Just out of the oven. The man shook his head. Hating cutters crystallizes a broader disdain for pain that is understood as performed rather than legitimately felt. A cry for attention is positioned as a crime, as if attention were inherently a selfish thing to want. Gradations sharpen inside the taboo: Some cut from pain, others for show. How much do we choose to feel anything? But hating on cutters insists desperately upon our capacity for choice. I used to cut.
There was nothing false about my cutting. It was neither horrifying nor productive. I felt like I wanted to cut my skin, and my cutting was an expression of that desire. There is no lie in that, only a tautology and a question: What made me want to cut at all? Cutting was query and response at once.
I cut because my unhappiness felt nebulous and elusive and I thought it could perhaps hold the shape of a line across my ankle. I cut because I was curious what it would feel like to cut. I wish we lived in a world where no one wanted to cut. Cutting is an attempt to speak and an attempt to learn. Blood comes before the scar; hunger before the apple.
Women are more likely to be given sedatives. The subject only comes up later, at the dinner table, when Knapp drinks too much wine and tells her parents she has a problem. Different kinds of pain summon different terms of art: hurt, suffering, ache, trauma, angst, wounds, damage. Suffering is epic and serious; trauma implies a specific devastating event and often links to damage , its residue. Wounds suggest sex and aperture: A wound marks the threshold between interior and exterior; it marks where a body has been penetrated. It describes how the act of admitting one wound creates another one: It pains me to record this.
I think of the bulb of my skinned knee, badge of my heartbreak, and how I loved the clarity of what it spoke but felt utterly pained by how much I loved it. I am not a melodramatic person. The general outline goes something like this: girl gets her period; girl gets scared; girl gets mocked. Girl gets; girl gets; girl gets. Plug it up! A real woman takes it for granted. Getting your period is one kind of wound; not getting it is another.
These days we have a TV show called Girls , about young women who hurt but constantly disclaim their hurting. God help the woman who is. They are wary of melodrama, so they stay numb or clever instead. I see it in female writers and their female narrators, troves of stories about vaguely dissatisfied women who no longer fully own their feelings. Pain is everywhere and nowhere. Their hurt has a new native language spoken in several dialects: sarcastic, jaded, opaque; cool and clever. But someone involved in the production knows how to write very well indeed.
Robbins frustrates me and speaks for me. I find myself in a bind. I felt particularly wounded by the brilliant and powerful female poet who visibly flinched during a workshop at Harvard when I started reciting Sylvia Plath. We had to go around in a circle and tell the group our worst fear. These instructions created a weird incentive structure. Snuff films? We were giggling. Whenever I tell that story as an anecdote, I think about the other girls in that circle. I wonder if anything terrible ever happened to any of them.
We are made to bleed and scab and heal and bleed again and turn every scar into a joke. Boy, you best pray that I bleed real soon.
Bluffing your way into my mouth, behind my teeth, reaching for my scars. Did I ever tell you how I stopped eating, when you stopped calling me? I called my favorites by their first names: Tori and Ani. Every once in a while her songs posed questions: Why did she crawl down in the old deep ravine? Why do we crucify ourselves? Of course the song played just like the song it described. Listening felt so bad and so good.
It felt like falling in love. Those songs gave me scars to try on like costumes. Carrie knew how it was done; she never plugged it up. She splashed around. I was ready to weaponize my menarche. I was waiting for the day when I could throw my womanhood to the sharks because I finally had some womanhood to call my own. I started hunting for more ladies singing about wounds.
I asked my boyfriend for suggestions. Bleeding is the proof and home of passion, its residence and protectorate. Best bathos on the air. Well, yes, it is. Turn every scar into a joke. But what if some of us want to take our scars seriously? Woman is a pain that never goes away. When I called myself a DJ mixing angst, it was a preemptive strike. I felt like I had to defend myself against some hypothetical accusation that would be lobbed against my book by the world at large.
The pain is what you make of it. You have to find something in it that yields. Once I wrote a story from that open wound W. He was done. I kept trying to figure it out. I made people tell me I was more attractive than my ex. Maybe drunken heartbreak was the lamest thing I could possibly write about, but this was precisely why I wanted to write about it.
There were also practical concerns. I had a deadline for workshop. I wrote the ending first. It was an assertion: I had a heart. It remained. It was frustrating. Because this nebulous sadness seemed to attach to female anxieties cultural models of anorexia and cutting and women addicted to male attention , I began to understand it as inherently feminine, and because it was so unjustified by circumstance it began to feel inherently shameful. My ex had been pulling away before I ever confessed anything to him.
Punishment involved imagining the ways my confessions might repulse the very men they were supposed to bring closer. In the meantime, I was nervous about workshop. Would I be lauded as a genius? Quietly understood as pathetic? I chose my outfit carefully. As it happened, that story was the first one I ever published. One woman in Arizona even got part of it tattooed on her back. Men say it helps them sympathize more with certain female tendencies. These men write to me about their relationships: Women who once seemed like reckless bitches, they say, start to seem like something else.
I trusted he meant: understood. My pain had flown beyond the confines of its bone shop. And yet, in the end, it all comes back home. Do I still wonder if my ex ever read that story? The summer after my freshman year of college, my mouth was wired shut for two months while my jaw healed from an operation. The wires held everything in place. I squirted geriatric energy drinks into the small opening between my teeth and the back of my mouth. I wrote notes on little yellow pads. I read a lot.
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Already, then, I thought of documenting my experience for posterity. Her memoir, Autobiography of a Face , is the story of her childhood cancer and enduring facial disfigurement. I read it in an afternoon and then I read it again. These were times when she was cared for, and when her pain was given a structure beyond the nebulous petty torture of feeling ugly to the world. These imperatives make it shameful to feel any attachment to pain or any sensitivity to its offerings.
She can only take solace in how much it hurts, and in how this hurting elicits the care of others. In this confession, of course, the wound does become fertile. It yields honesty. She insists on the tyranny of the body and its damage. And now we find ourselves torn. Reshape it into what? Into faith, sexual promiscuity, intellectual ambition. At the very last, at the pinnacle: into art. She was more than tired of. I think her anger is asking a question, and I think that question demands an answer. How do we represent female pain without producing a culture in which this pain has been fetishized to the point of fantasy or imperative?
Fetishize: to be excessively or irrationally devoted to. The hard part is that underneath this obscene fascination with representations of women who hurt themselves and have bad sex and drink too much, there are actual women who hurt themselves and have bad sex and drink too much. You court a certain disdain by choosing to write about hurting women. You want to cry, I am not a melodramatic person! But everyone thinks you are. You should be ashamed of yourself. Lucy Grealy learned to be a good patient when she learned that it was possible to fail at being sick.
The physical pain seemed almost easy in comparison. Her exposure is clean and necessary. There is no pain. The nerves are gone. Once pain is cleansed into something silver and necessary, it no longer needs to be illuminated. Like Wallace Stevens and his blackbirds, we see pain from every angle; no single posture of suffering is allowed any monopoly. We follow this figure into contradiction, into a confession that wounds are desired and despised; that they grant power and come at a price; that suffering yields virtue and selfishness; that victimhood is a mix of situation and agency; that pain is the object of representation and also its product; that culture transcribes genuine suffering while naturalizing its symptoms.
We follow this thirteenth Nude back to the bleachers, where a girl is putting on a passion play with her razor. We should watch. We can watch what happens when the girl under the bleachers puts down the blade. Suffering is interesting but so is getting better. I want to insist that female pain is still news. Sure, some news is bigger news than other news. You learn to start seeing. I think dismissing wounds offers a convenient excuse: no need to struggle with the listening or telling anymore.
Plug it up. But I say: Keep bleeding. The wounded woman gets called a stereotype, and sometimes she is. I think the possibility of fetishizing pain is no reason to stop representing it. Pain that gets performed is still pain. Pain turned trite is still pain. I just wrote that. I want our hearts to be open.
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She directs the graduate nonfiction program at Columbia University. I feel deeply disturbed by your words. Not the ordinary disturbed which means bothered, rather, think more of a pile of leaves tossed by the wind. I'm male, but I have lived my entire life in the shadow of a creature I call female, such a subtle, mysterious creature, that I long to understand.
Thank you for having the energy and the persistence to vocalize your thoughts. I feel the need to respond. My ability to respond is completely inadequet, you overwhelm me- but I shall try a few words. I will say, at least, I understand the mask better, but there is still something lacking. We don't even see the traps that we fabricate. And yet, it would seem from an objective standpoint that a woman is, biologically speaking, both of the capacity of her brain to register pain, and in the wiring of her body to experience it, capable of a phenomenally high level of sensitivity. Perhaps Eve was weak.
Maybe humans are flawed, humanity itself a mistake. Circumcision is a violent word, but you do not experience it as I have had to, and yet it has not brought me pain, but an inability to experience both some pain and some pleasure. In the end, perhaps, pain is meaningless. From a larger perspective, it doesn't seem to teach much, but to cause problems, to break the psyche, the mind and the body. Perhaps we should find a way to avoid all pain. I would iterate at length on that thought trend, but I think you can imagine what utopian possibilities are concievable, I leave the mental narration to you.
Suffice it to say that our species has gained the ability to objectify, to remediate nature through artifice and complicated logic read lies , and this transforms how we experience existance, as well as what we experience. Suffice it to say you would be just as happy, not to have eaten of the tree of subjective ability to assign good and evil, but only the tree of nature.
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Again, setting aside my personal musings on the dispicableness of reality, I applaud you- champion your words. I shall not speak of how this seems to leave woman alone if alive, betrayed and assaulted by a horribly alien male world. I shall not speak of how this seems to leave male horrible and alien. I only ask that those who might read your words and these look to see that they apply to all who feel pain, and I champion that you have explored the why we experience it the way we do. Thank you. If anything else does not register, if you do not appreciate anything else, understand that even to such a thoughtless and uncomplicated creature such as myself, your words have registered a unique quality and they will continue to impact how I understand others.
I must commit an antithesis. I also could be pursuaded to see this essay as a thesis with one purpose, to vindicate and validate your identity as a wound-dweller. Perhaps mind over matter is mind over body, is a real, if elusive, ability to not only block out pain but never experience it. Many experiences are not objective but subjective. We can take them how we want to. One person's foot amputation is another's spilled mcfries.
Should we discard the objective measure of severity, if one might be said to exist, for the subjective whiles and whims of a capracious conciousness?
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I ask only for a reply to this. And finally just because I have suffered, wound, scar and bleed I also laugh, sing and breathe. Just because I am woman almost 50 years doesn't mean you can mind over my matter, man. I have seen men cry, bleed, burn, legless, armless, homeless, paid-less, wounded, cut, arrested, and verboten- these are my brothers! Joshuah, this may not be the reply you want. Althought, I am a woman, I tend to respond to distress with advice rather than consolation, hoping that if the problem can be rectified, there is no need for consolation.
Assuming you are not just an internet troll, no doubt you did not understand something. There was no judgment about men in this woman's writing about women. You should probably see a therapist about your struggle to understand women and take some college classes in physiology to understand why human animals feel pain. Best of luck to you. What a beautiful exploration of pain, a woman's pain, our Pain, our fear of pain, of becoming and Being Pain, our relation to Pain and its relation to us in the world, which would often prefer that we disguise the pain Thank you very much for this, because until now I have never realized how little we have been allowed in general to explore this subject, especially as women, who have come to represent pain in its shadow forms.
This in-depth exploration and your frankness are a refreshing bit of rebellion, and a call to opening of hearts is where I wish literature could end more often. I feel lucky to have some distance from this part of my life, and what's odd about that is how much pain it took to stop focusing on the pain.
I remember though, how lost it felt. And I can't help thinking, why didn't I see it? Why don't we all? We're just the modern version of those captive Victorian housewives. Our focus is narrowed on pain because it's easier than forcing ourselves to really live. Why is it easier? Because we know it. There's much to admire here. However, I feel it is important to state that one reason women emphasize their emotional and physical pain is because for too long the only way their strength could be judged culturally and physically was by how well they could bear pain.
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Whatever insensitivity maleness brings to my relations with women. OIt also brings that desire expressed above. Any woman with whom I would dare dare risk a deep personal relationship with most likely does not understand this desire. That in me lies a hunger, that burden and ache. That I can reach beyond her pain, beyond her past and present mistakes, past and present life, past and present men and wipe the slate clean on her behalf.
She is re-enacting this YouTube video of a psychopath sitting dead-eyed in her prison uniform and recounting how she killed a man. When Ms. Waller-Bridge, a writer and star of strange and beguiling comedic works, is tucked into a red leather booth in the lobby bar of the Soho Theater, eating a browning banana and searching for little openings to laugh about just about anything.
She talks like a one-woman band, always pulling some strange new sound effect out of her body. When she laughs, her voice opens into an off-kilter melody, as if her throat has recently taken up the xylophone. She is so good at making people laugh that her facility for pathos can sneak up on them. While her audiences are distracted by sparkling punch lines, she is secretly messing around in the dark reaches of their psyches. The sneak attack has become Ms. Waller-Bridge created a modern heroine and deconstructed her at once. When she picks up the character again, for the New York run, she says it will be for the last time.
Pain here! Funny there! Waller-Bridge leapt to international fame. She will rehearse here for just a week with Ms. Jones before heading to New York. Down the street is her alma mater, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, the acting school that secretly taught her she should be a writer. She went there because she wanted to put on plays, but for the first couple of years her courses did not involve working with actual words, and she grew desperate for them. Then she found her fellow bat.
Jones was directing a play featuring Ms. Jones was startled by her wild and unpredictable acting choices. She gave her a nickname: Brando. Soon the actress and the director had teamed up to form a theater company, DryWrite , staging guerrilla theater nights that challenged writers to provoke audiences: make them fight or make them fall in love. One night, designed to incite a battle of the sexes, produced a raft of submissions that were so bleakly misogynistic that they finally moved Ms.
Waller-Bridge to write a script of her own. In it, she played a woman who somberly explains to her boyfriend that though she loves him very much, she must occasionally have sex with a man with a massive penis, and that every other woman feels the same. Her early work is sprinkled with notes from her relationship with Ms. Waller-Bridge would pluck out a melody on her ukulele and every word they sang was required to be the absolute truth.
Later Ms. She is always working to keep one step ahead of her audience. When she is out with Ms.