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How To List A Woman

-that I am never on the computer just before dinner time

I want to take apart this sentence and break it out into elements: dinner, computer, time, never, I. Each of these fluid parts of the puzzle, they can be taken out or placed back at will and at random. They are part of a day, a week, a month, a marriage, a walk. Dinner means with the family, with the family means within the marriage, the marriage means I, a walking computer, lifeless, robotic. I being the variable threaded through all of it…walking through dinner, walking through time, walking as a computer walks-without feeling, walking into so many nevers I cannot count them all.

Is that the answer he wanted when he made this list, I wonder? This list my ex-husband made, a list of demands for staying married to him, which he unapologetically stated was meant for control, for control of me.

-he is in charge of the entire household: where furniture and pictures go, where my stuff goes and how it is handled, and he will consider my wishes and requests but ultimately he is in charge.

The first time I heard about patriarchy was in a class. I honestly don’t remember which class but I remember really understanding the word for the first time. Like how you can drive by a tree every day and not really notice the tree until someone points it out, and you respond, “oh, yeah. There’s that tree.” Patriarchy I instantly understood to my core since often, it was beaten into me. The dad of my youth swung between raging dictator, with peons flying in front of him, screaming in terror before his feet, and charming uncle, joking and jovial. It only mattered what mood he was bringing home on any given day. This domestic terrorism of mood, of implied volatility, of the power derived from violently instilling so much fear into a household, is what ingrained patriarchy into me. When I heard about that concept, about how the wishes, desires, and deeds of men can be placed so far above other aspects of humanity as to be positively worshipful, and that this devotion to man-as-god was infused into the structure of our society, my memory bobbed to the surface, having lived in sleepy submersion.

Memory, for me, is like singing. You sing on the vowels, but the consonants hold the words together. The image of a telephone pole is used to describe this; the poles being consonants and the wires being vowels. Singing, i.e., living, happens between the poles, and all the minutiae of daily life soars away from being stored. But the psyche and body are nodal points, telephone poles, of memory. Memories of my dad as being in patriarchal charge are very few. Cutting switches for him to punish me. His blustering into the room and changing the channel from the Wizard of Oz to a ball game. Overturning the breakfast table in a rage.  But I learned that the wires that connected it all are patriarchy, which for me, meant the unquestioning compliance with a man’s wishes. Men made the laws, after all. Men made the money, built the roads, made the important decisions.

I tried very hard to worship these gods.

that I tell him when my menstrual cycle is happening

I will take this opportunity to educate anyone who is still shrouded in mystery about a woman’s menstrual cycle that as a woman, my menstrual cycle is always happening. My menstrual cycle came when I was fourteen and persists up until today, age forty-eight. For thirty-four years I have been in some phase of my menstrual cycle. Of course, there is the science that counts days and marks fertility, for that is an important apex in this particular cycle, as is “day one”. But what they don’t tell you is how it marks a woman’s spirit, how it echoes a woman’s nature, and how it fits into all nature that dies and is born again. During fertility, the point is not that one can get pregnant, but that as a woman, you are filled with possibility. And when I am fertile my whole body sings with the desire to create, to flirt with people, to paint and sit in a flow of ideas. If I am fertile, I am artist. Once that passes, I make a gradual inward turn toward spirit and am called to suffer. That might sound dramatic, but I have a lot to grieve, and I believe that when one feels and grieves, one heals. My body always knows what I need to work on: letting go, being present, getting good and angry. It is a time of deep feeling. It is a time to build up and tend a wound so it can be released. My very body swells with this tightening and then I can flow, bleed, let the wound close over in deep healing.

Is that the answer he wanted when he made this list, I wonder? This list my ex-husband made, a list of demands for staying married to him, which he unapologetically stated was meant for control, for control of me.

that I trust everything he says, no matter if he has lied to me, I am simply to blindly trust what he says

Blind trust given to anyone is akin to psychological suicide, especially when that person has lied to you. Trust is a difficult thing when one has been lied to. I struggle, I want to believe the good in people and how they care about how they conduct themselves in relationship, and I don’t want to know that there are people who have no regard for how they treat others. I would say that working this concept has been like tilling soil, bringing it up and tamping it down, creating furrows and adding in compost. There are parts of me that are blind, that do not want to see or acknowledge the possibility of evil, of people who truly enjoy the suffering of this world and of others. I tried to trust them, this church of men-the expectation of undying devotion to things you don’t see or don’t want to see. I was let down every time.

Developing trust has required that I leave that field of unworkable soil and learn to trust myself, to walk in my own land. Blind trust equals dependency and victimization. Walking my own land equals strength and power. I found that focusing on one little piece of someone else’s soil, no matter if my face was pushed toward the earth in an effort to make me see, to force me to justify my existence, to shame me, just made me mad, and small.

For so long, I tried to tend that tiny patch of land as forced to, and now I know inside and out how it works. I observed and learned. Now I know, and I have grown in my own land a wide patch of gratitude. For if I had not experienced the certain imprisonment of being required to blindly trust and never question, I would never have gotten angry enough to walk away and learn how to trust myself.

that I make “I” statements 100% of the time, even when speaking of observable behaviors

Once I learned how to trust myself and what I saw, I could remember the person I was. I was once little girl in this marriage. I spent hours crying in the bathroom, just not being able to make sense of anything, being abandoned, criticized, and beaten down by my own husband. I lived and circled in these tiny words, within their liminal confines. He was just my father reincarnated while they were both still alive. So when I learned how to trust myself, another part of me came up, a part that was like a raccoon with a trinket. A raccoon with shining eyes and paws filled with mischief. My paws wrap themselves around “I” statements with delight. Finally, I am “allowed” to have an “I”. It doesn’t matter that he would not hear anything that comes after the “I.”  I can say anything I want.

I feel hopeless that “I” statements would fix anything about this relationship.

I feel stupid for ever having believed a word you said.

I feel pissed off when you make stupid lists of demands.

I feel disgusted with myself when I see your face and think that I actually slept with you.

I feel sad to think that you are an asshole.

I feel so much better now that I’m not with you.

I feel sorry for anyone who is with you now.

Is that the answer he wanted when he made this list, I wonder? This list my ex-husband made, a list of demands for staying married to him, which he unapologetically stated was meant for control, for control of me.

change my Facebook status to “married”

Changing status is not easy, especially when one demands that your status be as he wishes it to be. Status has typically been assigned to people based on their sex (man), color (white), and resources(rich). I have learned that “white rich man” equals the most status. In dealing with a man who grew up having that status conferred on him without actually having to earn it, I have learned that control of a woman’s status is an unspoken privilege of being a white rich man. This man behaves as if he is conferring me a favor by assigning my status.

History is filled with men who determined a woman’s status. It used to be a woman was only considered property of a man, and she could only claim certain rights according to how she married. In my marriage, although I married in 2005, I still had no right to claim my own status or privileges with regard to property. That divorce left me just as penniless and in debt and as void of rights (thanks to family court) as a woman who divorced in the 1700’s or 1800’s would have been. And then the status of “divorced woman” is conferred on me, causing society to eye me differently because I did not have the wiles or wisdom to make a man stay put. And there is always the implication that it is a woman’s responsibility to make a man stay put, never his responsibility to commit and humanely connect.

In some way, he was right. Changing my Facebook status to “married” would have elevated my position in society. That’s just the way it is, in patriarchy. Elevation happens in relation to the broadcasted orbit a woman forms around a man, star hitched to his wagon, ever running behind.

that my emails and Facebook are always open to him and that I give him my passwords

            I am a little aware of what others might think. People have different reactions to someone else’s divorce. They will pull out all the not-very-helpful platitudes such as, “just let go.” “Time heals all wounds” (with the implication being that now is the time to be healed.) They don’t know that the divorce was just a small patch of earth you tilled for a while, that was part of a whole plan of growing your life, that some disasters stand in representation of past disasters, and that getting out of cycling pain takes longer than anyone but you could know. Not everyone has had a life of abuse at the hands of men. Most of the time I feel like I am out of place anyway, employing psychic doggie paddling to keep up, to understand how the rest of the world thinks and works.

Louise Bourgeois wrote and painted, “To unravel a torment, you must begin somewhere.” My unraveling began with that list. It put up such a huge wall between me and my husband I could not even see around it. Nor should I have seen around it. The only thing to do was leave and find myself. That sounds trite, to “find yourself.” Yet there is truth that if your “self” is only valued as being in service to its own disempowerment through men, then you don’t really have a “self”, not in the context any man would.

Seeing it that way, helps me realize how utterly foolish and ridiculous these demands are. Open my emails and Facebook to him as if he were the most benevolent dictator? Father knows best. But in looking at these demands again, they aren’t even offensive any more. They’re just sad. I took it so seriously because I wanted to have something that worked, to know that not all men stomped on women, to really make a go of marriage and confirm all the lovely sentiments I had had about family. It didn’t work that way. I chose wrongly and sentiment is not substance. Unraveling this torment has not just been working out the torment of a marriage, it’s been addressing the torments of father, of man, and of patriarchy. It’s in my bones and shaking off the woman-shame placed on me has been hard, defining work.

Is that the answer he wanted when he made this list, I wonder? This list my ex-husband made, a list of demands for staying married to him, which he proudly stated was meant for control, for control of me.

Still, I work to list myself. I define me. I confer my own status. I am valued and valuable.

I am woman and as such have a thinking mind.

I am woman and no one has the right to name me.

I shake off names such as “bad mother”, “unworthy” “not good enough.”

I reject my father’s notion that a girl is not a blessing from God.

I reject my husband’s notion that women are only here to serve him in some way.

I reject all the heaps and piles of shame placed on me, shame that didn’t belong to me, shame that made me cry and wonder how I could have been so bad as to be punished and shamed so loudly, so violently, and with such cruelty.

My life is lived in service to Love.

My hands are precious and valuable and able to do good work in this world.

I will not, literally, “dick” around with control freaks and lists when there is so much suffering in the world and people need helpers, not bullshit patriarchal shamers.

I will learn from oppressors how to support and affirm humanity, and ease human suffering.

I embrace my sexuality and all that being a woman entails.

I will fiercely love and protect my children and be all-mother to them.

I will not waste one more minute worrying about what some selfish, judgmental bullshitter says about me.

I fill my life with artists, makers of beauty, writers of words, workers of healing, magicians.

I am  blessed, beloved, celebrated child of God.

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