The Hive.

When I was a kid, I was sometimes referred to as “Princess,” as in the frustrating, difficult young lady from “The Princess and the Pea,” because I have always been an overly sensitive, supernaturally delicate flower. (In my defense, my parents did this to themselves. The Biblical meaning of the name Sarah is “Princess.”) I have always been very particular about temperatures, foods, clothing tags, and hair brushing. I have a lot of feelings about a lot of different things. I crave balance in all things, and can be a little bit of a cranky nightmare when I am: too hot, too cold, too sweaty, too tangly, too hungry, too full, too itchy, too lotion-y, too dry.

Every part of my body falls victim to this intense longing to spend every day eating a perfectly-sized burrito and some soft sugar cookies in 72 degrees with a slight breeze while wearing clothes with all the tags cut out. I get moody and irritated most of the time. However, one part is more sensitive and therefore, more obnoxious, than all the others combined; that part is, obviously, my skin.

My skin has rebelled against me for my entire life. My insane allergy to plated metals was discovered in my infancy, when I would break out in little metal-button-shaped rashes where the snaps of my onesies touched my body. By the age of 20, I’d had several subcutaneous cysts and discovered at least two hernias. I made the mistake once of wearing a new t-shirt from a big-box store without washing it first, and my back erupted in a horrible, itching rash in reaction to whatever terrible preservative shit they spray on clothing before it’s loaded on cargo ships. Things like heat rash, poison oak, and ring worm have haunted me always. That’s to say nothing of the acne, which is just always, always lurking. If there is a non-life threatening skin condition to be had, I’ve had it.

This brings me to yesterday, when I spent the whole day wandering around an outlet mall on a gorgeous, albeit hot, humid, and sweaty English Saturday. I made out like a bandit, finally buying a bikini that does not make me look like a sausage exploding out of its casing, as well as stocking up on the Crabtree & Evelyn Sweet Almond Oil lotion I’d been told had been discontinued in the US, and choosing a short, pink and orange woven-wool skirt that serves as the latest milestone in my ever-excelerating journey toward becoming my Birenstock-wearing, straw-tote carrying hippie mother. I was very pleased with myself and had a really great day, aside from the fact that I was pouring sweat for four hours as I moved in and out of crowded, tropical stores that had no air conditioning.

It wasn’t until we’d sat down in a local pub waiting for a bus that I felt it coming. Sometimes, I can sense the doom. In the amount of time it took me to drink half a pint of Stella, it had grown from a small, dense promise of misery to a full blown hive, forged in the fires of disgusting humidity and born right onto the middle of my chin. Oddly enough, if it isn’t a pimple, weird swollen crap on my face doesn’t bother me. Besides, while this heat-welt experience is rare, I am not a stranger to having my skin throw up its proverbial hands to the weather and say, “Enough already. I am done.” So, I proudly walked around for the rest of the evening with this welt on my face, confident that it wouldn’t be the size of a quarter when I woke up in the morning.

And guess what? I was right! It wasn’t enormous and swollen anymore when I woke up this morning. The swelling had gone down and it wasn’t nearly as red – because it had become a blister. I have a pea-sized blister on my face because I spent too much time in the elements yesterday. This is akin to the fabled photosensitivity blister, something I’d been warned about when I was taking Accutane, because that medication turns human beings into vampires who burst into flames in the sun.

It is the worst. THE WORST.

I’m happy I got out yesterday, because I am not leaving the house today.

Second Blogiversary!

Yesterday, WordPress told me it was my blogiversary: I’ve been doing this nonsense for two years. In July 2012, I could not have, even in my wildest, fever-fueled hallucinations, imagined where I would be in July 2014. In these two years, the subject matter and the characters have changed dramatically, and most importantly, I do not have the whiny baby I was so laser-focused on when I created this space.  I am also not a blogging mastermind, sitting on a pile of endorsement money like the Scrooge McDuck of internet diaries, because after taking a massive hiatus just after being Freshly Pressed last spring, I’ve squandered all the good will and interest that glorious week gave this blog (yes, I’m talking to you, 1,500 robot computer program followers).

Scrooge-mcduck

I gave him brown hair and pimples so you’d all know it was me. (I am available for freelance graphic design. Information upon request.)

However, despite failing on pretty much all counts in terms of all the lofty goals I had set for myself when I started blogging, I succeeded in a way I didn’t even consider: I’ve worked through some enormously difficult things with the support of people I’ve connected with through the blog. And for that, I must thank you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you, you unsung heroes of the internet. I promise to be much better about keeping up with your writing and posting comments that manage to make it all about me. It’s the very least I can do.

But wait! There’s more! That’s not my only internet resolution! Oh no! I’m also attempting to join the 21st century and use twitter @asarahcarter more regularly, so follow me if you’re into witnessing a 27-year-old elderly woman stumble around social media.

On Judgment.

The other day, I reblogged a post written by a friend of mine about her decision to end her marriage. It spoke to me not only because it was tragic and honest, but also because it mirrored my experience to an almost freakish degree. She is someone who made a terrible, hard, gross, humiliating, and ultimately good decision for herself and for the person she loved, and who is currently working through the fallout. I wouldn’t say she’s a hero (only because I’m drawing parallels here and I wouldn’t say that about myself), but she is brave. I know from experience how much courage it takes to make such an enormous change, imploding life as you know it, driven only by the hope that life will be more fulfilling when the dust settles.

In an effort I assume was an attempt to help her friends understand, she shared her post on Facebook, which was wonderful because she got a lot of support. Unfortunately, being open with a wider, more personal audience meant that she also got a bunch of blow back from people who had their fair share of opinions about how she is choosing to pursue happiness in her own life. I was terrified of facing a fire squad like this, so I didn’t share anything or make an announcement about the change in relationship status on my personal social media accounts. So, lucky for me, the only terrible insults lobbed at me were from a select few people close to the situation and mothers who didn’t know me at the school where I was teaching at the time.

As someone who spent a few years in college working in a phone room in a ticket office, I am well aware of what irate jerks are capable of saying when they are granted the anonymity of a phone call or the internet. However, reading the things people have said to this friend is just absolutely disgusting. These are people close to her who took the time to create WordPress profiles, simply in order to call her names and shame her for being honest with herself and those around her, and for refusing to spend her life in a relationship that was long past being healthy.

Obviously, cloaking yourself in ridiculous internet mystery and ripping someone down means you are a particularly miserable person in general. However, it also speaks to something else: namely, 1) you have been fortunate enough to never have had anything terrible, unexpected, and hugely transformative happen in your life, and have therefore never had to do any major soul-searching. Go you; or 2) you’ve had something like that happen, and you’ve just failed to internalize any of the lessons afforded to you by such an experience.

Either way, you aren’t qualified to have an opinion on someone else’s transformation. If you can’t see beyond your own face, you should probably keep your nose out of other people’s business.

Or, more simply put, before you accuse someone in pain of being a lying hypocrite, you should examine all the ways in which you are perfect and then shut your mouth.

How About No

In English.

I love living in England. People eat fries with everything (including lasagna, soup, and pizza), everyone is too polite to say anything negative about anything so I feel like a super genius all the time, and the supermarkets make so much more sense. (I can’t describe this. It’s just true.)

However, there are a few things that baffle me:

1a) They have one-year Master’s programs.

2a) These Master’s programs run from September to September and hold their graduations in July, meaning that students complete their coursework about nine months before they don graduation robes. I know people who are deep into the first year of their PhDs and only just walking in MA graduations this week.

3) Stovetops are called “cookers,” janitorial staff are “cleaners,” and elevators are “lifts,” but it’s too informal for me to address an email with “Hello!”

4) The weather. Yesterday, it was Atlanta, Georgia in August. Today, it was Los Angeles, California in October.

5) People preparing for exams are said to be “revising.” As in, “I have a huge test tomorrow, so I can’t hang out. I need to revise.” What exactly is going to revised here? What’s being changed? Is it your brain? Are we really referring to studying as “brain restructuring”? It doesn’t make sense. It. Just. Doesn’t.

6) The metric system. I know this isn’t England’s fault. AMERICA.

7) The plumbing. The last relaxing shower I took was at the beginning of April, in a hostel in Prague. Usually, it’s a race against the hot water boiler emptying and seizing and pumping air instead of water, occasionally set to the beautiful rhythms of deep, rumbling pipe squealing.

And perhaps most upsetting of all:

8) There is no delicious Mexican food. I have a trip home planned for September, and it is going to be all burrito, all the time.

Being Human.

After I told my husband that I wanted to divorce, I did a whole host of things I am not proud of, because I was losing my damn mind. I wonder sometimes if that’s excuse enough, if it’s alright for me to brush it all away under the pretext that I was blind and paralyzed with fear and mad with panic. I have people tell me that it’s not, that I was terrible and cruel and not myself. And there are times when I believe that too, when I cry about it and get nauseous and flush red with humiliation. During those times, it helps me to think about why things ended like they did, because while hindsight can make me feel like a sociopath, it can also help me see more clearly.

While I was in Ireland, I grew up. I shook off years of depression and fog and listlessness. I took stock of all the things I had been content to accept about my life at home and decided that 26 was too young to give up on myself. I gathered all the strength I thought I had and I told my husband we couldn’t be married anymore, because, and I truly believe this, it was the best for both of us. Neither of us was happy or fulfilled, but we were tethered together by love and marriage and, at least in my case, a sense of responsibility to the commitments we’d made. I think I’ve told this part before.

What I haven’t said, for nearly a year, is the hardest part, because it’s taken nearly this long for me to come to terms with it.

When I told my husband I couldn’t be married anymore, he was in Ireland with me, having come to collect me at the end of the field school, having traveled to the other side of the world with my parents and The Middle Child. I had vaguely threatened him at the beginning of the summer, because he hadn’t wanted to make the trip. “This is so important to me,” I said, believing it was going to be the last trip I’d take for most of my life. “You are coming.”

Sitting on the park bench, sobbing in broad daylight in public, telling him I was done, I wished I’d spared us both and just let him stay at home.

Instead, the two of us were sewn together for seven days, traveling the country with my family, who were all so shell-shocked and crazy with worry that they wouldn’t let us leave. At the time, I flashed hot with rage and sadness and deep, deep abandonment, because while I had just done the most terrifying thing imaginable, when I needed them the most, my family, reeling with the enormity of what I’d done, couldn’t reach me. They couldn’t be what I wanted them to be. I was broken and exhausted, never needing support more in my entire life, and my family turned on me. Something must have happened to me on that island, something sinister and seedy. I felt I had burst free from years of letting myself down, and everyone around me thought I was on drugs. I had just done something that felt like the most adult, sane decision I had made in years, I had finally told the people closest to me how I actually felt, I had done this massive, life-changing, serious thing, and no one took me seriously. They wrapped me up in shame and resentment, treating me like a caged animal, and plunked me down in the backseat of a Peugeot sedan for a family road trip from hell.

Now, I know that everyone was devastated. This story is not just about my life imploding. But then, I was the instigator, I was the one who started it, and I didn’t feel empathy or kindness or even pity. My family thought I was a monster, a loose cannon of insanity that could disappear at any moment into the wilds of Europe, never to be seen again.

My dad stayed up full nights in the lobbies of bed and breakfasts, just to stop me making a break for it. And for six nights, I stayed in the same room as the man I had just destroyed, crying myself to sleep and trying not to be swallowed up by the ruin and darkness.

For this week, I shut down. I became completely blank. I didn’t talk to anyone, least of all the man I’d loved for years, even though we sat jammed together in a car for hours every day. I listened to the same twenty songs on a loop on an iPod, I texted friends I’d made in Ireland, I cried quietly to myself when the horror of what was happening crept in through the cracks of the walls I’d been building. I did anything I could not be where I was, because that place was disgusting. I had never before lived through an experience that was so horrible it felt surreal, and I never want to again.

I hated everyone. My plan hadn’t been to run away into Europe and never be seen again, but had I been able to, I would have.

During this time, I was not kind. I was not nice or respectful or tuned into what anyone needed. Now I know that everyone felt numb, everyone wanted self-preservation, we all felt abandoned and angry. I couldn’t see it then, though. I was the one who had done this to everyone, and all I could feel was their collective confusion and disbelief. I was a pariah in my own family, and it hurt so much that I stopped feeling. For that week, eventually they were right –  I was not myself.

When I consider all of it like this, I can forgive myself. That doesn’t make it go away, or even make it better, but it makes it digestible.

I am not a bad person.

I am human.

Apalapucia.

whinybaby:

I’m stealing this beautiful, devastating post from a friend from home, who has put into words all the things I feel. And have felt. And will continue to feel.

Change is brutal. It is relentless. It is gorgeous. It is freedom.

Originally posted on ..and still not ginger:

This is where something touching is supposed to go.

This is where I’m supposed to spill my heart and explain to my very small world how the most recent events in my life came to pass…What I have learned. It should be insightful… moving.

But as I sit here, staring at a blinking cursor and a blank page, I have quickly accepted that nothing I say will be satisfying… or rather, satisfying enough for each and every person who ventures upon these words. Moreover, the words that I myself write won’t even be what I would consider satisfying or remotely eloquent. Maybe this solves nothing and answers no one – but it helps.

And since we are talking about words, here are a few that have been thrown at me recently:

Selfish.
Careless.
Cold.

Being called selfish is a bizarre experience for me. It’s certainly something I am not used…

View original 1,048 more words

Things I Learned In Newcastle.

Yesterday morning at 7 am, I flew up to Newcastle for a workshop. Last night at 8 pm, I flew back to Southampton. (Initially, I wrote “at 8 pm, I flew home,” and then I immediately panicked. Is England home now? Eeeps.)

When Newcastle University offered to fund my flights up there for one day, I was super impressed with myself. I’d sent out a query about attending a workshop exactly six days before the event was set to take place, and instead of the form rejection email I deserved, I received a supremely enthusiastic reply, complete with details on a flight that could get me there and back in one day. Mind = blown. As much as I loved teaching children, it was always a terrible struggle to wring $20 for new colored pencils out of the administration of the private school where I worked. So, the thought of someone I didn’t know throwing £200 at me so that I could share my infinite wisdom with a group of people who were hugely more educated and accomplished than me was nothing short of unreal.

I was so excited for my business trip.

Sadly, now, sitting on the other end of a 17-hour work day that included two planes, two taxis, two trains, and one bus, I can say that flying to a meeting in another city without also booking a hotel room is really pretty dumb.

However, the workshop was fantastic and Newcastle is gorgeous and I’m very happy I was able to go.

It was also a learning experience:

1) Newcastle Airport is staffed entirely by teenage girls. This is no exaggeration. Check-in desk: girls. Security staff: girls. Gate police: girls. I could not believe it. My air travel safety was in the hands of 18-year-olds with box-dyed pony tails and loud stories about boys. I don’t doubt the intelligence or abilities of young women, as I was one of those once, but there was something mildly unsettling about having the people scanning our carry-ons be people who were having a heated discussion about the best music festivals in England.

2) I am a demon when hungry/tired/traveling. I saw a baby struggling to get its face out of some bright sunshine at the airport and my first thought was, “God, just close your eyes, dummy.” I thought that. About a baby.

3) This is not specific to Newcastle, but it synthesized for me when I tripped over the cord of a running vacuum cleaner at the Newcastle Airport at 5:30 in the afternoon: retail England does not hide its maintenance from the public. In the United States, supermarket shelves are restocked late at night and in the early mornings. In fact, the only time I have ever seen someone wheeling a cart full of boxes around a Ralph’s was when I’d pop into one at 6:30 am for the cheap coffee and bagel I’d sometimes eat in shame in my car before I started work. Here, in the UK, supermarkets are restocked approximately 100% of the time I am inside them. I would say that one in four supermarket aisles have massive carts blocking them at any given moment in England. Also, there is always, always some sort of cleaning happening throughout the day, like in the airport W H Smith bookstore I was in yesterday, where there was a teenage girl (surprise!) wheeling a vacuum around the store in the middle of the day. WHAT.

4) Los Angeles has ruined me for public transportation – in that, there is no public transportation to speak of in LA, and I have now aged to a point at which there is no teaching this old dog new Metro tricks. (Not in a prostitute way, pervs.) I rode the Metro thirty minutes in the wrong direction yesterday and ended up in Sunderland, which is, according to the taxi driver who drove me back into Newcastle, the patchy, sad stepbrother of Newcastle Upon Tyne. (I didn’t say that, guys. It was all the cab driver. Sunderland looked great.)

5) The power of good Mexican food knows no borders. Strangely, of the twelve people at the workshop yesterday, six of us were American ex-pats. Three (including me) were from California. Two were from Los Angeles. I ended up talking to a dude from La Habra about the glory of El Cholo, my favorite Mexican restaurant of all time, for about ten minutes. All about the sauces and the chips and the burritos and oh my God I have to stop thinking about this because it is physically painful.

All in all, despite my near-death experience in the bookstore and my very real (and also very fleeting) baby judgment, yesterday was a pretty good day.

I just never want to do something like that again.

Hobby Lobby, Religious Freedom, and Women’s Rights: One Billion-Dollar Corporation’s Brave Struggle for Equality

Last night, I did something stupid. Something I haven’t done for six years, during the 2008 elections, when I used this technique to successfully weed out all the people on my Facebook friends list who harbored gross, homophobic, and racist ideals. However, last night was worse, because as I no longer have friends who make me crazy, instead:

I participated in a Facebook comment battle with two strangers I have never met.

I am 100% sure that even the other people able to read this in real time on Facebook didn’t care about it, so I fully understand that you, dear readers, will probably care even less. However, I am particularly fired up about this issue (read: yesterday’s near-hysterical summary of The Handmaid’s Tale), and therefore, I am okay with subjecting you all to this.

Also: it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

I decided to cannonball right into this hot mess when I came across a friend’s posting of all the different reasons women use birth control (none of which are “to abort unborn babies,” by the way). It was the responses of her friends that inspired me to dive in headfirst, because they amounted to, effectively, “Well, only two of the sixteen options were at issue,” and “Thank God someone is finally speaking up for the business owners in the United States,” both of which are arguments that are completely, willfully illogical and borderline scary, in my opinion.

So, I couldn’t just NOT say anything. Obviously.

I’ve left out the approximately one zillion comments I exchanged with a dude who was arguing for the rights of businesses to run fully unencumbered by the long arm of the law. Because, as a white Christian male, it was easy for him to blind himself to what this really was about, which is not that poor Hobby Lobby finally made it to the top.

He eventually said that he “doesn’t want the government in his business,” after celebrating a SCOTUS decision that sets the scene for the legislation of religious beliefs and the refusal of health care specifically to women. You have to be a mental contortionist to make that logic stick, so good for you, sir. Your powers of denial are impressive.

Now onto the better stuff (names and photos skillfully erased in MS Paint, but you should know this is a woman):
Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 9.28.36 PM
Screen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.27.47 PMScreen Shot 2014-07-01 at 10.27.58 PMThere is a ton to unpack here, but suffice to say that the extent to which people cannot see the forest for the trees astounds me. In her responses, this woman fully ignores the fact that people live in different circumstances than she does (i.e. that $20 for birth control every month might not be financially possible for some women), calls birth control “elective abortion” (and then denies it, which I don’t buy, considering the ONLY REASON the morning-after pill is on trial here is that people believe it has abortive powers), all while reveling in the fact that now her birth control is free (BECAUSE OF THE AFFORDABLE CARE ACT – you know, the terrible, socialist health care reform that is causing Big Business so many sleepless nights). Oh, and then she says that birth control is not a basic medical necessity that saves lives, which is just the best, considering this.

She went on to say, in a portion of this thread I had already bowed out of, that she was happy to see a corporation standing up for something moral, in a world when all businesses seem to care about is money and politics.

Which is. Just. No.

To say something like that is to totally ignore the fact that attempts to deny women contraception have been politicized since before the advent of hormonal birth control. To say something like that is to forget that Hobby Lobby is now immune to any fines they would have incurred by refusing to cover medical care specific to women.

This is not a moral issue , unless you are morally opposed to legislating away the rights of fifty percent of the population in the country in which you live. Then, yeah, sure. It’s morally reprehensible.

There is no way to see this decision as anything but a victory of people who hope to refuse rights to women. Full stop.

The Handmaid’s Tale.

When I was 15 years old, I discovered Margaret Atwood as I devoured my way through the local branch of the public library. I read Alias Grace and The Blind Assassin and The Handmaid’s Tale and several others and I loved everything about them. Margaret Atwood is the queen of the metaphor and her lush, almost tangible writing thrilled me as a teenager. I was so inspired by what she did with words – it made me consider literature differently than all the other hundreds of books I’d read.

Although I was struck by how gorgeous her books were, nearly fifteen years ago I was too young (and stupid) to see below the surface. As beautifully written as these books are, their themes are even more magnificently crafted. Recently, having fully chilled out and settled into a calm routine here in England (no more overwhelming homesickness or volcanic acne!), I decided it was high time to start reading fiction in earnest again. And my first purchases were Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale.

I adore Alias Grace and recommend it to everyone. You should read it. It is excellent.

However, what I’m really doing here is singing the praises of The Handmaid’s Tale, which is, I believe, the most important work of fiction I have ever read.

Really.

Set in the not-so-distant future, The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a young woman who has been witness to and been victimized by a patriarchal, totalitarian, Puritan regime that has overthrown the government of the United States of America. In this new world order, a woman’s fertility is prized above all else, and she cannot own property or make her own choices. The Handmaid protagonist is an educated, employed, married mother who, when the ax falls, is separated from her husband and daughter and forced to become a surrogate bound to a wealthy, infertile couple.

This book was fascinating to me as a teenager, in that the description of this dystopian future is masterful. It is terrifying to me as an adult, because now it reads less like a fantasy in science fiction and more like an outpost from the future. In her novel, Atwood details the slow burn to total oppression in a way that will be horrifyingly familiar if you’ve happened to read the news lately. The idea of female agency as anti-religion, godless, and the definition of evil is the crux of the power play at work in The Handmaid’s Tale. The construction of women as necessarily pure, as chattel, as pieces to be moved around whenever convenient, as lesser than, as chalices, as empty vessels waiting to be filled or held or disposed of as necessary seeps through the book like it does in various political groups currently active in the actual world right now.

Re-reading this novel the very week of the Supreme Court’s ruling that a corporation’s religious beliefs are paramount to the medical needs of women is chilling, most especially because this religious protest centers solely on the coverage of medication that allows women to make their own choices concerning their fertility. Leaving aside the enormous logical leap one must take to attempt to protect the religious freedom of a corporation, which is not a person, at the expense of thousands of diverse actual people, this SCOTUS decision makes it plain that the most powerful lawmakers in the country believe that the health and reproductive decisions of women should not be the purview of the women themselves.

The Handmaid’s Tale, everyone.