luna_virgo: (Witch)
As a girl in Alabama in the 70’s and 80’s, I learned that the kitchen belonged to women, and vice versa. My mother and most women in my family were homemakers when I was very young (before divorces and the 80’s economy). Some of my earliest memories are of my mother, my aunts, and my grandmothers stirring on the stove or chopping on the counter.

Food preparation was strictly segregated. Women ruled the kitchen, men controlled the outdoor grill. This was unquestioned. Women brought out the prepared meat to be grilled and then retreated to make everything else in the meal. Men feigned ignorance at any indoor food prep more complicated than a sandwich. This was the division of labor, and it was set in stone.

Now of course as a child I was sometimes handed a spoon covered with cake batter, and I was sent out into the back yard every fall with paper grocery bags to gather the pecans that fell from our two trees so my mother could make cookies and pies. I was occasionally allowed to stir a pot or sprinkle a seasoning, but for the most part I wasn’t required to take part in cooking until I reached puberty. Then the training began for what was apparently my predestined role in life.

Mom tried to teach me to cook. She really did. But I had no interest, possibly because she always made it clear she didn't enjoy it much herself though it was expected of her, and possibly because I was a sulky teenager in the first throes of feminist rebellion against gender roles. It didn’t help that her cooking was incredibly bland like my Midwest Grandma's (unlike my paternal grandmother who specialized in deep-fried, deeply unhealthy but very tasty Southern food). I decided as a teenager that I was not put on this earth to cook for anybody, period, thank you very much. Of course, in a few years life threw some truth at me. Somebody’s got to make the food, or you don’t eat.

In my 20's, I was blessed to have a relationship with a man who enthusiastically made hand-tossed pizzas for a living, and then another with a woman who was a camping and fishing outdoor type who taught me to cook over a barbecue pit in our back yard. I learned that making food didn’t have to be gendered drudgery. Now that I live alone, I’m getting more adventurous about experimenting in the kitchen, because I don’t have to please anyone but myself. At the same time, as I get older, I’m getting more nostalgic for those old family recipes. I recently made salmon croquettes from my grandmother’s recipe, and it brought back powerful memories, as well as making me appreciate the time- and labor-intensive work she and all the women in my family did every day without praise or acknowledgement, because it was expected of them.

(posted on DailyKos)
luna_virgo: XVIII The Moon, Victoria Regina Tarot (Default)
When I was in high school I took four years of dance class instead of PE. It was an alternative to the competitive, macho team sports that I was never good at. In my dance class there were a couple of girls who were real ballet dancers, taking lessons since childhood, unlike the rest of us clumsy amateurs. They could do splits, stand on their toes, and keep their balance far better than everyone else. I was incredibly jealous.

I am 5’1“. I reached this height in fifth grade. From that point on, I watched my friends continue to grow up as I only grew out. Destined as I was to remain short and thick, these graceful swans in my dance classes were just cruel examples to me of what I could never be. At the time, I didn’t realize that they probably had eating disorders. I just thought, why can’t I have a flat stomach like that, elegantly jutting hipbones, long thin limbs, blistered feet? Yes, I even envied them their gnarly dancer feet. Teenage me was dumb.

But dance class was a way of connecting with my body that I had never felt before. I was a sickly child, never encouraged to be physically active. Dancing (and the other physical activity I discovered in high school, sex) was a way to finally fully inhabit and enjoy my body, and it was accompanied by music, which along with reading was my constant companion and escape since early childhood.

So watching Black Swan brought all this back. My dance teacher, Mrs. Lindsay, shouting “Plie’! Plie’! Arms up, chest out!”. The focus on bathrooms - it was in high school that my panic disorder began, fleeing to the safe bathroom stall, intense self-scrutiny in mirrors. The ideal of perfection that was so painful as a teenager. The close shots echoing a narrow self-conscious view of the world.

I feel somewhat accomplished that I can look back now and see my former self with more kindness than judgment. I don’t ever want to go back to that teenage insecurity. But I would like to start dancing again.
luna_virgo: (Boots)
I posted this on Facebook in response to a friend's post about gentrification in Nashville:
"I've been listening to NPR's series on gentrification this week, and thinking about how it's happening in Birmingham now, and how the reverse was happening when I was a teenager and my childhood home got robbed. And I am utterly flummoxed and pissed off that race seems to ALWAYS play a part in Southern politics."

I feel I should expand on this, and I don't know where to begin, so I'm just going to jump in. I grew up at 5220 Terrace Q, Birmingham, Alabama 35208. Two miles from the state fairgrounds. A "nice" neighborhood, where my friends and I could ride our bikes around without fear of being bothered. And we did ride far and wide, much farther than our parents gave us permission to, and we remained perfectly safe, because we could do that then.

Around the mid-80's, the neighborhood changed. A black family moved onto our block. That shouldn't have been a big deal, but it was, for some. That family didn't make any changes aside from repainting their house and putting white-painted rocks along the front walk. I remember riding my bike down the street and waving at them as they sat on the front porch. They waved back. No big deal. To me.

But even though that first black family was middle-class enough to afford that house on our block, white people panicked. People started moving, selling their houses for less than they were worth. This is how neighborhoods go downhill: people act stupid and sell for nothing because they are afraid of living near THE OTHERS.

Eventually, the house I grew up in was robbed. The robbers had apparently been watching the house and knew when no one would be home. It's an eerie feeling to walk into your bedroom and see your clothes dumped out of drawers into the floor. But it wouldn't have happened if the neighborhood hadn't descended economically because of the racist few. It was stupid to me then and it is still stupid now. I could probably buy the house I grew up in now for less than my car cost, because of racism/classism and people just being STUPID.
luna_virgo: Created by sockii, photo by Andy Summers (Lonely and scared)
I've dealt with depression and anxiety as far back as I can remember. As a child, I didn't recognize it as such. It was just life. It was just how my life was. And to be clear, I'll state right from the start: it hasn't been all doom and gloom all my life. I have experienced many happy, joyful times, and to be honest, that's why I'm still here, because I know it's possible.

Depression really kicked in around the time I hit puberty (and I feel it may be hormonal for me, so I look forward to menopause). I was two years ahead in school, so I started junior high (6th grade at my school) at 9 and turned 10 a month later. I was physically as well as mentally precocious, so I was already wearing a bra and in the full throes of hormonal confusion. It didn't help that I was the youngest, smallest, and shyest kid in the class. I was picked on, and I retreated into my own world whenever I could - headphones on and nose in a book. Music and books were my refuge.

In my freshman year of high school, I turned 13 and my parents got divorced. Huge. I also had my first real boyfriend and stopped being forced to go to church on the weekends my dad had custody. Lots of major changes, good and bad, and that's when I really remember my mood swings starting. I remember crying a lot (at least once most days) and being in religious and sexual confusion. Most of high school continued this way, and I eventually got used to the division of my family and got over the repressive religious crap I was raised with.

Still I was moody, and starting senior year of high school and continuing into college, I had sudden panic attacks. When they first started I had no idea what was happening. I thought I was going insane. I was afraid to tell anyone. I hid it until my unexplained absences from freshman English class forced me to tell the professor that I freaked out in class. He let me retake the final exam if I promised to get counseling. I did, but it didn't help much.

I had a nervous breakdown the summer after my freshman year of college and was put on Tenormin and Klonopin. They helped for a while, for the panic, but I eventually had to stop both when my depression came back. I self-medicated for a few semesters with alcohol and pot, which looked like typical college partying and to some extent it was, but I eventually ended up calling a suicide hotline and being advised to flush the last Klonopins down the toilet and call a doctor in the morning, which I did, and I was put on Imipramine, my first antidepressant. For the first time since childhood, I experienced what it was like to feel "normal" (not constantly sad). It was a huge relief. Eventually though, I realized that it wasn't just removing my depression, it was erasing all my feelings. I was emotionally flat. Great for accomplishing schoolwork, not for actually living life. I eventually took myself off it.

To make a long story short: as I went through my 20's/30's, I had some more hormonal/mood/drug experiments including a pituitary tumor and more panic attacks/depression. I took Paxil (which horrifically sucked for me but may work for some - brain chemistry is very individual) and finally found Remeron, which so far (and hopefully forever) is awesome and minimizes the bullshit my brain chemistry has dealt me.

I am obviously summarizing and leaving out a lot. But I have told you all that to tell you this:

I know what it's like to get up every morning and not want to be here. I know what that's like. If you don't, you need to shut up. Period. If you don't know what it's like to hold a bottle of pills in one hand and dial a suicide hotline with the other, shut the fuck up, and do not judge people for the hard hard choices they feel they must make to end their pain.

I also know what it's like to look at the face of my little sister in a casket, dead before her time, dead for no fucking reason (not from suicide but from a blood clot at 31 that her idiotic doctor didn't catch), and know that it is a waste to check out before you have to, before you are dragged kicking and screaming from this life. I know what it's like to have to try to keep it together while telling her children that she's in Heaven now.

My point is, don't judge. Death is hard to deal with, but life can be even more so.
luna_virgo: XVIII The Moon, Victoria Regina Tarot (Default)
Thanks to an IQ test I took at age 6, I was 2 years ahead in school from second grade until college graduation at 20. Many of my more interesting characteristics can be traced back to this unfortunate chronological defect.

When I was 10 years old, my mother went back to full-time work after my father's mounting debts goaded her from part-time kindergarten teaching. (Three years later she would leave him and his debts, but that is a story for another day.) When school ended for the summer of 1982, my parents decided that I would go to a daycare while they were at work.

In the summer of 1982, Rick Springfield and John Cougar (not yet Mellencamp) were on the radio. MTV was a new phenomenon. Home Atari games were giving way to Pacman fever. John Schneider was Bo Duke, not Superman's dad. I had just completed the 6th grade at age 10. My classmates were 12 and in the throes of puberty, and I was precociously right there with them.

It was around this time that I became aware of the power of my intellect. I was already used to the praise of teachers and the resentment of classmates. All former teacher‘s pets remember that mixture of pride and dread. But mine was compounded by the extra offense of being the “baby” in the class as well. “Hey, this little kid is making us look bad.” You can guess how well that went over, even in a gifted program. I compensated by being a quiet little doormat (I didn‘t discover the friend-making power of letting people cheat from my test papers until high school).

What I wasn’t used to before that age was the power I had to confound adults. I discovered this when I began to ask questions that they couldn’t answer, and I intuited that it wasn’t because they didn’t want to tell me, or because they didn’t think I was old enough to understand. It was because they didn’t know the answers. Their flummoxed looks propelled me to my first real comprehension of what it meant to be “advanced”.

So that summer I went from being the youngest kid in the first year of a gifted junior high school program to being the oldest kid at daycare. My school classmates were girls on the verge of teen angst, focused on clothes, makeup, and rock stars, and I was one of them. My daycare companions were children singing nursery rhymes, and I was one of them too. I straddled the border of childhood and adolescence, alternating between playing with Barbies and reading 500 page novels.

I can’t blame my parents for the incongruence. They didn’t know what to do with this bookworm they had spawned, and anyway they were caught up in the last stages of denial before their divorce. I don’t even think they were aware that I was staying up late on weekends watching Emmanuelle and Happy Hooker movies on Cinemax on the black and white TV with cable that they bizarrely allowed in my room. It probably didn’t occur to them that I knew what sex was at that age, or where to find it on television. (Of course, cable TV being a fairly new thing in Alabama in 1982, they may not have known where to find it themselves.) They may have realized the daycare was less than ideal, but felt it was safer than allowing me to be a latchkey kid at 10.

It seems arbitrary what the memory selects for storage and what it deletes. I remember that all the kids in daycare (myself included) loved it when we had chicken & dumplings for lunch. I remember that a couple of the older kids and I played a lot of Uno with one of the staff members, who always had a beautiful manicure. I can’t remember her name or her face, just her hands, holding Uno cards. I can’t remember the name of a single person in that place, but I remember that it was a big old split-level house with pukey green carpet and wood paneling, and a dilapidated playground across the street. Mostly I remember boredom, and indignation, and wishing I was older.

I spent most of my childhood and adolescence waiting for my life to catch up to me.


(Originally posted on LiveJournal 9/13/07. I'll be posting some "greatest hits" from LJ here, just to try to get all my writing in one place.)

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