On Rihanna

Rihanna-and-Chris-BrownI’ll go on record right now and predict that Rihanna will be dead in ten years, and Chris Brown will be holding the smoking gun. I think she knows this, and I think it is part of the thrill of dating a man who so obviously loves her to death.

Relationships that involve violence are fascinating to watch; living inside them must be a breathless thrill ride, an adrenaline-pumping free-for-all in which you never know if he’s going to hit you or kiss you. People who survive on that kind of drama seem sad to me, but Rihanna would probably say it was the most passionate, exciting, intense relationship of her life. Craving for that kind of excitement isn’t going to be satisfied with placid tv-watching, eight minutes of missionary, and twelve minutes of reading before drifting off to peaceful sleep. Oh no, the woman who loves Chris Brown, or in fact any woman-beater, wants those huge, dramatic fights with the shivering possibility of real danger and that glimpse of true darkness which she mistakes for a place they can both go together. The vases crashing overhead are all the soundtrack she needs to get her nerves humming. When he gets in her face she is uncertain whether he is going to smash her face in or kiss her with a searing tenderness that will send her to the moon. It has to be a massive rush.

She doesn’t leave because she likes that intoxicating push-and-pull, and if the price of that thrill is to get punched in the face, she’s happy to pay it. There are individuals out there who will attempt to claim “Battered Woman Syndrome” is all the excuse any woman will ever need for staying in a dysfunctional relationship, but those people are willfully ignoring the most obvious factor of any abusive relationship: she likes it.

Nicole Brown Simpson, the poster girl for battered women, had left OJ Simpson numerous times, and always went back. Yet…once when they were broken up, Nicole went back to OJ though, and begged him to come back. He rejected her; he said he was happy with Paula Barbieri. Nicole then wrote aching letters, attempting to entice him back to her. She reminded him of their home, of their shared children.

This is not a woman who was happy to be free. She missed the heart-racing thrill of being smacked in the face and shoved against walls. She missed the one man who gave her that. I’m not saying that’s a healthy or good thing to want, but she evidently got something out of it that could not be obtained in any other way.

Rihanna is apparently of the same mindset. In Sylvia Plath’s epic poem “Daddy” she declares that “every woman adores a Fascist / the boot in the face.” Sounds apt vis a vis Rihanna. Incidentally, she has a song titled S&M. It’s a great song; I work out to it all the time. The lyrics are telling:

Feels so good being bad
There’s no way I’m turning back
Now the pain is my pleasure cause nothing could measure

Love is great, love is fine (Oh oh oh oh oh)
Outta box, outta line (Oh oh oh oh oh)
The affliction of the feeling leaves me wanting more

Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

Cause I may be bad, but I’m perfectly good at it
Sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it
Sticks and stones may break my bones
But chains and whips excite me

Well there you go. I think there is something very honest about this song, when you consider her willingness to return to Chris Brown.

She is inexorably tied to him. She knows that what happens between them isn’t readily understood and I think she even likes that secretive aspect of it. It certainly creates an “us-against-the-world” dynamic which only serves to strengthen their bond. (I guess all those copies of Fifty Shades of Grey are fine for fiction, but introducing it to the mainstream – for real – is just too much.) Those times when Chris Brown blows up and smacks her are part of the reason she loves him. They aren’t a reason to leave him. They’re a reason to stay.

I predict several more incidents of her being beaten, maybe even badly. She will bear a few of his kids, show up at some glitzy party grinning with him on her arm, then the next day land in the hospital with a broken arm. Then one day, she will be dead. It’s comforting in its predictability.

I am reminded of Nicole Simpson again on a 911 call in which she tells the dispatcher “He’s going to kill me.” She has almost no inflection in her voice. She’s not even scared. It’s a statement of fact. It was part of what drew her to him, I suppose.

Rihanna has to know that the same fate awaits her. For someone so talented, so beautiful, who has so many opportunities to choose better, it is depressing to watch. I guess that makes her time here on earth, producing music and being amazing, even more precious. I’m determined to enjoy her career, knowing it is destined to be short-lived.

Lance & Me

lance-armstrong-wins-tour-de-franceBack in the day, in a period I don’t like to discuss very much, I was quite a good cyclist. I won a few races (metric centuries and centuries, mostly), worked in a bike shop as a mechanic, not because I needed the money but because I just loved handling bikes. They were – and are – one of the most elegant machines ever made, poetic in their simplicity and awe-inspiring in their muscle and speed.

Occasionally I’d head up to Austin for a nice long ride, and once in a while, I’d glimpse Lance Armstrong powering up Bee Caves Road. At the time he was a Texas phenom but I’m not sure he’d done anything huge yet. He had just turned pro and there was buzz about him. Yet, out there on the long flat roads, he seemed accessible, normal. Just some average dude out there trying to stay in shape.

I don’t remember when I fell in love with him. I don’t remember when I became a fan. But one day, I simply was. And since that moment, my admiration never wavered. When he won the first Tour de France, I lost my mind with joy. The fight with cancer had been epic; his recovery and ensuing cycling victories seemed like the stuff of legend.

By the seventh Tour de France victory, I felt exasperation and anger at those jerks who would make up horrible lies about him. Lance Armstrong doping? Whatareyou, crazy cakes? There was just no way. The purity of my belief cannot be questioned.

When he admitted earlier this week that he was, in fact, winning those races with assistance from banned substances, I felt dull shock. At first there was a little defense attorney inside me, screaming he NEEDED testosterone because he had only one testicle. And, by the way, it was his own blood.

Yet there is no excuse for the EPO and cortisone. He swore to compete by the rules of the game and he failed to that.

I still marvel at his athletic prowess. Even with every drug in the universe I couldn’t compete in the Tour. (It had been a dream, at one time, to try. Even today no women have ever come close to qualifying.) I remain convinced that he was on an entirely different level than the rest of us, drugs or not. I don’t think he won those races fairly, but I know that to even get to that point, he had to be so far ahead of even elite athletes that the advantage was miniscule. It was just enough to get him over the line.

That much is real. That’s what I will chose to remember about this tragedy.

50 Years of The Bell Jar

393138_329889077123675_1260583387_nFifty years ago today, Sylvia Plath’s iconic novel, The Bell Jar, was published under a pseudonym, Victoria Lucas. It was not until 1973 that the book saw the light of day in the US (her mother had attempted to block it from US shores).

Sylvia killed herself less than one month later.

Sylvia’s novel is difficult for me because it lacks the immediacy of her poetry. But taking it on its own terms, it is a terrifying look at madness. The listlessness. The boredom. The braying, nagging feeling of disappointment as if the question had been asked: this is all there is? It was answered in Sylvia’s book, which posited that there was no real reason for all that anxiety and sadness. Most madness memoirs today focus on depression or drug addiction or sexual abuse. But Plath’s – or Easter Greenwood’s?- problem was none of those things. It was simply that it was damn hard to be a girl in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

She desperately wanted to write novels, and I think if she’d lived, she would have done just that. But her poetry is so much more vivid, more alive, more emotional. It is worth noting that the message and imagery of The Bell Jar is identical to the poetry. But somehow, the condensed form put the thoughts under pressure, and made them explode in your face.

The Bell Jar became a feminist manifesto for the reason described above – it was hard to be a girl, and want sex and be scared of it, and to know that if anyone found out you were having it, it would be the end of you. The men had none of these struggles. The Bell Jar was an attempt to describe the repercussions of that oppression, and to document the madness that was galloping after her, and would soon overtake her.

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