Diary of a Marked W•man

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Paris, April 2007

Sun. the 8th: Easter. I got up very late today, around 5PM after staying awake in bed with cold compresses on my eyes due to horrible stabbing and burning pain to both eyeballs. Happens a lot lately. I reflected a while back that the only other times I was previously getting up at the end of the afternoon were when I was living with my Cuban boyfriend in Paris and New York, and we would go to bed between 7 and 9AM after the last "afterhours" had closed. Those were the days full of drugs, alcohol and Salsa. And now there is no trace of these but just the same I have a reverse lifestyle. I don't mind the dark and the silence while I'm working but the daylight bothers me when I'm trying to sleep. That's why I was glad to find a wide-brimmed black cotton summer hat at the Geant supermarket for just under 10 euros. As soon as I saw it I knew it was just what I needed to block off the daylight. All I have to do is put it down on my head or face regardless of the position I'm in. It works really well and my sleep has improved. Before that I just put a rolled-up black T-shirt on my eyes but didn't like having this weight on my face. The T-shirt getting damp and cold from the compresses felt like a slug. Now the "capeline" rests lightly on the bedsheets and pillow, hardly making any contact with me.

The last two weeks I've been working on a prototype canvas zippered tote bag to serve as a support for my Assisi embroidery. I lost count of how many times I un-sewed. I think I made all the mistakes it is possible to make. In order to understand how to sew the zipper in, I went especially to the ladies' bags section in the supermarket. There I saw several different ways of doing it and after returning home I finally did it right.

Several times I was tempted to give up but then I reminded myself thaat it had been the same thing with the berets fifteen years (already!) ago: it was a very painstaking learning experience, but after I got the hang of it it took me about 20 minutes, no more, to sew up a lined beret. But I did feel the intense intellectual fatigue after working for a stretch trying to figure out in what order to proceed and how to do this or that.

But now it's done. My new model evolved from the oval-bottom backpack I had created in 2002. So now it's an oval-bottom zippered tote and I think it looks very good.

I had a feeling of obligation to Guido Gehlhaar who wove the straps that I used for handles, because he asked me to send him pix of the finished products. But after realizing that it was impossible to make drawstring backpacks because both the burlap fabric and the strap were too thick, I had to write him at the end of March to explain the situation and ask him to be patient for a while longer.

I also have been spending a lot of time looking for crochet thread suppliers and finally after looking at what is available in France, Germany, the UK and the USA I have finally found a retailer in Yarn-country in the North of France, who has the "value" yarn (500 meters for 3 euros) I'm after in a decent color range. So after stocking up on these I will have no qualms if I have to buy a more expensive brand to do a precise color match.

I've been thinking about my parents, how they found it unacceptable that I pursue a career according to my natural inclinations. When one considers how harmless fiber arts and music are, this imposed restraint appears totally unfounded and abusive, and a reflection of my parents' irrational beliefs -or criminal intent- rather than anything founded on healthy educational principles. When they prevented me I thought it was because they had discerned vicious tendencies in me that I was unaware of, but I trusted them to act for the best of my interests. I remember how when I was between six and sixteen Mom never let us do anything with our hands, as if it were undignified to do anything manual.

My earliest memory goes back to a time when I was sick in bed and she gave me a book named "How to Play at Home" and among the various projects was a pair of hand-sewn leather moccasins. I remember how fascinating I found to see a flat piece of leather and the shape it had to be and how by joining the edges in a certain way the flat surface became three dimensional. And I also remember the sense of freedom I knew I would feel if I was able to make my own shoes instead of having to buy them. That was probably because, wearing only the shoes my three older sisters had already outgrown, I was sensitized to the issue of footwear. This discovery was very important to me. But.... Mom never bought any of the supplies that were needed to carry out any of the projects in the book. I tried several times to make her buy this or that, going down the price scale because I thought she didn't have the money. The only thing I remember she bought was a piece of camphor and when you put it in the water it moved all by itself. It was interesting for about one minute and then... there never was another occasion when she brought anything that we could do a project with. But even that piece of camphor, nothing could be done with it, it was just something to look at, not something to busy oneself with to fill an afternoon. I ended up getting the message that manual occupations were undesirable, even if you were dying to do something with your hands.

I don't know where the idea came from, maybe from this book, but I wanted to decorate a lampshade because I had ideas of playing with transparency and layering to blend colors and I wanted to experiment, so I asked my dad, who was selling electric appliances, to please bring me a lampshade metal frame. He said he would think about it so I waited, and waited, and waited but nothing happened so I asked him again. He said he would think about it so I waited again but nothing. I reminded him another time, same answer (or sometimes he would say "We'll see" or "We'll have to talk about it again" and me thinking he wanted to check if I was deserving remained on my best behavior, but THE BASTARD NEVER CAME THROUGH! Can you imagine his emotional poverty, for denying his daughter such a simple and inexpensive thing? After a while, maybe three months of getting the same response I gave up. This was my father's way of dealing with requests.

When around eleven or twelve I wanted to make myself a summer bag for the vacation, I labored day after day with the linen fabric we had so much of at home, and while they were themselves busy with their own sewing projects none of my sisters nor my mother came to my rescue or showed me how to do it, and I left to Brittany without my bag. And then without saying anything my mom sent me the finished bag in the mail. She even had put a raffia trim in the seams, and had reinforced the bottom with cardboard. It looked pretty but it was not MY thing and I was hurt and disappointed that she had waited until I had left to tackle the issue instead of showing me how to do it. It was -unbeknownst to me- one of the ways she had of winning her imaginary contest with me.

A year later maybe I was in Brittany with Agnes but don't remember my other siblings being there. She had a magazine in which were instructions to make a bedspread with crocheted "granny squares" and she offered to go with me buy supplies to make them. I had learned earlier the basics of crochet, I think exceptionally Mom showed me how to do it, so now I was quite willing to fill my time crocheting. At the store I ended up with three colors of yarns of different brands and qualities: ecru for the center, garnet for the middle, and olive green for the outer part. And so I crocheted away and when I had done a dozen squares I told my sister I wanted to go back to the store to buy more yarn but she said are you sure you want to make an entire bedspread? She didn't want to go back and buy more yarn for me so there the matter dropped but lo and behold, as soon as we were back home in Annecy, when I wasn't looking and without so much as a by-your-leave Mom assembled my granny squares into a cushion which she put on her velvet recliner, and the green color was an EXACT MATCH! And she never said a word to me about it. For the following years the cushion was there on her recliner, it looked very good and I never forgot that I was the one who had crocheted the squares, but my mom never acknowledged it, much less said thank you, leading me to think that she and Agnes had plotted the whole thing behind my back beforehand, working backwards from the desired result, and putting the shop lady in on the secret so she would show me only the colors that my mom wanted.

But why did they not go the normal way? Why didn't Mom ask me to make her the squares? I would have been happy to oblige. The only reason I can explain this behavior is that mom didn't want to encourage me in doing what I liked and didn't want to thank me. So why didn't she ask another of my sisters? Why didn't she ask Agnes or Elisabeth or Sophie? Why me? The only answer to that one is that she wanted to steal my work from me to teach me something, probably to discourage me from doing what I liked so that I would turn away from healthy pursuits and become deviant and vicious like her and my sisters, using my imagination to foment evil. If there is another explanation I am open to feedback but experience has proven that stealing my work is one of the constants in my life. This was the first time but by no means the last.

As time went by I gave up trying to learn needlework. I remember being bored out of my skull on week ends and holidays because there was nothing to do.

AN ODD BALL OF YARN: Mom had several small balls of yarn in her work basket, which came from un-knit older stuff. She kept them in case the need arose but years went by and these balls of yarn did nothing except take up space until one day after lunch, one of my sisters threw one at me. I caught it, recognized it and threw it back at her playfully and we exchanged a few passes in the entrance hall, right next to the dining room. Suddenly our father did something he never did before: he came out into the entrance instead of going to the living room and plop down on an armchair to have his coffee."What are you playing with?" he asked. I showed him the ball of yarn which by now was entangled on itself at the end. He said something about ruining merchandise he worked hard to buy and said that if I liked this ball of yarn so much, why didn't I un-tangle it right now. He added that I was not allowed to do anything else during my free time until he told me I could play. So I sat down on the step leading to the terrace and started to extirpate whatever length of yarn I could from the jumbled mess. I realized that pulling on the thread only made the knots tighter and that the job was to increase the space between the hundreds of loops and only then was it possible to extract the free end, little by little. I discovered in the process that amazing phenomenon whereby ther randomness of the tangle produced the most unexpected continuity, and after a while I started to find the job rather interesting. The thread never went where you thought it would go, and sometimes a small action like passing the thread in some loop set free a good length of thread and made the job progress by fits and starts.

I returned to it the next day, and the next, and the next, because dad had not come to tell me I could quit, and besides I had taken interest in the process, until maybe one week later dad came to me while I was at it and said "What? You're still at it?" in a mocking, contemptuous way, implying that I was stupid to have obeyed his order to the letter.

Well the bottom line is I think this was a set up because like to tango, it takes two to play ball and dad didn't scold nor punish my other sister who disappeared so fast that I don't even remember which one it was. Why wasn't she ordered to unravel a ball of yarn too? Or to take turns with me?

But also, the morality of the tale is that far from causing me the great inconvenience he wanted, my father made me discover my interest in solving mysteries and unravelling tangled webs not only on the physical plane but also on the mental and since then every time I was confronted with a mystery, I was always reminded of this episode.

But the lesson he wanted me to learn was that I should not obey him, I should disregard his authority, I should have ignored his order to untangle the yarn. How else to explain his tone of surprise and contempt when he saw I was obeying him? What he wanted to teach me in action if not in words was to have contempt for authority, I think, the better to turn me into a criminal (this is theory number 2). He purposely committed an injustice to teach me to disrespect him and authority figures and the Law in general.

KNITTING: I was taught how to knit at school but hated the yarn color that we were given to work with: it was a coral hue between orange and pink. I didn't find it ugly per se but seeing every student working with the same color apalled me and I was shocked that the nuns had not allowed us to chose our color. So I got started on the wrong footing, so to speak, and being expected to do row after row of the same stitch to make a scarf bored me and seemed unattainable, with every mistake glaringly obvious. It was easy to tell the difference between machine knit and handknit and I found the comparison in disfavor of the handkitting becauswe I had been taught to strive for regularity and uniformity.

My mother did some knitting but she was not a real aficionada. When I was maybe six years old she knit me a nice moss-green sweater with small white stitches at intervals on the front. Apart from that I don't remember her knitting anything memorable. There was a woman who did machine knitting from her home and Mom ordered red cardigans for each one of us girls when we were little, and a few years later some Alpine two-tone pull-overs. She let us chose the colors and I remember how pleased I was to have color samples at my disposal and to pair two of them for my sweater. I chose a bright, light green for the upper part and steel-grey for the lower part. I liked that sweater a lot because I had participated in its creation.

Much later after I started my grown-up life in Paris Mom knit me something else, and I think she chose the fiber, the yarn, the color, the model and the size with the precise intent to displease me, because it didn't fit me, being too narrow at the breast, I had such a hard time putting it on and off the first time that I never wore it a second time. Plus the wife-beater model, called 'longshoreman' or 'debardeur' in French, was a model for men, as the name indicates. If women ever wore this style if was in cotton knit for summer, but never -ever- on top of a shirt like this model required. Plus the slubby, variegated grey acrylic yarn looked like something the cat had coughed up. And I was expected to show gratitude of course, for Mom's handknit sweater. Who but me would have such an evil turn of mind to suspect that she had done all she could to disappoint me?

So I never took to knitting. In Brittany where I spent all my summer vacations, many traditionalist women knit a lot but they didn't seem to pay attention to the yarn quality, or rather they thought that acrylic was dandy. Personally I can't stand petrol-derived fibers, only natural ones will do, and by preference exotic wools like cashmere or alpaca.

EMBROIDERY: Another type of needlework women do in Brittany is tapestry. A wide choice of pre-printed 'canevas' is available but I never really liked any of these landscapes or portraits. Oh, that old bearded fisherman with his watchcap and his pipe! I always thought the preprinted stuff didn't require much artistic sense from the needleworker and except for a miniature landscape and an orange flower on a brown background -the color choice was mine- I never did that type of embroidery.

I was taught some basic practical and embroidery stitches at school too and did some doilies in red thread, but I also discovered the needle as a weapon for self-inflicted cruelty. I was very unhappy about my nail-biting, which however was not severe, but it gave my parents a good subject to blame me and make me feel inferior. So I discovered that instead of biting my fingernails I could, with the needle, split them horizontally and so I did peel off my nails from the tip to the root, and there I had to do some biting to sever the peel and I ended up with bits of nails growing detached from the root, which was unsightly and made me feel depressed even more than the sight of my short nails. And many times during sewing class, instead of sewing I picked at the skin around my fingernails. Sometimes the class ended and all I had done was to pick around my nails and now my fingers hurt like hell because I had removed some live skin together with the dead skin. There was some bleeding, some pieces of skin that I had pulled that needed to be cut off or bandaged back onto the finger, actually it was a miniature torture and bloodfest and I never understood why my teacher never said anything. Didn't she notice that my sewing had not progressed at all? And my mother, who was sitting directly to my left at the dinner table, didn't she ever see what harm I was doing to my left hand?

DRESSMAKING: Mom did some sewing. She had a Singer sewing machine that was electrified and she was, I think, quite a decent dressmaker. One would think that with five daughters she would always be busy making us dresses but no. Things I remember she made were night gowns when we were very young, all cut from the same TWO bolts of 'finette', a kind of cotton flannel with the same tiny floral print in pink or in blue. Some other things she made: our skirt and top ensembles for the wedding of her brother in the early sixties, a mint-green summer pajama ensemble for me which I liked, the pajama being short and the the top sleeveless with a square neckline when I was about twelve, and some years later, when I was becoming picky about fashion and shoes, a princess-cut dress in a fabric she chose without me and which I didn't like much, and which I outgrew in one season because I was developing breasts and hips. I didn't like it much but it was well made nevertheless.

When Agnes got married in December 1968 I learned fortuitously that us her sisters were expected to make our own long skirt from some green furnishing material but I still didn't know how to make a skirt and nobody showed me. Of course during the last few days before the event Mom had a thousand things to do but if she had really wanted to teach me beforehand she could have done it, and neither Elisabeth nor Sophie, who looked pleased as punch with their own outfits, deigned to help me. Fat chance, and after spending the entire night before the wedding fighting with this large quantity of material for a long skirt, I ended up with a skirt that was dragging on the floor in front of me and threatened to trip me at every step.

So this is it for my mother, as far as needlework is concerned.

I made another attempt at crocheting when I was in boarding school in Chambery (1967, 68, 69) but I didn't have a pattern to follow and just worked from memory. I was not very pleased with the colors I was working with, a navy blue and a sky blue. Besides I found the particular stitch I was making kind of tacky, and I was the only one in the entire community doing crochet. At that time in this social environment of rich daddy's girls these kinds of work were disdained as being for poor folks or not-very-bright ones. But I had a lot of time on my hands and liked to do something to keep busy instead of chatting nonsense like everybody. However the unspoken pressure added to the other factors made me stop.

And as I was saying, after I got the message early on that it was useless to ask for anything that could be worked into a project, I stopped asking and when I was tired of reading on my bed {there was room only for two twin beds and a desk which belonged to Sophie) I just lay on my bed doing nothing, longing for the time I would be free of my parents' rule.

Sun. the 22nd: I've been stimulated to remember more about my youth and predictably now it's not just a narrative but also a source of reflexion and evaluation regarding how we were educated, what values were inculcated, and the first observation is that there were two different sets of instructions: there was the Christian way that we were taught at school and at church, and the other way that we lived in practice. For instance speaking ill of someone behind his or her back is a no-no we were told. There were two kinds of badmouthing: the true and the false. We were told it is wrong to speak badly about someone even if the criticism is well-founded. But at home our parents didn't let it bother them and vented sarcasm, bile and contempt against anyone who didn't meet their exacting criteria of acceptability. This is just an example on the light side of things. More on this to come.

But I was reflecting on a theory that has emerged with some relief lately: it is that my sisters finding me a threat to their social and matrimonial prospects because I was vastly more beautiful than they, decided simply to destroy my beauty and until this was achieved, to never appear in public with me, to make me believe I was unattractive, to deprive me of sexual fulfillment by having me gang raped at 19 and to make sure every man I had as a lover was chosen from the pool of individuals who were part of their gang and willing to play the sinister role of seducer then act out a sadistic scenario involving deliberate sexual ineptness -premature ejaculation being the number one favorite, and also 69 where the man does not hold his end of the bargain- emotional cruelty with unfounded accusations of infidelity right after the first days, tales of past sexual conquests, of sexual exploits of former partners, and also after changing my name from Brigitte to Axelle, have many women presented to me as bearing my real name (Brigitte Dieu, a fomer wife of a biker man, a former girlfriend of Sylvain Julienne) This theory would explain many, many, many events but what got me started was remembering this look of satisfaction on Elisabeth's face when I was alone with the fabric to make myself a skirt for Agnes's wedding.

Sometimes I even think that Elisabeth married the man she did not because she loved him but because she thought I would love him, he being a scientist. In other words it gave her pleasure to think that I could be pining for her husband. It's not that she finds him sexy or anything. If she has earth-shattering orgasms it's not because he's good in bed, it's because while doing it she imagines me writhing in anguish and envy. After all she already did it once in Portugal, me being in love with the handsome Carlos who was her exclusive property. So she tried for an encore with her marriage. And it was quite a drag by the way when the Herr Professor visited me in NYC and tried to make me... why, he even asked me to sleep in my bed after forcing me to invite him to stay over, even though his employer gave him living allowance and he could have slept in a first rate hotel room, damn bastard.

So the sister really, really wanted me to have sex with her husband. And Sophie tried to make it easier for me by telling me at each opportunity that Elisabeth was unfaithful. But no, duh, you can have him all to yourself Elisabeth. Your hubby ain't my cup of tea. Besides I always thought it the depth of depravity for a woman to have sex with her brother in law. For me it's always been an absolute no-no. Just because at 14 I was smitten by a beach boy who was paid to act like your boyfriend doesn't mean I have a vocation for marriage-wrecking. Besides, knowing your penchant for vengeance, even unwarranted vegeance, I wasn't going to take a chance of incurring the rightful kind.

The beauty motive would also cover the attempt by Agnes to knock out my front teeth in 1976, the dentist at mom's request making an ugly bridge that ruined my smile when in my early twenties, the attempt to disfigure me with broken bottles of beer at Club Med in Morocco a month later... why mom urged me to have my hair cut very short just as I was beginning to look extremely glamorous after curling my hair... It would also explain why mom didn't teach me how to sew and didn't let me go to college. This way the chances that I wear decent clothing were greatly reduced. It would explain why mom never allowed me to go out with my sisters when we were on vacation in Brittany. Mom said it was because I was too young, "not armed" to have the experience I sought (but she never did anything to "arm" me). I had always found there was something un-natural about the way the couples formed when we went to Portugal in the summer of 1967; there was something artificial about it, there was no moment of evaluation like in normal life, as if it had all been planned in advance like in square-dancing, Carlos the playboy with blonde Elisabeth, Ruiz the whitey with Sophie and ugly Antonio was my predetermined companion. And to make sure I didn't take pride in my boyfriend, Carlos called him 'keroche' which means, in Portuguese, 'cockroach'. Making me believe that I was unattractive because I ended up with the ugly guy was a tactical move that is entirely within the range of accepted behavior in my family. Oh and I forgot that for that stay in Portugal mom wouldn't buy me a new bathing suit, and me, still a skinny adolescent, had to wear my mother's old bathing suit, a burgundy one piece number that was too wide for me. Oh this sure didn't contribute to giving me a good time. But it came in handy, I mean the dried-blood color, when in due time that month Mom refused to give me sanitary napkins. (She said it was dad who didn't want to give her money to buy them).

* * * * *

I went to buy fruit-veggies yesterday. I was hardly in the store when two women passed near me and one of them said to the other "Famille, je vous hais" as if she were discussing something but of course I knew right away she was someone from that crowd of satanic zombies who are compelled to let me know that no matter where I am or what I do I am under surveillance. It was my dad who said this phrase way back when. Usually it was after abusing me, or us, and then he said this as if he were reading my/our thoughts and blaming me/us for disrespecting the institution. So now I was being attacked a second time but I never protested my innocence because of exhaustion. What would have been the point anyway, of explaining to him that the one who had written this was not me but an old fag named Andre Gide, too bad I didn't know it at the time.

So when I heard that phrase again yesterday it brought to mind the old days and I realized that by pretending to read my mind my father was in fact expressing his own feelings, and the one who hated the family was him, not me, and besides I had a right to my own emotions and didn't accept anybody telling me what I felt and if I disapprove of certain behavior, like for instance organizing a gang-rape against your own daughter, it doesn't mean I hate the family as an institution and if anyone has done more than my parents themselves to subvert it I'd be very surprised.

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