On Hugging and Banksy : Part One

Me and my friend, Beth.

BEING THIS CLOSE used to only feel safe – for me – with a very few human beings. In the Before Times, I mean. Even then, I kept my distance. Diligently. And if I’ve ever let you get THIS CLOSE to me, then I’m fairly certain you know exactly what I mean. Then Mama Corona stepped in. She has helped out with so many things. Namely : the cultural expectation that I must feel cold for denying you title to my six feet. And also : seeing clearly : how much Joy – and dopamine – was once derived from the simple act of embrace by way of greeting. Plus too : how quickly I could feel my hugging muscles atrophy. And once somebody broke the seal, how I would live into the reality I have perpetuated of said perpetrator being dangerous for me.

“You can’t go back to holding hands,” is what my very first young lover said to me : when I expressed a desire to protect myself from the dizzying effects of adolescent intimacy. By pausing. And falling backward, ever so slightly. An attempt to erect a healthy boundary, at the tender age of 16. A valiant effort to regain my footing was met with the message he got from somebody, who then summarily implanted it in me : that it is All or No-thing, baby. Your Woman’s body is meant only to receive the after shocks of unmitigated, unregulated, unrestrained land – grabbing. And so I let him cleave to me. For all the right reasons. Hoping against hope that he would make good on his young promise to remain betrothed to me. To purchase the cow. Though he was indeed getting the milk for free. He did not. Of course. Purchase anything. That love affair lasted but a few short weeks.

And nearly 30 years later, I still have never married. Because it’s NFS actually. It’s more like graffiti. It’s a gift given to the community, under cover of night usually, but sometimes yes in the broad daylight. Just like a brazen hussy. Often tho, the landlord may not like what he sees, and pays somebody else to scrub the gilded lettering off the concrete. While Banksy’s mistresspiece remains untouched, peering out from underneath her plexiglass shield : representing the value we place upon things worth protecting. For fame. For shame. For re-production. For commodity. But have you noticed? It’s only underneath her own umbrella where it’s raining. 

A famous piece of graffiti in New Orleans, rumored to have been left there by Banksy

Try as we might, it’s often futile : our attempts at shielding ourselves from the inevitable. Banksy’s tag was tagged last week, about the same time my friend Beth and both her kids came down with COVID-19. Plus my heart has been broken about a million times since my first lover left me. Of Gods and Monsters : if that title wasn’t taken already, I’d use it to name something.

BEING A WITCH is Definitely a Whole Job

This morning, I did what I often do (after I finally got up to pee) and habitually clicked open my social media feed. Those dopamine hits are no joke. And neither are my addictive tendencies. Especially when it comes down to what it’s like to actually live ALONE during Covid-19. I hear – ok, read – people complaining all the time about how much it sucks to have to hang our with their spouses/partners/parents/roommates/kids so much these days, and while my hermetic lifestyle may perhaps lend itself more easily to the cultivation of compassion than your average, run-of-the-mill, more “traditional” householding, I’m pretty much still almost always all like : 

Huh. Yeah. I’m sure it does suck to have to actually look at the people you claim to care about the most all the time. You know, and share space with them. And your feelings. And/or your futile attempts at escaping them (feelings) by over-drinking-smoking-pill-popping-shopping-schtupping-doom-scrolling and/or binge-watching in the name of not-actually-coping. But try living actually ALONE for like five minutes. Yeah, no. I guaran-f*ckin-tee you couldn’t hack it : People with actual families. We all make life choices. Nobody makes the bed – ever – but me.

I do know some people also over-eat-exercise and/or even gamble to not-cope. But those are three behaviors I just don’t understand, personally. And so I will simply acknowledge their existence, withhold judgement, and move on with my life. I mainly drink, smoke and purchase online courses : Me.

Well, ok. I do know what it’s like to eat a whole half-package of Oreo cookies and/or a whole entire carton of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in one sitting – on a regular basis, like daily – and/or go to Yoga class way too much in a valiant effort to not-cope. But gambling? I lost twenty bucks once at Harrah’s Casino sometime back in the nineties, and have been flabbergasted ever since. I just stopped immediately. Like after that one time I did meth-amphetamines in my twenties. I don’t like losing things. Least of all money – or my mind.

But anyway, this morning an awesome old-school-punk-rock grrlfriend of mine, who wrote this Zine back when Zines were a thing, entitled “Yeah, I F*cked Him”, she came over that one time like twenty years ago to cook food for me when I actually had a Man but was still too depressed to eat, and now lives on the West Coast – alone, but with cats – she had posted one of those Facebook “games” They get you to play by playing on your narcissistic tendencies, so They can gather secret Facebook information on all your “friends” who thought they could trust you to not be so self-centered and careless with their secrets. Whoops. Sorry. Go ahead and unfriend me. You can still text me.

This one was called “Who Was Your Past Life Twin” or something. Hers was a fictitious Guatemalan assassin from the eighteenth century. I wow-ed it, commented briefly : “don’t doubt it” and sealed it with kissy-face iconography. Then I clicked the link.

Wouldn’t you know it? The damn machine said I was a Witch.

So, I have so much to say about this. First off : Being a Witch is definitely a whole job. As is assassin. Or teacher. Or nurse. Or nun. Which were the other options afforded to the folks in Facebooklandia – who still insist on using the pronoun She – playing the “Who Was Your Past Life Twin” game. I kept tapping to play again, so I do know these things. I’m big into research. “Hooker” might have also been an option – maybe even “Unpaid Sex Slave” – but I got bored with playing. Do you see where I’m headed with this?

Women are systematically led to believe that our options are limited, and we must exist exclusively in the service of men, children or institutionalized patriarchal religion. Any Woman who dares to dream of living her best life outside of that paradigm is labeled a murderess, a Witch or a whore. Female dogs. We’re also often referred to as female dogs, when we get uppity and start acting like a Boss Bitch.

Secondly: Centuries upon centuries of femicide is no joke. And yes, Mr. Spellcheck : femicide is an actual word – as is misogyny. I see you have finally condescended to acknowledge the existence of the hatred of Women, in general – but not yet the cold hard fact of our mass murder in an effort to terrorize us into submission. Do you see what I mean? 

Centuries upon centuries upon centuries of untold suffering – and the goddamned documented  historical FACTS of the repeated, rampant and global practice of the brutal rape, torture, enslavement and murdering of Women in an ongoing effort to eradicate our claim to our rightful place in society as healers, community leaders and holders of sacred information – have indeed not done the trick. Sorry not sorry, brothers. We are still here. Despite all your rape, torture, enslavement and murdering. So, yeah. F*ck that noise.

Also: Clitirodectemies. I looked that one up on Google to make sure I was spelling it right Mr. Spellcheck, and was validated in like two seconds by the Geography of Genital Mutilation Flashcards I found on Quizlet. You can click the link right above where it says : “Egypt – International Sex Guide – 22 year old with a tight body, soft B-cup tits, bronze skin and a nice little pussy that hadn’t been disfigured by a clitirodectamy”, and see for yourself. I think the sex guide dude probably spelled it the wrong way, but either way – you can see that cutting off Women’s clits and selling them into slavery is still a thing. So you might want to think about entering it into your database, at least for the time being. Ignoring shit doesn’t just make it go away. Just ask my family.

Number three: All Women are Witches. We’re friggin miracle workers. Seriously. Especially the ones who have managed to give birth to a whole baby. Or dealt with the grief of not doing so and kept living. Or decided that’s just not what they’re here for and done other things entirely. I do recognize that some of us are more “traditionally witchy” than others, due to the equation of our birthdate numbers adding up to 8 or something. I don’t pretend to understand it at all, really. I just accept it – all things esoteric, celebrate the Solstice and move on with my life : as a healer, community leader and holder of sacred information.

But the ease with which I do this has not come without some serious contemplation on my part, and at the expense of centuries upon centuries upon centuries of untold numbers of Women suffering brutal rape, torture, enslavement, murder and clitirodectemies. Amongst other indignities.

I had a 95 year old yoga student once who felt compelled after class one day to tell me about how her husband who “was in the service” used to take her measurements every week and keep them framed in a prominent place in the house so she “wouldn’t get fat.” She told me this story after saying, “I wish I had been as skinny as you”. I guess because she thought if she had been slight of frame, this would not have happened to her. I left the senior center where I was teaching that morning and doubled over crying in my truck before I even got to wherever it was I was supposed to be going next.

That shit sucks : Being convinced you have to sleep next to a man and his tape measure just to survive. And then having to find it in your heart some kind of way to forgive him for it because you understand he himself was brutalized by military service I’m sure he was doing in an effort to support his family. But still believing that it was your own body that had betrayed you and caused all that heartbreak. Rather than being able to truly accept yourself as the miracle worker you are, obviously. Because of some Witch shit. And centuries upon centuries upon centuries of untold suffering.

Me at like eight or nine in my mom’s Witch hat, already ready to be mad about it.

So I guess because the numbers of my birthdate add up to 8, that’s part of my purpose on this planet : to help facilitate the release of brutal memories that may otherwise fester and cause dis-ease in the spirit/mind/body. Some traditional Witch shit, I’m guessing.

Me a few years back at Mardi Gras, right after taking a very small hit of LSD, with a crazy green light coming out of my crown chakra: Proof positive that I am indeed still a Whole Witch.

Also: Go, Greta. I’m so happy for you, you have your whole own Hulu documentary and everything. I’m even a little bit jelly. That happens with Witches sometimes still, admittedly. Being jealous of one another, I mean. But I’ve learned to just notice the feelings of envy, attribute them aptly to Women doing our best to survive within the end times – i.e. the final vestiges of the Patriarchy – and move on with my life : as a healer, community leader and holder of sacred information.

Oh. And there’s one more thing about the “Who Was Your Past Life Twin” game that makes me want to say something. It’s more of a question, really. Are there really a lot of Lopezes in Venezuela, or is the game racist too? I guess I could Google it. Just saying.

KEEP CALM and Workers of the World Unite

This morning I woke up as I usually do, just before dawn, because I had to pee. I’m not sure when this practice began, but I attribute it mostly to simply being over 40. The muscles of the pelvic floor begin to shift at a certain point in the human life cycle, like great tectonic plates, whether or not a person has given birth to a whole baby. The process of having to pee at 4am is non-binary.

And then there’s COVID. Whereas before, one might have felt the urge to pee while it’s still dark out and simply ignored it – until the sensation became unbearably painful, even debilitating – now there are unprecedented levels of collective anxiety to contend with. (What with massive unemployment numbers still skyrocketing and beaucoup small businesses shuttering while Congresspeople get paid $3500 a week to use their thumbs as butt-plugs, entire swaths of the American public discovering for the first time that racism does indeed exist, cash is outlawed in India, yet another friend is on a ventilator, your Mother is still insisting on doing face-to-face grief counseling with drug addicts on the Rez and is super hyped about this new tracking device vaccine because if she gets it first maybe then her daughter-in-law nobody knows from Eve will finally let her touch her new grand baby, and your own brother’s asinine Op-ed insisting we all just act like nothing is happening so he can continue to make more money than God off feeding poor people’s marijuana addiction, but not give you any – money. or weed). So you just heed the call, get up to pee and then start doing something.

You’re not at all surprised by your brother’s Op-ed, nor your Mother’s blindsided, horrified shock and awe at his public opinion. Denial runs deep as the Congo in your family. Everybody sees what’s obvious but them. But you don’t hate on ’em for it. It’s an outdated survival technique.

You’re working on a business plan. You recognize that running your ass into the ground slinging drinks and schlepping ice, teaching Yoga to kids in jail and at the old folks home, leading large groups of mask-less Floribamans through the French Quarter by the ear on a tour that should be entitled “Twenty Biggest Hits By White Supremacists”, deciding whether it makes more sense to sell your clothes or your plasma, and taking a cut off the top delivering covert amounts of cash via Venmo to your strategically unemployed friend in Jamaica (who’s Sugar Daddy thinks she got hit by a car and can’t move) in an effort to support your Radical-Ratchet-Eco-Feminist-Performance-Art habit, is just not going to cut it in the post-Covid economy.

At the end of the day, you are a realist. And a work horse. And you really want some of that PPE money. So you’re biting the creative bullet and incorporating. It’s a process. Much of which can get done easily enough right after you get up to pee before the sun comes up, thinking about how many points you’ll get docked on your credit report for applying for that “pre-approved” and yet denied balance transfer, and make a pot of coffee. French press. Because you’re just that bougie.

Not bougie enough, tho to spend more than 99 cents on a pair of reading glasses at the grocery when they have them for sale for that amount. If not blindsided nor horrified, you did find yourself left in a bit of a state of shock and awe when your best friend confessed she spent several hundred dollars on hers. Just reading glasses. No prescription or anything. Jesus Christ, you thought. I mean, you know she still has a job and everything – and they’re cute glasses – but still. Where the f*ck then does your family get off with this tired ass narrative that YOU are bad with money? Please.

So anyway. You’ve been up – for a while – working on your business plan, when you hear the trucks pull up outside. According to the University of Pennsylvania’s Survey of Twenty-Five Character Strengths, Curiosity and Appreciation of Beauty are tops on your list, so it comes as no surprise that you peer out the window and appreciate the appropriately distanced men in hardhats huddled out front, discussing their Covid-safe approach to whatever manual labor is about to commence. You’ve always had a thing for men in hardhats and work boots. TBH you sometimes even like to harass them back.

You’re not surprised either, but you are amused when they pull out the chainsaw and the neighbor lady comes into the yard all mean and nasty with, “Come on! It’s 7:30 in the morning ON A SATURDAY! Give me a f*ckin break!” But that just made you roll your eyes. What made you chuckle and want to give somebody in work boots a Covid-safe high-five was when the dude in the tree came back with – and quick – “Yeah, well. I wish I could sleep in on a Saturday, too. I WISH I HAD THAT PRIVILEGE.” He emphasized that last sentence just like I wrote it. The neighbor lady might have even heard you howling with laughter and clapping over the chainsaw at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday.

Remember: you’ve been up for several hours already, working.

But for no money. Not yet anyway. You’re an entrepreneur. And an artist. And you used to work in education and the service industry – simultaneously – just to make ends meet.

You’re used to sweating bullets for chump change.

She’s not YOUR neighbor lady, tho. Not really. I mean, you kind of know who she is, but you don’t really know what she does for a living. Not anymore, anyway. Not since all the venue closings. But she’s definitely not YOUR neighbor, because you are just house/plant/studio sitting thru the end of 2020. You can’t afford to live in a place with trees.

Thank God/dess, tho : You have friends who are just that bougie – and who decided to go stay somewhere else for a while, despite Covid-19. It’s nice to have room to breathe, even temporarily. You’ve learned to sleep at night. You don’t mind it too much when people wake you up with their manual laboring. You probably had to pee anyway. You love what the dude in the tree said back to the nasty neighbor lady. You have high hopes for the future of this country.

You consider whether or not it makes any sense to share this blog post with your family, in response to the Op-ed thread your brother didn’t really include you in because he used your FemNazi5 email address. You literally haven’t used that address since college. You are now 43. You’re curious what kind of email exchange you ever even had with him back then? You’re fairly convinced he did it on purpose, use the wrong address I mean. You know he knows you’re the only one who might actually have had the balls to say anything about it. And you did. Say something. You just sent him a quick email back – from the correct address – with everybody else in the family CCd, letting him know his opinion was loaded and that you heard him. I mean, did he really think gossip that good was going to go unnoticed – despite his best feudal attempts at trickery? Come on, Brah. Attention to detail is something like number three on the UPenn Strengths Test for me.

You decide it is probably best to just let it lie, for now anyway. I mean, the blog is up on the World Wide Web and everything. So anybody in the whole wide world can read it, if they really wanted to. But you’re not too worried. About your family getting their hands on it and using it as a reason to be pissed off at you. With eight of us on the puppy pile – by three moms and your guess is as good as mine when it comes to figuring out how many daddies – no-one ever really pays that close attention to me.

This is a picture of not quite all of us – and one grand baby – taken last year about this time, at our Dad’s memorial. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to get us all together in one place. And certainly never sober. We’re all grown now. With lives and everything.

That tree in the background reminds me : When the neighbor lady and the manual laborer were bickering, my thought was the tree was probably all like : “Say, Brah. Why you wanna do me like that, huh? You really don’t HAVE to be using a chainsaw on some perfectly good limbs at 7:30 in the morning on a Saturday. Why don’t you go on strike or something?”

By lunch time she had been whittled down to nothing more than a stump, just like in your well-worn copy of that now politically incorrect classic :

“The Giving Tree”.

Ode to Pete / Atlas’ Grandpappy

Y’all, This Guy : Pete. Peter Hawkins Stoddard, Ph.D – if you want to get precise with it. He was for many years, a professor of Social Work, Sociology and Mental Health at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, TN. This is us, last year at this time, eating seafood : obviously. Pete and I spent just about every Thanksgiving together since I made five. I am now forty-three. My mother and he divorced when I was nineteen. I have many things to say about the possibilities and pitfalls, the redemptive qualities and rude realities of blended families within a not-as-of-yet-fully-de-constructed Patriarchy. But I will save those thoughts for later. Along with my (childless) opinions about grown ass adults neglecting to acknowledge the full impact of their un-reconciled ish upon their offspring. And the rampant tendency amongst (primarily) White families to neglect their elders, once they begin aging and (quite often) physically deteriorating.

Me and Pete : Eating Seafood

Pete would approve : both of my social analysis and decision to remain quiet for the moment, preferring to hold this time and space free from personal opinion and moralizing – and dedicate it instead to both honor and memorializing. Pete was, generally speaking, very supportive of me and my decisions. And he was also, in my experience, almost always open for discussion. About just about anything. But you had to learn to hold your own with him, intellectually. His was not a mind which was necessarily into changing, neither quickly nor easily. Emotionally, I get the sense that he was far more receptive to being with feelings than I ever acknowledged or allowed him to be. For my own inability or unwillingness to let him in, I am sorry. 

I will never forget the day Pete apologized to me. We were sitting on a bench in the French Quarter, right off Jackson Square, facing the upper Pontalba building. That year, Pete could still walk well enough to come and visit me for Thanksgiving. I think we ate the actual turkey at Brennan’s – with a friend and colleague of mine from the House of Blues, who was for whatever reason not able to spend that day with her family. That was a particularly busy and depressive Rock ’n Roll era for me, so I guess I did not feel much like cooking. Pete was always down with hanging with my friends. I think he found them interesting. He picked up the tab for all of us, very generously.

So anyway, we were sitting there alone, just the two of us, facing Micaela Almonester, Baroness de Pontalba’s bedchamber, when Pete surprised me with an apology. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I could have been a better father for you when you were young.” I felt every muscle in my body seize. He was correct. He could have been. 

In fact, his unceremonious exit from the house where we lived, together with my mother and their son (who was eight years old at the time), was precipitated by the first of many articulate explosions my family has borne witness to, since I went away to college and began my critical analysis of the disastrously damaging effects of the intersecting systems of oppression within a post-colonial global Patriarchy.

He told me to get out, for raising my voice and telling him about himself, when I noticed the argument he was having with my mother left my baby brother crying. I said Nah. So he decided to leave. Like I said before, at that time I was nineteen.

Sitting on that bench, tho – in the shadow of Jackson’s hat cocked toward the Baroness’ masterpiece, I said roughly, clumsily “Um. Uh. I’m sure you did the best you could,” and did my best to change the subject quickly. I was uncomfortable in my body.

That apology, tho – left a lasting impression upon me. I have heard many times since, from friends and counselors and most ardently from family, that I must not rely nor wait upon another’s willingness to acknowledge the harm done, to free myself from suffering. I have been told that I must simply learn to “let it go”, regardless of what another MFker will or will not do. I believe this concept to be True.

But this story is not about me. This is a story, and a memorializing of Pete. Apologies are empty and useless, can often even be offensive when unaccompanied by changed behavior, self-reflection and earnest introspection. Apologies can be used as manipulative tools to guilt-trip those who have been on the receiving end of abuse. But not so with Pete. 

That apology came as an expression of humility, from a man of great moral character, whose desire for justice outweighed his personal failings. He was a man with both grit and tenacity. At the age of thirty, he was diagnosed with epilepsy. He did not drive a car. He suffered with seizures regularly. He walked everywhere. He took the bus when I was young. Later in life, he developed a meaningful relationship with his cabbies. He lived through a battle with colon cancer, tumors found growing on his spine and a whole host of physical maladies. He worked hard to develop his core muscles, once a doctor FINALLY gave him a scrip for physical therapy. Even after he could barely stand, his body bent in a permanent right angle by botched surgeries, he insisted on walking. It often took him a very long time to get where he was going. He absolutely loved traveling.

One Thanksgiving : In Miami

I am grateful for the opportunity our relationship gave me to practice patience, forgiveness and understanding. I am grateful for the values he helped instill in me, namely : altruism, education and selfless service. I am grateful for his stories of a childhood spent in Europe. His father was in the military. I am grateful for the devotion he showed toward his mother. I am grateful for her, too. But that is a different story. I am grateful for his commitment to family.

I am grateful for the time spent decorating Pete’s Christmas tree, the poring over of old albums full of black and white photos of folks who I never met and who share no lineage with me. I am grateful that Pete included me in his emotional preparations for a final homecoming. I am grateful he heard the blessed news that his son would soon become a father himself, before Pete’s heart stopped beating. I am grateful for it all, y’all. And I am sad. I miss the man himself. 

Me and Pete : In Tennessee

I regret that I did not, could not or would not – tend to him more diligently while he was living. We talked about that a few times toward the end of his life. He knew I had a desire to “take care of him” better than I was doing. He seemed non-plussed by the whole thing. He would always rebuttal my caretaking fantasies with a statement of how he never wanted his children to stay in Clarksville, TN. It is a fine enough place. I would even venture now to call it “quaint”. But Pete knew its underbelly. He had resigned himself to the cold hard fact that while he might have dreamed of retiring in San Francisco, the city where he had met my mother all those many years ago, his body preferred an easy chair in middle Tennessee, a community he had invested in and so gave back to him with trips to the grocery, rides to church and the occasional checking -in. And I would almost always leave again, the Sunday after Thanksgiving.