On Porn and “Potterotica”

I guess it’s my week to talk about sexualized body parts?

This Button Poetry video from this year’s National Poetry Slam caught my attention yesterday:

The title of Brenna Twohy’s spoken-word poem Fantastic Breasts and Where to Find Them is a punnish play on the title of a volume about the Potter-verse, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (emphasis added), published by J.K. Rowling some years ago as a companion to the 7-book saga of “the boy who lived.”

Twohy articulated the goal of her poem to Buzzfeed thusly:

I wanted to highlight how unrealistic most pornography’s portrayal of sex is, and how that creates really damaging expectations for both men and women.

twohy-ask-me-whatMission accomplished (at least for the most part) to hilarious and devastating effect. Particularly pointed is Twohy’s observation that a taste for fan-fiction erotica is to be considered “unrealistic” — while mainstream porn is somehow seen as more real. Which is about as laughable a deception as I’ve heard since… well, unfortunately, just since yesterday, when folks were declaring that public breast-feeding is immoral. (Seriously, y’all. The patriarchy just needs to shut up and die in a fire. Now.)

In yesterday’s Independent, Jonathan Owen discusses a recent poll of British teenagers that reveals:

the majority [of poll participants] warn of the “damaging” and “addictive” effect of sexual images and videos readily available online. 80 per cent say it is too easy for young people to stumble across it and most recall “accessing pornography was seen as typical” while they were at school.

At least 70 per cent agree that “pornography leads to unrealistic attitudes to sex” and “can have a damaging impact” on views of sex or relationships.

A quick visit to Professor Google turned up a wealth of other articles unpacking the sexual myths and unrealistic expectations fostered by the mainstream porn industry. For example:

The gist of all these different articles is perhaps most entertainingly summarized by Noah Brand and Ozy Frantz in Alternet:

The problem is, learning about sex from porn is like learning about firearms from action movies. Action movies sacrifice realism for the sake of storyline or a really cool explosion. Action movies don’t teach you gun safety. Action movies don’t talk about alternatives to violence. And action movies use some tropes—such as the infinite ammo supply—that may move the story along but don’t reflect reality. That’s not a problem, as long as everyone treats them as entertaining fantasies.

Unfortunately, for many young people becoming sexually active today, the entertaining fantasies of mainstream porn are the teacher they’ve spent the most time with, and mainstream porn is a terrible teacher.

Even more than the general unrealistic nature of mainstream pornography, Twohy chooses to highlight a particular strain of misogyny and violence against women that runs through so many adult films.

[SIDEBAR] I will admit to having some level of discomfort over a piece that lambastes porn culture for allowing men to fantasize about sex with barely-legal teens while offering — however ironically — the “more empowering” alternative of a book series where the main characters are under-18 for a majority of the time. Also, having quickly perused some of the titles and advertised pairings in the “mature” section of the Harry Potter stories on fanfiction.net, I see the potential for a lot of uncomfortable power dynamics (Snape & Hermione) and Stockholm syndrome (Draco & oh, everybody).** Blurred lines of consent all over the place… [/SIDEBAR]

Nonetheless, the general thrust*** of Twohy’s piece feels really true and honest and on-point about the culture that mainstream porn participates in and which it helps perpetuate. To quote HuffPo (who also quotes part of Twohy’s poem):

a 2010 Violence Against Women study found that 90 percent of porn video content online and off included verbal or physical aggression towards women.

“I know a slaughterhouse when I see one,” Twohy says of the porn industry. “It looks like 24/7 live streaming, reminding me that men are going to fuck me whether I like it or not, that there is one use for my mouth and it is not speaking, that a man is his most powerful when he’s got a woman by the hair.”

Twohy suggests that the “slaughterhouse,” an uneasy analogy where the slicing instruments aren’t knives but part of a video editing suite, does more than just provide shots of women’s segmented body parts. It also creates a culture where domestic violence isn’t only expected, but accepted.

And more than that, Twohy steps — for an uncomfortable, searingly honest moment — into the ways that we all internalize these messages about how men and women are expected to perform in romantic and sexual situations — men, rough, cruel, aggressive; women, compliant and sex kittenish.

The first time a man I loved held me by the wrists and called me a whore, I did not think “Run.” I thought, “This is just like the movies.”

I have seen that training, on film and in real life.

It everybody fucks over, the patriarchy does.

* Yes, I dare say it has.

** You know how yesterday I took a bullet and read the comments sections on things so you wouldn’t have to? That favor-doing stops tonight — I was not going down that particular rabbit hole. Not for anything.

*** Sorry, couldn’t resist.

———-

Image credit: http://iwatchforsasha.tumblr.com/post/95066205780/fantastic-breasts-and-where-to-find-them

 

 

Form vs. Function

So, as someone who is child-free by choice, I’ve had an informal policy of staying as far away from the “mommy wars” as it is possible for me to stay. Breast-feeding vs. formula, maintaining external employment vs. becoming a stay-at-home-mom, “mainstream” product choices vs. natural/organic ones — every choice has its costs and benefits, and every mother has her own unique circumstance that leads to a particular set of choices (some of which may even be forced-choices determined by economic or other constraints).

Since I have never faced these choices and I am never walking a mile in these particular stirrups, my general approach has been to hold an attitude of respect for each mother and her parenting choices,* on the belief that each mom is doing the best she can in any given moment.

But then there’s that moment when the mommy wars play out very personally in the life of someone in my circle of acquaintance:

Ingrid Wiese-Hesson was shopping at an Anthropologie store in Beverly Hills when her 6-week-old son, Xavier, began crying because he was hungry.

Wiese-Hesson then sat down in the store to breastfeed the infant, and that was when the store’s manager reportedly intervened.

“The exact words to me were ‘I’m here to escort you to the ladies room so that you can finish breastfeeding’,” Wiese-Hesson said. “She opened up the bathroom, and she said ‘sorry, there’s no chair’, and of course the only thing in the bathroom was the toilet seat.” (CBS Los Angeles)

Ingrid posted her experience on Facebook and it blew up and went viral almost instantly (as one might guess from seeing the clip from last night’s 11’o’clock news).  More details and slices of analysis are available at a number of places online, including information about a “nurse-in” that took place today in the store (LAist); an AdWeek post that connects the uncomfortable dots between this real-life incident and a recent student-designed public awareness campaign aimed at preventing exactly this sort of harassment; and a CBS Money Watch post that gives really good snark:

At high-end retailer Anthropologie, shoppers can select from body-baring items like its $118 see-through Gladiolus Sheer Silk Blouse. But when it comes to breastfeeding, one store location deemed a woman was showing just too much of her body.

Assuming AdWeek’s excerpt from and analysis of CA state law is on-point –

The Anthropologie manager’s actions were not just unwise, they were also in violation of Hesson’s legal rights. From the California Civil Code: “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breastfeed her child in any location, public or private, except the private home or residence of another, where the mother and the child are otherwise authorized to be present.”

– then there’s a certain open-and-shut nature to the legal question here. Ingrid was absolutely, 100% within her rights to breastfeed her son in the Anthropologie store, and the store manager broke the damn law by  interrupting her and escorting her to the bathroom.

david-horsey-breastfeeding-moms-20120705-001So I’m going to set the legal question aside from now and just let my mind boggle from the fucking insanity of this all. What rational and reasonable objection would anyone have to a woman breast-feeding her six-week-old baby?

Answer: objections a-plenty, but nothing rational or reasonable, as far as I can tell. I know the first rule of following feminist stories in mass-market media sites is “don’t read the comments!” — well, I did, so you don’t have to. (Taking one for the team.) There were a few different rhetorical tactics, but objections pretty much all fell into being one flavor or another of this: breastfeeding should be done in private because it’s immoral/unseemly/inappropriate for it to be seen in public.

And here’s where I go into a sputtering place of incoherent rage and puzzlement. Because, to paraphrase Henry Rollins when talking about racism: these folks are tripping over an entry-level concept, a curb about 6 inches high. It’s inappropriate to publicly use your boobs to feed an infant? Feeding babies is actually the main purpose for which women’s breasts were invented! How can it be deemed immoral for babies to be fed in public?

Because, as Anna Quindlen said way back in 1994:

[T]he subtext of the public breast-feeding battle is the inability to make a distinction between what is female and what is sexual, what is indecent and what is utilitarian. And maybe it’s epitomized in a letter that The Albany Times-Union got from an irate citizen who asked whether women who nursed in public would be having sex on the streets as well, as though the connection between nursing and fornication was self-evident.

(Yes, 1994. Twenty years ago. The more things change, the more they fucking don’t.)

After all, I bet no one would object to a baby being bottle fed in public, and I bet the same judgmental asshats complaining so voraciously about Ingrid’s choice to publicly breastfeed would also be giving her the judgmental side-eye if she had chosen to delay her son’s feeding and “subjected” the other customers to hearing the sounds of an unhappy, hungry, crying baby. It’s only because someone’s mammary glands are involved that this has become such A Thing.

I know that the policing and sexualizing of women’s bodies is pretty stupidly crazy even on the best of days. But still. What is it about breasts? How did these secondary-sex characteristics become so thoroughly fetishized and sexualized in the culture? Why is Anthropologie okay selling see-through shirts for the sake of showing off in the attractiveness/sexuality game, but not okay with a woman discreetly using her breasts for their actual, original biological purpose?

I know, I know: it’s the damn patriarchy again. After all, no one’s having a fit about all those exposed Adam’s apples…

* Aside from those that are obviously neglectful and/or abusive.

———-

Image credit: http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jul/12/nation/la-na-tt-breastfeeding-moms-20120705    (David Horsey at the LA Times.)

On Self-Rejection and Synchronicity

With one breath, with one flow
You will know
Synchronicity

A sleep trance, a dream dance,
A shared romance,
Synchronicity

A connecting principle,
Linked to the invisible
Almost imperceptible
Something inexpressible.
Science insusceptible
Logic so inflexible
Causally connectible
Yet nothing is invincible.

~ The Police, Synchronicity I

One of the reasons The Cruise was such a treasured experience was that it gave me a chance to touch into the energies of my ancestral lands, at least a little bit. I’m Scottish on one side and Lithuanian on the other, so this trip to the Baltic states was my first-ever chance to explore the Lithuanian side of my heritage.

During our time there, one of our tour guides shared stories from his childhood — both his own experiences growing up as well as myths and folktales that were told to him during his early years. One such story was about the rooster.

Now this caught my attention especially. You see, I was born in the autumn of 1969, which means my animal in the Chinese zodiac is — you guessed it — the rooster.

———-

Chinese astrology isn’t ever something I’ve studied. Actually, let me just say I’ve never really studied astrology at all. (End of sentence. Full stop.)

Still, somewhere in my childhood I saw the list of animals and years and matched my birthdate to the rooster.

Oh, let’s be real. The self-proclaimed online guide to the Chinese zodiac puts things this way:

Most people’s understanding of Chinese astrology and the Chinese zodiac doesn’t extend beyond what they see on the paper placemats that cover the tables of their favorite Chinese restaurants.

Yes, that was me. I can see it in my mind’s eye: a red paper placement with a ring of animal pictures and their associated years around the border. And there was Mr. Rooster sitting at 1969.

rooster-cockerel1I remember being generally dissatisfied with that match-up. At the time, I don’t think I knew the slightest bit about what types of personality traits were associated with different animals/astrological signs. I was just making a visceral, childish comparison: there were cool animals (dragon, tiger, snake), strong and useful animals (horse, ox, sheep) and lovable animals (rabbit, dog). And then there was the rooster. But at least I wasn’t the rat.

My dissatisfaction with being “a rooster” was so instinctual and unreasoning that my guess, looking back with these decades of perspective, is that I would have disliked whatever sign matched up to me. The habits of comparison and finding myself less-than were just so strong back then, the degree of self-rejection so total, I don’t see myself as being satisfied with any sign that was mine, however glamorous the associated animal.

‘Cos ultimately, I just didn’t want to be me.

———-

So when our tour guide started talking about how the rooster was an especially treasured animal in Lithuanian folk tales, my ears, they perked up. According to his telling, roosters were treasured because they were the one animal not afraid of the devils or demons — in fact, the rooster’s voice was believed to be the one noise that could drive the demons away.

I haven’t found much online to further illuminate or corroborate this snippet of folklore our tour guide mentioned. The closest I’ve found is an entry on this website about different pieces of folklore regarding protection against witches:

During the Middle Ages, the cock was an important Christian symbol of resurrection and vigilance. A rooster represented God, goodness, and lightness. Cocks’ places were earned at the top of buildings, domes, and church steeples. They crowed at the birth and death of Christ, and they herald the dawn, “which brings light to the sins of the night and rouses men to the worship of God.”

Witches Sabbats were dispersed, and enchantments were dissolved, by the crow of a rooster. The rites of Satan ended because the Holy Office of the Church had begun. The 4th-century Christian Latin poet Prudentius sang, “They say that the night-wandering demons, who rejoice in dunnest shades, at the crowing of the cock tremble and scatter in sore affright.” In the time of Saint Benedict, Lauds and Matins were recited at dawn and became known as Gallicinium, or Cock-crow.

Now, as a card-carrying witch myself,* there’s a bit of disconnect between this interpretation and my own beliefs about who needs protecting from whom. But, knowing how often Pagan folklore was folded into medieval Christianity, I don’t think it’s too far of a stretch to imagine one of my Lithuanian fore-mothers, a wise women and a witch, standing against the demons with a rooster on her shoulder.

After all, if Baba Yaga’s hut has hen’s legs, and the goddess Gabija sometimes chooses the form of a rooster for her earthly visits, why not an ancestress with a rooster familiar?

Amazing how a piece of synchronicity can give you a perspective shift, turning an old source of dissatisfaction into something to embrace. To claim.

* Okay, not card-carrying. I’ve lapsed on my membership dues.

———-

Image credit: http://danielmackie.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/rooster-in-various-mythologies/

 

Teaching, Trust and Testing

The aspirational arithmetic behind that whole “study an hour a day to become an international expert in your field” thing goes something like this:

  1. Studying/reading an hour a day adds up to you reading/absorbing about a book a week;
  2. Which adds up to about 50 books over the year;
  3. Which adds up to a whole lot of learning.

Now, obviously, by setting more moderate goals about how much “ed-reading” I’m trying to do each day, I have ensured that my own personal arithmetic will be adding up a bit more modestly. Still, I’m pleased to say I’ve finished the first book I started when I set this plan for myself. Two-and-a-half weeks ain’t so bad, all things considered.

SchoolsWeTrustCoverEven though it’s a complete non-sequiteur, the first thing I noticed about Deborah Meier’s In Schools We Trust was that it was published by Beacon Press. I know of Beacon as the UUA‘s publishing house, but I’d not noticed till today what a vast array of non-UU books is in Beacon’s catalog. Upon reflection, this only makes sense, or else I fear Beacon might have what they call an “unsustainable business model.” Still, I hadn’t even remotely thought of Beacon as publishing education books till I picked this one up. Now I might as well export their entire catalog over to my reading wish list as I continue my ed-reading self-study project.

But on to more substantive matters…

Meier’s book is subtitled Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization, and although it was published in 2002, it still senses, to my readerly eyes, as speaking to the current state of schools and schooling. After all, who could read the following passage –

[S]ocial distrust plays itself out in education in the form of draconian attempts to “restore accountability” through standardized schooling and increasing bureaucratization.

The tragedy of this approach is that it undermines what I think is the best way to make schools trustworthy and raise standards. Standardization and bureaucratization fuel the very distrust thy are aimed to cure. Even more tragically, standardization and bureaucratization undermine the possibilities for the kind of education we all claim is sorely lacking. (2)

– and not feel its contemporaneousness?

In case you’re interested, here’s a few other reviews:

Meier arranges her book into three sections. Part One discusses different aspects of building a culture of trust within schools: teacher collaboration, parent engagement, being aware of the powerful impacts and implications of race and class differences within the members of a school community (teachers, children, educators). Meier also discusses the importance of creating an environment where children feel safe taking learning risks:

Learning happens fastest when the novices trust the setting so much that they aren’t afraid to take risks, make mistakes, or do something dumb. Learning works best, in fact, when the very idea that it’s risky hasn’t even occurred to kids. . . . No one is sorting or ranking us. . . . We’re in the company of people who are most firmly on our side, no matter what. (18)

Throughout these chapters, Meier offers concrete suggestions drawn from her own experience founding small, innovative public schools in NYC and Boston. Meier outlines 7 key qualities for such schools on pages 20-22. To paraphrase:

  1. Safety, both physical safety from violence and also safety from ridicule and safety to learn and make mistakes.
  2. A supportive “expert-to-learner” ratio, achieved by understanding that school communities can draw on other adults and older peers to create a more vibrant & effective learning community.
  3. Opportunities for students to show their own expertise and passion for a topic/subject.
  4. Flexibility in how learners can experience, explore and assimilate new content knowledge.
  5. Setting aside rigid timetables to allow “time for ideas to grow” (21).
  6. Learning that is engaging and enjoyable.
  7. A commitment to connecting school/curricular content to students’  authentic, lived experiences.

Part Three of the book addresses some customary fallacies and misconceptions about the small-school movement, arguing against the common belief that small, successful urban schools are so rare, the products of such exceptional circumstances (a superstar principal, a deep-pocketed foundation, etc.) that their  models of success could never be replicated to serve all the U.S. children in need of better, safer, more engaging schools. In fact, Meier argues, the “failures” often seen in attempts to scale up successful small schools are most often caused by city and state bureaucracies making choices that impose standardization at the cost of standards — at the cost of actual success in teaching and learning.

There’s no way to guarantee that any particular system will work, or will work forever, or will not need endless revising. But until we get over the idea that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to schools, above all for schools that are trustworthy enough to do the job well, we won’t allow ourselves to do the difficult long-term work of redesigning the system, not just the schools. What we need is a new kind of system whose central task is to protect the public space needed for innovation. We need a lean, mean system, with a limited but critical accountability function, to be the guardian of our common public interest, but one that respects the fact that schools must be first and foremost responsive to their own constituents — the members of their community — not to the system. That’s the rub. (172-3, emphasis added)

———-

You may have notched I skipped passed Part Two of Meier’s book. I did so because its contents — a devastating critique of standardized testing and its primacy in the U.S. educational system — seemed to me not-entirely connected to the book-ended discussion in Parts One and Three about what successful school models could look like and how to achieve them.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Meier’s critique of big testing is powerfully on point. When I called it a “devastating critique,” up above, that was not empty praise on my part.

Quite frankly, I’m afraid to start a more detailed summary with pull-quotes, for fear I will instead try to type out all 70 pages of this verbatim. And I just don’t have that kind of time.* Suffice to say, for the moment, that Meier has added immensely to the depth of my understanding of standardized testing, as well as to the depth of my contempt for its current use in schools. Even if you’re not interested in Meier’s thoughts about school design, Part Two of her book is eminently worth reading as its own little “capsule volume.”

So, a valuable first book in my new Earl-Nightengale-inspired ed-reading project. With any luck, I’ll finish book #2 at a similar fortnightly pace and circle back here.

Now all I need to do is figure out if there’s any sort of note-taking system I want to use to capture what I’m learning and any connections I start to make. Are these “21st century book reports” enough for that purpose, or is there something else that’s worth the doing?

* Or that level of disregard for copyright and the limits of “fair use” conventions.

———-

Image credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Schools_We_Trust

Handing Out Sticks

Famous blogger Matt Walsh has kicked off a bit of a tempest by writing two posts about Robin Williams’ death. The first one, basically, tried to draw a bright-line boundary between the concepts of depression and suicide. This interpretive framework (and Walsh’s reasons for wanting to drawing this sharp boundary) is pretty well summarized here:

First, suicide does not claim anyone against their will. No matter how depressed you are, you never have to make that choice. That choice. Whether you call depression a disease or not, please don’t make the mistake of saying that someone who commits suicide “died from depression.” No, he died from his choice. He died by his own hand. Depression will not appear on the autopsy report, because it can’t kill you on its own. It needs you to pull the trigger, take the pills, or hang the rope. To act like death by suicide is exactly analogous to death by malaria or heart failure is to steal hope from the suicidal person. We think we are comforting him, but in fact we are convincing him that he is powerless. We are giving him a way out, an excuse. Sometimes that’s all he needs — the last straw.

Then, after the post went viral and lots of people took issue with it, Walsh wrote a somewhat testy follow-up to: 1) decry the vitriol of individuals who misrepresented/misunderstood his first post and 2) provide more detailed justification of his position.

Among the many voices I’ve seen either directly or indirectly rebutting Walsh’s argument….

Pastor Jean-Daniel Williams, who writes:

If I commit suicide, perhaps, as you claim, it will be ‘’my’’ choice. But I doubt it. I have spent more than half my life listening to my own body betray me, my own mind telling me that it would be better to die. . . . Living is the pro-active choice. Is suicide a choice? It has been a free choice every time I have ever said no so far. I have chosen to say no. That is not because we can blindly, arrogantly, say that it is a moral choice, though. It is because I have been really lucky that I am (still) healthy enough to say no. The thing is, saying ‘’no’’ to suicide is evidence that I am healthy enough to say no. But, if I should ever commit suicide, it will not be because ‘’I’’ made the choice, but because my depression would have.

Kristi, on the blog “What is Matt Walsh wrong about today?” provides some valuable information about the effect of depression on one’s cognitive and decision-making capabilities:

Matt says suicide is a choice, but what makes a choice a choice is the presence of logic, reason, and objectivity to evaluate its merits. Depression can rob your brain of the ability to think that way. My friend Derek, a pharmacist, knows a thing or two about this. In his own words:

“In a euthymic (or normal, mildly-positive) attitude, the effect of a choice is either a reward, perhaps the blast of dopamine from a great run, or a detriment, the exhaustion of inactivity. In a person with clinical depression, both sides of that choice respond with a similar lack of neurotransmission.

A patient suffering from severe depression may not even be able to tell the choice apart. Even if objectively they know that running is good, couch is bad, they will experience the same neurochemical state regardless.”

[. . . ] So no, depression doesn’t appear on autopsy reports. But when a 500-lb thirty-year old drops dead at his desk, the autopsy reads “cardiac arrest” rather than “morbid obesity”. As usual, Matt is glossing over nuances. He thinks things are black and white—that a choice is a choice. He’s wrong. In absence of a healthy neurological system, not all actions are choices.

[SIDEBAR] Even though the fat activist in me is yearning to give significant bandwidth to the false assumptions and lack of medical evidence in Kristi’s facile conflation of “cardiac arrest” and “morbid obesity,” I’m mostly going to let it slide because I’m on a different topical horse tonight. Allow me merely a gentle hat tip to my HAES basics post, my critique of BMI, and my puzzlement at the unproductive insanity of fat-shaming. [/SIDEBAR]

[SIDEBAR THE SECOND] I am clearly way too ill-informed about the blogosphere as I hang out typing furiously in my little isolated corner of the wild, wild web. I don’t think I had ever heard of Matt Walsh till this folderol, yet he’s a prominent enough Internet figure to have earned his own dedicated counter-narrative. I don’t know if I’m impressed or horrified. [/SIDEBAR THE SECOND]

Although he doesn’t name check Walsh at all, Peter DeGiglio might as well be writing a targeted counterpoint against Walsh, articulating more reasons for understanding Williams’ death as being caused by the disease of depression:

I tried to get the old friend to understand by using my go-to comparison in this conversation. I asked, “Well, what if it was cancer?” His answer came back like a clichèd line from an after-school special. He proclaimed, “Well, that you can’t help!”

And therein, my friends, lies the problem in our dialogue on mental illness. [. . .]

What I believe people need to understand is that Robin Williams took his own life because he lost his battle with a serious medical condition. Take again my cancer analogy. Think about it: The last possible stage of any type of cancer that can effect a person is death. When one loses their battle with cancer, they die. The cancer cells take over and shut down the body for good. The same can be said for Bi-Polar Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder (aka simply “Depression”). The last possible stage of these diseases is death. The difference is that instead of cancer cells destroying the body, the body is destroyed instead by thoughts and feelings, causing the afflicted person to be convinced that the only way to end the suffering is through death at their own hands.

Essentially, he had “Thought Cancer”

———–

I feel half-vulture playing all this out on the screen. Yet another fan doing pop psychology when a celebrity dies, and doing so without much regard for the feelings of those individuals who are actually, acutely, intimately affected by his death.

So why am I even sailing these rocky waters?

Because however much I disagree with Walsh’s perspective, no matter how fervently I believe that those suggesting we say Williams died of depression are onto a deep psychological and spiritual truth — well, here’s an uncomfortable truth of my own.

Part of me wants Walsh to be right.

I want to believe that my depression is something I can rein in, get under control. I’ve been really lucky to be able to manage the condition for several years now without prescriptions. This is nothing I’m saying as a mark of strength, of health, or of any other sort of virtue. The operative word is “luck.” Yes, I work damn hard to maintain my psychological health, but I also know you can do everything “right” and still be challenged with disease. So, yeah, I am deeply grateful for my good fortune, but I know that tomorrow’s health and tomorrow’s brain chemistry are far from guaranteed.

It’d be easier if Walsh were right. More comforting, in a childish control-freak kind of way. To know that I just need to find and follow the proper recipe so’s to be sure that I will never have to stare down the maw of despair and depression again.

But that’s not how life works.

no-cry-for-help

———-

Image credit: http://en.webfail.com/855852d8b8b

Creating (a) Space

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d been holding the hope that we would be all the way unpacked and organ-imized at the one-year anniversary of moving into our “house on the hill.”

Well, we still have a few weeks till that anniversary — 24 days, to be exact — but I’m ready to call it: I will not be making that hoped-for deadline.

buried-boxesQuite frankly, the momentum for unpacking and all has ground to a complete halt during the last few months.

There’s plenty of good reasons for that. First, there was The Cruise, which took us out-of-town for more than a fortnight, and which required a certain amount of packing/unpacking of its own accord. There’s also the fact that one of the benefits we wanted to create by moving north from Philly was the ability to spend our weekends up at the lake in NH — and we’ve certainly spent a few of our summer weekends happily living out that intention. And then there’s been a few busy patches at work (she says, putting it ever-so-mildly).

But as I began to be aware that the one-year anniversary was approaching and to realize that I was going to miss my secret goal, I started looking at the ways I’ve been giving zero effort to unpacking, and I asked myself what other factors might have contributed to this stop in momentum. And I began wondering if those other factors had both a practical and an energetic dimension to them.

On the practical front, we’ve hit the stage where some of the unpacked boxes are definitively things we want to keep (old tax files, my cross-stitching supplies, etc.) but that don’t actually have any storage furniture to be unpacked into. (Some of our old furniture — including the filing cabinet and some shelving units — got jettisoned during the move, either because it was too old to be worth keeping, or because the ceiling in our finished basement — which is where these items are intended to be stored — is just a teensy-weensy bit too low.)

The energetic front is sort of linked to the practical lack of storage furniture: I didn’t have a vision for the room where the unpacked boxes are currently living.

———-

Let me set the stage to make this all (I hope!) slightly more comprehensible. The architectural features of the house mean that the finished basement falls roughly into three separate rooms, plus a wide long hallway. These “rooms” are open to one another, but still function as separate areas of space. When we moved in, we knew that the first room at the bottom of the stairs was going to be a little library/reading nook area, and that was, for the most part, set up pretty quickly. The hallway was wide enough that we could put up shelves for my prodigious CD collection (plus our movies), which was perfect because the third room, where the hallway leads to, was where we wanted to set up a media room. Those CD shelves were also taken care of pretty quickly, while the future media room and the undetermined center room were where the tons and tons of unpacked boxes waited for attention.

As we unpacked, we kept consolidating the geography so that a higher and higher percentage of unpacked boxes were in the center room, the room we simply began calling “unpacking central.” By taking this approach, we were able to get the media room clear — or, at least, clear enough — so we could start setting it up. The decor is still what we’ve been calling nouveau dorm room, but the core elements — big screen TV, soundbar, PS3 — are there, and we can deal with having milk-crate shelving for the time being.

And then there’s unpacking central.

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It was actually really helpful for a while not to have any other vision for the center room aside from its current role as unpacking central. The unpacking process, as a whole, has required me to really come face to face with all my hoarding/shopaholic impulses — facing up not only to the shame around that specific behavior pattern, but also to all the emotional baggage and patterning that led me to be a hoarder to begin with. Quite frankly, it’s been hard emotional work. Good work, important work, work well-worth the doing. Absolutely worth the effort. But hard, nonetheless.

Amidst that hard work, I definitely appreciated not having the extra burden of pressure in thinking “We could already have our ______ (game room, exercise room, whatever), if only I could get my fucking act together!

Yeah, it was nice to not have that piece of internal monologue running.

But my recent spate of inaction had me wondering if I had now become just a little bit too complacent in that room’s identity as “unpacking central” — like, somewhere in the back of my mind, was I thinking “Well, we don’t even know what we’re gonna use the room for, so what’s the hurry to finish cleaning it up?!?

So tonight, Mr. Mezzo and I did a little bit of talking and visioning about the kind of hybrid storage/crafting/creative nook we want to create for that center room. We don’t have everything figured out, but enough is settled that we can take advantage of Massachusetts’ tax free shopping weekend with an Ikea run tomorrow to get a couple storage pieces.

Two birds with one stone: start creating and carrying forward a vision to help re-inspire me towards the unpacking, plus some furniture pieces that mean unpacked item actually have a damn place to go.

So maybe we won’t hit the one-year moving anniversary. Maybe by Yule, instead…

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Image credit: http://doingitwright.wordpress.com/2013/07/13/the-5-laws-of-moving-house/

A Little of that Human Touch

Ain’t no mercy on the streets of this town
Ain’t no bread from heavenly skies
Ain’t nobody drawin’ wine from this blood
It’s just you and me tonight

Tell me in a world without pity
Do you think what I’m askin’s too much ?
I just want something to hold on to
And a little of that human touch
Just a little of that human touch

~ Bruce Springsteen, Human Touch

While I’ve been under the weather* having a very individual-sort of challenging week, the rest of the country has been having its own sort of shitty week, what with the floods and the plagues and human decency going all to shit in Ferguson Missouri.

Because I’m still a bit ailing, I’m going to make this more of a link-fest than a work of original commentary — for the most part. Here’s a basic timeline that takes events up to President Obama’s statement Thursday afternoon.

And now a few scattered threads of what’s caught my attention since.

First, some basic pointers from Kate Harding on understanding these events from a lens of racial-cultural privilege.

2. Recognize that Michael Brown’s death was not an isolated incident.

In 2012, more than 300 black people were executed by police, security guards, or vigilantes. In the last month, three other unarmed African-American men—Eric Garner in New York, John Crawford III in Beavercreek, Ohio, and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles—have been killed by police. Those are the ones we know about.

3. Stop saying “This can’t be happening in America.”

I understand the impulse, I really do. But that impulse only comes to those who are insulated and isolated from how America treats poor people and people of color every day. Langston Hughes wrote “America never was America to me” in 1935. If you didn’t quite understand that poem in your junior high or high-school lit classes, read it again, while you think about what’s happening in Ferguson. Let it sink in.

Then, two articles pondering the, um, “selective” ways that many mainstream media outlets choose to portray black victims of violent crime: one from NPR and one from HuffPo. The HuffPo piece particularly illustrates the discomfiting tension that exists between the portrayal of black victims of crime as compared to white (alleged) perpetrators of crimes. Yes, Virginia, race privilege is so fucked up that white criminals still get treated better than black crime victims:

This is by no means standard media protocol, but it happens frequently, deliberately or not. News reports often headline claims from police or other officials that appear unsympathetic or dismissive of black victims. Other times, the headlines seem to suggest that black victims are to blame for their own deaths, engaging in what critics sometimes allege is a form of character assassination. When contrasted with media portrayal of white suspects and accused murderers, the differences are more striking. News outlets often choose to run headlines that exhibit an air of disbelief at an alleged white killer’s supposed actions. Sometimes, they appear to go out of their way to boost the suspect’s character, carrying quotes from relatives or acquaintances that often paint even alleged murderers in a positive light.

Amidst the outrage and indignation over Mike Brown’s death, Feministing calls attention to an equally discomfiting tension — one around the way that black male victims of crime receive more media attention, public support, societal outrage/sympathy than do black female crime victims.

How are the deaths and beatings of women — cis and trans — at the hands of the police or with their complicity so much less compelling? I think the obvious answer here is misogyny and transmisogyny, not on one specific occasion or by one specific person, but at the systemic level: what tweets get tweeted and retweeted, what events seem newsworthy, and what bodies are deemed to hold value.

I want to mourn the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and I want to question why the deaths of Renisha McBride and Islan Nettles and Kathryn Johnston haven’t gotten similar traction. Why the beating of Marlene Pinnock isn’t on all of our lips. Why the nation is not familiar with the names of Stephanie Maldonado, or of Ersula Ore. And how many women’s names do we not know because they don’t dare come forward? Because the violence they experience at the hands of the police is sexual, and the shame and stigma around sexual violence silences them?

The truth is that, in the predominantly male-led civil rights organizations who lead efforts to respond to police brutality, in the male-dominated media that covers them, and in the hearts and minds of many people in this country, women who are of color, who are sex workers, undocumented immigrants, transgender (or, god forbid, more than one of those at once) are rarely candidates for “innocence,” and are often blamed for their own deaths, forgotten, or hardly counted at all.

But finally, the piece that gives me small glimmer of hope is the contrast between Wednesday’s protest — and the militarized police response to them (text and images from Slate), and last night.

The man at the front of the march, was Missouri Highway Patrol Capt. Ronald S. Johnson, a Ferguson native.

“I’m not afraid to be in this crowd,” Johnson declared to reporters.

Johnson, a towering African American man who wiped sweat from his brow as he pointed out neighborhood hangouts and restaurants he used to frequent, was put in charge of crowd control earlier in the day, replacing the St. Louis County police who had been overseeing the police response to the protests. . . .

Protesters said they were still angry, demanding justice for Brown and answers from local police about why he was shot and who the offending officer was.

But, they said, Johnson’s willingness to physically interact with them, rid the streets of heavy police equipment, and help them coordinate protests was a welcome change in tone.

“Thank you so much for being here,” said Karen Wood, who fought back tears as she held both of Johnson’s hands imploring him to bring answers to residents and maintain calm in the streets.

“This is about human rights, about human beings,” she cried. (Washington Post)

It’s about human rights. Human beings. Meeting one another in an open-hearted way, with that human touch.

ari-hug-it-outAnd no, it’s not a magic wand to make all the troubles and tensions magically go away. There’s still hard work to be done, hard conversations to be had.

But ain’t it something to see how that human touch at least makes the hard work possible?

* It’s been a lovely stomach bug/depression cocktail — I don’t recommend it.

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Image credit: http://giphy.com/gifs/pzl20V6IWOjK