Monday, December 13, 2010

Quiet Time

I wonder what I could hear if I turned everything
off; my mouth, the television, yes, even the music.
I wonder what i could hear under the weight
of such silence. It would weigh nothing, of course,
but be even heavier than my voice, the sound of trains,
the videos of cats falling off tables. I can hear
a nothing streaming under all of this, and it sounds
like eternity, a set of syllables in unknowable time.
I think about locking myself in a hotel room,
alone, forgetting the phone and the washing machine;
forgetting the beat of my heart at home. Forgetting to listen
to even my own breathing. What wondrous noises exist
in nothing?

Maybe I prefer not to know.

I'm always the last to know.

I can't believe we're still talking about this. Am I going to have to wait until every lady of the baby boom generation is dead and buried for it to stop? Is this conversation still relevant? Was I raised in a barn--some progressive barn somewhere where a woman can embrace her desire to wear nail polish and also be "successful" and not ever even think twice about the fact that she's practically walking and chewing gum AT THE SAME TIME!

Seriously, ladies. I would like to talk about other issues here, but you keep bringing up moot points and forcing me to rehash topics best left in the tombs. Ladies can be feminine without giving away all their power to the menz. We can be pretty and still make lots of money! We don't have to choose between smart and hot. We can be both. Or neither. Whatever. Whatever we want. Hell, we're redefining what the term "feminine" means. We're that good--we can completely change the way a word is perceived simply by existing. What I don't understand is how this is effing worth discussing. It all just seems so...obvious.

I'm not going to drag this out for the five of you who actually read it. You can't fight mental masturbation with mental masturbation. Instead, I'm going to go fight the power by putting on makeup and then reading Tolstoy. I'm glad someone told me it's okay for me to do both! Girl power! Redefined.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Tiny Spots, Almost Unnoticed

While sitting on the toilet, I look closely at my fingers. I see that the pores around my fingernails are all a faint gray. It looks like mold. My first thought is, "I wonder if this is the beginning of the end?" It's probably just dirt that's worked it's way into my skin, attached itself to the oil in my pores. I always think, "Is this the beginning of the end?", though, in seemingly innocuous situations like these.

It happens all the time. A small spot on somebody's leg turns out to be flesh-eating bacteria or skin cancer. A pain in the chest turns out to be the preamble to a heart attack. What appeared after dinner to be heart burn was actually something deadly. I don't want to be overdramatic, but these things happen. My mother works with dying people. She once told me a story about a man who went in for heart surgery. When they opened up his torso, they discovered that he did not, in fact, have heart problems--he had five huge tumors spread throughout his chest and abdomen. Had they caught it earlier, he might've been saved, but they'd concluded his health problems were just the usual heart problems of a man his age. No one ever thinks, "This is going to be the pain that kills me." Or, at least, most people don't. When it happens to me, I will have thought it. I will have thought it about a thousand times over.

I know this is dirt in my pores, but what if...what if it isn't?

I know this is silly. "That's no way to live!" says the proverbial "they" who live in my head. I remember some nonsense about life being too short. But how are we supposed to remember that life is too short if we don't stay in close contact with the understanding that at every moment we are separated from death by the thinnest veneer? I know this is silly insofar as absolutely no one wants to read me write about it. These spots on my fingers? I feel compelled to remember that they could be deadly. I feel it would cheapen the act of living to brush off the possibility of dying so flippantly. Within hours, whatever this is could take over my entire body, or it won't. I don't believe in impossibility, so it's impossible to do the mental tricks necessary to forget.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In a world full of numbers, I am but one.

About four days after I got engaged, a friend sends me this blurb. "Is marriage irrelevant?" says the headline. I'd already seen the piece earlier in the day and was just waiting for the link to come over my IM. I know how she feels about marriage.

Essentially, according to polls and sociologists and people in general, marriage is becoming obsolete. As usual, lots of statistics show up to "prove" this. Fewer American adults are married now than in 1970 (click through to the Time piece if you want all the statistical details). More children born out of wedlock. People are waiting longer to get married, which I suppose is meant to illustrate a certain level of ambivalence (although I think it's just good business). What I find so interesting about all of this is the fact that anyone would try to construe these numbers to determine marriages relevance. Relevance is determined by the individual. Fewer people may find marriage relevant to them, but this does not render marriage universally irrelevant.

This is just human nature, though. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things, and we make these decisions socially. We're social, relying on each other for survival. Therefore, the opinions of our peers are extremely important. We're wired to believe that making the wrong decision in the eyes of society is to risk death (because no one will help you survive if they think you're a bad person). This isn't to say we all agree. Western ideology revolves around the individual, and we've developed the skill of forming opinions. What we haven't developed is the ability to tack on "for me" at the end of the, "I think this is right," statement.

Reading another article on the "co-sleeping controversy" (i.e. parents apparently have very different and strong opinions on whether or not parents should let their children sleep in the parents' beds with them), I came across this quote: "A lot of people are like, ‘Oh, this isn't right for our family, but it might be right for another family.' No. There's no gray area: There's a natural way to birth, there's a natural way to parent." I was stunned. I can't imagine how anyone could say such a thing. It's just insane. Admittedly, I was raised by parents who said, repeatedly, "I am your parent, and how I raise you is my business!" This meant that they let me skip school whenever they thought appropriate, school officials be damned. Jealous? A quote like the one above stuns me because I just can't fathom how anyone thinks it's any of their business how anyone else raises their children as long as those people doing the raising are not breaking any laws. There are times when opinions are in order: child abuse is an example. Co-sleeping, like breast feeding, is not one of them. And questions over what constitutes abuse even vary. Cultural leanings color our personal perceptions. As of 100 years ago, it wasn't considered child abuse by pretty much anyone to marry off your 13-year-old daughter to a 40-year-old man. In some cultures it's still not considered abuse. As of today, most people will have a gut-level reaction to that situation that tells them it's wrong--it's a form of abuse. I'm inclined to agree, but I'm not sure I can say that I'm cosmically justified. That's the thing. When we're forming all these opinions, we're subconsciously saying that we're each on the side of God, whether we even believe in one or not.

It is scary to open ourselves up to the idea that there are different right ways of living one's life. If I can't hold other people accountable for their actions, how am I supposed to protect myself? Also, if I can't determine right and wrong, how am I going to elevate myself above others? This problem spills over into our forming of opinions even on matters that do not affect us personally. What difference does it make to anyone's life if I get married or don't? My choice may fly in the face of what you believe to be logical, but it doesn't have any bearing on the rightness or wrongness of your opinion in this matter. Many people think marriage is silly. I have no problem with this. Hell, I used to be one of those people. But if life has taught me anything, it's that my opinion on this matter affects me and only me. Perhaps it affects my intended, but he and I seem to be in agreement on this matter. That's the thing--you can choose to associate only with people who agree with you. This seems logical enough. This is how I protect myself from the actions of anyone whom I view to have differing moral leanings from my own. The problem is that we believe on some level that we all have to get down with the same standards because OMG BANISHMENT FROM SOCIETY! The threat is not the same today as it has been in the past. No one is going to drag you out in the forest, tie you to a tree, cover you in honey and leave you to the ants if you do or do not get married. At least not in America. However, we're all still very much attached to our opinions and their supposed universality.

I'm currently reading Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception. According to this book, statistics are pretty much always hopelessly skewed. All measurements of data in the real world are flawed, some more so than others. Survey data are some of the most virtually meaningless numbers out there. People lie. Also, their answers depend on the exact wording of a question. Change one word and the same person will change their answer. An example is that if you ask a person, "Do you think it's acceptable to smoke while praying?" you will get a different answer than if you ask, "Do you think it's okay to pray while smoking?" Knowing this, why do we even keep trying to figure out something as complex as the relevance of marriage (which, again, I would argue is a personal, not societal, matter) by using statistics? Raw numbers of people who do or do not do a thing tell us nothing about what they think of the thing (life circumstances being what they are, shit happens), and survey answers are going to be skewed because of systematical errors inherent in polling. But we keep looking to the statistics for answers to what we believe about the world. Why? Because we like the comfort of believing that we know, even when it's clear that certain things are unknowable.

And certain things are unknowable. We hate to admit it, but we've been chasing our tails on understanding certain things for millennia. To some degree, we have a deeper understanding of the mechanics of our universe. However, the whys of things generally escape us. We feel driven to turn feelings into facts, and we're looking for the numbers to back up those feelings so that we can prove to everyone else that they're facts. But even if my intended and I were the last people on earth who believed in the relevance of marriage to our lives, it would change the feelings. The reasons I believe in this marriage have nothing to do with facts, really. Scary? Oh, yeah. But at the same time, my gut tells me it's right. I have philosophical reasons to back up my gut, but nevertheless my gut doesn't operate on facts--they may teach philosophy in school, but even philosophical ideas are not facts. Survey says: many Americans believe marriage is irrelevant! My gut does not care. Comparing my feelings to the "facts" of the matter is an apples-to-oranges proposition.

And we all wind up statistics in the end anyway. In a world full of numbers, I am but one.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Wild Hair

At this moment, I'm embroiled in an intense debate...with myself. These are the worst kinds of debates to be involved in, really, because THERE'S NO WAY TO WIN! It's like arm wrestling with yourself.

This debate is about a haircut.

There was a time in my life (read: most of the time) when I would go out and get all kinds of crazy haircuts on a whim. In desperate need of a change? Get a haircut! And I've had them all. Spikey, long, bangs, no bangs, long in the front and spikey in the back, bob with bangs, bob with no bangs, red, black, red and black AT THE SAME TIME, blonde (oof--MISTAKE), buzzed completely off, and every stop on the growing out train between. I just get a thrill out of doing shit to my hair, and I'm a big fan of the big change. When I was a senior in high school, I had long hair. The dress I bought for prom was a short black fringed number--think flapper. I saw a bob-with-bangs wig while shopping, and when my mother refused to buy it for me to go with the dress, I decided to cut my hair that way instead. Not one to ruin a perfectly good reveal, I got the cut the day of prom so that the haircut and the dress were seen as a combo package. In fact, when one of my friends passed me while I was getting gas on my way to meet up for pre-prom activities, I DUCKED BEHIND MY CAR. Pumping gas into your 1982 Ford F-150 pickup truck is no way to make an entrance.

I have a hair appointment on Saturday. I've rounded up a couple of cuts I like and I'm kind of excited. I'm excited but nervous, and here's where the debate comes in. I'M AFRAID OF WHAT MY BOYFRIEND WILL THINK. I tried to come up with all kinds of lead-ins to that statement so that I could go ahead and excuse myself for being so lame right up front, but then I just took a deep breath and put it out there. I know. It's AWFUL. It's MY HAIR and I can DO WHATEVER I WANT WITH IT. I'm an INDEPENDENT LADY, DAMMIT. I am, however, reminded of the time in college when I told my then boyfriend that I was thinking about buzzing all my hair off. His response was a very strong and emphatic, "NO!" and I felt like I was facing the possibility of a breakup over a haircut. I didn't get the buzzcut. It didn't seem worth it.

Not that I think my now boyfriend would break up with me over a haircut. I think he's better than that. But he still might not like it, and this can cause a very strong reaction in men. As much as they try, they tend to still be relatively superficial creatures. They can love you and think you're great and still feel the need to be totally upset if they don't like everything about the way you look. Not that all have the same preferences. Not all men need a girl to wear makeup all the time. Not all men need a girl who dresses up. But if you do something to your appearance they don't like, they'll get all hung up on it. It's not that women don't also have preferences about the way their men look--we do! But a woman can sit right in front of her big fat husband and say, "I DON'T FIND FAT MEN ATTRACTIVE!" and he will simply think she's referencing some other fat guy. If a woman's man does something to his appearance she doesn't like, odds are really good that she'll just let it go. It won't have any long-term bearing on the relationship. She'll note all the other reasons she loves him and move on.

I kind of hate myself for all that gender stereotyping I just did.

The message is everywhere, and it's subtle. "Ladies! Change your appearance even a hair (haha!) from his preferences and suddenly he won't be quite so satisfied with you!In fact, he will still be telling his next girlfriend about that time you got a bad haircut and it made him not like you so much three years after you broke up!"

I don't want to talk about the biological imperative argument ("We're driven by the instinct to mate with the prettiest lady! Get over it!"), and I don't want to hear that tired line about how people-have-preferences-and-you-need-to-get-over-it-you're-probably-just-pissed-because-you're-ugly, either. I also am not going to defend the whole, "It's my body and I'll do what I want, so FUCK YOU, BOYFRIEND!" argument. I want to look nice for my boyfriend. This isn't something I begrudge him. But I want to look nice for my boyfriend while still being able to be myself, and this can be an extremely land-miney kind of territory when you're a girl. I got an "over my dead body!" look when I mentioned that I MIGHT want to get a mullet. A cool, Joan-Jetty kind of 80s rocker mullet. I'm not talking Billy Ray Cyrus or anything. But I didn't really want the mullet anyway, so I'm happy to let it pass.

I could run the pictures of the haircuts I'm considering past him and get his opinion, but this takes some of the fun out of it for me. Remember, I'm a big fan of the reveal. So, here I am, about to get a haircut (a haircut, not a complete facial reconstruction or a new job in another state), and I'm FREAKING OUT because it might completely destroy my relationship!

I do tend to overreact to things just a little, but I think there's a valid argument in there somewhere. Or maybe not.

Thing is, no haircut is worth completely destroying a relationship. That's the real point in all of this. All relationships walk that fine line between feeling completely free to be yourself and being concerned with the feelings of another person. And, while I might not get how one could have such strong feelings about one's love's haircut, I know that some people do have very strong feelings about this. I want to respect that (actually, I don't really want to respect that--I want to say it's ridiculous--but I'm TRYING to be UNDERSTANDING), but I also just want to go get the damn haircut! I feel at this point like I should mention that this really is about a haircut. It's not a metaphor for some other possible relationship issue.

Or maybe it is. It's representative of how even the easiest of loves can be difficult to navigate when we start pitting our individual preferences against the concerns of our lover. We tell the people that we love that we just want them to be themselves, and this is great when they're being awesome. But throw in one decision we don't like (like a bad haircut or liking Katy Perry), and we're suddenly not so sure we want to encourage such individuality. And while I believe that in most situations it's best to put the concerns of my lover on par with my own concerns (and then let them fight to the death in a cage match--just kidding!), this time I think I will simply go get the freaking haircut and stop arguing with myself (and my boyfriend's reaction in my head) about it.

It's just a haircut, after all! How upsetting could it possibly be?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Faith without works is dead.

Well, let's change gears completely!

I had what some would call a spritual experience last Friday. Fear not, dear readers--this is not going to be a call to arms for Jesus. Make no mistake, I believe I saw God, but I don't think I saw Mary in a pancake. I simply had a moment when the physical world sort of...fell away. What was left was God. Make of that what you will.

What I took away from this moment of seeing God was that the number one aim of my life is to praise and serve God. This isn't an easy answer, but it is one that makes complete sense to me somewhere in my bones, whether or not I understand what the specifics entail. However I am called back to a quote from, yes, The Bible: "Faith without works is dead."

Some believe that we do good works as a way to buy our way into heaven. Some believe that no amount of good works earn grace. Grace is offered to all, and the only way to receive it is to accept it. But if one believes in this second version of grace--and that would be me--one still believes that there is a difference between a said faith and a lived faith. I invite anyone reading this to dispose of the idea that the God of which I speak must be of a particular kind. I have so far quoted a Judeo-Christian text and spoken of grace, but these concepts need not be limited. We find versions of them outside the faith.

I could say it is a comfort to me that I have experienced the presence of God. If I believe, though, that faith without works is dead, then this is more than a simple state of grace. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then I will feel called to be a better person. Again, not going to argue here about what that means, but think of it this way: If I claim to love someone, I believe I am then called to act as if I love them. Saying, "I love you," to someone and then treating them awfully (willfully breaking promises, disregarding their feelings, wishing only for them to please me without a thought to their own desires, refusing to be of help when they need it) is an example of a said faith rather than a living one. How many times have we said these words when what we really mean is that we want to posess the other person? It does us no good to love without trying to cultivate the fruits of love.

Explaining my experience to someone, they responded that I should "soak it in." I should revel in the feeling of what I call grace. However, I walked away from it with a new desire to serve God as a due course of my faith. I love to talk about the ideas of what we should and shouldn't be doing. I, like almost everyone, prefer to keep this conversation going in such a way as to let you know what you should be doing. I fail at these things myself. I am not an awful person by any means, but I could work harder at holding myself in line with what I believe to be God's will for me--that I should be honest, trustworthy, loving, helpful, kind, conscientious, compassionate. I have a tendency to waste my employer's time. This is not in keeping with any of the things I listed above. It is in matters like these that it is easy to slip, and make no mistake--I do not believe that I should be given the lash for such transgressions. I do, however, believe that my faith in those aforementioned higher ideals can help me make better choices if I keep them in mind. It still won't be easy, but who said that the things worth doing in life were all easy?

Even I, an ardent proponent of taking time to enjoy this life, know that some things are worth working for.

Of course, here comes the argument that one need not believe in God to be a better person. I do not argue otherwise. It is much like the rectangle/square thing. A square is a kind of rectangle, but a rectangle is not necessarily a square. One can believe in all of those listed ideals and NOT believe in God. However, one who believes in God but is not actively pursuing those ideals is not bearing the fruit of his faith. This isn't to be taken as a condemnation but as a jumping off place for growing as an individual. It is a wake-up call, not a declaration of evil. We have every moment of our life available to us to make even the slightest change in how we choose to live. Sometimes we need our attention called to these matters. We don't ever need anyone to tell us what to do.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Right Now

I thought of something
I wanted to write about
but I forgot
what it was.

It seemed really important
at the time.

In fact, if I recall
correctly, it was one
of those moments
when I could see behind
everything--the people,
the trees, the air--
and it felt like I knew
something unknowable.

But now I don't know
what it was.

They say, "Never forget,"
but I think everything
I've forgotten, which is
almost everything, was
stuff I didn't need
to know.
I once saw a picture
of myself five years previous
and I couldn't remember
if I was ever her.

I can remember right now.

Settling "The Score"

On Friday, I received The Score: The Science of the Male Sex Drive in the mail from Amazon. By early Sunday morning, I'd finished reading it. Yes, it's that good--and that compelling. In fact, I'd venture to say that it's changed my entire life.

Looking at issues related to human sexuality is a hobby of mine. I've read a lot on the subject, but I've never felt much smarter for it. It's a loaded topic, so even when you read one article that provides evidence from studies to back its claim, you can find other articles quoting other studies to refute that claim and swing the argument in the opposite direction. This is true whenever you read much on any topic, but when it comes to most of what's been said about human sexuality, everyone seems to reside in one camp or another, and each camp is wildly and extremely different from the others. Either porn is contributing to the downfall of all humanity, or it's got no negative side effects and may even be saving relationships. Either women don't like sex or they're all just a bunch of wanton harlots who've been waiting for men to pull their heads out of their asses and actually turn them on for once. Monogamy is natural. Oh, wait--no, it isn't. Everyone just picks the outlook that most jibes with their own sexual preferences, but am I alone in feeling like that hasn't taught us anything?

I took two things away from this book. One, most of what we think we know about human sexuality is wrong. We tend to look for the most "natural" mating strategy to answer a good number of our sexual questions. Human beings have developed a wide range of mating strategies, so there's no natural way of being. Some people are inclined toward monogamy. That's their mating strategy. Others are inclined toward polyamory. That's their mating strategy. Some fall anywhere on the spectrum in between. These are just the ways they've developed through evolution, and each mating strategy has it's pros and cons (at least insofar as the goal of passing genes along to future generations is concerned--if you just want to get laid on a Friday night, I can't really tell you which strategy works best). We often look to our ape ancestors to tell us what's more "natural"--I keep putting that in quotations because, honestly, I think most of the time when people are looking to prove what is more "natural", they're really trying to prove that their strategy is best. Our closest ape relatives are the bonobo and the chimp. When I read about the research done on these animals mating strategies, what I found was that we're not really substantially like EITHER OF THEM. I'm officially done listening to anyone who wants to use an ape study to tell me what sexual behaviors are natural for humans. No, I'm not retarded. I can get down with evolution. But we split off from those two species of apes thousands of years ago, so in believing in evolution, I also believe that we need to stop looking at them for "proof" of "natural" human mating strategies. Especially since the bulk of the evidence from studies of actual modern-day humans show that there is such a variety in behavior as to illustrate that a norm may not, in fact, exist.

The second thing I took away from this book is that a lot of our understanding of humanity's past is grossly distorted. Think your life is soooooo much easier than that of the caveman? Think again. They probably only spent about 4 hours a day really working. Once they found their dinner and cooked it up, they had lots of free time. And women weren't just some weak animal who traded sex for protection from their big, burly mens. That's an idea that was unsurprisingly born during the extremely patriarchal Victorian era, yet persists because most of us get our understanding of such matters through popular culture instead of doing actual research. Women were often protecting themselves. The reason they liked the bigger, burlier dudes was because they thought it was sexy, not necessarily because they saw themselves in need of protection. Prehistoric relationships were probably extremely egalitarian. In fact, the description I found in this book pretty much mirrors the relationship I have now except my boyfriend doesn't make my shoes and we don't eat roadkill. Male and female humans are not nearly as different as we are similar. Most of the differences stem from the fact that women have to invest so much more in the reproductive process. Our sex cells are bigger, so it takes more energy for us to house them and expend them. We also have to manage the gestation period. That's why men have to work so hard to get the sex in the first place. It's sort of biological payback. They have to invest more on the front end because we have to invest so much more on the back end.

Ultimately I learned that it's entirely possible that my boyfriend is telling the truth when he says he's perfectly happy being monogamous.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Cat Fight!

I recently ran across this infographic explaining the so-called changes in size of Playboy models from the magazine's inception in 1953 through January of 2009. As you can guess (because we all know what everyone will say is going on already without the graphic), it supposedly illustrates that Playboy models have become much skinnier through the years--while somehow maintaining those big ole tatas. As my mother used to say, "If you want the tits, you gotta have the hips as well." Basically, Playboy models today are a bunch of anorexics who've gotten surgical breast enhancements, but they used to be bodacious babes with plenty-o junk-in-the-trunk and everywhere else besides.

Meh. As is pointed out in the comments on the infographic, it's a little weak as far as evidence of any kind of substantial change in this area over time. I think we can all agree that anecdotal evidence lead us to that conclusion before any of us even looked at the thing, but it's neither here nor there. What I really want to adress is some of the language used in the blurb surrounding the infographic. Specifically this part:

Playboy's Playmate data sheets (you know, where they claim to enjoy cupcakes and The Deer Hunter) provide height and weight, among other stats. Our analysis shows that models are shedding pounds and gaining altitude at an alarming rate. To be fair, Playmates provide their own measurements, so they could be exaggerating. Plus, we wouldn't put it past the editors to stretch the truth (i.e., Miss March 2008 may not actually want to write "comedic short stories" — or have a 21-inch waist). But who cares? What's interesting isn't the veracity of the numbers, it's what the magazine thinks its readers will find ideal.

I've been noticing this a lot lately, and it is nothing new. This specific piece was written by a woman, but it sounded so mysoginistic that I actually assumed it was by a man--until I remembered that women talk shit like this about women all the time. What's worse is that we do it in a misguided attempt to defend womanhood from all the other women who are doing it wrong (and, let's be honest, possibly stealing our menfolk in the process). What's so offensive to me about the above? It's the part where the author mocks the idea that a Playboy model might actually have aspirations that don't include taking her clothes off or being sexy for money. She might "actually want to write 'comedic short stories'", but, hey, we all know that's not possible because women come in two kinds: those who can and do (take their clothes off and otherwise exploit men for money), and those who can't so they actually learn skills and work hard at accomplishing "real" goals. Most of the people with whom I discussed my ideas about women posing for porn (see a couple of posts ago) all asked the same question: "Yeah, but would women actually do it?" My response? "Not when posing for some silly naked pictures comes with so much stigma on so many levels!"

Girl-on-girl crimes such as this one are nothing new. I suppose one could argue that I'm in no position to claim that it's a crime in the first place. If the author of this blurb is anti-porn, for instance, then her judgments about the women in porn would simply be part of her value system. Ultimately, I think it's impossible for us to demand that others make no judgments. We simply have to be prepared for the fact that whatever choice we make, there will be those who deem our choice unacceptable. I tend to have a more "live and let live" philosophy, but even within that ideal I bump up against my own prejudices. My hope is that I will notice those prejudices in the way that I choose to describe the "kinds of people" who make certain choices and work to change those prejudices. Often the way we explicitly describe our beliefs don't hold up to the ways that we discuss certain topics in more casual situations. The words that we choose tell us more about what we actually think than what we say when we explain what we actually think.

We often don't even know ourselves what we actually think.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Missing Link

According to an article I read yesterday at Psychology Today--if anyone has any suggestions on other websites I could add to my visiting repetoire, please, by all means, leave 'em in the comments--from the standpoint of evolutionary psychology (controversial, I know), a woman will never be truly happy if she doesn't have children.

I have a lot of questions for these people.

At the most basic level, evolutionary psychology provides theories that on their face make sense. The problem comes in when we start looking at specifics. When we talk about genetics, we hear a lot about the desireability of genetic variance. This is why it's better to make babies with a stranger than our own brothers and sisters--we end up with more genetic varience, and this creates healthier humans. However, when I'm reading the theories of the evolutionary psychologists, it appears that we're all motivated to want the same things and to do the same things to get those things. Case in point: I read another article about why men like big boobs. Problem? What about men who DON'T like big boobs? This theory, while plausible (that men like big boobs because they sag more with age, making it easier to spot the young ladies of best childbearing age), is based completely on the assumption that men like big boobs. But when I consider the variance in booby preference, I end up feeling like the explanation isn't really all that helpful or interesting within that larger context.

It's hard to trust a social science field whose theories use words like "always" and "never". I'm NEVER going to be truly happy if I don't have babies? Before anyone thinks this is a knee-jerk defensive move on my part because, in case you haven't heard, I do not want babies, I fully anticipate that I will probably spend at least one Saturday afternoon when I'm, oh, 45 bed ridden and crying because it's suddenly dawned on me that I HAVEN'T HAD ANY BABIES! People who do not have any children by choice often do experience some regrets around that choice at some point in later midlife. But doesn't everyone experience moments like this about some choice or another they've made at some point in later midlife? Absolutely no one is doing any and every thing they want to all the time, and we're all making choices everyday in favor of one thing at the exclusion of another. Those of us who aren't are even worse off--at later midlife, those people will be regretting having done NOTHING. But to make the oversimplified argument that because I'm a woman I will never acheive any "true" happiness if I don't have babies seems a little short-sighted, even if it does fall completely in line with evolutionary logic. It is, from an evolutionary standpoint, the only reason I exist.

But, then, what does evolutionary psychology contribute to the conversation if all it can tell me is that, yup, it's exactly as it's always been.

Actually, I think evolutionary psychology does contribute something to the conversation about meaning, making meaning, and finding actualization (assuming we believe such a thing exists and that it's possible). What evolutionary psychology can tell me is about some of my most basic impulses and motivations. A lot of people get off track when they take evolutionary psychology as an explanation of the way things should be. Even evolutionary psychologists will tell you that. People go, "See? These people are saying we're motivated by sexual impulse and mating and therefore we're built to cheat!" The truth is that understanding these impulses allows us to then outsmart them. I read about a study wherein they showed one group of men a rather small number of Playboy photographs (8) and another group of men the same number of pieces of abstract art. All the men rated their girlfriends' attractiveness before looking at the images. As you can guess, after looking at the images, the men who looked at the Playboy photos rated their girlfriends as less attractive than they had before. Our views on this are heavily influenced by comparison. A man's girlfriend may be attractive, but she may not be "as attractive" as that other lady. Her attractiveness doesn't set its own standard, and it isn't a static, objective rating. This is why porn could conceivably be damaging to a relationship. If a man doesn't understand this basic phenomenon, he might beging to have a lower opinion of her girlfriend even if nothing about her has changed. However, if he understands this phenomenon, he can do things to avoid it. He can look at images of other women less often. He can remember that if his girlfriend is suddenly seeming a little less sexy after a particularly enjoyable session with an issue of a spank mag, it's probably just a trick of the mind. And if he REALLY understands evolutionary psychology, he'll know that we live in a society where sex is based on female choice, so he's better off sticking with what he's got then taking his chances that another woman will even say yes. According to evolutionary psychologists (and evidenced in bars and marital beds all across this land), the woman decides if sex is going to happen. Just because you can see her doesn't mean you've got a shot in hell of getting her to get it on with you, hot stuff.

This is the true purpose of evolutionary psychology. Otherwise it's just so much mental masturbation. Taken as evidence that "boys will be boys and girls will be girls", it seriously short-changes us and flies in the face of the things we see played out around us every day. It doesn't even makes sense in light of the fact that most people act in opposition to the way our ancestors acted. According to statistics, for example, most men don't cheat. They may, however, be less satisfied with their partners just from looking at a few pictures. By understanding these most basic impulses, we can increase satisfaction with our choices.

And that, in and of itself, would be an evolution.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Tits and Tats

It is often said that women should not freak out about their men looking at porn. "Men need visual variety!" cry the proponents of porn. Advocates say that porn may help keep men from actually cheating because it allows them to feel like they got their rocks off with another woman in essence if not in reality. It gives them a release when their women aren't interested in sex. And these arguments are not completely without merit.

However, I started thinking about something. A reader of Dan Savage's column recently queried, "What's the female equivalent of porn? Where's our activity that might bother our significant other but, hey, girls will be girls?" The answer Dan came up with was cupcakes, which was decidedly lame and not in the least equivalent. The other day in the car, though, it hit me. The female equivalent would be MAKING porn.

According to studies that overgeneralize everything, women are turned on by feeling desirable. If the argument for why women shouldn't freak about their men looking at porn is all based in the idea that men are very visually stimulated, then it stands to reason that the female equivalent would be being in positions to be desired. Stripping for strangers. Posing for some nude photos and placing them on the internet where they can hear all about how sexy they are from commentors. Walking into a bar and flirting it up with other men just to get the feedback about how hot they are. If you're one of the aforementioned people who believes in the previously stated reasons for men to look at porn, then this idea shouldn't be all that unsettling. Is it? Because if it is, there's a problem.

Now, of course, many will argue that "women aren't like that." I always love this line when I hear it. Men are allowed to be sexual AND emotional. Sure, we talk about how men aren't as emotional as women all the time, but when it comes down to brass tacks, many of us will admit we've seen men fall in love. Men can love AND they can want to fuck. A man looking at another woman while with his significant other, we're told, is not a sign of his desire for infidelity. It's just the way they're built. But this culture is still in serious denial about female sexuality. The idea that a woman would be turned on by anything purely physical is immediately dismissed as preposterous. Women's sexual and emotional lives are assumed to be completely intertwined. I would argue that just as with men, women's sexual and emotional lives are like a Venn diagram: two separate circles with some overlap but also separate properties. Women want to eff the one they love--but, then, so do men. Women also get turned on by things that have nothing to do with the one they love. They're just conditioned to not even recognize when that's happening because we're taught that it's ludicrous. Studies have shown that many women are so mentally detached from their bodies that they can be experiencing full-on arousal reactions and not even know it.

How many men--men who look at porn on a regular basis and still love their wives and girlfriends because, hey, men can do that--would be comfortable with those wives and girlfriends posing naked or stripping? Some might argue that it's not the same thing, but I actually would argue that the two are strikingly similar. They're both situations in which two people are interacting without actually engaging with each other. So, what's the difference?

I point all of this out to show that there are still huge discrepancies in how we treat men and women's sexuality. Specifically, the ideas we have about women's sexuality seem to hem them in and make them seem controlled; the ideas we have about men's sexuality seem to allow them the maximum amount of freedom. We're told that these are natural states arising from our biology, but the biology of the female actually contradicts that. In different times and different cultures, it wasn't unusual for women to pair bond with the man with the most resources while having sex with the man with the best physical genes on the side. These women would pass these offspring off as their mate's because that's how they gained support. What does that tell you about women's natural sexual desire?

I don't point all this out to say that I'm in favor of or opposed to open-relationships. When it comes to one's relationship style, I think it's every man for himself. Some people (men and women alike) cherish monogamous relationships. Some people (again, men and women alike) cherish open relationships to various degrees. I'm also not saying that I think men shouldn't ever look at porn or that I'm going to run out and pose for Playboy. Sorry fellas. Actually, I'd probably be more of a Suicide Girl. Anyway, what I'm saying is simply that we need to further question the sexual assumptions we make along gender lines. Are some things typical of a specific gender? Certainly. But some things are not, and some ideas have been actively generated by a culture that is STILL afraid of letting women own their sexuality. Look at the idea that a woman only wants to have sex with someone she loves. This essentially makes her sexuality her beloved's property. She can't even help but give it away and allow her beloved to own it--she's built that way. I would argue that just like men, her sexuality is hers, and she makes the conscious decision about who to share it with. When a man is monogamous, we all act like it's this really conscious decision. When a woman does it, we act like it's just the way she is. Some women make this choice easily, almost without effort on any level--but, then, so do some men. But some women have sexual desires that are not fulfilled by their beloved. Hell, for some of us it's still hard to understand the first half of that sentence.

Again, I am not looking to advocate a specific lifestyle. I would not take the evidence culled from biological imperatives to advocate for an "anything goes" ideology. Neither would I condemn anyone for HONESTLY AND OPENLY pursuing an "anything goes" ideology. This is about general ideas we have about sex that, to my mind, just don't add up.

Seems to me that if men get to look at other women's tits, we should get to show other men our tats.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Celebates and sluts living together--it'll be...anarchy!

And what's anarchy but another word for freedom? Today is National Sexual Freedom Day, and I shall now mark the occasion in the appropriate manner. Or, at least, one of the appropriate manners. The others are not available to me at the moment.

The other day I read an article about research into women's sexual desire. It was mostly talking about how to unleash it. The elusive desire of women. How, oh how, do men convince us to have sex with them?

The story is seemingly as old as time. Man and woman meet. Man and woman have lots of sex because they've just met and damn, that shit is awesome! Man and woman fall in love. Man and woman get married. Man spends the rest of his life trying to touch woman's breast and getting told, "Not tonight, honey. I have a headache." Man slouches off to watch porn in his office while the woman watches crappy woman-centered television shows about women and their feelings. The moral of the story was always thus: men love sex; women love feelings (and don't want to have sex later in the relationship because they never really cared much about sex to begin with). Women use sex to get love; men use love to get sex.

We were all raised with this story. Maybe we saw it first-hand in our own households. Maybe we just saw it on sitcoms. As we grew up, we didn't realize it, but this narrative became a central part of how we viewed male/female sexual relationships. Some of us--maybe even most of us--recognized at some point that this story didn't match up with our own feelings about sex. Maybe the men recognized at some point that they love to cuddle or they like women-centered television shows about women and their feelings. Both of my brothers love Gilmore Girls. Maybe we women realized we love sex. The problem was that while we were able to question what we'd been told about our own genders, we carried on believing whatever it was we'd been taught about the other.

The aforementioned article came with some information that rocks that cultural myth. Research is showing that women lose interest in sex as their relationship moves forward because they aren't particularly turned on by familiarity. Once they know they have a man in the bag, they find him much less sexually attractive. What?! But wait! I thought it was because women are these pure-minded souls who just love love and do not care much for sex and certainly don't care much for sex with anyone other than their beloved! Oh, my, how this information flies in the face of conventional wisdom.

Apparently men and women have more in common sexually than we care to believe.

It seemingly serves men to believe all that claptrap about women, love, and sex. It allows them to believe that their women would never want to sleep with someone else. It also allows them to believe that they hold a lot of the power in the relationship. Men supposedly have women under their thumb because women will do anything for love, including never leave and never cheat. Tell men that their wives have "headaches" because they're bored with their husbands and all hell will break loose. Men will actually have to work for it or, worse, won't be able to do anything at all to win back the sexual favor of their lady love.

Meanwhile, women are told that men have a sexual thought "every seven seconds." Actually, according to the Kensey study, 54% of men think about sex every day--which could mean once every day. 30-something percent think about it every week. Some only think about it every few weeks or once a month. That seven seconds statistic? That's just a cultural myth as well. I shared this interesting information with my boyfriend the other day, and he seemed relieved. He said he'd always wondered about that because he's not even sure he has a thought--any thought, sexual or otherwise--every seven seconds.


That seven seconds thing has always perplexed me. Here I am, a woman who loves sex, wondering how it is that so many men aren't in the mood all the time! When women are told that men are thinking about it constantly, what are we supposed to think when they don't want to do it with us? We have no choice but to think a) there's something wrong with us, or b) there's something wrong with our partner. But only about half of men think about it every day! That's a huge discrepency.

Another phrase that's trotted out and treated like science is the old "men are more visual." It's essentially used as an excuse as to why men just can't bring themselves to date ugly chicks. Men also use it as a way to prop up their egos. "Luckily for us dudes, we can get fat, lose our hair, and wear sweatpants and our ladies will still love us!" This might be true--love is crazy like that--but it's got nothing to do with women being less visual. Just like you men, your lady love checked out the hot piece of ass she saw wandering the produce section of the grocery store while you and your sweatpants were across the room in frozen foods. Women are visually stimulated. Don't believe me? Check my internet history. The argument here is not that we need to fight against the idea of men being visually stimulated. We just need to understand that a lot of people are visually stimulated. And we can be visually stimulated by all kinds of looks. And people--people, not men and women--have all kinds of sexual tastes and desires.

However a woman will not want to have sex with a man unless he has lots of money. That shit is the truth.

I kid. What we're seeing in that tale as old as time is the idea that relationships are power plays. For most of human history they were. Women and men needed something from each other. The modern belief that she controls the sex that he needs so badly because men love sex and he controls the love that she needs so badly because women love love is just the modern version of her having the womb in which his genes will survive and he controls the resources that will feed her while she's busy having babies. As people have become more independent, this outmoded power play no longer serves us. It causes more harm than good in the post-modern relationship.

Is there a place in all this for love? Is there a place in all of this for mutually satisfying sex? Is there a place in all of this for both simultaneously? Certainly. I'm just saying that some men like to cuddle and some women like to fuck. My love of sex has been met with varying levels of shaming on every front. Even progressive types like to imply that maybe I love sex because I have a desperate and unnaturally strong need to feel attractive or have security issues and will do any "sordid" thing to feel loved. You know, because that's the only reason women like to fuck. We need to challenge these deeply ingrained gender beliefs about sexuality. We all seem to think that just because women now pose in their underwear on album covers a la Britney Spears that the sexual revolution won, as if the only issue was whether or not it could be okay for women to be portrayed as sexy. But the old cultural trope of "men love sex, women love love, and the two are mutually exclusive" is still at play, and until it's played out, we won't have anything resembling a sex-positive culture.

And why would we want that? I think the term "sex-positive" speaks for itself.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A dream is a wish your heart makes...but hearts were made to be broken.

If you read Psychology Today online religiously (as I do) and have a self-help collection that contains more than three titles (as I do), then you have come across the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you're not nuts or are nuts but haven't had any realizations yet about that fact, let me fill you in on what this is. Intrinsic motivation is motivation that comes from within a person. "I paint because I just love painting!" Extrinsic motivation comes from without. "I go to my shit job everyday because they give me the money I need to live." Pretty simple concept, right?

Well, just moments ago, I was sitting in the bathroom at work contemplating possible tweets I could post on my Twitter page when I came up with, "shaved my legs last night and didn't even get laid." That's when it hit me--most modern psychobabble is horseshit! I'd been duped AGAIN! I've got to stop reading Psychology Today religiously, but I get so bored at work and besides, sometimes I find good instructive articles for my boyfriend in the relationship section.

What does one have to do with the other? Well, I only shave my legs because I believe it will get me something I want--sex. I suppose one could argue that this is a mixture of motivations. It's somewhat intrinsic because I'm motivated by something I want (again, sex) to do something I otherwise would not care so much about doing (shave my legs). Honestly, I can still get the sex without shaving my legs, but I figure it provides a more pleasurable sensation for my partner during the act, so I try to keep up with it. But I find myself trying to calculate when I shave my legs around when I'm most likely to be having of the sex. "We had sex two days ago, which means tonight is probably a sex night, except he's not going to get home until late, and..." But this is pretty much the textbook definition of extrinsic motivation. It's certainly not like I shave my legs because I just love shaving my legs. Hell, I don't even do it for the wearing of the skirts. I will shamelessly go unshaven in a skirt if I haven't remembered to shave in a couple of days and that's what's clean.

Essentially what you've just learned is that I only care about people's good opinion of me when it leads to me getting laid.

Anyway, after thinking this about my leg shaving, I started thinking about how much of what we do is extrinsically motivated. Again, this means we do not do it for sheer love of the activity but because we have to do it in order to get something we want or need. But I've read so many freaking articles and books that hinged partially on the idea that we should be doing what we love! Ever heard the question, "Ask yourself what you would be doing if money were no object, then DO THAT!" Yeah. Whoever came up with that question is a) a marketing genius who has not only sold a lot of whatever he or she was selling but also helped a lot of other people who ripped off that sentiment sell a whole lot of something as well, and b) the ruiner of life. People read that in an article on a website, and the next thing you know they're trying to think up ways to move to the middle of nowhere and write the next great American novel (for instance--it's a hypothetical fantasy scenario). Problem is, imagine how realistic it must be that we can all write novels (or become painters, dancers, musicians, nuclear physicists) or do whatever else it is we love to do just for the sheer love of it while still getting paid a living wage for said thing.

If the minute you start to imagine that you panic, it's because it's IMPOSSIBLE--or, if it happened, it would lead to chaos of such proportions nobody would be doing any of those awesomeamazingwonderful things after about three weeks because we would be living in a Mad Max movie.

This philosophy--this "anybody can be anything and should only do that which makes them happy" thinking--is so hopelessly flawed, I don't even know where to begin to address it. First, it's classist. You know who came up with that thinking? Some rich 50-something white lady whose husband did a fancy job that allowed her the cash to go teach yoga in her very own ashram. Second, it's in full flight from reality. Hello, person who came up with this thinking--I'd like to introduce you to the American economy. I'd also like to introduce you to the social constructs that determine how much money people get paid for certain kinds of work and all the people who have been in bands their entire adult lives but never made a cent off their music. I'd like to introduce you to the concept that there are only so many positions available in any certain field. No, we do NOT need that many more internet content writers on the block. There's enough useless crap on the internet already.

Moving on...

Really, though, this philosophy sounds so wonderful! And it comes in even more subtle forms, like when we see Rachel suddenly go from coffeshop waitress to Ralph Lauren la-di-da on Friends. Hope that reference made sense; I never really watched that show. This idea that almost every action we take SHOULD be intrinsically motivated if we're GOOD people and we play our cards right is everywhere we turn...and it's harmful. I'm not a dream squisher. People ultimately do what they want. It's just that for most of us, eating and having a place to sleep are more important than quitting our jobs we hate in order to follow our dreams of not ever having to do anything that isn't fun EVER AGAIN. The reason that this thinking is harmful is that it sets people up for feeling like failures--perfectly successful people who've managed to make great art (even if they've never sold any), have fulfilling relationships (which, contrary to popular belief, are really important to a person's overall happiness and satisfaction with life), maybe write a screenplay that sits in a drawer but is nonetheless amazing, or raised a couple of kids whom they love. People who are good at their jobs, as much as they hate them some days. People who have managed to live through seriously tough stuff--and so much of life is tough stuff. I'm actually still amazed sometimes at the fact that I've been a grown-up without supervision for over 10 years and haven't been arrested or died yet. Everyone who knows me is nodding in agreement.

Ultimately, this philosophy is also tied up in the idea that money equals measurement of success. It isn't explicit, but what they're saying is that this is how you choose what to do for a living. So if you can't MAKE A LIVING out of your dreams, you've failed in some way. Because, you know, we should all be doing what we love FOR A LIVING. And I'm not discounting the fact that this does happen. We just have to be prepared in the event it does not happen for us. We might find perfectly awesome lives in the meantime, but only if we're willing to be okay with the fact that some very specific dreams didn't come true or, at the very least, that we never made OUR LIVING that way.

So follow your dreams. Just don't quit your day job yet.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Yesterday, a friend who works in advertising said, "I don't want to work in advertising anymore." She then sent me to this ad agency's website. I read the "About Us", and I immediately felt disgusted. I know that's a strong word for such seemingly innocuous copy, but I hate buzzwords. I find myself reading stuff like that and thinking, "I'm not even really sure what that means anymore!" even though I know good and well what it means. Each of those words should mean a lot, but within the context of advertising copy, they become jibberish.

According to their "About Us", this company "delivers the smart business strategies and creative ideas that clients need to increase market share." This sentence makes my skin crawl. At this point, every marketing company "delivers" the "smart" "strategies" and "creative ideas" clients "need." These are words and phrases used in all marketing copy everywhere. These words are used because of their power. In fact, if you've worked in this industry, you've been asked to use "power words" when working on a project. When everyone is repeating these supposedly powerful phrases over and over to describe pretty much everything, though, they lose all their power. How powerful can it be to describe an advertising agency as "creative" when every advertising agency is supposedly "creative"? Ever repeated the same word to yourself over and over until it starts to sound really weird and you're not even sure if it's a word anymore?

That's how I feel about buzzwords.

I got in a fight with someone recently over the meaning of a word. We agreed on the approximate meaning, but I feel like there are subtle differences in the meanings of words that mean approximately the same thing. Even though two words might be synonyms, I don't consider them to neccessarily be interchangable. It became clear to me at some point that the person with whom I was having this argument thought I was being a real jerk. And, really, I'll concur. All that to say that I find myself overly preoccupied with the meanings of words at times. I'm not just talking about the dictionary definitions. Those are fairly static and not really up for debate. I'm talking about the connotations of words. I've had arguments with people where it became clear that we didn't really disagree about the fundamental points within the topic we were discussing--we were essentially arguing about the connotations of the pivotal words used in those arguments and we didn't even know it. My father and I do this all the time. Language is fascinating like that. Marketing copy is all about the meaning of words. Or, at least, it should be. What I don't understand is how people can read a sentence--let alone write one--like the one referenced above and not want to throw themselves off of a 70-story building.

We live in a world where we're surrounded by marketing copy all the time. It's so pervasive that it makes up a large chunk of our reality. It simply is a fact of our lives, not separate from our lives. What happens when such a large chunk of our environment is so devoid of any meaning? I completely admit to the limitations of words; it's one of the characteristics that makes them so interesting and so very fun to play with. But I will also say that words are one of the tools we use to explain ourselves. They are one of the ways in which we seek connection with each other. They fail us, but it is at their very point of failure that they also spur us to desire even greater understanding. If they're rendered meaningless while still playing such a fundamental role in how we perceive our reality, how will we share our experiences in a meaningful way?

I will admit that I've come to the conclusion that the most meaningful things that happen in life often cannot be explained in words. I had a dream last night that I was at the mall with a bunch of my brother's friends. I was trying to explain to them my newest theory on spirituality, and it sounded rather trite. It didn't feel trite. It felt very important. It felt important in my body. That felt like truth. But when the words were coming out of my mouth, the looks I was getting were the same kind of looks one gets when one is five and trying to tell an adult something very important. I remember feeling very frustrated because it even sounded stupid to me in the dream, but I couldn't think of any other way to explain it. I can admit to the fact that the meanings of words can fail on many levels in many situations. I can even admit to the fact that the things we might be trying to describe with those words are themselves ultimately meaningless. I don't know that I can believe that one hundred percent, but it's a proposition I cannot rule out.

So perhaps I simply love words too much. Perhaps it is merely that marketing copy is abusive to language. It doesn't play with it. It beats it up to the point where it is no longer even recognizable. Maybe marketing copy and it's place in the framework of our reality isn't a threat to our survival as a species or our ability to figure out the meaning of life. But it's possible that by kicking meaning in the dirt and dragging it through the mud like that as a matter of course, we're missing out on something really special.

Something like...meaning.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Little Boy and the Rattlesnake

The little boy was walking down a path and he came across a rattlesnake. The rattlesnake was getting old. He asked, "Please little boy, can you take me to the top of the mountain? I hope to see the sunset one last time before I die." The little boy answered "No Mr. Rattlesnake. If I pick you up, you'll bite me and I'll die." The rattlesnake said, "No, I promise. I won't bite you. Just please take me up to the mountain." The little boy thought about it and finally picked up that rattlesnake and took it close to his chest and carried it up to the top of the mountain.

They sat there and watched the sunset together. It was so beautiful. Then after sunset the rattlesnake turned to the little boy and asked, "Can I go home now? I am tired, and I am old." The little boy picked up the rattlesnake and again took it to his chest and held it tightly and safely. He came all the way down the mountain holding the snake carefully and took it to his home to give him some food and a place to sleep. The next day the rattlesnake turned to the boy and asked, "Please little boy, will you take me back to my home now? It is time for me to leave this world, and I would like to be at my home now." The little boy felt he had been safe all this time and the snake had kept his word, so he would take it home as asked.

He carefully picked up the snake, took it close to his chest, and carried him back to the woods, to his home to die. Just before he laid the rattlesnake down, the rattlesnake turned and bit him in the chest. The little boy cried out and threw the snake upon the ground. "Mr. Snake, why did you do that? Now I will surely die!" The rattlesnake looked up at him and grinned, "You knew what I was when you picked me up."

-Old Native American Fable

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A Few Forgotten Things


Where have you gone?
I believe I saw your back
disappearing over the black
hill, but I cannot be certain
it was you. Maybe it was myself
I saw, or a ghost of myself,
so murky and muddled I
could not make out the particular
features that made it unique.
All that I know is that you
are not here now, and I want
to believe you are gone,
not left, for it is so much
better for the both of us.

Letter to the Editor

I know what you're doing, you harlot--
you think I don't know, but I know it.
You think I am dumb in my silence;
you think you're escaping my notice.
You've never seen me:
I climb down in between things.
I've always had a talent for sneaking
unseen through even the most well-lit
rooms. I can hide in plain sight,
and at night I need not even cover
my head with the blankets. No one
knows me here. No one knows me anywhere.
I am only a faint feeling. People recognize
I have a face, they just aren't sure
whose it is. And the invisible, the ignored
see everything, the same way you can't
bullshit a bullshitter.

I know what you're doing, you overgrown
ingenue. You think you're still slick, but I
know that sickness. I had it once, a fever
in the middle of a summer morning,
bright and sharp as a burning red stamp.
My dear, you don't scare me. You are me--
I was you. I feel so tricky remembering your
tricks as I watch you perform them. You pull
a rabbit out of a hat, but I can see the hole in
the bottom and the man under the table.
So leave me be or don't, it doesn't matter.

The end is the same either way.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The History of Humiliation

It works like this: you get humiliated first. Someone decides that you're not it. Somebody leaves. Somebody purposefully says something awful to you, about you, because they were there first. They were humiliated first. Because they are you, but they don't want to be you. They don't want to be humiliated, so you get humiliated first. Then you find someone to humiliate. First you think you find someone who won't humiliate you, but you don't realize that even in thinking they can't humiliate you, you humiliate them. Then you decide they're not it. You leave. You purposefully say something awful to them, about them, because you were there first. You were humiliated first. You are them, but you don't want to be them. You don't want to be humiliated, so you humiliate them first...

I have a memory of something I never saw:
you, broken, laying on your bed in the middle
of a sleepless night. You can't go outside--
they might see the shame on your skinless
frame, your muscles aching with it, glowing
with it. I see it like I'm the ceiling, the walls,
the floor. I can feel the steam collecting
on me from where you are burning--your fevered
pitching about in response to memorized voices
that all left you behind. You are pressed into
place by the weight of all that you have been
seen as, the idea of yourself. You believe
that you are being pressed upon by the air,
something real, something all around inescapable.
You turn out the lights so that you are invisible,
physicality a reminder that you are. That you are
is a punishment. She told you so. You don't know
that for her to be is a punishment. She wakes
with an ache that pushes against her skin so forcefully
that every movement causes her insides to shriek.
For relief, she pressed herself against you like
an iron rod, bruising you to make it true.

This is the history of humiliation.

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's a Sickness

I see you looking at me with your odd-shaped eye.
I hear your black voice fall on the back stairs,
faint but particular,
weak but distinct.
The clatter of falling bricks
rises from the pavement--
I'm anxious, I've dropped everything I carry.

Your face doesn't change in the sudden chaos.
Your eye, still odd-shaped,
is deeply blank, a stone.
My skin trembles;
I know what it is to shake,
like a snake in a field,
shadowed by hawks.

I am like the man from Morel,
unseen, in love with the presence
of you. Invisible to your odd-shaped
eye. Invisible or feeling your
indifference. Suspended
in the iris of your still,
stark eye.

Monday, June 14, 2010


Put me in a tight dress, pull the strings
to make it tighter. Bind me in boning,
constricting fishnet hose. Feeling
my skin pressing against the fabric, it
works like a concrete casing, holding me
in and intensifying the sense I'm about
to explode. I can feel my pulse more clearly--
My feet begin to hurt on these heels.
The sensation of existing is sharp.
My stomach flutters when I breathe because
breathing has become more difficult,
suffocated. My skin becomes kinetic
with the restriction of my movement.
An anxiety attack is a panic at needing
to flee and being unable. An anxiety
attack is an excitement, no different
from falling in love--it is exhilarating,
and I am grateful when I am bound.

Friday, June 11, 2010


It feels like I've been doing this forever--
have I? How many times have I seen
the sunrise exactly? I don't remember the
first one precisely, but maybe there wasn't
one. It doesn't feel forgotten, either. What
I can't explain is how I got here. Everything
before this is all black, but clear. There are
shapes there, but there is nothingness there.
I remember names but I cannot feel their skin
or hear their voices. I still love them, but they
do not appear in dreams to tell me things
like how they hurt or where they sleep.
I think they used to. I think they used to
come to me because they were real--
weren't they? Aren't I? It feels like
I've been doing this forever--have
I? How many times have I driven this
part of highway? It seems like I've never
been anywhere else. It seems like I've
been everywhere all the time. I look out
across the skyline of my city. I was born
here. It looks weird. It's as if I've been
looking at it every day since--since when?
When was I born? I don't remember the first
breath precisely, but maybe there wasn't one.
Maybe they're all the same breath, different
same breaths in a row--maybe they're not
in a row, I don't know. Where is this going?
I started it three days ago I think. I don't think
I had any idea.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Summer Evening Song

Sunday evening in summer, the sunset sinks slowly,
heavy, in silence. The only sounds are sprinklers
and the occasional car passing by. No one is out.
Somehow the glow is a baking cold, a feeling of dead
grass in patches on the lawn. I am glad no one is here
to see me like this, sweaty and stumbling, my arms
awkward at my sides. I can feel the darkness coming.
I am dizzy drunk with the idea of death. Don't worry--
it is a seasonal sense of dread that brings me back
to this place, strolling alone writing broken-hearted
songs. Renewing my vows that I will once again
live through this.
Hang on,
hang on,
hang on.
Like a leaf clinging to a branch, slightly scorched,
withered around the edges from the heat,
I will slowly burn down
til I become so small I can be reborn.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Summer Weather

Something sinister.
I see something sinister.
Flashing or lingering,
depending on the day,
the hour, the light--
that moment at night
when the heat gets too
still, and my throat
gets dry. The fan cracks
my lips. My wrists get
limber with the press
of the pillow. My body
feels boneless, dripping
on the bed. I cannot move
my mind quick enough to
stay ahead. I hope this
something sinister was
a hard, hot dream I had,
for I have so much trouble
between waking and sleep.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I might as well be a fool
if this is being a fool.
I quite like this, so how
foolish can I be to be
this? I could cut it off,
become cold, and never
possibly be a fool;
But then how foolish
would I be!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Separate But Equal

I drove to my parents' house to celebrate Memorial Day with a pool party. In honor of fallen soldiers, we listened to loud music, some people drank beer, and my sister floated in the middle of the family pool with a cigarette dangling from her fingers.

"You ashing in the pool, Kate?"

"Sure. It's not going to hurt it!"

My parents' house is in a relatively rural area about an hour from the urban area where I live. As I drove from my place to theirs, I watched the landscape go from downtown to suburban shopping centers to scattered country businesses like gas stations and trailer retailers. Around the midpoint I saw a billboard advertising golf course houses for sale. My first response was to scoff slightly. I am not the kind for golf course living. I am the kind who associates herself with noble poverty. But then I had a thought. A week before, I'd spent some time on a golf course for a work function, and remembering the houses that backed up to the golf course, I thought, "What's so bad about golf course living, anyway?"

I didn't suddenly want to live on a golf course. I did, however, have a moment in which I understood just how much I defined myself as not being the kind of person who lives on a golf course. There's a difference between simply not being into golf course living or even just never considering it on any level and my mocking reaction. I thought about making a joke about the billboard to my companion, another individual probably even more defined by his anti-golf course nature than I. I didn't make the joke, however. In that state of mind, I recognized it as just making conversation by parading about our mutual disdain. Instead, I got to thinking about personalities.

While at my parents' house, an old family friend asked me about work. I'm extremely unhappy with my job. I said as much and asked if we could not talk about it anymore. Then she asked me about my "aspirations." I've never had much of a stomach for this requisite conversation, but I figured that at 31 I wouldn't have to have it anymore. People who aspire to live on a golf course also aspire to work hard at certain kinds of jobs to get there. As a lifestyle, it's the antithesis of freedom. People who live on golf courses shoulder all kinds of responsibility--mortgages, giant electric bills, home owners' association dues. This is why I'm ultimately not a golf course girl. I'm constantly trying to arrange my life in such a way as to have as much freedom as possible. Maybe that's why I feel the need to turn golf course living into a judgment call. Honestly, if someone wants to take on the burden of such a lifestyle, I'm sure it's got nothing to do with me. Perhaps I feel in some way like it's a spotlight on my desire to take on as little responsibility as possible.

As if that is a bad thing.

People who live on golf courses aren't a threat to my freedom. My freedom isn't a threat to their golf course lifestyle. We see ourselves at odds only because when one person sees another person living a different kind of life from the one that they themselves have chosen, it brings to mind several possibly uncomfortable questions. Questions about why we each want the things we want and whether or not we even really want those things. Maybe we want those other things. Maybe we don't. Maybe we don't know what we want, and maybe we need to be pro-this and anti-that to hide from that fact.

After all, it seems like there are a lot of up sides to golf course living. I'm just pretty sure I don't want to do the things I'd have to do to live there.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Near and Far

The other day I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store. We used to work together at a restaurant. Anyone who has ever worked in the service industry knows that working together in that environment makes for fast friendships. Waiters, waitresses and bar tenders are a motley bunch who share all of life's dirty details after a few short shifts together. Lifers learn to be reserved at some point, but they'll still get sloshed and spill their guts on some random evening when their guard is down.

This particular girl and I had little in common. She's a single mother, a regular church goer, and from a small town in Alabama. I'm not any of those things. I remember that she would make me Jack and Diet Cokes in to-go cups at 10 am on a Tuesday when making it through a shift seemed like death. After long Sundays of waiting on the brunch crowd, our group would gather like hurricane survivors in the bar next door. I've gotten drunk with this girl. Under such circumstances you're likely to share everything with a person.

She transferred to another store owned by the same company, and I hadn't seen her since until the other day.

She walked up to the Starbucks counter inside the grocery store where I was picking up some snacks for a work thing. I was surprised to see her. I'd heard she was moving back to Alabama. She said that she's leaving in 8 weeks. We chatted a bit about her. We chatted even less about me. I tend in those situations to give the stock response of, "Same old, same old," when asked what I've been up to. As we hugged to part company, I said, "Nice knowing you."

She said, "Nice knowing you, too."

It was so oddly perfect. So rarely do people feel that comfortable acknowledging exactly what they've been with each other. Neither of us tried to draw out the conversation out of guilt over neglected friendship. We both essentially said, "I'm never going to see you again." As I walked out of the store, I felt extremely touched by the simplicity of the whole thing. It is okay that this is impermanent. It is okay to admit that very little belongs to me.

I have recently been contemplating the importance of family. I don't want to have children, but I want relationships in my life that feel somewhat permanent and secure. It's odd because I've always been such a proponent of making sure everybody knows that security is an illusion, so when I finally admitted to myself that, yes, I want commitment, I had to carefully consider what that really means. It seemed silly in light of my general attitude. The conclusion that I came to was that it all still fit together. I can still acknowledge the true transient nature of life and seek some feeling of security while I'm alive. I was raised in a family--a family that is a family no matter what. I find it comforting that I know that we've all of us hated the others at some point but we never thought about not loving each other. I can honestly say that I've hated my mother more than an other person I've ever hated. But she was always my mother, and I always loved her. That commitment means I stayed until I didn't hate her at all anymore.

There is a depth to that kind of experience that rugged individualism just cannot accomplish.

Someone once told me about a man he knew whose wife had multiple sclerosis. He said that this man was one of the happiest men he'd ever met. He said he faced all manner of extra burdens simply because of all the things his wife couldn't do. And this man helped her, gladly. The person who told me this story said he could never do that.

I watched that same man care for his aging mother in the same way, though. He was doing it, too. He just thought that because he had moments of anger and frustration about his situation, it wasn't the same. He thought that diminished his love. We are none of us saints. It probably made his love that much deeper. And the man who took care of his ailing wife probably had the same moments. Nobody said this stuff would be easy all of the time. They only said it would be good. They only said it would be better than the alternative. We want people to be there when we need them. We have to be willing to be all that we would have them be for us.

It is important to know what we mean to each other. It is important that we mean something at all.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I'm driving along on the highway when suddenly I'm struck by visions of my own toes being bent so far back that they break. I'm sitting at my desk at work, and I see myself held hostage, being tortured in any number of gruesome ways. My fingers are being cut off with pruning shears. Or I imagine that I'm in a car accident, my body bent in a position that mangles me beyond recognition.

This is how it's been lately. These scenes come on from nowhere. My body will tense up and feel cold. All I can do is wait for them to pass. It would be easier if I could convince myself that these things aren't likely to happen today, if even at all. How many people ever find themselves kidnapped, tortured, murdered? The problem is that some people do find themselves kidnapped, tortured, murdered, and who among them ever thought it would happen to them? And the idea of my getting into a car wreck is even harder to escape. I believe in improbabilities, but I've always had a problem convincing myself of impossibility. A head full of this stuff is no way for anyone to go about their life, so I try to let those thoughts go.

The other day a friend and I were discussing our funerals. She asked me to read her blog at her funeral. I asked her to prat fall into my open casket, spilling my dead body out onto the church floor. As soon as I'd asked her to do that, it dawned on me that we will not both be able to attend the other's funeral. One of us will not be there to celebrate the other one. All of these things we take for granted. Some things I wish I could take for granted, at least for a little while.

I contemplate my death because something in me wants me to. I do not wallow in these visions, but they come. I touch them and let them go, but for a moment they are very real. I have dreams, too, during which I'm faced with very difficult choices. Last night I was faced with the decision to either kill my entire family or kill someone else very close to me. Moments before I woke up I was staring at the heavy gun in my hand, weighed down by the responsibility of a single decision that couldn't be avoided. What do dreams like this and my thoughts of death have in common? They've brought me into constant contact with the idea of living in the moment, the importance of choices, the meaning (or lackthereof) of everything I do. They force me to contemplate what I think of my own importance, my lack of importance, my impermanence, and how all those things fit together.

It's been said that you are the most important person who has ever lived, and five minutes after you're dead almost nothing you ever did will matter.

What I can say is that the visions have been awful and terrifying. They have also created in me a level of comfort that I haven't known before. Certain things used to cause untold pressure within me--what I might do for a living at any given moment, what I might or might not be accomplishing, what my life looked like compared to what I thought it should look like. These worries seem almost obsolete now. I still feel motivation, but it's coming from a completely different direction. I feel inspired now to make those decisions on a moment-by-moment basis. I feel that it's best if I allow myself to live spontaneously, in tune with the new information being handed to me on an almost constant basis. It feels good to not make any big plans. I plan to take a single step--I don't hold on to where I think that step should take me six months from now. And living that way used to make me worry I was flaky or irresponsible, but I don't feel that way, either. I suppose this is freedom. I almost do not want it.

I can also say that it makes a lot of things seem weird that never seemed all that weird before. Like billboards.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Oldest

I remember the oddest things.

Small things, things hardly worth remembering.

It was picture day in elementary school, maybe 4th grade. My parents were out of town, and my grandmother was staying with us. She was a take-charge kind of woman. That's almost all I remember about her. I also remember that she made the girls take naps well past nap-taking age while the boys got to stay up and watch television with her. She was raised at a different time in the small-town south, I suppose. It always made me angry on principle, and I would spend the entire nap time coming up with elaborate schemes to escape as if it were Vietnam.

It was picture day, and my parents were out of town. My grandmother gave me the order forms and the money. I set out for school. When I arrived, I learned that it was not, in fact, picture day. We'd been confused about the dates. I freaked out. I was convinced that I would get in trouble if I returned home with the money and the order forms. I suppose I thought I would be blamed in some way. I think I thought I'd be accused of being wrong--that she would think it was, in fact, picture day and I'd simply screwed up. That was me at that age, constantly worried that I was messing everything up and would eventually be caught, even in situations where there were no mistakes to be made. I've always been what they call "hypervigilant."

I panicked and threw the money in the trash at lunch.

What I don't remember is how I got out of that. I just have this memory of me walking toward the trash can, determined yet full of self-doubt. As far as I could tell in that moment, it was my only option.

I have always, always, always believed that if I can't be perfect I will die.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Safety First

Never write a poem in pen--
you can't erase it, the shavings
of rubber rubbing away
your mistake. Like a half-done
flubbed crossword, your thoughts
will be permanently bared and
mocked by those who know
better than to even begin.
It's like dancing in the middle
of the street naked, dangerous
for others will gather
on the sidewalks and point.
"What madness!" they'll shout,
fingers coming for you from
every angle. No, don't write
naked poems in pen with
cross words while dancing.

You'll die.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

When is a raven like a writing desk?

Friday night, my friend Matt and I were perusing the furniture at West Elm. I happened upon a desk that I loved and, tah-dah, it was on sale! Only $200! This seemed like a pretty fantastic price for a desk that bordered on perfection, especially since I'd been doing some shopping online and found not a single desk I liked at such a decent price. I couldn't buy it at the moment--I had no way to transport it home. But I left the store feeling elated and excited at the prospect of a new, fabulous desk.

About one minute after leaving the store, I felt sad.

I told Matt that buying any item that costs more than about $20 often makes me feel sad. I still felt elated and excited about the desk, but those very emotions were already stirring within me feelings of hopelessness, disappointment and depression. Buying stuff--especially really awesome and amazing stuff that I love--often brings me in close contact with the temporal nature of the physical world. I start thinking about all the awesome and amazing stuff I've purchased in the past and how I either neglected it, broke it, lost it, or loaned it out to never see it again. Next thing you know I'm contemplating my own death and the mound of stuff I will inevitably leave behind.

I don't think I'm going to go back and get the desk.

Stuff generally depresses me. People have commented that I rarely buy stuff for myself, and my response is that this is because stuff stresses me out. I once read something by C.S. Lewis that said we should not say we "love" stuff like pens or computers or shower curtains. He said that it demeans love. We like those things. We love living beings--people, animals. He didn't have to tell me twice. Any time I've become convinced that I love an object, I know what's coming. I'm going to feel some level of indescribable loss. I'm not going to really be able to pinpoint why it is that I feel this loss in that moment. I'll think I should be happy. I'll think, "I love this thing, and I have it. Why am I not happy?" I will not be happy because, ultimately, what is an object but a momentary stimulant? I can love a person even when that person is not with me. I can love a person even when that person has let me down. I cannot love a desk I've owned for six months even if it is sitting right in front of me. I'll enter the room and leave the room and I won't even notice the desk I once fingered with joy a week into its first arrival in my house.

Then I will hate myself for being an ungrateful bitch.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I love the desk even more when it's just part of my daily experience, a beautiful object that has become entertwined with my life to the point that we're being together. Maybe I love the desk even more when it's not just an object to admire but instead becomes an active object, an object that exists with its own purpose, does it's own thing. Maybe really loving something only begins when all that infatuation with it ends.

A woman I used to know used to say that she would always leave people after she'd done her three songs and dances. Once she'd run out of her three songs and dances, she figured they wouldn't find her interesting anymore, and if they didn't find her interesting, they wouldn't love her.

Maybe I should go back and get the desk.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Man vs. The Machine

I just read this article about education reform at If you're not going to read it yourself, let me share the gist: our attempts at education reform (higher public school spending, vouchers, charter schools, magnets, etc.) have not lead to increased overall performance.

But this is America! We practically INVENTED progress! How could it be that we cannot come up with a workable solution that will make all of our kids test-acers and over-achievers! This just isn't possible! Everyone should be SMART, and everyone should be smart IN THE SAME WAY! That's how you build a nation of successful people!

My basic argument is that the fact that we even see this as a problem is a sign of our real problem. Modern thinking is that people should be like robots, and there is only one right worldview on what it means to be "successful." When I initially started thinking about why the idea that there has to be some way to turn us all into standardized test-acers rubs me wrong, my own argument made me sound like an elitist asshole who believes in a free market aristocracy. Nothing could be further from the truth. While I think it's true that some people are just naturally better at certain things than others and there's really no hope for changing this by influential degrees either way, that argument reads a lot different than it's meant. Why? Because I think that the real problem isn't that people are different and there's not a lot we can do about that. The real problem is that we live in a society that sees these differences as weaknesses.

Case in point: me. I'm bad at math. I'm unbelievably bad at math. My boyfriend will write down a list of amounts of money that I owe him for bills, and I'll add them up. Then, when I show him the piece of paper upon which lies my sum, he'll look at me bewildered and say, "Where did you get THAT number?" I'll be $30 for no reason. It's addition. People who are not tall enough to ride carnival rides can do it with no effort. I spent the greater part of my work day today (7 hours) trying to add numbers and coming up with a different sum every single time I added them. I consider the parabola my arch enemy. (Get it? Parabola? Arch? It's a math joke, so I could be off.) When I was in school, I had to rely on the kindness of teachers who were very understanding of my difficulties and liked me enough to let me retake the tests over and over until I at least passed. They knew I wasn't going to be building an entire life around this stuff. It wasn't like my poor math skills were going to be a danger to anyone. One teacher even told me when I was retaking an Algebra test for the third time that Einstein failed Algebra.

I'm pretty sure this is the only reason Algebra didn't lead to my committing suicide.

No amount of "good teaching" will ever change my math deficiency. I don't even really consider it a deficiency. It's just the way I am. I am a non-linear thinker. I look at most things from every angle. In math, there's one right way to do things. There's a point A and a point B, and you're supposed to go straight from one to the other. My mind cannot handle this. I think it's a dumb way to do things. I believe ANYTHING is possible. It's easy to see why this doesn't reconcile with the way addition works. Reconcile! Addition! I could make puns all night. You could send me to a charter school, give me a voucher, throw money at my education from all sides, and still I'd be horrible at math. My head is still in shock from today's 7 hour add-a-thon.

But when I was in college, the teacher once came to the answer 1066 for an equation. He asked, "And what happened in 1066?" I was the only one who raised my hand. "The Norman invasion!" I'm not completely useless after all.

I believe in the idea of multiple intelligences. Different people have different intelligences. Looking at this list, I'd say I'm verbally and existentially intelligent. In other words, that's how I see the world, therefore making it my strength. It's not good or bad--it just is what it is. "Gardner's theory argues that intelligence, particularly as it is traditionally defined, does not sufficiently encompass the wide variety of abilities humans display." When you standardize learning and what are considered successful outcomes for that learning, you ignore the way the natural world really works. We do this in the name of supposed progress, but what would cause far more progress would be to be open to the idea that everyone has strengths, and they're different for a reason. Nurture each child's strengths. That's what will really change the American educational system for the better.

This issue is extremely nuanced. There isn't just the problem of intelligences. There's the issue of temperament. A person could be very intelligent in some way but also have a very sensitive disposition, causing him or her to experience stress to such a degree that he or she cannot work as much for the same length of time as people with a higher tolerance to stress, for example. And there are environmental factors at play. Do the child's parents talk to him or her on a regular basis? Does he or she live in a poor neighborhood or an affluent one? And why is there such a disparity in what people are paid for different types of work? There is an idea in this country that intelligence is good, therefore "mentally taxing" jobs often pay much higher than physically taxing ones. But why should this be so? I would argue that it's just the idea we latched onto at some point long ago. It's arbitrary, really, what we value in this case. All of these factors and more are the reasons that I cannot wrap my mind around how we could possibly believe that there even could be one standard for measuring educational and, ultimately, life success, let alone why there should be one.

If there's one thing I've noticed through the course of my life, it's that whenever a single standard is set, things become hopelessly inefficient and unnecessarily hard. A lot of time goes into trying to herd people to the standard, and this is inefficient and hard because many people rightfully can't or don't want to go there. In all actuality, I don't see "low test scores" as a problem at all. People fail at things. People do well at other things--many of which aren't even considered part of the standard because our society has lost all respect for that which does not make you money. Are you a good friend? Who cares? The robot has love for no one. He can work and produce ad infinitum, making things and more things without analyzing this action. There is an idea that the robot is a perfect being.

But people are not robots, and I can't imagine why we'd want to be.