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.