relationships

The Phantom, Heart-Draining Menace

bc

*This post is shaped by my ace cis femme brown woman lens

As I’m writing this blog post, I’m looking next to me at (among the rest of the detritus on my desk) a pack of birth control pills. There are two sugar pills left in this month, and then I’m supposed to start a new pack, but most likely, I will not. The new box of pills is small, green and unopened, and sits next to the current pack. My logic is that it will come in handy later if I find occasion to use it before July 2018, when it expires. Fat chance of that happening, though.

A good friend of mine recently told me about this really good sexual experience she had. It sounded to me like it was good because the two people involved actually asked each other what they like, and they did things with each other that they both enjoyed. I was happy for her because this friend hasn’t always had great experiences where sex is involved, and I was glad that this experience went well.

But sometimes, being happy for someone else doesn’t always mean you are happy yourself.

I think, to my great embarrassment, I have to admit that I’m jealous. Which, for me, is shocking because I actually don’t experience being jealous too frequently. Stupid people I know think they can tell when I’m jealous, but they are usually just misinterpreting my anger or sadness. I am jealous so infrequently that I think I can actually remember every single time I have ever been jealous and why I felt the way I did.

It’s not that I’m jealous of my friend, or of the person she had sex with. No, I’m jealous because they got to have that conversation that I have been waiting to have for what feels like eons–the one where someone asks me what I want. You know, without expecting anything in return.

God, it feels good to admit that.

Because now that I have, it’s pretty obvious that the problem is not between me and my friend, but has everything to do with patriarchy.

If I am being honest, at the age of 25, I have never had a sexual interaction in which I did not feel as though I was shortchanged. As I have only ever had sex with heterosexual, cisgender men, this may come as no surprise (at least, it doesn’t to me). Even when sex was consensual (because there are times when I did not consent, but I’m not talking about those), I found myself going through the motions more so to please my partner than out of enjoyment. And I do not think I ever felt as though my partners wanted to give me pleasure. The things my heterosexual, cisgender partners would claim they “gave” me were always conditional; I was expected to give what felt like far more than what I was given in return.

At this point, I have to admit, that sounds, uh, sad. It does, it sounds rather sad, even to me, which I don’t like to admit because I don’t like to think of my life as “sad”. I think it is hard sometimes, and certainly not perfect, but definitely not “sad”. And if this is what all of my sexual experiences amount to, well, clearly something needs to change.

Maybe the sadness comes from shame, which is not logical. This is not an uncommon narrative. I know because other women have written about this same experience again and again. What is it about a patriarchal society that forces women to have to accept really sad sexual experiences? Isn’t that pathetic? We live in a world where, if you are a cisgender, heterosexual woman, you can more or less expect to feel emotionally drained, empty, and hollow after sex.

To preface this next statement, I have nothing against women who have sex with no emotional attachment. If I was capable of doing that, I would. It would make my life so much easier, not to have to think of my past relationships feeling, at best, like I was used as a sex object, and at worst, like I would like to do some really vindictive things to get back at these men. I think it’s really problematic that I have always given both physical and emotional affection in a relationship, and I have only ever received one of the two when I have always wanted both.

This realization has suddenly forced me to contend with how much I value my own heart. How many times has RuPaul told us that if we can’t love ourselves, how in the hell are we going to love somebody else? How many times did Professor Harris say that if there are too many people draining our love, there will be none for ourselves? How could I have forgotten the first rule of being an empath? Everything I do comes with a side of emotional investment. Every person in my life gets emotional nourishment from me without asking. That is the benefit of being friends with someone like me, and also, that is the thing I have to be most careful of. All of my good friends know this about me, and they also know not to take advantage of me.

So you never know, maybe I will start that second pack of birth control pills. But I feel like the better choice would be to hold myself accountable so that I don’t need them in the first place. I’m a little sad that I live in a world where I have to be this cautious. I wish I could have had a great experience with every partner I had sex with. But the fact is, straight men aren’t expected to be like me at all, and thus are usually incapable of giving me what I need unless I explicitly tell them. I’m waiting for that person who asks, and not just because they want to get into my pants. I’m waiting for the person who is willing to take responsibility for this tender and giving heart that is drained all too easily by careless, unfeeling people.

 

He Breaks Me

fatfish

Taken at Durfee Conservatory, UMass Amherst, MA, home to cute, fat, orange koi fish. These fish are much happier than I am right now. A photo worthy of the end of Pisces.

Well y’all. I know it’s been a hot second. This is a direction I never thought I’d go in, or more accurately, not a direction I ever thought I’d go in again. By that, I mean, there are some people, some incredible, wonderful people, who theorize love (shoutout to bell hooks, Cheryl E. Matias, and Durryle Brooks). As in, they spend time in the academy talking about love, like a bunch of warriors. Those people are some badass motherfuckers. I’m just a simple broad, so I wrote a poem.

Not gonna lie, I’m trying to act like I’m cool and like this poem is not about some man-human who I definitely lost my shit over. I have this brilliant friend who tells me that people have to know the difference between things that are actually good for them, and things that make them feel good. Maybe that’s why things ended so, so badly. Like, it wasn’t a clean bad, you know? I like when it’s obvious that the man is an asshole, and then turning my back is nothing. But I can’t write him off like that because I’m not convinced he’s an asshole. I feel like that’s worse than a clean bad. It’s a messy bad.

If he ever finds this, I bet he’d say something like “I didn’t say that” or “you’re totally misrepresenting me”. And I wouldn’t say it, but I’d be like, why can’t you just tell me you’re hurt? Why is that so hard for you? I write my first poem in 3 years and you still can’t be satisfied. Man-humans, I’m telling you. Learn to name your damn emotions. It’s not like I don’t know. I just pretend not to so that I don’t embarrass you and your stupid man-feelings.

Anyway. I totally did not plan to tell y’all that much. But here’s the poem.

He Breaks Me
by yours truly

I can tell he thinks he loves
me while he watches my
every move. But I do. I
tell him one secret after
another, hoping he’ll say
the words I long to hear, “I’m
wrong, you’re right. I’m sorry.”

He tells me I am pretty,
attractive, intelligent
yet also that my rape
is like his murder, that my
pills are the same as his
paternity test. My ravaged
body he likens to his.

Death would be a luxury
for women like me. Death frees
her from her body, leaving
spirit. Death removes the
thing to ravage. Death takes
away the object, reduces
fault to dust, corpse to earth.

I leave him before he is
aware. He tries so many
words. It is his silence I
crave. No reasoning consoles him;
he is closed. He tells me I
am mistaken, that the love
I know I see is not real.

He breaks me. Our bodies know
no solace, nor did those of
our ancestors. Before lips
could meet, before we could
touch, history opened a
chasm that neither of us could
cross, that neither of us could cross.

Illicit

Oh Lord, I crave him. This summer has brought a lot, a bit too much perhaps. Now I am crazy in addition to everything else.

People say that time is not linear, and slowly, I begin to understand why. Feelings I thought I had long forgotten suddenly come back to haunt me. I felt this way about him before the abortion. That fall semester was when I felt this way about him. I had forgotten those feelings, and they were not something I was willing to revisit, not after the other feeling, that I had killed my own child.

Attraction is hard to go back to. I did not feel attraction for some time. It eluded me for all of spring semester. Granted, that didn’t stop me from having sex, but it was that sordid, corporeal kind that makes you feel emptier than you did when you began. It took me only a matter of weeks to see my then-lover for who he really was: a needy, sanctimonious person who would use me to hold his emotions, but took every chance he got to quash my own. Admittedly, abortion-trance was a convenient antidote to my former guilelessness; it was the shortest amount of time it had ever taken for me to come to my senses and leave a man.

He deserved to be left as well, though, the one from fall. That is what I tell myself. Not left entirely—left by me. For making me hope that I could be his, for even the second that I believed it, even when he knew there was not a chance in hell that it would last. I blame him because surely, he must have known. He had to have known how it would end, and he let it play out anyway because he had to have me just that much, had to have my hand in his, have my kisses, my endless hair, the way secrets poured from my lips without him ever needing to ask.

See, he already had a partner. And at that point, I still had the pre-abortion-trance guilelessness, so I believed him when he made me feel like I was safe, made me think his partner was sane, made me think nothing would ever go wrong. Maybe that is my own fault for being so guileless.

If you all ever hope for a love story, I wish you one like this (though with perhaps a happier ending). We were co-teachers, he and I. I don’t think either of us much heeded how obviously illicit our affections were. He was endearing—he embodied that word entirely—for me there could not exist a more-perfect Achilles heel. Look how even now I wax dramatic for him.

See, he was an artist. Not on the surface, but I suspect that is what he is deep down. I don’t know how else he would get me to say such ridiculous things to him, things I have never said to anyone else, that he turns me on so hard, that I want to push him over onto a bed, that I would like to kiss him until he is limp in my arms. I flirted with him like I did with no one else. We would sit together in the study of my apartment, dimly lit by just desk lamps in poor-graduate-student fashion, to put our lesson plans together. His eyes, which caught the light so easily, would glow a lovely amber color. He would always ask me if there was anything else I wanted to talk about (I might be forgetting the wording at this point, I always just wanted to look at his face). I never did, but his eyes always lingered just a little longer than what was reasonable, holding my gaze, even in the days before I started flirting with him.

And after I made my feelings apparent to him, it could not be helped. We were like children in middle school, embracing each other in empty classrooms and holding hands when we thought no one was looking, except we were the teachers and middle schoolers are half our age.

These are all memories that I thought I had forgotten, that I have not had access to in seven months. They come back now with shocking clarity. I did not think I could feel like this again, ever.

I remember the first time I kissed him, and all the kisses that came after the first. I would say that the most romantic experiences I have ever had never involved sex. It was certainly true of this relationship. Admittedly, that first kiss was slightly naughty of me. We had just finished our last class of the semester. I had only just asked him how he liked to be kissed, and he had only just finished answering, but I couldn’t bear not being able to give that to him for even a second longer, so I kissed him. I could sense his hesitation and I thought that perhaps I had taken things too far, but then he kissed me back so softly, so demurely. He used to love the way I would moan.

This is unexpected. Now I am crying. All the websites I went to after my abortion said I might cry for no reason from time to time. For the life of me, I can’t understand why I am crying. Maybe, I suspect, I want my child’s father to be like him. So cute. So silly and well-intentioned. Maybe I would forgive someone like him for all his flaws because he would care so unfathomably.

See, he is already a father. He was a father long before I came into his life, and he will be long after I have left. We’re not so different, he and I. At almost the same point in our lives, we both found out we could become parents. Except I didn’t become one and he did.

I wake up like I’m waiting for infinity these days. Day stretches long and worthless, night comes mercilessly too soon. In those moments when I feel that crazed consciousness that has stayed with me since I was pregnant, I know she will come back to me one day. I wait for her eagerly, my future child.

An Analysis of The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour

lastillusionContent warning: child abuse, sexual assault, suicide

My most recent read was The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour. I chose the book from this list of Asian American authors (and you’ll find I will probably read a few more from that list before summer is over). The list implies that Khakpour is on par with some authors whom I really admire, like Jhumpa Lahiri and Amy Tan, so I had pretty high expectations, which I am not sure the novel lives up to.

It should be noted, this book is based on a legend from the Persian epic, the Shahnameh, the Book of Kings. I personally have never read the Shahnameh, so there is a certain point of reference missing in my analysis.

To give her credit, Khakpour is a talented prose writer. The beginning of the book reminds me of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children:

His hair and skin were the color of–no use to sugarcoat it, Khanoom would snap–piss. He was something so unlike them, unlike all of nature. (2014, p.3)

This first description of the protagonist, Zal, reminds me of Saleem and his gargantuan nose from Midnight’s Children. I have always had a soft spot for ugly-baby descriptions. It thrills me that many writers of color do not want to portray their protagonist as attractive, that in some cases they are downright scary. It supports the idea that ugly people deserve to have their stories told, too.

Khanoom’s distinction between her birds and her son also reminds me of an excerpt from Clive Barker’s Abarat series. There is a story in Absolute Midnight about a mother who gives birth to two sons: one that is the embodiment of all of her good, and the other that is the embodiment of her evil. The good son is a homely thing that resembles a worm. The evil son is a beautiful creature, colorful and charming.

Similarly, Khanoom is enamored with her birds, which she refers to as her children. She cuddles them, sings to them, and makes sure they are fed and clean. She abhors Zal, whom she keeps in a cage with the rest of the birds. She calls him “White Demon” (p.5) and prays for his death. It is as though Zal, scrawny and pale as he is, is what little good Khanoom is capable of, and her numerous, glorious birds epitomize her cruelty.

Khakpour does a great job of commenting on the hypocrisy of able-bodied people and the mental health profession throughout the novel. I feel as though every time she wants the reader to think about what we are taught about disability, she uses the italicized word, considering. For example:

His father had set it all up…and would not have created an abnormal environment for his son…whom Hendricks so badly wanted to grow up as normal as he could, considering. (2014, p. 82)

These were Zal’s thoughts when he took Asiya into his apartment for the first time. The “considering” piece always refers to his history as the Bird Boy, and  how he made the “miraculous” recovery from a squalid, screeching boy to a relatively well-adjusted adult. Hendricks thinks it would be so great if Zal was just like everybody else, implying that the way Zal lives is such an inconvenience to able-bodied people like Hendricks, as though being “normal” is such a wonderful way to live. Khakpour invites us to question whether or not our “normal” is really as wonderful as we think it is. Is Zal better off as a harmless, insect-eating, asexual, bisexual person who is a little strange? Or is he preferable as an alcoholic, sexist man who passes for “normal” by our standards?

I think it also invites us to question the well-intentioned people who frequently live with, or are guardians of, people with disabilities. Is it really for Zal’s good that Hendricks is hell-bent on making him “normal”? Or is it more so to prove that he is a good father? Why doesn’t Hendricks approve of Zal when he behaves in a “bird-like” manner?

I also love Khakpour’s commentary on love. When Zal first meets Willa, he describes his feelings.

He felt, he though, maybe what they called love–THEORY NO. 4: Love?–but of course it wasn’t, he quickly told himself, love did not come so illogically. It did not do that at-first spell that was just a human joke…(2014, p. 92)

Perhaps my cynicism is showing, but I love how Khakpour gives voice to my skepticism toward “love at first sight”. I think Americans thoroughly exaggerate the role of physical attraction and infatuation in “loving” relationships. I personally believe the exaggeration is a natural by-product of capitalism, in which sex becomes a spectacle that people are willing to pay for, and which people then fervently rush to sell as per the laws of supply and demand. “Love at first sight” is not a truth, but a platitude we tell ourselves to pretend we are satisfied in mediocre relationships. Actual “love”, the act of caring for flawed and petty human beings and understanding they are not obliged to us in any way, is a lot of hard work.

In reaction to this first response, Zal gives us another description of Willa the second time he meets her.

He wanted to be nestled against her bosom. In what way? Like a child, he thought. Like a lover, he thought again. She confused him to no end. (2014, p. 119)

In a digital story I created last year, I said “love is unfathomable. If you understand it, it is not love.” Zal’s experience illustrates this sentiment. He doesn’t seem to know what he wants to be for Willa, or what he wants Willa to be for him, but it is more than just being a lover. He also mentions wanting to be a friend or guardian. His feelings resonate with me. I think it is more accurate for me to say I have felt love towards friends and family more than I have to lovers, or whatever you want to call them. Acting within constructs in relationships has obstructed love for me more than it has bolstered it.

Khakpour, however, does not use her strengths to her advantage. She makes great commentary on disabilities and traditional relationships, yet that is not what she focuses on. She instead turns her focus to the 9/11 attacks and tries to make a really cliché allegory about life. While I think her commentary on 9/11 itself is actually quite interesting, she takes a huge, wandering portion of the book to finally get there.

First, I think Khakpour makes the mistake of establishing the premise of the story too early. As soon as I found out Asiya is clairvoyant and the dates begin to seem very important about one third of the way through the book (with the Y2K New Year featuring as a prominent incident), I already knew to expect the book to end with 9/11. It literally takes the other two thirds to get there. After the New Year party, The Last Illusion seems like a long story about people who do nothing–the repetition is tedious. Asiya and Zal break up several times. Each time, Zal goes to Hendricks, who tries to pull him out of his misery. Then Zal makes the decision to go back to Asiya, and Hendricks tries to dissuade him because he doesn’t like Asiya. Zal leaves anyway, giving some platitudes about establishing independence. This occurs two or three times in the novel.

Toward the end, I really feel Khakpour is trying too hard to make a point. It starts to sound like a college application essay. Silber starts asking himself “What does it all mean?” (p. 254) over and over again, as if anyone needs to be reminded to find meaning. On page 267, Silber literally thinks, “Maybe money is the key.” She really loses me there, as if we need anyone else to point out any more cliches about greed and avarice and money. And then we have Manning calling Asiya a terrorist on page 270, and I just about gave up. Here is a book about 9/11 and the word “terrorist” is in the novel. How compelling. So original.

Asiya is one of the most grating characters in the novel (though honestly, Zal himself can be quite grating at times). I would almost be willing to forgive Asiya for her behavior (she has to put up with so much sexism from Zal–he doesn’t believe her even though she is right (p. 260), and he can be quite manipulative. Having sex with her just to prove he is normal (p.152)?) except, except, except, she is a white girl with an Arabic name. On top of throwing all these tantrums because she wants people to believe her and they don’t (what does she honestly expect? She’s a skinny little artsy woman. People are not kind to women in general, let alone strange ones) she gets arrested, and when asked if she has a Muslim name, responds, “Absolutely” (p. 279).

I suppose this was supposed to show how defiant and brave she is, but for me it rings so hollow. Asiya McDonald was born Daisy McDonald, and she got her name by dating a Muslim guy at one point in her life and then converting to Islam. At the end of the day, she is still a white woman, and still has all the privilege that that identity confers. When I think about the Muslim women of color I know, the hijabis, the ones who are told again and again to go back to their country, the ones who have cried over the things people yell at them, the ones who literally have eggs thrown at them, Asiya McDonald is like a bad joke. I’m still waiting for the punch line. I’ve said this before, but I have a hard time believing white women ever truly show “resistance”. They only ever seem to echo all that women of color have already done.

Of course, Khakpour might have portrayed Asiya this way intentionally. You never know.

Another piece that irked me to no end is the description of Willa’s sexual assault. On p. 124, I find out that the reason why Willa overeats and is obese is because she was kidnapped as a young girl and repeatedly raped by her kidnapper. This is actually a common response that women have to sexual trauma (as reported by the Atlantic). Yet, Khakpour is surprisingly euphemistic about it, describing only how he “hurt her again and again” (p. 124). In context, this is how Willa is explaining herself to Zal, so I suppose this conveys how hard it is for Willa to talk about it, but I felt this portion would have been so much stronger if the incident was referred to as “rape”, or “sexual assault”. Since she is 20, it is reasonable to assume Willa knows what these words mean. This was an opportunity to shed light on a really important issue, and instead of naming the problem, Khakpour hides it.

I was further irked by the explanation for Willa’s suicide. On p. 292, it is said that “Apparently only in depression was she losing the weight that had made her depressed in the first place, most likely.” This angers me to no end. It was Willa’s rapist who forced her to feel she needed to eat all the time, and it was her rapist who made her feel suicidal. However, Khakpour takes the route of blaming Willa’s weight for her suicide, which not only body-shames Willa, but also lets her rapist off the hook instead of holding him accountable. It’s a depressingly conservative stance to take.

Khakpour slightly redeems herself with her description of 9/11, the Last Illusion, though she makes me wait entirely too long to get to that point. It turns out like a dream, Silber’s last illusion.

The illusion had not gone right, but it had not gone wrong. It had gone real. (p. 315)

I remember the day, and it was quite dreamlike. I was 9 years old on 9/11/2001, just starting my first days of fourth grade. I remember coming home from school with my brother and my mom to see the image of the Twin Towers falling, on channel after channel, again and again. It was strange how easily I believed it was real, how there was no skepticism at that point in my life about CGI or Photoshop, that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was seeing something real.

 

Zal realizes, after the illusion, that just like so many things, a smile is just another human trick (p. 319). There are some implications there about constructions, how even the ways our body is supposed to react to things are social constructions. Zal smiles on the day of 9/11. It would certainly explain why I sometimes laugh in classes about genocide.

An Analysis of Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie

americanahIn the last two days, I have been opening the copy of Americanah  that I checked out from the library, expecting there to be more for me to read, and feeling disappointed that there isn’t. Chimamanda Adichie has a gift for creating familiarity in her writing through meticulous pacing.

This book was not unlike The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (which I recently talked about here), though Adichie pursues characterization with the approach of extroverted intuition–through dialogue among groups of people, as opposed to Lahiri’s internal thought processes. The main characters in Americanah, Ifemelu and Obinze, emigrate to Western countries, and the impetus to make these transitions comes from political unrest in their country of origin, Nigeria. Both novels also portray the ways in which insecurity from political unrest affects people on an individual level–in Americanah, the way Ifemelu’s father loses his job, and how Aunty Uju has a child by The General.

Adichie differs from Lahiri because she leans more towards emoting than intellectualizing. I am fascinated with the way she narrates with an omniscience about other characters’ personalities. Here is an example:

Her skin prickled, an unease settling over her. There was something venal about his thin-lipped face; he had the air of a man to whom corruption was familiar. (Adichie, 2013 p.242)

Adichie has barely introduced the man referred to in the excerpt, but we already have an idea of the kind of person he is. One of my favorite examples of characterization is the description of the hairdresser, Aisha.

Aisha glanced at Ifemelu, nodding ever so slightly, her face blank, almost forbidding in its expressionlessness. There was something strange about her. (2013, p.22)

The way Ifemelu talks about other characters tells us a lot about her own personality. In the course of the novel, Aisha is a recurring character with whom Ifemelu becomes progressively more annoyed and, much later, more understanding. Ifemelu reminds me somewhat of Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. She is a confident young woman who values genuineness from other people in her life. It is not unusual for her to be the most discerning person in the theoretical room. Thus, on the rare occasion when there is more to the story than what Ifemelu perceives, as in the case of Aisha, she is forced to revise her initial impressions.

The way Adichie writes about America brought up many thoughts for me. First, she does a great job of illustrating the ways that women of color experience microaggressions in everyday life, and how it simply isn’t possible to address all of them because that would completely drain any sane human being of energy. This is an example:

“What a beautiful name,” Kimberly said. “Does it mean anything? I love multicultural names because they have such wonderful meanings, from wonderful rich cultures”…”I don’t know what it means,” Ifemelu said, and sensed rather than saw a small amusement on Ginika’s face. (2013, p. 244)

This passage amuses me. Ifemelu receives her fair share of dumb questions from white people in the course of the novel. This one is self-explanatory. I have heard from a trusted source that even white people’s names mean something, though the significance might fade after meeting 9 or 10 people with the same name in one university department or one residence hall.

This reminds me of an incident that happened to me in first grade. After I told the class that I had gone to India over the summer, my white teacher asked me, “Is India very different from the United States?” In perhaps the first recorded instance of me being sarcastic, my response was, “No.”

I was also humored by Ifemelu’s stance on American health systems.

“…And now you cheat on Curt because at some level you don’t think you deserve happiness,” [Ginika said.]

“Now you are going to suggest some pills for Self-Sabotage Disorder,” Ifemelu said. (2013, p.480)

While I think mental health is certainly something that should be talked about in communities of color, I also love the critique of Americans in this exchange. I absolutely think people in the United States are too obsessed with medicalization (literally, I see a study every day about new things that cause cancer) as well as labeling perceived illnesses. For example, a friend of mine who works as a kindergarten teacher firmly believes that half her students have ADHD, and the other half are autistic. Could it be that maybe this is just how children behave in the age of technology? Could it be that maybe my friend is just overworked and should really have an aide because one adult can’t keep up with 20 children?

Furthermore, I think Adichie makes some radical implications about relationships in this novel. During her time in America, Ifemelu has two boyfriends: Curtis, a rich white guy, and Blaine, one of those hippie Black guys who eat quinoa and care about yoga and shit. I’m sure you’ve caught on that I didn’t particularly like either of them, and if I didn’t know better, I would say Adichie meant for that to be the case.

Curtis reminded me of this asshole-white-guy I used to date named Jeremy Jay Baker (full name included here to warn goodhearted women to stay the fuck away from him). Curt is described as being “happy, handsome, [sic.] with his ability to twist life into the shapes he wanted” (2013, p.482). Curtis was the kind of person who was only ever happy when things went the way he wanted them to, which was of course, all the time. Or so he thought, until Ifemelu cheated on him, and he called her a bitch (p. 482). It actually made me really angry when he said that to her. It reminded me of my last conversation with Jeremy, where I told him it seemed hypocritical to me that any time I expressed any emotion or dissatisfaction, I was being “volatile” or “dramatic”, yet when something bad “happened” to him, I had to hold his hand and pretend his little problems mattered. He responded by saying something like, “I don’t have to take this from you.” Then he never talked to me again. Charming, that one. I should have said something disapproving sooner, if that was all it took to get rid of him.

Ifemelu, on the other hand, was distraught when Curtis left her, which he really didn’t deserve. Ifemelu belongs in the category of boss bitches who are going to Achieve with a capital A. Curtis is a boring white guy.

Blaine is not much better. From his description, he seems like one of those men who gets very hurt when you don’t take his advice to heart. He exerts his power through influence:

She did not ask for his edits, but slowly she began to make changes, to add and remove, because of what he said. (2013, p.521)

During the course of the relationship, Ifemelu starts to eat differently, picks up more academic jargon, and takes on a lot of Blaine’s behavior. Not all of the changes seem harmful for Ifemelu–she gains insight into race and being Black in America by conversing with Blaine’s friends. Still, it doesn’t surprise me at all when the two break up because Ifemelu would rather eat a good lunch than stand outside a building and protest with Blaine and his poisonous sister, Shan.

In comparison, Obinze, who is Ifemelu’s first and last love, seems like a mature, mellow human being. Even if Ifemelu ever cheated on him, I have a hard time imagining him calling her a bitch. Not that either of them seem inclined to cheat on each other.

The action in Americanah speeds up toward the end of the novel, when Ifemelu goes back to Nigeria and meets Obinze again. Adichie barely graces sex with a few words every time there are sex scenes, but there’s still something arousing about them. Unlike Lahiri, who leaves you with stark impressions of body parts, Adichie gives you feelings.

She propped herself up and said, “I always saw the ceiling with other men.” (2013, p,. 737)

The explanation, which is also the origin of Obinze’s nickname, simply conveys that no one else could ever compare to Obinze. I felt it was radical of Adichie to put Ifemelu and Obinze together in the end. Ifemelu, who has never really identified with Americanness, chooses her Nigerian boyfriend over the men she meets in America. America, the Great Consumer Capital of the world, where you can get anything your heart desires, is not where Ifemelu found love.

It leaves me with a foolish sliver of hope. Maybe if I go to Assam, I can also find a mature, mellow human who will not call me a bitch if I cheat on him? I suspect all the men I know will have to age considerably before they reach that level of sophistication.

Works Cited

Adichie, C. N. (2013). Americanah. Thorndike Press.

The next book I plan to analyze: The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour

The mid-July Emotional Checkpoint

You all can probably tell, but I haven’t been acknowledging my feelings much lately. There’s a lot there, and I’m scared to even start on it because I haven’t had a healthy outlet for feelings in probably over 6 weeks. I guess this post is going to serve as the litmus test for how much crazy I have been holding in, and can be the check point for whether or not things will get worse as I progress though this summer. This post will also be interspersed with lots of Manul cats to illustrate my face when I think about these things. This species arguably has more emotional range than a lot of humans I know.

For these past 6 weeks (and actually, the last 6 months, but I was in graduate school until May), I’ve been looking for a job. I don’t know if you’ve looked for a job recently, but let me tell you, the job search. Sucks. So Much. Basically, to keep from feeling like I wasted 6 years of my life, I try not to think about it, even though my excel spreadsheet of over 80 job applications and results continues to grow every day. It doesn’t help that I’m living in my parents’ house while I’m searching for jobs. While I’m thankful that they’re willing to let me eat their food and live in their air conditioning, this is the last place I want to be. Also, as a textbook empath, I tend to pick up on literally everything that either of my parents is feeling. So from my mom, that’s a whole lot of anxiety, and from my dad, apathy. Neither of these emotions are things I like to feel for any length of time, let alone almost two months. At this point, I would gladly spend the last of my savings for even just a different place to live, but that would be stupid without a job to keep me going.

On the topic of being an empath–it’s something that I only recently realized about myself and probably should be explored further. But you know, that’s an emotional process, one that could leave me potentially vulnerable, and being vulnerable is literally the last thing I want to be while I’m interviewing for jobs and living with my parents.

2-Manul-Cat

Let’s not.

Source: Oscar Carlos Cortelezzi’s Flickr

Then there’s the stuff in the news–Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the 5 cops in Dallas. These are upsetting times to live through, even if you have a job and you’re not living with your parents. I can’t bear to watch the news on television, though my parents insist on putting it on promptly at 6:30 every evening. The obvious partiality towards Establishment in television news is deplorable to me. As a result, I stay up until around 4:00 a.m., when everyone else in the house is asleep, taking in other, healthier things, such as the far more accurate reporting in posts that I get from my Facebook feed. No regrets.

As for the actual feelings about these incidents, I think my body is not allowing me to feel those at all, not even when I want to. I think it knows it would be too much to handle without emotional support.

15-Manul-Cat

No feelings. Just no. 

Source: Tambacko the Jaguar’s Flickr

As a result of all this, I’ve withdrawn into books and art. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Four books in two weeks? For me, that’s probably a new record. When I was getting an undergraduate degree and a graduate degree, I discovered I didn’t need to withdraw as much because there were humans with whom I had deeply meaningful relationships, and whom I trusted enough to go out with and have fun. Right now, I don’t feel like I have any of that. Thus, I have regressed to my introverted high school self, the one that read books and made art. INFP. It annoys me that it takes so little for my entire personality to change, but then again, reconnecting to this part of my personality has its rewards. This blog hasn’t fared this well since 2014!

Effectively, I’ve blocked my usual needs for emotional connection and adventure by regressing and denying. That leaves one need that I have not figured out how to deal with yet…and the problem is, when I say “one” need, it’s probably more accurate for me to say “several”. I guess the best approximation of the whole problem in one word is “sexuality”, though for me it means a lot more these days. I mean, sure, there is a certain desire to be with another human being in a sexual sense, but I’m beginning to discover that I’ve never desired a relationship for sex. In the relationships that I enjoyed, I think I frequently took part in sex because the other party wanted it and it pleased me to give them pleasure. Which is not to say that I don’t enjoy or desire sex. I do. I just never seem to want it as much as my heterosexual, masculine partners.

It was the emotional connection that I liked most about these relationships, the fact that these people were willing to reveal some depth about their personalities with me, as well as allow me to get physically close to them. However, it took me many years to realize that one can obtain emotional connection and physical proximity without any sexual interaction.

There are a number of confusing things about myself that arise from all these thoughts. The first would be that I’m asexual in some sense, which also means I’m queer in some sense. Strictly speaking, I’m not actually “out”, and I don’t intend to be. I toyed with the idea of being an “out” queer person, and then I had my horrifically bad experiences in New England and decided that was not something I want to do. At worst, it’s not even in a “It’s just not for me” type of way, it’s a “Wow, I vehemently disagree with the way the queer movement has been appropriated by the United States, and I really don’t fucking want to be a part of that.” That’s a post for another day.

On the other hand, though, I still experience strong attractions. Strong, stupid, idealistic, over-the-top, romantic, INFP/ENFP attractions. I feel them for people I haven’t seen in years. I feel them for people I meet in interviews. I feel them for people I’d rather not feel them for. I feel them for people who do not reciprocate the feelings. And I can’t help feeling like I am in deep, deep shit because in the entirety of my life, I have never sat down and talked to any of my past sexual/romantic partners about any of these things–not one. I picture some distant future in which I’m sitting down on my first date with some (probably masculine?) human and having to say things like, “So what do you want from a relationship?” or even “Do you want a relationship?” For some reason, this causes me the deepest, most unimaginable anxiety, probably because the first thing my brain does is go, “WHICH HUMAN IS GOING TO RESPECT YOU ENOUGH TO GO THROUGH ALL THAT? WHICH HUMAN IS NOT GOING TO BE OVERTLY ABUSIVE AND COERCIVE? WHICH ONE? DO THEY EVEN EXIST?”

9-Manul-Cat

This cat gets me on a deep level. 

Source: Wendy Salisbury’s Flickr

This probably explains a lot about why my past “relationships”, if you can even call them that, were so unsatisfying (with the exception of perhaps one). It also explains why I suddenly feel a paralysis in the realm of starting relationships. I mean sure, I’m on all the online dating websites and I feel attracted to people, I might even flirt once in a while. At heart, though, I’m scared out of my mind. How have I never noticed how safe it is to be alone before now?!

All in all, let’s be real, I need some hella help. I’m scared to seek it out at the moment because I keep thinking I won’t be where I am for long. Let’s say I’ll come back to this post in a week to see if I’m doing any better. I’ll plan what I do about it at that point.

 

Heer used to call Ranjha on his cell phone

This is a statement I am willing to put a lot of money on: For most women, the first time they have sex is terrible.

I should clarify that this post will not be addressing cases in which the first time is rape. It will only address consensual sex. This is not to say that I don’t think the rape cases are important. As an assault survivor, I will say from my experience that men’s entitlement knows no bounds, not just because of the frequency at which sexual assault happens to women and goes unreported (and happens to and by other genders as well), but also because of the number of times a woman’s first time is a sexual assault, and she is not made aware of this until later in life, frequently much, much later. In this manner, from our first sexual encounters, many of us are conditioned to believe that assault is what a man does if he loves us. We are conditioned to believe that it is normal for our bodies to be brutalized and violated, and that that is how we should expect to be treated as women. It shakes my faith in humanity, truly.

But even for the consensual first encounters, the first time a woman has sex is probably terrible! The reason why I am so certain is because of the many encounters I have had that have been god-awful. The few that are pleasant seem to happen randomly, though there are threads of commonality in those encounters. How could I get so many different results even though I felt that I did the same thing each time? I think I have figured out the factors that brought about the god-awful and the pleasant, what was missing in the former and what was coincidental, but present in the latter.

I recently read these two excellent posts about being able to talk about your sexual desires and dating people with whom you are actually compatible. Forgive me for the next nerdy things I’m going to say. It is very telling of my (rather privileged) background in higher education.

This got me thinking about (brace yourselves) the ways in which we construct meaning in intimate relationships. I’m serious, it did.

This thread of thought has been seriously complicated for me to unravel, so bear with me. Now, as far as I know, all meaning is constructed. Nothing we do has any meaning until we put it into the context of past experience and accumulated knowledge. Bumping into some attractive person has no meaning without the construction of who is considered attractive (to you), and comprehending that you are attracted to this person (as dictated by knowledge). This is true for all interactions having to do with intimacy. Nothing is intimate without putting interactions into the context of what we have learned is an intimate gesture and comprehending that gestures are intimate.

In this way, sex has meaning when we give it meaning, and by giving it meaning, we take ownership of the act. By taking ownership, we give ourselves agency.

Why should you give a fuck? Because if you change the acts or interactions that you are giving meaning to, by changing the way you take agency, by changing the meaning itself, we are able to give ourselves more satisfying, pleasurable, fulfilling relationships.

Okay, enough theoretical shit. Time for the part where I tell you how this applies to real life.

I want a person who intentionally puts off having sex until that point that both of us have constructed a shared meaning of what sex is to us.

Something happened recently that put my health at risk very suddenly. I had to reframe many of my priorities, and the topmost was intimate relationships. I came to the realization that I actually DO know what I want in a relationship, though it is intensely difficult to name. It feels like the kind of empty promise one makes to themselves at the beginning of a new year. My mother always says cliches are cliche for a reason. I think I now understand at least one: meaningless sex does not work for everyone.

Now, for some people it does, and there is nothing wrong with that. But for me, it just doesn’t. In fact, meaningless anything just doesn’t work for me, but that’s a post for another day.

On to the realization: I want a person who intentionally puts off having sex until that point that both of us have constructed a shared meaning of what sex is to us. That sounds way more complicated than what it actually is. Basically, I want a person who is interested in understanding what I want out of sex. I also want to have time to get to know what this person wants out of sex. If these things happen to match, we will probably have a very enjoyable experience. If they do not match, which will be the more probable case knowing the depth of human diversity, then we must BOTH be okay with the pieces that do not match up, or we need to be able to change the nature of our relationship so that one or more of us does not get hurt. And this is a process, not a single conversation that we have one time. Things change. What we like may change. What we dislike may change. Again, products of our experience. The conversation must be ongoing.

And the thing about this formula (ew, I came up with a formula for my personal life. I am a nerd) is something that applies to more than just sex. In fact, for me it’s basically a template for a bunch of things at this point.

I want a person who intentionally puts off X until that point that both of us have constructed a shared meaning of what X is to us.

Possibilities for X:

  • marriage
  • a relationship
  • intimacy
  • moving in with each other
  • dating
  • friendship
  • love
  • physical contact
  • anything else two people can do together

Now, if you think about it, I’m actually not that smart. It took me almost 24 years to figure out the most basic principle of existing with other people: you have to work shit out together. I seriously wish someone could have told me this a decade ago! I have had so many terrible sex encounters because of a lack of knowing how to name things. This is not to say that all of my sexual encounters have been bad. Some were of the pleasant, steamy variety. But right now, the bad outweighs the good, and life is not meant to be lived that way.

Still, ever optimistic and now armed with my shiny new knowledge, I will forge onward! Or rather, I now have the ability to be more (and VERY) intentional about what kind of people I allow in my life.