Over the past couple of years I have been in an active and deliberate state of physical change. I wake up early every morning, drink my kale smoothie, swing my fitness hula hoop around my hips, strap on a bra and attack my day. I recite the mantras of an independent woman in her thirties. The platitudes that keep the beasts at bay. I’m being the change I want to see. No one can love me until I love me. I love me. I’ve shed stupid amounts of fat, gained stupid muscle, and have managed to, if not protect, embellish the little indications of youth I have left. I want to attract others, and yet there is no other time in recent history where others have repelled me more.
I don’t want to write about dating, which is impossible (dating not writing about dating), or even about the power differential between men and women and aging. I don’t even want to touch on how confusing queerness has gotten, (partly because, it seems to me, that the more and more transgressive the language and labels are the more and more traditional and conservative the community manages to seem. Everyone’s getting married! Everyone’s getting divorced! No one cares!) I have a lot of complaints about the way we communicate now, being that I am a teacher of young people who can’t spell, don’t punctuate or elaborate on an idea, whose own ideas are a plagiarized amalgam of ‘funny’ they stole from somebody else on Instagram. For the record, everything they say about millenials is true, but what they haven’t told you is that it’s contagious. We are all millennials now. The body snatchers won.
It is the spiritual blight that I now feel in my soul in reaction to and in accordance with all mentioned above that I want to address. It is my curmudgeonly opinion that we are living in an especially anti-academic, anti-intellectual age where the average American subscribes to the idea that it’s every man for himself, and that island of a man is a brand, and that brand is a lie, a lie he probably stole from someone else on Instagram. We should be stimulated constantly and praised for our pithy cruelty, rewarded for our ability to hide any suggestion that we might care about anything, especially the feelings of others. Also, everyone is a media specialist? I can’t blame the Alec Baldwins of the world who go a little too far on twitter–being a dick is where it’s at right now. It’s what the young people want! I went on a date with a twenty-something recently who unabashedly voiced her hatred of Jews and then pointed and laughed when a girl with untamed, natural curls entered the bar. This was in NYC! And, no lie, this is now the second time I’ve had this identical experience! Is bigotry hip again? I also made it explicit on my dating profile: no anti-Semites and no meanies! WTF?
I’ve taken to the cure that all the women my age have, yoga with a splash of veganism (I cheat). And you know what? For all its peace and love and core strengthening, it really just seems like another way to get me not to care. Stay positive. Think happy thoughts. Manifest, manifest, manifest. But I swear to you, the more I get to know my instructors the clearer it is to me that those girls are super negative, super repressed, and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. These are the ways to survive I guess: Be a rancid jerk or a petrified Buddha. So now we have all these jittery Buddhas using magic Sanskrit spells on themselves all day. Really, these girls do yoga all day, every day. They have no other job. They don’t even have other pants. I prefer them though. They take the yoga off the mat, meaning that they take a breath before they react. In the face of cruelty, they absorb it, and then spend the rest of the day twisting all these toxins out of their muscles.
Having grown up in Boston in the eighties, I was raised very PC. And still, I choose political correctness over this Neo-bigotry I keep taking to bed. I believe it’s the right choice too. In general, I believe a polite world is a better world. This might not be the person you know in private, it may not be the girl I was a decade ago, but it’s my professional and public self now. To me that means that when in public I show a consistent regard for my fellow citizen. Don’t be too loud, don’t be too gross, and don’t be too mean. When appropriate, show extra care when you can. I try to live this way, and I am naive enough to expect it from others in return. My attitude did not protect me when an SUV of cackling young men cut me off during a snow storm and then mooned me out their windows. It doesn’t protect me from the public spitting of both actual spit and racial vitriol of my neighbors, students and romantic interests. And it doesn’t protect them from my holier-than-thou dismissal of their humanity. And here also is where my hypocrisy shines bright. On the one hand I insist that we be more ‘human’ to each other, and yet I require clear delineated boundaries between our public and our private selves…
…so this is a personal rant. And, as I criticize my students for not being able to stay concise and focused in their writing, I manage to be just as bad most of the time. But what I’ve been meaning to get to, if anything at, is how all this has affected my writing. To summarize everything above, I am having a really difficult time relating to others. I’ve never been one to worry about who might someday read me. In fact, this line of conversation among writers always turned me off. It shouldn’t matter, and how can we even predict such a thing? Well, of course we can now. There is no mystery on what sells. Whether or not anyone of us is willing and/or capable of writing what sells is a separate issue. I think what we all secretly, magically believe is that our true expression of self through writing would be interesting enough, valuable enough that there would be a readership for it. A little heaven somewhere of like-minded literates. But I’ve seen the future, and it’s not looking hopeful for me. First of all, people don’t read. Second, a lot of them actually can’t read. It’s a failure of our school system and major coup for industry. As a teacher, I’ve gotten past the point where I want my students to be lovers of literature, I just don’t want them to get swallowed up by advertising. As a writer (person), I’ve also given up the dream of ever finding a reader (lover) that I appeal to. I just can’t imagine it, not even when in full-pigeon. And so, more than ever, I have been writing strictly for me. I have been writing selfish, lewd, cruel, masturbatory little indignities. I escape to a fantasy world that is an amplified version of the world that has alienated me. I don’t have the energy to defend it.
One more little anecdote:
A fellow teacher complained about a student during a faculty meeting the other day. Apparently, this student was writing poetry in her notebook during down time. The teacher wanted to bring this odd behavior to the principal’s attention. “I don’t know, she’s writing love poetry, it’s weird.” People nodded in agreement. The principal said she’d speak to the girl. I asked if there was other work the student should be doing instead, assignments she hadn’t finished? No, no. It was just weird, she said, that she was writing poetry. I felt crazy. Is this what people are saying behind our backs? Find this girl a home where water is not thirsty!