when the status quo frustrates.

Old Folks

Friday, July 16th, 2010

The other day I did a volunteer show at a local old person’s day center. A guitarist I know works there, and that was handy, because he knew all the songs they would like. He warned me not to get too jazzy with my piano stylings — so I stayed pretty bland and inoffensive (at first, anyway). The staff put the lyrics up on a big board, and everyone sang along. They really sang, these old folks! Music gives us life.

Most of the audience were in their 80s and 90s, with a sprinkling of younger tykes in their fresh faced 70s or even younger. We played for one hour, then I talked a little bit with the audience. I was a bit of a novelty for them. One of the very oldest wanted me to come over and shake her hand, so I did. Pretty soon I was shaking the hands of everyone in the room. Men and women all wanted me. I was like Santa Claus. Some of their eyes teared up as I held their hands. One woman gripped my hand like a vice– surprising strength– and shook it back and forth as she sang me an up-tempo song I couldn’t understand (my Japanese isn’t quite there yet), then blew me a kiss. One pulled me over, then gestured for a female nurse I didn’t know to come over, and pointed at her belly, and proudly said “She’s pregnant.”

I don’t think there is any special magic to me that got these kind of strong and sometimes childlike reactions. It’s nice to think I am particularly good or virtuous, but that’s just not it. I bet it’s the same anytime anyone from outside comes in and does a similar kind of activity with them. I think it’s just that some of these old folks are starving. The only thing I can think of that would make me cry from a handshake with a complete stranger is if I just didn’t get enough handshakes.

I’m not sure whose fault it is, exactly. It’s easy to blame it on the culture which worships youth, but then again, “culture” is a gestalt, not really decided by anyone in particular. In a way, if there’s a youth culture which ignores old people, the old people are the ones who helped to put it in place. Few of us like to think about getting old, and surely they were no exception back before suddenly they were.

My grandfather died about five years ago. A couple of years before he died, due to problems with mobility and internal juiciness (I think that’s the technical term, anyhow), he had to start wearing a diaper again. He had an “accident” once while I was visiting with family. He was a very taciturn man, so what he said to me in the aftermath got branded into my memory. “It sucks getting old,” he said.

He was right, of course. And let’s not also forget that age needn’t even come into play for life to suck and then you die. But then again, if you spin it right, this fact can be a genuine source of strength.

(EDIT: That last link should have been this one. However, the one I put by mistake is also excellent.)

Here’s the great Ben Webster and Teddy Wilson playing the jazz standard “Old Folks”. Ben Webster is crying as he plays because he had just learned that his mentor Johnny Hodges was dead. It’s an extraordinary moment to have actually ended up on film.

Yes, Virgil, Men and Women Can Be Friends

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The Person of Honor at my wedding was my male friend, PE. PE in have been close friends for a long time now. At no point in our long friendship; a friendship that has included sleeping over at one another’s house, sharing hotel beds, walking around in the moonlight and getting really drunk, has there been anything that could be construed as sexual or romantic. Not a kiss, not a hug that wasn’t platonic, not a lingering look that has set either of our hearts beating. Yes, my friend PE is straight.*

So, when people write articles describing a gender-neutral housing policy for dorm rooms, all I can think is “about damn time”. I know it would have been easier for me to find a male roommate that I knew in college rather than a female one**, not to mention a lot easier for Hubby and I get to get an apartment together earlier. But, of course, an article like this has to bring out the people who apparently think the relationships I have with my male friends are fictitious, whom the only reason that a male and a female would room together would be because they wanted to have sex with each other.

Where does this belief come from, exactly? Nobody I know my age lacks for mix-gendered friends. Heck, as near as I can tell, even my parents and my in-laws have mixed-gendered friends. We are not leopards, whom only come in contact with each other for sex. We are social creatures that mingle all the time. If you don’t have that urge before you move in together, I’m telling you snoring, bad breath, bed-head and uncapped toothpaste tubes are not going to generate a deep and abiding lust.

Will some boyfriends/ girlfriends room together? Absolutely***. Will there be relationships where there is underlying sexual tension that will be released? Again, absolutely, but not near as much as the comments seem to think. The dire predictions of uncontrollable fucking, destroyed grades, et cetera are based in fairy tale land****. I also think that the number of romantic couples that will want to move into together are actually much smaller than people think. Most college students are not ready to live with their significant other, and the ones that are already do.

College students are adults. I realize that people seem to dispute this all the time, but they are. If they want to have a roommate who’s of the opposite gender- let them. In one’s life, we have to navigate all sorts of different relationships. Fear-mongering about how “men can’t help it” and “women are helpless” are wrong, stupid, and damaging cliches.

*I’ve also had former boyfriends whom I’m good friends with and our contact is now non-sexual. I have also had friends where there WAS sexual tension, and for a variety of reasons, we never acted on it and still stay good friends. I also have had friends where we do occasionally fuck on top of the things that make us friends. There are a wide variety of relationships that I have, and have had, that forcing me to room with females did not get rid of. Heck, one of the sexual tension ones was because my female roommate was straight and I really liked her body.
**Though playing roommate-roulette actually worked with me. I had studious, neat, and mostly gone female roommates.
*** And good for them. This would definitely cut-out all of the negotiation and scheduling with roommates that having sex on college takes right now.
****The same place where the ’50s was a golden era filled with upright, moral people.

Things That Are Different and Things That Are the Same

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

The wild-eyed woman-hating that apparently characterized this year’s crop of Superbowl ads got me thinking–what do people who make a point of denying that wild-eyed woman-hating really exists in America have to say about it..? Nothing, as far as I could tell–and I don’t blame them; there isn’t much they could say, though I speculated that maybe one or two would capitalize on it as a much-needed backlash against all dem bitchez! or possibly note that the characterization of men as mindless Neanderthals that frequently accompanies ads denigrating women is pretty insulting to men, too.

But in the midst of my aimless perusal of Men’s Rights-type sites, I stumbled across this article: 10 Lies Men Tell Themselves in Order to Stay in Abusive Relationships with their Wives or Girlfriends. I was struck by how very many of the Lies Men Tell Themselves appeared to be very similar, if not identical, to the Lies Women Tell Themselves in Order to Stay In Abusive Relationships. Perhaps not a dazzling revelation–abuse is abuse, regardless of the demographics of the abuser and abusee–but then, that’s also too simplistic of a statement to make. Some forms of abuse really don’t happen much without pre-existing factors that facilitate them; for example, while both parent-on-child and child-on-parent physical abuse does occur, it occurs far more often in the former case due to size disparity, economic imbalance, psychological dominance overwhelmingly in favor of the parent, etc. etc.

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Depression and Weird Moments

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

A friend of mine, the other day, told me, “You know, except for a few weird moments, I’d never know you were depressed.”

Of course, those “weird moments” are probably the one in which they catch me looking longingly at the point of a knife or a phone call in the middle of the night where I sob out all of my existential angst.

But, if anything, that about sums up what depression is for everyone around me- a few weird moments. I still go out, I still go to work, I still smile and laugh and joke. When other people see me, I make sure that I do all of the hygiene that’s appropriate for a human being. I’m still logical (or as much as any one human being is). I still care about the world around me, even as it continues to baffle me. Depression doesn’t make you less intelligent. Or, for that matter, more intelligent. The “tortured genius” stereotype is wrong on so many levels.

I only have a mild case of depression. What this means is when I went to visit my shrinks, they didn’t put me under surveillance when I told them that I was suicidal. When I got frustrated with having to talk to them, it meant that I could say some pretty little lies about finding the value of living and I could stop seeing them without any trouble from the university* or the hospital.

But, what it means to me is inside my head I have a torture device. I have a brain that likes to say, on an endless loop, about how much better everyone would be if I were dead. It likes to say about how stupid I am, how arrogant I am, how cruel, ugly, clumsy, useless, talentless, and disgusting I am. And as evidence it brings up every memory for every embarrassing thing that has ever happened to me, from the tiny to the huge. Then it tells me I’m selfish and weak for wanting to die. This loop is powered by my energy and desire, so every time it goes around in my head, I have a little less of each to go about and do the day-to-day life.
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Why Virtue Really Is Its Own Reward And Other Stupid Cliches That Actually Have a Grain of Truth In Them

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

So, as most everyone knows by now, I recently got divorced because my husband left me for his ex-wife. Now, what I haven’t shared globally is that my husband actually left her about a month after he left me. (No, he did not move back in with me, nor did I stop the divorce proceedings–sorry, folks, but one must draw the line somewhere*, eh?) I did give him a hand in moving out, though, for the simple reasons that I was both (a) free and (b) had an SUV in which he could transport his belongings. Now, this moveout took place on a Monday afternoon, when his ex-wife/soon-to-be-ex-roommate was still at work–perhaps not too suspicious in of itself, but when he asked me to park out of sight behind the building and then proceeded to start shifting items at a pace that could only be termed frantic, I did feel I had to ask, “Uh, D?”

“Yeah?” he puffed, wrestling a hamper of haphazardly piled clothes into the back of my Jeep.

“…she doesn’t know you’re moving out, does she?”

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Socrates Nosferatu

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

This story is not about vampires.

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The Passion of Ayn Rand

Monday, April 27th, 2009

That is the title of her biography, written by one of her ex-adherents who also happened to be the wife of a man Ayn had a long-term affair with–given all that, one would expect the tone of the book to be rather more unsympathetic than otherwise. However, that’s not really the case. I read it over a decade ago for a college class–the one and only women studies course I ever took required us to choose and write an in-depth paper about an influential woman of the first half of the twentieth century. I chose Ayn Rand, for three reasons: first, because she fit the criteria as presented; second, because I have a rebellious streak and knew full well that we were expected to choose a feminist, regardless of what the criteria explicitly stated; and third, because I was genuinely interested in the woman behind Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.

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Faithless

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

(Clearly it’s Atheism Day at PunkAssBlog.)

When I was seven years old, I thought that sunbeams breaking through the rainclouds was Jesus (or God, I wasn’t too clear on the distinction back then) looking down at me. Seven-year-olds are pretty egocentric; it never really occurred to me at hundreds of other people at the very minimum were in visual range of the exact same meteorological phenomenon and therefore, Jesus (or God!) was equally looking down at them.

I liked going to church back then. I loved to sing, and one thing that Southern Baptist congregations do well is belt ‘em out in praise of the Lord–every church I went to with my grandparents back in those days had a near-professional quality choir. I wasn’t as keen on the actual sermon, especially when the pastor would start pounding on the podium and shouting (Southern Baptists like to do that too). But my grandma, when the shouting and pounding would start, would cuddle me close and even let me rest my head on her lap if I wanted to, and that was good enough for me. I did notice, of course, that my mom never went with us, but as my mom made a habit of avoiding anything that went on in the mornings any day of the week period, I didn’t take any special note of it.

My grandma had bought me a children’s bible–I’ve never seen anything like it since and I would frankly love to find another copy of the one she got me someday; the artwork alone was completely fascinating and gorgeous to my seven-year-old mind, not like the sloppy crap I’ve mostly happened across that passes for children’s bibles illustrations since. However, I also haven’t really seen such a gruesome and accurate rendition of a lot of the harder-core Old Testament stories in children’s bibles since then, either–more modern versions seem to skip over the majority of the Old Testament entirely and spend a lot more time focusing on Jesus. My bible, as I recall, did indeed contain the stories of Lot’s wife turning into a pillar of salt and Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac.

By the time I was twelve, I was feeling rather more iffy about organized Christianity, and actually about the idea that Christianity was the only one and true faith, but I still unquestioningly believed in some sort of deity that oversaw us all. I did want to find a place of worship to inspire me, as well. I went to church with various friends over the next few years, but never really found what I was looking for. Amusingly enough, the best fit I found–which honestly was only that because it was the church the greatest number of my friends attended–when I spoke to the pastor about possibly joining the congregation, he told me that he didn’t think I was ready to make that kind of decision. (I remember how bad I felt about that at the time–what evil had he somehow sensed in me that would have led him to discourage me so? At the time, I was a very nice girl. Who knows?)

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How to end violence

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Hint: it doesn’t involve wearing t-shirts like this.

 

Human beings are actually predisposed to avoid violence with other humans. The trouble only starts when humans stop thinking of other human beings as humans. “Out-groups”, “othering”, “tribalism”– they’re all words for essentially the same thing.

Pseudospeciationists can suck my balls.

Previous research seemed to suggest white people are just naturally, uncontrollably racist on an unconscious level, since by showing them pictures of black people, the little amygdala in their brain immediately responds with: be vigilant! But, social psychologist Susan Fiske discovered an intriguing way to counteract this:

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A message to violent smegwads everywhere

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

Hey douchebags, listen up, it’s strategy time.

If you’d all just be a little bit smurfier to the ladyfolk, maybe we’d all get Some O Dat a whole lot more often.

Seven or eight years ago I read The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. It had a profound effect on my thinking about the human race. He made the ultimate point that humans may pride themselves as being something other than animals, but at the end of the day, we are animals too. The instinctual urges that we think of as just part of an animal’s unavoidable nature affect us just as strongly. Different animals may have slightly different sets of instincts, but the fact is we have them too (and how!), despite our penchant for dressing them up with highly intelligent, baroque justifications.

Now, one tidbit from the book actually seemed to argue against Morris’s thesis in a small way (if I recall correctly), which was when he asserted that humans are the only species that engages in intra-species killing, also known as “murder”. And indeed, this was the conventional scientific wisdom until years after The Naked Ape was published, when Jane Goodall reported that the peace-loving chimpanzees she was famous for observing also seem to enjoy a spot of the old intra-species ultra-violence every now and then, as well. Thus providing more support for Morris’s thesis after all.

I am not down with whoever staged this photo

But there is some hope for us yet, according to neurologist and professional baboon observer Robert Sapolsky. In the early 80s, a baboon group he was observing in Kenya lucked into a garbage dump from a tourist lodge that had expanded its operations. Every morning, the combative, anti-social alpha baboons would raid the meat in the dump, and eat it all up before the more mellow baboons could get to it. And then… an amazing plot twist.

Tainted meat killed the majority of the baboon group… but also, every single one of the aggressive asshole Alphas.

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Musing on Flirtation

Monday, March 9th, 2009

I don’t flirt. No, I really don’t. It is a behavioral dynamic of mine that has frustrated many of the single young female party animal types I have gone clubbin’ with throughout the years (and possibly any number of men, though I have no direct complaints to verify that hypothesis as I do in regards to the ladies). In a funny kind of way, it’s a lot like being a voluntary nondrinker in a crowd of drinkers–some of them earnestly try to enlighten you on what you’re missing out on (and get really pushy about you “giving it a try, c’mon!”), some of them simply roll their eyes in amused contempt at your perceived prudery and/or cowardice, and the rest actually get angry at you at the moral judgment of their behavior that they have decided your refusal to engage in the same behavior must be demonstrating.

There are several reasons that I don’t flirt. One, I am by nature a reserved and introverted person. I can be warm and outgoing–it’s a skill I have perfected over the years, to the point that, now, I am generally laughed at if I happen to mention in passing that I am indeed desperately shy and have been my entire life. I had to develop these skills–they are a prerequisite for succeeding in America, land of the worshipful regard for the Good Team Player. However, it exhausts me and I am always quite tense and cringing inside, regardless of the perfection of the facade I present (the unmistakeable signs of social anxiety, as I’m sure all my fellow-sufferers are desperately familiar with as well). So, flirting is simply another level of a type of social interaction that I have had to force myself to perfect and engage in for going on decades now–clearly, hitching it up another notch when I don’t have to is not going to appeal to me.

Two, I don’t dare flirt. It is highly inadvisable for me to ever do anything to encourage a man to think that I might possibly have any carnal interest in him whatsoever, now or ever. On a really regular basis, my mere presence in the visual field of a man–the fact that I’m (a) physically nearby and (b) breathing and (c) not immediately going elsewhere–is enough, apparently, to give him hope that I might possibly want to have sex with him someday. If I so much as make eye contact, more than half the time, that’s enough to have him practically jump into my lap and start telling me all about the business/boat/truck/stocks/house/etc. he owns and/or what great shape he’s currently in the process of getting into. (And God forbid I should crack the smallest of polite smiles.) I really, really don’t dare do anything more that might possibly be construed as encouragement. And no, this is not just a problem in bars or dance clubs, as one might suppose–I just started a new job and it’s already starting to rear its irritating head there as an issue. (Aside: one would think that the fact that I am clearly being paid to hang out there might be a clue that I am not actually wondering around the job site just hoping to stumble across my dream man, but apparently, the hope in some breasts never dies.)

Three, I have very strict internal standards in regards to fidelity, both sexual and emotional. If I am in a relationship where we have both agreed to be exclusive, I can’t be morally comfortable with even the appearance of myself giving any romantic or sexual encouragement to another person. I know that a lot of folks are devoted to the “fun” of flirting and will likely take deep offense at the idea that there’s any real harm to it–but honestly, I’ve seen it turn out to be harmful in the vast majority of situations where the flirtation goes both ways. (Admittedly, not when it goes one way only, but then, what you’re doing by flirting with the unresponsive is being an irritating jerk–this is regardless of your gender.) I am not opening that door, thanks but no thanks. And it must be admitted that I have spent the vast majority of my sexually active years in one “exclusive” relationship or another. Flirting has come up when I have been uncommitted and therefore free to do whatever I want, but if I am aware that the would-be flirter is involved in one himself (and he quite often is), the same strict standards will not allow me to engage in that behavior with him. I can’t bring myself to knowingly encourage behavior that might be damaging to someone else–there are plenty of unattached men in the world with which to fulfill any flirtatious desires I might have. There can be no justification for engaging in it with someone at another’s expense.

What do you think of flirting? Do you enjoy it, and if so under what circumstances? Are you unusually good or unusually bad at it? Has flirting ever gotten you in trouble, either with others or with yourself? Share, share!

(This is all Hugo’s fault, by the way.)

Woman as Knight Errant: Escapism for Her vs. Escapism for Him

Saturday, September 13th, 2008

Photobucket

I already derailed the comment thread on Hugo’s first post of three about the book Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men by Michael Kimmel, and I flatly refuse to do it again to his second post, darn it! So I’m going to express myself here instead. (Amanda has another take on Hugo’s second post over at Pandagon as well.)

The title of Hugo’s second post, “Escape, Entitlement, and Empowerment: young men and the ‘Four Ps’” pretty much says it all (the “Four Ps” being Pot, Playstation, Porn and Poker). Focusing in on the “Playstation” P, he quotes a few paragraphs of Kimmel–as a “Playstation P” woman, I was fascinated to try and analyze where I coincided with the “guys” and where (if anywhere) I took off on my own, and what meaning that might have in terms of gendered arguments such as the one below. Let’s examine it!

Because, as it turns out, the fantasy world of media is both an escape from reality and an escape to reality — the reality that many of these guys would secretly like to inhabit. Video games, in particular, provide a way for guys to feel empowered. In their daily lives guys often feel that they don’t measure up to the standards of the Guy Code — always be in control, never show weakness, neediness, vulnerability — and so they create ideal versions of themselves in fantasy. The thinking is simple: if somebody messes with your avatar, you blow him away. It’s a fantasy world of Manichean good and evil, a world in which violence is restorative and actions have no consequences whatsoever.

This doesn’t resonate with me at all. It isn’t that I don’t feel I always have to be in control and never show weakness, neediness and vulnerability–quite the opposite! As a woman in a heavily male-dominated profession, I must show more control and far less weakness/neediness/vulnerability than even your average guy can get away with, if I want to be taken at all seriously. In my personal life, as a feminist single mother raising two sons, again, the pressure to provide such an invulnerable role model is constant and unrelenting. However, I have no urge to physical violence–I rarely ever have such an urge, except in situations where I am directly physically attacked by another person. Therefore, I find no psychological freedom or release in the knowledge that oh hey, I CAN kick that sumbitch’s ass here! Woot! As a matter of fact, the need to suppress weakness, neediness and vulnerability is no different in the virtual world of Warcraft than it is in the real world on Earth, not for me. I am a woman in a MMORPG (for all you noobs, that’s a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game”); I’d better not act like some kind of pussy if I’m in a group! The lack of consequences does not appeal to me either, again, as there are certainly game consequences for acting like a dumbass–the only “consequences” that could be said to be escaped are, if you choose to massacre other players or computer-generated characters, you won’t go to jail. Since I have no urge to do so, there is no relief of any suppressed feelings for me.

They’re getting a parallel education to the formal curriculum — complete with its own Three Rs: Relaxation from the weight of adult demands and of the rules of social decorum (also now known as political correctness); Revenge, against those who have usurped what you thought was yours; and, Restoration to your rightful entitled position in the world.

Oh now, Relaxation I understand! World of Warcraft is most definitely an escape from the real world, with its stupid obsession with minutae and social interaction–it’s puzzle-solving and ass-kicking fun, pure and simple and wholly engrossing. Revenge…again, that does not resonate. Revenge against whom? Those I might possibly want revenge against are still quite in power in the mythical World–there are kings, commanders, wealthy merchants, etc–the World is just as hierarchical and biased in favor of those with money and power as the real world. Now, WoW does offer you a far more straighforward path to success than the real world does–it is the most basic and pure distillation of the highest ideals of capitalism and the Protestant work ethic–as long as you are willing to buckle down and spend lots of time and effort at the earning, you will guaranteed rise to a position of great power and wealth, without the unfairnesses of pre-existing family and coinage and irrational prejudices that beset us in reality. I do quite appreciate that…but there really is no revenge factor there. It’s much more along the lines of the first R, relaxation–not having to navigate pitfalls to success that are a function of the real world and none of my personal making.

Restoration–oh yes, that DOES resonate with me, though after reading the next paragraph, I realize that I have finally hit upon the strange dichotomy that is the real gendered difference in the “Playstation” P.

They spend so much of their lives being bossed around by other people– teachers, parents, bosses–it’s really a relief to be the meanest, most violent, and vengeful SOB around. And they spend so much of their lives in a world that is, if not dominated by women, at least is characterized by women’s presumed equality, that it’s nice to turn back the clock and return to a time when men ruled — and no one questioned it.

This is almost funny.

Here is how it would look if it were rewritten for me.

She spends so much of her life being bossed around by men–bosses, politicians, religious leaders–it’s really a relief to be in a place where her gender is only a matter of aesthetic choice; it in no way affects her career, her autonomy or her physical abilities both real and perceived by others. No matter what others in the World say or think or even try to do, they cannot discriminate against her on the basis of her gender–she can be and do anything she wants, finally and incontrovertibly–the most anyone can do is spit a few obscenities, and that is easily remedied by simply placing them on Ignore.

Whereas the “guys” apparently want to be conscienceless reavers, motivated by and answering sheerly and only to their grossest whim at the moment and are therefore freed by that state, what I want to be, as it turns out, is a hero. Women aren’t heroes, you know. There is one form of “heroism” and one only that women are encouraged (we might even say “forced,” betimes) to pursue, and that is the “heroism” of complete self-immolation. Women are lauded for sacrificing every personal inclination to further the ambitions of their husbands and devoting themselves to raising children. The “heroic” woman is one who lives in a permanent and driven state of personal servitude to men and children. The ultimate sacrifice, of giving your life for your freedom, the freedom of others, an ideal–women are actively discouraged from any form of that heroism except that of dying in the name of pregnancy. A woman’s heroism is never exciting, never results in great power or prestige or personal gain or adulation–a woman’s heroism is by definition hidden behind those surrounding her, done in as much silence and humility as possible, and always in the channel of her reproductive and homemaking function.

In the World, I can be a hero in all the ways men are encouraged and lauded to be heroes–I can use my force of arms to defend the weak; I can choose any number of professions to further my defense of the weak; I can gain great fame and riches in pursuit of my heroism and my name will be known throughout the realms. (Seriously!) My reproductive function, in fact, does not exist at all.

So, interestingly enough, in an unregulated fantasy environment, I aspire to the ideal of heroic manhood–that is what I find so freeing and liberating–and guys aspire to the ideal of amoral piracy–that is what they find so freeing and liberating–apparently no one aspires to the ideal of self-sacrificing womanhood–er, surprise surprise..? Probably the most intriguing (and distressing) aspect of this is how said guys can perceive themselves as living in a society where women control them so strongly while I perceive myself living in a society where men control me so strongly…the SAME SOCIETY..? A puzzle. I expect I will give it a lot more thought and perhaps a follow-up post will be forthcoming–stay tuned!