Thursday, October 30, 2014

Rant about fame, micro-aggressions, and responses to them

This afternoon a good friend of mine, with whom I often talk politics and rhetoric, posted this to FB
Liberals be like:
"We must discount everything this person has ever said or ever will say because this one time, out of context, s/he said something that may have offended one of our Saintly Groups! (i.e. gays, trans folk, disabled, and nonwhite people)"
All. The. Time.
The comments section ended up being a rigorous run down of the way tumblr activist have "gone after" celebrities like Dan Savage, Laci Green, and Bill Mahr for saying/doing offensive things.

Firstly I need to state that I personally I love pieces of art/media made by people who hold politics or have done things that I find gratingly reprehensible. I love the show Community but like many I find Dan Harmon's behavior deeply troubling. I love Wes Anderson films and basically every project Tilda Swinton is associated with but both signed a petition supporting the release of Roman Polanski.

I do this by reminding myself that these people aren't their creations. Dan Savage is not the Savage Love. Laci Green is not Sex Plus. X celeb is not (just) their words, behaviors, and projects. This mantra helps me ease the cognitive dissonance I have surrounding my affinity for things crated by people I don't like. Now this practice isn't for everyone. Not every wants to or should be able to ease their contradiction in politics like this. I think it's okay to not subscribe to this way of thinking.

I don't see the mistakes in speech or rhetorical missteps people like Dan Savage and Laci Green as harmless. Regardless of their intent to do no harm or whether or not it was done to promote another "good" cause. And especially as those who are in the public eye and known for specifically for their progressive or inclusive projects. I see these missteps as micro-aggressions. Micro-aggressions signal many minority individuals (even those not under the purview of the offensive word/comment/approach) that this person will mock and potentially ostracize those that divergence from the "norm" (where "norm" is what the celeb considers normal).

When someone makes a casual and probably unintentional slur around me, it cues me to suspend my trust and I begin to worry that this person may not be safe to share with some of the people I care about. It makes my hackles go up and I am angry for either myself (if the slur is against me) or on behalf of my siblings who are systematically ostracized by the rhetoric echoing in the mouth of said famous people.

These echoed slurs take them off my recommend list. I can't say that this social impulse is an entirely logical one, but it is very real. I feel it viscerally giving me hesitation when I consider recommending a celeb's content to someone else (even if the content does not contain anything I found offensive).

As I have written before, it's important to allow those in the public eye to be fallible. They aren't gods. And people end up seeing much more of their lives than most anyone would be comfortable sharing. And we all say think and echo busted oppressive shit from time to time. It's easy to do because it follow the script society has set down for us. That said, they're words and actions do have significant cultural impact. much more significant than any of theses self-described critics on tumblr will probably ever have. And with great power comes great responsibility. Ideally everyone famous out there would watch this video:


Sadly this template is rarely followed. For so many reasons. But mostly because our culture doesn't allow celebrities to make mistakes so they feel hesitant to show themselves as having made one. They fear losing the social power and status that their fame gives them.

And that brings me to my next point. I, and these other "tumblr activists" can't ostracize famous people (if the them you are speaking about is either Dan Savage and/or Laci Green). Famous people, by virtue of their celebrity have substantially more social powers and receive more social recognition than I or any other of those tumblr activists do. Now I don't deny that when I critique a celebrity that my own personal frustration about this imbalance of cultural attention comes through and as consequence makes me extra acerbic.

To me, though,  saying the tumblr social justice police are ostracizing Dan Savage or Laci Green is tantamount to crying "reverse racism". The power and privilege imbalance at play make it impossible for well supported progressive celebs to be "ostracized" by a small minority of folks who have a comparatively small audience.

I'm not saying that their "burn-it-to-the-ground" approach is called for, but that their impact is significantly less therefore far less relevant. Think of them as trolls if you like. Progressive trolls. They are as effective as other kinds of trolls, only a vaguely annoying/menacing aggregate.

And perhaps the level of the ire with which these celebrity's and their projects are targeted aren't just about the person themselves, or even their body of work. it might just be an inarticulate strike against the frustratingly unfair and often oppressive mechanisms that push some people into fame and notoriety and others into obscurity.

Also I have a limited amount of fucks to give about issues. And tend to shy away from handing them over to folks who are already appear to have a decent supply of social support and recognition form their chosen communities. I'm not saying they don't deserve my empathy, just that they don't appear to be in dire need of it. I honestly don't care is Dan Savage', or Laci Green', or Bill Mahr's images are damaged, they have public attention to spare.

Let's stop making heroes, because they will fuck up. And probably they won't apologize for it. Because heroes don't usually do that.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

I have a crush on David Rees and so will you (if you watch Going Deep)



My partner and I just finished the last available episode of Going Deep with David Rees. A show I've come to love for its earnest enthusiasm for strange bits of knowledge about everyday rituals. To me, it functions like good poetry should. It goes both macro and micro on a quests to find how things are done and grasp for meaning surrounding life's every day activities. It makes us sit with what we as humans so often shrug off simply with cliched euphemism and inattention.

The show itself is a simple 30 minute set-up. First David, in his goofy big-eyed excitement explains what we're going deep about today and why it interests him in particular. Over the next 20 minutes the audience gets to sit shotgun on David's field trips and guest appearances to talk with the experts. The experts range in many different fields an are based on the adorably non-scientific understandings David already has about the topic. After each guest or field trip David tallies up what we have learned so far and at the end of the show this list culminates into a final display of David's new and improved method of doing a simple task.

His facial expressions and bodily gesticulations really sell the action of the show and give the viewer their own sense of wonder about what is really being witnessed. In many episodes David goes through what appears to be a significant transformation. This is wonderful to watch and gives the episodes a nice twist.

I think I feel especially kindred to David because he's a very loud socially awkward person (like me). He gets all jazzed and hooty about exciting things but doesn't feel particularly comfortable with the implications of sharing that excitement with others (as is shown clearly in the episode on how to dig a hole). He is a ridiculous man. Which I love and can't get enough of.


Also his demos are silly as fuck. This show it fun. It's like a kids show for adults, but without all the schmaltzy kid stuff in it. If you have ever felt like you've failed at being a human, or that you just don't know how to human like everyone else, you will love this show. Though it may just make you want to buy parachute cord for your shoes.

I recommend starting with either How to Dig a Hole or How to Swat a Fly.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Drafty Annotation of O'Hara's Meditations in an Emergency

These poems in Meditation in an Emergency are of a time, location, and context. And by "of a time" I also mean of the moment. Each poem seems an unattached snapshot; a stream of consciouness portrayal of the way reality and thought/feeling permeate one another. This encapsulation gives the poems power and focus but it also requires the reader to strive to join the narrators of these poems in a context that may be forgien to them. For example, I'm a west coast poet without much experience or expertise in the visual art or music disciplines. O'Hara leans heavily on these disciplines as inspiration and illustration. So I had to accept that the peices of mucis or art he referred to were powerful. This gave the poems less of an impact for me and makes me suspect this book was not written with a very wide audience in mind.

That said, there are very interesting lines drawn here between what was then thought of as "high art" and "low art". O'Hara praises the comonplace in the same stanza as the cutlurally prized. He even has an entire poem about the movies, and in another bemoans the slow death of the ballet.

I'm impressed with the variety of forms put forth by O'Hara. It's and interesting sampling of beat influence. Some pieces are one single block of stanza (Chez Jane) while others have a clear cut stanza set up and line distribution (Jane Awake). The form choices make subtle impacts on the reader and  wish I knew more about how he made arrangement choices.

In my opinion he is at his best in the mixed prose/poetry format in the title poem Meditations in and Emergency. There of a beautiful mix here of strange imagery and declaration. It's a deeply quotable piece with bits like "It is more important to affirm the least sincere" and "It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so." It's also the only piece here that makes direct reference to O'Hara's homosexuality. I belive it is hinted at in Poem (p.60 ) with the metaphor of foreigness as a possible stand in for the, at the time unspeakable, sex acts traded between men. I wanted to like this poem but the racism of this poem makes it offensive and staunchly sets its voice in a time and perspective that dehumanizes others by using their "exoticism" to the wrier's benefit. This is unfortunate and off-putting since there is such an enticing tenderness and truth to this poem.

I consider For Grace, After a Party a more successful, less offensive, and well-rounded portrayal of an interaction between lovers. One that, minus the name in the title, goes completely without gender signifiers of either the lover or the other characters. The narrator speaks of the strange pleasure and crooked ache of attending a party along with someone you long for. And it kicks in the end like a haiku with reality pushing things back into old patterns.


As a reader I often had trouble grasping what the point of each poem was. And while some of the poems (like For Grace, After a Party) benefit form this ambiguity, much of the time I found it frustraitng and confusing. The strange and vivid images were enough to push me through the poems with a lovely hunger, but I rarely felt "full" at the end of them.

I remember taking Blas Falconer's workshop on finishing a poem at Antioch. He used his own "perfectly well written" poem with one very piercing line as an example of an unfinished poem that needed to be fueled from the depth that one line came from. O'Hara has many piercing lines but I don't know if all his poems are "finshed" in this way. This contribute to the snapshot-esque feel of this book and I think also why so many of the details seem to have aged poorly since the book came out in 1957.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Today's post brought by listening to Abba at 9am

I love dancing.

I had the great fortune of going dancing with a new/old friend on friday night at White Horse. I danced so hard the inside of my jeans ended up wet with leg and back-of-the-knees sweat and my hair got slicked down wet from it's regular poofy stance.

The advice "dance like nobody's watching" has never been relevant to me. In fact it really doesn't apply at all. When I dance I always imagine everyone is watching and everyone is entertained and slightly light aroused by the coolness of my moves.

There is no other place I feel more comfortable taking up so much space (minus when I am reading poetry on stage). When I dance I prance around. My feet move much more than most of the other people on the dance floor. I think sometimes I scare them and I don't care. One time I tried to keep my feet stationary on a dance floor and failed. Music makes my feet allergic to stillness.

I have always been bad at the whole bump and grind. Sure I can handle partnered dancing, but that is not my MO. My dancing is much more self centered. I love just letting my body chase the melody and syncopation with movement. My conscious is not in the drivers seat when I am dancing. It's a big beautiful feeling. I know that dancing is not the thing that sets most people free or that everyone finds even enjoyable. But I do. There is noting I want to do more when I hear music my body recognizes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Jellyfish and other shapshifters


So I think a lot about sea creatures. I love how in the ocean there is such a wealth of living proof that the distinctions we humans have made for things are not as well fitting as we like to think.

The creatures that live there often straddle the lines of what we would commonly think of as the distinction between plant and animal. For instance, I used to think anemones were plants! And there is an entire lake full of jellyfish that survive on the photosynthesis of algae inside their bodies (this is also how a bunch of corals get their fuel too)!

But one of the things that amazes me the most is the life cycle of the jellyfish. (More like jellyshift if you ask me!)



More basal marine animals like barnacles and jellyfish take many forms throughout their life cycles. Though these organisms go through similar stages (both stick themselves onto other objects/surfaces in a stage known as sessile), they go through stages so differently.

The barnacle rhizocephala is particularly strange and fascinating. (and also potentially scary if you have an aversion to parasites so be warned!)


Weirdest shit ever am I right?

Some polyps (one of the stages in a jellyfish's life) actually have the amazing ability to reconstruct themselves and re-begin the progress toward strobilation and into more adult stages. For me such creatures have been objects of study, fascination, and respect. I revere their ability to change in ways that blow my mind. I often lean on them as the perfect metaphors for personal transformation.

I love how weird things get out there there in the blue. And oh yeah this jellyfish can live forever apparently.

PS If any of my car-having friends in the Bay Area ever wants to take a day trip with me down to the Monterey Bay Aquarium I would be beside myself with joy.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Etymology is not destiny. A short rant.

Sometimes when I try to engage in discussions with people who disagree with me on the internet. And sometimes when I do this the person I'm speaking with will drag up dictionary definitions and the etymological lineage of a particular term I am either using or that we are discussing.

Now, as a writer and poet, I have a deep love and vested interest in etymology. It can provide wonderful context and a rich sense of history to a word or discussion about that word. But as a word nerd who holds etymology very dear to their heart I resent it being used as evidence in a disagreement.  It's a cheap and inappropriate ploy. Here's why.

Calls to etymology are a distrustful derailment technique. They deny the way the other party uses words and assert the authority of past uses of those/that word/s. It's basically a pedantic version of sticking one's fingers in one's ears and singing "la la la. I'm not listening."

But let's take it further. The implication here is deeply unfortunate. Someone who makes this call to the authority of etymology is not only refusing to listen to the way the other person's using words, but they are making a stand for meanings and concepts to never change. That's right folks, this use of etymology implies that the speaker/writer supports continuing the use of out of date meanings for in modern contexts. This is one of the mechanisms by which oppressive the verbal tics of history get carried over.

Beyond that, it's just unrealistic and comically Sisyphean to cling to origins and historical meanings and ways of doing things. Yes, there's much value in using them as starting points for how to communicate and live our lives. But we will always need to find new ways to communicate. The context of the worlds we live in shift and along with it so should they ways we use our words and tools.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Rage Rant (all I have time for before my haircut)

Sometimes I rage for no reason at all (or at least for no reason I can immediately discern). Right now is one of those times. The minuscule shortfalls of life feel like personal vindictive misfortunes laid out by a vengeful god. It's a good thing I don't believe in god because my anger would make me a very poor believer.

Acceptance of anything feels just out of my reach and all my joints are swollen with anxious fluids. My ankles feel just about ready to pop. And fuck, today was a good day at work. This collapse into seething is sudden and vicious and I am beginning to feel guilty about even feelings this way. I hate myself for letting it get this far. Blaming this body and its shortcomings has always been the easiest course of action to manage. I hate my hands for being dry and my fingertips for bleeding.

I've started to envy the people on tv who always have a reason when some awful feeling crawls inside their body. I wish there was always an answer beneath every outburst I feel might come spilling out of me. I just feel angry. There is no reason to it at all.

I can never observe myself with an anger like this. I can only be with that anger. There is not room for noticing what kind of person I am. And as much as I have fantasized about releasing the pain of self-consciousness I am scared of what not noticing myself might cause.

Even now after I have escaped the suffocation of my work environment, have scuttled away to the safety of a cafe and am sitting somewhat comfortably I still feel like my heart might be a volcano and that my dry hands could smash clean through a forty piece china set. I want to punch every motorist in the balls because one car came too close on the way over here. I want to give up entirely on the belief that good exists in anyone.

Again I blame myself for the venom. I think "I shouldn't have had so much diet soda" or "I should have drank more water" and I sometimes I just get exhausted thinking about how to attend to all the implications of the concept known as "self care".