I Haven’t Been Writing Lately

by Sarah on March 15, 2016

I haven’t been writing lately. At all.

Like, not just not-publishing but actually not-writing.

I’ve been on and off with my writing throughout my life, so by itself, not-writing is not a cause for alarm.

But for the past few months, there has been a consistent battle inside of me because there’s the part of me that wants to be writing and the part of me that doesn’t know how anymore.

Sure, my fingers still work. My brain is still thinking thoughts, and theoretically, I am technically capable of putting them on paper, or screen, but I haven’t been able to do the part where I synthesize the things I’m thinking and feeling into a coherent narrative… or any kind of narrative at all beyond disjointed words and half-formed sentences.

Part of this, definitely, is depression. That’s the part that’s easy to identify if not as easy to overcome.

But there’s another part which I hadn’t put my finger on until very recently.

I’ve known that both my inability to write and my strong need to write have stemmed from the nearly two-year process I’ve been going through of learning about myself and my identity. And there’s a lot of shame and blame that still comes up whenever I try to parse out where I am now.

Going from understanding myself as cis and straight to understanding that I’m actually quite queer, both in gender and sexual orientation, is a not insignificant change.

But the shame and blame isn’t about who I am or how I identify. It’s all about HOW THE FUCK DID I NOT KNOW.

It seems that my identity as a self-aware person is much more fragile than any of the other identities which have been discarded in the past few years. And it’s also the one that’s most closely linked to my writing.

Writing, particularly writing personal narrative, is always fraught. The pieces I’m most proud of are also often the same ones that leave me hiding under my covers crying into my journal and avoiding social media for days at a time.

Brené Brown calls this a vulnerability hangover. And like most things, being able to name it and recognize that other people also experience this has been a huge help for me.

So it’s not exactly the vulnerability hangover that I’m afraid of, although god knows all the things I want to write about gender and sexuality at the moment are sure to rank on the high end of the vulnerability scale. But the thing that has always been reassuring in all of this is that writing those things is a form of telling my truth. It’s a way for me to be seen and be known. And the reassurances I eventually get from others with whom my writing resonates helps me feel whole again, after I’ve broken myself apart and pasted the pieces onto a website for everyone to see.

And I don’t know what’s true anymore.

At the same time, my subject matter needs to feel raw to me or writing about it doesn’t hold any appeal. And right now gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, identity, and the many other areas with which those intersect feel hella raw to me. Maybe so raw that putting the pieces back together could prove to be too difficult.

And so I haven’t been doing it at all.

Maybe I’m overly romanticizing my writing. Maybe it’s more analytical and less visceral than I’m remembering it to be. I think it comes across that way by the time it’s been written down and edited, and re-edited, and re-written. I don’t remember.

That’s part of the problem. Everything is different now.

My body feels different. My clothes feel different. My preferences feel different. Sex feels different. Writing feels different. It. All. Feels. Different. Now.

Furthermore, I’m now painfully aware that there’s a big part of me that has been dedicated for most of the last 33 years to keeping a bunch of information about myself from myself. It’s like I look back and I see all the clues, and I see all the ways in which I wrote them off, convinced myself they didn’t matter, and went out of my way to assure myself that I was, in fact, the person that society had convinced me I was supposed to be. That feels like kind of a big oversight.

There’s definitely a kinder, gentler interpretation here, which is that I was lacking the frameworks I needed to fully understand these parts of myself. I didn’t have the right words; I didn’t have the right examples. I couldn’t fully grok any of it until I had enough of the pieces to put together, and I’ve only received the critical pieces in the last few years, most of which had to do with understanding non-binary gender identities.

Both explanations are true. Maybe even equally so. And there’s a part of me that has to believe that the self-deception was in some way something my subconscious thought I needed to be safe, even when I’m still furious at my own ability to do that to myself.

Writing, for me, has always been a way of creating or distilling meaning from the weird thoughts in my head; forcing myself to lay my thoughts out on “paper” in a way that will make at least a modicum of sense to other people helps me organize my brain and build coherency out of things that are more experiential or personal.

But this kind of work requires a level of faith; a belief, however tiny, that what comes out at the end will make sense, will resonate with someone, and will be worth the sometimes painful deconstruction that happens in the process.

I appear to have lost that faith.

Or maybe this piece is proof that I’ve found it again. I’m not sure.

I do know that I can’t move forward if all I can’t get out from under the criticism and self-loathing and the constant refrain of, “you were wrong. You were wrong. You were wrong.”

And while writing this particular piece, the one you’re reading right now, feels important, the question of how or whether I fucked up in some drastic way is not actually an interesting one.

There are plenty of interesting questions here though: ones about the role of socialization in shaping our identities, the real and perceived lack of safety in intersectional marginalized identities, the relevance and limitations of frameworks in helping us understand our own identities, and at least half a dozen other things that occur in the first moment of considering the possibilities.

But I can’t access any of these higher levels of thought when I get wrapped up in shame and confusion. And sometimes, like Brené Brown says, the best way out from shame is vulnerability. So at the very least, this article is my attempt to lean into that.

I’m not going to say I’m back. I’m not going to say I’m fixed. I’m not going to promise to write any of those things I mentioned a few paragraphs ago.

But I wrote this. So that counts, right?

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Egg Sandwiches, Domesticity, and Gender

by Sarah on November 2, 2015

Earlier this week, I was at a writer’s retreat, and one of the other women let us know on the first night that she had made these egg-things which were in the fridge. If we wanted a protein-ful breakfast, we should just help ourselves to one from the fridge, put it on an English muffin, add some cheese, stick it in the microwave for 25 seconds, and voila, Egg McMuffin knock-off.

I’ve heard of this concept before, although the versions I’ve seen are often weirdly textured, unappetizing versions of eggs. These were not. They were runny and delicious and apparently super-easy to make.

When I asked her how she made them, she said, “You know how you see those things go around Facebook, and usually they’re terrible? Well, this one was actually great.”

And I jokingly replied, “I’ve blocked most of the people who share those kinds of things on Facebook.”

I know this is patently offensive to a lot of my friends, many of whom manage to hold a love for cooking, sewing, and hand-crafting their home decor while also maintaining a critical perspective on the state of the world and actively participating in challenging the patriarchy on a daily basis.

It is possible that I am just less complex than these friends. Or more emotionally burdened. Or less capable of accepting contradiction in my own life.

(In fact the idea that one can enjoy something which is also problematic has been a hard won realization and a battle I still fight every time I reread Twilight or watch basically any kind of visual media ever.)

But the truth is, I have a long-felt and deeply-held distrust for all things domestic, a conflict which many folks in my generation seem to have reconciled through a kind of modern reclamation. My friends and my generation are not the housewives Betty Friedan was writing about.

Instead, to quote EMily Matchar in this article from The Atlantic, “they’re reclaiming traditional women’s work in the name of environmentalism, sustainable living, healthier eating culture, anti-consumerism.”

As these are all values I support, it seems logical that I should be able to reframe some of these tasks through this new lens as well.

And yet, for me, it isn’t that easy.

“Women’s Work” or the Gendering of Domesticity

Gender is, of course, at the center of the tumultuous feelings for me around domesticity.

My mother, a brilliant woman and lawyer who helped my dad run his business on the side and who I’ve heard refer to herself as a feminist on multiple occasions, still did a disproportionate (think like 95%) of the housework, cooking, and cleaning in my childhood home.

While my dad would sometimes throw on a load of laundry or take the garbage out when asked, she did all of the emotional labor and planning that come with running a household.

And even today, even with my most feminist friends (of all genders), I have yet to see a truly radical reframing of this.

As Matchar says, “There’s much to admire about the culture of new domesticity. But… the belief in the power of homemaking too often overlaps with a weird brand of neo-gender essentialism.”

And this is where even this new perspective on domesticity starts to feel oppressive.

We’re trying to reclaim traditional “women’s work” by tying it in with a new set of progressive values, but we haven’t actually done the work to remove the connotations associated with it.

Dude-allies, I’m looking at you.

Furthermore, women are doing enough already, and we don’t have time for reclamation, especially when reclamation actually looks like even more work.

To me, the whole thing sounds like nothing more than a thinly-veiled re-marketing of the same ‘ol bullshit.

Just Me and My Gender

On the other hand, it’s easy for me to be dismissive of expectations related to my assigned gender.

I’ve always felt a strong sense of rebellion against anything that I’m supposed to do or be interested in. It feels oddly satisfying that my fridge usually looks like a stereotypical bachelor’s, containing some leftovers, condiments, and beer on its best days, and that my fine motor skills make things like sewing or crafting unlikely to ever become my preferred pastimes.

“Fuck you, assigned gender,” I think, rebelliously, as I purchase my egg sandwich at Dunkin’ Donuts each morning.

Of course, because I like to wallow in complexity on a daily basis, I took a knitting class last week, a hobby about which I feel conflicted… and to which I’m also becoming addicted.

It’s therapeutic and relaxing, and I like having something to do with my hands while in meetings or conversations or watching things.

I can also likely get away with knitting in meetings more easily because it matches my perceived gender, although the possible detrimental effects of being seen as someone who knits at work are as yet undiscovered. I’m willing to take the risk.

But does this count as queering knitting, if I’m doing it because it serves a useful function in my life, and not because anyone in the world expects me to do it? It feels that way, and yet, I can’t get to the same place with cooking and other things in the genre.

Gender is not knitting. Gender is not cooking. Gender is not cleaning the house, or liking to craft, or wanting to have things neat and well-organized. And yet, sometimes the connotations become so oppressively strong that they become almost unbearable.

If I looked around and saw that even a visible minority of the folks in that knitting class, or sharing DIY home decor tips on Pinterest, or passing around the 15-minute egg cup recipes on Facebook were men, maybe I would feel differently.

If we were really all in this together, all trying to reclaim homemaking for the environment, and our own health, and to fight capitalism, then I wouldn’t look around and see only thousands of already over-burdened women trying to conform to yet another set of expectations and mandates on how they should live if they want to be truly successful.

And I wouldn’t feel like the expectations of me are different because of my gender presentation.

The Game Is Rigged

The idea that we can address these things on a individual level is a shared delusion.

Sure, making the egg-things means I’ll be eating a healthier breakfast each morning, which will make my grandmother very happy.

I also won’t be participating in the grab-n-go consumerist thing that is Dunkin’ Donuts and will reduce my environmental impact as well.

But at the same time, the problem doesn’t lie with me.

We perceive things as personal which may also be structural. And while we can change the things that make us feel better on a personal level, interrogating the structures can make change that makes us feel better differently. And changing the structures means that we don’t have to continue to fix the problem over and over again with each new person.

As Matchar says, “ All too often, the movement ignores broad social change (workplace reform, school reform, food reform, etc.) in favor of a DIY approach.”

To which I say yes, yes, yes, and yes.

As I sat at the writing retreat and listened to everyone talk about how they’re going to create more and better structures in their lives to support their art, I couldn’t help but feel angry that we each have to do this alone, or for the luckiest of us, with a few close family members or friends to occasionally lend a hand.

I’d like to believe that there is a possible world out there where we all have much broader bases of support, both in terms of larger community structures as well as societal level change that values things like artistic creation and spreads the domestic labor out among larger groups.

But right now, what we don’t need is one more 15-minute egg recipe to make women feel guilty for not doing enough.

Eggs Are Not My Priority

the DIY culture has some social significance. It’s an attempt to address a set of social and cultural issues on an individual scale. It has obvious value, and I’m not trying to take down anyone who chooses to engage in this particular set of ‘domestic’ endeavors. Some days, I wish I cared enough.

But that’s what it comes down to for me – caring enough.

At the end of the day, it’s about prioritization.

There are only so many hours in the day. And, as I read recently, we don’t actually all have the same 168 hours each week, even though the folks in power like to try to tell us that we do.

My mother was expected to prioritize taking care of us kids and the house. My dad was free to go back to the office and work some more after dinner. Leaning in will not be enough until this problem is solved, and leaning in may just be killing us.

So if I order takeout to give myself a little more time to get my writing done, and in the meantime also get to blow off a bunch of gendered social expectations and give my internal rebel a little boost, is that really such a bad trade-off?

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Please Don’t Fuck Me: How Not to Be an Ally to Fat Folks

September 15, 2015
Thumbnail image for Please Don’t Fuck Me: How Not to Be an Ally to Fat Folks

As a fat person, coming to terms with my own physical and sexual attractiveness may well be one of the hardest bits of self-work I’ve had to do. In college, the first time my first boyfriend mentioned the idea of sex, I remember standing in the doorway of my room looking confusedly at him and […]

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On Purple Elephants, Aromanticism, and Why My Last Post Was NBD

September 9, 2015

For the past few years, I’ve been questioning the idea of romance and whether or not it’s a thing that actually exists. This may sound weird to some, but it has never been entirely clear to me that it isn’t just a cultural fabrication. I know what friendship is, I know what partnership is, I […]

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Why I Wish I Was a Lesbian

August 31, 2015

(Dear family, I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: you may well read things in this blog that you wish you didn’t know about me. If you read anything here you don’t like, that is on you. I may or may not be willing to discuss these things in other contexts with you. I […]

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You Have No Power Over Me – On Shame, Empowerment and Telling Stories

June 12, 2015

Last night, I was at a body positive underwear party (hosted by the amazing Pleasure Pie), and one of the exercises we did was to pair up with someone and tell them our life story in six minutes or less with a focus on how we have viewed our bodies. Once upon a time, an […]

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Kindergarten for Muscles

April 18, 2015

I talk about parkour a lot, and I worry that somehow people think this means that I’m actually good at it, when in fact I’m often the slowest and weakest in the class and spend a significant portion of my time feeling frustrated as I try to master new skills. However, one of the things […]

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Fat Kids Can’t Jump

November 29, 2014

In grade school, we used to have to do this thing called the President’s Physical Fitness Test. This was generally sprung on us with no warning, twice a year, and we would suddenly have to demonstrate and be evaluated on our ability to do sit-ups, push-ups, pull-ups, a standing broad jump, and a run. Please […]

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I Did a Thing

September 26, 2014

Eleven weeks ago, I tried my first parkour class. Seven weeks ago, I decided to sign up for a weekend long parkour event happening in Boston. I also made a commitment to myself that I would go to three classes a week between then and the event. I would give my training my all and […]

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How to Treat a Fat Person in a Fitness Class

September 23, 2014

Body image and fitness are so intertwined in the general consciousness that some truly bizzare things can happen when a fat person sets foot into a fitness class. Fat people are often encouraged to work out (which is problematic for many reasons, but not what we’re discussing here), but when many fitness environments are basically […]

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