The Next Room
The next room will be the one where suddenly, everything fits together perfectly, and no one looks at me like I am from outer space. It will be amazing! Suddenly I will find that it's possible to simply welcome all my parts, and find that they are welcome, too, without all the tiresome shape-shifting and self-editing that all the other rooms seem to require. I won’t be told, This is a Buddhist/psychological/professional/scientific/family-friendly/academic/arts-based room, so kindly take your bag of eels someplace else. Nope. The next room will be the one where my bag of eels, and your bag of giraffes, and his bag of dicks will all be welcome, just as they are. Did I just write bag of dicks? Shit. I guess I’m in that room already.
One male friend once made an impassioned plea to another male friend, who’d just said bag of dicks with great relish, to please never use that phrase again. I get it. I super-get-it. Why take what’s tender and sensitive, honest to the point of inability to hide its true likes and dislikes, and put it in a bag of ridicule? No, no, no. Still, what are we going to do with the current room, the one where all of a sudden, all the lady-people, plus some of the men-people, are talking about all the assault and rape and hurt? It’s very tempting to want bags for all of that, to want bags for all the perpetrators, to want to shove all of it back into some room, maybe the one it all came from in the first place?
But that room is crumbling, and all the bags have holes, through which eels and penises and inconvenient truths are wriggling out. Via Facebook, my friend Shakeema recently introduced me to a genius who, under the name of Sailor J, publishes dystopian YouTube beauty tutorials. At one point, she explains, Perhaps in a better world, women wouldn’t need to contour, seeing as it has nothing to do with experimentation, or artistry. Since it’s simply for the dick, we have to do it. Damn! That woman knows how to shred some bags. Out come all the things that have nothing to do with anything even vaguely satisfying, but we have to do them. Brr! There goes homework, there goes biting your tongue, there goes being pleasant when you feel like a bag of hyenas. There goes forgetting altogether what you wanted, because this is what you have to do.
As she attempts to erase her nose with makeup, Sailor J explains, Men love pterodactyls, sealing her place in my heart forever.
The next room will be where we actually pay attention to and acknowledge how we feel, versus obsessing about how we think everyone else should feel. In that room, we’ll keep opening the possibility that there’s space for feeling what we feel, without being pushed around by it.
How about that Mr. Alabama Senator, in the next room? Wouldn’t it be great if he could respond to the current round of denouncements sort of like this:
When I was 32, and working as a district attorney, I felt incredibly lonely. I hadn’t earned enough yet to feel I was worthy of marrying anyone, and to be honest, I was dead scared of what I knew about myself. You see, when I was a kid there wasn’t anyone around I could talk to about sexual desire. In church it sounded like all that was supposed to stay in the next room until I was married, but then, what about what was already happening in my body? I was fourteen, and something was burning me up from the inside that nobody had any words for. My father was a good man, but hard, and I’d’ve sooner talked with him about the plague, than about what I was feeling in my body. Then I heard some other boys talking about Jolie from down the road, and how she’d let you touch her down there, if you brought her a dollar. This surprised me. Jolie? Her dad and brothers were men no one talked to, and there was something side-eyed about that whole house… But if a dallor was going to get me closer to the next room without having to wait for marriage, you can bet I was going to do what it took to earn and spend that dollar. That's where it started. Jolie made it clear what I was allowed to do with her, but one day I forced her to go further, and then what? She didn't have anyone she could turn to, because the deal was rotten from the start. I started forcing myself on her pretty regularly after school, knowing no one would help her, and I started telling myself that it was her fault all along for being a slut. But I hated myself every time I came, and I guess I never learned how else to work with desire. So, yeah, of course, there I was at thirty-two, still looking for Jolie at fourteen in every girl in town I thought I could use, and some others besides. I know this doesn't excuse what I've done, but honestly, can you tell me how else this could’ve turned out? Do you really think I’m the only one in the Senate who’s got this problem? Can you help me in some way?
If Mr. Alabama could say this, it would open the entrance to the next room, the one where the current round of denunciations would turn a corner into vulnerability. We're getting way better at outing evil and abuse, and that's incredibly important. But we’re also going to need to get better at confession, restitution, rehabilitation, and systematic reform in the weeks and months and years to come, for any kind of real progress to take hold.
I read this morning that Republicans are requesting that Jeff Sessions should step in as a write-in candidate for the Senate job he left only a few months ago. Quick! Tie the eels back up again! Close the door to that room! Avoid change at any cost! We do not want to hear about your teen-rape past, and we do not want to acknowledge that anyone except Our Righteous Father should hold power, ever.
Given his behavior so far, and the respectablility he still enjoys, I'd say the odds of Mr. Alabama ever admitting wrongdoing are pretty fucking slim. I'd say the odds of any of his compatriots coming out about their own shady pasts are virtually nonexistent. But how great would it be if Jeff sessions, instead of standing by, or agreeing to backtrack, said something like this:
No, I'm sorry. If the point here is whether past sexual violence precludes government service, I'm going to have to step down, too. You see, like my colleague here, no one ever helped me understand desire when I was a kid, and I've been carrying around my own dark stories for years. I’ve been getting away with everything I can, ever since I learned that’s how the world works. So you’re going to have to find another solution. Like maybe Jolie Smith? I hear she’s been doing excellent work representing her district.
The next room always requires a password made of risk. Today, because we have no choice, we must risk our hands, reaching out to understand one another. Brr! But I don’t want to touch a rapist. Quite possibly true. Don’t.
There are rooms and rooms full of garbage, with methane flames burning off the extra gas. There are rooms and rooms of truths no one wants told, because no one wants to be seen in the company of those truths. And yet, listening into the body, all the keys are there, and every once in a while, the right door opens.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now