on growing pains

Kurt Cobain in front of the Jenny Holzer “Men Don’t Protect You Anymore” sign, 1993. Credit: Steven Sweet

There’s a blog post in my drafts that was meant to be here, in place of what you’re reading right now, one I spent the better part of October writing. I started working on a version of it right after the Russell Brand story broke and I’d watched the BBC documentary. I don’t want to be cryptic about it, and I do think there’s something to be gained from difficult public discussions. However, it’s a story that includes two people who I loved and continue to love – one of them, the perp of the abuse, is dead and has been for a while. The other person has gone to great lengths to build a life away from all and any reminders of the former. They were both my friends. I started writing without naming names to protect their privacy. The more I wrote, the less confident I was in that this was a story about rape culture in indie leftist circles, accountability and power imbalances. It started to dawn on me that it was more of a private therapy session that was long overdue, a disgustingly self-indulgent word vomit that I probably felt the need to put out in hopes that I would somehow find the way to absolve myself from all and any responsibility. I decided against writing it, although now I am writing about not writing about it – it’s been a weird pattern lately, not addressing stuff that’s hard to stomach and then addressing not wanting to touch them with a ten-foot pole. 

It’s been a year of flux and mutability in all aspects of life, and that’s been challenging to navigate. The early days of motherhood were profoundly lonely (and still are, to some extent) in how it’s a uniquely anxiety-laden experience that never eases off and postpartum messed with the perception of myself so much, I often found that going back to a younger version of me was soothing in the way a song you haven’t  heard in a long while feels familiar and tender. Only this time around, and with new, knowing eyes, there was nothing familiar or tender. There was the underlying, simple truth to the fact that I knew jack shit about anything, annoying and undeniable, and the stinging understanding that all of my predominantly male, precious mentors had failed me, some more so than others, and there was nothing I could do about it. There’s also a lot of freedom in realizing you go at it alone now. I do see the irony in spending the better part of my adult life striving for acceptance in the eyes of men important to me, my father, my husband, my former partners and my friends, and then throwing it all out the window after seeing them in their real, flawed state, giving birth and finally kicking them off the pedestal. I feel like my mistakes can be my own now, and that might be terrifying, but it also delivers me from the guileless heartbreak of men I love not living up to my expectations. If I go back in time and look at myself after I’d emerged from the sorrow and anger of my abuser not being who he said he was, even when I’d built better things for me, he was still a person who hurt me. Above all else. He was also talented, well spoken, well liked, respected in indie circles, funny, devilishly smart, a leftist, a connoisseur, an ally. And above all, the person who hurt me. I carried his name around like a brick I wanted to throw through people’s windows. Sometimes I think I still do. And it’s taken me eight long years to come to terms with the fact that my dead friend, who was talented, well spoken, well liked, respected in indie circles, funny, devilishly smart, a leftist, a connoisseur, an ally, was a person who hurt someone else, no different from the man who hurt me. Tough little pill to swallow. And that’s that. 

As my son’s first birthday approaches, I can’t help but notice that swooning over those early gummy smiles and quiet cooing has been almost entirely replaced by the everyday terror of witnessing a tiny guy dart across the room on all fours, searching for the most impossible surface to tumble over, ad nauseam. That kind of leaves you no room for lots of extracurriculars. I’ve been making an effort to get back into a creative groove, but I keep falling behind on everything; I’ve sketched and inked three zine pages in two months, which is not a great average. I’ve read an embarrassingly low number of pages off the exquisite John Lurie memoir – I can, however, perfectly recite The Gruffalo from memory. And I’ve managed to listen to a couple of great albums: Andre 3000’s New Blue Sun and Danny Brown’s Quaranta. I don’t have a ton of things to say about New Blue Sun, I’ve always been partial to Andre and I’m always down for funky flute shenanigans. As for Quaranta, it is a 34-minute journey into Brown’s psyche, born of guilt and regret brought on by fame and money. You can tell Brown is light years away from the overconfident party monster of XXX from the album cover alone: a portrait of the artist looking glum in half-light. In Quaranta, he retires his trademark hyper cadence for a softer, introspective hum. You’re not going to find any flashy, lurid bangers on this album, either; the closest Brown gets to his Old days is in Y.P.B. He remains a master of sampling, making the weirdest, out-of-left-field choices work like magic: the glowing, synthwave lost love lament of Down Wit It climaxing in the catchiest 80s power ballad guitar solo. In Jenn’s Terrific Vacation, which opens with a sinister rembetiko piano loop, Brown spits out a sharp as fuck blast on gentrification. The album ends with Bass Jam, a dreamy tribute to his childhood days and family comfort rituals, sitting perfect and hazy on a cloud of nostalgia. Brown has come a long way from the devil with no tooth of Black Brad Pitt notoriety. He’s all grown up and a little jaded. Aren’t we all.

Happy holidays, friends.

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