Friday, March 28, 2008

The Wasting Away Continues

I was one of those on the vanguard of the ‘60s, and had the audacity to think that the women’s movement might actually accomplish something when it came to females accepting their diversity of size and shape and myriad abilities in breaking from the stifling roles girdling them in the press, women’s magazines, movies, ads, the male gaze, social pressure, and so on. Myself already impregnated since birth in the 1950s with the delicate, small, glamorous image embodied in Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, and all the other interchangeable beauties wallpapering my mind, became only further lost when I entered the world of dance.

Granted, it was modern dance, not the obsessive world of ballet where in universities around the country women were required to weigh in every week, and no matter how talented, if they didn’t meet a certain weight—despite height or bone structure—they’d politely be let go at the end of the year. A world where the Balanchine Beauty (director of the New York Ballet), tall and underweight became the one and only model for dancers to follow. In actual companies, the female dancers, most certainly not the male, had to live in dormitories so that their food intake could be controlled. Too many, in denial and supported by the perceptual conformity around them, died of hear failure—and everyone remained silent.

Simply because I was in modern, I did not escape the prevailing view, and when criticism continually cropped up about my weight, I blindly followed those before me, forgetting everything I had learned in the women’s movement. At 5’6”, I once weighed 99 pounds, no longer menstruated, and shopped in the children’s department—all my dance friends exclaimed how fantastic I looked and wanted to know how I did it. Nor did I look thin to myself.

But that was long ago, and I, amazingly, found my way out of blindness. What concerns me now is that rather than feminism making inroads in this area, it has gotten alarmingly worse: the latest statistics, which underestimate these secretive eating disorders, estimate that four out of one hundred, college-aged women have bulimia. A low guess puts about 50% of people who have been anorexic developing bulimia or bulimic patterns.

Around one out of every one hundred young women between ten and twenty are starving themselves, sometimes to death. More than half of teenaged girls are, or think they should be, on diets. They want to lose all or some of the forty pounds that females naturally gain between 8 and 14. Growing bodies, natural processes, but minds seduced by all those corporations that need to make money preying on our insecurities. And as if feminism never happened (oh, yes, it’s a dirty word according to the media wanting to sell all those beautification products and maintain the status quo), both men and women must remake their bodies to fit some unobtainable ideal and risk death in the process.

I’ve looked at insecurity from both sides now, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell, and it’s insecurities’ illusions I recall…

The Hunger Artist Revisited

Chimes hanging in the night


for the gleaning sun,

the banisher of shadows.

Bone chimes—

permanent ribbons

stripped to the river bed of sun-dried bone.

Violin bones—


Set to the cadence of resonating moans.

The essential exercise

in the essential aesthetics

of the hunger artist:


the banisher of shadows,

obligingly accommodates.

Satiation achieved

through the abundance of nothing.

I murdered hunger,

strangled the sustenance of bread,

ground it to the calcium-flour-paste

of shapely bones—

the borderlines between sufficiency and desire:

Stark white bones

The banishers of shadows.

The Bulimic

She threw up words and spoke food,

conceiving a world of texture:

angel pasta hair,

bread-dough skin,

crisp fried air,

crackling oil thunder.


the stuff of life

the primal drive

more fundamental than sex

the first lover of the first human

(the way to the heart is through the


Marriage over wedding cake.

God--the wine and wafer.

She lived in a metaphoric world,

meaning that spoke in incontrovertible

flesh and fat.

A world to sustain life,

unlike the ephemeral and abstract

matrix of words

that everyone tried to feed her--

wisps, not even as filling as cotton candy.


She threw them up on an empty stomach.

Dry heaves, chunks of

"I love you, I depend on you...

you must, you should, you better..."

Lacking in nutrients

Lies, empty promises,


magic potions without magic--

straw dogs.

She vomited her way to silence

and ate her way to understanding.

©1990s Riki Matthews

Friday, March 14, 2008

Creativity is Innate

As children, we dreamed, designed, colored, built, and devised art from whatever was at hand. In tribal societies, our lifestyle for thousands of years, everyone practiced a "craft"—and stamped traditional designs with their individuality. Our urge toward self-expression reaches out to us from ancient cave walls, stone pillars, adornments in burial graves, crockery … We yearn for our own creations, not just those of others; to repress this integral part is like cutting off a limb or tantamount to starving our souls. Our inner selves scream for expression (corroborated by international studies reported in mental health journals).

But in today’s culture, too many of us have allowed those "anointed" by the establishment hold the title of "artist," reinforced by the cultural gatekeepers. We meet these first co-opters, thieves, typically in school, who teach, no, brainwash us into adhering to accepted rules, be it coloring within the lines, or that turtles are green not purple, or that bowls and cups must have a certain shape. Thus starts the inoculation into what is art and who is allowed to be one (cartoon-like painting isn’t art but paint splatters are).

For many of us who see the world differently, we are the octagonal pegs society wants to pound to fit into square holes—and too often they succeed, permanently breaking a part of us. When I taught dance/improv to adults, they constantly felt guilty for spending time on something they’d never be "good" at (read professional) even though they loved it. They’d found an outlet for their repressed self-expression. No other justification necessary. But they’d learned if you don’t make money, you shouldn’t be doing it; if you don’t sell, it’s not art, just a hobby—leave it to the professionals.

While teaching fiction writing I also hear, "but I’m not creative," as if we are not all, in some integral sense, storytellers. Now, this is not a rant against buying art others make; I buy a lot (what I like, not what I’m told to like). I also trade or barter when I can (which I’d love to see more of). What I refuse to do is to make art for any purpose other than my need to express myself or label myself an artist based on $. Thanks to certain methods—drawing, writing, photography, graphic programs, forms of reproduction, art trading cards, used clothes, recyclable anything, etc. (and a growing community of like-minded people embracing DIY)—I can feed my body and my soul. And so can we all.