Thursday, December 23, 2010

mississippi kite

There aren't distinct points demarcating The Time When I Was Severely Depressed (essentially from my beginning memories of consciousness to age 22 or so) from The Time When I Started Reckoning With Things But Was Still In A Lot Of Pain (ages 22-28, roughly) from The Time When The Clouds Are Allowed To Pass (ages 28 - present). Only in hindsight am I able to carve out rough biographical epochs, useful for tracing growth, learning forward and trying not to commit familiar mistakes.

My depression as I knew it is gone, and that's weird. It's weird to wake up without a demon curled around my neck, whispering how worthless I am, sucking out my energy, reminding me throughout the day that the world would be better off without me, that I've fucked up many times over, that there's no atonement possible. That demon was my familiar for so long that without it I found myself not really knowing how to function - I'd relied on it to gauge my actions for so long. It warped my lens and cast a long shadow over everything I could perceive.

I had my eyes examined a week or so ago for the first time in eight years. Turns out I actually need glasses - my prescription isn't that strong (I'm a little nearsighted/astigmatic) but it's strong for someone who wasn't wearing any kind of corrective eyewear. When I put my new glasses on for the first time, the amount of detail I could see was astounding. My brain was processing "blurry" as "normal."

It was a quick adjustment to my new glasses, but the analogy to operating without the demon is obvious. It took way longer to figure that one out. For a period of time, every single step I took was a little bit wobbly. I had to learn all over, in my late twenties, how to assess myself and others, how to operate in the world. I had a decent idea, but the process of rehabituating is a strange and complicated one. After about two years of this, I feel like I'm on solid ground.

The sadnesses I feel now are normal, not all-encompassing, and I know how to deal with them - how to work with them (as I would work with any other strong emotion), how to let them flow over and through me. They don't appear rootless. Meditation, talking/thinking things out and letting myself lean on others (as I let others lean on me) actually help.

The demon - and various events, most of them traumatic - helped ensure that I was a real asshole as a teenager/young adult. Any wounded animal would be. I spent most of my time licking my wounds, trying not to smear blood everywhere, and lashing out at anyone who tried to love me. I count myself extremely lucky that I had music, art, writing, literature and what existed of an underground community (and people who loved me) to fall into, because if I hadn't had those supports I would have tumbled headlong into the abyss. I've spent the last decade or so trying to figure out how to pay others back for the support I received, and I think I've figured out a few common-sense strategies through trial and error - ethical principles, responsibility to my community, and so forth. (The demon enjoys stripping you of common sense and replacing obvious things with its own bent philosophies.)

I have this kernel of hope to offer others in various phases of struggling with the demon in the many guises it appears in, be it organic depression or PTSD or a combination thereof (or something else) - you won't know when it leaves, but its absence will be loud. It'll take time to adjust, but we humans are remarkably adaptable creatures and if you're tempered by the fire, as anyone fighting the demon is, you'll figure out how to reckon with its absence. There's never a day when the fight is over, but there are days when it gets so much easier, days when you can relax your vigilance, days when you can allow yourself to experience real joy and an entire spectrum of other emotions and experiences you previously thought weren't possible. Being a grown-up is weird. Being a grown-up who's spent her life reckoning with this shit is even weirder. It's complicated and it's messy and there is no neat ending - but there is motion beyond, life beyond, and you'll know it when you're in it - and it is worth fighting for. It is worth it a thousand times over.

Monday, November 8, 2010

the void

I haven't written here for a few months partially because I've been busy with Band and Work and Electoral Politics and General Life Stuff but also partially because I haven't felt like anything I have to say is cogent enough or worthwhile/useful enough to put into blog form or even to particularly exist outside of my head.

Here is a poem I wrote this morning.

Glass ribs filled with fluid
holding a dumb heart too
poor to hold up its metaphor
all the weight that we ascribe
to a clot of muscle
clanging around in there like
a churchbell late for service
I can't hear you over the sound
I can't hear me over the sound
I can't hear it over the sound
I say these words so often
they lose their meaning.

Here is this body, here she lies
shorn and glossy and picked for
public view, careful of context,
isn't she lovely. Here is the ghost
standing at the foot of the coffin
a paradox, too insubstantial
too poor to hold up her metaphor.
I can't see you through the fog
I can't see me through the fog
I can't see it through the fog
I say these words so often
they lose their meaning.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

more to this life

I've been thinking a lot lately about the strength and possibilities of the female friendships I'm lucky to have. As someone who has rejected some aspects of traditional femininity and embraced some others, I worry about a kind of essentialist view of female-ness, and I'm keeping that firmly in mind as I write this; I am not always referring to ciswomen in the following entry, either. I'm thinking about all of my friendships with other people who identify as female.

The Archetypal Female Friendship we're presented with in modern culture - I'm thinking 'Sex and the City,' that sort of thing - might have a core of sincere love and support (I'm not sure sometimes, honestly), but it is most definitely presented to us as a friendship that in most respects only goes so deep and is divided easily by competition and materialism (and the competition is usually over a romantic partner). Internalized misogyny, as I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is a real thing and it eats a lot of these friendships alive.

I'm lucky enough to know so many women who I've maintained long, healthy friendships with; they challenge me, as the best relationships do, to be a better person daily. There's no untouchable subject with most of the women I know, no boundary that can't be explored, no hurdle we can't figure out a way to cross. There is a sense of trust and mutual respect. Without these relationships I'm not sure where I'd be.

This is not to say that these qualities are absent from my relationships with the male-identified folks in my life either. I've gotten extraordinarily picky about my personal relationships - though I can see the best things in most people, it's the rare one I let in close. I think of love as a thing that is huge and mutable - it can be poured into various molds, assigned various activities, but in its true essence it is something beyond those roles and activities, something much wilder and more fluid. My love for my friends is just as powerful as any other love, and just as sustaining. I'm focusing on female relationships here because, again, gender identification affects our lives and how we're socialized to relate to one another in a prism of ways.

So - this is for you. You know who you are. This is for women building communities, finding strength in one another, finding strength in ourselves, refusing to let areas of traditional competition come between us. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

slave ship

I had a really wonderful day-long hang with a friend of mine who just moved to New York, and one of the topics we discussed while we were thrifting and record shopping and trying to avoid weird spring hailstorms was labor and production in the culture industries (music, fashion, film, literature, art, and so forth).

We in organized labor don't talk about these industries that often, and when we do it's focused on anti-sweatshop measures (which are obviously important and I think something that always has to be borne in mind when thinking about the fashion industry - something that I think a lot of us, myself included, have pushed away thinking about at points because we are so used to fast fashion and the fact that it's very difficult to avoid sweatshop labor entirely post-NAFTA). The particular costs of production and exploitation in the culture industry are echoed elsewhere in the labor market

Our top entertainers make a lot of money. A LOT of money. Celebrity and opulence has become part of their marketing, because ... celebrity sells. Having money is cultural currency. (I'll expound at some point in this blog on this because it's something that horrifies and disgusts me and something that is omnipresent and that I am thus weirdly fascinated by and feel the need to study, take apart and analyze).

If you're anyone involved in the industry other than said top entertainers, though, you get worked to death. You have to deal with jobs that don't tie health insurance in as a benefit necessarily, jobs that treat you like a contractor even if you're a full-time employee, jobs that you hate that you work just because they allow you to go on tour. Sometimes you end up working for a small business that is just surviving day to day itself, and it's difficult to demand the fair compensation due to you because even the owner of the business isn't making enough to get by. The culture industry is like a highly magnified version of the stratified class system we function in at large - the very small top percentage take it all, everyone else gets fucked. The film industry is the one aspect that has been unionized for a long time, but if you're self-producing or not working for a big studio, there are major barriers there too.

The recording industry hasn't figured out yet their strategy for remaining viable in an age of digital media. The rest of the culture industries are all struggling with similar conundrums. Now is the time to organize this work force (or not to cede ground in already-organized industries); now is the time to assert what is ours as laborers. Now is the time to try to balance out the employer-employee relationship as best we can and to lobby for federally funded social programs that allow major grants to the arts (look at Canada for a pretty great system as far as that goes).

A side note: I maintain that sex work is part of the culture industry and that we need more worker-owned collectives/union shops for sex workers; the Lusty Lady is a start, but I have yet to see the stage (pun intended) opened up further.

There is much for us to critique in the products culture industry at large as conscious consumers as well as producers, as activists and feminists. We must not forget that worker advocacy in these industries is equally important (if not more important in some cases); the process must be critiqued as well as the product.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

echoes from one to another

I've been thinking a lot lately about bodies and representation, visibility, marketing and mainstreaming, particularly in light of some of the news and blog postings of the last couple of weeks (SB1070, the re-emergence of discussion in the mainstream media about what a terrorist "looks" like, so on and so forth). I mean, this is a thing I think about daily anyway, but my attention to it has been ramped up for several reasons.

While I am under no illusion that the inclusion of bodies of different shapes, sizes and hues (and class signifiers, and ability, and queerness) in advertising and mainstream media/pop culture doesn't generally constitute anything more than pandering, an attempt to make money off of a particular submarket, there's something unintentionally powerful that happens with that inclusion of variety - a lifting of shame and stigma, a widening of the definition of normalcy. It's AMAZING how many people come out of the woodwork to protest about how offended they are whenever a non-normative body is highly visible (for an easy and timely example, see any blog comments about Gabourey Sidibe, who is an inspiration herself in many ways). Obviously this unintentional effect shouldn't be overstated, but it shouldn't be understated either. When we keep pressing to widen the boundaries of what is "normal," what is "acceptable," we open up space for the beautiful and unexpected.

That said, there are problems with the idea of mainstreaming an image beyond just ad-pandering (though I do love the fact that with the widening of the definition of the normative body there is a chance to screw with capitalism a little - just as we are target markets, we are also taught to conform to certain standards because products used to create those standards are being marketed to us. The anxiety created by such marketing of conformity/idealized bodies is flattened a bit when the spectrum of what's normal is expanded). There's a chance for complacency in there that makes me worried - that if someday we achieve some kind of magical pop culture utopia in which all kinds of bodies are presented as normal, with the ability to achieve happiness and success, we'll stop and rest there. (When your life involves constant vigilance and fighting, particularly, it's a total luxury to just stop and hang out and disconnect for a moment. At the same time, there's the potential for inertia there.)

Becoming included, destigmatized, defetishized - that's only the first step. That includes us in the discussion as opposed to putting us up as props. (Also: those of us who are non-normative in some ways should be reminded to check our privilege because chances are there are ways in which we ARE normative, things we don't have to think about every day because we're not confronted with them constantly.)

P.S. I've been rereading Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition for a book club, and it's definitely been influencing my thinking this week in a large and visible way (and reminding me where I picked up some of these perspectives in the first place). Arendt's book mentions some of the ways in which technology shapes society, and I've been thinking a lot about the power of representation in an age in which so much of our communication is done via internet, text, etc.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

previous condition (or: the deal-with-it dog meets the worthwhile cause)

"Chill out, dude, it's just _______."

Yes, there are many points in discourse (in its many forms) where we start to take ourselves too seriously and have to step back and re-evaluate our positions, choose to step away from an argument, rephrase our words or let something go, particularly in light of the general absurdity of the world we live in. That's only reasonable.

However, there's still a lot that is meaningful and real - even in said absurd landscape - that's worth fighting for. There are convictions we hold that are important, and speaking up when relevant is our responsibility.

The "chill out, dude, it's just _____" tactic is one I've encountered again and again when I speak up for myself or for values that I believe are important (and one I've seen employed against countless others when they do the same), and it's always used by the person who has created the situation that is being spoken out against - that is, the person in the position of power, the person that represents the status quo. It's a specific tactic that is used to minimize the worth of the arguments against, and I've seen it in every aspect of my life (from negotiations at work to conversations with punk kids). It dovetails nicely with institutionalized sexism/racism/homophobia, which already sees the othered group as less-than.

"Can't you take a JOKE?"

"What are you, the PC police?"

To be offended by something we have to be humorless and uptight in this worldview (rather than ... reasonably offended by something which is offensive). Hysterical women! Angry black people! Those gays, running their mouths again! What's always fascinated me is people who create provocative art that obviously pushes classic taboo buttons getting bent out of shape when they're called on ... doing exactly what their art sets out to do.

(Newsflash: the "PC police" don't exist, and I am all for free speech. However, that also means that if you are free to say something that I find offensive, I am free to speak my opinion on said statement. In other words, the tail of the deal-with-it-dog wags both ways.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

the machine that tore speech to pieces

I'm reading How to Wreck a Nice Beach by Dave Tompkins, who has obviously been invested in this project for a good long while - the history of the vocoder from its Bell Labs-national security roots to its significant presence in music.

I'm a latecomer to the Cult of Tompkins, but I'll scribble my name on as many cards to carry as I can. (Now I'm cursing myself for getting rid of all those old Wires, right?) His prose is lush, dense, playful and evocative (like Vollmann in places but without that annoying shadow of self-importance that hangs over a lot of WV's work) and the depth and breadth of his knowledge and research are remarkable. HTWANB is a pleasure to read at every level. It's also full of potential song titles/band names. Go get yourself a copy.

Monday, April 26, 2010

not yr fucking fetish object (2010 remaster)

I've been in love with music my whole life. I was raised by two musician parents, both of whom encouraged me (and continue to encourage me) to make and love and be critical of music. I started learning to repair amps because it was the family business - I was inspired by my dad's experience with it and lucky enough to have his resources at my fingertips (I'm still an apprentice in many ways).

I was also lucky enough to be introduced by my parents to DIY music before I would have discovered it on my own. I got into punk in the early '90s and never looked back. As I grew and learned about politics and became deeply invested in changing the system for the better, I was galvanized by riot grrl (a movement for which there is clearly a need for a critical history; there were powerful and beautiful things about it just as there were dangerous lessons about classism, racism, transphobia and so on to be learned) and by bands like Minutemen - our band could be your life, indeed. My experiences in music opened me up to questioning power, questioning consumption and to making art out of hideous experiences - to friendships and frustrations.

Fast forward to 2010; I'm still making music, still buying records, still giving a shit. I doubt I'll "grow out" of it at this point. It's not news that there are women involved in music at every level from consumer to producer - musicians and songwriters, label owners and employees, promoters, reviewers, publicists, record store owners and employees, so on and so forth. We're everywhere! Why, then, is it still an uphill battle to be a woman involved in music? We've made inroads, right? We're visible, right?

The answer is sadly simple: because music culture (both mainstream and DIY) is still a sexist paradigm. It's one of those cultural corners where women end up ants under the magnifying glass, on fire because we've gotten a concentrated and focused dose of misogyny.

Silvana at Tiger Beatdown makes some points in her post that I agree with, particularly this one:
"Being a feminist who is into music and cares about feminism and women in music is a giant pain in the ass, because music is the greatest haven of all time for ITSJUSTMYOPINION-ism. Because, you see? Music is art. Which means if you try to criticize someone’s personal taste, especially if you are suggesting that they don’t like woman-made music because THEY HATE WOMEN, you will get nowhere. There is almost no argument you can make that will have any effect whatsoever, because it’s just my opinion, man. And people believe, they believe with all their hearts, that they are entitled to their opinions when it comes to art, even if those opinions are stupid."

Then her personal viewpoint diverges with mine, because I love music that she describes as "dude music," music made "by dudes for dudes," music that she doesn't find personally resonant (which I obviously have no quibble with). I've found something to glom onto in some of those styles, even in styles that are harsh and nasty and that you have to watch for misogynist/generally sketchy undertones in. (I grew up on death metal, fast hardcore and early '80s industrial music, for goodness' sake.) By no means do I dismiss music made by women; I love and support other female musicians and love a lot of music made by women too.

I know a lot of other smart, strong, feminist women who also find "dude" music appealing.

The trouble with being a feminist who likes "dude" music as much as she likes "lady" music is that you will run the risk of being a weird fetish object to a lot of the men you come across. You might be treated at first like "one of the boys," but it will become quickly apparent that a lot of the men you meet through musical channels are fascinated by the fact that you are A GIRL but you like THE SAME THINGS THEY DO. (The flipside of the Fetish Object is the Invisible Girl - the woman who simply doesn't exist and isn't acknowledged or is quickly dismissed no matter how loud she yells because she doesn't fit into a prescribed role.)

I fell into the velvet chains of this role for a while when I was younger. I am somewhere in the spectrum of physical attractiveness between Traditionally Attractive Babe and Hideous Gorgon, and I used to focus on the things about my body and self that were not traditionally attractive and beat myself up for them (because that's what consumer culture encourages us to do. P.S. Buy this thing that we promise will bring you closer in line with the ideal we're showing you!). When the men around me started trying to get in my pants because I was A GIRL but I had "good taste" I thought it was flattering instead of a technique meant to minimize me, put me on a pedestal instead of allowing me to be an equal.

I know some women who have bought this bill of goods so completely that they tear down other women involved in their scene because they've been buttered up so many times with the li(n)e about how no other women are as "cool," have as much cultural cache, like such "dudely" things as they do. This hurts my heart so fully and dearly because I'm so close to it. It is destructive and it is real and we need to fucking cut it out. It's the same internalized sexism that causes women on fashion blogs to critique celebrities' weight. It comes from fear and self-doubt and the pressure of misogyny.

There is no reason that this conversation can't be loud and continuing and always present. We as women in music can change the culture and are doing so right now in many different venues. This entry is just one drop in the ocean. Let's flood this fucking world.

P.S. I'll also use this entry to plug Women in Music, an incredible organization, total trash music, a great blog focusing on women in DIY music, and Tuberculosis, a young LA band I can't stop listening to.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

cameo demons

Somewhere along the line (maybe within the last ... year or so? - though this has been an ongoing process and the load has gotten lighter over the last ten years in general) my life ceased to become an absurd knot that could never be untangled but that required constant painful effort. While I'm busier and more productive than ever, I also have to remind myself that there are new challenges ahead and that I can't just coast for too long.

Also, Malicorne's "Almanach" is the weird dark '70s folk-rock record you probably forgot about but should dig out if you're feeling like hearing some hollowed-out sick and ancient somber tones. I periodically forget about it but it's so perfectly bent and able to make sense both within and without the context of its production.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

i should be so lucky/confront

Today on Facebook I linked this heartening story from the NYT regarding the fact that Maryland, the state I grew up in, is recognizing gay marriages performed in other states. (It's a step in the right direction, at least.)

The picture accompanying the article in the link was from another NYT article, which I skimmed with mild disgust, about a woman who moved from Park Slope to Clinton Hill and was faced with the oh-so-daunting task of "bring[ing] a contemporary feeling to the rooms without losing touch with the building’s history." As interested as I am in design, I am also repulsed by articles like this that continue the narrative of pure consumption/consumerism, sans context, as desirable. It's nice to have the luxury of designing your own apartment when you have the money to do that and support a child (and you've chosen to put your money in that particular basket), but what about the millions of families that don't even have a home they feel comfortable in because they can't afford one? What are they supposed to feel when they read this article?

Anyway, the juxtaposition of the wrong picture with the article I linked was particularly amusing when one takes into consideration other narratives about homosexuality and design sense, in which are contained truths and falsehoods, as any generalization will. Oh, NYT. Way to perpetuate.

I had a bunch of thoughts floating around in my head already from reading about the ghettoized bullshit condescension of Vogue Curvy (note that there is also a Vogue Black, because apparently women of all colors and sizes aren't "legitimate" enough in the eyes of the fashion industry to appear in the same magazine - only very particular "large" women and black women are represented, too).

I am a consumer, of course. I try to think about my consumption habits and make decisions that are at least rationally and politically informed about my spending, but sometimes I fall short of that goal, as we all do. Sometimes I forget about how capitalism has been ingrained into my body, my being, my gender presentation, my sexuality, my idea of self-worth. I still think it's important to examine the ways in which we personally interact with capital (and in which capital attempts to partition or label us because we're easier to sell to that way), and I think that sometimes radical feminism/queerness as a movement forgets about it too. The sheer weight and frustration of all of it is often too much, but we have to keep pushing if we truly want to effect real change.

When I was young I wanted so desperately not to look like I do; I wanted not to be an outsider. I wanted to be popular and accepted, and that also meant being taller and skinnier and looking less "ethnic." It meant not speaking up about certain things I cared about; it meant playing the right roles and the right games. I still have twinges of those feelings, because even though I am generally content these days with myself and my life, my environment never stops reminding me of the many ways in which I deviate from the norm. We all experience this pressure, even though I am pretty sure that those of us who are further from the norm are consistently reminded of it in different ways than those who are closer to it.

In short: this is my reminder to myself to keep questioning systems of power and the stories they spin, even when/especially when they produce emotional resonances. This is my reminder to myself to keep challenging the movements I am a part of as well as the greater mainstream society/culture towards greater social justice.

Friday, February 19, 2010

good thoughts, bad thoughts

I've been using the Internet too long. This is like my 800th blog at this point. I've been out of the habit of writing daily. Part of me feels guilty for not completing projects (as if something like this could ever be 'complete'); part of me feels like I'm leaving diaries in the garbage for the general public to find. For a while I was private-journaling only, but the major ghosts have been exorcised at this point or at least whittled into more manageable forms.

I am listening to Funkadelic and thinking that there are moments on their records that I wouldn't let other groups get away with.