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29 September
tomorrow is my birthday
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I really don't get this thing with adults and laying claim to their ages. It's as if birthdays become verboten after you reach the ripe age of 21.

I have some important life rules on that subject.

1. Thirty is absolutely not old. Not even remotely.

2. Twenty-two, when you've graduated from college and run out of birthdays that grant you new freedoms, might seem old, but it's not, either.

3. People should never, ever make posters that say "lordy, lordy, look who's forty". It's a forced rhyme, and you should really only use those in truly clever poetry.

4. Not having some form of celebration of yourself during the course of each year (birthday or otherwise) is a sad, sad way to live. You rock, trust me.

5. There is absolutely nothing in your life that you must accomplish by a certain age. The only thing you can be positive about is that your life and your expectations will change.

Of course, I made up all these rules as I just wrote them, but they do represent my general birthday philosophy. I have the opposite problem from most adults, a trait I doubtless carried over from my [only] childhood: I totally build up the birthday, which makes it very hard for a single day (all too often a work day) to live up to my expectations.

I have another rule for that.

6. All birthday or birthday-like celebrations should be a week in duration. Hey, if the gods get weeklong festivals, why can't you?

So, the birthday actually started yesterday and culminates this Saturday night, as all good dionysian festivals should, with a semi-raucous party and lots of food.

 

intervention & transformation
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Over the past week or so, we've had some debate going on over the topic of rape trials, which resulted in a couple of our more aggressive debaters kind of discounting each others' experiences. While it's hard to tell if that's someone's intent over this medium, it certainly provoked some thoughts for several people. Kerri expands on a related topic in this week's question: (to summarize) How do we get past competition over our various experiences to focus on strategy?

Vic took this question one way and got all sorts of brilliant around it. I agree. We can't expect feminists to all be of one mind. That would be creepy.

We will never share identical priorities or identical experiences, nor should we. I think it's important that every feminist recognize there is no single feminist agenda. There is only your own agenda.

The purpose of aligning yourself with a group is that, at least in part, you believe that group shares your purpose. You believe it's worthwhile to accept that some people in the group will disagree with you, others will be outright stupid, and that the group can still be useful and productive.

I don't think Kerri is advocating feminine groupthink when she talks about power and sisterhood, though. What I get from her question is something more important - when do we stop having to share and get the hell on with the real work?

To take an example. Say, I was once falsely accused of shoplifting, and you're a small business person whose business is jeopardised by shoplifters. We both agree shoplifting is bad, right? Then there is really no need for us to debate the relative values of our experiences if what we're trying to do is stop shoplifting. Now, if we're discussing appropriate punishment for false accusations, there is some point to listening to each others' experiences - simply as input to assess how to look at those accusations in the context of two real victims, but there is no use in dredging up these experiences in details except to vent, to unload. And there's absolutely no reason those experiences need to be weighed against each other or need to prevent us from recognising our common desire.

That's a problem I think feminists and others in the political environment encounter too often. Maybe in part because of the whole consciousness-raising background, we tend to see personal experience as the best indicator of the value of a theory or opinion. Personally, I think that's foolish. I think it's foolish that politicians (and people in general) are more responsive to moving stories than to rational arguments.

It's almost as if your political perspective needs to have the weight of your moving personal experience behind it. None of my experience has been particularly tragic or moving (huzzah for that, I say), and I guess that makes my opinions less valid (actually, statistically it does - the fact that I write letters to congressfolk based on theory and research rather than my sob story makes my letters less likely to be read in any detail).

Foolishness.

But not a foolishness that is solely or inherently part of feminism.

So, right. How? How do we pass over that foolishness to collaboration?

I think Vic had an excellent point about celebrating all the things and people that represent feminist successes (be they "feminist" or not). And on a person to person level, it's alright to let people try to argue experience sometimes, if only to get it out so they can move on to the next step - the what do we do about it step. The challenge to anyone is that you must recognize this foolishness in yourself and stop it in order to really collaborate.

It's hard. We are all narrow-minded asses in some form or other, especially when sharing our valued and painful experiences.

 

23 September
hurricane
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So. How often does a hurricane hit this town? Pretty much never.

But yes, last week, the entire state of Virginia was pretty much bathed in it. The office closed for two point five days, my house was without power for four days, there was flooding and there were falling trees and just all sorts of craziness.

Lucky for us the power outage was really the only problem we suffered at our house. Lots of stories of things collapsed by falling trees and power lines dangling for days and days. Yikes.

And guess where I was in the midst of this hurricane? At a conference in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Right in tourist central in a city you'd expect to get more severely hit than Richmond by a big fat water storm. There was quite a bit of truly eerie flooding, but the city seemed to leap right back up.

So I was forced to weather the hurricane eating room service and drinking with my colleagues. Oh, and occasionally shopping. It was horrible.

Er, well. Maybe not so horrible.

In any case, we're pulled through. We have a collection of very interesting unspoilable groceries to eat this week, and I had to bring my own drinking water to work, but those things just feel like some small part of me is camping.

The rest of you in the Carolina-Maryland area, I hope you're all safe and sound.

 

the populace is your pal and dean wins
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It seems to me that the key difference between most democrat- and republican-identified elements of the Populace At Large (aka your PAL) is their belief in which side of the head must dominate.

See - most people are pretty centrist in thinking. They're for social equality as a matter of course, no matter how stereotypical their views of other people; they think of capitalism in terms of the American Dream, meaning they believe that, while economic inequalities exist, most other people could achieve some measure of success if they tried; and they think that pretty much all aspects of the government should be run like a reasonable business - the most benefit for the least cost. Except, of course, when they're scared - which is probably why so many people on both sides of the political fence have become much upbeat about defense spending in the past couple of years. Democrats appeal to most people's social mores, and republicans to their pockets.

Sometimes we have a rash of people voting their social mores, and other times they vote their pockets. When pockets are full, mores are important. When they're not...

Democrats running for office seem to grasp that, which is why they're always sounding rather vacillatey about things like defense spending and taxes. It increases the electability of a democrat when pockets aren't quite so full. You have to placate the PAL in order to get elected, and I suspect you come to share their centrist perspective over time even if you didn't start out in the middle.

At the end of the last century, though, democrats were pushing a social agenda, but republicans were touting economics. Despite little difference between their economic agenda, the republicans kept winning because they told the PAL that's what they cared about.

And so we ended up with this climate of creepy conservatism for the past few years, a climate that the PAL was really never after. When Bush does things like declare metaphorical war on Roe v. Wade and continuously attack civil liberties, though, he starts getting the PAL thinking about how their pockets still aren't that full, and they really disagree with this idiot's social policies. Because most people really do think fairly liberally about what one should and shouldn't be allowed to do, no matter what they say the rest of the time.

Enter Dean. Kerry. Edwards. Et al. The lookalike democratic candidates with social agenda and fuzzy thoughts on economics. If Bush continues to position himself as creepily conservative and doesn't deliver any real economic win (which he probably doesn't even have power to do), one of these guys will be president. I'm sure of it.

And it's okay with me. I don't have any passion for one dem. or another right now, but it would be an improvement. Four years ago I was hot for Ralph, but now GW has set the bar so low, anything less than creepy would be an improvement.

 

19 September
movement conflict
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I read something in Genderqueer that highlights for me the sorts of frustrating challenges posed by a multi-movement radicalism.

Woman will always be gender queer... woman an inherently fragile project... Feminist and lesbian communities have been deeply unreceptive to [a host of transfolk and their concerns] who seem to threaten the very foundation of woman. p. 58, Riki Wilchins

So. I'm pretty sure that Riki must know and speak to some feminists. And I wonder that this is what gets heard from feminists' mouths to the trans community. What I hear is that - apart from the female separatist environments of a variety of Womyn's festivals - feminists are either not aware of or seriously challenged to deal with trans issues.

I think we're working on not aware of on many fronts; this applies to fat politics, race politics, queer politics, class, etc. as much as to trans politics. Where feminists are white, hetero (or lesbian, honestly), middle class women in the US, we are likely as any group to assume that our personal issues are the issues everyone in our activism must also have. Eh, not true. But I think an intrinsic facet of every human being's politics.

It angers me that the trans community as represented by Wilchins could be so off base on this one. The challenge transgendered folk pose to feminists is not a challenge to the nature of woman - but rather a frequent lack of challenge to woman. If you're not a fairly radical feminist, chances are the only transfolk you know of are ones who claim to identify as a gender other than their biological sex and wish to change the biology or at least the outward appearance to match their insides.

I realize that is only one segment of the trans population, but it's the segment who show up in the mainstream and semi-mainstream media. And that segment is characterized by notions of "internal" gender that conflict dramatically with feminists on either side of the biological determinism fence.

As someone who doesn't have much truck with biological determinism, it's pretty core to my personal beliefs that gender roles aren't based on biology, and that any range of "gendered" behaviors should be acceptable. If you need to change your physical being to match some gendered behaviors you display or would like to display, that sounds a lot like stereotyping and pretty much fucks with my feminist ideology. And on the reverse side, if I were someone who thought motherhood was the biological and spiritual pinnacle of womanhood, and that men and women were inherently different, you'd still be fucking with my head. In that case, yes, maybe your gender-shifting (especially inasmuch as transpeople supercede gender) would challenge my idea of woman. But more feminists seem to fall on my side of the fence than the other.

It's not an easy question to answer. The standard definitions of "woman" and "man", "feminine" and "masculine - which are, in my opinion, 95% cultural - are at the heart of many transpeople's concepts of self (indeed, of many people's concept of self). And that does pit these two movements - both ostensibly about choice and gender - against each other.

It's akin to the question of "sexy" as considered by the fat and feminist communities disparately. Fat people fight to be allowed sexiness. Feminists fight to be allowed non-sexiness. As a fat person, sometimes I'd just like the boundaries of what is objectifiable and beautiful to be expanded; as a feminist, that's not enough for me. I need a complex world of sex and not-sex, a freedom to choose to be either.

The problem here is that the trans movement and the feminist movement seem too willing to just step away from the question of "woman", too willing to ignore the complex realm of gender that we could explore together. It's clear from the most exciting transfeminists that these two movements are more brilliant for being informed one by the other.

 

10 September
chick lit
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I cannot resist commenting on Revo's assessment of the chick lit genre (actually an expansion upon Hanne Blank's equally readable thoughts on same).

To summarize: I disagree.

I disagree with the notion that this form of entertainment literature isn't useful - is, in fact, even potentially harmful. Of course they're not serious literature - but harmful?

The chick lit novel, like the spy novel, the romance novel, the ghost-written sports stars' autobiography, is clearly a form of escapism. It's the hipper, trendier romance novel. It comes in ranges of sillinesses, from literate to after school special to inane. Like any silly brand of entertainment, a huge part of its value is in distraction from the daily grind. In the case of chick lit, that distraction is intriguingly couched in the very minutiae of life that one might presumably be trying to escape. Hmmm.

As a reader, I find that the silliest chick lit, on the rare occasions when it provokes reflection, tends to normalize whatever issues I might be experiencing. I mean, my job may be tough, but at least I'm not directionless like the women in the books. You feel for their stupidity, but they're charicatures of real people. No one is that screwed up over trivialities, ergo you, the reader, are less screwed up than these charicatures. And yet - the books always touch on the experience of being female in a "post-feminist" world - many of them show women balancing what they're "supposed to" want against what they do want (in both directions - some want independence, others want man bootay). The point is - you can relate, but at a safe and comfortable distance.

And yes, it does generally depict women having wacky adventures whilst dealing with the perennial manquest and presumed need for self-improvement. The characters are generally impossibly foolish yet oddly endearing, the situations absurdly farfetched yet trite. And no, almost no character ever suffers a great personal change and becomes less of an idiot through her experiences.

What does happen, though, is that the silly characters, like real women, learn (sometimes again and again) that they don't need to change their whole selves to find something of value. It's the message of Hans Christian Andersen's "Little Mermaid" buried under masses of credit card dept (presumed in some cases, explicit in others): you're alright just as you are. [The whole "he likes her just as she is" bit in Bridget Jones's Diary - the way it's completely, almost satirically belabored - highlights how much being alright as one is isn't the acceptable norm, for women particularly, but it also extends to men and is seen in some of the comparable books I'd call "men lit".] The women may not be people we want to model our lives on, but that's not the point: the point is, we don't need to model our lives on anyone. We're fine just as we are. [Well, the books that parallel the teen fiction concept where a girl loses a ton of weight or gets contact lenses over the summer and is then transformed from geek to chic don't say this, but they're peddling a different message - that you can be anything you like. As long as you like whatever's "normal".]

And, like all romance fiction, things turn out alright in the end. This is a very diverse genre, though - alright in the end can mean starting or ending a relationship, having nothing to do with relationships, overcoming some sort of immense personal trouble, or finding the right nail polish.

Of course, ultimately, I see a sort of sisterhood in these books. They deal with sometimes-trivial-sometimes-dead-serious issues that most straight [though there are chick-lit books that speak more to lesbian experience, the self-esteem agonies involved are much, much different] women encounter in some form or other as part of the mundaneities of life. They also serve as a sort of trading card you can share and giggle over with the real women (and suprisingly, the real women of multiple generations - I share books with my best friend, my mother, and my boss, for instance) in your life. They form a sort of fictional shared experience that can serve as overture to talking about the non-fictional shit we slog through.

And while Revo jokes that I shouldn't "ask her to read any more of them", the truth is that you can't see past the trivialities these books share without really becoming part of a community of readers, and coming to know a variety of these crazed fictional characters. It's rather like a cult that way, chick lit is.

 

by george, i think he's got it
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I've been saying for a very, very long time that I don't have much truck with reality in art. But my partner sees a slightly different story. His schtick has always been that one might do something abstract and expressive in the context of art (specifically theatre, of course), but that one must truly do the thing in question on the stage or page.

Really do it, he says, even if it's something as absurd as ripping a hole in the space-time continuum with your magic box (no, seriously, he actually says something like that).

I struggle with this idea a lot. Particularly since I don't enjoy the directing thing and he doesn't enjoy the acting thing and so mostly I have to attempt to do things his way to an extent.

It had never occurred to me that his problem might just be too much indoctrination in art that happens inside. Which is absurd. I mean, whatever sort of artist you may be, you are inherently presentational. To make art is to have an audience. Whatever "internal reality" or "motivation" (words we don't talk about a lot, but are influenced by - they're so present in the theatre world) you may be feeling, it's the outside of your work that the audience sees. What you Mean or Do (in the sense that I am "doing" opening a space-time portal on stage, for instance) matters to you, but not to them.

Not that we're thinking like the average theatre doer here in the first place, bu.

But. Over the past few months, he's come to see things differently. To recognize that the reality of theatre is in the fact that I, the actor, am there with you, the audience. You can't escape that reality. Not without mind-alteration of some form. And so creating reality internally as we do, or externally reproducing images of fake reality as most theatre and film does, is unnecessary. At least, secondary to the real reality of the actor, the floor, and the sky.

I am looking very much forward to a theatre in which my expressionistic tendencies can run free. I like to dance sometimes without doing anything.

 

in the "paper"
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I envy entertainment writers and marketing folk their ability to make anything sound mildly clever and amusing.

Even me!

That's right, we're in the [online equivalent of a] local paper this week. Which is, by the way, a big part of why I haven't been posting much. Not being in the paper, but the why behind it.

The company (all two of us) has been busy. And I've been busy at work. Thankless hours of toil and all that.

But look at that. We're in the paper.

And. Um, that poster looked a lot less juvenile and goth on the printed page. I swear.

 

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