Tuesday, June 20, 2017

THE FEMININE PERSPECTIVE


I have been circling this concept for what seems like an eternity. It is not a fashionable concept. We are in a time period where masculinity and femininity are seen as purely social or cultural constructs, each with their own set of major problems. Socially constructed masculinity is bullying and brutish, only interested in winning and dominating. Socially constructed femininity is simpering, wimpy and foolish, endlessly complaining and seemingly only interested in the sound of its own whining.

I believe that some people, regardless of gender, are born leaning toward a masculine perspective. I believe that some people, regardless of gender, are born leaning toward a feminine perspective. I was raised in a home that valued toughness and mental agility. I was taught to not act or be very feminine, because femininity was not viewed as tough or smart. After being abused as a child, I also went through a severe tomboy phase before and during puberty. Among other things, I cut my hair very short in order to look like a boy.

But I have always felt, at my core, extremely feminine. When I was in kindergarten, I would beg my mother to let me wear dresses to school (she would make me wear my corduroys underneath them—or, more often, send me to school in denim overalls). My mother was herself quite feminine, but more in a denim and heels way. More sexy, outdoorsy fox. I liked very feminine things, very girly things.

People equate this with stupidity, I’ve realized. Intense femininity is seen as dumb. It’s like Marilyn Monroe—pretty face, curvy body, nothing upstairs. And if femininity equals softness, that is seen as weakness. Someone who will just roll over on her back in the face of adversity. Someone who can’t think for herself.

Similarly, intense masculinity is seen as pure asshole-ish-ness. Just a real cold, unfeeling prick, storming through life, dominating everyone, not giving a fuck. If masculinity equals hardness, that is seen sometimes as strength, and sometimes as pure brutality. Someone who will steamroll their way through life. Someone who only cares about himself.

Ours is a culture of aggression, which is why the masculine perspective—while often critiqued—is not as universally hated as the feminine perspective.

I think both of these perspectives have been unfairly maligned, mostly because they are seen through a recherché lens. People think of these archetypes in terms of the 1950s businessman and the 1950s housewife. He’s a machine cut off from his emotions—no better than an automaton. She’s disenfranchised and powerless—no better than a cooking, cleaning sex doll.

That is masculinity and femininity at its worst. That is not masculinity and femininity as it should be.

Over the past few years, I’ve thought about myself as a creator quite a bit. I’ve often thought that one of the most valuable aspects of my work is the fact that it so wholly represents an intellectual feminine perspective. I have very little difficulty engaging with my intellect. I rarely come across a concept that I feel is over my head. I don’t think of this intellectual ability as distinct from my femininity at all. I think of it AS my femininity. My curiosity, my intuition, my wisdom. These things—though arguably gender neutral—FEEL feminine to me, because of the way I use and express them through my mouth and mind and body. And I love them.

I can feel these qualities in other feminine creators as well. My favorite fashion designers are Isabel Marant, Miuccia Prada (who holds a PhD in Political Science), and Vanessa Bruno. When I wear their clothes, I can FEEL their feminine wisdom in the way they’ve designed their garments, in their choice of fabrics.

My favorite cafés in Williamsburg are Saltie and Lilia. When I eat at these places, which are owned by women, I can FEEL how women think about food, how their choices inflect the aesthetics and the cuisine.

I love being around my friends, who regardless of gender tend to tip toward a more feminine perspective. I like the way they do things, the way they think about things. I’ve often thought that the feminine perspective could be visualized in spirals or concentric circles. That’s how it appears to me visually.

At the same time, I am fascinated by the otherness of masculinity. It is the thing I am most attracted to sexually. The not-me. While I believe that there is some masculinity in my thoughts and behavior, it is most definitely not my dominant personal perspective. It is a perspective I like to dive into and swim around in because it is so different. I love masculinity, I love the sound of it, the look of it, the feel of it, the smell of it. I love that it thinks differently to me.

But sometimes I feel like I am the ONLY person in the world who thinks this way. I feel sometimes like we are caught in this endless boys versus girls battleground, where nothing can ever be resolved. I hate it.

I hate the idea that being feminine means siding with femininity against masculinity. I hate complaints about men.

And I hate men denigrating women. It makes me so sad.

From taking the past few years to dive into the feminine perspective, I have surfaced with some ideas. People who identify with or are intrigued by the feminine perspective need to start putting their money where their mouth is. If you like the creative product put forth by feminine individuals, support their efforts. Stop complaining about the masculine not supporting the feminine if you yourself are not supporting the feminine. What the masculine perspective gets right is that it has an inbuilt support network. It puts its money where its mouth is.

Think about the things you naturally resonate with. If you feel deeply feminine, nine times out of ten the websites you shop, the clothing you like, the cafés you visit will be owned or operated by someone with a similar perspective.

Femininity shouldn’t need to feel justified by masculinity. And masculinity shouldn’t need to feel catered to by femininity. Those imbalances occur when people aren’t valuing and accepting WHAT THEY NATURALLY RESONATE WITH.

I love masculine men, but I don’t think I necessarily make work they are going to immediately resonate with (nor does the work they make immediately resonate with me, nine times out of ten). If anything, I would love for them to be intrigued by the fact that my perspective is DIFFERENT than theirs. When I was a girl, I used to go to hardcore shows with my friends. I LOVED watching the boys (and, though fewer, the girls) in the pit, watching their aggressive reaction to the music and to each other. It felt so graceful and primal and free to me. So natural. I had ZERO desire to go into the pit myself. I like that music, but I experience it differently. There is something beautiful about that to me. I don’t ever want to think that we have lost the ability to appreciate the differences in each other.

And I don’t ever want to think that we have lost the ability to appreciate ourselves for who and what we are. I am proud to make work and live a life from a feminine perspective. It was not a perspective that was drilled into me. It is one that was, in some ways, scared out of me. When I was able to reclaim it, it felt like coming home. I want everyone, no matter how feminine, masculine or in-between they feel, to find resonance with their own perspective. That’s one of the biggest hopes and dreams I have in this life.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

FEAR


I was abused as a child in different ways by different people. This is not a confession but a statement of fact. I have only told, at most, four people this fact. I don’t know why. It has been a hard thing for me to come to terms with—my whole life has been trying to run from my own pain, and creating spaces, relationships and situations that kept me from really having to deal with it. When I have encountered other women who’ve been abused as children and are open about it, I’ve felt angry with them. I felt they were using their stories to get pity and attention. I felt that it was disgraceful to air what I perceived to be “dirty laundry” in public.

So I unconsciously created a life where I was rarely put in a position to have to deal with straight men (my primary abusers) in a work setting. My work was female-oriented for the most part, and that made me feel physically safe. Up until about seven years ago, I led a life that appeared to be similar to the lives of my friends. I dressed up, I went out, I met men. But I was dissociative during intimacy, without realizing it. At that point in time, I thought dissociating WAS intimacy. I thought sex was something you just performed robotically in order to be approved of, and the best thing to do was to be sexually attractive and “do” all the things your partner wanted you to do. I was completely cut off from my emotions and from my physical desires. I just wanted to be a normal person, like my friends. I thought aping their actions would get me there. When they talked about their desires, I followed suit, parroting them and feeling nothing inside. I would often gain a bit too much weight as a deterrent to sex, unconsciously keeping myself safe.
At a certain point—or at any point, really—dissociative sex becomes like self-rape. I didn’t realize that. But at some point in time, for some reason, I began to question more and more the way I would involuntarily “tune out” during these encounters. Spontaneously and involuntarily “tuning out” was something that happened to me a lot in childhood, to the point where, in fourth grade, I went from being a teacher’s pet to a student who was reprimanded repeatedly for not paying attention. It happened so often it was even a joke in my family: “Aimee’s spacing out.” Because this behavior was both chastised and normalized, I didn’t understand that it was neither normal nor “my fault.”
As my life progressed, I began to see painful patterns that brought me a high degree of misery in my life. I was very easily controlled in the workplace because I feared making mistakes and being confronted—by women or men. People sense fear, and if they are not sensitive, they will often use it against you. In my personal life, after this period of going out and “hooking up” in a dissociative state, I began to draw back from intimacy, finally realizing that something was going on with me, and that it was very wrong. From that point, I began to see getting hit on by men not as a chance to feel like an attractive, normal person (which I absolutely did not feel like), but as an attack—and I began to get very nervous whenever a man would approach me. I still feel that way (but I am getting a little better). Being confronted romantically by a man, or in an assertive, aggressive or hostile way by a man, is deeply frightening to me, and I have a really hard time getting past it. Sometimes I just can’t get past it. This has caused endless problems in my work life and in my personal life. Sometimes I feel like I live in a constant state of childhood fear.
Dealing with all of these things on my own was and has been extremely difficult for me. As much as there are tools like therapy and so forth to deal with this type of thing—they don’t go far enough as far as I am concerned. I had a therapist who seemed embarrassed when I talked about sex (and, being someone who has been abused and is thus sensitive to the emotions of others, it made me not want to talk about it).
If you have been scared into a place where you cannot feel desire, no one can make you feel like it’s OK to feel desire. They can tell it’s OK because of course it’s OK. But telling you something doesn’t make it true in your body. You have to find that for yourself, in your own body, mind and heart. And you have to do this in your own way. I did it, I am doing it, but it has not been easy, and it has led to some extremely awkward and embarrassing situations. I’m still working on it.
As I wrote, I’ve only told a very few people about this. Not all of them were close friends. This is not a topic people feel very comfortable discussing openly. And previous to my coming to terms with my past as an abused child, I was as judgmental as anyone, more so, with regard to women talking about their abuse openly. Now I can see that their opening up about their own abuse was a “trigger” for me (I was also dismissive of triggers, until understanding them firsthand). Since I had yet to come to terms with it in my own mind and life, their stories made me think about things I did not want to think about. Or talk about.
People say you have to talk about things, but when you encounter closed doors (often in the form of uncomfortable silences), it makes it hard to talk about things. I’m not sure you have to talk about them. I don’t know. For me, I feel like this is something that is probably meant to unfold.
The weird thing is, I feel a sort of guilt about the ways in which my personal development relative to my abuse has made me make a mess out of so many situations. There are literally countless times that I have had issues with men that I “overreacted” to (from a normative perspective) because they made me feel so afraid. I feel guilt that it took me so long to address this problem directly, that I was mean to other women who told their stories of abuse, and that I still don’t know exactly what I should be “doing” to get better. I am OK with where I am. But I have regrets because I know I messed up some things because of this.
I also don’t necessarily like talking about this because I don’t want people to look at me and see something used and abused. I feel protective of the person I was as a child, and I don’t want everyone looking at her and studying her. It’s very embarrassing to me.
I’ve always enjoyed my writing life on the intellectual plane, and I do not love this sudden impulse I’ve had over the past few months to write so personally about myself and my life. It does not feel as interesting to me as my other intellectual and creative pursuits. I like less the fact that I’m drawn to offering these words in a public forum, since they are so personal. But I have a strong intuitive impulse to do this, and it’s one I don’t feel like I want to deny.

Monday, June 5, 2017

STABILITY


I’ve been thinking a lot about this word lately, and I came to a realization that was interesting to me. Since I was a child, financial instability has been the omnipresent nervous fear that invades my universe. While my family always scraped by, their modality of accruing income was just that: scraping by. Barely making it. When I applied to college, I was told I could not go because it was too expensive. But then my mother, possibly knowing that I was very responsible and certainly knowing that I didn’t fit into small town life, helped me apply for loans so that I could attend the New School.

In college, I attended school two days a week, went to my internships two days a week, and worked eight hour days the other three days. I was always working, always focused. I loved learning new things, so working hard came easily to me and in most ways, I liked it. I conflated my identity with my job title, so work just seemed like me. Who was I if I wasn’t my job?

Six years ago, when my father died, I was thrown into a profound existential crisis relative to my life, my “career,” and my internal value system. Having been on a high point for a good few years, suddenly everything seemed to go wrong in my life at exactly the same moment. I really didn’t know what I wanted, who I was, or what I was doing. I tried to grasp on to old modes of thoughts and action, yet found everything I thought I cared about slipping through my fingers.

Because I felt so profoundly alone and confused, I grasped on to a way of making money that I hated, but that felt (and was) very “stable.” If I could count on my financial stability, surely I could work out the rest of my problems from there. That was my thinking at the time.

I now see this as a period of profound contraction. My father’s death, and other painful events around this time, truly scared me back into a shell I was just venturing out of for the first time. I took these awful events to be a form of punishment, messages sent to me telling me that I was wrong to try to venture outside my safety zone, and it was much better for me to put myself into a space where I didn’t really care about anything aside from the numbers in my bank account. Go back to being the little anonymous worker bee you were in (and after) college.

But when you don’t care about anything, nothing can really care about you, either. The friendships I fostered during this period were OK on a superficial level, but I knew these people didn’t really care about me (when people asked me where my family lived, I would have to tell them that my parents were deceased. More than once, one “close” friend physically got up and left the conversation when I made this statement. Pretty good sign that he didn't care about me as a human being.). Still, I can’t blame them for not caring about me. This was in some subconscious way exactly what I wanted. I couldn’t bear the pain of having someone or something I truly cared about “taken” from me again.

I can’t say that this specific pain was entirely relative to my father’s death. We were estranged when he died, and I didn’t have a great relationship with him by any means. It was more that his death brought up, in a very strong way, the sadness of everything around my childhood­—and everything about my parents and their lives and deaths. I had suppressed this sadness for many, many years, and feeling it for the first time was agony to me. I didn’t want to be alone with my pain, but I didn’t want anything else around that I could love and lose either.

So, I led a life where my primary means of making money made me extremely unhappy, and my friends were only friends on a superficial level. I was, however, financially STABLE.

Only in the last few years, in fact basically in the last year, have I come to realize what a mistake it is to depend on financial stability as a key to life stability. This is not true at all. It FEELS true. Looking at those numbers in your bank account FEELS like stability. It feels like a sigh of relief. But it has nothing to do with stability.

What I realized today is that stability is actually love. When you begin to honestly love yourself, and cultivate honest love in your life with your friends, relatives, lovers, etc.—THAT is stability.

When you care about others and they care about you, free from obligation or condition, you have stability. I have a few friends now who I know love me, regardless of what I do or don’t do. They don’t compete with me, they don’t shame me, they don’t have codependent relationships with me, they don’t take advantage of me, and they don’t abuse me. They love me. We hang out and see each other, and it is happy and fun. I can talk to them about sad things in their life or in my life, and we can deal with it. When they are in pissy moods, I don’t expect them to change just to make me happy. If they have great success in any area of their life, I honestly enjoy it with them and for them, free of envy. If things go a little lopsided, I only hope for the reestablishment of their happiness, and do what I can to help.

I can’t tell you that I was brought up to understand love in this way. Most people understand love as a condition or an obligation, which is what makes love seem weird, scary and not fun. I was no different. In my relationships previous to now, I always walked on eggshells, scared that I would do something wrong and have love taken away from me. I tried to please others as a way to keep myself safe from the pain of abandonment or abuse. And the joke was on me, because I always wound up feeling abandoned.

Then, in this period of strong avoidance in the last few years, I just gave up on walking on eggshells. I felt that if no matter what I did I was always going to lose love, I would simply prefer not to have it in the first place. Sad choice! And one that I have been slowly and cautiously moving away from. It has not been easy. A lot of my life is still tangled up in my past, in ways that I really don’t like. But I feel, for the first time, like I finally understand the path forward.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

E.P. THOMPSON KILLING IT SOFTLY ON THE NEED FOR (AND INCREASING LACK OF) INNOVATIVE POLITICAL THOUGHT

Words as true and necessary today as they were when this was recorded. E.P. Thompson is truly a forgotten gift to the intellectual avant garde. Completely sui generis in his modality of thought, analysis, and discourse. Time for his rediscovery. Ripe for reevaluation. And his work is such a pleasure to listen to and read.




Tuesday, May 30, 2017

WHAT IS A MORAL ECONOMY


My favorite question at the moment. E.P. Thompson's concept...

"I sit on a man's back, choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means—except by getting off his back." 
Leo Tolstoy






Tuesday, May 23, 2017

FLOWERS IN SPRING III



Model Tessa Kuragi

PAIN


I think it is obvious that we are now living in a vastly different world than what many of us now in adulthood grew up in. The rules do not apply anymore, in any setting. It is frightening.

I have been thinking a lot about pain lately, and how people deal with it—how I deal with it. I carry a lot of emotional pain. It is with me all the time. It affects every aspect of my life. If I thought I was terribly different than most people, I would say that I had a burden that others don’t. But I actually think that most people, even those who have experienced lesser or different traumas, carry around a good deal of pain.

One of my biggest desires—if not my biggest—has been for someone to understand my pain. I think I felt that if this were to happen, somehow my pain would become more bearable to me. What I have recently realized is that I don’t even understand my pain. Things I would do in reaction to my pain would leave me dumbfounded. Whenever my pain crept up on me, I would do anything to get away from it. I was too scared of it to ever really get a chance to feel it and understand it.

Sometimes my pain appears as a sense of hopelessness. A few months ago, for the first time ever, I allowed myself to sit relatively undistracted with this feeling of hopelessness, which has been with me since I was a kid. It’s hard to explain how it felt. Normally when a bad feeling comes up, the natural impulse is just to kill it off. Feed the ego, distract the mind, talk about it, sweat it out, drink it away—anything that would prevent one from actually feeling the bad feeling. And hopelessness is the worst of bad feelings. It’s a really hard thing to confront. But I found that on this day, as I felt this feeling, it just kind of stayed there, not budging, for a few hours. I felt like it was swallowing me halfway, and I was stuck somewhere. I would never get out—and I would also never have the relief of truly being swallowed whole. I felt it, and felt it, and felt it. I thought that was what my life would be like forever. Then, I took a sip of peppermint tea. I hadn’t sweetened it, but it tasted very, very sweet on my tongue for some reason. The taste and sensation of correct warmth in my mouth unexpectedly pulled me out of my feeling of hopelessness (which I had actively chosen to sit with and feel–I wasn’t thoughtlessly torturing myself). It was relatively empowering to discover that something as simple as the taste of peppermint (which has always been one of my top five favorite flavors ever since I was little, to the point that I named a kitten Peppermint) could give me enough of a feeling of hope to break my spell of hopelessness.

I think of pain as the kind of mother of all bad emotions. When I feel hopeless, uncomfortable, frustrated, upset, scared—these are all emotions derived from pain. Last night, I was thinking about a situation that causes me to feel very upset and uncomfortable. I asked myself, what are you really afraid of or upset by in this situation? I thought of the word PAIN. So I consciously decided to feel pain. Then, I felt this sensation as though I were being suffocated or drowned. I could feel pain physically on top of me, like a huge, dark red gelatinous mass. Almost like a giant organ. I felt a node coming off it, like a shapeless hand, and it seemed to want to cover my mouth and suffocate me. I was like, “well no wonder I choose not to think about or feel my pain—it is going to kill me.” Then I felt it kind of change—almost as though it realized it was scaring me and wanted to stop. It then began to feel almost like the energy of a wriggling puppy wanting attention. It stopped being scary and started to feel like it only wanted to be touched and seen.

I realize this sounds a bit crazy. Or a little unconventional. I will tell you that as an ultra-sensitive person who finds a lot of value in conceptual thought, the visuals and sensations I am describing were more about me somewhat deliberately conceptualizing the physical experience of pain for myself, so I could find some understanding and meaning for it. Fear for me almost always feels like choking or suffocating, so it makes sense that feeling pain would bring that up. And it also makes sense, given how much I’ve avoided my pain and made an enemy of it, that actually experiencing it and attempting to understand it would give me a feeling of relief akin to a puppy begging for attention, then finally being petted.

Everyone in the world has pain. We are taught that it is not OK to be in pain. We are not given any concrete methods to deal with pain, other than distraction, self-medication or prescriptions (which are obvious band-aids and not cures). Since we don’t know what to do with it, we wind up doing (at best) stupid things and (at worst) monumentally destructive things with pain. I have inflicted pain on myself and other people for this reason, and it is the thing I am most ashamed of doing. People in pain often join together, find a target to punish, and attempt to relieve their pain by inflicting pain on someone else. We like to think that bad things happen in the world because bad people get together and make them happen. But it is more the truth that people in pain identify with each other, get together (physically or by virtue of shared ideology), and then try to relieve their pain (often caused by fear) by inflicting it on someone else. This will never work as a means to get rid of one’s own pain, or as a means of getting others to understand one’s own pain. But that fact doesn’t seem to be slowing the pace of these actions.

I don’t think we can ever really understand each other’s unique, individual pain. I don’t think we are even really meant to do that. I think we are meant to try to understand our own pain, and through this, we might be able to understand that everyone has pain. Through this shared understanding, we could then potentially treat people with more kindness, tolerance and clemency. Everyone has a feeling that is so terrifying to feel, they’d do anything not to feel it. I can attest that it’s actually quite interesting to let yourself feel it, and see what happens next.


Monday, May 22, 2017

FLOWERS IN SPRING II


Photographer Mar Ordonez
Model Tessa Kuragi

Sunday, May 21, 2017

VICIOUS


When I consider what I dislike about my personality, I usually think of qualities that could be perceived as victim-like weakness. That is what comes most easily to mind. I’ve historically had difficulty speaking publically, and have often suffered from panic attacks while doing so. My shyness has always been something I’ve been ashamed of. Only in the past couple years—after becoming a teacher and needing to work out a way to address my students effectively—have I been able to come to terms with my shyness and difficulty performing in front of an audience. Now I can cycle through a full panic attack while speaking to my students, with full understanding and acceptance of everything that is happening. It’s interesting that when you accept a panic attack and don’t fight it, it usually dissipates fairly quickly.

But this kind of thing puts me in the role of the victim. Shy people are victims, not aggressors. We “suffer” from shyness and panic attacks—all beyond our control. In our culture, if you are a victim, you are not a bad person. You are a person to be pitied. Shy people deserve our compassion. They are too meek and mild to hurt anyone.

But there is a thing I dislike about myself way more than my shyness or my performance anxiety, and it is a thing that does not garner me any pity at all. I have an extremely unattractive mean streak. It is not covert or indirect aggression, which many people engage in. I will not gossip about others and feel extreme antipathy when I am in a group of people who are attacking someone who is not there to defend themselves. I have no tolerance for backbiting, online trolling, workplace competition—any aggressive activity that is not directly confrontational. I find this kind of aggression to be extremely hurtful, and also spineless. I find too much moral superiority in my denouncement of these activities, given that my mean streak is arguably just as bad, in a different way.

My mean streak is very much about attacking the person directly, either with private, face-to-face verbal assaults or with mean things written in private letters (emails). The trajectory is that a person I have some varying degree of interpersonal connection with hurts me (sometimes in a direct way; usually in an indirect way), and I directly attack them by insulting them somewhat-to-very mercilessly. In the worst examples of this, I look for the point that I know or assume is their weak spot, and aim my insult to wound them in that spot. I never use inappropriate or foul language. I am cool, not hotheaded. Simply put, when I am hurt, I viciously attack the character of the person I am upset with.

So it is a little less easy to find self-acceptance for this quality, which is in no way victim-like. Hurting people is wrong. Wanting to hurt people is wrong. Looking for ways to hurt people is wrong. I have wrongly aggrandized myself by engaging in the belief that my way of hurting people was honorable because it is so direct.

There is no honor in hurting people. Even though I will say that I feel like I have always hurt people on the heels of being hurt—that is not an excuse. Life is complicated and not everyone behaves in the ways we wish they would at all times. Sometimes people hurt us accidentally, or simply because they have different needs or beliefs. My kneejerk reaction to hit back twice as hard as I feel I’ve been hit has its roots in childhood, and it is one of the areas of my life that I have very rarely questioned. Feeling truly hurt is so hard for me to deal with. Sitting with the pain of rejection or disappointment—or even just misunderstanding—is torture for me. This, on the positive side, is due in part by the fact that I do live a very authentic life. I truly care for the people I care for, and it is hard for me not to be passionate about the things I invite into my life. I keep things very high-key in my life—there isn’t a lot of mediocrity or comme ci, comme ça. So whether positive or negative, the emotion is equally as intense in either direction.

If I could find some acceptance for this quality, it would be that my over-the-top direct verbal aggression when hurt is commensurate with the passion I have for the people in my life and the relationships I foster.

However, it is this aggression that is also the leading cause of relationships (I use this word as a catchall for friends, family, loved ones, etc.) falling to pieces in my life. I do not “suffer” from being a verbally abusive person. In my darker moments I just am one. And yet this quality causes me more actual suffering than being shy ever did, since it is so destructive to my relationships. So, obviously, I realize that I need to find a way to deal with the emotion of being hurt without looking to inflict an equal or greater amount of pain onto the other person. It is hard. I am very emotional. I am often not very rational when I have been hurt. My need or desire to hurt others is about a deep need for an outside understanding of my own pain. Sometimes this overshadows my deeper need to preserve and nurture the love I have for the people in my life.

The most interesting thing about this, for me, is how easy it is for me to be the one that gets hurt, and how hard it is for me to accept the fact that I hurt others. I think we are all like this to some degree or another. We all want to be good people. But it’s equally important (and probably more important) to look at, and accept, the ways in which we are bad people.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Monday, May 15, 2017

SARAH SCHULMAN'S THE GENTRIFICATION OF THE MIND


I just got around to this and it's really strong. If you did not grow up bourgeois (I grew up working class), it is really hard to watch NYC turn into an annoying, overbred, toothless golden retriever. "Throw the stick, I'll catch it. Pet me. Call me a good dog. Brush my long golden fur. I don't bite." The art world is one of my favorite communities in New York City, and it always will be. But it needs to look at the way it rolls over on its back in the face of bourgeois convention. It needs to question whether a mass audience is really appropriate for true conceptual thought and innovative discourse. The avant garde has never been for the masses: it is the intuitive force of the zeitgeist that creates the wave that eventually trickles into the masses. That is not elitist: that is purely and succinctly about how one naturally engages with thought. There are many, many places in this country for conventionally minded, bourgeois people to live. Places where they will feel very comfortable and at home. There are only two places in this country where I feel truly comfortable and at home. And New York is definitely the first of those places. I hope that this city can wrangle its way out of this bizarre, brunch-centric bourgeois grip, which has nothing to do with "money" (NYC has always been, for creatives and thinkers, both feast and famine—excitingly so) and everything to do with ideology and values. I do not like living in a city where my creativity, bravery, and individuality—what I think of as my greatest assets—have now become my greatest liabilities.

But Schulman says it better than me.

She writes...

Individuated young people came to New York to ‘make it,’ to come out, to be artists, to make money, to have more sophisticated experiences, to have sex, to escape religion, and to be independent of their families. No one is inherently problematic as a city-dweller because of his/her race or class. It is the ideology with which one lives that creates the consequences of one's actions on others. Many whites over the centuries have come to New York explicitly to discover and live the dynamic value of individuality in sync with community, instead of simply parroting the way their parents and neighbors lived in their place of birth. 

And later...

Conventional bourgeois behavior becomes a requirement for [artists] surviving socially, developing professionally, and earning a living. By necessity, their goals are altered. Reimagining the world becomes far more difficult, and reflecting back what power brokers and institutional administrators think about themselves feels essential for survival. 

Saturday, May 13, 2017

JEAN DE LA FONTANA QUOTE IN L'HOROSCOPE


On rencontre sa destinée souvent par des chemins qu’on prend pour l’éviter.

We meet destiny often by the paths we take to avoid it.


I believe this quote is often misattributed to Carl Jung (for obvious reasons). Jung probably said something very near to this. This is one of the truer things I've ever read. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

NICE EXPLANATION OF DISASSOCIATION AND THE NEED TO REFLECT ON THE PAST, BY DR. DAN SIEGEL

For the people who choose not to reflect, what is the most common negative experience of their past?It's divided. But one group that is the most challenging is when their parents were a source of terror. This could be neglect or abuse, or a parent coming home drunk all the time or beating the other parent. When the parent is the source of terror, two things happen in the child's brain that are really distressing. One thing is that the brain says to get away from the source of terror, but the brain also says to go to an attachment figure for protection. But if the attachment figure is the source of terror, then the mind becomes fragmented. Unfortunately, when those kids get older, they have something called disassociation. They disassociate when they get stressed—they can't think clearly, they have a lot of trouble regulating and balancing their emotions, they have difficulty having mutually-rewarding relationships. With disassociation, they literally have a fragmentation of consciousness, and they can feel disconnected from their body, their emotions, and even their memory can be fragmented and their ability to access it. This isn't rare, and it's hardly ever talked about. 
For this group of disassociation, if they don't reflect and make sense of their past, is that how the cycle of neglect or abuse continues?
Absolutely, that's exactly how it happens. Because when they fragment, they disassociate, and they are unintentionally terrorizing their kids. They don't want to, they love their kids, and no one wants to hurt their kids—well, there are some sadists—but for the most part, everyone loves their kids, but they are doing this. Some people reading about this might feel a little nervous about making sense of their past because those experiences were so terrifying. But it all comes down to reflection.

Monday, May 8, 2017

COMMUNITY: THE LINE IN THE SAND


Community is a term that is brought up a lot, and it has always made me uncomfortable. For two reasons: I grew up in a cloistered, insular, soul-sick­—and, to my mind, extremely backwards—community that felt like torture to me. Like many immigrant communities, New England French Canadians held on to their traditions and to their language well after the expiration date of both, simply to maintain a semblance of “community”—grasping tight to a culture that by its nature excluded others. I can now define much of what made me unhappy when I was growing up as stemming from a brutal culture that protected its own at the expense of eating its young. That is community at its worst to me.

The second reason is more complex, more Jungian shadow. I deeply want to be included in a community that would want me. While I enjoy a life with many different types of friends in different “worlds,” I have never felt that feeling of being taken in “as one of our own.” I have very little support in my life beyond my own ability to make money. I was telling a friend the other day: “I have had plenty of invitations to go to people’s family’s homes during the holidays, but I have never had the feeling of someone actually taking me as their family.” That is what I crave. That is what makes the idea of community so difficult for me. Detestable and at the same time unattainable.

What bothers me about the notion of “community" is its inherent invisible line in the sand. The “either you are or you’re not.” I have felt the pull of certain groups that maybe wanted me to be a part of their community, but it was always based on a fiction created around my identity. When my true identity—which I find to be interesting, but very complicated, unexpectedly scary, and not without its flaws—reared its head and asked for acceptance, it was not accepted. The line in the sand could not be extended to include this person as she truly is.

And, when you think about it: this is EXACTLY what Donald Trump tapped into about America. I think he tapped into the deep need for people to believe in, uphold, and feel protected by their chosen community—at the exclusion (and/or destruction, if necessary) of anyone outside of it. By creating a false threat to this ur-community, he painted himself as a savior. The reason a white police officer can murder a black person is because—for that police officer—the line in the sand of his or her community excludes black people. No matter what our constitution says, community dictates that those outside the line in the sand are less than human.

We can say that the world has basically moved away from tribalism as the dominant social modality—but has it really? Is community not tribalism by any other name? Is it not as brutal? Does it not position those outside of it as less than human?

It would be nice to say: “no, community is not tribalism—it is simply the way in which people with similar backgrounds, beliefs and interests join together.” But here’s my million-dollar question: why do people with similar backgrounds, beliefs and interests need to spend so much time together? Wouldn’t it better serve the evolution of the planet if people with divergent interests and beliefs spent more time together? I have often if not always found myself in the company of middle or upper middle class, highly educated people. If we are not talking about nerd topics like theory, art or cooking, I really don’t tend to have that much in common, background-wise, relationship-wise or family-wise, with these people. But please don’t tell them that. They won’t believe you—trust me. Presumably because of the way I look and because of my jobs and education, middle class people ALWAYS assume I am middle class and can relate from that perspective. Not just assume, but believe—even when I try to explain otherwise. Today, I was reading Garth Greenwell’s review of “The End of Eddy,” Édouard Louis’s “autofiction” (which is secretly the only contemporary literature I find worthwhile). In the book, Louis writes,

“That family negligence, class-based negligence, means that I still suffer from acute pain, sleepless nights, and years later, when I arrived in Paris and at the École Normale, I would hear my classmates ask me But why didn’t your parents send you to an orthodontist. I would lie.”

It is weird to constantly be around people that you relate to on the level of chosen interests, but whom you can’t relate to at all in terms of family and background. It makes you lie, as Louis does, because the truth is indigestible to people who haven’t experienced what you’ve experienced. Particularly with women: I’ve often found that women want to over-relate as a means of social bonding. “We’ve all been through it!” And usually, I have not “been through it.” You either create a false self to be able to function like this (this was my former tactic)—or you expose your true self, and bid adieu to the friend (this is what happened a lot when I began to assert my true identity). However: the more you are your true self, the more you discover people who can digest complexity, which is nice.

Having a community that only serves to reify your personal belief system (which arguably is what most communities do) brings me back to New England French Canadians. There is, within that community, a cycle of violence, alcoholism, abuse and god knows what else that is almost impossible to break (unless you do the fun thing I did, and basically become a family-less renegade with no reliable system of support). And while this may be a more negative stereotype of community, even more healthy communities have things they could learn from “outsiders.”

But like I say: if I met up with a community that I felt resonance with, I would take up with them in a heartbeat. While I have lots of sweet friends, and I feel generally happy about my existence on this planet, I feel tremendous instability and emptiness in my life because I don’t have a community. All the ideas I have here about understanding how to erase the line in the sand would be much more interesting for me to test out in an actual community structure, trust me.

But because I have this perspective, I can’t help but share it. I think the biggest problem of the human race can be distilled to one concept: the line in the sand. The thing that says: you are not one of us. That’s why we have war.

I have never met anyone who I felt like I couldn’t love. I didn’t always feel that way. When I learned how to live a life that put love over everything else, I did begin to see the whole world as my community. And I really appreciate that. But I also want people who I can take into my heart as family.

Monday, April 24, 2017

THE WHITE CAT (LA CHATTE BLANCHE) BY MADAME D'AULNOY

This is my favorite fairytale of all time (it was also my mother's favorite fairytale).






Thursday, April 20, 2017

TRUE CONFESSIONS


I have never admired the confessional model. From conventional Catholicism to traditional psychotherapy to contemporary memoir writing and “creative nonfiction,” the confession is seen as the ultimate gateway to some sort of exalted self-purification. I think, in contemporary times, it’s become something more akin to an off-ramp for basking in one’s own troubled past. When I was looking into grad school for writing more than a decade ago, I mostly looked at creative writing programs. But when I visited them, I met a lot of people who were into writing memoirs, and who seemed quite fascinated by their own tragedies, great and small. This mirrored the market, where a heavy influx of confessional abuse- and addiction-centric memoir stories written by women were being published. I think Elizabeth Wurtzel probably started this trend, and it was really in high gear ten years ago. I think that kind of literature is still common, though I don’t really read much contemporary literature so I wouldn’t know. When I met with these people, I thought: I really can’t see spending two years workshopping my writing with these writers. My baseline creative and intellectual interest has been, since teenagehood, in uniting text and image (which is why I’ve always written for magazines). So, I decided to go study at an art criticism and writing program, which ended up being sort of the right decision (I did email Dave Hickey and ask him for advice as to where to study. He told me to go study with George Saunders at Syracuse. I didn’t want to move there, but I still regard this as a sort of missed opportunity).

This is just to say that I really do not favor a confessional creative style, nor do I find a confessional culture very interesting. Why? Because I don’t think people are often (or ever) confessing to things they are actually ashamed of. If you write a book telling me how awful it was to be an alcoholic, and I feel nothing when I read it—you either aren’t going deep enough, or, more likely, you aren’t that ashamed of being an alcoholic. Again I think of Elizabeth Wurtzel, who made her name as a writer by glamorizing her addictions and mental illness. I have no idea what these things meant to her personally, but her work around them just feels like a narcissistic girl who was really into flaunting her identity as a beautiful, fucked-up, smart-in-a-certain-way, ivy league mess. Contrary to popular believe, you can self-aggrandize dysfunction, and make your “survival story” nothing more than a marketing tool showcasing how dangerously great you are—all that and brains too. And I think the culture of young American memoir writers really capitalized on this. Another aspect of this is the exaltation of victimhood via abusive childhoods. There were a lot of memoirs about abuse that came out, and this is such a tricky area. You can’t necessarily blame the writers. I just think about the publishers, and how they were able to calculate sales from these books. It’s sort of like offering a pay-per-view seat to a car crash, and charging extra for front row seats. I don’t think the production of these types of memoirs really heralded a golden age for publishing.


However, I think there is a new type of “confession” floating around in the zeitgeist, and I feel myself and others diving into it. It is the confession of something that you are truly ashamed of—something that doesn’t glamorize you or make people feel sorry for you. It’s about something that goes beyond you. I have a neutral feeling toward the actress Anne Hathaway, as I haven’t seen too many of her movies. My taste in movies—like my taste in music—is either so brilliant or so stupid that it’s not worth me trying to explain it. I don’t like most movies, and the movies I do like run the gamut from masterpieces to trash. But her performance here is something new. The spiritual teacher Teal Swan talks a lot about the ego’s need to see itself as good. I myself have this intense need to be seen as good, because I derive my worth from people viewing me as a good person. I think if people see my badness, they won’t love me. I think most people hold this belief. Here we see, firsthand, a woman (Anne Hathaway) allowing her viewers to honestly see her as something “not good.” I’m telling you guys: this is it. Authenticity—true authenticity that makes you feel momentarily awful, and turns your neck red with shame—is the wave of the future. Not because it makes you feel bad or because it leaves you open to attack. Because it’s all we have—it's all that's real. We’ve had seven or more years of pretty, phony Instagram lives. The pendulum needs to swing. Get on board.