This is sweet, and funny, but I pity the poor owner!
Flipping to another WIP, a novella based on the life of Christine de Pizan (1364-1431), the first woman in France to make a living as an author. I give you 18 sentences, adding 9+10, and well, minus 1, because that’s where the piece stops.
“Christine, please pay attention to your spinning. It is a disaster, yet you refuse to learn. You must use both your hands in concert.” Christine thought, Synchronicity, like Papa explained about the celestial spheres.
Her mother continued her rant, “Look at the lumps in your wool! Your father thinks he can make you into a scholar, stuffing your head full of Latin and science. It’s not right for a woman to know how to write. How we will ever find a husband for you, I do not know!”
I’ll find my own husband, Christine thought. Stifling a yawn at the perennial argument, she searched through her Latin in a familiar game. Oscitate, yes, that’s yawning, she smiled to herself. Out loud, she said dutifully, “Yes, maman, I will try harder.” She picked up more roving to bear out her promise.
She loved her maman, but she wanted more than her mother’s life. Christine yearned to be a scientist like her father, famous at the French court for his knowledge of astrology and the humours of the body. She wanted to discover whether the pestilence that had ravaged the world was due to the conjunction of three planets, as some thought, or from a miasma, a mala aria in her native Italian. She would be as famous as her father, some day, and not for her spinning. She would be a new sort of woman.
In the wee hours of Friday morning, September 5th, I arrived home from an inspiring and liberating trip to New York City for the Second Annual World Sexual Health Day celebration. The day, in all its components, was bigger than one blog post, and the telling of it will take much reflection. I discovered a refreshing look at sexual health and well-being; an event full of laughter, support, and an emphasis on the health/well-being/psychological side of the picture which was surprising, liberating, and comforting beyond words.
Wrapped around the celebration were good food and good friends in an almost medieval celebration of travel in company. I enjoy the vibrancy and speed of New York City, reveling in the rush of humanity, the eddies at narrow points that remind me of rivers going under bridges, splashing at the pillars that block their path. I prize eavesdropping on the languages I know, trying to identify those I don’t, and catching up on the latest fashions which will never grace my form. My love of the city is somewhat new, as a recent transplant to upstate, which gave showing my finds to my companions an extra elation. The venue for the celebration, The Cutting Room, was a comfortable red, bronze, and wood room with a matching ambience, a new discovery filed in my memory.
In total disclosure, I had no idea what the evening was going to be. I’d signed up to go for utterly selfish reasons: to meet August McLaughlin of #GirlBoner fame, whom I’ve known online for a couple of years now, to see New York, and slightly less selfishly, to accompany Shan Jeniah as tour guide to the big city. What I found was altering in some deep ways I have not completely processed yet.
In her opening statement, Dr. Sara Nasserzadeh did not discount the disease or dysfunction side of things, but added the missing celebratory piece, pointing out a Google search for sexual health would provide more than enough information about dysfunction and disease. Her statement turned my historical focus on that aspect of sexuality on its head. Dysfunction and disease, or fear thereof, has punctuated my adult life from the beginning. From August’s introductory meditation on the color of our sexuality–deepest, royal purple, thank you–to Dr. Sara’s final compassionate plea for understanding those in differing cultures and beliefs, I felt such lightness of heart.
All the artistic pieces, from the stunningly beautiful photography in the bar to the acroyoga to the lovely tangos played by a cello and bandoneon duet found crannies in my heart, and I plan to post about them as well. Right now, however, I’d like to detail the theatre pieces punctuating the evening and striking a harmonic resonance in my inner misfit. Jeffrey Solomon and Emily Joy Weiner played the roles in Houses on the Moon, three vignettes, touching, gentle statements about the difficulties faced by those not on the exact center of the sexual spectrum. The first, an allegorical piece about anchovy pizza, displayed the insensitive and invasive questions posed to humans on the left or right of center in that spectrum. The transgendered roommate snafu portrayed further the quest for understanding and acceptance. The final piece, the teenage best friends confronted with the differing sexes of their heartthrobs, crystallized that need for understanding from those closest as well as the passing stranger. The pieces touched me, making me evaluate whether I was as sensitive in real life as I had imagined.
I encourage all of you to enjoy the streaming video, and celebrate sexuality in some small way. Sign up on the World Sexual Health Day Facebook page, and follow the hashtag #WSHD on Twitter, so you can join us next year, or, if the trip is not feasible, to stay apprised of next year’s event and join us virtually.
The 2nd Annual World Sexual Health Day is happening tomorrow evening (yes, September 4, 2014) in New York City. Not anywhere near New York City? No worries! You can follow the streaming video at the link above.
Shan Jeniah and I are going to the city to meet August McLaughlin, whom we met through WANA (the brainchild of Kristen Lamb) in a recreation of the City Mouse and the Country Mouse that should prove a growth experience for each of us. Why in heaven’s name, you ask, would I take a day of precious annual leave to go to New York for World Sexual Health Day? Well, I’ve already named two reasons in Shan and August.
I met Shan in person soon after I moved to upstate New York a little over two years ago, We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to meet up, but I enjoy each time we manage to do so. August is someone I got to know online, to the point that I find it hard to imagine I’ve never met her in the flesh. When my brother passed away last December, August was one of the first of my “online” friends to offer a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. I was honored to participate in her Beauty of a Woman Blogfest last spring.
That is the friendship/personal side of things. I have other personal reasons to be interested in this event. Many of them echo Shan’s in her post about this event. I was raised Irish Catholic in a time when the schools felt besieged by the changes in the world around them. Skirts were shorter, so we had to kneel on the floor to show the modesty of our uniforms before we could enter the school. The Pill had arrived, heralding sexual freedom, so we were terrorized with the fickle nature of men, who “wouldn’t buy the cow when they got the milk for free.”
On a more individual note, I had found my freedom and my passion in the life of the mind. The body was secondary, whimsical and illogical, prone to flash judgements that promised only decades of regret. “Marry in haste, repent at leisure,” might have been emblazoned on the family crest, had poor shanty Irish had one. I was at war with my body, confused and betrayed by physical desires I little understood and tried to put in their subterranean place. As luck would have it, most of the young men at my high school saw me as the brain with whom they did homework and confessed their secret desires for the cheerleaders, popular girls, and the beauties. Thus, without an outlet, the desires dimmed and guttered out.
In my mid-twenties, a divorcée, I reluctantly put myself back in the dating pool. On one of my first dates, a man asked to come into my apartment for a glass of water. He drank the water, shattered the glass, and threatened me with the shards while he raped me. At the time, AIDS was in the headlines, with people dying by the day, yet it was too early for date rape to be a concept. The police sympathized with my cuts and bruises, but could not prosecute given that I had gone out with the man and let him into my apartment.
Long story short, I have a deeply personal connection with sexual health, both physical and mental. I sweated through the weeks of waiting for my test results; I worked through months of therapy. I am not the common story, but I am more common than one might think. Because of my scars, I rejoice in the physical, the sexual, the freedom, because I have fought harder for that freedom than most people (until now, I suppose) know.
So, join us. If not in the flesh, in the spirit; if not through the streaming, give a thought, a wish, a dream, to a freedom that should come naturally but often does not.
More from my memoir. Thanks to KL Schwengel, who hosts WIPpet Wednesday. If you want to join, post an excerpt that has something to do with the date and add it to the linky here. My math is 9+3=12+2=14+4-=18 for 18 sentences today.
After dropping out of high school, I went to a very small women’s college, where I first breathed free as a scholar. I did not have to hide away so that men might be interested in me, as there were none in my classes. While younger than most of my class, I was not the youngest in the crowd, and quickly acclimated to the ivied halls. My professors treated me as an adult, and I responded, flourishing in the life of the mind. None of them saw the yawning gap in my psyche where a person was supposed to dwell. My personhood was stitched together like the B movie monster with a transplanted brain, my mind and body unconnected, striving against each other at every decision.
My sophomore year in high school, I dated a young man who ended up being the only one who asked me out more than once. After what I felt was a suitable period, and feeling that no one else would ever be interested in me, I married him at the beginning of my junior year of college. My relationship with him, and thus, my marriage, worked on exactly the same lines as all other aspects of my personal life: do whatever I was told, never question authority, never rock the boat, never stand out in any way. My ex-husband, also very young, did not know any better. He constructed and maintained the box in which my soul and personality was locked away. I became a chameleon, without opinions of my own. With some empathic ability, I quickly mastered ascertaining others’ opinions and preferences, and reflected them as faithfully as a mirror, with no distortions or additions of my own.
When I went to graduate school, and began to find my professors expected me to be an adult, my husband left me for a college friend, saying that he found my ambition to get a Ph.D. distasteful. Left entirely on my own for the first time in 23 years, I realized that I did not know what music I liked, what books I enjoyed reading, or what foods I liked to eat. I had never done grocery shopping alone, I had never written a check, and I had never lived alone. I knew how to be a scholar, but I had no idea how to be a person.
I have to do some magic with math to make this excerpt fit. If one takes the end numbers from the year 2 + 4, and adds the final digit of the date + 7, one gets 247 words. Ha! I pulled that magic off!
My alien sons drew unknown resonances from me as they travelled through childhood. On an early morning walk, my two-year-old tugged me down to his level, pointing at the grass. I ended up lying on the wet, cool, grass to see the rainbow displayed in a drop of dew. My explorations in childhood had been through books, except for pools of water large enough to swim. The senses were suspect, kept muted and at bay, so that the life of the mind could run unimpeded by the physical body that wrapped it in flesh and bone.
My sons were bold explorers of the life of the senses. The first time my son snuggled next to me, glorying in my touch, I felt a trespasser in a foreign land, as these ways were not countenanced in my parents’ house. My father often teased my mother, proclaiming the smoothness of his cheek after a morning shave. I can’t have been more than six, pressing my cheek to his to feel what he meant. He turned to stone as if my hair were snakes, pushing me roughly from him. I never touched him again without invitation. He willingly touched me for the first time when I was moving a thousand miles away at age 22. My sons’ bold assessment of, and joy in, the physical world allowed me to see through the curiosity and somehow right reckoning of my boys, opening my mind and heart to things unknown, unseen, and untasted.