Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Josephina K.: Signal Flares

I've been feeling emotional about things I can’t possibly control or explain in full, including to myself. Today, I saw a picture of Marilyn Monroe’s headstone that brought me to tears, a reflection of so much more than Marilyn, just as Marilyn was so much more than a reflection of Marilyn. In Franz Kafka’s The Trial, Joseph K. found himself arrested without explanation and jailed, a metaphor for a lack of control and also one that, in a sense, gave him control, gave the reader permission to feel for him: it was out of his hands.

What about the invisible controls, though, the ones forming an internal jail, the ones also based on both real and existential threats? No literal bars are closing before me and still suffocation rises in me when I see rapists and violent types continue to be celebrated for their talents by the bog known as mass media, talents which the spotlight throwers declare trump these men’s abuses. Part of me wonders if the celebration isn’t coming from a darker place for some…and which ones? Don’t they know talented, non-violent men? Would they like me to forward them some references? And yet, some of those same good men will instinctively swoop in defending our society’s embrace of abusers, selling themselves short in the process, no?

One of the fallouts after an assault is not the memory of the assault itself but the real-time erasures, the things people say that continue to reveal the disregard in which Josephinas are held, the boxing in, our silencing by them and then by ourselves—for protection, financial survival, social acceptance. I think that, long before I knew it, long before I realized it on a conscious level, I became a writer because I want control of my own narrative, if nothing else.

One of the misogynist hecklers I hear in my head, an unfortunate vestigial remnant of actual experiences, observed experiences, and/or these mass-media reshapings, just scoffed at what he terms my “faux nobility” when, in reality, this desire to frame my own public narrative was a simple one, borne of the need to breathe. I do not do it because I "just want attention,” that persistent hoary accusation leveled at women who, say, discuss the impact of sexism on their lives or reveal rough edges or god forbid anger or worse yet sadness—emotional vulnerability that is not about sexual surrender or surrender at all, but about ruing this preference for silent surrender in the first place.

The next heckler, more sigh than scoff, tells me I’m imagining things and being too abstract here; the women-screens both men and women filter me and women in general through are exaggerated by my fatigue over some shitty experiences I am overblowing, he says, gentle-like. Coincidence is his answer to the patterns I am still seeing and now from men my age playing Archie Bunker sans irony. Today’s willful sexists are edgy: you are not, scoffer heckler chimes in. You with your sadness over being shunted aside, not funded, not invested in, not heard reflect a sadness many feel, my gentler heckler hastens to remind me, so: stop making it about you being a woman.

Meanwhile, studies validate this sadness as being rooted in real percentages, real choices about who and what receive money. You see it in your own life, too, time and time again. Two white boys from the Midwest doing some or another project on Milli Vanilli in Brooklyn get NYS grant money; your play about life in post-flood New Orleans, still the only autobiographical play of its kind to date with deep parallels to Sandy-struck areas of NYC, does not, though you have spent 27 of your 37 years in this tri-state area. I could list a million such examples extending far beyond myself and the more favored woman category of white that I inhabit, but but but: that would not be enough for these hecklers who have sprouted in my head like barnacles and it would not be enough for me in the sense of enabling me to take action, post-paralysis.

Despite the fact that I will own and show anger in my writing, something many women understandably shrink from due (in part) to the women filters, I am not nearly so angry as the men outside my head who insist, with their (unearned) authority, that I and other women are the ones making everything about being a woman; we are projecting phantoms where there are only indifferent humans. They are so indifferent they feel compelled to assert their assumptions over women’s lived experiences, a strange disconnect of a practice, and still each time they rise to the spotlight to inform a woman she is imagining things, my breath still catches, a signal flare blinking without sound, against the bog.


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