{the sisterhood of the cynical}

Netherlands 2018 1120

I never expected to be an older sister.

I spent long years being the youngest, a position loathed but familiar, before finally getting two younger sibs in one go, but little did I know that they meant my own position would change to that of Big Sister. This meant explanation, exhortation and most often, commiseration. And so it was that when my phone rang on Friday and my younger sister said, “Something’s happened,” and her voice warbled up in that tearful fashion to which I have become accustomed. I got comfortable, expecting the usual – a spat between she and Dad, or our eldest sister. Not today.

It was, she told me, at school, where she, with her cohort, are learning the ins and outs of the world of hair. JC keeps me up to date on the restless world of the Young and the Black-Clad, as all good Paul Mitchell-ites must be, and there is always some drama – so-and-so up and walked away from a client of hers and just left her hanging, so-and-so did a bad cut that the teacher had to rescue; so-and-so is the best colorist in the whole group, and is a little too proud of that fact. JC is a deft hand with the color bowl, and moved beyond doing wash-and-sets on the disembodied head of Maria the Mannequin to real human clients a little less than a month ago. Friday’s client was in for a color… and then abruptly took over the discussion on hair with a personal question.

“Why are you in a wheelchair?”

JC was the only physically disabled kid in her entire school, so she’s well accustomed to discussing her disability, and not at all uncomfortable with a quick explanation. However, the client wasn’t… satisfied with quick. She asked probing questions, and kept turning the conversation from the general to the personal. When she was finally draped and settled in her chair, and JC went to get her color, the woman asked the room at large, “Why do I have to have her? Can’t someone else do my hair?”

I imagine the room was uncomfortably silent. Afterward, the woman became uncommunicative and surly in response to questions and overall was a difficult client. JC’s confidence wavered, and she called in her teacher to finish for her… then a friend told her what had been said.

I commiserated, of course. I said how sorry I was that something like this had happened. I expressed my disgust with the woman’s ignorance, and her apparent belief that disability is contagious; I wished aloud she had received some home training. But, none of that fixes anything; in the long run, nobody can fix people. And, because I am so very bad at commiseration, I said, “And what’s your plan for the next time this happens?”

“What?” she quavered.

“It’s going to happen again,” I said, trying to be gentle. “Humanity is consistently awful.”

To no one’s surprise, she hung up a few minutes later, saying she was going to call Mom.

It was… maybe? the wrong thing to say? My sister, who was born with such birth trauma and such horrific birth parents and who manages with physical disabilities is still a mostly sunny-side-up type of kid. While I assume that there are going to be people in the world who are just generally ugly about things, she is horrified to find them. While she rolls through life assuming that doors will open for her, I trudge around with an axe. If it came down to wondering which of us was right the greater majority of the time, I’d probably say me… and she’d probably say her. Some sisterhoods are all things sweet and comfortable. Some sisterhoods have traveling pants. Ours, unfortunately, seems to have a cynical wedgie.

I guess this explains why I’m not actually great at this gig.

Regardless, I still think she needs to make a plan for next time. Because, in my experience, people will try you. We all know some folk move through the world looking for power exchanges, those moments when they feel like they can level up from the ground-floor misery that they feel they are by clomping on the head and shoulders of someone else to rise, even briefly. Everyone with a minus in a world that counts only pluses needs to have the tools at hand to lay boundaries for the way they wish to be treated and with kindness, insist on it. The Golden Rule isn’t meant to be a yardstick with which we smack each others’ hands, but a yardstick by which we measure how much we, too, are worth, and look toward treating others in kind. I want JC to know she’s worth being treated better, worth more than someone who has to explain or defend her choices or her existence.

Until then, Sister Cynic is practicing her shin kicking, in case Little Sister might need her.

{pf with p7: whatcha behn up to?}

Turn up the fan, and gather ’round. It’s time for another monthly poetry challenge.

Aphra Behn, 1640-1689, was the foremost female dramatist of her day, as well as a poet and a spy who wrote to make her way in the world – something not possible for many women, and only possible for a White woman who was particularly charming. She was a commercially successful playwright, and in her time, a household name. Most men were equally challenged, titillated, and horrified by her, as she would not stay safely within society’s confines for her gender. Alexander Pope all but called her a whore, but… I mean, Alexander Pope. His picture was in the dictionary next to Uptight. The commentary of uptight old men upon her work was believed as fact until the early 20th century.

For all that she wrote a lot, she herself remains a mystery. One of my favorite poems of hers is from one of her plays called Abdelazar, a revenge romance which characterizes Love as this terrifying alien that feeds upon lovers.

Song from


Love in fantastic triumph sate,
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flowed,
For whom fresh pains he did create,
And strange tyrannic power he showed;
From thy bright eyes he took his fire,
Which round about in sport he hurled;
But ’twas from mine he took desire
Enough t’ undo the amorous world.
From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee;
Thus thou and I the God have armed,
And set him up a Deity;
But my poor heart alone is harmed,
Whilst thine the victor is, and free.

Despite the archaic wording, the writing is so passionate and bright – and very different from many writers in the 17th century.

In multiple poems, Behn used an ABBACDDCEE rhyme scheme in iambic tetrameter in sometimes ten, and sometimes fourteen lines. Often, but not always, the last was conveyed in iambic pentameter. Our challenge from Kelly this month was to write a poem using this rhyme scheme, with length and topic up to us. It was… not easy. I really dislike changing meter at the end, and because I hated it SO MUCH, I left it that way. (This challenge is meant to be about moving from one’s comfort zones.) I was silently beaming as I read the exchanges from my Sisters about how hard this one was. (Also: EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW IS HARD. This is why we write poetry; we have to keep exercising those creative muscles in any way we can.) I can cheerfully say that none of us is wholly delighted with their poem (what else is new?) but I think we’ve all done a bang-up job of trying: Sara managed a bit of magic about July 6th while Laura carved out a list. Liz jumped in with another slice of summer. Kelly raised the Aphra-as-spy topic, and we’re throwing up our hands with Tricia, who is hosting today, as well as living on the wild side. Andi is wisely laid out in front of the fan. For now, it’s onward with my own difficult bit of verse:

I often use poetry to work through things which are in my head, which is why this poem is… sharp… and dedicated to a certain Querulous Old Man, bless him, and to all who’d never even heard of the Wilder Award, yet still come to weigh in loudly as if called….


To celebrate an ancient lie ~
A “good old days” rife with cliché
You must, beginning, put away
Examination. Justify!
“We can’t just erase history -”
“Smearing her legacy’s a crime.”
“She was a product of her time.”
These arguments are sophistry.
But, “boldly go,” O, Pioneer,
Your destiny is manifest!
Your cause is trending (hastag “blessed”)
But all things change. (Is change your fear?)

Well, history remains the same –
But will you celebrate what should bring shame?

(EDITED: Or, “But will you celebrate its shame?” to keep the tetrameter intact.)

Poetry Friday is hosted by the glorious Miss Rumphius. Head on over to Tricia’s blog for more poetry goodness. And have a great weekend. Stay out of the saltpeter.