Categories
Dear Diary

Navigating

A strange thing has been happening in the last month, maybe two months that I go back and forth on writing about. I think that right now, there’s a great need to perform politics online that is, despite the fact of 2020, unprecedented. I mention this because — and I really didn’t think I could be surprised anymore — The New York Times has recently fired veteran journalists, who have done astonishingly good work, for not-even-really-all-that-bad tweets that became the latest subject of outrage culture. Then Cade Metz, for the NYT, doxed the guy who runs Slate Star Codex – a blog that is known for antipolitical rationalism – for no apparent reason other than looking good politically. Carrying around an idea that it’s actually possible that enough people have become so invested in political performance that in fact, the world has gone genuinely bonkers, isn’t easy. It isn’t easy because it’s the trope in too much mediocre science fiction, because it’s absurd, because it’s lonely, because almost everyone around me all of the time seems to think it is obviously fine and normal. But it isn’t. It really isn’t.

When someone says trans rights aren’t politics, for example, the answer should always be: all rights are politics. A “right” is a political term. Rights are not a natural occurrence. When someone says trans rights aren’t politics, what they mean when they say “politics” is “stuff we can disagree on without it being a comment on your character.” Whether or not you particularly like Game of Thrones is politics, because it’s okay if you do and it’s okay if you don’t. Pineapple on pizza? politics. Foreign policy? A matter of character.

How did we get here? Should I write about this?

In the first place, it’s not going to help. Even if the whole world read this blog post, it would be up against too big of a mass to make any headway. It might reach one or two people and those people will henceforth also being extremely uncomfortable. Not exactly a win. Also, it does need saying that this post itself is making claims in a similar tone to trans rights aren’t politics. I am indignant, judgmental, and uninterested in space for another point of view.

But anyway, this thing — I think we all know what I mean regardless of how we think about what it is — has been happening for way more than two months and thus, is not the strang thing to which I referred above. Hell, at this point it aint even strange — I don’t know who’s going to get fired next for not having views Twitter agrees with, but I know that it will be somebody. I’m getting used to the reality TV of life.

No, the strange thing I want to talk about is what I see when I meditate. I meditate a lot — it used to be 20 minutes a day, now it’s every few days for an hour or so, and also most nights in bed. I don’t count my breaths because defying centuries of tradition, I have decided that counting my breaths is dumb. Instead, I put meditative music on and I pay attention to the feelings that I am currently experiencing. I lean into them and images float up.  The feeling is much the same as dreaming. Sometimes they’re memories. Sometimes they’re many fragments of memories one after another, all connected by something usually thematic or even literary. But sometimes they’re images of what I think are things that I am aware of peripherally, though I may not remember ever seeing it directly. (When I write it out, it sounds so mystical — but it really isn’t. I am aware of thinking, and the awareness is unusual, and is meditation. But the actual process — the images, the associations, etc — I believe that is what most of us are doing most of the time. It’s the popular concept of thinking, just what’s bopping around in our heads at any given moment, to be distinguished from the intellectual concept of thought which is not relevant to this conversation.)

Lately, the images are:
An overweight woman in her forties in a cubicle that has been decorated seasonally. She has been in her administrative position for years and everyone knows her. She’s married with children and serves on the PTO board. She is the one tasked with organizing office celebrations and potlucks. She knows everyone’s birthday.

Halloween trick or treating, school dances, a child losing a tooth.

Someone in a family has cancer, and neighbors are taking turns making meals.

The way the street light looks in the rain on the street out a living room window at night.

Fantasy novels for young girls.

the memory of the fall festival at the local arboretum that I went to with my family many years.

Bath and body works products and school lockers.

**

You get the idea, maybe. Some of these images are memories, some of them aren’t. What sticks out is that the emotion that swells in me and brings these images top of mind is grief.

There are many plausible explanations – the first is that for me, these images relate to the particular kind of home I had before my dad died. This is the first explanation any time grief is on the table.  In particular the security in the fat family lady, the neighbors bringing dinner, the warm friendship embodied in the picture of a Tamora Pierce novel, and so on, may be the security that I felt when my dad was around, because he was around.

This is an explanation I am inclined to believe, I think it’s true. But I don’t think it’s the whole truth. I don’t think my dad was the only source of that security.

There are two other things missing entirely from these images when they surface – The first is smartphones. There are no smartphones.
The second is not a material thing, but a perception thing. There is no sense of a political self. These images don’t have explicit association with myself as white, or Jewish, or a woman. Some of the images have struggles, but they’re not political, they’re deeply personal, they feel entirely outside of politics. Hurt feelings, because someone did or said something hurtful. Cancer, the disease and the people who love someone with it. There is something about that — that lack of political awareness – that even as I type now stirs grief, deep grief, within me.

I know that if these words were to ever see the light of day, some articulate person on twitter would coin the term “White Grief,” but until that happens, I get to sit in this moment and think about why these images resist politicization. I get to hold the thought that maybe, it isn’t because of something someone else can tell just from looking at me.

**

Dungeons and Dragons and the people who play it have taught me something. Taught is the wrong word, but reminded is also the wrong word. Re-discovered, illuminated the same truth in a different way, understood something that I have known as a child but not yet as an adult — and onward.

The point of Dungeons and Dragons is certainly one thing and one thing only: to form a tight knit group and slay monsters. This is something we have to do whether we play D&D or not, and it is something we have to learn how to do. For this reason the DM has to be agnostic: he cannot be against the player, indeed he can even be for the player – as in rooting for the player, but he cannot give the player the win. You are not slaying a monster if you cannot be slain by the monster. This is what taking D&D seriously is about and it is serious.

Learning how to do it is hard, and therefore easy to not even try to do. You can play whole campaigns and never begin to think about it in these terms, and it is astonishingly easy — almost embarrassingly so — to analogize the way people understand D&D to the way they relate to collaboration in general. It is easy to read into the way they talk about what happened, and who did what, how they feel about being in the world, necessarily connected to other people. I wish it wasn’t, or perhaps I should say, often I wish I weren’t –

One thing I like about it, though. Two things, actually. The first is that there are people I would have dismissed outright for their political one-dimensionalism that I get to see in better contexts. They’re snobby or pushy or blunt or sweet or goofy, you wouldn’t know that. The second is the rule the DM made in this campaign that we can’t make dirty jokes (I don’t know why) and the weird way that has affected the humor. I do like dirty humor, and dark humor, and mean humor
but I also like goofy humor, sweet humor.

There’s a pervasive darkness in the real world, what it lacks in literal manifestation it makes up for in anxiety and terror. When I think of the people in the campaign I play — the first I’ve ever played — I wish them success in slaying their monsters, friends to help them do it, and a nice celebratory dinner with the same friends in a warm and welcoming pub afterward. They are unexpectedly sweet people, but it may be that
the people you slay monsters with always turn out to be unexpectedly sweet.

**
I am doing the 40 day sigil challenge with the chaos magicians. I like them. “40 days of ooga booga,” as my friend Rocks called it.

Today was the first day of the sigil challenge. A sigil is a symbol that you create and charge (or activate). The standard form of charging is masturbation, so you can see why it might appeal to a lot of people. There’s something charming about chaos magicians, I promise. The guy who runs the server where we hang out has a youtube video where he talks about what to do when you’re down, he says (a paraphrasing) “think about the fact that maybe you haven’t even seen your favorite movie or read your favorite book yet.”

Every day you make one sigil. You may also make a robofish. A robofish is a sigil that says something which is already definitely true such as “I have a cat.” The best method for activating sigils is to do multiple at a time — because your conscious mind will not be able to remember what every sigil is and thus theoretically your subconscious has easier access to it — these groups of sigils are called shoals. I didn’t even know the word shoal, but it turns out it means “a large number of fish swimming together.” Shoaling is the act of charging or activating multiple sigils at once. Robofish are there as guides for the subconscious. The general idea is that if the subconscious takes the regular sigils in the same vein as the robofish sigils, the sigils will work by manifesting the results the way the robofish are already manifested: as a given.

I doubt you will be surprised to learn that another way to activate a sigil is through attention. If you were to, for example, reply to a viral Twitter thread with a jpg of your sigil, or put a sticker of your sigil on a lamp post, then by definition the random passerby, even if he did recognize it as a sigil, would not be able to discern what it was a sigil for. Thus it goes straight to the subconscious skipping the layer of conscious meaning. Tens, hundreds or thousands of people looking at your sigil is a significant charge — and truly, there are probably a lot of people who would prefer the attention of a thousand people to a thousand orgasms even without a sigil. A “hypersigil,” is a sigil, often in the form of a work like a comic book or piece of music, that gets consumed by many people.

Making a sigil is fun. And — it’s ridiculous that I know this — but Austin Osman Spare, an (quite probably random but then it is chaos magic) occultist from England whose work forms a lot of the basis for the original chaos magicians, felt that the best way to start a sigil was “THIS MY WILL TO”

THIS MY WILL TO HAVE MORE PIZZA IN MY LIFE

is okay, but you want to be reasonably specific.

THIS MY WILL TO RECEIVE TWO PIZZAS FOR FREE THIS MONTH

then you want to get rid of repeat letters and spaces.

THISMYWLORECVPZAFN

Then you draw a sigil in which each of these letters is present, and you should give it a border — a circle, triangle, square, etc — to contain it or give it structure.

I really don’t want to draw a pizza sigil, but here’s an example of a sigil I found on the internet just now that’ll do great for demonstration[1]: “I heal quickly and completely” sigil requested by anonymous (If you want something more specific just let me know)

The letters are all there – note that there isn’t a technical correctness necessary here. there are no closed circles, so the “o” is just most of an “o,” and “a” and “h” are in roughly the same place. There’s a very common sigil’d “m” there, on the left (with the top of the “m” facing to the left), and also an “E” in the same place (where the left of the E is the left of the sigil as well). You could interpret a lower case “e” encompassing almost the entire sigil, and you can see the Q, the circle that is around the entire sigil, and the downward curve creating the little line coming out of the bottom right of the Q. I won’t do all the letters, but if you look, you can trace some semblance of all of them. This of course is the opposite of charging a sigil, it is deconstructing one. When you create a sigil, put it away for a little while before you charge it — so that each individual letter you’ve incorporated won’t jump out at you when you get it goin’. Conscious deconstruction is not what the subconscious thrives off of (but we’ve agreed not to discuss that).

And you can create yourself a sigil alphabet, by for example, creating a sigil component for THIS MY WILL TO to reuse in every sigil.

Lastly, you can instead use automatic drawing to create a sigil or sigil segment. For example, think “THIS MY WILL TO” with your eyes closed while you free roam with a pencil on the paper. When you feel you are done, you simplify whatever scribbles you’ve come up with into a shape, and that shape become your sigil segment for THIS MY WILL TO.

This is the simplest way. But there are people who create picture symbols instead — that don’t start with language — artists who use colors and different media. There can be music sigils. I bought a hypersigil from an artist I found, a sigil for “grieving your lost futures,” in the form of a pin. I put it on the bulletin board facing my bed. Grief is a familiar feeling, in grief I find the shape of what we are losing.

Now I submit that creating a sigil is like zentangling  – not that I would know, nobody sensible would zentagle. But it enters you into a flow state very easily, it’s relaxing even if you can’t draw and it’s also engaging. Time will slip away in great quantities, so settle in. It’s a little bit like mindfulness because your sigil cannot simply be any forming of the letters into a shape, it has to feel right.

[the following paragraph has mention of actual animal abuse that occurred in real life, but it does have a happy ending]

Today I found out that somebody shot my friend’s cat, the bullet lodged in his spine and he lost the use of his back legs but dragged himself through the rain to my friend’s porch, where she found him. She took him to the emergency vet where they performed a 3 hour surgery, and he’s going to be okay. The surgery cost ten thousand dollars. She set up a gofundme and I donated. I was quite distressed by the story and I told my friend Rocks — and I told him about the 40 days of ooga booga and I said I’m gonna hex that fucker who shot Yugi. Rocks said, “that’s bad juju – just give me the gofundme link.”

Rocks reminds me of those places in stories that appear out of nowhere, where you go in and the chef or shop owner or whoever it is, is very down to earth and not at all wooey but when you leave something that was troubling you is better or a good transition has been made. I believe in messages from Rocks. So I am not hexing anyone, instead I am doing a sigil of protection for the vulnerable, and a sigil of protection for all animals against abuse. I am also doing one to see lots of new birds and take their pictures. Sometimes you just need some levity, and my mom got me a really nice pair of binoculars for my birthday.

I just realized it’s pretty funny that dungeons and dragons inspired a moral panic that people would get into occult stuff, and here I am playing my first ever campaign of D&D and also hanging out with chaos magicians. Anyway, the thing is, there’s something that D&D and sigils and fat family ladies and bath & body works products in the Winter all have in common. If you can see what I mean, then maybe you can begin to see what I’m trying to draw the shape of here. I’m not trying to be coy. I cannot take you there. I would if I could. But there’s no escorts allowed and it is as far as I have ever known, the only way forward, the only way in, and the only way out.

I cannot write about it. I can only show it. Then if you can see it, you will see that you know this geography, that it isn’t Atlantis; it’s home.

[1] Sigil Source: https://sigilathenaeum.tumblr.com/post/129675325087/i-heal-quickly-and-completely-sigil-requested

**
Can I confess something? I’m gonna confess something. During Dungeons and Dragons, I wrote a poem out of the player dialog. I would like to tell you there’s a high brow/low brow interchange that delights my intellect and that I am constantly engaging in connecting the small with the divine. But actually, what happened is Gorthog was like “Do we we feel things here?” and I was like “this is gonna be a great poem” and that’s where it started and ended.

RADIANT DAMAGE

Do we feel things here?

I think we need to get rid of these vultures.
Which one do you want?

Third level bless.
Plus I’m gonna smite.

This one is in range.

**

One thing I have a lot of problems with is Adorno’s line about how there can be no poetry after the holocaust. I think about it actually quite often — for what reason, after all Adorno was wrong about a lot of things (he didn’t like Jazz) (I SAID HE DIDN’T LIKE JAZZ), so why should this bother me?

Poetry is subtext, and when it isn’t subtext, something really terrible is happening. That’s why it was easier to cook (having never cooked before) than it was to write poems in this pandemic. In this pandemic particularly because there was so much fear that was not the virus but played upon the virus – namely, the fear that the isolation of the quarantine wasn’t just the obvious consequence of a viral pandemic but the confirmation of our fears that we are alone and will never not be alone again. A natural manifestation of an already present truth. That was the feeling.

A lot of people put it down to the Trump presidency, some people put it down to social media. Now I am biased because I really don’t like to do things quickly, but I think it’s a pacing problem, personally.

The gravity of this cannot be overstated: meaning — all of it — rises from the chaos via attention. Attention is necessarily tied to time. The more attention you give something, the more meaning it will reveal. The measurement of “more” where meaning is concerned is depth. The meaning becomes deeper. The less attention you give something, the less it means – regardless of how you label it. That is to say, the existence and depth of meaning is dependent on the length of your attention span. Right, that might seem trite but give it a second to settle in. The existence of meaning. That’s a pretty big deal; at least I think it would feel like a pretty big deal if there was no meaning anymore.

This is where The Atlantic or The New Yorker branches off into a conversation about how capitalism benefits not only from our attention (the new product) but in particular from splitting it into brief episodes. If you never look at something, you won’t buy it. If you spend too long looking at something, you won’t buy it. You get the idea. But this isn’t a think piece about late stage capitalism. It’s a think piece about why the parallel meaning between there can be no poetry after the holocaust and never again bothers me so much.

What I come back to is the inevitable truth that there is a time for not poetry. A pandemic or a holocaust. But not all bad times are bad for poems; many of them are well served by poetry. The time for non-poetry is when the poem rises from the subtext and becomes the pretext. An elegance that cannot endure the complexity of humanity. A virus is elegant, fascism is elegant. Poetry is the perfect, clear lens on complexity, but the measure of a good poem is how well it reveals the simplicity from which complexity is built. This is the challenge, even right now the desire to shape what I’m talking about weighs on me with an urgency. Don’t you see? Poetry — the art of poetry — is the art of seeing the complex as if it were simple, no — the art of revealing that the complex is simple. It is revealer. But this function must necessarily live in the subtext of our lives, all attempts — natural or man made — to enforce a perfect, elegant and clear system on top of humanity is necessarily tragedy.

To reveal, via top-down administration, the gutting simplicity of the beautifully complex, is the method of the concentration camp. To discern, from the subtext of our lives, the way the complex distills into the simple, is the method of the poem.

Adorno was onto something. It troubles me. It troubles me that the poem as a governing structure is fascist. I love poetry. I love slowness. I love meaning, especially the elegance of it. What can it mean that this is not the rule by which to govern people? This is what the critical theorists must have struggled with. From this, the idea that governing is to point at every passing policy and yell “this sucks!” From this, the idea not to reveal elegance but cacophony, a mess. An uncertainty, an inefficiency, a confusion that forces us to pause, indeed to get entirely turned around sometimes. In the midst of the governing mess, though, we have the subtext, and in the subtext the poem’s redemption arc.

What an idea! What an idea! No, I think it has come up before — something about the journey being more important than the destination, but I don’t think we ever read that and thought “ah yes, it is only through inefficiency, meandering, mistakes and messiness that we can arrive at the poem instead of the concentration camp.”

But there it is. Take your time. Try not to succeed too quickly or too well. Celebrate the disheveled, absurd state of your life for what it is: the poem garden.

**

**
It has been noted by many an obnoxious person that what makes a person happy and what makes her comfortable may be two different things. You can be comfortable with something that makes you unhappy, which is why you don’t change it; you’re used to what you have. This is – if not common knowledge – commonly admonished.

But on the other side of that admonishment is that happiness, in that context, isn’t what anybody is quite thinking of when they talk about a happy life. Most of the time, they mean a comfortable life. They mean a comfortable life that isn’t replicating harmful patterns. The mode of comfort is replication, the opposite of change.

Marx introduced the idea of social reproduction, that the way a social group outlives the lifespan of a single generation is the replication of ideas. But the self is also an idea, and it also exists via replication. Most of our identities are ideas, even the stuff that isn’t overtly political – like being a cheese lover or a book nerd. To become happier, you have to change the replication that is the self.

This is what the admonishers don’t tell you – likely because the only thing they can definitely identify about your situation is that some or all of is existential and haven’t fully realized the implications of what they’re saying – choosing happiness is a violence on the self. It is not only saying “this situation is not good enough for me,” it is in fact also, and mostly saying, “I am not good enough. A different me is necessary.”

The narrative is that because you are not good enough for you, that this is good for your character and not abuse. But there’s a lot of overlap and I don’t know why we don’t hold this truth when we talk about people who could be happy but make the same bad decisions over and over. There is a way in which this act, too, is one of self love, though it may not be the right act.

In experience, we (everyone who is capable of thinking about the meaning of experience) know this. Perhaps it isn’t articulated a such, but I do think everyone understands this, understands that the effort to make change seem graceful, like some kind of pokemon evolve, is beautiful, beautiful garbage. It’s helpful to say it. It’s helpful for our own recognition of ourselves.

With no evidence except experience and instinct, I suspect that the violence in change is natural — as in inherent to the natural world, not something that we choose. I stand before a forest of ideas here, so dense and so absorbing that it’s almost painful. For example, what if we’ve been reading Hobbes and Locke wrong this entire time? What if the noble warrior and the savage are the intellectual exploration of the process of change, from the two-sides-of-the-same-coin perspectives of good for your character and violence on the self. (Granted, by we, I mean my high school criminal civil law class from 2004).

Another example: if we have decided that the violence committed to the self on behalf of the self carries the same weight and properties as violence committed against you by others, can violence committed against you be reclaimed for self improvement? What pops into my head is that Taylor Swift has a pond in her living room with coy fish in it, an image of happiness that belies the story of how she used to push her unpopular classmates on the stairs in high school. Why does this pop into my head? Two reasons: one, if Taylor Swift wanted to be happy, she would throw herself down the stairs. At the bottom she would have crossed the line, the one that holds us from each other. Two, a question (not loaded, a question): can violence be transmuted? If Taylor Swift pushes you down the stairs, can that violence be the same violence that provokes your change? A change you want? Or do you have to throw yourself?

And we are still left with the question of what the coy fish pond is, being that it is beautiful, relaxing, even spiritual — but perhaps none of those things. This is is thicket we must make our way through, it’s not easy but part of of trying to understand this is to say, if the coy fish pond is not happiness, what is it? And how is it different from what happens at the bottom of the stairs?

The coy fish pond can be bought. For a stupid amount of money, of course, money which after a certain point does seem to reproduce by itself. It’s part of a system, and I don’t think capitalism covers it. I don’t think it’s only a question of various entities creating false expectations about how wealth will make you happy. My line of thought always comes back to bigger questions about systems that were not made by man. Right? What if capitalism, in one of its modes, acts as a way for everyone, including the rich, to commit a group self harm by replicating an entire system of “happiness” that is also an act of group self love, a way of avoiding the violent destruction of the people we know as ourselves.

You start in to a forest like this and each tree can stop you dead in your tracks, it really can. There’s just so much here. Because when you start to talk to about — oh here’s another question that just popped into my head — when Jesus tells people to “turn the other cheek,” what does that mean in this new context of violence to the self as necessary in any self improvement process, and how could the new testament compare to the old, much more violent, testament?

Is this why animals don’t have the same kind of consciousness? Are they capable of the kind of self harm necessary for happiness? Is the bar on what an animal can be the degree to which he can overcome reflex and comfort to destroy himself? Or rather, his self? My god my god my god, you see? you see?

You can lose the forest for the trees and the forest is (the forest always is) the thing that is bigger than people, whatever that thing is. That’s what you’re looking for. In this case, it’s tricky because it’s clothed in very individual language, but it is, in fact, about the human condition.

It is not only saying “this situation is not good enough for me,” it is in fact also, and mostly saying, “I am not good enough. A different me is necessary.”

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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?