can’t find my way home

“So, what does this even mean?”

Paintbrush fingers trace the thin black lines that decorate the cavity in my chest where my ribs meet my sternum. Gentle, like warm mid-May breezes dragging the heady scent of lilacs over my skin. A contrast to the aggressive buzzing bees that had filled the hollow of my stomach as the tattoo gun had scarred meaning into my skin over a year before.

“It’s Vegvisir,” I say. “It’s a stave in Icelandic mythology. It literally means ‘sign post’. Way back in the day, it was supposed to be protection for travelers. They’d paint it in blood on their forehead and it’d help them find their way home, even in storms or bad weather or when they couldn’t tell where they were going.”

“Deep.”

“I got it before I went to Europe,” I add. It feels at once significant and like I’m undercutting its importance.

___

Home. Noun. The place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household. A place of residence.

I’ve lived in Austin, Texas for three years – longer than I’ve stayed anywhere since I was eight years old – but it still doesn’t quite feel like home. My apartment, well-lived-in, is decorated with knick-knacks. The walls are covered in my own artwork. I’ve built shelves, strung up lights, painted the windowsills. I’ve had time to develop a narrative in a place entirely my own.

But coming “home” – coming back to my apartment – still feels like trying to fit a puzzle piece into the wrong puzzle. A key into the wrong lock. The shapes of the edges, the teeth, are similar enough to almost work. The colors close enough to almost blend in. But no matter how much you try, no matter how much you force the issue, you’re still staring at a picture that you don’t quite belong in. A door you can’t enter.

___

Eighteen days alone in Paris. Eighteen days wrapped in the syrupy humidity of mid-July France. Eighteen nights with my feet propped up on the railing of the balcony in the fifth-floor apartment I’d rented in the twelfth arrondissement, the one smaller than my kitchen in Austin, door flung wide to relieve the top floor from the heat that had accumulated throughout the day. Eighteen mornings of rising with the sun and the scent of fresh-baked croissants from the boulangerie five floors below my temporary apartment.

It had been long enough that I’d developed a routine. Wake up and dress to the sunrise washing the sky in watercolor shades of rose and lavender with just the faintest touch of orange somewhere along the horizon. Pick a direction and lose myself on my way to a final destination – to a market or a church or a garden – and watch the way different sections of the city wake up, how they exist so elegantly while I stumbled, awed, through streets cluttered with rows of buildings. Take lunch with a view – of the Seine, of shaded parks, of sculptures tucked amongst trees – and fill pages of a notebook with words that have never felt more significant. Find your tourist destination of the day and abandon it for dinner in a restaurant close-packed with neighborhood residents who know each other by name. Take the metro back to Dugommier, pick up a bottle of cheap wine, wait for the sun to set. Repeat.

On day two, my phone was stolen. A month’s worth of pictures from travels abroad had been lost, along my contact with the outside world. For sixteen further days, it was just me. It forced me to integrate. Make friends with French shopkeepers. Order food when didn’t know what was in it. Learn to find my way without a map. Experience the Bastille Day fireworks with unmitigated wonder. Fall in love with a city even when I’d seen its underbelly.

I left on a Monday morning, unsure if I was leaving a home, returning to one, or some combination of the two.

___

Home. Noun. The social unit formed by living together. The place in which one’s domestic affections are centered.

When nowhere feels like home, everywhere starts to. My mom moved to Texas when I was twelve, we’d moved houses twice before then, and I lived with my dad in Michigan until I graduated during which period we moved seven times. Visiting my mom on breaks from school, I never could get close enough to either parent to establish an emotional connection to them or the places they’d brought me. There was a significant period of my childhood where my battered red suitcase – the one broken and taped back together too many times through too many miles traveled – genuinely felt like home. It was the only stable element in a life that could be upturned at any moment. The only consistency. The only thing linking one state to another, when even I felt like I’d change each time I made the 1400 mile journey, when I realized that more of my life had been spent in transit than in one place.

You take comforts where you can find them. You make homes of places you’ll never see again. You find stability in the suitcase that holds all your worldly belongings. You find something to latch onto, something to call ‘home’.

___

Summer sunshine filtered through the window of a battered Toyota Yaris bedecked in bumper stickers and a Martini racing stripe. Tucked in the backseat amongst a pile of luggage, I felt a sick feeling of loss mount pressure in the back of my throat, the one that always took residence there as I abandoned one place in search of something new.

From Boston to Indianapolis, Montreal, Toronto, New York City, Pocono, and twice to Watkins Glen, that cramped backseat had become a place I looked forward to being almost more than the destination itself. Intimate. More familiar than the return trips to Austin had felt. It was a stable presence in a summer of living in tents and hostels, in living rooms of friends or spare beds of strangers. I’d left a little bit of myself at each locale, a promise that I’d return one day to the streets and forests and tracks I’d explored, but it was always the Yaris that welcomed me back with open arms at the end of a long, sunburnt weekend.

It was the last trip of the year. Back to Austin from September until January. I kept saying I was going home, but there was a familiar feeling telling me that I already somehow was. I was in transit, moving, establishing myself across the country, always coming back to the same familiar face and the same cloth-covered seat. Always, still, with the ruined red suitcase by my side. It felt like home, and I knew it wasn’t.

___

In 2016, I went home. Home. A place of origin. A native place. I had never been to East Lansing before in my life, but it was Michigan – my birth state, my general area of residence for eighteen years – so it became ‘home’.

East Lansing is 120 miles from both the quiet town I grew up in and all the reasons why I hadn’t set foot in the state for two years. A two hour drive if traffic is clear – and it usually is. A two hour drive from the Indiana border, from which I’d come in 2016.

In Michigan, things never quite feel like they’ve changed. I had never driven that particular route before, but there was a sense of recognition. I knew those trees that lined the pothole-ridden streets. I knew the cars eaten by rust, the regional grocery stores, the jumbled Midwestern dialect, the houses with perpetual ‘for sale’ signs tacked in the front lawn. I knew it all. It was home.

But after 730 days away, I didn’t want it to be. After drinking in sights and sounds and smells from across the world, I wanted this to feel foreign in its familiarity. I didn’t want to stop at Kroger to pick up duct tape for my front bumper and know where to go. I didn’t want to find Superman ice cream waiting for me in the freezer of my childhood best friends’ apartment. I didn’t want to hear their voices and fall back into the patterns of speech I’d spent so long trying to abandon.

And yet – 120 miles away from my hometown – it was.

___

Wisner, Michigan is an unincoporated community of Wisner Township, a region whose total number of residents doesn’t exceed 750 in forty square miles, a town so small that it’s unrecognized by the postal system – all our letters had to be addressed to Akron and forwarded from there. Our claim to fame was the Log Cabin Grocery Store that was, in reality, a Shell gas station that served mediocre food and stocked postcards from Lake Huron. You’d have to drive ten miles to find the nearest stoplight, forty-two if you wanted a Wal-Mart. It was a thirty minute walk to the nearest neighbor.

Surrounded by four fields that alternated between corn and sugar beets depending on the year, flanked by three rows of tall pine trees to shield our house from view of the few cars that may pass down the dirt road, was the A-frame house that I grew up calling my home. A two-story nightmare built of knotty wood. [redacted] There that I called home.

I called it my home long after we’d moved out, long after I’d lived in the equally-barren Bangor, the slightly more populated Rose Island and Sebewaing. We’d lived in that house in Wisner for no more than six years, but moving out felt like a displacement of my entire world. My entire being. It was the place that taught me who I was. I’d hated it more than anything, but every time I drove by, I felt wistful. Home.

I don’t remember what it looks like inside now. I can’t remember if my bedroom walls were white or pale blue. I don’t remember how many drawers were in our cupboard, if it was the fourth or the fifth one that held the snacks. I wiped my memory clean when I left, and then spent years trying to recover from the damage of a place that exists only as a symbol. An abstract. The definition to the elusive word ‘home’.

___

“So does it work?” A blunt fingernail scratches ever-so-gently down the line splitting the sigil on my chest in two. Shivers. I lay my hand overtop his and spread his fingers wide, pressing down so that his palm obscures the totality of the tattoo. With it, I’ve found paths and ways. I’ve found places. I’ve found homes that I left behind for other homes. But I’m not sure that’s what he’s looking for when he asks, “You find your way home?”

His hotel room feels a little bit like a home, too, from how many times I’ve been to places like it. I could tell him that. But I smile.

“Something like that.”

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On Being a Woman Who Loves Racing

Being a woman who loves racing is exhausting.

Being a woman who loves racing means wanting to go to a race but not wanting to go alone, because going alone means subjection to harassment.  When I went to the 2015 Pirelli World Challenge race, I had men ask for pictures with me because they “try to get pictures with sexy little things at every race they go to”.  During that same weekend, a man sat next to me in a grandstand, his three friends surrounded me, and he proposed a bet: we choose a car, and if his car wins, he gets my number and a kiss.  At the Indycar race in Toronto, during the two hours I was at Friday practice by myself, the man who approached me confused Indycar with Formula 1, protested when I tried to correct him, and wouldn’t accept me trying to leave until I told him a made-up boyfriend was waiting for me to bring him his tickets at the gate.

Being a woman who loves racing means constantly being questioned and second-guessed.  The round of questioning a woman is subjected to feels more like an interrogation than a friendly conversation.  When I’m asked how I got into racing, it’s because I need to prove my worth as a longtime fan and not just as some silly girl who decided to show up to a race one day.  There’s almost a set script.  Who’s your favorite driver?  Team?  Why did you choose them?  Why did you travel for a race?  You really like racing that much?  And on and on and on.

Being a woman who loves racing means that if you fail any one of the many qualifications and requirements you’re supposed to meet, you can’t be a real fan.  I can see the disdain – the exact moment where I’m written off – when one of my questions falls short of expectation.  Oh, you haven’t been a Formula 1 fan since you left the womb, well… Oh, you don’t understand the complicated engineering terms I’m throwing out to you, well…

Being a woman who loves racing means being constantly undermined.  When I told men I was a Marussia fan, they wanted to know if I was aware that they were the worst team on the grid.  When friends told men they were Mercedes fans, they rolled their eyes and wrote it off as the woman choosing the team they saw at the top of the time sheets.  When I express support for a driver, more often than not I’m asked if I support him because he’s cute.  

Being a woman who loves racing means having to choose between being vocal about the problems in motorsport – and they are many – and being silent, subjecting both yourself and your fellow women to more of the same.  It means being branded a rabid feminist if you criticize.  It means hours of arguing.  It means stating your point over and over and over, to one man after another.  It means no one listening to you, to the case you’re making, to the logic you’re presenting.  It means standing up for yourself, and having your experience undermined in the face of the status quo.  It means “can I just play devil’s advocate for a second?”  It means ‘tradition’.  It means men scrounging for every example they can to shove in your face and say, “See?  This one single woman doesn’t believe in what you’re saying, stop being so sensitive!”

Being a woman who loves racing means you don’t have the luxury to get to see yourself in motorsport in a non-visually appealing way.  It means grid girls holding signs on the grid.  It means women with sponsor logos branded on crop tops and booty shorts.  It means women posing next to cars.  It means women as decoration next to the drivers at events, on podiums.  It means albums of photos on Motorsport.com titled “Paddock Beauties”.  It means seeing the exact moment when a man stops seeing you as a person and starts seeing you through the heart-eyed lens because “wow, you like racing?”  It means a barrage of unanswered DMs from men who all want to get to know the girl who watches Formula 1.

Being a woman who loves racing means some iteration of the above, every single day, for as long as you exist as a visible feminine presence in the sphere of motorsports.  And y’all, I am tired.

Which only makes it worse when shirts like the “girls who love racing are rare.  Wife ’em up” make their rounds, and you have to watch the people you admire – drivers, pundits, fans, and friends alike – take part in perpetuating a stereotype that you spent every day trying to reverse.  For them, it’s a justification for their behavior, justification to not have to think about what it means to reinforce the objectification of women in a male-dominated sport, justification to sit back and let the status quo run its course.  For women, it’s a step backward that we now have to redouble our efforts to overcome.

I know that these things aren’t done intentionally, or with malice.  I know that for many, it seemed an innocuous enough shirt.  But that doesn’t negate the fact that this kind of thing is Not Okay and does more harm than good.  It doesn’t negate the fact that the people spreading this kind of message are the ones who have the power to be heard and taken seriously and therefore need to be more conscious of the things they’re saying.  It doesn’t negate the fact that it creates a climate detrimental to female race fans – and yes, even female race fans spreading that same message.

The group of fans that I attend races with is entirely female.  We’ve met, traveled the world, and watched races together – all of us women.  It’s one of the most passionate, well-informed, friendly, funny, and incredible groups of race fans that I know.  And yet not a single woman in that group has been afforded access into the world of motorsports fandom with the same ease as a man would have.  Not a single one has been free from criticism, ridicule, questioning, or objectification.  It breaks my heart that such a talented group will have to fight tooth-and-nail just to achieve a fraction of the respect they deserve.  This is not the kind of welcoming committee I want to see represent my sport.

I don’t treat racing events like parties of the eighteenth century.  This is not me presenting myself in my quest for a husband.  I don’t attend to be “wifed up” by starry-eyed men seeking their manic pixie race car dream girl or ogled by those who think any woman at the track is there for their specific entertainment.  I don’t attend because I want to steep myself in an a testosterone-drenched atmosphere where I am exclusively singled out, objectified, or harassed because of my gender.

I go to racing events for one reason, and one reason only.  I am woman who loves racing, and I’m just here to watch race cars and have a good time.  I only ask that I be respected for that.

100 Words: #9-12

9. Productivity

I pace my breathing to match the blinking text cursor mocking me from the blank white space of the document. Sunlight on the sheets of freshly fallen snow, it blinds me. And yet, I can’t find it in me to muddy the perfection with the filth of my thoughts, my words. What is motivation but a club with which to beat punishment into the battered canvas of my body for failure to be worthy of composing a single word?

10. Shatter

Fifteen years old, you sit amongst the shards of the mirrors in your bedroom. The vanity, makeup compacts, handheld mirrors – nothing remains but fragmentary reflections.

You are tired of seeing yourself. You do not want to have to look. If you can’t see, maybe you won’t have to be disgusted. Instead, you can surround yourself in ruin and count the years of bad luck you’ve damned yourself to.

11. Fly

On the plane to Texas, I carved open my chest with surgical precision and extracted each of my emotions. As we rose above the clouds, I dropped my organs like bombs one by one onto the towns and cities below. Let my spleen, gall bladder, heart, and brain become the four humors of the apocalypse, plaguing people with my biles and phlegm and blood.

On the plane to Texas, microscope in hand, I extracted each remnant of my soul from each one of my cells. Like so many gentle snowflakes piling one atop the other to become malicious drifts, I peppered the broken pieces across state boundaries. Let the rest of the world dig itself free. Let them find a way to live under its weight.

On the plane to Texas, I chiseled away layer upon layer of memory, trying to excavate some fossilized remnant of self crushed by the weight of experience. Rock shards and dust fall away, filling the plane, polluting the lungs of those forced to breathe the contaminated air. Let them cough and choke.

On the plane to Texas, a familiar knife weighing heavy in my hand, I carved away my skin looking for the instruction manual written on the opposite half, on the muscle, on tendon, on the marrow of bone. Let my skeleton be light. Let someone else search for meaning within the discarded flesh.

When I landed in Texas, all that was left were scraps of a former life, a tattered attempt at a smile flapping in the wind like a long-forgotten pennant. I could have become anything. I wanted to become nothing.

12.  Drunk

[redacted]

 

Susie Wolff, MBE

What a better way to wave goodbye to 2016 than with just one more talking point in Formula 1 (always, inevitably, tied to Mercedes)?  This time around, we have Susie Wolff, MBE to thank.

The response to Wolff’s being awarded an MBE has been a mixed bag.  While some are ecstatic at the bestowal of the honor, many others are highly critical.  Fingers are pointed at her lack of results, at a career influenced and impacted by her marriage to the executive director of a Formula 1 team.  We have been not-so-gently reminded that Wolff hasn’t actually driven in a Formula 1 race, and that her most notable achievements have been the odd practice session behind the wheel.  There are other drivers out there, they say, more worthy of an honor than Susie Wolff; and what about Bernie Ecclestone, John Surtees, Paddy Lowe?

Had the honor been awarded to Wolff for career accomplishments or performance, I would have been skeptical.  My immediate predilection to wholeheartedly support women in motorsport doesn’t overshadow my ability to look at the facts: that Wolff’s career in motorsport – her actual results scored behind the wheel of a car – are not worthy of an MBE alone.  

The MBE, though, was not awarded for her performance, but rather her service to women in motorsport.  And this is an accomplishment I will stand my ground in defending.

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2016: A Year in Pictures

My lovely friend Catherine recently made a post compiling pictures from 2016 to celebrate the positives of her year (which you can check out here!)  I loved the concept; it’s easy to get caught up in all of the negatives that this year has slung at the world, but I also got to experience a lot of really incredible moments.  And, as the past few weeks have been tough, I thought it would be lovely to do as Catherine did and go back to re-live those memories in visual form.

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willful ignorance

The first time you sleep with a man is with him.

It’s been a long time coming; the two of you have spent weeks dancing around one another like binary stars waiting for the moment of brilliant collision.  A few drinks at a party among friends, long conversations, then gentle artistry traced on the back of your hand by long paintbrush fingers, masterpieces that spread to your thighs, hovering almost-not-quite kisses shadowed by the mid-May light.  By the time you share a bottle of wine in your apartment, the sun threatening to wash the sky in the same melancholy blue as his eyes, you’ve long been ready to make your two halves a whole.

He kisses you, and you can taste cheap cabernet sauvignon and Marlboros on his lips.  He kisses you soft and slow, a topographer tracing the terrain from jawline to mouth as if he’s afraid to hurt you (or maybe as if he’s afraid to hurt himself; you can’t tell the difference).  He kisses you on the couch, a hand venturing beyond the boundaries of t-shirt hemlines.  He kisses you, and he says, “It’s getting late.”  He kisses you and says, “We should go to bed.”  He kisses you as you nod, and as you stand up in tandem, and when your fumbling hands turn out the lights, and when you melt into the bedsheets with all six feet of him hovering over you, kissing you and kissing you and kissing you.

You’ve never quite learned how to swallow your pounding heart, but your share of the bottle of wine has taught your brain to play nice, to save the worrying for later, to focus on one thing at a time.  When you free him from his denim button-down, you have schooled your hands into steady, wide-eyed schoolchildren with the discipline of a Catholic nun, and you give them their first lesson in cursive on the blackboard of his chest, writing your inhibitions into the definition of muscles drenched in moonlight.

He stops kissing you long enough to strip away the blouse he’d seemed so fond of, to whisk away your jeans, to press his face into the virgin territory of your untouched neck to whisper sweet nothings that sound like, “Just one thing.”

“What?” you ask.  He’s hard against your leg, and it’s thrilling.  You want to keep kissing him.  Kissing him makes an oft-ignored part of your brain buzz in a way completely different than the way the wine is making you feel – happy, excited, eager, not laid-back and murky.  He is beautiful – always beautiful, but especially now, especially here, where the soft light and his pained expression makes him look like the subject of a painting of a long-forgotten era, a face bearing nuances that will haunt the gallery of your memory like coy half-smiles in restored medieval halls.

“You know… this…”  He pauses, kisses you.  “We aren’t serious.  I have… .”

Of course, you want to tell him.  You have almost-girlfriends calling your name, you want to tell him.  Do you think I’m stupid enough to think we could be serious? you want to ask him.  Do I look like I want to be serious? you want to ask him.  But you can’t.  The words don’t even well up in your throat for fear that seeing them slip past your clenched teeth will force you to understand them as lies.

You nod instead.

There is worry carved into every feature of his face like the names of lovers whittled into the bark of trees; your answer-non-answer does nothing to alleviate it.  He kisses you.  Against your lips, he murmurs, “Well.  One more thing.”

“We can’t… no one can know.”  He trails off, but you understand.  You feel the meaning in the way his jaw tenses; the hunch of his shoulders could write novels of betrayal on the girl whose relationship status you’re sure to see change in the morning, his name in tandem with hers.  

You should know better.  You should stand up, walk away, build physical distance, build emotional walls.  You hold yourself to a higher standard than this, because you know you deserve more than being the woman on the side.  You are not a secret to be hidden to preserve the emotions of a girl you know nothing about, to preserve the integrity of a man who does not befit the term just because of a sense of misplaced adoration.

(And the fact that you can describe it as that – as adoration – is all the more reason why you should walk away.  The last thing you need is an emotional dependence on someone who will never view you in equal romantic terms – the last thing you need is emotional dependence in the first place.  He is beautiful, so damn beautiful, with a smile that glitters more brilliantly than millions of myriad suns reflected from the waves of an ocean and a laugh that steals the breath from your lungs, and he will never want you the way you want him to.  Get up.  Walk away.)

“Okay” is what you say.

And he kisses you.

___

The first time you sleep with a man, he comes half on your chest and half on your bedsheets, breathing out a name that could be yours and could be hers – you can never quite be sure.

He falls next to you, onto the violated bed sheets that can no longer be your private safe haven, his lazy gymnast fingers performing a routine atop the peaks and valleys of your hipbone, as gentle as spring breezes with enough biting chill to sap the strength from your bones and replace the marrow with veins of fragile ice.  You twist your limbs with his, trying to spread your roots in his earth, trying to establish a presence, trying to say I belong here; not anyone else, no one but me me me me without having to compromise yourself with words.

___

 

The first time you sleep with a man, he leaves you within the hour, rising with the sun to the call of a woman you wish you could be.  He will go home to her, crawl into her bed, let his kisses decorate her skin in all the subtle shades of dawn.  He asks you once more, please don’t tell anyone what happened.  He waits for a nod of acquiescence to come from your papier-mâché body before he sifts through your tangled clothing to find his jeans, before he buttons his shirt, before he tucks his hair in place.  You watch as, in the earliest light of morning, he smooths away every trace of you.

He kisses you.

___

 

The first time you sleep with a man, you feel the impressions his body made on you long after the bruises of his kisses fade.