Cynicism as a survival tactic: “Baby, who hurt you?!”

Sometimes I think the biggest thing that puts people, especially women, off of feminism is — it requires constant critical engagement with the world, it requires that we unlearn that suspension of disbelief we are all taught since childhood. And once someone critically engages with their world all the time, once someone refuses to suspend their disbelief, that someone is branded a cynic.

And women are not supposed to be cynical, or in fact critically engaged with anything: we are supposed to be eternally sparkly-eyed and new, our arms open to the world. When we aren’t, it comes across as ANGER!! and BITTERNESS! and OMG WHO HURT YOU?!

My roommate was recently telling me how great her new boy toy is, and she knows he’s so great because, duh! He works with kids! … and my first thought was, “So did Jerry Sandusky.”  Which of course I could not say aloud, because she would have then replied, “We can’t talk to you about anything! You’re such a cynic!”

I don’t think that’s a bad thing. In fact, I think cynicism can be good, that it can keep people informed and keep people safe.

Take this instance: the boy toy was, in fact, a creep (although not necessarily with kids; I don’t know for sure, and I hope not, but he did treat my roommate like shit).

On the other hand, with my new and improved high standards and super rigorous screening processes, I have not personally dated a creep in over two years.

I have also been known for having terrible luck and a self-destructive bent, so if I can avoid creeps by screening everyone through a very fine filter, there is promise for all women in that field of research.

(The fact that I have dated only one person in those two years, and she was also a woman, is hopefully irrelevant … although I often fear it isn’t.)

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“Attention W***ing” For The Cause: or, Music Blogging Is Sometimes a Delicate Dance Around Delicate Egos

I don’t blog a lot or write a lot of reviews because I don’t know why people take strangers’ opinions on subjective tastes. Who are you to me? Who am I to you? So why should we try to look for meaning in each other’s ephemeral art critiques? I am not a huge fan of yelling into the esoteric void*.

But for each nobody out here, there’s someone else who thinks we’re somebody, and for whatever reason the nobodies listen to one another’s opinions and try to form their own personal judgments off them. This can form hundreds of little grassroots pockets that self-replicate by word-of-mouth. So most of us have formed internet personas to help disseminate and absorb opinions, and most of us tailor our personas to best fit our audiences. 
I’ve managed to appeal to a bunch of people whose opinions I’ve likewise found appealing, and I communicate to them in a specific way to capture that appeal. If somebody thinks my opinion is worth influencing others’ (about an act, about a piece, about a concept or a caucus or whatever), then someone has replicated a grassroots pocket, and I will act efficiently and quickly to distribute this opinion to the maximum amount of people. If need be, I will demonstrate the opinion repeatedly until the goal is reached or the window of opportunity passes, whichever comes first. Then we all move on.

There’s the process, that’s all it is for me. The means are their own end. In fact, I almost feel a little twinge of panic every time somebody contacts me, although that’s just the reaction of an extremely shy personality.

Seriously, it’s weird to read other people’s subjective art critiques. We should read each other’s in-depth analyses instead. And you should definitely not care what I say.


* Sometimes yelling into the void is fun as a purposeful device, though. It’s exceptionally amusing as a trolling/heckling technique, but really, don’t take my word for it.

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Attn: statement of purpose regarding blog?

Yeah, I don’t really have one for this particular blog.

I have a few blog projects scattered around the internet in various states of completion and involvement. Since I don’t google-search myself (and will think it’s extremely weird if you do, so please don’t), I don’t even know how many there are at this point. There’s at least one poetry/prose blog, at least one historical blog about appropriated female artists, a blog where I sometimes have photos taken of myself wearing clothes …

But this one is none of those things, really. It’s definitely not one of my two (and counting?) blogs about revolutionary tactics and theory anymore, either, so if you came here looking for those things — sorry, it’s the other one(s).

Originally this was going to be a travelogue blog, but in the course of my traveling I found myself encountering situations that were outside the purview of typical human experience. Like the time I got stranded in Palo Alto over Easter Weekend with a splitting migraine and a bag full of magic mushrooms — and that was pretty tame compared to a lot of things that happened. I’ve been deeply invested in various subcultures for the past six years and am a pretty objectively shady character by normal standards, but I honestly don’t know how I survived the trip and I also suspect that I may be a terrible person on some level, so I suppose oh well. When and if I ever get a grip on that, I’ll write about it, but that time is not now.

So in the meantime, I’m mostly going to provide dry commentary on cultural fads, when I update at all. I currently have a post written about white kids’ pukish appreciation for Native American culture, but have been mentally sidetracked by some idiots’ repeated attempts to engage me in a discussion re: My Little Pony. So I’m going to write about that … sometime soon, in the future, I think.

If you dig it, then dig it.

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Thanks to television, several generations of Americans have grown up with violence coming straight into their homes in vivid color — but whereas people my parents’ age might have sat through footage of the Vietnam War, people in my age bracket got to see the action up close and personal, in real time, on the home front.

I’m of a peculiar age. I was home sick for both the Oklahoma City bombing and the Columbine school shooting. My grandmother kept the television running at all times, so I watched live in color as people carried other people out of the remains of what had once been an office building — and then again, several years later, as people not much older than I was ran for their lives out of a school complex that looked not unlike a prison.
I can still remember the fear about what was happening and the uncertainty about what would come next. There was a sense that we were negotiating a brand-new reality, a brand-new reality wherein someone’s regular ordinary day could suddenly come crashing down with the detonation of a car bomb or the hail of semiautomatic ammunition.

So I can’t really say I was surprised when my high-school teacher wheeled a television into our classroom ten years ago to wordlessly show us footage of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center. I flinched in shock and froze in horror as I watched the second plane collide with the second tower, but what surprised me most is that no one else in the room was even watching.

Ten years ago, I wasn’t much of a radical. I’d decided years earlier that I wanted to become and remain an iconoclast, because the other option (being just like everyone else) was both unthinkable and literally impossible — but my small-town, rural-working-class, internet-less world was rather sheltered and I was sort of a libertarian. I had no idea how iconoclastic I really was until I looked around and saw that everyone else was checking their emails, playing games, and complaining that the teacher had on “a shitty action movie.”

While everyone else continued to complain throughout the day that we still had to watch this shit (a complaint I wouldn’t lodge until the end of the second day of continuous broadcast), I wrote in my notebook:

“This is going to really fuck up our civil liberties and totally change our sense of freedom.”

When Osama bin Laden took credit for the incident, I wrote,

“Fuck that lying liar! This was totally a white guy’s plot. Now life is going to suck hard for every other brown people and we are definitely going to war, just because of this dude’s ego. THANKS, ASSHOLE.”

I am still not entirely convinced that this was not in fact a white guy’s plot, albeit enacted by brown guys, but the degree of government involvement in the whole debacle is still up for debate. The rest of what I wrote, however, was more or less spot on. And so it remains to this day.

Writes Rick Salutin,

“There were many possibilities 10 years ago after the attacks. Americans might have learned enough from the slaughter of their own innocents in the name of abstract causes to empathize with people elsewhere who’ve also experienced such carnage, either through powerful nations like the U.S. or Soviet Union, or by their own tyrants. Other peoples could have used the event to acquire a more sympathetic view of Americans. The terrorists could have been marginalized and hunted down instead of being inflated into symbols in a clash of civilizations requiring massive invasions and ‘regime change.'”

But none of that happened. Instead, Americans are still smugly hanging onto a bizarre jingoistic patriotism, deluded by media, decidedly lacking in empathy for anyone, and seemingly numb to everything but the most crass and disgusting displays of carnage and atrocity.
We went to war. We’re still at war. We’ve lost most of an entire city to a hurricane, and six years later it has yet to completely rebuild. We’ve seen many more large-scale shootings, at workplaces, schools, and government functions. Our economy crashed, and if economists were honest they’d admit we’re probably in an actual depression. Our party politics more and more resemble a professional wrestling match, growing ever more absurd every day.

And we’re all just kind of over it. As am I. While I do still care, and have empathy, and find the whole public circus disgusting, I’m jaded. I’m certainly a radical now, and I want something better than this — but it will take more than the efforts of myself and the small handfuls of other individuals to enact widespread change.

So in the meantime, I want my indie rock and my funky clothes and my Twitter and my solo bar tours — the way other people want their late-night movie matinees or monster truck rallies or online dating or skydiving. Something to make me forget, just for a little while, and to make me feel like I’m a part of something, even in a social landscape where nothing means anything. Perhaps especially in a social landscape where nothing means anything.

I don’t know what this country will look like in another ten years. I admit that I’m excited to find out. I can’t imagine what it will be like for people who were children at home sick from school on the day of ‘9/11′,  and children who were born on or since that day: people who’ve grown up in this reality and don’t remember any different. I wouldn’t blame them if they stayed numb and deadened — but I hope they will not. Maybe they’ll be what it takes to end this strange dream, the snap of fingers to wake us all up. Maybe they won’t take this all for granted. Maybe.

While we wait, and work, and do what we can: listen to this song by Elvis Perkins, whose mother was aboard the plane that hit the first World Trade Center tower ten years ago today.

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I’m a fashion plate and a cross-pond superstar.

It doesn’t necessarily translate in the photographs, but I can remember feeling oddly awkward during this photo shoot. It’s because I am sadly industry-savvy, and shortly before I agreed to this project, I realized I am technically ‘a plus-sized model.’

I wear a size 8 or 10 in modern clothing, and fit a size 29 pants. Folks, there is nothing wrong with being ‘fat’ — but either way, that’s not ‘fat.’

I was “a fat kid” growing up. Looking back at pictures, I wasn’t really ‘fat’ then either — at the most, I was ‘childishly chubby’ — but I sure got ostracized, bullied, and harassed (including at my home) for being so.

And, like many (and at least according to surveys, possibly even ‘most’) teenage girls, I decided to deal with this by developing an eating disorder.

It worked. I’m not even sure what I wore in European-numbered pants or dress size, but at my smallest I was ‘less than a 0′ in standard American jean sizes. I weighed about 105 pounds, almost forty pounds less than I do now. My friends wanted to kill me out of envy, which made me sad — especially because privately, I was miserable. Maintaining a level of self-starvation while remaining healthy enough to function without actually killing yourself is hard work, in fact a full-time job. So eventually I decided to ‘let myself go.’ I still eat only healthy food, because I want to feel well and keep from pickling myself with preservatives, but I eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full.

Gaining weight back freaked me out for a little while. As in, years, and sometimes still to this day. I can recall having a panic attack when, over the space of eighteen months, I went from a size 25 to a size 27. To this day, I feel a little sad when a favorite garment no longer fits.

It isn’t even from vanity, in vanity’s purest sense. In a culture where women are considered little more than bodies, and the most aesthetically pleasing body for women is that of an emaciated, self-deprived person (recall: models are encouraged to eat Kleenex and/or cotton balls dipped in juice to keep their size, unless they want to be out of a job), deviating from the aesthetic norm can mean the difference in getting (and/or keeping) a job, between garnering ridicule or garnering praise.

And no, before you say that, the recent popularity of ‘curvy girls!’ inspired by shows like Mad Men does not help. Because ‘curvy’ (meaning, average-sized) women are still otherized and ostracized. There are certain things that thin girls can wear, there are certain things that ‘unthin’ girls can wear, and fashion of all types reinforces that.

When I worked at ModCloth, a retailer and showcaser of independent designers, the most common customer-service complaint we received was that none of the clothes we sold would fit ‘fat people.’ Meaning, anyone above an American size 12 (or 14 if you were lucky, 10 if you were unlucky). Another complaint was that the styles we sold might fit a US size 10 or 12, but really didn’t look conventionally flattering on anyone who was larger than a size 6.

That wasn’t a surprise to me, though. I’m a fairly genre-savvy person. I’m into semiotics, I know what things are coded to mean. I know what’s ‘trendy’, I know what’s ‘stylish’, I know what’s ‘avant garde’. And I know the type of body that designers (meaning: everyone who makes clothing) design their clothes for — the thin body. A person who is not thin, wearing clothing that is not designed for people who are thin, is considered an affront to aesthetics.

So I don’t wish to cater to aesthetic norms. I slap onto my body what I slap onto my body. I like to mix prints — the more bold and outlandish the better, although I do have my preferences (currently southwest prints, colorblocking, and florals) and there are lands where I will not tread (animal prints, neon). I like to experiment with textures and color. I love to wear bold and/or unusual cuts. Even things that (gasp!) aren’t considered flattering on my body type.

There is nothing wrong with being a “plus-sized person” (as if there is technically such a thing). There is nothing wrong with being a plus-sized model, other than the fact that the industry’s idea of ‘plus-sized’ is really fucked up. Personally, as I hinted two sentences above), I don’t think there should even be a distinction between standard sizing and ‘plus sizing.’ I think the fashion industry’s, the media’s, the public’s, fixation on starvation as the pinnacle of a woman’s aspiration is ludicrous and should be scrutinized. 

(Follow the money. Who profits from a society that is constantly dieting and self-depriving? Follow the politics. Who stands to gain from a populace that is thin, starving, sickly, and weak?)

In the meantime, I’m going to wear what catches my eye. Check out that horse dress — I found it in a thrift store, and it hit a home run: outrageous cut, outrageous print, sized to fit me with a little space to spare, and within my price range ($20). It’s such a ridiculous outfit that it sat on the rack for at least four whole days, which is almost unheard-of in a location that averages a same-day turnover rate. Apparently not a lot of not-thin women want to put on bold cuts and outrageous patterns — and I encourage them to rethink that thought.

Postnote: No, I don’t shave, pluck, or wax anything on my body or wear makeup, either. More than a political decision, it’s an aesthetic decision too (I like the way I look naturally), and it also gives me a lot more time to do other things I’d rather do.

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I’d started this blog as a travelogue/platform for reviewing music, but: change of plans! I’m going to put up some random essays, reactions and responses to press, and some minor travelogues here, saving the music reviews for a newer, fancier paleotrees.

Thoughts? Ideas? Complaints? Feel free to let me know.

And now, in the midst of some heavy shit (it seems London is currently on fire), here we are.

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