22 January 2015

Not Mary Janes

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This is for my younger sister, Erica.

***

She always said that I had the hands of a baker, large palms for kneading dough, round fingers for thumbprint cookies, perfect for creases with jam.

And she had the hands of a piano player, her fingers long, angular, symmetrical. She took lessons, but gave up after a year, because the teacher smelt of burnt coffee, and her bathroom was way too purple.

When we were twelve and ten, respectively, we measured each other’s legs and lamented the stretch marks that were forming where our hips were widening. Boys noticed, too—not our marks, but our hips.

Meanwhile, her arms, long and sparsely freckled, reached skyward, and my own arms, short and soft, clung to my sides. We carried ourselves un-observantly. We didn’t notice boys, but we noticed girls. We noticed their hair, parted off to the side, clipped neatly. We noticed their eye brows, drawn with care, stray hairs ripped from their pores or combed to conform to neat little arches. We noticed the small feet, pushed delicately into Mary Janes.

But we were not Mary Janes. Mary Janes in sizes 11 and 9, respectively, made us look like clowns. We stuck to what we knew and understood, and for a long time, that meant that we stuck to hating our bodies.

But our hands eventually survived our hatred. And later, my breasts survived. Her legs. Bit by bit, body part by body part, we tried to salvage everything. Her crooked teeth were next. “David Bowie has crooked teeth,” she said, and that made everything better. After that, my nose made the cut. “It’s not too big, not too small,” I said. Then we noticed our own eye brows, how they lacked distinct shape and conformity. We noticed our mouths, big, toothy, prominent. We noticed how other girls noticed us. We noticed our height, our long arms finally reaching upward together, perfect for hugs.

I was fourteen when I realized that my body was my first home. It didn’t have to be a cage. It didn’t have to be an obstacle. It housed my brain, my spirit, my heart, but it was more than just a container. It could be warm and safe and strong. It could protect the ones I loved.


My sister and I still talk about our bodies. And we still sometimes complain. But they are and were the first things we ever owned, and we understand that now. We have done more than just notice. We have celebrated. 




19 January 2015

Selma and the Long Road Ahead

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Yesterday, I saw the movie Selma, which I highly recommend. The crowd was a mix of races, and as we were leaving, an older white man ahead of me commented, "I'm glad things aren't like that anymore." The two young black women behind him laughed.

Everywhere we turn, we witness the truth unfolding, and some of us are too desensitized to see it: Racism has never left this country; actually, racism is alive and well all over the world. I could see Dr. King protesting about Ferguson and New York, protesting about Nigeria. When I see "good people" fail to acknowledge current racism, like the probably well-meaning man I just quoted, I see Dr. King's face and Malcolm X's face in my mind and wonder how they would react.

Because the truth is that MLK's dream is far, far from realized. He's been sanitized and canonized, but in reality, he was radical. He was seen as a threat. His dreams are still a threat to this country in particular, because acknowledging systemic racism in America has yet to happen. It's true that we don't segregate blacks and whites in our physical spaces, but we sure as hell segregate them in our minds. Think about our discussions of rioting and looting. Think about our discussions of thugs and criminals. Even "good people" on Facebook, well-intentioned people, continue to Other black folks and chastise their behavior. Even "good people" on Facebook, well-intentioned people, are using terms like "sand n****rs" to describe folks whose mosques were bombed after Charlie Hebdo. These aren't conservatives talking, either. These people identify as progressive. Today, these people talk about MLK in fluffy, reflective ways. And yet they are ignorant to their own racism. They fail to acknowledge how their behavior perpetuates systemic racism. They fail to see that their "scolding" of folks of different races makes them a racist. None of us wants to defer MLK's dream, and yet all of us are actively deferring it.


After seeing Selma, I'm sure that the person who said, "I'm glad things aren't like that anymore," truly thinks that we live in a society where Dr. King's dream has been realized, but the young women who laughed -- a dark, knowing laugh -- understand the truth.



18 December 2014

In the Snow

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When were you planning on leaving?
I've already gone.
I could not leave quietly.
I kicked down
the door, the barrier
between you and me.
I kicked in
your front teeth.
I could not leave quietly.
The stories you tell yourself
are loud. They rattle my ear drums.
Do stories expire?
Do they become frail and tired?
Do they become lies?
I've already gone
and told myself the truth,
that I can be brave
and have my own stories,
that I can plan on leaving
at any time, my footsteps
making a pattern
in the snow.

07 December 2014

Of Houses

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Retroactive and backdated, gradually expired: I am an endless string of choices; I am riddles made of plastic; I make no sense, my teeth finally puncturing my lip; I am finally horizontal, stretched taut over the world, my womb containing numbers and data, my mind controlling my own version of space-time. I am an old calendar of pinups. I am an address book. I am a fallen tree, in which small animals make houses. Above all, I am useful, but only for so long; I am used, only for so long.


02 December 2014

Afraid (Reprise)

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Have someone else's will as your own.
- Nico

Pulling lint from your hair, string from your teeth, you wonder, "Who will take care of me?"

He sits sleepily in his chair, at his station, his assignment. He waits to be fed. He waits for you to take care of him.

Pulling short strands of hair from your food, left there by accident, a clumsy calling card, you wonder, "When will I be fed?"

You smooth the sheets, pressed cool on the bed. You look in the mirror, smooth your curls. From the other room, you hear a gentle snore. He's satisfied.

You are beautiful, and you are alone.
- Nico


25 October 2014

My Only Post on Gamergate

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Here goes nothing. Prepare for this can of worms if you must by sitting down with a glass of wine or bottle of beer.

As a newbie researcher/academic and long-time nerd, I've been asked several times what I think about Gamergate. This will be the only thing I say about it. If it were about ethics, then everyone advocating for these ethics would behave in an ethical fashion.

Leaking people's personal information when they disagree with you? I'm going to say that's among the most unethical things you can do. If you think that sending death threats to folks who disagree with you is perfectly alright, then that's unethical too. If you would gladly send me a death or rape threat for being a feminist and believing in treating other folks with respect, then I'm not the one with the problems, you are, and I would prefer if you stayed away from me and other people about whom you feel this way.

While not everyone engaging in this cruel behavior suffers from mental illness (entitlement is a symptom of a social problem related to having one's power challenged; it isn't an organic psychological issue), if you do, here are some places you can go to get help:

The American Psychological Association
MentalHealth.gov
National Institute of Mental Health

Additionally, if you're interested in the well-being of men, instead of researching and finding answers in the echo chamber of online forums, look into Michael Kimmel's work. Those who think that feminism is the enemy don't understand feminism's aims and goals, particularly if we're talking about intersectional feminism and womanism, in which case the myths are considered "common knowledge." Kimmel, a scholar and spokesperson for the National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS), will clarify these things for you, if you prefer to, at least at first, listen to another man with similar concerns, who addresses them in productive, just ways -- ways that are mostly absent from Reddit at the moment.

I used to think that the following should go without saying; unfortunately, I'm wrong, so here it is: Treating people poorly, telling them that you're going to kill them, is not rational, reasonable, or compassionate, no matter the argument. There's nothing wrong with people, regardless of gender expression, sharing the same interests, the same job titles, the same hobbies, the same rights, the same whatever.

If you are anxious about women and non-binary folks being gamers, construction workers, cops, what have you, then you need to get over it, because as the world inches slowly towards progress (with regressive moments sprinkled in, because of course), your tantrums won't stop you from getting left behind. Instead, realize that your interests, jobs, etc, are not being threatened -- the definitions are simply expanding to include more variety. That process doesn't negatively affect you or your way of life, just as women voting hasn't affected your ability to vote, just as white folks marrying black folks hasn't affected your ability to marry, and just as queer folks getting married hasn't affected your marriage, either. Your behavior, on the other hand, affects others, especially when that behavior includes leaking their home address or phone number, placing burning crosses on their lawns, or shooting them as you're driving past.

And remember: misogyny hurts everyone. Misogyny is the reason that men aren't allowed to be sensitive, because sensitivity is feminine and therefore a weak trait. If you're a "pussy," then you're weak, because anything feminine is weak. If you are a man who wants to be a nurse or a teacher to young children, then you're going to be criticized, because nurturing jobs are for women and somehow, men can't be nurturing. Nurturing is a weak trait in a man, even though many men become fathers. Being against sexism in all of its heinous forms and working towards dismantling it is an effort that works in everyone's favor.

So, historically and statistically, while allowing people who don't look like you to have access to rights and spaces that you typically enjoy doesn't impact your ability to continue to enjoy those rights and spaces, how you decide to disagree does affect other people and their ability to live their lives, if your choices include being physically, emotionally, and psychologically violent toward them.

What I'm suggesting isn't in any way new, and it is all rooted in logic. It is simply unreasonable to threaten women, or anybody, with rape and death. It is unreasonable to doxx them. In response to all of your arguments, it is unreasonable to harm the people you disagree with. I am disagreeing with you right now, and I have not decided to research and leak the personal information of the perpetrators of Gamergate. (And believe me: I spend a lot of time researching, so if I really wanted to find out, I could put those skills to work, but I refuse to do it.) I haven't threatened your life, and I haven't told you I'm going to assault you. I have only called you unreasonable and asked that you get the help you need and avail yourself of the great resources out there for you.

To the gamers in my life who are being affected by all of this, regardless of gender: I'm sorry. I'm sorry that these people are leaving you feeling alienated at best and scared at worst. I care about you and your well-being, which is why I'm here if you need to talk. In the meantime, I offer my hugs, support, and sympathy.

And that is all that I will say about Gamergate.


Blogger's Note: Not all feminists are the same; therefore, there may be ways in which I define myself that other feminists may disagree with. We're talking about a movement that is currently experiencing the tail-end of its Third Wave -- obviously, it's a movement with complexity. That said, there are still a lot of myths about feminism and its messages, and although my argument above is meant for a hostile audience and therefore is less radical in ethos, the crux of my stance -- which is, don't threaten or doxx other people -- should hopefully be something that's agreeable for everyone, no matter belief. That said, I'm still learning and growing, and I know I'm a flawed feminist. Keep that in mind as you read.


21 October 2014

Hidden Track

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I.

An old woman looks over at my table, her face lined downward, as if she has been concerned her entire life. I could believe it. She looked into my eyes for a few moments, then returned to her conversation.

II.

I often eat alone. "You're a young, pretty person, who often eats alone," someone told me once, as plain as newsprint. I'm not looking for flowers or anything. No "Get Well Soon." Sometimes, I'm even enjoying myself. The other day, I had a slice of banana cream pie. Everything was chilled and smooth and refreshing, and I didn't have to share it with anyone.

III.

When I'm with other people, I'm mostly a listener. I have never liked the phone, so I just listen on that, too. I realized today that I pay someone else to listen to me, so that I can speak and not be interrupted. I can be free. I can talk about my research or my students or my new cat tattoo without feeling like I'm boring or stupid. This person is paid to care about me. It seems more direct that way.

IV.

I think about all of this as the old woman looks away, her frown in a perfect upside-down "U," like a Muppet's mouth. I smile to myself and finish my pie.


20 October 2014

The Siren

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I believe in God.
I believe in mermaids too.

- Nick Cave, "Mermaids"

This course of action
requires my womanhood: my sharp brow,
my careful bangs, all used
to collapse walls, erect new bounds.
If I could be a mermaid,
I could tame the sea.
I could guide my troubles, my burdens
toward the rocks with my song, my temper.
Because I will test your laws
with appropriate punctuation and
I will test your arguments
with lacquered nails and strong testimony.
You will remember my face
as salt water
fills your lungs.

15 September 2014

Urban Outfitters, Edginess, and Post-Traumatic Stress

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There have been a variety of responses to Urban Outfitters' "blood-splatter" Kent State sweatshirt -- and this is going to be another one.

I had to discreetly comfort one of my students today. They happened to see the story and a picture of the shirt in question while they were checking their phone before class. They started to hyperventilate and shake, and I had to take them into a quiet and empty area to see if they were OK. This student, who I will not name for obvious reasons, has PTSD and had been triggered by the image.

This is just a reminder that while this piece of clothing seems harmless enough -- it's just an over-priced, ugly sweatshirt, after all -- its style is symbolic of something more sinister and ideologically harmful. To add to the laundry list of reasons that others have already explored today, I think that it's despicable to commodify students -- dead students, living students -- and it's really twisted to think that their bodies and experiences should propel "creative," "edgy" marketing. Either Urban Outfitters has some woefully ignorant folks on their development team, or they were doing it for shock value. After all, bad publicity is still publicity, so, why not? In either case, the result is the same: it's a trigger not only for those who remember the National Guard killing four of our students on May 4th, 1970, but also a trigger for anyone post-May-4th who has suffered violent trauma, who sees fake blood splatter and is immediately reminded of the real thing, from their lived experiences. In that case, there is no difference between the reality and a facsimile. If the impact is the same -- if it evokes true and deep emotions of past trauma -- then it doesn't matter whether it's "just a shirt."

It's also good for all of us to remember that intention and impact are not measured the same way. Later today, Urban Outfitters issued a half-baked apology for making and selling the shirt. "We meant no disrespect," they said. If they intended no harm, I understand, but it doesn't negate the impact of their decision. It does not erase my student's experience of being triggered. We do not get to decide how other people react to our decisions; with regards to Post-Traumatic Stress, this is especially true. Being triggered is a knee-jerk reaction; it is in no way planned. It just happens. The impact is, at times, difficult to overcome. A simple "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to" doesn't erase anything. And in the case of company-issued apologies, they are as much used as a marketing tactic as anything else, so impact becomes particularly important to consider. The common metaphor used in counseling is this: If you break a plate, then apologize to the plate, the plate doesn't automatically repair itself. Repair is a separate action. "I'm sorry," while helpful if it's sincere, is not repair.

Ultimately, I have to wonder, is it worth it to Urban Outfitters to privilege "edginess" over the emotional well-being of their potential customers? I know that I can't trust a company to put people over profit, but who do they think will buy their merchandise? Generally speaking, alienated and/or triggered customers don't buy products that alienate/trigger them. I'm no businesswoman, but how logical is that?

In any case, as an instructor, I feel responsible for the safety of my students. Today, I was reminded that my students' safety also includes their emotional and mental health. So, while companies like Urban Outfitters don't have their best interests at heart, I do. Other instructors at Kent State do. And I join them in saying that this is more than "just a shirt." It's a reminder of how far we've yet to go, if dead students can be commidified so easily.

09 September 2014

Reflections

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This year marks my fifteenth year of U2 fandom. The majority of my friends hate U2, so I don't really talk about them much, to protect their sanity, or whatever. That said, I'm listening to their surprise new album at the moment, reflecting on the times I've turned to them for comfort over the years. They seem to release albums just when I need them: when I'm having a particularly difficult time with my chronic health issues, when I'm going through heartache or grief, when I'm feeling uncertain about my course in life and need reassurance. I know that sounds cheesy, but I need music. Through music, I'm more easily able to meditate and pray. I'm more easily able to see through the fog.

Hopefully the following examples will better illustrate my point. The first time I was in the hospital, after my botched surgery, I listened to How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb nearly every day until my release. I played "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own" on repeat, when I didn't have visitors. It made me feel less alone, less angry. It gave me the additional support I needed to start healing.

When my grandfather died in October of 2011, I turned, naturally, to October. It was fitting, not only because of the month, but because it's an album very much about the loss of a parent. My grandfather was like a second father to me; he and my grandmother were directly involved in my and my sister's up-bringing. The last time I saw him, he asked me if he would see me the next day. I had to tell him that I was going home that night, but that I was planning on seeing him again "really soon." Listening to "Tomorrow" reminded me of that broken promise, my ignorance, because I never got to say goodbye to him.

During my first break-up, I listened to The Joshua Tree quite a bit, feeling forlorn and dismayed. I realized that I needed to be able to define myself outside of my relationships. Corny as it sounds, I still hadn't found what I'd been looking for, because I hadn't done enough soul searching. I knew what my dreams were, but I hadn't yet turned them into goals, believing that I was too broke(n) to achieve them. I soon realized that I needed to stop standing in my own way, and I applied to Kent State's PhD program in Rhetoric and Composition. I'm in my second year, and I'm happier than I've ever been.

While listening to the newest album, Songs of Innocence, I'm reminded of my consumption of Blake's own Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, which directly influenced my Master's thesis. In so many ways, I am still a child, with so much to learn, and yet I have to acknowledge the experiences I've had and continue to have that make me feel so much older. I've been poked and prodded by so many doctors, I don't remember some of their names. I've dealt with crippling poverty and not being able to afford medicine. Friends have come and gone; some of them weren't friends at all, and they bullied me instead. I've confided in the wrong people. I've turned up on the wrong doorsteps. In many, many ways, however, I am incredibly blessed. There are people in my life who love me very much, as much as I love them. I have books. I have my writing. I also have U2.

I'm a deeply sentimental and reflective person. Often, I'm obnoxiously transparent. My sensitivity annoys even me, so I understand if this blog post comes across as heavily navel-gazing and strange. But these reflections needed a home. They have been rattling in my chest for a while, abstract and somewhat formless. It feels good to be able to articulate some of it. Of course, I find the words while listening to this new album. So, thanks again, U2. You're inconsistent; some of your tunes don't grab me, and you're guilty of tremendous bombast and tackiness. But I love you. Your songs are a part of my story, and I'm grateful for that.