Scape

Was I the one snoring, or was it someone else? I woke up to listen, but still couldn’t tell. Was I the one snoring, or was it someone else?

I went in the bathroom, to look in the mirror, and the trashcan left on jiggly legs. We haven’t been talking since I put those things in it, and I admit, nothing should have those things put in it, but they must be put somewhere, they can’t be left lying out.

I looked in the mirror, and it wasn’t my face snoring. I put a hand mirror behind my back so what it reflected would reflect in the bigger mirror, and I saw it was my spine that was snoring. A bubble of snot sticking out my spine’s nose.

I was going to tap it awake, but a shadow outside told me it was morning, or near enough, and I was awake, no going back, so I best make myself coffee and begin the day. My spine could sleep for both of us.

I set the coffee going, and saw my cat. It was my cat that was snoring, great black rumblers that shook the floor. I’d thought so. But wasn’t it my spine that was snoring?

My cat was my spine. My hair fluffed, it meowed, and I washed my hand my with my ginger tongue. I washed my hand with ginger, and ate the ginger, with a raw onion. And my hand, baked in a 9 by 13 glass tray, with mustard sauce. Actually, feet, I prefer feet for that. The pads are tender. The cat sniffed them, and I was so happy he’d stopped being my spine. After I ate my feet I put them on again, and they were new.

The coffee was brown, and fresh squeezed orange juice. Fresh squeezed bacon and buttermilk pancakes.

My girlfriend came down, and she was beautiful, I hadn’t known I had a girlfriend, and it was wonderful, except she wasn’t my girlfriend, she was a girl I barely knew who’d spent the night on my couch, because reasons, and I’d made breakfast for two.

I gave her coffee. She sipped it, kissed me, then hit me with the coffee mug, because I was inadequate, so I sat on my kitchen tile, bleeding and accepting. These things happen, nothing be done. That was too sad, so she was another girl, smarter and gentler, if not so sexy, and we talked civilizedly, and played chess, and I knew how to play, but she beat me anyway.

I said I’d make lunch in a few hours, but she left. Forlorn, my cat let me know I always had him when he felt like it, and I agreed that was true, and he was purring, rumble rumble against my spine.

Balloon Animal

Our cat. He really wasn’t fat. Touch his side, feel his ribs. Skinny as a wooden fence. But his belly swelled, like a balloon. It was gas. Bloating, cramping, digestive trouble. We gave him pepto bismo. It hardly helped.

We took him to the vet. She took a needle and pricked his side. The gas spurted out. He flew around the room.

Next morning, the needle hole had healed. He had built up more gas. He was bigger than before. Belly big as a basketball. His belly grew. Big as a beach ball. Meowing, he floated off the sofa, and, when dad came home, out the front door.

He hung in the sky, a hundred feet up. We tried, but our ladder wasn’t tall enough. We could still hear him meowing. We thought he got closer. We thought he was floating back down. But he was just getting bigger. His belly was the size of a yoga ball. His stomach was the size of a car. Then bigger.

The police came, and asked, Why is there a blimp over your house? Why is it black and white? Why is it textured so?

We said, because our cat is black and white, because that is the texture of fur. Please sirs, get our cat down

The firetruck came. Their ladder wasn’t tall enough either.

We took turns looking through the binoculars. You could hardly see his head. Hardly see his feet or tail. He was just a belly, very big, with bits hanging off.

He was a mile wide. He cast shade on the neighborhood. It cooled us down. We turned off the air conditioner. It saved us money on our electricity bill. It was the first time having a cat had ever saved us any money.

If I looked carefully, through the binoculars, birding binoculars, I could see he was screaming

He caught a bird. A flying smacked against his belly, I mean. His belly was taut as a drum, and the bird bounced off, and fell into our pool. I fished it out with a skimmer. But it had already drowned, while we watched.

The police called out the national guard. The colonel was a gastroenterologist, for his day job. The major was a veterinarian. They conferred, and told a sniper to shoot a hole in our cat’s belly. “That’s how regulations say to deal with these things.”

She shot. It was a good shot. With an armor piercing round and a high powered rifle. The gas hissed out

It smelled of burps and cat kibble. It was horrible. The national guard put on gas masks. The firefighters put on smoke masks. The police drove away, choking. We hid in the house, and sprayed febreeze, but looked out the windows.

The belly got smaller. It was only as big as
a blimp
a car
a yoga ball
a beach ball
a basketball
a cat.

I ran out, and caught him. He meowed, screamed, purred, clawed me, tried to crawl into me and atop me, all at once. I petted him, and said soothing words in soothing tones.

The tiny hole from the armor piercing round scabbed up. And his stomach started to expand. We knew he wasn’t happy like this. So we took him to the vet, and paid one hundred and thirty six dollars, to have him put down, with hot pink euthasol.

In the skirt, Day Two: Cuttlefish

This is the second in a series. Here is the first.

I had not thought the second day would warrant its own post. But there were events.

I have driven from a continuation High School, where at risk students are trying to graduate High School. They are profoundly normal teenagers. Most are male, most are hispanic. I helped them with geometry. I wore pants.

I park on the street near my college and change into my mother’s skirt. This is Day 2 of wearing the skirt to school, and I’m wearing the same turquoise skirt as on Day 1, this time with a belt. My mother’s skirt has seven belt loops. I love my mother.

Remove the scooter from the trunk, unfold it, scoot.

Intersection. A right turner, I fix him with my gaze, he pumps the brakes. Isn’t that some childrens game? You can only move when whoever’s “it” is looking away? Cars play that game. I never knew, till I wore a skirt, and was briefly too embarrassed to look.

My first pedestrian. I resolve to not be self-conscious, to stare as normal. Easier said than done, but not so hard as you might think.

I look at hair. I look at faces. I look at the concrete.

I’ve only rarely looked at concrete.

I am early for class, so I go the library, to the third floor, where the STEM students form study groups. First, I go into the bathroom, and take a selfie.

ugly bathroom skirt selfie
My camerphone sucks. Those are my glasses on the counter. Behind me are a traditional urinal and a Sloan Water Free urinal. Be charmed.

I enjoy taking a picture of myself wearing a skirt in a grossly masculine setting. Next I pick a table. I write what I’ve thought on the way. In between spurts of writing, I read the section of Walden entitled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” It is for class.

By writing, I think better than I otherwise would, and I ask myself, on the commute, did I read a single T-Shirt? I passed through a tunnel of sapling Jacaranda. How have they grown since I last saw them, two days before? Have they any blossoms? How is the grass of the field? How fares the rock garden that butts against the Kai Pheta Whatsit building?

I’ve no idea, so clearly, I am still too busy being self-conscious to be conscious of much else. Though it’s not so bad as on the first day.

Normally, I am a gawker. As the tourist sees New York, so I aspire to see the back of my hand. That which I have not seen I stare at because it is new to me, that which I have seen I stare it, because, knowing it, I take a proprietary interest. Perception is 90% of the law.

I am Monarch of all I survey, my right there is none to dispute.”

Thoreau quotes that in the section of Walden I’m reading. A man at the next table says to his friend, “are you that self-conscious?” He says it right now, exactly in the text as it occurs. Reality is themed.

Having seen a place once, I am King of it, it is my land, we are bound together. Do you know the myth of the Fisher King? It is this. Has a sapling leaned from its support? I shall right it. Trash strewn about? I put it where it ought to be. Invasive baby palm trees? Ripped out, or their heads cut off. A sprinkler burst? The city is called. Weeds bursting up through cracks in the concrete? I stomp on them, kick at them, scatter their corpses in the gutter.

Though I’ve made no application, the city has seen fit to offer me a stipend for these services—pennies scattered in my path. I squat to pick them up. Would I squat in a skirt? I am frightened to. I shall squat in this skirt, at the first opportunity.

So I have worn a skirt to school, and now I sit in the library, writing about wearing a skirt to school. What a bold thing am I! How adventurous and aggressive. Breaking the bones of the earth to suck out it’s marrow. Sitting, skirt hidden beneath the tabletop, scratching away in my notebook.

To be fair, it is no departure from my usual habit.

What mountains I make of my nerves.

I’d thought this would be an exercise in seeing what happens when I break gender conventions. It turns out what happens, at least on my college campus, is I get a lot of funny looks. But there’s value here. I’ve become self-conscious.

I am no stranger to that. The fear and confusion at every social step. My tongue sticks between my teeth while I consider proposing a trip to movies. Not asking a girl for a date. Suggesting to a friend we do something. Worse, an almost friend, a friendly acquaintance, trying to expand that friendship outside the bounds of the classroom or the workplace. Brrr.

But it’s new to feel self-conscious in a crowd. Normally, I am confident in proportion to my anonymity.

John Berger, the art critic, back in the 70s wrote, “According to usage and conventions which are at last being questioned, but by no means have been overcome… a woman must continually watch herself. She is almost continually accompanied by her own image of herself. Whilst she is walking across a room or whilst she is weeping at the death of her father, she can scarcely avoid envisaging herself walking or weeping. From earliest childhood she has been taught and persuaded to survey herself continually.”

This, written by a man, is one of my earliest exposures to academic feminism. Was it true then? Is it still true now? That, in many situations, women are habitually more self-conscious than men? It sounds miserable. It sounds plausible.

It would explain why women wear long hair. I had long hair once. I grew it out for Locks of Love. They make wigs for kids with some disease. I forget which. I think it’s not cancer. I hated the long hair. It was uncomfortable, especially in the summer. I was ecstatic when I finally cut it off, and it seems incredible to me that most women do something so uncomfortable merely for aesthetics.

Now I wonder if it’s because they’re self-conscious in short hair. Probably, there are other reasons.

Why had I supposed anyone would care what I wear? They never have before. What must a straight white male do to be socially oppressed? Clearly this is not enough. The closest thing I know is to go on twitter and disagree with a feminist about something.

It can be anything. I might tell her that the problem with representing masculinity as monolithic isn’t that it lacks nuance. That’s nitpicking. It’s that it fundamentally misunderstands the landscape. The assumption seems to be that there is a certain universal toxic masculinity. Some men have more of it, some have less of it, but it’s all same thing. This isn’t true. Diversity is real. What’s within me is quite different from what’s within him. We both have problems, but they’re not the same. Coming not just from different places, but different directions. To tell us all to go east is good advice only for a fourth.

I could tell her that what fall within norms is constantly negotiated. It might be considered a culture war if it weren’t so polite and oft unspoken, coached in the subtleties that women call “emotional repression.” I could tell her that careless representation of toxic masculinity is nothing but excess masculinity promulgates that idea that men are supposed to be violent, entitled, emotionally suppressed, and frightened of strong woman. That it weighs in on the side of those she and I would both most like to see lose.

If I do that, I can be called all sorts of names. I can have my right to have opinions on men challenged on the basis that I’m a man. Delegitimatized, ignored, dismissed.

From what I gather, this complaint that I have, of not being taken seriously, of being assumed wrong till proven otherwise, of being deligitimatzied, ignored, dismissed, is a complaint women have of most conversations with men. A regular part of their lives. For me, it is unusual, and hard to put aside.

Men are rather unified and monolithic in that we do not wear skirts, don’t you think? And a thousand other things. That which is common, that which is near universal masculinity, is my water, I don’t see it. I see through it. Have you heard that fable, of how fish have never heard of water?

We may all be of the sea, but that Cuttlefish have committed crimes of their own makes them no less offput at being called to account for the wrongdoings of sharks.

That may be a bad metaphor. The twitter fems would tell me so.

An Australian male news anchor noticed his female colleagues got a lot of flack over what they wore. Mostly from female viewers. So he wore the same suit for a year. No one noticed.

I’m so very glad no one cares what we wear.

I go to class. It’s the class for which I’m wearing the skirt, as my project. It’s the second day I’ve come in a skirt, and this time people ask me why I’m wearing a skirt. I’d thought everyone knew, but in fact it was only those sitting near me who knew.

I am not the center of the world.

I explain. It is cheerful. My classmates are mostly women. It is suggested that I “go to 21” (which I assume is Forever 21) and get a skirt there. Some have pockets, and I can get them cheap, for between 15 and 40 dollars. 40 dollars sounds expensive to me.

In class, we talk about Walden, a book review, and paying attention. Paying attention. Reality is themed.

In class, three minutes of guided meditation. A video of a British man telling me to focus on my breathing, to listen to each individual part of my body, and every individual part of my body, thrilled to have my attention, demands to be stretched. I stretch them all. Meditation is just a way to get limber.

The Professor encourages us to go see the art exhibit on the fourth floor of the library, and dismisses us. I think I’ll leave the class along with Alexis, who I have been talking to, and ask if she’s planning to go to the art exhibit in the library, and perhaps we’ll go together.

But she is talking to the professor.

I have put everything in my backpack, zipped it, taken it off, re-organized it, and zipped it again, and she still isn’t done talking. I leave. Waiting would be presumptive. Making friends with girls is even more confounding than making friends with guys. There’s more to be gotten wrong. Besides, I have to pee. I walk quickly for the restroom, do my business quickly, thinking there’s a decent chance that, as I’m heading back down the hallway, I may see her.

That’s what happens. From a step behind I ask her whether she’s going to the exhibit. She asks if I’m going.

I say yes.

She says she’d totally forgotten about it, thanks me for reminding her, and says she’ll go now.

I am uncertain. Does this mean we’re going together? I should’ve phrased my question better. I consider whether, when we reach the doors, I should peel off in my own direction. Tagging along would be weird.

She says she’s glad to have someone come along.

Whew. Yeah. Now in a unit, I’m less self-conscious. I am group-conscious instead. I savor the vision of a man in a skirt walking alongside a pretty woman who is a tad taller than him.

Her project is about productive leisure. Everything from knitting to going for walks. I ask, then, if she’s going to take the stairs to the fourth floor. She says, the elevator. But we get there, and she takes the stairs.

I hope I was not just party to the prosecutorial culture of fitness.

We see the art. It’s nice. There are giant “flowers” made of many silver plastic bags. Chip bags, with the pigment stripped off? There is bright yellow at the base, which sometimes reflects. So the color is hidden beneath the petals. Backward blooms. As I walk between them, I hold the skirt close, fearful of it sweeping into the installation.

There are paper towels that have been dipped in resin. They’re on the floor, standing upright, one against another, a little like a row of dominoes, or salt water doodles in the sand. Again, I am careful.

We look at the rest. We look at it all. She leaves. I stay a little longer. It takes time to really look at something. That time taken, I leave. Scootering back to the car, I remember to pay attention. The Jacarandas are bigger than two days before, but not so much that I can notice. There are no blossoms. There are brown, dry, wide open seedpods, and green seedpods that have yet to crack, but few seedpods in between.

To the car. It’s well in shade. Here, my memory starts to be confused. I must at times guess. Bear with me. I start the car, it starts with barely a protest, and I’m off. I get into a left turn lane, and because we’re into evening, I turn on the lights.

The car shuts off.

The left turn light blink on. Friendly green arrow. The cars in front of me turn left, and I turn on my hazard lights. I put the car in park, and restart the car. I go forward, but I have missed the light. I turn on my own lights and the car again shuts off. The 18-Wheeler behind me keeps its distance.

I wait for the left turn arrow to come back on, not very worried. I’m driving a ’99 Nissan Sentra, and I typically turn off the air conditioner when I need to accelerate. It does stuff. One of its usual tricks is turning off right after I have turned it on. It does this only when it’s low on gas, and indeed, the needle is at less than a quarter of a tank. Invariably, if I get the gas peddle pressed before the engine turns off, it’s fine thereafter, and in this case I’d already done that, but it happened when I was idled, so it seems like just an extension of the usual. I’ll buy some gas at the first gas station.

The light is green. I start the car; it goes, I drive through the intersection, wait for the engine to really have been running, and turn the lights on again. The car goes, shudders, goes, shudders, cuts out. By inertia, I pull to the shoulder.

I start the car again, and am waiting at another light when the engine fails. Now the car, rather than being in idle, is basically in neutral, and it slips backward down the hill, toward the car behind me.

I slam the brake peddle in time and take a breath. I get the car going again, get it to the gas station, which luckily is just up the hill, and put in 10 dollars worth, thinking this will solve all ills. I try the lights while still in the lot, and the car yet runs. I pull to the driveway, and turn right onto Temple.

I see, on the side of the road, a white male, and an asian female. They’re about my age, holding hands as they walk. It’s dusk, and they’re backlit by the bright fluorescent lights of a 7-Eleven. Acrylic silhouette. Photogenic, if I had a camera. I have my eyes instead.

The car turns off. On a busy road, right before a freeway on-ramp. I hit the button for the hazard lights, but this time even the hazard lights don’t work. I put the car into park, twist the key, but there’s not a sound. Try again, not a sound. Perhaps I try a third time.

I open the car door and yell to the photogenic couple, who have turned to look. “Could you help me push this in there!” Pointing to the 7-Eleven. I am almost where I’d be to start a right turn into it.

I glance into the car, and when I glance back they are behind the car, ready to push. I think that, rather than running, they apparated.

I put the car in neutral, and with my right hand on the wheel, my left on the door, my shoulder pressed to the door frame, and my feet on the asphalt, we push. I fear it will be too much for us, but it moves easily. I look back. A third samaritan has appeared. We go up the driveway into 7-Eleven’s lot. I manage the right turn mostly with one hand on the wheel. We stop pushing, conduct a brief consultation, and we push it into a empty parking space at the back of the lot. It’s a fine parking job, well inside the lines.

I am wearing the skirt, and the whole time, I worry that I am wearing the skirt. They come up to me, and if any of them notice, I don’t notice.

I thank them. The third samaritan is a trim hispanic man somewhere between 35 and 50. He tells me to start the car, so that he may listen to the engine. Being a College Man, I know that this is High Wizardry, and he is a Wizard. I shall call him Gandalf.

I start the engine. It starts. Gandalf tells me to give it some gas. I rev the engine. The engine cuts out. He describes signs and portents beyond my ken, and amidst the torrent of mystical words, I latch onto one. “Injector.”

I thank him, and shake his hand. I thank her, and shake her hand. I thank her friend, and shake his hand. Smiling all around. They know they are good people. I know the world is full of good people. We’re all happy. They leave.

I collapse into the car. Covered in a sheen of sweat. Adrenaline rush.

And once more I’ve confirmed, no one gives a shit whether a guy wears a skirt.

I call home. This blog now reveals more of my personal life than I had planned.

My oldest sister answers. I ask her to put Mom and Uncle Steve on the phone. She says Mom is at Choir practice. I say, “Just Uncle Steve, then, and you should stay on the line.”

She asks, “Why? Have you been arrested?”

I wonder what I have ever done to make that to jump to her mind. “Car trouble,” I say.

Uncle Steve says he will come, using my oldest sister’s car.

I should explain. I do not have a car. I borrow my Uncle’s. My culture tells me this means I’m pathetic. I don’t disagree. Sometimes I pretend it’s my car. Sometimes I refer to it to others as “my car.” This is why I’m not really upset. It isn’t my car. I won’t be paying for the repairs. This is only an adventure. I wish I were having it on a fuller stomach.

I change from the skirt into pants. I want to be panted in subsequent conversations. Perhaps with the man with from Triple A.

I take out a notebook and an automatic pencil, and open all the windows. Hand cranked. I stick my feet out the driver’s side window and recline against the parking brake.

There are two lights on an exterior wall. They are on for thirty seconds, then off for thirty second. Some such interval. Security lights. When they are on I mostly write. When they are off I mostly look. Chasing the light, I adjust my position, now leaning out the window.

In front of me, a Coca-Cola truck. Coca-Cola, Since 1886. A white man a little older than I, shifting Coca-Cola products from wooden pallets onto a dolly, wheeling them into the 7-Eleven. He normally comes at 10 at night, but something happened at the factory. Something to do with a truck. Automotive failure. Reality is themed.

So I learn from eavesdropping on his conversation with a man from the 7-Eleven. He is fortyish, hispanic, chubby, has a red coat with a name tag, and he smokes. I assume he’s the manager.

A car pulls in to the space next to mine. The driver has blond hair bound in a simple bun at the back of her head, tufts sticking wildly up, pseudo alfalfa. She looks at her lap. A phone?

The security light flicks on. She’s a young woman, she’s… light-skinned black? The hair’s blond, isn’t it? Maybe dyed? Not blond at all? Punnet squares? Even with light, it’s still dark.

She turns and looks at me. I continue looking directly at her. She entered my view, therefore, she is my view. I am wearing pants again, gawking per normal. She looks away, then back at me, I glance briefly up and to the right, then back.

The security light flicks off. Color flees, shape remains. I stare at her. She stares at me. I can see her eyes, dark on white, and they move in marvelous ways. She puts the car in reverse, and leaves the lot. Perhaps she was always stopping quickly, just to receive and send a text. Or I scared her. Probably I scared her.

Cuttlefish.

I get out. There is a cloud that looks like Goofy playing football. If you’re determined to find it, there is always a cloud that looks like Goofy playing football. There is a planter full of mossy artificial turf. Two baby palms, Queens I think, are growing up through it. I don’t know which I hate more, palms or turf.

I have my answer when I stomp on the palms.

My Uncle comes. He starts the car. The car cuts out. He calls Triple A, and we wait for the tow truck.

The Coca-Cola man loads the last of his product on the dolly: Coca-Cola itself, and Smart Water. I go into the 7-Eleven and buy two packs of peanuts. One is “Hot Peanuts.” The other is “Sea Salt and Vinegar.”

Leaving the store, I open the “Sea Salt and Vinegar” and realize it is not, in fact, “Sea Salt and Vinegar.” I have grabbed the wrong package. It is caramel covered peanuts, which I can’t eat, because I’m diabetic, but I try one anyway. It’s atrocious.

Having grabbed the wrong peanuts is the worst part of my day.

I wore a skirt and it was weird

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Walden haunts my education like a friendly ghost. My teachers take the slightest pretense to assign it. In Senior Project 2, we are reading it as inspiration for our own “lived experiments,” which we are to invent, design, conduct.

Every “lived experiment” I think of sounds hard. I settle for a while on sleeping outside, around town, wherever I can find a place to string my hammock. But as I began the preliminaries, I realize this would be hard, and I might get in trouble with the police.

So I think, “What if I wear a skirt? That can’t be hard—lots of people do it every day. Like wearing shorts, but airier.” The main thing I don’t like about the idea is its obviousness. It seems like something lots of people must have done. And yet, I have only one recollection of a guy on campus wearing a skirt, and he called it a kilt, and indeed, it was plaid, and made of wool. So while it may be an obvious idea, and not very hard to execute, it seems that it’s not commonly done. This suggests that the felt prohibition against guys wearing skirts is very strong.

Why? It’s just a wrap.

Many gender customs have, at least arguably, some foundation either in biology or in deep rooted social conventions, but the skirt seems truly arbitrary. A superficial arbitrariness. What is the social utility of “guys don’t wear wraps?” That we have a word (transvestite) for a man wearing woman’s clothing seems odd. A woman wearing men’s clothing is not a transvestite, but a woman. A woman wearing a suit is a woman wearing a pantsuit.

I have heard that at Liberal Arts colleges it isn’t horribly uncommon for guys for wear skirts. But Cal Poly Pomona is not such a college. It’s known for engineering. It’s one of the few colleges with a majority male student body.

I submit my project proposal. Wear a skirt to school for four weeks. The proposal is approved.

I go to Goodwill, to buy skirts, and I do not understand. Where are the pockets? I think it is just because I am at a Goodwill, and resign myself to going to Ross, and looking at a real selection, and paying real money.

I go to Ross, and first I find the dresses, and discover I’ve never really looked at a dress before, and struggle to believe anyone would wear such a thing. A single piece, covering the bottom, and the front of the top. I do not know why it’s so disturbing.

I find the skirts. They don’t have pockets. I ask a girl, about my age, or a little younger, if there are skirts with pockets.

She pauses, frowns or smiles, it’s hard to tell. “Not really,” she says.

I take two skirts to the changing room, surprised at how nervous I am, nervously smiling, and I fumblingly tell the woman manning the station that I’d like to try them on. She’s Asian, and the set of her mouth tells me she’s an immigrant. The muscles develop differently, depending on the language one most commonly speaks. So I worry that she comes from a culture with rigid gender boundaries, and will say something she shouldn’t.

She speaks. Some sort of Chinese accent, I think, but not heavy. She says, “That’s the men’s changing room, and that’s the women’s,” pointing to each, giving me the option.

I nod, and head directly into the men’s room, a little ashamed at myself.

The skirts fit around my waist, and make it to my knees. But I cannot walk in them. They are as narrow around my knees as around my waist. It is worse even than not having pockets.

I’d thought skirts offered a full range of movement, but now I wonder if I’m wrong.

I go home without buying anything, and tell my mother and middle sister. They tell me that there are pocketed skirts, but they’re hard to find. Bulging pockets create creases and distort the flow of fabric, and for that reason women’s skirts don’t normally have pockets. They carry it all in their purses anyway. There is some debate on the comparative utility of purses and large pockets.

I understand finally why it’s a big deal that my sister’s wedding dress has pockets.

They tell me that the skirts I tried on were pencil skirts, and there are other skirts that offer full range of movement. My mother says to come to her room with her, and I can try on her skirts. She is four foot ten, and I am five foot nine, so I had not considered that her skirts might fit me, but she says they will, and will be free besides.

They fit. It’s amazing. They come down to just above my ankles, like Capris. She explains that she wears skirts up high, almost to her chest. I wear the skirts halfway down my hips, just as I’d wear shorts or pants. Her skirts have pockets. Small pockets, true, I could not fit a mass market paperback in them, my usual measure of whether a pocket is sufficient, and there are also only two, nowhere to put my wallets, but it is much better than no pockets. Mom says she hunts hard for skirts with pockets.

I tweet how I don’t understand how people can wear skirts, when skirts don’t have pockets. My tweet is favorited by an account called “skirtcraft.” It is the twitter account of a start up company, making androgynous skirts. They have lots of large pockets, and come in two colors, khaki and black. They are like cargo shorts, except they are skirts. I want one, but they are $75 dollars each, and will not ship for a while. Production has only just begun.

I wash my mother’s skirts. I tell myself this is because they may have been hanging in her closet a while, and may have gotten dusty. Just as I wash my blazer on those rare occasions when I wear it. But I maintain that pretense for only a moment. It is not entirely untrue, but the main reason I’m washing them is to symbolically purify them, a baptism to make them new, no longer feminine, but as androgynous as jeans, not my mother’s at all.

I have heard, though I do not credit it, that in olden days, when dragons yet stalked the earth, women did not wear jeans.

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At home, I have put on my mother’s turquoise skirt, to get used to it. An old friend has come over, and we’re playing Halo. That’s a video game. He’s white, conservative, conservative Christian, and once told me, “I don’t know if a woman can be President, but if one can it’s probably Hillary, because she’s so experienced.” A lot to unpack right there.

Even before I explain my reasons, his reaction is minimal. After I explain that it is for a school project, he compliments me on being man enough to wear a skirt. He doesn’t know if he could do it. He’d be too self-conscious.

He makes a few jokes, based on my now being feminine. I tell him not to. I can’t start roleplaying as a girl. The point is to transform skirts into gender neutral objects by wearing them as such. So he mostly stops joking, and apologizes when a couple more jokes slip out, as part of the banter as we kill virtual aliens, and virtual versions of ourselves

#

Monday has come, the first day for wearing the skirt to school. In the morning, I do the assigned reading for my classes. I have an EWS class. Ethnic and Women’s Studies. No, it’s not the class for which I’m doing the project, but it’s part of why I chose this project. To make my research for one class the classwork in another. I tell the Professors I’m trying to “establish synergy between my classes, to synthesize disparate concepts and deepen my learning experience,” and it’s even true.

It is my first ever EWS class, and me about to graduate with a BA in Liberal Studies. I am only taking it because they canceled an LS class, and said I could substitute it with an upper division course in Music, Dance, Theater, or EWS. Well.

The reading for today. “Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity.” By Mathew S. Kimmel.

At the dawn of the world, I went to Junior High. There was always a mosh pit at the start of PE, clustered around the gym door as we waited for it to be opened.

I would hump the outside wall of the gym, screaming, “Pamela!” Pamela Anderson I meant, she of the big tits and Baywatch fame. I was not attracted to Pamela Anderson. I associated her with beans, and I did not like beans, because of the ditty, “Beans, beans, the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you toot.”

But she was an acknowledged sex symbol, and by this, I asserted my heterosexuality. In these halcyon days, we still used “gay” as a pejorative. Do adolescents still do that? My peer group doesn’t. I eventually played my small part in bringing that shift about.

As I beat myself against the concrete wall screaming “Pamela” my friend Ben would tell me to stop. It was embarrassing, he said. In retrospect, he had a point.

As I read Kimmel’s piece, on, among other things, homophobia being intrinsic to masculinity, I remember that, and nod. There at least is something that makes a bit of sense. The childish need to assert myself as heterosexual. But the rest of his piece seems so foreign. I have no idea what’s he going on about.

Constantly in competition with other men. Constantly trying to prove my masculinity, fearful that I will be outed as a sissy. No. What culture is that?

It is no coincidence that I am wearing, for the first skirted day, tennis shoes and a shirt with a silkscreened skull on it.

I put on the skirt, I get in the car, I drive, I’m nervous, fearful for my masculinity. But also excited. I’m an exhibitionist at heart. I feel like you do in line for the roller coaster. But mostly I am too stressed to be nervous, because I have procrastinated leaving home, busy writing the early parts of this. I hit not all the red lights, but most of them, worrying I’ll be late.

Parking on the shoulder of Pomona Blvd, half a mile from Campus, because parking there is free. It isn’t hard to get out of the car. I’m already committed. Remove my scooter from the trunk. A Razor brand, powered by nothing but my feet.

The first intersection, press the walk signal, wait, scoot across. The second intersection, press the walk signal, a girl on the other side of the street. She sees me. I think she smiles. I’m not sure. I don’t look. Across, then the third intersection, onto Campus. Crowded.

People look at me. Most smile. I’m a sight, skirt flapping in the wind. Some very definitely do not smile. I’m not sure though. Normally I look at everything, bold and unself-conscious, making eye contact, smiling at random people. Now I stare into space, or at the ground in front of me, fighting to keep a nervous grin off my face.

It’s not so bad. No one says anything. I get to class, two minutes to spare. It’s the class where we’re doing the project, so they know. Mostly women in the class. Most of my classes are like that. The result of my major. I twirl, talk about pencil skirts and the lack of pockets. Always trying to be funny. Alexis doesn’t think it’s funny. I get her later, I forget with what.

We talk about Serena Williams and paying attention. Hardly any Thoreau. I ask the professor whether, if I blog about wearing a skirt, and some of that material is in my final report, will that count as self-plagiarism? She tells me to ask a reference librarian.

The class ends. My next class, Gender, Ethnicity, and Film. I feel so incredibly pretentious walking into an EWS class wearing a skirt. Holier than art thou. Less gendered than art thou. Ugh. I thank the Professor for the links she sent me. I’d emailed her, asking for recommendations of books and articles that might have to do with my “wearing a skirt” project. My version of research.

I talk VERY LOUDLY to her about the project, so everyone will hear, and know I’m not pretentious, just doing a project. Studious. Or a skillful slacker. They hear. I am the center of attention, yay me. Unfortunately, half the class is yet to arrive.

Class starts. We watch some commercials. One man’s masculinity is derided because he does not order Miller Lite and is wearing skinny jeans. Another man’s masculinity is derided because he does not order Miller Lite, and because he has a book bag, though he calls it at a Carry-All, and everyone else calls it a purse.

I am wearing a skirt.

Other commercials. A lively discussion of the commercials. A lively discussion of Rafael Ramirez’s “The Construction of Masculinity.” Next is Kimmel’s “Masculinity as Homophobia.” It starts out slow. No one has anything to say. Eventually, some girls start to talk. Then some boys. I jump in. I never struggle at talking. It goes okay, but never well. I suspect I’m not the only boy who struggles to relate to it.

The class meets once a week from 6 to 9:50. So we have a five minute break in the middle. In the hall, I get my first comment, from a black male I have another class with. His last name is Hamilton, I don’t know his first. He says, “Looking good, like the outfit.”

I twirl, a self-deprecating physical joke in which I am the effeminate butt, and say, high pitched, “I feel so free and airy.” He laughs, and we go our separate ways.

Back to class. We watch the first two thirds of “Fight Club.” The men reclaim their masculinity from a culture made by women. They do this by fighting each other and scorning physical possessions.

Class ends, I leave. On my scooter.

I wonder how I look from the back. A scooter, a skirt, a backpack and a head of yellow hair. Shaggy hair, for a guy. Short hair, for a woman. Probably, that’s what I am from the back, from a distance, or in bad light. A slightly tall woman with short hair.

An odd thought.

Scootering back to my car, “far” off campus. I cross at the walk signal, and the right turner does not give me so much space as right turners normally do. The next street, and it happens again. The car, cutting it close. That’s odd. Is it, somehow, the skirt? It didn’t happen when I came to school in the bright, just leaving in the dark. Is it that right turners do not give apparent women so much space? Is it that normally, I stare straight at the driver, making eye contact if I can, but now, in my skirt I’m staring straight ahead? More likely, it’s coincidence, noise, I think. I’ll know better come later days.

On the drive home I hike the skirt, and scratch my balls. Readjust them. So much more accessible than when I’m wearing shorts. Perhaps I’ve discovered it, the deeper reason why men don’t wear skirts. This is the end of the first day.

Second day here. I didn’t expect the second day would deserve its own post, but there were (minor) events.

Material Boy

There hasn’t been enough fiction on here lately.

The coffee mug attacked me, so I ran away screaming. Coffee mugs get grouchy with age, but the screaming mortifies them. Once it had settled down I approached, quietly, not trying to sneak, but avoiding sudden movements.

It was a plaid coffee mug, green, brown and white, like how you think of a smart old uncle with a scratchy white beard. I said, “Look, I know you don’t want plain water in you, but I’ve already drunk my morning coffee. If I don’t use you, I’ll have to use a glass, and you know how finicky they are about being cleaned.” Wereas coffee mugs were distrustful of daily washings, believing it damaged the microbiome, and valuing patinas.

The mug didn’t have any liquid to burble with, so I held it to my ear like a seashell, saying, “You and me, mug, you and me against the world. We don’t need those cups and glasses.”

It whistled and werbled, pitieosly, and sighed when I held it to my cheek, relaxed finally its handle when I kissed it on the rim. I took it to the sink, whispering sweet nothings, stroking its bottom, and held it under the faucet. It braced itself, and I turned the faucet on.

For two moments it withstood, pretending it was just being rinsed, but at last the water was too much for it. The mug convulsed and went for my elbow, leaving a bruise.

I leapt back from the sink, the pain traveling up my funny bone, and held the mug before my face, staring it in the whorls. “Most unsatisfactory, coffee mug!” I yelled, and cast it on the kitchen tile, where it shattered into a thousand water soaked ceramic shards.

I did not even get out the broom, which had been rude lately, but left directly for the store, to buy a mug that would behave.

eew, mushy moment

As a kid, when people on TV would kiss, I’d scream, “eew, mushy moment,” and turn away. That’s how I feel when writers talk about Writing.

This is not new. It’s part of why I never wanted to take classes in creative writing. All the support and positivity. But it’s somehow worse on twitter.

All these memes. “The writer is a curious creature that turns coffee into stories.” “You don’t have to be crazy to be a writer, but it helps.” And a thousand variations on “I write because I have to,” and “I write because the stories demand release,” and “I write for the same reason I breathe, because otherwise I’d die.”

Okay. Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s a compulsion, on par with putting the toilet seat down. Maybe you’re suicidal, and writing is one of the things, maybe the main thing, keeping you from opening the pill bottle. I know a guy who I guess is at least a little like that.

I have to guess, because he doesn’t go around on twitter posting cat memes about it. I suspect those memes are usually lies. Really, you’d stop breathing? You’d die? You just have to? Then why are you spending so much more time on twitter than makes sense for mere marketing? Why are you in the next tweet bemoaning how Netflix is keeping you from your keyboard?

You wanna talk about your feelings about writing? How fun it is, how “you” it is. Okay, you can do that, and I can grind my teeth about it. I’m fine talking about my feelings about my childhood, school,  onesie bathing suits, cats, politics, and a thousand cultural features. But writing? If you don’t know what I mean, I don’t care, and if you do know what I mean, I still don’t care.

I’ve seen this a few times: “You either have to write or you shouldn’t be writing.” -Joss Whedon.

Fuck you, Joss. You don’t get to tell me to stop. I could stop. I’ve done it before for months at a time, and some of those were pretty solid months. But no, I’m not going to stop anymore, except I still do, every night, and  too many days, I still write hardly anything, between work and school, and reading and thinking and walking the dog, the time gets lost, except for a few hurried moments scratching a fragment into a notebook.

Writing these blog posts are a distraction. But I read that I must market, must establish an “online presence,” though I’m not always totally clear on the ultimate  purpose of that, of what my ultimate purpose is, I mean, except I feel bad about my stories having no company but me.

Folded up on my digital dashboard is a scene that wouldn’t go right. Everyone who reads the draft complains about the “thrallship scene.” It’s when two important characters first meet, and when I first wrote it, I didn’t understand them well enough. It’s going pretty well, but now I’m doing something that’s easier, if a whole lot less fun.

This, I mean. Screw you Joss, with your stupid name. I can write if I damn well want to.

I don’t know. Each to her own. It takes all sorts to make the world go round. Whatever floats your boat. The platitude of your preference. Think what you like, it’s fine with me–mostly. But I would rather people didn’t make these categorical statements about what writers are, because they tend to leave me out.

Something something, microaggression, something othering, something something.

Don’t tell me about how “writers” are. Tell me how you write. That’s a subject you know something about.

So then you tell me, tell twitter, perhaps, about how “you (the generic you, meaning everyone) can’t write if you haven’t lived.” “Don’t write unless you’ve been put through the wringer.”

Life hasn’t put me through the wringer. There are things that happened that weren’t good, and things I’ve done and failed to do, but overall, life has bent over for me. When I was a kid, I just thought “Wow, the world is really nice to me,” and took it as a personal favor, but now, of course, I’ve read about class and privilege.

I look at all these writers so eager to tell me about how they’re writers, and while there are surely the traumatized among them, the overarching impression I get is of privilege a lot like mine.

Oh sure, you’re probably a woman, and there were a few years when the family was a little poor, at least compared to the prosperity before and after, and you got made fun of a bit, and you were bad at the whole “friends” thing, or, at least, you thought so, and you’ve eaten some cup ramen, and you’ve had some heart ache, and some people, most of them elderly, have died, and from that you’ve constructed a personal narrative of having overcome adversity, of life having put you through the wringer, and the point of that is that your having been wrung out means you have wisdom to drip, you know shit, you have lived experiences, which, you imagine, means your writing is deep and powerful, regardless of whether, ya know, it’s any good. And  somehow you’re oblivious to the horrifying and perverse elitism of all that.

When you say “You have to have been through some shit to really write,” you’re saying, “Those who haven’t been through some shit can’t really write, can’t tell stories that are worth hearing?

You’re a writer. I don’t know why I have to discuss the implications. Is there any imaginable dystopia more atavistically horrifying to you than a world where that’s true? One where having been cared for, having been loved, having experienced more kindness than cruelty, cuts us off from art and storytelling? Being treated humanely, dehumanizes? Because sub-human is what “not fit to write” means.

Ineligible to make art of tell stories.

So very casually we slip into the monstrosities our cultures provide us.

There are the people who have really been through the wringer. Their having come out of it seems a miracle. It certainly enables them to write things they otherwise couldn’t. I wonder if it makes them better writers.

But yes, I’m sorry, I was wrong, privileged or not, you have been traumatized, because we are delicate, easily traumatized things. Do even peaches bruise so easily? And it’s quite a natural process to convince oneself that whatever happened was for the best, that there was some payout, and it was worth it in the end, to “make me the person I am now.”

But what about the person you would’ve been then? Ah, nevermind, I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about how so many writers spend so much time justifying why they write. Why do they bother to justify it?

Why do I write? Because I expect myself to? Because it’s fun at times and satisfying at others? Because great writing days are great for my mood? Because I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 8, but I can’t maintain a real desire to do anything else for more than eight months? Why is that? Dude, I don’t give a shit why that is.

I think of incomplete stories without meaning to. Know what would happen if I didn’t try to complete them by typing them out? Nothing. That’s what not writing is. It’s nothing. That’s a lie. Writing takes time. Writing has opportunity cost. if I wasn’t spending this time on writing, I’d probably be following sports. Not writing is watching basketball.

If I didn’t write, I’d be curating my twitter feed instead of this annoying thing where I half-heartedly sacrifice it in an attempt to get followers. I wouldn’t be messing around on a blog. Yippee. I’d read more books.

I don’t get it, and that’s fine, I often don’t get things, but in this case, all these explanations of why seem to explain nothing at all, but simply create, out of nothing, new questions, to join the others.

That hashtag. #amwriting. I use it, because I don’t know what else to do. Other writers find me on it, I guess, and follow me, and I follow them back, and if they tweet too much, I mute them. They do the same. An incestuous closed network of people following each other so they’ll be followed, but no one actually walking in the other’s steps. A hundred million followers, but has even one ever once been led?

Content made not to be read but to appear to have been read. Like this. Like the bookshelf weighed down by fancy leather covered “classics” from Barnes and Noble, but they’ve never been read.

The twitter place is all mouths, no ears, but we’re not quite shouting into the void, because voids don’t echo back. I best bellow louder.

Various relatives ask me, “Still writing?” I used to respond, “Yeah?” The question mark, because it was a confusing question. For years, I didn’t get it. Finally it dawned on me that they were asking if I had given up writing. If I had stopped, and made some resolution to not start again. It was such a weird idea. I couldn’t imagine the thought process.

I understand it now, by an extension of basic principles. It’s simply that they’re supposing that there are other things that are more important to me, and I might have decided writing was getting in the way of those other things, so perhaps I’d kicked it, as a bad habit.

Maybe that’s what they were thinking. I’m not confident in my guesses about people.

Do you have things more important to you than writing? That’s cool if you do. Well rounded and stuff.

You want to talk about how writing is special? Ergo, how writers are special?

Sure, we’re special as snowflakes. Each one different from the rest, yet as a good, they’re homogeneous to the snowflake wholesaler. A undifferentiated mass of frozen white. Warm it and it melts.

I assume a lot of us dreamed of writing since we were kids. I did. That’s the only thing special about it. It’s something people dream of as kids. Writers, astronauts, athletes and firefighters. Quite a few housewives, and  more insurance salesman than you might expect; children want to be their parents before they learn better. And guess what, I wrote as a kid, I still write now. I’m taller and I have a job. Those are the main differences.

I don’t make any money at writing. Some writers do, and that’s cool, money’s cool, I wish I had more of it. Having a readership sounds cool. Some people are professionals at it, meaning they don’t have to work at anything else, and that sounds truly wonderful, I’d like to not have to work at anything else.

Now it’s true, at 25 I’ve only finished two books, and I’m kind of ashamed of that, and if I had a writing group probably I would’ve finished more by now, but eew, mushy moment. We’re supposed to get like, affirmation and validation and support? Uggh. Right now, I’m lonely, isolated, and unaffirmed, and those groups threaten to steal that from me. Luckily, induction is voluntary.

I asked myself a question once. Jon, would you rather not write and live happily, or write unsuccessfully and live miserably? And I thought, option number two. Definitely that. I think there are actually other options, which is good, but if there aren’t, that’s okay.

So you! Tweeter of the “inspirational” writing tweets. Poster of the “commiserative” writing posts.  I don’t get you. You can’t live without writing? What, will your lungs collapse if your fingers don’t tap the keyboard? Does it power some pump? What the fuck are you talking about?

I’m sorry. That was rude. I know I don’t know. I wouldn’t get it even if you explained it to me. Do what you want, but I reserve the right to say “eew, gross,” and maybe unfollow. And hey, guess what, I’ve just finished another blog post and it doesn’t even make sense.

The Skies of Rumplestein

alien sky

There are many stars in the mountains. Toward the coast, where the cities are, there are hardly any. In space movies, space doesn’t have even as many stars as the mountains do. Probably the movie people have found out how it should look, but have toned it down to make it look realistic to city viewers.

In mountain places, there’s a lot of talk of learning astronomy to use the stars to navigate, but hardly anyone ever does this beyond looking to see which way is north.

The Wizards of Rumplestein are too busy with astrology to bother with astronomy. Earth astrology is bunk; it doesn’t matter at all which constellation is overhead. But Rumplestein astrology is all about which sky is overhead, and all the complex, incompletely predictable factors that go into that.

Last night there was a giant red planet in the sky, how Jupiter might look from one of its moons if it had Saturn’s rings. The night before there were blue and red stars, with a bright green moon and two little black moons that were hard to see. The night before that, normal stars and no moon, but a complete blackness taking up a quarter of the sky, a ring of light shifting weirdly around it.

It was the event horizon of a supermassive Black Hole.

The new student, Tom, had said, “We’re near a Black Hole?” and Wizard Twindly had said, “Not us. Just our sky.”

It is a curious fact that the distance between Rumplestein and what its sky shows is much greater than the sum of the distances between Rumplestein and its sky and between the sky and what it shows. Somewhere in the thin center of the sky a lot of distance is bundled up tight, like sheep’s wool or an intestinal tract.

Still, the sky is close enough to affect ambient radiation, the tides, and magic spells, which is why Wizards care so much about astrology.

Tonight’s forecast is for scattered planetoids at middle-distances, and a meteor shower composed of the old artificial satellites of a dead civilization, but the Wizards won’t know for sure till it comes. The tentative forecast for tomorrow night reads simply, “the Sun.”

The Skies over Rumpelstein