Thursday, October 17, 2013

Passion: a Big! Messy! Draft!

I stole an hour today and talked with someone about the death and strange afterlife of passion in contemporary American society.  We were just bullshitting, and didn't bother to interrupt the human exchange to cite sources and name-drop researchers, so this, its direct outgrowth, is quite informal and all over the map.

We're at a weird place, kids.  Desire has become disconnected from anything bodily and rooted to anything marketable.  Look at how we describe things online:  Food Porn, Decor Porn, Shoe Porn (ok, that last one's a real fetish, but you see my meaning).

Look at Miley, if you must.  Look at friggin' Cosmo.  It's quite alright to wax lyrical at the lastest iThing or call something "hot", but try representing nuanced passion for something without a price tag and you're going to get funny looks.  Even if it's "cool" to be a "geek".  (Nota Bene: It's not, it never has been, it's just become profitable to the right people)

Deep libidinal feeling is bought and sold, traded on an abstracted and ephemeral market of news feeds and photo streams.  Satisfaction and desire are reduced to icons - they remind you of something long gone, but no one is sure of precisely what that is.  "Like" culture has replaced passion.  At the same time, a fashionable detachment surrounds us, the emotional equivalent of vocal fry.  When did feeling deeply about something become laughable, and affected anomie cool?  When did cynicism become the lingua franca?

At the same time, we as a people are experiencing great demands on our passion.  As if we have any to spare.  Try to find a job advertisement that doesn't want some sort of "passion" from you, the employee.  It's dangerous to love a job anymore.  My cohort is un-learning the former "given" of a paternalistic employer.  There will be no more thirty year jobs.  There will be no more retirement parties and gold watches.  There will be no more security.

Earlier this fall, September 5th, Bruce Schneier wrote about a disturbing idea for the Financial Times.  He looked at Wikileaks and Snowden and Manning and submitted this: the young up and comings of our day, the 20s-30s are less likely to prioritize loyalty to their employers, as they are receiving none of it themselves. This poses a unique problem for anyone involved in the type of jobs that need security clearance.  Intelligence used to be a commitment.  Hell, many jobs used to be commitments.  What will our government do when it reaps the harvest of millions of people accustomed to being disposable contract workers and interns, professional nomads with no expectation of security from the powers that be, and no desire to put themselves out for diminishing returns?  And yet, the old values remain.  Put in more time, sacrifice your personal life, and get your reward.  We know there's no reward any more, so why give our selves?

So what are we supposed to do in this still-new century?  Should we continue this chilly, culturally approved version of passion?

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Halloween Progress: Prop Mic

So, I'm building a prop radio mic out of plumbing parts and window screen.  And this is my third time scrapping and rebuilding.  BUT I PERSERVERE!

I'm rather pleased with the mic front.  I'm going to paint over it to hide the hot glue showing thru the mesh and get some manner of logo on the front.  And this plumbing part that makes the mic "head" has this funky white stuff on it.  It's not meant to be displayed, but instead in the inner workings of a toilet.  However, Liz declares otherwise.  

There's a lot of gorilla tape going on because it's strong and NVCR is a public radio station so how big could its budget be?  I'm sure Cecil has had to repair a lot of equipment after contract negotiations with station management.

Good Morning, Listeners!

Friday, October 4, 2013

"All those people, all those lives Where are they now?": The moral quandary of morbidity

Should dead bodies/relics be displayed, how, and by whom?

The article that inspired this series of questions:
  Dead Bodies and Archaeological Corpses: Aesthetics and Body Worlds

Ok, so anyone who knows me knows I like morbid things.  There is eternally fascinating beauty in the dead, decaying, and strange.  I'm generally not squeamish about bodies and relics.  They can be beautiful or meaningful.  As I don't believe in an afterlife, I don't find them significant in the spiritual sense, but I maintain a secularized respect for the dead.

But the question comes to mind: whose dead?  Should it matter how they're displayed?  Is this humane?  I'm not so freewheeling in my ethics that I see any corpse or relic as simple materials to be exploited.  However, should there not be some limits to how well they're protected, lest we end up being defacto religious?

And then that raises another quandary...I am atheist, but I am (as the kids say) totes down with your religion as long as you don't use it as a weapon.  I actually do respect the good that is possible with religious communities and the individuals that I find and get to know on a personal basis.  I don't respect it because it's "the thing to do and shut up and don't ask questions".  But I do pride myself on not being an obnoxious nonbeliever.  So I'll tip my hat to traditions - I keep a few pieces of papist idolatry around the house, I say hi to the local deity on a friend's altar, and so on.  More to the point, I also don't walk on graves if I can help it.  I criticize the excesses of the American funeral industry, but I see its necessity.  I consider the dead still with us in some sense.  Ancestor reverence is a big part of my worldview.  Not being an ass is another large part of my worldview.  So where does this leave me with dead bodies and pieces of them?  

Every corpse you see in a museum, that was someone's parent, spouse, lover, friend, or child.  Every bone was once housed in flesh and muscle, and once moved through this world as the mind within that body thought, opined, suffered, and rejoiced.  This was once part of a human being and for that it should be respected.  "Respect" differs widely between cultures.  There are cultures that can't bring themselves to say the word "dead"  (people don't die, they "pass").  Then there are cultures that haul the corpse right back out of the ground and change its clothes.  Many people in this world fall somewhere in between.

Is it ever right to display the dead without consent of the body owners themselves?  We've gained so much knowledge from the study of corpses, especially from vanished cultures, but I don't know how well the idea of display sits with me.  The most intimate connection any human being has is her own body.  Even when the consciousness that animated a body has ended, there is still something to respect.  Unless a researcher has explicit permission, or at least tries to seek it out from whoever is now the custodians of a body, she should tread very carefully before objectifying and displaying the most intimate thing.  Even if there is noone left to guard the memory of the former occupant of that corpse.  There is much the living can learn from the dead, but no one can ignore the longstanding entitlement in western sciences - entitlement to bodies, objects, and memories not belonging to the scientists' own culture.  It is one thing to approach representatives of a particular culture and, engaging them as fellow humans, asking if they'd share any personal details or customs OR cataloging their intimate lives for your own desire.

What is ok in terms of display if this corpse or relic is not from your culture?  Or from any extant culture?  

I suppose now I fall into the "document, photograph, and repatriate" camp.  Now, especially, we have the technology to record so much more detail of bodies and artifacts.  We don't have to have them right there in front of us to learn.  We no longer have to imagine - we can scan, rotate, and do all sorts of things to reveal details about bodies that our predecessors never considered.  We don't have to keep someone's ancestor in a glass case anymore.

Say an American archaeologist in the southwest US finds that local builders have uncovered an infant corpse in Zuni land.  She dates the remains, and they're quite old.  Say there's something remarkable about them, something that can make acadmic careers, and can make museums line up with giant checks.  Should this archaeologist hand over the corpse, especially knowing the history of Native Americans and the US government?  If the local tribe's reps aren't interested in the corpse, well there's noone claiming the body, so it may as well go "to science".

But what if the local tribe wants to bury what is clearly one of their ancestors?  Once our archaeologist has learned all she can, and documented it, that corpse should go back to the Zuni community to re-inter as they see fit.  Science has its piece, tradition has its piece, and everyone knows a bit more about the distant past.

Let me revisit that first option - noone claiming the corpse.  A body is pulled out of a bog in Ireland, a body dating back so far that noone alive feels any connection.  What to do?  Re-inter?  If it's all the same, why not put it in a glass case.  It could still serve science, and most certainly would be a local attraction.  Should this be troubling, or is this overthinking?


This all may well be overthinking, but I am something of a Victorian at heart, so I have a lot invested in morbidity and collecting.  I like specimens, insect collections, bones, possessions of ancestors who died years before I was born.  I also like museum exhibits, books, and documentaries about death, burial customs, mourning customs, and so on.  Should I feel qualms about propping up Big Mummy?

As a student of history, I know all the dirty secrets that the science and progress hold.  These are the very concepts that suppory both my personal fascinations as well as my daily life - concepts I live by as an atheist and humanist. I know how scientific inquiry was (and still is) abused to exploit, appropriate, and violate the bodies of many, many people.  But I refuse to wholly reject science.  Instead, I insist on guiding principles of humanism and empathy.  But my ass is still gonna go to the Mutter Museum and stare.  Should I feel bad about that?  Or, as Hobbes says, "simply acknowledging the issue is a moral victory"?

Deeper than thou: Pop-morbidity and real curiosity
Quirk’s breathing anatomical specimens and Body Worlds’ aestheticized corpses reinforce archaeologists’ understanding that few artifacts are more compelling than the human body.  Yet Body Worlds brings death into the open without actually speaking its name.  Instead, it invokes a narrow notion of education, a detached scientific rationality, and a candid curiosity about bodies and mortality.  Body Worlds is partly a shallow health public and anatomical lesson and partly an artistic exhibit in which the elements of the works are plasticized flesh and organs. (Paul Mullins  emphasis mine)
I've never been to Body Worlds, and I'm not inclined to, especially after Paul Mullins' take on it.  Also, I find the painted models too close to the silliness of "booth babes" to take it seriously (click the cite link for a photo).  But I am familiar with the "narrow notion of education" he talks about here.  It's a phrase I can finally apply to a feeling I've had before.  Years ago, I went to England with an ex, and toured the requisite castle.  Our whole party went to the dungeon, making the normal jokes about "devices" and the har-har elbows.

 But I wondered at the cheekiness of the presentation.  The instruments that inspired the replicas on display were used to wreak horrors on real human beings.  These things were invented with the sole purpose of breaking bodies and minds.  And they often worked.  Should this be funny, especially since we still use torture today?  The sadistic impulse has never dimmed, only the tools have changed.  So, should the racks, pears, and oubliettes be funny, even if the last person to expire from them did so centuries ago?  Shouldn't there be more decorum?

To take this back to the point of the post, should a dead body be a prop?  How absurd can you be before you are wrong to manipulate the remains of an individual (barring their will, of course)?  Or is the very idea of "wrong" a superstitious holdover from Catholicism?

Curiosity and the desire to lock eyes'n'sockets with poor Horatio - these will never go away.  Humans delight in the things that disgust them.  This is the perverse, and it's valuable. I don't find curiosity wrong.  But what are you employing that curiosity for?  Are you really educating anyone or are you providing the cheapest of thrills?  And shouldn't we expect more gravitas from our visits to the underworld?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

This is how it feels

Ok, so I have these things in my head.  Most people would call it depression and anxiety.  I don't call it anything since I'm more concerned with dealing with it than naming it.

I don't like saying I "struggle with depression" because it's cliche'd and to be honest, I'm not struggling, I'm accepting.  This crap is part of my head, and it's probably not going to do away anytime soon.  So I had better come up with some sort of plan.

But first, some meta.  This is why I blog irregularly, this is why I don't make as much craft (or art) as I want to...this is what gets in the way of my happiness, libido, and even my general calmness.

This is for real, actually. All these issues are based on real, legitimate worries.

Most of my worries revolve around my day job, doing well at it, and keeping it longer than a few months. Before I got the present one, I did the same with the previous.  Before I was working again, this crap sort of went on hiatus because I had grad school then a wedding to keep me busy.  But now I get to be all alone with my head and sometimes that's painful.

The part that gets to me is that every one of my "irrational" worries is tied to a real life, legitimate thing. Surely you've read the news lately - jobs are hard to come by and hard to hang onto, even if you're good at them.  You can be fired whenever, and up shit creek at any moment.  The fact that I have a grad degree and attendant debt means I've got that much more going against me.  I did a lot of caregiving in the years I "should" have been interning and building my networks to construct a career.  But I couldn't because who else would take care of my dying mother and elderly grandmother.  I started out in a family dependent on welfare and food stamps.  I've been struggling for a long time, but I considered this normal.

But here's where it goes off the deep end:

The degree.  I'm not proud of it.  I've often fantasized about tearing it to bits or burning it.  I'm ashamed that I thought I could rise above my station, that I could do anything academic or intellectual.  And yet I'm ashamed that I let my family down - they struggled to make sure I got into good schools and did well.  They prepared me to go to college, get my degrees, and never have to do what they did.  And here I am, having done that, and  I have nothing to show for it.

I'm working someplace I like, doing something I didn't plan on but could be happy with.  It's the most stability I've ever had, and the most money I've ever seen.  I have a lot riding on this.  I want to prove I can keep my rent and bills paid, and be responsible with my student debt.  I'm doing all the right things, and I'm terrified this arrangement will be broken.

This leads to a tremendous amount of anxiety and depressive periods.  All these worries, even if they have a kernel of legitimacy, grow and grow until they become overwhelming and I can't do much more than fold myself into a corner of my couch.  It's like I have a script running in my head, a popup ad that won't go away:

    1. I am stupid and unemployable: sure, everyone screws up at work, but I'm clearly incompetent.
    2. I have no talent and nothing to offer the world: anything I think I can do well (when thinking clearly) turns into silliness and self delusion.
    3. I am unable to perform simple tasks: that kind of falls under #1 - I feel like I'm pretty much stupid and unable to learn.  Full stop.
The script can activate at any time and it can interrupt any activity

Try having sex with this going through your head.  Yeah, not fun.  Try creating something that used to excite you, try going somewhere you like.  Try reading, eating, talking to friends.  This takes over everything and the effort involved in ignoring it wipes me out some days.  And you may not know it.

There are genuinely good days in the middle of all this.  There are days the script doesn't activate and I can feel good.  But there are more days than you know when I have this running in the background (notice all the Windows metaphors? :P) and I'm too tired to even call a friend.  Then, the thing compounds and I get angry at myself for "whining", and I think I shouldn't burden my friends because they have it worse.  So a few days go by, then a few weeks.  And I realize I haven't had any substantial contact with my circle in a month or more, save for breezy Facebook updates.

And I do keep those breezy because I give FB a select set of facts and that is all.  Of course, these I'm handing over to Google, so I can't wait for all the antidepressant ads to show up everywhere (Hi Google!).  But I don't want anyone who is on a social network with me worried that every cheery post is cause for alarm.  I'm not that unstable - I'm not interested in harming myself.  I'm just generally averse to airing all this in public.

So why talk about this now?

I'm out of depression.  Seriously.  I've reached a point, after almost a month of serious pop-ups, that I can no longer flip out.  It's not that I don't have these worries - I do - but I am worn out from the cascading scripts in my head, the despair, the feeling of helplessness.  I'm worn out from yelling at my spouse and crying on the couch. I'm worn out from hiding from all the fun shit in life.

A friend told me not to be sad, but to get angry.  So I am.  I'm angry that shit has to be so hard for my loved ones that barely any of us can set up a home and start families (whatever shape those families take).  I'm angry that the cost of higher ed in our country is so inflated and the obsession with corporate-ization and assessment over education is so rampant that our degrees are basically worthless, and jobs (of any caliber, in our out of our fields) are this hard to come by.  I'm angry about many many things on a broad scale, and Im angry on a personal scale.  I'm an adult, I have the intellectual capacity and work ethic to really do something.   I'm neither asking for my name in lights or for a million dollars. I'm asking for stability so my future kids never have to go through what I did at the hands of an abusive aid system and the entrenched misogyny that punishes single mothers and their families for existing.*  I'm hard working, I pay off my debts, I live in my means - I should not have to prove myself to anyone.

So, what to do now?

I make my own defense mechanisms and they (often) help:

Finding plan C

I'm at my plan B right now.  I always pursue two lines of work when I job-hunt, plan A is something with writing (content writing, editing, etc) and plan B is pretty much clerical.  B is solid, B is (or used to feel) safe.  I like it, and I am dedicated, and I want to keep it, but it is my job.  This is not my passion.  I am afraid to have those.  But as I think I might be running out of options, I think I have to find some way to make those things I love result in some manner of income.  This will be plan C.  Plan C can be a sideline while I have a day job, and if I can nurture it sufficiently, it can hold body and (heh) soul together if I don't have a day job for a while.

Trying to come up with the worst case scenario and see what I should do

I'm a bit of a prepper here.  I have and I am making contingency plans.  I'd feel better if those contingencies had money in them, but for so long I haven't been able to save nearly as much as I want to because of the simple cost of living.  If I can, during my really stable and safe days, calmly think "what would happen if", and  and literally draw up a plan, I would feel better.  

Spouse refuses to entertain this idea, and he tells me to think positive.  I am deeply suspicious of positive thinking, as it feels an awful lot like faith.  And I find faith useless - hopes sent off to an imaginary father figure whose whims are inscrutable and method of "love" is abuse.  No, thank you.

No, we only have this life, and ourselves to rely on.  So this is simply prudent!  I quite literally want to have small cases housing my plans with "break glass in case of emergency" on them.  My mother tried to look out for me the best she could, as did my grandmother, but we never had that ace in the hole.  It was always desperation.  And I can't take desperation anymore.

My thinking here is that if the unthinkable happens, I'll have something to guide me when I'm least likely to be thinking clearly.  And if nothing happens, then I have that feeling of security I've never had.

In the meantime....

Looking at all this I've written, I would not blame you if you said to get my ass to therapy :)  I still might, but I don't know if I have it in me at the moment to therapist-shop.  For short term relief, I've been doing really deep breathing (pretend it's a cigarette!), long walks with the dogs (so much poo, so little time), and playing with white noise apps on my phone.  Yes, I am a giant infant and I apparently am soothed by white noise, storm sounds, and wind chimes.  I embrace this totally.  Later edits will include links to the tracks/apps I have because they are so nice.

Other things are as much physical activity as possible, scheduling time in the week to hit the library and work on projects, and seeing friends as much as I can.  This last one is one of the best things to do.  I genuinely love being home, but I run the risk of being alone with my thoughts too much if I do that every night.  Or I run the risk of hiding in my couch-cradle (yes, infant, I know).  A balance between staying in and putting some miles on my car or metro-card is apparently necessary for my well being.  

The real reason for this.

I'm working on this headcrap, so I thought I'd write it all out instead of hiding.  If I don't show up online for a bit, it's usually because of all this,or it's because I'm actually busy with a project.  

I'm trying to reframe my own head, and the rhetoric of depression.  This is not something I can "beat". It'll never "go away", and I'll never "just be ok", and I'll never "just cheer up".  I'll always worry and have dark thoughts, but that doesn't mean I have to live by them.  And the whole point of this post, beyond my own unburdening, is to put that out there in case you are feeling it too.  It doesn't have to be this bad - it's a lot of work to manage it, but it can be done.

If you're a friend or stranger who has gone or is going through this, feel free to comment or email.  Talking let this out of your head and makes things more manageable.  I'm obviously no therapist, but I have plenty of empathy :)  So don't hesitate if any of this rings a bell.


*For those who don't know my origin story, yes Mom was single.

Monday, September 30, 2013

I visited the Cloisters yesterday with a friend, and I took this shot from a staircase. I'm not editing it because I just realized how cool it is - there's very, very little in here to connote that this view is from 2013 and not far earlier :)  Most of the light was sun, and the image of people wandering around the effigies in the shadows - it's fairly evocative!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

On evidence, argument, and disbelief

Hmm, not my best title, but it's fuck o'clock where I live and I've not had any coffee :)

It was because I popped into wakefulness so early that I found my latest craw-stick thought.  Sometimes when I can't sleep, but I don't want to leave the warm nest of my bed, with spouse and dog snoring beside me, I read the intertubes on my phone.  Usually this will lull me back to sleep, but today I stayed up.

I was reading this thread at  Rather than thinking about the OP, I thought about the rhetoric of climate change "skeptics".  Go read some of the thread and see if you can spot the nutter.

Even if the exact details are still being worked out by actual researchers, the fact that human beings (the ones in industrialized areas anyway) have permanently changed this planet and all its systems.  Full stop.  The backbone philosophies of industrialization and capitalism are exploitative*.  What you see around you, from landscape to humans, is all materials and nothing more.  So the fact that the way millions of us in "first world" countries (hate that term) are living the way we do means we have dug too deeply.  We have to have changed something, somewhere, and given our favored tech (for example cars in the US) we in the super modernized countries belch out a lot of stuff into the air.  This stuff, these emissions, these chemicals, they have to go somewhere.  They do not disappear into the atmosphere and leave us with febreeze-scented breezes.  Even in terms of gas alone, enough humans burning enough of the stuff are going to make enough fumes to do something.

For goodness' sake, I have a high school science education, and I can get this.  I'm simply using common sense at this point.  I'm coasting along on the thought without any decent training and I can still get to the same conclusion using logic.

Even if you "disagree" with the particulars (how much did the ocean rise in this decade, how much did the precise percentage of carbon change over the last century) particulars that can be and are being measured and documented by trained scientists in efforts to stem the tides of bullshit from all quarters - Even if you still want to haggle over spikes on a graph - there is a fact remaining and I cannot understand why people resist it:

The materials that support what we as a species consider modern life, the "good life", cannot be used in such abundance without consequences. Nothing can ever be done without a consequence.

Let's put on our tinfoil hats and try to follow along: Say that the carbon in our atmosphere isn't nearly as high as we're told.  But given how greenhouse gases work, and the tendency of certain nations (my own certainly among them) to burn crazy amounts of them, would it not stand to reason that eventually we'd get to alarm levels of the stuff?  Especially with more people going thru more of the things that produce this day after day after day?

This is wildly simplified, I know, and ham-handed.  With enough time and access to the proper papers and studies, I could make this sound more intelligent, yes.***

Even if you want to argue over details, the currently accepted standard of living in industrialized nations *is* unsustainable and eventually we'll all have to deal with the fallout.  That should be stopping any denialist rhetoric right away.  Why does it not?

Is it that horrible to admit that perhaps, all those scientists (in multiple universities in multiple countries) with all that training and experience - all of those people reaching the same or similar conclusions about our planet's climate - is it that horrible to think they might be on to something?  And then that we should listen, take heed, and prepare?

Is it so awful to rethink how we do things as a society and see if we can tinker with that to come up with something less damaging?  Something that will benefit the entire species, not just a lucky few?  I hate to sound naive but is that so bad that people need to construct entire careers and spend untold hours online doing the Agent Mulder shuffle?


So, to return to the OP and its thread, with the nutter and his endless graphs.


*And yes, I know I am typing this on a tool made and sold to me by these systems.  But you are also reading it on one, too.

**in theory, anyway - have you looked at US healthcare lately?  Mind you, I have a lot of privilege I can parlay into better care simply because of my ethnicity, education, gender presentation, etc. But that's another post entirely :)

***Here's another homespun way to look at this:  Spouse and I are trying to save money, so we're eating at home more.  We're going to the grocery store twice monthly (hello privilege, you are delicious) and we buy ingredients/produce more than we buy anything pre-made.  So we cook a lot.  And we go thru it quickly.

This means with each store haul, we have a lump of foodstuffs that looks really big in the back of our car, but in a couple of weeks, we've cleaned the fridge out and have to get more staples.  If our flat was its own sovereign nation, you could say there's more people going thru its resources faster  more thoroughly than if we were to go to the diner a few times a week.  If we did that we'd keep our stockpile of purchased food *at home* longer.  More people doing more things in an environment begets bigger consequences.

Can you see where I'm going?  'Cause I don't think this is my best analogy but I'm getting hungry.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


Oh my god, I cannot understand how SpouseUnit works in his workspace.  The dimensions are all wrong to me, no object is kept where it makes sense, and I don't care for his chair.  Not at all.

But we're working well together :)  Yesterday, after an indiscretion at the local AC Moore (supply splurge for both of us) he started a side project with Poe's Raven.  He did the image yesterday, and I did the lettering this morning.

I'm not *that* hot with a pen anymore, but it was good to collab.

Here he is, putting in some inky blackness on that bird's wing!

Other than that, I'm making some new jewelry pieces and soaking up all the Welcome to Nightvale I can.