Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Wolf

I've been feeling the claws of my wolf tugging at the skin around my heart the past few weeks. She whispers poetry to me as I sit with my legs crossed, my mind humming, words that get lost as the river rushes forward. She wants to speak, to scratch off the sweet facade of my quirky sarcasm, my humor. I'm a dream girl and she's a rabid wolf, but we inhabit the same house.

When we were young, we used to play in an enchanted forest, she and I, dirty hands, dirty knees, a mind racing, in love with everything. Boys chased us, admired us, and we felt no shame, and we loved all of them. We smiled up at the stars every night with hope, no pictures or expectations, just hope that life would always be this close, this immediate and real. 

"One day you'll have to let someone take care of you." He said it to me after church, knowing how I felt about him. The men in my life began to notice me, but shy away from me, to tell me everything, but never speak to me in public. At some point during my adolescence, my focus shifted to the male gaze and away from the wolf, my protector, and I have spent the majority of my life chasing it, like a rabid dog, desperate to be saved, and cared for, to be fed. The Male Gaze. 

As your teachers are attempting to tell you how to see the world around you and decide for yourself what you will do about it all, the rest of your immediate surroundings are drooling over the opportunity to tell you what you must do and how much it will cost. The first thing you learn, as a little girl, is that you must be what you are not, and you are never to be who you really are. "Be yourself" is an idiom that means little to nothing. How am I not myself? When I attempt to live the life I feel I am supposed to live. 

And the fairytale is that someone will save you from the drudgery of a life with no direction...leaving you one direction: attempt to attract and maintain the male gaze. And oh what an occupation it becomes. It consumes you. Look at me. See me. Admire me. 

I hear that I am beautiful but I cannot believe it this morning, staring into my own eyes in the bathroom mirror. The bones in my face are misplaced and misshapen. I am beginning to see lines. I am older than I was even three years ago. Rigid. I don't go out as often as I used to any more, but there are bills to be paid. I while away the hours at work or at home with my dog. I fear the city leaves me feeling trapped.

In so many ways I have become who I am today, who I always needed to be, after roaming the streets of Chicago in the frozen twilight. Yet I struggle to shake the shackles of male attention. How can I exist without it? I wonder. Everything I have ever been taught has projected an image of myself to me as a member of a nuclear family, casting everything I am and always have been as merely a fraction of the whole in holy matrimony. 

I gambled away my life on the idea that my worth could be broken down and placed in a box marked with someone else's name, and that his name would make me free. In my quest to prove that I am smarter than the average white woman, I have spent a lot of money and time just to be able to convince the male gaze that I am worth the attention, the seal of approval.

As a teenager I prayed to God, why did you make me this way if you wanted me to be silent? Why did you make me so loud? I wept, and I begged. I hunched my shoulders and hung my head. I curled up inside of myself until I found that someone else, and when it ended, I felt the weight of the world crashing down around me. This path of righteousness had led me to a crushing defeat, and I have been desperate to trust myself, much less anyone else, since that day.

How does a romantic recover what is lost when rejection means she herself has fallen short and will continue to struggle until she can prove herself worth it....the male gaze?

Don't be all yourself. There is nothing wrong with you, but maybe don't be yourself entirely right away. Don't put it all on the table. Like a hammer. If I had one...I would hammer in the morning just to piss off the neighbors. 

The girl, the me part of her was tired and sad and scared for a while. She was hungry, starving, screaming at people in traffic, at stop signs, "I am lost! I took the wrong road and now I'm lost! and it's no one's fault and it's everyone's fault, and it hurts like hell." 

And then she wasn't lost. One can only wander so long in the mucky mire of the darkest woods before she is discovered by her wolf half, for if she is half of anything, it is this beast. And then the beast begins to claw away, dragging her fingers through the layers upon layers of delusion, freshening the wounds so that they might heal properly. 

You are just now learning how to live, aren't you? The woman I work with, five years my senior, hypothesizes.  She drives me home on the horrible days so I don't have to ride my bike, and we "chill." She is Puerto Rican, familiar with my neighborhood from the days when it was patrolled by rival gangs. I love the folklore, but even folklore is too safe. 

Retired gang bangers have shown me their battle scars in hopes that I might provide them the comfort they felt certain my respect in conversation truly communicated, bullet wounds. But my wounds are just the same. We fight the absence of choice, carry the rage of our mothers before us whose choices were fewer and voices were ignored or forgotten. We are all the same, the oppressed, and we are all completely different. 

I cannot imagine a world where I fear the pain of a bullet on a daily basis. I cannot imagine what it is like to be intelligent yet marginalized and stereotyped twice as much as even I am, that your sugar and spice must be extra sweet to cover up the chains of an earned collective rage. Black women have the right to be angrier than anyone else every day of their lives. I don't know a lot of things, but I do know that.

And I too own my anger, such as it is, close to my heart, where it is warm. I used to weep for my capacity to love. A burning energy in the pit of my stomach, wasted on my failure to matriculate.

But not failure. Oh no. There is so much use in the world for the love that compels me. There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, and Gilead is my heart.

You can heal yourself. It is not easy, but it is within you. 

The wolf is in front now, and she roves, and hunts, and warms my feet at night. She doesn't want to bite, but nature compels her toward self preservation. Her language is truth.

I am thankful that we found each other.

Friday, November 18, 2016


Hi Folks. How ya doin? I know. It's been a tough week. I've had highs and lows, said things I'm proud to have said as well as things I'd like to crawl under a rock for having said. I have run the gamut, but I'm pretty sure I'm not alone. As soon as I saw the country going red, like Fiver's dreams of blood covering the fields around the warren in Watership Down (my favorite book/movie with a soundtrack by Art Garfunkel), I flashed back to 2000, and I lay on my back on my bed staring up at the ceiling in total silence, listening to the beating of my heart and the rhythm of my own breath. 

Then, like I imagine happens when one is falling, my brain flipped through my entire life from then, 2000, until now, 11/9. It was all pretty fresh, as I've been recapping it here in the blogosphere since my birthday a couple of weeks ago. It was like my brain cogs kicked into overdrive, and I blew through the memories like they were on a rolodex, a dense rolodex, my friends. Dense. Like the smoke over Georgia right now.

I'm going to finish the timeline (I know, thank GOD) after I say this.

I thought the world was going to end when W was elected president, and it mostly didn't, sort of. That was an exhausting eight years. I couldn't even get through all of em. Had to leave the country, and I racked up a sweet lil chunk of credit card debt that I later paid off with student loans trying to stay as far away from George W. as I could. And despite my plans, I did most of it on my own.

During that time, I graduated from college, got engaged and un-engaged, survived my parents' divorce, back-packed Europe alone, obtained a Master's Degree, sold my stuff and moved to another country and returned to the states to catch Barack Obama accepting the nomination for President in 2008, and it was hard as hell. All of it. Every single thing.

Don't ever get confused and think things are supposed to be easy. They aren't.

I made it through that, and I almost made it through the last eight years too. Speaking of "almost," it was almost a year ago that I found myself at the bottom of my depression, deeper than I'd ever been. My anxiety had driven me to cut back on my medication for fear of running out by screaming at me, "This isn't working," until I gave in and started taking two pills rather than the prescribed three. Within a week I could think of nothing else but death. I didn't know how I was going to do it, but I also didn't know how I was not going to do it. I could not imagine myself alive in the future.

Yep. I even called some suicide hotlines, and you know what, they TOTALLY helped. One told me they were sending an ambulance because I needed to be hospitalized and the other said, "Do what?" after I explained to her my "reason for calling." Yeah. In the end I just laughed. Hysterically. Then I sent my therapist an email entitled "Suicide" about how I needed to see her as soon as I could to talk to her about how to get out of the hole and because I refuse to think about things before I do them.

Now here I am. The country just elected a con-man to its highest office. The church in which I was raised has revealed itself to be at the feet of a political party. My heart is broken for the marginalized of this country, for the women of this country, and I started my damn period! Dammit.

And who knows what's going to happen. I mean, holy crap. I've been coping by sharing New Yorker and Reductress Articles and memes on Facebook, binge watching The Crown on Netflix, and spending more time with my dog, running around, giving him long massages, spooning. He is oblivious.

Yesterday I practiced yoga while listening to both Chomsky talk about power structure and Franz Schubert Sonatas in unison. I'm training. I'm getting pumped up.

I've been honest to a fault my whole life, a terrible liar. I cannot play it cool. I have been, unabashedly, myself, and people tell me they admire it, but it's a curse, you guys. I mean...I'm a pariah. I'm like this guy mixed with a giraffe when it starts running, hilarious and majestic to watch, but usually completely misunderstood (yeah....that's the simile I'm going with) And I cannot stand injustice. I will not sit down for injustice. It's my dumb superpower.

Now the gloves are off. Everyone is out in the open, nowhere to hide, and I see all of you, just as you've been able to see me all this time. I've been training for this my whole life. I've been keeping my head down, putting up with a lot (despite what you might think, I have put up with A LOT), and now I don't have to. We're all telling it like it is. I get to be all me.

Scary? I used to be scared of it. All me. If you think I'm a lot, imagine what it's like for me to deal with myself. I spent a good deal of time last Christmas in my old room back home in Memphis with all my pictures, class notes, and diaries, and I discovered the part of me I have been ignoring for far too long, and she's hungry.

Both Bikram yoga and Bicycling through Chicago are great ways to relieve anxiety. The goal in Bikram is to stay in the room while in Chicago cycling it's to stay alive. So, I wear a bright yellow reflective vest, flashing lights, and sometimes a giant puffy bright white coat that makes me look like a big marshmallow wearing a reflective vest and riding a bike. I look good, is what I'm saying.

Yesterday, dressed as such, I pedaled quickly along five o'clock traffic downtown on Halstead as huge trucks pulled up beside me, and I leaned forward and pedaled faster. The sky was dark and pink and the smell of the chocolate factory clung to the humidity and made me hungry. Every moving car terrifies me, every step I take I consider and reconsider a million more times than anyone should think about anything. Last night, the only word running through my mind in the dusk on my bike was "live." Live.

So I am not afraid of the coming months. I want to live. I want to fight. I want to inspire, to encourage. I want to heal, and I want to play with as many puppies as I possibly can until the day I die.

Anything worth doing is going to be hard. Anything REALLY worth doing. You can't let that stop you.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Nancy Caroline: A Timeline, 2007-2008, or A Slower, Meandering Stroll Down Memory Lane Through the Lens of Academia

Oh man, you guys. It's been a crazy week. The freaking CUBS are in the WORLD SERIES, and
here I am, living in Chicago. Baseball games take up a good bit of time, my friends. Also, I'm
slowing down a bit and lingering a moment with the details on these last few because I'm
actually processing some of the experience as we speak. Isn't that exciting? So, we continue
with my time as an American citizen with a work visa in London, UK.

What I didn't learn from actually receiving care from the NHS, I learned by working in an NHS facility. I worked in a small three room office area with a bunch of women, half registered nurses and half “nursery” nurses who ate avocados and passion fruit and gossiped as I filed paperwork or entered data onto the local as well as the larger NHS server.

Every time a baby was born in our neighborhood, the hospital would send a new paper file and a fun book for the nurses to give to the new mothers on their visit. Each nurse would schedule a visit with new parents to discuss baby proofing and, in general, what the family would need. The NHS would provide baby gates, plug guards, anything you can think of to make the home safe for wiggling newborns who would swiftly grow into crawlers, walkers, and then little humans. They even gave away cloth diapers and fashionable liners for the diapers. There was a laundering service for the diapers too, included with, you know, citizenship.

Every week, at different locations within the neighborhood, new parents were invited to come to a baby clinic to have their child weighed (my job), inoculated (not my job), and to speak with a nurse about any concerns they may be having. It was an opportunity for struggling and frightened parents to ask lame, run-of-the-mill questions while the registered nurses stealthily looked for signs of postpartum depression. 

Baby clinics were paid for by taxes that everyone (everyone) pays in England….just as all health care in the country was paid for by taxes that every pays.
It was hard for me to hang out with a bunch of newborn babies as a woman in my late twenties with powerful hormones. I watched nursing mothers, smiling down at their children, glowing like Madonnas. I wanted a baby, but I also didn’t want a baby, you know? I just wanted to day.  

The city of London was a beast. She was immense, ancient, gray, and often very lonely. I experienced a decent amount of anxiety knowing that my work visa would run out in six months, and if I didn’t get married, I would have to leave without even seeing half of her. I saw a lot, though, the Tate Modern (free), the British Museum (free), the British Library (where they keep the Magna Carta-free), Borough Market, a street food market where I ate ostrich, smelled a truffle in a jar, and was able to prove to my English friends that America made a few small brewery beers (not just Bud).

We also left London, took trains to Manchester (for Christmas!), York (kind of like Gatlinburg, TN, but English, and way less seedy, much more quaint), and . We spent a weekend in Cork, Ireland with a graduate school friend of his that was studying some kind of geology there, and we spent a long weekend in Sardinia, Italy, rented a car, and explored the rocky coast of the island. We travelled to Carlisle back in England to see Carlisle United play a riveting football match with some other team I can’t remember and to visit my boyfriend’s grandmother, who lived there and hated America and everything she stands for. She loved the Romans, though, and she drove us to see Hadrian’s wall in one of the most picturesque drives/walks on which I’ve ever been in my life. I saw pastoral in person. It smelled like sheep manure.

I had a romance with the London Underground that started out like most loves do, as a spinning, terrifying happiness. The tube was deep, dark, bright, and bustling, and it coursed through the veins of the city like lifeblood. It's always a good idea to take it slow when entering the world of the London Underground, at first, but I quickly graduated from standing on the right-hand side of the escalators to walking them two steps at a time on the left like the rest of the Londoners who were almost late for work but determined to make the best time.
We had our bad times. Some days I climbed deep down under the city and felt a sickening anger at all the bodies squeezed together on the platform, trying to fit into the next train, no one making eye contact. Sometimes I wanted to speak my mind, like people that get on trains and talk a lot, then ask for money, but I wanted to comment on how ridiculous everyone was in the spirit of bitterness that was already seething from every Londoner on the train that day.

I wanted to laugh and make sarcastic comments about the futility of the rat-race, but I didn’t dare. My accent would have given me away as an American, but I grew accustomed to the nuances underground. The first time I felt like I belonged in London, I was in the Underground, breezing through the tunnels, oblivious to the crowd, listening to Regina Spektor (probably), and for the first time, I didn’t stop to check the map to make sure I was going down the correct tunnel or to have a mild panic. I just kept going.

On the way to the Tube every morning I received a free paper telling me what Amy Winehouse had done the night before and a free paper in the evening telling me what Amy Winehouse had done that day. It was charming. Especially the one about her going to the corner store to get an “iced lollie.” Fucking precious. The paparazzi.

This happened every day until the story broke of the Austrian man who kept his daughter locked in a secret underground “apartment” he had fashioned so that he could rape her and father a few kids by her while only letting a couple of the kids live upstairs in the real world...for 24 years.

Yeah. That is something that happened. I’m not going to go into it more than to say that it is something that actually happened, and I had to read about it every morning and every evening on the Underground. You can read about it here on Wikipedia.

Needless to say, I dove deep into a depression. My boyfriend didn’t know what to do. I didn't know what to tell him. It was everywhere, this story of a monster, destroying the life of his daughter. I couldn’t understand why. Why did it happen? How could it happen? Is this real life? 

I don’t think the story made it over here in the U.S. I think there is a certain level of filtering along with a general apathy for anyone else that isn’t us. Yet, here I was in BBC land, where everyone knows everything about everywhere like a bunch of elitist nerds, having to read tabloid coverage of this...discovery? Event? Horror?

The man refused to admit he had done anything wrong until he watched her testimony, and then suddenly, he shifted, plead guilty.

We broke up. I think I never got over the advice I received from a coworker I had for a short time when I worked as a receptionist for an investment bank. She was from Peru, gorgeous, patient, confident, and comfortable in her own skin. The day we met, as she was training me for the position, she asked me about myself and, within an hour of hearing how I happened to be in London, asked if my boyfriend had any intention of living in the States if I wanted to go back one day. We'd had this discussion, he and I, and I he'd told me, no. I was on the fence, but not really. Her immediate response was "you need to be with someone that wants to be where you want to be," and she was right. It took me about nine years to figure it out, but I figured it out.

I had a drink with her close to the end of both of our tenures in London. She was heading back to Peru to be with her family while she and her husband raised their daughter, who put a kink in their plans to move to Australia and travel more, but she was not sad. She said she relished the strength and courage she felt in having conquered a city like London. I felt the same way. We parted on the Tube platform on trains going in opposite directions. I remember her on the train, waving goodbye and smiling, shouting at me to come to Peru. Still need to do that. 

I had some crazy romances between then and now. Kissed my boyfriend like we would never see each other again at two different airports after we broke up (yep, two). I fell madly in love again, and I cried some real tears as I tumbled out of it.

I just kept moving, desperate to find a way to transform my passion into my action, the missing link that Margaret Fuller found in Ralph Waldo Emerson's new school of thought, Transcendentalism. Emerson said the world is all confusion and madness because man is disunited with nature. If man were to go back to the natural world and live in communion with her, he would transcend to a higher level of humanity. 

Fuller responded that he was close but left out a word. Man is disunited with nature, yes, but, more importantly, man is disunited with his nature. The world, society, tells man that he is "masculine," and society defines that word for him just as it tells women that they are "feminine" and define feminine as less than masculine (exact same concept for race). 

Masculinity is defined as strength, power, and femininity is weaker, more delicate. Margaret would argue that nobody really knew what it meant to be a woman because women were denied the very right to know themselves freely, to own their own lives. Even women my mother's age lived in a prison of limited options, but they angrily held their tongues for lack of another choice. As roads begin to open for women, as more women fight to stay alive where most women die, we see a million new pictures of what it means to be a woman, and the more we know, the more we can share.

Fuller said they are parts of a whole, the masculine and the feminine, that we all share in every aspect of them, but, for the sake of civilization, we deny those parts of ourselves that do not coincide with our respective genders. Did I lose you? Girls wear pink and boys wear blue because that's what stores sell for boys and girls, but we are all colors. We are all passion and strength. We are all emotion and electricity. It's time to embrace it. Fuller said that in the 1840s.

We've now passed the time to embrace it. It's time to catch up.

And time to move on to the last 8 years of my majestic and fascinating life.

Go Cubs.