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April 28, 2012

Iterative Incompleteness

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 12:02 am

Hm. I wonder what would happen if I just took some of the notes I text to myself all day and posted them here as is, rather than sticking them in a “Writing Notes” folder as fodder for blog posts I’m supposedly going to write some day and never do. Maybe having them somewhere I could reference would actually be more conducive to eventually writing said blog posts (or deciding I don’t need to.) The ideas might not make as much sense as they would if I took the time to contextualize and explicate but…whatever. I mean, what do I think this is, anyway?

These ideas are works in progress.

Here’s one from this afternoon:

The question is not: Is This Problematic? Yes, it’s problematic. We live in an oppressive systemic structure and, especially as people with any privilege in that structure, almost everything we do, think, say, read, watch, see and feel is going express of some kind of complicity in oppression culture.

The question is: In WHAT WAYS is this problematic? What impact is engaging with it in this way having on me, on the people I love, on my greater community, on people with less power along this vector than me, and on society in general to the best of my knowledge? What work am I doing around improving that knowledge? And how do I feel about the choices I’m making re: navigating (practically and emotionally) my interaction with this particular piece of culture, given the understanding that I can’t do everything by myself and that simply by being alive in the world I am necessarily going to hurt people?

Doing that kind of analysis is a lot of work and we don’t have the processing power to do it about everything in society all the time — but know WHY you’re making the choices you are about where to focus your awareness. Understand your methodology. Accept that you’re necessarily going to cause some destruction by living. Have the integrity and grace not to be in denial about that and to sit with genuine grief and despair around it sometimes. If “life is suffering”, then it is not only our own suffering but also other peoples’ suffering as caused by us. Everyone who’s alive in the world has to struggle with this, though. Take some solace in that.

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April 25, 2012

A Follow-Up: Eudaemonia

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 2:41 pm

Over the past few days, I’ve been thinking intently about ethics, the meaning of being, and eudaemonia (the Ancient Greek concept of “the Good life”) — which is, perhaps, where the ethical life and the personally meaningful life coincide.

I think, somewhat unintentionally, that I’ve come up with a preliminary answer to some of the questions I posed here about whether “emotional stability” is a virtue. I don’t have time to articulate my whole train of thought here. (Nor to define what “emotional stability” means, right now.) There are a lot of branches and this is just one of them. Plus, my headache is back, which means looking at the screen long enough to compose long essays is uncomfortable and makes me mentally foggy.

But for now and in short: I do not believe emotional stability is inherently a virtue. I do think that emotional stability, when used correctly, is one tool that can facilitate the practice of virtue — especially in a (practical or moral) crisis situation. (And simultaneously a tool that, when used poorly, can detract from Good practice. This misuse is similar, I think, to something maymay often describes as “Choosing the Shiny”.)

Therefore, I don’t believe that cultivating emotional stability is worthwhile for it’s own sake. There no ethical difference between being “regulated” and being “disregulated”. In fact, “extreme psychological states” can be fertile places for practice also; they’re simply less comfortable ones than “regulated” states. I do think it’s worthwhile for me to cultivate an understanding of how to access emotional stability. And to incorporate the cultivation of that knowledge into a practice toward Goodness, in order to develop an embodied ability to access it more easily when I choose to. Now, I want to think more about what that work looks like on the ground.

That’s all for now. Gonna go take some ibuprofen. ๐Ÿ™‚

ETA: This post brought to you by Really Obvious Things That I Need to Write Down So I’ll Have Them to Read When They Don’t Seem So Obvious. ๐Ÿ˜‰

April 24, 2012

A few questions.

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 1:31 am

ME: I keep feeling like, okay, I quit my job. That was this pretty dramatic move, practically and symbolically, and so now all these problems I was struggling with should be resolved, right? What I need to remember is that the reason I quit my job was because I was struggling with all this stuff that made it hard to work. If those problems were easy to resolve, I probably would’ve just resolved them rather than quitting my job with no other plan. So, maybe I should be a little more patient with myself.

HER: Right. The real difference is, now, working through that stuff is your project.

I can make a list here of all the things that I know — or believe that I know — help me feel emotionally stable. I’ve been meaning to do that for a little while, actually. But before I do that, some questions to muse over:

– What does “emotional stability” look like? What does that even mean to me?

– Is “emotional stability” a virtue?

– If not, then what do I value instead?

– If yes, is it a virtue in and of itself or as a means to something else?

– If the latter, what is it a means to and is there another way to get there?

– If the former, why?

– What are the times in my life that have felt the most “emotionally stable”? What are the times in my life that have felt the least “emotionally stable”? What was going on then?

FYI, I told my therapist today that I promise to call her if I’m seriously considering suicide. I also told her that I don’t actually think there’s a high likelihood that I’m a suicide risk and she told me she didn’t think so either. But I do tend to write about suicide a lot publicly. (I write about it much more often publicly than I do privately, for what that’s worth.) And I sometimes exhibit a number of symptoms that you’ll see on the little hotline cards. I do want to be able to write about both my suicidal thoughts and my thoughts on suicide publicly because I feel like normalizing those kind of thoughts is important work. But I don’t want my loved ones to worry. And I don’t want myself to worry. And, because my philosophy on suicide includes the belief that it can sometimes happen more-or-less “accidentally”, I do worry myself sometimes.

So, I wanted to have a safety plan. And talking about it that with a professional who I trust and who I trust not to make it into a bigger deal than it is felt good. Hopefully it feels good to you, too, dear reading friends.

Now I’m going to take a bath and go to bed.

April 22, 2012

On Coming Back to the Breath

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 2:44 am

I’m bad at caffeine. I started bleeding today, so I took a lot of preemptive Excedrin to stave off the inevitable incapacitating cramps. This worked like a charm and I henceforth plan to do it every 27 days for the rest of my reproductive life. Also, now I can’t sleep. I’ve tried all the tricks I know — which, admittedly, isn’t many — to get my brain to spin down but I’ve been tossing and turning for over an hour now. Since the boi sleeping next to me has to catch an 8:30am Greyhound home tomorrow, I didn’t want to keep them up with my fidgeting and twitching and repeatedly flipping myself over like a pancake. So, finally, I gave up and here I am. I’m trying to come back to the breath.

Last weekend, I went on a mountain retreat where I read a bunch of Sartre and spent several hours each day trying to meditate. I had varying degrees of success. (Although, if I understand correctly, meditation isn’t really the sort of thing at which one “succeeds”.) In any case, I learned several things about myself while trying to focus my attention on each individual breath. First, through sitting very straight and very still for extended periods of time, I learned that it takes a huge amount of core strength to actually support my breasts; much more core strength than I currently have. I had never felt my spinalis erectors before. It was cool to realize I have layers upon layers of muscle and also difficult figuring out how to stretch a muscle that deep in.

Second, the most prominent thing I discovered about my thinking is that I’m projecting into the future constantly: planning, daydreaming, drafting, visualizing, expecting, explaining, worrying about. There are some advantages to this. Fantasizing is fun. My philosophical training has certainly taught me the value of thought experiments. It allows me to generate far more great ideas for projects than I’ll ever be able to follow through on. And it’s comforting — in much the same way that, when I feel awkward or nervous in a conversation, I’ll default to talking about logistics. This is often unnecessary. We probably don’t need to confirm again, for the third time, that in two weeks we’re having coffee at 3pm. But it’s inexplicably soothing to latch onto something concrete and make plans and agreements about dates and times and places. I regularly found myself committed to far more coffee dates, meetings, and conferences than I actually had time for, until I realized what I was doing. (Now I find myself over-committed for other reasons.)

Living in the future is also distracting. It takes me out of the discomfort, awkwardness, boredom and uncertainty of the moment. It takes me out of the sweetness and complicated richness of the moment, also. My difficulty being present doesn’t discriminate. Tonight, it took me out of my bed, curled up next to the warm, soft, sleeping body of a person I’m in love with on their last night in town and onto the Internet.

I don’t know a lot of tricks for quieting my mind because I don’t usually try. I take a bit of perverse pride in my mildly manic hypergraphia, probably because the fact that writing is a bit compulsive and uncomfortable for me makes me feel like a “real writer” in the face of constant self-doubt about my creativity. I suspect this sort of “professional inferiority complex” plagues most writers similar to the way that feeling “not queer enough” haunts many queer folks. That, in each case, the sheer presence of the doubt is proof of its unfoundedness — and that knowing this doesn’t make either one go away. So, when my thoughts get to whirring out of control, chemically-aided or otherwise, I typically just grab hold of the ticket with both hands and take the ride.

There’s a fantastic, funny, emotionally complicated Philip Lopate essay called “Against Joie de Vivre” that, of course, I can’t find the full text of online anywhere right now even though I swear I had a link to it a month ago, and the book it’s from is in New Mexico, probably among one of the precarious piles of thesis-research materials stacked on the floor of the cozy, cluttered bedroom to which I’m sending my lover home tomorrow. In any case, curmudgeonly Lopate criticizes cultural inducements to constantly “live in the now”, arguing that “the now” is mostly depressing and tedious and that having to live in it all the time sounds like a curse. (He also lambastes dinner parties, patronizing old people, sex in the Sixties, and his own secret judgments of others. This is a man I would like to have lunch with.) In any case, I’m with him. There are many ways, admittedly, that being insensible to my surroundings is obviously detrimental to my writing. Self-indulgent midnight rambling on my blog, regardless of whether it’s “bursting out of [me] in spite of everything”, is less likely to facilitate the development of solid social theory than paying more attention would. Still, for the most part, what’s going on in my head is usually much more interesting to me than whatever’s going on in the physical world at any given random moment of my day. So, while I don’t relish the fact that I’m fairly inept at focusing on the here-and-now, I don’t worry too much about it either. Most of the time.

And then, I find myself with my arms wrapped around the sleeping form of someone I want to build a life with and who I won’t get to see and touch again for weeks or months, and all I can think about is…KinkForAll. Conference talks. E-mails I need to send. How cool it might be to take a long roadtrip and serendipitously run into people I know hitchhiking. And then without warning — probably because I just spent a weekend in seclusion reading Sartre — it hits me that my love is going to die. And that’s not all. Everyone I love is going to die. Some of them might not die until after I do, sure, but at some point over the course of the next few decades, either I will be grieving each of them or they will be grieving me — grieving the loss of our relationships maybe or, if our relationships are “successful” in the traditional sense, then grieving the loss of our lives.

I’ve been thinking a little bit, lately, about the way that having the extraordinary number of intimate, meaningful, emotional connections I have is a privilege. And it is. I have a lot of advantages of people who have fewer mutual interdependencies than me. The flipside of that coin, however, is that loving more people also means, eventually, having to watch more people who I love die. It means having to live — to the degree to which I’m sensitive to it which, some days, is very — with the spectres of their inevitable deaths. And, because of the particular ways in which so many of my loved ones lack privilege, it means living with the spectre of their potentially violent deaths, too. With suicides and murders and slow shreddings through self-destruction and cancers too expensive to cure. And every moment that I spend with a lover while distracted by something else becomes one of the too-few moments between now and the end of our lives that I spent with a lover while distracted by something else.

Suddenly my inability to focus on the moment, on this moment, on this last-night-for-who-knows-how-long together doesn’t feel like a cute, curmudgeonly personality quirk. It feels like a fucking tragedy.

I’m going back to bed now. I’m going to wrap my arms around them and press my nose against the downy light-gold hairs along the back of their neck and, if I still can’t sleep, I’m going to lie there and feel their skin against my skin and focus my attention on every single breath until the sun comes up.

April 18, 2012

Because You Can’t Do Anything Else

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 1:04 am

I’m not writing. I need to be writing. It feels like I haven’t written in days. It’s only been about two days, really, but it feels like longer.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before. It’s one about being in Istanbul with my “closest thing I have to a brother besides my actual brother” Josh and drinking rakฤฑ with the eccentric poet couple from Iceland one night in a little Turkish bar. It had been a rough trip. I was finally coming out of a long depression set off by my Winterover in Antarctica. I had spent a lot of nights sitting with Josh at tiny cafe tables, drinking Efes, chain-smoking Camel Lights and crying, while he talked to me about Kierkegaard in ways that would comfort only an incurable existentialist — which, of course, we both were and probably still are.

But this night, while Josh was trying to dodge drunk propositions from รsmundur รsmundsson and his companion, I was curled up in the corner of the bar booth by the window scribbling frantically on a napkin or in a notebook or some other available scrap of trees. At some point, in between relaying his astrological sign and reiterating for the third time that he and I were not a couple, he paused to check in with me with a very serious, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I had to forcibly pause to look up and form words, “Yeah. Don’t worry. I’m writing. As long as I’m still writing, it means I’m not going to kill myself.

I realized something this weekend: I write about grief. I write about suffering. I try to share sketches of struggle and pain. I describe feeling unstable, insecure, unhealthy and lost. And I do this because, mostly, I’m not. It’s the same reason I tell people at the Poly Meetup about my relationship problems, about the ways things feel difficult and broken sometimes, about how I’ve been doing this for 15 years and still wonder if I’m crazy for thinking it’s a good idea. I want to share the ways I’m weak with the world because, by and large, people perceive me as strong, grounded and mentally clear. There are people who look up to me. That’s an uncomfortable thing for me to admit. But it’s true and I feel a responsibility to them — a responsibility to be honest. I want them to see that I’m human, complicated and confused. That I have days eaten through with self-doubt. Because I want to show people that, whatever it is they see in me and hope to find in themselves, it’s possible to be that person and be a fucking mess sometimes too.

But this vulnerability is a luxury. I can cry my eyes out in front of strangers because, really, I’m okay.

And I’m trying to put something here right now because I really, really want it to be true that I’m okay.

It’s when I get quiet that you should worry.

April 13, 2012

A lot of things are always happening all the time.

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 4:57 pm

A String of Related Non-Narrative Notes:

I use technology to escape my body. Being trapped in my head feels claustrophobic; this is not a normal way to walk around. I told my therapist the only thing I appreciate about having a body is that I know it allows me to be alive, but that I like the Internet because I don’t have to lug it there with me. I’m not a cyborg; I’m just a decker who hangs out in seedy statusbars because I don’t want to go home.

I’ve been wanting to cut more lately than I have in years. I will probably continue choosing not to, but I want to acknowledge that the desire exists and that that’s okay. I will always be a recovering anorexic, even though I have never looked and will never look like the runway models for whom people use that word as an epithet. It’s as much about a desperate desire for control inside the chaos as it is about internalized fatphobia. And it’s as much about internalized fatphobia as it is about a desperate desire for control.

The ways I hate my body influence the way I choose my partners. But not who I find beautiful. Like it’s okay to admire other fat people from afar, but if we got close enough to touch I might have to accept that they find me beautiful too in spite of their knowing what it’s like to live in this skin in ways my slender, muscular lovers will never really understand.

Besides my brain, the only part of my body that feel like me is my hands; I use them to write and fuck and type and those things are more real to me than most other things that happen.

We had a conversation, my body and I. It told me it’s sick of being abused but doesn’t think it can do anything about it and is so resigned to that fact it doesn’t even want to talk about it. That made me sad. Even though I wanted nothing more that day than to invent infinite creative new ways to hurt my body in hopes I might make it disappear. Here’s one of those things that seems so obvious I don’t know why I have to write it down, but which actually needs repeating over and over and over: When I treat my body nicely, we get along better.

I hung out with my body once, though. We were both on Molly at the time. We had a good time together drinking the hot broth at the bottom of the Ramen Noodle Cup. It was like one of those stories where bitter enemies get trapped together in a cabin in a snowstorm and end up drunk on whisky and doing something silly and telling each other how much they secretly appreciate each other and then when the 10th Mountain Division shows up to rescue them the next morning, they pretend like nothing ever happened.

Craniosacral massage seems to work on me like magic — which is basically what it claims to be, so I guess that’s fine. Walking home just now, I could feel the wind on my skin like breath from the trees. And somehow I knew I was hungry just because…I did. Cheddar is my favorite cheese — really, really sharp white cheddar, the kind that comes in paper packages from Ireland and bites you on the sides of the tongue — at least I know that much. And that’s enough to get by on some days. [Part about what some other days are like redacted.] This isn’t really a story. There’s no rising action or conclusion. Maybe it’s a poem. Maybe this is what a poem feels like. Fuck. A lot of things are always happening all the time.

On the Unpredictable Paths of One’s Own Mind

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 1:03 pm

If you leave the sponge in the sink when you’re done doing dishes, it will stay wet and eventually rot. You have to wring the sponge out and set it somewhere dry each time if you want to preserve its life.

Whenever I’m cleaning up the kitchen and I drop a soggy sponge into the sink, I remember Craig taking me and August to task for ruining his sponges back when we all lived together. Half the time, then, I start thinking about Craig and about how his parents found him, alone in his dark apartment with a noose around his neck. The other half, I just remember not to leave the sponge in the sink.

My triggers are a lot to keep track of. No one else knows that wet sponges bring up thoughts of suicide for me and maybe no one should have to. They don’t trigger me strongly. They don’t do it always. And I certainly don’t want to live in a world without sponges.

On the other hand, I feel very strongly that anyone I’ve told about my infestation phobia who insists on talking to me about swarms of insects is a motherfucking asshole who deserves to be punched. Not because it’s 100% guaranteed to cause a panic attack every time; in fact, the panic has gotten a whole lot better lately. But because why would you even want to risk causing me that kind of fear and suffering when it would be absolutely no trouble at all for you not to?

Still, if you do accidentally start telling me about your 10yr old cousin’s super awesome new ant farm and then catch yourself and apologize, and I say, “Hey, thanks. It’s cool, tho’. I’m actually fine. No big deal,” I want it to be okay that, this time, it’s really no big deal. Likewise, if I’m scrubbing the dinner pans and happen to walk away despondent, I want acknowledgment (at least from myself) of that suffering as both incidental and legit.

In short: I don’t expect or want people to assume I’m fragile, except in the places where I’ve explicitly asked them to do so. But I want to be treated kindly when it turns out I am. I also want to feel empowered both to hunker down in that fragility when I need to and also not have to live there all the time.

Our culture teaches us that people are either strong, independent, self-sufficient transcenders of trouble or that they’re broken victims, perennially helpless and weak. But that’s bullshit. People are unbelievably resilient and adaptable creatures, each of whom is riddled with a uniquely complicated map of triggers and scars that come from surviving in civilization. But — and this is important — these maps aren’t static. They’re dynamic. Human psychology is more dynamic than the most powerful waterfall. It’s our evolutionary superpower. That doesn’t mean we’re always and already on a linear trajectory toward healing. It just means we’re never the same person twice.

I want to be treated like my thoughts and feelings are unpredictable. And I want to extend the same spacious compassion to others around me. Because if I can’t even keep track of my own triggers, there’s no way in hell someone else is going to be able to do it. And I sure as hell won’t be able to track all of theirs. But we can slow our interactions down enough to check in with ourselves and each other about where we’re at right now. And we can stop what we’re doing and sit with each other for a minute when someone accidentally drops a sponge in the sink.

Perfectionism is a Slow Poison

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 3:23 am

I’m feeling a little bit disillusioned with regard to the value of conferences. “Disillusioned” maybe isn’t the right word. How ’bout: Bored. I’ve spent all week at these two conferences and it’s been nice ‘n’ all but I haven’t really heard a whole lot I didn’t already know. I’m not entirely sure what I want to be doing with my time.

I don’t seem to be getting the headaches today and that’s nice. I haven’t produced or accomplished much of anything that matters to me today, though. Or even in the past week. This is sort of a myth I tell myself constantly, though, that I “haven’t done anything” today. Maybe I should start doing what I used to do at work, which is just keep a little document open where I can keep track of whatever I’m actually doing in a given day — so that I can look back and get more realistic perspective on what I am and am not getting done.

I could also stop obsessing over being a “productive member of society”. But that’ll probably take years of therapy. ;P

I feel like I should be doing something to figure out how I’m going to make money. Or, at least, that I should be doing something to figure out how much money I have now and how long I can live on it before I absolutely have to make some money. I’m resistant, though. I’m resistant to thinking about money always. It’s a problem. In any case, I need to get in touch with Michelle about setting up a schedule for me to clean her house. That was supposedly going to happen this week and then it didn’t.

This entry feels very LiveJournalesque. Which is funny, because I spent a bunch of time yesterday drafting a blog post about grief and guilt and racism and activism and youth torture that was fairly intense and challenging for me to write. But then I didn’t actually write it. I would like to. I would like to write a lot of things. There’s also a piece I want to write about suicide, and another one about the nature of “amateur” sexuality and how angry it makes me. Maybe, at some point, I’ll take some time to go through the ‘Writing Notes’ tag in my Gmail and turn some of that stuff, any of it, into compositions. Maybe I won’t. I’ve also been considering starting to make some videos again. They can be a nice stream-of-consciousness way to get a lot of ideas out quickly. Plus they are kind of a fun creative product. On the other hand, they’re harder to reference. I don’t know. I need to make myself some structure.

Maybe.

Or maybe I just need to see what it’s like when I really don’t have any structure at all.

I’d probably just play a lot of Tetris.

I want:
– A clean and organized room.
– A fed and happy snake.
– A clear idea of what’s going on with my finances.
– My taxes done.
– A finite but focused amount of time dedicated to staying connected with my loved ones in other places, including my partners and my bio-family.
– To read, at minimum, a book a week.
– Some amount of creative output that feels meaningful to me and that feels like it’s in a process of improvement, not just masturbatory manic hypergraphia.
– A collated list of all the Maybe/Someday projects I’ve been putting off. Not necessarily because I’m going to do any of them, but just so that I can have them all in one place and look at them and make decisions about them.
– To feel good about and grounded in my body.
– More physical intimacy than I’ve been getting. Not a LOT more. But I’d like someone to cuddle with one or two nights a week.
– A better understanding of my public self vs. my private self, what kind of role I want to play in my communities, my family, my political work, etc. right now.
– A lip piercing.
– To stop taking on new projects long enough to start chipping away at some of the ones that have been on the list forever OR to be willing to go through that list and cull things that I’m realistically never going to actually do.
– Some good conversations with August, Elaan and Dakota about various possibilities for how the next two years are so are going to take shape for everyone re: living situations, work, school, kids, etc.
– To play a lot of Tetris.

Funny story: One of the many neurotic reasons that I don’t take care of myself is that I’m often afraid that explicitly prioritizing self-care over “being productive” or “community building” etc. is actually just an excuse for “being lazy”. I am, for some reason, terrified by the thought of “laziness” — especially the thought that it might apply to me. But would it be the end of the world? God for-fucking-bid I have flaws. Maybe I ought to see what it’s like to jettison all thoughts of self-care-as-investment-in-an-ability-to-work-even-harder and just embrace straight-up “laziness” for a while. If I wasn’t so afraid of it, I might actually have an EASIER time both doing genuine effective self-care and getting work done. Or maybe I’d just discover that the world doesn’t end.

April 9, 2012

In which I experiment with being a cyborg…

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 10:44 am

…at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs. Since, as Lafe says, CWA is essentially “chat room mental masturbation for old people”, I’m not too concerned about people here thinking I’m disengaged. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’m also on Twitter @wanderingpirate using the #CWA2012 hashtag.

Table of Contents (In Progress):

Session: Peeing on Corpses and Worse: Official and Unofficial Expectations of Conduct in War
The Gender Neutral Bathroom Challenge for Cis People
Session: The Sacred and the Scientific
Session: All a-Twitter: The Fleeting Nature of Digital Communications


First session: 1112 – Peeing on Corpses and Worse: Official and Unofficial Expectations of Conduct in War

9:00-10:20 on Monday April 9, 2012
Macky Auditorium
Panelists:
Matt Howard
William Nack
Jay M. Parker
Sanho Tree (I think he’s the coolest.)

Jay M. Parker: Theater of War uses performances of Sophocles to explore war trauma.

Iraq Veterans against the War works to stop the redeployment of traumatized troops. Troops who take part in massacres, “trophy”-taking, war crimes, are framed by government as “bad apples” rather than individuals with mental health issues, victims of the compound trauma of war, military dehumanization training, successive redeployments. “There’s a context that creates the conditions for something like this to happen.”

A “feeling of eliteness” is necessary for going into war; trained into Marines through dehumanization, hazing, moral ambiguity, etc.

The Marines claim to be “post-racial”. Nobody is referred to as “white” or “black”, there are only “Dark Green Marines” and “Light Green Marines”. Um. Whoa.

Audience questions. Early 20s white bro-ey student wearing an ancient Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt asks a super intense question analogizing “American gangs, like, putting guns in the hands of 12 year olds, like the Bloods and the Crips, saying they hate each other, do you think that’s, like, dehumanizing?” I don’t even know where to start with that. This is a weird, uncomfortable exchange, implicit racism that nobody addresses, and then people just start talking about other stuff that’s only vaguely related. William Nack responds with a Cormac McCarthy quote from Blood Meridian about necrophilia. Cormac McCarthy is awesome, but…what? Matt Howard makes a thoughtful but fairly shallow point about links between gang violence, poverty, and the American military.

Sanho Tree: I work in a context where you have a classical insurgency that has evolved over five decades into what looks like a gang conflict, which is the civil war in Colombia. There’s the original insurgents, the paramilitaries, and the government, and they’re all involved in the drug war. People join one side or the other, perhaps out of poverty or desperation. And once you join these units you develop some very powerful bonds with the people fighting by your side. Then, often, your buddy gets killed by someone on the other side and you want revenge, payback. This is no longer about ideology; it’s not about Marxism.

Question about how those who do recover from trauma, reintegrate into society, are able to do that. Nack: Just returning to civilization, small town in Iowa, helps. Self-examination, ability to see the horrors of war and horrors of own behavior toward others “with clarity.” Hmm…

Young woman, looks like a student, asks a question about the impact of the popularity of video games on warfare. Nack’s grandson is 12, really good at videogames. “He’s like Bobby Fischer. Other kids want to play him.” Nack finds this troubling. “This isn’t what it’s really like, kid. This is a fantasy. Nobody’s bleeding. This isn’t what war is like.” […] “And now he’s been cut off. From Sunday night to Friday night, he’s not he’s not allowed to kill people wantonly.” Parker: Veteran counselors say that playing FPS-type videogames can be therapeutic for veterans, allow a way into opening up and discussing their experiences. Howard: These games e.g. Halo, Modern Warfare are really popular in the military, played extensively.

Sanho Tree: Colombian paramilitaries are “probably the worst civil rights abusers in this hemisphere”. Supposedly have no official ties to Colombian government, but of course they do. Killed so many people that the Colombian gov’t eventually called a meeting with them to complain that foreign media were stumbling over their mass graves, so paramilitaries built ovens to incinerate the bodies — including some that weren’t dead.

Student asks about an action plan for addressing disrespect of dead by the military. Howard: Don’t have our troops over there. Parker: It’s difficult to solve, but just agreeing you need an action plan is a start.

Student wearing a yellow bandanna links local dehumanization of immigrants to dehumanization that happens in war. This is much more thoughtful. Tree: Yes. Dehumanization and scapegoating are a key part of the drug war. Nack: Reads a quote citing slurs against the Japanese from WWII. I feel like he’s just looking for vaguely-related excuses to read all these intense quotes.

Re: Gays in the military – Tree: “When you begin to neutralize a 3000 year old taboo about sex” that’s long been used as a way to dehumanize others, does that presage a shift in the military’s ability to dehumanize others? Transition from an “imperialist army” into “blue helmet peacekeepers”? (Mmm, I’m skeptical. It’s the fucking military. I suspect the opposite impact — co-optation of gay culture, homonationalism.)

Parker: His Dad talked about having gay soldiers and officers in his company in WWII, no big deal. “When did we suddenly get the idea that we’ve never had gays in the military?” “Ridiculous politicization” of something that used to be a non-issue. (Interesting counterpoint to Tree’s assertion that gayness has been taboo for 3000 yrs.)

Howard: 1 in 5 women in the military are affected by military sexual trauma. Men also. Epidemic of rape in the military.

…And that’s all, folks.

It’s always trips me out, the incredibly amounts of anomie and cognitive dissonance required to be able to sit in an auditorium full of people, and listen to someone talk in detail about rape and murder and the desecration of corpses and burning people alive, and just be like, “Yup. Yup. Uh huh. Nods. Gosh, that’s terrible.” And then, like, go about your day. I feel a little sick to my stomach, but that’s it.

I wonder if the technology creates an even greater divide for me, personally — allowing me to record and externalize my thoughts and feelings as I’m having them, rather than actually sitting with and feeling them. On the other hand, it allows me to capture the experiences to process later, when there wouldn’t actually be time/opportunity to go through that meaningfully here and I might’ve forgotten by the time I got home tonight. Pros and cons. Something to be conscious of.


Nothing else going on ’til the keynote at 11:30 — which doesn’t look that interesting to me. More panels at 1pm. Plenty of time to kill. Which is good, because I need to pee and that means I have to find a gender neutral bathroom. “The challenge: Donโ€™t use any gendered bathrooms or change rooms for the month of April. If you’re cis. Trans* people, you got enough on your plates – go on with your bad selves.” (I screwed this up last night. I went to the Trident and drank a huge chai and two glasses of water before I remembered that I was going to do this. Made me think about various situations in which I choose to constrain my liquid consumption and deal with dehydration rather than having to go to the bathroom, and about trans* people having to strategize around that ALL THE TIME and what a drain that must be. But I used the Ladies restroom anyway, because I was gonna wet my pants otherwise, and I had the privilege to do so. (The privilege to use gendered bathrooms, not the privilege to wet my pants. I’m not sure what Pants Wetting Privilege would look like…)

I’m going to publish this now, but I’ll keep updating this post as the day goes on.

. . .

Went and found a bathroom in the basement of the UMC. The guy at the Info desk looked confused when I asked about gender neutral bathrooms and said he didn’t think there was one in the building, but then when I asked where the nearest one was, he remembered that there was a single-stall “Unisex Family Restroom” near the back exit of the bookstore. There’s a lot of cis privilege involved in just feeling comfortable ASKING that question of a stranger. Still, finding the bathroom was a hassle, and when I got there it was locked and I had this thought run through my head, “Wait, is this even a functional bathroom? Is someone in there or am I just going to stand here and wait forever? I really have to pee. Fuck.” Eventually, an older person with a cane came out and I went in.

I skipped the keynote, “Can the Center Hold: Democracy and Governance in a Polarized America” by Alice M. Rivlin, in lieu of free campus HIV testing and an interesting phone conversation with Asa about the nature of privileged identities. He wanted to complicate the nature that “all privileged identities are inherently debased” by pointing out ways in which e.g. “white culture” is so pervasive that it’s not experienced as such by people with white privilege. I’d like to expand on this more at some point…but, ultimately, the synthesis we came to is not that people in privileged positions are having an “empty” or “negative space” experience of culture/gender/etc; rather, people with privilege — by virtue of their NOT being forced to consciously engage with their culture/gender/etc — are having a real but comparatively shallow experience of culture/gender/etc along whatever access they have privilege on. (And that it can be genuinely emotionally painful — when peripherally exposed to some marginalized communities’ authentically richer, deeper, more diverse and complex experiences and understandings of culture, gender, sexuality, language, history, and the like — to come face-to-face with how shallow one’s own experience of those things feels.) I like this description of the experience, of people with privilege, although I don’t think it necessarily negates the idea that, as political categories, privileged identities don’t contain anything other than domination.

But the next panel is about to start, so more on this later.

Incidentally, this conversation with Asa made me even more conscious of how super-duper white the Conference on World Affairs is. I’m curious whether and how the participant demographics will be different when I got to The Art of Social Justice Conference tomorrow. I expect much more ethnic diversity and much less age diversity. That’s one thing about CWA, the people here range pretty evenly across the board from high school students to senior citizens and that’s nice; I don’t often get to spend time in spaces that are as diverse in this way. ๐Ÿ™‚

Second session: 1512 The Sacred and the Scientific

1:00-2:20 on Monday April 9, 2012
Old Main Chapel
Panelists:
Maggie Koerth-Baker – Science Editor for BoingBoing
Peter Morales – President of the Unitarian Universalist Association
Seth Shostak – Senior Astronomer at SETI

Old Main is so pretty. ๐Ÿ™‚

Shostak: I don’t want to defend science or spirituality, I want to talk about the interface. Because that’s where the fun is. People don’t break down cleanly along “believe-in-science” and “believe-in-religion” lines. Same percentage of religious people among scientists as among any other comparably educated population. Cites Stephen Jay Gould‘s assertion that science and religion are “different magisteria”, addressing different questions, can’t be compared to each other. (Yes!)

Some people think this means science and religion should just have nothing to do with one another. “That’s like saying men and women are separate magisteria, so they shouldn’t interact. I don’t think that’s gonna work out.”

I like this guy. ๐Ÿ™‚ He’s clever and self-deprecating. Apparently, people think being an astronomer means you have the answers about God; he was a science advisor on the set of The Day the Earth Stood Still, John Cleese and Keanu Reeves grilled him about his religious beliefs.

Koerth-Baker: Often runs into conflict between science and belief (not necessarily organized religion) around e.g. Western medicine. How do we deal with combatting pseudo-science that actually hurts people?

Shostak: Hard to do. Anti-religious extremism doesn’t seem to work, neither does giving people scientific data; preaching to the choir. 10% of populace is on the fence and you might be able to sway them, but “I’ve become moderate in my expectations.”

Morales: “When are we justified in taking action to prevent you from doing what you want to do with your own children?” Discussion of dautism, vaccinations, “freedom of religion in health care” — re: birth control, vaccinations.

Morales: We think it’s natural to classify religions by what they believe — set of ideological and theological propositions. This is the wrong way to think about it. Fails cross-culturally. Religions isn’t about who believes what, it’s about identity, what and who we love.

Student asks: “Is mathematics invented or discovered? I’ve been hearing this question a lot.” …Er, then I kind of tune out the answer ’cause I’m actually not feeling that engaged by this session. I like this conversation, but I also feel like it’s one I’ve heard a million times before. It doesn’t help that everybody on the panel and everybody in the audience all pretty much agree with each other already. It reminds me that I want to read some Gould, though.

Audience member: “How do you think ulterior political motives influence the debate?”
Koerth-Baker: People want to ignore countervailing evidence, not willing to have conversations about it. Sometimes this is because the reality is just too hard to deal with, solve, discuss.
Shostak: People don’t want to talk about difficult issues e.g. climate-change because it’s “too hot”, loses votes.
Morales: “False witnessing” – making a case for a point of view you’re not going to give up no matter what; this isn’t a discussion, it’s “apologetics”. Being unwilling to discuss/change your mind about certain things is okay, but it’s problematic/dishonest to pretend you’re engaging in open discussion when you’re not.

Shostak: “I don’t think either science or religion is going to bring about the end of the world. Whatever that means. Don’t worry about causing the end of the world. You can’t. There’s been life on this planet for 400 million years. Maybe homo sapiens is going to go away. But that just reduces the incidence of Reality Television or something.” I think I like him because his dry sense of humor reminds me a of Josh Alvizu’s. ๐Ÿ™‚

Up until fairly recently, Republicans were much more supportive of science funding than Democrats. Lots of “Hmms” from the audience.

Audience member asks about brainwave research re: meditation. Koerth-Baker says she has been planning to look into it.

After the panel, most audience members have left, two people — a man and a woman — approach Peter Morales, the Unitarian President. The woman doesn’t say much, but the man quotes the Bible and tells Morales that he will go to Hell for influencing such a large audience to turn away from God. Interesting that he picked the representative of religion, rather than either of the scientists. Morales responds to his arguments for a while, but eventually points out that they’re having an argument that can have no conclusion, since neither one of them is going to change their minds. Similar to point about debate vs. witnessing above.

Okay. Next is the Twitter panel! But first, I should really find something to eat. Turns out half an orange juice and a Snicker’s bar don’t actually constitute sufficient fuel for an entire afternoon; I’m starting to get a headache…

Session Three: 1715 All a-Twitter: The Fleeting Nature of Digital Communications

3:00-4:20 on Monday April 9, 2012
UMC East Ballroom
Panelists:
Mark Frauenfelder
Ross Haenfler
Andy Ihnatko
Sanho Tree

Tree talks about the pros and cons of Twitter. Potentially problematic in countries where he works w. people who are involved in armed conflict, Colombia, Ecuador, Afghanistan, etc. Worries him when he sees younger colleagues taking to social media so easily, especially Facebook. Used to be a lot of work for death squads to track down supporters of their enemies, now “state security agencies can hack a couple of Facebook accounts, find whole social circles of ‘subversives’ and find them easily.” On the other hand, Twitter has been v. valuable for him in working w. the media around his issues and projects. Tells a story about how Twitter was used to kill Glenn Beck’s show on Fox, etc.

Frauenfelder: When you put things on the Internet, they’re there forever. Reads a William Gibson quote from VICE that analogizes Twitter to cave paintings; this is what makes us human. “I use BoingBoing as a way to back up my brain, because you can post your thoughts and ideas and search for them and find them later on.” BoingBoing started as a ‘zine in Boulder in 1989 about Cyberpunk, indie comics, how people were using computer tech. Zines were a lot like blogs are today, special interests. BoingBoing zine distribution at its height was 800, cost a lot of money.

Haenfler: Only person on the panel w.o a Twitter account. Describes annoying right wing conservative e-mail fwd’s he gets all the time. “We have a lot more access to media, but I don’t think we’ve kept up with our media literacy.” A useful tool for activism. Also a lot of misinformation. Tension around the issue of “access” — “I have more access to people, but that means they also have more access to me.” (Not a real addressing of ACTUAL access to tech issues?) If we choose to disengage from social media, we feel like we’re missing out. “I’m kind of a late adopter of everything. We’ll see if this panel convinces me to get on Twitter.”

Suggestions for the First Time Twitter user?
Frauenfelder: Subscribe to pre-selected lists related to things you’re interested in.
Tree: Follow only a few people who favorite and retweet lots of interesting things.

Conversation about “The next big thing?”
Audience member plugs Google+. Tree says “Skynet”.

I’m Tweeting this panel more than I’m blogging it. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Tree: Politicians are hesitant to challenge or discuss “third-rail issues” because they are too complex to discuss in 140 char, 15 sec TV spot, w.o getting decontextualized, wastes valuable time (= money).

Audience question: How will the transition to digital media change archiving in the future?
Tree: Used to work as a professional historian. “I was accused of being a revisionist historian. ALL history is revisionist. […] Why else would you need 10,000 books on the Civil War. One should suffice, right? […] I can’t even imagine what it will be like for historians in the future. Will paradigms be overturned due to a single Tweet?”

Ihnatko: “The circadian rhythms of how you’re consuming and producing information.” We/future historians can mine and analyze data about peoples’ use of technology and data in really amazing ways over the long-term, learn lots about what’s going on with people and events.

Audience question about tensions between social media and traditional media.

Ihnatko: “My favorite newspaper people are the ones who think in terms of their mission instead of their job. The great newspaper people love Twitter because they can’t be at every single event. And they feel as if they spend a certain percentage of their day to manning Twitter […], they can perform their job so much better!”

Tree: Dailyshow takedown of CNN’s i-reporter. Media outlets are sometimes using social media as an excuse to cut costs, cut jobs, rather than paying journalists. I turn to Al-Jazeera; they still invest in reporters.

Now we’re talking about Facebook buying Instagram. Who owns what, etc. This isn’t that interesting to me. I feel like it should be. “Follow the money.” ๐Ÿ˜› But it’s hard for me to pay attention to conversations about megacorporate business plans and the stock market. I wonder how problematic this is. My usual solution is, rather than trying to understand high finance in the tech industry, to make friends with someone who thinks that stuff is interesting and important and trust them to tell me if there’s anything I need to know. Specialization? Am I shooting myself in the foot? Hm.

. . .

Okay. That’s it for today. I’m gonna take the bus to South Boulder, grab a cup of coffee, and go to a counseling appointment. ๐Ÿ™‚

April 8, 2012

On Getting My Mind Back

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 11:03 pm

By far the best thing about quitting my job has been the feeling of getting my mind back. People who enjoy thinking are supposed to value intellectually challenging work and, at least given enough privilege to pick and choose, we are expected to avoid methods of making a living that don’t engage our brains. But the curse of intellectually challenging work, at least insofar as “work” means “a job”, is that someone else controls a huge chunk of your cognitive cycles. One of the things I loved most about being a janitor in Antarctica was that, while Raytheon Polar Services had purchased my body and was using it to clean toilets, my mind was my own. I was free to spend the day thinking, exploring, contemplating, musing, listening to every audiobook in the McMurdo Library, and occasionally sneaking off into a locked utility closet to scribble notes in the back of my little green dayplanner…

I didn’t realize until I quit my sociological research job last month just HOW much of my processing power beyond base survival was being devoted to thinking about studying afterschool science programs — and, increasingly toward the end, to thinking about how to force myself to think about studying afterschool science programs — while my limited remaining brainpower was being constantly triaged into (and torn between) dealing with my two highest priority cognitive needs: my personal relationships and my political commitments. But now, all of a sudden, I have my ENTIRE BRAIN to play with and I’m reminded that I have a vast, eclectic set of intellectual interests, knowledge sets, curiosities and concepts that excite me, from cognitive neuroscience and the history of humanity’s relationship with technology to DIY paper-making and ancient Greek etymology. (I’m even genuinely interested in qualitative sociological research, it turns out; just not in getting paid to send infinite form e-mails about it.) And I want to run around and poke at all of them. And I can!

This sort of ooh-shiny! intellectual free-for-all won’t last forever. At some point, I suspect (and hope) I’ll take big bite out of my brainwaves again in order to focus on producing a significant and integrated piece of work e.g. a dissertation, book, revolutionary political action, whatever. But not right now. For right now, I want to run around nibbling on things, and scribbling about things, and going “wheee!” in a biosociative trust-the-universe sort of way.

To that end (and as a bit of a birthday present to myself), I intend to spend the entire last week of my 20s dipping into a wide range of conversations at two free conferences: This Monday and Friday at the 64th Annual Conference on World Affairs at CU Boulder and Tuesday through Thursday at the very first ever Art of Social Justice Conference on Auraria Campus in Denver. I am putting no expectations on myself other than to listen, absorb, learn, take any notes I’m inspired to make via pen & paper, blog, Twitter, etc. Finally, I’ll spend the following weekend at a three-day philosophy-centered meditation retreat in the mountains with some folks from the Trident Philosophy Gang.

I’ve never been on a meditation retreat before, or even done that much meditation at all, but instead of using my 30th birthday as an excuse for a big social gathering or a splashy trip with friends, I wanted to set the stage for the next decade by doing something a little out-of-character, a little bit challenging, and something that honors the introverted aspect of my XNFP. Since philosophy is both the closest thing I have to a spiritual practice and the substrate of how I think about the world, committing a few solid days to meditating on it seems like a good way to synthesize and compile all the new ideas I’ll have collected over the past week — and over the past thirty years.

And then on Monday, my actual birthday, I’ll have a Dakota. Yay! And hopefully a Matthew and an Asa and an Elaan and an August few other loved ones and maybe a fire in the fireplace and a bottle of wine. And that will be good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch TED talks while I fold my laundry.

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