April 15, 2020 § 11 Comments
“Bring Back the Batakas: The Long View,” began writing itself en route to my hometown to join my daughter, best friend, and three nieces for an afternoon at a Rage Room. I was pumped. After all, it was two years ago and the fallout of 2016 had not yet settled into an aching ball of sludge lodged under what’s left of my gall bladder.
Lately, my internal organs are feeling spongy, sub-par. Have I mentioned that I know full well I will not lose an ounce of this dangerous belly fat until we get rid of Trump and his minions? Because anger increases cortisol and cortisol lays that waxy cholesterol down in your energy pathways like an efficient roof guy lays tar on your roof on a hot summer day. Toxic. Makes you eat potato chips and skip the gym. The inflammation screws with your metabolism like a slow death.
In “Batakas” I wrote backwards about the long view. Batakas are foam therapy bats we used back in the seventies, long out of favor in this new culture of mindfulness, where we are guided to some peaceful high road. The very concept of the rage room tapped into an old energy. Writing about our anger, what we did with it–it was downright intoxicating to let all you young’uns know about the days before rape culture even had its name. When you couldn’t get a vibrator without going into a porn shop. When we delighted ourselves with our anger. Oh what bad-asses we were, with our Take Back the Night marches and our Consciousness-Raising groups. Until I re-read the lines I’d written two years ago about our direct actions of 1980: “We weren’t angry; we had just changed the world.”
I slam shut the laptop and let the tears flow. Because, isn’t that part of the writing process? If it isn’t, I don’t want to know, because there’s cortisol in those tears. Tears of reckoning. I check back to the video they took of us in the rage room, me and the women in my life—my daughter beating up a Hoover with a baseball bat, my niece wielding a sledgehammer—and I feel a satisfaction. It feels powerful to write about it.
I light the Virgin of Guadalupe candles for all the women with no one else who’d listen. I write with a play list and a pile of notebooks and a special pen next to my laptop. My husband is one of the good guys but I can’t have him around when I’m blasting Four Non-Blondes’ “What’s Going On” or Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime.” (Or is “Psycho Killer” a better choice, because, yeah don’t touch me, I’m a real live wire.)
I can’t let anyone know I check Facebook every ten seconds because I know someone will post something that will turn up the boil under my rapidly fatiguing resolve. I need those posts. Like the sign at the 2017 Women’s March, an old Jewish lesbian holding a big piece of cardboard saying “This old Jewish Lesbian CAN’T BELIEVE SHE’S STILL PROTESTING THIS SHIT.” Or that sometimes I watch soap operas instead of writing just so I can calm down with a script where good persists over evil. I don’t really want anyone besides the pets to know how I look flopping around in front of my laptop like a big-suited David Byrne or how many times a day I scream certain expletives when I read research on the lasting effects of trauma on the nervous systems of people who haven’t even been born yet.
So the process of writing unfolds. Angry scribbles on scraps of paper. Organize. Re-read. Yoga stretch. Stand in front of the refrigerator. Switch out the playlist. Go on Facebook. Write more angry notes. Send some to my senator or my candidate. Pledge to Planned Parenthood in the name of the vice-president. Get back to work. Think about the old days when feminism meant Judy Chicago and The Top-Free Seven and brick and mortar porn shops we could actually go into and get mad at. Think about how we were right about Reagan and right about deregulation and right about how we might never see a woman president in America in our lifetime.
There’s a call for submissions to a book on women’s rage and I say “Thank you Virgin of Guadalupe!” and hit send.
Surrender passionate words to the editor and hope no one deflates or misconstrues or says no thank you, not a good fit for this project but know that your passionate words were oh-so-carefully read. Just not angry enough. Or optimistic enough. But instead, here we are. Yay. Still protesting this shit.
We have our angry notes. Our voices. Our votes. If we’re lucky, we get to a Rage Room or its equivalent and smash this shit. And get to write about it.
From Bring Back the Batakas: The Long View
Our group also sought opportunities for “direct action,” which was fun, new, and provocative. Well, not always fun—in 1980 a local hospital organized a conference on rape and refused to allow us any time to present the new feminist perspective. The conference audience consisted of cops and social workers, professionals who had yet to view rape as assault. Trauma was not yet ubiquitous in our general vocabulary. We crashed the event and while most of the audience dispersed, we held fast to the microphone. A few attendees stayed back and thanked us for presenting the concept of rape as a violent act and symbolic of what would soon be known as rape culture. “You’re welcome,” we replied and went off to our next skirmish, likely filling the locks of the local porn theater with Super Glue, then situating ourselves across the street the next morning to watch them try to pry open the doors. We weren’t angry; we had just changed the world.
Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and advanced practice nurse who specializes in addiction and psychiatry. Gaby has been working with words, clay, and people for five decades. Her essays, fiction, prose poetry, and articles have been published in numerous anthologies, journals and magazines, and her artwork is held in collections including the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian, Arizona State University and Rochester Institute of Technology. Her head explodes on a daily basis.
“Bring Back the Batakas” appears in Fury: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Trump Era.