Three Short Things (In Progress)

Time for an in-progress post! If you have a strong opinion on which one I should continue, leave it in the comment section!

The Airedales, Sailor and Caesar, were descendants of show dogs with black and caramel hair that kinked close to their skin like the wooly surface of every rug in every basement rec room I have ever seen. The grace of their parents, who lay in feather beds beneath the mantle of Kennel Club trophies, was confined to their ability to catch the far leaping cave crickets that dwelled in the basement. I witnessed Sailor and Caesar team up against the pests and use each other as tables to balance their front paws, lift themselves in the air to catch a cricket in mid leap. Like two friends playing leapfrog, but with more accuracy and patience. Their old, regal parents would later be burned to ash, held in Faberge style urns that glittered beside the golden trophies, holding up the photos of normal looking dogs with winsome coats playing in the yard.

I close my eyes and see a flock of birds. If I close them again, will I see the same flock of birds? Will I see the same number of birds? The image in my head is neither fixed nor fluid, it is the same image yet I do not trust it not to change. I close my eyes again and again, seeing the same flock of birds and seeing a different flock each time, start off in the bare winter tree and take off to the right against the cloudy sky, the faintest color of lavender.

A tongue came through town with a traveling parade of spectacles. Gypsies, my mother scoffed and waved at the word like it were a bird come in through the flue. She wiped the sweat off her temple with the butt of her palm and told me to go if I really wanted to. The heat stuck on her skin and lingered in the air of the house, where the smells of our combined sweat held still in the windless summer. I could still hear the kitchen radio as I left our yard to see the tongue: And over the course of several days, we had collected thousands of rattlesnakes, weighing together about a ton. Take this moment to imagine what that sounds like—one ton of angry rattlesnakes all writing together in our bags. The program faded into a rattling static as a cloud moved to cover the sky.The gypsies brought wagons and tents made of rich cloth, designed in busy cosmic patterns and repeating images of naked women. We had heard the main attraction was not the great tusks of the fabled white elephant, nor the woman who could play a violin with so much heartbreak, the instrument itself wept. None came to see these as much as they came for a tongue, about six inches long, floating in a glass mouth. Although the show had only just arrived in town, the ground was worn with dusty paths and trails leading up to the tents. The grass flattened out beneath each ware-scattered rug, lit by lanterns shaped like stars. Women in loose skirts lifted up handfuls of brass figures bearing the image of a god I did not recognize. Men lounged against their tired dogs in the midmorning heat, each one giving off the distinct odor of oranges and tobacco. I followed the worn trail to the tent of the tongue and fell into the long line of hopeful observers. The jar was designed for the attraction by the glassblowing widows several towns over, who treated the material with love and ease so that the mouth-shaped jar, as it emerged from the hot flames, blew a kiss. The widows, their lives independent of crushing male rule, melted like the heated glass when it expressed to them this kind of love. Beyond the charm and whimsy of the jar, the story of the tongue itself was what captivated the audience. It belonged to a sailor of the seas, a lover of women and treasure alike. On a meeting with a Persian lord, the sailor let slip some snide observation and had this most vital muscle of the mouth taken clean out with his own blade. At the base of the muscle, I looked so close I thought I could see the ripped edges where the knife, at one time the sharpest blade in the boat, was perhaps neglected for several days and had gone a bit dull. Gone were the days—I heard outside the tent by the traveling story tellers—of the swarthy sailor’s charm, his tricks, and his humor. His favorite way to please women was through that vital instrument, whether through serenading tales of treasure and adventure or as he dove to part the hair between their legs and lick as if extracting honey from a freshly baked roll. Gone were his feasts of fish—bones and all—the ink-stained potato and squid in tough bows of pasta. The lord that stole his tongue removed not only the cruelties a man could do with just one muscle, but he stole the essence of the man with it. No more would it spit in the eyes of his crew. No longer would it curl around crystals of salt on the posts once the ocean spray had dried. No more would it mutter in the dark the early childhood songs from school, oh which weather would you rather skip along to my dear? We could bury the day or we could run away together through rain or through sun, as the boat rocked and daybreak was a skid in the heavy ocean clouds. I stared at the muscle, looking tip to base as close as I could to try and see beyond the tongue, into the language of the sailor—foreign to my own, into the warm wet crevasses of a woman’s sex—also unknown to me. I wanted to walk barefoot up and down the tongue until I understood exactly the taste of something sweet after tasting the salt of the ocean for so long. I wanted to feel the surprise of my wit in a room full of men, who laugh and slap me on the back and spit out their drinks on the table. I wanted to feel the dense flattening of those muscles beyond my teeth when someone told me I could not have what I arrived for, and taste the irony specks of blood that came from inside my mouth when I took a bite to the cheek. Indeed, the man lost everything. I paid to see the spectacle over and over. Every time I got back in line, I fidgeted and inched until I was back in front, facing the tongue, absorbed in its wonderment, until I was nudged aside by the people behind me, waiting their turn to understand what kind of dishonor would cause a person to lose this important tool.

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My Favorite Men are Feminists: A Letter to Tara Kennedy Kline

Dear Tara Kennedy Kline, and anyone including themselves in the feminist vs. anti- feminist debate,

I think sometimes we’re all a little confused. Given the social structures, crossing lines of communication, personal differences, cultural gaps, plethora of definitions, etc, it’s no surprise it’s so difficult for us to classify ourselves as Feminist or Not Feminist. Either and any extreme of a given situation is bound to mirror even the simplest political spectrum. Too far in one direction, your are a reactionary, revolutionary, extremist, etc. Smack dab in the middle makes you a pacifist at best. Slightly off to one side or the other is the opinionated activist, or just opinionated. We need to start to clarify, while at the same time, dismantle the common stereotypes feminists and anti-feminists are associated with. This will not solve the collective identity crisis, but hopefully we can learn to reject labels in favor of an objectively even playing field for all the sexes and gender identities.

In TKK’s article on November 14th 2014, she makes her position very clear in the FvsNF debate: As a mother of two boys, she does not want them to grow up with, nor will she impose, a “feminist agenda”. I don’t have my own children, so I have no room to speak for being a mother, but in a way I kind of understand what she is saying. Every parent wants the best for their children, no doubt, and mostly we want them to be influenced by culture at a rate they can understand and be receptive to it. She states:

“I want my boys to be chivalrous, to open doors and carry heavy loads, to ask a girl out on a date and pay the bill without expecting anything in return. I am encouraging my sons to tell girls when they think those girls look beautiful. I love that my boys want to surprise me (and eventually their partners) with gifts, and the spontaneous hug or peck on the cheek from time to time to show their love.

But, the latest campaigns by the feminist movement are telling boys they are wrong if they do these things, or anything else that would make a girl feel stereotypically “girly,” or my sons to act stereotypically “gentleman-like.” The FCKH8 Campaign would have girls tell my sons to “fuck off” if they called them pretty or reached for their hand without permission.”

To reduce the feminist movement and the struggle for women to have equal rights down to stereotypical gender roles is not fair to the movement or to her sons. I don’t think any modern day feminist would object to wanting to raise your sons to be polite, courteous, generous, and loving, but part of the feminist movement is teaching young boys and girls the deeper nature of human consent, exchange, and generosity. What feminism really boils down to is having respect for each individual and letting each person decide for themselves how they want to live their life.

All my favorite men are feminists. My partner has actually taught me more about feminism than I would have found out on my own. His respect and openness to discuss matters which I could deny or consent to has been an enlightening experience for me. He still opens doors, picks up the check once in a while, tells me I’m beautiful, and is appropriately physical with me in public. Those feminist men in my life I’m not romantically involved with treat me and other women with the same caring and non-judgmental behavior they would treat their male friends. Of course, every individual is different. Some women prefer to pay for their own drinks, have a conversation with others without being interrupted by a circling male looking for numbers, and even leave the house without being called at or commented on. Other women, feminists or not, will gladly accept a gesture from another human—a drink at the bar, a casual date, an honest comment—this doesn’t mean they are any better or worse than the other group, it’s just what they feel comfortable with and empowered by. As a feminist male, there is no direct role to follow or reference to. There are some rules to follow and some lines to avoid crossing at all times, but at no point in the “feminist agenda” does it say “Real Men this” or “Manliness that”.

TKK, I think you may have exaggerated the response your sons might get if they “called a girl pretty or reached for their hand without permission”. I don’t think any and every feminist would yell “fuck off” based on these gestures alone, but coupled with aggressive come-ons, inappropriate touching or commenting, or a glaringly obvious lack of consent on the girl’s part, I think that response would be expected. If your son is demonstrating an honest comment or gesture made as a genuine attempt to respect and acknowledge a female, I don’t understand how you made the conclusion that “fuck you” would be the response. I assume you are teaching your two boys to grow up with respect for “no means no” and any/every opinion regarding her personal space a woman has. If you aren’t, you are opting out of helping the next generation understand consent, boundaries, and very basic respect for fellow humans. No human is property of someone else, and the acknowledgement and respect for basic consent is the most crucial step towards living a life with respect for this fact.

As a feminist that has dealt with many “creepy douchebags”, I can tell you it takes much more than “a simple hello” to put me on guard. Little girls are not brought up believing the “fact that 100% of men are rapists.” I’m not sure where you get those numbers or that information. Little girls are brought up to understand their bodies and tell an adult when something inappropriate has happened to them. As those girls get older, mass culture and media teach them that men are in charge of their bodies, what they consume, who they know, and what their level of comfort is at any given time in their presence. Ok, I’m not being fair, but based on your numbers, this is an argument you can understand. Obviously not “100% of men” are rapists. Clearly women grow up to trust, respect, and even love men who provide for and support them. Your definition of feminism is a culture of women who simply, incorrectly, irreversibly hate men. Since there are many, many feminist women who are married, raise children, stay at home, and operate a more “traditional” home situation, your argument immediately becomes invalid.

Criteria for Feminism:

  1. Believe that men and women deserve equal rights.

As an example, since this is actually the rule most people have trouble understanding, a man is standing at a bus stop, waiting for the bus, and a woman comes up to him.

“Hey,” she says, “you’re very attractive. Will you give me your number?”

“No,” says the man, a little taken aback. “I’m just trying to get to work.”

The woman steps back, a little hurt by the rejection, but now aware of the cute man’s boundaries.

Problem solved! Let’s reverse the roles:

A woman is standing at the bus stop, waiting for a ride. A man approaches her.

“Hey,” he says, “you’re very attractive. Will you give me your number?”

“No,” says the woman, a little taken aback. “I’m just trying to get to work.”

The man steps back, a little hurt by the rejection, but now aware of the cute girl’s boundaries.

Again! Problem solved! This is feminism. The respect for the individual needs, boundaries, and comfort levels of men and women alike. Unfortunately, the culture little girls grow up understanding is that men are stronger, and if they wanted to overpower you, they have that ability. This means physically, sexually, mentally, and emotionally. A little girl is taught to run away before she is taught to stand up for herself, because it’s easier to flee a threatening confrontation than it is to avoid one. Tragically, some of these confrontations end in violence if a man believes a woman’s attention to him is a right he deserves. If your sons are growing up without understanding what the young girls are growing up with as well, it becomes harder for them in their adult years to put a woman’s life into perspective, and to recognize the signs and signals of a threatening interaction. Language and body language are the best indicators that someone is feeling uncomfortable by your presence, and if another person is responding in ways that makes you think they feel threatened, it’s a good indication you don’t realize their position or what you might be suggesting with your own language.

  1. Perform and believe Rule 1 on a daily basis.

The feminist men in my life are all different. Some of them are weight lifters, some are musicians, some are artists and writers, some are accountants or business owners, some are bartenders or servers or landlords. Some are gay, some are straight, some are bisexual, some have fixed gender identities and others move easily between. Some of them don’t even like each other, for whatever personal reasons. The only thing they really have in common is their belief that women deserve just as much respect for their unique lifestyles as men do. And that they would never hurt another human being to prove the worth of their own beliefs or identity. If your sons are growing up to turn out like these feminist men I know, I’m sure they will make excellent human beings anyone would be happy to know.

Chapbook

Hello my small, amazing following,
I’m in the process of compiling a collection of sixteen short stories for publishing and distributing. I’d like to submit it to some places, but I also will make some hand-bound collectable copies for those who are interested. Last time I hand-bound, I had one-of-a-kind covers that were unique and sculptural. I’m still in the revision stages, but hopefully you can expect to see a physical, nicely made copy of one soon. If you are interested in a copy, let me know and I’ll start thinking about what I can make just for you.

-Annie

Seppic