I can’t tell

I feel like I don’t have to tell you I was 14, just on the cusp of 15, when I started listening to Lou Reed.

I feel like I don’t need to tell you that I’d worked my way through the waves of punk, post-punk, and New Wave that were available to a suburban kid in those days before the internet opened up the world.

I feel like I don’t have to tell you that the rough, raw power of The Velvet Underground cut through all that synth-pop and atonal noise, cut straight to my bloodstream, cut into something in me that healed clean and and fast and left a mark for the rest of my life.

I feel like I don’t have to tell you that because, against all reason, it feels universal, inevitable, certain. It feels perfect. Is there a better age for a kid to hear Lou Reed’s early work?

Maybe for another kid, but not for me. At 14-almost-15, I was just starting to think what an adult world might look like, what an adult me might feel like, just starting to cope with the coming-of-age clichés, and The Velvet Underground meshed them perfectly: sex, drugs, cynicism, pain, and the high-minded hope of art.

I can’t count the number of nights I spent dancing alone in a darkened room, tethered to the stereo by the headphone cord, listening to the soft scrape of the needle saying shhh, shhh, shhh as the record ended and the hard POW of sound when I flipped the record and started over.

I can’t count how many times in that first year I rehearsed my own adulthood in their lyrics, or sang their songs under my breath, or cribbed lyrics from them to bolster my own weak poetry – because you can’t write poetry until you know what you’re writing about.

I can’t tell you how many times I, thinking myself so clever and avant-garde, stuck The Gift in the middle of a mix tape, or how many more times I feelingly uttered “Awwwwww!” along with the record after “She needed him, and he wasn’t there.”

I can’t tell you how that phrase resonates more strongly as an adult, or how now, stripped of all irony, it speaks to me today.

I can’t tell you how, even as I was listening to “Satellite of Love” and dancing alone this afternoon, I kept thinking of Laurie Anderson, whose work touched and shaped me even earlier, wondering how it feels to see your private grief echoed all over the world by people who never met your lost love, much less loved him.

I can’t tell you whether I’m crying for Lou Reed, or for Laurie Anderson, or for the rest of us, or just for 14-year-old Elsa dancing in the dark with headphones on.

I can’t tell.

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what a total witch

inspired by Mallory Ortberg’s How To Spot a Witch

Can you see her third nipple through her clothing? No? How about her first and second nipples? Yes? She’s a witch.

Can you not see her nipples through her clothing despite trying (and trying and trying) to? No? She’s a witch.

Does she wish, whether purposefully or wistfully, for equal pay for equal work? She’s a witch.

Does she have a greenish cast to her skin? Warts? A bumpy complexion? Any blemishes or flaws that betray a less-than-perfect obsession with skin care, to the exclusion of all other concerns? WITCH.

Has she ever participated in a Take Back The Night march? Obvs a witch. “Take Back the Night”? Come on.

Does she own a “This is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt? She’s ensorcelled you with a mis-perception spell; it actually reads “This is what a femi-witch looks like.”

Is she a proponent or practitioner of intersectional feminism? InterSECTional. WAKE UP, SHE’S TOTES A WITCH.

established

Establishing my food-critic cred: my slapped-together ten-minute lunch includes a tuna melt (tuna mixed with labneh and scallions, grilled between local-ish American cheese on English muffin bread), red potato salad (also in a dressing of labneh, olive oil, lemon, and scallion), green beans with butter-toasted almonds, and a dish of fresh pineapple spears. These are the joys of preparedness, chickadees.

Establishing my blogger cred: I changed back into pajamas to eat it.

Establishing my willingness to experiment within highly gendered expectations: am wearing new shoes with said pajamas and watching the “Sex and the City” pilot for the first time. For the latter, I credit Emily Nussbaum. For the former, I have no excuse.

coupling

Me: Argh!
The Fella [hurrying solicitously from the next room because my back is bothering me today]: Whoa, what happened?
Me: No, nothing, nothing. I just did that thing — that thing where you bang something, y’know.
The Fella [louche and with a theatrical leer]: Roger that!
Me: Y’know, when you bang your —
The Fella: Copy that! I do know it. Ohhhhhhh yeeeeeah.
Me: I hit the ball of my ankle on the futon, is all.
The Fella: Cannnnnn dooooo.
Me: All you heard was “ball,” wasn’t it?
The Fella: Annnnny time.

everything

The Fella returns to the room from grabbing a beer. Before he sits, he reaches out, and strokes the top of my head.

Him: Oooh, your head is so nice.

Me: Thank you. It’s right at the top of my body. That’s where I keep it.

Him: I like everything about you.

No punchline, folks. No joke. I just wanted to document this moment so I won’t forget it. Because I like everything about him, too.

a fine how-do-you-do

The Fella: Your hands are so soft.
Elsa: They’re getting rough. I think I have to buy some fancy-lady lotion.
The Fella: I’ll get you some Zelda Fitzgerald gloves.
Elsa: Did she have crazy*-lady gloves?
[a pause]
Elsa: [way too excited at the prospect] Like, did she have the nervous disorder where she picked at her hands? And she wore gloves to keep from doing it?
The Fella: … no. She had fancy-lady gloves. She drank champagne in them. She smoked cigarettes in them.
Elsa: A lady doesn’t eat, drink, or smoke in gloves, though —despite unschooled suggestions to the contrary — it is perfectly proper to shake hands while wearing gloves. A lady should leave her gloves on rather than delay the handshake.
The Fella: A lady should bang in them.
Elsa: But Zelda mighta drunk champagne in her gloves. Or smoked in ’em.
The Fella: She mighta banged in ’em.
Elsa: Anything one may properly do in gloves, one may properly do in bed. Wait. I mean, I suspect handshake etiquette is the same as banging etiquette. Wait.
The Fella: [waits]
Elsa: [laughing] For example, the senior lady always initiates it with the younger lady! ETIQUETTE JOKE!
The Fella: Uh-huh.
Elsa: And the lady always makes the invitation, not the gentleman, but if he extends it, you’d be rude not to put your hand out for it. ETIQUETTE JOKE!
The Fella: Mm-hmm.

*I’ve been slowing trying to replace casual able-ist slurs in my everyday speech. It isn’t going super-well.

family values

Perhaps because our household has a landline and is therefore Officially Old, we’re getting dozens of calls a week aimed at a conservative “Family Values” voting contingent. I always let the robo-caller play through in hopes that at least I’m keeping them busy for 90 seconds, and I always answer the surveys and push-polls. The thought that my unexpected, unwanted response makes a tiny bump in their data pleases me. And if there’s an actual human on the other end, I always — always — let them know that my values are family values, just not the kind they espouse.

So let’s talk about Family Values. I’m tired of that phrase being claimed solely by conservative forces. I have a family, and I have values, and my Family Values are just as valid as anyone’s.

I value education. I value science. I value equality for all our citizens regardless of race, class, gender, or orientation. I value cultural diversity. I value my rights as recognized — not given, not bestowed, recognized — in the Constitution. I value freedom of religion — including freedom from religion. I value civil discourse, even about inflammatory issues. I value individual reproductive rights, including the right to choose abortion. I value equality and freedom.

This election season, local ads from anti-equality committees frantically urge us not to let the upcoming vote “redefine marriage.” I’m quite pleased that they’re framing the issue that way. See, I’m all for for periodically redefining marriage, and I bet most Americans feel the same way if they really examine the historical and ongoing redefinition of marriage.

Think of how our laws have redefined marriage just in the the past century. Married women now have the right to own property and to maintain their own bank accounts. Single adults can legally and readily obtain birth control. Spousal rape is now a prosecutable offense rather than a right or a punchline.

That last one particularly stands as a shining example of “redefining marriage”. Until the mid-1970s, there was no process or statute by which to prosecute a spouse — even an estranged spouse — for rape. The marriage license constituted an exemption (in many statutes, an explicit exemption) from rape prosecution; it was a license for even an alienated spouse to force intercourse upon their partner. As recently as 1993, North Carolina upheld this exemption from prosecution for marital rape. In a generation, our nation as a whole has transitioned from explicitly permitting spousal rape to making it a criminal offense. This is a vast shift in our understanding of consent, sexuality, and privileged entitlement, and a redefinition of the rights and responsibilities bestowed by marriage.

Every time we update our outmoded marriage statutes, we make strides for greater equality. It’s appallingly improper to let civil rights be decided by popular vote, but if this vote — this “redefinition” — helps to shift the tide for progress, then let’s do it.