The Complexities of Shame

28 Apr

I learned something about myself this week: I am ashamed of my body. Now this isn’t a fishing expedition. This isn’t to get people to come out of the woodwork with all kinds of positive reinforcements. That isn’t what this is about. And, honestly, it has nothing to do with how I look in a lot of ways. It is, I think, largely about the fact that in my never-ending intellectual quest to understand my role in this world as a female, I have neglected to take care of myself…or, I guess more specifically, to engage in self-care…by which I mean to place importance on my own sense of empowerment, my own autonomy over my sexuality, and, perhaps most importantly, my own definition of it. Let me explain.

Earlier this week I was at a store buying a bra. As you ladies know, buying a bra is no easy task  – especially when it involves procuring support for a pair of boobs that have not been sized in years in advance of wearing a backless dress. Wearing a bra in the right size for you is a life-changer. Believe me. I feel like a brand new woman today. That’s not the point. So there I was at this fancy lingerie store with my good friend. I have never been to a fancy lingerie store as the main event; I’ve always been the sidekick. I have never thought that fancy lingerie was really “my thing,” whatever that means. We were in the changing room and the lovely woman who was helping me kept bringing me in all these different bras to try on. I kept putting on bra after bra and while my friend kept looking and telling me how good this one looked, or how pretty that one was, or how sexy I looked I just stood there, staring, feeling like I was wearing a costume. I felt like a little kid dressing up in her mom’s high heels and lipstick, prancing around the house like an absolute diva. (I never actually did this but I feel like it’s a thing that happens?) I just kept standing, staring at myself in these beautiful things, understanding that if I saw someone else in them I would think how incredibly beautiful and sexy she looked. How in control of her sexuality. But when I looked at myself I just felt…silly. I felt like I was trying to be someone who I am not. It was like, if there was a touch of cleavage showing then I had undone all the hard work I had put in over the years. All the effort of getting people to see me as a human and not a sex object. But part of being human, I think, is sometimes feeling sexy. And understanding that it doesn’t always have a negative connotation.

So obviously I got to thinking about it.

And thinking.

And thinking.

And it dawned on me. All of the years of the wrong people calling me sexy for all the wrong reasons, in all the wrong places, with all the wrong intentions had eroded my ability to understand that being sexy can, in theory, be empowering. I see that other women can do it, and I don’t look at them and think that somehow they are doing something wrong, that they are abandoning the cause, or whatever. I just don’t get how they do it. But this isn’t about women at large. This is about me. This is about me and the ways that I have internalized all the years of being a woman, or, I suppose more accurately, all of the years I’ve spent feeling like a sex object. And this is not to say that I feel like that all the time. That is by no means the case. A lot of times I just feel like a person. But often, not always but often, when my being female is made apparent to me, it is made apparent in a disempowering and hyper-sexualized manner. To the point that sometimes I just want to throw down everything I have, grab a bullhorn, and scream, for everyone to hear,

I AM NOT HERE FOR YOU! I DID NOT WAKE UP FOR YOU! I DID NOT GET DRESSED FOR YOU! AND I AM CERTAINLY NOT WALKING DOWN THIS STREET FOR YOU!

I would love it if my experience, and I can only speak for myself although I imagine there are plenty of other women out there who feel similarly if not the same way, was less like this. I wish I could brush off some of the bullshit and find my sexuality empowering. But I think the thing is that my sexuality has for so long been used as a weapon against me, been used as a way to make me feel small and less whole, that I don’t even know how to trust it. It’s like a separate part of me, almost. Like a lot of times when my sexuality is pointed out, I become less Rebekah the  Woman and more Rebekah the Object. And surprise surprise, I don’t like to be Rebekah the Object.

I mean, okay, so get this. Just now, I decided to look up the word “sexuality” on the Internet to make sure that I was using exactly the word I wanted and this is the definition I was given:

a capacity for sexual feelings

And its use in a sentence:

she began to understand the power of her sexuality

The power of it.

That is what I am talking about. Sexuality as a weapon. Or as something that is not easy to control by its posessor. Something that can, if not properly tended to, control her. Either use it to your advantage or it gets used against you but there is no opting out of the game. You can’t just say

Nah, I’m cool with just being in the world, going through my day and then unleashing my sexuality for the person, or people, I wish to share it with.

And, as I am sure you have all guessed, the significance of the “she” in that sentence was not lost on me. Of course she began to understand. And you know how she figured it out? Probably because someone showed her by using her sexuality to disempower her in some way. She realized the usefulness of it. What she could do with it. And that’s where I get a little bit lost. Somewhere in here, in all of this, to me, reads something of a manipulation. I try to go through life as something of a straight-shooter. People more or less know where they stand with me. I don’t keep my feelings quiet, and when I do manage to keep my mouth shut my facial expressions and body language always out me. So my issue is that there is something slick, something calculating, something unsavory about the way we talk about sexuality.  I know it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t always have to be a con. But sometimes it feels like that’s the way we talk about it to such a degree that it just becomes what it is in practice. And it’s like, sexuality is its own separate being as opposed to a part, with so many other parts, of a complex human.

But back to the dressing room. There I was, in that dressing room, trying to find a bra that wouldn’t draw more attention to my chest. A bra that wouldn’t give me more cleavage. A bra that wouldn’t undo all the hard work I’ve done to prove that I am well rounded. Hard work that has made me everything but. And, it’s like, I know that now we say that

strong is sexy

and

smart is sexy

and somehow sexy is supposed to be empowering, and meanwhile everything about high school dress codes and cat callers on the street and rape victim blaming and sexist comments and rape as a fucking war crime tells us that our sexuality, our sexiness, is something to be hidden and contained and something we should be shamed for, or hurt because of. Except for sometimes. Mostly in private. And how do we balance that? How is it our best friend and our mortal enemy all at the same time and how do we, on so many occasions, not have ownership of it? It’s like this weird, fucked up commodity that we can trade in, but only on occasion and with permission, and people may or may not try to make us feel badly about it. And sometimes that just seeps in. And some of us feel like maybe it’s best to try not to trade in it at all. But we’re not allowed to do that, either. It’s almost like we can’t do anything right.

So I don’t know. Maybe shame is the wrong word. Maybe feeling shame just plays into the whole damn thing. I guess what it is more than anything is that I just want to feel whole and autonomous and in a world where we have control over very little, I would like to be the only one – barring tragedy – with control over my body. And of course, it isn’t that I don’t want people to find me sexy. It’s just that I want the idea of being sexy to feel less unbalanced, less like something I use to get something, I want it to be more holistic. I want the idea of sexy, from the jump, to extend beyond just the physical rather than that having to be an add-on. And I know some of you are saying that it can be, and maybe you have found a way, but I don’t know. I just think it is too complicated, and so many of those complications  don’t stem from us. Rather they are learned behaviors given to us by society at large.

Clearly I’m still working this out.

I remember someone, after watching me do something kind, told me how sexy he thought that was. And for the first time in a while, since my ex was around probably, I felt good about being sexy. I felt like it was because of who I am rather than what I look like. And that’s something I can get behind. It’s about sexiness as a whole being, rather than sexiness as an entity apart. And I guess I wish it was always like that. Because I think my friends are sexy and, while they are all beautiful and handsome in their own ways, it is more because they are caring and smart and giving and funny and complicated and team players and all those other things that make them incredible humans.

I guess, in short, I like it when it feels well-rounded, all-inclusive. Because what I find sexy is someone who is smart, with a big laugh and a bigger heart, who is engaged in the world around them and also in a constant state of self-improvement. Because the physical stuff fades, eventually. Gravity does its work. But the rest of it, that takes longer to erode if you put the work in.

But for me, and as it concerns me, when it is just the physicality of it – that just doesn’t feel like mine anymore. I don’t feel like I own that. It’s been taken from me too many times. And maybe that’s why the shame sneaks in.

(And please, don’t anyone send me text messages saying you think I’m sexy. That’s not the point. And then I’ll feel like a shitty writer and that would ruin my day. Don’t ruin my day. It’s nice out.)

Living that Hive Life

20 Apr

It has been a rough go in Rebekah-land recenly, friends. Why? Well, the title of this blog is a dead giveaway. That’s right, I keep breaking out in hives and oh my god it is terrible. It all started on Monday, March 21st in a small place in Iceland called Geysir. Yes, Gey-sir. (Chuckle, chuckle, snort.) My constant travel companion Carrie and I had just finished walking around this super prehistoric-seeming landscape, oohing and aahing with other tourists as the earth shot a buttload of water like a hundred feet into the air every 6-8 minutes. It was a sight to behold and a smell to experience. Iceland, in case you were wondering, has a nasty case of the sulphurs.  Anyway, so there we were in Gey-Sir, (chuckle, chuckle, snort) walking through the gift store when all of a sudden my knees started itching something fierce. They were the itchiest knees I have ever had. And then my hands were itching. And I looked at my hands and I had these little red bumps all around my knuckles. I wrote a whole thing about it here that you should read if you really want all the background information. But to make a long story short, basically I broke out in hives over my entire body and Carrie and I had to race across the Icelandic tundra to this random pharmacy that was about to close and the lady there asked me if I had tried to wash the hives off. I mean, I had washed my hands a few times but obviously the hives had not gone anywhere because they were attached to my skin. Hives aren’t something akin to dirt. You can’t just wash them off. And if I’m being completely honest it did give me a little bit of pause that the only lady available to me in my moment of need was someone who thought I could wash the hives off my hands with sulphur water but whatever, I was desperate. Anyway I took some Icelandic antihistamine and they cleared up. Hooray!

But the relief was short lived. Dun dun DUUUUUUN.

Over the past 4 weeks I have broken out in hives at least a dozen times. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I can’t seem to identify any common factors. (Except for the fact that I am certain I am dying a slow and itchy death.) I haven’t changed my diet, detergent or lotion. I am beginning to think that perhaps breaking out in hives, as opposed to always getting shat on by animals in trees, is my real superhero power. Wouldn’t that be a gas? But of course as I was formulating that hypothesis I realized that I had put my cell phone down in a fresh pile of bird shit so, you know. That theory is still up for debate. It’s almost as if my other superhero power, my actual proven power, was feeling the pressure of being ousted from its position in my life and was like

Nah, I gotchu. Just put your cell phone down right…..there. That’s right, girl. See? We’re good.

I am not certain when I determined that my superhero power was actually an independent being with its own voice, personality and motives but I am just going to go with it.

So here is the thing: breaking out in hives really sucks. Like really, really. First off, they are super uncomfortable. They like morph my hands into a giant mosquito bite. Second, they look really gross. Third, they make me feel like I am this freak of a person because itchy red bumps just sprout up all over my hands and knees at random. Who wants to be friends with the girl with random itchy red bumps? No one, that’s who. And four, they are like a total mind fuck! It’s like, I know I am poisoning my body with something because my body is all,

Wait? What is that? WHAT IS IT?! SOS! SOS! TELL HER! TELL HER THERE IS SOMETHING WEIRD! MAKE HER SO ITCHY SHE WANTS TO SAW OFF HER OWN HANDS AND THROW THEM INTO THE OCEAN!

And then I’m all like

Yeah, but how am I supposed to know what it is if you don’t use your words, body? Use. Your. Words.

But my body has no words. It only has horribly itchy red bumps.

So my favorite hive experience was this past Saturday when I was out for lunch with my friends Katie and Shannon. Katie, it just so happens, is a nurse. So when I met up with her I did a very similar thing as when I encountered the Icelandic pharmacist: I put my hands in front of her face and looked meaningfully between her and them. Katie looked a little worried and proclaimed

Oh! Hives!

because she knows shit. I told her I had taken some Claritin so I was pretty sure it was going to be better any minute. She looked doubtful and concerned. Over the next 45 minutes or so, my hands got progressively itchier. So itchy, in fact, that I kept sticking them in my armpits in hopes that somehow doing an imitation of Mary Katherine Gallagher would fix everything. It did not. This was the first time this approach has ever failed me. As we were sitting down to brunch it only got worse. I looked at my hands. What had started as small, itchy bumps on my knuckles had spread to the palms of my hands and the insides of my wrists. I have learned in my month of living the hive life that when the wrists go, certain doom follows. I panicked. I jumped off my seat and said, as dramatically as I could,

Order me a coffee! I need topical cream!

and rushed to the local pharmacy where the pharmacist did not ask me whether I had washed my hands but instead said that a trip to an allergist and perhaps some Benadryl was in order. This, of course, was in response to me practically breaking out in tears in front of her because I was so itchy and also freaking about randomly having horrible allergic reactions to an unknown source when all I was trying to do was have a Bloody Mary with my girlfriends on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. I couldn’t buy Benadryl because I had to bartend that night and it makes me super sleepy so instead I got this crazy topical cream which I now carry with me at all times like a weirdo. A hive producing weirdo.

So, anyway, I haven’t gotten any hives since Monday night so I am feeling pretty positive about things in general. And I have an appointment with a doctor today who helped me with my stomach problems in college by doing some shit with magnets. I feel like life is looking up, friends. I feel like although hives might be winning right now, I am going to make a late-in-the-game comeback. I am going to show them who is boss! I am going to say

Fuck you hives! You are not my superhero power!

and hopefully get shat on by a bird. Just to prove the point.

Smiley Face, Smiley Face, Kiss-y Face

12 Apr

Okay so just as a disclaimer, I am not someone who goes on dates and then totally talks shit about the person I went out with on the internet. For example, I went on this really awful date years ago after some guy essentially stalked me on Facebook and then spent an entire dinner staring at my chest and also thought it was funny that he went home with some girl who spelled her name the same way as me who was so plastered that she could hardly walk and I didn’t write about that. Could have but didn’t. Mostly because that guy scared me. But still. This one is funny though because it involves too many emojis and some good, old fashioned in person body-shaming. Every date needs a good dose of body-shaming, right? Wrong.

Anyway, I went on a date. That’s right. I did it. And it wasn’t even really my idea. I blame Jessy. (I don’t blame you Jessy, I swear! I love you!) So here’s the thing. I do not give my number out at work. Work for me is a professional place and not a place to get a date. Okay fine, fine, that’s not entirely accurate. So in the interest of full disclosure let me tell you this: my last boyfriend was a customer turned friend turned boyfriend and my boyfriend before him was my bartender. But he asked me out and I wasn’t working so I feel like maybe that one doesn’t even count. Right? Right. Anyway so now I have decided that work is a professional place and not a place to get a date. So now that we have that all sorted, it’s story time.

So there I was, at work. As an aside, I feel like I am basically always at work. In fact I am just getting dressed right now and my bra smells like the bar. Not like booze, but like whatever the bar is cleaned with and so now I am sitting at home at my desk smelling bar. So not only do I feel like I am always at work but now I take work home with me! It is in my clothes! Shit is insidious. As I was saying, there I was, at work. It was busy. I was running around, mixing things, giving people drinks and food, making the occasional wise crack. There were two dudes sitting at the end of the bar. One of them had been there drinking for hours. His friend had come only recently but that means nothing – unless someone tells me otherwise I generally figure they are coming from somewhere else. Hard and fast rule: never assume sobriety. Time passed and then as the two dudes were getting ready to leave the newer one – who oddly looked like the Hispanic version of an ex-boyfriend of mine from below the eyes and also had very well-kempt eyebrows which is a total red flag for me because my hair maintenance is, shall we say, lacking – looked over at me

Eyebrows: Can I have your number?
Me: I don’t give out my number at work.
Eyebrows: Well, what if I come back on your shift in two weeks and ask you again?
Me: I will tell you that I don’t give my number out at work.

I then smiled and walked away. Okay so here is the thing every once in a while I make the mistake of giving my number to someone when I am at work and it always ends up being a stupid decision. Seriously, no one has my number. I mean, some people do obviously but only people who need to have it. I don’t like having my number out there in the hands of The Public. Plus the dudes that ask for the bartender’s number are dudes I generally want nothing to do with. I made the mistake of giving my number to some guy in the fall because he was polite and sort of shocked me into it and I regretted it immediately. We went out one time. He tried to get me to take him home with me an hour into our date. I mean he was cute but not that cute and, obviously, was seriously lacking in charm. I not-so-nicely declined. (Sort of wrote about it here but only sort of. Shameless plug.)

When I came back to their area to check and see if they needed anything he had written his name, his number and a little smiley face (the first sign of things to come!) on a napkin and told me I should call. I shoved it into my pocket and forgot about it until the next day when I was sitting at my desk and felt this weird balled up thing poking me in the ass. I pulled it out. Phone number. I was chatting with my girl Jessy at the time and told her about it. She said something along the lines of

Text him! You need to get out there. Seriously. Stop being a hermit.

I don’t think she actually called me a hermit. I called myself a hermit. I told her I would think about it. And I did for long enough to put it somewhere where I wouldn’t throw it away and where my cats wouldn’t turn it into their newest toy. That somewhere was in the pocket of my backpack where I keep my favorite rock.

Fast forward a few eventful and not-so-sleep-filled nights. I worked a Friday night shift, woke up early the next morning to drive to Connecticut for a Bachelorette party, woke up the following morning for the bridal shower and a drive to Boston where I met my sister to give her my car, Jose, and then took a Lyft to Logan Airport for my flight to Iceland. I was sitting at the airport bar, drinking an overpriced glass of red wine and eating a veggie burger. It was not delicious. I went through my backpack in search of my journal and my rock. I came out with the phone number and decided that 25 minutes before boarding an international flight was the perfect time to send a text message to some dude I don’t know. We texted. It was stupid. I got on my plane.

ICELAND WAS AWESOME! We saw horses…I mean ponies…I mean horses; we walked behind one waterfall and climbed above another; we took a photo with a rainbow; we almost got washed to sea by an incredibly aggressive wave; we got caught in all the rain ever; we almost burned someone’s house down.Then we left.

I arrived back in Boston and was staying with my friend Emily. I decided that unless I heard from dude I was just going to let sleeping dogs lie. (I am not entirely sure that is the idiom that I was going for but whatever, I’m committing.) No sooner did I make this decision then I received the following text from Eyebrows:

Smiley face, smiley face, kiss-y face.

Obviously these were emojis and not words but I find it funnier to dictate them. So let’s just recap: I don’t know anything about this dude, we have never hung out and pretty much never really spoken, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out in a line up if he hadn’t sent me a weird headshot and yet he sent me

Smiley face, smiley face, kiss-y face.

I didn’t know how to respond to that so I sent a question mark. Words are a thing I like. Words, the pile of poop emoji and that random salsa dancing lady. The occasional smiley face is okay but not until you know someone or if you say something you think might sound sort of dick and you feel the need to be clear about that fact that it wasn’t dick, it was actually smiley. Then you send a smiley. That way everyone is on the same page. Anyway this went on for a few days. Him sending me things I didn’t really understand, me asking him to elaborate, him thinking I was being funny, me being very frustrated and confused. My favorite part of it all was this following interaction (keep in mind that I know I was being an asshole and I felt really bad about it until I actually went on the date and then I didn’t feel bad at all so please hold on and you’ll understand):

Eyebrows (this said completely randomly): The sun is nice
Me: I’ve been in the car all day.
Me (upon realizing that I was probably being a dick for no reason at all): But it’s strong, that’s for sure
Eyebrows: Like me (strong arm emoji thing)

I just….yeah. I mean, he is a personal trainer so I had already used my powers of deductive reasoning to assume that he was strong before he sent me the strong arm emoji. But, you know, I guess some people don’t like to leave things to chance. Instead, they leave things to emojis. That is their prerogative. I decided right then and there that I was done. There were far too many emojis! But I am a pushover and a girl and am incapable of saying no to people and so when, like a week later, he texted to say he was going to be in my neighborhood and would I like to meet for a drink I said fine. I picked a spot I never go to that was in walking distance of my house. I walked over there, got a beer and sat down to read my magazine while I waited. He eventually showed up. And this is when shit got awesome.

Eyebrows: You know, sometimes when girls go out with personal trainers they think that they need to get in shape. (Meaningful eye contact.) But, you know, that’s not necessary. I mean, if you want to that’s cool but whatever. I don’t mind.

So keep in mind I had come from work. I was wearing disgustingly dirty shoes, a pair of jeans that are in a long, drawn-out process of disintegration and a sweatshirt. I could have had the most slamming body ever under my sweatshirt. I mean, I don’t, but I could. But he couldn’t know that. Unless he has x-ray vision which is unlikely but now the thought of it is making me rethink the entire interaction. I stared at him blankly. Basically the in-person look of what I had been doing over text message for the better part of the last week or so. But he wasn’t done! No! He had more!

Eyebrows: I want to get married. Do you want to get married?
Me: I mean, that’s kind of a weighty question but, I don’t know. It’s not really a priority of mine but I guess if it makes itself necessary I’m not opposed to it. Or if it is important to the person I end up with. So I guess I’m really neither here nor there on it.
Eyebrows: No, you want to get married. I can read you. I know your type.

Okay, so I have been told over and over again for my entire life that I am hard to read. I have also been told that I am in my head a lot. Both of these things are true. I over think everything. E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. So obviously I have given all kinds of deep thought about marriage, what it means, what it represents, how it can empower and disempower, and how a lot of times getting married is more about fitting within a socially accepted construct than anything else. That sometimes we don’t actually think through the things that we do because they are just the things that we do. We were raised to think they fit within a definition of success. No, the definition of success. Marriage represents the success of a relationship. No questions asked. That isn’t to say there is anything wrong with getting married. I am so excited for my friends who do it! Some of them are doing it in a few weeks and I get to officiate it and I cannot wait! The point is just that when I answer a question like that it isn’t just like some bullshit answer because I am in my 30s and not married so obviously I have to trick myself into not feeling like a failure at life in general by pretending it is a personal choice. I don’t have to pretend anything. I feel weird and complicated things about myself + marriage. But apparently he knew my type. I laughed. He asked what I was laughing about. I wanted to send him a pile of shit emoji with my eyes but I haven’t mastered that skill quite yet so instead I said

It’s just that you seem to know a lot about me for someone who doesn’t know me. And who claims to be listening but hasn’t heard a word I said.

More or less pleasant conversation followed. And then! Before we left he asked me to open my YouTube and search for this video he made. I felt nervous and was hoping it wasn’t porn-y but I obliged and looked for the video. It was an ab workout video.

Eyebrows: You should try out that video. (Looks me up and down.) I think it will really help you.
Me: Wow, dude! You know how to make a girl feel gooooooooood!

And I laughed and laughed and laughed my entire walk home. And then I cried myself to sleep. No just kidding I didn’t. I actually laughed. And felt really good that I have a positive body image (most of the time). And it’s true, I don’t have the best abs but whatever. You know what doesn’t make me want to hang out with a person again? Him telling me that he knows my type, can read me like a book, and PS has x-ray vision and therefore can totally tell I haven’t been doing my planks and is going to point it out rather than be cool and realize that having x-ray vision, even fake x-ray vision, is a thing only characters in comic books should have. I thought I had seen the last of him but then, the next morning:

Smiley face, smiley face, kiss-y face.

I didn’t respond.

The end.

When Persistence is Rude

4 Apr

I heard a scuffle and realized there was a fight. Again. It’s almost as if a weekend night cannot pass by without some sort of absurd and unnecessary shake-up. The warm weather only makes it worse. That reality causes my life to be sort of at odds with itself. I’m a summer baby so I spend pretty much all my time either being appreciative of the heat or counting down the days until it returns. You’ll almost never hear me complain about being too hot. But when a spring or summer weekend rolls around, my love for the heat morphs into an acute sense of foreboding. Hot days lead to hot tempers. Mix those tempers with close quarters and lots of alcohol and you’ve got yourself a party.

It was about 1:30, maybe 2 in the morning. Apparently some guy tried to go into the bathroom with his girlfriend because he “didn’t want anyone seeing her in there.” I’m not entirely certain what that even means, to be honest. I don’t know whether he has some sort of disbelief in these things we call locks or he thinks people somehow develop laser vision when they get within two feet of a bathroom when his girlfriend is inside. Whatever the reason it turned into a whole big fiasco. (By the way, I am fully aware that he wanted to go into the bathroom with his girl for some sexy time, but I refuse to truly engage with that thought because the bathrooms at my bar, especially late on a warm weekend night, are straight out of a horror film. I have to pee in there on the regular and it has changed me. No joke.)

Upon hearing all the noise I obviously made the poor choice to walk out from behind the bar to go investigate. I did this under the guise of trying to usher those not involved in the fight to safety. You never know when an elbow, or a glass, might go flying. So I gathered intel while I let a few dudes out through a second exit. As I turned to go back behind the bar some guy grabbed my hand and got in my space. If you know me at all you know that I hardly like to be touched by people I love, let alone some asshole at the bar I work in. At first I thought he was going to say something about how I should stay behind the bar where it’s safe and not get too close to all the yelling, especially considering that just moments before the guy who was trying to join his girl in the bathroom violently grabbed her by the neck for “running her mouth.” (Have I mentioned recently how much I hate everything?) Dude probably would have been right but I still would have been miffed about some guy essentially scolding me for not staying behind the bar. But no. He didn’t say anything about my safety or the fight or share in my horror about the way a man so casually grabbed a woman by the neck in a public place, under the watch of cameras, without any pause or remorse whatsoever. Made me nervous about how he behaves in private. Instead, while holding onto my left hand, he whispered in my ear

Why you gotta be like that with me?

Anger shot through my entire body. Why was this person touching me? Why was he in my space? Why the fuck was he whispering in my ear? And where the fuck did he get the idea that he was at all entitled to my time or an explanation as to why I wouldn’t give him any of it? I’d love to say that this was the first time such a question had been hurled at me but that would be a lie. People regularly ask me why I am “like that,” whatever “that” means. From what I can gather, they think I am pretty but I don’t flirt with them. Because guess what, I don’t flirt. Not my jam. Not that there is anything wrong with being a flirty bartender, it totally works for some people. But I hate when people ask me for my phone number at work and I hate how some people get possessive over a girl who they think is interested, even if all that girl is interested in at that moment is an inflated tip. My dream is to be the efficient half of a bartending team. Making drinks and putting them over the bar quickly, the conversation limited to an economic transaction. Let my partner be the personality. I’ll be support staff. But I couldn’t respond with all that so instead I said,

Be like what? You come in here for beer. I sell it to you. That is my job.

He held my hand a little tighter. I shook it free.

I told you before I liked your vibes.

I wanted to scream. I wanted to be like

Oh! You like my vibes?! Well why didn’t you say so??? Please! Grab my hand again! Please! Whisper into my ear like a total fucking creep! Because now that I know you like my vibes I am totally down for whatever you’re down for. I hear they have some really clean bathrooms up in this joint. With locks that work, even.

But I didn’t say any of those things. Instead I turned and looked him in the face and said

Don’t you ever put your hand on me again.

My night continued. But then the next morning I got to thinking, once again, about entitlement. About how men feel entitled to touch women and how we as women are not even entitled to autonomy over our own physical presence. I cannot walk through a space, even a space I work in, with the assumption that I will not be touched in either a sexual or aggressive manner. And, when that happens – not if but when – there is virtually nothing I can do. Sure, I can make a smart remark, assuming I feel safe doing so, but there is nothing intimidating about me. I cannot, by sheer force of size or movement, make someone back off. I can shoot them down, but that does not necessarily result in a change of behavior. This is something like the 4th time this same guy has tried to, I don’t even know, get me to pay him more attention than pouring him a Smuttynose and taking his money. It’s as if he thinks persistence is key and let me tell you something, I find his persistence insulting. His persistence completely ignores a very important part of the equation: my interest, or lack thereof.

To me, when someone isn’t interested, they aren’t interested. Back the fuck off. Life isn’t like the movies where the guy likes the girl and she isn’t interested but by his sheer will to get what he wants, what he deserves, he is able to convince her to be his. He is able to, for lack of a better term, break her. This dude can tell me every single fucking day for the rest of time that he “likes my vibes” and I will still tell him to go take a walk in the ocean. Because the thing is, he isn’t listening to me because what I say, and what I feel, does not matter to him. In his journey to get what he wants, I am incidental. What I want is incidental. My feelings are incidental. What matters is him, what he wants. And he doesn’t think there is anything wrong with his persistence. Maybe he thinks I should be flattered. More than likely, he doesn’t think about how I should feel, or do feel, at all. That can be overcome. I can be broken.

Being female can be a real mind fuck.

 

Men are from Mars

15 Mar

Almost a month ago now I wrote a post called “I Thought We Were Friends.” It was something that had been knocking around in my head for quite some time. In publishing it I felt somewhat relieved but also, and perhaps more powerfully, exposed and anxious. I was afraid that some people who read it would, rightfully, feel implicated in my words. I was concerned about shedding light on something that I had been hiding for a very long time, something that I tried to act as though I was somehow above. Let me explain.

I am a feminist. I wear that badge proudly. And as a feminist, albeit one that understands her feminism more off of a general engagement with the world around her and the ever-important conversations with peers as opposed to a deep understanding of the theories of various feminist waves, I go through the world with a certain understanding of myself in it. That feeling is, in part, one of a want for safety and equality, with a deep understanding that I cannot, currently, expect either of those things. It is also a feeling, self-imposed perhaps, that I ought to be strong. That I should be beyond all of the trappings of being raised female in this culture. That I should somehow be a finished product, beyond it all. How absurd. But even in the knowledge that I expect miracles from myself, I cannot help but feel like something of a failure when I fall into old habits. Old habits that are examined and discussed ad nauseam but that I never feel entirely capable of kicking.

I remember back in high school and on into college, having conversations with girl friends about boys. I remember so many conversations, more than I could ever count, about guys being so persistent that we just went along with things. We went along with things because it seemed easier to say okay than to stand up for ourselves not because it would necessarily be horrible in the moment  – although we all know it could have been – but because maybe those boys, those boys that were pressuring us into things, even things as harmless as a kiss, might not like us anymore.

They might not like me.

And who am I kidding? I still have these conversations. Regularly. And what’s crazy about it is that no matter how many times I have these conversations, it still takes us a while to get to the inevitable part, the part where we went along with something we weren’t into. And it’s like, a lightbulb goes off every single time. That feeling of

Oh, shit, you too?!

And it’s surprising but it shouldn’t be. And it’s embarrassing but it shouldn’t be. The idea that all these years later we are still doing what we used to do as teenagers. The idea that we haven’t learned anything, gotten stronger, gotten to the point where it isn’t about what is easy in the moment, but what we can live with tomorrow and the next day and the next day. The belief that we should be immune to the social forces that swirl around us from birth. That we should, in our feminism and in our knowledge about power dynamics and the patriarchy and the support from our friends and (if we’re lucky) our families, be above it all is so overwhelming but can also be disempowering. Every failure feels so much more monumental because it’s like,

Fuck, I should have known better. I’ve been here before. I know how this goes.

It’s like a regression. I woke up a strong, self-reliant, intelligent woman and somehow, through the course of the day, became someone unwilling to rock the boat. I somehow became someone who went from speaking her mind to sparing someone else’s feelings at the expense of her own. And for what? So he can wake up with his ego in tact and I can beat myself up about an unwanted encounter, and my weakness in the moment, for months? Because, in all honesty, my anger and disappointment with myself goes on for months. But at least he still likes me, right? Give me a break.

I guess I am writing this because this experience is somewhat universal. I am not even close to the only one. And I am not saying that this is solely a female experience, either. Just that the forces that surround us daily mean that our experiences as women, as a “minority,” are tied into social and institutionalized forces, forces that keep us from separating ourselves as individuals, as people deserving of respect, from the learned feeling that we should accommodate others, especially males. That we should protect their feelings and their egos and then we should keep quiet because this is not a conversation we have out loud. Because we are taught, on the other end, that it is shameful. Don’t rock the boat, but don’t be a slut. If you find yourself there, you have no one to blame but yourself. You gave him the idea, you should go along with it. Don’t be a tease.

And what’s crazy is that a lot of times it isn’t his fault either. We are masterful at keeping quiet in the moment and licking our wounds alone. He might never even know. He might never even know that he read the moment wrong because we will never tell him. And for so many people if we were to say what we say to our friends, that we did it because it seemed easier and less awkward and less hurtful than saying no, he also would have wished it never happened. He also would feel some amount of shame. But we are selfish and we keep all the shame for ourselves.

I wrote this because, following my last post, I got two responses. One response was from women and one response was from men. Overwhelmingly, the women in my life were like

Holy shit yes! This! I have been there!

And the men, all well-intentioned people that I love, were like

I am worried about you. I don’t want you to become bitter. It’s because of the career you are in, the bar that you work at, the people you surround yourself with.

But it isn’t any of those things. It is because we – men and women – occupy such different worlds. So much more different than I knew previous to the publication of that post. My experience is not unique, not by a long shot. It is universal. But the fact that men overwhelmingly had no idea that it happened, that it was real, spoke volumes to me. That because I wrote it it became about me rather than about us was huge. I felt some sort of comfort in the fact that I am not alone. But the chasm is so overwhelmingly huge! Because the men I spoke with were people who I love and who were willing to have an open conversation, people who entered the conversation ready to listen and absorb. They weren’t trying to teach me, they were trying to learn. And people, not just men, but people in general, aren’t all like that. Which makes this even crazier. I can’t imagine what people unwilling to listen thought, how wide the gap is between us and them. Sometimes I feel like we have been quiet for so long that no one can hear us anymore. And I honestly don’t know how to begin to fix that.

Tip #16 on Being a Good Bar Customer

2 Mar

Alright, kids, I’m back with the tips. And I think this one might be exceptionally snarky although honestly, at this point, my snark gage is all off and I can’t even tell anymore. After doing some (admittedly non-exhaustive) research on the topic, I am not going to link to my other tips here because pretty much no one ever clicks on those links. If you want to read more tips, I think there is a search tool somewhere around here. Or you could look at the “A Bartending Life” archives for all your bartending related content. If you disagree with the outcome of my study, feel free to comment below. Or don’t. Either way. So without further ado, your next tip.

If any of you have read one of the multitude of stupid Buzzfeed articles entitled “Ways to Get Your Bartender to Hate you” or “Ways to Behave in a Bar” or “This Man Orders a Drink. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!”* which are basically always written by people who (a) seemingly have never bartended before and (b) cannot really write, this next tip will not come as a surprise to you. For those of you who have somehow managed to avoid all that clickbait: well done, you are my idol.

So last night some dude came in on the earlier side of my shift, sat down at the bar and looked confusedly around the room. His eyes, eventually, landed on the whisky selection. I would classify our whisky selection as pretty standard New York. We have a fair bit, but it’s all the usual suspects. Basil Hayden, Bulleit, Buffalo Trace.** You get it. If I had made a bet right then and there, I would have put money on him ordering a Bulleit Bourbon on the rocks. I was wrong. Not so wrong, as you will come to see, but wrong enough. I feel like betting is sort of an all-or-nothing proposition which is why I don’t like to do it. Shades of grey are totally my sweet spot. Anywho, instead of going the predictable route, he looked at me and said,

“Do you know how to make a Clint Eastwood?”

Ugh.

I replied that no, I did not, in such a way as to try to dissuade him from digging out his phone, Googling a ‘Clint Eastwood’ and then handing the phone over to me. I failed. He immediately reached into his pocket and started tap, tap, tapping away at the screen. Moments later he handed the phone to me with a meaningful look.

Why do people do this? First of all, the drinks that people want either contain something that most bars don’t have like velvet falernum or a raw egg or they are something made up by a bartender at some place like Little Branch as a result of some dude walking up to the bar and saying “I want something with gin that tastes like cloudberries and cotton candy but comes in a manly glass.” Second of all, whenever this scenario happens (not the cloudberries but the recipe googling) and I ask people what is in the drink, generally so that when they say Batavia-Arrack I can tell them I don’t have that and we can move on, they have absolutely no idea. And not just no idea like,

“well, it has gin, lime and the tears of a baby narwhal, I’m just not sure the proportions.”

No. They have no idea like,

“Oh, I have no idea.”

I begrudgingly took the phone while he looked at me, waiting for the moment when I would excitedly take out my shakers and my jiggers (kindly remove mind from gutter) and maybe bust out the suspenders that I have left hanging from my pants, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to suit up and get down to business. (He totally wasn’t expecting any of those things. I am just being a dick because the image I conjured made me giggle.) I looked at the screen and here is what I saw:

INGREDIENTS
1½ oz. Bulleit bourbon
¾ oz. Vya sweet vermouth
2 dashes Regan’s orange bitters
1 Amarena cherry, for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS
Combine bourbon, vermouth, and bitters in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake and strain into a chilled martini glass; garnish with cherry.

I want us all to just take a moment and look at this recipe. Really just take it all in. Think about what it might be similar to. Something that maybe you have had before? Because I don’t know but this looks to me like a variation on a Manhattan. Granted this one calls for different bitters – Ragan’s orange as opposed to the more common Angostura -and there is of course call liquor here and different proportions but that’s what makes it a variation. Also you’re supposed to shake this? Who shakes a Manhattan? It comes out all cloudy and weird when you shake it. (And this is where my inner snob comes out. I firmly believe, and this is my own personal thing so whatever I won’t impose it on those around me, that Manhattans and Martinis should be stirred. Always all the time. And that James Bond was an asshole. Although now I have done a little bit of research and apparently in Ian Fleming’s books Bond actually ordered his Martini “stirred not shaken.” Can anyone verify that for me? And can we count this as another example of a film adaptation being a lesser version of the book it is based on?)

Anyway, while in my head I was hearing Sean Connery say “shaken not stirred” on constant repeat, I broke the news to my customer that I didn’t have Ragan’s bitters or vya sweet vermouth but I could do the next best thing: seeing as how the “Clint Eastwood” was surprisingly similar to a Manhattan, and it just so happens that I make a pretty mean Manhattan, I offered to make him one of those instead. He seemed dejected and asked if he could see my selection of bitters. I placed the bottle of Angostura directly in front of him. And then it all seemed to click. He looked around the room and noticed the television, the lack of cocktail paraphernalia, the weird photo collages on the wall, the Christmas lights that are, for no real reason, still attached to the mirror, a mirror that is not intentionally aged to make it look all vintage. He was not in a cocktail bar. He begrudgingly agreed to have a Bulleit Manhattan but requested it be on the rocks.

*By and large these are my least favorite articles. The second I see something titled “Man tries to hug a wild lion, you won’t believe what happens next!” I become angry and storm away from the computer. Chances are I will believe what happens. And, as a direct result of that stupid title, I will not care.

**Unintentional alliteration!

Happy New Year to Me

26 Feb

Have you ever spent a minute thinking about New Year’s Eve? How we all make plans, go to house parties, get noise makers, make resolutions, wear stupid hats and stupider glasses? It’s a nice thing, I guess. A night when all the world comes together (albeit at different times) to celebrate the beginning of something new. We all enter the next calendar year with a (perhaps slightly hungover) pep to our step, with a commitment to a new and improved us, and of course  with a firm grasp on that clean slate we promised ourselves. We’ll go to the gym, we’ll find new jobs, we’ll spend more time with our family and friends, we’ll stop wiping our noses on our sleeves because goddamnit we are adults (that last one is my resolution every single year. I have yet to succeed). But this fresh start is, when you really think about it, entirely arbitrary. It is a random day that was chosen as the day the Earth begins its annual journey around the sun. But really, any day could be that day. So in the spirit of randomness, or I suppose more accurately, in the spirit of personal ownership of my place in time and space, I declare my New Year to have begun on February 23rd.

February 23rd. How random, right? Wrong. February 23rd of 2016 marked one year since the last horrible thing in a string of horrible things happened. It marked a year after an exclamation point of awful was dotted on my personal history. It marked a year since, at 2:30am, on February 22nd, 2015 some guy who thought he was tough threw a glass at my face. It marked a year since I woke up the next morning and, eye swollen almost entirely shut, cut above my eye that is now a scar, I made phone calls to family and close friends to let them know that I was okay, more or less. It marks a year since I left an hysterical message on my friend Ashlie’s voicemail that likely almost gave her a heart attack. It marks a year since she and I went to an urgent care in Bay Ridge, where we were met by our friend Katie, and where the doctor looked at me and said

“I am really curious about what happened to you.”

You and me both, Doc.

It marks a year since I tried to act strong and not afraid. It marks a year since the start of dealing with everything that followed being violently assaulted and then threatened. It marks a year since I thought I had it together and could handle whatever came my way – turns out I didn’t and I couldn’t. It marks the beginning of the end of me feeling as though this is a thing that happened to me recently because, at this point, it has been over a year and that’s not nothing. I feel as though I can finally go back out into the world with a positive outlook rather than being bogged down by all of the bullshit that happened, one after another after another, in 2014 and right on into 2015. It’s funny, actually. At the end of the disaster that was the entirety of 2014 – beginning with quitting my job under absurd circumstances, dealing with a break-up, continuing through turning down a new job in hopes of a dream job that didn’t only seem too good to be true but was because the man who offered it to me was a total fraud, and ending with a breakdown when I came to the conclusion that I would never be able to do anything other than bartend and UGH everything was terrible – I somehow had hope. And my friend Carrie, in keeping with our tendency to see the humor in everything, sent me this link to a Tumblr post that said,

The whole of 2014: Something went wrong.

And we laughed. And then I went into 2015 with this hope that somehow the randomness of the New Year would cleanse me of my shit luck and then <BAM> black eye. And I lost all hope for that year. It was over practically before it started. And I went into the year just thinking that this endless stream of setbacks was going to be my life. I accepted the fact that I was no longer the happy, driven person I had always thought of myself as but instead I was this person existing in a cloud, waiting for the next completely unpredictable and wild thing to happen. And those things did happen. But now, looking back, and acknowledging the fact that I believe in the power of outlook, I wonder how much I brought those things upon myself. Not that they were my fault, more like because I was expecting them I almost invited them. I started seeing them in places that maybe they wouldn’t have existed if I could have gotten out of my own head. I am thinking specifically about the day that I gave myself a full-blown panic attack – I’m talking shortness of breath, tingly legs, inability to regulate temperature – on my way into work one night, a night that ended in complete disaster which, months later, led to me having a follow-up argument with someone which resulted in me having a complete meltdown the following day and having to drive myself to my parents house. After I stopped crying long enough to drive, that is. Pathetic, I know. So in a way, maybe I had a hand in those things. I let myself feel like a victim of the world and thus I became one.

But no more! It’s only been 3 days but this new year has been going well. I had dinner with a dear friend of mine last night and the waiter gave us free dessert just, you know, because we are awesome. I have plans to go to the American Cup (it’s gymnastics, don’t judge me) with my friend Glen in a few weeks and then there’s a trip to Iceland on the books for March and in April I will be officiating a wedding between my friends Emily and James. Then there’s a half marathon in Poughkeepsie in June, a Frankation over the summer and then, who knows? Whatever it is, though, it’s going to be great because why? Because it’s got to be. Because I believe it will be. Because I say so.

 

 

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