I wouldn’t have thought to sit outside, with the air as cool as it was. This must be why we keep friends, I thought, so we’re not just doing what we always do, in the way we always do it. I wouldn’t have considered the blankets, and the warmth of the dogs, and the feeling of fresh air filling my lungs. It was my friend’s porch. Across town was my house, where we’ve experienced two drive-by shootings on our street, multiple stolen car chases, and a flat-out murder in our front yard, in which the wounded man stumbled down our driveway, finally collapsing and dying in our backyard by the lilac bush, where my partner found his body minutes later. Often, as I stand on our front porch drinking coffee, men will stop to inquire if I have a boyfriend, and if I work out, as if that is their business, as if I am inviting them to ask, just by existing on my own front porch in the morning. Across town, being outside has felt less relief, more risk. Outside, we’re at the whims of the natural order of things, but with guns. But here, in my friend’s neighborhood, where there hasn’t been a wayward gun shot for years, we took our blankets out to the back porch as the sun set in the evening. The light was a cool blue, sky still bright against the swallows and bats that flew eastward, mysteriously only flying in this one direction. We posited that maybe it was actually only one bat, flying in circles, just to confuse us. But this was simply a silly story made up to amuse ourselves as we sat there. We talked about the crops we were planting (zucchini, fruit trees, tomatoes) and what time of year was best to plant seeds. We talked about the work we were doing on our houses. We talked about how healing from trauma is non-linear, but how processing it seems to alleviate symptoms. We sat in silence a lot of the time. We talked to the dogs. We breathed in the air. Our nervous systems relaxed after each of our separate, scattered and stressful days. We watched the light die and noted how the longer days had somehow brought life back into our bodies. We talked about cycles. I wouldn’t have thought to sit outside, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.
On Desire (revisited)
In honor of the last day of my daily writing challenge, I am reconnecting with the same topic I wrote about on the first day: desire. Here’s the original post. That day, I asked an important question. Can desire be trusted?
Here are a few things I’ve learned about desire this month:
1) Desire is not the same as disintegration. I can fully desire something while keeping my values, self, and identity intact. In fact, I can use desire to live life with more integrity.
2) I trust myself.
3) I can’t control most things, and desire is just one of many things I can’t control. That’s okay.
4) Desire is not an action. Desire is a guidepost. To desire something is not an automatic decision to pursue that thing. The decision stands in the way of action. Desire can be heeded, and it can be brushed aside.
5) BEING OUT OF CONTROL IS NOT DANGEROUS. BEING OUT OF CONTROL WITHOUT A SUPPORT SYSTEM IS DANGEROUS.
6) Yes. A line can be drawn between joyful attraction and dangerous obsession. And there are so many different kinds of love, that this binary doesn’t really exist anyway.
I wrote last month that “I might be running away from my own stubborn refusal to allow my desire to take up space.” That was true. I don’t want to tell some false transformation story here. I’m not much better, a month later, at letting my desire run free and do its thing. I’m still scared of it. I’m still scared to laugh a full belly laugh because someone might take advantage of my joy. I still feel cautious about showing too much interest in strangers, out of fear they will rope me into some complex plot to drain me of all my money and energy. But something has shifted. I wouldn’t have been able to write that list a month ago, and I owe that to my daily writing. Sometimes it was hard as fuck to force myself to write, but I combed through my values, behaviors, and experiences in a really unique way. I wouldn’t have been able to do this in any other format. For that, I’m grateful.
Thanks for following along this month. If you want to get to know me on other platforms, please consider following me on Instagram, joining me on Patreon, or subscribing to my YouTube channel. I’m gonna switch back to poetry now. At least for a bit.
We all watched Shrek and fell in love with the characters, humor, and revolutionary animation style. I saw it for the first time in the theater with my grandfather. I was entranced. It was the first time I’d seen such realistic animation, and I was completely enamored with the fart jokes, hilarious donkey, and tale of fairytale romance. Shrek even introduced me to one of my favorite songs: Hallelujah, by Leonard Cohen.
I’ve rewatched Shrek many times since then. At first, it was just a nostalgic activity. But recently, it’s turned into an anthropological study for me. What cultural values was the movie pushing? What had I unknowingly absorbed as a kid watching Shrek?
The answer? Shrek was one of the many movies I watched as a kid that normalized, and made light of, abuse.
On the surface, the movie does seem to subvert the misogyny that exists in most classic Western fairytales. Fiona is a strong, badass woman who can take care of herself. She fights for herself, saves Shrek and Donkey from thieves on the road, and finds her own dwellings at night. That’s how I saw it at first too. But, the deeper messaging of Shrek does NOT support that surface-level story. Here are a few examples, taken from throughout the film, that proves the movie doesn’t actually subvert the original misogyny/patriarchal system at all, but supports it throughout.
1) In this scene, Fiona says “who could love a hideous, ugly beast” when speaking with Donkey towards the end of the movie. She truly believes that she is unloveable as an ogre (which is to say, she believes that she is unloveable as she is). It is not until the very end, when Shrek (a male character) tells her that she is beautiful, and that he wants her in whatever form she takes, that she seems to accept herself as she is, in her ogre form.
Fiona does not even have the confidence to assert herself in the conversation with Shrek following her secret discussion with Donkey about her being an ogre. Because of her true belief that she is unloveable and ugly, she assumes he’s talking about her when he repeats her words back to her: “who could love a hideous, ugly beast.” She doesn’t dig deeper into the issue. Shrek confirmed her greatest fear – that she won’t get what she wants (love) because she is not enough. She doesn’t deserve love. She doesn’t deserve desire. She doesn’t deserve a self.
Fiona was NOT, prior to the scene where Shrek interrupts the wedding and confesses his love, confident in herself. She hid this terrible secret, that she was UGLY, from all the other characters, every single night. The fact that she was ugly was shameful to her. The movie depicts a woman who does not have a strong sense of self, and cannot validate her own existence. She only validates herself when a man tells her that she is valid.
2) Fiona DOES have to be saved at the end of the film. When she perceives that Shrek has rejected her, she leaves to go marry Lord Farquad. Because that is what a man told her she has to do. The movie gives her two choices: be with one man who despises you (as she thinks Shrek does) or be with another man who you despise (Lord Farquad). There’s no third option, and it’s very important to realize that the movie does not depict her creating a third option for herself.
At the end, Shrek has to save her from being with Lord Farquad by interrupting the wedding. She made no decisions, except to accept Shrek’s offer. This is key: before Shrek assured her that he thought she was beautiful, she was unwilling to put herself out there to be with the one she loved. She was so insecure that she was resigned to be with a mean, ugly man, rather than get what she wanted: to be with Shrek. She needed a man’s validation to feel she deserved what she desired. In this way, Shrek did actually save her at the end. Fiona did not have agency in their romantic relationship. Shrek did.
3) Who were the other female characters in the movie? There are only three. Princess Fiona, the Dragon, and the Old Woman who sells the talking Donkey. Snow White and Cinderella are not characters in movie 1, since they’re just depicted on a screen for a couple seconds. Princess Fiona is not shown in a community of other women who are equally strong and able to take care of themselves. If she was, I would accept the claim that the movie depicts a badass woman, and therefore subverts the fairytale image of femaleness. However, Princess Fiona is an outlier. She’s shocking. Based on the movie’s depiction of female characters, she could be the only woman of her kind in the history of the universe, and the only woman of her kind in the foreseeable future.
None of the other female characters do anything besides display the regular tropes of weak, untrustworthy, and helpless femaleness. The Old Woman who sells Donkey is not taken seriously by the guards. They don’t believe her that Donkey talks. She is manhandled by the guards and never gets rewarded for the Donkey because he (the male character) saves himself. We never see this woman getting what she wants – money to support herself. She has no agency. Instead, we follow the male character, the Donkey, on his subsequent adventure.
The Dragon is a promising female character, because she can breath fire and goes right for what she wants: a romantic relationship with Donkey. However, she has no agency in her own world, either. She is extremely unhappy, forced to remain chained in the castle all on her own. She is incredibly lonely, and after Shrek, Donkey and Fiona escape her clutches, we don’t see an angry, aggressive female character. Instead, we see a sad one that longs for a life outside of her chains. She is a slave until Donkey comes to rescue her.
In contrast to the lack of female characters, there are MANY male characters, with a variety of personalities and storylines. “Maleness” is very fleshed out in this movie. There’s Shrek, Donkey, Lord Farquad, The Three Blind Mice… the list goes on and on and on.
There are literally no other female characters in the movie. So maybe on the surface, Fiona seems all badass and capable because she can fight and take care of herself, but that’s not the messaging we’re really receiving. The messaging we’re receiving is that she is an unusual case – not the norm. The movie doesn’t normalize her supposedly strong female nature.
4) Take a look at this scene from the movie, in which the Magic Mirror presents three eligible bachelorettes for Lord Farquad to marry. The Mirror makes a blatant joke about abuse, describing Cinderella as a “mentally-abused shut-in from a kingdom far, far away,” as if being mentally abused is not something to be concerned about. Then, we hear that Snow White lives with seven other men, but “she’s not easy.” The Mirror’s casual judgement of Snow White’s sexuality normalizes diminishing a women’s worth to her sexual tendencies and sexuality.
Diminishing women to sexual beings makes it much easier to abuse us.
But that’s not all. The Mirror continues, inviting Lord Farquad to “kiss her dead, frozen lips and find out what a live wire she is! Come on!” Then you hear a drum set go “ba dum smash,” which officially turns this image of treating a dead woman like a sex toy into a joke. This image should be disturbing, but the movie turns it into something funny. Once again, Shrek normalizes powerless women without agency: easy targets for abuse.
Disguised in jokes, it’s easy to miss how dangerous this normalization is. Boys and girls watching this absorb the following messages:
1) abused women are funny
2) women are just sexual playthings
3) a woman who cannot consent is fair game for sexual activities
5) In another scene, Donkey and Shrek finally arrive at the castle Fiona is trapped in. Donkey asks, “So where is this fire-breathing, pain-in-the-neck anyway?” Shrek responds, saying, “Inside, waiting for us to rescue her.” I know it’s been discussed a lot, but I have to talk about the problematic message this sends. Shrek’s response assumes that there is a helpless woman inside the castle waiting for a man to rescue her. It takes away agency from women in our culture, showing us that we are not capable of taking care of ourselves. This is dangerous because it gives men permission to control our lives – if women don’t have any agency, we don’t have any right to say no or argue with a man’s opinion/action in our lives. It might be “rescuing” one day, but it could be something much less desirable the next. And what if we don’t need to be saved?
Yes, “rescuing the princess” is a classic fairytale trope. I don’t care. it needs to change. Luckily, movies like Tangled and Brave have JUST STARTED to unravel this dangerous message.
Then, as if that’s not enough negative messaging, Donkey delivers the punchline. After he asks “where is this fire-breathing, pain-in-the-neck anyway?” and Shrek responds “waiting for us to rescue her,” Donkey retorts, “I was talking about the dragon, Shrek.” This joke, laughing at a woman’s needs and display of anger, is so overused and so damaging. It’s the Eve story. Eve gives in to temptation and eats the fruit she’s not supposed to eat. This woman’s desire is the downfall of man. Women are evil. Women are a “pain in the ass,” in the words of Shrek. It’s not difficult to make the leap to “we should hate women” and “we don’t need to take any woman’s needs seriously.” Again, Shrek writers manage to turn “stripping women of their power” into a joke, as if it’s suddenly okay because they’re joking about it.
Shrek paints a truly disturbing image of what a woman is in our society. She is powerless, hated, needs others to validate her experience, and doesn’t need to consent to be touched by you. She is, in other words, extremely susceptible to abuse. This is a MOVIE FOR KIDS. And it’s contributing to abuse culture by NORMALIZING WOMEN WITH NO AGENCY.
I am not, by any means, discounting Shrek as a movie. I don’t believe in cancel culture – I think things are always so much more nuanced than that. The movie really does bring me so much joy, even watching it this new perspective, even after the abuse I’ve experienced at the hands of multiple men.
But. I think it’s important to recognize this dangerous, deeper messaging. Why is it important? Because I know for a fact that it’s watching innocuous movies like this, that hide true misogyny behind a surface-level strong female character story arch, that led to me thinking it was OKAY TO BE ABUSED. Abuse culture is serious and needs to be examined from every angle. Even a movie we all know and love so much. I’ve been rewatching a lot of the movies I watched when I was a kid, and noticing similar messaging popping up in almost every movie. Abuse culture was very prevalent in the media I consumed as a kid, and there was nothing my parents or school could do to reverse that. It was just…there. I just absorbed it.
And I haven’t even started discussing the way “Blackness,” as well as the complete lack of female Blackness, is portrayed in this movie. That’s a whole other conversation and blog post.
Are we meant to find our soul mate? Do we have only one, or are there lots? Is this just another idea for us to gather around, warm our hands against, and use to make meaning out of our relatively meaningless lives?
Here’s what the internet has to say on the matter (you can read the full articles by clicking on the titles):
Wikipedia: “In current usage, “soulmate” usually refers to a romantic or platonic partner, with the implication of an exclusive lifelong bond. It commonly holds the connotation of being the strongest bond with another person that one can achieve. It is commonly accepted that one will feel ‘complete’ once they have found their soulmate, as it is partially in the perceived definition that two souls are meant to unite. The term “soulmate” first appeared in the English language in a letter by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1822.”
Ooookay. There’s a lot to unpack here. The thing that sticks out the most to me is that this definition stresses an all-or-nothing type of partner. You’re gonna be with this person for all of your remaining breaths, and you are not whole without this person. This is the definition of “soul mate” I encounter the most. It makes me feel nervous and confined.
Merriam-Webster: “1) a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament
2) a person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs”
This is a really funny one. The thing is, I would never, ever want to be with someone who resembles me in attitude. I just wouldn’t. So, by this definition, would I not want to hang out with my soul mate? I honestly don’t think I could make it one day hanging out with myself (what’s that? I live with myself every day? Oh yeah. Well, I don’t want any more of me around. That’s all I’m saying).
The Atlantic: “Take the idea of romantic destiny, or “soul mates”—the belief that two people are deliberately brought together by unseen forces…Believing in soul mates is functionally the same as believing that if you get a certain job, achieve financial independence, or move to a sunny place, you will have true and lasting satisfaction. Nothing is more human than this belief, which keeps us hopeful in spite of our negative experiences. But it is a recipe for unhappiness. We cannot attain permanent satisfaction—at least, not in this mortal coil—and waiting for it will leave us disappointed over and over again.”
This realist view really resonates with me. It makes me feel like I have power in my own trajectory. I get a calm, contented feeling, knowing that a relationship will be sustained not by a mysterious, ethereal force, but by my own decisions and response to challenges.
Seventeen: “Wondering if your bae is the perfect match? Here are 18 signs that will help you know if you’ve found your true connection.
1) You just know it. There is no test that will help you determine if you’ve found your soulmate or not. To figure it out, you just have to know it. You have to feel it in your gut, that this person is the right one for you.
Alright. You know what? I’m tired of hearing this bullshit over and over.
One time, when I was 15, I caught sight of a super cute guy at a traffic light one summer. I had been driving around like a hooligan with a group of friends. Egged on by loud whoops from everyone in the car, I leaned out of the open window and asked this guy if he would marry me. He said yes. Then we pulled over after the light turned green and had a little wedding ceremony. I knew he was The One – in that single, summer evening moment.
I know that’s an extreme example. But we aren’t living in some masterpiece painting, where we work on a single painting for our entire lives, always with the same color scheme, the same brush strokes, always keeping an image of the finished product in our minds. Our lives are more like leftovers soup. We’re pawing through the fridge, finding the old broccoli that nobody wanted to eat, chopping up celery, throwing some chicken in there, and stirring it around, shaking various spices in, just improvising our way through this lumpy bullshit. And then, in the end, it’s fucking delicious. Maybe not in the exact way we thought, but it is!
Brides.com: “You might be wondering if you met your soulmate on a vacation, subway stop, or that time in the rain when a stranger invited you to share an umbrella—but didn’t realize it at the time. According to Dr. Tobin, yes, this is possible. “Everything in life is about timing. I believe it’s a matter of self-knowledge. When you understand that a relationship is not about control or the simple need of fulfillment but is essential to our psychological and spiritual development, then you’re open to the possibility of meeting your soulmate.”’
YES. Yes to this. I never would have thought that I’d have a full fuck-yes to something written by Brides.com, but there we go.
Here’s what I think: I think we have lots of soulmates. Not just one. I think a soulmate can be a romantic partner, a friend, a pet, or even a stranger who you lock eyes with on the street for a split second. Sue me.
I understand having a gut feeling about someone and following that. You make decisions based on your gut feeling, and you just keep doing the next right thing. I’m doing that right now with my partner, who I love deeply. What I don’t understand, and don’t accept as true, is the other part of Seventeen’s claim: that you just know it. Life is so complicated as it is. Sometimes I don’t know what to eat for breakfast. Sometimes it takes a little bit of recalibrating, rest, or space to be able to come back to my “knowing.” I don’t “just know” anything. And I don’t want to. I’m just here improvising.
Here’s one more article, in case you really want to delve deeper into the soulmate idea.
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Scruffy, angelic white puffs blow in the wind outside my plane window. My sister says it’s an invasive species. It seems ludicrous that something so beautiful could be so violent. We take off, and the white puffs give way to dead grass, then an expanse of grey sky. I’m thinking about elementary school birthday parties in dimly-lit bowling alleys. I can taste the greasy pizza soaking through the paper plates. Huge sheet cakes with frosting so sugary the granules are rough on my tongue. Blue lettering. A barbie with hair that grows when you pull a string.
Now we’re over the ocean, spots of white littering the indigo blue water. I can still see the lines of tiny boxes on the shore, distant now. I’m thinking about how someone once described humans as a parasite, quickly spreading across Earth, taking and digging, extracting all the life out of our host. Sucking her dry. The CDC describes a parasite as “an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host,” so this seems pretty accurate. I wonder if I agree with this image of my species. It’s certainly romantic, but makes my skin feel too tight for my body, especially from up here in this plane, where our parasitic behavior is so clearly laid out for me to see. The Bay, taken over by human dwellings, along with all the necessary dwelling-accessories. Tiny lines, beige against green: roads. Lighter bits bunched together in squares: farmland. Chunks of sun reflected, glinting: office buildings leering up at me.
Now the mountains are below us. They are bare compared to the city we left behind. Strong in their solitude. It’s been awhile, a long moment of just spacing out in the general direction of the horizon, but I haven’t been able to forget the parasite analogy. Will these little pockets of human disease eventually spread to cover the entire surface of the earth? Will the faraway mountains soon be teeming with scurrying people, gardens, rats, parks, highways, restaurants, and chlorinated pools?
In the distance, the mountains have huge wrinkles. Elephants, heavy velvet. These mountains know deep change: they are not static. Constant erosion. Surrender. Receiving. Yielding to the rain that flows down their many faces. They are relinquishing and relenting. I think the mountains must have to fully know themselves to accept such complete and uncontrollable distortion, without protest.
I think about how often I used to yield to people and experiences. When I was 18, the thrill of that surrender was expansive. It felt like a dripping diamond necklace, or a huge, cool lake waiting for me to jump into the deep waters. The thrill was like water, flowing around me, through me. A womb and a river simultaneously. I was at home in surrender. I trusted that I, or something else, something benevolent and good, would pull me out if it got to be too much. If I got too chilled, or too wrinkled.
I didn’t know myself yet. Or maybe I knew myself too much already, and the world would not budge to accommodate my knowing.
The people I surrendered to were not ready for the trust I immersed them in. They were not the rain. Was I the mountain? Was I the rain?
These people submerged me. And I drowned. They told me I couldn’t swim, should not swim. So I stopped swimming. That was part of the yielding, right? I had to yield. To make the complete shift to embody someone else’s experience, I had to leave my own body and experience behind. And so I went still. My limbs atrophied, my mind filled with grotesque images of floating heads and penises, surrounding me in a suspended, tangled mass until I couldn’t breath anymore, and drowned.
What was the yielding, then? Suicide? Or was it just a big misunderstanding? Back then, I assumed that everyone was exactly like me. I saw a face and thought, “behind that face is a deeply-feeling, spectacular spirit that takes in everything, yields to everything, and knows itself fully.” I thought everyone was tapped into the huge, cool lake of it all. I thought each person would automatically wrap us in a warm, fluffy towel if things got to be too much, too cold. I thought they would notice these things. I thought they were like me.
But it was all a big misunderstanding, wasn’t it?
Now we’re moving through the clouds. I’m thinking about all those times as a kid, looking out the airplane window at the clouds and feeling like this is the one true experience. Like everything else in the universe was just a distraction from this moment. Like this white, clumpy, grey, writhing mass was the pure heart of it all. At the time, it felt undeniable. Now, the cloud is over much more quickly than I remember. Now, I watch it giving way to a clear view of Los Angeles below us.
Los Angeles, the parasite to end all parasites. The horrid, flat buildings weighing down the land. The football fields, skyscrapers, palm trees, languid universities, and sad little cars. The water shipped in from Yosemite. The clouds are above us now, back where they belong, suspended in chaotic little puffs. An ominous fog obscures the horizon to my right.
Suddenly, there are large piles of red dirt and tiny scruffs of bush along the runway. White paint sprayed on the pavement to mark our way as the plane lands. Houses in the distance jar me back to the parasite idea. “The parasite carrier touches down onto its host,” I think wryly. First stop down, two to go.
beginning to announce
her speechless marriage
sweeping through, screaming
dancing then, after
are the only thing keeping
me from falling apart
One small barrier
(between me and the world)
The one thing
that separates me from the dream.
dreams were preferable
Much softer and filled with
There’s something about you that makes my heart hum
With what Whitman calls “life”
What Cummings calls puddle-wonder
and becoming “who you really are”
Something about your eyes, playing stars in your head
Or maybe your hands, rough and large
But it isn’t any Thing at all, really
My heart hums with you
Even if I try to ignore the hum, push it out
I can’t pass this stranger by, this knowing
That does not burn, but rather builds up
That does not consume, but rather grows slow
Curls into the sun like peas, smells sweet like tomatoes
The poets were right: noticing is love
Anguish is love too, but much less full of hum
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
I’m sorry your shirt
Was left in a crumpled pile
Along with your jeans