Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Looking for love in places.

It's hard for me to talk about love without talking about place.

Even so, aside from my short obsession with Colorado as a 10-year-old, I never knew where I wanted to live "when I grew up". As a kid, I moved a lot. As an adult, I don't want to move much more. All I knew was that it was essential to live somewhere I loved. Not just liked, but truly loved. A place that gave me the same feeling as reading a great poem or listening to hip-hop for the first time. The same exhilaration as seeing the peaks of Colorado or jumping off a London bus. The same swell of warmth that I'd feel for a human loved one.

Of course, this is a tall order. Many places are just not lovable, unless you love Wal-Marts, parking lots, highway interchanges, strip malls, and subdivisions. (More on that topic here.)

Perhaps I've just traded one unrealistic standard for yet another. First husband, then career, and now place. I'm really knocking them down--will there be anywhere left for my fantasy life to turn? But...I can't be the only person who has a lot of experience minimizing and questioning my feelings. (Sciatrix writes about some similar issues here.) One common example is something like, "well, this is just a platonic or nonsexual relationship, so why am I so sad/pissed off/thrilled/confused about it?" It may be especially relevant to asexuals, but I think most people have felt this way at some point.

I minimize things that I'm not sure are possible. Like my desire to be married. I have no desire anymore to be legally married. But I do want some kind of life partner(s), be they romantic, platonic, or queerplatonic. For so long, I felt this was silly somehow. Because I didn't need any kind of partner and besides, once I got one, who knows if I would still want one? Anyway, it was hard for me to care about my own desire, as strange as that may sound. More reasons why I've minimized my love of place:
  • Large disconnect between my current state and my desired state.
  • Overwhelm with the task at hand.
  • Poor planning and decision-making ability.
  • Lack of financial resources.
  • Social messaging.
  • Comparing myself to other people.
For the past several years, I've gone back and forth. Sometimes I try to honor the importance of place, and sometimes I treat it like a dangerous delusion. I'm starting to feel like I need to pick one, for the sake of my sanity. It's true: I don't understand some of my desires. They seem strange, inconvenient, and illogical. That's life as a hyper-rational, hyper-emotional person. In order to love myself, do I have to treat my love as real? It would make sense. If I thought it was very important to marry a man who I was deeply in love with, would I treat that as a delusion? Okay, maybe I would, but most people would see it as completely normal. Maybe it's not fair to treat myself any differently.

While I want to try to stop minimizing my desires, I don't want to feel totally bereft if I never have these things. My question becomes, how do I "synthesize" these desires? Like, how do I honor them and work towards achieving them while at the same time, deal with the feelings involved with not having them yet? In some ways, I've already been doing this, but I think there are others things I could incorporate. My brainstorm on this is going to be the next post.

/Psychology nerd.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Dykes to Watch Out For

"...I've never intended my cartoons to be only for dykes. Yes, they're about dykes. So? Surely if I could sit through a Bruce Willis movie, Joe Blow could read a lesbian comic strip."
--Alison Bechdel

This is slightly random, but has anyone read Dykes to Watch Out For? Yesterday I picked up Dykes and Sundry Other Carbon-Based Life Forms to Watch Out For, which I believe is the last book in the series. Usually that would make a book unbearably confusing, but all the characters are explained in the beginning so it's not too hard to follow. I would've read it all in one sitting, but I had to go somewhere. While I was out, I just kept thinking, "I want to go home and finish the book!" Although the comics are amusing, I think I liked the political aspect the most. It isn't preachy, but it's there. I can't remember ever reading a work of fiction that dealt with the issues around coping as a leftist in America and all the inevitable disappointment and frustration that it brings. Okay, that was a long sentence. There are also other layers, like the characters' attempts to reconcile their radical queer identities with the fact that "Best Lesbian Erotica is now sold at 7-11" and many in their group are marrying and having kids.

[Image: Comic panel depicting, among other things, one drag king asking another for a tampon.]

I also loved the density of the comic panels themselves. You can see what's on the character's shelves, such as St. John's wort and "Tom's of Finland curry-flavored" toothpaste, as well as the headlines of the newspapers they read ("Disease will be eradicated! Static cling banished!"). While the comic is often hailed as being very true to life, is there really any enclave where everyone works at a non-profit, college, or feminist bookstore? (Although, the bookstore is in danger thanks to "Medusa.com".) It seems like no matter how much the characters are doing to live out their values, it's never enough. For instance, Mo wonders why she's going to a class rather than "doing non-violent direct action!". It seems funny on the page, but I've wondered the same type of thing. There's an interesting tension between the insularity of the characters' progressive friend group and the current events they can't ignore.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Taken the survey yet?

I know this announcement is kinda delayed, but hey, maybe I can reach a few more people?

Asexual Awareness Week (which is October 23-29) is doing a survey to get better demographics of the asexual community. Check it out! They need at least 500 responses to be scientifically representative. I thought it was quite good...when it was over I went, "Darn, that's it?" but then again, I adore taking surveys. Allies, we love you, but this one is only for ace-spectrum people (asexuals, gray-asexuals, demisexuals...)

Also, help AAW raise money by buying merchandise. They want to raise $1000, half for screening copies of the movie (A)sexual and half to do an online advertising campaign.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Room With A View

"For all his culture, Cecil was an ascetic at heart, and nothing in his love became him like the leaving of it."
--My favorite quote from A Room With A View, E.M. Forster, pg. 204

This book is from 1908. It may be a classic, but if it was written today and not by E.M. Forster, it would surely be the fluffiest of chick lit. Sometimes I wonder where ideas come from--say, that we have one true soulmate who will understand us completely, or that a woman in a story will usually end up marrying the first man she interacts with, or that spinsters will always hold out some measure of romantic hope deep in their stony bosoms. (Yes, there will be spoilers here, but there were actually spoilers printed on the back of my copy of this book. You know what will happen from the first few pages anyway.) Do these types of ideas come from A Room With a View? Probably not, but it seems like every idea of the modern romantic comedy is also represented therein.

I thought I would love this book because I tend to love comedies of manners. And I liked the writing style; it could be very clever and quotable. But after spending 27 years absorbing romantic storylines, the plot itself was very predictable. It even involved one of the pop culture tropes that bugs me the most--characters for whom we're not just supposed to believe a strong attraction, but that they're going to spend the rest of their lives together because they exchanged one meaningful glance. Like, this is what happens:

--Lucy and George are tourists, previously unknown to one another, staying at the same hotel in Florence. They happen to both be at the scene of a murder that takes place there.
--Lucy faints at the sight, and George helps her.
--Then, George throws Lucy's photographs into the river because there is blood on them.
--They share a companionable silence.
--They are madly in love with each other (although Lucy tries to ignore her feelings for a while).

There seems to be something missing here. When George throws away the pictures, Lucy imbues it with a ton of meaning: He is unconventional, truthful, humble, and a host of other traits. And we don't even know why George is quite so taken with Lucy. From their first short exchange, Lucy is able to feel that she knows George completely. Although they've spoken maybe five times ever (and kissed twice), never ONCE does Lucy mention that she wants to know George better, or vice versa. So, after one singular incident that lasted a matter of minutes, these two people knew each other intimately. As a reader, I got the feeling that they would never discover anything new about each other that they didn't already know. Is that even possible?

We're also supposed to believe that a lasting relationship can spring, fully formed, from a few romantic moments. But even with my limited experience, I don't think life is like that. Of course, lasting relationships can contain romance or begin with romance, but one doesn't necessarily beget the other. Maybe things were different back then...young men and women didn't have as many opportunities to encounter each other, and there was more pressure to choose someone. Perhaps on some level, Lucy was choosing to love George, although this was in no way implied by the book. George is portrayed as her unavoidable fate. As crotchety as it makes me sound, I can't "just enjoy the fantasy". I'm too frustrated by the fact that a lot of people feel bad about themselves when these kinds of events don't become their realities. Even I've felt bad about it at times, although I know that I'd probably be pissed off if someone threw my bloody photos in the river without asking.

I felt like this book was a strange blend of two different attitudes. On the one hand, Forster has the ability to dissect social norms with a scalpel. He shows no mercy in describing the futility of tourists who are trying to recreate home in a foreign land (be sure to pack enough digestive bread!). But at the same time, the concept of a soulmate remains unquestioned. Contrast this to The Age of Innocence, which I felt had a more subtle and complex treatment of romantic ideals vs. convention.

(Also, while he's celibate and not necessarily asexual, when I read the following, I felt that I could sort of relate to Mr. Beebe's character in that moment, on some personal ace level. Since I couldn't really relate to anyone in the book, I'll take what I can get:

Mr. Beebe followed. Lucy still sat at the piano with her hands over the keys. She was glad, but he had expected greater gladness. Her mother bent over her. Freddy, to whom she had been singing, reclined on the floor with his head against her, and an unlit pipe between his lips. Oddly enough, the group was beautiful. Mr. Beebe, who loved the art of the past, was reminded of a favourite theme, the Santa Conversazione, in which people who care for one another are painted chatting together about noble things--a theme neither sensual nor sensational, and therefore ignored by the art of to-day. Why should Lucy want either to marry or to travel when she had such friends at home? (221) )

Still, I might watch one of the film adaptations.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dancing to Vaguely Depressing Music

My intermittent self-love series continues...I don't like to feel like I'm saying corny things (uhh, because I'm such a hardcore badass? Not really, my knuckle tattoo is fake after all), but it's kind of inevitable here.

To reference bell hooks yet again, care isn't the same as love, but it can be an important part of love. I feel like self-care might be like daily weight-lifting for your self-love muscles. I wanted to write about self-care in this post, but it's become such a prevalent concept that it probably deserves its own. I was going to write in detail about the theory and definition of self-care...about its relation to activism and how the concept is gendered in out culture, but maybe I should take my own medicine and jump to the part that amuses me most: Lists. Yes, self-care seems to have manifested largely in list form, and some people's lists are indeed large. (Here's an example of a long list of one person's self-care ideas.) Usually when I read about self-care though, I am overwhelmed by activities that don't appeal to me in the slightest. Such as bubble baths. I literally have not taken a bath in 15 years (although yes, I do attempt to shower regularly). Just thinking about having pruney hands...shudder!

We all know that I love making lists, so of course I wanted to make one of self-care activities. Although if I'm at the point where I have to pull out a list to figure out how to take care of myself, shit must be getting real. At those times, I am likely to get overwhelmed by a list of any great length. So I decided to cap my list at ten items, but only the most powerful strategies would make it on there. They had to be easy and accessible. So here's my list so far, with explanations of why I chose the things I did. It's definitely one of those documents that's going to change over time, based on what does and doesn't end up working.
  1. Dance to music, especially vaguely depressing music. (You don't have to be Martha Graham here; any movement really is sufficient, but I find that just listening isn't enough to lift my mood. This is really the best strategy I know.)
  2. Make a list of 10 good things about yourself. (If you're feeling down on yourself, it might take you a really long time to think of 10 things...it's normal, don't get discouraged. I've always found this exercise to be worthwhile.)
  3. Go near water or somewhere in nature. If that's too much work, just step outside. (When I'm in nature, it's the time when I don't worry about being "productive", and when I feel like I'm doing exactly what I should be doing without second-guessing myself. But just being outside the house can be a substitute for "real" nature. Sun helps.)
  4. Cook a balanced meal with plenty of veggies. (For me, the best self-care activities are those that absorb most of my focus, which cooking does, and challenge me a little bit, but not enough to be truly frustrating. I find that when I'm feeling anxious, I sometimes put off eating for too long, or eat mostly carbs.)
  5. Ride my bicycle. (Whenever I get on my bike, I think, "Why don't I do this more often?" Riding at night is especially soothing to me.)
  6. Drink tea. (Is there something relaxing IN tea or is it just the act of drinking it?)
  7. Pet a cat. (Speaks for itself.)
  8. Make a drawing. (For the longest time, my premier drawing theme has been repetitive words in different fonts and configurations, kind of like you'd imagine a strange serial killer doing. But, it's always been a good way to vent.)
  9. Have a conversation with someone. (For me, e-mails don't count here. It's got to be a real-time conversation.)
  10. Leave nice notes for yourself to find later. (I guess this is more of a maintenance thing. Truth be told, I haven't done it much yet, but I'm trying to find ways to motivate myself positively rather than beating myself up. This could be one way to help me accomplish that.)
So, has anyone made a self-care list? What was on it? And did it help you?