Thursday, May 28, 2009

he said "it's all in your head" and I said "so's everything" but he didn't get it

For somebody who doesn't do a lot of the things that most girls seem to find necessary in order to go outside (makeup, eyebrow plucking, extreme moisturizing, etc.) I spend an awful lot of time worrying about clothing. If I'm feeling uncomfortable or stressed out it can take me a truly inordinate amount of time to decide what to wear, and I frequently end up feeling twitchy in whatever I finally picked out. On a good day, though, clothing can be amusing. I like to sometimes dress up one of the frilly girly dresses I've picked up at the local thrift store for two dollars and perhaps paint my toenails, maybe flounce a little bit. But really, I'm laughing the whole time, because it feels like pure artifice. I call it wearing girl drag or femme drag, and it amuses me enough that I look forward even more to the summer heat.

But lately I've been feeling a lot more androgynous than I'm accustomed to. It's another thing that I'm truly appreciating for the first time, it seems. In the past when I've felt the most androgynous I generally recall feeling fairly unsexy; I suspect this goes back to self-doubt and my (unspoken and unthought, until just now) fear that unless I'm flashing some gender signals I'm passing under most people's radars, attraction-wise or even just attention-wise. I can be so quiet sometimes that I worry about never making an impression at all. I'm what you might call petite, 5'6" and a hundred and ten pounds (according to surveys the ideal woman is 5'7" and 110, which I personally find hilarious), with medium brown shoulder-length hair and glasses. For years I wore mostly nondescript clothing and kept my hair very short, which might have worked for me if it had felt like sexy androgyny but in retrospect made me look somewhat like a nerdier-than-normal librarian but not in a particularly hot way. But now, with longer hair than I've had in years and summer around the corner, I feel strangely unhooked from some of my prior appearance hangups.

My hair is down to my shoulders, but it doesn't make me feel girly. It reminds me (this is kind of weird) of a photograph I saw of Oscar Wilde, seated with his hands gripping a cane, wearing rich heavy clothing and radiating a kind of casual sensuality, his dark hair waving slightly around his face. It's not that I resemble him but that I feel decadent somehow, with this luxury of hair that I can run my fingers through. I've also been paying attention to my walk, the long strides and casual swagger that I get when I'm covering ground, comfortable in my own body and its efficiency. I've been noticing a desire to wear clothing that doesn't scream "girl", that doesn't emphasize what little breast I have or cut too low. When I do, I feel even more exposed than normal. Which sometimes is fun, I'll admit. But not all the time.

None of these are big changes and I suspect that I actually don't appear different to outside viewers, but I can feel the difference in attitude they provoke within myself. I feel slightly cocky, confidant. I walk differently, with my hips leading more as I move, and I look people in the eye more often. It's hard to describe, but I don't feel like I'm taking on a masculine gender when I leave some of my femininity behind; I feel almost slightly ungendered or maybe like gender is just an incidental aspect of myself, and it feels good. The confidence and pleasure make me more confident emotionally and mentally, and I think people can tell. I feel full of some sort of energy or drive lately that is pushing me to reconsider some pretty large chunks of my personal self, and it makes me feel like I'm vibrating sometimes. I feel like I just need something, words or caresses or noise, to come out of me, to balance the life that's twirling around inside of me with what's going out into the world. I feel full of potential energy, just waiting to turn into action.

I'm still planning to be girly this summer. But I plan on being other things too. I want to be playful with my self-presentation, in my understated way. I think most of this is in my head, but it doesn't really matter if it is; the way people see and feel about me is directly related to how I see and feel about myself, and so even if the changes in myself are subtle they end up being reflected and amplified in my attitude, my confidence, my general feeling of well-being. My happiness. If I do the things that make me happy, everything else in my life gets better. Why did it take me so long to figure that out?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

the exciting conclusion

Usually, not too many people I know come to my concerts. Which is fine: not only do I totally understand that most people are really damn busy, but it can actually be a little awkward if they show up. What if I have a religious experience playing a show and the person who attended shrugs and looks away and says "Oh yeah, it was great..."? What if I feel like it was a waste of time and my audience member gushes? Awkward. But some shows I feel so proud of that I don't care, that it's enough that people are there and seeing what's happening. New music concerts in particular inspire both that feeling and Awkward Look-Away Moments, which is a fun combination.
We had our dal niente season closer Saturday night, and I'm still psyched about it. A whopping nine people from all different genres of my life showed up, mostly non-(classical-)musicians who had probably never been to a new music concert before, and all of them seemed to get something out of it. Enjoyment, a widened view of classical music, at least one piece that everybody liked (Vivier! Textural, and full of exciting string unisons), you know, whatever. It made me so happy, because the point of this music to me is less about pleasing audiences--although that's a bonus--and more about learning new things, finding beauty or joy or anger or wonder in unexpected sounds. I like pushing boundaries in my passive-ish way, and this music is inherently boundary-pushing.
Plus it was just a bad-ass concert. Well programed, alternating ensemble string orchestra and quartet pieces with solos, lots of exciting composers (Scelsi, Vivier, a cool quartet by Felipe Lara, solo cello piece by Saariajo, a world premier by our founding composer Kirsten Broberg, etc.), and for once it wasn't the mind-blowingly hardest thing I'd ever played. We put the concert together in three days, and it was an honest pleasure to play. I can't wait until next season.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

my purpose in the grand scheme of things

I've been going through one of those phases lately where all anybody wants to talk about is sex. Which is totally fine by me... This time, there's an added aspect of this periodic happening: I've bought sex toys for four other people in the last two weeks. This is partially an offshoot of knowing the majority of the staff at a local feminist sex toy store; I can go hang out, buy a vibe, see someone (sometimes many someones) I know, and call it good.
But partially, since I seem to be spending all my time talking about sex anyway, I want everybody to be having good sex both by themselves (Betty Dodson-style) and with other people. So I've been buying bullet vibes (and more expensive ones, when reimbursement is forthcoming) and shipping them all over the place. It makes me happy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

as the world turns

I'm realizing this week that blogging more has drawn my attention to the cyclicity of my life. Is it spring or fall? Expect a post about how much I love to walk, followed a few weeks later (if it's spring) by one about biking. Winter? Soup recipes. April? Posts about flowers. End of May? Let's have another goodbye to orchestral playing!
But cyclicity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Flowers, walking, biking, music: these are all things I love, and I'm glad to periodically revisit them. I'm constantly re-assessing my relationships to things, re-articulating my thoughts about what I love and what I don't. I find it comforting that my life is stable enough that I can acknowledge it's cyclic nature and pay attention to the seasons and years passing. It makes me feel alert within my own life.
The other day I walked outside and had to seriously restrain myself from throwing my arms up into the warm air and spinning around in circles a few times. Because it's spring, and the feel of the breeze on my skin overwhelmed me and I felt my heart pump hard a few times, and I wanted to acknowledge those feelings with some sort of physical action. I didn't; I've indulged in triumphant spring arm raising a few times on back streets, but spinning on a crowded weekend street was a bit much for me. (I demonstrated the spin later for a co-worker and she laughed pretty hard, which made me a little glad I'd smothered my earlier instinct. Although I guess it would make my day if I saw somebody express physical joy like that, so maybe next time I should just do it.) I restrain the same impulse--the arm raising, not the spinning--on my bicycle when I break it out, which I haven't much yet because the weather is just perfect for walking and I'm a compulsive foot traveller when I get the chance. But I feel, once again, full to bursting. I love living in a place that has a spring because it makes me want to jump around, spin in circles, make a fool out of myself but not care because oh, the sunshine...!
I'm going to be nice to myself this summer. I'm excited. It's going to be good. It's going to be a spinning kind of year, I hope.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

feeling unsteady

I haven't had terribly good cooking karma lately. I've been feeling a little apathetic in the kitchen, and I apparently have just entered one of those phases where I'm hungry all the time but nothing sounds even remotely appealing so I haven't been pushing myself. I'll be back on track far too soon, but for the moment I've been feeling a little stalled out, food-wise.
So recently I was flattered to be contacted via facebook by an acquaintance from Northwestern who wanted me to help her bake a cake for a mutual friend's birthday. I was totally psyched, as they say. I can't help but feel like you've crossed some sort of amateur cook line when people start asking you to help out with special events, you know? Also, this was an excellent time to talk her into helping me make these ridiculously decadent cupcakes, ones that caught my eye a few months ago but that I hadn't quite gotten the energy together to make just for the hell of it. I mean, making cookies just for the hell of it is one thing, but cupcakes filled with ganache and frosted, and requiring a significant amount of alcohol to be purchased just to get them made? That's a whole other level.
But I'm a total sucker for gimmicky foods. Show me a vegetable that's not the color I'm expecting (a white eggplant, just for example) and I will definitely squeal a little bit and possibly even buy it "just to see if it tastes different, you know?" So a cupcake that mimics an Irish Car Bomb (which yes, is a terribly insensitive name--smitten kitchen's comments are full of people pointing that out) was just right up my alley. The cake part of things has Guinness in it (let me tell you, a pot full of simmering beer and butter smells... interesting), and then you core each cupcake and fill it with a chocolate ganache containing whiskey (naturally). Frost the whole thing over with buttercream frosting with baileys in it, and you have a complete little alcoholic cupcake.
(Notes: The cookie cutter thing didn't work at all. I actually bought a set of graduated star cookie cutters just for these cupcakes, but we couldn't get it to work. We ended up just using knives. Also? Don't make the frosting and ganache the morning before and then stick them in the fridge all day. You'll just have to heat them up again.)
Frankly, I'm too lazy to post the entire rather lengthy recipe here; that's what links are for. I'm also probably too lazy to make these again except for special occasions. I haven't actually eaten a full cupcake yet--just plenty of each of the components--but I'm not sure it's going to measure up to the amount of work that went in. Although all things considered, these weren't so terribly bad. I made the ganache and frosting in the morning (cooking with whiskey and heavy cream at 9 AM is a good time) and we baked the cupcakes together at night. Coring, filling and frosting were fun; I think these might just be Party Cupcakes. If I ever actually go to a Superbowl party, these will be my contribution.

Monday, May 18, 2009

play it again, sam

As this orchestra season draws to a close, I am once again thinking about how being an orchestral player is seeping slowly (inevitably? unclear) out of my life. Some days that feels fine; I'm not really so much going anywhere with playing, just kind of keeping on keeping on, and I might actually make more money just working instead of having two to three different jobs at any single point in time, etc. But other days I know I'll miss it terribly if I leave entirely. Partially it's frustration: I spent more than a decade learning how to be an orchestral player, and if I leave than those skills will atrophy and become mostly useless. It feels good to do something I'm good at and know I'm good at--a rarity, for sure--and I hate the thought of moving on and forgetting about this part of myself.
But mostly I'll miss the heart-lift I get from playing exciting things. Sometimes now I sit in rehearsals and think about what a freaking weird job I have; I get to have emotional epiphanies in the middle of symphonies, I get to bite my lip at Tchaikovsky's trumpets and sweat out my anxieties over Stravinsky's rhythms. I get to feel like, for once in my life, I'm doing exactly the right thing at exactly the right time, and how often do you get to say that? I work as a cog, I give up my musical autonomy and to some extent my personal choice, to make sounds that can make your heart quake and are gone as quickly as they occur. I bring ephemeral joy to people I've never met. There's a purity of purpose there.
I'm not saying goodbye this time, because every time I do that it ends up not being the end at all. So I'm saying instead that I hope it hasn't all been for nothing, that I hope as I look back I can remember that all these years haven't been wasted if nothing else because of the joy they have sometimes brought me. I'm saying I love you, and I hope I see you again soon.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

the weight of words

Right now, I don't want love. Even like, in a more than friendly way, would be pushing it. I have my pangs, certainly, but mostly I'm dedicated to being happy and content with myself, to learning more about how I connect with other people, and that's working out well. As when I went through this before, I'm making new friends, thinking new thoughts, and trying to learn as much from myself as I can.
BUT. Every time I sit on my bed with a large stack of books next to me, I think of this poem. The momentary pang at the end of a matter-of-fact reminiscence reminds me of now. Regardless of how I feel about love, I miss moments of connection sometimes.

Bay Poem from Berkeley
Sandra Cisneros

Mornings I still
reach for you before
opening my eyes.

An antique habit from
last summer when we pulled
each other into the heat of groin
and belly, slept with an arm
around the other.

The Texas sun was like that.
Like a body asleep beside you.

But when I open my eyes
to the flannel and down,
mist at the window and blue
light from the bay, I remember
where I am.

This weight
on the other side of the bed
is only books, not you. What
I said I loved more than you.

Though these mornings
I wish books loved back.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

whoa there

Okay, taking a step back. Really, I do more than just sit around in my house geeking out on completely theoretical concepts, although lately sometimes it seems that way. But there are other things going on: food cooked (although nothing terribly noteworthy so far this week), books read (I love you, Dorothy Allison! Still!), and music played. Right now I'm winding up the orchestra season at DePaul and learning my music for the dal niente season finale, and looking forward to playing the final Civic concert of the season. After that, it's summer and it will be all flowers all the time and cooking that involves a lot less time with the oven on, which will be an adventure. I'm still striving for some sort of balance, although lately I seem to be swinging between so excited I can barely sit still and irritation at myself for my previous mania. I've been feeling a little obsessive, to tell the truth (if you couldn't tell), and I'm going to start trying to even things out a little more before I drive myself nuts with it.
I spent my afternoon playing Tchaikovsky's 4th symphony in a room that was far too hot for people exerting themselves that much. (Tchaik 4=lots and lots of notes.) It was a special kind of torture, but also a pure kind of physical exertion that pulled me enough out of my head that I feel much more relaxed now. I'm looking forward to summertime and its many ways of letting me do that: biking, leaving my house much more often, and even just feeling the wind on my skin. The first days of real spring are always slightly awkward for me, because I feel a conflict between the desire to feel the sun on as much skin as I can after a long winter and the strangeness of having that much skin exposed all at once. But this year we seem to be easing slowly into warmth, and I'm appreciating the occasional tank top or skirt that I've mustered so far. Today is breezy and cloudy, but also pleasantly not cold without being sticky yet. I'm happy to be at home and wearing comfy clothes, and ready for a night alone reading poetry.

the things we wear so close to our skin

Last night I met a girl who wants to be a radical lingerie designer (she wants to take Victoria's Secret down, big time), and while walking her to the train I ran into some friends and got diverted from my homeward course. Instead, I ended up at a bar, listening to a debate about gender and whether it is an inherently harmful cultural construction. (This is life lately. Radical lingerie and bar talks about gender. Don't even get me started on some of the other conversations I've had recently.) I was so frustrated at my own inarticulateness and silence that I came home a little after midnight and wrote in my journal until about 1:45. Generally I've been sleeping better, but a good idea can still keep me up all night. All I ever end up with is more questions, though.
When I was younger, a "baby feminist," I spent a lot of time writing about how we needed to smash everything apart and make it all new again, how everything needed to be restructured so that we could get past all of that sexism/racism/classism bullshit. The idea scared the crap out of me, I'll admit, because I had no idea how it could happen, but I upheld it faithfully. (I was so into 70's feminist lit... Can you tell? There are some really interesting journal entries from that time, I imagine.) The idea of revolution has always simultaneously excited and confused me. When I was twenty I believed in radical revolution, but now I'm not so certain that the kind of revolution I vaguely envisioned is as "easy" as I assumed it to be. Not that breaking everything apart and restructuring everything would be easy (yikes), but I no longer am so certain that it's entirely possible or even entirely desirable. Can you untie what has already been from what will be? Could you maintain a sense of history and progression if something like that were to happen? What kind of revolution do I want? Is it the same as the one that might be possible? Do I want them to be the same, or do I want something more than what is pragmatically more reasonable?
I don't want gender to hurt anybody, the people I love or people I don't know or myself. But I have so many questions about just what gender is and what it does that I don't know exactly where to go from where I am right now. I feel lately, not stupid, but lacking some of the pieces I need to have in order to put my thoughts into a coherent order. My journal is full of questions, and very few answers. Is gender inherently harmful? Can it exist in a non-harmful way? Can you take responsibility for the way you feel about your own gender, regardless of what that is, and use that to become more open to other people's gender ideas? Does gender actually exist, or did we just make it up? Some of these I could answer, at least theoretically, but I find that if I want to fully understand and believe my answers I just end up with more questions and no solid conclusions.
Sometimes, I can feel the gender edifice in my mind get shaky. When I'm thinking really clearly, when I'm talking to somebody and the gender ideas keep slipping into each other and I realize how transitory and constructed they are, I can feel it quake inside of me and for a brief moment I get a glimpse of something beyond what I normally perceive, gender-wise. I'm trying right now to make those moments happen as often as possible, because they always slip away from me and I'm not sure I'm learning enough from them. I don't have the bone-deep certainty I want to have about much of anything (if certainty is even possible... which sometimes I doubt as well) but I figure all I can do is push myself to keep learning and growing and having new thoughts and someday maybe I'll reach a place where I understand more than I do now. I may not have the pieces yet, in other words, but I'm getting closer all the time. I hope.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

the best policy

Lately especially, I seem to be compelled to write about things that I'm moderately (the fact that I don't like to dance) or highly (a moment where I felt racist) embarrassed by. There's something about being as honest as I can be in an open forum that is somehow appealing, like maybe by writing about these things I can begin to address them more realistically in the outside world. I feel like I'm putting myself on the line by writing about things that I feel unsure of. It feels dangerous.
But at any rate, today I'm irritated by my relationship with pronouns, and my own mind. Ever since I realized that Peter was fully Peter (before that, the linguistic line seemed a little more blurry) I've been making irritating slip-ups. I use the wrong pronoun in an unthinking moment, I think the wrong name and correct myself, over and over. I am so irritated by how stubborn my brain is about accepting what I know to be true. It's already sticking better, but every time I fuck up I wince because I don't want to be that person, the one who sounds like she doesn't get it. I was telling somebody the other day that I know it's not a failure of attitude but rather one of brain categorization: I'm fighting again a year and a half of living with him as a her, and that takes a while to change.
Brains are such funny things. You learn something one way, and you cling to it because your brain has formatted itself like that. That's why people (say, who live or work together) have fights about stupid shit like where dishes get stacked or how a shelf is arranged: one person's logical arrangement will just piss the shit out of somebody else because the pictures they have in their heads of the way things should be differ. On a much larger level, of course, there's all sorts of things like racism and genderbashing that happen because we're so damn angry when our heads and the outside world don't match up exactly. The more strongly you feel about your interior picture, the more likely you seem to be to protest when that picture is disrupted. Gender is probably one of the things that most people feel most secure in, and so it's one of the things that seem to raise the most resentment and assholery when it's unclear or when it changes.
But I'm not an asshole, and I am so happy to see Peter as Peter that I experience frustration with myself, not his gender presentation. And so I'm patiently waiting for my brain to slowly catch up with itself. Peter has been a true gentleman when I screw up, and I feel more secure in my linguistic self-representation every day. Now, when I have a mental slip, it's almost alarming, it surprises me to think of him as otherwise than he is now. I think that in a lot of ways his gender is really fluid for me now, or just doesn't matter so much for the way that we relate to each other. This is a simplification... But Peter is Peter and I am myself, and together we are just two people.

Friday, May 08, 2009

dance like nobody's watching

Those of you who know me know that I don't really like to dance. I never have, except for a brief and mostly forgotten period in my childhood where I belonged to the Sunshine Generation; it seems wholly inexplicable now, given my current personality, but I was the star of the show with that shit. I was a freaking soloist, and I danced my ass off in front of hundreds of onlookers, usually wearing hideous clothing. (People I date, who are usually the only people I get around to resurrecting that memory for, always seem horribly amused by this story.)
But since then, there have a been a few memorable nights (mostly involving large quantities of alcohol and elaborate outfits, which for some reason helps) where I found the interior confidence and lack of moment-to-moment self-criticism that is necessary to dance joyfully with other people, but mostly I don't enjoy it. It makes me feel awkward, self-conscious, uncomfortable, and ultimately bad about myself, left out of whatever group of happy dancing people I happen to be surrounded by. It can be a profoundly isolating experience, and so I generally avoid it. The problem is that I sincerely wish that I enjoyed dancing. I have many times stated aloud a wish to learn how to enjoy dancing, and every so often I actually go out and try it again but the results are almost always the same: me, backed into a corner, staring in fascination at the abandon of those around me and feeling like I'm from a completely different planet where stiff joints are the order of the day.
One of the nice things about living alone is that here, at least, I can dance. I can put on Amanda Palmer's Guitar Hero and shake my ass, fists pumping. I cock my hip. I sing along. Sometimes, I even clap my hands. I imagine I look like a complete idiot, but I don't care because nobody really is watching. It's not something I do terribly often, but when I do I enjoy the shit out of it.
The point of this is once again something about maybe getting older and wiser, or at least more in touch with what I actually want. Last night FKA, a monthly queer dance party, took place at the gay bar down the block from my apartment. (Which I have also only been to twice since I moved in what, ten months ago? I need more queer goings-out.) Most of my genderqueer friends were going (and probably sundry other people I've met over the years, which could actually be a bad thing), it was close by, I didn't have anything going on... But I stayed home. I'm trying not to do things just because I think I should enjoy them when I know that I probably won't. Instead, I read Dorothy Allison, wrote in my journal, listened to music, and went to bed early. And this morning, I feel better than I have all week. Maybe next month I'll be feeling up to giving FKA another shot, but for this month I made the right choice.

Thursday, May 07, 2009


I'm going through one of those mini-phases where I really really want to write something and I can't come up with a single damn thing to talk about. So frustrating. It makes me feel like I'm itching inside my skin, like my brain is at internally at odds because it wants something that it's unwilling to give to itself. It's especially frustrating because generally I'm feeling really good, and so this itch is like a fly in the ointment. (Or, as my orchestra conductor at NU used to say, flies in sour cream. This crazy old Russian man, waving his arms and screaming in his thick accent "You sound like flies in sour cream!" He also once told me, in a very scary voice, that Beethoven was a man with five human hearts. Intense.)
So I have nothing to write about. But I will soon. I hope.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

departure from arrival

Lately I haven't been sleeping much (again). But I've been trying to use my wakeful hours effectively, writing in my journal and geeking out on Dorothy Allison, instead of just mooching around the internet to see if anybody has updated their facebook status yet. Anyway, I'm also reading this Li-Young Lee book, Book of My Nights, which is all about not sleeping. Perhaps for this reason (and because, for some unfathomable reason, I usually don't enjoy poems written in a cycle or around a theme as much as I enjoy solitary poems), I haven't been enjoying it as much as I'd hoped to. But I will read it again when I am less tired, and until then this one seems somewhat fitting, given my sleeplessness and eternal confusion with language.

Hurry toward Beginning

Is it because the hour is late
the dove sounds new,

no longer asking
a path to its father's house,
no longer begging shoes of its mother?

Or is it because I can't tell departure
from arrival, the host from the guest,

the one who waits expectant at the window
from the one who, even now, tramples the dew?

I can't tell what my father said about the sea
we crossed together
from the sea itself,

or the rose's noon from my mother
crying on the stairs, lost
between a country and a country.

Everywhere is home to the rain.
The hours themselves, where do they hide?
The fruit of listening, what's that?

Are days the offspring of distracted hands?
Does waiting that grows out of waiting
grow lighter? What does my death weigh?
What's earlier, thirst or shade?
Is all light late, the echo to some prior bell?

Is it because I'm tired that I don't know?
Or is it because I'm dying?
When will I be born? Am I the flower,
wide awake inside the falling fruit?
Or a man waiting for a woman
asleep behind a door?
What if a word unlocks
room after room the days
wait inside? Still,

night amasses a foreground
current to my window.
Listen. Whose footsteps are those
hurrying toward beginning?

Monday, May 04, 2009

wanna work on the railroad

Lately I've been thinking about insides and outsides and how confusing and frustrating it is when there are incongruities between those two things. Obviously this is a major part of genderqueer identity a lot of the time, and that's been something I've been thinking about a lot too. What does it mean to be genderqueer exactly? How is that different from being queer queer? Is it? Am I? How? If I can't put that into words, does it still exist? (Short answer: yes, but in an existentially frustrating way.) Is my personal identity semi-irritation related to genderqueerness? How do I talk about my own (very interior and private) frustration while acknowledging that this is nothing compared to what visibly genderqueer people experience (internally and externally) constantly?
I've always felt that who I am inside is different from the way I present myself. On the outside I feel like I'm too quiet, too nice, too polite, a good girl sitting with my hands folded watching the debate with squinted eyes. But inside sometimes (especially lately) I feel loud, powerful, maybe a little crazy but hopefully not in a bad way. I feel sparkly, interested in everything, a little frenetic but also so excited by everything (ideas! books! music! conversations!) that I can't sit still. I feel like I'm vibrating with desire to do and feel and think and talk and write. I worry that those things aren't making it through the good-girl shell with enough regularity. One-on-one I'm worlds away from where I used to be, but in groups especially I'm still silent. Why? I sometimes feel myself acting in ways I don't like because they fit the "girl" image and it is so upsetting; I worry that so much of my personal presentation is directly tied to a bullshit system of categorization and social enforcement.
I'm trying to put all of these pieces together, an identity that questions gender and gets all worked up about a new idea and wants to go all new places all the time, and the fact that if you met me on the street I probably wouldn't make much of an impression. I fucking hate that. I feel like I'm split into (at least) two different people. I worry that that split makes it much harder for me to meet and interact with some of the people that excite me the most, intellectually and otherwise. I worry that I'm not having the life that I would be having if the pieces matched up better.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

the opposite of phallic

It's spring here, maybe for real and to the point where it won't snow anymore. And that reminded me of this quote I heard on Prairie Home Companion last year:

"It always shocks me to see peonies in the yards of good christian folk."

The Chinese (if I recall my Botany of Desire correctly) considered peonies to be the ultimately female flower. They bred them to have millions of tiny ruffly petals (vagina vagina vagina!) and even to smell like sweat or other body scents. I didn't like peonies at all when I started working in flowers; they were so unstructured, they fell apart after a few days, and I frequently didn't even like the scent. (Turns out every different type of peony has a different scent, and yes, some of them are not terribly appealing. Some are okay, though, or even kind of nice.) I only liked them in the bud stage, when they seemed completely ready to pop open but all I could see yet was a lot of potential energy. That felt sexy to me, that feeling of imminent explosion. But now, when I see a peony fully open, with it's bright yellow center slightly revealed and it's masses of petals all tangled together, I sometimes blush.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

the problematics of language

This morning, a friend of mine was relating a story about being accosted by a man on the train who first asked him for change and then threateningly asked him to empty his pockets. We live in a big city; it's not pleasant, but everybody has at least one story like that. (My most alarming one involves getting thwacked lightly on the shoulder by a passing man asking for change. Physical contact? Yikes.) So I understood the need to vent, and I tried to let him get it out even though I was grumpy and not really feeling particularly sympathetic, but then he said this: "I think he was in a gang."
And I asked why, and he said, "Well, he asked me for money."
What? What does that have to do with supposed gang membership?
I haven't been sleeping well, which I blame the escalation and incoherence of the following conversation on. I said that I didn't see any connection whatsoever between gangs and asking for change. When I pressed my friend for more reasons he might make such an assumption, he told me the man had been wearing baggy low-slung jeans and a baggy shirt. Really? Just like two-thirds of the guys I see on the train every day. Maybe they're all in gangs!
I was upset because I think there's a very problematic tendency to place poor people, people of color, young men, into the category of "gang member" without any actual evidence of said gang membership. I don't dispute that gang violence exists (somebody was shot and killed a block away from the Hard Music, Hard Liquor concert I went to two weeks ago, for instance), but it's such an incredibly loaded (and racist) term that I avoid using it in any instance where it is not an absolutely concrete fact. I tried to explain this a little bit, that especially young black men are automatically shoved into this category and that it's used to justify the way they are subsequently treated, and my friend told me that his accoster wasn't black.
The whole thing just left me feeling icky. I felt like I had just participated in something so overwhelmingly classist and racist that I was unsettled for much of the afternoon. My inability to articulate what I felt was a very important point, his offensive (to me, at least) assumption based on nothing that I could see, and my own racism in assuming that the man was black based on what I had been told: triple ick.

tarts and other dirty-sounding foods

I know I cook too much sometimes. But every once in a while, a menu will beckon and I will go excessively overboard, even by my standards. Last night was one of those nights, and in the aftermath I'm just lucky that the kitchen gods have chosen not to punish me for my hubris again. Making three completely new dishes for company? Blasphemy! Instead, they rewarded me with a meal that was remarkably delicious and (gasp) actually fairly stress-free in it's construction.
The seed for this excessive evening was this roasted tomato tart with creme fraiche and gruyere, which made the overdoer part of me squeal; not only was it to be my first ever tart (I had to buy a pan just for this), but I'd get to make my own creme fraiche. Woot! Happily, making creme fraiche is easy, if somewhat alarming. You simply pour a pint of heavy cream into a glass jar, add two tablespoons of good plain yogurt, shake, and stick the whole shebang in your oven for twelve+ hours. I knew that if Rose-Anne told me it would work than it would, but the idea of having unsealed dairy in my warm oven for a day made me slightly antsy. What if my tart killed us all? Happily, it did not.
Anyway, this tart has a lot of time-consuming steps--roasting the tomatoes for more than an hour, baking the tart crust for another half an hour, baking the assembled tart for yet another half hour--so I plotted my strategy carefully. The night before (while entertaining another guest! I have hostess skillz) I seeded, roasted, and skinned my tomatoes. The next morning, I woke up and immediately put together the tart crust and baked it. (And then, yes, I made soup. at 9:30 AM.) When dinner finally approached, all I had to do was assemble. And you know what? It tasted great. I'm not gonna be humble this time, because I was impressed myself. Tart success!
I paired the tart with a salad, parmesan garlic bread spread with raw cow's milk butter (milked by hand! packaged in glass! grass-fed! delicious!), and a chilled avocado-grapefruit soup that was the only thing all night that I felt iffy about. I like the pairing of avocado and grapefruit in a chilled soup, but the spicing (cinnamon and allspice) seemed a little off to me. Hmm.
Anyway, after dinner, I decided to go whole hog and make... Dessert! (Yet another recipe I'd never laid eyes on until last week!) What I made was a blackberry clafouti. Erica told me that "clafouti" sounds like a dirty word, but for some reason (perhaps the excessive creaminess? they're essentially a light fruited custard) I've been mildly obsessed with making one for a month or two now. Then at work on Thursday I mysteriously obtained a clafouti recipe that called for creme fraiche as a main ingredient, and I knew it was meant to be. I had to use blackberries instead of cherries (which seems to be the more traditional version) but what a gorgeous dessert! The fruit floats to the top of the custard and you end up looking like a badass even though it's pretty much the easiest thing to make ever. After my guests left I will admit that I polished off the remaining 3/8ths of the clafouti in a fit of late-night cravings. I think I need a break from the heavy cream for a few days, but that was an excellent way to spend May Day.

Blackberry Clafouti

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living, May 2009

2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup creme fraiche
3/4 cup whole or soy milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for the dish and berries
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
12 oz blackberries
Confectioner's sugar for dusting

Pre-heat the oven to 375.
Wash the berries and put them in a lidded container along with some granulated sugar. Shake to coat, and leave in the fridge while you prep everything else.
Butter a 9-inch pie dish, and then lightly coat it with sugar. Tap out the excess. Whisk the eggs, yolk, and flour together in a medium bowl, then add the creme fraiche, milk, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt and whisk it all together.
Arrange the blackberries in the bottom of the dish so that they cover the bottom in a single layer. Pour the batter over the fruit. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until slightly browned around the edges and set in the center. Dust with confectioner's sugar.
It's excellent but messy served warm, and you can ladle an extra spoonful of creme fraiche over the top for a little extra fanciness. It's also good and much more solid (as I can attest from my late-night binge) after being refrigerated. Take a picture; it's pretty.