A Woman’s Voice: The Power of Art

I started missing my art.

Because I’m busy trying to launch a business, while continuing to work my day job, I’ve had precious little time left over for Creative Me. I started feeling depressed, but couldn’t figure out why at first.  I felt an intense void.

It went on for more than a day before I realized why. I hadn’t had time to write! I hadn’t even read any poetry, let alone written any. And I certainly hadn’t had time to paint. I’ve discovered I really don’t do well if I’m separated from Creative Me for too long.

I have had time to read, however.  It’s so easy to sneak in little snatches while waiting for something else: standing in line, waiting for someone to get ready, riding the bus, etc.

I’ve been reading Anathem by Neal Stephenson. It’s a science fiction story that is centered around a main character who is a kind of monk/philosopher/agnostic/rebel. The story is set on another planet, in another time. It’s fascinating! The book is 932 pages long, and I’m only on page 382, so I have a ways to go. But this book is my little friend for the next several weeks.

However, I’ve still been craving poetry, so I decided to share a poem that I read today. The poem (below) is called Case in Point. It was written by June Jordan and can be found on page 121 of the anthology Poems from the Women’s Movement, edited by Honor Moore, published by American Poets Project, The Library of America, 2009.

The poem is painful, and comes with a ****TRIGGER WARNING**** as it contains graphic references to rape. But this is an important poem. It elucidates the common experience women have of lacking a voice – and, therefore, power – in many aspects of life, particularly when it comes to control over our own bodies.

Men are bigger than us, louder than us, control almost all of society’s institutions, and sometimes use violence – both physical and verbal – to reinforce their dominance. Every woman has experienced the voicelessness that comes from being shouted down and dismissed by an egocentric male. Most women have also had cause to be afraid of a man at some point.

These events can be frustrating on the light end – and terrifying on the heavy end. Sometimes poetry, art, and music are the only ways to have a voice in a world that cannot always hear us. Interestingly, the speaker in the poem is arguing against the point of another woman – a woman who has apparently bought into society’s view of women. This, too, is common among oppressed groups – the desire to side with the oppressor.

 

Case in Point

by June Jordan

 

A friend of mine who raised six daughters and

who never wrote what she regards as serious

until she

was fifty-three

tells me there is no silence peculiar

to the female

I have decided I have something to say

about female silence: so to speak

these are my 2 cents on the subject:

2 weeks ago I was raped for the second

time in my life the first occasion

being a whiteman and the most

recent situation being a blackman actually head of the local NAACP

 

2

Today is 2 weeks after the fact

of that man straddling

his knees either side of my chest

his hairy arm and powerful left hand

forcing my arms and hands over my head

flat to the pillow while he rammed

what he described as his quote big dick

unquote into my mouth

and shouted out “D’ya want to swallow

my big dick, well, do ya?”

 

He was being rhetorical.

My silence was peculiar

to the female.

An Emotional Insurance Policy for Relationships

An Emotional Insurance Policy for Relationships

In studying relationships, as I have for my whole life, I’ve learned a lot. Watching the dynamics of other people’s relationships has led me to believe that it is unwise to lose yourself too deeply in the idea of The Couple.

In our culture, we think of the enmeshed life of The Couple as “romantic.” It can be, of course, but it can also just be a futile attempt to build a barrier against fear and uncertainty.

The fact is, Impermanence is real. Life is uncertain. It always has been, and it always will be, regardless of how many scientific discoveries or technological advances are made, regardless of how many people or things we gather around ourselves. We can never get rid of life’s uncertainty. And, in our attempt to build a shelter against uncertainty, we could be constructing our own prison.

We are expected to be half of a twosome. We’re supposed to find “the one,” marry, buy property together, start families, have “couple friends,” etc. All of these things solidify the coupling to the outside world. It becomes harder (theoretically) for anyone to come between you. Breaking up becomes more difficult – it would entail more than a phone call, a text, or – god forbid – a ghosting. A breakup would require one to file a legal proceeding, sell the home, explain to your couple friends (and see how many remain), etc.

There is nothing wrong with solidifying a relationship. The problem comes when the coupling becomes oppressive. What happens if you realize you’ve made a mistake, or if your life is expanding and growing in ways your partner’s isn’t? What if you need to get out for your own sanity, or even safety? Then all the structures you built to prop up your Couple, and keep the reality of impermanence at bay, become obstacles keeping you trapped in an unhappy or stifling situation.

This doesn’t mean that I’m against couples, of course. If you are coming together to create something beautiful on this earth and make a difference on the planet, that is perfect and wonderful. Or, maybe you take a practical stance, and your purpose for entering a relationship is to stabilize your life and support each other through life’s challenges into old age. That’s fine too. It’s a sober, intelligent, and, still beautiful, thing.

But! I think that no matter how solid your couple is, no matter how committed you are, you should always hold onto a little bit of You:

  • Always have your own money. Even if you’re a stay-at-home mom, make sure you tuck a small amount away just for you. You don’t have to ever spend it. But it’s good for your head to have it.
  • If you buy property, try to get a place that you could manage to afford on your own or with a roommate. If that’s not possible, make sure you have a plan in place just in case you, for whatever reason, need to liquidate that joint asset and go your separate ways. And, of course, make sure your name appears on the title.
  • DO NOT give up your own friends. It doesn’t matter how many couple friends you have, or how much your significant other whines about your time away. Always maintain your own group of friends.
  • Don’t let a partner talk you into abandoning your family. You need that kind of unconditional support. If your own family is not helpful or not close, create a “chosen family.” These are beyond just friends. These are people you can count on like family.
  • Read widely, socialize widely, take classes (even the free ones online), become better at your career, and stay in shape. Being in a relationship is no reason to stagnate. Quite the opposite. Being in a relationship should allow you to evolve even further than you can on your own. You’ll be a better partner if you continue to grow as an individual. And if, for some reason you need to get out, you’ll be totally equipped to do so.

I know all of this sounds terribly unromantic. But I think notions of romance have hindered more than helped us, especially as socialized women. Relationships, especially marriages, should be entered into as soberly as one would purchase a business. Having an exit plan does not mean you’re planning for a divorce any more than having a succession plan or a buy-out policy in a business means you’re planning for the business to fail. It’s just a wise thing to do.

Once you have your plan in place, you can forget about it and enjoy your lives together. I care about people and want everyone to be safe and happy. You should always expect the absolute best, but don’t be blindsided by the worst. Have a game plan in place, an emotional insurance policy against unforeseen events.

And then forget all about worst case scenarios and have fun!

The Story of My First Bus Ride in Years aka Thug Life

I padded up the block a few steps and looked back, making sure that I had parked my body under the correct bus stop sign. My choice was confirmed when two lumpy elfin women speaking Spanish stood apart from me under the same sign. This was the first time I had taken the bus in years.

The last time I had found myself at the mercy of L.A.’s transit system was eight years ago, when my gigantic blue minivan (R.I.P., Big Blue!) decided to end its life in my very own driveway. Transmissions don’t come cheap. So, Big Blue’s body was sold to a scavenger who gave me $3,000 – about a third of what I’d paid for it only a year before, but enough to pay for a new ride in full. This time it was a motorcycle – and blue again! – a 2009 Honda Rebel, 250 cc engine. Little Blue.

Well, unfortunately, Little Blue’s charms captured someone else’s attention. They carted her away – again from my driveway – in the middle of the night, leaving her money-strapped owner with nothing. Determined not to feel sorry for myself, and after dealing with the logistics and bureaucracy of thievery, I braved the bus. I smiled at the tall female driver with the linebacker’s physique and chirped a good-morning. The driver looked at me and did her best impression of a doorknob. Slightly deflated, I found my seat and tried not to cringe at my grimy surroundings.

Several stops later, a lean, pocket-sized senior citizen wearing several outfits at once stood at the back of the line and waited to board. She had with her a little wheeled shopping basket filled with nonsense. This cart aroused and vexed the Doorknob driver lady, sending her into cop mode.

“I cain’t let you on dis bus til you fowd up that shopping cart!”

Doorknob shouted this several times while the other boarding passengers avoided eye contact, shuffling up the steps like a line of ants on a windowsill. Confused but cheerful, the old lady lifted her rebelliously unfolded cart onto the bus and wobbled to her seat at the front. In response, Doorknob exercised the full extent of her pseudo-powers by refusing to drive the bus until the deviant cart had assumed its proper shape. Several passengers came to the old lady’s aid. First, they emptied all the clutter and miscellaneous objects from the sad little cart, then muscled it into submission. Since that wasn’t good enough for Doorknob, a kind middle-aged woman with reddish-brown store-bought hair and big glasses offered up her seat, so that the newly flattened cart would have a place to ride.

Satisfied that her minions had obeyed, Doorknob continued our joyless ride. Flustered and perplexed, the old woman confided in gibberish to the passenger next to her. The kindly bear of a man nodded at her in sympathy. Feeling no guilt whatsoever, Doorknob smacked at her itchy hair-weave with her right hand and rolled her eyes at no one in particular.

After an eternity, which turned out to be 30 minutes, the old lady and I had the same stop. I sprung to the back door, wanting to claw at it for release. The poor old lady prepared herself for exit with the help of her new temporary bus-friends. Doorknob, in one last demonstration of her satanic powers, tapped at the breaks causing the old lady to stumble.

Finally emerging into the sun, Old Lady went left, and I went right. But right before we separated, I glimpsed her pink knit hat. It said “Thug Life.”

And that is the story of my first bus ride after the theft of my motorcycle.

 

Happy Memorial Day!

Peace and Love,

Raven