powerful antidotes to the homogenized, not-to-mention ubiquitous, stories offered up by media and the entertainment industry alike. Women and men who endure sexual violence — whether they choose to reveal their experiences or not — are all warriors, in my book.

(They are also, every last one, bad victims. In case you were curious.)

I know firsthand how the act of telling our own stories can be uplifting, healing, empowering, fraught, challenging, righteous, risky…and not the right choice for every person. The decision to reveal — including every what, how, and why of that disclosure — must lie with the survivor. I feel twitchy, not-to-mention occasionally stabby, at any indication that a particular survivor’s story has been taken out of hir hands to serve someone else’s agenda. Even an ostensibly well-intentioned agenda. (I am choosing the word survivor deliberately, by the way, though not to indicate self-disclosure as some empowered butterfly state that inevitably follows that of being a speechless victim. Simply put: the raped-and-then-murdered/suicided among us have not tongue left with which to speak their truths.)

So when I heard last month about Rolling Stone‘s immediately-viral blockbuster reporting of campus rape, which centered on the violent gang rape of a student identified by the pseudonym ‘Jackie,’ my skin began to crawl. When The Washington Post and others began to take issue with journalistic standards not met in the reporting — and the magazine’s initial response was to place all blame on Jackie herself (the statement by editor Will Dana has since been emended to remove the line about how they had “misplaced” their trust in her) — my skin crawled completely off. When I heard how Jackie ultimately asked to have her story taken out of the final article and Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely ran with it anyway — and then “was Jackie lying, yes or no” became a dominant discussion point in mainstream reporting — at that point, well…

According to its last postcard, my skin has boarded a bus and is now halfway to Puerta Vallarta.

Continue reading “On Jackie, UVA, and Why #IDon’tStandWith Rolling Stone as a Mouthpiece for Survivor Stories”