Sunday, April 23, 2017

Too Much Honesty

Several conversations have been swirling through my social media feed this weekend. One involves the state of women in ministry (some people are for it, some people against it, and some wonder why this is still an issue today). Several other conversations involve victim blaming in regard to how women dress when raped tied in with that same verbiage relating to children who are molested ("If she didn't dress like a slut, she wouldn't have this happen to her.")

I briefly engaged in the first one, engaged heavily in the third one, and dabbled in the second. The first one involved a Twitter feed ( #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear ), and the replies there were often poignant, engaging, and painful. The third involved me opening up about my own abuse, and how that affected me.

As always, these conversations make me raw. Really raw. I try to balance between understanding those who do not "get" what I'm saying, and being real, but I often end up feeling like I continue to speak to winds that blow past me on their way to other more important things.

And, I have been through enough counseling to know that just because I am past some of these wounds, I am always going to have to measure my own reactions and be mindful of where I am emotionally.

But there are days, like today, when I flail. Where I feel like everything I have processed and worked through and talked over are nothing but repeating spirals. Where counseling and "working stages/steps" becomes nothing but noise. Where all I can do is sit and cry.

Cry because I feel ineffective and weak. Because I feel unheard. Because I feel valueless, broken, and irrelevant.

Today, I did something I know I shouldn't have. I went to a bakery and got non gluten free doughnuts and ate them.

I cried doing so.

Then I confessed to a friend what I had done.

She asked me to not self harm. I acknowledge that eating gluten is akin to cutting for someone like me. But, as I told her, "I can't control how others hurt me, but I can control how I hurt myself." And, yes, I do realize how messed up that is.

Eating gluten is my own act of rage.

I started feeling the results pretty quickly. Along with the nausea and need to vomit came the swirls of regret and sorrow and helplessness.

The irony is that I felt helpless so I did something that felt powerful but put me in an even more helpless situation.

This is what a woman living in rape culture does when she feels she has no place to turn.

No excuse, mind you.

But it is the same as putting a razor to my skin. No amount of prayer can change that driving need to control something when the reminders are so fierce that I have no control.

Because I am not beautiful enough, but something made someone want to take something I didn't offer. Because I am not strong like a man, even though I've been told by others I'm so strong. Because I was too sheltered in some ways, and not sheltered enough in others. Because, as one woman who transitioned to a man put it, "When I became a man, I was no longer afraid," and I am deeply aware that I am not a man.

Not surprisingly, during all of this, my mind turns to fragrance. In my upbringing, there were sermons on how brokenness is a sweet perfume to God, how ingredients used for the temple oil included being crushed. Stories of how Christ was broken for us (broken and spilled out, like perfume) are paralleled with how we will be broken and spilled. It is pain. It is blessing. It is even fetishized.

There are times I do wonder what sorrow smells like to others.

I know the first time I was almost kidnapped, fear smelled like candy, wet cement, and copper.

The second time, I remember smelling the leather of my shoes, the flowers blooming in the hedge I ran past. The smell of the house I was welcomed in to. Safety.

When I was molested by my step father, I smelled dust and sweat. Cotton sheets. Meat in the oven. Onions. The faint trace of something rotting. Fecal matter. Sometimes, when I dream and hear a child crying, I smell roaches.

There are more smells. More memories.

Perhaps this is why I surround myself with too much perfume. I cannot control the smells that happened to me, but I can control what is around me right now. If I want to smell jasmine, I can. If I want to remember safety, I close my eyes and smell grass, the scent of raspberry bushes. Blueberries warm on the tongue and how that tart sweetness blooms in the sinuses when you breathe in and out while chewing.

Today, I have no answers. I am exhausted from being up a lot of the night and staring at the dark ceiling. Again feeling like I am a foreigner trying to reach a culture and a people who simple cannot understand me. I do know that some care, and some try to translate, but we still speak very different languages.

I know there are those who deny that rape culture exists, and that is within a secular setting. For someone like me who was raised in the church, with the idea of women being in submission, how our sexuality is equated to purity, how we become damaged so easily, and as someone who watched multiple men in authority abuse their positions and children and women around them, I acknowledge an issue much deeper than rape culture that shares similar roots.

But, as the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see. I know many ministers who insist there is no problem. Men who claim to love women in their lives, but see abuse as Latin: it's out there, others use it, but it doesn't affect them in their day to day.

Where do I go from here? I will do the same thing I do every day, Pinky (after I throw up and regret the terrible decision to add gluten to my intestines). I will go forward one more step. Put on some perfume (perhaps one of my "comfort" standbys), and pray that some day women won't have to fear being told we are "beating up" men by using our voice to be too honest, one more time.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Loss and Discovery: perfume and music

Braining is hard work. Braining while feeling like you have no brain is sometimes almost impossible. Since last year, I have had a lot of blocks that I don't always feel capable of climbing past (not necessarily related to loss or grief, but sometimes it is).

Writing, something I have always done whether it was for pleasure or more serious, has felt alien--not just difficult, but outside of who I am. This was going to be the year that I submitted this and that, where I would be faithful to reviewing perfumes, where I would _________. The inability to do so (as always) has led to lack of creativity, which then has led to more inability, and that leads to existential crises.

So what does one do when setting alarms and timers and reminders and scolding oneself into paralysis doesn't work? One waits.

And waits. (And wonders if padded living quarters should at least be considered.)

I've been here before. Usually related to crisis of health, and sometimes a crisis of soul. I know this waiting. I hate it. I have read the books that say "Just do things anyway." I've tried. I tried again this time. But this wait was somehow different. My mind was not just waiting, it was quiet. Too quiet. I usually have what felt like 500 fluorescent lights buzzing up there all of the time. Then there was silence.

Then fear. "What if I never write again?" "What if I can't find words?" "What if I'm broken?"

I can force discipline (in limited stages), but I cannot force creativity. So all I could do is wait.

I read books on leadership. I read books on not being angry. I read books on hope. Books on vampires. Books on writing and blessings, and detectives, and how others got past their blocks. Nothing seemed to "spark" me, make that inside voice come alive.

One thing I have been doing is continuing my path of cleaning up my world. It may seem small, but I am working hard to surround myself with what gives me joy. I think that's where some of the silence has come from: how can you choose what gives joy when you realize you are in a rut? What do you discard? What do you keep? What do you look for?

As I looked at my seriously insane pile of perfume that needs to be reviewed (and re-reviewed so I can keep what I truly want and find new homes for the rest), I realized that I could at least do that. And then as I thought about reviewing perfume, I remembered that I had also been wanting to explore new music. So, last week I asked Facebook folks what music they liked, and I added all of their answers to my Spotify lists. The lists are long. A little intimidating. But I am more excited than I expected to be to have this path to explore.

This week, as I looked at my perfume pile again, I thought: why not combine the two?

This morning, I randomly picked a new artist to try (Blind Pilot, We Are the Tide album) and without looking grabbed a bottle from the perfume pile (Daring, by Possets), There it was. That comedic, brilliant, laugh-at-life moment. I often feel like a blind pilot as I navigate this life--sometimes not even knowing if I'm going up or seconds away from another crunch and crash of impact. The moments of loss, of momentary destruction are brutal. I tend to focus on those. What changed my life the way I didn't want. What I don't have. The people I miss who have died or gone away. Loss of health. But then, there's Daring to balance it out. What is life without some boldness? Some "I will go forward anyway!" Determination to seek altitude. We gain nothing by refusing to fly.

One of my favorite poems when I was young (and still remains dear) is High Flight by John Magee. Today, when I read the poem again, I was reminded that silence doesn't have to be dark. When we fling ourselves out into the unknown, sometimes what we find is what we've been looking for for too long among the known.

So, today, as Blind Pilot gives me their smooth Indie folk sound (reminds me, so far, of a little of what I like of Band of Horses and The Head and The Heart), I will review Daring and once again be amused at how life sometimes ties words and things and experiences together.

Daring was released in the Valentine's 2014 collection. Description: "A daring idea to pair jasmine and patchouli in the right balance so each bolsters the other and no one dominates, yet the two elements are in such a surprisingly perfect harmony that you wonder why this hasn't been done many times before. There is a tremendously woody aspect to this one, but that is more due to the ingredients being blended in the correct proportions. Somehow this one comes off like a woman with a formidable intellect."

At first sniff, in the bottle Daring comes across as almost medicinal. The patchouli is striking, making me think of vetiver in how bracing it is. Immediately under that I get a sense of more vetiver mixed with a brown sugar note (without the sweetness), a soft almost powdery floral, and a rough silk edge that verges on wood.

On my skin: this patchouli is not a headshop hippy one at all. It's more grassy, with a faint hint of pencil shavings. It immediately opens up into floral essence, roughed up and gritted over somewhat by the patchouli. This one is perfume with a P. It feels like a cool beauty wearing a little black dress, giving you an assessing look--wondering if you'll measure up to her standards. Which could be intimidating, but then you realize the little black dress is paired with Converse.

As this dries, it retains a classic edge and vibe, but continues to be a bit fun (and a touch flirty) underneath. I still get a sense of pencil shavings, mixed with perhaps some fizzy ginger ale. It's soft, but bracing. This would pair well with an Important Event (with a light hand, as this could go into Invasion of Personal Space territory if applied too liberally), but also would be equally at home with a t-shirt and errands.

I don't get a lot of jasmine out of this one, but there is a very lovely soft white floral note that winds through this one and plays with that woody/grassy perfume vibe of the patchouli (that seems to want to pretend to be vetiver today). This is utterly classic. Cool. Aloof. Polished and pampered. But it also has softness, warmth, charm, and a touch of fizz.

Edited to add that as the hours went by, this one became more soft dark cola mixed with wood floor (old, but carefully maintained), with that flower note weaving through. This is sweet without any sugar. Almost having some of that black musk vibe that is so lovely in Possets in that it can be warm, sweet, but not cloying, but this isn't black musk at all--if anything brown and gold and still retaining the hardness of hard wood.

The waft of this seems to pick up more of the wood, and at times comes across a little wood pulp-ish, but for the most part really remains what feels like an utterly classic perfume. I would wear this to France and walk into a shop or wear it out in the evening for social occasion, mixing it up between the two (casual and formal) without a qualm.

This one is definitely one of my keepers, probably more so for special occasions, when I want to feel decadent.

My previous review of Daring on the Possets forum says this (I didn't look at it until I finished this test): "This would be great for a dressy occasion. It has that classy classic opulent vibe. But, but, oh BUT! it would also be great for everyday wear, where you just want to feel like strolling out in something lovely because it's what you have and what you can do." It also worked well on my mother. We have very different tastes and skin, so it's fun to find one that we both like a lot.

Paired with Blind Pilots, Daring places me right on the edge of a big adventure, but is equally happy being at home thinking about the to-do list for the day.

Life is full of loss. Of silence. Of taking blind curves, and feeling our way through the dark with our hands outstretched in front of our faces. But, life is still to be lived. It is up to us to make the choice--to dare--to do so. I hope when you start your own flight check, that you smell as wonderful as Daring insists you can be. And that you fly past what your limitations have set for you. I wish that for us all.