wrong pig

Please check out my new beauty blog

So I haven't posted here in, what, a year? Um, hi!

One of the reasons I haven't been here is that I wanted to pour more of my in-front-of-computer efforts into something meant for a larger audience--something that was less navel-gazing but still personal and authentically me. That has turned into The Beheld.

It's a blog about women and beauty, examining why we care about our appearance in the ways we do, while acknowledging that every woman has a unique relationship to beauty and the mirror--I conduct interviews with women whose professions and passions lend them a particular insight into beauty to help me out with the last part. There's still plenty of navel-gazing (it's still me, after all!) and in fact I've turned to a couple of entries from here on occasion and repurposed them for The Beheld.

So if you've ever enjoyed my writing over here, please visit me at The Beheld. Bookmark it! Comment! Follow me on Twitter! (Dear god, I never thought I'd be saying "follow me on Twitter"--lo, how the pig slicing herself is entranced by new media! Is Twitter still considered new media?) And if you didn't care about my writing but just found me a fascinating jewel of a person, know that I'm doing well.

Really, The Beheld is largely a focused version of what I did over here--looking through my tags, my posts about beauty and body image were the most plentiful, and where I got the most personal rewards. Judging from the discourse that occasionally happened here on some of those posts, many of you have a lot to say on beauty as well. Please keep on saying it!

wrong pig

slightly drunk freewrite: cupcakes

Amy and I were walking down 9th Avenue on a cupcake hunt. We were both new enough to the city that a cupcake hunt, even one prompted by the inevitable overwork and exploitation of twentysomething labor that the magazine world incites, felt festive instead of depressing. We went together instead of alone, our desires to dull our job pressures in a sugar blackout a mutual undertaking instead of furtive and solitary. That made it an act of joy.

We weren't sure what the cross-street to the bakery was, so we just walked down 9th Avenue, eyes scanning, looking for the turquoise-blue frame of the shop's window. We were talking about--I don't know. Work, probably. Maybe a boy, maybe trading tales of college exploits. We didn't know each other well. She was my first friend in New York. She was round and soft and beautiful in a way that's not appreciated in this city, all hips and thighs and breasts and undulation, loose-fleshed. She's one of those women who can be overweight and you can't imagine her any other way; to take away her flesh would be to take away the quiet ripple that awed those who were paying attention. The first time I hugged her I wanted to gasp because her skin felt so soft under my hands, buttery. It could be her secret weapon, if she so chose: Nobody could resist having that skin next to them.

She invited me along: To friends' parties, to movies, to hang with her college buddies, two cute boys. She took me along to a friend's birthday party at a downtown bar, explaining on the way down there that she was slightly intimidated by this friend, Jenny, because Jenny was her "cool friend--the one who's always doing cool stuff, who knows people." I couldn't tell her that she was my cool friend--that she remained my cool friend even after I had made others. Not because she would have snubbed me, but because she would have thought I was saying something nice to make her feel better. She knew her worth but didn't know others knew it too. That was one of the things I liked about her.

But anyway. We were walking down the street on a cupcake hunt. A man and his daughter fell into step behind her. The daughter looked like she was maybe in second grade. She was talking in singsong about going to see her mother later that day and how she was going to get a cookie. The father said, "No cookies. You'll get fat, fat, fat!"

The words hit me like a steel pole through my chest. Amy grabbed my arm and pulled me into the overhang of a hardware store. We stayed there together and breathed for a moment, huffing our quiet fury, each of us ashamed. For his behavior, for him having a daughter. For the girl and what she had heard; for what she had heard before and would hear again. For us and our cupcakes. For hating him, and for the reminder he gave us, that we were getting fat.

I don't remember if we went on and got the cupcakes. It would be poetic one way or the other, wouldn’t it? If we got the cupcakes and toasted each other and our beauty? Or if we didn't, quietly letting the father of another control us? But I don't remember. We both gained a lot of weight that year. We probably did get the cupcakes.

That was February of 2000. It is July of 2009. I just ate a cupcake, delivered to me from the hipster/Italian place down the street, alongside a mortadella sandwich. As I licked the last bits of mocha frosting from my fingertips, I heard the voice of a father--not mine--say, "You'll get fat, fat, fat!" Words never die; words never die.
wrong pig

Michael Jackson

"A good marriage is one in which each partner appoints the other to be the guardian of his or her solitude, and thus they show each other the greatest possible trust. A merging of two people is an impossibility, and where it seems to exist, it is a hemming-in, a mutual consent that robs one party or both parties of their fullest freedom and development. But once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distances exist, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of always seeing each other as a whole and before an immense sky." --Rainer Maria Rilke, on marriage

I've been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be understood by another person. When I was younger, the Great Dream was to find someone who understood every part of me, without me having to communicate it (which made me an excellent girlfriend at age 14, I'm quite sure). It took me years to tame the excitement I'd feel when someone would say something that made me feel utterly understood, like finally I'd found a truly kindred spirit. It was a big lure of online relationships at first--I remember reading a post on a bulletin board about how this woman gagged every time she brushed a certain quadrant of her teeth, and how she thought it was linked to some sort of psychological trigger, and I thought, Omigod, someone ELSE thinks that and omigod I've totally found my Other. She wasn't my Other. Nor was the woman who talked about "the sadness you feel in your arms," or any guy I've gone out with, no matter the quality of our 2 a.m. lights-out pillow talk, hands held, bodies swaddled in each other, hearts open. The best I could hope for was those moments in which you hear someone, or they hear you, and you know that the other person really understands.

And now, I'm fine with that, in part because of that Rilke quote. I found a person whom I consider to be the guardian of my solitude. We get each other, in part because we get that neither of us will be wholly "gotten" by the other, not because of our failings but because of our humanness. The parts of me he doesn't get--and there are many--I look to affirm in my friends. Or my family, either through their "getting" it too, or through their intrinsic understanding of my history. Or literature, or good movies, or posts on bulletin boards. There are enough people in the world who are creative but hampered by lack of direction; dilettantes but wanting to be more; natural optimists with depressive tendencies--the things that I get excited about when I connect with people--that even though I, as a whole, am not understood by anyone, I never have to fear that I'll go utterly un-understood. And the parts of myself that I haven't heard anyone else "get"? I keep them dear to myself, usually not out of shame--occasionally, sure--but more often because secrets are precious; because the murky, unknowable parts keep us from being a string of personality DNA, jigsaw puzzles of other people.

I can't imagine--really, cannot imagine--what it would be like to be in a world in which the number of people who understand fundamental things about you is infinitesimally small. Because you're famous--wildly famous--because the world watched your self-hatred morph and expand the way I watched my neighbor boy grow up from four-year-old to a young man whose voice changed last summer. Because your predilections are immoral, criminal, yet your status allows you to shield yourself from getting the kind of help you would need to reconcile those desires with your similarly true desires to do the right thing. Because we all know about your family; because your pill problem is on the front page; because you are loved and hated in equal measures; because the mere whisper of your presence brings electricity.

So you meet a certain cache of people who understand what it's like to be wildly famous. You find people who are self-proclaimed freaks, and buy skeletons of the freaks who can't speak with you about what it was like for them. You find children who understand what it's like to lose a childhood; you find children who, you think, can give that back to you. You find beautiful, troubled people, and try to collect them. But even then, you are too big for them.

Michael Jackson was so large that his death prompted not a reaction of sadness but of--not quite humor, but of archness. I wasn't cracking jokes or anything, but his death immediately became a ludicrous event. My best friend was late to meet me for dinner. "Sorry, I got caught up at work," she said. "Don't lie; you were composing yourself after mourning for Michael," I said. And we laughed.

His death came up a few times over dinner. And finally, she casually said what we say of sick old people and dogs: He's out of his misery now. And instead of it sounding like a cliche, something you say to excuse a possibly sad event, it was the absolute truth. I was never a crazed fan; I liked him like we all did, no more. I've talked about the tragedy of Michael Jackson before--how can you not, in order to keep the mix of fame beyond fame and awful acts against children from being just overwhelmingly depressing--but it wasn't until I connected him with Rilke that I saw that perhaps his biggest tragedy was that he was given both too much solitude and never, ever enough. He needed a guardian too.
wrong pig

freewrite, Long Binh, 1970

The first story, the official story, about my father in Vietnam was that his education bought him a spot in the office, ordering supplies. Then came a story about helping at arrivals, of a desperate, crying young man saying, "I'm from Texas too, don't send me out there, please, as a friend, don't send me out there." Then a whisper from my bewildered mother of how there were "things" that he told her fifteen years after his return, and later denied when she asked him for more. I say "things" because that is the word she used. It may well have been the word he used--I can hear it, my red-faced, road-rage, soft-hearted father who loves to whistle: "Deborah, there were things."

Like everything with my father's experience in Vietnam, though, I do not hear it. I do not see it, except for our Christmas china, not a single piece of which broke on the journey back home (only in 1991 when I put the gravy pot in the microwave). I have nothing to go on but fragments, so I am forced to imagine. Hence, "Deborah, there were things."

It is ambiguous, murky, a constantly shifting ink blot with no place for me to get a foothold. I came here to get a foothold and still have nothing. Nobody will take me to Long Binh, his former station--"There's nothing to see," says the driver; "There's no way to get there" says the (private) tour company; "No," says the (communist) tour company. I want to see it, this industrial complex built on top of the enormous ammo dump. I know there is nothing there, not even fragments of my father, for those fragments might be imagined. He could have walked away on his last day, put Vietnam in a plastic bag, and left it on the plane along with a 1971 newspaper. He could carry it with him every day; it could be a part of slammed doors and popping veins and spoiled soccer matches. I won't ever know.
wrong pig

town crier

There was a woman crying on the subway in February. There were likely many women crying on the subway in February, I'm sure, but somehow I managed to only see one. New York has so few private spaces that sometimes the relative anonymity of public transit becomes a sort of reverse haven. (This, and the fortysomething delivery menus New Yorkers all have stashed somewhere, is why it's so easy to become housebound in this city—there just isn't anywhere else you can be alone.) You learn to ignore the criers, not out of disregard, but out of a sort of shared understanding that sometimes you just have to cry on the subway. Let the lady have her peace.

But this was a morning subway cry, surely the worst kind. It wasn't a bad day at work; it wasn't a few too many drinks. It was greater. It was things being bad at home, the kind of bad that you wake up with, or things just being so bad in general that even the dull grogginess of the morning commute can't erase it. This morning was a particularly crowded commute—only three stops from the end of the line and I had to fight for space. This woman was crouched at the foot of the emergency exit between cars. She wasn't sobbing—it was the kind of cry where tears run down your cheeks and you can't help them, the occasional sputter coming out in an effort to help you catch your breath. She wasn't looking for attention.

So I did my best to shield her. I was reading Nine Stories—my copy fits nicely into my back pocket, so I reread it frequently, making one of my closest friends roll his eyes and say "Not this stage again" when he sees me carrying it—and I used it to block my face from hers while squaring my body in front of hers so that nobody else could see her. We go like this for a few stops, and at some point I turn the page, moving the book, and we meet eyes. She's bundled up in a deep red hat and scarf; I can only see her eyes and a few tendrils of her hair. She looks like a college classmate and this makes me feel especially kindly toward her. We've met eyes, and the anonymity of the subway cry has been broken. I say, "Do you need to talk?" She shakes her head and the tears keep going. I put the book back into its designated position and we go through the tunnel like that.

I feel this responsibility toward her, like now that we've made contact I need to give some sort of words of advice that will show that I understand even though I don't; it's a bullshit egotistical one-person-at-a-time idea that I have, that I can say something that will make her feel better. I know this, but since I broke the code of the subway cry by saying something in the first place, I can't let it go. I put my hand on her shoulder and say, "It will get better. It always does." She looks at me with surprise and halfway smiles—with her mouth, not her eyes—and I feel guilty because clearly she doesn't feel like smiling, and now, shit, she feels responsible for not making me feel like an asshole by breaking the code. I left the subway, not sure if I gave her comfort or a feeling of conspicuous foolishness, or nothing at all. It's not about you, I try to remind myself, but it is, because I've cried in the subway too.

* * *

So I'm having a stupid night in which I'm kicking myself for not doing things that are good for me. I'm bingeing on peanut butter and The Wire; I'm skipping yoga and writing group; my apartment is messy. My solace is that I'm not smoking. But after McNulty has been reassigned to the marine unit and I'm out of peanut butter, I decide to do something with my life and go get some cigarettes. The store on the corner is all out; I go to the store down the block I've never been, in my slip, cardigan, trench coat, and flip-flops. I get a brand I haven't bought since high school. I don't think I smoke enough to have a brand, but it seems I do.

I come back to my apartment and the couple in 1B are outside smoking. Amanda and John. She is from New Orleans; he works in film and frequently reads books in our ersatz courtyard; they seem pleasant, smart, and young. We chat about the weather; it's a nice night but we're ready for summer, but boy won't we all three be kicking ourselves come the heat. This is all said in witty young New Yorker-ese. I say good-night.

I take a few steps toward the door and she says, "Wait. Was that you on the subway?" I look at her, blank. I take the subway twice a day; it probably was me. "I was upset," she says. I see the wisps of curly hair escaping from her ponytail, notice the resemblance to my college friend from the eyes up. "You were kind to me."
wrong pig

cheater cheater pumpkin eater

What are some signs you’ve personally seen that flagged that a person is prone to cheating? Either someone you/a friend has been interested in, or someone you/a friend has dated?

(No, this isn’t personal; it’s for work but I thought there might be some interesting stories and insight from the internets...)
wrong pig

my mother

My mother sent me a magazine clipping about enemas, with the following passage circled:

...the Mayan Indians used enemas for a completely different purpose—introducing hallucinogenic drugs and medicines into the body. Those intoxicating enemas are believed to have been ritualistic, taken during religious celebrations to enhance or alter consciousness. The reason behind this method is simple: LIquids injected into the colon are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream, so intoxication occurs rapidly without the nausea frequently produced by orally ingested hallucinogens.

She wrote the words "fascinating tidbit" in the upper margin, in black pen.