Tuesday, June 28, 2011

On books

Twilight and Other Bedtime Stories

The first time I read Twilight, it was un-ironically for me. The second time, I read it for Amanda, who was twelve years old and wanted me to take her home with me. She had been restrained by other staff nearly a dozen times that week for violent temper tantrums. These were because her older brother, who had been her best friend and then raped her, was just out of jail and spending Thanksgiving with her family. As for Twilight, she couldn't seem to put it down, and I couldn't seem to explain to her what was wrong with it. It wasn't just Amanda; most of the girls in the group home where I worked practically worshiped the book.

For me, the most interesting thing about books is almost never what they contain, but rather, what they mean to the people who read them. With the exception of Jane Austen, books that appeal to teenage girls receive little respect or mainstream acceptance. The disconcerting popularity of the Twilight books has made them impossible for anyone who seriously wants to understand this culture to ignore. That popularity has also crystallized some of the central questions of my intellectual life. How are stories like this so compelling to such a fragile—and recalcitrant—demographic? And what can anyone do to change that?

The first place I look for an answer to these questions is my own life; what's changed so much for me between my first and second reading? When I compare my life to Amanda's—though they have not been so different, in other ways—hers holds a glaring absence of constructive building blocks. My parents gave me scriptures as a habit and a way to think. The first answer to every problem was to study and ask God. Although my literary scope has expanded since then—and God and I are no longer on speaking terms—today I wander the library seeking answers in much the same way I once browsed the the topical guides and indexes of holy books. Systems to organize information offer a reassuring illusion of completeness; there's something soothing about the stacks. “Here's the information,” they promise. “Put together the right collection of references, read insightfully, and there's bound to be an answer.” And if there isn't, put together the puzzle pieces you can find and treasure them away till the rest of the picture is revealed. Maybe someday you will have another book to contribute to what's there.

Books have been the constant in my life. Even when I first read Twilight, my bookshelf seemed like a wall I might climb to escape the pit I was in. I volunteered at an organization that re-distributed used books for free, and with a reliable supplier I was constantly refining my collection. All those books I had not yet read represented untold possibilities, and promised me the kind of future Amanda never had any reason to dream about. This is not an exaggeration. I wanted to be the next Indiana Jones, but the best future Amanda could conceive of was to be a housewife—a respectable choice, if she had other options—and the statistics for children out of foster care retaining their sanity and becoming functioning members of society are dismal.

As time has passed and I've returned to Twilight, I've developed the theory that this is the fairy tale oppressed female children of all ages tell themselves so they can sleep at night. In Twilight, the rapist is a stranger, your disinterested and ineffectual parents are really good people, and when the guy you haven't started dating yet stalks you it's a good thing. Perhaps more importantly, in the Twilight world, there's a good reason to defer to your boyfriend, even a good reason for him to force you to do things: he's got a century of extra life experience, you're in danger, and he's invincible. In Twilight, if you are self-sacrificing, loyal, and domestic, you will be loved and vigorously protected until the end of time. Twilight is truly fantastical; it creates a world where girls can fulfill the role that's expected of them without violating their common sense.

The goal, then, is to build something better that fills that function. If we see Twilight as a catalog of conflicting needs, this anachronistic millstone turns into a to-do list. In my life, something better has emerged from a thousand other books. For Amanda and millions of others like her, most of that work remains to be done. It is hard because the storytelling most Twilight fans are immersed in is unlikely to criticize such a well constructed fantasy. Perhaps the real answer is in the building blocks. Perhaps when girls are given tools—whether books, or anything else—with which they can create for themselves a real future that gives their own interests a reasonable and honest weight, they will stop having such a need for Twilight. Unless, of course, they are deconstructing it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

er. .

Ok, so I've decided I feel silly re-posting old posts. Actually, I feel silly posting this too, but less-silly enough to let it slide. Here's the first of my entrance essays. :)

Education and wanting:

Why St. John's

I know how heavy my engine block is—I couldn't give you a number of kilos, but I remember the textures and the heft of it in my hands. I know its color when it's all cleaned up. I know how it smells fresh from the machine shop, what parts it is connected to, and how they move. I may never reference this information again, but I will not likely forget it. Until my brain deteriorates, it will color my respect for the human beings who test your car for emissions standards and change its oil. I think this example demonstrates the virtues of my formal education: experiential richness, intellectual depth, unusual persistence, and unconventional breadth.

That shop experience was valuable to me because I was the kid who asked too many questions, and for whom the answers were not quite good enough. I've been fortunate by way of libraries, and one way or another—by sitting in on classes, asking questions, watching documentaries, picking fights, or reading books—I've found many layers in each subject.

This has not always come easily. My family is very math intensive; my mother once threw my sister's boyfriend out of the house over a disagreement about the limit definition of a derivative. Their enthusiasm hasn't always translated into an ability to teach. It took me several fails, but I eventually learned calculus and rejoined the dinner-table conversations. I am grateful, because calculus is where math starts to get too beautiful to ignore.

The greatest strength of my education is that it has made my life today better than ever before. In auto shop, my first professor flattered me by saying I was a natural emissions tech. To be a good emissions tech, you have to know how everything works, and why—often, it is about fine-tuning. This is how I am built; emissions-style work makes me happy. When I make time to learn ballet and philosophy and auto repair, it is because I aspire to join the emissions techs of the world: I want to fine tune life.

I was under-taught, isolated, and often motivated by all the wrong things. Though I'm proud of what I've accomplished and I'd hate to look at life as having some sort of a set destination, the formal education I've had so far has not taken me everywhere I want to go.

My parents “home-schooled” me for middle school but taught little. I spend most of my time reading, alone. I remember the frustration of my one attempt to learn math in home-school; I was twelve. My mother—a wonderful person in other ways—handed me paper and, without explaining, told me to prove the additive properties of integers between 0 and 100. I was in tears almost immediately, and the lessons didn't continue. My science and math suffered, and (as transcripts show) as an adult I've struggled to recover that. I love science; it seems worth recovering.

Other activities were also limited by my parents' unusual choices. In high school they complained when I did anything “worldly” or “dark,” like participate in drama, and they drove me nowhere but church. This contributed to my already substantial isolation—we moved a lot—but in the long run, both of these experiences have only fueled my desire to experience the richness of life and people.

The greatest weakness of my formal education has been that I have often been motivationally—and thus directionally—distracted. I wasn't great at reading cues or getting attention as a kid, but I could tell that I was supposed to be curious, hardworking, and smart. I exceeded expectations, but the deep acceptance I was chasing never materialized. I tried to study physics because I thought it would please my family; I obsessed over philosophy papers because I wanted the good opinion of my professors.

I've been elated to find that on letting this expectation go, my curiosity remains whole. I want to read deeper and row harder. Now that I find myself acceptable without a report card to convince me of it, I am still driven by a hunger for shared excellence. And for the damage this has done in the past? Perhaps the fragments have failed to cohere, but dogged persistence and interdisciplinary insight have made my education greater than the sum of its parts. Whatever I have studied, I will find a use for it.

(1) I am dying to get under the hood of western thought. It seems like it would be so much fun! Plus, I think I could really do some good down there. I want to go to St. John's because I think I can get a deeper reading there than I can studying the books on my own.

(2) My idea of heaven is like your campus life advertisements, but with more travel, dance studios, and music. I want to find an intellectual community where I can be at home, and a clearer direction for my life. St. John's seems like a good place for it.

(3) I was a chubby, hunched latecomer to dance. Dancer craziness is no secret, but I think it puzzled people to see it in me because no matter how hard I worked, I was already too old, clumsy, and fat for a career. When I started I was trying hard to destroy part of myself, but hacking away at my gracelessness was constructive. You can't learn ballet just by taking away, and it is impossible to become a dancer by believing you can not dance.

Breath is the music that connects what we can choose to what we can't. It is steady, involuntary. Ballet class is also structured and repetitive, and many dancers hate it. I found that in long hours at the barre, there was eventually nothing but to take my fragile, inevitable, broken body and try to merge it into something more whole. And for moments, rarely, I succeeded; all the despair and restraint I was capable of were poured into this fondu ronde-du-jambe en l'aire, and I was only feeling—dynamic alignment of bones, carefully drilled release and contraction of muscles, inescapable rushing breath causing me to collapse and expand, and sadness so intense I would have wept were I not dancing.

Dance is temporary. No one would study it if these moments weren't their own reward, but something spectacularly unsatisfying that happens when your professor, whose dancing you respect, is walking by in one of those moments and says “Yes! Yes, Day, That's it.” And you're so startled that you loose your balance and fall off of demi-pointe, but it's the most wonderful thing in the world because someone has understood what you were doing here, awkward and broken and ugly, every day for years. And someone has witnessed that, which has made everything worth it. The dancing lasted seconds, but the dancer escaped the boundaries of herself. It's a kind of horizontal immortality, addictive and intoxicating.

I want that. I want it all the time, more than I can say. This is why I am applying to St. John's.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

like that

“touch my back,” he said again.

He was holding two large loads of garbage, swinging each from a fully extended arm. The weight was wearing, obviously, as his muscles shook though they held steady in the exertion. I was hesitant, but reached out gingerly and made soft contact with the his trembling back.

“It's like that.”- and he meant the force of holding nothing, of holding the world on one's shoulders, the force of Atlas or Jesus or Hercules.

Instead it reminded me of the little birds I used to pick up out of my yard in Alabama, fragile. Small. They always died. In hopes of saving them from the cats I would hide them in converted shoe-boxes down by the dryer, where it was warm, and feed them crushed worms, but they always died. Always.

I used to carry nothing. It does grow so tiring.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

reprise and thanks

Dearest readers; it seems I've gone round the bend. Well, gone round a bend.

I'm not the sort of bear who says "I'm COMPLETELY DIFFERENT NOW! Now that I've had this great insight/experience/litter of kittens!" I'm pretty sure we can't escape our past selves any more than we can hang onto them.

However--I am different. There was a series of events, which you could trace back a couple of weeks or a couple of years, as you like; stupid mistakes, nightmares, visions, arguments, a realization. And now I'm different. The simplest way I have to explain it is that a year and a half of very painful therapy has very suddenly started to catch up with me and pay itself off. I'm trying to give myself some time to adjust to this, which is difficult even though the changes are good. . . I'm also trying not to assume the change is permanent, but rather, allow it to be as it is.


Although I'll surely need to wallow in some doom from time to time, I'm ready to start something new--and ready to let this place go. Just to get ceremonial about it, I shall re-post a series of old entries I found while searching old writings for college-application essay material. They form a story-arc about my life for the past few years; starting with an unpublished fragment from around the time I started this blog, and ending with my application essays.

Thank you for reading. This blog has put me in contact with some delightful and though-provoking people. I've been honored to have you.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

twilight and other bedtime stories

I read once that kids have their reasons for needing bedtime stories. You know the kind--the same book over and over, every night, for weeks or months. The kind they keep asking for even after memorizing every word. The textbook told me that kids latch onto stories which deal with their unresolved conflicts. I think grown-ups are the same.

Certainly I'm the same. I read about women who beat people up--if not, I get stressed out. I repeat the story of a woman who picks up a bow or a sword or a gun and successfully protects the people she cares about, possibly because I need to remember it is (or might be) possible when I, like my mother and my grandmother before me, have failed so miserably on this score.

You can be bloody fucking certain the men won't take care of it. Patriarchy lies. The deal was, after we made ourselves less--after we curbed our ambitions and competence, after we were submissive and self sacrificing, after we defined ourselves as decorative, procreational, nurturing, emotional, and adjunct to men--they were supposed to make us safe. For most of my life I would have been happy to accept that deal. As far as I can tell, this is what every romance novel is about: they are the ritual retelling of how things might work out, if you are lucky, and if you are good enough at performing the feminine.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

part 1

{insert dating horror story here.}

"So why do you put up with that?" she asked, the obvious question.

The answer is simple: I'm not very good at being a woman. Why would I expect men to treat me well? It's not like I can pull off my side of the bargain.

According to unreliable sources, this is fairly normal for survivors of sexual abuse. Not being bad at femininity per se, but being uncomfortable in one's own gender and sexuality, whatever they may be. Awhile ago I read some articles about how uncomfortable it is to be transgendered--living with the feeling that you, in your body, are simply wrong--that you belong in a body of the opposite sex, and that until this situation is remedied, you will continue to be trapped and wrong. It was uncanny, reading, because the sensation they described was so familiar. . . except that I've never felt the wrongness of me could be solved by assuming a masculine body.

It is painful to live in flesh that is not your home. I've had a few moments, alone in a dance studio, when what I saw in the mirror and how I saw myself from the inside started to match up. But the instant another person walks in, this ends. Suddenly, in a million ways physical and otherwise, I am inadequately feminine. And because I live in a cultural context where my irrevocable womanhood is the first and probably most important thing anyone will know about me, "not a very good woman" is "not a very good human."

Saturday, May 21, 2011


"Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about the roving packs of young dudes in B-more who dumped on other young dudes, with no real pretext. So it was where I grew up, where those cats felt less like my contemporaries and more like a capricious force of nature. (I’ve said before that the reason folks at my high school tried hard not to get detention wasn’t because they were well-behaved kids, but because detention meant walking the five North Philly blocks to the subway on your lonesome.) You learned to look over your shoulder, to take the long way to wherever you were going. And if you got caught out there — and most of us did, at some point — that was your fault. You were slipping, actin’ like it can’t happen.

I remember my mom cautioned both my twin sister and me as teenagers to be on point, but there was a different shading to the warnings she gave my sister. They were: Don’t leave your drink unattended. Make sure your girls know where you are. My sister, it was assumed, was going to have someone say some slick shit to her, to hop in her personal space, to put their hands on her as she passed. The company of a friend wasn’t going to stop it. Nothing was. She was going to bear the responsibility for these transgressions when they inevitably happened. Others would have said my sister wasn’t cautious enough, or asked her what she was wearing, or why she was where she was. The response would always be to ascertain what she did wrong, how she should have known better, how she got caught slipping.

Our experiences were subtly, profoundly different, but they were mundane, and their ordinariness belied their injustice. To grow up like this meant developing a certain resignation about the specter of violence, and often — perversely — feeling personally responsible when something ugly happened. But I didn’t have a way to think about these things until I learned about feminism. The first time I heard the term “sexual terrorism,” then, I finally had a name to something I’d always fundamentally known. The great irony was that I was having these realizations and entertaining these conversations for the first time on a suburban college campus where I actually felt completely safe."

-Black. Male. Feminist?

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Gentle reader: I eat like a pig. Not always, but often enough. So that you will believe me, for breakfast this morning I ate nine slices of bacon, two eggs fried in bacon grease, and half a dozen extra-dark chocolate truffles. It was delicious.

Culturally this is a confession because that sort of lipid bacchanalia has largely been outlawed and, being a woman (let alone a fat one), I am supposed to be on a diet. I refuse to accept the shame of it, first because is it really anyone's damned business? And second, because improvement of dietary habits will come after improving suicidal depression, or it will not come at all. Bacon overload may make me feel a bit sick, but today it's unquestionably better than crying at work with a surveillance camera three feet from my face.

This is not to say I don't have goals. One is that someday, I'll be able to deal with my emotions sustainably, mostly using music, art, exercise, travel, friends, and bad-ass political action. If I eat half a package of bacon for breakfast, I want it to be because I just like bacon so much that eating it is worth both the damage it does to my body and the tortured life of an intelligent creature. That would be some extraordinarily bacon, no?

In the meantime, I work at smaller things--like being present while I eat. Like trying to make conscious choices, even if they are different from the choices I hope to be making in the long run. Like being able to feel hunger and fullness, even if I sometimes choose to ignore them so I can be numb. Eating can be fraught. Like dinner the other night:

I love the way the green of the cilantro looks against the sour cream. Oh no, I have so much more sour cream on my tortilla than he has on his! How did this happen? He's going to think that I'm a pig! It's practically all fat! And even though it's low fat it's still all dairy. I don't even like sour cream that much. I have been experimenting with eating it, to see how I do like it. God, it's right on top, just staring at me. . . no way to hide that. That's right Day, staring at it isn't going to make it magically disappear. I guess I was thinking about not leaving salsa in the sour cream container when I dished up. I feel so huge. Ok, stop it, just eat your dinner. Enjoy the view. Try to taste your food. He's probably looking at me eating and thinking about how incredibly fat I am. STOP THIS! DAY, YOU ARE BEING CRAZY.

I know that this is crazy. A quarter cup of low-fat sour cream on my dinner plate isn't going to make me fat. Drowning my sorrows in cheese is a solitary activity, and obsessing over how terrible it is will more likely make the problem worse than solve it. My dining companion was my boyfriend. He's thin, but to my recollection he's only ever said two things about my body--that he thinks I'm beautiful, and that I looked sexy in that outfit with the miniskirt. If he thought I was horrifically ugly, he would not be dating me. This does not make the crazy go away.

So it's an uphill fight.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

book report: Vital Friends

If you ever read self-help books, you may have noticed that a lot of the better ones have one good idea. Vital Friends

a) describes in depth the fact that people need friends, citing all sorts of studies about how much happier people are when they have friends and (because really, what else matters?) how much more productive they are at work, and

b) discusses how to to appreciate your friends for what they are, rather than trying to make them fill roles that don't come naturally to them. Specifically, it outlines eight roles that friends tend to fill for one another. You aren't going to find someone who fills all eight roles for you.

And that's basically the one good idea.

Rath suggests that a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that a good friend--especially a best friend, or a spouse--should be able to fill all the roles they need. He offers descriptions of what you might not realize you're looking for, and some reasonably concrete suggestions about how to go out and find people to fill those friendship roles for you. He points out that most friendships are reciprocal, but not in the same ways; what you do for your friends is not likely to be the same thing they do for you. He also gives advice on how to strengthen the various types of friendships. Here are the eight in summary:

Builders--motivate you and push you to succeed. They tend to be generous with their time, help you to see your strengths and use them well, and love to see you succeed. To find them, pay attention to people who seem to care about other people's success, and be liberal about asking for advice. To strengthen builder friendships, ask for their kind of help when you need it, give them permission to push you, and make sure that when you succeed they know about it--and know how helpful they were in specific ways.

Champions--stand up for you and speak well of you, whether or not you're around. They tend to have a low tolerance for dishonesty, but they're also willing to accept you as you are and listen to whatever you have to say without judging. When you succeed, they'll be proud of you and tell people about it. To find champion friendships, watch for people who often stand up for others; to build existing champion friendships, let them know when their kind words made it back to you, and confide in them about your mistakes.

Collaborators--are the friends you share important interests with. You might see them less often than other friends, but it can be incredibly valuable to have someone in your life who shares your passion, and strong friendships are often built around this. To strengthen collaborator friendships, be aware of information and opportunities related to your interest, and be sure to pass these on. To find new ones, be open about your interests, and get involved in related events and organizations.

Companions--are the really close friends, who you can rely on in any circumstances; they know you well, and they're the first people you call when something really good or really bad happens. They take pride in the relationship, and are willing to sacrifice for you. Rath suggests strengthening companion friendships by giving gifts that show how well you know them, making a point of spending good time together, and being careful to create an emotional safe space so they can talk about important or difficult topics. To find new companions, look among your relatives and current friendships to see what can be strengthened, and remember that this particular friendship role is mutual.

Connectors--love knowing lots of people, and introducing people to one another. To strengthen a connector friendship, use it--let your connector know when you're looking for a job, a mentor, or whatever. Also make sure they know generally about your plans and goals in life, because they'll naturally keep an eye out for people who will help you achieve those things. To find connectors, keep an eye out for those weird folks who like big parties--and if you're in a new job or social situation, make a point of getting to know the people who seem to know everyone.

Energizers--these are the the ones who can always figure out how to make you laugh. The ones who can make you want to go to Lagoon, even if otherwise it's your idea of hell. They can help you relax, have fun, or break out of a rut. To strengthen your energizer friendships, let them know how their small actions on a day to day basis contribute to your over all happiness. Bring up some of their best stories and jokes and ask for a recounting when you're with a group. To find new ones, spend time with the people who lift your spirits--and make a point of being open to humor and optimism.

Mind Openers--are the friends who encourage you to expand your horizons, to embrace new ideas, opportunities, and experiences. They broaden your perspective on life, and are exactly the people to talk to when you need to challenge conventional wisdom about something. To strengthen mind opener friendships, give yourself time to soak up their perspectives, or ask them to help you out by playing devil's advocate. If you see an especially interesting book or movie, pass it on to create an opportunity for good conversation. To find new ones, go into situations outside your comfort zone, like taking a class in a very different field or going to a cultural event you normally wouldn't consider.

Navigators--are the people you turn to for help making hard decisions, people who you can talk through the pros and cons with, who will "help you see a positive future while keeping things grounded in reality." To strengthen navigator friendships, ask them for advice or stories about their life experiences, or tell them about your own dreams and plans for the future. To find new navigators, ask people you admire to mentor you, and make a point of building friendships with people whose experience and approach to life you respect.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

I feel lonely and sad.

A most frustrating thing, lately, is being too emotionally overwhelmed to write.

I'm fairly functional in most other ways, but there are moments when I'm struck--by my current life, how much time I spend trying hard not to be present, stuck in an ugly cubicle with no practical reason to believe I can improve things soon, deeply lonely and failing to rationalize it away.

I also get overwhelmed trying to make sense of sense of the past. I really don't want to be that person, so absorbed in my own problems that I'm selfish and uncaring. . . still, some problems are actually worse than other problems. I'm sure it's not fun even in the middle of the bell curve, but statistically speaking, somebody has got to be out on the ends, no? And I've had this conversation so many times--

me: My family is pretty messed up.

interlocutor: You know, everybody's family is like that. They all fight, they all have their messed-up-ness. That's just how families are. You just have to deal with it. . . everybody does.

me: Maybe. . . I mean, I wouldn't rule that out. But it seems likely my family is unusually messed up.

interlocutor: *tells a story about extended family members who refused to talk to each other for years.*

me: *tells a story about one time, in my senior year of high school, when FHE ended with five people holding me to the floor while I desperately tried to leave.*

interlocutor: huh. Maybe your family really is kind of messed up.

Plus, I've been reading about Martha Beck, which makes me feel like writing an accurate criticism of abusive family patterns and the church's handling of child abuse. I feel both called and inadequate to the task.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

adult symptom cluster for C-PTSD

(According to Wikipedia)

~Difficulties regulating emotions, including symptoms such as persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, explosive anger, or covert anger.

~Variations in consciousness, such as forgetting traumatic events, reliving traumatic events, or having episodes of dissociation (during which one feels detached from one's mental processes or body).

~Changes in self-perception, such as a sense of helplessness, shame, guilt, stigma, and a sense of being completely different from other human beings.

~Varied changes in the perception of the perpetrator, such as attributing total power to the perpetrator or becoming preoccupied with the relationship to the perpetrator, including a preoccupation with revenge.

~Alterations in relations with others, including isolation, distrust, or a repeated search for a rescuer.

~Loss of, or changes in, one's system of meanings, which may include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.

Theory: women are more likely to develop PTSD than men because they are more likely to have repeated experiences of powerlessness. Maybe. hmn.

Sunday, April 24, 2011


He is helpless, incoherent, so dehydrated he needs an IV, a kind and harmless old man stumbling through the snow. He needs someone and has no one but me; I am trapped and a monster. This situation is turning me into a monster.

I raise my voice for a moment in the doctor's office, and hate myself for it even while the anger boils and the voice inside my head wants me to scream, Why should I bother to take care of you? When you never bothered to take care of me? I want to pummel him, kick him while he lies doubled on the floor; the desire is excruciating, the possibility visceral and tangible. He is so helpless. I was helpless. I try soften my rage, to remember times when he did take care of me, and discover that I am returning his quality of care; enough to be sure he'd stay alive. Almost. I hate myself. At this moment I don't care what happens to him. I'm sure if anything did I'd feel guilty, but it's far more important to me that I have turned into this thing so worthy of hate.

The neighbors are around, shuttling back and forth from their Wednesday night church meetings, and I consider them helplessly, but they have never been any help before and I don't see why they'd start to bother now. I try to remember that I don't have to be doing this, don't have to be here, but somehow I can't remember the place where I had a choice. I will go, as soon as this is done, as soon as there is someone else who can take care of him, and explain to one of my sisters that I can't do it ever again. I feel guilty about future refusal. Try to remember again; why exactly do I have to? He is not a child I chose to bring into the world. This is why I should never have children. This is why I shouldn't exist.

On the way to the pharmacy I contemplate new addiction. There might be enough liquor at home to give me alcohol poisoning in one night, but I don't think it would help. I am searching the shelf to see if I could find something that, properly overdosed, could cause intense vomiting for several hours, when I turn and see my aunt standing a few feet away. I've had perhaps half a real conversation with her. We lived with them, some of us kids, for a time when I was a child, for--why exactly? No one can quite remember. Because we didn't have a house. No, that was another time.

"Day!" she says.

For a moment we make small talk. She's looking for protein drinks; my uncle is ill with something I've never heard of, and apparently their mission is delayed for it. I feel vague regret and encompassing alienation. They are nice people, and this is bad for them, even though missionary work isn't something I can support or relate to.

"So. . . is there a reason you're standing there crying and staring at the Prilosec?"

They knew; they explained. "We tried to set an example for your parents." We know, but this is not our fault. You were not our responsibility. We tried to do our best. I decide to tell her. Somehow in her surreal and perfect kindness she must have a solution--

But she doesn't, or she has no chance to dispense her miracle because I'm explaining that my father is sick when my cousin-in-law, a perfect stranger, walks up to rejoin her. After brief introductions I flee. It's helped anyway, a stuttering disclosure and three or four hugs, and I'm reduced to weeping in the pet food aisle till the prescription is filled.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011



-Someone who makes things. Things I currently want to make:

No-bake cookies
A garden
A wedding video for Les Embrees
Windchimes, out of the cool-metal-tubing-from-a-broken-bookshelf that's been sitting in my house for over a year to this end
A free-book distribution center
An alarm system for my house?

Other stuff.

-Someone who others feel comfortable talking to about the things I do wrong.

The plans for this are less specific.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

going dark

Two reasons I've not been blogging: first, I've had big problems in several areas of my life at once. A couple have had to do with miscommunication, and these in particular make me want to hide under a rock. If people I like and respect so much can get (for instance) the message "I think you're an idiot and have no idea what you're talking about" from an expression that I made while I was feeling "I'm curious," what business do I have ever talking to anyone? It feels like my very existence is harmful to others, regardless of what I intend.

The second is time management. It's weird to accept that the most important work in my life right now is getting my health in order, but it is; get more functional, thence good things flow. Not to say I plan to stop blogging. . . just that I'll be following my usual sporadic pattern of posting when it works in my life to do so.

Friday, March 18, 2011


also way better than the originals.


Edit: I tried to embed, but blogger has no love for the new wide screen youtube aspect ratio. You should watch it anyway. :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

another disclaimer--

Lately I find that I really love swearing.


-It's a way to express anger that doesn't actually hurt people. One might argue this point--see below.

-It's a way to express anger that doesn't train people towards physical release, the way (for instance) violence against objects does.

-It's convenient, eloquent shorthand about the fact one is involved with the dark-and-gritty side of life in some way.

-God said not to.


-The communication aspects are usually imprecise. How seriously the audience will take it varies a lot by background and personal context. I think many people who insist on taking swearing seriously (and punishing it socially) are practicing a kind of class discrimination as well, as the words have a different meaning in working class communities where they are used constantly than they do in middle/upper class communities where they're seldom or never used.

-Some say cussing liberally in everyday life gets rid of a useful escalation phase in conflict which can offer a chance to stave off violence. This has not been my experience.

-The other argument: it does actually hurt people. If "this is the most hurtful and extreme thing I could say" is what it means, I can see that. I'd prefer that in order to say the most hurtful and extreme thing they possibly could, people should have to exercise a little intelligence and creativity. I can see that leaving this shorthand intact would be helpful to inarticulate people, in situations where they see verbal and physical violence as their only options. But--there's a victim-blamey undertone in the idea that I ought to modify my language so that someone else can feel better about not hitting me, and that pisses me off.

Thoughts, anybody? I'd really like to hear arguments on this. Not that I will, but I take a perverse masochistic pleasure in asking anyway.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

return of the myface

It's such a bizarre faux-personal world. Here are some uniquely alienating things about facebook:

1) Everyone seems like they're about to be having a fascinating conversation, but they aren't. People post cool stuff they've found, and they "like" it, and then. . . maybe a pithy comment or two. And that's all. But if you're on when your friends are on, there's a steady stream of new somethings in your news stream--a constant promise that real conversation might break out. It's perpetual, promising, dissatisfaction.

2) Facebook is full of people who I find interesting, but have trouble actually connecting with at all. Facebook will keep us nominally in touch for longer and longer periods of time, but doesn't change the fact that I've no idea how to make it anything more than stupid, expectant button clicks. Imagine a parakeet throwing itself against a glass wall over and over again.

3) I get caught up in the hypnotic stream of other people's "actions," which they probably don't get any more satisfaction out of than I do. Clicking buttons--joining the right groups, "liking" the right things--feels like getting something done. Except it doesn't accomplish anything. . . so you keep observing everyone else's faux-productivity (and a little of their real productivity) and feeling worse and worse about the fact that you aren't accomplishing anything while watching them, no matter how you click.

This is why I musn't spend more than about five minutes there on any given day. If someone wants to talk to me they can send me a God-damned email. That place is distracting.

Monday, March 07, 2011

disagree with his geographic scale, but otherwise. . .

"Not too far from us, a few blocks away, there are kids without enough to eat and without parents who care. A little farther away, hours by plane, are people who are unable to reach their goals because they live in a community that doesn't have the infrastructure to support them. A but farther away are people being brutally persecuted by their governments. And the world is filled with people who can't go to high school, never mind college, and who certainly can't spend their time focused on whether or not they get a good parking space at work.

And so, the obligation: don't settle.

To have all these advantages, all this momentum, all these opportunities and then settle for the mediocre, and then defend the status quo, and then worry about corporate politics--what a waste. . . I don't think we have any choice. I think we have an obligation to change the rules, to raise the bar, to play a different game, and to play it better than anyone has any right to believe is possible."

Said Seth Godin, in Tribes. Which is mostly a pep talk to help people overcome risk-averseness. . . but this, I've thought for a long time.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

to not buy love

I keep coming back to how unfair it is that women's appearance has such impact on their social status. The* counterpart to this is wealth, on which men are unduly judged in all kinds of circumstances.

Being feminist, dating gives me a lot to chew on. By conservative estimates, being male is still worth five percent of your paycheck. For many women dating is an interview process for motherhood, a position of serious economic vulnerability. On some level, generosity and wealth are reasonable, non-discriminatory things to be attracted to.

However, after a certain number of dates with thirty-something geek businessmen who were "proud of their ability as a provider"--and who seemed both delighted by and impervious to my passion for social(ist) analysis--it became clear that accepting the existing system** wouldn't do.

Eventually I arrived at a sort of formula for handling this in my own life. I don't care how much money they don't have, as long as they are good at:

1) Meeting their own needs
2) Making me feel loved, cared for, and appreciated, and
3) Carrying their half of responsibility for a family, should that ever become relevant.

I would date someone who doesn't have these things covered, as long as fixing that was a serious priority in their life. It goes without saying that in the eventuality that finances are combined, communication is prioritized and agreements kept.

I also developed a romantic-gift rule. I'll guiltlessly accept gifts that are just to make me happy, but not gifts of things I need when I'm unable to comfortably take care of those basic needs myself. In a very serious relationship, I would also, carefully, accept gifts related to unmet basic needs, as long as they were targeted towards making me better able to independently meet those needs in the long run.

I like these rules. Clearly they aren't perfect for all situations; in the event of zombie apocalypse, the gift rule would get unwieldy fast. And my understanding of "half the responsibility for a family" is necessarily flexible and feminist, so in practice it would take a lot of discussion. Still, I love having clear boundaries that protect independence.

*the other counterpart is hight, which is interesting because the discrimination is severe, consistent, and not just in romance--despite the fact that being short is not something people have any control over.

**For me, a (theoretically happy?) relationship wherein I would eventually come live with him and have all my financial needs covered, and he would get this niftykeen quirky wife who was all special and smart, and handy for amusing conversation in the evenings and showing off to his friends. Yeech.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

the more they change

The thing you have to understand about my parents is this; at some things, they were very, very, good. And at some things, they were very bad.

At certain moments around my family everything crumbles. We are laughing and joking and I feel the frantic eruption inside; invisible, I am desperate for someone to see me. We all hoist this buoyant mood, puffing at it like a balloon we can't let near the ground; this is our shield. If it drops--we don't talk or think about that. Keep puffing.

I become crass and obnoxiously loud. Someone, someone, someone someone someone look. Believe me. Justify my existence. With strangers, you can think someday they might understand; not so here. If the charade breaks, I will not be safe; in this place I am not real, not a person. At best collateral damage.

I used to read stories of escape and survival; my side of the mountain, the girl who owned a city, every apocalypse yarn. Now I read about monsters.

What we all might do, to be seen.

When we hid out behind the risers at the high school

Working bitter calculations with a slide rule

The grim particulars of poisoning the swimming pool

The way you looked me in the eye,

ready to die.

We were becoming what we are

Collapsing stars

When we chewed up children's Tylenol like bubblegum

Till our hearts were beating deep and rich as kettle drums

We knew if we waited long enough the change would come

And then the day did come, and at last

Hold tight

Hold fast

Catch lightning in a jar

collapsing stars

Told you to load up on provisions

We wouldn't be back for a while

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag

Turn toward the camera and smile, smile, smile

When we ditched the plan to poison all our enemies

Tucked our weapons in a clearing, and covered them with leaves

We are gonna come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaths one day

Well we are on our way

You can look

But you won't find

Another love like ours

Collapsing stars

-the mountain goats

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

growing up

Awhile back, someone I knew and liked come to look at taking a room in my house. Someone I respected, though it feels silly to admit, because she was such a fabulous writer. I was accommodating--overly accommodating, Willie-Loman desperate. . . I could see it, but couldn't stop. She called a few weeks later and said that though she could, but she just thought she was looking for, exact words, "something a little more grown-up."

I was offended, but couldn't help but try and figure out what she'd meant. At twenty four, I wasn't young for the grad student housing market. And maybe Trisha and I weren't particularly domestic, but we weren't immature; after all, I thought, what could be more grown-up than holding down a job (or two, or three) and making your way in the world?

Then it occurred to me that I'd owned, and lived in, a house with wall to wall carpets for six months, but hadn't yet purchased a vacuum cleaner. I have no idea if that's what she was talking about, but I couldn't be angry after that.

Almost from the start I knew owning a house would force me to grow a lot. One of the most important lessons is that no one else is going to buy the vacuum cleaner. It's funny sometimes how one grows into these things.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

clashing frameworks

I think the reason we chafe, a little, against each other, is this. She believes like a consuming fire; in God, in the book of Mormon, in revelation. She believes those who hurt me would be far better off drowned in the sea with a millstone about their necks than when God gets a hold of them. Cast out, she still believes. She's sacrificed to hang on to God who loves her. God who loves Us.

And I, despite my best efforts, believe in the abusive patriarchy of Mormonism; it is one of my strongest and most deeply held beliefs. I believe in a system which, while apparently all right for some people, rips some of us into bloody little chunks and spits us out, with God at the head. My belief is like a glacier on which I'm alone in winter with broken legs, and it subsumes any faith I might once have had about God having good intentions towards me.

Still, she was very kind. And I'm grateful she's around.

Friday, February 25, 2011

essential reading for the pre-maritally chaste

I'd Rather Eat Chocolate is the story of a woman and her husband sucessfully negotiating a large difference in sex drive. It's wonkers that this hasn't been done before, because it very intelligently addresses that one big surprise people who choose not to have sex before marriage face. It's funny and concise, and manages to give usefully detailed descriptions without getting gross or exhibitionist. I'd Rather Eat Chocolate covers a lot that inexperienced engaged couples would be wise to discuss.

I hate that she attributes the gap in libido solely to biological gender. For someone so articulate about the gendered sexual pressure she's under, she's impressively immune to the possibility that patriarchy could have adversely influenced her sexuality. By making it all about gender she also re-enforces the stigmatization of women who are extremely interested in sex, and especially men who aren't. This story and others like it are needed for all the low libido individuals out there (and those who might wish to partner them), not just the women.

But I love Sewell's description of coming to terms with her sexuality in a context where female sexuality is framed in terms of male desire. It's awesome to read how healthy it was for her to resist cultural pressure and refuse to have sex she didn't want, despite the complications; that's a lesson for everyone, regardless of how often they prefer to have sex.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fat (part 2)

The problem is, I have yet to see a piece of science that suggests diets work. I'm not even slightly interested in loosing ten pounds for a year, and I think most fat people aren't; the fantasy is thin, or at least average weight, and it must last forever. . . to satisfy the fantasy, anyway.

Not that ten pounds lighter wouldn't be welcome, but I'm not willing to make dieting an obsession for the rest of my life for ten pounds. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd be willing even to be seventy-five pounds lighter, though it's definitely a more attractive possibility.

But the chances of that, not to pun, are incredibly slim. Take this analysis of success rates at weight watchers:

"38,000 people who reached goal weight per year sounds like a lot. But actually it turns out to be a really small number. I found a business article from back then that stated that Weight Watchers had 600,000 attendees in the U.S. in 1993. Divide 38,000 lifetime members per year into 600,000 and my calculator says that each year only about 6% of Weight Watchers members (give or take) reached their goal weight (presumably 94% failed).

Now before you get all impressed with Weight Watcher’s 6% success rate, let’s step back. For one thing, the successful 6% weren’t so fat in the first place. The 2001 study says that most were between a BMI of 25-30 (i.e. “overweight” but not “obese” – to use definitions I find silly). The 2007 abstract says the average starting BMI for that study was 27 – which is well below the average Weight Watchers participant. So in order to achieve goal weight the average lifetime member probably had to lose less than 10 lbs and would have to include a lot of people who had even less to lose. [...]

And what about the number we’re really looking for – how many people actually become “normal” weight long-term using Weight Watchers? It turns out only 3.9% of the golden 6% were still at or below goal weight after 5 years. By my calculations that means 3.9%*6.3% = 0.24% or about two out of a thousand Weight Watchers participants who reached goal weight stayed there for more than five years."

Frustrating, because there's no indication what percentage of weight watchers attendees are there to maintain, or have an initial goal that would reasonably take them more than a year to reach. Still, all the evidence I've ever seen suggests that most dieters move from one diet to the next, and if most fall within that pattern, she should at least be in the right order of magnitude.

Then there are these excerpts from the same blog:

"Even in the studies with the longest follow-up times (of four or five years postdiet), the weight regain trajectories did not typically appear to level off (e.g., Hensrud, Weinsier, Darnell, & Hunter, 1994; Kramer, Jeffery, Forster, & Snell, 1989), suggesting that if participants were followed for even longer, their weight would continue to increase. It is important for policymakers to remember that weight regain does not necessarily end when researchers stop following study participants."

"Here’s something doctors don’t tell their patients: 41% of people who go on diets weigh more a few years after the diet, then they did before they began dieting.1 Since I’m a blogger, not a scientist, I’ll go ahead and make the irresponsible comparison: Dieting is significantly more likely to cause long-term weight gain than weight loss. That’s a Surgeon General’s warning that should appear on every diet program and product on the market."

Again with the frustrating; most people naturally gain some weight as they age, and arguably, Americans just gain weight over time in general, so the follow-up weight gain of dieters is meaningless unless one is comparing it to a control group.

There's so much bad science, and so much financially motivated science, in this field--it can be hard to wade through. Pro-diet sources define "success" at dieting in a way no human being does (like ten pounds for a year), and fat acceptance writers publish things like. . . well, like what I just quoted. It's not at all solid, but it is enough to give me pause about dieting. Supposing that dieting gives me only a 10% chance of reaching my goal weight, and a 20% chance of regaining more (above the curve or normal weight gain) than I've lost within five years, it would still a stupid move on my part.

Monday, February 21, 2011


1) Farmer's Market: I can not wait for it to open for the pre-season on May 7. . . almost three months away. :(

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was good, but I question Kingsolver's approach. First, she doesn't weigh the ecological and human cost of preserving local food to last through the winter against the costs of transporting it. Second, I get a knot in my stomach when someone who gets paid to write books and owns a small farm that they don't have to use is dismissive of working parents' need for convenience.

Still, she's sold me on in-season, organic local produce. Last year I gave myself 10$ a week to spend at the farmer's market; this year, I'm going to try and do as much of my grocery shopping there as possible while the season is on. I'm excited to plan cooking around what I find, and to ask diversified local farmers my gardening questions. And I'm excited about keeping my food dollars in my community. FMH introduced me to Smitten Kitchen, and even though their style is a little Martha Stewart for me, they definitely win at inspiring my vegetable lust.

2) Orthotics: being able to walk, outside a swimming pool, without pain. What's not to love? I get mine in 11 days. And counting.

Plus--and I don't say this lightly--my physical therapist is a kindred spirit. I've hated physical therapists since I was a toddler because it was SO clear they weren't listening to me. This one listens.

3) Writing: I've decided I need a writing group, but haven't quite figured out the best way to make it happen. Best idea so far? Sit in on a summer writing class--maybe creative writing, never done that--and mine for recruits. Once more with the waiting for May.

I'm of good cheer. :)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fat (part 1)

I am fat. 5'5, and 220-225 pounds. To paraphrase Kate Harding, I'm not ugly, lazy, stupid, unmotivated, or uninformed. In fact, I'm kind of nice looking, and reasonably smart. And fat. . . so please don't tell me I'm not; I prefer to be reality based. My desire to be thin--FoBt?--falls in three categories:

1) I want to be graceful and strong, and do things I love without excessive pain. Like hiking, backpacking, jujitsu, salsa, hip hop, marksmanship, West African dance, rock climbing, and ballet. Unlike, say, Ragen's*, my skeleton seems to have trouble holding itself together under pressure. This isn't caused by fat--everyone in my family has problems of this kind, including the skinnies. In theory, the pain and incapacitation are 100% solvable with lifestyle changes, under the bountiful supervision of a physical therapist or osteopath. My PT, God bless him, hasn't once mentioned my weight, but it doesn't take rocket science to guess it's exacerbating the problem. Also, chronic pain and chronic depression mutually re-enforce like a mofo. Those two problems take up a lot of my life.

2) I want to be considered attractive. It feels silly to complain about this, because I did ok in the genetic lottery. I don't face the penalties that people who have far-below-average looks get slapped with. Still, I'm looking for a partner--or at least I plan to be this decade--and it bothers me a lot that so many guys who would otherwise be attracted (and/or attractive) to me seem to find me entirely invisible as a woman, or to equate "attractive" with "not fat." I don't think anyone should be sexually invisible unless they choose it. It just so happens that being thin would solve it, in this case, for me. Likely, being thin would dramatically improve my social desirability in this culture generally. . . not that I'd know what to do with that, but still.

3) I want to live free of discrimination based on fat. The link between wage and BMI is very, very well documented--and, incidentally, much stronger for women than for men. If that weren't plenty, things like denial of medical care, even when the patient is clearly not at fault for their condition, happen all the time. 24% of nurses said they were "repulsed" by obese people; that's not how quality care happens. Even if they had any right to know, I don't have time to explain to everyone I meet that I've carefully made choices I felt were best for my health.

It might seem the choice is obvious--I should just try to loose weight. I'm a lot more stable than I used to be, and it could be a psychologically healthy option now . . but the choice isn't clear. That's all I'm going to say about it tonight. Yeah, I know, I'm all full of cliff hangers.


Friday, February 18, 2011

boy is gone

I'm adept at setting myself up as an object of pursuit. It's never so cold blooded while one is doing it; let me bask in your adoration. Let me distract myself with you; let me love you, in my limited, incapable, traitorous way, until the whole thing rots from the core. There is a power in being the object of unrequited love, even if it's painful and ugly, even if on some level--and eventually all levels--you hate it.

My power needs to come from somewhere else. This is not because of cruelty, although that would be enough; it's also antithetical to what I want most.

Equality or loneliness. We'll see which.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

a bibliography

So I promised my fellow bloomsburians that I would provide a bibliography on my presentation from tonight. It went swimmingly; they were awesome. Here (in no particular order) are the resources:

Stuff was the book that, for me started this all; I couldn't put it down. Although I was disappointed that it didn't cover the emotional relationship healthy people have with stuff as much as I'd hoped. This link also includes a scale of pictures by which people can measure their own level of clutter/potential hoarding.

A Perfect Mess is a rebellion against a culture that values neatness over efficiency, and a fun read. It explores the benefits of disorganization.

Organizing From the Inside Out is the organizing book my sisters all swear by. I found it useless when I could fit everything I owned into a metro, but these days I have to agree with them.

Spent, Memoirs of a Shopping Addict was a fascinating read as much for the peak inside high-fashion life as for the discussion of shopping addiction. It didn't contribute tons to the project, but it was an interesting read. The most compelling thing for me was how shopping addiction parallels eating disorders.*

Buried in Treasures was a treatment manual for compulsive hoarding. The behavioral modification techniques were interesting enough that I'd recommend anyone who is trying to change a seriously entrenched habit, and especially anyone who isn't satisfied with the way they get and keep objects, should have a look over it.

Cheap was an exploration of price expectations over time, starting with a local US economy and moving into a global one. Her discussions on craftsmanship, the science of pricing, and global labor issues were really inspiring.

You Don't Have to be Rich, I've mentioned here before. It was exceedingly thought provoking.

Other resources I drew upon include the children of hoarders website, the excellent story of stuff website, and the cheesy-but-weirdly-awesome PBS documentary Affluenza. If you're concerned about the environmental end of things, you may also want to check out this blog entry.

*I think the terrible relationship Americans have with food and the terrible relationship Americans have with stuff have similarities worth exploring. Recently I've read some great, very biased, very persuasive books that discuss how we deal with food. They definitely have flaws, but Omnivore's Dilemma changed the way I see food and the world, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was full of rich storytelling and helpful practical advice. The Elements of Cooking also had a big impact on how I see food. It is among my top ten books, and I highly recommend it if you're interested in exploring the sensuality of food, cooking as an art and a craft, and the depth of western culinary tradition.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

there comes a time to invest in your day job

By most measures, I have a great job. I'm in a growth industry. There is actual substance to it. I've accumulated years of experience; were I to buckle down and get some certifications, I could move up in the ranks, go full time, and eventually work anywhere I spoke the language. Relative to the options most of my (other) useless-associates-degree-or-less educated friends have available to them, it's also remarkably respectable; my job title says "educated and not a deadbeat" in a way that "industrial, retail, or agricultural worker," sadly, doesn't.

I read once about how this idea that we should seek fulfillment and satisfaction from the same thing that pays our rent can be crippling. At the time I was skeptical, but I'm starting to see the wisdom. Because this is my main complaint: I don't love this work. There are other downsides--most of my work challenges involve surmounting other people's easily preventable disorganization and miss-communication. It's hard sometimes to invest myself, because there's a certain meaninglessness to pulling your own weight in a system where the work you do isn't necessarily useful and the status "working poor" is increasingly standard.

But the main thing is that I don't want the life of a systems administrator. There's other work that I do love, and that I'm good at--writing, tutoring, maybe someday teaching. Maybe someday making documentaries. Maybe, someday, making community programs. I know what I want; the challenge is thriving in a system which works only to maximize profit and production, rather than (for instance) happy, virtuous, or connected human lives. And right now, what that comes down to is getting better at the things I don't love--the things that pay for everything else. I have a job that gives me the privilege of reading a lot and writing a lot, by giving me enough of my own time to do so. It gives me the privilege of going to city council meetings, ethics forums, protests. I have time to build relationships with people I can learn from, teach, care about--and time to figure myself out.

So it's time to get better at this job I sometimes hate. Maybe it will give me a better shot at all the things I love.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

coming together

Tonight I went to a UVEF study group, where we're reading Going Public. It was incredibly interesting and fulfilling. I've been looking my whole life for grownups who I could both respect and integrate into my social structure, and I'm finally finding them; they're passionate, educated, deeply involved in the community, disillusioned about environmental issues. They're the kind of people I can and want to work with, trying to get things done politically. Maybe someday I'll be more radical, but for now this is good. Plus, they liked my pumpkin muffins. :) Taking leftovers home is the sincerest form of flattery?

Tomorrow, I'm meeting Janice Allred to ask her questions about her work. I'm nervous and excited about this. She seems like an interesting person, but I've also spent so much of my life alone with my books that there's something a little magical about one of them talking back. Also, her account of her excommunication resonated very deeply with me, and I'm very grateful to her for publishing it.

Next week, I'm presenting at Bloomsbury (which I'm also nervous and excited about) about my research on people's relationship/s with physical objects.

Desired social life: a lot of time spent with smallish groups of people who make and do interesting productive things. Status? Getting there. I'll take it.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

because people make it happen.

I don't think my mother can relax; it's physically impossible for her. The best she can do is temporarily vacate, typically escaping into a fantasy novel, often with a bowl of ice cream. She is the hardest working person I've ever met.

And I'd like if she didn't have to continue scraping and finangling and working sixty hour weeks the rest of her life to take care of her children, which is what she has done for as long as I can remember. She has due dates and interest rates and fine print memorized, filed away neatly in some corner of her extremely impressive brain. I don't know how she does it, because I suspect those numbers are taking up the same spaces that, in my life, hold the stillness of a winter morning, the hot desert under my toes. What makes my life marginally bearable, she never notices, too busy doing work and getting things done and constantly talking and moving from place to place in a flurry of productivity.

But she does notice me. So she sat me down and asked what was wrong, and when I could stop crying enough to talk I explained that life was overwhelm. And I made my specifically chosen request, (because I'm too old now to ask her to wave a magic wand and make everything better), to help pay for physical therapy.

This was my compromise: make it so it doesn't hurt to walk, and I'll find a way to deal with everything else. Make it so if I get drunk and do ballet one night in my kitchen, I will not pay for it with pain all of the following week. Make it so I can get out of the car and pass through the mountains under open sky, and I will find a way to deal with skeezy editors and invisible bosses and sleep deprivation and child abuse and radon.

She said, "yes. This is not a hard problem. Your father being still physically there, but mentally gone, is a hard problem. This--well, go until you are better. Pay for it as much as you can yourself. Find out if you can get a sliding scale or something. But go until you get better."

"How?" Because it certainly looks like a hard problem to me, and I know enough about my parents finances to know it isn't there.

But this is what my mother does. She gives up herself to make impossible things happen. She responds with perfect calm to someone else's storm.

Friday, February 04, 2011

trying not to think about the flu, and

whether perhaps I am inherently un-palatable.

I showed my therapist some of my unpublished writing, and now she can't decide whether I have Aspergers; "you're right," she says, "you are bordering on it." I think she's not sure. Maybe you're not supposed to be able to access that level of honesty and still be a normal human being. I am capable of keeping my mouth shut, but anxiously. My social anxiety isn't like the usual kind, she says. She is afraid of breaking me, by fixing it.

I'm pretty sure this could not happen without my consent, but still the idea is distressing. That I am so broken, or so wrong by nature, I would loose major parts of myself in learning how to function normally. That there is beauty in this structural abnormality. That to preserve this beauty, perhaps the pain will never go away. This idea makes me want to die. So, I'm trying not to think about it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


There are some small but important modifications that need to be made for radon and fire safety on my house. Repairs are pretty daunting for me right now, mostly because of pain issues. I'm asking for help via blog because there's less pressure this way than asking face to face, and because you never know who might be willing/able that you'd never have thought to ask.

I need these things:

-time, competence with power tools, and an able body
-the use of a jigsaw or reciprocal saw
-scrap wood or metal might also be of use, though I can probably improvise with what I have on hand.

The saw is the biggest thing. I could rent one, but I'm worried about safely using it, between health issues and being a power-tool noob.

Please let me know if you can help. It would be deeply appreciated.

Much thanks-


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

maybe a little conflicted

I saw Bold Native at the animal allies club showing, and I've been somewhat floored by my own reaction to a movie that, over all, I liked a lot. In many ways it was a great film; in some, a film I've been waiting for. It was entertaining, engaging, and funny while intelligently bringing up very relevant ethical discussions. For a self-funded propaganda piece, it was spectacular. Afterwards I asked the film-makers: why is the left so stratified into single-issue organizations and causes, and how did they feel about (participating in) this?

They were in support of all forms of social justice. In fact, they just didn't understand why so many social justice activists drew the line at the edge of their species. They thought that the rape of cows for the production of dairy products was clearly a feminist issue. I heard several voicing approval in the audience behind me, and felt disoriented. Also a little sick.

Pathologically or not, at some point I came to associate my own safety--my own right to be safe--with feminism. At it's root, this is what my passion for feminism is all about; I want to be safe. I want a right to be safe. I want it to be unquestioned and upheld by all who surround me, even when this comes at a very high cost. I'm not going to argue that this always the most ethical thing, but however selfish, it's understandable that I should want this deeply.

Lest I'm unclear, when the choice comes between a cow being raped or myself, I want it to always be the cow. Always. Unquestionably. Without a shadow of a doubt or a moment of hesitation: I want it to be the cow. The usual animal-rights activist response to this is that you don't have to choose; you can (and should) be against the rape of everybody.

The problem is--you do have to choose. In principle you can coherently oppose it all but in practice you choose. To be spending time, energy, and money one one project inherently means you aren't spending those resources on something else. More than once I've watched in person while human beings were tortured, and been powerless to stop it. This very likely could have been prevented if the movement for protecting foster children were as active and involved as PETA. When you go through the effort it takes to make a movie entirely focused around animal rights, you are choosing to save the God damned fucking cow.

None of which negates the fact that we allow the creatures we eat to be treated in profoundly evil ways, all so we can pay less for a diet that's terrible for us and the planet.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

the rare niefling-friendly post.

P.S. someone who does this infinitely better than me, and somewhat more for grownups: hyperbole and a half. brilliant.

Friday, January 28, 2011

in favor of organized (anti-theist) religion

1) If I had a visiting teacher, I would ask for this. I'd just go get my own, but I've got a vicious flu, and the merits (and road safety) of going out are dubious. Sadly, I disposed of my most recent one some months ago by pointing out that being called as my vt didn't give her the right to call me "baby" and "hon"--not after pretending I didn't exist through two years of classes together and a year of sharing a bus stop. No exploiting the system for me. Quel domage.

2) This, in the words of William J. Doherty's The Intentional Family, is the problem with being an atheist:

"For American families across all income strata and ethnic groups, religion provides a primary source of rituals of community. The great majority of American families belong to a religious organization of some sort, and on a typical weekend 41 percent of all families with children attend a religious service. In addition, families who are members of religious institutions are also more active in nonreligious community groups and organizations than are people who do not affiliate with a religious institution. In other words, religiously active families tend to be involved in all sorts of rituals of community."

Although, take note, "tend to be" does not mean "are," as I can attest to from my own intensely religious, but community starved and ritual hungry, upbringing. Doherty goes on to describe how his young family had benefited from the experienced multi-generational church community.

"What were the odds of us having someone like Judy and the other families be part of our community if we were not involved in a religious organization? Not very great. We could have tried to create a three-generational community around ourselves, but this would have been a full time job for a struggling young couple who were new to the area. A neighborhood community would also have been a possibility, but generally there are not weekly rituals of connection in most neighborhoods during with you can interact with dozens of people at different phases of the life cycle. The reality is that the most widely available source of family rituals of community is a church, synagogue, or mosque."

Sunday, January 23, 2011

we'll strip-mine the other planets later

I was puttering around at sociological images and saw this:

which really got me thinking. I consider trash disposal the least of our problems--but how huge it is, even this one thing. How horrifying. So I took inventory--what can I do? And what will I do? Because now that I consider my own life of value, not just my survival, the resources these efforts take compete not only with what I should do but with what I want to do.

Regarding possible changes, I'm struck by the role of community in determining how much it will cost me to make them. I'm lucky to have the housemates I do; they're fun, interesting, and smart, and I'm safer for living with them. But we have different priorities. Like usual for adults living together at our age, we're much more a mismatched boarding house than a unified household.

Maybe if I lived with crazy hippies we could sometimes eat together, and share in cooking and gardening, which would reduce need for convenience foods. We could get rid of the air conditioner and clothes dryer, make a group commitment to buying second-hand, share our cars and bicycles. There is nothing about these economies that inherently binds them to families and older adults. It's only preference, and a lack of infrastructure to put together relatively stable households with young people of similar values.

Lack of community damages us ecologically on a lot of levels. I use unnecessary resources most when I'm sad. Considering that young adults have high suicide rates as a group, I suspect I'm not alone in using material resources to manage depression when a stronger social network would do it better. People (even people who identify as anti-social) are happiest on average around other people.

It also creates the helplessness we face when considering environmental issues. Solar panels for your house are an attempt to replace unsustainable infrastructure you've already paid for once as "clean coal" plants and the attending medical bills. Using public transport and a bicycle means paying twice for transport--first through hefty tax-funded subsidies to the gas-guzzler system, then in the time and money it actually costs to ride your bike and take the bus.

There's a certain amount that every individual can and should do for the environment. Eating as sustainably as possible, conserving water and energy, not buying more stuff than we absolutely need, and carefully choosing what we do buy and use are measures we all ought to get used to. These are cultural standards we need to create.

But ultimately--in a country where car is a better predictor of employability than a high school diploma--the decisions that break us are made at a policy level. Personal and even cultural change are necessary but not sufficient. Political action using real power is the only way to necessary systemic change.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

obvious but so important

for dating:

1) have a healthy social life

2) be able to look after your own emotions

3) still want to date a given person under these circumstances

You want a different kind of partner for comfort, or for a crutch, than you would if trying to build something amazing. Even if the person might be the same, the relationship would be different.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Years after giving it away, I found the remnants of my baptism dress. It was on the floor at my sister's house, threadbare and faded from yet another life as a hand-me-down, cracker crumbs embedded in the hem and old banana ground into one sleeve. I picked it up, and when she said it was headed to DI anyway, carried it home, where it's now been sitting unwashed on the corner of the unused desk in my living room for months.

The thought that I might want to pass this down to my own daughter someday didn't survive my high school minimalism, but seeing the dress return like a ghost has given it weird significance. Not just an object, it represents a mental place, and an event for which I was supposed to be innocent and pure and old enough to make my own decisions. I keep it now because it records the size of my body when I was eight. I wanted it to say I was small and helpless, but it doesn't; it agrees with my medical records, 90th to 98th percentile hight and weight all though elementary.

The breakthrough would be: to believe it doesn't matter that I was big and strong for an eight year old. To believe it doesn't matter that I had already learned way-too-much (but not enough) about sex, or that I had a terrible, violent temper. To believe that regardless of all this, keeping me safe and teaching me how to deal with those parts of myself was someone else's job and not just a massive problem for me to fight alone.

Sunday, January 09, 2011


"Did you ever spend time in other places that had a different. . . vibe? Maybe a friend's house?"

I snort. Of course there were places that were different from home; a montage of memories presents itself. First grade teacher at my school, too much eye contact, voice anxious and tense: "I saw you walking to school this morning--you seemed. . . upset. Didn't seem to know which way to go. And I saw your father and your sister in the car, following behind."

My best friend Ashley's house when I was six, where everything was magical and spotless and clean; she had a collector's edition ice-skater Barbie that she wasn't even allowed to touch, except on special occasions. I was allowed to touch it too on those rare days, until she stopped talking to me.

"Of course," I said. "but that didn't mean I belonged there."

"So you never felt like you belonged."

Reflective listening at its finest. "No. I mean, occasionally there would be something--"

"But not very often. Those were pretty few and far between."


"And you've never really gotten to a point where you felt like you belonged."

This is a forgone conclusion. We are covering unrecoverable ground; it's a battle I've given up long since, and it's time to stop and work on something that might imaginably change. Even strangers say it, "You're really one of a kind, aren't you!," clasping one hand around my back and applauding some half-accidental feat. At these moments all I can do is smile awkwardly and nod, hoping the gesture reeks more of sarcasm than desperation. They have no idea at all why I've done what I've done, but they can tell I'm not like anybody else.

"I want you to think about this: what if that isn't true? What if it's just a lie your parents told you?"

I want to argue. At a certain point, if it was my parents telling me that lie, then the lie has to be true. It becomes true, a triumph of developmental psychology; if you never learn how to belong, you never will belong.

"But belonging is a social construct," I say. I don't think I've been making this up, and if she makes me abandon it that means I'll have to go out among other people without my cultivated and entirely false indifference.

"Just think about it."

I have a picture, recently obtained, of me as red riding hood and the wolf. She's blond ringlets and pale red lips, a cunning and aggressive seductress of four, perhaps five or six, no more than ten. Always looking older than her age, never old enough. Supernaturally strong and fast, not immortal but still delicate. An expert at social manipulation with no conscience, sharp miniature canines, and thousands of terrifying hungers. Like the wolf, she is perfectly turned out, finest clothes, perfect manners. She's restrained by practicality and a certain civilized manner that saves her from detection till it's too late, but there's something wild and insensibly vicious beneath. At odd moments, innocence and brutality shine through the corners of her eyes. She loves to run and to hunt; she is at best temporarily contained.

When we were sixteen, she singled out a loner and seduced him away from the herd until he fell in love. Then she invited him into the woods and ran him down patiently, like a wounded deer, before ripping his heart out with her teeth.

Much of my life since I was four or five or six has been devoted to containing this. . . keeping wolf in check, or with no likelihood of success, seeking bare redemption for her sins. And at every cost, trying not to let myself become her. How much is she even real, and how much a lie told by adults for whom reality was inconvenient?