Thursday, July 31, 2014

I've Got Fat Stacks...

Of bills.  And not even dollar bills.  I’ve got fat stacks of the worst kind of bills – past due bills.

Prescription bottle shown for sizing purposes - I also have a fat stack of those.
They’re the fall-out of my health meltdown that happened late last year.  I haven’t worked, not even part time, since then.  I continue to receive disability income, but that has never been enough to keep me afloat. The government determines your income based, in part, upon your earning potential up to the point at which you became disabled.  When you become disabled before the age of 30, that earning potential is often not too much above peanuts. I’ve always been in the water, flailing my limbs to try and keep my head up financially – difficult to do when you are struggling against several chronic conditions to achieve some manner of health.  Now the billing departments of several medical facilities, and at least one debt collection agency, are making it rain, as it were, on me in a most torrential fashion.

I don’t blame them; medical treatment ain’t free, as I’m well aware, but the cost, met with my meager income, is enough to make a girl climb a pole.

Believe me, I’ve thought about it. Pole dancing. I’ve thought about it enough to realize that large amounts of quick cash is a fantasy.  The reality?  The reality goes something like this for me: squeaking noises as I slide, akimbo, down the lower half of the pole, burning my thighs, stumbling on my six-inch heels, breaking my ankle, then jiggling unflattering parts of my body as I limp towards the manager’s office for Neosporin and an Ace bandage. 

A stripper with a heart condition, bowel issues, and an anxiety disorder.


I intend no sex-work shaming when I say that I am fully aware of the differences between burlesque performance and erotic dancing.  

The bills pictured are just the most recent – they’re not even a very decent stack.  I’ve been receiving bills for months.  At first, I opened them, unfolded them, read them with a pit in my stomach, and panicked.  I pressed them flat and organized them by facility, by date, by urgency, by how angry they sounded.  Then the panic turned into overwhelm, and hopelessness, and avoidance, and I stopped opening them.  Hence, the stack shown.

I’d like to say a bit about responsibility, and integrity at this point.

I consider myself to be a responsible person.  I also feel that I have a lot of integrity. 

Who would admit that they don’t, though? Who would admit that they’re an irresponsible loser with no personal moral code?

I do believe, however, that there are a good number of people who know me that would check the “responsible” and “has integrity” boxes, if asked: “Please select which qualities Amber exhibits.”

They might also select “ninny,” and “excessively anxious” and “obsessive.”

Excepting one incident with some candy in a supermarket when I was a young child and they were at my eye-level, and they were peanut butter coated in chocolate, what the hell do you expect???, I have never shoplifted.  I have never stolen property, not even office supplies.  I don’t take more ketchup packets than I need in order to save them for later use.  I may overestimate my current ketchup needs, but that is an honest mistake, not menace.  I believe stealing is wrong.

But if I receive medical treatment, and then don’t pay for it, I’m stealing.  And I feel like a thief, a horrible person, a drain on society’s resources.  I feel like The Problem. 

I can tell you most definitely that, several months ago and up to the current date, whenever I receive medical care, whenever I have been loaded up into an ambulance, or had an IV started, or been strapped in to a hospital bed that rises like a carnival ride to figure out why my heart is Really Freaking Out More Than Is Necessary – I have never, ever, not even once, rubbed my hands together, smiled like a devil, and thought to myself:

Aha!  Now I shall steal me some medical care, and make off with all manner of expensive treatments – for FREE!

Yet the fact remains that I have received medical care, and now have the urgent letters and dozen-a-day phone calls from the same toll free number to prove that I have not paid the bills for that care. 

The Question is: What do I do? What can I do?

My income will not allow me to pay these bills and also eat. 

Are there expenses I could reduce?  Yes, and I plan to do just that once I am out of the contracts. If I broke the contracts, I would then owe Even More Money to even more companies. 

Could I work?  Aside from, What the hell is going on with my body? Why is my stomach so angry right now?? Why is my heart freaking out right now??  What nuclear bomb has gone off in my vicinity to cause these sensations??? the question of work is what I ponder most often.

I don’t believe people who are able to work should lay on their asses and let The Government take care of them, or otherwise cheat their fellow citizens by not putting in what they can, only taking. When able, I consider myself to be an eager, willing worker. I take any job I’m given seriously.  I’m not lazy, I don’t have a bad attitude, and I’m on time.  I show up.  I do the work I’m asked to do, and more.  I have crawled into the dark, rotten void and retrieved a mangled, plastic straw – bare handed – so that business could progress.  I do this up to and until my health waylays me for a day, or a week, or months. 

And it always does.  For the past several years, my physical health has eventually become an issue that keeps me from working, at first for short amounts of time, then eventually up to the point that I have to leave the job.  Maybe it starts off with a hard night of binge eating almonds, and the next day I have Hell Shits, and the next day it’s just a funny story, but eventually something real and diagnosable as a problem other than This Girl Is Worse Than A Toddler is at play. First, I gave up a full time teaching career, then most recently, even part time work in a restaurant. My mental health is always at least somewhat involved, usually serving to cause my physical health to be one thousand times worse to the power of a hundred.  My mental health and my physical health are like the worst sort of best friends – they drag each other down. They’re like Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. (Did that friendship ever happen?  I feel like it did.  I feel like that was The Start.)

So now I wrack my brain wondering what sort of work I can do – not for a few weeks, a few months, or a few years, but sustainably, in a way that would give me some sense of stability, some security,

some way to pay all these damn medical bills.

As of this posting, I don’t know what that work, immediately, in my current situation and status, is.  I’m afraid to go out and “just get a job,” the first job available in a restaurant, or retail, or temporary work (fields other than education where I have experience), though I imagine and feel the pressure of an America that is fed up with me, that angrily shouts at me when they think of me – a young, educated white woman who doesn’t look disabled.  I often shout “You need to get a job! Why can’t you get a job?!” at myself, but like I said, I’m afraid – I’m afraid that my still ongoing health issues will prevent me from being a good employee – I’m afraid my health will cause me to flake out again, further damaging my esteem as a valuable citizen, a valuable person.

I do know that I have talents, but I also know that those talents don’t seem to be among the most highly valued in society, or certainly the most immediately marketable.  Not if you think about my specific talent: writing poetry.

Ha!  Sorry.  I had to just take a moment to laugh – the image of showing up at the Human Resources department of a company with a poem.

Not that they don’t need a poem.

They just don’t know that they do.

But if I broaden the concept of my talent to “written communication,” it’s starting to sound much more like something on a typical resume.  Not a complete resume, but it’s a start.  I have kick-ass written communication skills.  The more I realize and learn what I can’t do, the more clearly what I can do becomes apparent – it’s the thing I do No Matter What, so long as I am breathing, whether I receive money or not. 

If I look back at my resume from ten years ago, there are so many skills that are still there, but that I have learned are hindered by my health.  My health no longer allows me to entertain the notion that I can stand on my feet for any prolonged period of time and tolerate, much less engage and educate, teenaged children, for example.  Or hungry people.  Or shoppers.  Every “day job” I’ve tried to do while waiting to become a Famous, Well-Paid Poet Guru has failed.  It often feels like I have failed: to be a normal human being, to be productive, to just get over it, to suck it up, to not have illness.

Still, I have to believe that I have value, and not just value in the spiritual sense, but value in the sense that I could earn some damn income.  Because you can’t spirit-yoga your ass some money onto a silver platter.  You just can’t.  You can yoga yourself a hernia.  You can meditate some real fine serotonin levels, I suspect, but not food or shelter or cash.

So how about it, world? Internets? Anybody out there have any use for a chronically ill writer? 

Remember: no pole dancing.  Unless it was some sort of comedy thing.  Otherwise, I don’t think it would be very profitable for either of us. 


Monday, July 28, 2014

I Remember My Mother Before I Was Born [poem]

Her dreamy-drunk smile.
Not carefree, but more willingly
careless. I was a hook that caught her.
Before my silver spear,
before the split and gut of birth,
she was lovely and lonesome,
a looker, a girl on the back
of a motorcycle, un-leery,
a keeper, but slippery
when she could flirt and wink,
dance without weigh-down,
without home waiting for her,
without small room and rocker –
mother flew, was a finned flyer.

No wonder, she wanted a girl
who could swim too, who could wing
through the world with nothing to lose.

Winthrop University, 197?, my mother out on a ledge,
the photo's been ripped (by who?), then taped back together (by who?)

p.s. - Capital One, I wrote this poem on one of your pre-approved offers.  I've got a whole lot of them, so I don't reckon I'll have to buy paper for a good while.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

What are THESE?!?! (Help me win the Pulitzer!)

Scroll to the end of the post for the UPDATE!

I stumbled out the door with Harley this morning before I could really think clearly.

But I came to attention pretty fast because outside there was a wonderment that had happened some time between Harley's Last Chance to Doodie and her morning urination:

They look like little one-ply tissues that have been placed on the bush.

Or like a fairy carefully pulled apart two-ply tissues and arranged them.

Like the shrubbery has a cold, or a fairy's Christmas Tree of Sadness,
or Miss Havishrub.

I'd taken Harley back in to go and get my actual camera instead of my phone, because my actual camera has all these fancy-dancy features which turned out to be NOT HELPFUL AT ALL, either because I am inept and don't understand how to work it (unlikely) or because MY CAMERA IS A BASTARD (this).

But anyway, I managed to get some investigative reporting photos that I figure will get me into the National Geographic pretty soon:

I got closer....

and closer.....(see something starting to come into view there?)

...see that? That's dangerous.  I am literally putting my life on the line for National Geographic.

Check out the framing, the detail, the centering.  What is the highest award available for photography?  Are we talking Pulitzer? Could I win a Pulitzer?

Look at that damn beast.  Look at those legs! Look at that sinister little round, brown body full of the insect parts of its cousins!!!

Finally, I caught this next picture, which I consider a work of art.  I call it "Web as Hurricane Storm."  Check your local galleries for announcement of its tour:

I see this, don't you?:

Also, look how spiffy and professional I am with my operating system's photo editor.  It's called "Paint," which further validates my status as an artist, by the way.  (Text says: "Eye of the Storm!!!)

Note: If anyone would like to help me identify what manner of spiders these are, that would be very helpful as I am sure it would be of interest to the editors at National Geographic.  Thanks!

[UPDATE!]: My awesome writer friend Adam Steele let me know that these creatures are funnel weaver spiders!  It's amazing what fiction writers know.  And how helpful they can be.  As opposed to poets like myself who generally, as a species, hiss when approached.  Writer friend for the win! Thank you, Adam!  Further update:  I have not (yet) heard from National Geographic or the Pulitzer committee. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Assholery is not Empowerment, Pantene

I'm an apologizer. Lots of women are. I'm not the only one who has caught herself apologizing to an inanimate object.

It becomes a sort of verbal tick born out of, perhaps, low self-esteem, or geographically associated customs and conventions, or women's inherent fear in a society that is awash in the constant violence that is inflicted upon them - both in reality and repeated in media portrayal for entertainment purposes. When you are the typically less empowered sex, you do well to show your subservience. If you cannot fight, you must flee for survival.

Or, perhaps, it is a result of women's alleged preference for cooperative rather than confrontational or combative interactions. Women are thought to be more socially dependent rather than autonomous, and if you're trying to get along with people as opposed to go your own way, you're eventually going to have to do a fair amount of apologizing.

Apologies often grease the wheel of social interaction.

Still, like anything, apologizing can be overdone, and Pantene decided to hop on the psuedo-feminism train that Dove got going a while back and address the issue of  unnecessary apologizing - to the applause and resulting purchases of scores of women (they hoped).

And they came so close to getting it right. That's what really sucks. Watching this commercial is like watching a cake rise in the oven, hopeful and golden, then someone opens the oven door and the whole thing caves in.

I was with them right up until the end, right up until they glorified this ridiculous, asinine phrase: "Sorry not sorry."

At the end of the commercial, a woman removes the covers from her lover, wraps them around herself, leaving her lover exposed and cold. He decides to wrap his arms around her. Out of love? Respect? Or for warmth??

Here's the thing, Pantene, and all of society:

Feminism isn't about being an asshole, or sarcastic, or selfish. That shit is inappropriate behavior for either sex.

Feminism is not about revenge.

Feminism isn't about women becoming the ruling class.

Feminism isn't about women turning into evil overlords who issue hurtful comments as they steal the covers.

That shit ain't right, no matter who or what you are.

For real.

The way away from over-apologizing isn't to go directly to the other and opposite pole of being an unsympathetic, callous non-human.

How to fix it? Pantene, cut this commercial at 0:45. Then it would be just about perfect.

They really do all have great hair, though.

I'd like to note that, to my delight, many are commenting on this video with the same sentiments I've shared here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wherein I make remarks on the NC poet laureate fiasco

As I continue to come to grips with the fact that my bad driving and forgetfulness about daily deodorant application, among other faults, most likely preclude me from ever obtaining a poet laureateship anywhere, even a small community of miscreants, I have watched a single proclamation cause the literary community just north of me to totally explode into a fireball of fire, setting off car alarms for miles and miles around it.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, allow me to explain:

Whatever number of days ago, the governor of North Carolina nominated a "disability examiner for the Department of Health and Human Services" who has self-published two books of poems, as the new holy poet laureate of the sovereign state of North Carolina.

Cue fireball.

The governor, Pat McCrory, a Republican, made this nomination without consulting the Poets That Be of the state, ones who have a Whole Procedure on this, as is the tradition and custom.

Some said he "ignored" the Way Things Are Done Around Here, but that isn't really accurate because, as the literati discovered in ongoing updates on the situation from The News and Observer (Raleigh) and The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte), the governor "wasn't aware" of the rules and regulations.

Whoever takes Governor McCrory gently by the elbow and deftly helps him side step major piles of shit seriously fucked up on this one.

The taste left over in the literati's mouth is, of course, the bitter cud of knowing for double-sure that the governor of this state gives less than a Rhett Butler damn about poetry, poets, or the care and feeding of either in the state of North Carolina.

Because that's what really happened. The governor, ignorant of and apathetic to the importance of literature, put about as much consideration into the selection of a new poet laureate as he does into choosing his socks each day.

But here's how he shirked the heat:

Instead of acknowledging that he is a goober and made a mistake by not taking the decision seriously, raising his hand in a Mia Culpa, Poetica gesture, OR, what would have been better, defending his selection by revealing and explaining a complex and lengthy thought process about how he arrived at the idea that the woman he selected was totally awesome, what he did do was point his finger at his criticizers and make the following accusation: Ya'll are just a bunch of snobby bitches, you bitches.

In a moment that was like something out of Bizarro World and The Twilight Zone combined, the Republican governor, who ran, in part, as most Republicans do, on "traditional values," who turned away money for Medicaid expansion and has cut programs that help flannel-and-jeans poor people, instead choosing to favor and promote suit-and-tie corporations, accused his complainants of elitism, and patted himself on the back for getting all funky and anarchist with it in his non-traditional choice for the position.

Essentially, Governor Pat McCrory is a bitchin' punk rocker, and all these fuckin' establishment poets are The Man holding him down.

And you might be surprised to know that there are some poets - poets! - who agree with him, at least on the issue of Fuckin' Establishment Poets. Nobody believes that Pat McCrory is a punk rocker of any type. That was hyperbole on my part.

When a friend first posted a link to the initial announcement, I responded the way many other local poets and artists responded: Here this asshole goes again.

Along with poor people, literary and other artists (who are also poor much of the time), have not received a whole hell of a lot of respect from the current administration in North Carolina. And no artist is immune from his derision, from the elite upper echelon of academic liberal (liberal - there's your hint) artists in Our Lady of the Duke Chapel Hill Castle, down to the sordid, dirty performance artists bringing political and social activism to life in the clubs and cabarets found deep in the seedy part of major cities across the state.

Governor McCrory is both a businessman's businessman and a politician's politician. He likes his public art clean, tasteful, neutral and served with champagne and millions of dollars that benefit his political agendas - art that makes her own money and doesn't ask him for anything. If the art's dirty, needy and maybe a little drunk, I'm sure there's a member of his party who would meet her in a non-descript hotel, but he wants her to keep her mouth shut about it.

That's how many of the writers and artists of North Carolina feel about Pat McCrory, and so when he made his selection for the new poet laureate, we knew he wasn't being purposefully, thoughtfully non-traditional or anti-elitist. He was, however, being a punk. I'll give him that.

When I commented initially on posts that appeared on my Facebook newsfeed, it was for the most part to agree with the others who expressed their frustration with the govenor, yet also their empathy for the selected poet laureate, who was now being ripped apart for her inexperience.

However, at one point, Rattle, a literary magazine widely known and loved beyond North Carolina and the surrounding region, posted a link on their Facebook page about the situation.

And it garnered a whole 'nother reaction.

Many who commented on the posted link (which was to a particularly spiteful and detailed calling-to-the-carpet of the poet in question), were mightily miffed at the Poets That Be, Far and Wide, who spoke up against McCrory's decision. They agreed that the literati were acting like elitist, snobby bitches. Was it any wonder that people shy away from poetry? What a clique of mean-girl, MFA brats! The worst. The absolute worst.

And I was aghast. While I could understand chastising someone who viciously attacked a very brief poet laureate who swiftly resigned after her public tar-and-feathering, how could anyone side with an arrogant numbskull (to be clear, the governor) who doesn't respect, know, understand or care about poetry, not even, I'd wager, the poetry that the very woman he selected to laureate has written? How could they wag their tongues at the highly decorated, respectable former poets laureat, or at the process of choosing future poets laureat?

But I realized that the people commenting had a point. For one thing, they likely knew nothing about the Governor, or his lack of respect for any art, be it written or otherwise. All they saw was a bunch of poets taking flight from their perch atop The Academic and Experienced and Awarded-Out-the-Wazoo Castle, extending their talons, and attacking the holy hell out of a defenseless, peace-loving Carolina Wren.

They also didn't know Cathy Smith Bowers, one of the four former poets laureat who were reported to have requested a meeting with Governor Pouty Pants in the midst of this debacle. She is one of the most nurturing, encouraging, downright mothering poets I have ever met. I believe she would no more attack a poet who had innocently been thrust into a shit storm than she would raise her skirt up over her head and go shouting through the streets.

I like Rattle. I like them a lot. I've read their mission statement, and pretty much agree with every word of it.  I like most of the poems they post to their website, and not just because they provide me with free poem-porn. Rattle is an outsider - outside of academia, outside of polite company. I like that. For the most part, people who comment on their Facebook posts like that too, except for every now and then soneone walks off in a huff and declares that they're never going to submit again and/or are going to cancel their subscription and I wonder, Did you ever really try to get to know them at all??? And now you're breaking up with them?????

Anyway, the comments from Rattle readers really.....rattled me. Sorry. But I started to think about elitism and poetry and poetics and snobs and where I stood.

Honestly, I've never really thought I had a problem with academic elitism. In fact, as a poor child of a single mother, I've always looked up to academics. Academic elitism was the only form of elitism I thought I could reasonably expect to achieve. "Elite" only has a negative connotation when you put the "-ism" on it. Many of us want to be elite at something. Education, especially college education, is sort of pushed like you wouldn't believe on poor people as the only option out of their miserable plight, despite the whole Bill Gates thing.  Perhaps erroneously, many poor people view college as (the lottery or super-human athletic ability excluded) their ticket out of hell. *Thus it's no wonder that, after watching my mother clean other peoples' houses and cook their fast food for income, I went to school for my B.A., that I attempted an M.A., and that I eventually earned an M.F.A. It's no wonder that, at a young age, I set a goal that I would one day have a "Dr." in front of my name.

I respect academics, I respect the universities, as well as their publications. Lord knows I would be triple-over dizzy and verklempt if I was ever published in one of their volumes.

When I read that the governor's selection for poet laureate had only "self"-published book credits to her name, I was disappointed.

Yet I am not an elitist. Here's why:

I don't believe that the academic elite - the powers that be over the poets that be - and their presses should have the lone control of and soul right to the publishing of Books That Actually Appear on Shelves and in Reviews and are Read and Receive Notice like they apparently do.  Especially when, as I learn and forget, learn and forget, over and over again, the Academic Elite and the Historically Wealthy overlap a lot, even with poor people being encourged to go to college so much. Especially when the Persons Who Publish Stuff and the Persons Who Review Published Stuff and the Persons Who Have Their Stuff Published weren't exactly strangers before Stuff was published.

I also don't believe in "self" -publishing as it currently exists. By "as it currently exists" I mean poets and writers paying money to a company that may or may not have any interest in their work's literary value but certainly have a whole lot of interest in their cash. Maybe it's because I came of age in the 90's, the decade when zines were popularized, but to me, self-publishing, without the quotations around it, means finding some paper, typing your poems, folding those bitches in half, stapling the shit out of them, then distributing them at coffee houses for $5 a pop. (I actually did this once. Now I wish I could eat those poems and thereby absolve myself of writing them.)  In today's "self" -publishing, you hire a company. The driving factor is, essentially, cash. If you've got the money, they've got your glossy, 9 by 5 inch rendition of your heart's most heartfelt verse. If you've got the money. If you've got the money. That makes me really uncomfortable.

Because if success as a poet counts on either the approval of the academic elite or having enough money to pay-publish (my suggestion to replace "self"-publish), then I am thoroughly and royally screwed. Because I can only act dignified and posh but for so long until the barefoot mountain girl in me comes out, and no academic elite I've ever met has been too keen on that at their parties. Because I've never had enough money to pay for several thousand copies of something glossy as well as the advertising to promote it. I'm not that kind of elite, either.

My hope as a not-famous poet is in the independent magazines and presses out there, running off of subscriptions and what televangelists call "love gifts," journals and presses who give new poets and writers a chance regardless of their education level, or financial status. They cover a wide variety of styles, aesthetics and personal creeds. My hope is also in the lesser-known universities who operate open and fair calls for submission to their journals and competitions for their prizes. Would I love to be published in one of the Big Deal journals? Of course. Will I keep submitting to them? Yes, if I read their F.A.Q. page and it looks like I have a chance in hell. (Hint to other poets out there: If their answer to "Do you accept new poets?" starts off with "It's difficult to define new in this context..." move on, my friend. Move on.)

So I'm not an elitist, even though I attended an MFA program - Queens University of Charlotte in North Carolina. I was absolutely, literarily (and literally!) nourished there. I never felt that anyone was trying to push me into being a certain type of poet; in fact, I felt that they very much were interested in finding out what I was trying to do, and helping me to do it. I didn't sniff one single elitist the whole time I was there. There was one guy having a full-on love affair with Yeats, but it was in a way that would make even the most hard-core abstractionist sitting behind me in the seminar smile. (Hi, Kate.)

I'm not an elitist, but I want poems to be careful, thoughtful, educated, specific, new. I prefer plainspoken poems that don't require a thousand detours to the Encyclopedia Brittanica to decipher, but I realize that that is an issue of personal style and aesthetic rather than an absolute toward holiness.

I believe any state's or city's or small community of miscreant's poet laureate should be selected with great thought and consideration, with input from a variety of sources, including poets who have devoted a good part of their lives to poetry and have received deserved recognition, and people who are not poets. I wouldn't even be opposed to an audition process. America's Got Poets. Dancing with the Poets. Something where both expert opinion and audience vote count. I worry attendance would be low at such an event.

What I do know is that the governor of North Carolina failed, failed miserably, and that the woman he nominated suffered for it, and that poetry in general suffered for it on account of the "elitism" accusation, but maybe if enough barefoot mountain girls with an MFA, and all their cousins of varying geographies and financial statuses and education levels flood the smaller and/or independent magazines and journals and presses with submissions and donations and subscriptions, we can recover.

* I'm still poor.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Brief History of The Bearded Lady

This post is sort of piggybacking off of a previous post, where I talked about the hysterical horrors of my stay at the psychiatric hospital years ago. 

Just before entering the hospital, I had started taking a psychiatric medication for the first time, an antidepressant called Lexapro.  The day I was discharged, I had begun to walk in small circles in my (shared) room. (Did I mention yesterday that my roommate in the loony bin unceremoniously stripped off all her clothes in front of me one evening and lay naked on her bed?  On top of the covers. I can’t believe I left that out. Damn it.) Over the next few days, my restlessness increased to the point that it was psychologically painful for me to sit still.  They have a name for this in psychiatry; it’s called akathisia, and it’s more commonly associated with antipsychotics than with antidepressants. 

Which is interesting, because when I presented to my local mental health clinic, they switched my antidepressant (to PaxilCR), and added in an antipsychotic.

That was my introduction to the sleepy time sugar tits that are antipsychotics, particularly the new class (like they’re Saved By The Bell or Baywatch or something) called atypical antipsychotics. 

Not just psychotic, kids, but atypical.  I mean, really.  How many socially unsavory names can we load onto one drug?

Not that it hinders their use.  Antipsychotics are now prescribed like….well…like crazy.

Like, as antidepressant power-up pills.  Did you know those were antipsychotics? 

But anyway, back to my experience with this particular drug class, and here’s where I’m getting to my point:

Taking Risperdal, and later Seroquel, then Zyprexa (sounds kinda like “Suppress her,” doesn’t it?), then back to Seroquel again, I gained over 100 lbs. on antipsychotics, which I believe I’ve mentioned here before, but also, and I don’t believe I’ve mentioned this or certainly made such a very big deal to the point that I devoted a whole post to it:

I became a bearded lady. 


And I remain a bearded lady.

As in, I continue to grow unsightly amounts of facial hair in the chin and neck regions. 

Now, it may not be up to the standards of most men (or some women, as we’ll discuss later), but I want to be clear about this:

We are not talking about plucking a few hairs.  We are not talking about anything light, or thin, or downy, or peachy fuzz, or sparse. 

We’re talking many, many, possibly even hundreds of hairs.  I’ve never counted because there are too many to count.  Like I said, this is not a lovely little plucking endeavor.  This is a situation that I coat with hot wax and rip out of my face on every occasion that I have to interact with other human beings who are not blind.  Maybe even if they were blind, I don’t know, because what if they wanted to do that thing where they touch my face?  

And here’s the real shit kicker: I am no longer taking this type of medication.

In fact, I am no longer taking any type of medication that would cause this.  But I’m stuck with the hair.  Thankfully, I was able to lose much of the weight I gained, eventually, but I’m pretty sure my metabolism was forever changed. 

Over the years since kicking Seroquel’s ass to the curb (my longest antipsychotic-affair was with Seroquel), I have attempted to address the hair issue with different physicians, mentioning, to each, that this problem started with the mother fucking mental drugs.

One physician, an upper level nurse of some sort who is allowed to prescribe meds and also be inappropriate (that’s another post, some day, maybe), ordered a battery of hormone type tests, declared that I did not have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and could therefore return home and immediately suck it.  Apparently, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome is the only cause of rampant hair growth in women, even women who noted their hair growth started with the introduction of a certain medication to her system.

Another physician, a cardiologist, noted my “hirutism” without my mentioning it, because I had been too sick with chronic physical stuff to wax the shit off my chin for weeks.  He ordered testing, and at this point, I was suspecting issues with my thyroid, but, much like the situation above, nothing along the lines of “Here’s why this bitch has nasty amounts of hair on her stank face!” showed up in the results, and then I moved, and started all over with new doctors.

This led to my visit to a gynecologist who once again ordered blood work, as well as an ovary scan, which happens with something that is called, I shit you not, a vaginal probe.  Even though the blood work was normal, and the vaginal probe tech said my insides looked normal, the gynecologist sat me down, declared that I do have polycystic ovarian syndrome, and prescribed both birth control and some sort of steroid.  At this, I went home and immediately decided that he could suck it.  I felt that this was a diagnosis of deduction based purely on circumstantial evidence (i.e., the hair) rather than confirmational blood work or other testing.  And I’m not comfortable with that, especially if drugs are being offered.

Because I’ve kind of learned to be leery of drug side effects. 

I did learn one thing from the gynecologist though.

When he was offering me the medication, he did so with the caveat that the prescriptions would help to keep the rampant hair growth from raging even further above and beyond the boundaries of what my own personal gender expression deems comfortable. (He didn’t say it like that.)

But with that information, I realized that it didn’t matter.

I realized, and I haven’t verified this by asking but I’m pretty sure, that once hair grows somewhere, it’s fucking there, unless you have male pattern baldness in that area.

Hormones can’t stop it, steroids can’t stop it.  They can only act like the boundaries that firefighters set up around wildfires to keep it from spreading.

My facial hair is a wild fire.

I do not have male pattern baldness on my chin.

There is nothing I can do to end this vicious, painful cycle of rip-out and re-growth.

Unless, if course, I develop male pattern wealth and have it removed by laser.

Or unless I summon up the radical attitude of a thousand fuck-its and decide to just let my facial hair grow.

That’s what at least a very small few numbers of historically and culturally significant women have done.

When you have facial hair as a woman, you pay attention when you come across other women with facial hair.  The Internets have notified me of two recently: Harnaam Kaur and Wilgefortis.  Go look.  Educate yourself. 
These are just two examples that have come across my viewing pleasure recently.  Search “bearded lady” over at Wikipedia and it will provide you with some linking good times as you dive into the history of the bearded lady in her manifestation as a circus freak.

Admittedly, women who have really reached the status of Bearded Lady have the amazing beards of prize fighters turned lumberjacks, and while I do have significantly more hair than the average woman, mine is puny in comparison.  I'm kind of like James Franco's beard trying to square up on Lebron James's beard.  (Look at me, knowing popular culture and shit!)

Nonetheless, hair - anywhere, in any amount, wanted or not - is a hairy issue for women.  I like to be pretty.  The scraggly mess of shadow I have growing on my neck and chin does not fit into my construct of female beauty.  And note:  That’s okay.  Because my feminism is about defining my own aesthetic even if it does fit the “norm,” or the traditional.  That’s allowed, too.  My feminism burns bras and aprons only if you want to.  It’s just about being aware of all the options.  I’m aware that not removing my hair is an option.  I’m not comfortable with it, and that has more to do with my personality (Myers-Briggs ISFJ - essentially a socially conforming introvert) than it does with my lack of the knowledge of, awareness of, or signing my name in blood to the Feminist Encyclopedia of Good Conduct.  So there. 

Still, wax hurts.  Like hell.

Also, other methods:

Note: this is not the video I was looking for.  There is, or was, a hilarious video from a fabulous, hysterical queen about the ridiculously meticulous methods poor girl went through to rid herself of her beard and I cannot find it.  This video is more serious and informational, but the queen here is mesmerizing.  Watch her.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Why Are You Curling Your Hair Right Now?: Memories from an Asylum

Somehow, I got into a conversation with my mama the other night reminiscing about the time I spent in the psychiatric hospital several years ago.

Hang in there with me, this post isn’t meant to be a downer.  A lot of funny, odd shit went down in the bin.  I find the inexplicable humorous.

For example, I can’t wrap my mind around the girl who, every morning, would stand in front of a mirror that was posted in a short hallway off of the main room and use a curling iron to style her hair. I mean, we’re in a loony bin here.  The gig’s up on dignity. But, I guess, each holds on to some measure of pride in their own small way. I cannot ascertain whether or not she owned the curling iron or if this was an item provided by the hospital for community use, but I am relieved to know that the fact that she was performing this task in the main room as opposed to the relative privacy of the bathroom indicates that the curling iron (which can definitely be used as a weapon, it doesn’t even take a criminal mind to know that) was not in her possession at all times. 

Speaking of bathrooms, and of weapons, some poor soul shat on my toilet on the day I was supposed to leave the bin.  Not in, on.  Me being me, I very much took this as an act of aggression meant to communicate a strong indictment upon my own behavior, thoughts, and very soul, which must be taken seriously, and so I immediately scanned my actions and words of the previous 72 hours to determine how my wrongs had provoked the seat-shitter to come into my suite and shit on “my” (shared) toilet seat. It was, clearly, my fault, and I chastised myself for not being more friendly toward her (the seat-shitter) while I was there. Yes, I took responsibility for her seat-shitting instead of processing the incident in a more healthy self-esteem way, which would’ve looked something like this:

Whoah!  I sure am glad I didn’t mess with this crazy bitch while I was here, no telling what all she would have done! That bitch is crazy! Man, I sure am glad I have my comparatively healthy mental health about me.  Man, I sure am glad I’m leaving here today!  I clearly belong in the upper echelon of critical thought and creative gurus, it’s too bad I had this little detour into a mistaken identity as someone who needs to be incarcerated in a mental hospital.  Never again! Now, on to do amazing things!

But instead I blamed myself for getting my seat shat upon, and had several moments of panic wherein I wondered if the hospital staff might think I had shat on my own toilet seat, and would try to keep me incarcerated for longer because of it.  I tried to succor myself with the highly unlikely odds that they would perform a doodie DNA test and I would be exonerated. 

Speaking of not wanting to be further incarcerated in the hospital, one ol’ girl climbed over the wall and escaped while I was there.  The hospital had a bricked-in “outside” area where, ostensibly, patients could go to get some fresh air, but it was also the area where patients went, frequently, to smoke, so the freshness of the air is to be questioned.  You can see how this air wasn’t fresh enough, so there’s really no blaming this one woman who silently walked toward the furthest wall and with absolutely no pomp, circumstance (well, maybe circumstance) or announcement, promptly began climbing the wall, which took her a few seconds, then dropped down over the other side and began calmly, but resolutely walking off.  We, the patients of the psychiatric hospital, all watched her.  I wondered what the others were going to do.  I did not wonder what I was going to do because I, generally, am not a woman of action, and especially in the hospital I was comfortable with that.  They kind of have you drugged.  But in any case, eventually the others rushed from the “fresh” air area back into the building, the main room, and progressed to the nurses’ armored blockade, what might be called a secured station in more polite terms, and reported the girl.  I felt that to be a sort of betrayal, really.  I don’t think, if I had been the only one to see her, I would’ve told.  I remember thinking some sedated version of, “Go in peace, crazy woman.” I don’t know what happened to her, if they caught her or what; the last time I saw her she was walking off in a very mental hospital-ish robe thing.  Much more mental hospital-ish than my mauve pajamas, even.

Speaking of proper attire for the occasion, did you know that the cafeteria in the mental hospital is so fancy that there is a dress code?  Yep.  In five star restaurants, gentlemen are required to wear jackets and, likewise, in the mental hospital, persons of both genders are required to wear shoes.  I did not know this.  First, I have to tell you that one of the first things they do in there is relieve you of your civilian clothes.  This is so all members, now patients, can bond together as their former identities become distant thoughts with which they no longer agree, as they come to know their new leader, whose spiritual title is Psychiatrist, and trust his group of elders and deacons, who are called Nurses and Social Workers.  They issue you new clothes, which are in calming shades, and include a top, pants, and thick socks with rubber bits on the bottom.  Safety, and safe behavior, is the hospital’s ultimate concern, aside from the occasional seat-shitting, escape, and ritual scarification performed amongst patients who have cigarettes upon other patients who may or may not have cigarettes, but who are definitely liars, which is not tolerated amongst patients At All, but occurs more frequently than anything else there, including board (bored) games.  When I was issued my uniform pajamas, I came to accept them along with everything else, including my medication, my status as a “level 2” security threat (that’s one of the lowest; I’m considered gentler than others even when out of my mind), and the fact that certain persons would curl their hair every morning even though I didn’t see the point.  Anyway, I wore what they gave me.  One day, I was given a new security clearance, even lower (better) than “2.”  This meant that I could travel to the cafeteria to have my meals rather than take them in the isolation of my room, which was meant to be a reward but which I saw as a punishment, of course.  Who passes up breakfast in bed for breakfast in a cafeteria?  Who, I ask you!  In any case, I lined up to walk the short distance down the hall to the cafeteria.  I did not know that this would involve a drill sergeant inspection, but it did, and I was found lacking when it was noted that I was wearing my socks with rubber bits on the bottom instead of shoes.  I was informed that I couldn’t travel to the cafeteria thus, and, judging from the elder/deacon/drill sergeant/nurse’s attitude, I was a total idiot or possibly an anarchist for attempting to do so.  For my part, I was as equally aghast as she, because I had, for the majority of the previous 36 hours, been milling about, attending all manner of activities, in the pajamas I had been issued, including the socks, and had not yet been met with anything less than approval.  Very confusing.  I made it to the cafeteria after I put my shoes on.  It wasn’t anything to write home about.  People looked at me and I didn’t like it.  Also, the cafeteria was co-ed. I was (not really) used to being mixed with crazier-than-me’s and abusers of unapproved substances, but not with boys.  Nobody tried anything, that I could see.  Just the looking, which is uncomfortable enough.  Taking my meals in isolation was definitely much preferred. 

Man, them was some crazy ass 72 hours.  I still don’t like eating my meals surrounded by others – not restaurants, or bars, or parties. 


I also still like a nice, clean toilet seat.

And I’ve never been much on pajamas.