Recently, while trying to manage one of my three-year-old’s more pyrotechnic tantrums, I allowed myself a time-out. I calmly walked to the kitchen, opened a cabinet and selected a drinking glass, and slipped outside, closing the door behind me. Slowly and deliberately, I leaned over the side of my back porch and dropped the glass onto my driveway. I watched the shards scatter. I inhaled. I exhaled. I left my anger outside for the late spring dusk to absorb, purify, repurpose. I stepped back into my apartment, where my daughter sat, similarly calm and ready to to try again.
I read yesterday’s news from Orlando on my phone while sitting in the shade at a playground while my daughter played nearby. When I read the updated death toll, I held my head in my hands. I imagined fifty faces gone from the local LGBT community that I consider myself a part of. I imagined our safe spaces invaded. I inhaled. I exhaled. But my anger had nowhere to go. Like my own secondhand smoke it swirled back into my lungs. What can I pulverize on the asphalt this time? Where can I hurl this fury, this fear, so I can watch it scatter, glittering, in the grass? Nothing, nowhere, can absorb this.
So I have allowed it to sit in my pores, spreading and thickening, until I’m saturated. Until all I can think to do is thrash, shriek, rage, like my three-year-old did that night, to drown out the noise of ISIL and second amendment rights and flags at half mast and Islamic extremism and our thoughts and prayers are with the families and HOW CAN I SCREAM LOUDER THAN ALL OF IT?
So. International Women’s Day. I’ve learned some hard lessons about being a woman and a mother this past year and to be honest, it’s hard for me to feel like celebrating. We’ve come leaps and bounds but it’s still a shitty time to be a woman. This year I’ve learned that women’s bodies are so objectified and commodified that entire relationships can change when those bodies change. I’ve learned that the act of loving myself – something that women are not taught to do – is radical and political and life-altering. I’ve learned that having a child while going back to school is going to mean that people will advise me to give up, to “enjoy parenting,” rather than to pursue a meaningful career path. I find it hard to believe that a single father would be given that advice when pursuing a new career. And I’ve learned that once I do begin that career, I will still be paid less than men doing the same job. In nursing, a traditionally “female” profession! And what’s worse? Black women doing that same job will be paid even less than me. And then there are the countries where a girl who wants to be educated will risk her life to do so.
I’ve learned that as a mother, dating is even more difficult than it already was. Finding love and respect in the (already rather desolate) dating world is that much harder now that I’m seen by many as used, desperate, or too complicated. People find single dads to be endearing. Single dads “babysit” their kids. Single moms? Messy, pathetic, no longer sexual beings. I’ve learned that there are so many people out there who cannot imagine a woman could be smart, maternal, sexual, and deserving of respect, all at the same time.
And what’s more, as an educated white single mother, I’m still a lot better off than so many other of my fellow single mothers. I have a support system that so many don’t have.
I still can’t walk home from the T after dark without turning to look behind me every few paces. I still hold my keys between my fingers every time. Not a day goes by where I don’t worry about how I’m going to teach my daughter how to keep herself safe. I know the statistics. I know I have to raise her to be on the defensive. I know someday she will feel some sort of pain because she is a girl. And heaven forbid she decides to question that gender! She faces a tough road. How could I not be furious?
I guess what I’m saying is, thanks for giving us a day. But I want more than a day. I want to know that my daughter won’t have to learn these things I’ve learned. I want to be able to celebrate the incredible women in my life without having to remember the pain we’ve all experienced.
It’s come to my attention that Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele is 20 years old today. I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that 20 years have gone by since I first heard this album, but I’m kind of pleasantly surprised to realize that the Emily of 1996 would probably be pretty damn thrilled to see the person she’s grown up to be.
So I’ll leave you with this song – I’ve gotta go do some readings for my nursing prerequisite courses on my way to the burlesque show I’m performing in tonight, and tomorrow I’ll wake up, under-rested, and spend the day with the funniest, lovingest, and badassest two-year-old girl in history.
You, my darling 2015, were a complete clusterfuck. A colossal shitstorm of misery. Jobs were lost. Hearts were broken. People got sick and were hospitalized and died. Basically…everything was the worst.
And so for that, I’d like to say fuck off, and also thank you. Because although (or maybe because?) you pretty much chewed me up and spit me out, the bruised and pissed-off person who came out of this is ten times stronger, more inspired, and more motivated than the Emily of 2014. I’m starting this new year with more balance and excitement and hope for what lies ahead than I’ve felt in a long time, and I don’t think that would have happened if 2015 hadn’t stripped me of my outer shell.
In 2016 I’m going to start nursing school at Simmons, in one of the best nursing programs in the country. I’m going to be present for more births. I’m going to keep dancing and performing and making art. I’m going to keep putting myself out there, wearing my heart on my sleeve, being open to love, even if that means I get hurt. I’m going to continue to get to raise this incredible, hilarious, badass child, with the help of not only my community but most importantly her father, who I’m lucky to call my co-parent and best friend.
Heck, we may even get her potty trained.
So thanks, 2015, for fucking shit up in all the right ways. But also, good riddance.
A couple of days ago, a dear friend and troupemate of mine emailed me with a question concerning a new number I’m doing in our next show. It’s a simple routine: I strip out of a bedsheet, suggesting a sort of postcoital victory lap (it’s classy, I swear). All she wanted to know was what I wanted to title the number. My response:
Blehhhhhh. Let’s call it “Sad Slut Will Never Find Love.” Or maybe “If I Screw You, Will You Like Me?” Ooh! I know. “Sex is a Totally Acceptable Substitute for Actual Emotional Intimacy.”
Sorry, I’m in a mood.
It’s recently dawned on me that I’ve become the Sad Friend. You know the one: you don’t even want to ask her how she’s doing anymore because you know the answer won’t be pretty. Maybe she’s started posting song lyrics as Facebook statuses. Maybe she spent most of yesterday in bed. You love this friend, you really do. But jesus effing christ, is she a downer.
If your Sad Friend is like me, the various causes of her bummed-out-ness are actually her favorite thing to joke about. My most common joke lately is to sing the praises of the “divorce diet” when people ask about my recent weight loss. I usually get the same nervous laughter and quick change of subject, which I understand. But if you’ve been on the receiving end of one of my gallows humor breakup jokes, don’t worry. They’re not a cry for help. You can laugh with me. I think being able to laugh at the ridiculous shittiness of the last two years is part of what’s enabled me to get through it.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not – and your Sad Friend most likely isn’t – claiming a monopoly on stress and sadness. I’m not even saying that I have it worse than anyone else. We’ve all got our shit. You have your shit. Even your Happy Friends have theirs. But here’s the thing: I know very few people who are going through what I’m going through. I was in the first wave of folks to get married, the first wave of babymakers, and now I’m surfing high on the crest of the divorce wave. I know I won’t be the last, but of my friends, I’m one of the first. It’s scary and lonely and honestly, a little humiliating.
These pesky Sad Friend tendencies seem to get worse when people try to relate their own situations to mine or offer solutions to my sadness. I know these reactions come from a good place; I myself have been on the other side of this, trying to cheer up a Sad Friend. You love your Sad Friend. You want to fix whatever is causing her pain, to help her fix herself so she will stop hurting. But here’s the thing: sometimes there’s just nothing that can help. My life has been hijacked, turned inside out, and set on fire, its ashes scattered every which way. Divorce is a mindfuck: I had thought I had a pretty good idea of what the rest of my life was going to look like, and now that’s all gone out the window. Sometimes I’m just going to be angry and lonely and really, really Sad. With a capital S.
And that’s okay! It’s exactly how I’m supposed to be right now. Basically I’m temporarily paying a nostalgic visit to Emily, circa 1996: I’m living these adolescent highs and lows, transitioning from one to the other at breakneck speeds. One minute I’m listening to Carly Rae Jepsen (whatever, shut up, don’t judge), the next it’s Tori Amos. But here’s the wonderful thing: unlike Teenage Sad Emily, I know this isn’t forever. I know, despite how many times I may say it, that I’m not undateable, I’m not going to die alone, I’m not a terrible mother. I’m your Sad Friend right now because I’m at the beginning of something big and new and exciting, which just so happens to be fucking scary as hell. It’s uncharted territory. And dealing with me is uncharted territory for you too, which is why I’ve thrown together this handy guide.
So when you ask your Sad Friend how she is and she tells you, “Well, I’m eating four-day-old pad thai,” I give you permission to laugh with her. Tell her, “Dude, that sucks. Maybe go throw that away.” Know that she understands that it’s a goddamn whirlwind to deal with her. And also know that she cries thankful tears knowing you’re on her side, pulling for her, supporting her. Lending her your car. Leaving treats on her doorstep the day her ex moves out. Eating pizza with her on her birthday so she won’t be alone. Rallying behind her after every failed dating experience. Your Sad Friend is going to be just fine, and it’s because she’s not alone, and she knows it.
It’s recap time! Let’s take a quick look at the last two years of my life, shall we? The highlight reel:
I lost my job three months after returning from maternity leave
Our home was broken into – while my daughter and I were at home, asleep – and our computers were stolen
My daughter was hospitalized for nearly a week with a mysterious knee problem that required surgery
My husband and I decided to separate after almost six years of marriage
I lost my job (again) three days before my husband moved out
Perhaps most traumatic of all: I started dating again
I’m not one to blame everything on the cosmos (aside from occasionally checking this website) but when I recently read a horoscope telling me that, basically, the universe has been fucking with me* for the last couple of years, I wasn’t inclined to argue. It was one thing after another, and after each new thing, I’d laugh shakily, “well, at least it can’t get worse!” And then it would get worse, and the dust would settle, I’d brush myself off, and attempt to keep going.
I’ve never thought of myself as particularly strong or resilient, but I suppose the last two years have shown me otherwise. Still, when I really examine the admittedly crazy shit I’ve bounced back from, I know that any real buoyancy I have is because of Sadie. There have been so many days where the darkness came in from all sides, where I wouldn’t have left my bed if there hadn’t been a tiny human by my side, joyful and persistent and maddening. I know I am primarily her mother but in the months since I became a single parent, she’s also become my partner. There are nights where we’ve both ended up crying, sitting together on the kitchen floor. And then there are mornings where, over English muffins and yogurt she asks me, “Songs? Play songs? David Bowie songs?” and my heart explodes and I dissolve into a puddle of blissful goo.
I recently read this piece by Sophie Heawood, who describes this phenomenon more succinctly than I can: “You will…clutch your own child very, very tightly and thank God that she is here, and that the smell of her hair is such sweetness that even your nostrils are in love with her. She will become your levity and your gravity. You will be more than able to cope.”
So when I tell people that I – an unemployed single mother – am in the best place I’ve been in years, this is why. The path I’m on is treacherous and unfamiliar and so frightening, but I have the greatest of travel partners.
* An excerpt: “…Saturn has lessons in different packages, with a core theme of transforming what’s toxic, and undergoing the changes that the soul is crying out for.” No effing kidding, Saturn.
It was the worst winter I can remember. It was a winter that began in August and lasted until June. There was no autumn. Our home became not ours: strangers both known and unknown entered through all the openings, staying minutes or hours or months.
My husband moved out of our apartment four months ago, but our partnership ended long before. Arguably he stopped being my partner when I got pregnant. I have been testing out different titles for him for months now. Ex-husband. My daughter’s father. My ex. Usually I just settle on his name, drawn out slightly longer, with a question mark. An apology.
I can’t pretend that it happened overnight, that it wasn’t a complicated, long-gestating labyrinth of twists and knots that got us to where things ended. There were seeds and saplings, divots and potholes. Things I ignored and things I never saw coming.
Life is better now. It’s harder, and more complicated, and scarier, but it is better. I’m like something new and raw with its outer shell peeled off, but I am so. Much. Better.
I’m not finding many blogs out there written by single mama-burlesque performer-future midwives, so maybe it’s time for me to step up to the plate. It may not always be uplifting, but I promise it’ll always be interesting.