joni abilene

Just another site

Month: March, 2013

Looking Beyond

There was a lot of chatter yesterday over an article which had made the bold claim, ‘literary fiction is terrible,’ and you can read it here. I’m not one to defend these type of intellectual statements as: I am not an intellectual and: I sometimes laugh at my kids’ fart jokes. I’m highly unqualified. I don’t even have one of them MFA thingys. But. Being bored or disillusioned by a huge quantity of work from a culture of many sources, styles, lengths, topics, sexes, ages variants, can not possibly be wrapped up in one defining statement. It just can’t. Literary fiction is not terrible. It is not dead. It is constantly changing. For one thing, literary fiction is not one type, as mentioned above. It has many sub-genres and is an eye to the world we are living in. Reading literary fiction is akin to looking into a mirror. If you are dissatisfied with one, then the whole world must leave you with a dull feeling. Because that’s what it is: an encapsulation of life.

Many activities can be considered boring when compared to their more exciting counterparts in this world. Read or have sex? Read or ride a Harley? Read or insert a Mentos into a bottle of Diet Coke? Many people would consider reading the most boring activity on earth. But those people are wrong. Why? Because they are not reading to discover, they don’t know the beauty of a good story and what it means in our culture. Since the time of Greeks we have uncovered the subconscious of humanity through simple storytelling. We not only find humanity, we shape, we mold it through the act of fiction. If there is a repetitive theme, instead of seeing it as boring or hackneyed, see it as one loud voice echoing out one loud truth.

When I was in stuck in those awkward stages of my pre-teens, bra barely filling out with budding breasts and face dotted with zits, I was riding with my Aunt Kathleen to the city, and she asked me what I’d been up to lately. I told her nothing, because everything was boring. “Never say you’re bored!” she chided me. “There’s always something to do!” I felt reprimanded and scalded by her words. But then it sunk in. Boring people see things with bored eyes. Boring people think the world should be constantly stimulating. They are not the curious child looking under rocks, finding earthworms and centipedes. They are not the astrologer looking up to the sky, searching for falling stars. They only see rocks and sky. If you want anything to be exciting, you must be a an explorer. You must be childlike. You must be easily thrilled. You must see beyond and stop asking what a piece can do for you. Instead ask what a piece says about you. About all of us.



The pressure broke the year before my brother’s freshman year. In eighth grade the boys at school had taken to calling him pussy, gay, faggot—all that insecure language of male youth. He took it out on my sister and I, walking through the house with a hard face and even harder fist. “Get out of my way, bitch,” he’d say, and we’d avoid him the way feral cats avoid each other in a dark alley.

I met his bully once, on the afternoon school bus—a heavy jowled, hateful boy with dirty hair and squinty eyes. I heard him talking about my brother and something in me released, broke. I stood from my seat, skinny freckle-faced me, and told him I’d beat the shit out of him if he ever said things like that about my brother again. When I sat down I could hear whispering behind me, “Aren’t you gonna hit her?” “No,” came a quiet voice that was defeat. A shaking started in my limbs because I couldn’t figure what had gotten into me. But there were whisperings of suicide in the house, and perhaps that fear, that horrible shadow of death, was the reason for my bravery. We rarely have solid physical matter to revolt and lash at when it comes to suicide.

In a surprise move, Mom enrolled him into all-boys Catholic seminary an hour away from the small town we lived in. It meant him being gone all week, and long drives to and from on the weekends. When we dropped him off that fall, and we’d walked through the long arms of the crucifix-shaped building to a small room that was bare linoleum and wood, I found myself unable to accept that my brother, the one who called me bitch, the one who’d told all the neighborhood kids my embarrassing secrets, would no longer be around. Our house became all female during the week, but on the weekend we’d listen to his stories of monks and priests and wild boys who played pranks on each other in the dorms.

He changed. He became an intellectual. His sardonic wit that I loved so much, became elegant and refined. He no longer punched me or called me those derogatory names. He was too busy for that, and I in awe, watched and learned. I felt as if perhaps he had been saved, finally, from the wrath of our father and his belt and the shame he’d laid on us, and mother’s fears and constant picking. My brother became saintly to me. I longed to know where he went and what he did and who he knew. I needed saving, too. But I was stuck in the small town with the bullies and the impending hormones of teenage survival. And it would be years before I found a way to escape.


Mother and I have a strained relationship, which you can read about here in all its (mostly) fictional glory. We love each other, but things get sour if we’re around each other too often or for too long. Not sure if she knows this, but it’s become a painful reality in my life. Many times I want to call her, be with her, and then I remember the things she’ll say or imply about my hair, my choice of clothing, the cookies on my counter that are too sugary, the messy living room I haven’t gotten around to cleaning yet. It dredges all my insecurities from childhood of never being pretty or smart enough. And then there’s that whole religion thing. I dropped out of the catholic church in my early twenties, and often feel a great amount of guilt for doing so. Mostly, though, I feel relief because, as much as I love the beauty of the church; the smell of incense, dipping my fingers in holy water; none of it is enough to erase those years where fear and shame ingrained itself into every pore of my spiritual being. Where looking at or touching myself was sure to cause a strike form God, that he was always watching, always ready to punish. I’m smart enough now and have done enough inner work on myself to know that that type of thought process is unhealthy. I’m sure Mother has spent countless hours of her life worrying about my soul. I wish I could tell her that it’s fine. That I’m fine. But she wouldn’t believe me.

It’s painful not being able to show up at her house. It’s hard to not call and tell her my troubles. She would tell me my troubles were of my making, and as thus, must be slept in until resolved. I would tell her that sometimes problems are just that, problems. They come, they go. They are not always us. They are not always a punishment.

I never had a father and sometimes it pains me to feel this way about my mother too, that she is here, has always been here, but not for me. My problems hang on me, like the scapular of the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary that hangs on ones chest and back. This loneliness, this need, these problems, hang on me and I must deal with them alone.

We have a long way to go, baby

Yesterday I covered a topic that I knew might get a little unwanted attention. After ten minutes I deleted it. The world isn’t ready. It just isn’t ready. The topic was a reevaluation of the male-female marriage and the harm caused to both sides, but especially the female aspect. After posting a link with the title, “A ban on opposite-sex marriage,” I instantly lost a follower on twitter. Now, I’m not one to care about things like that, however, it was a very important follower. And yet still I would never erase my words if I, again, hadn’t overwhelmingly felt the topic too much for the world. It was.

This past week PBS aired a special called Makers: Women Who Make America. It was beautiful. It was inspiring. It was probably only watched by women, and not even all women, those who were part of the history, or who currently found themselves in the position to glean something. It really was very well done.

Am I some kind of feminist? I’m getting there. I’ve seen enough to know now that I should be. But I want to tell you something, a woman can’t just live in this world and be part of it. She must find ways to battle through or she will never experience the world in its fullness. She must fight. And by fight I mean, she cannot rest on the scraps thrown to her. We vote, we wear pants, we can drive a car, straddle a horse, smoke a cigarette, show our face because we fought for it. There will always be opposition. And we should always fight. They want to take away our right to have an abortion, but if that isn’t enough, they want to take away access to the pill and many other aspects of a women’s health. Why are they doing this? you ask. Insecurity. Fear. Domination, and if you think it isn’t, then you are wrong. Men still want to dominate, and we still have to fight.

The world still needs fixing.

Now, for the men who are reading this, I don’t want you to get upset. I love men. I believe in men. You are beautiful. But you need change, too. You need to fight, too. Don’t fall into your insecurity. Don’t rest on your instincts. Fight them. If you truly want balance in this world, then you must forget all that was taught you. Learn to cry, learn to be vulnerable. Transform. There is great transformative power inside you. Don’t be afraid.

Many years ago John Lennon wrote a controversial song with a racist term in the title, “Woman is the n****r of the world.” You can guess what the word is, but I will not type it because I don’t wish to hurt others. He actually didn’t use the world to be racist; he used it to prove a point. One the world wasn’t ready for. However, the damage was done and once again all the valuable words inside the song became lost in time:

We insult her every day on TV/ then wonder why she has no guts of confidence/ when she’s young we kill her will to be free . . .

We kill her will to be free. But we must be free. We must.