Have you ever thought about the fact that we are all just babies in grownup bodies? Do you want to simplify your life to just a neat set of your favorite things? In this series of short, journal-style essays by Brown Girl writer Divya Seth, she asks these questions and explores sexuality, catcalling, and why the hell coffee is so expensive in a city full of mice.
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December 12th, 2019
I have my baby pink vibrating dildo in one hand—my favorite, it’s so soft!—and am clicking around one of my favorite sex worker’s lesbian porn channel with the other. I’m going to reprogram the way I do porn, the way I orgasm, the way I excite myself. It’s a full moon, the last one of the year, and of the decade. A full moon in Sagittarius season, my season. I’m newly 24, and I want more for myself. As I masturbate, I’m struck by the intensity of what I’m feeling over the course of just nine minutes. Here’s what happens: I’m here because I can’t stand to watch one more man stuff his phallus into another woman. It’s just one of those days, sorry, but not really. I’m here and I’m reveling in pure, unfiltered pleasure. I watch them touch each other so genuinely and intentionally. “I want to feel seen,” I think. Every caress has a purpose, and their tongues feel real on my own body. “I want to be free,” I think. At times the stimulation is literally too much, and I blow air out of pursed lips. I didn’t expect to feel joyous, achingly joyous. I watch one lesbian rub her breast on another’s clit and masturbate her with it. “There are no rules,” I think. I realize the title of the movie is An Old Flame and remember that I have no female old flame. That I can’t do what they’re doing. That I’m afraid and shy and nervous. “I wish, I wish, I wish,” I think. I didn’t expect to feel melancholy.
December 13th, 2019
The perils of walking around the city: I made the mistake of wearing leggings yesterday. My butt looked incredible, but apparently a Street Man response to this is to treat me like a zoo animal. It doesn’t really track, does it? Every piece of sidewalk blessed by my beautiful ass should have promptly unfurled into a red carpet—because that’s how good my leggings made my butt look—but, instead, I was greeted by men aggressively waving in my face, yelling in my ear, whistling as though beckoning a dog. Just thinking about it, my sympathetics activate, my jaw clenches, my face is taught. If you come close enough, you’ll hear a low rumbling growl beginning to bubble up out of me. I should come with a warning: Don’t tap the glass. The kind that only children are foolish enough not to heed. The glass is nice. It’s cozy, I guess. But the threat of violence is always looming. So long as attempts to instigate me bounce off the glass, my glass, I can maintain my illusion of safety. The glass contains me, muffles the sounds and smells of the outside world, keeps me sterile, untouched, and unresponsive. Growls are sedated in here. The street can never be mine, because I already belong to the inside of my glass cubicle, my 9-to-5 to 5-to-9. What does anything feel like? Marble strokes are cold and seamless, no asphalt or warm knuckles graze me, nothing hurts in here. So long as I’m contained, safely contained. Protect me from the world, and, while you’re at it, protect it from me. The glass is alive with my rage, and it only grows thicker. A quote from a piece of writing I found at the Herstory Archives floats into my mind: “A lesbian is the rage of all women condensed to the point of explosion.”
December 17th, 2019
Inside of the most expensive coffee shop I have ever seen, I’m momentarily surprised and disgusted by the tiniest little mouse I have ever seen. I’m not much of a screamer (there’s a sex joke in there somewhere), so I sit and watch it. The littlest mouse scurries shyly along the floor where the brick wall meets the slate tiling, lurking in the shadowy areas of the room. The littlest mouse is looking for the littlest snacks, obviously. Having made the decision to not scream or make a ruckus of any kind, I’m now quietly rooting for the small thing. It runs among the feet of patrons, unbeknownst to them. Isn’t it curious how these people never look down? My heart skips beats as the littlest mouse is almost seen many times. I’m sitting here bracing for the inevitable outrage and chaos that will result once the comfortable white folks of this astonishingly expensive establishment find this infiltrator. I can’t help but think: Isn’t that a little bit of an over-reaction? I mean, I know the plague was a whole thing, but, my little friend is really minding his own business here. I’m strangely proud of him/her/them—it is audacious to demand the right to live freely. And sometimes that demand is simply existing in public, in a small, overpriced coffee shop.
December 24th, 2019
This is the biggest secret they don’t tell you: The older you get, the easier it is to see that every other person was once just a baby. A crying baby that grew up and morphed into a thing with feelings, and thoughts, and voting rights. That’s every person whether they’re explaining their thoughts on americanos versus lattes or how trickle-down economics is a flawed theory or how isn’t it so funny that we carefully track dog breeds but don’t really hold the same energy for cats? All of those people were once babies, and those babies ate a ton and shat two tons and now they have amassed so many opinions and experiences, even though some of them should have just stayed babies, and maybe some of them (your ex), really did. I have a good friend who gets sassy with her father occasionally, and when she does, her father reminds her: “I taught you how to hold a spoon.” While we might think we know things now, as grownup babies, there was once a time when we didn’t know how to hold spoons. We are babies and we have come very far because now we have highbrow thoughts on interior design such as, “mahogany is a beautiful wood and would complement my dining room very well in the form of a table.” But deep down we are all still babies, and in the way that it’s funny to watch a baby struggle to hold a spoon, maybe it’s funny for someone else Up There to watch us struggle to live our lives as grownup babies.
December 28th, 2019
Another year is coming to a close. It’s remarkable how much more connected I am to other people on Earth today, compared to last year. I took the time to wish my friends in Cameroon “Merry Christmas!” a few days ago, and collected warm replies over the following days. The love from them is boundless, it is unrelenting and fearless. It is unlike American love. To my surprise, I can still feel its glow through my phone. The profoundness of the blessing that was Cameroon is not lost on me—when American capitalism and transactionality and posturing gets me down, I remind myself of the love I felt in Cameroon, its depth and its purity. Knowing something better is out there has saved me on many occasions. I wonder how disappointed my Cameroonian friends would be if they came to my apartment in New York City, and lived here a while. I mourn their hypothetical realization that the image of America they held was an illusion, and behind the veneer of prosperity is emptiness and relational isolation. But if I can measure my prosperity in love, then this year was a prosperous year, and Cameroon made me wealthy. I suppose this means that I should plan to leave America for good one day. But the enormity of my family’s sacrifices to birth me and raise me in the United States shackle me here. Each sacrifice is a pebble in my pocket. So, I’m settling for manifesting my dream for community here. I dream of a coven of queer women. I dream to live in a community of positive reinforcement rather than punitive measures. I dream of a family defined not by blood relationships or legality, but by the strength of our bonds. I dream of radical love.
January 6th, 2020
I want to be so neat and crisp and clean. I want to have just one of each of my favorite things. And I want to have not too many favorite things. One type of parchment paper I love. One favorite snack. One favorite movie, book, song. One best friend. One lotion that I love very much. One signature scent. But instead, I have four different perfumes sitting on my vanity. Three favorite parks. Two of the exact same brand of fleece-lined leggings because I love them so much. I want my things to be orderly because maybe then, my life will be as well. Wouldn’t it be so nice if you could just pack up all your belongings into neat little white boxes and stack them up just so. Exactly ten white cardboard boxes is what my life fit into when I moved here. I was so satisfied in taking up no space at all. And the space I did occupy was squares, how convenient. Squares that fit perfectly on top of squares to form cubes. A collection of right angles. But that’s not me anymore, because I’ve multiplied into a catastrophe of acute and obtuse angles. Of curving string lights in my room and stalactite candles on my shelves and varying dimensions of art on my walls. It is so uncomfortable to be freeform. Every move and manner of being is uncharted, every pairing of clothes yet unknown to fashion magazines, every angle of my face unique, bizarre. To fit the cake mold is satisfying, if you’re a batter, pourable, ready to be transformed into a perfect circle. But I’m already done, risen, cooked through and through. I arrived on this earth already prepared, so the cake mold slices at my uneven parts. I live my life an asymmetry, and it is a painful rebellion.
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Seth’s musings provide food for thought in parts of our lives that we rarely think twice about. Her unique perspective is refreshing, how often do you find yourself rooting for the mouse in a coffee shop? Read more of Seth’s work here.