Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More mirror work (and Poetry Thursday)

from the DHD Multimedia Gallery

I still hesitate on the way to the mirror. Oh, not because I don’t know what I’ll see...I do. Sometimes I even smile a little—it’s a bit like greeting a friend who is going through a hard time. In this case, familiarity has bred a certain affection. Sure, the hair is a little blowsy in this curls have seen better days. And the body is still a little lopsided, a little soft where it should be taut. But it inspires tenderness in me...we’ve been through a lot, after all. I’ve learned to look at myself curiously, like a child—is that what it means to be nonjudgmental? I genuinely want to know more as I stare at myself...why is my skin doing that? Are those lines around my eyes wrinkles? When did that happen? Look at that gray hair or two...where did those come from?

I don’t expect to look 18 anymore.

But the mirror work has brought up so many unexpected questions—why do I carry myself so tersely, unwilling to relax, to be touched? Why have I decided that sensuality is an aspect of my former life—does my body no longer deserve to wear soft fabrics, to be adorned and perfumed and soothed by rich lotions?

I’ve always thought of myself as ambivalently sexy. When I was younger, I loved to push myself forward, wearing provocative little chiffon dresses that murmured promises I wasn’t always quite sure I wanted to keep. I played with fashion, with vintage dresses that suggested something of the woman I wanted to become—artistic, bohemian, but also passionate and sensual.

Sex and sensuality is an enormous aspect of a Latina woman’s life—just watch Univision for five minutes and you’ll see a woman gyrating suggestively. I wanted to taste it, that power—I wanted to be watched the way my mother was, as she sauntered down the street. She owned every movement, calculated with a grace that seemed effortless. Beauty, my mother always said, is a woman’s power, and any pain it might bring (said to quell my complaints as I waited for her to finish getting dressed) was worth it.

But even as I longed to be beautiful, to be sexy, I wanted to be able to revel in my other side—the intellectual who loves to play in the ethereal realm of ideas, who wants to forget about the body and its tyranny for a while.

As I grew older, I felt like more of an awkward fit in my culture—all of the pleasing, teasing poses that other girls put on with ease...I just couldn’t master them. I’d inevitably grow serious, grow pensive. I couldn't quite pull it off, wasn't quite voluptious enough, wasn't quite flirtatious enough, or not in the right way, or not at the right times. And the greatest sin of all...I’d question the game itself. Why should I turn myself inside out to please a man? Why should every man be able to judge me in almost a proprietary way...judge whether my clothing was skimpy enough, my hair loose and wild enough, my curves beckoning enough? Why was it so important to make sure the man felt good, strong, macho—what about me? I wanted to feel strong for myself, confident even when I wasn’t being reflected in some admiring man’s eyes.

So I rebelled, wholeheartedly embracing the life of the mind—or the version of it that I could cobble together from my books and imagination. I didn’t want to be seen as one of those wild, "hot" girls, forever burning white hot for a man. No, I wanted to be cool, live for something beyond my own appearance. All of my most important moments would take place above my neck. I would claim myself as an intellectual, beyond those base bodily pleasures.

But now, facing myself in the mirror, I wonder...why did it have to be either/or? Was I like those men, seeing those beautiful girls as the sum of their bodies, denying them personhood because they dared to be lusty, to be physical? Yes, Latin culture tends to be patriarchal, but did that mean that they saw themselves that way? Why did I need to see them that way? Why did I reduce them?

And why did I reduce myself? So desperate to be taken seriously, I cut myself off from pleasure, from sweaty passion and the adult strain of taut calves in my high heels.. From enjoying my own body and knowing that I could STILL take myself seriously as a thinker even if I wore crushed velvet and blood red lipstick.

This is something that is coming up in my marriage, as well. TEG is very conservative with his ideas about women's appearance...he thinks less is, well...less. He's always said that he LIKES that I am "modest", especially compared with the way he sees Latina women in the media and when we visit my family in Miami. But...I don't feel especially modest, not really. I DO want to flaunt myself, after all. I want to come up with my own standards rather than feeling bound up in his. But I don't want to lose his admiration. And I don't want to have another reason to fight.

But it's beginning to feel I am affecting a reserve that doesn't feel true. And it's one more way I feel like I'm betraying myself.

I have such a hard time manifesting things in the world—my words remain trapped inside my mind, my body remains starved for beauty. I long to embody wholeness—to look on the outside the way I feel on the inside. Why can’t I claim that?

I want to turn the lights down low, and dance to salsa as it thickens like smoke around me.

And I want to do it for myself.

I have had Leaves of Grass on my mind for a few days now, especially this stanza, which haunts me as I continue to face the mirror.

I have said that the soul is not more than the body,
And I have said that the body is not more than the soul;
And nothing, not God, is greater to one than one’s self is,
And whoever walks a furlong without sympathy, walks to his own funeral, drest in his shroud,
And I or you, pocketless of a dime, may purchase the pick of the earth,
And to glance with an eye, or show a bean in its pod, confounds the learning of all times,
And there is no trade or employment but the young man following it may become a hero,
And there is no object so soft but it makes a hub for the wheel’d universe,
And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.


For more poetic goodness, go here.



Blogger deirdre said...

It's so sad, what we do to ourselves - this cutting off and separating of the sensual from the intellectual. I remember my mother's horrified look when I cried because I wanted to be sexy. There's so much life force, such joy, in the sensual, the sexy. Dance, just for you.

11:44 PM, August 16, 2006  
Blogger bee said...

i love this poem. especially the "let your soul stand cool..." such a beautiful counter-poise to the passion you know the narrator is feeling...

12:36 AM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger twitches said...

Any poem by Walt is a good thing. Thanks for posting it!

5:35 AM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger FatCharlatan said...

Thanks for sharing this, and I love the theme for your blog...good luck typing! :)

6:40 AM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger melba said...

I love your writing...
Sometimes I get interrupted when I read your posts (with two toddlers at my feet sometimes is like every 5 minutes!) and I never make my way back to you. I am glad this morning Maggie is still sleeping and Ethan is enjoying drinking his milk and playing with his train.

I felt I had a sexual power in my 20's that I didn't use wisely. Now...most of the time I don't feel sexy. I am ok with my extra weight. It is here and it is staying. This is now me. But I do wonder what my husband thinks. He tells me I am beautiful and he initiates sex al the time, but I sometimes I think to myself...does he really want he think wow I wish Melanie would lose some weight. All of his 5 sisters and Mother are VERY over weight. He is not. He is thin. When we first met he said how much he hated that his family was over weight (although he loves them) and that he would never find an over weight girl attractive. That was years ago... and after giving birth to two children and never exercising I weigh about 25 pound more than I did when we got married. I do think sexy is in the mind...I kind of lost my place where I was going with all of this....
I love Leaves of Grass...
I was going to delete this, but I like reading other peoples ramblings. Maybe you do too.:)

8:16 AM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger jim said...

A tremendous post, and yes, you cannot go wrong with referring to Father Walt. Of course, what he is talking about is not easy either.

8:33 AM, August 17, 2006  
Anonymous beansprout said...

Great post! I love your question why it had to be an "either/or". It is always our embracing the BOTH/AND that is so much more challenging and fulfilling. Here's to find a way to embrace it all. Be well.

10:15 AM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

What deep and honest contemplations, and what a challenge - to merge ideals that at times seem mutually exclusive but are really necessary for wholeness. Very thought provoking! Thank you.

11:31 AM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger earnest and game said...

Hello! May I say that fresh flowers--even a single stem or blossom can charge your home with some sensual beauty-in the bedroom, the bath, the kitchen table... . I think eventually you'll be able to reintroduce "date" nights--with your man, perhaps even with yourself-where you adorn yourself and float around dreamily... at a museum, a bookstore, the movies, maybe even dine alone--that would be delicious too. Think upon that. xooxoxxo

1:14 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger Superhero Activist said...

such a heartfelt confessional, honesty is beauty all its own.

I, too, have carved myself into pieces at one point or another: wanting to emulate a certain quality within myself, to the detriment of others.

The mirror has always been something of an odyssey, self-perception seems only half of reality. I often get lost in questions of how others see me, the impossibility of knowing that vexes me to no end.

Your relections (no pun intended) have captivated me. I'll be back to see more musings from you.

5:29 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger wendylou who? said...

A friend once said to me..."Life is a constain renegotiation of terms". The maternal is so strong..the sense of proper...modest...Sounds like your in the middle of negotiating talks...don't'll win in the end.

7:11 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger kelly rae said...

you are always so honest. and you make me want to dig deeper in this forum and do the same.

7:52 PM, August 17, 2006  
Blogger Alexandra G said...

I really hope this blog is helping you to discover and recover yourself, and to cherish and honor your deepest voice which truly shines through your writing always. It is such hard work for most of us to honor our own longings, isn't it? But I wish that for you, to find a way in your life to slowly start to make space for all the parts of you longing to shine.

11:44 PM, August 17, 2006  
Anonymous fern said...

"And I say to any man or woman, Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes."

I love this part, and as always I'm blown away by your honesty and ability to say EXACTLY what you mean to.

The issues and ideas you write about are things that I struggle with everyday. Thank you for making me reason through them and think about them instead of summing it up as "something I'll deal with later." I always look forward to your insight :)

10:50 PM, August 18, 2006  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

Wow wow wow. This really resonates with me.

For my own reasons I too have cut off that part.

I too wonder why I have deprived my body of sensuous fabrics perfumes and rich lotions.

I am getting back to that place slowly-I loved reading your perfect words-the flowing of them-your writing is captivating.

Much love to you

9:13 AM, August 19, 2006  
Blogger Ceebie said...

Great post...This is something I've been struggling with as a 3rd/4th wave feminist who nonetheless loves to wear high heels and get dressed up...And thanks for posting some Walt...A good reminder that I should pick his stuff again one day.

10:30 AM, August 19, 2006  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

Can I just say "ditto" to everything said above? You are really tapping into something with the mirror-meditation. I am doing it also, with my own issues. I don't know any woman (or man?) out there who comes to her reflection without some kind of baggage. How you cut the personal here with the cultural is very profound. And, I have already confessed to a fiery passion for Whitman that has transcended decades now. Beautiful post...

10:20 PM, August 19, 2006  

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