Hair, bodies, books

Staying emphatically off of social media today, after overindulging yesterday and feeling like I ate twelve bags of spiritual Cheetos. I shut off my phone and closed my eyes around 1:00am feeling full of hatred. Maybe I was just sensitive, but yesterday it was a particularly grating cacophony of others’ petty grievances, useless observations, sunlit photos of immaculate interiors, thunderous announcements of good news. I went off about a particular gatekeeping tweet by an academic, wasting ten minutes of my one wild and precious life. I just kept feeling personally assailed and then ridiculous.

Not today, Satan. I’m drinking coffee and looking at Lorna Simpson’s collages. The artist uses vintage ads from Ebony and Jet to make images in which “Black women’s heads of hair are galaxies unto themselves, solar systems, moonscapes, volcanic interiors," as Elizabeth Alexander writes in the introduction to a 2018 book of these gorgeous pieces. I’ll take my art a little intergalactic, otherworldly at the moment. Perfect antidote to my trifling earthbound complaints.

Thinking about crystals and hair made me also recall country singer Crystal Gayle, whose ankle-length hair captured my imagination as a little girl. I think about how my own (now much too long) hair collects on my floor, mingling with dust to make little nest-like clusters, and wonder if Crystal Gayle’s did that and whether the nests could fit a robin.

There were things yesterday that did lift me: a giggly zoom with my friends, making coconut yogurt, and sitting in my car reading Forsyth Harmon’s Justine while my daughter played in a park across the street. We forgot an extra mask and I was secretly thrilled to get to stay in the driver’s seat with the windows rolled down like a dog on errand day. The sky pink-ened toward evening. A friend ambled up randomly while I was sitting there and handed me a just-picked branch from a cherry blossom tree and we chatted for a few minutes and I felt pleasantly contained within a city and a neighborhood and I was grateful.

This week I watched this short documentary Abortion Helpline, This is Lisa, which is about young women answering phones at an abortion helpline in Philadelphia and the low-income pregnant women they try to help every day. It’s really about the vile Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of public funds to pay for abortion, leaving many women unable to exercise their legal right to the procedure because they can’t pay for it. The women who call the helpline—in this one city, over a couple days—are working, taking care of kids, escaping abusive situations. They sigh or cry. One is asked whether the sexual encounter that made her pregnant was consensual. No, she answers. Another says that the fetus she’s carrying has anencephaly (meaning a major portion of its brain and skull are missing) and will not live even if she carries to term, but that she cannot afford the $3000 procedure required to terminate the pregnancy. It’s a wrenching behind-the-scenes look at the personal anguish attending these decisions and the constraints our government still puts on who gets to make their own decisions in the first place.

I have reproductive justice on my mind a lot lately. Six days ago I I read this New York Times piece about women in Venezuela without access to contraception or abortion and have thought about it or revisited the piece every day since. I linger over the photograph of a beautiful 24-year-old mother of three who sought out a clandestine abortion (performed with a hook) to terminate a pregnancy and died of a hemorrhage earlier this month. I wonder (without actually desiring one of these conversations) what anti-choice people would have to say about these tragic stories? That the woman’s desperation—keen enough to seek and go through with a back-alley medical procedure—her death, and the orphaning of her existing three children, are less tragic, less important than an early pregnancy coming to a chosen end?

To feel a little less hopeless, I revisited the 2014 documentary Vessel, about Women on Waves, the organization founded by Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts. Gomperts and another Dutch doctor and nurse commandeered a ship, picked up women from ports in countries with restrictive abortion laws, and administered the abortion pill in international waters. As activism it’s audacious, but if you believe that deciding what happens to our bodies is a fundamental human right, it makes good sense.

I finished Tabitha Lasley’s Sea State and was really sad for about a day: that particular sadness—there’s probably a German word for this—of something being over and just being so good. Part of that sadness is making one’s exit from a world and knowing that the urgency you feel within it, that feeling that makes you want to tell everyone This is so good!, will soon dissipate. You’ll be able to recall that you felt it but you can’t quite capture it again. Part of experiencing meaningful art, but also: devastating!

I used this analogy in my book (talking about sex, not reading) but there are these moments in Being John Malkovich when a person who has been in the portal of Malkovich’s brain is spit out and falls from the sky onto a New Jersey Turnpike embankment (at exit 13A in Elizabeth, NJ, no less; not a beautiful place.) The person stands up and dusts themselves off, looking around disoriented. What just happened to me? I often think of finishing a good book this way: being spit out, ejected. It’s strange and somehow humbling. You remember you’re a person in a body again. You stand up, steady yourself, and go back to the end of the line to ride the ride again.

Anyway, I moved on because I had no choice. Now I’m reading White Tears, Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color by Ruby Hamad. The book collects a lot of painful, important historical information about the ways white women have wielded their femininity (and imagined “innocence”) as well as their purported feminist principles at the expense of women of color and it’s one I’ll be buying for some of the white women in my life. It’s timely reading, but also just well written and highly engaging. Filled with so-called inconvenient truths white women can hopefully no longer comfortably ignore.

I’m also about to start the second in the Inspector Montalbano series. And I’m reading Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking (again) and Spring Garden by Tomoka Shibasaki, a Japanese novella about loneliness that looks right up my alley. All this and more. Books continue to be delivered to my house with alarming frequency: JOY!

A few good things I read this week: