Interview with Schmutzie
Schmutzie is married to the Fiery One and they have a cat named Oskar. She writes all about her wonderful life at Milkmoney or Not, Here I Come. Schmutzie speaks candidly about her varied (sometimes wonderfully sordid) past and opens the door for us to peak into her varied (sometimes wonderfully sordid) present. It’s not often that you find someone so willing to share what others would refer to as skeltons in the closet. But to Schmutzie, they are just experiences that have made her into who she is today and she writes about them to get to know herself better. You can see her photos here. Oh, and she also sports individually dextrous second toes.
August 25, 2003.
Why do you blog?
The Fiery One started blogging earlier in 2003, and until that point I had never heard of blogging. I had never lived in a house with a computer before then. He introduced me to reading Mimi Smartypants, who was followed by Luvabeans, and I was hooked. Before then, I had always written in notebooks, but I was plagued by self-doubt and the resulting so-called writer’s block.
I saw this online format as an excellent way to get me writing. It had an instant audience, even if that audience consisted of five people and a comment spammer. It wasn’t the idea of fame that drove me, because I had no notion at the time of internet-specific fame; it was the idea of having a writing goal that was more immediate and active. And it worked. I have never written more both on- and offline since I started blogging.
What do you talk about?
I talk about the Fiery One, our pets, my past, how my skin still breaks out; basically, it tends to be all about me. The entries shift from mundane things like my bouts with insomnia or my cat to more personally moving issues such as my conflicts with my religious upbringing or gender.
What don’t you talk about? Why?
There are a lot of things I don’t discuss on my website. Before I had a really good sense of boundaries and issues with privacy on the internet, I wrote more about the family I was born into, but now I write very little about that, because they deserve more than my issue-driven, one-sided interpretations might sometimes afford them.
I also leave most of mine and the Fiery One’s relationship out of it, because that subject matter is as deeply personal for him as it is for me. It’s not my story to tell all by myself. It’s one thing for me to write about his fondness for stinky fish products, but it’s quite another to write that he has a penchant for exposing himself to field mice.
In the end, what I decide not to write about is a matter of understanding what is public and what is private in my offline relationships. Sometimes that line is fuzzy, and if it is, then I usually won’t.
Worst/best experience regarding something you wrote in your blog or put out on the net?
The worst and the best both stemmed from the same thing. My best experience was when I finally had the courage to begin writing about my issues with gender, and I was fully expecting some backlash when I did it, because I am married and a woman, but my comments section saw none of the nastiness that I expected. People were so welcoming, so positive. I received e-mails from people who were trangendered, gender fluid, who had a parent who was transexual, who had no personal experience with my type of situation but were genuinely curious, etc.
I had braced myself for the worst and found so much acceptance and encouragement. It was something I never expected after thirty-two years of keeping mostly mum about it, and I knew a relief like none I’ve ever felt. In acknowledging it, I allowed it, I gave myself permission to be what I am and be happy in it. I was no longer under its thumb in quite the same way.
It was also my worst experience on the internet, because shortly after I came out online, I found out that I was being discussed on several forums, most of which would not allow me to join and see what was going on. It was like elementary school recess when the in-crowd would talk about you in a little circle on the other side of the playground.
It hurt, because after a life of hiding and feeling like an outcast, it felt as though I was being cast out by the very groups I felt I should belong to. Now I know better. The administrators who denied me were shitheads, and maybe the people in the forums didn’t even know I was being denied access. I originally felt like I had been rejected by hundreds of people, but now I know that that number is likely closer to ten or twenty.
Favorite/worst thing about living where you live?
I live in a small city of about 200,000 people. At least, that’s what our government claims, but I am inclined to think that this whole place is like a Flintstones episode where the scenery and background characters just keep repeating themselves as I go from place to place. I’m guessing that our population is no more than a thousand. I say that because this city feels like a small town where everybody knows everybody else or has at least played judge and jury through grapevine evidence.
It’s not unbearable, though. I moved here almost five years ago to live with the Fiery One, and that alone makes it worth it. I have also met some wonderful people and experienced a creative flowering and confidence in myself that I never had before. I would do it all again. Although, if someone’s willing to cough up enough money for an airstream camper and a vehicle to pull it, I will be out of here in about three seconds flat.
If you were president of the US:
What a crazy question to ask of a biologically female Canadian who was raised a pacifist, but I’ll give it a shot: I would legalize abortion across the board, none of this state by state legislation crap, and not because I love killing babies, but because I can’t abide by legally enforced religion-based morals that masquerade as law over a diverse population; the only schools that could suppress the teaching of evolutionary theory or introduce intelligent design to the curriculum would be privately run religious institutions that receive no public funding, because freedom of religion does not mean unscientific religious belief should dictate science taught in secular schools; I would insist on a public health care system that served everyone and not primarily the rich and the healthy.
What actor would play you in the movie of your life?
I would like Jodi Foster to do it, because she’s hot but plain and difficult to guage. Jeanine Garafalo’s goofy but straightforward attitude works, too. Thora Birch in “Ghostworld” describes part of my personality if we travel back ten years and pretend that I was ever cool. None of these women look like me, but they can do wonders with make up in the film industry. If they can fake a bit of an overbite and a couple of Drano burn scars, then it won’t be a problem.
Black primarily, because it goes with everything and can be dyed to look like new again. Off greens are a close second. Orange, if it’s a nice autumny shade.
The Fiery One’s curried cauliflower recipe rocks an entire week of taste memory, if not more. E-mail me if you want the instructions.
When you were 10, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write fiction and non-fiction and poetry and letters and children’s books. It has always been the only thing I could envision for myself.
What do you hate?
At first I wanted to say that I hate nothing, because it is such a strong word and so absolute, but come to think of it, there are a few things: I hate child abuse; I hate that I make less and receive less respect at work because I am female; I hate that I can already feel how I am being slowly dismissed as a whole woman because I am married and in my thirties; I hate our culture’s obsession with youth that has our media and ourselves dismissing so many important segments of society; I hate that I still get acne at 33.
What do you love?
I love a freaking million things: the deep sense of the importance of honesty that my upbringing gave me, the Fiery One, my pets, short hair, that ugly things are often surprisingly the most beautiful, that pacifism kicks so much ass, that writing well matters, beer, ass-kicking boots, funky glasses.
Do you cook?
I do, if it involves boiling pasta or eggs or baking potatoes. I’m serious, that’s my repertoire. I had an ugly introduction to cooking. When I asked why I should learn to, I was told that I was going to be someone’s wife one day and that I needed the skill to find a good man. In my usual reactionary fashion, I refused to learn, and I kind of regret it now, but I have a mental block about it. It all just looks like a really hard lesson in trigonometry to me, so I often end up eating toast or ordering in.
What do you want to tell other bloggers, if anything?
If you blog, and especially if yours is a personal blog, treat it like that friend that you didn’t want to invite to a family dinner or work function but who might show up anyway, stumbling drunk and speaking out of turn. Because if blogs were human beings, they would absolutely embody the lowbrow friend with boundary issues who tells your father that your wedding dress might just have to be a little off-colour, like maybe a little black.
Astounding facts about you:
I have individually dextrous second toes. I had a near-death experience when I was nine. I won a beer-guzzling contest once. I accidentally found myself in audience with a wild bear and lived.
Are you Windows or Mac? Why?
I’m Windows, because I am familiar with it and for no other reason. Politically, I would love to say that I’m a Mac, though.
How would your husband describe you? How about your parents?
My husband. That’s a funny one. I have an aversion to the word husband, because it is such a loaded word. Anyway… My best hope is that he would describe me as loving, supportive, intelligent, goofy, and strong, although he could probably throw in neurotic, self-involved, and angry.
I have little idea how my parents would describe me. I think that they would speak well of me. I believe they do, even though I have given them little reason to. (Update: the Fiery One insists that I add “hot” to his list).
What are you working on right now?
I always hate this question, because my answer doesn’t change too wildly from year to year. I will be writing still, only I would like to try to get something published. I have found photography, and I will be doing that as well. My goal is to be doing basically the same things but better than the year before. Also, if I manage to pay off my student loans by mid-2007, I might be able to take another class on my now 12-year road to an English degree. My education has been a slow process, but I will have that degree hopefully at some point before I’m fifty.
Are you comfortable talking about your past? Specifically, your various psychological disorders, any anti-depressant use and successes with any of it?
My past is always difficult to think about and especially to discuss, because it involves so many other people, including my family, and I want to be truthful while also being fair to those involved. Still, I welcome the opportunity to talk about it. Until I put something down into the written word, I sometimes have a hard time grasping my subject matter, so it helps me sort things out. Also, my writing about my past, especially the messy parts, elicits a strong and overwhelmingly positive response from readers, and I think that’s because a lot of deeply personal issues aren’t openly discussed much outside of arenas with agendas, like therapy or self-help books.
During my twenties, I started seeing psychiatrists. I went through three or four of them and each of them gave me a different diagnosis: manic-depressive, schizoid affective, and paranoid schizophrenic. I found it frustrating, because it became clear to me that these were overly general descriptions to justify pharmaceutical prescriptions, and I was given very little hope for myself outside a regimen of drugs.
I disagreed with that then for what I was experiencing, and I disagree with that now. I tried several different medications, and I found that although they did help with the symptoms I had (paranoia, depression, anxiety, and hallucinations, to name a few), they also gave me a whole batch of new ones to contend with.
I didn’t want to waste my time learning to deal with the new mask of symptoms when I had a set of real ones waiting behind them that were still a mystery to me and were a whole lot more personal. I always felt vaguely unsettled on meds. It felt as though there were thoughts and feelings going on behind the drugs that I was unable to access. I had to make a choice between feeling technically okay but shut off behind a glass wall, or feeling like a mess but being able to actually experience my thoughts and feelings. I chose to be less well but more present.
I am not saying that this is what psychiatry and medication does to everyone, and frankly, I am envious of those for whom that system works, but my experience was unpleasant, and I had to leave it behind. I may explore that avenue again in the future if I come to a point that necessitates it, but for now I am remaining pharmaceutical-free, neurotic, sometimes depressed, often happy, creative, and present.
Are you comfortable talking about your experience with getting your secondary sex characteristics?
I loved the term “secondary sex characteristics” when I was in elementary school sexual education class. It was so clinical sounding to me and removed me from the terrifying reality of my body’s impending change. I was small for my age, the smallest kid out of a grade with seventy-six students, and I held out this small hope that I had some kind of rare medical condition that had arrested my development. It was not to be.
I was a late bloomer, though, which I am glad for, because it gave me a few more years to live without breasts and hips and body hair. I got my first period six days before my fourteenth birthday, and it was one of the most depressing events of my young life. I remember sitting with my new box of baby-powder-scented maxi-pads in the upstairs of my grandparents’ house and thinking that I hated their smell, that I hated the way my period smelled mixed with it, that this could not be but absolutely was my body now and forevermore.
I was horrified. I always felt like the word girl wasn’t so gender-specific, because my body and the bodies of my male friends looked pretty much the same, but woman was something I had always been sure I was never going to be. I had envisioned an adulthood for myself that involved suits and oxford dress shoes and short tidy hair. It did not involve this box of maxi-pads.
I didn’t grow much in the way of breasts until I was fifteen, but I covered what I could with large shirts and sweaters and wore tight bras to flatten them out. It felt disgusting to have anyone look at them, because I was disgusted by them. On the one hand, I could see that they were quite attractive as breasts went and was glad that they weren’t the mismatched pair that my friend had, but on the other hand, they were not mine and felt more like disfiguring growths on a body that wanted to be something else.
I’ve learned to live with this body and enjoy what it has to offer, but I still feel strange having the word woman applied to me, although man is not it, either. I am some kind of somethingorother. It took me a long time to understand that I was not one or the other and that that is okay. In fact, I see it as a gift, because I’m not so crazy about gender and the man/woman divide and all the ensuing crap that comes with it.
The middle road isn’t boring if it’s a little twisted. In the words of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge from the piece (S/HE IS HER/E) (the link is not work-safe): “Stop being possessed by characters written by others.”
Tell me a secret?
What do you wish I had asked you that I didn’t?
Nothing. You have been a perfectly delightful host.