Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weekend Words: Exploring No Man's Land

New York--No Man's Land.
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    Does that mean the women reign? Well, according to Ruth Fowler, they...we...hold a false sense of prominence all in the form of a G-string and exposed flesh. Cash, ultimately, is king, and his queen, a restless and hollow-eyed void of isolation, shame and anxiety.

 With that said, I've been reading and pondering Ruth Fowler's memoir, No Man's Land, which has been republished as Girl, Undressed.

    It's not just another cliche gritty tale of a good girl gone bad, but of an intelligent British-born girl who moves to New York City in search of that elusive combination--thrill and creative fulfillment. We all deal with these phases of life. We've all been there, and many of us are still there, or will be again at some point. We've all searched. We've all felt that crush. That smash of hope and idealistic belief that the world is a happy, secure place where we will surely experience great things. Bang. Smash. Broken. And as a result, we're forced to react and regroup or simply do nothing. We deal, or don't, differently.  In Girl, Undressed, some girls get undressed to cope. They strip down, which should make them vulnerable, but in reality, it's the antithesis of being naked. To each their own. We're all wearing masks whether we're stripping down or layering up.


If you're looking to read a relatively graphic testimony of one person, one woman's pain with no fluffy bullshit (sorry, Mom), then pick this up. Even if out of curiosity. I thought that I'd seen some unforgettable sights, experienced many things I shouldn't have & hope to forget daily, and those thoughts which only haunt my nightmares---Fowler, a Cambridge grad from Wales and an aspiring writer, finds herself scrambling for work in New York to pay her rent in between sporadic writing opportunities. 

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The author, Ruth Fowler, also known as "Mimi."
Image via nymag.com 

Meanwhile, as she's navigating the overwhelming route for an immigrant visa (and being pulled through the ringer) to obtain full-time work, she begins waitressing. We've heard this storyline before. Unable to financially survive, she transitions to a strip club. In a matter of weeks, she's a dancer. In between alcohol-fueled nights of hundred dollar bills, the gropes of men in suits, and an insatiable loneliness, she struggles to write...and then, the work becomes more sporadic until it ultimately diminishes until cessation. She loses that fresh optimism that so many bring to this city. Bright eyes darken. Clearly, I can relate. A story here. Something there. A lead. A letdown. Some hope. Then, utter and complete failure and self-loathing.
 
 In order to cope with her reality, she creates a New York City stripper identity for herself who goes by the name Mimi. Initially, it's a protective measure, ensuring that she separates her true self from this grinding, writhing, money-driven version. But, eventually, the lines blur, and she embraces Mimi with both arms.
 
It's quite terrifying-- it begins as a coping mechanism, a way to internalize, process, and even compartmentalize our lives. People spend much of their energy and daily seconds, minutes, and hours focusing on image. That “faking it” aspect of our lives. But, when you fake it so well, allow this image to consume you, the lines between yourself and this image begin to cross, then blur and go hazy. Which one is which? Which side is what? Where does one’s self end and the image begin? Or is it vice-versa? Real and fake. Fake and real. Self and Image. Or was the fake the self and the real the image?  It’s a guessing game at this point. It’s inevitable. The grey lines bleed together in a way that I never intended. I’ve spent so long trying to make this choice. To decide. I’d gone back and forth, staring at, what I thought was the authentic me, my real self, and that which I was attempting to mold myself into, that image, that reflection staring back at me, that I’d been trying to create and portray flawlessly in an effort to fool everyone who glanced this way. Including myself. Toss up.
 
 I’ve spent so long trying to figure out who I was. So long deciphering and dissecting. What kind of person was I? What kind of girl? What kind of adult? What kind of woman? I couldn’t ever consistently fit into one classification, and I couldn’t ever grasp the thought of being so many different things simultaneously, so many different people, so many different girls, so many different adults, so many different kinds of women. Within the pages of Fowler's memoir, she struggles with these questions. What defines us? Are we good? Bad? Or just somewhere in between in that hazy, grey, roped-off area? Asking these questions creates pain. Receiving answers creates even more, and it's evident in this book.
 
 
    Fowler knows pain, whether she admits it or not. I get it. I feel her. But you know, I’m not going to pretend that I am, in any way, a prime example of the pain and daily struggle of the human spirit. In fact, it’s possible that I am insulting generations of people and a vast majority of individuals today by even addressing my own pain and labeling it as significant. In so many ways, I have been very lucky, blessed, whatever word you feel most comfortable with. But I know the pain I have felt. I know that pain. I know it. It has been real to me. That kind of inexplicable pain that you can’t pinpoint. I have longed to be able to place my hand on my side below my ribs or grab hold of my knee, and say, “Right here! This is where it hurts, everyone! This is the spot!”

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So, I have never quite understood why people feel compelled to compare one’s struggles or pain to another’s. Isn’t pain subjective? People say things like, “Can you believe her or him? What do they know about suffering? They have no idea what hardship is!” And, you could perhaps judge Fowler and her life choices in this book, if you possess those judgments. Granted, some have it better than others, and so many don’t know which of group they fall into. That, or they don’t care. But, who are we to tell someone that they don’t have the right to feel something? Pain, real pain, can hardly be measured, tested, put into little lab tubes, slid under a microscope slide and compared. Impossible.

   When I look at the world, one can not possibly be so much worse off, better justified in their pain, or higher or lower on these separate scales of good and bad. Pain is personal, and therefore, by default, snakes through us on some sliding scale, varying from body to body, rather than moving to the right or to the left of some fixed constant of neutral ambivalence.


There is no constant here. There is no mile marker of indifference from which we can judge our distance, much less anyone else’s.
 

    Each person’s journey is their own. I only know mine. I’m just saying, in a small and most likely, minute and un-influential way, I can relate to inner pain that feels like its crawling out of your chest and eating you from the inside out. I know pain. It’s real to me. This was and is all real to me. That’s all I can tell you. And, reading another's unique testimony, makes us all feel a little more connected. A little less isolated in this chaotic, spinning spinning spinning world we coexist in.


Think about it. What's your story? What's the man or woman's next to you? Ask them. Ask you.

 

So, back to New York, eh? No man's land? I don't know if it's a woman's either anymore. We're all just renters. We're renting space here. Maybe it doesn't belong to any of us.
 
I'm just determined to prevent  anything, anyone, and especially, New York, from owning me.
 

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