Feminism Does Not Ruin Anything; Fairy tales do.


Emer O’Toole’s Ten Things Feminism Has Ruined for Me in the Guardian is a well-written satiric yet sincere read on what feminism has spoiled–mostly fun–for this writer from her cat to Catholicism to marriage and monogamy. While humorous, she raises some insightful conundrums in compromising that space of the political to enter the more relaxed place of “Hey, it ain’t correct, but it feels good, so I’ll just shut my mind off.”  
More than the insights and complaints, I love how she works through her queries in writing, watching the process of working through each dilemma. Here is just one example:
You’re a feminist. You’re questioning the gender-related norms in the world around you, trying to figure out which ones are oppressive (eg, sexual objectification; domestic violence; workplace discrimination) and which ones are OK (lipstick). And you begin to feel that a social system in which people claim rights of sexual ownership over each other’s bodies, and get very angry when these exclusive rights are violated, is a system so deeply imbued with patriarchal capitalist ideology as to make gender equality impossible.
So she recognizes the inherent intransigence of an institution, monogamous marriage, so deeply embedded in the larger socio-economic practice and mindset of a country that values possessions including others’ bodies, which is rife for abuse of women in a patriarchal society.  Men still run things around here. Marriage based on ownership filters down to men owning women and children, which was literally true only about a hundred years ago. Women were chattel as Kate Chopin’s ‘”Story of an Hour” reminds us.
Though, I do not doubt that two people can agree that they each have equal “ownership” rights over each other’s body and enjoy those rights, even with jealousy and possession as the basis of policing that arrangement. Two individuals cognizant of their needs and boundaries and respectful of the same in the other certainly can make monogamy work within the patriarchy of capitalism and monogamy. Like everything, it depends on the people entering into and honoring the agreements they make with continuing communication and monitoring about their arrangement when it is not working.
You take your head out of the theoretical clouds and look at the grounded reality of monogamy. You see lying, cheating, shame, even violence, and you think: is this because of love? Or is it because of the idea that we own the sexual function of the people we love? Love should make us happy (I’m looking at you, Anna Karenina). Yet jealousy, so often an excuse for abuse, is romanticised by the logic of monogamy, while love is vilified. Surely, with compassion, commitment and communication, we can find the courage to love differently. Polyamory is the future!
I do not know that romanticizing jealousy correlates to vilifying love, unless she means generally monogamy leads to jealousy and people focus on the keeping possession of bodies rather than the love that binds each to such an arrangement in the first place. Unless she means that love that someone can give to others is curtailed by having it wrapped up in only one other being. There are so many people one comes across in life, many lovable people, and yet many bargain away their love in an exclusivity contract, which seems rather unnatural and doomed as insurmountably contrived and unnatural.  
Polyamory, she applauds as the solution, though too quickly. The same kind of honesty and open communication, continual monitoring and negotiation that works for monogamy pertains even more so, even more than doubly so, to polyamory where there are more moving parts to consider. More people means more agreements, which inevitably means more of everything good and bad.  Polyamory is not for the lazy or the self-deluded. It is not an excuse to go fuck anyone you want as some do parading under the banner of polyamory. You know who you are. 
Compassion, commitment and communication are a lot of bloody work, though. Primary partners, secondary partners: all replete with complex emotions. Sometimes, at 1am on Friday night, when you just want to be out dancing with your friends but are, instead, “processing” with a partner new to poly, you wonder, ‘When did life become one long conversation about everyone’s feelings?’ You remember being 21, and trying to stop your boyfriend from punching a bloke who asked for your number while he was in the jacks. Brutal, yes, but alluringly simple.
Right. Sometimes you want to just fall back into easy patterns, even ones designed, implemented and perpetuated by patriarchy. The familiarity of it is enticing and the noble notion of chivalry is romanticism we have been fed since birth. 
Conscious choice to engage in agreed to relationship roles is what it is all about. A feminist is someone who believes in entering into relationships of any form or context, personal, career or academic, armed with information and analytical skills to see through the sedimented, unthinking practices of our culture. That practice does not have to be a battle within the self so much as a vigilance, an intellectual awareness directed to many aspects of life, not just spotting abuse. We are not dupes to advertising when we know what advertisers are up to, and yet we submit and purchase what’s for sale knowingly and willingly.  
Relationships of any kind are no different. I may submit my body to my partner’s jealous possession knowing all the implications and consequences thereof, and still sleep at night. The problem is not so much monogamy as much as it is about fairytales’ forever after. Humans want to nail down something for life:  this is the way it’s going to be so that I don’t ever have to think about that again.  It’s an insecurity thing. Again, it takes honesty and constant checking in with the self to see if the same old patterns are actively and consciously working or just mindless habits. That practice of checking in is a constant of good living. That is feminism in practice.

Beyond Monogamy: exploring the possibilities of the human heart

No Place For Sheep

monogamy not amrried to the idea

Like many of our abstract sacred moral concepts, the cult of monogamy is reified to the degree that it’s considered “natural” for humans to live within its framework. Never mind that people break out all the time, and that the entirely monogamous relationship exists more in the theory than in the practice, still the monogamous ideal dominates our culture’s sexual and loving relationships.

However, “it just is” has never been a persuasive argument for me, and the reification fallacy of misplaced concreteness always comes in useful when thinking about morality.

I’ve wondered often if one of the unacknowledged goals of monogamy is to protect us from experiencing difficult emotions such as jealousy, insecurity, a sense of abandonment, of being displaced by another. Of loss, of insignificance, and so on. These are emotions we first experience in childhood, for some of us when we acquire siblings, and for all of…

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If— by Rudyard Kipling : The Poetry Foundation

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175772

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If, by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on”;

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man my son

Take her

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Credit: s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com

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One day I stepped into myself and found love.
I knew it was there all along because I could feel it, give it.
But it was all for others.
And I also found greed and jealousy and hate, disrespect.
And I found those hideously powerful.
They belonged to me.
I felt them too.
But mostly I felt disillusionment and loss.
I felt myself missing.
I feel it.
There is no poetry in reality.

Music is a Demonic Mistress in Whiplash

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Credit: paleothea.com

My grandfather died when I was ten. I don’t remember much of him other than what others have spoken of him, that he was a piano tuner and a musician that taught and cajoled all of his 7 sons (not his one daughter) to play an instrument, two of whom were later professionals. I was told he was a gentle and kind man, soft spoken in juxtaposition to his louder more vociferous “witchy” wife, as characterized by an oft chastised daughter in law, my mother. The one lasting memory I have of him, Julius, Isidore prior to immigrating from Russia as his wife’s brother, is a cello lesson he gave me one summer afternoon of a rare visit to our Long Island home.

Though he and my grandmother lived merely a half hour’s distance away, we traveled to their Farmingdale home most visits. My father was the last of the seven boys, so his parents were older grandparents vis a vis my family and thus we traveled to them. On this one visit to our home, my grandfather, as ever interested in family musical progress (all four siblings and I played an instrument), decided to see for himself and sat me down for a listen. I remember his stern, disapproving look as I muddled my way through a piece I was learning for the school orchestra, probably some Muller-Rush simple exercise piece disguised as a song. Those were the days of music lessons and orchestras in elementary school, when instruments were offered in third grade at which time I was appointed the cello due to my long fingers despite my request to play violin. I had only been playing for a couple of years then and had not started the private lessons that I would have the following year, despite my family’s limited budget.

He was aggressive. He shook his head in decided disapproval, got up from his seat and pushed my fingers all about the neck of the cello, pressing down on the forefinger up high and stretching the ring finger down low and absolutely smashing my pinky. Then he jerked my bow arm from the elbow up to place it properly from his perspective, which strained my neck and torqued my hand whose fingers were being smashed into the neck of the now source of torture, formerly my cello, as used by this draconian musician. He instructed me in something barely conceivable as English worsened by his frustration, “Do dees, now dees, like dees!” He muttered in Russian probably.

Since I was ten and was not well versed in Russian, Hebrew, Latvian, Polish, German or other languages my grandparents spoke, hell I was barely fluent in English at 10, I had always felt distant from my grandparents who were adoring enough, calling me pet names like Pamaluchkala and ochichonya (dark eyes), and teasing me with the yiddish equivalent of ugly girl and then smiling and calling me the opposite. They made me nervous, however. I didn’t understand them. That cello lesson did not help matters. I was nervous about playing in front of anyone let alone an exacting musician who spoke little English. If I had any talent or education in the instrument, none of it was going to show under those conditions.

Recalling that experience still elicits a frown to my face, sadly the only recollection of my grandfather, who was a receding character compared to the imposing figure that was my grandmother in stature and voice. That memory still conflicts with the one or two video preservations of some 35 mm film of him, my grandmother and extended family at their house. He always looked gentle, smiling, and composed. Was it the music that brought out the demon in him, the child abuser that plowed over the slightest sensibilities of a child not taking into account the damage he may have done to that child’s love for and thereby development in the instrument?

That question of the madness in the musician besieged me, awakening my grandfather memory and provoked a long look at my musical endeavors, after seeing the movie Whiplash recently. The movie in pinpoint precision well casted acting and unlikely thriller momentum (my glutes hurt afterward) presents the outermost limits of the innermost determinants of personal achievement through mastery of a musical instrument, here the drums: monomaniacal focus of the musician, the demented exactitude and sadism of the teacher torturously beating greatness out of his students, and the Odyssean journey of the student musician into Hades to learn the truth: Am I capable of greatness?

The movie was truly well done, especially the nuanced acting of Miles Teller, the aspiring Buddy Rich, and J.K. Simmons, the complex, somewhat deranged professor. So much of the movie occurred in their faces, that subtle twitch, stare or glint. As is often the case after seeing a movie of such caliber that it lingers in my mental limbs the next day, I wanted to read more about the movie, reviews and such.

Serendipitously, I came across this quote by renowned American conductor Leonard Slatkin on my morning travels through the net: “Ultimately, music is a possessive mistress.” I read this and immediately thought about the scene (SPOILER ALERT!) in which Teller brilliantly and brutally spells out to his girlfriend in a great detailed cause and effect chain of prognostications why he cannot maintain a relationship, which, without spoiling too much, amounts to the essence of Slatkin’s quote. There just isn’t much time for other passions when one consumes so absolutely, burns so powerfully inside that all thought and action is that passion or tied to it in some way. All else is peripheral. One eats to keep the engine able to execute for the sake of the art.

Whether my grandfather broke my art or I just wasn’t good or passionate enough, I gave up playing the cello seriously by my junior year in high school, the year I delved deeper into the world eschewed by obsessively driven musicians, artists, actors, and anyone with the monomania to pursue greatness: a social life. Now I pick up the cello or the guitar, which I later tinkered with, when the mood strikes me. I like it that way. The small suffering of frustration and yearning for skillful music making, that lifelong itch, falls far short, even in amassed decades, of the inconceivable agony in attaining greatness: the innumerable hours, indomitable doubt and suffocating insecurity for a payoff that may turn out to be no more than a less than stellar roster of achievements.

Sounds a lot like the trials and tribulations of the writer, who must likewise be owned by a “possessive mistress” if she wants to be the next something to read on a list somewhere. Or be content to dabble to her heart’s compromised content. The only writing whisperers of the J.K. Simmons kind that writers withstand are their own tormenting demons. They have to find their own motivation for distinction in a sado-masochism of their own making.

Fair Play

Fervid M

Warning:  This post is likely to offend you.

I have been absent for a while dealing with the holidays and other work related business.  As I can finally take a breath, I find myself moved to write.  I felt like a zombie there for a while, simply going through the motions and obligations that the holidays bestow upon us.  My creativity was stifled under all the responsibility, but I had time to think about things that I wanted to write about.

I attended a bridal shower yesterday for a close friend of mine.  On her invitation it read, “…is registered at Lowe’s, Home Depot and Target.”  I stared down at the invitation in my hands and thought to myself, “Dear God…How long can you expect a marriage to last if your bridal shower invitation resembles that of a housewarming party?”  I refused to get her a gift of anything she…

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Stop and Wonder

Sometimes you wake up and the world seems awry, like the picture on the wall is slightly askew and it has startled you into a momentary disorientation as to whether the world is tilted or the picture. This morning was such a morning. I woke up with the distinct sensation of unease like a throbbing under the seams of everything was palpable.

Then I saw this image, a painting by Francis Bacon, on a friend’s Facebook page:

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My first impression was of a human body with a rabbit face, the eye being the first thing that caught my attention. Perhaps it was the closer detail of the eye in comparison to the rest of the impressionistic style of slashes of drab color. The friend who posted it saw an elephant immediately, which makes sense given the grey trunk-like extension in the middle of the image. It also comports with what is on his mind according to many of his posts, which support the eradication of ivory poaching and elephant suffering globally. So why did I see the rabbit face when another side of the optical illusion is the human bent in desolation matching the dread of the colors chosen? The rabbit eye is actually an ear that draws the viewer’s eye to the hidden face obscured by the angle of the painter’s view vis a vis his subject.

Of course the greens and browns that hit me immediately may have associated nature scenes to me, evoked from the colors alone. Maybe that’s why rabbit was conjured up before human. Or maybe I am feeling more like the rabbit these days, skittish and hunted, vulnerable. But the rabbit head atop a human-like body is the original dissonance–a nauseating angst of discord–I experienced in the nano second of mis-recognition, something in accordance with the strangeness of the day, a flash of something barely seen at the periphery of vision that flies past, something threatening and ugly.

That must be why I saw the rabbit atop the man and why my friend saw an elephant. It is what we imposed on the image from each our separate mindsets at the very moment of the eye’s placement on and registering of the image.

We do that to people too, obviously. We see them for the first time or for the four hundredth time and color them with the preoccupation or mood of the moment. We coat them with our predispositions and attribute motivations and traits to them based on the colors of our own palettes instead of seeing who they are in that space of estrangement, like mistakenly seeing a rabbit head atop a human body, which causes the looker to stop, readjust her vision, and focus more closely to actually “see” who stands before her.

Lesbos by Sylvia Plath

…Sylvia Plath’s husband, poet Ted Hughes, was having an affair during their marriage. They fought about it, but he refused to give up his mistress. Sylvia Plath committed suicide and four years later the mistress, Assia Wevill, also committed suicide. Both women left behind small children.

Lesbos

Viciousness in the kitchen!
The potatoes hiss.
It is all Hollywood, windowless,
The fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine,
Coy paper strips for doors
Stage curtains, a widow’s frizz.
And I, love, am a pathological liar,
And my child look at her, face down on the floor,
Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear
Why she is schizophrenic,
Her face is red and white, a panic,
You have stuck her kittens outside your window
In a sort of cement well
Where they crap and puke and cry and she can’t hear.
You say you can’t stand her,
The bastard’s a girl.
You who have blown your tubes like a bad radio
Clear of voices and history, the staticky
Noise of the new.
You say I should drown the kittens. Their smell!
You say I should drown my girl.
She’ll cut her throat at ten if she’s mad at two.
The baby smiles, fat snail,
From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum.
You could eat him. He’s a boy.
You say your husband is just no good to you.
His Jew-Mama guards his sweet sex like a pearl.
You have one baby, I have two.
I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair.
I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair.
We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,
Me and you.

Meanwhile there’s a stink of fat and baby crap.
I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.
The smog of cooking, the smog of hell
Floats our heads, two venemous opposites,
Our bones, our hair.
I call you Orphan, orphan. You are ill.
The sun gives you ulcers, the wind gives you T.B.
Once you were beautiful.
In New York, in Hollywood, the men said: “Through?
Gee baby, you are rare.”
You acted, acted for the thrill.
The impotent husband slumps out for a coffee.
I try to keep him in,
An old pole for the lightning,
The acid baths, the skyfuls off of you.
He lumps it down the plastic cobbled hill,
Flogged trolley. The sparks are blue.
The blue sparks spill,
Splitting like quartz into a million bits.

O jewel! O valuable!
That night the moon
Dragged its blood bag, sick
Animal
Up over the harbor lights.
And then grew normal,
Hard and apart and white.
The scale-sheen on the sand scared me to death.
We kept picking up handfuls, loving it,
Working it like dough, a mulatto body,
The silk grits.
A dog picked up your doggy husband. He went on.

Now I am silent, hate
Up to my neck,
Thick, thick.
I do not speak.
I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,
I am packing the babies,
I am packing the sick cats.
O vase of acid,
It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.
He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate
That opens to the sea
Where it drives in, white and black,
Then spews it back.
Every day you fill him with soul-stuff, like a pitcher.
You are so exhausted.
Your voice my ear-ring,
Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat.
That is that. That is that.
You peer from the door,
Sad hag. “Every woman’s a whore.
I can’t communicate.”

I see your cute decor
Close on you like the fist of a baby
Or an anemone, that sea
Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.
I am still raw.
I say I may be back.
You know what lies are for.

Even in your Zen heaven we shan’t meet.