‘Broken People,’ Cats and Prozac
If you want ball-busting radical man-hating, you’ll have to look elsewhere. XOJane is more about pathetic narcissism.
What I Do, Fun-wise: Cook, engage my cats in heady conversation, and perform subpar sexy dances to Hall and Oates.
Cats. Of course, she’s got cats. Did I mention she’s 29? And an alumnus of New School University (2014-15 tuition $41,836)? Also, you may not be surprised to learn, Ms. Stokes lives in Brooklyn.
See, this is the thing with young feminist writer types nowadays. They can’t go to Podunk State University. No, they must attend one of those private schools where annual tuition is at or near the median U.S. household income. This is the only way to become that glorious being, The Writer. And, probably because as girls dreaming of becoming The Writer, they watched a sitcom or movie about the lives of quirky bachelorettes in Brooklyn, they simply must live there after graduation.
Well, you may ask, what does The Writer write about?
Digital estrogen, like I said. Ms. Stokes has a series of columns called “Crushed,” from which a few samples:
Seventh grade was when I ruined any chance I may have had of getting laid during my teens. Seventh grade was when I should have been learning to read the silent cues essential to non-platonic relationship dynamics. Instead, the diligent and concentrated effort I aimed at loathing myself distracted me, putting me officially on the late-bloomer end of the welcome-to-sexy-times-adolescents spectrum. It was the first time in my life somebody liked me — and I had no idea. . . .
We rode the bus together, lived in the same neighborhood, liked the same dorky things. I would chatter his ear off on the bus each morning and the poor guy, he listened, even as he was desperate to finish whatever homework he hadn’t managed to get done the night before. He was gawky and sweet and infuriating and he totally liked me and I didn’t get it. Which is classic, because, clearly I was likewise into him, but I didn’t know how to express that. So I didn’t. Instead I publicly declared us mortal enemies. . . .
In science I sat with the smartest kid in class. The boy in front of us was loud, attractive and had teeth like a game show host. He wore Tommy cologne. He sneered a lot and stared at you until you blushed. He whispered a secret to the smart boy next to me. “Apparently,” my irascible deskmate said with a smirk, “he wants to go out with you.”
This is where I was supposed to do something, say something that would open me up to ridicule. I refused to play. Instead I stared down at my desk and said something sarcastic.
Inside I was cringing and mortified and embarrassed. Was it true? It wasn’t true. It couldn’t possibly be true. It was there looking me in the face in an unblinking way stinking of cheap cologne, it was grabbing me by the wrist and pulling me, insisting. My heart went a little faster and I licked my lips raw. I hunched under the weight of big boobs and contemplated the two ample rolls of my fish-belly white stomach with grim certainty: Sex and love are one big joke played on ugly people. I guess it’s easier to doubt something than it is to believe it and be made a fool. . . .
11th grade. Junior year. Where was I? Well, I lost some weight by reading fiction while using all the machines at the local YMCA and practicing fierce self-hatred. I ran for class president and lost. I discovered the comics of Lynda Barry and Robert Crumb. I discovered the plays of Sam Friel and Harold Pinter.
I did not discover masturbation. I missed that boat. While everyone else was probably frantically flicking the kidney bean to pleasure town, I was wondering if maybe SOMEHOW I was the lost Princess Anastasia. Time travel, maybe?
This is also the year I fell in love with two different teachers and a girl. . . .
As an 18-year-old in college I fell in love roughly eight hundred times. When I joined a sorority (this is a long and hilarious story that I will save for another day) my nerdy sexless crushes were so well-known that my nickname was “Crush.” . . .
I will forever doubt that I am loved, that I deserve to be. I try to believe it but it doesn’t always fit me well. It’s like your skin when you get out of the shower and wait too long to put on lotion: It gets tight and strange. It itches. . . .
. . . Every girl is crazy at least once. I was crazy when I was a junior. The guy was Adam. . . .
How do you explain to a 20 year-old boy that your delusions have almost nothing to do with him? There’s no explanation other than the ones the men in curled baseball hats sipping drinks utter like a sacred universally understood bro oath: “That girl is f**king crazy.”
And maybe she is a little. . . .
To say the very least. Where do they come from, these painfully sensitive writer girls with interior dialogues full of shame and fear?
“Feminine instinct without its proper object or purpose,” my gut tells me, speaking like an old-fashioned psychologist, or perhaps an anthropologist of the evolutionary “brain science” type. In an earlier age — say, 1800 or 1700 — the young Ms. Stokes would have lived on a farm, and at 15 or 16 would have married the 18- or 19-year-old son of a neighboring farmer and, by the time the actual 21st-century Ms. Stokes was getting weird high school crushes, she would have been heavily pregnant with her first child. And then they all would have died of smallpox or a potato famine or some such misery.
Once Upon a Time, you see, people had things to worry about that were more serious than their feelings. If my ancestors had any interior dialogues, these have been lost to posterity because (a) there were no blogs back then, and (b) most of my ancestors prior to the 20th century were illiterate, or nearly so. In the National Archives is a document pertaining to my great-grandfather, Winston Wood Bolt, a young farm boy who fought as a private in the 13th Alabama Infantry Regiment. The document is a receipt for an amount paid to Private Bolt, signed by his regiment’s colonel, Birkett Davenport Fry.
Private Bolt’s signature? “X.”
My illiterate great-grandfather had more serious things to worry about than his feelings. Not long after he signed his X to that receipt, Private Bolt was captured at Gettysburg, when the Iron Brigade outflanked Archer’s Brigade east of Willoughby’s Run, and Private Bolt spent the next two years imprisoned at Fort Delaware, where the prisoners caught, cooked and ate rats to augment their rations.
Hard times make hard people, and sensitivity is a luxury not afforded to those whose lives are a matter of toil and hardship.
Psychological toughness — a determination not easily daunted by difficult circumstances — is what young people really need, but how shall they acquire this if we are afraid to wound their self-esteem?
Our ancestors were all survivors. We forget this, or rather we never learn it and, with no knowledge of the struggles of our forebears, we suffer from not having their example to inspire us. But enough of that digression. Let us return to Ms. Stokes’s oeuvre at XOJane, and another of her series, “Dispatches from the Prozac Rabbit Hole”:
. . . I think of something my therapist said to me last week. We were talking about how feelings aren’t law. About how they cannot be flipped from an ‘on’ to an ‘off’ position. I jokingly said, “I’m going one day at a time — one hour a time.”
She didn’t think it was funny. She thought it was a good plan. “Less than an hour. Get up and leave here and go to get coffee and see if you can do that. Then, if you can, see if you can turn on your computer. Then the next thing, and then the next thing. Piece by piece.” . . .
I have spent so much time hating my body for being a thing no one could desire — be it to look at, or to touch. How could anyone desire me when I refuse to even run a glancing hand down my own body myself? . . .
. . . For the first time in my life, I couldn’t sit down and write. I managed a few assignments early in the day, but then the guy I’ve been dating let me know that he wanted to take a break . . . and my usually facile flow on the keyboard became just as jammed up as everything else in my life. . . .
How do people, normal people, meet someone, make a connection with them, and not melt away into their own self-loathing when that connection is tested or severed? I feel like I don’t know how. I feel like an idiot.
It’s harder to cry now that I am on antidepressants. . . .
. . . My throat swells and throbs. I remember the train ride home last night and how I squeezed my face so tightly to stop the tears but they came anyway.
“I am falling to pieces,” I said inside as I cried. “I am breaking into a million pieces and no one on this train will even look me in the eye.” . . .
It’s Not About Me, Even a Little
When I visited New York somewhere around the age of ten or twelve, I could not fathom the sheer volume of stories I saw spilling out around me everywhere. It’s funny how it’s only now, exhausted by my own self-examination and with the bolstering of serotonin that my pills provide, that I can see this again. . . .
Right now I’m sitting on the F train. It’s around noon. It’s Thursday. I work from home and once a week I journey into Manhattan to see my analyst. . . .
Well, of course, she’s got an analyst in Manhattan. Every writer in Brooklyn must have an analyst in Manhattan. And also, cats.
There are times I feel rather moody myself, although offering to sell the Hope Diamond for $25 kind of cheered me up a bit. The DSCC pulling out of Louisiana also gave me a nice little emotional boost. Being happy is really just an ability to accept survival as success.
The “broken people” are out there everywhere, inviting us to their pity parties. But I think about my ancestors, and I also think about Muhammad Ali, the best boxer in history. Of all his many great moments, his greatest was a fight he lost. In 1973, Ali fought Ken Norton, a Marine Corps veteran who broke Ali’s jaw — yet Ali did not quit. He went the full 12 rounds and lost a split decision to Norton, but the fact that he finished the fight with a broken jaw is a testament to Ali’s toughness. Howard Cosell once observed that, for all the praise Ali got for his speed and strength, few recognized what was perhaps Ali’s greatest trait as a boxer: His ability to take a punch.
Being able to take a punch, shake off the pain and keep punching back — that’s mental toughness. That’s what makes a champion.
First published at TheOtherMcCain.com
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