Categories
Dear Diary

Evidence into the Void

Today would have been my dad’s 65th birthday and anniversaries are hard because I can expect to have a lot of hard conversations. His sister, my sister, my mom, my friends, his friends. It’s right and proper that there are formally appropriate moments for remembering him together.

There are some things I have, articles and objects in evidence that he was here. Besides the usual pictures, I have two voicemails from him on my phone still, emails, the only blog post he ever wrote.

Let me talk about my dad a little bit, eh?

When I was very little, he used to sing me songs before bed, including “Always,” here’s the Sinatra recording.

I remember him lying on his back on the floor, on the rug, with his head on a husband pillow, and me in my bed, listening to him sing. But as they tell me, he used to rock me to sleep with song as a baby, too, before my memory begins.

Later, in grade school, he made up a before-bed series of stories about a booger who lived in my left nostril. Yeah — really. The booger’s name is Harold T. Booger and The Harold T. Booger universe is well developed, in part because my sister grew into HtB stories right as I grew out of them. Harold never moved out of my nose, though. I like to think there’s a “Harold goes to dad’s funeral” story out there in the universe somewhere.

He and I also shared a love of bleeding edge technology. We were one of the first people I knew to have dial up internet, and then DSL. Both of us had an inexplicable faith in the power of technology; we liked Star Trek, Dr. Who, and related shows that depicted the moral use of machines for making the universe a better place. Maybe we were wrong, but on the other hand, maybe it was never about politics, but simply the power of social encounters to open up new vistas of experience, and the power of technology to exponentially expand the possibility of those connections.

I found this digging through my email today, I think it shows you what kind of guy my dad was:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lord only knows what I did that time, ha.

Other emails included instructions for getting gum off my purse and an over enthusiastic thank you for a lunch I made him.

This isn’t really another grand eulogy, just some stuff about my dad. I don’t miss him more than usual today; missing him is more like a condition than an event. But maybe you can see how out of this world lucky I was to have him as my dad. And if you knew him, I hope this makes you smile.

Categories
Dear Diary

A Report from Inside the Dream

I am having the strangest day, but I won’t talk about it just now. (The odd things happening will seem far less absurd in the future I imagine)

You ever think about the work that goes into setting up a life? As I explained it to my therapist, I think all people try their hardest to move towards a state (sometimes a State, too) in which the only measure they need as a guide is their own personal taste. There is an aesthetics to this; on Twitter, I was once surprised by the ping of pleasure I felt encountering a user who had developed a not oft seen ability to read text the way one reads a room. Surprised because the user should be the height of dislikable, someone to hate-read, I suppose. But it gets you thinking about the initial preference, to be guided by one’s taste and nothing else. What if, in the end, we do seek our own people, that not a one of us loves diversity, but the mistake is in assuming there is a simple definition of “our own people.”

I had a strange conversation recently with a film maker who told me she had to see Black Panther both for film making and ethical reasons. This surprised me because quite obviously, neither is true. Nobody needs to see a Marvel movie for film making reasons, Marvel makes films like concession stands make popcorn. And the whole notion that we are supporting a political cause by buying a ticket to a Marvel movie — my God, a Marvel movie that has the sheer audacity to play The Revolution Will Not Be Televised in its trailer, as if Marvel ever had that kind of integrity —  is frankly upsetting.

Constrained, I think, by the unconscious subscription to the notion that there’s only one way to find your way and it requires believing that Marvel is suddenly a paragon of film or of politics (what the fuck). That is not something I want in my life. I don’t want to build my life on political affordability, I don’t want to build my life on anxiety either; mine, nor the anxieties of those that I love. There is a particular emotional labor that I do not want to do, the labor of being ashamed for the ways in which what I see and what I want defy what the people who care about me think I should see or should want. The labor of being ashamed for the actions of people I care about because I care about them, as if that makes them me.

All of this is aesthetic because it reaches merely the first layer, the top layer, the literal and seen layer, of experience. The pleasure bouncing around at a socioverbal tweet is aesthetic pleasure. The messier layers underneath, I think, rely mostly on humiliation and how we manage ourselves and treat each other when the experience occurs to us or in front of us.  It’s funny, I used to think there were other factors — natural resources, identity politics, economics, but in the end all of that is infrastructure to administrate power exchanges which themselves are, in the end, a question of which person gets humiliated and which person has to do the work of humiliating and a truly honest analysis must acknowledge both can be very unpleasant, both are a lot of work.

Anyway, my original point was simply that I don’t think one’s people is genetic, but that certainly does not mean that one gets to choose one’s people. It’s fully possible, I believe, to be bound to others by some strange force that is not voluntary nor genetic.  And no amount of pretense, virtue signaling, movie going, reshaping of the obvious into the obscure, can change that. It will only alienate a person from herself and I think it is foolish to do that and also seems to be what everyone I know is bent on doing.

And I do like to be the right one in the room, so I hesitate to speak on it, my ego chomping at the bit. Better to let it come from somewhere else, better to let it reprimand me, better usually to be humbled by the truth than to be the arbiter of it.

Categories
Dear Diary

Your Soul is Not an Estate Sale

Your soul is not an estate sale. If you let people pay what they want for the pieces of you that they desire, it will be to your dismay that they stick around, tossing things into the black places where they took from you.

GIVE IT BACK
TAKE IT BACK

This free market exchange was never free, how could it be when our mere existences implicate us?

Anyway, it is a lot harder to be bigger than the sum of your parts when your parts are in shambles, or missing entirely, stolen by well meaning folks who are simply “giving what they can.” Taking what they want.

You should be better than this but “better” and “this” are not discernible. I won’t stand for just this feeling and I won’t bend over for mere fact.

I’d rather be alone than fractional.

Categories
Dear Diary

Anthropochaos

One of my favorite hobbies is memorizing poetry on the subway — the poems the MTA got the license to post. Most of them could use some work, but it’s nice to say them anyway in my mind. And then when I seen them again, I get a warm fuzzy feeling. There’s something joyous in realizing you have developed a closeness, a familiarity, a knowing with something or someone else. George Washington Carver said, “if you love it enough, anything will talk with you.” I think that’s true, including ghosts.

But it requires understanding “talk” in a less than literal fashion, while simultaneously having a literal understanding of what talking is. To abstract from a practice to the functional meanings indicated by that practice, then to find other structures that house similar meanings, and then to say “so this is like talking.” Some people are very good at the less than literal interpretation — largely people who are unhappy with the literal one, and are motivated to try and obtain a different sense of “real.” Others excel at understanding the intricacies of the literal but can’t abstract functional meaning to save their butts.

Sometimes I wish I could just lift up the divider and watch these two groups tumble into each other.

Categories
Dear Diary Humanities & Social Thought Non-Fiction

American Grownups: Morality and Accountability for Privileged Adults in the U.S.A.

On my 31st birthday, I’ve learned to refrain from the temptation of feigning earnestness. I want to talk about compromise. Specifically, I want to talk about the compromise that is living better than other people live, despite knowing that other people are living in worse conditions. I want to talk about the relationship of that compromise to the accountability of adulthood.

I am a petty person, which means I take small things very seriously. I take small things very seriously because they feel very serious to me. The good news is that since I have a lot of experience blowing things out of proportion, I have a good handle on what the experience of white male privilege is like; I know what it’s like to feel that something is very unfair despite it really being absolutely nothing compared to larger injustices. I also know the rhetorical response to this backwards and forwards, and I know why it doesn’t work. I know why shaming Neo-Nazis and Nazism doesn’t get rid of Neo-Nazis or Nazism.  It doesn’t work because the experience of something being very unfair is real, regardless of whether or not you think it should be. That’s not a moral position, that’s a recognition of a central truth about being in the world, namely that being for us is entirely inside our own experience, and thus experience is the shape of our own reality. I talk about Kant a lot, because he’s my go-to example about the kind of slow, meticulous thought that we’re losing. But he comes to mind now in the middle of this Heideggerian gobblygook because Kant’s critiques taught me how to think about various phenomena in terms of their limits. What are the limits of experience?

Today, every internet article is supposed to be read as a come to Jesus moment, revealing some great organizing truth. And I don’t object to these articles because I think I’m more right or better than their writers. I object to them because they’re boring, masturbatory performances that stink of the overestimation of their own moral jurisdiction. The judgment of the Left is meaningless in the face of experience; it doesn’t matter that you think that white guy doesn’t get to feel lonely. He’s going to feel lonely anyway and the deeper down he hides it, the more likely it is to turn into something that explodes, something that can’t be ignored. The greatest limit of experience is its limit on what you can be. Any belief that you have transcended your own experience is an illusion inside your own experience. There is no you outside of your experience, but there also is no world, there also is no anybody else. The limits of your experience are the same as the limits of your reality. That’s why the experience of white dudes that seems so blown out of proportion from the outside can radicalize from the inside – it’s proportional, just not to the reality you experience.

I am laying this out starkly, but none of this is news. You already knew that telling someone their feelings don’t matter isn’t going to stop them from having those feelings. You already knew that shaming them for their feelings wasn’t going to end white supremacy. And you already knew that experience was relative, that the alienation white dudes feel might consume them even though a God’s eye view may not grant them the right to get consumed. No amount of articulating the fact that we know these things, or feeling bad about them, or performing our guilt about it, will do anything except try public patience. It’s simply and utterly childish.  And you know that we can’t simply decide to discard our privilege. We have to use it on behalf of people with less privilege. That’s the accountability of American adulthood. What does it mean to use our privilege well? What does it mean to be an American grownup?

It means blowing up the false dichotomy of there being a central dichotomy. The world is complicated, people are complicated, and there are many sides to every issue. By many, I mean way more than two. The in crowd and the out crowd was a high school idea, at the latest. Time to put that one to bed.

It means differentiating between experience and perspective. You can have enough perspective to know that yours is not the only experience, but there will never be enough perspective to let you make someone else’s experience take the place of your own in guiding you. Let that ship sail.

It means recognizing the supremacy of primacy. That is to say, you will experience a “normal” that will not be shared by everyone that will provide you with default functionality. All things are not equal, you will unconsciously give more weight to certain ides and behaviors than others, because they support the structures of your “normal.” The primacy of a “normal” cannot be avoided without absolute dysfunction.

It means constructing without shame. Your life will be guided by a series of social constructs that you contribute to and help maintain. You cannot exist merely in the rubble of social construct, because social construction is what enables functionality in a social society. Yet no social construct is entirely inclusive; you will contribute to the alienation of others and so will they.

It means owning that no kind of political identity category that you or anyone else belong(s) to can substitute for actual identity, which has at its heart is your personality, which persists. The things that make you an individual matter. The straight, white, rich dude who is spreading his legs when he sits on the bus and insisting on the existence of his own alienation is more than the cis-het-patriarchy because he is less than it, too. Political identity categories don’t shoot up churches, or march in Charlottesville, or hide their emotions because they’ve been shamed; people, individuals with individual personalities, do.  Political identity categories don’t live in high crime neighborhoods, or get murdered by police, or get paid less for the same job, or have a harder time getting health coverage; people, individuals with individual personalities, do. That is to say: the fact of a a true condition of society does not itself give you permission to stop acknowledging that you are bringing the individuality of personality to bear on what is happening, and it does not give you permission to forget that you are showing up for people, not just categories of people.

It means showing up anyway. Despite the fact that you can’t center someone else’s experience, despite the fact you’re not going to make social change by having the right views, despite the fact that your sorrow or guilt over your own privilege is actually meaningless, despite the fact that showing up has absolutely nothing to do with you or your identity in any way, despite the fact that the struggle of being an individual would continue even if the struggle of being part of a group were to cease, you have to show up. You have to speak up for the rights of others so that they’ll be there to speak up when it’s your turn. It’s not a moral act, it doesn’t really speak to your character, except to reveal whether or not you’ve grown up. Unfortunately, the world and the people in it are far too messy to make human rights or civil rights a question of morals or a question of identity. They are neither of those things. They’re a question of process, a commitment to show up over and over and over again. That’s it. There’s nothing else there. In the face of this, it is often tempting to turn that process into a moral endeavor but all that does is make the process less accessible. In other words, turning the process of showing up into a question of morals is itself immoral. It does not matter one little bit what you believe. If you’re a grownup, you’ll show up.

Categories
Dear Diary Humanities & Social Thought

The Itsy Bitsy Spider Climbed Up the Spout Again

So last week, I formally dropped out of NYU’s interdisciplinary masters degree program for the humanities and social thought. The primary reason is that I ran out of motivation entirely, “burnt out” isn’t quite correct– I’m not exhausted, I’m not even exhausted with intellectual thought or writing, I just don’t care about school. I do not care. This is not the first time this has happened in the many years I have spent in and out of the academy, but it is the first time where I decided to say “fuck it, seeya.”

In any situation where something aint workin’, it’s usually a combination of me not doing what I should and them not doing what they should, and usually, it’s worth it to let them get away with it and take responsibility for my end of shit and walk away with the rubber stamp. This is the first time when I’ve concluded that what the institution has to offer doesn’t make up for what the institution should be providing and isn’t, and that is because I am “established,” by which I mean I have found a career, not just a job. It is also because in NYC, the things that the academy provides can be found elsewhere without any of that pesky “for credit” business.

All that said, there’s a question about what it’s like to be a grad school drop out that isn’t really related to the why or the how — I made a grownup decision on behalf of my grownup self and it is the first one I made despite the prevailing wisdom disagreeing with me. My co-workers were disappointed, my mom was disappointed, my friends were disappointed, hell my lyft drivers were disappointed. Yet: I’m still here. The world has not collapsed. And in fact, there are avenues re-opening that haven’t been available to me for a while.

There’s only so often we can do this, make decisive breaks that move us in a particular direction, leaving behind other paths, and other options, that we once seriously considered. Most of the time, we have to keep doing what we’re doing, even when we wonder if we’ve somehow missed some sign, some signal, along the way. But much more frequently, we can make the category of decision on a micro-level by simply asking ourselves, “why do I feel like I have to do this?” Even when we decide the reasons are legitimate and we must Do The Thing, we’re making intentional decisions instead of letting ourselves be driven by the events and pressures that surround us.

This is a good practice to develop because it is the key to not simply being products of the conditions in which we live, but exercising some control over the shape of our experiences. Insofar as we engage in reproducing our own conditions, we are part of any problems that exist within those conditions, and only by practicing this kind of mindfulness can we grasp our power to change conditions and solve problems.

By “grasp,” I mean both “to take or have,” and “to understand.” Dropping out of grad school has revealed to me a level of control I have over my own life that, though always assumed on some level, I never exercised before — to go against deeply held, common wisdom without a sure and obvious reason, because I can. Uncommon sense may be our sixth sense, the one that is capable of seeing a sum that is not simply the arithmetic of our parts.

 

Categories
Dear Diary

On Staring At the Ceiling As A Legitimate Activity

I do a lot, I must say, to “give my brain a break.” I have a six book stack of YA fiction, mostly taken from book nerds on Tumblr, that I am working my way through. These are the kinds of books where nothing is remotely real, but most of it is quite enjoyable for just that reason. These are the books that I probably won’t review, or will review in batch in about a paragraph each. They’re just a way to relax at the end of a long day. And I have a lot of long days, because this season, I have overcommitted myself:
— I work full time as the adult specialist librarian at the Cypress Hills branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. At the library, I am involved in several committees, and will be responsible for a lot of training in the next couple months for other librarians. In addition, I plan and run programs for all ages at my branch, plus the normal clerical stuff librarians do. It’s a great job, because I am a people person with a lot of media interests and a good tech background. It fits me and I fit it. 🙂
— I am taking a comparative politics course at NYU and a directed reading (i.e. an independent study) that was supposedly on Arendt but has morphed into the introduction to my thesis. I am a graduate student at NYU in the humanities and social thought. I am very interested in my thesis, but if I could write my thesis without having to do anything else, including getting the MA itself, I probably would. I have learned that graduate school administration is full of extremely warm, enthusiastic staff trying to navigate a whole lot of disjunction and dysfunction. If I still aimed to work in an academic library, I would want the MA for rubber stamp reasons. But that simply isn’t the case anymore, and I’m not sure grad school was ever a good fit for me, even the first time around (when I got my library degree).
— I am a senior editor for Anamesa, which is a journal my department publishes. The staff last semester, who asked me to do it, could not have had any idea that it would suddenly be Journal Revolution Season this semester, in which we are attempting to transform the entire project. This is a year long commitment, but I did bail for Spring semester.
— I am taking American Sign Language II. I love sign language, and am very happy to be doing this.
— I am editing my novel with actual editors. Three rounds as is standard: developmental, polish, copy edit. This is something that I can choose to do at whatever pace I want, but the part I have to pay for has been paid for already, so its a hard commit.
— I am taking two courses this semester, consecutively, at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Thought. They are four weeks each, three hours one day per week, and consist of only reading. The first one is an introduction to the Frankfurt school which is related to my thesis (and the justification for taking it). The second one, which starts in November, is on poetry and poetics.
— I have Games Club, where I write an open letter series on my blog about one indie PC game each month with a friend.
— I host board game days once a month at my apartment.
— I go to “Games with Strangers” on Saturday evenings at the Brooklyn Strategist.
— My roommate E and I are slowly finishing the TV show Fringe together.
— Theoretically, I should also be running a Kingdom meetup.

And that’s not even to get into dating and other random social activities, like the Halloween party, the whale watching, the farm visit, poetry brothel, etc.

So… doing nothing often can feel gross, especially nothing on top of nothing. But I have found that when your schedule gets extremely full like this, either due to over commitment (as in my case) or something outside of your control (work, family, something), it is not a waste of time to waste time anymore. Last night I spent upwards of three hours lying on my bed and spacing out, and it doesn’t feel like time badly spent. There’s a word in Portuguese, conseguir, which roughly translates to “get,” or “pull off,” and there comes a point where one’s mental faculties can no longer consegue anything at all. Where the whole notion of any particular process is simply out of the question. For most people, this time comes in between activities, whenever we space out. But if your schedule is as tightly packed as mine, sometimes you need to dedicate time for spacing out. In that case, staring at the ceiling is an excellent way to spend a few hours.

Categories
Dear Diary

If I Were Queen of the Universe: My Royal List of Demands

But if I were queen of the universe, this is what I’d want to see:

– Recognition that “leader of the free world” is not the same thing as “leader of the earth.” For most of human history, we have lived with the possibility that some people far away from us could make decisions and take actions that negatively affect us. This has not changed, and the notion that globalization has changed this is an illusion.
-Building on this recognition, the acknowledgment that when we collaborate as peers to save something on which all our lives depend, we must trust others to make the best decisions they can given the information they have, even when we are not watching.
-To date, globalization has largely consisted of two kinds of processes – one is straightforward exploitation, and the other is a weird effort to bring democracy and the end of race and gender based oppression to countries that are not “civilized” enough, weird because it claims to be a explicitly anti-imperialist project, so it blames colonialist countries while it imitates colonialist countries. The “global south” is not much better for having been introduced to the 24 hour news cycle of the “global north.” the encounters the West has had with developing countries to date have often been terribly mismanaged. We need to recognize the simple truth that though the Other is terrifying to encounter, this fear cannot be the organizing principle of our foreign policy.
-In order to create a more humane foreign policy, we need to acknowledge that there cannot be universal human rights if there is not a universal human. Margaret Thatcher once said, “There is no society, only individual men and their families.” To my eyes, this has been the fundamental view taken by the United States and Western Europe towards globalization. Denying that there is a universal human is often labeled as progressive, but it is mainly used to avoid taking responsibility for the people we are harming. We need to look at the people we don’t like because they are different from us and the people we don’t like because they’re actually assholes and the people we can’t afford to like because we want their stuff, and recognize there is something true about them that is also true about us, and that true thing entitles them to rights we would like to deny them.
-We need to deconstruct the business class, and reintroduce production and service as economic cornerstones, instead of financial speculation. If we reassessed the financial worth of a job (salary) by its usefulness to the community, I think that would be a big start. If we could introduce more cooperative models for businesses via tax credits and incentives, and require all high schoolers to do a year of service (instead of military) before they went to college, I think that would be good too. I think a better process of globalization would be putting our global values to good use to make our communities better where are.
-We need to transform globalization into instituting our  global values in our local communities, instead of exploiting global communities for local value.

-Embrace plurality! YOUR QUEEN COMMANDS IT. There are: different learning styles, different strengths, different sexualities, different cultures, different outlooks, different hopes, different everrrrything. EMBRACE IT.

Categories
Dear Diary

Dreamwork

In just over a week, I will be 30 years old. I’ve come to certain decisions in the last few months that are important to how I manage my time in the coming months and years. When I set out to get a subject masters in the humanities, my career goal was academic reference librarianship, and to teach as an adjunct professor. I still want to teach and look forward to having the qualifications to do so, but I have decided to stay in public librarianship, for many reasons, but the main one is the range of possibilities for learning and developing. Brooklyn Public Library, it turns out, is very supportive of employees trying new and creative ideas. I also noticed that they have paid attention to my strengths and  invited me to participate on committees, go to trainings, and run programs related to who I am as a librarian. Settling into this career, I think, helps me shape and guide my desires going forward. For example,  if I stay at the Brooklyn Public Library, I have good reason to buy a condo in Brooklyn in the next few years, given the rental situation in this city. It probably makes sense for me to find particular kinds of communities — Jewish, intellectual, gaming, writing,  etc — and to invest more time into my relationships with institutions in this city.

I have also been thinking a lot about my master’s thesis lately, because I’m hoping to graduate in May.  I developed an entire outline which relies heavily on Arendt and Foucault, and somewhat on  various secondary sources, to make a complex argument about Arendt’s amor mundi, finding space for Place on the political Left, Foucault’s carceral state, the neoliberal suppression of the relationship between citizen and Place via database theory, and the resulting carcerality of the neoliberal state.  Yes, it’s about three theses in one.  But I’ve been thinking about it for months, and managed to work out a rough outline of what it would look like, and a bibliography. it’s a writable paper, and it can be done in sixty pages or so.

This morning, I came up with an equally interesting, much more straightforward idea for a thesis.  Perhaps it is true, as they say, that you need to have the messy ideas before you can have the elegant ones.  At any rate, it was immediately evident to me that this new idea is the direction I ought to take my thesis in — easier to sell an advisor on, more relevant to a wider population, and still wrestles with problematic assumptions in my political communities. Most importantly, it addresses directly what I came here to study: the construction of meaning.

Various people have suggested my original idea for a thesis was too ambitious, but I’ll tell you what’s too ambitious: taking a BISR class, three NYU classes, a sign language class,  sending my novel manuscript to Kirkus for editing and then shopping it around, and writing my original thesis idea for my website all while working full time.

A girl can dream, right?

 

 

Categories
Dear Diary

Wander, wander here and yonder

Summer is in full swing, and I seek to bloom. Today I began my 1.5 week shift at Saratoga, a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library that is actually in walking distance from my apartment! The Saratoga branch has an actual backyard, and in that beautiful backyard, there is a feral cat colony that they care for. <3  Also there is a lovely librarian here who started around when I did and apparently met her partner at a comics convention, so my plan is obviously to be her new bff.

I have been busy. Here are some of the updates:
–I went to C’s wedding in Seattle earlier this month. C and I are old high school friends, so I saw some of the people I grew up with, and we posed for silly pictures. I was also one of the witnesses for the signing of the k’tuba. It was a beautiful wedding and a nice weekend in Seattle. D.H. and I saw a bunch of the documentary about the making of Broken Age, which was both delightful and inspiring.
–I finally settled on form for my master’s thesis. I need to develop an outline, I’m hoping to pitch it to a professor in late July. The main thinkers I am drawing from are Foucault, Arendt, and certain historians of neoliberalism. With any luck, I’ll be done with grad school this May.
–I’m very excited for the taste of Bushwick next week. Even though I’ve been living in Bushwick for a year now, I don’t have a good lay of the land.
–On that note, it is our intent to renew where we are, so that lets me invest some money into my personal space (instead of moving), which is a relief. I had our cleaning lady come out and help me redo my room. I now have a normal metal bedframe, a large cat tree, a clean floor, and a bunch of stuff in storage, too. And of course, the annual donation of excess clothing.
–I started a meetup group for the story game, Kingdom, that will hopefully also involve creative output from members.
–Due to vacation time, money, and school, it looks like my plans to visit the European continent will finally be realized in July or September 2017. (I guess a lot of Europe shuts down in August)
–I am visiting D.H. in Sacramento, CA, next month, where he will begin his new job as an adult librarian for their public library system there. The plan is mainly not to melt. But I am also flying there from EWR, which is the world’s worst airport. So cross your fingers for me.
–On the friend front, Isaac is running for state rep in Dover, NH, and Noah published his first novel (review to come shortly).

Next week begins the the Big Meetup Campaign, in which I go out and Make All The Friends. Wish me luck, wish me charm.

JTP