why i love “granny hair”

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Relatively recently, I came across a blog post written by an older woman that gave me much food for thought. I am not going to link the blog post because I had quite a few issues with what was written, and I feel that instead of calling out the individual author, I would rather respond in a general way to the collective ideas that the author reflected within her post.

Basically, the post was about growing older as a female in contemporary society. It appeared that some of the concepts and ideas that our culture has inculcated in women was something that the author had bought into in her youth. As an adult woman over the age of 60, she had some cognitive dissonance in reconciling her role as a female in our “youth obsessed” culture. She said that as an older woman, she now feels marginalized and invisible. She expressed that she was happy to have “aged out” of the catcalls, sexual harassment, and objectification she had experienced as a younger woman, but she also felt a sense of loss and displacement as an older woman.

She didn’t like the idea that women who were older and appeared to conform to society’s norm of beauty (by hook or by crook, genetics and/or plastic surgery) were heralded as “sexy” and “gorgeous” and instead called for a redefinition of beauty as it applied to older women – preferring to focus on the attributes that made older women sexy and gorgeous, which included their intelligence, their personality, and their experience. (I’d say this redefinition of beauty should apply to ALL people, regardless of age or gender) Lastly, she cautioned younger women about the role they play, telling them that the concerns of older women should be their concerns too (assuming that the majority of younger women did not care about older women) while warning them that they, too, would be old someday.

A few days after I had read the post, I was still thinking about it, pondering the implications of what the author was trying to express, when I was at a grocery store with a friend, a man who is older than me chronologically but certainly not mentally or emotionally or spiritually. (I also have to back up a little bit here and say that I do look “young” for my age – which I will address a little bit more later in this blog post. My friend has grey hair. I too have grey hair, but I have dyed my hair black or brown pretty continuously for over 15 years to cover it, and it has been with mixed feelings over the last five years or so. Every once in a while, I start to grow it out, marveling at my silver strands, wondering how I will ever be able to grow it all out while retaining some semblance of color continuity and keeping my hair long. To tell the truth, I have dyed my hair far longer than that. I started dying my hair black in my early 20s, as was my inclination.)

Anyway, we were at the grocery store, and a long-ago high school friend of my friend’s, an older woman with dyed brown hair, stopped him to say hello. We all chatted for a moment, talking about the weather and some of the weather patterns over the last few years, when suddenly the woman turned towards me abruptly in a pointed, seething sort of way said, “well, you are way too young to remember that.” I was very surprised and responded immediately, “I’m not as young as I look …” but she continued talking to my friend as if she had not heard me. After a few minutes, the conversation ended and we went our separate ways. But the lingering effect was there, and my friend and I talked about what had happened.

“You do look young,” he said, slightly unnerved at being thought of as a man who was ‘robbing the cradle’. I was unnerved at being thought of as somehow undermining older women by being with an older man. But honestly, while I am younger than him, I am not THAT much younger than him. Looking younger than I am is a problem I’ve had nearly all my life, at pretty much every stage in my adult life.

From the time I was a senior in high school and my sister was a freshman, when some of my mother’s coworkers who knew she had two girls and their ages but not our faces, would, upon meeting us, turn to my sister and ask her where she was planning on going to college. I still get ID’d when buying products for people over the age of 21. I’ve had people express downright shock when they discovered my true age. I will never forget a man who said to me just last year, “You are over 40?! But you are so pretty! You look so happy!” People have told me more times than I can count, “Oh you will be so thankful for looking young when you are older.” As a young woman, I would ask, “How much older?” As a young woman, I never wondered, “And why then?” Honestly, it has always felt like a curse for me to look younger than my chronological age, and it always bothered me in how people reacted to me, especially when they told me how “lucky” I was to look young.

So why have I continued to dye my hair?

The answer is, I’m not. I made a decision a while ago to stop dying my hair. It feels radical. I never dyed my hair to look young. I dyed it to maintain a color consistency. However, with the advent of “granny hair” I can still maintain a color consistency while my natural hair grows in. I can dye my hair grey. In short, I’m going grey! I can’t be more excited about it. Will I finally look my age?! Though, truthfully, I don’t care what age I “look”.  I want to keep my long hair while my natural hair grows in. Dyeing my hair grey offers a unique solution to the awkward transition.

This brings me to the whole idea of “granny hair.” Ah, first of all – what a term! Right then and there, there’s a bias and presumption that only “grandmothers” have grey hair! The biological fact of the matter is that both men and women usually start to go grey in their 30s or 40s, sometimes even earlier in their 20s. The cultural fact of the matter is that men usually do not dye their hair. Men are light years more accepting of the grey and silver strands that permeate their hair with age, which has led to the perception of men with grey hair looking “distinguished” and “sexy.” There are names for these kinds of men, and I’ve never heard of a derogatory term or an implied “grandfatherly” term – “silver foxes” comes to mind.

So what’s up with “granny hair?” The term has originated as a label given to younger women (and sometimes even older women) who CHOOSE to dye their hair grey. Young women in their late teens and 20s are sporting grey and silver locks – and rocking the look. Suddenly, shockingly (!), grey hair is beautiful, sexy, edgy, cool. Older women who retain their grey and silver (Helen Mirrin, Jamie Lee Curtis, EmmyLou Harris, etc) are now being celebrated as “silver vixens”, whereas in the past older women who have chosen to go natural when the grey comes in have been considered to have “let themselves go.”

If there was ever a time in which the term “from the mouths of babes” was appropriate, I’d say that applies very directly to young women with “granny hair.” They actually haven’t had to say a word. It is all in the action of dyeing their hair grey, and finding empowerment there. (Though I have seem many recent articles about the “granny hair trend,” I’ve also seen online articles talking about this “trend” which go back to 2014 and 2013. I’ve also seen some earlier forums and hair related sites in which women ask help for transitioning between dyed hair and natural grey hair, bemoaning the fact that grey hair dye didn’t exist.)

Interestingly, it wasn’t older women who began celebrating and seeing their grey and silver locks as something special, edgy or cool. In fact, older women typically dye their hair to hide their grey into their 60s and 70s, sometimes even longer. Who usually sees grey or silver hair on women, unless they are very old? It was young women who radicalized this vision. They didn’t come up with the term “granny hair” … it was the culture throwing that on the action of younger (and older) women dyeing their hair grey. They couldn’t care less about the term. For these women, grey and silver hair is not only unusual, it is striking and beautiful. And it forces not only older women, but the entire culture, to reconsider their relationship to grey hair as it relates to ageism, female beauty, and empowerment.

One of the biggest problems I had with the blog post I had read was that the woman who wrote it seemed so bitter, almost angry at young women. (I think it is also worth noting that in the author picture, the woman had dyed blonde hair.) Maybe she was even a bit angry that she had bought into the cultural idea of female beauty when she was young, thereby thinking that all young women felt that way. We live in a society that does not really respect old people. We do not see them reflected in media or in television or movies. They are often hidden away in nursing homes and senior citizen centers. We forget how much older people have to teach us, not only on an individual level, but on a societal level.

It is up to older people to set a different standard than the one that has been outlined for them by society. That is why I am so grateful for women like Joan Price, author of Naked at Our Age and The Ultimate Guide to sex after 50, who seek to redefine our attitudes about what it means to be an older person in this society, and to live by our example, our words and our actions.

We also forget sometimes how much younger people have to teach us. Our society is a changing, growing, evolving thing. Young people do not necessarily have the same ideas about aging and beauty as what has been outlined for them by society. In many ways, young people are more likely than older people to revolt and to radicalize concepts and ideas that we have long taken in and internalized as societal norms and cultural standards.

When I decided to take the plunge and dye my hair grey, I started looking for places where I could buy grey and/or silver hair dye in New York, where I live. I could not find a single store in my area which sold grey hair dye. “How could this be?!” I thought, after the third store I went to, a popular beauty supply store that I was sure would have it. “This is a goddamn conspiracy!” I thought angrily, after the sixth store I went to. For, what would it mean to multimillion hair dye companies, or the female beauty industry on the whole, if women actually celebrated their grey/silver hair and growing older naturally?! These companies and industries are built upon pimpology – exploiting women’s self-esteem issues by bringing them down so they can be built back up. That in itself is a radical thought.

Needless to say, I was not able to buy grey or silver hair dye locally. Perhaps if I had hundreds of dollars to spend at a salon, I could have a professional hair colourist dye my hair grey. But I do not have such luxury. Not to be deterred, I started scouring the internet and found some places where grey and silver hair dye could be purchased internationally. It will take several weeks for the dye to arrive. There are many different DIY tutorials on how to dye one’s hair silver/grey on youtube and across the internet, given freely by young women, young men, and young transgenders … “granny hair” is not just a woman’s thing in the eyes of young people. Young people are moving far away from the binary ideas older people have about gender, which throws the door wide open, exposing and redefining our antiquated notions about age and beauty from the gender root. As I said before, we sometimes forget how much younger people have to teach us …

To be continued!

In the meantime, check out some photos of these people rocking “granny hair!”


into the woods: an interview

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Many thanks to Laura Roberts and Black Heart Magazine for the fun author interview in which I talk a little about my book, Into the Woods, some of my influences and inspirations, what I’m typically doing on a Friday night, and assorted other topics!

Into the Woods: An interview with Michelle Augello-Page

intothewoodsMichelle Augello-Page is the author of Into the Woods, published in 2014 by Oneiros Books. We recently had a chance to ask her a few questions about her literary influences and inspirations. Here’s what she had to say.

Who are your top 5 favorite authors or influences, and why?

It is very difficult to limit my favorite authors or influences to five! So I will choose 5 that immediately come to mind at this moment in time:

Angela Carter – My favorite book by her is The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. The stories in this collection are rough-cut jewels: sharp, brutal, beautiful. The first story I ever read by her was called “Reflections” and everything about it touched me to the core of my soul, knowing that even though I wasn’t there yet, this was where I, too, lived as a writer.

Carl Jung – I’d say that his body of work has influenced me a great deal, and has given me a deeper sense of understanding and connecting the links among psychology, dreams, archetypes, storytelling, and life. I love Memories, Dreams, Reflections and The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.

Adrienne Rich – Her book of Collected Early Poems: 1950-1970 is one of my most beloved books, and was my first introduction to Rich’s work and (by extension) to poetry itself as a life-long pursuit, a journey rooted in but also transcending the cycles of time and change, an imprint of the “depth and breadth” of one’s personal and creative life. I also love Diving into the Wreck and her sexuality/gender focused political essays.

Margaret Atwood – Her prolific body of work is impressive and varied, and I love that she continues to evolve, stretching even beyond herself. As a writer of fiction, short stories, poetry, and essays, she refuses to be locked into a genre. She has cultivated her own uniqueness, which only grows deeper and more refined with each creation. My favorite books by her are The Handmaid’s Tale and Power Politics.

Stephen King – One of my favorite books about writing is King’s On Writing. Growing up, I devoured King’s books. He has such an ease to his writing that really draws you in, while telling some of the strangest, most horrific stories one could imagine. He is a master of both storytelling and balancing dichotomies. My favorites are The Dead Zone and The Eyes of the Dragon.

What type of writing fuel do you prefer, and what – if anything – do you feel this contributes to your creative process?

My writing fuel is tea, coffee, music, and visual images. Many times when I write I listen to music through headphones, which provides a sort of background emotional undercurrent, a tether, and helps me block out all other worlds except for the one I am writing.

What inspired you to write your latest book?

I was inspired to write my latest book by fairy tales, mythology, language, transformations, relationships, love, and sex.

… to read the rest of the interview, please click here!

And be sure to check out the rest of Black Heart Magazine for a wealth of great stories, poetry, author interviews, reviews, and more!

 

Black Heart Magazine is an independent online literary magazine, transmitting tenacious text around the world at the speed of wifi. Since 2004, our site has been combating clichés and skipping straight to supercharged stories with a simple catchphrase: we heart art.

Join us, if you dare.

We publish the best in short-form modern literature, from pulp and literary fiction to poetry, along with all manner of literary commentary to keep readers informed and entertained.

 

Laura Roberts also recently published the Best of Black Heart, a collection celebrating 10 years of fiction, poetry, author interviews, and more indie literary mayhem! Check it out! x


love

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It’s no secret that I love love. Love is an essential component to nearly everything I do. It is basically the driving force of my life, and the lens in which I view my work and my purpose in this world.

This quote by Joseph Campbell is very important to me: “Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” To me, this relates to trusting oneself while traveling into the unknown, following one’s instincts, and following our passions as a guide in which to live our lives. I feel that what we love is the single most important factor driving and determining our individual paths.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about love.

Romantic love has been a challenge for me throughout most of my adult life. I feel like I had a good beginning, a sweet beginning, and I am so grateful for those early experiences. But moving on into my later teenage years and way into adulthood, I never connected with another person the way I had longed for when I imagined love. Romance and relationships and sex always seemed to come hand-in-hand with issues and problems, and while I was willing to work through these things with other people, I never had the kind of “true love” that people say exists, the kind of love that connects people at a soul level so deeply that they are bonded (happily) throughout their lives.

I think that these types of soul connections happen in different types of relationships, not only romantic relationships. Nevertheless, it seems that finding this kind of connection with a romantic partner can be very elusive. Yet, it does exist.

A good friend of mine has been married for over 20 years, and she and her husband share this kind of connection. They had known each other for less than 3 weeks before deciding to spend the rest of their lives together. Within 6 months, they were married. Over the years they have supported and nurtured each other, helping each other reach their individual and collective dreams. This isn’t to say that they don’t have problems or conflicts, but maintaining a good and healthy relationship is important to both of them. She says that they make a choice to be together, not as a residual throwback to 20 years past when they first fell in love, but as a choice to fall in love with each other all over again, each and every day.

Interestingly, even though they had known each other for “only” a few weeks, neither my friend nor her husband felt that they were jumping into things. She says that they both just “knew.”

And that is the elusive part of romantic love – it’s intuitive nature. It’s not something that can be quantified or defined. It is felt, sensed, understood in the heart and soul before the mind can make sense of it. You can’t buy it in a store. You can’t place an order for what you want. You can’t mold another person into the right one for you, no matter how much you think you love him or her. You can’t even work with the law of averages and go out on hundreds of dates, hoping to strike a match. You can be open to romantic love, but you cannot force it, or even truly understand it – to understand this kind of love is like trying to hold a rainbow in your hand.

Recently I came across an article online that was titled something to the effect of “the relationship types you will have before you meet your true love.” The article itself was kind of funny, but I think it also spoke to a great truth, in that many people have to go through different experiences with different kinds of people before they are ready to meet someone on that soul level, their minds/bodies/hearts open in acceptance.

So many times throughout my life I have wondered why I got involved with certain people. Many times even if I sensed that the relationship wouldn’t work on a fundamental level, I still loved them and tried to make it work. And maybe we were not a match in the “true love” sense, but I think the love I felt for them was true. The lessons I sometimes learned were difficult, but I think each relationship I have had has taught me important things, which helped me grow and evolve as an individual.

Recently I was thinking of my children’s father, and a single image kept recurring. When I met him, I was 22 and working in a bookstore full time. After we met, we had a grand meeting of the minds. Within a very short time, I was translating his favorite book”Nadja” from the original French, and he gave me 19 poems about my eyes. I worked in the “home” section, which included all books on cooking, crafting, gardening, etc, and he worked in “genre fiction.” I loved working in the home section very much, and it truly was my own little home. One day, I was organizing books in antiques & collectibles, and I was standing on a step-stool because the shelves were high at the top. He came into my section and held up a ring to me, a bright orange plastic pumpkin ring.

I think he mumbled something about how he was on break and saw it and thought I might like it and if he had more money, he would wish to buy me something nicer, something to that effect. But in my memory, he didn’t say a word. It was his gesture that spoke volumes. I accepted the ring, just as I accepted his love – wholly, completely, without hesitation. And even though a relationship between us failed miserably and he left me to raise two babies alone, I don’t hold any animosity towards him, and I actually think that staying away was the kindest path he could have taken. Despite all the things we went through together, when I think of him, the first memory that comes to mind is that time he offered me the pumpkin ring, and I accepted it. He changed the course of my life. Love changed the course of my life.

Did we have a soul connection? I think we did. But I also think we were very young, too young to deal with the relationship we found ourselves in. In retrospect, I understand that there was no way that our relationship would be able to sustain the trials and tests of time. But I also know that there was no way that I would have been able to turn away from it, either.

Elizabeth Gilbert has an interesting view on this. She says: “People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave. A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in…”

In some of my research on this topic, I came across the idea of a “dark soul mate” and I believe that this is what Elizabeth Gilbert is truly referring to.

Linda George discusses the idea of light and dark soul mates in her article, “The Astrology of Soul Mates.” What she relates is quite profound, and gives much to think about, so I am going end here by quoting her article.

Soul Mates. The words evoke a sense of divine partnership, a blessed union where two hearts, two souls, two people, come together as One.  The state of Oneness prevails through all of life’s adversities. The couple is melded together through thick and thin, and there is always and throughout pervasive feelings of telepathic connection, unconditional love, and simmering sexual passion.

Ah, bliss.  We all share this innate longing for our “other half.”  Since the age of romance began, literature has fed us the imagery of such a perfect union. Much is illusory, a fantasy; but still, we crave this perfection.

Our bodies hardly need encouragement.  It is the prerogative of the body to seek its “other half,” the yin for its yang. And for our higher selves, our souls, the desire to merge comes from an instinctive “knowing.” Our higher self knows that only through relationship can we bring our “unwholeness” into our conscious awareness, in order to heal—and thus become whole.

We cannot do this on our own.  We need another to help us negotiate our gaps and wounds, and to teach us how to open, and keep open, our hearts.  There is no healing with a closed heart.  We must open and let go. And this we do best when we are loved and loving.

The words “Soul Mates” are a bit like the words “God” or “Love.”  We can create any number of interpretations for these words; they are capable of expressing the highest truths, as well as truth’s opposite. From the pain of deception, loss, betrayal, and separation to the joy of profound intimacy and deep merging with another, the Soul Mate relationship can bring us any or all of these.

I use the word Soul, together with the word Mate, tentatively. And for the reason mentioned above—the words are too easily misconstrued.  They are minimized, mangled, and mutated, changed from two innocent, singly comforting words to something almost intimidating:  Do you have a Soul Mate? Is your partner your Soul Mate, or a watered down version of one? And if he is, why is living with him so difficult? He can’t be.  Or: Will you ever find that elusive Soul Mate? Do you even believe in such things?  If they’re for real, why hasn’t yours shown up yet? Where IS he?  The subject of soul mates seems invariably to be accompanied by feelings of ambivalence and vulnerability.

There is a lot of confusion about Soul Mates (as there is about anything to do with the mysterious Soul), which is why I wanted to talk about them.  After forty something years of living and loving, I have come to the conclusion that every significant relationship we enter into is with a Soul Mate. When we give our heart to another—for however short or long the duration—we are entering into the sacred territory of the Soul.  This person has then become a Mate of our Soul; our Soul Mate.

Now, we need to qualify the above.  Significant relationships are all Soul Mate relationships, but there are soul mates and Soul Mates.  There are “dark” Soul Mates and there are “light” Soul Mates.

Some of those with whom we enter into a significant relationship have come into our lives to demonstrate the less attractive side of relating—and to show us the less attractive side of ourselves. You may have known such Soul Mates in your past; your relationship with them would have been marred with darkness, destruction, and desperation. Soul Mates have been known to kill each other!

The Soul has a “knowing” that our conscious selves do not possess.  This knowing ineffably, sooner or later, draws us into the orbit of people with whom we have shared a past, a past that is outside of our conscious awareness. We “mates of old” have karma to resolve together; perhaps we have agreed to come back into a relationship to complete something we didn’t finish up in the past, or to do it differently. As an evolutionary astrologer I would add to that: ideally, complete in a positive and integrated way.  Sometimes we finish our relationships, but we neglect to complete the work we were in them to do!

These Soul Mate relationships serve the great purpose of assisting us in our awakening. They unerringly dredge up the old karmic patterns, the needs and expectations that we have unconsciously crafted through lifetimes of experiences: pain, fear, disappointment, loss, betrayal.  Once our relationships show us—often in glaring Technicolor—where exactly our “issues” are, we may be forced to go through more than a few dark nights as we learn to meet ourselves and transmute our woundedness into something more life giving.

We both signed up for this relationship, we Soul Mates.  And however long, short, or in between, this partnership that takes us to the deepest and often most painful places is an agent for the Soul.  Always, “darker” Soul Mate connections will end in a parting of the two personalities–one way or another. The karmic contract will expire and then there is no longer a necessity to stay together.  Hopefully, the work has been done and each party has healed some wounds and come to a place of greater self-awareness.  If not, then there is always the next lifetime…

Light Soul Mates are those are not fueled by the need to complete karmic contracts. They are, rather, about growth. These are two Souls who have come together in a significant relationship, in full consciousness.  That is, the personalities have matured emotionally and spiritually to a point where they understand that they are responsible for their realities—in or out of a relationship. They know that life is an ongoing journey of unfolding, learning, and growing—and that this new relationship will bring up a new set of lessons and challenges. This conscious awareness draws partners of a like mind.  The couple is concerned with each other’s growth and wellbeing as much as their own.  They also know that love is the reason they are together.  This is why their relationship is light-filled.

We cannot hope to create positive, fulfilling, loving, life-affirming relationships if we are fractured spirits ourselves.  No one can rescue us from ourselves.  If we understand the deeper significance of our principles, if we know about the light and dark expressions of these, then we move to a higher awareness.  We are “awakened” to our greater potentials and we can consciously choose to bring them into our lives.  When we do, our relationships naturally transform. Our self awareness spills over to become a tolerant, compassionate, benevolent energy in the relationship. We know ourselves and our partners more deeply. Tolerance, for both, arises from this acceptance.

All of our relationships of significance are with our Soul Mates, but the more conscious we become, the more we move toward light Soul Mate relationships—and away from the dark, destructive ones. Once we have made friends with ourselves, come to a place of acceptance (self-worth) and celebration for who we are, in the depths of our hearts, then we attract souls who resonate in kind, who love us because we do too!  These are the lovers with whom we will grow and evolve.  We draw them into our lives to share a divine partnership where two hearts, two souls, two people, come together as One.

Until we do this work to make friends with ourselves, to love ourselves, we will continue to attract relationships that offer us a reflection of what we feel about ourselves.  The dark and destructive Soul Mate is simply the mirror showing us how little we are valuing ourselves.

Nothing in this life is more valuable than the journey we make into the center of ourselves.  The master keys to creating joyful, loving lives are self-knowledge and an awakening to who we really are.”

*


january

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Happy New Year!

Ring out wild bells to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson

My last post about the upcoming new year was a bit premature, but I couldn’t help it! I was looking forward, and gratefully so. Christmas always leaves me ragged emotionally and financially, but the holiday is bookended by two points of calm. First, we celebrate the winter solstice, which occurs several days prior to Christmas. Then Christmas comes, with all of its familial, consumer, secular, and religious complexity. After, we celebrate the New Year, which brings our winter solstice intentions full circle.

I have been celebrating the winter solstice for many years, and I love the quiet simplicity and mindfulness of the holiday. There are many different ways that people celebrate the solstice in modern times. In my life, I’ve mostly shared this holiday with children. As an elementary school teacher, I’ve introduced and celebrated the winter solstice through science, math, art, and reading/writing activities. (For example, in one class, we charted the time of the sunrise and the sunset every day over the course of several weeks. This was a lot of fun for the kids, and clearly showed the gradual change in distance between the earth and the sun.) As a parent, the way I’ve celebrated has changed slightly each year, changing as my children have grown older. In the past, we’ve celebrated by creating homemade bells and drums, bird-feeders (from pine cones), and sun-masks (with paper plates, tissue paper, paint, and glitter). We also share a quiet candle ritual where we talk about our personal moments of darkness and light over the past year, and share our intentions for the coming year – for ourselves, our family, and the world.

The new year is a calendar based holiday, rooted in the winter solstice. In the past, the winter solstice signified an end, as well as a beginning. After the solstice, there is a definite change, but it is barely perceptible. Each day after the solstice, we are turning towards the sun, and in two months, we will welcome the return of Spring. Like the new year, the winter solstice is a culmination point, a yearly revisiting for both the earth and its inhabitants. After the long dark night, the sun returns. After the old year, a new one is born. The year is refreshed, renewed, a metaphorical blank slate. We are given the same opportunity as the earth to move from dark to light, death to rebirth, past to future. It is the world reminding us that it is not only important, but necessary, to end. Then: begin again.

After I posted my preemptive new years greeting in December, I began making some changes to this website – little things, just updating some of the sections to reflect how I’ve grown over the past year. One of the things I am trying to work on in 2015 is increasing my confidence and self-esteem, and I think going through my website and taking stock of my accomplishments was a great start. I am happy with the work I have done so far, and I am so excited with all the ideas I have for future projects.

Right now, I’m working on completing and publishing a poetry chapbook that has been floating for a while. I’ve had a few different ideas in the past on how to present it, and I am very excited about the present incarnation. If all goes according to plan, I will be making an announcement in just a few months! Besides the poetry chapbook, I have many ideas for stories which are in varied stages of completion. I actually got my first rejection of 2015 recently. First story out, and I kind of suspected that it wouldn’t fly, but I had to take a chance because it would have fit the theme. I know that the story is good, but it is also very disturbing, and I knew that the editor would have to be bold to accept it. With so much of my work, my challenge isn’t in the writing or the ideas, but in finding places my work fits … that’s always been a problem for me. But luckily for me, I really don’t care about fitting in. I just keep writing.

Another way that I’ve been trying to increase my self-confidence is by taking care of myself, mind/body/soul. I’ve been actively pursuing what I love, reconnecting with friends, and doing things that I neglected while I was coupled in a relationship with someone who wasn’t interested in doing things I liked to do. There is a multitude of art galleries, museums, clubs, nature preserves and parks, cemeteries, bookstores, readings, and book related events that I need to catch up on! After being part of a couple for several years, I’m entering 2015 as a single person again. The dizzying, terrifying freedom I felt initially after the breakup has mellowed, and I’m enjoying the quiet simplicity of my life. I love that there are so many paths open, so many opportunities waiting. I’m enjoying the exploration of sex as a single person again, going to different clubs, parties, events, and classes, meeting men and women who also share my sexual interests, negotiating the weird world of dating, and having fun in the process.

Recently, I was tested when a friend wrote me to let me know that there was a rumor going around about me, started by my narcissist ex and his harem. This is the same ex who lied to me throughout our relationship, then lied about me to all his friends after we broke up – at least he’s consistent, right? At first, I got upset and wondered how I should respond to the news. Then, I realized that it has been months since No Contact, and this was just another way of trying to draw me back into his toxicity. I realized that anyone who knows me and, quite frankly, anyone who knows him, wouldn’t believe any of his lies about me. He is the one with a long string of broken relationships caused by his lying, cheating, and abusive behaviors. He is the one still trying to bring me down so that he can build himself up. And I’m just so over it; I’m light years away. I have nothing to defend, nothing to prove, and nothing to hide. I am getting stronger, each and every day. I’ve turned towards the sun.

Ah, January.

First month of the new year! By December, we’ve had a full year of living; we’ve been beaten down by life. Then January comes, and it seems as if we have another chance, another opportunity to change, to learn from our past mistakes, to start again, anew.

I’m going to end here with some quotes:

 

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes.”

~ G.K. Chesterton

 

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

~ Ellen Goodman

 

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

~ Neil Gaiman

 

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language.
And next year’s words await another voice.”

~ T.S. Eliot

 

“Fail Better.”

~ Samuel Beckett

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happy new year!

There are only a few days left in 2014, and I am ready to begin the new year! This has been a year of transitions, a roller-coaster of highs and lows.

My first book of stories, Into the Woods, was published by Oneiros Books this year! I also published stories in several different anthologies including, A Princess Bound (ed. Kristina Wright, Cleis Press), The Big Book of Submission & Best Bondage Erotica 2014 (ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel, Cleis Press), Niall Parkinson’s No Sight for the Saved & Serial Killers Quattor (James Ward Kirk Fiction).

I had the honor of receiving an Editor’s Choice Award from JWK Fiction for my story “She,” which was published in Niall Parkinson’s No Sight for the Saved, and I was a featured reader at Lotus Blooms in Old Town Alexandria, VA and the Boundless Tales Reading Series in Queens, NY. Siren is still going strong; we published our fifth issue in 2014, and our 6th issue will be published by the end of next month!

In 2014, I said goodbye to a close friend’s mother, our beloved cat, and a person I dated for several years. The world also lost many people this year, and I felt affected particularly by the passing of Maya Angelou, H.R. Giger, and Robin Williams. 2014 has also seen an increased amount of people waking up, challenging long-established systems of oppression, and trying to affect positive changes in the world.

Over the last several months, I’ve been going through a period of reflection. The last half of 2014 was a very difficult, challenging time for me (as evidenced by the amount of blog posts I’ve written), in which I believe I went through a dark night of the soul, or “a spiritual emergency.” Emerging from this, I feel stronger. Looking forward, I feel optimistic and inspired to accept all that 2015 has to offer.

2015 will be a year of change for me. Having moved away from an unhealthy relationship, I’ve been able to see just how negative and destructive another person’s influence on my life can be, and also, how little I cared for my self over the last few years. I’ve been trying to practice self-care and self-compassion, while taking steps to make real changes in my life, which includes all aspects of my life.

It seems like my life is always about change, but really my life is always in flux. Real change takes time to root, and it is not always easy. The constants in my life are my writing, my family, and my friends. I am so grateful for the love and support I receive from so many people throughout my life that no matter what hardships I encounter, I still feel blessed. That is such a gift. Thank you.

A new year is a new beginning, another chance to start again, anew. Wishing you all an abundance of health, happiness, inspiration, love, and luck in the new year!

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protect & serve

I have long held fear and distrust towards the police, the very people who are supposed to “protect and serve” the rest of us from … what? ourselves? each other? The connotation has never been exactly clear, especially when it seems that the police are there to protect and serve the very institutions that are holding us down. I wrote about some aspects of my feelings about the police and the nature of their power a few months ago in a previous blog post (police state) in response to increased national/local security and surveillance and the situation in Ferguson in which (yet another) young black man was killed and excessive force used when the police were supposedly occupying the area during protests, “to keep the peace.”

Since then, a grand jury dismissed charges against the police officer who killed Michael Brown. There have been protests and riots and people taking about everything from police brutality to institutional racism to white privilege. But the fact remains: the police officer was not charged with murder – even though he shot and killed an unarmed young person. He was not charged because he is a police officer. Many people feel that he was not charged because the person he killed was a young black male. There can be no doubt that there is a disproportionate number of young black men killed by the police. But this is not solely a race issue; this is an issue that affects every person who comes into contact with the police, no matter what their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, or socio-economic status is.

When I heard that the police officer was not charged for the obvious crime of killing another living person, I was upset. I was not alone. I remember cooking dinner and talking with my children about what had happened. My 16 year old daughter said, with all the innocence of a child, “But mom, he shot the kid like 7 times. He killed him. Why wasn’t he charged?” I shook my head. I took a deep breath. I told her that he should have been charged. I said, “if they convicted him of murder, the system would basically be hanging themselves.”

We discussed the fact that if a person is driving and hits someone, accidentally killing them – the driver is always held accountable. I heard about a very recent case of which had the defense pleading for vehicular manslaughter instead of the murder charge that the prosecution was almost sure to get by the jury, based on the high level of alcohol in the driver’s system. The driver was drunk. The driver didn’t mean to kill anyone. But that didn’t matter – the driver had committed a crime by killing another person, and even if it was accidental, that person would have to “pay.” That is what Americans call justice.

However, if that exact scenario occurred and the driver was a police officer, it is very likely that the police officer would not be charged with anything. A police officer can shoot with intent to kill, and they do, and they consistently are not charged with abusing their power. Police officers make mistakes. But they are never held accountable for their mistakes, because doing so would flaw a system built on the idea that “father knows best.” Police officers are the law. We are a society of abused children afraid to go against our parents. We are told that it is a bad world and we need to be protected. We are told that if we step out of line, we will be punished.

The police, much like the government, controls people with fear. This is inculcated and ingrained. A police officer’s abuse of power is not only permissible, it is implicitly accepted. We accept it. What other choice do we have? We are gaslighted into submission. We are taught from an early age to follow rules and not question authority. We want to believe that the police are there to help us, not hurt us. We want to believe that they are there to protect us, not protect the system against us.  Just the idea that police officers carry guns and other weapons visibly and refer to everyday people as “civilians” separates them from the rest of society and denotes an unequal power balance. But when “civilians” are required to concede all rights to the police, who watches the watchmen?

When people find out that I have had numerous run-ins with the police, they are often surprised. Why? I’m a “white” (Italian-American) female. I’m not a “trouble maker.” I’m educated. I’m quiet, reserved, even shy. Yet, that hasn’t afforded me the “white privilege” that some people seem to consider comes along with having light colored skin. I was never assaulted. I was never even formally charged with anything. I have no police record, but I have been arrested multiple times. For a long time I wondered why I had such bad luck with the police. But I no longer consider luck having anything to do with it.

The first time I was arrested, I was 19 years old. I had gone to visit a friend in upstate New York, where he was going to college. After I brought my bag to his house, he decided to show me around the small college town. We went to an area where there were several abandoned factories. We peeked into one of the buildings where of the windows were broken. Feeling adventurous, we decided to take a look inside. The door was unlocked. We walked right in. However, it was completely empty inside. There wasn’t much to see, so we decided to leave. But when we went to leave, my friend noticed a few cop cars outside, so we hesitated by the door. A few seconds later, we heard a booming voice, “come out with your hands up.” As if we were in a movie. We looked at each other in shock. We didn’t move. Or even breathe, I think. Within another few minutes, a police dog came bounding in. The dog ran past my friend and attacked me. The police came in right after, and we were separated, handcuffed, and brought to the station.

The police seemed disappointed that the dog did not bite clean through my coat and made me give it to them so they could inspect the material, but they congratulated the dog for attacking me. I was brought to every officer in the station so they could view the bite on my arm and how nicely placed it was. Then I was put in a holding pen unlike anything I’ve ever been in afterwards – for hours. It was like a small closet and very dark. I could not extend my arms, which gives an idea as to how small it was. The one window was a tiny square at the very top of the door which only let in a sliver of light. I could see long black streaks on the door, and imagined that at some point, someone had kicked at the door violently to be let out. There was no phone call. There was no miranda rights. No one in the world knew where I was, besides my friend, who was in his own kind of hell in one of the prison cells. I cried uselessly.

Later, I was fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Again, this process took hours. I was questioned about my piercings, my tattoos, my short black hair. I was asked if I was a devil worshiper, and if I had any knowledge of satanic rituals happening behind the abandoned building – even though I had been in the town for less than an hour before the arrest. They asked the same questions over and over again, and I gave the same answers. About 8 hours after our initial arrest, we were set free. We had a summons to appear in court. We were both being charged with 3rd degree burglary. We stopped at the grocery store on the way home and he picked up a case of beer. Later, we went to a rave and dropped acid. It just didn’t seem real. The reality of it all hit when I had to speak with a lawyer – the town’s public defender. I was being charged with a felony. After a couple of months, all the charges against us were dropped.

After that incident, I had other incidents. There was the time I was picked up in the city for smoking weed, handcuffed and thrown into the back of an unmarked van by “undercover” police, which was a terrifying experience. I was in college at the time and again no one knew where I was. I missed class; I was held in a van for hours. I was never read any rights. I had the panicky thought that maybe I was just being abducted by two people who flashed a badge. Were they really cops? They weren’t even dressed as cops. At first there were only a few of us, but slowly they stopped to ambush and pick up others. When the van was filled, we went to the precinct, where we were held for processing, then released. There was some legal issue with the way they had arrested us, so no charges were filed.

Another time, I went for a walk after work with a friend. We went into a park after dark, which is technically considered trespassing because the parks around here “close” after dark. I didn’t realize that I hadn’t paid a parking ticket that I received in Manhattan about a year prior. A warrant was out for my arrest. So not only was I arrested for trespassing, I was held in the police station overnight, waiting for the police from NYC to come and pick me up. I was handcuffed to a chair for over 6 hours in the middle of the room, the only female in a room of men, as if I were a window dressing. A police officer removed my pony tail holder and fluffed out my hair. When I protested, he said that I was not allowed to have my hair in a pony tail. They asked me personal questions about my love life. I didn’t answer. They said I was “a bad girl” and “uncooperative.”

In the morning, a new shift arrived and was surprised to see me there. I was shipped to the basement of the old courthouse a few towns away, to wait in a cell for the NYC police. When the NYC police finally arrived, they said “the cops out here must be real dicks to keep you overnight for this.” They brought me straight to the courthouse in Manhattan, where I met with a public defender and told her what happened. I stood in front of a judge. Again, all charges were dropped. I had spent over 10 hours in police custody. For what?

All of my contact with the police has been negative. Even just being pulled over by cops while driving has had weird repercussions for me. How could I forget the cop who pulled me over for having a brake light out? Then again a few days later. Then again, a few days after that, even though I had fixed the light, just to say “I keep seeing you on the road, I almost feel like we’re dating” (I changed my route home from work after that and never saw him again). Juxtaposed with this, how could I forget my friend whose dad was a cop, who constantly was being pulled over for speeding? All she had to say was, “do you know my dad?” and every time, every cop let her go without a ticket.

Because of these early experiences, for most of my adult life I have tried to avoid any kind of conflict with the police. I “stay on the right side of the law.” I follow all traffic laws. If a cop is behind me on the road, I will turn at the nearest opportunity. I have never encountered a police officer without feeling some kind of anxiety, and I think this is the case for most people. Because even if you aren’t doing anything truly wrong, the police are at liberty to take away your most basic freedoms at a moment’s notice. Because they can. And they do.

If I were a black man instead of a white woman, my experiences with the police would look very different. Most likely, I would have dealt with underlying racism and unmitigated violence. As a woman, I have dealt with underlying sexism and implied violence. Neither one of these is okay. Neither one of these scenarios should be acceptable. And there are so many other scenarios that I’m not even getting into here. What if I wasn’t poor? What if I was married? What if I was a different race? What if I was openly gay? What if I had been older? What if I was a man? Would I have been handcuffed to a chair for over 6 hours then for a bullshit reason? All of these factors – race, gender, age, sexual orientation, socio-economics – are social constructs. They are divisive constructs. The fact is and always will be that people are people. We are all here, together, trying to do the best we can. We are taught that difference is bad. We are pulled apart into so many different pieces, we can’t get it together; it’s divide and conquer. It’s so sad.

Today another police officer was not charged in the death of another unarmed black man. There is video footage of the police officer using such excessive physical force on Eric Garner that he killed him. Still, the officer was not held accountable. After what happened in Ferguson just last week, it feels like a slap across the face of society. We cannot allow this to happen any longer.

When I was driving home from work, I heard the news on the radio, and I was just shocked. How many times does this have to happen? How many people have to suffer from the abusive hands of the police? How long can people go on and on and on hoping and waiting for things to get better, without actually doing anything to make them better? What will it take for people to say … “Your problem is also my problem. Your fight is my fight. We are in this together. We will fight this together. We will protect and serve each other, because we are all brothers and sisters in humanity.” Police brutality and these systematic abuses of power tread on very dangerous territory which affect us all.

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

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artist privilege

Artists have a unique position in our society. They are the dreamers, the visionaries, the gifted. The service they provide has no true rate of pay. Art touches the heart, opens the mind, and nourishes the soul. There is no set path, no rule book. There are artists who are rich and famous. There are artists who are “starving.” There are artists who care nothing for commercial success, and create art for “art’s sake.” The idea of success is largely defined by the artist’s concept of what that means, by the community at large, and by future generations. Art is an ever growing, changing, and evolving journey.

But some artists are also narcissistic, egotistic, selfish, myopic, amoralistic, and even dangerous people. Recently, a fellow editor and writer posed an interesting question. She said that she had accepted work blind, but when the names were revealed, she recognized the name of a man who had been openly accused by several different women in a specific writing community for attacking and abusing them. The work was good. The work had been accepted. But the person … she wondered if she should rescind the acceptance. She was searching the line where the person and the art meet.

It is a shaky territory – the idea of artist privilege, the separation between the art and the person, the self-perception of some artists, and the allowances we sometimes make for people because they are artists.

Sometimes our society raises the art above the person, and the person becomes infallible; they can do no wrong. Other times, a person is openly condemned because of their behavior and actions. Nothing will save the person, not even their art, and society will condemn them by withdrawing their artistic support. Some artists feel a sense of privilege themselves. They feel that their status as an artist elevates them above other people; they are not subject to the same laws and mores as the rest of the society. People with a sense of artistic privilege rely on people to still accept them artistically when they engage negative/hurtful/dangerous actions and behaviors in their personal life.

Many people do not disassociate the person from the art. If the person is considered to be a great artist, many people naturally think that he or she must be a great person.

When it was revealed that the popular sci-fi/fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley knew that her husband was abusing their daughter and other children, and was complicit in allowing it, people reacted very strongly. The author was not alive when these facts came to public knowledge, but that did not stop the backlash or the consequences. Apparently, there were people who knew what was going on in Bradley’s personal life, but they did not speak out and the knowledge was ignored/suppressed because she was such a popular author. When this was revealed, many people swiftly withdrew their artistic support. They do not want to celebrate her. They do not want to read her books. They do not want to share her books with their children, or with future generations of readers. Jim C. Hines discusses some of these ideas in his essay “Rape, Abuse, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.” He provides a list of relevant links for a balanced view, then says:

“There’s more out there, including people defending MZB, as well as people insisting we must “separate the art from the artist” and not let MZB’s “alleged” crimes detract from the good she’s done. And there’s the argument that since MZB died fifteen years ago, there’s no point to bringing up all of this ugliness and smearing the name of a celebrated author. I disagree … Are you going to tell victims of rape/abuse that nobody’s allowed to acknowledge what was done to them? That the need to protect the reputation of the dead is more important than allowing victims their voice? … We ignore ongoing harassment and assault for years or decades because someone happens to be a big name author or editor. Half of fandom shirks from the mere thought of excluding known predators, because for some, sexual harassment and assault are lesser crimes than shunning a predator from a convention.”

Or from popular culture. I’m thinking of Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, OJ Simpson, Robert Wagner, Michael Jackson, Roman Polanski, Richard Pryor, Robert Blake, Jerry Lee Lewis … All of these artists have had major scandals with degrees of artist privilege when the questionable behavior in their personal lives crossed a line in the public eye.

For working artists and the “not-so-rich-and-famous,” the behavior and actions underlying artist privilege are more subtly expressed. Many people ignore/excuse their character flaws because they like the art these people create. As long as these people keep making art that others like, they have a wide berth in how they act and behave in their communities. However, it is worth noting that the reputations of each of these artists has suffered. The times in which their personal behavior was questionable have left a subtle but definite ripple effect in how their art is received.

I think that our art is inexorably tied to who we are, and who we are is inexorably tied to the world. The last danger of artist privilege is the idea that the artist is unconnected to the baseness of the world, and lives within the self-important I, without regard to the true privilege that it is to have the time, economic means, space, and ability to make art in the first place. This is the “ivory tower” of artist privilege.

Art is not only an act of creation; it is a journey through process into a product. The artist is a medium through which our individual/collective dreams, thoughts, ideas, and visions are translated, interpreted, and then given back to the world. Art is more than the creation of a single person. Once we give our art to the world, it is processed by other people, which gives the art a deeper, wider meaning and context. In a sense, once we give our art to the world, it is no longer ours. Our life, our person, is always ours. It is in the beat of our hearts, the blood running through our veins, the eyes that open and close. The artist has an expiration date, so to speak. The work of an artist does not conform to the same sense of time. That is true artist privilege.

Artists need to be cognizant.

Art does not have a life of its own. An artist’s person will always shadow his or her work. Art has power, but that power comes from the art itself, not from the person creating it. There should be appreciation, not hero worship. There should be acceptance, not blind following. The world does not owe the artist anything. Yet, the artist does owe something to the world. Some artists abuse the power they find through art. Other artists try to harness that power and find a way to give it back to the world in positive ways. Consider Maya Angelou. Her life – I’d say even more than her work – has made her one of the most inspiring and beloved artists of our time.

Today I want to share a poem that I feel speaks directly to the idea of art and artist privilege. This poem is by Ruth Forman, and I’ve loved this poem for a long time, ever since I first read it in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint – an overall excellent book!

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Poetry Should Ride the Bus
by Ruth Forman

poetry should hopscotch in a polka dot dress
wheel cartwheels
n hold your hand
when you walk past the yellow crackhouse

poetry should dress in fine plum linen suits
n not be so educated that it don’t stop in
every now n then to sit on the porch
and talk about the comins and goins of the world

poetry should ride the bus
in a fat woman’s Safeway bag
between the greens n chicken wings
to be served with Tuesday’s dinner

poetry should drop by a sweet potato pie
ask about the grandchildren
n sit through a whole photo album
on a orange plastic covered La-Z-Boy with no place to go

poetry should sing red revolution love songs
that massage your scalp
and bring hope to your blood
when you think you’re too old to fight

yeah
poetry should whisper electric blue magic
all the years of your life
never forgettin to look you in the soul
every once in a while
n smile.

*


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