Friday, December 31, 2010

Something I'll be happy to see the end of

Two years ago, I wrote a post about the misadventures of buying a mattress at Ikea. Every week, about 250-300 people read this entry. Sadly, it's not a particularly interesting piece of writing (nor will this be, I'm afraid, but when I feel a compulsion, I just can't help myself). The comments, however, have been another story. I am, finally, removing this post from this blog, though I presume it'll be cached for a long time, considering it's one of the top hits if one googles Ikea mattresses. Oh, how I'd like to disown that particular post. . .

At first, people left comments about their similar experiences. Then, one person left a nasty comment, and the gloves came off (though I must admit that it wasn't a full-on assault, at the risk of sounding, ahem, oversensitive). Oddly, I am not particularly bothered by the comments, for I agree it was a whiny entry, but still, why on earth do people have the need to leave random nastiness on blogs? Here's a sampling of the things people think it's okay to say to strangers:

"What a whiny biaatcchhh. No kidding there is no help @ Ikea. That's why it's Ikea you airhead dumbass. The gun is in my mouth and I am pulling the trigger after reading her whiny rant."

"Sorry you are too stupid to navigate an Ikea store."

"I love it when people get called out for being idiots."

"You sound WAY over-sensitive."

I'll spare you (and myself) any more than that. I will give one person some credit for spending a considerable amount of time parodying the post, though I won't dignify it more than that by posting it here.

Here's the deal:

1. Yes, I can be sensitive. The horror!

2. Yes, I whine, and go on an on about whatever I'm whining about. What I can't understand is why anyone would read every single word of something that annoys them.

3. I am not particularly humorous.

4. One can be whiny, long winded, and sensitive if your name is David Sedaris, but I am not David Sedaris, nor have I ever pretended to be, as far as I know.

5. I probably shouldn't have written #4 because of #3.

6. When Ikea first opened in the United States, they had helpful employees even though it was mostly a self-service store, and that's the Ikea I remembered. So, sue me for not knowing. I live in Maine.

7. I wake up feeling like crap on any mattress.

8. Considering #7, I now sleep on what's pictured above. It's a ten dollar air mattress with a hospital egg crate mattress topper and an old feather bed on top. Total cost: Ten bucks.

9. I hope I do not post any more whiny rants that invite strangers to be abusive, but simply writing that is probably an invitation.

10. Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

New year's post (a bit early)

When someone mentioned New Year's resolutions a few days ago, I thought "huh?" I resolved never to make New Year's resolutions a long time ago, and that was a resolution I have stuck to. I had forgotten anyone actually engaged in the (mostly) empty promises we tend to make annually on December 31st.

This year, I would like to engage in gratitude, and not look back in regret to resolve what to do differently in the coming year.

First, I'm thankful that I have a roof over my head. I'm grateful for central heating, hot running water, a flush toilet, a stove with four burners and an oven, a refrigerator and freezer, and a big sink to wash dishes in. There are many people in the world who have none of these things. Here in America, my fridge is just a lowly fridge. It doesn't do anything except keep my food fresh and my frozen food frozen. It doesn't dispense cold water or make iced cubes. My bathroom doesn't have a jacuzzi. I don't own my own home. So what? I could be in a homeless shelter. I could be in the street. I could be living in a war torn country.

No. I am very lucky. I have a sweet cat sitting next to me in a warm room in a cold climate. Even though I am "poor" by the standards of the Internal Revenue Service, I can go the market and buy any kind of food I want. Anything! It's truly remarkable. In fact, it's an embarrassment of riches.

I have a laptop on which I can write, chat with people all over the world, and get information about anything I want in a matter of seconds. I own books, and have a great public library.

I can play the banjo. I have a huge library of music on my computer. Oh, how I'm grateful for music! Thank you to all the Baroque composers who wrote such truly awe inspiring music for God. Thank you, rock n' roll, for not dying out when my parents' generation thought it would. Thank you, country music, for being exactly what you are. Thanks to all the rappers who can rhyme. Thank you to Steve Jobs for dreaming up the iPod.

Thanks to all the sheep and other creations who supply me with fiber.

Thank you, Maine, for not quite keeping up with the rest of the country.

Thank you, life, for keeping me on my toes, and being so relentlessly interesting.

Thank you, to all the people I know, for being exactly who you are, whether that's impossible or wonderful, in-between (or all of the above, which is what most of us non-saints in fact are).

Thank you, universe. I love you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Big batt fun. . .

. . .over at the Scenic Turnout.

What's a batt?

It is fiber that is carded on a carding machine. A big batt can be used for many things. If it's just an undyed fleece, it can be used as a quilt filling. It can be used to do felting. And lastly, it can be used for spinning, which is my particular love.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Big Book List

I'm home with a heavy cold and have been making lists: 100 favorite and most influential albums, 150 favorite and most influential books, 5 books I remember reading that might not exist, and 25 authors I love off the top of my head without giving it much thought.

I found the big book list quite interesting, for it shows (me) different periods in my life. The list was not exhaustive by any means; I was an avid (possibly compulsive) reader in childhood and into my mid-thirties. Since then, I've read for entire weekends or through the night only on occasion. No, I haven't stopped reading books. There's two piles of books I'm currently reading in front of me and to my right. These days, I tend to read parts of books. I often blame the computer for this, but it isn't the only explanation. The fiction reading experience - immersing oneself in another world completely - well, it doesn't call to me like it once did. I also stopped reading in bed many years ago. This helped me rid myself of insomnia, but there's something truly wonderful about books and being in bed which I know I am now missing. Marcel Proust would agree.

Creating My Big List of Books was illuminating. It could have been subtitled "Ways I Thought about and Examined the World and Myself." There were certainly distinct periods of my life marked by shifts in what I read. The only thread that runs though my entire life is my enjoyment of mysteries and an interest in what for a lack of a better word is called "religion."

As for mysteries, I started with The Nancy Drew Series, and I wonder if anyone reads them nowadays. I "graduated" to reading Agatha Christie, whom I remember reading in bed way past sleepiness overcame me. I also remember thinking she wasn't a great writer, and this is when I discovered the art of skimming so that I could get the end and find out what happened. Not a great habit, but hey, if the plot or the information is the point and the writing is not, I suppose it's better than plodding through a book. But then again, why did I spend time reading anything that wasn't well written?

This brings me to a genre of books that didn't make it to my list - true crime stories. I read them like a maniac when I lived in my first apartment in New York City. They scared me terribly, but I was fascinated by the awful things people could do to one another. My father read these books, too, in between reading Sartre's Being and Nothingness, Kierkegaard, Heidegger, and all the other "heavy stuff" he seemed to always be reading when I was a teenager.

My father was also fairly obsessed with the Holocaust, and so I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, along with who knows how many other books about that time period. However, the one book that I unabashedly recommend to anyone is Constantine's Sword by James Carroll, a former Catholic priest who narrates an engrossing "tale" of his relationship to his Church and its relationship to the Jews.

This reminds me that "Hiroshima" was not on my list, and it should have been, for it is seared into my memory.

I'm being flippant, but this brings me to my lifelong fascination with dystopian and post-apocalytic books. What is their fascination? As a kid, I think I simply enjoyed the mayhem, and that, in the aftermath of destruction, survivors no longer had to adhere to society's rules. Additionally, post-the-apocalypse, people returned to subsistence living, and that dovetailed well with my interest in the back-to-the-land movement and making everything by hand. I was a terribly conflicted teenager! I had utopian dreams, but also avidly read Genet, Burroughs, De Sade (didn't make the list - simple prudery, I suppose), and later on, everything by Dennis Cooper.

I suppose that the grand arc of all the books I've read is ethics. It has never occurred to me until now that this is so. I adored Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded by Samuel Richardson, and any book that presented a dilemma or crisis of ethics held great interest for me. I want to write, "what else is a book for?", but that is my way of seeing fiction.

Here's the list, for those of you who are not my Facebook friends:

The Mind of Clover Robert Aitken
The Gateless Barrier Robert Aitken
The Eye Never Sleeps Gempo Merzel
Bearing Witness Bernie Glassman
The Miracle of Mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is Every Step Thich Nhat Hanh
Quaker Faith & Practice (London Yearly Meeting)
Nausea John Paul Sartre
The Stranger Albert Camus
Howl Allen Ginsberg
Portnoy's Complaint Philip Roth
The Human Stain Philip Roth
Junky William S. Burroughs
Querelle Jean Genet
The Thief's Journal Jean Genet
The Hobbit J.R.R. Tolkien
The Gnostic Gospels Elaine Pagels
Dhalgren Samuel R. Delany
The Mad Man Samuel R. Delany
A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess
The Bell Iris Murdoch
The Book and the Brotherhood Iris Murdoch
The Executioner's Song Norman Mailer
Oswald's Tale Norman Mailer
In Cold Blood Truman Capote
The Wanting Seed Anthony Burgess
The Five Gospels (The Jesus Seminar)
The Other Bible (translation & compilation Willis Barnstone)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Arthur Conan Doyle
The Woman in White Wilkie Collins
The Moonstone Wilkie Collins
The Monk Matthew Lewis
The Three Pillars of Zen Philip Kapleau
Everyday Zen Charlotte Joko Beck
Christianity Without God Lloyd Geering
The Magus John Fowles
The Collector John Fowles
Being and Nothingness John Paul Sartre
The Communist Manifesto Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
A Hero of Our Time Mikhail Lermontov
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle Huraki Murakami
A Wild Sheep Chase Muraki Murakami
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test Tom Wolfe
Bonfire of the Vanities Tom Wolfe
The Odd Women George Gissing
The Way We Live Now Anthony Trollope
Ruth Elizabeth Gaskell
Bleak House Charles Dickens
The Shining Stephen King
Imajica Clive Barker
Human Traces Sebastian Faulks
The New York Trilogy Paul Auster
The Information Martin Amis
London Fields Martin Amis
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich William Shirer
Constantine's Sword James Carroll
An American Tragedy Theodore Dreiser
King Jesus Robert Graves
Anya Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Creation, A Novel Gore Vidal
The Gospel According to the Son Norman Mailer
The Last Temptation of Christ Nikos Kazantzakis
The Persian Boy Mary Renault
The Mapp and Lucia series E.F. Benson
The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House Emily Eden
Pamela Samuel Richardson
The New Jerusalem Bible
A Handmaid's Tale Margaret Atwood
The Ripley Series Patricia Highsmith
The Whole Earth Catalog
The Stand Stephen King
Tripods Trilogy John Christopher
Foundation Trilogy Isaac Asimov
The Moosewood Cookbook
The Madness of a Seduced Woman Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
Chinese Poetry Wai-Lim Yip
The Narrow Road to the Interior Basho
Sophie's Choice William Styron
Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
Hell's Angels Hunter S. Thompson
The Farewell Symphony Edmund White
The Berlin Stories Christopher Isherwood
The Folding Star Allan Hollinghurst
An Instance of the Fingerpost Iain Pears
The Kingdom of the Wicked Anthony Burgess
A Prayer for Owen Meany John Irving
The Cider House Rules John Irving
Mikkelson's Ghosts John Gardner
American Psycho Bret Easton Ellis
Less Than Zero Bret Easton Ellis
The Secret History Donna Tartt
Closer Dennis Cooper
Frisk Dennis Cooper
What Came Before He Shot Her Elizabeth George
Ethics for a New Millenium The Dalai Lama
Inner Revolution Robert Thurman
The Waterworks E.L.Doctorow
Athena John Banville
Interview with a Vampire Anne Rice
When We Were Orphans Kasuo Ishiguro
The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea Yukio Mishima
Nine and a Half Weeks Elizabeth McNeil
Sanity, Madness, and the Family R.D.Laing
The Politics of Experience R.D.Laing
Childhood and Society Erik Eriksson
Identity and the Life Cycle Erik Erikson
The Noonday Demon Andrew Solomon
Listening to Prozac Peter Kramer
Public Sex Pat Califia
Genderflex Cecilia Tan
The Road Less Travelled M. Scott Peck
Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious SIgmund Freud
When Things Fall Apart Pema Chodron
Varieties of Religious Experience William James
Zen's Chinese Heritage Andrew Ferguson
Shoes Outside the Door Michael Downing
Siddhartha Hermann Hesse
Our Bodies, Ourselves
Read My Lips Ricki Anne Wilchins
Zen Mind Beginner's Mind Shunryu Suzuki
The Joys of Yiddish Leo Rosten
The Rebus Books Ian Rankin
The Nancy Drew books
Winnie the Pooh
The Medical Detectives Burton Rouerche
Migraine Oliver Sacks
The Story of Civilization Will Durant
The Joy of Cooking
Mastering the Art of French Cooking Julia Child
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Oliver Sacks
Moon in a Dewdrop Dogen and Kazuaki Tanahaski
How to Raise An Ox Francis Dogun Cook
Plays Well WIth Others Alan Gurganus
The Dispossessed Ursula LeGuin
I, Robot Isaac Asimov
Steel Beach John Varley
The Wasteland and other poems T.S.Eliot
Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds Charles Mackay
Against Depression Peter Kramer
Harlot's Ghost Norman Mailer
Travelling in the Family Carlos Drummond De Andrade
Mindfield Gregory Corso
Naked Lunch William Burroughs
The Castle of Otronto Horace Walpole
The Mysteries of Udolpho Ann Radcliffe
Northanger Abbey Jane Austen
Daniel Deronda George Eliot
Cousin Henry Anthony Trollope
The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco

Image note: Self explanatory, I should think. I have always loved the covers of Penguin books.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Gray skies and a recipe for muffins

It's past the middle of November, and once again it's another dark, gray, gloomy, and rainy day. This is Maine, and it really should be snowing.

I'm too bleary to write anything more about that subject. It seemed like a good morning to make muffins, in spite of my bleariness (which causes me to usually leave out some essential ingredient). I'm not very good at baking. I am constitutionally unable to follow a recipe precisely. Until recently, I've pretty much restricted my baking to pies, which is merely making a crust and tossing together a filling that looks and smells good enough to bake. No recipe needed!

I've been making muffins for months, and it's pretty much been one disaster after another. Why am I so muffin impaired?!

Nonetheless, here's a recipe that I like so much that I feel compelled to share it. It's not the original. Oh no. That would be too boring! At this point, I've put so much stuff into them that they've become a meal in a muffin, so I dub them. . .

Meal in a Muffin Muffins (with commentary)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl:

1 cup Bob's Red Mill 5-grain cereal (red wheat, rye, barley, oats, triticale, and flaxseed)
1/2 cup thick cut slow cooking oats The only "do not" in the entire recipe: Do not use quick cooking oats!
You can use any proportion of the above for a total of 1 1/2 cups. The original recipe called for regular cut slow cooking oats.
1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp red sea salt (that's what I use, but any salt will do)
1 heaping tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
The original recipe called for 1/2 tsp cinnamon and no other spices. Today was the first time I added ginger. In my original post I wrote "all spices are optional except for the cinnamon." Of course they are, but this batch is the best yet. The addition of ginger causes the muffins to taste more spicy than sweet. Leave out the ginger if you will. It's interesting how one quarter of teaspoon of ginger can alter taste perception so much.

Cut 6 tablespoons of unsalted butter into this mixture until it is crumbly.

Mix in:

3/4 cup walnut pieces (or less - I love walnuts!)
1/2 cup raisins
1 large crisp apple, peeled and cut into small pieces

You can make these without apples, with more raisins if you like, or with none. You can substitute currants. The original recipe called for none of this extra deliciousness.

In another bowl, mix together:

2 large eggs
1 cup plain low-fat yoghurt, thinned down some with water (perhaps about 1/10th?)
2 tsps vanilla extract

Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Spoon into a buttered muffin tin. I make 7 muffins because I love the big muffin tops, but you can also make 12. Don't forget to butter the tin; these will stick even in a non-stick muffin tin (unless it's never been used). So much for non-stick pans. . .

Cook for 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the biggest muffin comes out clean. I cook them for 30 minutes because it makes the tops more crispy.

These can be frozen and defrosted. They microwave well. I lavish them with even more butter for eating, because butter is one of my favorite foods. I'm sure my arteries do not appreciate that.

Image note: Just took a batch out of the oven. That is one ugly photograph. As you can see, the tops merged together to make one big mass. I meant that to happen. In about five minutes, I'll cut them into squares with a knife, and then remove them from the tin. They didn't rise as much as they have done. Wonder what I did wrong this time. . .

In the background is a lonely date nut muffin that I will probably never eat. I followed a recipe that had too much sugar, dates, and molasses in it. I want to figure out how to reproduce the date nut bread bread taste of my childhood memories. Baking memories is not for the faint of heart!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gravitational insecurity?

I've never heard of it. Read here.

I felt all of these things as a child, and most of it I chalked up to my double vision, but, in retrospect, that didn't explain all of it. I was called an "oversensitive" child over and over again, and I believed I was a fraidy cat, or just a wimp in certain regards.

As an adult, what I see is called "gravitational insecurity" (an odd term, and one that I'd argue with), well, it doesn't affect me much. People aren't forcing me to engage in activities that I find upsetting or even terrifying.

I have vivid memories of being cajoled, yelled at, made fun of (etc etc) by adults for not wanting to do a somersaults (all kids like somersaults! what's wrong with you?!), not being able to jump over a stick (why was this so important? I'm not a dog!), refusing to learn to dive, refusing to walk on to a diving board, being terrified of getting on a horse (never mind riding one), and really not liking any activity where I'd have to remove my feet from the floor. I preferred to sit on the ground and still do. I'm very short, and often my feet do not reach the floor when in a chair, which I find disconcerting, not just uncomfortable. Though it's neither "ladylike" nor particularly "adult", I will often put my feet up on the chair. I can't do that in an office environment or a job interview, so, in those situations, I realize now, I may feel more uncomfortable than the "average person." I've never given this much thought. Seen in a new light, however, it's downright fascinating.

You might have asked yourself, "What's this with the jumping over a stick?" It's call the "long jump." Don't get me wrong - I wasn't traumatized by trying to participate in "track sports" but if I do think about those experiences, they were simply awful. The long jump scared me beyond measure, and I couldn't understand it. I would run up to the bar and then stop dead. I could not bring myself to jump over it. It was simply impossible. I could not wrap my head around how to move from running to jumping, and I wanted someone to explain to me how it was done. It was unfathomable, and therefore impossible to do. I didn't feel fear while running, nor was I upset afterwards. I just couldn't do it, and I would stop dead before that bar every single time. I could do a standing jump, and thought it was rather interesting. However, I could think while standing, not while running, and somehow I could think my way to performing what seemed an absurdity. How does a human being jump? I truly puzzled over this question as a child.

Running and jumping, and jumping, in general, seems to be assumed to be the "natural play" of children, so children who don't participate in these activities are considered strange. I grew up in a time when it was a-okay to yell at children who didn't comply with things they didn't understand or were afraid of. Ah, well, it's still okay, but we're beginning to learn not to and realize that all children are not the same. I was quite angry that I was being forced to do things that I didn't want to do and seemed to have no relevance to learning. I was not going to grow up to be a gym teacher, nor would I ever be a track star, so why should I be obliged, cajoled, and made to feel less-than for not wanting to engage in superfluous activities? Wasn't it enough that I was a straight-A student (with the exception of gym class)? Not only did I "fail" at gym, I always received the black mark of "U" next to my grade, even when it was a D or better. "U" is for "unacceptable behavior." Like Bartleby, I preferred not to, and I said so. This is not acceptable.

The fictional Borg say, "You will be assimilated." Our society says, "You should assimilate." Read these words carefully:
"Gravitational insecurity is an over-reaction to movements or changes in posture, resulting in an apparently inexplicable fear of movement or of postural changes." The word "over-reaction" is judgmental, just as the word oversensitive is. My pointing this out is not because I desire to be oh-so politically correct, but a desire to point out yet another way we stigmatize kids (and adults) with words that convey a sense of being wrong, instead of merely different, as we all are merely different and therefore the same.

I still don't understand why not feeling comfortable jumping off the ground is called "gravitational insecurity." I've looked at definitions all over the web, and none of them explain it. The explanations are all descriptions of behavior. I am not afraid of floating off the earth, nor do I feel insecure that gravity exists. I have never felt insecure about gravity nor wondered if I might not be subject to it's law. Yet, all the behaviors described are the ones I exhibited as a kid. Well, I never put much stock in labels - this new one will not be an exception. Still, I find it fascinating to read about, and I haven't thought about this subject since I stopped being forced into compulsory activities.

Image note: "Dreams of Flying" Duy Huynh. I have never had a dream in which I was flying. Now I can understand why. *I have never understand the desire to fly, nor why experiencing it or imagining it is considered so wonderful. Also, when I googled the word "jumping", I found picture after picture of people "jumping for joy", another activity that seems totally mysterious to me. I really do like keeping these feet firmly planted on the ground.

*Additionally, in my childhood dreams (and some as an adult), I would run with both hands and feet on the ground. Has anyone else dreamt of this? Perhaps that seems embarrassing to people, as babies crawl, and imagining oneself as a crab does not have the same romance or majesty of imagining oneself as an eagle or a hawk.

Addendum: More about gravitation insecurity here. This information reminds me that indeed I had an "irrational fear" of my head being below my feet. I clearly remember thinking this, and thinking "please do make me go upside down!" I hated having adults pick me up, not because I didn't like to be touched (which was assumed), but because I was primarily afraid they would swing me around, lift me too high off the floor, or cause my feet to be above my head.

So, is it possible that I had some problem that was not "psychological"? The answer is a resounding yes. I became car sick within 20 minutes of riding in a car (and treated as if I could control this!). I could not play on swings for more than a few minutes, for this, too, made me nauseous to the point of being sick. I became dizzy quite easily, and as no one likes this feeling (does anyone enjoy vomiting?), I avoided any activity that would induce this state. Why is that so difficult to understand, and more importantly, why is it a problem?

Friday, November 12, 2010

I belong to a cult of approximately 375,000,000 people

I didn't know that (and learned it here).

Many people I know do think I'm in a cult, or suspect that I might be. After all, I attend "services" that involve rituals they do not know anything about. The word "ritual" is off-putting. If they are religious, any ritual that is not identifiably religious in nature is foreign and suspect. If they are non-religious, rituals imply religiosity. Either way, the rituals I engage in are probably in some way bad.

Those that know I may bow, even with my head to the floor, are appalled. Full prostration bowing?! Oh, the horror of it!

A friend who had visited the monastery where I once stayed came back very upset. She felt traumatized. "I didn't know they'd make me bow!" You'd think she'd gone through hell (and indeed, for her, she did) - "Why did we have to get up at 4:30 a.m.?! All that chanting! It's a cult!"

In the broadest sense of the word "cult", American Zen Buddhism fits the bill. It is not widely understood, has few "adherents" in the society, and has "strange" rituals and beliefs.

In the larger sense, it is not, for although my friend didn't like bowing, getting up early, or chanting, she was free to leave, and indeed to refer to the monastic practice there as "nazi zen."

I tend not to write or talk about my Buddhist practice with anyone, even others who practice Buddhism. On one hand, it seems too personal a thing to give voice to, but on the other, it seems too integral a part of my life to not speak about. But when I do speak, I run into trouble. If I seem "too interested", I'm obviously falling into some cultish behaviors. Trying to explain what I get out of full prostration bowing or chanting sutras is terribly difficult, and really quite impossible for someone who hasn't experienced it to understand. So, I don't explain. I won't here, either.

But, I do find it interesting, that with all my self-disclosure, my Buddhist life is something of a secret or mystery to others. I suppose that can't be helped. I need to learn to be okay with the fact that if I say I can't do something on Saturday because I'm going to the Zen Center, that here in Maine, people either assume I'm attending some weird thing that they don't want to know about or I'm attending services like any other religious person.

It doesn't really bother me. It's just interesting, and sometimes funny, as one person said to me this week, "Oh right, you go to a therapy group on Wednesday nights, right?" I suppose that's better than thinking I belong to a cult (though some group therapies are rather cult-like indeed).

Image note: Kinhin (walking meditation). Can be done anywhere; not just the mediation hall, not just secluded bucolic settings.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More on identity & labeling

We look at this bunch of stuff above and think "girl's stuff." Below, here's some "guy's stuff":

What gender do you assign to this?

Or this?

Here's a doll for girls:

A toy for boys:

And, of course, before we can even identify ourselves, we must make sure that no one treats babies in ways inappropriate to their gender, so we have. . .

I've been called out on some of my thinking by someone named Dirt, who writes this blog. Though I think her methods are a bit too confrontational, I agree with a lot of what she is trying to do. I searched my own blog archive and found, interestingly, that I wrote a post about gender identity on the day before my birthday both last year in "why do I have to identify as anything?", and the year before. The '08 post did not get published. Here is an excerpt from what was called "being a woman, whatever that means":
". . .there's a part of me that thinks that all the study of identity itself has created some monsters that were never there in the first place.

Monsters? Yes. When I think about myself as a teenager, take that person, and drop her into the university of today (or ten years ago), the pressure to see myself as transgender would have been enormous. I can hear some of you balking internally. Wouldn't it have been better if I had others to identify with? I say the answer is "no."

Sorry, but I'm fairly firm in my belief that folks under the age of 25 or so are terribly impressionable, worry too much about what others think of them, and have a deep need for belonging. Most of the young transmen I've met are as conformist to their in-group normalcy as a frat boy is to his peers.

Of course, this isn't news. Most people need to belong to something."

I'd written about this many times. Another old post had a picture of a book with the subtitle "queer strategies for resisting assimilation."

"Dirt" pointed out to me that most gender identifying in talk and identity is based on stuff. It's not that I didn't notice that. I've brought up the blue/pink silliness before. I should refrain from calling it "silly", for here's where it all starts.

How can we resist assimilation (otherwise known as socialization)? Those of us who do not assimilate "properly" wind up being labeled or labeling ourselves. Dirt is upset, too, about women and girls having surgery when "all" that it is going on with them is that they don't fit gender stereotypes. I agree, for the most part. Liking boy's toys, boy's clothes, trucks, tools, etc., etc., blah blah blah, does not mean one is a man trapped in a woman's body. In her email to me, she writes, "not born into the wrong body, but the wrong society." For the most part, 'tis true. Dirt's blog has a good post about the reasons people feel they "might be trans."

So, I've proved to myself that this has been on my mind for a while. A good deal of it is a reaction to what I see as a fad to think of oneself as ftm if one doesn't conform to gender stereotypes, and I am upset by this. I've been hesitant to be strong in my convictions for fear of stepping on anyone's right to "identify" as what they want. But, in view of the enormity of peer pressure that has escalated due to the web, I feel an increasingly strong obligation to write about this. If it was only a matter of identity, and not one that involved surgical intervention, I would not be so concerned.

The feelings of not feeling "right", not feeling comfortable in one's skin, not being sure of one's sexuality. . .all the feelings are part and parcel of coming of age. For some, it is particularly difficult. I believe that there is a growing challenge to expand the definitions of what "feminine" is, if indeed we must continue to even use such words as masculine and feminine. Our need to categorize (and medicalize) everyone and everything seems to be limitless. It is a sickness of our society.

Some say it's "natural" to categorize and see the world in terms of male and female. I'll save that argument for another day.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Identity, sexual & otherwise

"I am gay but I am not “queer,” nor do I ever use the word. . . The word “queer” signifies something that is strange, odd, or unusually different. It is not a term that accords respectability or promotes acceptance."

-Bob, a reader who posted a comment on's GLBT Teens Guide.

That's fine for Bob.

Yesterday I wrote a post on gender identity or lack thereof, and once again came up against the thought that although I am by definition heterosexual, I identify (for the most part, if I "identify" at all) as queer. No, not gay, but queer. Unlike Bob, I'm not looking for acceptance. Then again, I'm not part of a group that needs to be acceptable or accepted, for I can go out and marry someone without a problem. But, I have been beaten up twice in my life for not adhering to the rules of what a woman should look like, and once for holding a woman's hand in public. Whether I've been discriminated against or not for being outside of the norm is something I can not tell you, for I have a tendency not to notice such things. Maybe yes. Maybe no. I think I've had more problems with looking like I was a teenager well into my 30's.

No matter. I haven't posted what I wrote quite yet (but I'm planning on it), for I had to ask myself (yet again), "why are you being so self-disclosing in the public sphere?"

My rationale is similar to the It Gets Better project, but much smaller (indeed!) If only one other person relates to what I have to say, I'm glad. One reason why kids kill themselves is because they think they are totally unique in this world, and as most of us come to find out, we are not alone. I wish there was a "it gets better" for weirdos, oddballs, and underachieving geeks. I do know that it is both fine and not-fine to not have a "group" with whom one can identify. The "not fine" piece urges me to self-disclose.

Maybe it's a form of "coming out." I've never looked at it this way before (which is truly amazing, now that I think of it). I've always thought that there's a helluva lot of oversharing in many people's coming out to their parents. On the other hand, I tend to think we're all sexually "variant" to some degree, and if we were more open about it, people who feel shame about just how variant they are might feel a little better. I know it sure would've helped me. I won't get into that here, but here is my earlier rambling on sexual identity:

It seems that every time I blink, there's a new "identity" name for somebody. In the last few days, I've encountered the word "cisman" many times, and figured it was a new spelling of "sissy" coupled with "man", and therefore an effeminate man. Nope. It's a man who was born as a man, and "identifies as a man". Oddly, I could not easily find where this term comes from.

The expression "identifies as a ______" really bugs me. Once, a drag queen said to me, "Honey, I"m more of a woman than you'll ever be", and I said, "I'm sure you're right." She was wearing a mini skirt and thigh high boots, and though I've worn both, I seriously feel like I'm "in drag" when dressed in "sexy woman's clothes", and it isn't a fun sort of drag. Just wearing a skirt of any type causes me to feel uncomfortable, as if I'm in the wrong skin.

I have given the idea of gender identity both a lot of thought, and in way, little thought. One time I wore a man's suit to a bar mitzvah, and, unbeknownst to me, it had a huge impact on someone who was struggling with their own gender identity. The reason I wore the suit? I liked the way it looked. If I challenged people's ideas about how a grown-up woman should dress to a somewhat formal gathering, it wasn't my intent, but I suppose I did just that.

I have been mistaken for a boy many times in my life. Folks who have met me in the last 2-3 years might be surprised to know this. I certainly don't look masculine. Well, you can see my picture right there, to the right. I'm wearing some make-up, and even nail polish in that one, but you can see that I have a pretty soft face in any case. I keep thinking I should replace that pic with one that is more "accurate" to who I am. Wearing nail polish was a short phase in an otherwise un-nail-polished life, and I've worn make-up (for the most part) the way, say, Keith Richards does. I consider it something to do for fun, or for effect, but neither an obligation (though it feels it in the city), or part of "who I am."

I tried explaining to someone I know that I don't "feel like a woman" the other day and he said "you're deluded." I did not explain myself well, but I don't care all that much about it.* I have worried for years, however, about young women who feel as I do and think they must go out and have female-to-male surgery because of their feelings. I emailed with a young woman who was feeling pressured by her "community" to "identify" as a ftm (female to male), and it was terribly painful for her. She didn't want surgery, and didn't feel like "a man", but she was so outside of feminine norms that she was being told she was "in denial." So, here I was, without a community of peers, saying it was a-okay to be without any identity at all.

I do understand feeling as if one has been born into the wrong body, and have known people who feel this way and always have, but I hold that this is quite different than not feeling "gendered" and not conforming to gender stereotypes. I do understand wanting to belong, to have an identity, but y'know, some of us just don't.

Hey, I'm a non-reproducing, uterus-less person. Does that make me "neuter", like many a house pet? It would be impolite in the extreme to call me that, but how come there isn't a "neuter" identity? I suppose it doesn't seem sexy or powerful, for one thing, and besides, we're not really supposed to talk about our plumbing in polite or public company.

When woman talk about their offspring, and the offspring of their offspring, a part of me drifts away. I have never experienced these universal experiences of being a woman, and I seem to be lacking the proper empathy in regards to these experiences. I'd rather talk about what books we're reading. I suppose that just makes me a nerd, and could have nothing to do with gender, or it could make me bit of a jerk, which I certainly can be in my quiet way.


I still want to argue with anyone who says I'm deluded for feeling ungendered. Well, I suppose no one likes having another say their feelings are unsound, but I do think it goes deeper. I have no "tribe" to hang out and march in rallies with, but I do have my own, if you will, "non-identity." I refuse to fit into a box.

I rather enjoyed being taken for a boy, though it was absurd at times. A flat top buzz cut seemed to carry more visual weight than 36D breasts. One day, when mowing my lawn, a woman asked me, "Young man, how much do you charge?" Well, I didn't know the answer to that one, but I could not fathom her mistake while I was wearing a tight t-shirt. That episode rather offended me, as a new home owner, and not a boy for hire in the neighborhood, but other experiences were rather fun, such as hanging out in gay men's bars where women were not welcome. I found it complimentary that any man would think I was simply a very short boy. Sometimes, however, I'd be found out, and on occasion, thrown out on my ass.

So, my concerns. . .

I wonder what life would have been like if I was born twenty years ago, and not in far back enough to squeak me into the baby boomer generation (yech). I think I'd probably be feeling similarly pressured as the girl whom I had emailed with. I'm not "against" GLBT groups, but since there were none when I was a kid, it never occurred to me to be anything but myself. Sometimes it was confusing, as I always felt more comfortable with gay people, and did wonder "where do I fit into this?" I was, and am, basically heterosexual, and no, I'm not hedging on the bisexuality term, for I can't fall in love with women in the same way as I do with men (at least in my experience thus far), and that is what I think is important. Sexual identity? Why don't we call it "loving-identity"?

Some of this stuff seems so trivial. When I looked truly butch, it bothered people to see me knitting or sewing. Why wasn't I riding a motorcycle, or working on my car? What I looked like clashed with my non-interest in power tools, vehicles, and team sports. Then again, I felt fantastically sexy when I lifted weights in men's work out attire and sporting a crew cut. My muscles didn't get big enough for my taste, and on some days I did wonder how unsafe it was to take testosterone. At the time, I was happily married to a man. That man liked to cook, and didn't know how to fix anything. Did that make him a woman, too?

I liked to play with Barbie dolls when I was a kid, so that absolutely proves I am not male-identified. No, I'm not male identified. I'm not female identified either. Most groups of women, well, I think, "too much estrogen!" Barbie dolls or no, the concerns of "real" girls were mysterious to me, and still are.

Maybe I'm just a refuse-nik, a term that should be brought back into use. I refuse to be labeled as anything, and when you impose that on me, I'll change, just to mess with things. This messing about is not just to be a pain in anyone's butt, but for myself. That slippery thing called "self" is particularly slippery with this person, and that's all. No, that's not all. It's playful, and I enjoy being fluid. The stereotyped behavior of so many people simply baffles me.

End of rant.

*The lady doth protest too much. True enough, but there's no lady here. Still, this person doth protest too much. Yeah, I care, but how and why, I'm not entirely sure.

Image note: It's a first! A pic of me, taken a few minutes ago.

Addendum: A part of me wants to say "if you're gay and you think I"m full of crap, tell me." On the other hand, since I was called "dyke" repeatedly during high school, stayed in the boy's infirmary at summer camp because of the amount of bullying I was subjected to by girls, and. . .

Let's just say the list is long.

I'm hesitant to offend those who have suffered through coming to terms with being gay or transgendered, the possibility of familial rejection, and who are subject to the whims of public opinion about their sexuality. However, when I think of the kids who are being bullied as I was and have no place to land, no adults telling them that indeed it gets better (and yes, it does), I feel I must say my piece. I did struggle with my sexual identity as a teenager. If all my friends were gay, felt more comfortable in gay bars and neighborhoods, and was identified as gay by others, I had to wonder. And no, I did not breathe a sigh of relief when I first fell in love with a boy.

It does get better, for even though I'm writing about this, it is not because I'm confused (though I do have confusion about all those labels). I'm okay with who I am, whatever that is, if indeed it "is" anything.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Crazy or creative - I get to decide

I just pulled out the stitches of a sweater I knit. I've done that before, but this time I've done it twice in a row. There's been days of knitting time and about 1200 yards of yarn now unknit, so to speak. Yarn becomes an object, and then the object is gone. Start again, another object now has seemingly disappeared into thin air. Presto! The magic of knitting and unknitting! The yarn now has the worn look of a well loved sweater.

I haven't done this much ripping out since I was a newbie knitter (and a perfectionistic). These days, I'm more apt to leave mistakes in my knitting and call them "being a human."

This ripping out adventure is more about discovery (often referred to as "creative process"). I've got a lot of this yarn, in an abundance of colors, and they are just screaming to be used in a painterly manner. I've experimented with strategies of pre-planning when I change colors, and what to change them to, so that they present themselves in a random fashion to me, forcing me to give up control.. I want to see the beauty of olive and orange sitting right next to each other, which I do in nature, but seem to find nearly loathsome in man-made objects. However, after two attempts, I have decided that while this is an interesting exercise, the finished objects have been too ugly to wear. My third attempt to knit a sweater out of this yarn will still employ some random "color non-decision", but I believe I'm going to be more intentional this time, though maybe not; I may simply employ yet another strategy. This ripping out and starting over again is not about not being able to live with a mistake I've made and it's not entirely about results. I love to knit for the sheer love of feeling the yarn moving through my fingers, and those balls of yarn are not an indictment but an enticement.

Thoughts of compulsivity and perfectionism come up. I say hello and counter, "I'm being creative, not crazy." As the title says, "I get to decide." My behavior is not hurting anyone else, so no one is going to lock me up if I unravel this sweater twice or even twenty times. If I wind up unraveling yarn while naked in the street, then we have a problem.

Well, if I called it "performance art", I would be fine, though I'd probably have to fight it in court.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The lazy eye

I was born with a "lazy eye" which causes me to have inaccurate sterescopic vision, double vision, and sometimes no stereoscopic vision at all when my eyes are tired. I have never seen a straight line in my life. I look at a doorway, for instance, and see overlapping images that are constantly shifting. When I think about it, I find it amazing that I can negotiate moving from room to room, or doing anything for that matter, without constantly bumping into things. But, since I've seen this way all my life, I've learned to compensate without my even knowing it. I did have serious problems learning to drive, and I do feel nervous at the edges of land, or on bridges, but that is certainly reasonable, given that I don't know exactly where the edge of anything is.

I've always found it surprising that I am a good draughtsman. The fact that I could tattoo at all seemed implausible. But it made sense to me, for I had an obsession with what I called "the perfect line" for decades. I spent countless hours life drawing, trying to find the edges, never interested in light and shadow. To capture a form in the the fewest possible lines, and have that line be sure and strong - oh! - what a pleasure and a challenge it was.

Now I find out that some Harvard neurobiologists are investigating a link that they believe exists between having poor depth perception due to strabismus (that "lazy eye") and having a facility for the visual arts. Rembrandt, Gustav Klimt, Chuck Close, Robert Rauschenberg, Marc Chagall, Edward Hopper, Man Ray, N.C. and Andrew Wyeth, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Willem De Kooning all had "ocular misalignment".

I did think my obsession with line drawing was some sort of overcompensation for my "eye problem." I also believed I might see the world in a flatter way than was normal, and though I can't say what "normal" looks like exactly, it seemed rather natural to portray reality on a flat plane. Now, I read that the ability to translate reality onto the flat plane may be facilitated by having this visual "impairment." I'm fascinated. I'm also rather excited, for I've always thought that my eyesight played a role in how I saw the world, not only visually, but in other ways, and I find it gratifying in some way that science is looking into a piece of this.

When I was very young, my eyesight made me think about just what reality was. Seeing two of everything, and having it overlap and move about, I was fascinated with the problem of knowing which image was the real one. I had to know, of course, in order to move about in the world. These days, I do not labor over which image is the "real one", but I clearly remember struggling with it, and those struggles caused me to question the notion that there was but one reality, or that anything was clearly fixed in space. However, if I judged wrong, there would be consequences.

Very young, I saw knowing what is "real" and where it was as some sort of construct, or agreement. Dogs and cats see the world differently than we do, and goodness, bees see it in a very different way, but we all are looking at the same thing. We are not all bumping into each other (for the most part), and that is truly extraordinary.

Today, I feel rather grateful that I was born with a lazy eye. I've always felt it gave me a different perspective and got me thinking about some interesting concepts at a young age, and so there's always been some gratitude, but now I feel like I'm in some great company. How marvelous!

Image note: Man Ray photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1880-1964
There's another photograph of him where it's clearer that his eyes are not aligned, but I can see it here somewhat. One can't tell with me, unless I've just awoken or am quite sleepy. When I was a kid, before I went to eye training school (yep - there's such a thing, or was once), it was quite noticeable.

Addendum: I have mistakenly called strabismus a "lazy eye", which turns out to wrong. I haven't read anything about this subject since I was quite young, and seem to have been harboring a common misconception. I also have amblyopia upon occasion, which is when the brain does not "acknowledge" information from a healthy eye. When my strabismus was quite pronounced, I did have amblyopia, and did not see double most of the time. This was before the eye training, which was an attempt to correct my "funny looking" left eye. It did not work entirely, and it appeared that when the information my brain received was accurate enough, it started to take notice, thus producing the constantly shifting double vision. I remember thinking I preferred a single image, and wished I had not had eye training. It also took up two years of my life and caused a constant headache. Why I didn't have the more common surgery is a mystery.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A bit of scent

A perfume post! When was the last time? I just searched this blog, and the answer is "no results." Did I not use the word "perfume"? Using the word "scent", I find a lot of results, 10 pages of them, but the answer to "when is the last time I wrote about scent (or perfume)" is "I do not know."

It's not as if I haven't been wearing scents, or smelling things. My apartment smelled like pumpkin, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg for most of the day, and it was heavenly. While I was baking muffins, I didn't smell a thing, but when someone came in to do some work in the apartment, I had just removed the muffin tray from the oven, and he said, "It smells fantastic in here!" For that, he got a muffin, and I walked outside so I could walk back in again, and appreciate just how good those muffins smelled. I may like the scent I'm wearing, but the smell of baked goods has it beat.*

Today I'm wearing Serge Lutens' Chypre Rouge. I've written about this scent at least four times, including how I came to own a lovely little bottle of this stuff I couldn't possibly afford to buy, why I chose to wear it while duck was cooking, and my waffling about whether I loved it or loathed it (the scent, not the duck).

I have come to feel stupid about scent. I used to have a keen nose, and could tell you what some elusive note was without a thought. I could smell a scent once and remember it. When I lived in the city (not the last time), I could most times identify what scent any person was wearing, though these days that would be considerably harder to do, given the sheer variety.

I have no idea what point I came here to make. Maybe all I wanted to convey is that I still love scent. My obsession seems to have abated, and I no longer spend hours reading perfume blogs each day, nor do I trade samples, though I sometimes feel the urge. Then again, even though I've got a long list on MUA, no one has contacted me about a trade, so perhaps there's a general lessening of interest in the culture. Any perfumista reading this, tell me, is that true, or is it, as they say, just me?

There are some (not) new scents I'm quite curious about. I did find myself looking at L'artisan's website last week, and realizing I still have not sniffed Havana Vanille, which was released in 2009. A 2008 release, Nasomatto's China White, has remained a mystery, for no one sells samples of it, and not one person has it listed for trade. These are but two, and there's at least a year of new releases I am utterly unaware of.

I did count my samples before I moved six months ago, and I was up to over 250 before I gave up counting. Amongst these, I haven't a clue how many I have not worn, but only held up to my nose to assess. I'm nervous about application; I wore some Chergui a few weeks ago, a scent which I declared was my "new lover" on June 17, 2008. So much for old loves. I developed a headache, nausea, and couldn't scrub enough. I wasn't that I didn't like the smell (well, theoretically); it made me sick. I had to take a long walk outside after my futile scrubbing. Afterwards, I felt a bit sad. I was concerned my love of scent was truly over and done with.

It appears not. I'm loving the way I smell right now. Don't ask me to describe it, though. I can do that no longer.

Image note: Juan Sanchez Cotan "Still Life with Game Fowl, Vegetables, and Fruit" 1602

*However, I do not want to wear the smell of baked goods or any other edibles (save mushrooms, perhaps). There's a plethora of perfumes, plug-ins, candles, shampoo, and just about anything one can stick a scent into that smell of chocolate, pumpkin, cinnamon, cakes, even donuts, and, well, I just find them oh so cloying. I'm going to sound like an old curmudgeon, but I want my food to smell like food and my perfume to smell like perfume. Yes, I've made chocolate soap, but it was a disaster, and someone tried to eat one that was in the shape of star. It didn't help that I had wrapped them with colored cellophane like the edible bonbons they should have been.

Okay then

Maybe I'm feeling a bit provocative of late. I didn't mean to shock by voicing some ideas about tattooing that were a bit dark . I was only thinking out loud, and wanting a bit of dialogue. I didn't get it here, but I did in real life. It upset a few, but it did provoke some interesting conversation, and that is all I wanted.

I sometimes don't see what's taboo, or if I do, I want to talk about it and find out what others think.

So, I might be doing it again, by airing these thoughts:

There was a plate of crudites at a party that were particularly beautiful. Carrots with purple skin, bright yellow carrots, "watermelon radishes", and a bunch of other things, all quite colorful, that I had never seen before. I met the grower of these delightful vegetables, and we wound up talking about the immense variety of beans. I do not recall their name, but a friend grows some beans that are particularly stunning - magenta pods filled with purple skinned brilliantly lime green beans. When I was done describing them, a man said, "They would be wonderful to photograph with nudes." Okay. Sure. I said, "Well, they are quite sensuous." He responded, "I didn't say they were sexual." "No, sensuous", I replied.

As it turns out, he was a fine art photographer, and it wasn't some strange comment coming from nowhere. I looked at some of his work on the Web, and some of it seemed to fall into the category of "erotica" more than "fine art photography" (if there is a line). Seeing this, I wondered why he took such seeming offense at thinking I had said "sexual." Reflecting on this, I thought about those slippery categories: 1. Fine art nude photography. 2. Erotica. 3. Pornography. Where's the line?

I have never had a good answer to this question. It seems that the answer is simply a modicum of discretion, and aesthetics, nothing more or less. We know it when we see it.

The "law" has not been able to figure this one out. I certainly can't.

It's considered fine for men to take photographs of nude young women. I'm not saying it's wrong, though sometimes I suspect their motives, but I got to thinking: if a woman did the same thing with young men, wouldn't people, in general, be bothered? I believe so. If I did it, I'm sure it would be scandalous in this small town. Yet, there are many middle aged men who photograph, draw, and paint young nude woman every day here.

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to go out and do something. So, when I think I'm not provocative, or transgressive, I suppose I'm disingenuous, or just blind to myself.

I'm not planning on becoming a photographer of young men, but the idea that it would challenge people did make me think someone ought to do it, simply because it's a taboo based on sexism. Additionally, since I have strong feelings about abuses of power regarding sex and age, and about the idea that youth equals beauty, I will not be engaging in this project (and of course, I'm not a photographer). But, I did think, if I were a photographer, I'd like to photograph older people naked, to challenge myself, for one thing, about my feelings that my body has become "ruined", and this will only get worse. Are wrinkles and sagging skin really that aesthetically displeasing? Isn't this just a remnant of our gaze being affected by having to assess quickly the fecundity or virility of potential mates? I suppose, too, that we are repulsed by that which is dying, but autumn is beautiful, and the starkness of winter can be breathtaking. These last thoughts were not on point, but these are but ruminations. . .

Image note: Goya "The Clothed Maya" 1803
Goya painted the "The Nude Maja" in 1800. "Without a pretense to allegorical or mythological meaning, the painting was the first totally profane life-size female nude in Western art." * The questions start here. Does intent and meaning create the divide between high art and pornography? When I hear a heterosexual man state, "I find the female form beautiful", though that may well be true, why is admitting lust a taboo (and how can it not be so)?

*Licht, Fred: Goya: The Origins of the Modern Temper in Art

Addendum: I have compressed my thinking about these subjects into a smallish space.vI do like talking and writing about my half baked ideas. I also do enjoy hearing what others have to say on any subject I babble on about, so please, if you are so moved, even if I write something that bothers you, please leave a comment.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


I'm engaged in a way, but I couldn't be bothered to go back and check.

Maybe that's okay, but there's so much I want to intellectualize.

Maybe that's okay, but there's so much I want to explain.

I don't want to read about bad hair cuts.

The truth is I'm overwhelmed by too much information that I am stupid, and have been blind to it.

Then I thought, I doubt that was possible.

I was in the index (or so I thought). I doubt that was possible.

I think I couldn't be bothered to intellectualize.

Sometimes I doubt that teacher.

I wound up bringing in the problem.

Y'know, I took out every book about nonsense and blurry thinking.

But, I took meticulous notes on Geronimo.

Image note: A piece of Hannah Hoch's Cut with the Dada Kitchen Knife through the Last Weimar Beer-Belly Cultural Epoch in Germany, 1919.

You too, can mash up your writing, with the Markov Text Synthesizer.

Trivial matters

I keep threatening to quit blogging. I'm thinking about it, but I can't quite do it. I can't write about what I want to, either.

I'm engaged in a struggle. I could blog about trivial matters, the things (according to Google Analytics) that people want to read about (bad hair cuts, mattresses), or I can try to blog about what really matters to me. But, oh, that's hard.

I can write about nonsense and memories pretty easily. It's not great art by any means. I just write as if I'm talking to someone, or to myself. I correct a typo now and again. Done.

This other stuff, I can't quite access it. I have this problem when I try to talk or write about Buddhism. I feel stupid and inarticulate. I can't find the words. I become convinced that I am stupid, and have been blind to it.

I know that's not true, but it feels true, as feelings tend to do. Feelings are such good liars.

The truth is I'm overwhelmed by too much information that I have no idea how to integrate. I've had this problem since I was a kid. When I was in the 5th grade, I had to write a paper (probably called a "report") on Geronimo. I had an adult library card, and I took out every book about Geronimo. That wasn't enough. I took out every book that had the name Geronimo in the index (or so I thought - I doubt that was possible). I read every single one of them. I took meticulous notes on index cards and put them into shoe boxes. My room was filled with boxes. When the paper was due, I had not even started it. A month of weeks went by, and I did not explain to the teacher what was going on. I was overwhelmed. I had no idea how to express what I'd read. Did I understand it? I think I did, in a way, but I was no genius. I wanted to write about the problem of the Native Americans, our country's history, assimilate all this information, but I could not, and I was too embarrassed to tell the truth.

I wound up bringing in all my shoeboxes filled with note cards over a period of days. I vaguely remember the bemused and compassionate eyes of that teacher. She gave me a good grade even though I never wrote the paper.

Y'know, I don't think she should have. I was always a sloppy thinker. I went to private school in 10th grade, and was confronted with significantly higher standards than I was used to. Did I rise to the occasion? Nope. I was too used to coasting. At first I was excited by the great teachers who didn't dumb down the classes, who gave us truly tough stuff to wrestle with. I read for pleasure, but I couldn't be bothered with the hard work of writing a cogent argument, or explaining what I'd read. Please, don't make me explain it.

I haven't changed. It's not that I mind working, or studying hard. I just can't explain. I don't want to explain. I don't want to intellectualize.

Maybe that's okay, but there's so much I want to express that's so damned hard, and I've grown tired of my lazy and blurry thinking. I have no idea if I can change. Sometimes I think I'm disabled in some way; I just can't do it.

I guess I'll find out. Not today.

Image note: Tried to find a painting of languid opium smokers to illustrate "fuzzy thinking." Didn't find one that wasn't protected by copyright. Then I thought of Francis Bacon's strange heads. Not in the public domain. The ones I could cadge are too scary (good for the last post). Came across a new artist (for me) - Nassar Azam. Gave up. See what I mean about lazy thinking? Yet, I spent 45 minutes looking at images and learning some new things. What do I have to say about Azam and Bacon? Nothing.

So, I give you the pair of fingerless mitts I knit and designed for Good Karma Farm. They are cozy.

And yeah, I believe I wrote about my fuzzy thinking just last week. I can't be bothered to go back and check.

PS. Too much "I" in this. Way too much. Therein lies the problem. . .

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It's been nearly three years since I closed my tattoo studio. All my equipment has been sold. Tonight, I can not sleep. I feel the desire to tattoo. Drawing or painting won't satisfy that desire, and if I explained it, it would probably sound bizarre.

I used to have school groups come up to my shop on field trips. How funny, in retrospect. Once, a kid asked, "Are you a sadist?" The teacher told him it was an inappropriate question, but I said I thought it was fair. After all, I spent my working hours hurting people. I could have painted or drawn on paper or canvas, but I plied by trade in blood and skin. I do not remember what I said in answer to this young man, but now I think that I probably am a sadist, in the strict sense of the word, even though I did what I could to lessen the pain of being tattooed (yes, folks, one can do that).

I have often said getting tattooed can become an addiction, but now I think tattooing itself is, too.

I miss the whole bloody mess.

The first time I tattooed someone other than myself, I was scared. I was also excited. Hmm. Does it sound like I'm talking about sex? Perhaps, though I don't remember thinking "I hope I don't scar this person for life" when I lost my virginity.

So, what's the difference between tattooing and painting? For me, it's the struggle. Painting and drawing came easily to me. Tattooing was hard. There was always this crazy tension, and I got a rush out of it most days. Some days it would drain me completely. In the end, I didn't want to go to "work", when once I happily worked six days a week, sometimes twelve hours a day in a street shop, drawing flash or making needles on my so-called days off. The guy I did an apprenticeship with told me he wouldn't take me unless I was willing to "eat, sleep, and shit tattoos" and I did.

I'm skirting the question of sadism, I know. Did I enjoy hurting people? In a way, I must have. I was (and still am) opposed to the use of topical anesthetics. Take the pain out of the equation, and something ineffable is lost. I enjoyed the act of tattooing when tattoos were seen as rites of passage, rites of feeling, of memory, of bonding, acts of manhood (and womanhood), marks of internal pain, and of triumph. I, as tattooist, felt, at times, shaman-like, and this is a powerful feeling. Is a shaman a sadist? Is a doctor a sadist? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

Now I"m not so sure of my original thought about my answering "yes" to the question.

I do not know.

Like a painter loves his rags, I loved the paper towels covered with pigment and blood. Though some people challenged me, (fish factory workers at the end of a work day), I loved the smell of the work - bodies, sweat, sometimes the scent of shampoo or perfume, green soap, betadine, and again, blood.

I loved working with music cranked up loud. I'd be high on it, tapping out rhythms with my left foot while my right foot was on the pedal to the power supply. It was like driving over 100 miles per hour without any fear (and no cops).

And yeah, sometimes I enjoyed what can only be called the fight. No one calls a midwife a sadist, do they? Some tattoo sessions felt like helping someone birth a child. One guy I remember so well - a big tat on his concave stomach, from hips to under his nipples. I'd tattooed him before, and he had no problem with it. But on his tender belly (like many), well, that was another story. Every minute of that six hours was excruciating. He would not give in, get up, or give up. He'd see it through. Sweating in pain, I by turns encouraged him, teased him, told him totally inappropriate jokes, made him push through longer spells without a cigarette break. . .and yeah, I enjoyed myself.

Maybe it's only about power. How often does a five foot tall woman feel stronger than a man over six feet?

I can see I'm going to go off on a huge tangent, and I'm getting quite sleepy, so I'll just let this entry peter out. . .there'll be no neat bow tying this one up, nor any fancy catchphrase to end it.

Image note: I don't know who to attribute this photo to. I found it on the web. I imagine these folks worked in the circus. When I became a tattooist, my father said to me, "You're going to become a circus side show freak." My, times have changed, though, damned if I don't yearn just a little bit for the days when tattooing and being tattooed were rare and freakish enough to gain one entry into the world of the true outsider.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


In the month plus that I haven't blogged (or written, as we used to call it), I've been thinking. I've tried to write, but the thoughts going through my mind have become difficult to articulate, and as I'm not skilled in thinking (or writing) precisely, and am prone to a certain kind of intellectual laziness, these half baked ideas of mine have sat gathering proverbial dust in the virtual drafts folder.

I think "I'll get back to that", but I don't.

So, what have I come here tonight to share with you?

Too many disparate ideas are competing for my attention. I no longer suffer from the endless chattering of self-talk that I used to, so don't imagine there's a cacophony of thought in this head of mine. No, thoughts come slowly, and then fade away. This is one reason it is hard to write. I can't do math in my head, nor play a game of chess decently, for I don't think in pictures, and the little I do fades away too quickly to snatch at. I don't know how I think, quite frankly. "They" say we all think and learn in different ways - visually, musically, physically - I don't remember all the categories, and won't cheat and google the answer (I think you get the point). Well, I think I think in no such way. I can't name it.

I'd thought I was done with blogging because I was done with the business or pleasure of story telling. The urge to disgorge myself of semi-secrets and memories had left me. I still love to tell stories, but they no longer feel like they are mine, nor do I have the urge to be known the way I once was or did. I may be lying to myself to preserve my sanity. Perhaps. I've come to appreciate greatly the company of strangers, and seem to feel no need to tell much of myself. I bought a pack of gum earlier this evening, and the exchange between me and the cashier was a perfectly good social interaction.

But, the exchange of ideas, well, I miss that at times. It just occurred to me that I used to share the minutaie of life on this blog. I've been baking muffins of late, and if this were a year ago, I would have blogged about it every week. If it were two years ago, I would have blogged about it every time I baked a batch. I would have regaled or bored you, depending on your taste, with news of buckwheat, raisins, walnuts versus pecans, a new stainless steel cooling rack, why I want a professional muffin tin, muffin eating as addiction, my fear of getting fat on muffins, my distaste for the smell of buttermilk, the discovery of yoghurt as a perfect substitute, how recipes call for too much sugar, my constitutional inability to follow a recipe exactly, having two kinds of butter in the 'fridge, how my kitchen counter is impossible to keep clean and why, how this entry is making me want a muffin, and lastly, where the word "muffin" comes from. And that would not have been the last you'd hear of any of it, I'm sure.

And then there's my sudden fascination with the Civil War. I finally succumbed to a national obsession in this time of the tea parties, trying to make sense of this country of mine (and don't get me started on how I don't believe in nation states, and don't really think of this as "my country"). That, I believe, is what's driving my desire to get back to blogging. I'm fascinated with my own ignorance, and quite frankly, I'm horrified by other people's of late.

So, with that, merely a preamble to what, hopefully, will come, I'm about to conclude, well. . .nothing. Just saying hello, again: "Hello", and wondering what's been fascinating you.

Image note: When faced with the question "knit or write?", knitting has won out. In the last two weeks, I've knit five hats, two pairs of fingerless mitts, and one shawl, while listening to nearly 27 hours of Yale's David Blight lecturing on the Civil War. Lecturing! What a terrible word. It conjures up wagging fingers or watching a clock's second hand move oh so slowly clicking into place for what seems like an eternity as one waits for a bell to signal the end of a class taught by one who has long ago lost any passion for their subject matter. I hung on Professor Blight's every word, though I was knitting.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Yesterday's woods

I stopped and stared at a pile of scat. Something else was there, but I did not see it for a while. A porcupine's bones. I picked up one piece of vertebrae. The foramen (a fancy word for hole) once held the spinal cord. A sentient being! A little ways away was what was left of the jaw with teeth intact. The teeth were fascinating. They looked like little packets of paper burnt at the edges, only harder (like teeth).

One cedar twisted itself entirely around another tree. Another simply (simply?) twisted up to the sun. They all twist in the same direction. In the southern hemisphere, trees twist in the other direction. I thought of hula hooping. Most of us tend to spin the hoop clockwise. Do folks below the equator tend to spin the other way?

I'm delighted when I have questions like this. I feel grateful I have not lost my almost absurd curiosity.

In the woods, I felt awed, and I'm grateful, too, for that. Once, someone said to me, "Once you've seen one tree, you've seen them all." It was not in jest. Another person said the same thing to me about bald eagles with annoyance when I'd stopped my car to watch one swoop in from the bay.

I'd thought I'd lost all my "firsts" in life, and had been feeling wistful. It is not so. I had never seen a tree scratched by a bear until yesterday , nor had I seen a porcupine's tooth. But even if I had not seen these things, I am never bored by trees or birds or flowers or clouds or even a pile of dung. For this, I suppose I am lucky.

An afterthought: I feel I must have seen a a bear's scratchings before, in the Smoky Mountains certainly. . .but I have forgotten. Recently, someone told me that losing one's memory had a good side - one could re-read one's favorite books and be delighted (or not).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blog, interrupted.

I listened to an old episode of This American Life today, called "Somewhere Out There", about finding "the one", that one true love, one special friend - y'know, all that youthful optimism of young friends and lovers - forever and ever, amen.


I took a pause, collected my thoughts, and then heard the sound of incoming email. Must check it! There's a link to a video, The Dead Weather on Letterman.

I may have lost my romanticism, but my love of rock n' roll is not dead. Is that romantic? Nah.I still like passion in music.

So, to heck with the wistful posting. What's left is a link to Randy Travis' sappy 1987 country hit, "Forever and Ever Amen", and the first paragraph, in which I accidentally referenced his song.

So much for getting back to blogging. Besides, I shouldn't be typing. I've got tendonitis and my hand hurts.

Since this has become a post full of references and links, here's a poem I once spent an awfully long time memorizing for you to munch on, "The Dirty Hand" by Carlos Drummond De Andrade, translated loosely by Mark Strand:

My hand is dirty.
I must cut it off.
To wash it is pointless.
The water is putrid.
The soap is bad.
It won’t lather.
The hand is dirty.
It’s been dirty for years.

I used to keep it out of sight,
in my pants pocket.
No one suspected a thing.
People came up to me,
Wanting to shake hands.
I would refuse
and the hidden hand,
like a dark slug,
would leave its imprint on my thigh.
And then I realized
it was the same
if I used it or not.
Disgust was the same.

Ah! How many nights
in the depths of the house
I washed that hand,
scrubbed it,
polished it, dreamed it would turn to diamond or crystal
or even, at last,
into a plain white hand,
the clean hand of a man,
that you could shake, or kiss,
or hold in one of those moments
when two people confess
without saying a word.
Only to have the incurable hand,
lethargic and crablike,
open its dirty fingers.

And the dirt was vile.
It was not mud or soot
or the caked filth of an old scab
or the sweat of a laborer’s shirt.
It was a sad dirt
made of sickness and human anguish.
It was not black;
black is pure.
It was dull,
a dull grayish dirt.
It is impossible
to live with this gross hand
that lies on the table.

Cut it off!
Chop it to pieces
and throw it into the ocean.
With time,
with hope and its machinations,
another hand will come,
pure, transparent as glass,
and fasten itself to my arm.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thinking about tattoos, still

A Facebook comment got me thinking about tattoos again. I suppose I do think about them often enough, as it is. After all, I was a tattooist for 15 years, a good chunk of my life. Often, I long to do it again, but my hands are shot. I had tattooed for some years that way, and I was hurting myself daily, and not being able to work as well as I once did. I couldn't live with that, and so I stopped.

I also had terribly mixed feelings about tattoos themselves. I never understood the urge to be a tattooed person, though I had it myself. The first time I saw someone being tattooed, not a tattoo itself, I wanted to get one. I went to every tattoo shop I could find (not an easy task way back when), and was refused over and over. I wasn't yet 18. Luckily, I knew no one who tattooed from their home and it never occurred to me to pick up a needle and ink and do it myself.

The other thing that made me wait was one tattoo artist that told me not to get a tattoo until I was absolutely sure I'd never be a part of normal society. This in itself will give some idea of how long ago this was.

In spite of the fact that approximately 1 in 8 people in the United States now have at least one tattoo, I still hold that there is something essentially true about the seemingly outdated advice that this unknown tattooist gave to me.

The motivations for marking one's skin permanently are myriad, and so little examined by those that get and give them. Just ask yourself this simple question, "Would you want to wear the same shirt for the rest of your life?" Some might say "yes" with comfort and perhaps even pride. Bikers wear their jackets and their colors for a lifetime, or hope that they will. Same with a military person, anyone who wears a uniform.

Therein lies the contradiction of the identity of a tattooed person. The notion is that a tattoo reflects a person's unique identity, but the tattoo marks that identity now as a "tattooed person." Not so unique, no matter how hard one tries. Add to this that what one's tattoo looks like the same ones of those you identity with and what the passing fads of the year are, and the conundrum multiplies.

Here in New York, I'm seeing hundreds of Japanese sleeves these days. Beautiful art, no doubt, but identity? What part of a person finds meaning in the goldfish, the tiger, the rolling clouds, the lightning, the ties to the centuries of Japanese culture and to the Yakuza? Borrowed imagery, borrowed identity. For years it was "tribal" work, other years a million Godsmack suns across America, Japanese calligraphy, Celtic knots. . .

Upon my own body, I have a mishmash of borrowed culture. There's nothing wrong with that in itself, but ultimately, I see it as empty. For years, I covered my arms and legs. The weather is getting warm, and now I have little choice but to uncover. The person who acquired these tattoos long ago is no longer with me. Who I am today is not who I was decades ago. I am not ashamed of my tattoos but it's not who I am. I am not part of the heavily tattooed "tribe", even if I look like it.

I hear about pride at having the guts to wear such altered skin forever. This is a false pride and a false stance. It's a scream that demands a response from strangers at first meeting: "accept me." I find this a childish notion. It is the cry of a little child who needs unconditional love. It's the longing for belonging. It's the desire to have others accept us as we are underneath the skin, and that altered skin wears the owner's longings for a lifetime.

As tattoos became more acceptable, those who felt as outsiders turned to more drastic measures to set themselves apart - tattooing their hands, faces, necks, places that could not be hidden. They say it takes strength to wear these marks. I contend this is a false strength, or an empty challenge. Life's struggles are hard enough without having to win over every stranger who judges. And yes, they will judge. You who have tattoos may balk at those who do judge, and align oneself with those who were born with skin color that causes them the same problems. On the other hand, oddly, some of the most heavily tattooed white people are racist. Try to figure that one out.

At the heart of the matter, I have held for years that the resurgence of tattoos obviates a deeper problem in society. We all yearn to belong to a tribe, even more than we yearn for individuality. We also yearn for ritual and meaning where there is seemingly little left. And so, we go to the tattoo shop and unconsciously pray that we'll have an experience that will change us, mark us, fix us, fix us in time, memorialize this or that moment, our grief, our happiness, our idealism, our rage, our fears, or conquer our fears, or make us learn some lesson, or man up, or give us relief through going through some pain. The reasons are endless.

I live with my tattoos. I rather wish I had none, that I could wipe my skin clean. Other days I do wish the bad tattoos were covered up, the old ones touched up, and the unfinished ones finished. And yes, I also yearn for a Japanese sleeve, though I'd need a third arm for that. Even I, who's given this years and years of thought, still find it a mystery, though, in the end, I do think it's a search for self, and a part of the mistaken desire to absolutely once and for all be sure of who that self is, and as a Zen Buddhist, I have to say, grasping at the permanence of the tattoo to deal with this dilemma is searching in the wrong place.