Filed under: WTFlux
I am at that age where you can feel yourself shedding a part of who you once were so that you can grow into who you are.
It’s different than when I “became a woman” because that was pure biology. Bleeding from my crotch didn’t make me feel more mature, it just annoyed me. The transition from middle school to high school was so painfully awkward that it didn’t feel like evolution as much as it felt like being a square peg being shoved through the small round hole of adolescence.
It’s different than when I “became an adult” because that’s just legalities. Sure, I could vote and decide who would lead us, but I was more into the idea that I didn’t have to obey my folks anymore.
It’s different than when I floated through my twenties, like I was the first person to ever experience anything worthwhile and I had my singular experience that no one else’s experience could even touch.
This time it’s for real, I feel mature.
With this maturity, I find myself really considering questions about what I ought to do with myself for the years of impending joint aches and gray hairs. I think about all the cliched things I think I’m supposed to think about, the least of which is in finding a life partner and subsequently having a family.
I sit and think about how it must feel like to have someone there for you, who knows you, who you know better than yourself. I think about how easy it is for heterosexual couples in America to get married and the privileges that come with it. I think about how sad and frustrating and terribly unAmerican it is to not lawfully consider same-sex marriages. I think about what it means to commit yourself to another person like that. I think about what it means to be a woman married to a man. I think about how I never considered changing my last name for anyone.
I think about where I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to be spending my time. I think about how I’d like to move beyond thinking about the supposed things I’m supposed to be doing and just do what I want. I think about how forty hours a week morphs into forty years and how all those weekdays outweighed all the weekends. It makes me look at everyone in the eyes, to see if they are happy where they are, handing me my change at the cash register or taking my blood pressure. I wonder about what we are all working for and if its worth it.
It better be.
I think about how being at this age, floating somewhere between the stubborn righteousness of early adulthood to the weary settling of mid-life, is difficult and challenging.
Above all, it makes me think that I’m thinking too much.
Bored People Problems
From Razorcake #64, originally published September 2011.
Don’t forget my deodorant, I texted DanE.
Remember to bring the deodorant, please! I texted again.
Minutes are passing slowly—still nothing.
You’re making me upset and I’m going to be totally embarrassed and have sweat stains and now I’m stressed about worrying about being sweaty. I think I began experiencing text-rage.
Finally, DanE texted back, Stop talking about pits!
It was the second day of this social justice training conference that my organizations puts together and it was the night of the dinner banquet. We had all been at work all day, in the middle of summer, and I had forgotten to rub some magical de-odorizing gunk on my armpit and the thought of not wearing deodorant stressed me out so much that I started to sweat.
Most sane folks would feel that I overacted, but what most sane folks don’t understand was that I would have to get onstage during the banquet dinner to help out with some fundraising and I didn’t want an auditorium full of people to see my sweaty pit stains. It’s one of my pet peeves, it makes me shiver just thinking about it.
I ended up borrowing deodorant from a co-worker.
I hadn’t realized that it was something that bothered me so much until that night, when I frantically texted DanE to tell him that I was sweating and that I desperately needed help to control it. I realized that I was so insane about my sweaty pits because I secretly judged other people when they have dark sweat stains in the armpits of their shirts. I think, Does this person not know that their armpits are leaking sweat so profusely that it has begun to cause a ring of collected moisture on their clothing?
I also realized that I’m crazy (see above sentence)— that in my years I’ve accumulated a long list of pet peeves, deal breakers and all-out-head-shaking-WTF-behavior. It makes me wonder when there will be a reality TV show about quasi-irrational peeves so you can watch someone like me lose their shit because their boyfriend will not support their sweat-free wishes.
I cannot stand the television being on in the morning. I prefer the sound of birds or the garbage truck rolling by while I’m enjoying a bowl of cold cereal and getting ready for my day. There is something very discombobulating the morning news or cartoons, the unnatural sounds coming from speakers when you’ve just rolled out of bed and trying to orient yourself to not being asleep—a place you desperately want to return to. But instead you’re watching the two cartoon chipmunks Indiana-Jones that shit in Rescue Rangers or a pair of awfully unfunny morning newscasters talking about how it’s “hump day.”
Platform flip-flops are an instant deal breaker in terms of friendship potential because how I can trust someone who feels that suitable footwear can consist of a three-inch brick of rubber attached to two thin rubber straps? On the subject of flip-flops, I also have a great disdain for white or light-colored flip-flops where after a few wearings everyone can see the imprint of your dirty ass foot because it’s blackened into the sandal.
But I’m not about dictating what anyone should or shouldn’t wear on their feet because I’m rather non-confrontational—to a fault. Not long ago, I was chatting with a friend when out of nowhere a crusty piece of booger just sorta appeared out of her right nostril. We were with her other friends, but I was the only one she was talking to at that moment. I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that she had a piece of pea greenness hanging from her face, so I just walked away. I felt so awkward that I can’t deal. This same reaction happens when friends have food in their teeth or a boobie nipple hanging out. I just sorta avert my gaze and hope someone else will tell them.
Even if something is bothering me terribly, I have to bite my tongue because I do the exact same thing.
“Can you chew with your mouth close?” DanE will ask me. And, of course, I am physically capable of chewing my food with my mouth closed, I just don’t like it. It feels too restrictive and hinders my enjoyment of whatever it is I’m eating. There’s something about loudly chomping into a potato chip or smacking around fried chicken that makes it taste better. That’s why even when I physically cringe when I’m in an enclosed space with someone and they start crunching through an entire bag of Cornuts, I just have to sit through sounds of rock eating and hope that my friend is enjoying her snack.
What may be worth noting is that even though I have these very specific things that irk and irritate me, there’s a wide gamut of behavior and habits that I find perfectly acceptable.
I am okay with sharing deodorant. I don’t care if you’re sitting next to me on the bus and your headphones are so loud that I feel like I’m wearing your headphones too. It’s perfectly fine to me when escalators stop working and just become stairs. I am not militant about the incorrect spellings of your and you’re. I am sometimes too forgiving to incompetence because I think about whether the FedEx delivery driver was having a bad day personally and didn’t deliver my important package because she said she couldn’t find my address.
I just wished that everyone else was as understanding and sympathetic to my plight of off-behaviors. Is it too much to ask to ensure that I won’t have pit stains?
It occurred to me while writing this that this whole thing that I’m grateful for these ridiculous annoyances—first world people problems. Because if I had a choice of living where I live and doing the things I do now and I had to wake up every morning to a loud television and everyone I knew wore white platform flip-flops and chewed their food loudly, I’d still be better off that a billions of other people if those were the things that kept me from enjoying my day. Sure, I’m also troubled by our politics and economy, social justice, et all, but at least I’ve got the electricity, time, technology to whine about it.
Filed under: WTFlux
KCET, my old stomping grounds, is rife with amazing stories. I’m spending much too much time on their website, sometimes with memories of when I used to be on the other side of the screen.
This story about Jess Espanola, a Filipino immigrant who came from poverty only to become an animator for one of the longest running television series and win an Emmy might make you teary-eyed. You’ve been warned.
And then there’s Mike Roberts, a man with a minimalist lifestyle wherein he has fewer than fifty possessions. My volume of my sock and underwear drawer would probably sadden him. He’s inspiring nonetheless.
But the story that’s got me going lately isn’t from KCET, it’s a link to HuffPo, entitled “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” You won’t regret checking it out (nudge nudge, wink wink). Not surprisingly, folks don’t mention regretting that they didn’t floss more often.
Unthinking What We Know
From Razorcake #62, originally published May 2011.
This essay contains explicit discussion of sexual assault and may be a trigger to survivors.
Ignorance is bliss—it’s true.
That unthinking, uncomplicated space where we know the bare minimum and there is no need to know more. It is a wide expanse with free admission, overpopulated with mindlessness, vapidity, and overconsumption and it takes no work to reside here. It’s easy and comfortable and it reinforces all the things we believe are true.
Ignorance is easy. It doesn’t challenge us and it allows us to be unaware of all the fuckedupness in our world. Sometimes I wish for ignorance—that deep well surrounding me in comforting darkness. Because even though the depths of ignorance are black, understanding and knowing real things—reality—is even blacker.
For a time, I stopped reading the news. I was already engulfed in my own depression that I had no energy to process all the multitude of wars, calamities, and fuckeduppery that devastates so many lives. I equated “being informed” with the burden of knowing and I gave it up because at that moment ignorance was bliss, and bliss was living one uncomplicated and unthinking day to the next.
Then, slowly, I found myself caring again, and choosing to know about what was happening outside of my small existence. Amidst all of the ridiculousness that I read about, a handful of stories continue to weigh heavily on me. Heartbreaking stories that sometimes make me feel as though I wished I had never read them.
Although ignorance is bliss, is it a bliss worth living for?
* * *
Ignorance is bliss, but willful ignorance is irresponsible. Lauren Denitzio, who used to sing and play guitar in The Measure [SA] and is a designer for this very publication, wrote an essay about sexism in punk rock. It’s a shame that anyone even has to write about sexism in punk rock in 2011, especially in a community that purports to be a refuge from mainstream culture and all of its faults. She cites specific issues that concern her:
I think part of the problem is that a lot of guys don’t understand the things that women find threatening because it’s not obviously dressed as a sexist act. What I think of when I imagine a scene without sexism is a scene where we consciously make an effort to create a safer space for everyone, no matter who they are…So, for those who might not know what I’m talking about: you know what makes me feel unsafe? When you’re the only guy in the pit who doesn’t get the message to not fly full force into someone half your size or strength. When you take your shirt off at a show. When you ask me if I’m “in the band or with the band” after a male bandmate says the four of us are all in the band. When you tell me I play guitar well for a girl. When you say that all the guys want to fuck the girl in that band. When you make a rape joke. When you use the word bitch or call someone a slut. The list doesn’t end there. Now do you think the scene isn’t sexist?
I read a lot of comments about the essay, and there were folks who were hung up on a single detail—the notion that people could feel unsafe when men flip their “shirts off, dudes on” switch.
What it comes down to is that when you’re a dude and you take off your shirt in a hot, muggy basement show, you’re not just trying to cool yourself off. You’re saying something with your body and who you are. You’re saying, “I’m a dude, and as a dude, I can take my shirt off in a room full of other people because it’s hot as fuck down here and I take my shirt off when it’s hot as fuck because I’m a dude. I don’t have to worry about people thinking I’m an exhibitionist whore or grabbing my tits or having my sanity in question because I took my shirt off.” You’re unknowingly asserting your dude-ness for all to see, you’re saying, “Check me out, I’m a fucking dude.”
And you know what? That makes some people feel unsafe. Just because you think it’s innocuous doesn’t mean it is, just because you don’t agree that it makes people feel unsafe doesn’t mean it doesn’t. Put your fucking shirt on.
* * *
In our daily lives, we rely on a plentitude of assumptions in order to get us through our days as easily as possible. Our culture uses stereotypical ideas to tell stories and reinforce messages like all couples are heterosexual, there are only two genders, boys like blue and girls like pink, and ad nauseum. This creates a space where we don’t ask questions and just fall into our prescribed roles.
Here’s a story from a filmmaker and anti-sexist activist, Byron Hurt, who described an experience where he became aware of his own unawareness and had to step out of a space of what he thought he knew. He attended a gender-violence prevention workshop where the facilitator asked:
“Men, what things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?”
Not one man, including myself, could quickly answer the question. Finally, one man raised his hand and said, “Nothing.” Then Katz asked the women, “What things do you do to protect yourself from being raped or sexually assaulted?” Nearly all of the women in the room raised their hand. One by one, each woman testified:
“I don’t make eye contact with men when I walk down the street,” said one.
“I don’t put my drink down at parties,” said another.
“I use the buddy system when I go to parties.”
“I cross the street when I see a group of guys walking in my direction.”
“I use my keys as a potential weapon.”
“I carry mace or pepper spray.”
“I watch what I wear.”
The women went on for several minutes, until their side of the blackboard was completely filled with responses. The men’s side of the blackboard was blank. I was stunned. I had never heard a group of women say these things before. I thought about all of the women in my life—including my mother, sister and girlfriend—and realized that I had a lot to learn about gender.
Byron is not alone in being unaware of all the multitude of things that women, or female-identified folks, go through on a daily basis. Sometimes we are all so consumed with our own experiences that we forget to take into account how other folks live. How do we ensure civility toward one another if we aren’t considerate, respectful, and understanding?
* * *
“That makes me sick to my stomach,” DanE said.
I had just told him two stories I had read about. One story was from a village in Shariatpur, Bangladesh, the other took place in Cleveland, Texas.
In Shariatpur, Bangladesh, a fourteen-year-old girl was raped by her forty-year-old cousin. The cousin had been harassing the girl, and one night as she was walking between her home and the outhouse, he attacked and raped her. His wife found them during the assault and reported both of them for the crime of adultery. The village imam found the girl and her cousin both guilty of the crime and sentenced them to publish lashings. She was sentenced to 101 lashes, but could only endure seventy lashes before passing out. A week later, Hena Akhter passed away from internal bleeding.
In Cleveland, Texas, an eleven-year-old girl was gang-raped by a total of nineteen boys and men over the span of three months. These acts are horrific in their own right—but the New York Times coverage consisted of a reporter who wrote a story that seemed sympathetic to the perpetrators. There were quotes from town folk like, “These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives,” and, “They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” An updated Times article offers more objective reporting, but it’s still a story about the repetitive sexual assault of a child and, ultimately, how we write and think about these types of attacks on children and women.
Both of these stories are difficult to digest, and all I could say throughout my retelling was, “It’s so fucked up.” It’s even worse to think that perhaps these stories are not rare.
DanE nodded, “That’s what makes me worry about having a daughter.” He paused. “Actually, it makes me worry about having a boy too. What if the boy isn’t raised right and he grows up to do these things?”
We teach our daughters and sisters to protect themselves, but are we as intentional in raising our sons and brothers? What does it say about people and culture when we these things occur? Should we simply dismiss them as the gruesome acts of a few, and not examine how our cultures, how we treat each other on a daily basis, how we think about the world around us affects some people to the point where they are capable of such brutality?
* * *
There is a mindfulness we need to embody, where we condition ourselves to default to treat everyone with dignity.
That’s all I’ve got. I have no other answers and only write about this because I’m searching for others to tell me that it can be better. I’m looking for everyone else to let me know that we are all working on being more aware.
It’s a long and difficult stretch to weave an essay that begins with shirtless guys at a punk show to the death of a rape victim in Bangladesh. And, yes, there are no logical connections between the two events except that these things occur because—within layers of multiple and varied cultural fuckedupness—there lies cultures that allow male dominance to go unchecked to varying degrees. Patriarchy affects everyone, and it’s all of our responsibilities to de-normalize it.
How do we begin? By taking small steps against our own personal ignorance and letting everyone else in.
My friend Tommy has got a thing going on. It’s an art thing, with music and peace and cosmic vibe-a-tude. His project is being featured at kickstarter.com/projects/1111967869/the-peace-speaker, and alls he wants to do is to send totally rad vibrations by trucking along a gigantic 12″ peace speaker to remote locations and host a concert for all- fauna, foliage and folks. It’s called the 2012 Anti-Apocalypse Tour and its reminding us that keeping our heads in the clouds can sometimes be magical.
When I was a kid, I hated history class because I felt like all the people (mostly men, mostly white) we learned about were nothing like me. I’m a quasi-radical now, but I can’t imagine who I would be if I would had known about Grace Lee Boggs when I was a kid. I’ve just donated a few days worth of lunch money to help fund this awesome documentary about an American revolutionary who is someone I can aspire to be.
Filed under: Razorcake Columns
From Razorcake #61, originally published March 2011.
Children, by the very nature of being children, have infinite amount of time ponder completely non-essential questions. They have the leisure to thoughtfully consider the great questions that have pestered people-kind for years upon years. These are the would you rather quandaries that have enflamed schoolyard disputes and blacktop banter.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, would you rather eat ice cream or pizza?
If you could only marry one of the Chipmunks, would you rather marry Alvin, Simon or Theodore?
If you had to had to switch your fingers and toes, would you rather have your fingers instead of toes (and still have your normal hand-fingers) or toes instead of fingers (and still have normal feet-toes)?
Unfortunately, children, by the vary nature of being children, lack the weight of experience that comes from decades of living—of waking up everyday for more years than you can count on your fingers (or toes) and trying to figure out what you were waking up for. Though they have the time to think through these questions, they are unable to fully grasp the implications of their decisions because they are still at an age where a game like tag is a valid form of interaction.
It’s obvious to us now, as adults—as world-wearied creatures with skin that loses elasticity everyday the sun beats down on us, what all of the correct choices are.
Pizza. Pizza is as delicious out-of-the-fridge-cold as it is straight from the oven. Pizza contains more food groups than ice cream. Pizza is also much more portable, wrapped in a piece of aluminum foil or a flat cardboard box, for those of us who are constantly on-the-go and can only eat one thing for the rest of our lives.
Simon. Although Alvin might seem like the obvious choice to marry because of his unabashed confidence, disarming chipmunk handsomeness, non-threatening mischievousness and he’s the lead in the band—but he is more of a casual fuck-buddy type of friend than marriage material. (Please don’t judge me for referring to a cartoon chipmunk as a fuck-buddy possibility, as if this is out the realm of your imagination and you’ve never though about making out with The Little Mermaid.) Simon’s a total geek, with his coke-bottle glasses and unassuming wit. He’s the one that’s going to be the founder of something like Facetweet and be worth hundreds of billions of dollars. He will start a foundation that trains young women from developing nations to become green engineers and win eight simeaultanous Nobel Peace Prizes and a trip to the moon, plus one.
Fingers instead of toes (and still have your normal hand-fingers).With this mutant disfiguration, one can conceivably change the dynamics and physicality of competitive gymnastics. Imagine the insane amounts of flipping, contortiony things that can be accomplished on the double bars or balance beam if the gymnast had fingers on their toes! The only negative I can think of is in the difficulty of purchasing shoes, as we are a majority feet-toes world—but that’s a small price to pay to be a multi-gold medaled Olympian.
Amidst the cacophony of nonsense and logic that goes behind discovering the right answer to the would you rathers, there was always one that I found to be unanswerable: would you rather be deaf or blind? Of the five senses that children learned that they are capable of sensing, the ability to see and hear were the most obvious to choose between. Smelling, tasting and touching were secondary to watching and listening to TV.
I was a teenager the last time I had seriously considered this. Teenagers, by the very nature of being teenagers, operate on binary: black or white, prep or punk, brooding angst or naïve joy, horny or bored. Normally, it was easy to choose between either/or, but I was in high school and felt like I was discovering lost artifacts when I listened to a band or read a zine for the first time. I could not choose between sight and sound—I was adamant about keeping both those senses intact. I was done with the would you rathers when I faced the fallacy of a game where the choices were both equally uncool and somewhat plausible. The options aren’t fun to choose between if they aren’t absurd, semi-fantastical situations—the lost of vision and hearing wounds mortals everyday. And isn’t it a privilege to have the choice of which sense we would begrudgingly allow to degrade as part of a game with a sole purpose to kill time and not necessarily answer tough questions about the human condition?
A couple weeks ago I was walking Jack around the neighborhood, it was late evening and I peered into every lit window as Jack pissed on every other shrub we passed. I watched him skip ahead of me, his small white body bouncing while his four lean legs fluttered beneath him. I looked up at the sky and found familiar constellations and a bright moon beaming down on rooftops and tall trees. And suddenly, without any prompting, a flood of visuals wound its way through my brain.
My mother’s face when I surprised her on Mother’s Day last year by showing up at the dim sum restaurant a thousand miles away from my apartment. The Tibetan grassland plains with low rolling hills of lush green, an ocean blue sky and the kinds of large downy white clouds we drew as children, around in 360 degrees for as far as the eye could make out existence. The way DanE’s hazel eyes become more emerald when he wears green t-shirts.
I thought about how we can’t hear smiles or the ridiculous faces we made during inappropriate times. I thought about Cindy Sherman, Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” and David Hockney. I thought about Mimi Nguyen’s “Evolution of a Race Riot” and every other zine I had ever read. I thought about books and the way type floated on its pages, how stoic text can turn my imagination loose.
And it was while walking Jack when I realized that—if I would rather—I choose sight. This may be an unpopular sentiment amongst Razorcake readers, and yes I would miss music and the way it can say things through words sung out loud that we are otherwise incapable of expressing. I would miss the sound of laughter, the power of a hearty rally cry and dancing my face off.
It isn’t often that I am reminded of and revisit childhood questions, but when this epiphany struck me, it felt definitive. It felt satisfying, as if I had wizened with age and was now capable of answering tough questions. But it makes me wonder whether I really choose sight, or if its just the act of choosing that I needed. That all these years of waking up every morning, and occasionally questioning why I was waking up every morning, had a purpose to it. So that one day I can wake up and be definitive about something—know something as completely as I could possibly know it.
Or maybe I chose sight because I’d really love to see a foot-fingered gymnast kill on the balance beam one day.