Holiday Special

december

I’ve seen a lot of artists use their work for good, especially in light of recent American developments. Sometimes I don’t know how to use my writing to construct a better world, but this December, that will change.

You’ve seen my rates & services. You’ve thought about your business, or art practice, or self-promotion. You’ve thought about hiring a writer to take on some of the work for you, but were waiting for the right moment. That moment is now.

For every project I work on in December, I will take 20% off my usual rates as a holiday gift to you.

But wait, there’s more!

I want to live in a world we can be proud of. That’s why I’m donating 50% of my December project profits to one of these organizations:

Earth Justice

Campaign Zero

The Trevor Project

Planned Parenthood

NODAPL (various places to donate)

When you hire me as your writer, you get to decide which of these organizations you would like to see the money donated. This is a small way for us to support those who are committed to building a better world for us to live in. Donating is just the beginning, but it’s the least we can do to begin to find peace during the giving season.

I hope you will join me in the fight for compassion and equality.

Love, and happy holidays,

Annie Raab

 

Rabbit

I started hanging clothes when the dryer broke. I don’t know what went wrong, but after an hour and a half of tumbling, our bed sheets still weren’t dry. We have two big trees in the yard that are perfect for a clothesline. I sank a nail into each and wound a strong piece of twine from one to the other. The taut line came up to my eyebrows, a tiny hay colored line that defined our green horizon. I draped the sheets and towels and our shirts over it and watched them wave like flags on the wind. I don’t know why I didn’t tell my husband.

He never goes out back anyway. He makes it as far as the garage, stumbling around in the dark like an anguished ghost that haunts the gardening tools. I never took apart the workbench or the board with nails and hooks that hold up his tools. The tools are still hung in an irregular grid, each empty hole between the nails a socket without an eye. My husband worries I will sell his tools now that he cannot use them. I have seen men with four fingers build cabinets with secret drawers and dovetail joints. A blind man can fix a deck chair.

The tools in the garage are rusty. If we need something fixed, my husband has me drive him to the hardware store. I walk him to the counter and watch him take over. He holds the broken object out in both hands, talking to the guy about what went wrong and how he suspects it happened. I watch the guy nod, then slowly catch on and begin to say “yes” and “ok” instead. It took me a long time to get used to that. It was like being on the radio when you were used to being on TV.

So that is how we fix things now. The tools in the garage are just there for him to visit, to put his hands on and sigh, like he used to, but deeper.

He trapped rabbits as a child in the English countryside. He had a terrier and knew the intricate knots of a snare that could pop a rabbit’s foot off. He says he will never forget the sight of the animals thrashing in the wire, caught in the invisible leghold over the entrance to the hole. We have a picture of that little boy with a rabbit slung on his shoulder. The boy’s eyes are sullen to the rabbit’s lifeless black beads, two dark pits that trap light down inside. But the memories, my husband assures me, are pleasant. I wonder if all memories change when you lose something so integral to your being, if I would remember restless legs with fondness if I were cut off at the knees.

We adjusted to the practical chores. I took over most of the hard ones. Driving, slicing bread, doing anything that requires a relatively straight line. My husband does the other things: fluff the throw pillows, feed the dog. Mostly he walks around bumping his knees on furniture. I sometimes forget to move chairs back after I vacuum. The bruises on his shins and knees stir up the guilt inside me, as if I was the one responsible for his loss, in some tertiary way. He refuses to get a stick even though our insurance will cover one. He says it would make him feel like an invalid, like something that was canceled midway through production.

“It would help you move around. Become an independent,” I say.

“I’m already independent. I can do everything like before.”

I catch myself watching him like one watches a baby learning to crawl, ready to leap forward and knock aside anything that stands in his way. But he is careful, walking with his hands facing forward, re-remembering the walls. I wait until he is seated by the radio before I bring the clothes inside from the new drying line.

It’s the little things that are hard for him. It bothers him if I change the hand soap in the bathroom from coconut to lemon, or if I let the batteries die in the kitchen clock. He never complains, but I catch him sniffing the pump with a disapproving frown, or standing in the kitchen holding his breath, anticipating the next tick like an absent heartbeat. He steps on things. Maybe not more than he did before, but now his tactile instinct is heightened and sharp. Last week he brought me a button that fell off his shirt two years ago and asked me to sew it back on. I don’t know how he knew which button he had found, but as he peeled it off the bottom of his foot, his exact words were, “Janey, will you sew this white button back on my grey shirt?” He can tell by the sound the cheap bulbs make in the lamp when they will burn out, as if the darkness he lives in lures our home through its unbroken tunnel one watt at a time.

I thought it wouldn’t matter now if I cut my hair. When I came home from the parlor he could smell the styling gel, the fancy shampoo. He felt my hair with his fingers and frowned. “I don’t like it,” he said. I reached for his face next, traced the crevasse on his temple the color of new skin. “Too bad,” I said.

I let it all grow back.

My eyes pop open in the middle of the night, surrounded in darkness at the center of the rabbit’s moonless eye. I slide my hand through the indents on his chest in search of a heartbeat. It bumps against my hand. I put my head back on the pillow. It smells like cool, fresh air, or wind coming off a frozen lake. After two years, I’m still the only one with nightmares.

I try the dryer again but it still doesn’t work. Summer is almost over. It will be pleasant to air dry for the remaining weeks. As I gather the wet clothes in my arms to take to the clothesline, a sputter catches outside the backyard window. I look to see my husband leaning against the mower. He toes the edge of the grass with his shoe and pushes off in a steady line, confident now behind his favorite tool.

The mower roars over my shout.

The wide lines of shorn grass are irregular, but it doesn’t matter to him. I watch him push forward like a hare headed for a trap, about to catch, but happy at the moment to be flying.

 

New Published Work and Updates

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a personal update for the blog. I spent the last couple months getting my life out of a tailspin. Now that my plane has somewhat stabilized, I have good news and new adventures to announce.

One year ago, I was accepted to Green Olive Arts in Morocco. The residency, writing, and following travel this spring and summer was everything I hoped it would be, and in the time since I’ve been home, I’ve slowly edited a few stories to completion. You can read about the experience here. You might have read two of these stories, but the rest have not been made public. Fear not! A small handmade chapbook of selected writings will be made available soon. In the meantime, you can still purchase Interiors here if you have not read those four.

Now for the big news: Right now, you can head on over to On The Premises and read my newly published piece, The Frayed Edge, which won an honorable mention out of 403 entries in the 2016 “Darkness” themed contest. I’ve sent this story out to many literary magazines, but this is the first time it’s been made available to a wide public. I was always fond of this piece.

Another story, Survivors, has been shortlisted on TSS: The Short Story for their 2016 quarterly competition. This one is pretty heavy, but it’s one of my personal favorites. Winners will be announced at the end of the month.

You can head over to my awesome friend Jessica Conoley’s website for my KC Writes interview and hear me talk about why I need to write fiction, the secret reason I write criticism, and generally what it’s like to live in my brain. Conoley’s podcast is a must-hear for KC writers and readers.

As far as art writing goes, I’ve spent the last couple months plotting my freelance business and figuring out my rates and availability. For Kansas Citians, this means artists, galleries, individuals, and small businesses will be able to hire me for projects that require writing. Brochures, books, copy, statements, reviews, grants–you name it, I can write it. Contact me through my email if you have any questions or want to discuss a project.

My recent critical work for the 2016 Charlotte Street Foundation Visual Artist Awards Exhibition came in this snazzy brochure and is available at the Kemper Crossroads gallery until the exhibition closes January 7th, 2017. I got to visit each of the artists in their studios, discuss their creative processes, and interpret the excellent work I saw.

MGCSF.jpg

Madeline Gallucci holds up the brochure against the real thing. Photo credit Madeline Gallucci

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They made me take a picture

I will have some new fiction for you to preview in the coming weeks. I have been busy with freelance projects and art writing, but I have some fiction in the shop. Writing is a slow process for me, so thanks for being patient as I organize my life outside of my fiction and get some necessary things in order.

My sincerest THANK YOU to everyone who keeps up and everyone who supports my work by reading and sharing. It’s rewarding to know I have readers out there!

-Annie

 

Ghost Post: Rhiannon Dickerson

Welcome to my Ghost Post series, an occasional divide from the usual content that tackles subject matter I want to make discussion room for. This post comes from Kansas City poet and lecturer Rhiannon Dickerson, who had a powerful reaction to this year’s election cycle controversy and is a general badass feminist with a strong voice. Her personal experience of sexism and abuse struck me as an important topic to make available to a wide readership, given the distance we still have to travel to make this kind of story a thing of the past.

Every Woman I Know

By Rhiannon Dickerson

Driving to the store this weekend, my daughters and I were listening to the local news when we heard the audio of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting a woman. I quickly turned off the radio, parked, and went into the store. As we navigated the aisles for my soon-to-be 10-year old daughter, Isabel’s birthday, deciding between emoji party cups or princess cups, I was only half-present, preoccupied with what my daughters heard on the radio, and the conversation I’d need to have. Earlier this summer, we all watched Hillary accept the Democratic nomination, and it was Isabel’s enthusiasm for Chelsea, and Hillary that, for the first time in this election, I felt inspired. She watched their speeches closely. She listened to powerful women confidently espouse their views, and their experiences, and she was moved to tears. It was seeing her see these women that made me fully realize the importance of this moment historically.

We headed back out to the car, our cart full of pre-teen party goods. I wanted to talk to the girls alone—in a safe space without men. And I was conflicted—I didn’t want them to feel scared, but I wanted them to know there’s always danger around us as women, as girls. I turned around in my seat and I told them what sexual assault meant. We practiced saying, “No” firmly, and without any explanation. We practiced saying, “My body. My rules.” I steadied myself with every “No.” But the thing is we all know those words won’t protect us. I felt powerless as I put on a brave front. I kept thinking about this app I saw on Facebook earlier in the day. It’s an app you can use as you walk to your car—Safe Trek, I think. You simply open the app, and keep your finger on the icon until you reach your car, and then you text in a preset code. If you release the icon and don’t enter your code in 10 seconds, police are notified. We aren’t safe even walking to our cars, I thought. We’re not safe anywhere.

When I was a young girl, my mom taught me about the “oh-oh” feeling, and what to do if anyone ever made me feel that way. My mother was a survivor of sexual assault from her family, from strangers, and from her partners. As women this is part of our everyday lives. Every day. Every woman. Fear, violence, casual sexism, misogyny, looking over our shoulders as we walk down the street, as we walk to our cars, the fact that statistically speaking, we’re in spaces with rapists every day unbeknownst to us.

My first memory is from when I was 3 or so. I was sitting at the top of the stairs, my baby brother asleep in the next room. It was late at night, and I was supposed to be in bed, but I was listening to the sound of my mother being beaten downstairs. I was only 3. I was powerless. I felt powerless.  Years later, in a different house, after my mother left him, he showed up one morning intent on getting in. He tried to break down the door with my brother’s bike, and I was relieved he hadn’t used mine, and ashamed I felt relieved. His girlfriend sat in the car in front of our house. In my memory, she’s checking her lipstick in the mirror. We left through the back door, my mother’s open robe fluttering in the wind as we ran to the fence and she pushed us over. We moved in silence. It was a wooden slat fence and it was so high I can’t imagine how she made it over. Our neighbor—whom we’d never met—was startled when we fell into her yard. She was signing paperwork with the Orkin man who gave us coloring books with pictures of cockroaches while my mother called the police.

When I was 27, I was strangled (it’s still painful to write that word). My boyfriend, someone I loved and trusted, someone I knew since I was 10 years old, 6’3” 280 pounds pressed me to the floor, his hands on my throat, my fingers struggling to scratch his face, or push him off, or gouge his eyes. For years part of me was still lying on the basement floor trying to breathe, trying to leave.

And it’s every woman I know. It’s every woman you know.

By the time I was 16, six of my closest friends and family had been sexually assaulted by men they knew. I’m 35 now, and I can’t count the women anymore. And we don’t talk about it except sometimes when we’ve had enough to drink to let the stop out of our throats, to let the scream out of lungs, to move past the shame to rage. We don’t talk about it. So when you call it “lewd” or “crass” or “locker room banter”, you create a safe space for misogyny, you perpetuate its existence, diminish its reality, and side with the abuser. You leave me on the basement floor trying to understand what happened, what I did, and what I should have done differently.

***

People are asking: are we normalizing sexual assault in these conversations? No. These conversations demonstrate that it is already normalized. Violence against women is accepted, or ignored and implicitly condoned, sometimes encouraged, and often sexualized. It’s part of the fabric of America, part of the fabric of patriarchal oppression, part of what it means to be a woman in the world.  They call it locker room banter because the locker room is the apex of American masculinity, and because masculinity has always required demonstrating power over women, because sexual violence against women affirms masculinity, because patriarchy has never valued women, but does value violence against them. The locker room is the acme of American masculinity—but these values are evident in the board room, the war zone, school room, golf course, and now, the presidential stage. These values are evident in the constitution when they say “all men are created equal” and didn’t mean women—because, well, women have always been dehumanized and objectified.

We’ve never been treated equally. And I’m a white ciswoman. Many folks experience this exponentially more than I have. Misogyny against women of color, against transwomen—is excused, dismissed, ignored and justified far more often. Because culturally, historically, and legally we’ve dehumanized our sisters of color with greater potency and frequency than their white, or cis counterparts.  We’ve come so far, I want to think. My daughters feel empowered by possibility. We have a major party female presidential candidate. But standing next to her on that stage is a self-confessed sexual predator (and let’s not forget, a racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, narcissist) and the crowd is cheering for him; they’re applauding. The most terrifying thing is that that stage reflects every room in America. Every step towards progress is met by a creepy, powerful man who gives you the “oh-oh” feeling as he stalks the stage behind you, as he demands that you should be ashamed of yourself, as he talks over you, and he devalues your humanity, and ridicules your ability. Every woman I know. Every stage we’re on. He is some of the men we know. Men you know. Men we love. Men we sleep with, and men we teach. Our grandfathers. Our sons. Our presidential candidates. They are everywhere, and it is terrifying.

I watched the town hall debate, and I cried into my hands to stifle the sobbing—where the hell was that trigger warning? I felt like I was at the top of the staircase again listening to my mother being beaten, listening to women everywhere try to muffle their screams so they don’t wake up the children, running away at night with nothing—no bags, no shoes, even—in an attempt to flee before he wakes. I felt like I was in the police car again deciding not to press charges. I felt threatened and disempowered and fucking scared. I’ll be having long talks with my son about consent, about respect, about sexuality, and masculinity. I’ll remind my daughters that our bodies are ours, and that we live in a world that wants to take our power away, that “No” is a word that doesn’t need explanation.

But, men—this shit is on you. Have you excused or justified or minimized violence against women? Have you taken the side of the abuser? Have you laughed at “locker room banter”? Have you made rape jokes? Harassed women on the street? Have you wondered what she was wearing or what she said before he hit her? Have you blamed women for the violence against them? Have you softened the edges of assault by calling it “lewd language”? Have you created a safe space for violent abusers? Have you kept quiet when you should have stood up? Are you part of rape culture?

Dig deep, y’all, because this isn’t new, and it isn’t going away. It’s every woman I know, and some of the men, too.

The Story of Real Person

Has it ever, in the history of Real People, been a good idea to mend old, wretched, unrequited love? Real People are not people in stories. Things don’t work out for Real People the way things work out in love stories. A packaged ending does not neatly appear before Real People. The last sentence of a love story might be their expression of a love that never died, and fade out to a description of the sun setting, the street slowing down, his face betraying some glimmer of a shared emotion and hope for the future. This is a beautiful finale for a love story! Wouldn’t the reader prefer one of these stories? Go away. Leave this tragic tale aside. Leave it to crumble or blow away or wait for the language to die so that nobody else need be subject to whatever you will find at the end of this story. Go read your story with the beautiful ending, when the man leans over to kiss the girl and the last rays of sun sparkle in a show of silent fireworks. Sadly, Real People are left standing in the street as a possum scurries under a car, a man hocks a glob of spit on the sidewalk, facing an old flame who, in the dimming sunlight, was easily confused as bearing a tender expression. But now in the drooping darkness a Real Person can see that the expression on his face was disgust and pity all along. A confession of this caliber is best done as the Real Person pitches herself off a high peak and shouts their admission to the old lover over one shoulder, so as to never face the consequence and total shame of clinging to a love for someone who doesn’t love them back.

The reader can think of many stories that feature unrequited love as a central theme, a literary ‘carrot-on-the-stick’ to drive the reader towards the answer to the question ‘will they or won’t they?’ This happens to Real People too, but in Real Life, it is neither comedic nor tragic, but it is very messy and rarely resolved in a satisfying way. Real People must choose a life of sorrowful remembrance, to fill the void with someone who will treat them good and kind. Or the Real Person will take the alternate route, which leads them right into the path of the old flame, where there is opportunity for confrontation and confession. Or they can go to jail. Real People understand the aftermath of a passionate speech, which would be so romantic if followed by a deep physical fusion between the two, but could also result in a lawsuit.

But this is not the Real Person we’re dealing with. This Real Person has goals, ambition. She is not dumb. She is merely conflicted. And you, my reader, are in charge of the outcome of this story.

The Real Person is the person in this story. She has her life somewhat together, like a Real Person who survives heartbreak would. She is not some two-dimensional character with three or four descriptive eccentricities, like the way she rakes her flyaways back on her head when she is anxious, or likes the feel of pins and needles in her hand when she sleeps holding her breast, out of habit. What kind of Real Person would she be if the author told the reader she orders almond squares from the bakery and scrapes off the slivered nuts before eating, seeking out the gooey texture of the pastry and not the almonds themselves? Perhaps positioning the reader to empathize and relate to her in ways predestined by the author is not fair for this character. She is a Real Person, and you can decide her best and worst qualities.

For the sake of narrative ease, the reader may choose the name of a woman they loved once and now find absolutely contemptible in every way. This will give the reader a chance to reevaluate their conceptions about the Real Person as they come to love her again, or at least acknowledge her imperfections as part of a greater, more complete whole. Her name will also create empathy for the character of the man she once loved, because the reader will be in the position of the man she confronts at the end of the story. Do whatever you want. But the name you assign her should be the most loaded name for a woman you can think of, a name that makes your heart quiver with a strong emotions—any strong emotion, really, because emotions that are brought up to their absolute peak resemble other emotions that, on a lower end of the emotional gauge, are the total opposite of the one you feel. Try it. Give this Real Person a name.

So which is it? Who is she? Is her name Miriam, or Jane, or Rachel, or Taylor, or Rue, or Hua, or Prophecy, or Paige, or Ming, or Donna, or Katarina, or Ash, or Jess, or Bette, or Susan, or Mona, or Louise? Have you said the name aloud, to make sure you are not giving this Real Person a name that peels off your tongue like a bitter leaf? Right now the reader probably feels many things for the character with the same name as a woman in their life, among these feelings is a deep respect for the authors craft and manipulation of the readers mind, an admiration for bringing up a painful past in a graceful way. What a gift! The Real Person in this story will bear the name of the woman whom the reader feels little charity towards, a cause to donate their passing affection to when the mind gets bored with something else. Now that she has a name, practice saying her name to yourself until the hard edge of your contempt softens a little.

Close your eyes and remember clearly who she was.

One day she disappears. Your Real Person stops being real to you and she becomes a character. I can’t tell you how it happens. She becomes a character you can point to and describe in one or two dreary sentences what it was like to watch her try on a sweater, or drive you around with sunglasses on, her arm stuck out the window. She becomes a puppet hanging off strings, dressed in signature clothes you will always remember her wearing, but the animation is gone. She hangs on her strings, suspended above your stage in the shadows until you recall a quality about her which is starting, in your memory, to fade. Recall her now, and the puppet springs to life! Her dancing legs carry her across the stage, waving wildly for your attention. All she wants now is a space in the sunshine of your memory, where she can live on in tact, mended at the busted seams and in her party clothes, in the wan spotlight where you will always be sort of thinking about her.

So that this story does not address the authors own case of unrequited love—a story nobody wants to read—let’s switch over to our Real Person and see what she thinks of the whole sappy matter. She wrinkles her nose at the bunch of cilantro glistening under the sprinklers of the market. Light bulbs, she heard once, are different in supermarkets. There are special light bulbs that make red apples look redder, green kale shine in verdant splendor, all thanks to the coating of the light bulb above. She tilts her head to the ceiling, distinguishes glows from the bulbs she thinks differ from each other over the pineapples, the oranges and garlic. She picks off a rotted brown leaf and stuffs the cilantro into a plastic bag. It has been five years since her heart broke, and then the two pieces that used to fit together changed shape and sizes, never to press up against the other flush again. What she feels she has now are two distinct hearts, one that grew and evolved and became more complete, pounding at her chest like a cannonball shot over and over. With this heart, she moved forward, got the blood flowing again, picked herself up and started over. This heart is the heart she uses to love herself, to love others, which took a lot of practice. This is a strong and powerful heart and the love in her life now proves it. This heart is a hard-won heart, and this heart refuses to be broken again. Now, when she carries love around inside her, it must pass a rigorous test of loyalty to be admitted beyond the heart’s iron walls.

But even when she could feel the full force of the love this strong heart produced, the love was never complete. The second, smaller heart, the one she lost in the detritus and mud of an intense love that suddenly ended, beat too. Anyone can learn to live with two hearts. The second heart is not all that helpless, really. The second heart lives in secret messages. It has sprouted roots and grown a coarse skin around it, like a beet in a garden, throbbing underground. With tendrils in the dirt, her second heart soaks up the clues of everyday life and interprets them as secret messages to broadcast to the steely other heart, a plea to soften her, to fall in love recklessly again. Hidden information leads our Real Person around the city, tugging at the leash of her second heart. What our Real Person sees is a beat up paperback, but what her second heart sees is a message from the past. The Real Person is fed up with her second heart sometimes, wishing the heart would begin to see the world as logical and indifferent rather than sentimental. But, any Real Person knows it is necessary for at least part of them to be hopelessly romantic, even if the romance lives inside them alone. It’s one of our riddles.

At home, our Real Person unpacks the paper sack of fruits and vegetables, now somewhat dull under her home lighting, made homogenous by the flat glow of the kitchen bulb. She falls back on the couch and sighs, slips her shoes off her feet so her warm socks cool under the breeze of the slowly turning fan above. She picks a magazine off the windowsill from atop a pile of torn envelopes and leafs through the thin pages. She stops at Contemporary Arts and Culture, intrigued by the image of a huge green snake with yellow eyes staring vacant into the camera. The sculpture is seven feet tall, carved from stone and coiled menacingly around a warped Earth. She reads the caption. It’s you.

Her stomach falls. In the warm sack of fluids in her abdomen, breakfast bubbles and churns. She runs to the bathroom and vomits, the dairy curds fill up the toilet bowl, clenched up in the cold water from the temperature change. She wipes her mouth on her arm, leaving a snail trail of milky slime that pastes her hairs down to the skin. She stumbles back to the magazine and throws it in the trash, then removes it from the trash and throws it in the recycling. She needs fresh air, or to lie down, or both. Outside, in her socks, she sits on the porch in the shade and waits for the trees in her vision to steady themselves against the earthquake in her mind. Her minor heart bloats with secret messages.

You, the artist, are in town for a show. You have come back to torment her, to smear your success across her window of sanity. She wants to extract herself, to squeeze out of the city before it closes in. To hop in a car or plane before you arrive with your art and posse in tow, with your svelte girlfriend from some beautiful Caribbean island. Or maybe from Los Angeles. Nope. She should get out, get on the highway and go stay with her parents ten hours north, sleep until noon in the guest room and take up with dull but moderately handsome boys from her high school who work for Allen-Bradley and play in a ping-pong league on weekends. Here, she should find herself drinking big glasses of red wine and watching the convoy of fishing boats return from the lake, patched with discolored paint from the polluted waters at the edge of a collage campus, where the fishing is bad but the chance to impress girls is good. The Real Person with the name you gave her should find old photographs of her parents, standing beside a bicycle under a palm tree, or leaning out of a Cadillac to pet a Saint Bernard, photographs from before she was born, or maybe shortly after. She imagines this world in the photographs and longs to be dropped from the sky, from the time she is living in, and begin fresh in a time and place where the events in her life did not add up the way they did. It’s a silly idea.

Instead of all this, our Real Person makes a pot of rice and watches a TV show called When We’re Gone about the plants and animals that take over earth when humankind dies out. She sprinkles soy sauce and parmesan cheese on her rice and thinks about the last surviving human, how part of her is kind of jealous.

Night arrives. Our Real Person isn’t dumb. She understands there is love and there is Love. This kind, she thinks, the kind that makes her vomit, is Love. But the thing about Love is this: it changes, mutates like her two hearts, and one day feels the same as Hate. Just like you, reader, must have felt when you gave her a name. When opposite strong emotions converge, they feel pretty similar. Real Person is not interested in starting the process over again, but she imagines a chance to finally close a door and rest her little heart for a much deserved eternal sleep. She lays down in bed, chest pressed against the mattress. Before she curls into her favorite position, she listens to her two hearts beat softly against the mattress. The mattress is a drum. Her heart is a hand that taps the drum.

***

The day comes when she decides to confront you. She tells everyone so she will actually do it. Her therapist says this is a bad idea. Her mother says this is a bad idea. Her girlfriend says “who?” Her big heart says “please don’t” but her little heart, the stupid one, says “hooray!” Her dog looks back at her and thumps his tail. She puts her face in his neck and tells him exactly what she is going to do. He groans and lays down. He is never sure when she is being serious anyway. The day arrives and our Real Person has second thoughts. She paces the room. She drinks too much coffee. She takes a shower and turns the water all the way to cold. By the end of the day, she has prepared what she wants to say. She looks decent, too. It’s not something you would have picked out for her, but you barely know her anymore, so you don’t have a choice. Go ahead and imagine her now in a nice outfit that you would not have chosen.

Here we go, reader. This is your Real Person we’re talking about. She’s about to take a leap off a high peak and land on her feet or on her face. Here we are in the gallery, with the green snake from the magazine magnetically pulling the crowd of people into its pee-yellow eyes. The person Real Person is about to approach is you. Now you must imagine your best outfit, your most attractive friends, your most winning smile, and go stand by a piece of art you are proud of. Be brilliant and modest. Everyone is here for you. Real Person takes the last gulp of wine. She feels like an athlete, ready to sprint the long track, to run ahead at top speed as her peripheral vision blurs out the crowd. Her flyaways have gone rogue again and she rakes them back into place with one hand. They spring right back up.

Bear with me, reader. It’s almost time.

Say her name. Just for practice. Say it with a smile as she approaches you, awkwardly at first, then something in her step changes and she regains confidence, a confidence you saw in her when you first met at that party. You imagine Real Person in the same plaid brown skirt and thrift store white top she was wearing the night you met. How young you both were as the room swirled around you! How dear it was to conceive an origin story there, at some party, when both of you started a whirlwind ride with no clear end. Maybe I’ll tell that story next. Or better yet, I’ll let you tell it. As the sun leaves behind a periwinkle sky, Real Person comes forwards, looks into your eyes, and speaks.

Real Person says something you never thought you would hear, something that fills you with one of the emotions that fits right back into the space she left, in your own heart, your own life, like a puzzle piece.

She said it. You heard her. Don’t ask her to repeat it.

The room moves to give you space. It’s your story now.

What do you say back?

The First Humans

The older I get, the fewer stars I see. It must be the glasses, something in the lenses. Or the frightful thought: something in the eyes. On our backs in the camp, the start of the night sky appeared overhead. All four of us wore some kind of corrective lens. There were seven stars, and then there were eight. I counted as many as forty-five until I decided the number was less than I had seen in skies years before. Astronomers believe space is rapidly expanding, moving away from our galaxy faster every year. The first humans must have seen the night sky glittering with stars so bright, they could not have stared all night. If telescopes could see this and predict the distance of the stars over time, the fault was not in our lenses. It was definitely something in the eyes.

We left home without a lot of things we needed. We had enough food for a week for the weekend. Not one of us remembered the water. It was cold and humid in the morning. There was dew on the oven mitts, reflecting the sun in lime green drops, one bit of light at a time.

If we had Pat, he’d chop us some wood. If we had Courtney, she’d build us a fire.

If we had. If we had.

We drank beer so we wouldn’t think about water. Thoughts of water turned into thoughts of a lake of water, of a fresh spring that flowed into our campsite, as if we could will one into existence.

We wouldn’t make it through the weekend without water.

We turned over a stone with the beginnings of a sculpted leg. Da Vinci was just a torrential rain, we said. Michelangelo was a tornado of sand and wind. Lambs ears sprouted in the creek bed, where flat black spiders darted under warm stones when we were posed to step down. Drowned and dried up weeds looked like tattered clothes in a violent way, as if the dry rocks and trickling stream was complacent in a struggle. But they were only plants caught in a flood. But the only tattered clothes were on our legs.

To emphasize our group potential, each of us had a job at the site. The men strung ropes between trees with loops interspersed to hang wet clothes or—jokingly—ourselves when we got too thirsty. The women, used to their morbidity, rolled their eyes and cleared spider webs off the picnic table with sticks of fragrant cedar. Snowy ash from the fire fell into the guac. At least we remembered the guac. We heard a round of bullets fire into the woods, and somewhere in the park a bird left a space in the sky.

At night, a creature walked through our campsite when we turned off the flashlight. We held still at the edge of the woods in the pitch black. The animal moved slow as if stopping to pick fallen berries off the ground. I held my breath when it grew close enough for me to hear her grunts and grinding teeth. When she was beside me, I still could not see. The tip of a soft ear brushed my arm. Danger, fear of wildlife took over, that existence almost exactly like our own, but feral, indigenous. Life was meeting life in an arena with no rules. I closed my eyes to see the sun. I thought please be tame, please be kind as the ear ran across my arm, then my cheek. For a moment, the only thing in the world anymore was the connection of that fur and my skin, the meeting point between girl and unknown animal in the blinding dark. I felt like the earliest human, like I was meeting the world for the first time, like I could look up and the sky would be all white with stars.

Later, in the tent, I put my face into a moist armpit and felt the emptiness of the open night around us settle, turning, in my dreams, to water.

In the morning we left the site in damp boots and unbrushed hair. Our tents were wet, the floor was quenched, but we were not. At the nearby stream, we built a ship. We called her The Mermaid and released the ship into the drink. A maiden voyage, we shouted. Long live The Mermaid! The Mermaid went over a waterfall and drowned in the river.

What we never realized was this: The Mermaid was only a float prepared by thirsty friends. That the stars are there until they’re not. That fur and skin are the only separations between us and the deeper connective tissue of the world. That this life was our maiden voyage.

In This Profession

I’m a 26 year old woman working and (almost) making a living as a writer. There are some things about me here you might know, even if you don’t know me well. But more importantly, there are some things young professional women (and femme-identifying) face all the time that really needs to be addressed and I’m not sure it has yet.

I have spent a lot of time focused on my career and I’m willing to talk about my passion for writing anytime. Lots of us are met with blank stares when we talk about our work, but more than anything, I meet people who’ve “always wanted to write” or are working on a story themselves. Although I have deep doubts about people who say they’re going to do something, I try to be supportive. This usually leads to my encouraging inquiry, because I know what it’s like to be laughed at, and I want writers to succeed. Sometimes I get great conversations that end naturally, and other times, conversations that end with me feeling degraded and hopeless for opening up about my work, and feeling very self-conscious about my body. I know I’m not alone. I know the young women on the job/career/self-starter/professional trail experience professionally couched sexism everyday outside of the workplace.

Let’s talk about this.

I want you to know how dedicated I am. I hardly read for pleasure anymore. They say don’t go into a field you love, because the thing you love will become work, and then you won’t love it anymore. Love reading? Don’t become a writer. Want to be a writer? Stop reading paperback bestsellers for fun and suffer through the work that is indisputably the best written fiction in the language of your choosing—and pay attention. Then, subscribe to a magazine and read it every week. Buy books by new authors published by small presses. Take extensive notes. Replicate paragraphs by writers you love word for word until you understand exactly why a comma goes here, and a period goes here. It’s a job in itself, and it could take the joy out of reading, but I do and I want to do these things. Have you ever loved something so much, you would stop loving it if it meant other people would love it harder? No, because it’s completely contradictory to what we think of as love. But if I could suck my enjoyment from reading out of my life to guarantee that I produce fiction that brings other people immense joy, I would do it today. I don’t know other people who share this extreme (and unachievable) value, so I don’t bring it up in mixed company. Often, I feel dry inside. I feel like I’m pursuing an art nobody partakes in, going into debt and pushing myself for an idea nobody shares, to be published in a dying medium, to be read only by people who are in the same fucked up sinking boat as I am. I don’t talk about writing to my friends, because it hardly concerns them. I don’t connect with local writers because here they are few and far between. I too-heavily rely on the surprising and insightful conversations of strangers who happen to share a passing interest in the thing I love most. Nobody really wants to hear about what I do.

To get to the point, fiction and criticism are the only two things I have really felt I’ve been good at since…ever. In my life, I’ve tried on lots of creative and professional hats, but the only thing I care about and will continue to care about is being an active, intelligent, well-developed writer. That said, I’m a huge advocate for emerging and aspiring writers. I’m new to this too. I need encouragement too. Aspiring writers are maybe the only people I can connect with who’ve had the same number of people in their lives look at them as if to ask, “are you crazy?” These are my people. I encourage my people, and I am sometimes starving to connect with them.

But I have had to stop. I can’t do it anymore. I cannot encourage fellow aspiring writers, poets, and authors. I don’t have it in me anymore. Want to know why? Because some people make me feel that my profession, my intelligence, my age, my history and knowledge and overflowing bookcases and notebooks and emergency hardcovers under my pillow are not worth as much as my body.

Yes, it’s because I am a 26 year old woman. No, it’s not up for debate. I’m kinda bright-eyed, up-and-coming, possibly naive, susceptible to the wisdom of older writers and artists. In my age group, I have painfully few peers. I’ve felt at home in literary conversations with strangers, talking Chekhov or Hempel or Atwood or Marquez, holding my own against someone older and, therefore, with more time in their past to become cognizant of what we’re discussing. But at the end of these conversations, when I am basking in the rare sun of (what I think is) another dedicated writer, I become objectified.

“Let me take you to dinner,” says one, a man I trusted.

“No thanks. I have to meet a friend.”

“Blow her off. Come have dinner with me.” He pressured me further.

I grew uncomfortable, wanting to dodge the situation but taken so off guard by the sudden shift from dazzling literary discussion to being reduced to my mortal, female form. All the times he asked about how the writing as going and what stories I had in the works, all the times he complimented my latest art review, all the times he said something that sounded a little too friendly all came falling back on top of me as I tried to pick out specific moments in our years of conversations where I felt he really, truly, respected what I was saying. Why couldn’t we just move on to something non-literary as the conversation came to and end? Anything! Anything but asking me out. It felt like a real betrayal, to me, to my career, to my success, and to my friendship. Creatives struggle enough under their own self-effacement. Did I really need an outsider to make me feel like my task was worthless because I still had the youth and looks and vivacity that mattered to him?

Several months went by. I had to stop by a party to pick up a paycheck for some maintenance work I had done. I folded the check for my pocket and pumped myself a beer from the keg, deciding I’d stick around to see the first few songs of the band. I didn’t know anyone at the party, everyone else being over the age of forty-five (and amazing dancers), so struck up a conversation with a guy at the snack table. Ok, I was wearing shorts that showed my butt cheeks and a braless top, because it’s a hundred goddamn degrees in this city and I’m usually focused on much bigger things. I know what I wear, and I know how it makes people feel even though I don’t care how people feel. I’m not saying this is a definite factor in our continued conversation, but it crossed my mind after the fact. Our small talk turned to poetry, which turned to writing, art, books, and other things I love. We sat in canvas folding chairs with our beers and talked literature, politics and philosophy. Honestly, our conversation was very pleasant, and we did share a lot of ideas, although applied to or learned in different decades. He mansplained or age-splained a little but it’s common in his age group, so I didn’t call him out. He was nice enough and I was just there to briefly enjoy myself. He wrote out his email address and I gave him mine, then I left on my bike to go get Chinese food and head home.

In my non-profit days, I interacted a lot with his demographic and grew comfortable with an older crowd, because they were creative too, and I respected them and I was respected by them. I learned to put aside my scoffs at poetry that referenced the ‘60s and the unending parade of Bob Dylan style imitators. It’s not my place to decide what form self expression takes, so I try to be kind and learn something from everyone. He initiated an exchange of emails and we went through a brief critique of each other’s work. He sent me some poems and I sent him some fiction, like a good modern-day penpal-ship. Then, the emails started to edge a little too close. I became reserved with my responses. Instead of seeing his changed language as fatherly or endearing, I felt I was again approaching a wall in a vehicle I had lost control of. I stopped responding, and sure enough, the last email he sent was an invitation to take me to dinner.

“What do you say? Dinner?”

It seemed innocent enough on the screen, but I kept wondering what that dinner could possibly look like, and that’s when I started questioning the phenomenon. How could I—in my abhorrent financial and empty-refrigerator state—decline an invitation with a man who would probably let me order whatever I wanted and then pick up the bill? Knowing this, how could I talk freely and with confidence about creative pursuits without feeling indebted to this guy, or that he was expecting something more from me? Was there any situation we would find ourselves in that wouldn’t result in my feeling denied intellectual camaraderie and him feeling denied a piece of my love? From the way the exchange sounded, no. He was dangling a free dinner in front of me, just as a different guy had months before, under the veil of being interested in what I had to say and contribute to the world as a professional writer. He was using his age or his funds as a symbol of authority, and I was the hungry young writer who needed to feel flattered and full. I thought back on times long ago when an innocent dinner turned out to be something tipped far away from my favor and level of personal comfort. Even though I’ve physically pushed men away after they walked or drove me home from dates, I felt like I was in a debt I could never pay out of. I’ve come to learn a valuable lesson: there is always a catch.

I felt stupid and used. I declined the invitation very professionally, but inside, I was screaming. I had to pedal it out. I hopped on my bike, ready to spit at anyone in the neighborhood who dared to catcall me in my terrible mood. The air was strangely cool after a stagnant humid week and the bicycle was running like a dream. I’m proud of my bicycle, an instrument I rely on everyday. It keeps us both in good condition. It is a tool I bought brand new with my own money that I worked for, and I use it daily to reaffirm my independence. It’s a symbol of my will and strength, my refusal to stop moving forward. But that evening the ride only felt half as good. As I rode through my neighborhood and the blocks surrounding, I was filled with questions. Was I too generous with my energy? Was my encouragement for others detrimental to myself? Were all those advanced literary conversations just a trick to get me to open up?

Is anyone going to take my work seriously?

***

This is more than “just a thing that happens” to young female professionals. (This isn’t a gender-specific issue, but I can only speak from my experience.) This is a constantly-in-your-face example of the way older men of their field treat the ambitious and intelligent young women who work like hell to make something of themselves. If I were a man of the same age, I guarantee dinner with me would be far less appealing to the men who proposed them. We might go to dinner. We might talk about business, or tactics to succeed, or I might receive valuable tricks of the trade that would allow me to climb higher in my quest for small-time publication. We might have a drink and clap shoulders and toast and say “God, it’s so good to finally have someone to talk to,” and then split the tab and go to our separate homes without any creepy sexual tension hanging in the air like a noose. This is how I picture the male professionals in my field at my age finding their mentors and peers. Unless the one who proposes dinner with me is a women who respects my work, I will continue to decline. It’s too much work for me otherwise, and now, it’s no wonder I feel the most comfortable in the company of other professional women. I wish personal history didn’t limit me to feeling this way, but there it is.

Beyond the two big personal accounts, I’ve found myself at the tail end of many stimulating conversations on a topic of my passion or interest, only to discover it was all a trail of crumbs leading to a lame or threatening pickup line. (Once, a man even promised to buy a sculpture of mine at a show, then tried to kiss me. He didn’t buy the piece.) Maybe it isn’t always as cut-and-dry as sexual harassment. Maybe it isn’t as simple as distilling the problem to loneliness, or intimidation, or power. Maybe sometimes, it is completely genuine and honest. But this isn’t an isolated incident. We women, especially the young professionals of their field, view it as a matter of time that this will happen rather than a lucky break when it doesn’t. At some point we will all be vulnerable, because it is not our job to be alert and wary of every conversation we enter into, and we will find ourselves facing an offer we know is couched in systematic sexism so putrid we can taste it.

Maybe my cases are too specific, but if anything happens more than once, I start to analyze the why. This account doesn’t include the multifarious times I was legitimately sexually harassed by older men at my job or otherwise, because the topic is so widespread and pervasive, it would take a whole dissertation to unravel some of the atrocities I and nearly all women have experienced. What I’m saying is much more focused on the individual in the creative arts, and that weird, intangible thing that blends creative passion and professionalism that makes us easy prey. Maybe it’s easier to take advantage of young women in the arts because they’re less likely to have an office and a paycheck to prove their intellectual or societal worth. Maybe it’s easier to target those who are carving out a path for themselves, because they are easier to ambush from the untamed brush.

I feel like we have to shout it in the professional world. Don’t ask us to a private dinner. Don’t pull some weird romantic gesture out of your hat and expect us to reciprocate. Don’t hold our income status or our empty stomachs against us. We know what we’re feeling, and we know it sucks, but that temporary shit will end while the men in our fields try to bait us under the guise of genuine interest. If it’s a date, make it a goddamn date. If it’s professional, get to the same swanky party and talk shop in a crowded room. If it’s about the art, buy some, or read some, or encourage people you know to buy and read some. Don’t lead us on through a smokescreen of shared intellectual interests in the hopes of reaching our bodies. The professional women you betray today will not forget it when they rise to power.

The Timepiece

Hanan looked at her watch at eleven o’clock. The timepiece on her wrist felt lighter than it used to, although the old silver was heavy with old fashioned gears and a thick glass face. When she removed it at night, she thought her arm would float up above her head and stay there like a helium balloon. But on her wrist it felt natural, a sheath she had grown into. By some miracle, it still worked. Hanan wound the watch each day until she felt tension from the main spring inside. At eleven o’clock, she tied her hair back, wrapped a burgundy scarf around her head and pulled on a long garment that touched her ankles. She was uncomfortable and hot. Hanan found her shopping bags and left her apartment for the crowded Friday market. Her feet ached in the women’s slippers that blistered her ankles until rivers of hot, clear pus burst from the skin. She longed to go home and change into the plush leather shoes made for men. Hanan wondered why men’s shoes were so comfortable when it was the women who did all the walking, while men sat in cafes, judging what was appropriate for others to wear.

The men in the square used to laugh at her hair until she covered it. They had laughed at her men’s shoes until she switched to the women’s slippers. The men in the square laughed at her watch—her father’s watch—but this, she refused to relinquish. Each time she walked by, the lazy men who sat on the roundabout curb chortled and gaped at the big silver timepiece wrapped around her wrist. A men’s watch! She wears a men’s watch! A woman must wear an appropriate watch, one that is dainty and covered with false diamonds or gold, or one that cracks easily like a woman’s emotions. Her father’s watch was wide, sturdy and discolored in places the silver had started to patina. The tick of the minute hand was loud and authoritative, appropriate for a man who wanted the world to know his time was important. Hanan ignored their comments, preferring to retreat into her personal history with the watch, which, her father said long ago, originally belonged to a powerful woman. Who was she? Hanan never knew.

Hanan was examining potatoes when a fisherman slopped a bucket of sardines beside her. A careless wave jumped the cart of ice and sloshed Hanan with the fishy juices.

“Smeh-li,” the fisherman said and continued the job while Hanan dripped with sardine water.

“Really?” she said to the fisherman, but he pretended not to hear her. Have compassion, she heard her father’s voice in her head, as she often did. You be quiet too, she told the voice. She paid for her potatoes and rushed home to change. Stray cats followed her at a distance, delighted by the odor.

Hanan unclasped her watch and patted the leather band dry with a towel. The smell endured. She set the watch on the windowsill to let it air in the sun. Hanan removed her dress and changed into jeans and a t-shirt, took the scarf off her head and let her curls of dark hair fall back into a natural order. The thought of changing back into cumbersome clothes on this hot day made her weary. Hanan dropped onto the bed with a sigh. A flea landed on her skin and she smacked it down. How did a flea get into her room? She glanced at the windowsill, where an orange cat perched, looking at her. Two pieces of soft leather hung from its jaws as the cat clamped down on the silver face of the watch. With a cry of protest Hanan lunged for the window, but startled the cat, who hopped off the sill and galloped out into the street, watch in its jaws. Panicked, Hanan slipped on the nearest shoes—the men’s shoes—and dashed after the animal. The orange tail slipped through her fingers as the cat made a sharp turn into the streets of the lively medina. Hanan raced after it.

***

When she was a girl, her father would let her wear the watch around the house. Back then it was heavy on her wrist, almost slipping off her on the tightest clasp. Before she could tell time, she stared into the face and watched the thin hands tick around the numbers, sometimes for a full hour, only for the pleasure of the movements. During the Revolution, her father’s work took him to rallies and secret meetings, or into hiding in Madrid or Lyon. When he left town, he would let her keep it, and she would sleep with it under her pillow at night. Each muffled tick of the hand was a reminder of him and his eventual return. As she drifted into sleep, lulled by the reliable stroke of the watch, she imagined her father lying awake at the same time, feeling his wrist for the timepiece. She would have rather lost a front tooth than lost her father’s watch.

When unrest bubbled in the region, each loud tock of the watch became a reminder of the fragility of power, the delicate line that separated life from death. Her father’s work during the Revolution cost him his life. With his death, the wisdom he taught her slipped into a similar fate, a little at a time, until Hanan had a partial graveyard of old values spread out inside her. Hanan now wore a scarf around her hair, traditional slippers on her feet, and covered her eyelids in black shadow. As the years went on, she betrayed her father by blending in, by doubting her own strength in the world. But through her transformation, through all the cultural rules she learned to accept, the watch remained on her wrist.

When watches were still a new invention, men wore them on chains in their pockets and women wore them on their wrists. As a little girl, Hanan laughed when her father said this, pointing at the silver piece wrapped around his wrist.

“You’re wearing a girl’s watch” she said. Her father smiled.

“That’s because it belonged to a fearsome female pirate,” he answered and unbuckled the thick leather strap, soft from time.

Before the industrial era, women pirates controlled the river that ran along the southern border of the town. Hanan’s father told her stories of the ungovernable women who took the river as their own and ruled the waters with violence and compassion. Riches entered the city in the hulls of hulking boats, absconded from Italy, Spain, and the sub-Saharan nomads. Men stockpiled the treasure and transformed overnight from modest workers to living like pharaohs. They bought enormous houses and exciting clothes and wore diamonds and gold on every finger. As long as the pirate women—who had no use for material goods—continued to raid the Mediterranean sea, the city would brim with riches. This was the lifestyle, until the kings of other countries sent boats and men out to recover what was stolen from them. Roundups lasted years and many foolish men died protecting their ill gotten means. Only those who were discreet and resourceful slipped passed the search while everyone else was stripped of their gold. Hanan’s father tapped his watch with one finger and winked at his daughter.

“And they never could find all the treasure. Some pieces are still missing.”

Hanan’s mind filled with tales of the Mediterranean marauders, who inlayed ivory and gold in the city walls. She gazed at the silver watch with amazement. Her own father possessed an item of particular value. Who knew how the watch came to him, or his father, or his father before. Hanan longed for every detail.

Then the Revolution came. The old walls exploded, leaving only a cracked and colorless canvas for the soldiers to vandalize. Propaganda still flaked off in ugly tatters years after the fighting ended. When she closed her eyes, Hanan could still see the images of these stories imprinted in her mind from when she was a child, but when she opened them again the city was nearly in ruins. She wanted to go back, to be a pirate untamed by society, to be a woman who was more fish than human.

***

Silver flashed past a pen of chickens. Hanan leapt over pools of grey water feeding into the gutter. The medina ran through the city like an artery, pumping the lifeblood of commerce to the little roads and alleys that fed the seaside port. As she chased the cat past the half walls of the old quarter, where ancient women crouched in doorways and muttered prayers at passer-bys, she imagined she was in the old city under hanging baskets of silver and gems. Instead, more cats watched the chase from their window perches overhead, like tabby gargoyles, indifferent to the outcome of the hunt.

Suddenly, she couldn’t see the orange cat. She halted in the middle of the medina, the center at which all roads converged. When she stopped, she realized she had left the house in men’s shoes, with her hair down and legs stuffed into jeans. The whispers began, then grew louder until they filled her ears. She caught her breath and spotted the cat under a cart of onions. The cat had the watch on the ground and was licking off the sardine slime that still clung to the face. A-ha! She leapt and once again the cat picked up the timepiece and took off down a narrow side street, one that lead deeper into the residential slums. Hanan ran past closed doors made of heavy wood with great iron rings dominating the façade. Family quarrels thrummed on the other side of barred windows. The cat bounced ahead of her, its thin hips protruding, moving like pistons beneath the skin. Just as she was closing in on the animal again, the cat launched itself up to the top of a wall and disappeared down the other side. Thinking quickly, Hanan continued down the residential path. A few more turns and she was on the trail again, chasing the swift animal through the colored light filtering through the blue tarps that covered the narrow street. They ran between shops under banners of hanging green peppers and pale dead chickens, naked of feathers with beaks locked open. They skidded around corners populated by bags of black and red spices. They ran together between women with only their eyes showing, eyes that cut to Hanan’s modern clothes in disapproval. When she caught up with the cat at one final turn, it was by the river. Hanan was out of breath. Had she really run all the way to the river? The sparkling waters lead to the Mediterranean and out into the old waters once commanded by the pirate women. If the watch was swept into the stream, Hanan would never see it again. It would be fished out by a toothless old man who would pawn it for a net, or it would drown under the waves until the loud tick was silenced forever. The cat dipped to the water and released the watch from its mouth. Hanan dove to the bank to grab the timepiece and plunged her hand into the cold river, but she missed. She watched it sink to the bottom, the watch that survived her girlhood, the Revolution, and her father.

Before it touched down on the silty sand of the riverbed, something happened. The leather band stretched out. The face became an eye that studied her. Amazed, Hanan caught her reflection on the surface of the rippled water, her black hair spread wild around her determined face. Like the pirate women of old drawings, she looked dark and formidable. She just had time to gasp at her reflection before the watch made its complete transformation. As she caught sight of her fathers old timepiece again, the watch joined a school of sardines rushing by, and swam back to where it came from, where Hanan suddenly felt herself rushing towards.

Oh, How We’ve Failed

This morning, The Kansas City Star published a spectacularly destructive article by Laura Herrick on the ways in which women can adjust their lifestyles and actions to prevent rape from happening to them. Here, you will read the original article, titled “Women can take action to prevent rapes” in italics and the responses below each section. To write a letter to Herrick, reach her at oped@kcstar.com.

(Update: The Star has removed the original article from their website. If you would like a PDF of the original article, send me an email. I saved it.)

With a long history of publishing awful fluff pieces and generally obnoxious clickbait, The Kansas City Star and whoever approved the original article reached a new height of incompetence when deciding to run this dazzling number. Here you go.

Let me preface this by saying that I empathize with women who have been raped. These women have endured terrible experiences and need to know that what happened was not their fault and that whatever they did to stay alive was the right thing.

I would also like to remind men that “no means no” (and if someone is too drunk to say no, then no is implied); that no matter what a woman wears or does, she isn’t “asking for it”; and that if men witness a woman being treated inappropriately, they need to step in and attempt to stop what is happening.”

Stop right there. Your article is over. As many times as I read and considered this garbage piece of writing, this was the only part I kept coming back to and thinking “at least she said one good thing before the turgid swirl of bad rhetoric came out like from a broken sewage pipe.” If you haven’t read the original piece, be prepared, because that’s what it is. Sewage.

“I saw a quote on Facebook that said, “When a woman drinks too much she expects to wake up the next day hung over, not raped.” I agree.

But as women, shouldn’t we take responsibility for our bodies by not becoming so intoxicated that we don’t know what is happening? Every woman should know her drink limit and stop there.”

Props to you for finding reputable news sources to agree with. Nevermind Facebook uses algorithms harvested from your friends, your internet browsing, your online shopping, etc to structure your content. So, good for you for finding a Facebook quote you agree with. But by the lizard-logic of your next sentence, I can only conclude that this was as far as you went into navigating the wide-spread discussion of the harmful perpetuation of victim blaming you can find almost ANYWHERE on the internet. I imagine this is how it happened: You saw a quote on a page designed by experts to filter and tailor content to your liking, had a blip of a thought about blame cross your mind—which has no doubt been conditioned by other blips of idiocy you found by whiny men’s rights activists crying over their perceived loss of power—and you spent what I assume was the better part of an otherwise unproductive day to cobble these thoughts together into one, gloriously ignorant Star-appropriate op piece about the fault of women in accepting responsibility for the history of sexual violence that has targeted them from multiple sources for the entire history of humanity. I try to imagine this, but honestly, I can’t.

“No, she’s not asking to be raped by being drunk. But isn’t it her responsibility to reduce the risk by not getting to that point? And if you wake up the morning after doing the ‘walk of shame’ don’t yell rape if you regret your actions of the night before.

Accept your role in what happened, learn from the experience and move on.”

 I wish I could remember what my reaction was when I read that little gem of a statement for the first time. I might have lost consciousness from the blow of backwards reasoning and, when I came to, found my kitchen table flipped over on fire. That’s an exaggeration, but I did—and I’m sure I’m not alone—release a cry of absolute pain into the world at the evidence another woman who lives in the same world as I do could connect such appallingly oppressive ideas together to form words I so naively expected could still only come from non-woke men. A part of me died a little inside. The only way I can recover from this is to take your harmful statements apart piece by piece in hope of preventing such harmful hypothesis from you ever inflicting them on the world again.

It’s really quite fantastic to hear an educated and eloquent woman such as yourself refer to the journey home after a sexual encounter as a “walk of shame.” Because for a woman, sex is a shameful and degrading act that was only invented to please the male kind no matter how you slice it. Thanks for that, patriarchy!

Regarding responsibility, let’s use this analogy. When men drink, they have to be careful not to operate heavy machinery. (Note: gender has nothing to do with it. Don’t operate big stuff drunk.) Luckily, heavy machinery can be largely avoided if one has limited access to construction sites, airplane hangers, leisure boats, the keys to their car, stuff like that. When women drink, they have to be careful in every situation you can think of. Sexual assault happens in public and in private places. It happens at house parties, at the club, at a friend’s house, at your own house, outside, inside, in the presence of others and in the presence of nobody. If the only way to prevent operating heavy machinery is to not do it, why don’t we view rape the same way?

Accept your role? What role? The role of existing in the world? The role of going about one’s day unmolested? The role of there’s a 26% chance a woman will be raped in her lifetime? The role that nearly half of all women will experience some form of sexual assault in their lifetime? What role are these women accepting in the violence they, you have so beautifully stated, could easily prevent? And what makes you believe it’s so easy to simply “learn from the experience and move on?” Does the fact that 54% of rapes go unreported add up your conclusion that women should just learn and move on?

“Women want to be treated as sexual equals when it comes to desires, the ability to have casual encounters and the enjoyment of sex. But some women act on this freedom then want to deny their involvement later.

Every woman who falsely accuses a man of rape makes the battle harder for women who are actually raped. And the lives and reputations of the men who are falsely accused are often irreparably destroyed.”

Bringing desire into a conversation about rape and sexual assault is the most offensive, juvenile, retrogressive piece of whatever-you-can-even-call-this-hot-mess I have ever seen. The only thing ANYONE can assume about ANYONE ELSE’S sexual desires is this: Even in fantasies, nobody wants to have sex 100% without their consent. Saying “women want to be treated as equals when it comes to sexual desire” ONCE AGAIN removes the responsibility of not raping from rapists.

Furthermore, the notion that women lie—that anyone lies—about being raped is incredibly damaging and undermining to an event that alters someone forever. Who do you suppose was the first person to claim a woman was lying about being raped? I’ll give you two hints: it was probably someone who felt their power would be taken away by the truth, and it probably wasn’t a woman.

It is not women who lie about rape that make the battle harder for women who have been raped. It’s you. It’s people like you who continue to shirk your responsibility to educate yourself against the pervasive culture of toxic masculinity and the patriarchical grip of victim blaming, shaming, and dehumanizing. If you give even one single shit about the reputations and future success of rapists, you need to seriously, hugely and forever, fucking check yourself.

“When men drink, their decision-making abilities are also limited. If a woman was too drunk to know what she was doing and should be excused for what happened, then why are men not allowed to be too drunk to make good decisions?

And if a woman is so intoxicated that she can’t remember giving consent for sex, then how can she know that she didn’t give consent?

If she was so drunk she was unable to make good judgments, then how can we be sure that she has any idea what actually happened?

Maybe she forced herself on the man. Or maybe she initiated the encounter.”

Did you read anything before deciding to push this garbage out into the world? A chance of a woman being raped is 1 of 5. For men, that number looks a little different. Only 1 of 71 men experience rape in their lifetime, and while it’s not impossible for a woman to force herself on a man without his consent, it’s way, way less likely to happen. Giving consent while intoxicated is a tricky grey area for everyone, but educating men to be respectful and use good judgment in these situations is more important than teaching women to moderate their impairment or stop drinking altogether. Also, ever heard of date rape drugs? There are some levels of impairment a victim of sexual assault just cannot control.

Many of us have been there in the morning when a sense of deep regret sets in, but you cannot assume everyone who has been in this position will automatically leap to accuse someone of this especially heinous crime. Sure, we all make mistakes, but one night of drunken consent does not send most people into creating revenge-seeking lies about what happened.

I’m puzzled by the question, “why are men not allowed to be too drunk to make good decisions?” Men can make good decisions when they are drunk. Anyone can. It’s hard, sure, but it’s not impossible, and it’s definitely not an excuse for rape. Drinking impairs judgment, but at no point in anyone’s life should that judgment slip so far as to justify the rape and assault of another human being. The fact that this is something you use liquor to excuse—implying that it’s already in the man’s brain to rape, booze just helps it along—is super fucking harmful to everyone of every sex and gender.

“I am not talking about the extreme situations like group rape or the Stanford incident. Those men should be held accountable for their inexcusable actions.

I am talking about the casual encounters many people have had — waking up the next day and realizing they are next to someone in bed and being embarrassed and regretful that it happened.”

Why not stop worrying about other people’s casual encounters and individual regret and start having a productive conversation about sexual assault, rape, reeducation, equality, and all the other things you clearly need help understanding.

“I hate that I have to tell my son that if he sees a drunk, unconscious woman, he needs to either run the other direction or find women to help her.

Men should be able to help a drunk female without thinking about calling a lawyer first. And people should be able to interact sexually with someone they are attracted to without fear of being convicted of a crime.”

Wait…didn’t you just admit you tell your son to run away from a woman when he sees she needs help? Are you implying already that it is mentally and evolutionarily engrained in your son to rape an impaired woman? This hands-off approach to education because “what can be done?” is the biggest problem we as a society have when discussing how we should teach people not to rape. If you truly believe men should be able to help that crafty wild animal, “a drunk female,” don’t educate your son to fear the ~*~irrational female brain~*~ that has only evolved secondary to the ~*~male brain~*~ to make his life more difficult. In the space of three sentences, you a) admit to educating your son the same way the toxic patriarchy has educated us all for hundreds of years, b) complain about the lack of helpful and progressive education of young men, of course for which you are in no way responsible for creating, and c) connect the two in a conclusion about the complex and ever-changing web of human sexuality as a whole.

“Bottom line: Men, stop acting like animals and having sex with anything that breathes, and intervene when you see a situation that you know is wrong.”

 This is one of the oldest and most harmful assumptions we have in our culture of toxic masculinity: that men “just can’t help themselves,” or “boys will be boys,” and other familiar adages that excuse the system for not educating young men to not rape.

“And women, take charge of your bodies and your sexuality by being sober enough to stop unwanted advances and sober enough to actually enjoy sex when you choose to have it.”

 Fuck you.

Morocco: Daily Life

There was a nest of birds outside the kitchen window. I heard the little ones peeping, their cries rising in urgency when one of the children in the yard climbed the ladder to prod them with a finger. From my terrace apartment, I could hear the mother shouting to her children. They responded with a shriek: “LA!” they said, the Derija word for “no.” It came from the house with come frequency. The mother would call again. Something wooden would clatter on the concrete floor of the back area where the laundry was hanging to dry. I did my laundry too and dried my clothes on the rack outside, but everything came out stiff. Those children were monsters. Like other children in Morocco, a designated bedtime was not on their schedule. I heard them up and screaming at all hours, harassing the swift nest. I saw bird cages around Tétouan, holding the sad animals with featherless heads and thin wings. Stressed birds are ugly birds.

Evenings were otherwise pleasant on the terrace. My apartment was small but the view spectacular. I brought a chair and sketchbook outside and drew the tops of buildings around me. Seagulls cried and swifts bounced through the air. Once in a while, the sky grew quiet as a single crane went gliding by, backlit by vermillion clouds. The street below livened in the evenings. I grew familiar with the distinct calls and voices of each vendor competing for the most airtime. A river of locals pushed through the street and in and out of the medina. A few times I braved the crowd on my own, but the speed and urgency of the shoppers (people who actually had a purpose in being in the busy market) overwhelmed me.

At the busiest hour, I was invited by another resident to wander around and we wove like bees around the maze of the medina. Actual bees were trapped under film-wrapped sugary pastries. Everything in Morocco is dipped in honey and rolled in nuts or seeds, but I don’t have a sweet tooth. I do have cravings for heat, but I never encountered a decent hot sauce. I ate olives everyday and never got sick of it.

The vendor outside the studio has peddled several different kinds of fruit, from peaches to cantaloupes, onions and strawberries. I became most familiar with the sounds from the vendors below the studio, who started their days closer to noon, allowing me a few morning hours of relative peace. One young man’s aggressive calls boomed above the others, cutting through their words with his important message. The weird thing was, the vendor shouted (what sounded like) the exact same phrase over and over since I arrived. I thought he was calling out the price of peaches, but then the food changed to apples and the calls were the same. I looked down over my balcony and try to make out what on earth he was saying. My best guess was he was calling out price by kilo, which apparently never changes (at least not to my untrained ears). After deciding this was right, I peered over the rail the next day, only to see the man leaning over a cart of watermelons.

When the voices of the street vendors don’t drown it out, taxis honk and screech along the other road. There seemed to be a custom of holding down the horn for as long as one can to get someone to move. No gentle taps here on this side of Tétouan. Sometimes, although it was rare, I heard cats meowing or fighting with each other. Most of the cats were pregnant, nursing, or leading a parade of kittens down the sidewalk. In the evening, everything gets loud. The birds screech overhead, cutting the sky with their pointed wings, sharp like the edge of an arrow. The streets fill with vendors, raising their voices over one another in competition. Cocky students leaving the language school for the day enter the crowd walking abreast. Men came in from the desert and spread out blankets in the square. They had very black skin and wore deep blue—lapis lazuli blue—robes. They brought objects from the edge of the Sahara into town, statues of men and animals beside huge neck pieces with rough stones.

The tortoise shell cat had her babies outside of my studio. She was so pregnant, and the day before she had the kittens, I saw her lounging in a doorway, the pink nipples on her fat belly poked out toward the street. When I returned to studio from the medina one night, the man who sold fruit under my studio handed me a newborn kitten, a little orange one with tiny flaps for ears and eyes that were not open. It didn’t make noise, but searched for a nipple as I held her. Her mouth was hardly anything more than a little hole for sucking. She fit right in the palm of my hand.

At the end of my time in Morocco, I wanted to cast even my beloved jeans into the ocean. They made my flea bites itch and I still wasn’t allowed to wear shorts. I wanted to shred the long, sensible dresses I thrifted from Kansas City and change into a crop top. It was hard to tell if I was gaining weight or losing it. The Moroccan diet is a strange one. I reminded myself it would be easier to eat well in Spain, where I wouldn’t have to sterilize my fresh foods, or watch out where it came from. I frequently saw greens on the street, on pieces of cloth, as the man from the shop next door swept particles of dirt from the street landing on the dark leaves. My heart sank a little each time. I went to get ice cream on the corner by the plaza. The girl had a spot of chocolate on the back of her hand. She lifted it to her mouth and licked it off, flashing her braces, before diving back in to scoop my order. It was uncomfortable, but I knew I couldn’t be too squeamish. I also couldn’t be too careful, as I’ve been sick abroad before. I took a risk and ate my ice cream anyway.