Dreaming of Readers

Today’s assignment from Blogging 101 is two fold:

publish a post for your dream reader, and include a new-to-you element in it.

So without further ado, let me get part two of the assignment out of the way post-haste by admitting that, ever since I saw the phrase “Dream Reader,” this has been stuck in my head.

The dreaded earworm strikes again!

Continue reading “Dreaming of Readers”

Validation and Valediction

I chose not to give a valedictory address when I graduated high school.

This was less of a break with tradition than it might initially seem: unlike most high schools, my school didn’t automatically tap the class valedictorian to give a commencement address. Instead, individuals wanting to give a speech at this event were asked to submit an application in hopes of being selected for the honor.

Obviously, there were many years where the speaking line-up demonstrated how the sort of go-getter likely to become class valedictorian was also the same sort of go-getter likely to want to make a graduation speech.

But not every year. And not my graduation year.

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When I tell the story now, I jokingly say that by the time I got to high school graduation, the only message I would have wanted to share with my classmates was something pithy like Fuck off, all of you. And, as I have rehearsed the explanation nowadays, however brassy and outspoken my parents were, I thought that level of candor might have gone beyond their comfort level and thus decided that silence would be the better part of courtesy.

It’s not as if that narrative is too far off the truth.

girls-night-out-quantum-physicsI recall my high school years as miserable ones. My teachers were good, and I’m not going to be so hyper-dramatic as to claim I was entirely friendless or outcast. But the prevailing tone I recall from those years is the unceasing, oppressive  cultural message from my peers that I was too smart for a girl, too ambitious for a girl, and definitely too outspoken for a girl. And despite all my “inappropriate” displays of intelligence throughout my high school career, I think a good number of my peers were shocked to have a girl come out with the #1 class rank, simply on account of my gender.

So yeah, by the time graduation rolled around, I was in no mood to say a fond good-bye to my high school class. Instead, I was ready to close that door and get on to the next stage of my life, in hopes that my intelligence wouldn’t be so scorned and devalued in my college career.*

And yet I know that underneath all the teenage bluster, all the self-protective layers of scorn and judgement I held for my BMW-driving, Reagan-loving classmates, was also a part of me that didn’t want to risk making a speech from a place of fear and exhaustion.  Fear of becoming a target again, of being snickered and whispered at. The exhaustion of feeling as if I was swimming against the tide during so many minutes and hours of my existence. Yeah, I was ready to close the door and move on, but I still can’t tell you how much of that feeling was rooted in a sense of victory and how much in defeat.

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My recollections are prompted by a post today on Everyday Feminism titled 5 Ways Girls are Taught to Avoid ‘Smart.’ The author, Kelsey Lueptow, begins by stating “I started censoring myself in the seventh grade.” She then goes on to outline the cultural mores and messages that help encourage her, and me, and however-many bright, ambitious girls besides, into the habits of self-betrayal and self-suppression.

The list hits some of the highlights you might anticipate: the cultural value placed on female attractiveness, the primacy of the marriage plot as a goal for women’s lives, and the social enforcement of passivity — both through the positive reinforcement of “ladylike” behavior, but also through the negative responses to female displays of intelligence (everything from the infamous “bossy” label to more overt verbal/physical aggression).

It all reminds me of this recent PSA by Verizon that got some airplay a couple months ago:

As Amanda Marcotte analyzes in Slate:

This ad gets a couple of things right. The first thing is that the ad focuses on the parents and not the girls themselves. So much of our efforts in trying to encourage girls end up treating them like they’re the ones who are screwing up, either with too much “body talk” or being lame for playing with certain toys. This ad shifts the focus, arguing that girls are born fine and it’s the rest of us who screw them up.

Just as importantly, despite the punch line of lipstick over science, most of the ad is not reductively focused on body issues and beauty. It’s all too easy to fall back on the notion that the focus on looks alone is what’s holding girls back, in no small part because it allows liberals to hand-wring about the “beauty myth” while simultaneously allowing conservatives to scold about the evils of female vanity and sexuality. But this video tackles a much more insidious force holding girls back: the general pressure on them to be, for lack of a better term, more ladylike. It points out how we not only value beauty, but also prioritize neatness, quiet, and safety in girls while encouraging risk-taking and confidence in boys.

I don’t regret skipping out on the notion of giving a valedictory address. We all make the best choices we can at any given moment in life, and I don’t have the kind of time and energy it would take to start second-guessing this decision and all the other human, possibly-flawed things I have done in my 45 years on this earth.

But I do find myself wondering about the level of self-silencing that existed within that choice, and wondering, as well, how these cultural messages against female intelligence cause me still, even today, to silence myself.

* A hope that, fortunately enough, came to pass. Yay for women’s colleges.

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Image credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1357755/Why-DO-smart-girls-dumb-men.html

On Modulations and Tone

(Quick hit: another proposal due tomorrow, and also much in the way of packing/preparing for the house-sitter. Still, since these grounds will be semi-fallow for a stretch of time, I am compelled to put something up, even if it’s more quotes from others’ writing than words of my own.)

tone_police_sheriffAs I’ve been expressing my outrage over various current issues during the last several weeks, I’ve been aware of a delicate push-pull within my system around the issue of tone: how to speak strongly without “going overboard.” In short, being just a little tiny bit invested in tone policing myself.

Obviously, that investment has only been a few pences’ worth — I know what bullshit tone policing is:

The tone argument is a form of derailment, or a red herring, because the tone of a statement is independent of the content of the statement in question, and calling attention to it distracts from the issue at hand. Drawing attention to the tone rather than content of a statement can allow other parties to avoid engaging with sound arguments presented in that statement, thus undermining the original party’s attempt to communicate and effectively shutting them down.

And, therefore, I don’t do a whole lot of policing myself. But I do a little.

For example, I know I’ve said the phrase “morally repugnant” a few times in the last week as I’ve been responding to SCOTUS’ shenanigans. Plenty strong of a description, I suppose. But a step or two shy of the word I hear in my head to label these decisions and the misogynist world-view they embody: evil. (Yeah, I went there.)

I’ve been lucky thus far not to have anyone outside of myself pull the tone policing card on my writing. If that had occurred, I’d probably have responded with an explanation of the ways that anger is justifiable, appropriate, and even inevitable in situations that reveal the many injustices of the kyriarchy. To quote Do or Die:

Living in a world that reminds you daily of your lesser worth as a human being can make a person very tired and emotional. When someone says something oppressive . . . it feels like being slapped in the face, to the person on the receiving end. The automatic response is emotion and pain. It’s quite exhausting and difficult to restrain the resulting anger. And, frankly, it’s cruel and ridiculous to expect a person to be calm and polite in response to an act of oppression. Marginalized people often do not have the luxury of emotionally distancing themselves from discussions on their rights and experiences. 

[. . .] Now, I’m not saying it’s okay to be abusive, or oppressive in response to a person who fucks up. But anger is valid. Anger is valid, anger is important, anger brings social change, anger makes people listen, anger is threatening, and anger is passion. Anger is NOT counterproductive; being “nice” is counterproductive. Nobody was ever given rights by politely asking for them. Politeness is nothing but a set of behavioral expectations that is enforced upon marginalized people.

And this is all true to my understanding of the world and of human psychology, and of activism and social justice work.

But a day or two ago, I happened across something that puts even another lens on the occasional necessity of outrage and outraged speech.

If you speak about injustice and privileged people get offended, people will condescendingly explain to you that things are easier to hear if you are nice, and that you are more likely to convince people if you speak to them respectfully.

This is true, and often important to keep in mind – but people who say that to you in a conversation about injustice are usually missing the point.

They’re ignoring something fundamentally important about addressing injustice: Sometimes, the goal is not to convince privileged people to treat others better. Sometimes, the goal is to convince marginalized people that the way they are being treated is unjust and that it’s possible to resist.

Now, I’ll admit to the smallest bit of discomfort about the phraseology around “convincing marginalized people . . . that it’s possible to resist.” Something about it rings a bit too close to “white savior” territory for my liking.

Nonetheless, there’s a piece of this that’s really opening my perspective. What are the ways my writing is for the public (it is in a public forum after all), and what are the ways I am the primary beneficiary of my words? How does my writing help me overcome the habits of self-silencing?  Are there times I’m hoping to change minds and hearts, and other times where I have no expectation to “convert” disbelievers but simply need to sound a rallying cry for myself, my friends, my allies? Or sometimes a paradoxical mixture of both those strands?

What my purpose for writing isn’t an either/or but instead is a plurality, a yes/and?

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Image credit: http://thetonepolice.tumblr.com

Melting My Heart

Years and years ago, I saw a Christmas-themed TV commercial where an adorable redhead is running to tell her parents that Santa had arrived! As they walk into the living room to see mountains of gifts piled up, Dad says something about “Those must have been some cookies you left out for Santa last night.” And the adorable redhead says….

Wait, let me do a Youtube check and see if I can embed the punchline for you to see with your own eyes:

(I [heart] the Internet.)

cheese-dogI have remembered this commercial with shocking clarity because it made such a profound impression on me. I, like this fictional Santa, am much more a lover of cheese than of cookies. Y’all may recall that different times throughout my HCG journey I talked about missing cheese, and when I was in that last stage of partial food restriction (fats okay, but still no carbs or grains), the thing I was most happy to bring back into my daily routine was cheese. I’m still having a cheese and egg white omelet for breakfast most mornings,* and there’s plenty of days where my late afternoon protein boost is a cheese stick or two. (Except the days it’s a small container of cashews.)

From childhood into adulthood, when I had toast or an English muffin for breakfast, I would always want to have a slice of melted cheese on top, instead of jelly. And my absolutely favorite food during my childhood was  macaroni and cheese. Lest I oversell the contrast between my childhood self and my sage maturity today, let me be really clear: I have not outgrown that love for mac & cheese. (Nor do I ever want to.)

But, even though I feel greatly abashed and embarrassed to say this — especially on a week when there’s been this whole kerfuffle about the FDA’s attempt (thankfully abandoned) to ban the making of artisanal cheeses — I have a confession to make.

I love Velveeta.

Your toxic kisses make my heart race
Faster than a cheetah
I’ve been stapled and spindled
My willpower’s dwindled
You melt resistance down like hot Velveeta!

~Reefer Madness, “Mary Jane/Mary Lane

I know, I know. Velveeta isn’t even really a cheese. The label on the box says “pasteurized recipe cheese food,” and I don’t know exactly what that means, but I do know it means “not really a real cheese.

And yet, it was a core pillar of my formative cheesy experiences. Something about its peculiar, pasteurized and processed nature gives it that uniquely “liquid gold” melty-ness. So, for many many childhood foods in my memory — the melted sauce for mac & cheese, melting a slice of cheese on top of that English muffin, cheeseburgers on the grill, cheese melted into an omelet for Sunday brunch, or even our cheese fondue on Christmas Eve — Velveeta was part of the recipe.

During those few years when we lived in Brasil, whenever Dad would head stateside for a business trip, we’d send him with an extra-large suitcase. It’d be mostly empty on the flight to the USA, and then would return chock-full of Velveeta cheese blocks and cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. Mom would host her own personal Velveeta cooking festival,** and I, hopelessly picky about food and struggling always to adjust to the heat, the flavors and the concrete surfaces of Sao Paolo, would feel, if only for a few dinners, like I was home.

As years have worn on, I have come more and more to replace Velveeta with really real cheeses in my life. So now, the morning omelet is made with colby-cheddar shred, the afternoon cheese sticks are mozzarella or cheddar, and if I’m melting cheese on top of toast it’ll be swiss or provolone. As for that Christmas Eve fondue? My brother-in-law, who is quite a talented cook but who doesn’t get much of a chance to express that with his work schedule, has taken that over and concocts a new and yummy combination every year.

But still. A block of Velveeta has been a perpetual staple in my fridge for my entire adult life, maintaining its prominence for two specific dishes: mac & cheese and queso. There’s even an unopened package in my fridge right now. (Why do you think it was so easy for me to get the precise wording off the box describing how it’s not really a real cheese?)

I bought it on autopilot right before I started the HCG journey, so it’s been sitting there a while. That hasn’t especially worried me — I figure the expiration date is probably 2023 or something. But I haven’t quite figured out whether I’m going to start eating it again, or toss it out unopened. I’m also not sure which imagined outcome of eating it scares me more: the possibility that my reset palate will find the flavor to be not-very-enjoyable and that my nostalgic love for Velveeta will be tarnished, or the possibility that renewed relationship with Velveeta will slide me right down the rabbit-hole of over-processed food all the time….

Until I can figure that out, I guess the package will just sit there on the bottom shelf of the fridge.

[Post-script] Writing 101, Day 10 prompt:

Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

Obviously, rather than following the suggestion to the letter, I ended up following the thread of a beloved food throughout multiple times and events. I also didn’t fret overmuch about “finding my voice.” If there is nothing else I am certain about in writing JALC, I do know that my voice here is authentic and authentically mine.

I can’t remember if I’ve talked about this before, but every time I sit down to write a post, and every time I feel blank or blocked within the process, the same prayer runs through me like a mantra: “Say it plain, say it true.” And yeah, my version of saying things “plain” is a slightly unusual version of the term.*** But that prayer, that compass guides me to true north. Every time. [/Post-script]

* Okay, it’s really one whole egg and a half-cup of egg whites.

** Our family’s separate body of Campbell’s Tomato Soup cuisine will, alas, have to wait for another day.

*** Perhaps the understatement of the year.

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Image credit: http://veryhilarious.com/i-notice-you-have-cheese/

For Neither Fame nor Money

Five years ago,* I started this blog to create a space for my self-education about fat acceptance, within the larger of context of my ongoing work to increase my capacity for self-acceptance and self-love.

Three months ago,** I came back here to continue that project, but with the more specific goal of using the structure of blogging to remain awake and in the study of my HCG experience as a detox journey, providing a quiet counter-narrative to the usual emphasis on HCG as a weight loss tool.

With the end of my HCG protocol, I’ve been a little bit wondering where to focus my blogging. The Isla Vista killings have provided a temporary focus in the 10 days since I completed my HCG experience, but I know I won’t be spending the rest of my writing life unpacking that one incident and its ramifications.***

So, once again, I’m grappling a bit with the question of “What am I doing here and what is it that I have/want to write about?”

I’m glad to say there’s been no pull towards stopping. I know to my bones that there something in the structure of writing here that has been beneficial for me. But a lot of the the conventional wisdom around blogging — find your niche, stay on target, use it to pitch yourself/your company/your products — just doesn’t mesh with where I’m at.

You see, I have no plans to be monetizing my blog in the foreseeable future. This is perhaps a self-evident statement considering my low reader count, my merely-half-hearted efforts at amplifying posts via social media, and my only-just-beginning level of effort to read all the other great writing out in the blogosphere and participate via follows and comments.

So, aside from the quirkiness that is me, I don’t entirely know what my niche is. And my interests are potentially wide-ranging enough to completely obliterate any hope of “niche” or “focus” or “staying on target.”

Challenge-AcceptedI’ve decided to take part in The Daily Post’s Writing 101 blogging challenge, in hopes that that structure might give a playground to help explore some of this territory. I’ve been looking over some of the archived prompts from recent Blogging 101 and Blogging 201 challenges, and I’m thinking some of those topics might also be fruitful tools for this exploration. (Even if I remain quite fuzzy around what it means to think about establishing a “brand” in this non-business non-monetizing headspace I’m in around my writing.)

I haven’t seen the first Writing 101 prompt, so I’m not sure how easily they’ll mesh with the other sorts of topics I want to be exploring. I do still have more ruminations sparked by Isla Vista, and then there’s events elsewhere in the world that also have me Thinking and Feeling things. If the prompts don’t interweave readily with the ongoing threads of my writing, I’m not quite sure how I’ll handle the time management required by “doubling up” on my posting.**** (And let’s not even get into the fact that I’ve also started re-establishing the daily ritual of morning pages/soul writing.)

I’ll figure all this writing out, one way or another. If nothing else, I can cut back on TV or embrace a little bit of sleep deprivation in my June….

* Give or take a month or so.

** Give or take a week or so.

*** Although there are legitimately a LOT of ramifications that could productively bear some examination.

**** Luckily, WordPress’s scheduling functionality allows me to stagger when things go online — like this very post, which was written in fits and starts over the weekend but has been scheduled to “go up” late Monday morning, East Coast time.

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Image credit: http://bunburyinthestacks.com/challenges/challenge-accepted/

Permission to Speak

One week later and I’m still reading and link-collecting and doing a lot of thinking about the Isla Vista murders. Part of me feels apologetic about this, even self-indulgent. After all, I wasn’t even remotely affected directly by these events. I have no six-degrees-of-separation ties to any of the individuals involved or to the locations where the events occurred. (I mean, yes, I was born in the same state, but we moved away from CA before I turned two, and I have zero sense of myself as a west coaster.* I don’t even know where Santa Barbara is in geographic relation to my birthplace.)

gag orderSo there’s lots of ways that I’m privileged to have some distance from these events: a fact for which I am extremely grateful, and one which also makes me somewhat embarrassed to be giving it such brain-space and blog-space. I even felt the temptation to title “Yet Another Post” from me about these events with some variant on the plea “Stop me, before I post again!

But then I read this post from the Standing on the Side of Love blog.** In it, the author juxtaposes the legacy of Elliot Rodger’s misogynist writings and videos with the passing of Maya Angelou and her legacy of speaking out about the existence and effects of sexual violence. Then both of these events were further counterpointed against the simultaneously bombshell and matter-of-fact observation that in the week prior to writing her post, the blogger herself had been sexually assaulted.

These milestones all occurring this week make it so clear to me that patriarchy still rules our society, that sexual assault and misogyny are not limited to one incident but are a ubiquitous threat, in varying levels, to all of us. The humanity of every person is threatened by this reality. I wanted to share my story both to help me heal personally, and to provide information that yes, all women, and all people of all gender identities might find useful.

And then, in following the links from that post and my Facebook feed, I came across two other sites. First, a report on a study which reveals the way adolescent and tween girls understand (and wildly under-report) sexual harassment “as ‘normal stuff’ that ‘just happens’ because it’s what ‘guys do.'” Then there’s the tumblr analogue of the #YesAllWomen twitter movement: When Women Refuse, a collection of stories about domestic and sexual violence that is intended to demonstrate “that Rodger’s mass murder was not an anomaly, but instead part of a larger cultural pattern of violence against women.”

And I thought about my own checkered history of experiencing sexual violence, street harassment and misogyny. The rape in college. Years in Philly which were very mild, all things considered, but still contained a few catcall/honking incidents, the occasional groping, and a couple drunken “encounters” where I wasn’t entirely sure in my (inebriated) head that it’d be a good idea to “back out now.” And all of that happened soaked in the cultural miasma of a patriarchal system. For example: the many incidents throughout my schooling where the message from peers (and some teachers/administrators) was that I was too smart, too ambitious, too opinionated for a girl to be. And so part of the lessons I took from my childhood were about learning to live small, stay quiet, conceal the truth of my mind’s intelligence and my heart’s wisdom.

I am not sharing this in hopes of earning my own “victim cred,” nor to make a simplistic point about how my past experiences make it “okay” for me to be as deeply affected by last weekend’s events as I have been. Well, maybe it’s a bit of yes and no on that last point. Yes, it’s likely my resonance with these events and the ensuing discourse has been deepened by my own past traumas. But no, I don’t need any sort of excuse to be thinking or feeling deeply about this — or about anything else, for that matter.

It’s a messy tangle, rather than a straight line trajectory (this is why the metaphor to miasma is so present with me right now), but I am certain there’s a web of connections between the cultural expectations of women’s silence,docility, and availability; the patterns of sexual violence, harassment, and patriarchal retribution that have come so harshly to light this past week; and my own instincts towards self-silencing as I considered writing “Yet Another Post” touching on these issues.

But it’s a knot that needs untangling. And so I keep writing — even if sometimes all I’m writing about is about the right to write.

Every hard-fought sentence, every awkward phrase, every word a prayer. May we release this. May we be healed.

* Nope. I’m a New Englander, through and through, no matter what my birth certificate says.

** Yay, Unitarian Universalists!!

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Image credit: http://ravenblackcat.com/blog/2012/5/18/countdown-to-blackout-anxiety-a-gag-order.html