Feb 252015
 

“I want a woman who can sit me down, shut me up, tell me ten things I don’t already know, and make me laugh. I don’t care what you look like, just turn me on. And if you can do that, I will follow you on bloody stumps through the snow. I will nibble your mukluks with my own teeth. I will do your windows. I will care about your feelings. Just have something in there.” - Henry Rollins, Shock and Awe

I want a man who wants this. I want a man who wants me.

Tell you things you didn’t know? Make you laugh? Sit you down and shut you up? Those are all things I’m good at and things I enjoy — they’re what I like most about myself.

I’m not looking (I’m quite content on my own). But if he exists, and if I ever find him (or if he finds me), I hope he has strong teeth and likes doing windows.

Also, I want Henry Rollins, but that’s not really the point. 
Feb 222015
 
I don’t tend a flame or hold a torch
(I carry too much kindling)
The risk of errant embers
catching fire
burning bridges
is enough to scorch the earth

Feb 162015
 

Here we go again…

Person A does a thing, makes a thing, or likes a thing.

Person B questions or critiques the existence, creation, practice, or implications of that thing.

Person A responds with one or more of the following:*

  1. “Censorship! This is censorship!”
  2. “You can’t tell me what to do/like/watch!”
  3. “If you don’t like it, don’t do it! What I do/like/watch doesn’t affect you.”
  4. “You’re kink shaming!”

telegraph fifty shades arguments suck

Calling Rebecca Reid’s Telegraph article an “argument” is a bit too generous. It’s more like an reductive reaction followed by swinging at straw men and tilting at windmills.

Let’s pull it apart, shall we?

No one is saying that domestic abuse is anything other than reprehensible. But, director Sam Taylor-Wood’s version of the novel takes a firm and decisive step away from abuse and towards the realm of the fairy-tale. It’s slick, sexy, and beautiful but most of all, it’s fiction.

Reid seems to think that abuse and fiction are mutually exclusive, as if genre somehow neutralizes content or negates its potential message (and that’s a false dichotomy… kinda). Of course it’s fiction, but that doesn’t mean it’s insignificant or ineffectual, and it doesn’t mean it’s off-limits for examination and critique.

No adult woman is going to struggle with the misconception that this film has anything more than a passing acquaintance with reality. […] Women are adults. We are sentient, intelligent humans. How can it be that there are people arguing about whether viewing material could be “dangerous” to us? It’s the exact same sentiment that stops children from being allowed to watch horror movies. We are entertaining a discussion that casts us in the role of children. It’s aggressively patronising, and it’s frightening.

This is a straw man argument. Reid argues against a position she (and others) have constructed — an imaginary voice who claims women don’t know the difference between fantasy and reality. First, I have yet to see anyone argue that women can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality. I mean, I’m sure someone is making that argument, but it’s not amongst the most prominent positions or loudest voices out there.

Second, while the argument that women know the difference between fantasy and reality is an entirely valid one, it’s also incredibly reductive (and therefore, mostly irrelevant to this sort of debate). That argument presupposes a position wherein fiction isn’t influential… and that position is wildly incorrect.

A clear distinction between fantasy and reality doesn’t mediate fiction’s cultural impact.

In the wake of Disney’s 101 Dalmatians, sales of dalmatian puppies increased (along with puppy mills, inbreeding, and subsequent abandonment and surrender of dogs to animal shelters). After Finding Nemo, clownfish populations in some reefs dropped as much as 75%. Of course viewers knew those films were fantasy (clearly, they were animations of talking animals). No one thought dogs or fish could talk. But people bought dalmatians and clownfish in record numbers — and so the films had material consequences beyond being otherwise impotent entertainment.

Yeah, dalmatians and clownfish aren’t great comparisons… so I’ll offer another…

Most people know that actresses and models in magazines are trained, groomed, styled, made up, well-lit, and Photoshopped, but that hasn’t stemmed the tide of negative body image, low self-esteem, crash dieting, and plastic surgery. We know magazine advertisements are fantasy, but that hasn’t stopped such images from affecting cultural “standards,” individual perceptions, and material realities.

Fiction and fantasy matter, both for potentially positive and potentially negative reasons and effects.

It feels like an overreaction to suggest that the criticism of Fifty Shades is a conspiracy, but at times it feels like one. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Human Centipede, Saw: all terrifying violent films that promote murder in creative and disgusting ways. Not a word of complaint. Fifty Shades of Grey, a glossy, sleek BDSM fantasy? Take it away, lest the women develop dangerous ideas.

There are two important differences:

  1. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Human Centipede, and Saw don’t promote or romanticize murder. They depict murder. That’s a big fucking difference.

Those films aren’t presented as love stories. The protagonists don’t live happily ever after with Leatherface, or ride off into the sunset with the Jigsaw Killer, or imagine a future contentedly sewn ass-to-mouth between a few acquaintances. Audience members aren’t jerking off to the demented dinner party scene, aren’t fantasizing about what it would feel like to be stitched to some friends, and aren’t secretly thinking that poor John Kramer is a damaged man in need of rehabilitation who might just be the protagonist’s true love.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Human Centipede, and Saw present terrible people as monsters and present horrible things as horror. Fifty Shades of Grey presents terrible people as worthwhile sexual/romantic partners and presents horrible things as love.

  1. We don’t live in a culture where people routinely massacre others in the name of cannibalism. We don’t live in a culture where others claim that a person who was trapped in a maze lined with razor blades was “asking for it.” We don’t live in a culture where a significant portion of the population has been victimized by non-consensual ass-to-mouth stitching. At the risk of being repetitive… that’s a big fucking difference (and that difference matters).

line-break-flourish-sm

In short, fiction is fiction, and no one thinks fantasy is reality. No one is calling for fantasy to reflect someone else’s version of “ethical,” “healthy,” or “reality.” Fiction can do whatever it wants.

But so can consumers of fiction. Just because a text is a work of fiction, it doesn’t mean it’s off limits to criticism. It’s worthy of criticism, in part, because fiction (and fantasy) are important, influential, and powerful.

If you concede that Fifty Shades has empowered countless women to explore their fantasies and embrace their sexuality, then you have to concede that Fifty Shades is influential. And if you concede that it’s influential, then you can’t dismiss the possibility that such influence could be harmful — not because it urges women to seek out abusers, but because it reinforces misogyny already firmly rooted in our culture.

Potentially harmful texts should be criticized, the same way potentially positive texts should be praised.

Fifty Shades of Grey can be both.


* Obviously, I can’t engage all of these in one post. I mean, I could… but I’ll consider myself lucky if you actually read to the end of the post as it is. :)
Feb 122015
 

rorty-pragmatism-3I’ve been trying to figure out why I’ve been getting progressively more precious about my writing here. Every word feels so consequential that I struggle to get things down — the way they were, the way they are, and the way I want them to be.

Lately, more often than not, I don’t hit ‘publish.’ I’m not ready, not (entirely) for emotional reasons, but for intellectual ones. I don’t understand things, I don’t like the way they’re still bouncing around in my head, and I’m not ready to commit them to the permanent record because they’re fragmentary, unfinished, and disorganized. But why does it matter?

In part, it’s because I’m self-centered and in possession of (perhaps possessed by) an overthinky brain. But also, what I write here is important because making sense of the thoughts in my head and putting them into language is how I understand myself — because these words are all that I am.

My words aren’t just all I am to you, but my words are all I am. Full stop.

The extended self, which is what we normally think of when we think about ourselves, is really a story. It’s the story of what’s happened to the body over time.
PAUL BROKS, Ph.D., Neuropsychologist

Sure, the story we tell others is important — it’s how we construct our identities to those around us. But more importantly, the stories we tell inside our own heads, the stories we tell ourselves are what create (and recreate) our sense of self. And it’s not a static thing — it’s happening all the time.

Language is an ongoing information processing. It’s a constant reminder: I am, this is my name, this is all the data related to me, these are my likes & dislikes, these are my beliefs, I am an individual, I’m a single, I am a solid, I’m separate from you…
JILL BOLTE TAYLOR, Ph.D. Neuroanatomist

Because language is “ongoing information processing,” my sense of self is constantly being written and rewritten in language I choose (consciously or otherwise) to create my own understanding of myself and the world around me. Committing that language to written text — writing it all down here — is important because I’m writing my story. I’m writing my reality. I’m writing myself.

V.S. Ramachandran, Ph.D. (Director of the Center for the Brain and Cognition, Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program, University of California, San Diego) suggests “the evolution of introspective consciousness” is what separates us from other animals. Half a million years ago, humans evolved to be able to take information about the material world into our heads, divide it up into “tokens,” and turn those tokens into abstractions (separately or in combination).

We gather knowledge about the material world through the human senses, we process it through language (written, visual, symbolic, etc.), and we construct abstractions in words.

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty critiques prevailing philosophical theories that compared the human mind to a mirror that reflects reality (to varying degrees of success). Instead, Rorty argues the human mind produces reality, constructing it in language and in vocabularies that are adopted or abandoned according to their usefulness.

Rorty revisits (and expands) the idea in “The Contingency of Language” (in Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity).

We need to make a distinction between the claim that the world is out there and the claim that truth is out there. To say that the world is out there, that it is not our creation, is to say, with common sense, that most things in space and time are the effects of causes which do not include human mental states. To say that truth is not out there is simply to say that where there are no sentences there is no truth, that sentences are elements of human languages, and that human languages are human creations.
Truth cannot be out there – cannot exist independently of the human mind – because sentences cannot so exist, or be out there. The world is out there, but descriptions of the world or not. Only descriptions of the world can be true or false. The world on its own – unaided by the describing activities of human beings – cannot. (4-5)
[If] we could ever become reconciled to the idea that most of reality is indifferent to our descriptions of it, and that the human self is created by the use of vocabulary rather than being adequately or inadequately expressed in a vocabulary, then we should at last have assimilated what was true in the Romantic idea that truth is made rather than found. What is true about this claim is just that languages are made rather than found, and that truth is the property of linguistic entities, of sentences. (7)
RICHARD RORTY, Contingency, Irony, Solidarity.

That’s why it matters… because I’m constructing reality. It matters because I’m writing the self… myself.

While I have no intentions of “getting it right” (that isn’t possible), I need to figure it all out and understand what it means in my own head… and I need to do it in a way that feels fair, in a way I can live with.

I have to get the story (my story) straight before I can find peace with bringing this particular chapter to a close.


Paul Broks, Ph.D., Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology, Plymouth University, UK; author of Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology. Interview from “Who Am I?” Radiolab. Feb. 4, 2005. WNYC Radio.
Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., Neuroanatomist, Indiana University School of Medicine, Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center; author of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey. Interview from “Words,” Radiolab, Sept. 10, 2008. WNYC Radio.
Rorty, Richard. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. 2nd Print., with Corrections. ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1980.
—. The Consequences of Pragmatism. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982).
—. Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1989.
Feb 052015
 

nibsI imagined picking up the pens would be a pleasant distraction — a temporary, meaningless focus in an otherwise cluttered brain. I thought practicing calligraphy would be relaxing.

It isn’t.

I don’t do moderation.

I’m all or nothing, always or never. I am falling or flying.

What used to be my dining room is littered with ink pots, pens, nibs, empty cartridges, parchment, rulers, markers, and pads of paper.

My nails are ruined, and my fingertips are stained black, crimson, and blue. As soon as one stain fades, another takes its place. My hand spasms, my fingers curl.

I can’t just practice for the sake of practice — I struggle with the repetition of strokes and angles. I abandon alphabets midway to scrawl his name, or my name, but never our names together — never on the same page.

I can’t write anything important, so I write nonsense… beautifully. It’s as close as I can get to finishing a thought. I’m left with ink-bruised fingers and page after page of beautiful nothings.

workspace-calligraphy

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