SLNSW_10716_2UW_Audition_StudioIf me and you
You and me
Met face to face
Each in our space
There are chances
All the chances
That we would have felt uncomfortable

We would have left with nothing
Left with nothing
Left to show for it

But I met you through melody
Through songs that melted into me
Through songs I heard but could not see
Through words you wrote instinctively

And so I guess I know you some
And so I cry a little bit
I cry a bit
I cry for it
For ends and counting infinite
I count the rhythm of the step
You take away from all of this
You take away your time, your kiss
Goodnight sweet prince
I tell you this
The music can be solid, sure
In a way you never were
The music can be sure

And the silence can endure

by Heather Emme

To read all the #verseday poems, click here. To read my twitter poems, click here.


Self-Pity, Survival and Stephen Fry

Folks are frustrated, and rightfully so, by comments made by clever humourist and all around very-British-guy Stephen Fry. Since I admire him, I took the time to watch the entire interview with Dave Rubin of The Rubin Report. At about 12 minutes, it is a heavy, though glibly unbound conversation. It delves into imperialism, liberalism, philosophy, pop culture and, the topic that set off so many comments, child abuse.

The quote most often called out was this one, tied to a conversation about the “regressive left” and trigger warning on campus, a topic I’ve written about before:

‘They’re terrible things and they have to be thought about, clearly, but if you say you can’t watch this play, you can’t watch Titus Andronicus, you can’t read it in an English class, or you can’t watch Macbeth because it’s got children being killed in it, it might trigger something when you were young that upset you once, because uncle touched you in a nasty place, well I’m sorry. It’s a great shame and we’re all very sorry that your uncle touched you in that nasty place – you get some of my sympathy – but your self-pity gets none of my sympathy. Self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity. Get rid of it, because no one’s going to like you if you feel sorry for yourself. The irony is we’ll feel sorry for you, if you stop feeling sorry for yourself. Grow up.’

I certainly don’t begrudge Mr. Fry his own idea that self-pity is the ugliest emotion, though I would likely have given it to hateful rage or that impulse that causes people to hurt children in the first place. However, as an adult who was once that child, I’d like to examine the emotion he calls self-pity.

Urizen_and_AhaniaTo begin with, I do pity my child self. When I was living the experience, I did not have a name for it. I didn’t even know that it was wrong, though I knew it lit my nerves on fire and made me cry for what I thought was no reason. I was young the first time I injured myself, trying to straighten out the confusion in my skull. I was in the eight grade and I slammed my finger in a door, breaking it, requiring me to wear a brace while it healed. The abuse was ongoing at that point. The pain was good for calming the random firing in my brain, focusing it in on one point. I discovered cutting was more effective and easier to hide. I did that too. Still, I felt no pity for myself. I did not see that I had been a victim. In a way, my experience of my own pain was feral.

This went on until I was out on my own, still a teenager. I had a guidance counselor at  my fourth high school. She was one of the first people who introduced me to the idea that I had been wronged. It was a shift. I could feel it internally. I had gone from crash position, existing in the shock of the moment, to something slightly removed. I saw myself from the outside – and yes, I deserved pity.

But self-pity is an early stage of something very valuable – self care. Pity was the start of the movement away from continuing to hurt myself, as I had been taught, toward allowing myself space to see my own hurt and tend to it. That I monitor what I take in; make informed decisions based on content, that is self-care. I make this decision with a great deal of thought, allowing myself as much exposure to amazing and varied content as I can.

My self-care also involves turning my brain off to enjoy a good superhero film, something else Mr. Fry derides in this same interview as proof of the infantilizing of our culture. I find this a bit odd, as he earlier praises V For Vendetta, a comic sourced hero tale, but then that is his take on the world and this is mine. When I watch V For Vendetta, I don’t see a story of freedom of ideas fought for by a bold man. I see the story of an abused and tortured woman used by that same man for his battle. I suppose that is the value of a differing perspective, including the perspective of we former children of abuse who stand, in retrospect, look back on our experiences and feel pity.

The Gift of Gravitas

I frequent geeky circles. I appreciate comics and films set in space and stories in which young heroes defy the odds. Because of this, I follow geeky news. I am also a human with a mental illness. Or two. Or three. Because of this, I follow news of madness.

These worlds stumbled over each other when a young actor, Jake Lloyd, was diagnosed with the ever shifting condition of schizophrenia. Predictably, some of the commentary around this has been low-brow, ableist and cruel. This is the internet, the wild west of communications. However the overwhelming commentary has been sympathetic – even empathetic. I’ve seen people voice regret for the way he was treated. I’ve seen well wishes. I’ve seen writing that blames his parents, his early work experiences and, yes, the geeky public. Overall, the discourse has tended toward a respectful gravitas, appropriate to finding out a fellow human is suffering.

I’ve found a similar response to recent reports of Ronald Savage‘s abuse at the hands of one of HipHop’s more respected creators, Afrika Bambaataa. Here we see some cruder content, usually homophobic in nature. Still, very few sources reporting on it, or even users commenting on it, call into question the veracity of Savage’s statements. No comments are made on his looks, few on his honesty and still fewer defending his alleged abuser.

While I am grateful that  both of these men are being believed, I wish we could extend the same courtesy to women in the public eye who experience mental illness or abuse.

I think of Britney Spears, whose symptoms are still the punchline of jokes decades after her mental illness emerged. I think of Anne Heche and Mariah Carey, whose stories were told by smirking entertainment reporters complete with hilarious “cuckoo” sound effects. What strikes me most is that neither the women nor their illnesses are granted the same gravitas and respect as Lloyd is receiving in the public discourse.

The same is true of the women who spoke out about their victimization by comedian Bill Cosby. Artists like Damon Wayans took to the air to call them “un-rape-able“. In the recent Ghomeshi case, women who couldn’t recall emails they’d sent ten years prior were called liars, rather than what they are – human beings who, just like me, cannot recall every word penned in the last decade. Heck, I’ve forgotten swaths of what I’ve written on this blog. That said, I remember with clarity the smell of the detergent of the man who assaulted me. Memory is funny that way.

Gendered words make up much of the commentary in both cases, reminding us that lying, being crazy or being a gold-digger are innately tied to being a woman, being seen as a woman or identifying as a woman.

When we say we want equality, what some of us are saying is we want that same weight of gravitas applied to our more serious experiences – illness and assault among them – that we see offered to our male-identified cohorts. We want the language used to describe our experiences to match the experiences themselves, especially while wading through all of the complications that come with surviving them. We, of course, expect this same courtesy to be offered to male survivors, along with a curbing of the gendered narrative that tells men to buck up and be strong through these experiences.

All of this requires a dismantling of the idea that our gender should determine how our victimization is perceived, how our assailants are treated and how and if we are able to move on in our lives afterward. We should all be offered respect, care and gentility when the world rolls over us. We should all be offered the gift of gravitas.