When I told my mother
I wanted to be a veterinarian
when I grew up, she told me
that vets kill puppies and kittens
and stick needles into horses
and bunnies with cancer.
When I told my mother
I wanted to be a zoo-keeper
when I grew up, she told me
that animals in captivity
are still wild animals, and hence
could attack even the friendliest
of caretakers, usually tearing them
to shreds and eating their remains.
You see, my mum and I
had a lot of time to talk
about these things: I was the last
of the Aptowicz brood.
Always too young and too small
to go on the backpacking trips
and nature hikes that formed
my brother and sister: the scientists.
Mum never liked my career choices much,
but I knew I was on the right track
when one day, over a bowl of alphabet soup,
I asked her:
how come there are such things
as bad words?
And she said:
there is no such things
as a “bad word.”
Only words that aren’t
appropriate for all situations.
you should never say
the word “shit”
in front of a nun.
You see, she gave me that:
she gave me the gift of words;
she gave me the power of words,
and I never considered it a privilege.
But my mum grew up in a time
when words were being redefined,
words like gender, power, class,
So though she was top of her class,
editor of the school literary magazine,
editor of the school newspaper,
the National Merit Scholar with
the three-newspaper-a-day habit,
she still had to hear them tell her:
is not going to be for English
If you want to go to college at all,
it’s going to have to be for science.
So my mother, the biologist,
met my father, the chemical engineer,
and together they produced three beautiful kids,
one of which my mum would make sure
wouldn’t feel the burn she was forced to feel.
People always ask me
why I make such a big deal
correcting them, saying:
No, it’s not
It’s Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz.
It’s just one word, they say,
it shouldn’t make that much difference.
But I know the differences words make.
It is a gift my mother gave me.
And I honour her
every time I put pen to paper,
every time I put word to lip,
and every time I sign my name,
My mother says she’d never trade
any of us kids in for a novel, or
a job at the New York Times,
though the way we behave sometimes,
she says she’d consider it.
But I know she’s only joking,
because I have never seen her
look so proud, or smile so bright,
as when I finally told her
what I wanted to do,
and she said:
You know what, honey?
Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz
is the perfect name
for a writer.
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
I have no words for this Ted Talk, other than… gratitude.
Gratitude to the very special friend who put me onto Sarah Kay by sharing her performance of ‘When Love Arrives’ with me (do yourself a favour, scroll down to the bottom to watch it). Mel and I were sharing a bottle of wine and waxing on about how and when love shows up in our lives, whether you can make a choice to fall in love or whether it is something that happens to you, against your will even. And I’m not even talking about That Big Decision to marry and commit until the death do’s etc. I suppose it’s possibly a rehearsal for what that might be – for some, at least.
We decided it was probably either or both, depending on the circumstances – and the people involved. But even now, I can’t help wondering if by making the conscious decision to love someone and enter into a relationship with them isn’t in fact the relationship safe route. And maybe it is – but is that the point? Is that when it actually works out? And isn’t that what we’re looking for? We certainly have been taught to think that we should want it. And we all know the marriage certificate alone isn’t quite enough these days. Something happens before that. There’s more to it than that.
Interestingly, I was at a Hen’s Day for another very great girlfriend of mine this weekend, and again another fabulous woman (not the bride-to-be, I should clarify!) shared her story with me about how she made the choice to fall in love with her best friend. She quite despised him up until that point (which, I know, sounds like the makings of a highly successful sitcom, right?). But it made me wonder – is this something that women do, and not just in their thirties, but by their very nature? Do we feel like we have no other choice than to make the decision for ourselves and our unknowing – but soon-to-be-willing – partner?
If so, this idea doesn’t feel very natural to me. My brain is a little unsure as to the workings of my feminine heart, particularly at the moment, but I tend to think I often don’t have a choice in matters of the heart. I also have never quite been able to shake off those relationships that ‘made sense’ or were ‘good for me’ – constantly questioning should they be reconsidered? revisited? reignited? hanging around in the back of my mind like that fucking tub of ice cream sitting in my freezer that keeps nudging at my guilt and saying, ‘I’m still here…’
But I can put those broken nerve endings back together and find that spark again, right? I can be one of those people who says:
You there, yes, you – come over here for a moment, would you? Oh god no, not you – you’re a bit pale and needy. No – YOU. Yes, thank you. Now, let me see… You look nice. You smell ok. You sound like a human being. Ah excellent, is that some lose change in your pocket? Ok, good. And how’re your privates? Everything in working order? Just in case motherhood ever starts to amuse me. Brilliant – I have decided I think I’d rather like to fall in love with you. How does ‘life’ sound? Or perhaps let’s start with 10 years and go from there, what do you say?
Yeah. I could. Couldn’t I?
I know – I’m hilarious. Of course, it’s not that simple. But perhaps some people just know what is good for them. And then they actually take action and go for it.
I hope they know how inspiring that is to watch.
Sarah’s wise words of advice…
Step One: I can
Step Two: I will
Step Three: It’s not just the old adage of ‘write what you know’, it’s about gathering up all the experiences and knowledge that you’ve collected up to now in order to help you dive into what you don’t know.
Righto then, here goes…
Ten Things I Know To Be True
1. I just ate half a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. I bought it two nights ago when I was drunk. The probability of buying ice-cream had I not drunk the three double-shot gins and half bottle of wine is significantly lower.
2. My chocolate-peanut-caramel-swirl-ice-cream chaser was a packet of fruit Mentos.
3. I felt guilty about eating both of these things about ten minutes before I even peeled myself off the couch to get them from their respective safe keeping spots. I know I can’t have these things in the house otherwise I will eat them.
4. Both times it was definitely a choice, and yet there is a small part of me that feels I was being held hostage by the processed sugar gods.
5. I need to let go of my negative relationship with food because I’ve just wasted the first five of my ‘ten things I know to be true’ list focusing just on that. Either I’m really unintelligent with nothing in particular to say – in which case I should shut down this blog right this second – or I’m wasting my time on distractions and negative thoughts and not getting on with things. Important things. Like life. I only came to this realisation, however, after watching both the videos I have shared here.
(Right. Watch this, here I go…)
6. Music speaks to me in a way that I imagine religion speaks to its devotees. (ah, well done, that’s deep…)
7. Writing makes me feel like I am home. (Now I’m surprising even myself – that’s actually true. I should write a whole lot more than I do. Shoulda, coulda, woulda, shut it…you lost it – this just got boring…)
8. I wish I had half the courage to believe Sarah’s first step, in order to do step two, so that I can achieve step three.
9. Number 8 is actually bullshit. I’ve done it before. I could/should do it again. I am clearly choosing not to.
10. I miss love frequently…and yet perhaps I should be open to the fact that it may not be good for me. And perhaps that’s a good thing to know and take action on.
And then there’s this…