Poison

You are what you eat.

“Gala Placidia, Galatea of the Spheres” (1952) by Salvador Dali

I woke up at 2:45 am today and my first thought was: Warren fucked up. My second thought was: I can’t write about this.

So I did what I do every morning at 2:45 am: I tried to get back to sleep while my brain wrote a rousing treatise — in this case, on precisely how and when and why Elizabeth Warren fucked up. Then at 3 am, I did what I always do at 3 am: I forgave myself for having haywire hormones and not being able to sleep. I forgave my big brain for forming wild dreams into pulpit-pounding sermons, and I got the fuck out of bed, creeping quietly through the dark so as not to rouse two sleeping dogs and one sleeping man, got dressed (my clothes were already picked out and waiting for me in the bathroom because yes, this is how I’m living now), and I went into the kitchen and made two big black teas and climbed the stairs and turned on my treadmill desk and now I’m going to walk and type and drink tea and tell you how and when and why Elizabeth Warren fucked up.

But first: You think I’m crazy, right? Or manic? There must be some pathology in play whenever a woman is out of step with the world. And here’s something worse than any malady: I’m middle-aged. My hormones and my lack of sleep and the fact that I would walk and write shit in the middle of the fucking night must mean that I’m insane and disgusting and untrustworthy.

These are also the reasons Elizabeth Warren will be painted as doomed and recalcitrant and unacceptable from this moment forward. Because she got mad. She refused to shake Bernie’s hand. She made an angry face at her closest ally and he reached out his hand to her and she wouldn’t shake it.

Her anger may have been tactical. She and Bernie cannot thrive at once, maybe. Maybe she and her team feel that it’s necessary to turn this tide right now and wrestle half of the progressives out of Bernie’s hands and into her own. Maybe her mind is crystal clear and she remembers the exact words “A woman will never win” dropping from Bernie’s lips and she is determined never, ever to lie about that. It’s my opinion that Bernie could’ve said this and he could’ve not said this. It’s my opinion that it’s fully in Bernie’s character to say this and it’s also completely out of character for him to say it. I could say something that sounded wrong every day of the week. I do it all the time. I also misinterpret and misremember. Everyone does. I also, sometimes, REMEMBER PRECISELY WHAT A PERSON SAID, and being the only one who remembers accurately MAKES ME VERY ANGRY. I don’t believe that Bernie is particularly sexist but I also believe that all men and women on the face of this planet are sexist, because our culture is so sexist that sexism is the air we breathe. I also believe that all white people are racist because we grow up eating and breathing racism.

None of these poisons we’ve ingested from our status-quo-loving capitalist world mean that the future is already set in stone. We can all say, “I am hopelessly sexist and racist just like my shitty culture and I can’t boil it out or scrape it off or fuck it out,” and we can also say, “I’m going to keep boiling this out and scraping it off and fucking it out until I’m blue in the face.” We aren’t guilty for thinking about how poisonous our minds are, from our first conscious moment, thanks to the fact that we’re marinating in poisons. The only way we’re going to scrape this shit out of our brains and hearts and also raise kids who aren’t poisoned is by talking about it, out in the open, and by admitting how fucked we are. We are fucked to the fucking bone.

And those who can see these poisons clearly (which is not the same thing as living as perfect, non-racist, non-sexist saints) know that an angry woman – angry enough to refuse to shake her closest ally’s hand – will struggle to be elected president, for the same reasons an angry black man would’ve struggled to be elected president. Obama knew this, which is why he ran on HOPE and also why he worked very, very hard to never show his anger and to cast all scenes of bonding with other black people as scenes of joyful celebration, not scenes of shared rage or sadness. It didn’t matter, the racist motherfuckers hated him anyway. But if he had showed his anger during the campaign, if he’d owned his anger and refused to shake someone’s hand, he would not have won over so many racist white people who were just not-quite-as-racist-as-the-serious-racists enough to embrace a very joyful, hopeful, charming black man.

Likewise, Warren would have to be incredibly good and charming and calm and loving and assertive but not too aggressive in order to gain some traction in the polls. Going negative on Bernie was a terrible mistake. Leaking his words was a terrible mistake, no matter what his words might’ve been. [Since posting this, I have heard from one trustworthy source that she did not leak his words.] She could’ve easily made the point that women are electable without doing that. She could’ve easily address the fact that our country is hideously sexist and yet ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE without using Bernie as an example. To use an actual beloved man (outside of Trump!) as an example of sexism? Maybe this is courageous elsewhere, but on a stage during an election, it is an epic fucking fail, on the scale of Obama calling Kerry racist on a debate stage. Obama wouldn’t have dreamed of doing that, because he was strategically on point and he had a great team who knew what they were up against. How can Warren even address sexism in this country in a rousing way if she doesn’t know what she’s up against?

So many women in this country are way too sexist to fight sexism. We internalize this shit and then we propagate it. And I would never publish this piece anywhere outside of this twisted newsletter, because even saying out loud that WARREN FUCKED UP works against my personal goal, which is to get Warren elected because I still believe she’s the best candidate for the job. I can see a woman make a big mistake and still believe that she’s capable of learning from her mistakes. I will back a doomed horse, too. I have no interest in standing up and saying SHE’S DOOMED any more than I’d like to join the din of humans repeating to each other “a woman will never beat Trump,” a self-fulfilling prophecy that gets reinforced every time someone says it out loud.

But it is not WRONG for people to be afraid of just how sexist this country is, any more than it’s wrong for people to notice how racist this country is, or to know in our hearts that as long as we succumb to these poisons that divide reasonably honorable human beings from each other, we’ll never thrive as people or as a country.

It’s not sexist to admit that our country is so goddamn sexist that it would be hard for a woman to get elected. Bernie is as sexist as most enlightened white men, which means he’s a tiny bit sexist no matter what he does, but it wasn’t sexist for him to speak candidly about who could get elected, if that’s what he did. It didn’t make him more sexist to say the words “I don’t think a woman will win this because our country is just too goddamn sexist, Elizabeth” – if those were the words he said. It was a tactical mistake for him to say that to a potential future opponent. It was a tactical mistake for Bernie to allow weaponized bros to become the face of his campaign, and it was a moral failing not telling them to simmer the fuck down when they unleashed the full force of their sexism on the populace. Maybe he was worried about alienating his core fandom. These things can look mistaken and lamentable and still be forgivable.

What I see in Bernie right now is a candidate who’s learned a lot and who’s changed his tone a tiny bit. I don’t think he wants to run a negative campaign against Warren. Granted, this is just my belief, and the tedious repetition of beliefs as facts is one of the most irritating and pointless dimensions of this particular debate. Everyone seems to know (THEY JUST KNOW!) that Warren lied or Bernie lied. They seem to know even better than the people who were actually in the room where it happened. Everyone thinks they know everything now. We have the world at our fingertips so we’re all omniscient and omnipotent. I am definitely part of that problem.

BUT. This constant Resevoir Dogs-like pointing of fingers in every direction until everyone is dead must stop. Everyone will fuck up. Forgive them in advance. There are different pitfalls and responsibilities inherent to covering this question as a member of the press and covering it as a jackass on Twitter. There is a difference between discussing campaign strategy objectively and discussing reality or backing this or that horse. There is a difference between what you think the world needs to hear and what you need to do to charm the living shit out of that world in order to get elected. Bernie and Warren are my two favorites, but they may both be unelectable precisely because they refuse to charm the living shit out of a world that will only succumb to seduction from this point forward. When Bernie and Warren don’t serve up fantasy, that means they aren’t living in reality. Lately, Warren has demonstrated to me that she’s more out of touch than Bernie is. Because where Bernie has learned to play nicely, Warren thinks she can play hardball.

Women don’t get to play hardball thoughtlessly and recklessly and unforgivingly. You can hate that fact and still say it out loud without being an asshole. I still think Warren is the best candidate in the field. But a woman who is tempted to show the full force of herself in public will not win, because no one in this country wants a woman to be a human being with actual human traits. We have been taught that anything human that a woman can do is wrong. We started learning this the second we could understand language. Crying is bad, being tough is bad, being soft and pretty is bad, being strong is bad, every single fucking emotion you could ever feel, every single action you could ever take, every single thing in this world you might ever want to be: It’s all bad. Recalibrate all you want, you can’t win. Mothers are sad and pathetic and working women are also sick and damaged. Female leaders got elected because they’re sexy or they’re not sexy enough so they’ll never get elected. Female bosses are too bossy or too weak. Female friends are troublemakers: When they want things, they’re unlikable. When they want nothing, they’re untrustworthy pushovers with hidden agendas. Female underlings are impossible. Female lovers are high-maintenance or lazy or intimidating or gross. Female bodies are too fake or they’re fucking disgusting. Women are wretched and wrong, from birth to death.

Now it’s true that some of this is changing precisely because there are women who are owning their full fucking selves out in the open now, and we have better ways of rallying around those women than we had before. But can Warren do what Lizzo does? No fucking way. Not without music and a three-story-tall screen. If she got that, she might be able to do it, but the fact that she won’t even shake Bernie’s hand tells me she’s not into the strange, seductive dance of real and fake that’s required of her. Without the slightest mastery of or interest in artifice and marketing and bullshitting and playing nice, she is doomed. A woman needs more than honest, pragmatic plans to win. She needs MOTHER OF DRAGONS levels of more, some of it rancid and wrong, most of it calculated.

You can hate that all you want, but it’s true. Noticing that calculation and marketing and artifice are required to win the hearts and minds and souls of the global population is not the same thing as saying BULLSHIT DOES AND SHOULD RULE THE WORLD.

But the disturbing reign of seduction and artifice is also why, in the real world, away from the campaign, it’s more important than ever to become a woman who is capable of owning her own rage, out in the open.

The whole debate over what a woman can and can’t do almost feels surreal, doesn’t it? Because when you’re a woman and you’ve lived for a while, you can see with clear eyes that the strongest, most brilliant, most capable humans on this planet are women. This is not me lathering us up for fun and fantasy. This is me saying I can finally fucking see myself without a haze of internalized misogyny fogging up my mirror. And that means I can finally see other smart, wild, intense women. I know how many worlds are tumbling around inside of you, waiting to come out.

If you’re here and you’re still reading these words, it’s your job to carve out more space for your own madness and your own wild desires and your own brilliance. If you’re a woman, even more so. If you’re a black woman, same thing to the 100th power. The only way we make room for women to be angry is by being angry, out in the open. We can do that and still be delightful and fun and gorgeous and strange and sweet. We can be all of the fucking things we’re not supposed to be, which is everything, everything, everything. We can want a lot more than this. We can demand more. We can simply TAKE MORE.

We can also say “Warren fucked up” and “Warren probably slips in the polls now” and not make ourselves exactly the same as the hoard of delighted bros repeating how Warren fucked up, over and over again, and turning her mistake, slowly but surely, into a weapon to be used against all of the women who are mean and punishing and withholding — those sluts, those bad Mommies, those evil, punishing harpies. And honestly, fuck the bros and fuck their brotopian circle jerks. I pity them and I know life sucks for them, too, because everyone is a mess right now and we’re all confused and stupid. But also? Fuck their lack of mercy, for themselves and everyone else.

Of course we know that Biden, the worst candidate in the field hands down, will probably win the nomination. Of course we know that this fucked world prefers a reanimated corpse who can barely string two words together to an angry woman. Biden sucks. I will vote for him, of course. Maybe he’ll start taking Adderall like Trump and then he’ll at least appear to have blood pumping through his stubborn veins. Maybe he’ll become a learner. Maybe he’ll start giving rousing speeches. There’s no doubt in my mind that he will appear Jesus-like and righteous, when standing side by side with a vile orange predatory clown with his brains leaking out of his face.

Of course we know that it will be exceedingly difficult for Warren to win this. Of course we know that women will continue to get fucked in the face by our culture. If you don’t notice that, you’re not paying much attention or you have no reason to give a fuck either way, because our culture makes it just fine not to give a fuck about women whatsoever EVEN WHEN YOU ARE A WOMAN, just like our culture makes it super fucking easy to disregard people of color and black people specifically even more than that and black women most of all.

I would never publish this anywhere but here because I don’t want to swim through a sea of shit for the rest of the week or the month. And even if I did publish it somewhere else, somewhere bigger and more respected than this rancid newsletter, no one would treat my words with the respect they deserve, not just because I’m a woman but because I’m a middle-aged woman who writes about emotions – plus, ha ha, now I write about desire and having 15 husbands (Is that how many? I keep losing track which is just how it is to be a pig in shit, I guess). Writing about emotions is just one of the many things a woman can do to ensure that no one takes her seriously, ever. Nothing is easier to disavow than an emotional woman.

That’s why Warren made a mistake. She can either learn to be a robot and win or she will lose. Everyone criticized Hillary for being a robot, but her cold calculations probably won her the popular vote. They definitely won her the respect and backing of the DNC, which became hell-bent on making her and not Bernie the candidate. People got screwed last time. Hillary got screwed by the unethical favoritism of moderate Dems, and Bernie got screwed by it, and we all got screwed by the general-purpose confusion and stupidity of Democrats, and the press, and the population of America at large.

It would be nice not to go through that again, but let’s be realistic, shall we? It’s all coming back again. Because no one can see clearly. As long as we live in this poisonous place that hates people of color and women and poor people and gay people and trans people and sick people and dying people and immigrants, as long as immigrant children are dying in holding cells but more people feel mercy for The Bachelor, weeping over unjust slights from his future wife, as long as you can’t even say this shit out loud without being branded a fucking toxic and vile representative of “cancel culture,” which is another way of saying that no one but the privileged can have a fucking voice and trying to use your voice as a member of the non-elite simply means that you’re angry or weak or unwell, as long as we all SENSE that we are powerless, we will not thrive. We will not get the new world we’re fighting for, and we will not save the fucking planet, either.

Our culture’s poisons rob us of our compassion for ourselves. That’s what you see in the Bernie-Warren brouhaha, and that’s what you’ll see for the rest of the election: People who are trying to show compassion for each other, but they just can’t manage it. They can’t manage it because each and every human in this culture feels, at a bone-deep level, that this world can’t see them. Each and every human in this culture -- and now this even includes white men, who get to join everyone else in seeing themselves as persecuted, yet somehow THEIR persecution isn’t unattractive or irrational – feels invisible and powerless. We all feel like shit because our culture has no mercy for us. And yes, that does include white men. We are all swimming through a merciless sea of poisonous shit.

You can’t talk about the fall of America and the destruction of our planet without talking about the emotions of the American population and the population of the globe. But as long as we treat emotions as “soft” or “shameful” or “negative,” as long as we encounter feelings as proof of instability – our emotions or anyone else’s – we won’t save ourselves. When Obama put the word HOPE on all of those posters, it wasn’t just a good tactical maneuver. It was a good way to reach out and touch people emotionally, to forgive people who felt hopeless with just one word, and to empower people to dare to own their emotions and feel less shame over their circumstances. HOPE meant YOU ARE A PERSON, YOU HAVE VALUE, AND I SEE YOU.

That’s the path to winning against Trump. No one feels seen, or even feels like feeling whatever they feel is a fucking option at all. When I say “Warren shouldn’t appear angry” what I’m saying is not “Warren should not be angry” or “Emotions are bad” or “Avoiding negative emotions is the path to victory.” What I’m really saying is that if there were a candidate on that debate stage the other night who could manifest compassion, that person would already be winning against Trump. Let’s think about who manifests compassion and hope. Because that’s the winning formula right now.

But that’s just strategy. Warren needs to avoid looking angry and resentful if she wants to win. It’s possible to say that and still stand up for the rights of women to be whatever the fuck they want to be. Even though it’s a tough year to say a word about the election without fucking something up, somewhere, somehow, that’s mostly true because we lack compassion for ourselves and each other. All we’re going to witness from here on out is fuck ups and finger-pointing and blame and shame and despair.

So try to forgive your own fuck ups and everyone else’s. Make forgiveness a bigger part of the culture. Make anger acceptable in women by owning your own anger. (Maybe in a few years, our concept of angry women will shift and a woman candidate WILL be free to show her rage.) Make desire acceptable. Make audacious, wild fun safe for women, thereby making it safer for regular, not-that-audacious women just to fucking exist without feeling like they’re stepping on someone’s toes. Make it good to be a mother and a boss and a leader and a follower and a non-mother and a woman and a girl. Stop telling women they’re doing it wrong. Stop eating your own sexism until you erase yourself from existence. Take up more space. Make more noise.

And love a woman who makes noise. If you hate noisy women, face down the damage that prevents you from loving them.

You can feel any way you want to about any word in this absurd treatise I wrote in the middle of the fucking night. You can have ideas about what it means to be a woman who has walked (checks treadmill) 3 miles and written 3316 words by 4:33 am. I know that I’ve written a bunch of sloppy, disagreeable shit here. I’m writing it for you, the readers of this (at times tedious but occasionally entertaining) newsletter, because you’re still here. I have served up rage and confusion and longing and you’re still showing up in spite of sometimes wondering “Wtf is this anyway? Why so many goddamn words? Why should I fucking care?” Please add your words to the comments below, too, because I am listening.

Maybe I am mad. My belief is that we need more madness from women that lives out in the open. We need more daring and wit and open contempt. We need more tears. We need to be forced to feel compassion for the full kaleidoscope of emotions and possibilities that live inside a woman’s cells. We need to be forced to reckon with real women who are honest about who and what they are. And maybe we need to be forced to reckon with anyone who is honest about what they’re feeling. Maybe we need to face down the invisible, disempowered, hopeless masses at large.

In order to do that, we need to forgive ourselves for whatever we are. Waking up at 2:45 am has become a way of honoring who I am right now. I have the luxury of taking a nap later if I feel like it. I have the luxury of falling to pieces by 7 pm if I didn’t get a nap, without my family saying to me, “Why are you working a night shift when no one is forcing you to?” I have the luxury of explaining that it takes me a solid hour to get back to sleep, and the truth is I love the middle of the night now. I love writing more than I ever have before. I love feeling things and writing about them, in the dark, when everyone else is asleep. I have never felt better. I do not feel sick. I feel vibrant and happy.

I forgive myself for who I am, and I honor it. So let me just wind this up by honoring Elizabeth Warren’s anger. If she could sing or rap, if she could dance and throw candy at the crowds, if she could make big, beautifully designed posters that said RAGE on them and people could feel her anger and relate to it and we could all own it together, if she could turn what she IS, EMOTIONALLY, into a kind of religion, the way Obama did with the world HOPE, if she could combine her optimism and her cynicism and her pragmatism and her anger into a PRODUCT, a seductive product that COULD SELL, a titillating sexy product that would make disempowered people feel more vital and robust and ALIVE, then she could win.

That’s what we’ll need to win against Trump: a compelling, seductive, emotional product that feels like salvation to most people. That’s why Trump can never be counted out, in spite of being one of the most abjectly repugnant and incompetent creatures to ever slither across the face of this damnable planet.

It’s all too obvious, but no one is talking about it: Times have changed. You can either become a dirtily seductive religion that overpromises and titillates and sneaks its way into people’s hearts and wallets and pants, or you will be nothing at all. This is high capitalism. This is why the planet is likely to die. This is why we’re murdering the innocent animals and plants and children of the Earth. Because the only things that make us feel whole now are things that promise too much, things that speak to our longing, things that activate our buried emotions, things that promise us deliverance and escape and release and salvation – salvation that feels like becoming Beyoncé and getting a blow job and eating curly fries, all at the same time. Everyone will go on and on about the sins of the media and the sins of the candidates and the sins of the rubes on Twitter, but the real sins here are the sins of capitalism. This goes beyond “Hey, let’s give the laborers ownership of the means of production, and we’ll turn this ship around!” We are past that point now. We don’t just require a woman who appears never to have experienced anger in any form, a woman who never cries, a woman who seems more like a man but is still extra sexy and pretty and Mommy-like and business-like (and even then, she will be proclaimed an untrustworthy robot). We don’t just require a man who is a combination of a preacher and a rapper and a Daddy and a superhero and a lover (which, unfortunately and shockingly, is exactly how Trump’s fandom views Trump). We require a screen three stories tall, blaring a rapid-cut music video of a merciful, sexy demon god who wants to save us by giving us the best blow job of our fucking lives.

We can’t feel anything now. We long to feel something. We want to be putty in someone’s hands. We want to be manipulated into feeling something. We want to feel seen. We want to feel human. The only way we know how to feel human is through seduction now, and consecration, and deliverance. We need a god.

God is a predator and a seductress. God shakes hands on stage and kisses babies but never apologizes for anything. God knows words are beside the point, really – it’s the stone tablets and the parted seas and the burning bushes that matter the most. God is wrathful and loving, like the best, most awful parent. God flaunts his power and flatters you by telling you that you were formed in his likeness. God says you will suffer and you deserve it! God says you will crawl on your hands and knees until you’re humbled and once you’re humbled, you will be forgiven and you will ascend into heaven.

We require heaven now. Until we can find the heaven inside ourselves -- which we can only do through compassion for ourselves and others -- we will require heaven delivered in a salty-spicy-sweet treat that makes our skin smoother and our dicks harder and grants us eternal life. We require the heaven of fantasy. And as long as Trump’s fantasy is more colorful and dynamic than his challenger’s fantasy, it doesn’t matter which actual words are dropping out of his melting orange demon face.

Our only weapon is compassion. So stop blaming people for their mistakes and speak through your mercy. Find some way to empower the righteous, but for fuck’s sake, be tactical about it. Learn about seduction and predation, motherfuckers. Coat your mercy in a thick, sugary glaze and spread that good sticky stuff all over the place. I swear to fuck, this will be fun. I swear. Enjoy it. Because there’s so much despair out there right now. It’s much easier to give in to despair. Don’t do it. Instead, build a fantasy robust enough to lift us all out of hell. Build one just for yourself while you’re at it. It’s not immoral. Delight in whatever you have. Indulge your emotions. Let your cells sing. Gently assert your right to heaven. Share heaven with everyone around you.

Spread that sugary, sparkling heaven thick. Savor it. This is all we have left.

But one more thing: YOU ARE A PERSON, YOU HAVE VALUE, AND I SEE YOU. Start treating yourself like you deserve things. Because you do.

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