Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Fashion and Beauty

What isn't evil about it:

-Presenting the best of yourself; using creativity, craftsmanship, color, texture, line, drape, and function; self expression through physical appearance; fashion as one of the ultimate forms of art which is for people in an incredibly tangible and concrete way.

What is:

-Excessive valuation of physical beauty; beauty as an essential component, or even the most essential component, of identity--particularly for women

-Defining beauty as being some incredibly unhealthy and incredibly unobtainable standard

-Thereby a) generally screwing people over psychologically and b) making sexuality competitive, which diminishes the quality of sexual relationships


One obvious thing is an attempt at reclaiming; to use creativity, self expression, and craftsmanship to reject unobtainable standards of beauty. I see three problems with this.

First and most obviously, it doesn't address the incredibly excessive emphasis placed on appearance. This is a huge problem, and I'm unaware of any easy solutions to it. I can only suggest we try and remember that it's always more important to be amazing than to look amazing--always.

Secondly, reclaiming is not going to win the war. This kind of action alone, contrary to liberal mores, is never going to create a world where people have a healthy attitude towards their bodies, their appearance and their sexuality. The best you can hope for is to create a liberating subculture, a chance for a few people to practice democracy in discourse, a chance for a few people to have freeing experiences. If reclaiming does not win the war, and something else--say, lobbying for restrictions in advertising--possibly could, should we be spending our resources on this?

Thirdly, lots of things about aesthetics are not universal. Current aesthetic standards will influence what we find to be appealing; this is inevitable. I haven't studied aesthetics a lot, either practically or philosophically. However, it seems that to an extent, you would have to play into the current consumption-oriented aesthetic standards to successfully create something beautiful. I need to read and think more about this.

The other obvious thing is to simply disengage--to act in a way that doesn't accept making yourself an object for the aesthetic consumption of others as a value. It seems like an ineffective and unsatisfying option; it's not going to win large scale against corporate hijacking of aesthetic values, it has lots of practical disadvantages in day to day life, and it looses all of the potentially healthy things the art of personal appearance has to offer.

I have some sort of idea about the balance on this that I personally want to strike, but I'm interested in other people's thoughts. :)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

things that make me happy

an unsorted sampling

really smart humor; preferred modes are sad, bitter, violent, sardonic, or--above all--filled with childlike wonder
being alone, or mostly alone, in the middle of nowhere--desert or mountains
the smell of conifers
fine sand in my toes
anywhere smelling like Indian food, but especially my house
Indian food
garam masala
blood oranges
Aurthur Grumeaux solos
Yo-yo Ma
vampire stories
chocolate muffins
road trips
crunchy lettuce
fresh herbs
being barefoot
Crime and Punishment
The Little Prince
Vesper Holly
dear friends
the Prydain chronicles
New cities
intelligent plays
long walks at night
sharp, rich, mild, or smoky cheeses
brussels sprouts
fresh peaches
classical guitar
new books
old books
books in general
the SLC library
swimming in spring water
movement that comes from music
movement that comes from breath
beautiful arguments
beautiful ideas
soft, cold, thick grass underfoot
working hard
working as hard as I can
long breaks
cold filtered water
mint-beeswax lip balm
sharp pens
beautiful books
dance that supersedes all other activity or thought
good bread
being seen

Things that make me unhappy

children being hurt

Sunday, October 18, 2009

This was how I knew

that I wanted to go back to school: I no longer felt the need to burn an injunction to work into my skin.

And so it was that in the course of about 72 hours, I went from being one of the least busy people I know to one of the most. . . again.

Oh. . . wait.. . you wanted the bit that goes in between? I was recruited to join a competitive radical-leftist ethics/debate team. I will be obscenely busy till mid November.

On a different note, while terrible at commitments to myself, I am usually much better than this at keeping publicly announced commitments and commitments to others. In the future I shall try not to let this blog slip down that line. ;)

Friday, September 25, 2009

beautifully done

sometimes I love post secret.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Notes on eminent women

Taken from a biographical study of 30 “eminent women,” as described in chapter 4 of Smart Girls. While I don't particularly agree with her selections—not a huge fan of Gertrude Stein and Margret Mead—the results are interesting.

Eminent women had not necessarily had
-Consistent/good parenting—often at least one parent was absent or irresponsible
-Recognition of their talents in childhood
-A good education—many had spotty educations and many preformed well only in their specialties

Eminent women had had
-Time alone
-Voracious reading
-A sense of being different or special
-Individualized instruction
-Same sex education
-Difficult Adolescence
-Separateness and the ability to avoid confluence—strong sense of individual identity and goals, rather than identifying as relationship
-Taking existential responsibility for self—identify self as someone working on something, rather than as relationship
-Love through work--”first you must find your work; then you will find your love.”
-Refusal to acknowledge the limitations of gender
-Thorns and shells
-Integration of roles
-Ability to fall in love with an idea

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Two things

1) I do not often talk or write about quantum physics. This is because every scientist I've ever talked to in anything near that field says you really need to have all the math to understand it, and that descriptions for the lay public are uniformly crap. Therefore, I try not to reference any but the most commonly known facts, and to avoid having these as key to my arguments.

2) It turned out that I got ten minutes to ask Minch my questions, which was ok, because it was a pretty cool ten minutes, and basically the answer was, "read Pettit."

However, I did also find this article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which doesn't entirely agree with the way Minch put it (philosophy can be that way) but is still pretty cool.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three original jokes

composed by Taran Weathercolor:

What do you call a female supervillian?

a girlfiend!

What's poisonous to a clock?


What did the teenage zombie say after he wrecked his parent's car?

I'm dead.

Also, it's been an excellent day. :)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Emo can't sleep post. Hmn.

I used to love the sound of rain, but this morning it sounds like failure and I absolutely can not sleep.

Here is my confession; I miss living in a trailer in my sister's driveway. The trailer was safe because it was mine, and it was mine because no one else wanted it. No one expected it to be nice, and no one was counting on me. I could--and did--jerry rig all kinds of sub-standard solutions when things went wrong, and it was all ok. It was satisfying; I could listen to the rain. I could dance in it. No one was counting on me, and through my own labor I had privacy, a place to sleep, my guitars were safe, my books were dry.

I've been thinking lately of getting a tattoo, solely for my own benefit. It would a have to be somewhere I could see it, and I've been thinking about some words, simple script, across my left wrist--work harder. I find it deeply appealing, and yet somehow it betrays, even to me, that there's something broken about me, something unbalanced. In my mind I see another word, "peace," across my right wrist so they will weigh the same, but it's harder to believe.

A house can't be really mine. It's worth something. There's too much of it, and by justice it must be shared. This house has weathered 80 years, and if the foundation becomes unsettled I can't solve it by moving around some bricks. I can't use an old dog leash to tie down a tarp and stop the leaking of the roof; I can't cover the windows with duct tape and cardboard and stuff them with grocery bags when I am cold. If I fail, I will have broken something whole, and betrayed the resources trusted to me.

I used to love the rain.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Corpse de ballet / Imperfect

The only other time I've posted any of my poetry on here, I asked for gentleness. As before, I present to you a classic instance of a new genre I'm pioneering: emo spine poetry. By now (I wrote this when I was still trying to dance) I've much more come to terms with this sort of thing, so if you would, I'd like you all to be as brutal as possible. I don't know much about the craft of poems, but I enjoy them and would like to improve. Also, I KNOW there are some really smart English majors who read my blog. Hopefully you'll have something to say. :)

I'm tired of laying here, trying to remember what it was for my body to be whole.

I want to climb into the mountains and
wrap myself in God
but tonight I can not walk

So instead I feel
the God who pools himself
as numbness across the heel of my left foot

reaching up in patches till
he thrusts his
flames into my

I remember what it was to dance
or some days only try to
see congre devant, derriere, but suddenly

the memorable corps
de ballet
has snapped
broken spine dangling
and my eyes fill up
with blood

I was always wrong for ballet
but I loved

the slow music
and the long degages
where I could breathe into my body
and not have to be anywhere

Friday, September 18, 2009


Ladies and gentlemen, I've decided to make you victims of a writing project. People keep mentioning to me that I'm writing less and less lately, and I know that what I should be doing is writing more and more. I like to think that in the past I've had standards for this, out of respect for my audience. I've tried hard to include a lot that wasn't just about my life. No more.

For the next month, I'm going to try to post every day; certainly that should get me writing again. God save the quality of my content, audience forgive me.

. . .

So here's for today's post.

For those of you who were unaware, I have two major goals; meaningful political change, and family. Family doesn't have to be in the conventional sense. Here are the things I've been doing to work towards those goals.

For political change I've been reading theory from the very beginning, and taking notes. This is going much slower than I'd like, impeded mostly by family obligations and lack of sleep. Also, someone decided we can have a working relationship instead of acting like we're three, so today I went to the first RSU meeting, which was spectacular. Minch lectured on the republican, as opposed to the liberal, tradition; it is fascinating. Liberal liberty is freedom from interference and republican liberty is freedom from domination. I, who never takes notes in lecture (auditory learner), have a page and a half of notes, a list of books to find, and an appointment to go ask some more detailed questions. To Jacob who will never read this, thankyouthankyouthankyouthankyouthankyou, it feels like Christmas. I want to jump up and run to go hug you, but that would freak you out.

The family bit is a pretty complicated kettle of fish, but here are a few mentionable things. Rape crisis training was really eye opening, and I've made a serious project of sorting out my brain--among other things, so that I can attack the problem of dating. Also, I've been making a big point of meeting people, so as to replenish the social life even in my hermitage.

And I'm doing simple things, trying to crack through those first impressions; fitful attempts to wear less black; getting feedback from the friends I do have on what behaviors they consider "prickly;*" experimenting dubiously with makeup. Baking. No one thinks you hate them when you hand them a blueberry muffin, right?

Well, almost nobody.

that's all.

*Correcting the professor on the first day of class?
T: (mortified)--you should at least act like you think that you're wrong. At least at first.
J: (approving)--Welcome to the real world/philosophy program.
D: (thinks this is hilarious)--That is such a Day thing to do.


Sunday, August 16, 2009


This is a synopsis of major works on the psychology and development of gifted women, summarized from chapter 5 of Smart Girls.

-There were an abundance of negative steriotypes about gifted children in the early 1900s. Terman studies (1921-1922) of the top 1% of students in some California school districts as sorted by the stanford-binet IQ test revealed above average physical and social development and slightly lower grades than expected.

-Kaufmann presidential scholars study (1981 and 1986) discovered that in the extrordanarily gifted sample she studied, women were less likely to have married or had children than their less gifted counterparts, and that they were still underpaid compared to the men. She also learned that those who had mentors were paid as well as the men.

-The Illinois valedictorian project (Arnold 1994) showed a steady attrition of female subjects starting in the sophmore year of college, with a severe decrease in intellectual self-esteem. This decrease did not show up in male subjects despite identical academic achievement. Over the same period, female subjects became very concerned with combining family and career, and for this reason began dropping out of academically challenging programs; males did not. Most of the females intended to interrupt their education and/or careers for childrearing, and the males did not. Career status ten years after graduation, for female subjects, was largely dependent on “values surrounding career and family combinations, as well as willingness to interupt career plans.”

-The Groth vocational development study (1969) discovered that gifted girls developed an intense desire for affection and love around the age of fourteen, which continued until the age of 40—at which point “self-esteem regained importance.” The gifted males in the study, on the other hand, “tended to maintain strong interests in achievement throughout adolescence and adulthood, into retirement age.” Later research has confirmed that gifted females tend experience more need for achievement during specific critical periods. (Reis 1996)

-Brown and Gilligan (1992) found that while younger girls (primary school) were often outspoken and opinionated, by the teen years many of the same individuals had lost confidence in their own perspectives; their communication became filled with qualifiers, pauses, and especially the phrase “I don't know.” This was found to be associated with “learning to be nice,” and “hiding opinions and feelings which they considered possibly hurtful to others.”

-In 1990, Holland and Eisenheart found that among their sample of high achieving female college students with serious intentions towards having a career, “less than 25% of their activities were directed towards schoolwork or career. . . the dominant topic of conversations between participants and their peers was relationships with men. Even talk about other women centered around those women's ties to men.” Confirming earlier research, they also found that while social status and prestiege for men were centered around achievement, social status and prestiege for women were centered around relationships with men. The women in the study generally downsized their original career goals, shifting to less challenging majors.

-Card, Steele, and Abales (1980), devised a metric for comparing the level of “achievement potential” (early achievement and expectations) with the level of it's realization. They found that in all socio-economic groups men had a better “potential”/”achievement” ratio than women—and that in the group with the highest achievement potential, women fell the furthest behind men. These results have been confirmed by more recent studies (Loprest, 1992).

-In 1979, Rodenstein and Glickhauf-Huges defined their terms and then categorized subjects as career focused, homemakers, or integrators. They found that the career focused subjects had more scientific interests, and homemakers had more social ones, with integrators falling between. All had had parental support for their choices, but the career focused were the most likely to have ignored both positive and negative feedback from parents. Perhaps most importantly, integrators were as satisfied with their careers as career focused women, and as satisfied with their roles as wives and mothers as homemakers.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A question for the missionaries

The Fundamental Attribution Error happens (all them time) when people attribute poor behavior to the fundamentally bad nature of the people who are behaving poorly--when in fact, it is a matter of their choices and especially circumstances.

We know that poor behavior is significantly a function of circumstance because of evidence from trials, like the Milgram Experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment.

As far as I'm aware, there are only two reasonable interpretations of said evidence. We can decide that virtually all people are fundamentally bad, or we can decide that virtually all people are fundamentally malleable. I believe that people are fundamentally malleable.

If we accept this premise (and you're welcome to debate it with me), we come swiftly to the conclusion that the circumstances in which people are placed, circumstances shaped by our societal institutions, are of paramount importance.

Having laid this groundwork
, I now pose a question which applies to any conservative (/"conservative"?) form of Christianity. Research has shown that three greatest predictive factors for how frequently rape happens in a given society are:

-Separation of genders
-Level of power women hold
-General level of interpersonal violence.

Therefore, why would God--presuming there is a God, who desires a world where the occurrence of rape is minimized, within the constraint of preserving human agency--set up organizations and social structures in which genders are segregated and women are prohibited from holding primary power positions?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

More Zizek

"The perplexing fact about the "terrorist" attacks is that they do not fit our standard opposition of evil as egotism or disregard for the common good, and good as the spirit of and actual readiness for sacrifice in the name of some higher cause. Terrorists cannot but appear as something akin to Milton's Satan with his "Evil, be thou my Good": While they pursue what appear to us to be evil goals with evil means, the very form of their activity meets the highest standard of the good. The resolution of this enigma isn't difficult and was already known to Rousseau. Egotism, or the concern for one's well-being, is not opposed to the common good, since altruistic norms can easily be deduced from egotist concerns. Individualism versus communitarianism, utilitarianism versus the assertion of universal norms, are false oppositions since the two opposed options amount to the same result. The critics who complain how, in today's hedonistic-egoistic society, true values are lacking totally miss the point. The true opposite of egoist self-love is not altruism, a concern for the common good, but envy, ressentiment, which makes me act against my own interests. The true evil, which is the death drive, involves self-sabotage. It makes us act against our own interests."

"Rawls thus proposes a terrifying model of a society in which hierarchy is directly legitimised in natural properties, thereby missing the simple lesson an anecdote about a Slovene pesant makes palpably clear. The peasant is given a choice by a good witch. She will either give him one cow and his neighbor two cows, or she'll take one cow from him and two from his neighbor. The peasant immediately chooses the second option. Gore Vidal demonstrates the point succinctly: "It is not enough for me to win--the other must loose." The catch of envy/ressentment is that it not only endorses the zero-sum game principle where my victory is the other's loss. It also implies a gap between the two, which is not the positive gap (we can all win with no losers at all_ but a negative one. If I have to choose between my gain and my opponent's loss, I prefer the opponent's loss, even if it means a loss to me. It is as if my eventual gain from my opponent's loss functions as a kind of pathological element that stains the purity of my victory."

(from Violence.)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

anything to dance like water

In response to this.

I find it a frustrating when people say, "I took a dance class, but I'm not any good." We wouldn't expect to have decent handwriting after studying it a couple hours a week for a year, but somehow dance is supposed to be different.

I have a theory about why this is.

Grace is when you belong in your body--when the conscious you and the physical you--all of it, not just brain and eyes and hands--are one. It lives in our breath, which acts on whole body movement, reflective of emotion and subject to conscious control.

So we can all Feel grace--feel how it's supposed to be, in our own breath and bones. When we hear that music on the street, our lungs and hearts are already responding, sending messages out about that Supposed To Be, but somehow the limbs and shoulders and hips have been left behind. . . because we've taught them how to sit still in class, but never how to move again. Busy with our brains and hands, we never taught our bodies how to write.

If you are serious about grace, start with two years of yoga and ballet, focusing on technique and breath. At maybe six months in, add hip hop or African, and movement analysis--focusing on Head-tail.

After two years you will have begun. :)

A favorite dancer, of late: here.
Photo is from here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

control freak

I don't think of myself as the kind of person who constantly wastes herself on petty arguments, but possibly I am. This comes up because I often hurt people badly without understanding how or why. Lately, attempting to approach such an insoluble problem, I've noticed a definite common thread: boundaries.

Of course, basically everything about human interaction can be boiled down to boundaries if we aim for it. These are the questions that try everyone; what's mine and what's yours? What do we have the right to do to each other? Perhaps most essentially, what is the just way to negotiate the grey overlap of our conflicting interests?*

I was mulling over this problem in the library today--trying, as I often do, to find something relevant from somebody else who had already thought it over. Since I was looking for a personal psychological level (instead of, say, just war theory), the best I could find was an unexceptional self-help book called "The control freak." Browsing, I came upon this: someone is a control freak whenever they care about the topic at hand more than anybody else involved does.

There's an important insight here, but I have to disagree with the formulation. Of course differing values have to be factored into the equation--but the way in which one asserts a greater attachment to a given outcome can be right or wrong. Perhaps, ultimately, whoever wants it more will win--but we don't all have the same threshold of desire that will push us into some invasive, obnoxious, or questionably ethical realm of tactics.

In the realm of personal relationships, there's always got to be some agreement about what's fair--about what actions are called for by given circumstances, by given levels of desire. For whatever reason, it seems that I'm blind to any number of these social agreements which make things possible.

I want rules to be fair; I want language to be precise; I want authority figures (and others, but especially anyone with power over me) to understand me, respect me, and make sense. These are not usually separate problems. In general, people do not care very much that language be precise, and as long as they are not effected personally very much, they are willing to accept rules that are not fair.

From my end, I often don't understand what is supposed to be embarrassing. I often don't understand the nuances of social grace, that protector of boundaries which keeps people safe, and I really don't understand people's deep attachment to the status quo.

All there is to do, really, is keep watching, reading, trying to figure out where everybody stands. . . and maybe it's more important that I understand the rules than it is for most people--because ultimately, in almost all situations, I'm going to be the one at the table who cares more than anybody else.

*Or put differently, the entire question of ethics is a question of boundaries.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Streetcorner ballerina

Today was an altogether new job experience; I started work as a Sign Holder.

I'd thought that this would be a straightforward matter of selling my body to the market in a whole new way, but no; not at all. There's much more to it. Perhaps this wouldn't be so if I weren't such a perfectionist, but here we are.

You see, there are people in all those cars. People who are bored, hurried, tired, stuck. Waiting, at the light. Captive people, who will expect a fake and tired smile, half hearted sign wiggling, whole hearted efforts to avoid eye contact. They will watch me count the minutes. We could all be zombies together, I supposed, and I would still get paid. . . But I am not a fan of Terrible.

So it goes something like this. I walk; sign held aside, arms moving adagio, third and fourth. I am listening to well tempered clavier on guitar without an ipod, feet pointed, tracing, articulating; torso lifted, ever so subtle the epaulement. I am open, projecting, concert hall virtuoso making sparkling eye contact with every passing car. At the change of the light I return to the corner and hold the sign out like a barre, doing a few rounds of exercises while the audience returns again.

And they watch; they more than watch. My favorite expression is on the faces of the ones so clearly delighted it can barely be contained.

After an hour I can't hack the precision for ballet. I try African, ballroom; general overplayed goofiness. They stop watching; some give the ultimate insult, too cool to make contact, eyes resolutely ahead. I am tired. I wonder why the coffee shop doesn't put just their advertising money into sponsoring community events in the arts, and then remember--this is not expected of me. We are all used to be zombies.

It seems a little elegance and calm, warm-wrapped in irony, has clearly been the order of the day.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The little isolation that could

As a matter of resolution, I'm announcing the finish of what I started, and giving a bit of update on the "I'm isolating myself" announcement I made awhile back.

It was: useful, and not very secluded. I learned some important things about the relationships in my life. . . figured out some important things about myself. Was not very isolated, really--ended up being chalk full of exceptions till I gave up--but it all came out in the wash. :)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

In case you were wondering. . .

Should I believe in God? Does this matter? I somehow need to return to my previous ethical core in so far as the God question is concerned; the only thing is to live in a way that, God or not, you can die unashamed.

How much other Marx is there that supports my idea that a re-conceptualization of the working class is one of the fundamental problems—maybe the fundamental problem—of modern Marxist theory? Also, what exactly does Marx mean by intercourse? And is this idea of self-activity explored in detail anywhere else? And how does this relate to Nietzsche?

Are the pre-socratics simply full of bullshit, or am I unable to appreciate them due to my lack of perspective? Also, is there some radical insight about the human brain to be had from the fact that they, like modern physics, consider the universe to be composed of a single changeable thing? Maybe this is just a misreading of modern physics? From my interactions with physicists, they do seem to have a much clearer understanding that everything they do is a guess than everybody else does. . . (by “the pre-socratics” I mean Thales, and maybe Anaximander. . I have just started.) I am wary of Occam's razor. . .

What things should I value? If I can answer this from myself it will then conveniently cover the question of “which things do I value?” as well, of course. . . I can tell you which things I like, but—and this grows out of a lot of recent conversations with Greg—if you just chase what you like, what you want, you are nothing but hunger. It is only by will and consciousness that we might become more than pure figments of nature. If I behaved in a way to make the things I like generally easier to get, it would certainly look ethical, but ultimately it's just self-interest. Maybe I'm ranging towards hedonism. Maybe that's ok.


How does one place appropriate value on other people without getting screwed over by them?

There's a distinction that a lot of people will make, but few with any kind of clarity, between different kinds of pleasure. John Stewart Mill points out that people happiness is better than pig happiness, but nowhere that I'm aware of does he discuss, in detail, exactly why. What I'm even more interested in is the difference—if there is one—between the satisfaction that comes from satisfying a basic hunger (food, books, sex) and an ethical one (say. . . justice. For people who aren't you.) If you want justice more than you want food, you aren't giving anything up by devoting your life to justice. In this context is the pursuit of justice any different from hedonism?

Unrelatedly, I just have to say this; Marx is amazing. More on that later.

Anyway. . . so it's lonely in here, but not too unstable. The main thing I've been feeling for the first little bit is this tremendous sense of control over my time. . . and also a sort of faint underlaying current of terror.

What an excellent start. :)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Anti-social investigations

Two summers ago at about this time, I conducted an informal experiment. I didn't call or visit anyone, to see what remained of my social life when I wasn't instigating it. At the time I was deeply depressed, and my (incomplete) isolation lasted for nearly two months.

Since then, I've developed a much healthier social life--which, perhaps, is one of the reasons what I'm about to do is going to be so hard. There have been a lot of interesting people lately who I'd like to be spending time with. However, there are better reasons than sickness and sadness to spend time removed a bit from the rest of the world. Being social takes a lot of time and mental space. I have been operating under the assumption (which I don't particularly wish to change) that other people are generally worth it. Despite this, I have a lot to think about*, and I feel impeded. . . both by the close influence of other people's ideas and by the amount of time taken up by socializing when I should be focusing on things which are, for the moment, more important to me.

So; here's the plan. For three weeks--which I'll cut short if it seems un-useful, and extend if I see a good reason--I will not devote time to socializing in real time. I'll still talk via blogs and letters, and have the occasional glance at facebook and other social-type internet destinations.

This is open to exceptions--for instance, if you're about to leave for Nepal--but I don't expect to make many. As perhaps you can tell, I'm attempting to be moderate about it; we'll see how it goes. With any luck, a better ability to balance my time and a few very well thought out blogs are the least that can come out of it. :)

*for those of you who are out of the loop; on top of my usual (excessive introspection), I've been having an identity crisis. In a good way.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


In a time of almost universal deceit, telling the truth becomes an act of rebellion.

-I've seen this attributed to both George Orwell and H.G. Wells. I'm betting Orwell.

Wasting time is wasting everything.


Everything will be OK in the end. If its not OK, it's not the end.

-Unknown, but loved. . . deliciously morbid coming from anti-theist/nihilism instead of, say, Christianity.

Breath is the music that connects us to the outside world.

-Bartenief analysis; essential wisdom for dancers

Wisdom is justified of all her children

-Luke 7:35

If anyone wants a sheep, that is proof that he exists.. .

-Antoine de Saint Exupery

If we do not love life for our own sake and through others, it is futile to seek to justify it in any way.

-Simone de Beauvoir

Saturday, April 25, 2009

the social cost of financial responsibility

Lately I've been reading Amy Dacyczyn's The Complete Tightwad Gazette, which is a compendium (nearly a thousand pages) of advice on saving money. The suggestions range from obvious to extreme, but I find it generally useful. For example, she points out (and expounds upon the fact, pp.42-43) that there are three ways to save money on something; you can buy it cheaper, make it last longer, or use it less. Another example is this tidy and useful summary of the principles (her word) of frugality, from an article on pp. 64-66:

1) Record Spending
2) Regardless of your income, do not spend everything you earn
3) Use creativity and thrift to improve the quality of life, rather than spending more money
4) Avoid convenience foods and instead prepare from scratch
5) Buy in bulk
6) All family members should develop hobbies that save money, rather than ones that are non-productive or cost money*
7) Whenever possible reuse materials you already have rather than buying new at shops
8) Don't try to keep up with the Joneses; instead live within your means

She elaborates on each of these throughout the book, and as far as I can tell she's covered all the major bases except two--try to avoid rent, and don't let anything (rebates, vegetables, surprisingly many other things) go bad on you. So far so good, no?

Now that you have the general gist of the book, we can move on to the hard part. What is the right thing to do about social spending?

You're aware of the situation, I'm sure; old friends who you haven't seen in years or new ones you're very interested in knowing suggest a dinner out. If you've been resigned to overspending, this may come in stride, but if--like me--you're on a strong frugal streak, it presents a dilemma.

Ultimately thrift should be about being aware of how you expend your resources, and using that awareness to direct them to the things you value most. Generally I believe very strongly in behaving--insofar as such a thing is possible--as if things are less important than people. I really love dining out, but at times when my money can be put to really, really, really rewarding use elsewhere, social comfort is about the only thing that can compel me to do it.

Dacyczyn would call this "Keeping up with the Jonses." In fact, the quote (from an 1833 manual called The American Frugal Housewife) she uses to illustrate "Keeping up with the Jonses" is this:

"To associate with influential and genteel people with an appearance of equality unquestionably has its advantages, but like other external advantages, these may have their proper price, and may be bought too dearly. Self denial, in proportion to the narrowness of your income, will eventually become the happiest and most respectable course for you and yours."

The problem is, it's not a simple matter of individualistically renouncing consumerism or giving up ostentation. Social spending is about making other people comfortable, or about holding a certain position--and not necessarily a dominant one--in the social sphere, a sphere that is just as much about relationships as about consumption. If you don't have a place to entertain, it's the cost of creating a comfortable space in which to connect with people. As someone who never pays more than 10$ for an outfit and balks at a 5$ garlic press (which I'd use constantly), a hundred dollars or more a month on gifts and other social spending often seems an eminently worthwhile use of funds.

It is likely, of course, that the friends in question are not much more "influential and genteel" than myself, but merely have different priorities, or are less aware of their resource use. . . and this brings me to my main conclusion; I think it would be nice to foster a culture where social spending is not so obligatory. Let's encourage the use (and existence) of public social spaces and events, and bring back picnicking and home cooking. After all, the less time we spend on earning money to spend time with each other, the more time we have to spend with each other.

*I actually disagree with this one--what is money for, if not life? Just make sure what you do is worth it to you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

on space and home

Introspective observations from having my own place

1) It is no longer hard to floss.

There is no carrying water, no waiting, and especially no avoiding people. The only day I've missed was yesterday, when I worked 21 hours. I think in the past I've underestimated the "avoiding people" factor.

1) I am a Really Terrible hostess.

This is not true in a restaurant. At home, though, things are way less clear. One must direct/coordinate comfort, food, and flow of activities for more than two people--ideally while being at least a little entertaining. I will totally be reading up on this. . . probably a lot. Then y'all can come help me practice. :)

2) I dig my kitchen way more than I thought.

True story: I've never been much of a cook. I've always had good instincts and enjoyed it, but I think--once more--it goes back to that avoiding people thing. I never would have guessed. I actually have less time, now that I have a house, but the only time in my life I've cooked more than I am now, I was living with just mum and had tons of free time. Even the simplest food is exciting for me; today I made and ate nachos. It's so much easier without other people around. I think my first goal is to perfect several kinds of vegetable curry.

These days when I need to stay awake at work I tend to watch the food network, though I'm frustrated they don't do very much that's really healthy.

3) I did not choose my house.

I'm just now coming to terms with this. I needed a place to live; my price range was the very bottom of the market. I offered on virtually everything I saw (mostly short sales) that might have worked. The house I got was the only offer accepted on a house large enough and close enough that I could share it and use the money to get through school. If I have desperately and repeatedly asked you if you liked it, I was seeking reassurance that my situation is indeed not all that terrible. The house is too big for me; it's a ton of work, and it will be hard. It also doesn't feel nearly as homey to me as the smaller, further away ones I looked at.

That said, it will be ok. I have a house! And somehow it will get me through to finish school, which is why it was a good choice to take this house instead of a more fitting one. One of the great skills a nomadic lifestyle builds is the ability to lay out your home like a tent and take it up with you as you go. This will be a great home for me, however non-permanently.

5) If Finding Flow is to be believed, I have a masculine attitude towards my house.

That means that rather than taking pride in--and getting stressed out about--its cleanliness, I enjoy taking care of it when I can, and mostly take pride in paying for it myself. Quelle suprise.

8) I am actually a minimalist.

Despite having just moved from 112 square feet to 1600, I still love getting rid of stuff and still feel the need to budget space. Thinking a great deal about design and style as well.

13) New found (or re-found) pleasures-

Fresh salad
Washing my hair often enough to not have dandruff
Fuzzy cat slippers
Hot showers
Wandering out on the porch right after I wake up, to watch the sunset and get a lot of funny looks from the neighbors
Moving dancerish-ly through several rooms, mockery and observation free
Massage chair
My kitchen/cooking
Apricot blossoms
Light on trees
Clean skin
Small errands on foot
Glissades and rolls
Much less ramen
Not wasting things

Monday, April 06, 2009

unabashed rambling

organizing books is one of my Favorite Things In The Whole Wide World.

Back when I was in high school, it was my primary sane-making pastime. . . there was something incredibly calming about bringing order to something, particularly since it was such a tangible something and it managed to carry such a potent subtext of Future. I wanted to learn almost everything, and the books I owned were my tool kit, their untapped wisdom the best shot I had at getting to who I thought I wanted to be. When I was upset, I would make myself a challenge--get rid of ten books, or in extreme cases fifty. . . and since I had a source of free books, this lead to a constant refining and re-organization process rather than true personal-library anorexia. :)

Organizing books can be a bit like organizing your brain. When I left the home of my teen-angst, I would often satisfy this craving to externalize my thoughts by way of the library. Thirty interior design books spread about you on the floor are like a specialized meditation garden on the subject at hand. . . I've often been known to wander for an extra forty minutes or an hour looking for exactly the right combination of items to express my mental state, then take them home and wallow in the creative fecundity of my acquisitions, reading a chapter here and another there in attempts to pick up exactly the information I was seeking.

These days I'm a little less spontaneous with my reading and a lot more serious about my study habits, but I've discovered that my "books to read" document has come to serve a deliciously similar function, except even better--The Future is now. It's like the Wheaties of book organizing; book organizing for now and the long haul. Here are the books I plan to read in Philosophy--in Science--in French--entire lists of books imported from friends on interesting subject matter, a list of topics to research (and find the best books to read on them), everything I'm currently reading highlighted in bold. . . and, of course, the singularly satisfying act of deleting items from the list, productive if I've read them and cathartic if I've decided they no longer need apply.

It might possibly be the case that the list is shrinking slower than it is growing. It does include such list items as: "items in my library which don't belong to me," "the rest of the major Russians," and "other items in my library which do belong to me." For the moment though, it is finite, motivating, exciting, extremely reflective of my goals and progress towards them, and, as perhaps I've said, deeply, deeply satisfying.

As soon as I've done writing this, I'll be off to return to my roots--organizing my physical, material personal library for the first time in almost a year, with space to keep my books where I can see them, and all in one place. I finally have the bookshelves, and I've been looking forward to it for days.

Organizing my books right now has two kinds of additional significance, above what it had when I was a teen. For one thing, as I have scarcely begun to believe, it seems that I have a home. While I don't see myself loosing my taste as a minimalist and I think I'll always be aware that it costs money to maintain Things (including a personal library of any size), I no longer need constantly to imagine how many camels it would take to carry all this, or how exactly I would pack the entirety into my Geo, or what I would leave behind and expect never to see again when I depart for Europe. I'm perhaps a bit too scarred to become attached to Things--which is not all bad--but it will certainly be a different thing to approach the project from the perspective of having a single, stationary, almost permanently allocated home.

The other difference is that as I've become more serious in reading, I care to depend on other people's libraries less and less. If I've put significant time and effort into reading this, I want to own a copy--I want to keep notes about it, maybe even (God forbid) underline sections in pencil--I want to be able to reference it and find the right parts when I need to, because someday soon I'll be using this to do my work. Personal library has become not just a projection of future destinations, collection of past favorites, and source of occasional reading material, but something far more vivacious, almost constantly interactive.

Exciting. Tasty. Very filling.

As I said, Satisfying.

So thank you, Mary, for sharing your library organizing experience. Sometimes when your favorite things are--we'll say quirky--its nice to know how other people enjoy them to. . . and as it turns out, writing (and sometimes reading) about sorting books can be almost as fun as sorting them. :)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Everyone will fail you; keep trying

Ah, so I suppose I lied. However, posting once in March does give the post sequence a pleasing symmetry, so I've forgiven myself and I think you should too.

Also, home ownership is nice, thank you very much; pleasant and overwhelming. I just have to keep reminding myself to take it one repair at a time; it sat empty for at least six months before I got it, and even the really terrifying repairs (drainage!!!!!) will be alright till the end of the week. Meanwhile, I pace, stretch, sleep, and dream of turning the roof into a power source, the living room into a dance studio and the basement into a library--but as I said, one project at once. :)

Now that you are all updated, I can move on to being excessively morose and impassioned about things nobody cares about or can change, like self-immolation, and food. I know you're all on the edges of your seats. Ready?

Anyone I talk to often knows that I obsess a lot about "my" kids, most of them people in extraordinarily painful and probably hopeless circumstances. One of the ones I've been most worried about is in her mid teens, and has been in foster care since she was a toddler. Perhaps some of you can relate to the experience of being shunted from one place to the next; perhaps some of you know what it feels like to be abandoned by your family, and some of you may have experienced massive trauma and its aftermath. There might even be someone reading this who has had the experience of aging out of the foster care system--and if this is you, you are probably aware of how likely it is, in that circumstance, for a person to shortly end up crazy, homeless, or dead.

In my efforts to help this friend secure a home before being dropped headfirst into adulthood, there's a particularly important step that I've been working on. I've been trying to hammer the point that even if she had joined up every gang, tried every drug, broken every window, and burned down every shed she'd come across, she would still deserve a safe and loving home in which to grow up. Every child, no matter how ignorant, violent, or difficult, deserves to be kept safe and to be unconditionally loved.

This is a hard lesson to swallow, after a life like that, because it means you can no longer run away. It isn't because you weren't trying hard enough, it wasn't because you were dirty, or stupid, or deeply inadequate as a human being. It wasn't because no one cared. Talk of personal responsibility and systemic inevitability, in this context, adds only mud; you didn't get a family because the world we live in is profoundly, heartrendingly, terrifyingly unjust.

It is perhaps my favorite thing about humanity that when finally confronting ourselves with this kind of truth, we begin to calm. Regardless of all that we've been taught for our whole lives--about hard work paying off, about how being healthy means not getting hung up upon these things--this is what we see in our everyday. Injustice is the truth we feel and breathe. To touch it, name it, can be profoundly sane-making--perhaps because the only way to look such monstrosity unflinchingly in the eye is with an aim to change it.

And that is how we should be.

For systemic violence, systemic change.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

House buying holiday

So I've gone all slacker. At the moment, my only consistent responsibilities are working 50 hours a week and keeping my homebuying process moving along. ..

what an awesome break!

Day Dreams will return in April--and I'm thinking of cutting to four times a month with more substantive posts. We'll see. :)

till then, though I've mostly stopped commenting, know I do still read your blogs.

Have a great couple of months--


Sunday, January 11, 2009