Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Free Radical

Pretty Lady is not a Single Woman anymore. But she has spent enough of her life as one to vouchsafe that Spatula's description is not so far off the mark:
Maybe it's just me. Maybe it's all in my head. Maybe when I get introduced to other women at parties, they don't often grimace and refuse to acknowledge my existence. Maybe there is no pattern to party invitations in the first place, wherein I get about 1/3 of those extended to couples. Maybe I only perceive the fact that my married female friends don't always want to be around me, so as not to expose their husbands and marriage to a corrosive environmental factor: a woman on the loose, dangerously unclaimed.

Maybe when people ask me whether I am married, and I say "No", they don't judge me. If the questioner is male, and he asks me out, and then fails to hear and understand "No thanks" at least 4 or 5 times, he is not treating me as fair game, he is just demonstrating social acceptance. And I should be thankful to be asked whether I am married or not, because it's nice for people to show interest in my life.
Pretty Lady, in her single days, often felt that when she received invitations from married friends, that she was like television. They would sit at their kitchen table, earnest in their stolid, comfortable Togetherness, and listen agog to her Stories of the Outside. She felt like an exotic animal, a free creature, a glamorous sojourner--anything but a Regular Person, with regular problems and concerns, just like everybody else's.

In Spatula's case, as in Pretty Lady's, the social problems of single femalehood are (and were) compounded by the subtler problems of single female artist-hood. This is the real kicker. Simply, nobody knows what to do with you. They can't relate at all. They make wildly inappropriate business suggestions (you could start a salsa company, and draw your own labels!) set you up with wildly inappropriate people (my cousin Vinnie is an artist. He paints seascapes, and drives a school bus!), and stare blankly when you speak about issues of central importance, such as the kinesthetic impact of a Tamayo, and the need for universal, subsidized health savings accounts.

More insidious are the subtle manifestations of what Pretty Lady, after years of resistance and denial, can only describe as envy. It seems dreadful even to speak of it; surely this could not be so! For single lady artists are not so much at the bottom of the economic food chain, as entirely outside of it. We exist on very little but faith and willpower. Most of us have no health insurance, no IRA, no steady income, and no safety net. We wake up at 3 AM in a cold sweat. We look at our life's oevre of unwieldy aesthetic objects, and at our empty bank accounts, and wonder why on earth we cannot imagine ourselves doing anything but this. Surely any life path would be easier by far than this one.

To then be subjected to the petty sabotage of those citizens who do possess such luxuries as jobs, homes, insurance, retirement accounts, spouses, and children, seems the height of unjust absurdity. But so it is. They talk you into 'loaning' them a painting, crow with delight over it, then stop returning your phone calls. They demand 'friendship discounts' on bodywork. They exclaim "you're making out like a bandit!" when you actually sell something. They treat your basic requirements (I need time to paint, and a place to do it) as trivial, coy evasions. They forget to mention your name to their friend who is starting an art magazine, their relative who collects art, and their coworker who runs a gallery. They leave your manuscript in their trashpile and your portfolio unopened. They cannot attend your opening or pay market value for your work, but recommend you for jobs involving humiliating, insecure, badly paid labor. "That's about right for her. Take her down a peg," you can hear them thinking.

Gracious. Pretty Lady is actually getting worked up.

What she chiefly learned, over a decade or so of this, is that the world changes very, very slowly, and most of the world is not ready for ladies like herself and Spatula. They cannot yet conceive that a single woman could have a core priority that is unrelated to breaking up marriages, engaging in kinky sexual behavior, finding a sugar daddy, cossetting losers, doing other people's dirty work, and generally being immature, hubristic, and irresponsible. One must be like Barack Obama; infinitely easygoing, forgiving, agreeable, but with a core of ironclad resolve and unflappable self-esteem. One must be prepared to jettison former friends like the Reverend Wright, who prove untrustworthy in the event. One must be able to cope with the occasional Massive Betrayal, without losing the will to continue.

Most importantly, one must nurture one's True Friends, and be on the lookout for more of them. Pretty Lady's True Friends are more than she can name, but they know who they are. Thank you, all of you.


Desert Cat said...

Pretty Lady is not a Single Woman anymore.

Oh Joy!

I have a big silly grin on my face right now. Congratulations!

David said...

Let me also offer my congratulations and say that good behavior, male of female, single or committed to another, is always to be commended and admired, and to thank the Pretty Lady for her good behavior as set out regularly on this blog.

Anonymous said...

If only PL's undoubted words of wisdom were heard by those for whom it would do the most good! I fear that those who find this blog are already sympathetic.

But keep on fightin' the good fight, PL.

And by no longer a single woman, do you mean a married woman? Either way, congratulations!

Anonymous said...

re: "the subtle manifestations of what Pretty Lady, after years of resistance and denial, can only describe as envy"

Sometimes it's condescending concern about my dearth of 401(K) accounts (I have liquid savings in 3 currencies instead), or the deathly-quiet pause after I mention a new project, before the subject is quickly changed to something more comfortable.

Living outside the paradigm of 20th-century (commute to work 5 days/week, enjoy 2-4 weeks holiday in 4-star hotels, etc.) still elicits those pauses where peoples' eyes glaze over and they have no idea what to do with you in their compartmentalized minds.

Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady, congratulations and best wishes to you and your partner. May every happiness be yours. :)

Pretty Lady said...

Thanks all! Formalities have not yet been completed, but the actualities are firmly established--enough so that married friends no longer perceive moi as a threat. It's difficult to seduce someone else's husband when one is five months pregnant. :-)

Donna Dodson said...

congratulations, pretty lady! i think the feathers of impropriety get ruffled around female artists because of jealousy- that you so articulately flesh out but also because artists sell themselves- through their artwork and that kicks up all kinds of social taboos against mixing business with social environments (but for artists art is more than a job one leaves at the door- it is who they are) and women selling themselves has all kinds of lewd connotations that are socially inappropriate- and i think there still exists in our culture- the myth that women are just not autonomous beings- not expected to have a self- first or an autonomous identity- it sounds victorian- but i think there is still an expectation that women's primary roles are wife and mother and the goal to which they strive, and the purpose for which they live their lives- its a hard stereotype to live down- even when you are living a different truth/reality

Chris Rywalt said...

Before I ramble a bit, I want to note that this is not in any way intended to reference anyone in particular, especially not anyone I know.

It seems to me that humans are very good at inventing reasons for things. But they are less good at designing experiments to test whether their reasons are valid. This is especially true in unscientific areas, like personal relationships.

So when someone says something like "i think the feathers of impropriety get ruffled around female artists because of jealousy" and "the myth that women are just not autonomous beings" and so on -- not to pick on you, Donna, personally, just your sentences are right here for me to cut and paste -- anyway, it seems to me that these kinds of phrases are wholly invented by humans without any rational foundation. In other words: You go to a party. A couple behaves in a way you perceive as slighting you. You decide it's because you're a female artist and breaking important societal taboos. But it could also be that you're a jerk. Or maybe everyone else thinks your art totally sucks and is trying to find you another job instead of telling you your work wouldn't sell at a charity auction for Down's Syndrome. Or maybe you're overly sensitive -- maybe no one's slighting you at all. Maybe you're perceiving slights because your brain chemistry is messed up. Or maybe -- and this is what I tend to think in general -- everyone else is busy obliviously living their own lives and you and your life don't even enter into their thoughts enough for them to care about slighting you.

I'm just inventing possible reasons. There are many others. What it comes down to is, it's as if you went into a corral full of horses and when the horses react badly to you, you decide it's because you're a zebra. And you never look for a mirror to check. Could be you're a zebra. Could be you're a chicken.

Chris Rywalt said...

Re-reading it, I realize I sound like I'm trying to be mean to particular people, like Donna. I promise I'm not. I don't even mean it in a mean way necessarily. I'm just trying to say that people invent reasons for the way things appear to them to be, but that many times not only are the reasons entirely fictional, things aren't even the way they appear.

It's like being a five-year-old or a caveman or something and trying to explain why the sun seems to rise and set. You might say that a big bird is carrying it around. Seems reasonable enough. The only problem is it's completely wrong. You see what I'm saying?

Pretty Lady said...

it seems to me that these kinds of phrases are wholly invented by humans without any rational foundation.

Maybe by SOME people, Chris; you ought to have known me long enough, however, to understand that I rarely espouse opinions with no rational foundation. Trans-rational, perhaps, but when I am being wholly irrational I usually confess it up front.

In this case, I refer you to the phrase above: It seems dreadful even to speak of it.

That phrase is not there by accident. It refers to the fact that for a decade and a half, I actively flagellated myself to come up with OTHER reasons BESIDES envy, for people's behavior. I came up with every reason on your list, and a hundred more. I cut them slack. I empathized. I made excuses. I compensated. I overcompensated. I coddled, cossetted, and forgave. I Deliberately Overlooked. I made more excuses.

Then, finally, I noticed something. That is, when people interpret OTHER people's motives, particularly in a knee-jerk fashion, without much thought, they are highly likely to be projecting. They interpret other people's motives to be what their own motives would be, under similar circumstances.

And I started noticing that these people were always accusing OTHERS of being jealous of them. Up, down and sideways. Whereas, as I mentioned, I tied myself in knots before accusing another person of jealousy or envy. To me, envy is natural, common, base, and childish; when I notice myself feeling envious, I shrug my shoulders and think, "Huh. How silly. I'd better work harder."

It NEVER OCCURS TO ME to then put the other person down, passive-aggressively withhold support, sabotage, backstab, or be rude or unkind. That would just be stupid. Negative competition is never going to help ME achieve what I want to achieve; other people's success does not prevent my own. It shows me that success is possible; therefore it is something to be encouraged.

So I continue to stand agog when 'friends' of mine don't encourage my success. Then I slowly back away. Sad, but necessary.

Pretty Lady said...

And Donna, I think you're exactly right. There is a HUGE social taboo against women selling themselves in any way, particularly in the middle to upper classes; the fact of our being in the marketplace, working for money and recognition, opens us up in many people's minds to all manner of lewd and derisive expectations and suggestions. Subconsciously, the vast majority of people equate 'self-determined female' with 'transgressive female.'

Chris Rywalt said...

PL sez:
Maybe by SOME people, Chris; you ought to have known me long enough, however, to understand that I rarely espouse opinions with no rational foundation.

I have known you long enough to know you're human. Humans do these things. Humans are really good at inventing stuff. They can even wrap stuff around their inventions like "actively flagellated myself to come up with OTHER reasons BESIDES envy, for people's behavior".

Of course, you would never do that. I would never do that. I'm talking about other people. You and I are perfectly rational. Of course.

Donna Dodson said...

chris- i can understand that you dont relate to the topic, assuming you have never been a single woman (have you) but have you never experienced jealousy or envy of someone else in yourself or have you never experienced jealousy or envy from someone else towards you? it is not a male vs female issue, or even an artist vs non-artist issue, it is a human issue- one that challenges you to look inside yourself and overcome it- at least that is my strategy- similar to PL's. I agree with her!

Nancy said...

"Formalities have not yet been completed, but the actualities are firmly established--enough so that married friends no longer perceive moi as a threat. It's difficult to seduce someone else's husband when one is five months pregnant. :-)"


Chris Rywalt said...

I can say, as honestly as possible, that I have never been jealous of anyone, nor have I ever perceived jealousy towards me in anyone else. Envy is a little trickier -- I'm not sure I've never been envious, at least a little, but never very much. And I pity anyone who envies me, because clearly their life must suck something bad. Jealousy and envy are emotions which simply aren't on my radar for some reason. I'm just not programmed for them, I guess. I dunno.

Anyway, my point is not that this kind of thing never happens. I imagine it does. But I think people say it happens a lot more than it actually does happen.

It's like this: If you put monitoring devices on someone and put them in a dark room for a few hours, then let them out and ask them how long they slept, or how much they slept, chances are they'll think they were awake a lot more than they really were. Without anything to go by, people fall asleep really quickly -- without even realizing it.

Similarly -- and for similar reasons, I bet -- without anything to guide them except what's in their own heads -- keep in mind that your experiences didn't "really happen," they're just memories in your head -- people invent all kinds of fantastical explanations for why things are the way they appear to be, or for why they feel the way they feel. These explanations only sometimes coincide with reality.

In practical terms, what this means to me is, when someone says something like, "I have been subjected to the petty sabotage of those people over there" I translate this as "I had difficulties in my life and those people over there were nearby, or maybe involved, in those difficulties, and so I've decided they were their fault."

Note that I do not, at any point, make a judgment of the truth value of the original statement. I'm not saying I don't believe the speaker. I'm not saying I do. I'm saying I take such a statement as relaying to me the state of mind (and possibly the character) of the speaker. I also take it as a data point for future evaluations of "those people over there" -- it may be a useful data point, or it may have to be discarded, pending further evidence.

I realize I sound like Spock. Of course I don't lay it all out like this every time I talk to anyone. It's just a loose system I've developed. Or think I have.

I think it's okay to use these kinds of statements to guide your own life. You have to make ad hoc judgments all the time, so you do. Whether they work for you or not is your problem.

When these statements get used as the basis for policy, or when people try to expand these statements into general principles, that's when, I think, things go bad.

Of course, that's just my own statement. You don't have to believe it.

Pretty Lady said...

Chris, if you'll reread my statement, you'll see that I pretty much agree with you--when people accuse others of envy, they're frequently projecting. That is, that there's not as much envy in the world as many people think there is.

And I am a lot like you--I just don't have much of it. It has been a painful process, over decades, for me to realize that it's still something I have to watch out for.

Being a loudly self-confessed codependent, I have spent a lot of time taking responsibility for situations that were neither my fault nor my problem. It has been an important part of the healing process for me to be able to say, "You know, I deserve to have my friends treat me kindly and supportively, not passive-aggressively and stingily. Whatever their reasons for behaving this way, I DON'T NEED TO PUT UP WITH IT. Since I know I haven't been passive-aggressive and stingy with THEM, the likely reason that they behave this way is that they feel continually 'one-down' with me, in some way. The simple way of putting it is that they're envious. Well, fuck that."

And that's final.

Chris Rywalt said...

Like I wrote earlier, I didn't mean it personally. And I meant that. I wasn't judging you at the moment, just thinking out loud about the general tendency I've noticed. Whatever works for you.

I myself have somehow managed not to have too many friends who aren't decent people. I'm not sure how this happened. I can only assume I'm entirely oblivious to people's faults; or that I'm such a total asshole I'm left with only the truly saintly. Since these are just personal hypotheses, I'm wary of generalizing them, though.

In my experience, though, envy and jealousy are the most frequent scapegoats. Well, maybe sexism and racism are more frequent. Doesn't mean they don't happen; all I'm saying is they're less commonly the problem than people say. It's easier to say "Bob doesn't like me because I'm black" than it is to say "Bob doesn't like me because I'm a hypocritical asshole."

Anonymous said...

Pretty Lady

Congratulations. Much happiness to you and many blessings to all, good health foremost.

Desert Cat said...


I just love how PL is dropping these big bombs in the middle of an unrelated discourse. :)

Public congratulations on this one too!

Desert Cat said...

Er, not entirely unrelated, but I think you know what I mean.

Spatula said...


Ahem. Right, what I mean to say is that I am so, so, so happy for you.

With regards to what you wrote, I definitely feel that I am being treated differently because I am single, but it's only recently that I realize I have always been treated as a somewhat different species by a lot of people because I am an artist, and also in North America, because I have strong intellectual interests.

It's not just envy, though many people manifest that. It's the slight headtilt when talking to me, the way people say
"you are so talented" that somehow puts a weird distance between us, like it's not entirely a compliment and more as if I have some sort of a condition. It's hard to explain or put my finger on it, this mix of condescension and politeness, but it does make me feel like an aberration. Like, once at work I said "I can't decide what to do tonight - paint or go to the library" and the person I was talking to got this look like she was looking at a disabled puppy and giggled uncomfortably.

It's one of the reasons (many, many reasons) I don't want any part of sex radicalism anymore. I am weird enough to most people I encounter as it is, thank you.


Pretty Lady said...

It's the slight headtilt when talking to me, the way people say
"you are so talented" that somehow puts a weird distance between us, like it's not entirely a compliment and more as if I have some sort of a condition.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Then they either sort of halfway avoid you, as though you're not a full-fledged human being, or start confessing to you, as though you're some sort of goddess. There's no equal footing. They don't tell you their issues, and then listen sympathetically to yours, like an actual friend would; they either do all the talking, or treat you like an entertainment outlet.

YES, I AM GONNA BE A MAMA. IT'S A GIRL!!!! I'm thrilled. Thank you.

Pretty Lady said...

Oh, and I NEVER wanted any part of sex radicalism, but often had it veritably forced upon me. I was tempted to bring it up in my post, this tendency for people to bring up bisexual threesomes with alarming frequency once they'd discovered I had a 'creative mind,' but thought better of it.

Spatula said...

"They don't tell you their issues, and then listen sympathetically to yours, like an actual friend would; they either do all the talking, or treat you like an entertainment outlet."

Ping! I think that's why I decided to take my leave of a friendship recently - this person doesn't share her life with me, and doesn't come to an exhibition for example, but delights in treating me as a sort of reality show.

"I NEVER wanted any part of sex radicalism, but often had it veritably forced upon me."

Ping again. I mean, I went along with it because ideologically it seemed sort of noble, all freedom discourse and progressive-transgressive bla bla, but it turned out that I never ONCE wanted to be with anyone other than the man I loved. And that his wishes were so far from mine was not only painful, but creepy as well.

Part of why I just about teared up when I read you were expecting, Pretty Lady, is that I think you went through similar relationship pits to the ones I had experienced (wherein the lady in question gives over her heart, her faithfulness, her home and body and soul, and the gentleman turns out to be a tragically unworthy life force eater and all-around malignant entity to be run away from but quick). It sort of gives me hope, you know, that happiness IS possible, even after sex radicalism and whatnot. :-)

Anyway, my heartfelt congratulations to Mr. Pretty Lady as well, and I will ask The Universe to be kind to all of you, and maybe even bribe it somehow.

Chris Rywalt said...

My wife Dawn should comment here. She was telling me once about when she was with a bunch of mothers from town -- friends she sees for motherly things, like coaching, and PTA, and Girl Scouts, and so forth -- and one of them said something like, "Oh, ask Dawn, she's really smart," and Dawn was kind of taken aback by this, because she never really thought of herself that way. But she is smart, and a college professor, and those are not normal things, and then she's a woman and a mother on top of that, and so she's nowhere near average in any way. Except height, she's average height for a woman over 25 or so. (The younger generation is turning out taller than we are.)

I like being able to say my wife is a college professor because people do look at you weird. College professors are really like creatures from another planet to most people. I mean, everyone knows cops and firemen and liquor store owners and auto mechanics and computer programmers, but college professors, it's like they beam down, teach, and beam back up. It's really cool and makes me very proud.

Desert Cat said...

Funny, I get the same sort of reaction when people learn that I don't own a TV.

"So James, you going to watch the debate tonight?"

"Yeah, maybe, if I can find streaming video of it on the internet."

"Oh, is your TV broken?"

"No, I don't own a TV."

(awkward pause, peculiar look) "You're kidding, right?"

"No, I haven't owned a TV in years."

(stunned silence--almost visible thought-bubble says "what kind of Freakazoid *is* this??")

(Meanwhile my thought bubble says back, "yes, see my green antennae? And if you look closely you can almost make out the lines of my scaly armor hidden beneath my false skin. Indeed, I *am* a Freakazoid, and darn proud of it!")

Chris Rywalt said...

If you said you didn't own a TV or a computer, then I'd think you were weird. Just having a computer, though, you can skip the TV.

Anonymous said...

I've been a lurker for several months, and I always find your blog to be interesting and thought-provoking. As usual, you've given your readers much to think about. Thanks for sharing, Pretty Lady, and congratulations on Pretty Lady Junior!

k said...

heh! And the only thing you actually missed by not having that TV was Freakazoid.

There's a kind of karmic wonder in that.