9 – The knotted Rope

By Lola

It always starts the same, brown eyes looking into blue eyes, cat eyes looking into black eyes… a feeling communicated or miscommunicated, in a crowded room that smells like cigarette smoke. It will become messy; it will become everything. But first, a look. It begins with a look. 

Two summers ago, August, 2:22 pm: I was lying on the hot pavement of my parent’s driveway, doodling on a page that had fallen out of my notebook. “Everything is made out of two’s,” I wrote. Two bodies drinking beer on the beach, I was thinking. Or saying goodbye to one another in the church parking lot. My mind was on someone in particular, that day, but I still felt that our whole community was made out of these little interactions, these exchanges both sacred and mundane, between the one and the other. Even in our most united moments – dancing at the boys’ show, squeezed in next to one another in Paloma’s van, crowding around an ocean beach bonfire – it was always someone’s shoulder I was pressed against. Always one pair of hands twirling me in circles.

It’s February now, years later, and I don’t have that boy anymore. He kissed me on the nose and got into his car, pulled out of the parking lot, and that was it. I came home and wrote poems and cried on the driveway, and that torn out notebook paper, with the scribbled fuck you’s and the line about two’s, found its way into the converse box full of letters that sits on top of my dresser.

Really, there’s a lot of boys I don’t have anymore. Friends and lovers. I’m trying hard not to look at it this way, but sometimes it’s alI I can see. The fact that a ripped piece of paper with a half-finished thought has outlasted them. 

My mom grew up in SF in the 80’s. Her mother, my grandma, was a busy single parent: broke, working full time, friends with everyone in the city, and casually dating a handful of men who were all desperately in love with her. My mom had a lot of unwanted independence from a young age, and with that independence, she found some of her chosen family in the angsty and wild teenage boys that populated the punk/skater scene. It was rough back then, much rougher than it is today, but I know my mom found gentleness and love in many of these relationships. Today, I call those boys my uncles. I think about my mom often, as I sit cross-legged at the skatepark with a book. Or stand on the perimeter of the mosh pit holding someone’s jacket. I think about the way these histories repeat themselves — the best parts, the worst parts. Maybe we are headed toward a future that abandons gender completely, but the reality is that right now, in my life at least, gender seems almost as prevalent as it was when my mom was a teenager. And just as when my mom was a teenager, unhealthy masculinity still seems to dominate so many of our creative, social, intellectual spaces…

But I don’t want to write about that anymore. I have always been surrounded by men, my whole life. Playing guitar in my living room. Telling loud stories at the dinner table. Finishing my burritos for me when I’m too full. My uncles, my sisters’ boyfriends, my closest friends – my mom’s chosen family coalescing into mine, crystallizing in the form of generations of skater boys, musicians, alcoholics. 

They take up a lot of space. I love them fiercely. But recently, I’ve been wondering. Or maybe I’ve always been wondering. If I love them so much, why do I always feel like screaming? Why is it always a battle? Why is it always me, drunk at the bar, sitting on the pool table, telling them there are more important things in the world than their fucking activities, and them laughing, or putting their head in their hands, or looking the other way – lola’s being crazy again. Why is it always like that? 

These past few months, I’ve been brought pretty close to the point of giving up. A few different things happened with my closest guy friends that really made me consider if my love for them was a complete waste. Other women in my community felt equally disillusioned, abandoned by these masculine forces in the midst of crisis, in the moments we most needed them. The common thread throughout their transgressions, which manifested as everything from angry outbursts to radio silence, drunken carelessness to professions of “keeping the peace,” was a simple, strong impulse to avoid conflict. The fissures they created, the pain they caused – all in the name of this negation, this desire to sidestep a bedrock of the human experience. To put it another way – all in the name of nothingness.

My sisters and I were talking about that the other night. Maddy drew comparisons to members of male-dominated spiritual lineages, such as buddhist monks, or catholic priests. Within these traditions, enlightenment can only be reached through detachment from the drama of the world: the censure of pain, and pleasure, and passion and hunger and grief and desire… Snuff out that little flame inside of you, or else it will burn the world down. Get rid of the heat and intensity and the burning love and rage, and you will be left with a clear blue void. That is what you really are. A small, infinite pulse in a sea of nothingness. 

It’s true, Maddy said, we are the void. But the void isn’t nothing. It’s everything. That’s the kind of spirituality she practices: stoking the flame rather than extinguishing it. Understanding that underneath all of this, there’s something real, something invisible to the senses, but that doesn’t mean that everything else — the things you see and taste and hold — aren’t real, too. 

Which brings me to last Wednesday, sitting on a park bench with one of these boys, trying to work it out. I was explaining the irony of the fact that although both of us were considered by many of our friends to be fairly aggressive, fiery, and prone to out-of-pocket and drunken behavior, my outbursts were always met with much more resistance, and discomfort, and disapproval than his. ‘I think we both share a love for chaos,’ he said. ‘But my love is born out of skating and punk music and feeling like nothing really matters, cause we’re gonna die in about 40 years anyways. Meanwhile your love for chaos comes from – ?’ From the opposite of that, I thought. From my heart bleeding and from being in love and from caring about life so much that I might die from the weight of it. 

The funny thing, to me, is that it boils down to the same antics – playing music, and kissing, and starting fires, and getting into fights. There’s nothing these boys need to worry about, no reason for them to fear conflict, to fear a knotted rope. Just pull at the edges. Let it release. Let it knot again. The pure blue nothingness of the void is prone to frequent tangles; just as it’s prone to messy break-ups, fresh starts, and magnolia trees in the rain. Fingers on the piano and burning cheeks. Snow falling. Ideas surfacing. Breath coming in, and going out, and footsteps in sync, walking, then running, then standing still.


If our community is made out of two’s, out of these little moments where consciousness winks back at itself, I need to be able to trust men. I need to be able to trust everyone. To view them as my balancing halves, my muses, my comrades, my partners in crime. But the reality is, you won’t always be able to place your trust in avoidant men. You will give them your years and your generosity and your laughter and your poems and sometimes, when it’s comfortable for them, or when they want to have sex with you, they will give it all back, and more. And then a lot of times they won’t. They will become afraid because your emotions were too real, too honest. If you are in love with them, they will be afraid, and if you are in love with someone else, they will be afraid, and if you are free, really genuinely free, through and through, so free that no one can ever challenge it or take it away from you — if you’re free, I promise you that they will be terrified. I wish it wasn’t true. But I’ve seen it too many times. And fear can release all of the worst things in the human heart. 

The damage that men are capable of causing when they are afraid can, obviously, have very real consequences. It reminds me of Carmen Machado’s short story “The Husband Stitch,” which follows a young woman from the day she meets her husband to the day she dies. She loves her husband, loves being intimate with him, sharing her life with him, raising a son with him, growing old with him. She speaks of him with only admiration and respect. But throughout the story, she will sometimes mention the green ribbon tied around her neck. This is the one barrier between the woman and her husband: he must not ask about the ribbon, not touch the ribbon, and must never try to untie it. Sometimes he becomes frustrated and tells her a wife shouldn’t have secrets. “It’s not a secret,” she says. “It just isn’t yours.” Whenever the ribbon is mentioned between them, he will become aggressive, or confused, or sad, and she will fill up with rage. Eventually she grows tired of resisting him, and lets him untie the ribbon. I think you remember how this story ends.

The toxic-ly masculine practice of turning away from emotion, from passion, and from conflict will continue to contaminate our communities. I don’t know what to say about that, I just know that it will. It doesn’t feel good to write that down. It’s not that I’ve given up – I am sure I will continue to debate these boys, to painstakingly explain things to them, to cry with them, to kiss them, to interrupt their pool games and rant at them, to believe they really got it this time, to get disappointed all over again… they’re my family, maybe not yours, and I’ll have to do what I can do. I have to keep holding them to a ‘higher standard’ — or maybe just a darker and wilder standard, a more honest one — as I hope they do for me, too. And yet, with all that said, I know that some kind of a shift is necessary. Not for them. That’s out of my hands. But for me, for us. 

Maybe some of the shift lies in the radical, non-dual interpretation of feminine spirituality I’ve talked about here, the precept that says we are not just the rope, not just the knot, but the knotted rope, perpetually capable of sliding free. 

We are the storm and we are the still water. As Maddy would say – the whole ocean.

It leaves space for everything. For life to be fucked, and for life to also be okay. For these truths to exist in harmony. For chaos and for peace. Love and rage. It leaves space for men to mess up, because they will, and for you to get hurt, because you will, and for you to keep loving, because you will. I don’t know what kind of a weird misogynist F. Scott Fitzgerald was, but he once said that true genius is the ability to hold two contradictions at once without losing your mind. And I agree with that. Because I look around, and I think my community is made out of two’s, out my burning love for everyone else, and maybe in some ways, it is. But sometimes, when the boys are playing ‘idiot wind’ in the living room while I’m sitting on the table drinking a glass of wine, I’ll catch a glimpse of myself in the black-glass reflection of the bay windows and notice that there’s a green ribbon tied around my neck. When did that get there? But it doesn’t make me angry, just then. Actually, it almost makes me smile. I tuck my hair behind my ear and my eyes sparkle a little in the reflection. No one else sees. Some things belong to you alone. 

So maybe it’s this: I won’t say that you can’t trust men, and I also won’t say that you should try to. I’ll just say that you probably will. There’s a lot of things you probably will do. And that’s what counts. The trust, the rage, and the devotion you are capable of holding, still, after all of this time. 

If it begins with brown eyes looking into blue eyes, then I think this, here, is what it usually ends with. The blinking cursor after you type the last sentence. The piece of paper in the converse box on top of the dresser. If it begins with twos, then it ends with what you made out of the love that was always yours, yours, yours.