You Hate Kim Kardashian Because Sexism, The End.

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When I say hate, I don’t mean, “You find her irrelevant and over-rated.”  I don’t mean, “You recognize racist implications in Jean-Paul Goud’s photography and you think she needs to do more privilege-checking.”  I mean that she was robbed at gunpoint in Paris last year and you were giddy-glad.  Every time a celebrity dies you meme-plead with God on the internet to take a Kardashian instead. You hate her with a red-hot, searing, personal malice you really can’t explain.

I can, though.  You hate Kim Kardashian- hate, hate, hate her – because misogyny.

You don’t think so, I’m sure.  You think it’s something else.  Fine.  Let’s talk about Kim’s “break the internet” photos featuring her bare ass.  And let’s remember, the most influential commentary didn’t mention photographer Goud’s racial fetishism.  Brian Moylan’s Time magazine response specifically declares it impossible to consider anything of social significance while perusing these photos.

Unlike other celebs who posed nude, Moylan explains, Kim never had to struggle against the patriarchy.  That makes it impossible to think about anything while looking at her ass other than “how it looks like a glazed Krispy Kreme donut.”  He concludes: “We want there to be something more, some reason or context, some great explanation that tells us what it is like to live in this very day and age, but there is not.  Kim Kardashian’s ass is nothing but an empty promise.”

http://time.com/3581618/kim-kardashian-butt-paper-magazine-empty-promise/

So, we should remember that with great ass comes great explanation.  Moylan doesn’t say who made him this “promise” that any woman on display would martyr herself to some great social cause.  But he’s watching Kim. K. reap all the fame and reward for herself and calling foul.  In his estimation, the great moral failure of this nudey pic is that he isn’t himself entitled to some form of profit.

There’s something Kim K. does that you don’t like, and it’s because of patriarchy.  She knows what her image is worth.  She owns it.  She sells it.  Her name in your mouth is a product, for good or for bad, so you buy it.  Kim K. is subverting the societal expectation of a self-apologizing female sexuality.  It’s a status quo insisting that the sexy woman can’t sell her sexiness without also having to sell, like, beer.  Or deodorant.  Anything, really, that benefits some dude in a suit.  One might say, pimps up hoes down.

When America complains that Kim does nothing, what you mean is that she’s done nothing to advance your personal interests.  If you cared about a greater social good, you’d remember that she survived a physically and verbally abusive marriage, and made herself an icon in the wake of a leaked sex tape.  You’d mention her advocacy for recognition of the Armenian genocide.  You’d have something to say about the fact that without Kim’s spotlight, we would not have been celebrating our first trans Woman of the Year in 2015.  Which marked a huge historic shift in transgender visibility, on a global scale.

I’m not saying you’re some anti-trans asshole.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m saying you’re an asshole who takes it as betrayal that a woman’s nakedness didn’t happen on your terms.  You want Kim’s ass throwing its weight behind a cause that you’ve selected.

Go ahead and keep pretending we’ve all been reasonably judging one more privileged white lady making bank on aesthetics invented by women of color.  Go ahead and tell me, “cultural appropriation” as your cincher, your one big final reason Kim K. is hate-fodder conscientiously-approved.  Then explain how it is that when you talk about Emma Stone, you don’t sound like, “Haha, maybe she’ll die next year.”

There was one joke one time that sounded like “Stone can play any race” – and then you were talking about Cameron Crowe apologizing for casting her in Aloha, since after all it was his fault, and jamming out to La La Land like nothing ever happened.  Everyone’s just like: dear sweet, silly Emma.  How could she have known that she wasn’t cut out to play a character named Allison Ng?  How could one faux pas make us love her any less, after we saw her in Crazy, Stupid, Love kiss her boyfriend on the forehead and then go to sleep without banging?

If you give a damn that her ignorance cost some Asian actress a career-launching role, it was muted by the greater concern that your daughters grow up wanting to look like Emma Stone, and gluing references to required reading on their chests while not having sex during high school.

God forbid your girls start to emulate Kim.  God forbid someone call slut in the hallways and they take a bow instead of run home weeping.  Hello, Rape Culture, were you here the whole time?

Let’s talk about the sex tape.  2007.  The debate – all in an angry voice – that perhaps the video was leaked on purpose.  Her hair and makeup were done so well, the scene professionally-lighted, film-quality up to porn-industry standard.  Men who watched the video told me so.  And that was a reason why they said nobody likes her.  After all, who could enjoy a bedroom scene that wasn’t really stolen?  Why did she have to go and maybe, just maybe, consent about it?

Be scared of what Kim has to teach your daughter, ok.  Don’t at all be terrified of what your father taught you.  Keep screaming that you’re woke in the era of Trump, and trade memes of a naked Melania.  Calling slut and shaking your head.  Keep pinning her to your wall.  There’s no connection in hating Trump with all your heart and looking at his naked wife.  It’s all in defense of Michelle.  Mrs. Obama would surely it as a compliment.

There’s this thing about A Woman Who Lets You Watch we figured out a long time ago.  The thing is that you want to, even though you know it’s wrong.  And we’re all in agreement that when you just can’t stop yourself from watching, it’s her fault for being such a dirty worthless whore that she won’t fight tooth and nail to make you look away.

Time magazine was pleading: Explain your ass, Kim Kardashian.  We know that it’s wrong to objectify and brutalize and demean, but damnit.  If this object won’t make the effort to convince us it’s a person, what other choice do we have?

It’s terrifying to meet a slut who simply doesn’t care.  When you can call her any name you want, watch her gunned-down bloody on an episode of South Park and laugh when the same thing almost happens in real life.  When you can spread her naked pictures over the internet, and her image in your hands is yours to do with whatever you will.

You need her to try and stop you.  Because, you realize, maybe what you want to do is violent, sadistic, brutal.  And you tell yourself it doesn’t count – that it’s just her type of woman.  You tell yourself this isn’t you, this isn’t you – this is all on her.  It’s a tale as old as time.

The truth is, and always has been, that you hate Kim Kardashian just because you can.

Help Me Talk About Rape

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Awhile ago, I invented a really fun game.  This is how you play: Within thirty minutes of reading these words, you have to walk up to a total stranger, and tell them, “I was raped.”

You get 50 points if you can do it, and it doesn’t count if you say afterward that you were joking or this was all a test.  25 points if you can only do it using an intermediary device like a letter or the internet.  100 points if you say it directly to a loved one.  Points accumulate every time you play.  Tell 10 loved ones, you get a thousand points.  If you can’t do it at all at all not even once and anonymously and over the internet, you get to shut the hell up forever about girls who cry rape for attention.

I’ve played every day for decades.  Most of the time, I lose.

I know what you’re thinking, normie.  You’re thinking, “But Shielding.  You really WERE raped.  This gives you a natural advantage.”

I know that’s what you were thinking.  Don’t even try to lie.

It’s fine.  I get it.  Because you’ve never had to play this game before, you think of shame as something accidental.  You’ve heard that people who were raped feel great disgrace, and you figure it’s some glitch in our thinking – that once we’re informed that it wasn’t our fault and that there’s no reason to blame ourselves, the logical spigot from whence the shame descends will dutifully turn itself off.

You think that if you were to lie about rape, it would be just your own good conscience making you feel terrible.  You haven’t admitted to yourself that the prospect of playing my game scares you for other reasons.

Do me a solid.  Focus on what’s happening in your mind when you picture yourself saying those words to someone who really loves you.  What images make you afraid?  Are they all just you, sitting there judging yourself in private?  No, they’re not.  Don’t lie.  You’re imagining how people would stare at you.  You’re imagining seeing in their faces all their concern for you, their pain for you, their love for you.  You’re imagining feeling embarrassed at that concern, guilty for that pain, undeserving of that love.  Aren’t you?

There’s more, though.  Isn’t there.  There are the people who don’t love you, and there are people you love who you still don’t entirely trust.  Imagine telling one of them, and in their concern, you’ll see judgment – their gears shifting, reassessing before your eyes what kind of person you are.  Over their pain, you’ll see disgust.  They really didn’t want to think about that kind of thing today.  In their love, you’ll see pity.  They’ll never forget you are weaker, messier, lesser than you were.

And there’s the knowledge that you carried with you into this experiment, that it’s impossible to back your story up.  You’re stuck on the images of that one day when those loved ones are going to look at you, while you stand there stuttering and trying to explain, and their faces will lose their love and their concern.  You will be seeing shock, betrayal, outrage.  You will lose your people.

This, too, is shame.  Sit with that feeling awhile for me.  Make yourself familiar.  I want you to recognize it when it comes to you again.  I’ve seen it touch you before, when you didn’t know what it was.  When no one asked you to think about it.  I’ve seen you at the table, when I’m telling my story, clam up and look away.  You thought you were making yourself invisible.  You thought it would be bad if the eyes of anyone else in that room, full as they were of concern, and pain, and love, and judgment, and disgust, and pity, and shock, and outrage, and betrayal were to land on you by accident.  You didn’t realize that you weren’t the only one looking away.

I’ve seen you feel ashamed across the internet.  I put my story there:

https://amodestbloggist.com/2017/09/08/confessions-of-a-buried-survivor/

My blog recorded a thousand hits for that piece after it went live.  On Facebook, where I shared the link in feminist groups and on my own page, there were loves, and likes, and shares.  There were comments.  Almost all of them had one big thing in common, though: they came from other survivors.  I know this because they told me so, putting their names right there next to mine.

They are all people who already play my game.

The people like you, who never had to, clammed up and looked away.  You were afraid that a like, let alone a share or a love, would make people look at you funny.  You didn’t understand that the people like me who shared, who loved, who commented, were every bit as scared.  You didn’t see me squeezing my head with both arms on the couch the second after I published.  You can’t see me now, as I write these words, hunched over my kitchen table with my hands going up again and again to press against my mouth.

It took me thirty years to work up to my confession.

I once pitched an article on rape culture to Cracked.com.  Not a great topic match, you might think, for a site that’s known for comedy.  But neither is “5 things I learned as a sex slave in modern America” –  and here’s that article, existing:

http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-1440-5-things-i-learned-as-sex-slave-in-modern-america.html

I kept my pitch impersonal, and focused on six pieces of important, little-known information – such as the fact that pedophiles can be treated with sex-specific therapy:

https://www.childmolestationprevention.org/pages/prevention_plan.html

I edited and edited again in response to feedback I received by Cracked writers but was ultimately told that Cracked would not publish a piece about rape culture.  I pointed out that they’d recently published a piece about sex slavery.  It was then explained to me that this piece was different because it was actually written by a staff member.  That’s why it didn’t matter that the woman he interviewed remained anonymous.

Cracked knew who the source was, then.  Cracked did not know anything about me or my ability to write well about rape culture.  I wrote about me, ultimately, because I believed people would listen to my important messages if they knew who I was.  Messages like, “Pedophilia can be treated before children are molested.”

When I discovered the Institute for the Prevention of Child Molestation and its Action Plan based on a solid study of 16,000 people, you have to understand, I did what the plan prescribed.  I told people about it.  I used my social media, linking the study in my status.  I held my breath, and posted.  There was no response, so a few days later, I posted it again, and again after that.  I finally made a status yelling at the internet for ignoring me.  That time I had some bites – two or three friends reposted.

A fellow survivor messaged me privately to explain why he wasn’t able to share it.  He didn’t want people looking at him like they were starting to look at me.

It’s harder for male survivors.  I don’t deny it.  People always associate male survivors with child abusers, so they have to worry about people looking at them like that.  But the stigma is also worse, because rape is something that’s only supposed to happen to women – so coming out as a survivor means a reduction in male privilege.  I guess it’s the same for male normies.

But seriously.  Children can be saved by you swallowing your fears and reposting.

What I have witnessed again and again is that normies and closeted survivors are weighing the lives and souls of others against your fears of being weird.  You have decided reliably that having people look at you the way they look at me is way too great a sacrifice.

You don’t know that I wrote my story long before I published it yesterday.  That I pitched it first to magazines like XO Jane, where I read a piece (http://www.xojane.com/issues/why-i-talk-about-rape) by Emily entitled “Why I Talk About Rape.”  You don’t know that I wrote a dozen versions of different lengths and that I sent my pitch a few times to a several different publications when I received no response.  That I knew I could write it well, that I knew it was a story worth telling, but maybe I was crazy and after all my message wasn’t that important.

But when I went ahead and published on my blog, the comments that I did receive were not just subtle praise.

“Make this post public,” I was told.  “More people need to see it.”

I did it.  Swallowing hard, I removed the people from my restricted lists who might just judge and pity and be disgusted.  There was no disgust or pity expressed by those people, of course.  Just silence.  My article didn’t catch and spread like I and others wanted.  I couldn’t pretend it was because of bad writing this time.

I remembered, today, that Emily’s piece had been preceded by an article that was a transcript of an hour-long conversation she had with one of her rapists.  She’d taped it and everything.  That made her story different.

I thought, when Cracked writers told me they didn’t know who I was and couldn’t trust me to write an article about rape culture, they meant that they weren’t familiar with my writing style.  I know better now.

My telling the world who I am will never be  enough to make you know me.  A taped confession with my rapists might do the job, but not me, on my own, talking.  You don’t dare risk believing in me.  What if I’m lying?  What if I’m wrong?  What if it’s not just me, all alone, but you and your beautiful magazines that help other people looking crazy and stupid and weird?

Doubt is our burden, like nobody else’s.  I said this once before.  Survivors are all alone.  When you normies try to make yourselves invisible while my people look to you for help, you have to realize we’re the ones who disappear.   You have no idea at all that in my desperation to be heard I stayed up all night a couple of times in a row tweeting my story at Twitter handles devoted to survivors, and feminism, and any celebrity I could find, big or small, who speaks on social issues.  No retweets, of course. At least one person blocked me.  I don’t know if maybe I was breaking some kind of Twitter etiquette.  When you’re buried you can’t tell if anyone can hear you.  You run out of options and start shouting in peoples’ faces.  Then at least you know who’s blocking who.

I’m asking you, normie, for some help.  Nobody’s going to believe in me unless somebody people might believe is willing to put his name right there next to mine. My name is Shielding Cournoyer, and I am a survivor.  Dig me up.

Confessions of a Buried Survivor

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My burial began the day that I was kidnapped.

I was two then.  Blonde-haired, blue-eyed, and categorically adorable.  If my parents were the home-owning sort, maybe I’d be news.  As it was, I had a schizophrenic father in jail on a dine-and-dash turned assault-on-a-cop.  I lived in a foster home.  My drug-addicted mother took me and disappeared, along with a six-month-old baby.  There may have been money involved.  Police found her well and alone, with nothing to say about any missing children.  While I was gone I traveled hours up a highway.  Strangers waited, in a place full of trees, and then screams.

I turned up alive on a relative’s doorstep.  Doctors stitched me up and The System took me back.  I stayed in the foster home that lost me for a few more years, until I was adopted.

My new parents were home-owners, good and normal.  They sent me to Catholic school and filled the living room with shining gifts at Christmas.  We didn’t talk about the things I’d seen.  They told me every night, voices singsong with repetition, there was nothing to be afraid of.

At six and eight and twelve years old, I learned to keep a mask on.  There were triggers in many ordinary things.  I knew a darkness lurked behind each good and normal, idle time.  It spoke with a griminess that clung to everything like gum.  And in a certainty that struck me, once in a while, like a physical blow – that there is no meaning, no escape, and no end to our existence.

I held it in, like all my obscene memories.  Nobody asked to know, so nobody learned.  I started writing before I could properly read – my poetry and homemade fairy-tales wrapping up the secrets at my core.  At the bottom of my every story, untold, there was a dollhouse in a foster home where I hid a plastic teacup.  I took it to the bathroom to gorge on toilet water when no one gave me anything to drink.

There were red nostril hairs quivering with rage overhead.  There was getting hit, just for fun – the salty, sharp smell of a crack to the nose.  Thrashing in a brimming bathtub, my breath left inches above me.  A toothbrush that scrubbed the skin off my gums before every trip to the dentist.  The closet, the car trunk, the pillow where my face pressed in, erasing my voice and my air.  I spoke of a monster that came at night, and remembered the smirk, cold and hating, on a teenaged foster brother.  There was growth-stunting hunger and lead in my blood.  There was crying, and trying to run.  There were broken-windowed warehouses that littered nasty dreams.  One day I watched the father who made me blowing on his hands in the cold – calling my name, and goodbye.  We used to have visits at Child Services.  My hand stayed on the window while the car I was in rolled away.

There was a girl, through all of this, who wasn’t like everyone else.  When they took her to the park, she ran for the road – the one that made her family disappear.  She changed the baby’s diapers but she peed her pants on purpose.  She was proud she’d found a way to make the foster mother angry.  She laughed out loud when they told her to use the word, “mama.”

Nobody loved her but me.  I smuggled her into my nice new house in pieces of memory.  I didn’t mind that she was messy.  I wouldn’t let her die.  She peeked through every mask I wore, pissing people off.  Coming on to everything too strong.  She did not need your help and she didn’t want to play.  She’d rather pick trash off the playground than waste any time with no cause.  She would smile every time she found out she was hated.  Being liked tells you nothing.  People being mean don’t hide who they are.

I had no word like survivor growing up.  It’s hard medicine, kept out of children’s hands.  It’s regulated, moderated, carefully consumed.  It took me years to track that label down.  In the meantime, I was crazy.  I was stupid.  I was weird.

The land called normal shimmered around me, bordered by the flowers in my garden, the architecture of my clean white house, the laundered clothes I wore.  Privileges like cloying honeypots tried to make me ignore the feelings of weakness creeping in.  I told myself not to be fooled.

At night I kept vigil, tearful and sweaty, inside a blanket cocoon.  There were things with no names and no witnesses more real to me than anything seen in the day.  I had nightmares of apocalypse and took it for a prophesy.  It made sense that one day food would shrivel up, the sky would burn, we’d all stomp off to war.  Nothing made sense about the years passing.

But there’s nothing to be afraid of.

Empty words can take up so much space.  I mulled over library shelves and shelves devoted to Sigmund Freud.  Psychology’s founder announced that child-molestation is the root cause of hysteria.  He took it back when people got mad.  Now his books claim that those kids weren’t lying about the rape, but they did kind of make it all up.  Venerated doctors ever after have preached that some kids who weren’t molested wish that they were, and daydream about it so hard they want to kill themselves.

In story after airbrushed story, we tell each other monsters live in only other worlds.  Hollywood villains launch their subtle rape-threats at leading ladies; I notice every time, and wait, with baited breath, to see if they’ll follow through.  They don’t.  In movie universes, heroism and sexual violence cannot co-exist.  The perfect girl, be she heroine or hero’s prize, mustn’t be sullied that way.

There are rare exceptions.  Red Eye and American History X feature survivors – real, and weak, and striving.  Drops in an ocean of damsels kept pure, and forcefully-courted dames who are stupidly never traumatized.  Men don’t get raped, unless it’s for a joke.  Survivors on screen turn out to be liars so often it’s not even good for a plot twist.  Lying she’s are the kind of monsters good folk have no trouble believing in.

When there is a rape on screen – official, exposed, and true-beyond doubt – the victim usually dies.  Otherwise it’s like in Gran Torino, where a badass Sue will stumble home with bloody thighs, and you can’t hear her voice for the rest of the film, and she doesn’t get a medal or a car, and they say no one’s going to jail since there was no witness to what she suffered through.

It’s all adding up to the message: Survivors Don’t Exist.

In the news, we hear of ‘alleged attacks,’ and ‘claims’ of assault.  Examinations will be made and any muddled details trumpeted as proof that we’re not real.  In private messages with friends, and flaming-angry public tweets, you’ll see the likes of Trump and Cosby called out as ‘accused’ and ‘probable’ brutalizers.  Disclaimers bracket every voice of protest.  Knee-jerk, and self-imposed.  Google a rape conviction: dollars to donuts you won’t find a rapist, but someone or other ‘found guilty of rape.’

Doubt is our burden, like nobody else’s.  Believe in one of us with no reservation, and it’s only a matter of time before they start calling you stupid and crazy and weird.

This can’t all be concern for the apocryphal Wrongly Accused.  Six attacks in a thousand are remembered by a day in jail.  Popular legend lies when it tells us that rape is never forgiven.  Senators are bluffing when they say sexual assault admitted on tape is a Very Big Deal.  People vote for who they want.  People hire who they require.  People love who they spend every day with.  No one’s coming to lock up all the rapists and throw away the keys; there are too fucking many.  They are normal, they are human.  We need them in our lives.

But I am a mythical creature.  My story is legend.  I don’t exist.  The rule for good and normal people seems to be: Bury the Survivors.  Before you start to believe in them.  Before you have to know the world of good and normal things can break.

I swallowed all my memories politely growing up, until they became an invisible background.  Never recognized, yet intimately part of me.  Then in high school, I had an epiphany of a suspicion, and started making lists.  I tallied up the nightmares, the feelings, the faces people made when they looked at me.  The deep dark, pressing sense of secret at my core.  The lack of virgin pain or blood, the broken memories.  Willing myself to breach some indestructible conclusion.  I never felt more crazy than the days when I was almost, almost sure.  I wanted to speak about my troubles, but dared not risk that kind of lie.

I was more alone than I knew how to explain.  Looking for my people, without being consciously aware of it, I developed a pretty reliable rapedar.  I recognize triggers in other people, and how they try to hide.  There might be a torrent of words too loud and too reckless around a brutal subject – assault, or puberty, or things that bodies do in secret.  A wide-eyed, looking-down moment at the mention of Boys Don’t Cry.  A fury or a fear around some ordinary thing, or a chronic inability to be like other people.  Social dynamics being what they are, the people who have suffered most will usually suffer more.  Bullying can be kneejerk, or it can be wickedly shrewd.  I’m not the only one who knows what triggers look like.

Once, to commemorate a fallen officer, a delegation of police families from my city traveled to Washington.   My family was one of them.  We paid a visit to the Smithsonian while we were there.  At twelve years old, I was terrified of the two little buds of breasts poking through my tank-top.  I slid my tray along the counter in the museum cafeteria, right beside my looming cop of a Dad.  Beside me on the other side was a stranger, who introduced himself by pulling down my shirt.

If my father had seen, I’d have to die of humiliation.  But his head was turned the other way.  I stared at him a few slow seconds, reassuring myself that he didn’t know, before turning back to the stranger.  I still remember his smile, and the way he watched my face.  He knew.

I didn’t know it about myself, yet, but he did.  He knew what I was afraid of.  He knew what made me tick.  He’d seen how deep my shame was, and that I’d never tell.

“I was going to get the pizza, but you moved,” he said loudly and comfortably.  “This was your fault.”

There was a lady standing on the other side of the food-counter.  She said something that made him walk away.  I felt her eyes on me as I staggered down the line, blindly piling chip bags on my tray.  My mom noticed and told me not to eat so much.  My dad told her it was fine.

One day when I was all grown up, and had learned the stark facts of my past from a former foster sister I found again through Facebook, my mother let it slip that my parents knew about the worst of my pre-adoption abuse.  They had always known, in fact.  The baby who was with me had required surgery.  It was a fleeting comment, and no conversation followed.  The parameters of our relationship had long been cast in stone.  I kept my feelings to myself, lest she call me crazy and stupid and weird.

My parents, good and normal, were the first to bury me.

When we’re buried – disbelieved, hushed, ignored – it means we have no allies.  Not our Dad standing next to us in line or a cafeteria full of cops all prejudiced in our favor.  Maybe a lady on the other side of a counter.  No one who can stop us from getting picked out in a crowd and brutalized under their noses.

I learned in time about myself, that this deep secret of mine was like an uncovered manhole.  It was a trap that would suck me in if I ever forgot it was there.  Anyone who spoke of it could own me, like by true name magic.  Several fraught relationships began exactly in this way.

A young man I met in college learned of my secret after asking me the meaning of a poem I’d written.  He seemed to enjoy discussing my past.  He used the word rape with languid relish, brazenly retelling me my guesses.  I listened without breathing to my heart’s slow explosions, and followed him like a puppy up and down a starlit road.  A year after we’d stopped speaking, he sent me a poem on Facebook, the last line of which referenced “semen stains and stab wounds on a twelve-year-old-girl’s breasts.”

“I’m flattered that she takes my poetry so seriously,” he told a friend to tell me, after I’d blocked him.

I wasn’t crushed by what he said.  I was crushed by knowing that, for the first time in a year, I did not feel more alone than I could explain.  It was a bad, abnormal guy who wanted to destroy me sending that kind of poem.  But he would never make me disappear.  I was buried every day by other kinds of people.

I was used to subjects changing, rolling eyes.  Silence.  Doubt, denial.  The mountains of euphemism forbidding full disclosure – dampening human interest stories on the news, and making me wonder, and wonder again, if I really knew what happened.  The common courtesy assuring everyone you won’t be exposed to that kind of story unless you’re in the right place at the right time and fully prepared to hear it.  Trigger warnings I get.  The societal requirement that I ask permission before I talk about myself puts me in the debt of whoever would call me a friend.

I’m tired of asking permission.  I’m tired of the pressure to look like anyone else.

I’m even fed-up with survivors, in-the-closet, who retract their late-night confessions in the morning, who brush off references to specific childhood nightmares as having no meaning at all.  Come out in your own good time and all, but I need you.  And the more you reject my category, the stronger the story that tells us that our kind of person is less.

Survivors need allies.  I don’t think you know it.  Survivors are all alone.

Here’s something else, if you’re normal, that I don’t think you know: The world needs its survivors.

We are the people who can, if we fight to, shine light in dim corners, and heal you.  We are the people who won’t get destroyed by your crazy and stupid and weird.  We know in our hearts what others won’t admit: that you are never safe now.

All worlds crumble one day.  Yours will, too.  When your back is to the wall, and you’re going down hard, you need to know that you’re going to stay alive.  It can’t be helped.  You’ll want to be strong and cute, but you’ll just be this squirmy little worm who doesn’t know how to die.

I was broken many times.  It’s fine; I find many ways to rise.  Believe in me.  One day maybe you’ll need to believe in you.

The Hero Spell – Botched Recipe #44321

The old wizard’s house was ordinary.  Catherine dodged a stray sprig of rhododendron on the way to his gray-blue door.  It felt good to ring the bell, and wait, as the dog started barking inside and its owner made calm shushing sounds.

“Yes?”  Said the wizard, finally opening up.  He was wearing an ordinary blazer and square-rimmed glasses, and looking the normal amount of annoyed at the sight of an uninvited guest.

“Yes, hello,” said Catherine, hurrying through her introduction and finding the right amount of change in her purse.  “I’d like to purchase a spell, please.”

“Agh.”  The old man relaxed, and opened the door a bit more.  “I was just about to have myself some soup.  Would you care to come in?”

“If that’s how it’s normally done, then of course,” said Catherine, tucking her perfect amount of change back into her purse’s side-pocket.

Soon they were both sitting at the wizard’s kitchen table with a big bowl of soup and a ham-and-cheese sandwich apiece.  The old man’s Doberman lay at their feet, quietly thumping his tail.

“So,” said the wizard, with his mouth full of sandwich.  “What kind of spell are you looking for?”

Catherine looked at the table, taking her time to chew and swallow what was in her mouth.

The wizard chuckled knowingly.  “Dark days, these are.  Hard times we’re living in.”

“Yes,” said Catherine.  “They are.”

“You’ve come for the Hero Spell.  The same formula that all of the others have been buying lately.  Isn’t that right?”

The lady reached for her napkin.  “I don’t know what formula the others came for.”

“But you do know, don’t you, that not all of them could make it work?”

Catherine didn’t answer.

The old man’s eyes took on a sparkle.  “You really believe in heroes.”

Catherine shrugged.  “I believe in formulas.”

The wizard told her that was good enough.  She paid about what she would to see a movie, and the wizard dredged up, from the back of a kitchen drawer, a laminated scroll.  Same old recipe, he explained.  Pretty new text.   Then he was showing her the door.

“I mean – well,” said Catherine, pausing on the threshold.  “I am the right type, right?   Your formula does call for a girl exactly just like me?”

“We shall see,” said the old man smoothly, pushing her through the entry.

*             *             *

Catherine checked her outfit one more time before she left her house.  The long gray trenchcoat obscured her figure.  A tight ballerina bun and glasses completed the disguise.  Beneath the coat, her half-bare bosoms nestled in a costume sleek and stark.  But no one had to know her secret yet.

The moon was bright above her as she started on her walk.  She headed up a bar-lined side-street, listening for catcalls.   This was step two in the recipe – the easiest piece of instruction, by far.  She just had to get into trouble.

She took her hair down as she stepped past a particularly unruly group standing outside a pub.  It fell in bright cascades around her shoulders.  She ditched the glasses and kept walking, followed by the sound of hisses.  She reminded herself as she headed for the parking garage, it was ok to be afraid.  It was even ok to cry.  Step three was the hero.  She wasn’t there yet.

“Watcha got under that?”

Someone yanked her coat from behind.  Buttons burst.  She couldn’t close it.

Step two, step two, she thought.  Next was step three, and the hero, if she’d done it right.  There was a single building, multi-storied, between her and the parking lot.  She pinned her eyes to the corner of its rooftop, waiting.

Step one had been too easy.  There were hands closing over the slutty suede cat suit.  Two different voices – three.  Nothing moved on the roof.

Step one, step one.  Where had she gone wrong?

There were men on each side and behind her.  Then a shove.  But she was pure-hearted and looked like the woman on tv.  She’d done her very best in this regard.

She fell backwards, still looking up.

This Old Man

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This old man, he played one
He played knick-knack on my thumb
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played two
He played knick-knack on my shoe
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played three
He played knick-knack on my knee
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played four
He played knick-knack on my door
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played five
He played knick-knack on my hive
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played six
He played knick-knack with some sticks
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played seven
He played knick-knack up to Heaven
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played eight
He played knick-knack on my gate
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played nine
He played knick-knack on my spine
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played ten
He played knick-knack once again
Knick-knack paddy whack
Give the dog the bone
This old man came rolling home.

 

What kind of sick game is this knick-knack, you may wonder, snickering immaturely to yourself.  What kind of game can you play on someone’s thumb, and shoe, and knee, and door, and hive, and spine?  There must be some kind of innuendo there!

In fact, that’s all in your dirty mind.  I did actual research, with the internet, and found out that “knick knack” was what you called it when you beat out a particular rhythm with spoons.  The old man isn’t playing a game – he’s playing music.  Poorly.

According to our narrator, his first attempt is a count of one – a steady metronome carried out on the poor witness’s thumb.  The last line asserts the old man will later “come rolling home”, implying the narrator is a member of his immediate family.  Most likely, it’s the spoon-musician’s kid referring to him as the “old man.”

The old guy’s main characteristics so far are annoyingness.  Then comes the ominous, “Knick knack paddy wack” –and you get the sense that the old man’s knick-knacking has gone too far.  He’s taken his act away from home – to a paddy, which dictionary.com assures me is a bog where you grow rice.  The knick-knacking ends abruptly here, with a “wack” – immediately followed by his dog receiving a bone.  Wading through the high paddy waters, it’s possible he accidentally wacked some small animal to death with his out-of-control spoon-music, and then goes home.

But it happens again the next day.

He starts out, again, annoyingly, smacking out a two-beat rhythm on his kid’s shoe.  Then finds himself again in the paddy, and again – wack!  And his dog gets a bone.

It’s not that easy to accidentally hit small animals with spoons.

Maybe he’s doing it on purpose.  Or, maybe we should be using the other definition of “wack.”  The one that refers to the kills of crime rings.

The old man seems to have stumbled into the boggy dumping ground of some criminal element.  Rather than being disturbed or concerned, however, the gross old spoon-musician starts wrenching up decaying limbs to feed his dog.

Then he starts knick-knacking again the next day, to a count of three, continuing an increasingly ritualistic-looking pattern, where he spoon-bangs weird parts of his kid’s body and varying architectural crevices of symbolic importance and then scurries off to the paddy to gorge his hound on dead people.  He ends each day by himself rolling around in the paddy waters.  Your dirty mind is probably right this time – the old man won’t go home until he satiates his hankering for necrophilia.

The child-narrator can’t fully articulate the creepiness to which he bears witness day after day.  It seems the kid, reared near some remote bog by a dead-body desecrating crime associate who beats him with spoons for entertainment, is only beginning to notice something’s wrong.

Mary Had A Little Problem

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Mary had a little lamb,
little lamb, little lamb.
Mary had a little lamb,
its fleece was white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went,
Mary went, Mary went,
and everywhere that Mary went
– the lamb was sure to go.

It followed her to school one day
school one day, school one day.
It followed her to school one day,
which was against the rule.

It made the children laugh and play,
laugh and play, laugh and play,
it made the children laugh and play
– to see a lamb in school.

And so the teacher turned it out,
turned it out, turned it out.
And so the teacher turned it out,
but still it lingered near,


And waited patiently about,
patiently about, patiently about,
And waited patiently about
– till Mary did appear.

“Why does the lamb love Mary so?”
Love Mary so? Love Mary so?
“Why does the lamb love Mary so,”
the eager children cry.

“Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know.”
The lamb, you know, the lamb, you know,
“Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know,”
the teacher did reply.

 

At first this seems like a straightforward narrative about a little girl and her darling farmyard pet.  Then we take our heads out of our asses and see it for the desperate war shriek it most definitely really is.

In the fourth stanza, we learn of the lamb’s creepy superpowers:  “It made the children laugh and play.”

It’s one thing to make a child laugh.  Anyone who farts can do it.  But to make the children play?  What would that even look like?  Rows of young scholars standing up in the middle of class, silently assembling into hopscotch squares, slowly tossing balls, eyes locking over the rims of plastic teacups?

This is not entertainment.  This is mind-control.

The teacher immediately identifies the lamb as responsible for the children’s antics, and sends it away.  Significantly, she doesn’t kick the lamb out until after it uses its powers; The Rule doesn’t exclude little lambs in general.  Just the agents of menticide.

Such a Rule, of course, would not exist unless there had been previous attempts to introduce psychic manipulators into the school.  That the teacher was able to recognize the lamb’s use of mind-control, and respond in calm authority, further denotes a training facility prepared to handle coercive persuasion.

For these and other reasons, it is apparent that this is one of the special academies for gifted prospective assassins described in such legends as Ladybug, Ladybug.  For all we know, it’s the same academy referenced in Ladybug, Ladybug.  If you can’t remember mention of an assassin-training academy in the poem, Ladybug, Ladybug, go read it again.  It’s in there.

We should have it figured out by the third stanza that Mary’s not a child.  Our source tells us that the little lamb followed her everywhere.  If it only followed her to school one day, she only visited once; she couldn’t have been a student.

Yet the children all know her by name.  We can tell by her one-time visit to the establishment during school-hours that she had at least occasional business there.  She is not sent out with the lamb, but remains behind for some length of time, occupying the teacher’s attention.

It’s deeply emphasized that Mary went everywhere; in all likelihood, she worked for the academy as a talent scout and facilitator.  Discovering in the course of her extensive travels a promising young lamb-psychic, Mary made a special trip to plead in person for an easement to the rule against mind-benders.  It didn’t work, but the lamb seems to have taken its rejection in stride.

The narrator struggles to communicate this history.  Her speech is rife with echoing fragments – a single thought is repeated two to four times before the sudden introduction of a unique sentence, describing a personal impression.  It’s as though she’s striving to hammer home each point to an audience who isn’t listening.  Every so often, she can’t help editorializing under her breath.

This audience is familiar with the academy’s existence, but not with its internal policies; the narrator has to explain that the lamb’s attendance went against a Rule.  They also know Mary by name.  A good case can be made that these are village civilians gossiping over the assassin-school’s local coordinator.

By the same token, we can tell that our storyteller once attended this academy.  Not only is she intimately familiar with school policy, she is also able to hear or channel the voices of schoolchildren in the present, which her audience apparently cannot do.  Notice the subtle change in verb tense after the narrator tells us what happened with the lamb one day in school; the narrator has finished describing a memory, and begun to fill us in on a similar conversation the schoolchildren and teacher are having about Mary at that very moment.  So she, too, is Gifted.

It’s clear, with both villagers and students discussing Mary and Lamb, some local event has occurred which embroils both of them in controversy.

If tone is any indication, Mary has long been an object of envy.  One can hear it in the wistful refrain, “Everywhere that Mary went…” As the author marvels over all her travels.  Then she mutters something about Mary breaking the Rule when she brought the lamb onto school property, but it’s never implied that she faced negative repercussions.  It seems Mary is held to different standards than other school affiliates.  The children demand to know why the lamb loves her – “Mary” is the word repeated most in stanza seven, emphasizing less that the lamb could love a person, than that the lamb could love Mary, of all people.  In fact, the brutal tykes hardly seem to be asking for information – they shout the query eagerly.  They’re all talking at once.  They’re just plain tearing Mary down.

Paying careful attention to verb tenses in the last two stanzas, we gather that this is a recurring subject.  In the past, the teacher jumped to Mary’s defense, saying Mary loved the lamb.  In the present, no teacher replies to the snotty brats’ complaint.

As reported in other literature, when Ladybug’s school was attacked, the majority of her students ran away.  It may be that the controversy of the moment, for which both villagers and students seem to blame Mary, is the burning of the school.

She might be just a handy scapegoat, guilt determined by circumstance alone.  As someone who travels near and far recruiting, she’d easily attract the attention of rivals.  She’s well-known and already regarded with mistrust by the student body.  But if two separate groups suspect her at once, perhaps there is more reason to suspect her of treason than we know.

It is interesting to consider that, in possession of tremendous power, and with only lukewarm interest in joining the school, the lamb’s antics consist of making children laugh and play.  Although young and inexperienced, the lamb employs an impressive level of subtlety – masking its influence by mimicking normal human behavior.  In an ordinary school, the lamb’s interference might have gone unnoticed.  As it was, the frivolity of the assassins-in-training struck the teacher as odd.  But then the lamb seems not at all upset at being found out; it waits patiently outside for Mary to finish her business.  Indeed, it might be argued that the teacher was playing directly into the lamb’s chops all along.  The animal loved Mary and enjoyed her company; it should not surprise us to learn the teacher’s decision not to accept the lamb as a student was a product of the little beast’s design.

When we listen to the narrator shout her main points over and over, abruptly fixating on sensory details and internal dialogue at the end of every stanza, it is obvious that she, like her audience, is fighting to remain focused on her story.  She struggles to explain that Mary had a little lamb, who made children laugh and play.  There’s a reason she brings it up now.  It seems as though the animal’s powers of distraction are being used at this very moment against the gifted narrator and her civilian listeners.  If the lamb still follows Mary everywhere, it must be that Mary is hiding near at hand.

We should assume the lambkin is acting on Mary’s orders in keeping the civilians trapped by the power of distraction in whatever tavern they’ve holed up.  It is possible that the lamb’s influence is to blame, as well, for the sudden cowardice of Ladybug’s assassins-in-training.  Mary had the means and opportunity to amass an army with Ladybug’s rejects.  All it would take is a smattering of power-hunger, with the lamb’s assistance, for her to try a hostile takeover.

It’s unlikely the villagers would hold their own against a horde of assassins.  The telepathic narrator may or may not, due to her training, pose the tiniest bit of a threat to Mary’s horde.  But she’s not sent far away like the academy’s other students.  She’s kept near to the school, and passive, like the villagers.

The reason for this comes out as a Freudian slip in the seventh stanza, as the persistent refrain goes, “Love Mary so?”  The main point in that sentence, deeply emphasized, is that Mary is loved.  The narrator quickly backtracks and tries to distance herself from this admission by channeling the far-away students.  But she follows up by repeating the schoolteacher’s past defense of Mary.  She loves her.  And if Mary’s lamb friend is keeping her distracted long enough to keep her out of harm’s way, it seems as though Mary loves her back.

But, as hinted at in earlier stanzas, the narrator all along considered the little lamb a liability – sure to go, considering all the places that Mary went.  The narrator clearly blames the lamb for Mary’s betrayal.  And perhaps is justified in doing so.  The lamb is a mind-bender, after all.  The lamb makes sure to go with Mary everywhere.  Perhaps this is Mary’s special power: she can travel between realms.  To realms where lambs can talk and bend minds, even.  She’s an asset to an animal with deadly ambition.

The narrator channels answers from a teacher suggesting not so much that the lamb loves Mary, as that Mary loves the lamb.  She’s its prisoner.  And the narrator is a trained assassin, realizing this about the woman she loves.  The lamb was sure to go.  She’s got to kill it.

Hey Diddle – Run!

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Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed to see such craft
And the dish ran away with the spoon!

 

Don’t wrack your brains trying to figure out what kind of creep would advocate diddling the cat; this psycho also wants us to diddle the fiddle.  Compelling though it is to imagine the subject of this poem as some kind of genital musical genius, we must consider that the popular usage of “diddle” involving genital stimulation has only existed since the 1950’s.  Given that various sources give this poem a life-span of nearly a thousand years, our investigation is better served when we apply the earliest definition of diddle: “To cheat, or swindle.”

Our narrator begins with a greeting that sounds playful and affectionate – “Hey Diddle Diddle!”  The nickname suggests a shared criminal history, fondly remembered between subject and speaker.  The second line is similar in tone: a sentence fragment, evidently referencing an event of such singular significance to both as to require no elaboration.  There was only one cat and fiddle worth remembering.

The remaining lines build on this flashback – a simple sentence follows the fragment, followed by a compound alluding to previous lines.  Typical of memory-sharing between old friends, an initial shorthand reference spontaneously blossoms into a more colorful accounting.  We have clues enough, by the end, to reconstruct their joint narrative.

The scene they set is agrarian.  A fiddle, a cow, a picturesque moon.  Mention of a cat and dog suggest a small-scale, family farm.  Curiously, the dining utensils mentioned are sufficient for only one person.  The farmer is certainly single, and seems to be living in dire isolation; there is no mention of dining instruments set aside for guests, or even hired help.  He doesn’t seem unfriendly, however; the two swindlers have a cozy knowledge of the inside of his home, including his musical preference and pets’ behavior.

What could they possibly swindle from a lone farmer with barely a dish to his name?  It had to be something good; isolated as that farm seems to have been, the cheats would have to make a special excursion, on purpose, to visit.  Meaning, also, they would have heard about the place by reputation.

Now consider every peculiar line in light of the criminals’ trickery; they put on a show of intoxicating splendor for that one lonely guy.  They pulled out all stops by the sound of it – they made the dog laugh, the cat play the fiddle, and the cow jump over the moon.  The farmer was sure to be mesmerized.  It was the perfect cover.

And what did they steal?

What line ends the poem for us?  Which of the farmer’s belongings finally ran away?  Not the fiddle, not the cow, nothing like money or jewels.  Just a dish and a freaking spoon.

If you think that’s a bizarre haul for a couple of world-class con artists, you’re probably not alone.  The farmer would have kept a closer eye if he thought those things were valuable.  Instead he let the swindlers in, enjoyed the magic show, and watched his dinnerware run off, without a clue that he was being fleeced.  By the sound of it, no one ever tried to rob him before.

How is it that he could have been famous to a pair of talented illusionists, and yet have no inkling of his own fame?  By what rules of universal order could an ordinary plate and spoon be worth so much trouble?  How do you run a farm – even a very small one – without any help at all?  And how in every hell do you let someone convince you that your cow just jumped over the moon?

I’ll tell you how.  By being a giant Cyclops.

Going back to Odysseus, there’s a long history of Cylops living alone and quietly tending their livestock, until such a time as human swindlers come around to harass them.  It stands to reason that anything giant is worth a lot.  Imagine a silver spoon big enough to hide a crook as she’s running away.  Or a plate of good porcelain just a little bigger.

Humans, of course, would have good reason for reporting to each other the whereabouts of giant men, regardless of how rich or poor they were.  And a giant who was poor by his own standards could certainly be thought worth robbing by human standards – providing the humans are not terribly risk-averse.  Consider the precedent set by Jack and his giant beanstalk.

Our crooks are much more cunning than Jack.  Knowing how giants can be about their musical instruments, they didn’t try to take his fiddle.  Taking full advantage of the Cyclops’ stilted depth perception, our magicians rigged up a few tricks to make it look as if the cow were jumping higher than the moon while his cat was playing music, and the laughing sound was coming from the dog.

Their last trick was to grab the utensils and run away.  The good-natured giant was probably having so much fun at that point he just let the pests have what they came for.  It probably wasn’t real silver, anyway.  So it is that nobody overhearing the tricksters’ fond memories know what it is they’re talking about.  Smarter than Jack, less flashy than Jack, they never became as famous as Jack.

And our narrator, at least, seems to regret it.  Laughing so hard she can only reminisce in sentence fragments, really hammering on the camaraderie, we can read between the lines that she’s gathering steam to propose another heist.  Especially as a slightly later definition of “diddle” is to “waste time” – she’s teasing a schemester who’s also getting lazy.

Given the fact that there is no second stanza, it’s fair to assume the once-swindled giant was never swindled again.  Those thieves who nearly killed magic for the lonely one-eyed farmer tried again, with a giant less gentle, and were promptly chomped in half.

Case regretfully closed.

I Want to Laugh at Traumatized People

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“They alive, dammit!”  Cheers The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s opening chorus.  “Females are strong as hell!”  Such is our introduction to Kimmy – a childhood kidnapping victim who spent 15 years buried in a bunker in Indiana.  She emerges, clueless, but smiling and apparently unscathed.

Schmidt is a pioneer beyond her fictional universe.  She represents the pinnacle of a TV trope that is recent, infrequent, and classically overlooked: the Comically Traumatized Person.

It started with Friends’ Phoebe Buffay.

“I remember when I first came to this city,” Phoebe tells Rachel comfortingly in episode one.  “I was fourteen.  My mom had just killed herself and my step-dad was back in prison.  …And I ended up living with this albino guy who was like, cleaning windshields outside port authority – and then he killed himself –  and then I found aromatherapy.  So believe me, I know exactly how you feel.”

Shocked glances suggest no one is comforted. But this is the recurring source of Phoebe’s humor – disturbed expressions following offhandedly tragic disclosure.  Her sunny disposition is the only thing that makes it work.  For a horror-tale survivor, she seems utterly, unreasonably, fine.

Catalina Aruca, My Name is Earl’s undocumented Bolivian refugee, carries on the trope with gusto.   “This is the sweetest, most justified kidnapping I’ve ever seen!”  She once praises our show’s namesake, calculating after that she’s seen five or so.  She likes the pop-pop-pop of bubble-wrap, because it reminds her of her childhood in bullet-riddled La Paz.  And she never has plans for Mother’s Day, because her mother is dead.  When offered condolences, she shrugs and explains, “It was either her or me.”

In every genesis of the Comically Traumatized Person, but most of all in Nadine Velazquez’s Catalina, we hear a voice of quiet social conscience.  She reminds other characters of the vastness between their privilege and the world of strife she remembers; they can respond to her revelations uncomfortably, or not at all.  She will disturb, annoy, offend, and be ignored – but she stays within the bounds of comedy.  Because around her, no one knows what to say.

The archetype emerges next with Erin, from The Office – an apparent pre-incarnation to Kimmy Schmidt, also played by actress Ellie Kemper.  Erin unleashes the trope’s positivity to an on-it’s-own comical degree.  “I like every person that I have ever met,” she says, smiling blissfully, as though she hadn’t just been told by her co-workers that they’ll never really like her.

It’s no secret that she’s an orphan – her frequent references to The System include practical know-how in ridding the office of lice and statements like, “In the foster home, my hair was my room.”  Everyone she meets is a likely substitute for the family she never had.  She is worshipfully gratefully to colleagues like Michael Scott and Kelly who offer her lukewarm attention in return.

“Thank God he’s my boss, because I would not have said yes to a first date if I didn’t have to,” she tells us about Gabe Lewis – one of two low-key predatory supervisors she ends up dating.  The very first time we’re introduced, she’s being encouraged to change her name by her regional manager’s interim replacement.  He sets a precedent when he breaks decorum to tell her that she’s pretty.  And co-worker Clark convinces her to wear skimpy clothes solo to a non-existent audition at his apartment.  (The date-rape of a scenario is avoided only by the intervention of her future love-interest, Pete.)

Erin’s vulnerability is an overstatement, more so than a departure, from her Comically Traumatized kin.  They are all blatantly exploited by other characters; they value relationships with a heedless valor rarely or never mentioned.  Phoebe takes on the surrogate pregnancy of her brother’s triplets.  Catalina returns to stripping against clearly-stated inclination, to free chief-rival Joy from prison after Earl collapses in a big heap of fragility.

Though each CTP recounts a wide variety of traumatic life experiences, the element of sexual violence is a connective fiber, implied by every one with ever so cautious a subtlety.

“This reminds me,” says a pregnant-and-grumpy Phoebe to a Rachel who can’t stop agonizing over Ross, “Of the time when I was living on the street and this guy offered to buy me food if I slept with him.”

After a confused pause, Rachel asks, “How is this like that?”

“Well, let’s see, it’s not really like that.”  Says Phoebe.  “Because that was an actual problem and yours is just like, y’know, a bunch of high school crap that nobody really gives, y’know…”

We later learn that she contracted hepatitis when a pimp spit in her mouth.  Neither her fiancé nor the fiancé’s rich parents, to whom she has thusly introduced herself, ever ask for specifics.

When Catalina learns that Randy is afraid of chickens, she soothingly offers, “We all have fears.  I fear snakes and rape.”  She had no male friends before fleeing Bolivia, due to her belief that they would rape her mother.  And we watch her good friend Earl slap her butt, to express his disillusionment, and earn a reprimand because she “expects better” of him than she does of other men.

Then we have Silicon Valley’s Jared Dunn, who springs from The Office’s ashes as a Comically Traumatized, nicely non-predatory version of Gabe (both characters played by Zach Woods).  Staring wide-eyed at the giant portrait of Gavin Belson they’ve agreed to hang in his garage bedroom, Jared muses: “I was scared of intruders ‘til I had one of those in my room, and then I realized, you know, if they’re gonna kill me, they’re gonna kill me.  ‘Cause he kept whispering that.”

Reminiscent of Phoebe, Jared often mentions hunger and homelessness, including sleeping in a box on the street.   Like Erin, he frequently refers to foster care; the closest he had to a stuffed animal was a Ziploc bag stuffed with old newspaper and a smile drawn on the outside.  Also like Erin, everyone calls him by a name that a supervisor stuck to him.  He’s seen dead people, like Catalina, some of them naked, and, like Kimmy, he used to be a prisoner. “When I was little,” he tells us, “I used to pretend that I shared a room with Harriet Tubman and we were always planning our big escape.”

True to his trope, Jared’s enormous devotion and self-sacrifice on behalf of those he has chosen as his family are persistently taken for granted and overlooked.  Still, he is ultimately valued more in his universe than Phoebe, Erin, or Catalina are in theirs.  The founder of his tiny company, Richard, arguably abandons his evil plans to “force-adopt code through aggressive guerilla marketing” due to Jared’s vocal withdrawal of support.

But never until Kimmy was a Comically Traumatized Person at the center of the storyline.

The series is appropriately bizarre.

In episode one, Ms. Schmidt’s roommate Titus Andromedon begins a question about money with the sentence, “I’m very scared to ask you this – ”

“Yes!” Kimmy cuts him off, rolling her eyes.  “There was weird sex-stuff in the bunker.”

The actually-frank disclosure of sexual assault is reiterated in Season Three.  “It’s kind of sophisticated if you think about it,” says a lady named Wendy, speaking of her attempts to get Kimmy to sign divorce papers so she can marry the same reverend who held her prisoner.  “An evening in Manhattan with my lover’s wife.  It sounds like a Noel Coward play!”

Kimmy shoots back under her breath, “If Noel Coward really was a coward who rapes everybody.”

Her admissions are swallowed in swift-flowing narrative, but beginning in the second season with a soldier who calls her out on her PTSD, her life involves more and more recognition of how her past affects her present.

“If you think you don’t have triggers, then you’re in denial,” The soldier tells her, after she reacts to his sudden movement at a party by wrestling him on the floor.  She also reflexively hits old-flame Dong with a telephone each time they kiss, until he’s in handcuffs – at which point she says her brain feels calm enough to attempt coition.

None of this happens with any sobering hint of drama.  Kimmy, and all of our Comically Traumatized characters, stay funny.  And that is a narrative revolution.

“I couldn’t stay,” says Kimmy’s hot-mess of a mom, referring to life in their small town after her child was abducted.  “Everywhere I went people were looking at me like I was a bummer, you know, with their eyes all watery, ‘I’m so sorry for your tragedy’, when I just was trying to get one minute of peace on a mechanical bull.”

“Ugh,” says Kimmy, “I hate that look!  I don’t want pity.  It’s like, I’m more than this one terrible thing that happened to me!”

“Exactly!” Says Kimmy’s mom – who, in possible homage to Phoebe, is also played by actress Lisa Kudrow.  “I’m all the terrible things that have happened to me.  And I’m not a bummer!  I’m fun.”

Drama, the near-exclusive purveyor of traumatic representation in the arts, prescribes a gingerliness in dealing with sexual violence – a thorough separation of survivor from what she has survived.  Here is the thing that shouldn’t have happened, and there are the things you fear and think and unhealthily love in result.  Somewhere under all that trauma is the real you, the person you were meant to be before these bad things happened.  A Comically Traumatized Person does what may never have been done before on screen; she claims every fear, and think, and unhealthy love as her own.  She is not fun sometimes and traumatized some other times.  She is always both.  And proud.

“Don’t worry about me,” Kimmy says to Dong, grinning after insisting she’ll help him marry someone else.  “I’m like a biscotti.  People act like I’m this sweet cookie, but I’m really this super hard thing, that nobody knows what I am, or why I am.”

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt gives us a Comically Traumatized Hero who can tell her own story.  In the words of her unlicensed psychiatrist: “Kimmy Schmidt is free, okay?  She can just assume that everybody already knows [about her trauma] and stop worrying about it.”

This isn’t Rachael’s or Monica’s or Ross’s New York.  We see the world through Kimmy’s eyes – which are like Phoebe’s eyes, and Catalina’s, and Erin’s, and Jared’s.  In their freak vision, ‘normal’ is a boring unicorn.  The world doesn’t make a ton of sense; but it’s bright, and resilient, and loudly being lived-in.  You are invited not to pity, ignore, or revere – but fully, and finally, relate.

Pop! Goes the Family

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Round and round the cobbler’s bench
The monkey chased the weasel
The monkey thought it was all in fun
Pop! goes the weasel.

A penny for a spool of thread
A penny for a needle
That’s the way the money goes
Pop! goes the weasel.

Every night when I get home
The monkey’s on the table
Take a stick and knock it off
Pop! goes the weasel.

 

You may have heard the song involving a weasel who goes “Pop!” around pointy shoe-maker’s tools and imagined a scenario where the marsupial pricks his toe and bursts like a balloon.  A closer inspection, however, reveals a much more harrowing tale.

This juicy drama unfolds, like most juicy dramas, around a cobbler’s bench.  The monkey, easily two to four times the weasel’s size, thought it would be hilarious to chase the skinny bastard around a bench littered with picks, nails and other terribly sharp objects.  It’s possible the weasel has been putting up with this abuse for years.

So what happens when the weasel goes Pop!?  What makes that sound, that could stop a big bully in her tracks?  What could a lightweight do to save himself in such a situation?

Please don’t tell me you think the answer is “spontaneous weasel combustion.”  This is the timeless story of a weasel’s firing off his very first handgun.

The word “cobbler” is most commonly interpreted to mean a shoe-maker.  But the other kind of cobbler may be more relevant – the kind of illegal professional who creates false passports, visas, and other documents.  So we have an innocuous shoe-repair shop fronting a darker, more lucrative side-trade.  No wonder the monkey’s such a brute; she’s not just some ill-trained pet.  She’s the cobbler’s enforcer.

Giddy with exhilaration after firing his first gun, the strapped marsupial takes off on a terror spree.  The next stanza describes penny-thieving and apparently shaking down street merchants.  Not too far a leap from forgery, after all.

In the last line, we learn that the monkey who blithely bullied his co-worker is held in check only with nightly beatings-by-stick.  Unfortunately for the cobbler, and for the monkey, there’s a new sheriff in town.  With a final Pop! the weasel kills his old boss and gets to setting up a more ambitious outfit.

If you’re skeptical that the song’s about the seedy underworld inhabited by douchebag animals, just listen to this lesser-known alternative verse:

Jimmy’s got the whooping cough

And Timmy’s got the measles

That’s the way the story goes

Pop! goes the weasel.

 

You see?  It’s only a matter of time under the weasel’s dictatorship before we’ve got to tell stories about Jimmy and Timmy contracting deadly diseases.  The Pop! tells us that’s not how they died – but that’s the story we’re going to go with.

 

Case regretfully closed.

Little Bo Pleasedonthurtme

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Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep
And doesn’t know where to find them
Leave them alone
And they’ll come home
Bringing their tails behind them

Little Bo peep fell fast asleep
And dreamt she heard them bleating,
When she awoke, she found it a joke
For they were all still a fleeting

Then up she took a little crook
Determined for to find them.
She found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed
For they`d left their tails behind them

It happened one day, as Boo Peep did stray
Into a meadow hard by
There she espied their tails side by side
All hung on a tree to dry

She heaved a sigh, and wiped her eye
And over the hillocks went rambling
And tried what she could
As a shepherdess should
To tack again each to its lambkin

 

It might interest you to know that, early in the sixteenth century, “Bo” was a scary exclamation – the progenitor  of “Boo!”   A peep, of course, is a quick or covert look at something.  “Bo Peep” was a popular game involving hiding and reappearing suddenly to scare people.

So!

Is Bo Peep the given name of a little shepherdess whose entire flock suffered the same appendage severance at the same time?  Or, is it an ironic nickname given to someone very large, and with a long history of terrorizing the community with her sudden disappearance and reappearances?

The last one.

Let’s look at the evidence.  The second line, at first, seems to be a reiteration of the first – “Doesn’t know where to find sheep” is pretty much the same thing as having “Lost them”, right?

Wrong.  Bo Peep didn’t “lose” her sheep in the sense of not knowing where they were.  They were taken from her.  She didn’t know where they went after, so she couldn’t get them back.

And our narrator doesn’t care.  He’s talking to someone other than Bo Peep, about Bo Peep, and “her” sheep – even though his argument makes it clear that he and the person to whom he is speaking are the rightful shepherds.  When you leave sheep alone, they go home – and our speaker thinks they’ll naturally return to the place where he and the person he is talking to live, not to where Bo Peep lives.  (The sheep will “come home,” not, “go home.”)

So then who is this weirdo, who claims other peoples’ sheep as her own, disappearing and popping up among the rolling hills in a sudden, scary way?

A fucking dragon.

That’s who.

Now don’t you feel better about the fixation on sheep tails?  Obviously, the narrator only means “tail” in the sense of something that follows something else.  So it’s not about bodily appendages that just fall off – that would be way creepy.  It’s about dragons.  Little baby dragons, made by Bo Peep, who follow the lambs around, trying to spit fireballs and biting off hunks of raw mutton.

The shepherds, who fought the mama dragon away from their flock once, have cleverly hidden the animals somewhere a dragon can’t find them.  They’re worrying now that, if they’re not able to feed the sheep soon, they’ll wander home, attracting a tail of hungry dragonlings.

Having just finished fighting a dragon, of course, the shepherds aren’t in the best shape.  They’re worrying about just making the trek back to wherever the sheep are holed up, never mind having to gear up for round two in these dragon wars.

The narrator tries to pass the time, after worrying about the future, by retelling a story or two from the past (notice the change in verb tense).  The shepherds naturally keep a close eye on Bo Peep.  Someone surprised her in her sleep once; they could tell she was dreaming about sheep by the way she twitched, probably, like you can tell when dogs are dreaming about squirrels.

Another time when they’d hidden their flocks, she caught a person, a crook (maybe a sheep-thief she found wandering the hills, searching for the same animals).  She picked him up and flew around over the village, trying to make the humans bring her favorite meat in exchange.  It worked – they brought the flocks out into the open to save the man’s life – but instead of feasting she gave signs of heartbreak.  That’s when the villagers realized she was looking for her dragonlings.  She thought she’d find them with the sheep, but they’d left their tails behind them.  In the end she found her babies hanging out in a tree nearby.  She breathed out a fiery column and licked one eye with her long dragon tongue, and then chased the little dragons back into the hills to catch themselves some supper.  Good times.

But now the dragons are bigger, the sheep are fewer in number, and it isn’t cute anymore; the shepherds have to fight for their livestock.  Let’s not pretend these humans stand a chance.

Case regretfully closed.