Tuesday, November 15, 2016
Requiem (For Four Hands)
By Emma Sklar
When I was a year out of college I moved back home to save money with the intention of moving to New York City. I had a job lined up for winter at nearby Sugarbush Ski Resort, but the lease my then boyfriend, who we’ll call Fredrick (because why not?) and I shared in Burlington had run out in June, so I spent the entire summer at home with my parents and my younger sister who was in eighth grade at the time. It was the house I grew up in in Moretown, which is the least populous town of the already quaint Mad River Valley in Vermont. There is a “general grocery” (which is really a gas station), a library that is never open, an Elementary School, and several dozen small graveyards (to be fair all Vermont towns have graveyards in the same way that more civilized parts of the world have Starbucks). It is beautiful and serene and as long as you stay out of the general grocery on a morning when the hunters converge for their pre-murderquest sustenance you would have the sense that nothing bad has ever happened to anyone here, or if it did it was only because the cemetery was looking a bit sparse.
During that time Fredrick also moved in with his parents In Manhattan, and against all better judgement we stayed together while living apart. I could feel the love between us dimming but to admit that might mean having to change my plans, and my plans were all I had. Otherwise I was just another aimless 23 year old living with her parents. In the name of productivity I suppressed my fear of inadequacy by consuming my weight in cheap sparkling wine that I bought at the general store on a nightly basis. Maybe I wasn’t exactly “living my best life” but goddamn do I miss being able to buy bubbly at the gas station.
By then my father was no longer giving piano lessons in our home but the upright piano was still in the back room. When I was younger, maybe 6 or 7, I used to sit with my back to the door and listen while reluctant students plodded through their hastily practiced sonatas and imagine the day when I would be able to play one (in a sparkly gown on a stage with roses being thrown by ravenous suitors). I like to think it was my father who was always rescheduling my lessons because there would always be another time, but of course I just didn’t like to practice. That summer while everyone else was out of the house at work or summer camp or generally living their lives I would sit at the piano with my drink and wish I had followed through with my own lessons. I learned the basic chords in college as part of my voice studies, but never developed the coordination or skill to play a solo piano piece. With the right practice I think I could have done it but something else always took priority.
I said goodbye to that house on the 5th of July in 2016 when I was 28 years old. My hair was blue, I had ruined enough relationships and fled enough apartments to feel well on my way to being a New Yorker, and my parents had by then been split up for about 3 years. My younger sister was leaving for college in the fall and my older sister was living in Colorado. I had no plans to leave New York at that time but since everyone was dispersing the distance felt greater than it had in the past.
On one of my previous visits my mom, my dad, my mom’s boyfriend and I all went to go see my older sister’s band play in Stowe where my mom and her boyfriend were living. I overheard my mother’s boyfriend saying “This is my girlfriend Alice, and this is her husband, Bruce.” You’ll have to forgive my lack of clarity here because after that particular incident I decided that I didn't need any further dialogue on the matter and that was that. I can’t say that I wasn’t excited to return to my colorful, if not floundering, life in Brooklyn after that particular trip.
On this visit I slept on the couch in the living room and stayed up late going through old books and papers. I kept packing and unpacking my suitcase, going back and forth between feeling like I needed to bring everything with me and fighting an intense urge to bring everything into the backyard and burn it. If you're wondering why I didn't, you should know that Vermonters are very serious about fire safety and our two closest neighbors were both volunteer firefighters. In the end I settled on taking pictures of some stories I wrote when I was 6 and absconding with all of the Calvin & Hobbes books. I also cried a lot. I cried more that weekend than I had during my breakup with Frederick three years prior.
Leonard Usher Wilson was comfortably into his golden years when his first grandchild, my sister Annie, renamed him “Hoppy Toad” after the character in the Raggedy Ann series. The name was actually a confusion between two characters, Hoppy Toad and Grandfather Hoppergrass, but the name stuck, and Len spent the next twenty some-odd years receiving toad and frog themed gifts for every birthday and holiday. You would think a distinguished Veteran, Vermont politician, Harvard graduate, and seasoned traveler might find this new amphibian appointment somewhat undignified, but if he was at all bothered by it he never let on. Let the record state the he was a very handsome man and even in older age never resembled a toad in any way.
I ended up seeing the house in Moretown one more time, during an unplanned trip to Vermont in August of 2016. My grandfather had passed away quietly in his own bed in East Montpelier, Vermont at the age of 89 on July 31st. It so happened that the weekend I was able to come home to see my grandmother was the same weekend that my younger sister Nina was leaving for college in Colorado AND that the sale of the house was officially closing. With my sister no longer needing a home base near her high school the house could really actually finally be fully relinquished, which did mean going back one more time to power-wash the shower and sweep all the floors. So where before I sorted through the rubble of my childhood, now I got to wander through its empty husk.
I was in charge of sweeping out what used to be Annie’s bedroom. This proved nearly impossible because the floorboards were so haphazardly placed that there were huge irregular gaps between them in which everything including the broom got stuck. I kept finding old colored pencils, earrings, money, hair ties, and all kinds of worthless treasure hidden in these cracks, but I had to let them stay there. When I was done I glanced through every room, none of which I had ever seen empty. The most jarring was my dad’s old studio. Without the piano is looked enormous. It felt for a moment like maybe it could all go back. All we needed was a clean house and the past could be reconstructed; better and stronger than it was because now we all know what we’re doing. I had to let that feeling burn itself out inside of me while I stood with my broom in hand inhaling dust which was no longer mine. The house was indeed brimming with hope and possibilities; just not for us.
We pulled out of the driveway and I watched everything familiar scroll through the passenger window and slip away for the second time. The crunching of gravel under the tires echoed the static in my head as I tried to stop myself from crying. I put my hand out the window and let my fingers drag through the air hoping to pull the images with me. The car built up speed and the dirt road turned to pavement and soon enough it was all in the past. I would spend one more night with my mom and her boyfriend in their new house and then head back to the city, where no one in particular was waiting for me.
I still often feel, even in New York where everyone is at once famous and anonymous, that everyone is friends with everyone but me, and I’m the only one left to my own devices, sitting with my back to the door, listening to someone else try to make something happen, and hoping for some magical outcome in which I’ll have everything I want without ever having to do the work or figure out what it was that I wanted in the first place. Maybe I’ll stay in my lopsided attic apartment forever and some poor social worker is going to have to clear out of years of unfinished projects when I die. Chances are though, things are going to change before I realize what’s happening, and I’m going to miss something about the way things are now even if at this particular moment it all feels like absolute horseshit.
Friday, September 23, 2016
Love and Feminism: A How To
So you’ve realized that the Patriarchy needs to be smashed but you also just really really like the person you’re seeing, and uh oh!- He’s a penis wielding, full blown (by you, because you like dick, despite everything), male-identifying male. Or maybe you ARE a male-identifying male who is thoroughly disgusted by the deep tradition of female oppression throughout human history and want to do anything you can to stop it in it’s tracks and reverse the damage it has caused, but you also have a huge hard-on for the soft, hairless, bergamot scented day-dream of classic femininity.
Is there any way for a man who wants nothing more than to nestle in the supple bosom of his paramour, and a woman who may or may not have recently googled “sex yoga hip flexibility deeper penetration” to love each other in a healthy and reciprocal way without accidentally subordinating all women everywhere? I’m going to be honest- I'm not really sure. But with careful consideration, clear boundaries, and a lot of communication, I am confident that the heteronormative trappings of your courtship, if handled correctly, probably won’t hurt anyone- except for whichever one of you inevitably ends up getting their heart pulverized into a fine paste and made into an attractive tapenade for your (now former) lovers next dinner party. You should be free to discover how much Love sucks on your own, though, without worrying about who you might be oppressing in the process.
BUT HOW??!! You wonder.
"What if I like being choked even though I really don’t want to know whether or not the man I’m seeing wants to choke me because it’s incredibly problematic?"
" What if I like to plow my lady like she never had a childhood and then maybe hold her hand and cry a little afterwards?"
" Don’t these things make me inherently anti-feminist?"
They very well might. I don’t actually know you, so it’s hard to say. From personal experience I have found that these things are totally fine as long as everyone is enjoying it and no one is secretly filming it for the internet. Even then as long as you donate the proceeds to an organization that supports at-risk women it could still put you in the black, ethically speaking.
Here are some tips for avoiding some common pesky gray areas when it comes to whether or not your behavior is strengthening the all-mighty Empire of Dick;
I. Just because it kind of feels like you might throw up when you think about not being able to see your main dish doesn’t mean that you “need” them the way that women who weren’t allowed to work needed their alcoholic husbands in the 1800s. If you're worried that you're in way over your head with feelings you don't know how to process, try sending your petit ami videos of you masturbating to completion while making unblinking, furious eye contact with the camera. He will see that you want to connect with him, while showing him that you can do it your fucking self if necessary.
II. “Romance” is nice, but has some pretty sexist undertones. Instead of buying gifts or wearing uncomfortable lingerie, try giving really enthusiastic oral sex. I mean, really get in there and don’t stop until the other person says “OK,OK, we get it! Enough!”. I’d suggest taking a shower together but that’s actually kind of dangerous and no one can romantically carry the other one into the ER if you both have broken necks.
III. To make sure the other person hasn’t lost their feminist edge, try disappearing for a few days or weeks every now and again, leaving only small clues to indicate that you’re alive but might not be returning. The ideal response upon is return is “I was really really sad and I missed you a lot but I trusted that you knew what you were doing and I was pretty sure I was going to be OK too.” Really all couples should do this but it matters to feminism that you don’t call the police, because as a man to do so would imply that you don’t believe a woman can live her own life, and as a woman to do so indicates that you need that man back. Not looking for your significant other doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it just means that you believe in individual autonomy!
Alright kids that’s all for me today! I hope you found this helpful, and feel empowered to go home to your partner and tell them all the ways you think everyone would be fine if they left you. It’s an excellent bonding exercise and I think it will go well for you. If you DON’T have a partner than CONGRATULATIONS, you’re actually already a few steps ahead of the game.
Friday, July 29, 2016
Emma Sklar 7/29/2016
I write because I believe that I am articulate, but ordinary. My experience is mine alone but it is also universal, so because I can write, I do. I hope by offering an honest exploration of my inner world in which I seek to resolve some of my own anxieties and questions I might be helping someone else as well. Or sometimes I just want to be funny. Either way to even sit down to start writing I have to believe that I’m not a useless turd who can’t do anything right. You have to believe that I feel that way sometimes, but that’s different than believing it to be true. What’s perplexing is that I feel bad about not believing myself to be a useless trash turd, because I guess it feels borderline narcissistic to feel good about myself, especially given that my writing is so personal. Many great writers style themselves as bewitching pools of self-loathing and chaos. Confidence is sexy, but sexier than darkness and despair? It’s the duality of the broken hearted poet and the Rockstar and as a writer who is trying to find a voice it does sometimes feel like one has to pick a side.
Writing is lonely fucking work to begin with. I imagine it is the same for painting and song writing or glassblowing or competitive hair braiding, although I have to say in what little song writing I have attempted the satisfaction is almost immediate- it isn’t until later that I decide that what I’ve come up with is garbage. I imagine that for anyone who knows what they’re doing and likes the sound of their own voice an evening of writing songs would actually make you feel extremely powerful and in control even when everything is falling apart. “Finishing” a piece of writing can have that effect, but nothing is ever finished because I feel that it is done. Things are finished when I can’t stand to look at them anymore- they might not be done but I am FUCKING DONE with them. But then I’m not a very good writer. Well, I might be a good writer- that’s pretty subjective- but I’m certainly not a very successful one. I have yet to summon the drive or the patience to follow through and make things happen with my writing. I don’t hate my work though. I sometimes worry that my content isn’t riveting or powerful, but that’s more of an anxiety about the content of my life more than anything else.
I am not an objective reporter inserting myself into the thick of interesting experiences for the benefit of the reader. I am just trying to lead my normal goddamn life and squeeze as much epiphanous nectar as I can from the feelings-cacti in the barren expanse of my emotional desert. Sure, I could commit time in my life to doing things that I maybe wouldn’t do otherwise for the sake of a good hook, but the thing is that I am not at all cool and I will never be on the forefront of anything so I need other people to write their blogs about venues I’ve never heard of and donuts I probably won’t eat and where to get the best kimchi whatever even though I don’t like kimchi that much .And ya know what? I don’t think anyone really does. At least not enough to be putting it on EVERYTHING and acting like it’s unicorn poo or whatever stupid made up thing hipsters are currently “obsessed” with.
...Where was I? Oh right. I am not cool. I don’t know where the good shit is. I know where the shit I like is and I’m really not that concerned with being able to talk about having gone to a place that exists so people will go to it as if that is some kind of accomplishment. I am also a bit of a nay-sayer but only because I truly believe that people who are super gung-ho all the time, especially on social media, are actually usually the first people to exclude anyone who doesn’t fit in with their flashy, super outgoing idea of fun. I’m always very impressed by people who go out of their way to involve strangers in conversations, but logically one can only offer genuine friendship to so many people, and I personally just don’t see the point of filling your life with weak connections. Maybe this is why I am not particularly successful but I am consistently content. “Happiness” in another concept I believe to be dangerous and highly falsified so I try to avoid using it as a way to describe my mental state. To each his own.
ANYWAY I’m getting off track again but my point is that in order to write I have to believe in my perspective because I am never going to corner any hip or niche audience, and I think the reason I can do that is because on a basic level I like myself. I have some shit to work on but it doesn’t feel totally hopeless. Hopelessness is very romantic though, and I think a lot of artists, mostly men if I am being honest, cling to it as a safeguard against rejection. Oh you don’t like it? Well FUCK YOU, because I already didn’t like it even harder. I won’t lie, it is very sexy for some stupid reason when someone is creative but broken, but I think that’s because creative people who understand their worth are some of the most intimidating people on the planet so the alternative feels a little safer. The confident ones not only have a unique ability, but they have a voice, and when wielded correctly it’s a very powerful thing.
An artist of any kind can be legendary and still get sunk by their own self-loathing, and maybe the self-loathing was part of what made their work special, it’s hard to say, but a confident artist can take adversity and spin it around to make themselves stronger, so if I do have to pick a side, I pick confidence. This isn’t some morning affirmation self-help bullshit. This is just starting from a place of “it’s good that I’m me” and running with it. Some day I still hope to write a beautiful, tragic song that makes everyone want to cry until they throw up a little, because I think that must be a pretty amazing thing to achieve, but when it comes to writing I’ll leave the darkness and suffering to the cool kids who know how to do it in style.
Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Confessions of A Troglodyte*
*a person who lives in a cave
Growing up I didn’t have a lot of concerns about my body’s safety and spent most of my youth hurling it at or in the way of snow and ice and limbs (both human and tree) and pretty much anything that might cause lasting damage if encountered with too much force. As a result I was known for being tough, and I liked it. For whatever reason I wasn’t afraid of pain so it was easy for me, but no one needed to know that. As a result I never really had to face the things I was afraid of or averse to, like eating raw fish, making new friends or admitting when I had done something wrong. I could be a coward when it suited me and still maintain my reputation as a resilient scrapster.
Now I am 28 years old (as I write this in the year 2016) and I am afraid to try new things. I’m worried I might lose the friends I have because they’ll think I’ve changed or don’t need them anymore if I suddenly take on new interests. I’m worried that anyone I might meet in pursuit of new interests will denounce me as ignorant and ridiculous because I haven’t ALWAYS loved this thing or that. I’m afraid I won’t know what to say so I’ll resort to self-deprecation even though I know it’s weak and unattractive as a first impression. Or I will talk too much about how I don’t like baseball because I don’t believe highly paid athletes should ever be fat, which I don’t even really care about. Why do I that? I think I’m funny but I don’t always have great timing. I still play soccer, but because I am aging and have to wake up and do life even when my ribs are sore I actually have quite a BIT of concern for my physical health, and even I didn’t there really isn’t anyone around to shower me with praise for it. The NYC rec leagues aren’t much of a spectator event.
Occasionally the fear subsides and I do something I convince myself is bold and daring and just the thing to start my new exciting lifestyle like invite someone I’ve only met once to my apartment and fail to realize that their interest was politely feigned until I’ve already run with the idea that we might be friends or...whatever. So it’s a pretty consistent cycle of fear and embarrassment and I really wish I were immune to both of these things. I think I assumed that when I grew up I wouldn’t be afraid of people any more. I’m fine with being afraid of jumping into deep water and riding a bike downhill and ingesting hallucinogens of suspicious origins mostly because it turns out no one ever expects me to do these things anyway. Those things used to cause me a lot of stress and now they don’t. I assumed my other fears would take the same route. I saw myself striding confidently into adulthood, flawed yes, but unflappable and daring and full of balls-to-the-wall, don’t-care-what-you-think-I’m-awesome charisma.
But Such is not the case, and I often have to retreat into my comforts and lick my imaginary wounds, many of which are just the sore spots from knowing I’ve missed out on something I might have liked if I had tried. I’d really like to stop doing this. I’d really like to put myself in situations where I’m a little outclassed by excited, intelligent people and a little out of my element, and to trust myself that even if I don’t wow the crowd with my sparkling personality I probably won’t die. Probably. I suppose it’s time I let go of being tough and settle into being brave.
Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Waiting For Permission: Feminist Frontiers for the Straight, Single, Person of Privilege
Emma Sklar 6/8/2016
I am straight, white, and single. I have a college degree from a nice school and I don’t have any kids. There are no abusive men in my life or even in my past. I have a full time job and access to healthcare. I have had an experience or two in which there was no legal consent, but nothing bordering on assault. I’m fine and we don’t need to talk about it, I just can’t ever drink picklebacks or go out with men from South Africa again but needless to say I can only imagine how scary it is when “a little sleazy and very stupid” crosses the line into “entitled, violent and completely evil”. This is what privilege looks like. I have to remember that.
My Feminism is about reducing violence against women everywhere first and foremost, about restoring female power by ensuring that men are not allowed to stay in positions that give them the right to make decisions for women, and to work against any dynamic which puts women at a disadvantage as a rule. Sometimes this means giving time and money to causes which seek to reduce all instances of women being dependent on men by necessity. Mostly, it means never apologizing to or backing down from patriarchal constructs which aim to demean and immobilize me. Recently, I have had to come to hard terms with the fact that my own behavior not only enables the male gaze, but is easily manipulated by it. Below are my thoughts on this. This is long, but important, and I hope it can reach anyone who feels pressure to act a certain way in the name of finding a mate. Male or female, this behavior hinders progress towards equality.
For deeply rooted cultural reasons women feel compelled to wait for permission, wait to be chosen, and wait to feel fulfilled until this happens. I have to work against this feeling every single time I meet someone I might like. My first instinct is to wait until he expresses interest. I happen to have a variety of hang-ups which make me more prone to walk away than express interest, some of which have to do with terrible outcomes in the past, but I’ve tried to make a promise to myself that If I want something to progress I have to be willing to be the one who drives things forward in a direct way. No coy games. No manipulation or complicated series of hints. Just “hey I like you and I think we should go out.” or even just “hey I think we should have sex”. Right now we’re all afraid of rejection, but women fear passive rejection later in the process while men feel direct rejection out front. If things even out that fear will lose power.
We’re all responsible for this dynamic in which Women have to wait. This dynamic means body image and self-esteem issues, the normalization of objectification, drinking a lot to seem more approachable, and a general lack of emphasis on nurturing one’s own interests. This dynamic means the enabling of rape culture and violence against women; it means a lifetime of suffering at the hands of the question “You want to be wanted, don’t you?”. It means we are not truly free to participate in genuine reciprocal love, which is really one of the only nice things that humans do.
What’s dangerous is that women still willingly conform to what they believe will make them seem docile, beautiful, fun, and sexy while a lot of men are free to sit on their dicks and feel entitled to judge women’s bodies and brag about bagging 10s.I don’t want to diminish the reality of male insecurity, I have too many lovely male friends who I know suffer just as much as they try to navigate the expectations and limitations of masculinity. Then again, I know otherwise reasonable men who still operate on a 10 point scale when talking about women as if this weren’t completely repulsive. We’re all responsible for this reality and it needs to change.
Regardless of how anything actually works out in the real world (nuance, gender fluidity, all sorts of fun and wonderful things), women are vilified for wanting commitment. Women are blamed for their own loneliness under the assumption that they have scared away all potential mates by being too aggressive, or too slovenly, or not maternal enough, or not fun enough, or somehow not up to the enormous task of bringing fulfillment to a man’s life and showing him his true potential. And the list goes on. I’m not going to belabor this point. We already know that this is a problem. Men are blamed for being the ones who blame the women; but what I’m trying to get across is that is really isn’t the fault of ANYONE who is actually out here in the world trying to make this work. It’s a darker driving force that we all need to address, the Media, and Universities and the Government, and anyone who has something to gain from our malcontent. The fact is just that men have been in control of all of these more recently, deeper into history, and for a very long time.
The Government is controlled mostly by wealthy, Christian men who do not care that not having access to birth control and abortion and education about healthy relationships is basically a sentence to a life of struggle and violence for a woman born into poverty. Our Universities do not care that rape and the brutal degradation of women is still considered a rite of passage for entitled men (be it entitled by wealth or sports status). These are actual issues, the evidence of which rolls in daily. Fixing this starts with fixing the extent to which women are willing to go out of their way to be appealing to men. It is simple, and it is something that we can all do. Men can second guess where their preferences come from, and women can refuse to oblige any request made by a man that does not contribute to their own enjoyment of life. It can be fixed, but unfortunately, it isn’t up to activists and lawmakers. It is up to every one of us.
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Flash In the Pan
5/31/2016 4:16 AM
I only wanted more information. The face I met somehow wasn't human yet, just a vessel for the collection of sanitized anecdotes meant to impress me, or possibly to trick me, but I don't have enough information to establish motive, and I never will. It was a kind enough face, I thought. Then it was over as quickly as I wanted to prolong the conversation. Because of that, I guess.
An emptiness settles when I return to my room. My eyes adjust to the softer lighting and my mirror reveals a clearer image, far from the fleeting glances I allow myself in the windows of parked cars and opening shop doors; sad and tired and a little bit manic. I rarely turn to face myself in public. Levinas said that the Face to Face "orders and ordains" us, but that was about the Other. I'm here because I'm Other to myself. In solitude Time has no meaning. I set the alarm which will tell me when I have to return, and try again.
The weekend was filled with posturing for strangers whose fates do not concern me any more than mine concerns them. I want it to concern me, but I suppose really I want someone else to be concerned. How grossly self involved it feels to be lonely sometimes. It should feel quite brave to care for someone who can't or won't return the favor, but mostly it feels like failure. And Is it a favor? Is caring more for me or The Other? Levinas said It's a matter of Ethics. "To give of myself and serve the Other is the only way to enter Time", but he never said they would want to come with me.