naamah_darling: Glass of tawny port on a table branded with a seven-pointed star. (Port Wine and the Morning Star)
So apparently it is the National Day on Writing, and the theme is "Why I Write."

Way back in 2004, I said the following:

I grew up listening to my mother tell me stories she made up on the spur of the moment to while away time in the car or when I was sick. I would help her tell the stories sometimes, and by the time I was five, I was writing my own stories and illustrating them.

When I went into a school for gifted kids at age eight, there was a creative writing class that we all had to take. We wrote and illustrated books on white printer paper and the teacher bound our books up for us, and voila! We had a real, live book.

In my years at that school, I wrote and illustrated over 30 books. I still have all of them but one -- the one I co-authored with a friend, and she ended up with custody.

The neatest feature of this was that once every couple of months we took our books over to the little kindergarten-1st grade kids and had story time. We read our own books out loud, showed them the pictures, everything. I loved this more than anything. Not being the center of attention, I was very shy, but I loved sharing what I'd written.

It was months before I realized that the other kids didn't like to do it, and it took one of the teachers pointing it out to me to make me realize that the kids loved my books the best. I assume it was because I wrote about cool stuff and had the best pictures, and my books were usually funny. I could also read upside-down, a necessary skill when reading to a classroom full of little kids, so I didn't stutter and stumble through reading my material. I got drafted occasionally to read other peoples' books.

And the feeling of acceptance, of utter happiness, that this gave me, is probably why I persist in doing what I do today.


It was only my fifth LJ entry ever. I swear I've written another entry about it sometime before 2008, but I can't find it and don't have time to go poking around to look.

But that's pretty much it. It wasn't, for me, something I sat down and decided I wanted to do. I always just did it. I've always told stories. Before I could write, I dictated them to my mother, who wrote them down or typed them out on our old Smith-Corona typewriter. It never stopped. I made up stories all the time. I didn't write all of them down. I couldn't have. It was constant.

If you count roleplaying and just hanging out with your characters as storytelling, I still do it pretty much constantly. The actual writing, that's harder, that's plot and action and climax, and it's not easy or something that comes second-nature to me, but it's immensely pleasurable when it's working.

The worst thing about being bipolar, the absolute worst thing, is that either the bipolar itself or the medication seriously interferes with my ability to write. Not stuff like this, journal entries and the like, but fiction, stuff where I have to make things up and make a hundred decisions in a minute. The real stuff, the stuff that makes me feel whole.

There was a time when it was effortless, when I could write between a thousand and five thousand words a day and barely feel it. Now I'm lucky if I can squeeze a thousand out a couple of times a week. It's miserable, like having the thing you love most, the thing that defines you, taken away and dangled just out of reach. Almost there. Almost there. It's sad.

I don't want to end there, on a down note. I want to say something grand and uplifting, something about writing and reading and books, and how these things save people by giving them lives outside of their own lives. I can't think of anything. All I can think of is days spent laying on the warm sidewalk during creative writing class, which we often held outside, concocting wild ideas and laughing with the other kids. If there's a heaven, part of it is exactly that: writing out my stories in pencil on notebook paper, making notes on illustrations I wanted to include, crossing things out and rewriting them, and doing this sheet after sheet after sheet, effortless, over and over, forever, amen. Only in heaven, I will be surrounded by my cats.

The other part of heaven involves things like Ben Barnes and Molly Quinn and Jessica Biel and James Purefoy and Jason Isaacs and probably Tom Jane, too, and riding boots, and ponytails, and stables, and libraries with lots and lots of books, and lots and lots of stern discipline and loving correction and sweet submission and lots and lots of hard, hard fucking. But this is "Why I Write Day," not "Why I Write Porn Day."

Although maybe we need one of those, too.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (BTiLC Crazy Problem)
I feel like I've turned a corner, figured something out about being human that everyone else knows and I had never quite figured out.

I've started asking for what I want and need, and started saying how I really feel. It sounds pathetic, like "Whoa, Jeez, you didn't know that already?" but knowing something and the reality of doing it, making it work in your real everyday life, those are different things.

I've gotten sick of not getting what I want. Which sounds petty and whiny, I guess, but you know, I'm not talking about material things, like a new corset or a new curtain for my room or a nice print to hang over my bed, shit that is nice but that I don't need, I'm talking about real things, emotional things, things of the heart and mind. My life is incredibly frustrating a great deal of the time, between being poor and being crazy. It's made me cranky and it's made me tired.

Over the years, I have developed a method for getting what I want. It is a totally dysfunctional method. I would like to share it with you. Here's how it goes (this part DOES apply to material things, no point in pretending it doesn't):

1) I discover that I need something, or want something very badly. This could be anything at all from new sheets to a new playmate to simply wanting people to include me in a conversation to wanting to go home right now.

2) I hint about needing it.

3) I hope like hell the other person picks up on the hint.

4) If the person doesn't pick up on the hint, I hint harder.

5) Repeat. Each repetition takes away at least one spoon.

It also works in the negative.

1) I discover something I do not want. This could be anything at all from having to go put gas in the car to not wanting someone to touch me to wanting to change the subject to NOT wanting to change the subject to not wanting to tell someone something unpleasant to not answering the phone.

2) I stay very quiet and avoid that thing.

3) I hope like hell that the problem either goes away, or someone else notices it and fixes it so I don't have to.

4) It neither goes away nor gets fixed.

5) I either pay the spoons to do it anyway, or I melt down and say that I never wanted to do it, in which case I am usually told "I didn't know." Which is true. They didn't. I get the blame.

Why would I do that? It's stupid! Except it's not. It's a reaction that has arisen because of the in many ways extremely fucked-up life I have led.

If something is important to me, I don't want to ask for it because I'm afraid I will be told "no."

Historically, this has happened a lot, so it's understandable I would be afraid of it. And it's not "I'm sorry, but no" or "no, thank you" that provokes that fear. It's "You don't need/deserve/really want that. Shut up. Other people are happier with less. Go away."

I also don't like asking for things because I am constantly afraid of either overstepping my limits or of asking too much from someone and creating in them an obligation that they feel they cannot avoid and yet cannot refuse to fulfill.

I am also deathly afraid of being thought of as "needy" or "high-maintenance."

In the case of things I do not want, I am afraid I will seem ungrateful if I decline or refuse, or selfish if I don't want to do/give something. I am afraid that I will seem snotty, I am afraid that I will seem unconscionably rude, I am afraid of interrupting or intruding, and I am very afraid of turning things down that I do not want from one person but would want from another because I am deeply afraid that when I do that, I am turning down A Chance, and I may not get another one. (Which is why it can be really easy to talk me into having sex with you. I am not thinking about what I want. I am thinking about how I will be seen if I refuse, and thinking that I should be grateful to be asked at all because I am convinced that it will never happen again. Which is not that far-fetched. The number of partners I have had? Is low enough it would probably surprise the shit out of you. I need to double it, at least, before I die. I told you, this is extremely dysfunctional.)

So the goal is to get someone to give me what I want/need, without having to ask, and to have them think it was all their idea. Which, when it works, is pretty great, but it doesn't usually work all that well. It's also manipulative, and though some people do need to be handled that way, most people in my life as it is now do not, and so I need to stop doing it. Also, it doesn't work well if you're using that approach to try to get someone to stop doing something that is bothering you. It really, really, really does not. If they are oblivious to the fact that they are doing something that is bothering you, they are not likely to pick up on any hints you might drop. Just, you know, FYI.

A lot of this can be traced back to my childhood, where my physical needs were met very well, but my emotional needs were basically crapped on, and anything I "wanted" emotionally was unimportant. I was a whiner (I really, really was) and the youngest and I was emotionally fragile and difficult, and I responded to the lack of emotional support and powerlessness by being just generally obnoxious, all of which conspired to make me unlikeable, and made people even less likely to want to help me, or listen when I complained . . . which I also was not taught to do effectively -- believe me, until you have seen someone who doesn't know how to do it, you do not understand what a useful skill being able to make your displeasure understood so that people will try to help you really is. I was ridiculed for expressing emotional need to the point that I never learned to express it appropriately. I was told that I was wrong. I was told that I was spoiled, and had nothing to complain about (materially, I did not, I was physically spoiled; emotionally I was not spoiled). I never learned to ask for it. I never learned that it was something I could ask for. And because I never got it, I never learned to take advantage of it when it was there.

The end effect was to make me afraid to ask for anything that was for-real important, because I would either be ignored, made fun of, chastised for needing it, or told that I shouldn't need/want it, or should learn to live without it because being an adult/living in the real world/paying your dues means not having those things. (Which is a lie, by the way, and a nasty thing to tell a child.)

I also learned that asking people to stop doing something awful didn't work. I had only two strategies to deal with that: pitch a complete hissy-fit until they decided it was easier to leave me alone/stop the behavior, or ignore it and hope it went away. Neither of those were particularly effective, and the first was pretty much why nobody liked me.

I hate that shit that happened over twenty years ago can still affect my behavior like this. It seems colossally unfair. It's all times and places and even people who no longer exist, and they should not have that sort of hold over me, but they do.

All of these methods are, you will notice, either ineffective, energy-wasteful, or both. Especially tiring is trying something that doesn't work over and over because that's all you know how to do. (It's also the definition of stupid or crazy, depending on who you ask.)

Lately I've been just tired. Too much fear, too little security, too much uncertainty, too much loneliness and not enough quiet. Add the bipolar mood shit in, and I'm swamped. I'm tired, worn-out, had enough. And I just don't have the energy to fuck around anymore. I need to ask for what I want and get an answer as fast as possible, so that I can save the time I would have spent hoping and hinting, or get to finding some other way to get it, or something else that might do.

And so I have been doing that. And while I am not consistent about it, or very good at it, I am improving, and learning that I can express preferences and dislikes without seeming like a demanding brat. And things have been better. I've actually worked some stuff out that had been bothering me simply by talking it out and saying "how can we make this work better, make it do what we want it to do?"

It's also forced me to admit some of my limits. Which I hate, but it's made things easier.

So . . . here's to learning to do shit that properly socialized human beings don't have a problem with, I guess.

I would really like to outgrow the collars and chains put on me as a child. I would like to be free of all that crap. To live as though things had been good, without tripping over this mess.

*cracks knuckles*

I'm working on it.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (BTiLC Crazy Problem)
I feel like I've turned a corner, figured something out about being human that everyone else knows and I had never quite figured out.

I've started asking for what I want and need, and started saying how I really feel. It sounds pathetic, like "Whoa, Jeez, you didn't know that already?" but knowing something and the reality of doing it, making it work in your real everyday life, those are different things.

I've gotten sick of not getting what I want. Which sounds petty and whiny, I guess, but you know, I'm not talking about material things, like a new corset or a new curtain for my room or a nice print to hang over my bed, shit that is nice but that I don't need, I'm talking about real things, emotional things, things of the heart and mind. My life is incredibly frustrating a great deal of the time, between being poor and being crazy. It's made me cranky and it's made me tired.

Over the years, I have developed a method for getting what I want. It is a totally dysfunctional method. I would like to share it with you. Here's how it goes (this part DOES apply to material things, no point in pretending it doesn't):

1) I discover that I need something, or want something very badly. This could be anything at all from new sheets to a new playmate to simply wanting people to include me in a conversation to wanting to go home right now.

2) I hint about needing it.

3) I hope like hell the other person picks up on the hint.

4) If the person doesn't pick up on the hint, I hint harder.

5) Repeat. Each repetition takes away at least one spoon.

It also works in the negative.

1) I discover something I do not want. This could be anything at all from having to go put gas in the car to not wanting someone to touch me to wanting to change the subject to NOT wanting to change the subject to not wanting to tell someone something unpleasant to not answering the phone.

2) I stay very quiet and avoid that thing.

3) I hope like hell that the problem either goes away, or someone else notices it and fixes it so I don't have to.

4) It neither goes away nor gets fixed.

5) I either pay the spoons to do it anyway, or I melt down and say that I never wanted to do it, in which case I am usually told "I didn't know." Which is true. They didn't. I get the blame.

Why would I do that? It's stupid! Except it's not. It's a reaction that has arisen because of the in many ways extremely fucked-up life I have led.

If something is important to me, I don't want to ask for it because I'm afraid I will be told "no."

Historically, this has happened a lot, so it's understandable I would be afraid of it. And it's not "I'm sorry, but no" or "no, thank you" that provokes that fear. It's "You don't need/deserve/really want that. Shut up. Other people are happier with less. Go away."

I also don't like asking for things because I am constantly afraid of either overstepping my limits or of asking too much from someone and creating in them an obligation that they feel they cannot avoid and yet cannot refuse to fulfill.

I am also deathly afraid of being thought of as "needy" or "high-maintenance."

In the case of things I do not want, I am afraid I will seem ungrateful if I decline or refuse, or selfish if I don't want to do/give something. I am afraid that I will seem snotty, I am afraid that I will seem unconscionably rude, I am afraid of interrupting or intruding, and I am very afraid of turning things down that I do not want from one person but would want from another because I am deeply afraid that when I do that, I am turning down A Chance, and I may not get another one. (Which is why it can be really easy to talk me into having sex with you. I am not thinking about what I want. I am thinking about how I will be seen if I refuse, and thinking that I should be grateful to be asked at all because I am convinced that it will never happen again. Which is not that far-fetched. The number of partners I have had? Is low enough it would probably surprise the shit out of you. I need to double it, at least, before I die. I told you, this is extremely dysfunctional.)

So the goal is to get someone to give me what I want/need, without having to ask, and to have them think it was all their idea. Which, when it works, is pretty great, but it doesn't usually work all that well. It's also manipulative, and though some people do need to be handled that way, most people in my life as it is now do not, and so I need to stop doing it. Also, it doesn't work well if you're using that approach to try to get someone to stop doing something that is bothering you. It really, really, really does not. If they are oblivious to the fact that they are doing something that is bothering you, they are not likely to pick up on any hints you might drop. Just, you know, FYI.

A lot of this can be traced back to my childhood, where my physical needs were met very well, but my emotional needs were basically crapped on, and anything I "wanted" emotionally was unimportant. I was a whiner (I really, really was) and the youngest and I was emotionally fragile and difficult, and I responded to the lack of emotional support and powerlessness by being just generally obnoxious, all of which conspired to make me unlikeable, and made people even less likely to want to help me, or listen when I complained . . . which I also was not taught to do effectively -- believe me, until you have seen someone who doesn't know how to do it, you do not understand what a useful skill being able to make your displeasure understood so that people will try to help you really is. I was ridiculed for expressing emotional need to the point that I never learned to express it appropriately. I was told that I was wrong. I was told that I was spoiled, and had nothing to complain about (materially, I did not, I was physically spoiled; emotionally I was not spoiled). I never learned to ask for it. I never learned that it was something I could ask for. And because I never got it, I never learned to take advantage of it when it was there.

The end effect was to make me afraid to ask for anything that was for-real important, because I would either be ignored, made fun of, chastised for needing it, or told that I shouldn't need/want it, or should learn to live without it because being an adult/living in the real world/paying your dues means not having those things. (Which is a lie, by the way, and a nasty thing to tell a child.)

I also learned that asking people to stop doing something awful didn't work. I had only two strategies to deal with that: pitch a complete hissy-fit until they decided it was easier to leave me alone/stop the behavior, or ignore it and hope it went away. Neither of those were particularly effective, and the first was pretty much why nobody liked me.

I hate that shit that happened over twenty years ago can still affect my behavior like this. It seems colossally unfair. It's all times and places and even people who no longer exist, and they should not have that sort of hold over me, but they do.

All of these methods are, you will notice, either ineffective, energy-wasteful, or both. Especially tiring is trying something that doesn't work over and over because that's all you know how to do. (It's also the definition of stupid or crazy, depending on who you ask.)

Lately I've been just tired. Too much fear, too little security, too much uncertainty, too much loneliness and not enough quiet. Add the bipolar mood shit in, and I'm swamped. I'm tired, worn-out, had enough. And I just don't have the energy to fuck around anymore. I need to ask for what I want and get an answer as fast as possible, so that I can save the time I would have spent hoping and hinting, or get to finding some other way to get it, or something else that might do.

And so I have been doing that. And while I am not consistent about it, or very good at it, I am improving, and learning that I can express preferences and dislikes without seeming like a demanding brat. And things have been better. I've actually worked some stuff out that had been bothering me simply by talking it out and saying "how can we make this work better, make it do what we want it to do?"

It's also forced me to admit some of my limits. Which I hate, but it's made things easier.

So . . . here's to learning to do shit that properly socialized human beings don't have a problem with, I guess.

I would really like to outgrow the collars and chains put on me as a child. I would like to be free of all that crap. To live as though things had been good, without tripping over this mess.

*cracks knuckles*

I'm working on it.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (BTiLC Crazy Problem)
A friend encouraged me to post this in a longer format to my journal so that everyone can see it. To that end, if you find value in it, consider linking to it. You have my permission to link!

This is all stuff that I wish people had said to me just before and after I'd been diagnosed as bipolar: very basic advice for dealing with the time right after diagnosis, or when one is seeking treatment for the first time. This is one of the most densely confusing and frustrating part of being mentally ill: your symptoms are really nasty, and your whole life is upside-down, and you have not yet developed protective routines. You are probably receiving little or no effective treatment. It sucks like Justin Bieber in a wind tunnel.

At this stage people need, above all, to have the confidence to Get Shit Done, and hope is a huge part of that. That's what I'm trying to offer here, so I've tried not to be too heavy. If you want to read discussions of the harder stuff, I discuss that a lot under my lycanthropy tag: lycanthropy. Yes, there's stuff about werewolves in there, mixed in. It's not real hard to tell the difference.

All this is my opinion, and I'm just one person, not a medical authority. The advice here won't apply to every situation or illness or person. If something you read is inapplicable to you and I don't offer an alternative, I'm truly sorry. This is the best I could do, based on my experience. Feel free to offer your own advice in comments so that someone might be able to benefit from it!

People email me a lot for advice, and while I am totally okay with that and while being able to help makes being crazy a little less shitty, I often don't have the resources to deal with these requests in a timely fashion. To that end, I've decided to centralize the advice I tend to give most often so that I can point people here instead of making someone in crisis wait a week for a cogent response. When you are talking about mental health stuff, fast matters.

And, finally, if you need help now, act now. Call a friend, a family member, a doctor, a suicide hotline, email someone you know, write it out, tear up a phone book, stab a pillow, do something. I can't do crisis intervention for people I don't know well. Sometimes I can't do it for people I do know well. I hate to say it so bluntly, but I have my own issues; I'm often flaky and kind of a fuckup. I'm a kindred spirit, sure, but I really can't handle being responsible for another human being. Frankly, it fucking terrifies me. That's why I'm not a parent to anything more complicated than a really annoying cat.

That said, I do care, I care so much about every single person who has to go through this horrible fucking bullshit, which is why I am telling you to take action – any action besides harming yourself (or someone else, but mostly, we are a risk only to ourselves).

That said, on to the good stuff.

This is fucking long, but I'd appreciate folks taking the time to read. )

. . . And with that, I will leave you. I don't think this is adequate, but if I don't post it now, I might never get around to it.

Please link this around or share it with people you think it might help. Twitter, Faceboobs, all that. If you want to friend me, go for it! I never mind comments saying so, but don't feel like you have to ask. I'm good.

A final note: If this gets the traffic I hope it will, I may be slow answering comments and email for a couple days.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (BTiLC Crazy Problem)
A friend encouraged me to post this in a longer format to my journal so that everyone can see it. To that end, if you find value in it, consider linking to it. You have my permission to link!

This is all stuff that I wish people had said to me just before and after I'd been diagnosed as bipolar: very basic advice for dealing with the time right after diagnosis, or when one is seeking treatment for the first time. This is one of the most densely confusing and frustrating part of being mentally ill: your symptoms are really nasty, and your whole life is upside-down, and you have not yet developed protective routines. You are probably receiving little or no effective treatment. It sucks like Justin Bieber in a wind tunnel.

At this stage people need, above all, to have the confidence to Get Shit Done, and hope is a huge part of that. That's what I'm trying to offer here, so I've tried not to be too heavy. If you want to read discussions of the harder stuff, I discuss that a lot under my lycanthropy tag: lycanthropy. Yes, there's stuff about werewolves in there, mixed in. It's not real hard to tell the difference.

All this is my opinion, and I'm just one person, not a medical authority. The advice here won't apply to every situation or illness or person. If something you read is inapplicable to you and I don't offer an alternative, I'm truly sorry. This is the best I could do, based on my experience. Feel free to offer your own advice in comments so that someone might be able to benefit from it!

People email me a lot for advice, and while I am totally okay with that and while being able to help makes being crazy a little less shitty, I often don't have the resources to deal with these requests in a timely fashion. To that end, I've decided to centralize the advice I tend to give most often so that I can point people here instead of making someone in crisis wait a week for a cogent response. When you are talking about mental health stuff, fast matters.

And, finally, if you need help now, act now. Call a friend, a family member, a doctor, a suicide hotline, email someone you know, write it out, tear up a phone book, stab a pillow, do something. I can't do crisis intervention for people I don't know well. Sometimes I can't do it for people I do know well. I hate to say it so bluntly, but I have my own issues; I'm often flaky and kind of a fuckup. I'm a kindred spirit, sure, but I really can't handle being responsible for another human being. Frankly, it fucking terrifies me. That's why I'm not a parent to anything more complicated than a really annoying cat.

That said, I do care, I care so much about every single person who has to go through this horrible fucking bullshit, which is why I am telling you to take action – any action besides harming yourself (or someone else, but mostly, we are a risk only to ourselves).

That said, on to the good stuff.

This is fucking long, but I'd appreciate folks taking the time to read. )

. . . And with that, I will leave you. I don't think this is adequate, but if I don't post it now, I might never get around to it.

Please link this around or share it with people you think it might help. Twitter, Faceboobs, all that. If you want to friend me, go for it! I never mind comments saying so, but don't feel like you have to ask. I'm good.

A final note: If this gets the traffic I hope it will, I may be slow answering comments and email for a couple days.

Not normal.

Dec. 8th, 2010 06:13 am
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Lucian According to Whom?)
Thank you all for your kind words the other night. I haven't been back to reply to comments, but I will try. I will say that it meant a lot to me, what you all said. It genuinely for-real helped, and I feel a lot better today. I don't deserve readers as wonderful as you.

I am still processing a lot of crap.

When I was a teenager I was, like a lot of teenagers, focused on being Rebellious and Outspoken. Thinking back on it, most of the ways in which that manifested are pretty embarrassing, but it was what I wanted, ever since I could remember. I wanted to be different. Unique. Special.

I think a large part of it was my sister. I looked up to her tremendously and at eight years older than me she seemed to have all the answers that an adult would have, but was still not an adult. She was cool. And she was . . . well . . . she was pretty relentlessly different. I admired that, and to me, being "weird" was very, very important. I regarded "normal" with a hate and loathing usually reserved for the unfortunate mutants that crawl out of toxic waste spills in bad movies. My parents were really lenient about a lot of things, so I had a lot of latitude to express myself. In terms of my appearance, clothes, etc., things I chose to collect and buy, I did far more self-censoring than they ever did chastising.

So, in short, my life philosophy could be summed up by "FUCK NORMAL." And to some extent, still can be.

However.

It did not occur to me until very, very recently how many things I thought were normal about my life were not, in fact, normal at all. I mean, I don't think they're normal.

I frequently forgot where my locker was and what the combination was. At least once a week I would have to go to the office and ask them for my locker number and combination. It never occurred to me that this was in any way unusual or alarming.

I forgot what classes I had to go to, and in what order. This happened on more than one occasion; I would go into a classroom and sit down and look at the people next to me and realize I had no idea who they were. This was really, really embarrassing. Again, it never occurred to me that this was a bad sign.

I still have anxiety nightmares about those two things, by the way.

And on many nights each week, especially ones when I had to go to school the next day and had been too tired or pissed off or upset to do my homework and knew I had to get up early to be forced to go somewhere I fucking hated, I would lay in my bed and listen to my favorite music, and I would cry and cry and cry. I never once went to my parents with it. My mom was a major source of pain all on her own, and showing her any vulnerability was out of the question. I was just fucking miserable. So miserable I would sob and sniffle and cry, all while fantasizing about the many ways that someone might swoop in and save me from the life I was having to lead. Sargon lived over a hundred miles away at that point. I had nobody I could talk to. It was so bad that when people showed me kindness, I mistrusted them instinctively; so bad that when I finally figured out they were genuine, the kindness would often move me to tears. I wouldn't cry when my mother yelled at me, but I would cry when some kind teacher gave me a genuine hug and listened to me talk about it. And that, that is what I thought was normal.

I hated school. It was just one big cage. I don't remember specifics as well as I used to. It seems slightly silly in retrospect. But I remember how much I hated it. It didn't help that I was really sick the last year or so. The year and a half long period I had explains about 75% of my absences and naps during class nearly every day. I was so anemic I would lose my breath running from building to building. (Okay, I knew that wasn't normal.)

But most of these things, most of the suck in my life at that time, and during much of my young adulthood going on into my twenties, were caused by what I now know is bipolar II (which is also why my mother was so difficult to live with).

There were good things about going to Catholic school. Discipline was stricter than in any other school I ever went to, and bullying was not tolerated (I got all of that in middle school). People said unkind things about me maybe twice, and on at least one of those occasions, I let the person have it, and they never repeated their mistake. I never once felt afraid of the other students, which is saying something considering how fearful I was in junior high. By and large, I didn't give a shit about their opinions. I think I did better there than I would have anywhere else. The last few months of high school, when I had to transfer to a public school because the Catholic school wouldn't let me attend half-days because of my health, were just fine, but at that point, I'd had 3 1/2 years to learn to deal with other people, and learn not to give a shit.

I still hated it. I mean hated it to the point that I wanted to kill someone or die, myself.

I thought that was normal. I complained about how miserable I was, and nobody did anything. They acted like that was just how things ought to have been. There were some abortive attempts to get me medicated for depression -- largely after I became unmanageably hard to live with, not because I was unhappy -- which failed because treating bipolar II like depression is fail. I had a therapist who listened to me, but they weren't family therapy appointments, which is what we really needed, so that they could maybe have a chance at diagnosing what was wrong with us (two bipolar females, unmedicated, in the same house, having the same fight for alpha status three times a week).

Sargon used to hear us going at it, screaming like wildcats. Somehow, this was never addressed. I knew it wasn't what every kid's life was like, but I never understood just how fucked up it was.

And I blamed myself for a lot of it; there was something wrong with me, I thought, that I couldn't just deal with school like the other kids did. I thought I was weak. Lazy. A loser. It never occurred to me that, no, really, the fact that school and I were a bad match did not mean I was a fuckup.

And tonight I am sitting here wondering what would have happened and how my life would have been different and maybe a lot better if I had decided I wanted to be just a little more normal, in certain particular ways. If some of the broken things in my life had been fixed, instead of left there like they belonged. If it had occurred to me to look at the cognitive problems I was having as what they were: signs of severe depression that went beyond situational and into something very serious, cyclical, and ongoing. If it had occurred to me that the constant fighting was because my mother and I were both genuinely sick and needed help.

How much could have been avoided? How much could have been repaired?

Would I have liked school if I'd been less miserable in general? If I had, I wouldn't have run screaming from college like I did -- I've never taken a single course past high school, I never even sent in any applications -- and my life might now be very different. I might have had insurance when I needed it, might not have had the messy couple of years in my early twenties where I desperately needed psychiatric care and couldn't get it, and might not have had to spend years, literally years, recovering from that. I might not have done some stupid or mean things that I did, and now regret; things that were pretty obviously, in retrospect, related to whatever is wrong with me.

I can't blame anyone; it's all so far in the past, and I surely bear responsibility for some of it. I am not sure I'm even sad about it, really. Sometimes it's just . . . odd. Looking back at your life and seeing everything that you lost, all the opportunities cut away, because of a chain of glaring fuckups and woeful misapprehensions.

A favorite sentiment of intelligent and well-meaning folks everywhere is that our past makes us what we are, and that there's no sense in questioning or dissecting it, or brooding, because all that matters is here, now. And that idea certainly has its place. But there's another idea that gets less lip service, that is hard to articulate, which is that if we don't see the past for what it truly was -- which requires thinking about it and processing it -- we can't learn from it or use it to shape our lives and shape our selves into the wonderful people we supposedly are.

I, personally, believe that, while a shitty past is one path to being a strong, good, wonderful person, there are many people who are all of those things who didn't have to go through that hell. And, too, there are the casualties, the people on the losing side of "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I'm not real fond of anything that paints these people as weak or foolish or bad.

I don't believe it's a result of suffering, but I'm an awesome person. If I had had fewer shitty things going on in my life as a young person, I would probably have way less trouble believing that. I might not be as awesome, but I would be happier. And the irony is that young me would point and laugh at me for choosing happiness over experience, and now me would point and laugh and call her a silly fucking twat, and be absolutely right.

Feh. I don't know what the point of all that was. I've just been thinking, is all. I don't think we should be afraid to think about the might-have-beens; it's too much like not having faith in yourself to have grown up into an awesome person if things had gone better.

I do know some awesome people who didn't have horrible childhoods. Some. But they are truly awesome people. So, you know, I'm inclined to call bullshit on the "suffering breeds good character" thing, which is pretty much the formula that leads people to "But without this bad stuff, you might be DIFFERENT! And LESS AWESOME! You LEARNED SO MUCH!"

I pass on what I know and try to share what awesome I have, in the hopes that I might make someone's life suck less, because that would give that nasty shit some kind of meaning. But just as I care about most folks enough to try to help them not suffer through unnecessary pain, I care about the person I was enough to wish that a lot of things had gone differently.

Not normal.

Dec. 8th, 2010 06:13 am
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Lucian According to Whom?)
Thank you all for your kind words the other night. I haven't been back to reply to comments, but I will try. I will say that it meant a lot to me, what you all said. It genuinely for-real helped, and I feel a lot better today. I don't deserve readers as wonderful as you.

I am still processing a lot of crap.

When I was a teenager I was, like a lot of teenagers, focused on being Rebellious and Outspoken. Thinking back on it, most of the ways in which that manifested are pretty embarrassing, but it was what I wanted, ever since I could remember. I wanted to be different. Unique. Special.

I think a large part of it was my sister. I looked up to her tremendously and at eight years older than me she seemed to have all the answers that an adult would have, but was still not an adult. She was cool. And she was . . . well . . . she was pretty relentlessly different. I admired that, and to me, being "weird" was very, very important. I regarded "normal" with a hate and loathing usually reserved for the unfortunate mutants that crawl out of toxic waste spills in bad movies. My parents were really lenient about a lot of things, so I had a lot of latitude to express myself. In terms of my appearance, clothes, etc., things I chose to collect and buy, I did far more self-censoring than they ever did chastising.

So, in short, my life philosophy could be summed up by "FUCK NORMAL." And to some extent, still can be.

However.

It did not occur to me until very, very recently how many things I thought were normal about my life were not, in fact, normal at all. I mean, I don't think they're normal.

I frequently forgot where my locker was and what the combination was. At least once a week I would have to go to the office and ask them for my locker number and combination. It never occurred to me that this was in any way unusual or alarming.

I forgot what classes I had to go to, and in what order. This happened on more than one occasion; I would go into a classroom and sit down and look at the people next to me and realize I had no idea who they were. This was really, really embarrassing. Again, it never occurred to me that this was a bad sign.

I still have anxiety nightmares about those two things, by the way.

And on many nights each week, especially ones when I had to go to school the next day and had been too tired or pissed off or upset to do my homework and knew I had to get up early to be forced to go somewhere I fucking hated, I would lay in my bed and listen to my favorite music, and I would cry and cry and cry. I never once went to my parents with it. My mom was a major source of pain all on her own, and showing her any vulnerability was out of the question. I was just fucking miserable. So miserable I would sob and sniffle and cry, all while fantasizing about the many ways that someone might swoop in and save me from the life I was having to lead. Sargon lived over a hundred miles away at that point. I had nobody I could talk to. It was so bad that when people showed me kindness, I mistrusted them instinctively; so bad that when I finally figured out they were genuine, the kindness would often move me to tears. I wouldn't cry when my mother yelled at me, but I would cry when some kind teacher gave me a genuine hug and listened to me talk about it. And that, that is what I thought was normal.

I hated school. It was just one big cage. I don't remember specifics as well as I used to. It seems slightly silly in retrospect. But I remember how much I hated it. It didn't help that I was really sick the last year or so. The year and a half long period I had explains about 75% of my absences and naps during class nearly every day. I was so anemic I would lose my breath running from building to building. (Okay, I knew that wasn't normal.)

But most of these things, most of the suck in my life at that time, and during much of my young adulthood going on into my twenties, were caused by what I now know is bipolar II (which is also why my mother was so difficult to live with).

There were good things about going to Catholic school. Discipline was stricter than in any other school I ever went to, and bullying was not tolerated (I got all of that in middle school). People said unkind things about me maybe twice, and on at least one of those occasions, I let the person have it, and they never repeated their mistake. I never once felt afraid of the other students, which is saying something considering how fearful I was in junior high. By and large, I didn't give a shit about their opinions. I think I did better there than I would have anywhere else. The last few months of high school, when I had to transfer to a public school because the Catholic school wouldn't let me attend half-days because of my health, were just fine, but at that point, I'd had 3 1/2 years to learn to deal with other people, and learn not to give a shit.

I still hated it. I mean hated it to the point that I wanted to kill someone or die, myself.

I thought that was normal. I complained about how miserable I was, and nobody did anything. They acted like that was just how things ought to have been. There were some abortive attempts to get me medicated for depression -- largely after I became unmanageably hard to live with, not because I was unhappy -- which failed because treating bipolar II like depression is fail. I had a therapist who listened to me, but they weren't family therapy appointments, which is what we really needed, so that they could maybe have a chance at diagnosing what was wrong with us (two bipolar females, unmedicated, in the same house, having the same fight for alpha status three times a week).

Sargon used to hear us going at it, screaming like wildcats. Somehow, this was never addressed. I knew it wasn't what every kid's life was like, but I never understood just how fucked up it was.

And I blamed myself for a lot of it; there was something wrong with me, I thought, that I couldn't just deal with school like the other kids did. I thought I was weak. Lazy. A loser. It never occurred to me that, no, really, the fact that school and I were a bad match did not mean I was a fuckup.

And tonight I am sitting here wondering what would have happened and how my life would have been different and maybe a lot better if I had decided I wanted to be just a little more normal, in certain particular ways. If some of the broken things in my life had been fixed, instead of left there like they belonged. If it had occurred to me to look at the cognitive problems I was having as what they were: signs of severe depression that went beyond situational and into something very serious, cyclical, and ongoing. If it had occurred to me that the constant fighting was because my mother and I were both genuinely sick and needed help.

How much could have been avoided? How much could have been repaired?

Would I have liked school if I'd been less miserable in general? If I had, I wouldn't have run screaming from college like I did -- I've never taken a single course past high school, I never even sent in any applications -- and my life might now be very different. I might have had insurance when I needed it, might not have had the messy couple of years in my early twenties where I desperately needed psychiatric care and couldn't get it, and might not have had to spend years, literally years, recovering from that. I might not have done some stupid or mean things that I did, and now regret; things that were pretty obviously, in retrospect, related to whatever is wrong with me.

I can't blame anyone; it's all so far in the past, and I surely bear responsibility for some of it. I am not sure I'm even sad about it, really. Sometimes it's just . . . odd. Looking back at your life and seeing everything that you lost, all the opportunities cut away, because of a chain of glaring fuckups and woeful misapprehensions.

A favorite sentiment of intelligent and well-meaning folks everywhere is that our past makes us what we are, and that there's no sense in questioning or dissecting it, or brooding, because all that matters is here, now. And that idea certainly has its place. But there's another idea that gets less lip service, that is hard to articulate, which is that if we don't see the past for what it truly was -- which requires thinking about it and processing it -- we can't learn from it or use it to shape our lives and shape our selves into the wonderful people we supposedly are.

I, personally, believe that, while a shitty past is one path to being a strong, good, wonderful person, there are many people who are all of those things who didn't have to go through that hell. And, too, there are the casualties, the people on the losing side of "that which doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I'm not real fond of anything that paints these people as weak or foolish or bad.

I don't believe it's a result of suffering, but I'm an awesome person. If I had had fewer shitty things going on in my life as a young person, I would probably have way less trouble believing that. I might not be as awesome, but I would be happier. And the irony is that young me would point and laugh at me for choosing happiness over experience, and now me would point and laugh and call her a silly fucking twat, and be absolutely right.

Feh. I don't know what the point of all that was. I've just been thinking, is all. I don't think we should be afraid to think about the might-have-beens; it's too much like not having faith in yourself to have grown up into an awesome person if things had gone better.

I do know some awesome people who didn't have horrible childhoods. Some. But they are truly awesome people. So, you know, I'm inclined to call bullshit on the "suffering breeds good character" thing, which is pretty much the formula that leads people to "But without this bad stuff, you might be DIFFERENT! And LESS AWESOME! You LEARNED SO MUCH!"

I pass on what I know and try to share what awesome I have, in the hopes that I might make someone's life suck less, because that would give that nasty shit some kind of meaning. But just as I care about most folks enough to try to help them not suffer through unnecessary pain, I care about the person I was enough to wish that a lot of things had gone differently.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Angry)
I wrote this a while back and never posted it, partly because it was too rambly and fragmented, partly because it just never felt like time. Now, with all the discussion of bullying and the deaths of an alarming number of young GLBT people, it seems like if not a good moment, then an appropriate one, no matter how rambly it is.

I have much to say about the deaths, much to say about how deadly homophobia and transphobia are to young people, how they have no place in compassionate parenting no matter what your religion says about it. I have a lot to say about bullying. I have a lot to say about how shitty it is to be a child or a teenager, even if you are straight, white, and male, and how nobody wants to actually think about that. I don't know if I will ever find the time or the stomach to do it. This is only a tiny fraction of what should be said. Still, I'll say it.

So. Onward.

. . .

Seen on a church sign near my house this week:

He who angers you, controls you.

Right, right. Heard this one before. It's a variation on "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Wow, is that ever an unhelpful thing to say. Seriously. That is an asshole line if ever there was one.

Let's look at the implied coda:

"Words can't hurt you; you can only let them . . . and you should never let them, or the pain is your own fault. YOU are the problem, not the asshole insulting you. YOU are letting them control you.

This "letting others control you" crap implies all of the following:

* That the listener is not qualified or able to judge when they really are being controlled, and when they are acting in their own best interests.

* That anger is always a wrong reaction to harmful words. (How many of us have been told we need to not be "so angry?")

* That emotional pain is either deserved or is not real. (How many of us have been told that we aren't "really" angry or that we don't "really" hate something or someone?)

My grandmother once told me I didn't really "hate" the kid who gave me a concussion in junior high. Trust me, I hated him. She was just really uncomfortable with the idea that a thirteen-year-old girl was capable of wanting to wind someone's guts around a tire iron and twist it.

But you know what? I was never as angry as I was when I was a teenager, because I was never so trapped and so fucking helpless. I was being bullied constantly. If not actively, then passively. Being ignored, being excluded. I was not actually violent, not really; I never acted on this anger in any way that caused another human being physical pain. But I wished I could. And a huge part of that was that I had no outlet for the frustration and pain, because every time I tried to talk about it, to express it, I was shut down or ignored, often with this "sticks and stones" shit pinned on.

I once spent an hour in religion class being told that the pain I felt when someone insulted me was actually my fault, because I chose to get angry and be hurt. That's when I figured out that if you write "TURN THE OTHER CHEEK" on a piece of magical Paper of Uncomfortable Truths and hold it in front of a mirror, it reads "BLAME THE VICTIM."

It was an attempt to control our emotions by telling us that we were not qualified to judge them. It was an attempt to neuter our anger by telling us that our pain was our own fault, and that defending ourselves was just as bad for us as what hurt us. It was an attempt to shame us out of showing an undesirable emotion. It was a way of maintaining authority over us by telling us what to feel.

They weren't trying to teach us this technique to be helpful. If that religion class been meant to truly help, it would have taught the communication skills needed to defuse and avoid conflict. It would have addressed how to express anger appropriately. It would have taught us how to deal with pain, instead of simply telling us not to feel it.

No such attempts were made. It was just "Try harder to not feel these things that suck." We were told that if we were just good enough people, we could live in the shittiest world conceivable without suffering at all. If, in a feat of emotional bootstrap levitation, we just refused to feel hurt when we were hurt, we would not be hurt. It made no sense to me at all. It still makes no sense to me.

That is not what you tell people you expect to go out and make extraordinary changes in the world. That is what you teach people when you want to control them. And that's bullshit. "Sticks and stones" is a bullshit approach to dealing with pain and anger. Any approach that first puts the burden of evading hurt or anger on the victim, or which tells them to ignore it, is a wrong approach. Factually wrong: it doesn't work for most people. Morally wrong: it causes harm.

Yes, a lot of people express their anger in a negative way – especially young people. I remain convinced that this is because they haven't been taught to deal with it honestly. If someone is told they shouldn't feel anger, period, instead of taught to express anger in a way that is constructive and useful to them, they are probably going to express it negatively. What else do they know how to do? People should absolutely be taught to cope with strong negative feelings, but the goal should never be to eliminate those emotions altogether.

Because of anger's ability to create both positive and negative change, it is usually one of the first three feelings to be censured. (The second is lust, and the third is grief or sorrow, neither of which are considered seemly to admit to feeling in any strength or for any length of time, and all of which are strictly governed in terms of how it is "appropriate" to demonstrate them, for how long, and toward whom. Especially grief, q.v. "Just a cat!" and "Just some actor!" and "Get over it already.") Deny a person their anger, and you are denying them an enormous part of their self.

Because I have resisted allowing others to take that part away from me, I've been accused of being an "angry person." I don't understand this. I don't enjoy being pissed off. I don't go looking for reasons to be pissed off. I don't spend most of my time pissed off. I just don't pretend not to be pissed off when I am pissed off. Apparently that makes me an "angry person."

I do think I am high-tempered, a feature often dismissed as "high-strung," "high-maintenance," "too sensitive," and "overly emotional," or, perhaps, if we're not talking about a woman, "hair-trigger," "discriminating," "brooding," or "moody," all of which completely overlook the great strengths that come with being high-tempered – strengths that will go to waste if you spend your whole life letting other people tell you how to feel.

Maybe I have a different take on this because telling me not to be angry or hurt, to let something go, or to feel differently is doomed to failure. I'm bipolar. I don't have feelings. I have weather fronts. "Choose your attitude" has proven as effective for me as walking outside when it's a hundred and ten in the shade and "choosing" not to be hot.

But that's just it; turning the other cheek doesn't work for everyone. It's great when it does, but it's not a morally superior approach. Insisting that there is something inferior about the people for whom it is a hopeless prospect and telling them that it would work if they just did it right is flat-out malicious.

There's a tendency among people who are really, really good at letting stuff go to think of people who cannot easily detach themselves from their feelings of anger as less enlightened at best, and at worst as actively participating in their own self-destruction.

I hope everyone reading this can see how deeply patronizing that is.

There's also a tendency to conflate anger with hate, which is aggravating as hell.

I don't condone hate – though I understand it and I feel quite a lot of it – but anger, anger I like. We're old friends. Anger is energetic, it is alert without being fearful. When my anger sputters out and is replaced by depression and panic attacks and rancid irritability, I know I'm hitting a bad place. I feel anger when I'm at my most healthy. That alone tells me it is a healthy emotion and serves a vital function.

That there are people out there telling others not to engage in a necessary and natural emotional state is sick.

There's always a finger-wagging disclaimer at the end of articles dealing with the harmless or even beneficial effects of some supposedly unhealthy thing. "A glass of wine with dinner is probably not going to kill you! You actually do need to eat to survive! Sex: fun for everyone! But DON'T OVERINDULGE!" It's kind of like they put that in there so that you have a line or two where nothing important is being said so that you have time to roll your eyes.

Similarly, there's always the warning tacked to the tail end of any conversation about healthy anger which says something about not letting anger control you, often along with a conflation of "angry people" with people who are abusive, and anger with hate. There's a warning about people with Anger Problems – as if the people who tell you not to feel angry are not the single most common anger problem there is. If the author doesn't say it, someone else is sure to in comments: "But anger is so dangerous and negative! We should all be made of sunshine and gratitude, all the time! Anger festers! It's bad for you! BAD!"

I'm not going to say that here. We don't usually warn people about the perils of hope as false guide, or of optimism's occasional inability to see reality as it is, or love which blinds you to a bad person's true nature. We generally don't tell people to shut up about their hopes that things will change. We tolerate people making asses of themselves over love to the point that it's been a major touchstone of storytelling since long before Paris and Helen of Troy. We don't heave bricks at optimists as a sign of our disapproval, even though the temptation can be dire. All of these things – hope, optimism, love – can fuck your shit up just as surely as anger can, and yet we save criticism for the things that, culturally, are considered negative and unseemly, even though they serve a useful function. Specifically, anger and lust and sorrow.

So I ask, as you go about your life, full of emotions, that you remember to leave yourself room – and leave others room – to feel anger, lust, and grief. Feelings, even the "negative" ones, are not states that you should rush through, trying to spend as little time there as possible. People feel these things because they need to. And they have every right to it.

Remember this if you are a parent, especially. Listen to your children, don't dismiss them. Anger and fear and sorrow are adult emotions, not childish ones. That they are having trouble dealing with things is not a sign of their immaturity, it's a sign that they are growing, and they need your help and guidance.

As adults, we tell ourselves and one another that we don't need validation for our feelings. Well, children do. Until at least age twenty. And I'm not kidding about that. Kids, even precocious ones, do not have the emotional sophistication that adults have. They don't have the wiring that allows them to ignore pain, and telling them to ignore it doesn't actually make that rewiring take place. Cumulatively, it does not bring about emotional toughness. It brings about a terrible fragility and a truly pitiful helplessness, because they are being asked to do something that they not only cannot do, but that they should not have to do.

Kids need to be taught to deal with pain, fear, anger, grief. Adults need to remember that these feelings are not bad things to be stamped out.

And there's no reason to single out any particular emotion for warning: any emotion is harmful if you let it control you.

This does not mean we should not feel.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Angry)
I wrote this a while back and never posted it, partly because it was too rambly and fragmented, partly because it just never felt like time. Now, with all the discussion of bullying and the deaths of an alarming number of young GLBT people, it seems like if not a good moment, then an appropriate one, no matter how rambly it is.

I have much to say about the deaths, much to say about how deadly homophobia and transphobia are to young people, how they have no place in compassionate parenting no matter what your religion says about it. I have a lot to say about bullying. I have a lot to say about how shitty it is to be a child or a teenager, even if you are straight, white, and male, and how nobody wants to actually think about that. I don't know if I will ever find the time or the stomach to do it. This is only a tiny fraction of what should be said. Still, I'll say it.

So. Onward.

. . .

Seen on a church sign near my house this week:

He who angers you, controls you.

Right, right. Heard this one before. It's a variation on "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Wow, is that ever an unhelpful thing to say. Seriously. That is an asshole line if ever there was one.

Let's look at the implied coda:

"Words can't hurt you; you can only let them . . . and you should never let them, or the pain is your own fault. YOU are the problem, not the asshole insulting you. YOU are letting them control you.

This "letting others control you" crap implies all of the following:

* That the listener is not qualified or able to judge when they really are being controlled, and when they are acting in their own best interests.

* That anger is always a wrong reaction to harmful words. (How many of us have been told we need to not be "so angry?")

* That emotional pain is either deserved or is not real. (How many of us have been told that we aren't "really" angry or that we don't "really" hate something or someone?)

My grandmother once told me I didn't really "hate" the kid who gave me a concussion in junior high. Trust me, I hated him. She was just really uncomfortable with the idea that a thirteen-year-old girl was capable of wanting to wind someone's guts around a tire iron and twist it.

But you know what? I was never as angry as I was when I was a teenager, because I was never so trapped and so fucking helpless. I was being bullied constantly. If not actively, then passively. Being ignored, being excluded. I was not actually violent, not really; I never acted on this anger in any way that caused another human being physical pain. But I wished I could. And a huge part of that was that I had no outlet for the frustration and pain, because every time I tried to talk about it, to express it, I was shut down or ignored, often with this "sticks and stones" shit pinned on.

I once spent an hour in religion class being told that the pain I felt when someone insulted me was actually my fault, because I chose to get angry and be hurt. That's when I figured out that if you write "TURN THE OTHER CHEEK" on a piece of magical Paper of Uncomfortable Truths and hold it in front of a mirror, it reads "BLAME THE VICTIM."

It was an attempt to control our emotions by telling us that we were not qualified to judge them. It was an attempt to neuter our anger by telling us that our pain was our own fault, and that defending ourselves was just as bad for us as what hurt us. It was an attempt to shame us out of showing an undesirable emotion. It was a way of maintaining authority over us by telling us what to feel.

They weren't trying to teach us this technique to be helpful. If that religion class been meant to truly help, it would have taught the communication skills needed to defuse and avoid conflict. It would have addressed how to express anger appropriately. It would have taught us how to deal with pain, instead of simply telling us not to feel it.

No such attempts were made. It was just "Try harder to not feel these things that suck." We were told that if we were just good enough people, we could live in the shittiest world conceivable without suffering at all. If, in a feat of emotional bootstrap levitation, we just refused to feel hurt when we were hurt, we would not be hurt. It made no sense to me at all. It still makes no sense to me.

That is not what you tell people you expect to go out and make extraordinary changes in the world. That is what you teach people when you want to control them. And that's bullshit. "Sticks and stones" is a bullshit approach to dealing with pain and anger. Any approach that first puts the burden of evading hurt or anger on the victim, or which tells them to ignore it, is a wrong approach. Factually wrong: it doesn't work for most people. Morally wrong: it causes harm.

Yes, a lot of people express their anger in a negative way – especially young people. I remain convinced that this is because they haven't been taught to deal with it honestly. If someone is told they shouldn't feel anger, period, instead of taught to express anger in a way that is constructive and useful to them, they are probably going to express it negatively. What else do they know how to do? People should absolutely be taught to cope with strong negative feelings, but the goal should never be to eliminate those emotions altogether.

Because of anger's ability to create both positive and negative change, it is usually one of the first three feelings to be censured. (The second is lust, and the third is grief or sorrow, neither of which are considered seemly to admit to feeling in any strength or for any length of time, and all of which are strictly governed in terms of how it is "appropriate" to demonstrate them, for how long, and toward whom. Especially grief, q.v. "Just a cat!" and "Just some actor!" and "Get over it already.") Deny a person their anger, and you are denying them an enormous part of their self.

Because I have resisted allowing others to take that part away from me, I've been accused of being an "angry person." I don't understand this. I don't enjoy being pissed off. I don't go looking for reasons to be pissed off. I don't spend most of my time pissed off. I just don't pretend not to be pissed off when I am pissed off. Apparently that makes me an "angry person."

I do think I am high-tempered, a feature often dismissed as "high-strung," "high-maintenance," "too sensitive," and "overly emotional," or, perhaps, if we're not talking about a woman, "hair-trigger," "discriminating," "brooding," or "moody," all of which completely overlook the great strengths that come with being high-tempered – strengths that will go to waste if you spend your whole life letting other people tell you how to feel.

Maybe I have a different take on this because telling me not to be angry or hurt, to let something go, or to feel differently is doomed to failure. I'm bipolar. I don't have feelings. I have weather fronts. "Choose your attitude" has proven as effective for me as walking outside when it's a hundred and ten in the shade and "choosing" not to be hot.

But that's just it; turning the other cheek doesn't work for everyone. It's great when it does, but it's not a morally superior approach. Insisting that there is something inferior about the people for whom it is a hopeless prospect and telling them that it would work if they just did it right is flat-out malicious.

There's a tendency among people who are really, really good at letting stuff go to think of people who cannot easily detach themselves from their feelings of anger as less enlightened at best, and at worst as actively participating in their own self-destruction.

I hope everyone reading this can see how deeply patronizing that is.

There's also a tendency to conflate anger with hate, which is aggravating as hell.

I don't condone hate – though I understand it and I feel quite a lot of it – but anger, anger I like. We're old friends. Anger is energetic, it is alert without being fearful. When my anger sputters out and is replaced by depression and panic attacks and rancid irritability, I know I'm hitting a bad place. I feel anger when I'm at my most healthy. That alone tells me it is a healthy emotion and serves a vital function.

That there are people out there telling others not to engage in a necessary and natural emotional state is sick.

There's always a finger-wagging disclaimer at the end of articles dealing with the harmless or even beneficial effects of some supposedly unhealthy thing. "A glass of wine with dinner is probably not going to kill you! You actually do need to eat to survive! Sex: fun for everyone! But DON'T OVERINDULGE!" It's kind of like they put that in there so that you have a line or two where nothing important is being said so that you have time to roll your eyes.

Similarly, there's always the warning tacked to the tail end of any conversation about healthy anger which says something about not letting anger control you, often along with a conflation of "angry people" with people who are abusive, and anger with hate. There's a warning about people with Anger Problems – as if the people who tell you not to feel angry are not the single most common anger problem there is. If the author doesn't say it, someone else is sure to in comments: "But anger is so dangerous and negative! We should all be made of sunshine and gratitude, all the time! Anger festers! It's bad for you! BAD!"

I'm not going to say that here. We don't usually warn people about the perils of hope as false guide, or of optimism's occasional inability to see reality as it is, or love which blinds you to a bad person's true nature. We generally don't tell people to shut up about their hopes that things will change. We tolerate people making asses of themselves over love to the point that it's been a major touchstone of storytelling since long before Paris and Helen of Troy. We don't heave bricks at optimists as a sign of our disapproval, even though the temptation can be dire. All of these things – hope, optimism, love – can fuck your shit up just as surely as anger can, and yet we save criticism for the things that, culturally, are considered negative and unseemly, even though they serve a useful function. Specifically, anger and lust and sorrow.

So I ask, as you go about your life, full of emotions, that you remember to leave yourself room – and leave others room – to feel anger, lust, and grief. Feelings, even the "negative" ones, are not states that you should rush through, trying to spend as little time there as possible. People feel these things because they need to. And they have every right to it.

Remember this if you are a parent, especially. Listen to your children, don't dismiss them. Anger and fear and sorrow are adult emotions, not childish ones. That they are having trouble dealing with things is not a sign of their immaturity, it's a sign that they are growing, and they need your help and guidance.

As adults, we tell ourselves and one another that we don't need validation for our feelings. Well, children do. Until at least age twenty. And I'm not kidding about that. Kids, even precocious ones, do not have the emotional sophistication that adults have. They don't have the wiring that allows them to ignore pain, and telling them to ignore it doesn't actually make that rewiring take place. Cumulatively, it does not bring about emotional toughness. It brings about a terrible fragility and a truly pitiful helplessness, because they are being asked to do something that they not only cannot do, but that they should not have to do.

Kids need to be taught to deal with pain, fear, anger, grief. Adults need to remember that these feelings are not bad things to be stamped out.

And there's no reason to single out any particular emotion for warning: any emotion is harmful if you let it control you.

This does not mean we should not feel.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Key)
We went to the Philbrook Museum tonight to see "To Live Forever," the traveling Egyptian exhibit on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.

It was a lovely small exhibit, beautifully curated and displayed. This wasn't the elaborate and frighteningly expensive work done in gold and enamel for which Egypt was justly famed. Most of it was wood or stone or Egyptian faience (the vividness of the colors on the blue figures was especially startling -- its hard for me to get a comparably vivid blue out of materials available to me today), mostly cheaper materials, middling to good quality, very little that was actually of precious materials. Though there were many very old pieces, quite a bit of it was from the late period, when artistic quality had both begun to decline and had also begun to exhibit recognizable outside influence. Most of the burials represented were those of middle-class to wealthy-but-not-astronomically-so individuals, so it was an interesting look at what more common sorts of grave goods were like.

Exhibits like this are meant to prompt one to meditate on the nature of life, on notions of the afterlife and immortality, and the human wish to transcend death. But it isn't the lives and thoughts of the people buried who pluck at me. It's the lives of the people who populated the funerals with a lifetime in miniature: food, games, servants, pets, makeup, ornaments. The craftsmen and artists who created these items, and who are not even known to us by name, just by a thing that their hands touched, three thousand years ago.

There were a couple of lovely painted wooden sarcophagi. It's amazing to me how little techniques have changed. The boards were fitted together, sanded, gessoed, sanded again, and then painted upon. I do my boxes like that. It puts what I do into a continuity that has lasted for thousands of years. I've never really felt that before. It really touched me.

There was a particularly interesting painting on a board formerly part of a sarcophagus that showed the guidelines and so forth, painted in before the final design was applied, and that same piece you can see the black writing looks so new it still has a kind of "wet edges" look to it. The paint was all pretty high-quality. You can tell that it had excellent flow and low viscosity, and probably really good cling and draw on the reed brushes . . . it must have been very much like gouache, although there are places on the larger sarcophagus where you can see that it was thick enough to have a dimensional quality, making the patterns ever so slightly raised; that paint must have been considerably thicker, but the designs made with it were also a lot larger.

There was a place on that panel where the artist had rendered several white jars with black spots on them, and examining it closely I could see the very deliberate drybrush technique used, where some of the spots were very dark and the rest had obviously been done as the paint wore off the reed. I looked at it for quite some time trying to discern if he had done it the way I have been known to: make a few dark spots, then use my finger to pick up and move the pigment. I don't think so; there was no trace of fingerprinting. But it was really something to look at that board and see the odd drip or cleaned-up smear, evidence of something understandably human among the strange figures and unreadable writing.

Egyptian art was quite stylized and contains elements that we associate with "primitive" art, but it is a terrible mistake to think of it as unsophisticated. Their techniques were anything but primitive. There are things they did with goldwork that we have only learned to reproduce in the last century or so. These were people who knew what they were doing and knew how to do it very well.

I've done a number of Egyptian-styled pieces. The only flat piece I still have is an acrylic painting of Sekhmet done on black matboard, and I have a blue, pink and yellow box with Isis on it that is rather less complicated, and a small gold, blue, and pink box with a cobra on top and dancing dung beetles on the sides. I can tell you from experience, it is not as simple as it looks, just as any highly-developed style is not as simple as it looks.

And these things lasted. There were still flakes of paint trapped in the corners of many of the statues, on many of the carved stone reliefs. Many of the little faience figures looked new.

There was also one of the highly-stylized ancient African goddess figures, five thousand years old, her arms raised, the head shaped like the hook of a vulture's beak. That was particularly moving. I think it was the oldest thing there.

There is something humbling about being in the presence of things like this. One wonders if the scribes, the craftsmen, the painters, the stonecarvers, the people who made these things, really did believe that the objects they made would be kept and used in the afterlife, seen by the deceased. Did they really think that anything they made would truly last forever? Or would this seem as incredible to them looking forward as it seems to us looking back, that a humble sistrum or bracelet or makeup spoon would have survived, emissary of a time known largely through the deaths of its people, not their lives? Did they have any idea that, hundreds and thousands of years later, people would be looking at their handiwork?

Will anything I make last that long? It causes me enough dizziness to try to imagine the people who own my painted boxes passing them down through their families, as I hope they will; to try to imagine people two or three generations from now who will not know anything about me at all, but will have seen and held something that I made. It is hard enough to imagine that kind of immortality (though it is something I dearly wish for, that my work will be cherished not just by the present owners but by those who come after them). I can't even fathom thousands of years passing, then someone pulling a thing that I made out of the dark in almost perfect condition, its colors still vivid, brushstrokes visible, and suddenly a part of me is there.

We can labor our whole lives on our masterworks and not be assured of the level of immortality that something like this gives to some tired sculptor who made little ceramic hippopotamuses.

When you are any kind of artist, probably any kind of human at all, you always wonder what will last the longest out of all the things you have made. What one thing of mine will carry awareness of my existence the furthest? What will be my little blue hippopotamus?
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Key)
We went to the Philbrook Museum tonight to see "To Live Forever," the traveling Egyptian exhibit on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.

It was a lovely small exhibit, beautifully curated and displayed. This wasn't the elaborate and frighteningly expensive work done in gold and enamel for which Egypt was justly famed. Most of it was wood or stone or Egyptian faience (the vividness of the colors on the blue figures was especially startling -- its hard for me to get a comparably vivid blue out of materials available to me today), mostly cheaper materials, middling to good quality, very little that was actually of precious materials. Though there were many very old pieces, quite a bit of it was from the late period, when artistic quality had both begun to decline and had also begun to exhibit recognizable outside influence. Most of the burials represented were those of middle-class to wealthy-but-not-astronomically-so individuals, so it was an interesting look at what more common sorts of grave goods were like.

Exhibits like this are meant to prompt one to meditate on the nature of life, on notions of the afterlife and immortality, and the human wish to transcend death. But it isn't the lives and thoughts of the people buried who pluck at me. It's the lives of the people who populated the funerals with a lifetime in miniature: food, games, servants, pets, makeup, ornaments. The craftsmen and artists who created these items, and who are not even known to us by name, just by a thing that their hands touched, three thousand years ago.

There were a couple of lovely painted wooden sarcophagi. It's amazing to me how little techniques have changed. The boards were fitted together, sanded, gessoed, sanded again, and then painted upon. I do my boxes like that. It puts what I do into a continuity that has lasted for thousands of years. I've never really felt that before. It really touched me.

There was a particularly interesting painting on a board formerly part of a sarcophagus that showed the guidelines and so forth, painted in before the final design was applied, and that same piece you can see the black writing looks so new it still has a kind of "wet edges" look to it. The paint was all pretty high-quality. You can tell that it had excellent flow and low viscosity, and probably really good cling and draw on the reed brushes . . . it must have been very much like gouache, although there are places on the larger sarcophagus where you can see that it was thick enough to have a dimensional quality, making the patterns ever so slightly raised; that paint must have been considerably thicker, but the designs made with it were also a lot larger.

There was a place on that panel where the artist had rendered several white jars with black spots on them, and examining it closely I could see the very deliberate drybrush technique used, where some of the spots were very dark and the rest had obviously been done as the paint wore off the reed. I looked at it for quite some time trying to discern if he had done it the way I have been known to: make a few dark spots, then use my finger to pick up and move the pigment. I don't think so; there was no trace of fingerprinting. But it was really something to look at that board and see the odd drip or cleaned-up smear, evidence of something understandably human among the strange figures and unreadable writing.

Egyptian art was quite stylized and contains elements that we associate with "primitive" art, but it is a terrible mistake to think of it as unsophisticated. Their techniques were anything but primitive. There are things they did with goldwork that we have only learned to reproduce in the last century or so. These were people who knew what they were doing and knew how to do it very well.

I've done a number of Egyptian-styled pieces. The only flat piece I still have is an acrylic painting of Sekhmet done on black matboard, and I have a blue, pink and yellow box with Isis on it that is rather less complicated, and a small gold, blue, and pink box with a cobra on top and dancing dung beetles on the sides. I can tell you from experience, it is not as simple as it looks, just as any highly-developed style is not as simple as it looks.

And these things lasted. There were still flakes of paint trapped in the corners of many of the statues, on many of the carved stone reliefs. Many of the little faience figures looked new.

There was also one of the highly-stylized ancient African goddess figures, five thousand years old, her arms raised, the head shaped like the hook of a vulture's beak. That was particularly moving. I think it was the oldest thing there.

There is something humbling about being in the presence of things like this. One wonders if the scribes, the craftsmen, the painters, the stonecarvers, the people who made these things, really did believe that the objects they made would be kept and used in the afterlife, seen by the deceased. Did they really think that anything they made would truly last forever? Or would this seem as incredible to them looking forward as it seems to us looking back, that a humble sistrum or bracelet or makeup spoon would have survived, emissary of a time known largely through the deaths of its people, not their lives? Did they have any idea that, hundreds and thousands of years later, people would be looking at their handiwork?

Will anything I make last that long? It causes me enough dizziness to try to imagine the people who own my painted boxes passing them down through their families, as I hope they will; to try to imagine people two or three generations from now who will not know anything about me at all, but will have seen and held something that I made. It is hard enough to imagine that kind of immortality (though it is something I dearly wish for, that my work will be cherished not just by the present owners but by those who come after them). I can't even fathom thousands of years passing, then someone pulling a thing that I made out of the dark in almost perfect condition, its colors still vivid, brushstrokes visible, and suddenly a part of me is there.

We can labor our whole lives on our masterworks and not be assured of the level of immortality that something like this gives to some tired sculptor who made little ceramic hippopotamuses.

When you are any kind of artist, probably any kind of human at all, you always wonder what will last the longest out of all the things you have made. What one thing of mine will carry awareness of my existence the furthest? What will be my little blue hippopotamus?
naamah_darling: Still from The Last Unicorn animated movie of a springtime forest with a path leading through it. (Road Home)
I sprained my little toe on Thursday. Might be broken, even, since breaks in tiny bones aren't always terribly painful. It bruised in a really weird pattern and it hurts to put any weight on it, but just sitting here it doesn't hurt and I can actually still walk, so I'm not terribly concerned.

Saw my Dad yesterday. We're a lot alike, despite having had lives so very different from each other's, and despite widely different areas of expertise. My dad is organized and mathematical. I am disorganized and intuitive, and I suck at numbers.

At Dad's place . . . you know, I lived there for 18 years, and there is nothing of me there any longer. It's still got all my parents' stuff in it, even a lot of my mom's stuff that dad doesn't use, but nothing of mine. The room that was mine last isn't really used for anything important. It's stopped even feeling weird, like my stuff should be there, you know? It's like a place I never really lived. Only the shutters on the window and the bathroom heater really remind me of when I was there. I'm slow to lose associations like that, but it's been a long time. I don't expect Mom to be there any longer, either, which is a relief, but the house -- for all that it is full of interesting stuff -- feels so empty.

Dad still hasn't taken mom's purse off the doorknob where she used to hang it whenever she came home. Not in all this time. There's a painting in her studio upstairs -- which is sort of falling apart -- that she must have started right before she got too sick to paint. I can't even tell what it was going to be. It's just a mess of clashing colors coming up from the lower right side and covering about half the canvas. Hell, I'm not even 100% sure it was hers, because it looks nothing like anything else I ever saw her do, but it's in her studio and it looks like oil paint, and . . . I don't know. I went upstairs looking for something else and I saw it and I just . . . I wish I knew what she had meant it to be, because I couldn't make any sense of it at all, and that bothers me.
+
I came home with a bunch of her costume jewelry and interesting junk, including a beautiful little jewelry cabinet. Nothing of any real value, but some of it is fun and will make good pirate treasure if nothing else.

I don't know. It's moved past being something that upsets me because I miss her and is now more like . . . being reminded of it sucks because she was a huge part of my life, and these days I feel an awful lot like life is just slipping past me without any way to hold it back, so things that remind me of that make me sad.

I see a kind of echo of that in her purse on the door, like she's going to grab it any minute and ask if I want to go for a drive, no reason, let's just get in the car and go. I still remember the exact sound of her keys, but haven't had the guts to see if they're in the purse.

I see it in the unfinished painting, sitting there, so unfinished as to be meaningless except for context. That's what bothers me. She wasn't finished doing stuff, and all the stuff she left behind is stuff nobody else can finish.

And despite what people tend to say when folks talk about unfinished business and deceased parents, I don't want to finish her work. Not even metaphorically. I love her. Present tense. Always will. But I'm not her. I'm not an extension of her. I don't want to be her. I've spent years trying not to be her, despite how many of her dysfunctions I share. I've spent years trying to have a better life than she did, spurred in no small part by her difficult example, full of failures and betrayal. I've spent years telling myself, teaching myself, that I don't have to be her, even though I sometimes feel I have no choice.

I have my own stuff to finish. I have my own life to live. But I've noticed lately that I sometimes sound like her when I laugh.
naamah_darling: Still from The Last Unicorn animated movie of a springtime forest with a path leading through it. (Road Home)
I sprained my little toe on Thursday. Might be broken, even, since breaks in tiny bones aren't always terribly painful. It bruised in a really weird pattern and it hurts to put any weight on it, but just sitting here it doesn't hurt and I can actually still walk, so I'm not terribly concerned.

Saw my Dad yesterday. We're a lot alike, despite having had lives so very different from each other's, and despite widely different areas of expertise. My dad is organized and mathematical. I am disorganized and intuitive, and I suck at numbers.

At Dad's place . . . you know, I lived there for 18 years, and there is nothing of me there any longer. It's still got all my parents' stuff in it, even a lot of my mom's stuff that dad doesn't use, but nothing of mine. The room that was mine last isn't really used for anything important. It's stopped even feeling weird, like my stuff should be there, you know? It's like a place I never really lived. Only the shutters on the window and the bathroom heater really remind me of when I was there. I'm slow to lose associations like that, but it's been a long time. I don't expect Mom to be there any longer, either, which is a relief, but the house -- for all that it is full of interesting stuff -- feels so empty.

Dad still hasn't taken mom's purse off the doorknob where she used to hang it whenever she came home. Not in all this time. There's a painting in her studio upstairs -- which is sort of falling apart -- that she must have started right before she got too sick to paint. I can't even tell what it was going to be. It's just a mess of clashing colors coming up from the lower right side and covering about half the canvas. Hell, I'm not even 100% sure it was hers, because it looks nothing like anything else I ever saw her do, but it's in her studio and it looks like oil paint, and . . . I don't know. I went upstairs looking for something else and I saw it and I just . . . I wish I knew what she had meant it to be, because I couldn't make any sense of it at all, and that bothers me.
+
I came home with a bunch of her costume jewelry and interesting junk, including a beautiful little jewelry cabinet. Nothing of any real value, but some of it is fun and will make good pirate treasure if nothing else.

I don't know. It's moved past being something that upsets me because I miss her and is now more like . . . being reminded of it sucks because she was a huge part of my life, and these days I feel an awful lot like life is just slipping past me without any way to hold it back, so things that remind me of that make me sad.

I see a kind of echo of that in her purse on the door, like she's going to grab it any minute and ask if I want to go for a drive, no reason, let's just get in the car and go. I still remember the exact sound of her keys, but haven't had the guts to see if they're in the purse.

I see it in the unfinished painting, sitting there, so unfinished as to be meaningless except for context. That's what bothers me. She wasn't finished doing stuff, and all the stuff she left behind is stuff nobody else can finish.

And despite what people tend to say when folks talk about unfinished business and deceased parents, I don't want to finish her work. Not even metaphorically. I love her. Present tense. Always will. But I'm not her. I'm not an extension of her. I don't want to be her. I've spent years trying not to be her, despite how many of her dysfunctions I share. I've spent years trying to have a better life than she did, spurred in no small part by her difficult example, full of failures and betrayal. I've spent years telling myself, teaching myself, that I don't have to be her, even though I sometimes feel I have no choice.

I have my own stuff to finish. I have my own life to live. But I've noticed lately that I sometimes sound like her when I laugh.
naamah_darling: Lucian from Underworld next to a snarling wolf. From the dark into the black, throwbacks always have to go. (Lucian Throwbacks)
I was reading this article yesterday about the wolves of Denali National Park in Alaska. The narrative is unflinching in its description of hunting practices, and it's also very long. It's worthwhile though: thought-provoking, sad, and beautiful. It's from January, but the central conflict – conservationists vs. hunters* – is one that is still very much alive. It is also one I have mixed feelings about.

Hunting non-threatened animals for sport or subsistence is all fine and dandy, but despite it being a non-threatened species, the wolf's fate has too often been put into the hands of people with no intention of managing it responsibly, who do not have the wolf's best interests at heart. Therefore, though I may think hunting is okay, I very seldom come down on the side of local governments who wish to profit from a particular style of wildlife management and the lawmakers who would strip wolves of their protection to facilitate this.

Perhaps it sounds foolish, but I often feel that how we treat wild animals, especially the large carnivores, mirrors in some way how we treat women. It seems particularly acute to me when we are talking about the wolf, a grossly misunderstood animal whose recolonization of the lower 48 states is bitterly contested and the hunting of which in Alaska is so furiously debated.

And so when I read this in the article, I felt a stab between my ribs:

It sounds brutal, but Coke swears he loves wolves. As a hunter and guide, he just loves them differently. "I love Dall sheep, too," he says, "but I shoot them because they're food on the planet and a beautiful trophy."


Immediately on reading that my mind shot straight to the countless times I have heard a man voice some sickening, heartless, misogynist opinion, only to follow it up with, or preface it with, "I love women."

Substitute women for sheep, pussy for food, and replace shoot with fuck or hurt or exploit or otherwise use, and it doesn't sound so different, does it? The love of something only for its usefulness, availability, and its value as a prestige object. Trophy game, trophy wives.

Do you love the wolf? Do you love them because they are what they are, because they are free, because they are like us in so many ways, because they can think and grieve and love? Do you love them only when you can manage them, use them for your own purposes, when you can control them, their breeding, their territories? Do you respect them, or do you enjoy them only so far as their lives and appetites don't offend your sensibilities or interfere with your own, so long as you don't think they are trying to take anything from you?

How about women?

You can love something and not mistake it for something human. You can love animals without seeing them as anything other than a consumable resource, individual only in their cleverness at evading pursuit, or their particular flavor of submission. You can love women the same way. Love the idea of something, what it means to you, what it will gain you, more than you love the actuality of it, more than you respect its right to be what it is.

And that's how so many sexist jackoffs "love" women. Like you love a pet.

In a world where people will risk their lives trying to save their dogs, yes, I believe that one can truly love a thing one doesn't think of as human. But people who say they "love" women while denying them their humanity are perceiving some otherness about women that is not actually there. They believe women are fundamentally different, and they try to play this off as a positive, as though these differences make women categorically more desirable, as though fuckability were the highest compliment one could pay a human being, and as though putting women on a pedestal above men is less dehumanizing than considering them inferior in every way. These perceived differences, positive or not, become a justification for enforcing all kinds of rules and restrictions on human minds and our bodies.

It also becomes a basis for withdrawing support, should that difference cause too much friction. Culturally, we tolerate wildness in animals only so far as it does not cause them to challenge us, and only so long as it does not make them so clever that they won't come out to be decently shot when we want to shoot them. Women are treated much the same, regarded as bitchy or pushy or castrating whenever we demand to be treated as human beings. Men who "love" women but treat them like animals . . . do they love the women who do not act as they believe women should? Show any sign of justifiable anger, put your foot down, turn a man away, and suddenly you are a real troublemaker. In fact, it often seems incomprehensible to these people that women a) are unhappy about how they are treated, and b) might actually deserve to be treated better. As a friend's ex-husband said: "Oh, I get it! You women want to be treated like people!"

Oh, you mean the people that we are? Yeah. Yeah, we do. Imagine that, us wanting to be treated with respect.

I think about that hunter who "loves" wolves, and who kills them. I think about that, and I wonder if it is "love" when a life is less important than a man's desire to use that living thing however they like. I wonder if "love" is the right word for a feeling so conditional and so easily withdrawn when the particular thing is no longer useful. How can it be "love" when the individual creature can be so easily tossed aside in favor of the next, and the next, and the next? I wonder how a person can still say that they "love" women when it's all about the passion the desired thing raises in them, and not about a mutual expression of shared humanity. I wonder how a person can say they "love" wolves when all their knowledge about wolves and the wilderness in which they live serves only to make it easier for that person to find and kill them, when that is their desired consummation.

I don't understand the belief that women were put here for the use of men, whether that use is to fuck or bear children or do laundry. I don't understand the mindset that believes that wolves were put here to look beautiful or to be shot for sport or even as "guides" representing some passionate spiritual ideal.

It's not that I think women shouldn't do laundry or fuck or have kids, or that wanting those things is bad, or that if you would like a woman to do those things for you, you are automatically a sexist shitheel. It's not that I think that wolves aren't beautiful or should never ever be hunted or that they can't be spiritually significant. It's just that I don't mistake a thing's existence for availability, or its usefulness for its purpose. No living thing's justification for existence derives from its usefulness to another thing. No group's justification for existence derives from its usefulness to another group. A lack of usefulness is not condemnation.

I don't know. Perhaps I'm offending one side or another here, perhaps I'm getting things all tail-turned-front and not making a lick of sense. Perhaps I'm being self-centered and narcissistic and thinking too much. Perhaps I'm comparing two things to the benefit of neither. But for me, personally, such a great part of my appreciation for the wolf comes from my appreciation for women, and vice-versa, that I can't think I'm entirely on the wrong trail here.

"Mankind" may have domesticated the dog, which is, of course, man's best friend. Wolves still remain wild animals, not the property of men, and women desperately need to learn how to become wild. If there was ever a wild creature more suited to teach us that, I don't know what it would be.

* Conservationists vs. hunters in the context of the article and in the context of wolf hunting specifically. In a wider sense, there is often no difference between a responsible hunter and a conservationist. How can you hunt if there are no animals and no land? I do not make the mistake of assuming that hunters are the enemy of conservation when they have been the driving force behind so much of what has actually gotten done.

ETA: Just so you all who don't know me well don't mistake me, I don't have a problem with hunting, even hunting of predator animals, provided the population can sustain it and provided it is done responsibly. I don't want anyone to think that I'm saying all hunters are bad, or have the attitude problem I am describing here, any more than all men have an especially shitty attitude about women -- or even that the one is as common as the other. I'm also not saying that all hunters have problems with women. I'm just saying that the set of assumptions and the following thought processes that lead a man like Coke to describe and appreciate a sheep only in terms of its usefulness to him -- food, prestige -- and allow him to shoot from his front porch a she-wolf who had come to investigate a recording of wolf cries simply because she was right there, is pretty clearly similar to the thought process that allows some men to view women the same way -- as things to be taken advantage of.
naamah_darling: Lucian from Underworld next to a snarling wolf. From the dark into the black, throwbacks always have to go. (Lucian Throwbacks)
I was reading this article yesterday about the wolves of Denali National Park in Alaska. The narrative is unflinching in its description of hunting practices, and it's also very long. It's worthwhile though: thought-provoking, sad, and beautiful. It's from January, but the central conflict – conservationists vs. hunters* – is one that is still very much alive. It is also one I have mixed feelings about.

Hunting non-threatened animals for sport or subsistence is all fine and dandy, but despite it being a non-threatened species, the wolf's fate has too often been put into the hands of people with no intention of managing it responsibly, who do not have the wolf's best interests at heart. Therefore, though I may think hunting is okay, I very seldom come down on the side of local governments who wish to profit from a particular style of wildlife management and the lawmakers who would strip wolves of their protection to facilitate this.

Perhaps it sounds foolish, but I often feel that how we treat wild animals, especially the large carnivores, mirrors in some way how we treat women. It seems particularly acute to me when we are talking about the wolf, a grossly misunderstood animal whose recolonization of the lower 48 states is bitterly contested and the hunting of which in Alaska is so furiously debated.

And so when I read this in the article, I felt a stab between my ribs:

It sounds brutal, but Coke swears he loves wolves. As a hunter and guide, he just loves them differently. "I love Dall sheep, too," he says, "but I shoot them because they're food on the planet and a beautiful trophy."


Immediately on reading that my mind shot straight to the countless times I have heard a man voice some sickening, heartless, misogynist opinion, only to follow it up with, or preface it with, "I love women."

Substitute women for sheep, pussy for food, and replace shoot with fuck or hurt or exploit or otherwise use, and it doesn't sound so different, does it? The love of something only for its usefulness, availability, and its value as a prestige object. Trophy game, trophy wives.

Do you love the wolf? Do you love them because they are what they are, because they are free, because they are like us in so many ways, because they can think and grieve and love? Do you love them only when you can manage them, use them for your own purposes, when you can control them, their breeding, their territories? Do you respect them, or do you enjoy them only so far as their lives and appetites don't offend your sensibilities or interfere with your own, so long as you don't think they are trying to take anything from you?

How about women?

You can love something and not mistake it for something human. You can love animals without seeing them as anything other than a consumable resource, individual only in their cleverness at evading pursuit, or their particular flavor of submission. You can love women the same way. Love the idea of something, what it means to you, what it will gain you, more than you love the actuality of it, more than you respect its right to be what it is.

And that's how so many sexist jackoffs "love" women. Like you love a pet.

In a world where people will risk their lives trying to save their dogs, yes, I believe that one can truly love a thing one doesn't think of as human. But people who say they "love" women while denying them their humanity are perceiving some otherness about women that is not actually there. They believe women are fundamentally different, and they try to play this off as a positive, as though these differences make women categorically more desirable, as though fuckability were the highest compliment one could pay a human being, and as though putting women on a pedestal above men is less dehumanizing than considering them inferior in every way. These perceived differences, positive or not, become a justification for enforcing all kinds of rules and restrictions on human minds and our bodies.

It also becomes a basis for withdrawing support, should that difference cause too much friction. Culturally, we tolerate wildness in animals only so far as it does not cause them to challenge us, and only so long as it does not make them so clever that they won't come out to be decently shot when we want to shoot them. Women are treated much the same, regarded as bitchy or pushy or castrating whenever we demand to be treated as human beings. Men who "love" women but treat them like animals . . . do they love the women who do not act as they believe women should? Show any sign of justifiable anger, put your foot down, turn a man away, and suddenly you are a real troublemaker. In fact, it often seems incomprehensible to these people that women a) are unhappy about how they are treated, and b) might actually deserve to be treated better. As a friend's ex-husband said: "Oh, I get it! You women want to be treated like people!"

Oh, you mean the people that we are? Yeah. Yeah, we do. Imagine that, us wanting to be treated with respect.

I think about that hunter who "loves" wolves, and who kills them. I think about that, and I wonder if it is "love" when a life is less important than a man's desire to use that living thing however they like. I wonder if "love" is the right word for a feeling so conditional and so easily withdrawn when the particular thing is no longer useful. How can it be "love" when the individual creature can be so easily tossed aside in favor of the next, and the next, and the next? I wonder how a person can still say that they "love" women when it's all about the passion the desired thing raises in them, and not about a mutual expression of shared humanity. I wonder how a person can say they "love" wolves when all their knowledge about wolves and the wilderness in which they live serves only to make it easier for that person to find and kill them, when that is their desired consummation.

I don't understand the belief that women were put here for the use of men, whether that use is to fuck or bear children or do laundry. I don't understand the mindset that believes that wolves were put here to look beautiful or to be shot for sport or even as "guides" representing some passionate spiritual ideal.

It's not that I think women shouldn't do laundry or fuck or have kids, or that wanting those things is bad, or that if you would like a woman to do those things for you, you are automatically a sexist shitheel. It's not that I think that wolves aren't beautiful or should never ever be hunted or that they can't be spiritually significant. It's just that I don't mistake a thing's existence for availability, or its usefulness for its purpose. No living thing's justification for existence derives from its usefulness to another thing. No group's justification for existence derives from its usefulness to another group. A lack of usefulness is not condemnation.

I don't know. Perhaps I'm offending one side or another here, perhaps I'm getting things all tail-turned-front and not making a lick of sense. Perhaps I'm being self-centered and narcissistic and thinking too much. Perhaps I'm comparing two things to the benefit of neither. But for me, personally, such a great part of my appreciation for the wolf comes from my appreciation for women, and vice-versa, that I can't think I'm entirely on the wrong trail here.

"Mankind" may have domesticated the dog, which is, of course, man's best friend. Wolves still remain wild animals, not the property of men, and women desperately need to learn how to become wild. If there was ever a wild creature more suited to teach us that, I don't know what it would be.

* Conservationists vs. hunters in the context of the article and in the context of wolf hunting specifically. In a wider sense, there is often no difference between a responsible hunter and a conservationist. How can you hunt if there are no animals and no land? I do not make the mistake of assuming that hunters are the enemy of conservation when they have been the driving force behind so much of what has actually gotten done.

ETA: Just so you all who don't know me well don't mistake me, I don't have a problem with hunting, even hunting of predator animals, provided the population can sustain it and provided it is done responsibly. I don't want anyone to think that I'm saying all hunters are bad, or have the attitude problem I am describing here, any more than all men have an especially shitty attitude about women -- or even that the one is as common as the other. I'm also not saying that all hunters have problems with women. I'm just saying that the set of assumptions and the following thought processes that lead a man like Coke to describe and appreciate a sheep only in terms of its usefulness to him -- food, prestige -- and allow him to shoot from his front porch a she-wolf who had come to investigate a recording of wolf cries simply because she was right there, is pretty clearly similar to the thought process that allows some men to view women the same way -- as things to be taken advantage of.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (According to Whom?)
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I am not wanting to piss anyone off, here, I truly am not, but I suspect I might. I just can't -- shouldn't -- let this one go. This notion that people create their luck.

Good or bad, shit happens. Or, if you want to be poetic about it, fortune presents gifts not according to the book.

And, to point out the glaringly obvious, if you can choose it, then it's not luck. You might call it luck, it might even have started as luck, but it isn't luck once you begin making something out of it.

What you do with luck is not the luck itself. Getting something good out of bad luck does not automatically make the bad luck good luck in disguise. People can do well or do poorly with what they are given, but they cannot choose what they get in the first place.

I didn't create the crazy random happenstance that caused me to be born in a technologically and relatively socially advanced country during a time of domestic peace, in a part of the country not as prone to massive natural disasters as it has been described, in a social class that allowed me excellent access to medical care and education, into a race that is not oppressed, and into a body that is mostly functional and pain-free even if there are things about it I wish to god I could change.

I did nothing to cause or deserve those things. They are not a reward for anything. They do not make me superior, or indicate that I am somehow more worthy.

I have actively taken advantage of my good luck where I thought it would be ethical to do so, and yes, I have or could have benefited from a lot of it even though I did not consciously seek to do so (which is "privilege," by the way), but I didn't create it. Hell, since there is nothing wrong with the opposite of a lot of those things, I am not even sure it should be called good luck in the first place.

I also didn't create any bad luck that has affected me. I've made bad things worse, I've been complicit in my own suffering, but a whole lot of the suck of my life has been shit that at its root I did not have any hand in causing or creating. To pull some examples both real and hypothetical, I was a zygote or something when I was programmed to be bipolar and sentenced to wear this particular meat envelope. I didn't create the bad luck that caused me to be born to a bipolar mother who loved me but still fucked my shit up. I also didn't create the bad luck that caused my mom to die of cancer and made me miserable about it. I am almost certainly not going to be the author of my cat's demise, even if I am likely to be the unwilling agent who delivers her to the final editorial appointment.

So unless you believe that people are rewarded or suffer for shit they did in another life that they do not even remember (in which case, dear god, no offense to you and your personal beliefs, but please, never ever talk to me about it) you cannot argue that I brought those things on myself by doing or failing to do something.

There's the old "nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so" argument that states that chanting "this is chocolate" at shit pancakes will make them taste less like shit. Let me tell you, honest to god and all his brass-balled monkeys, that no amount of mantra-chanting will make that work for me.

Some people are what my husband calls "duck people." Unpleasant crap just rolls right off them. How lucky for them. Not everyone is like that. That doesn't mean people like me aren't trying hard enough to create better luck, or aren't trying hard enough to work with what we have. It doesn't mean we are making the wrong choices, or are looking at it wrong.

It means that we do not all start off on a level playing field. We also all have a different baseline abilty to cope, which can make two people on a very similar field unable to make the same goals.

We have talked about this.

We have talked about the cockamamie idea that all mental illness has built-in rewards that outweigh the suck of it, if you try hard enough to find them.

We have talked about the idea that mental illness flat-out sucks; that it's not an issue of choosing to look at it differently, and that people who are genuinely, you know, disabled by their disability are not just Doing It Wrong.

We have talked about how making lemons out of lemonade - or bearskin rugs out of bears - is a useful survival skill, but a resoundingly fucking shitty therapeutic approach.

You may be tough and persistent enough to make jam from the bitterest fruit, canny enough to trade a shit pancake into a Lamborghini, steely enough that adversity just sharpens you like a knife, but those awesome personality features are part of the lucky hand you were dealt. That is your luck, right there.

Telling me that I choose my luck is basically telling me that I chose what happened to me, or that I could choose to not be bothered by it. That may not be how any given person means it, or thinks they mean it, but this is how I, and a lot of people like me, hear it. And we are not wrong to hear it that way. Because a lot of people do think that is true and consciously or subconsciously they hold other people to it; whether that is out of malice or naiveté does not matter, because it is just as false and cuts just the same.

And still I truly wish I could still believe that I can choose my luck, because when I believed that, I felt a hell of a lot safer.

The irony of it is that I am actually a lot safer now that I no longer trust in luck, but instead take shit as it comes and on its own terms. It just doesn't feel safer, because that belief was the armor that stood between me and the knowledge that all the bad shit that happened to other people really could happen to me.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (According to Whom?)
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I am not wanting to piss anyone off, here, I truly am not, but I suspect I might. I just can't -- shouldn't -- let this one go. This notion that people create their luck.

Good or bad, shit happens. Or, if you want to be poetic about it, fortune presents gifts not according to the book.

And, to point out the glaringly obvious, if you can choose it, then it's not luck. You might call it luck, it might even have started as luck, but it isn't luck once you begin making something out of it.

What you do with luck is not the luck itself. Getting something good out of bad luck does not automatically make the bad luck good luck in disguise. People can do well or do poorly with what they are given, but they cannot choose what they get in the first place.

I didn't create the crazy random happenstance that caused me to be born in a technologically and relatively socially advanced country during a time of domestic peace, in a part of the country not as prone to massive natural disasters as it has been described, in a social class that allowed me excellent access to medical care and education, into a race that is not oppressed, and into a body that is mostly functional and pain-free even if there are things about it I wish to god I could change.

I did nothing to cause or deserve those things. They are not a reward for anything. They do not make me superior, or indicate that I am somehow more worthy.

I have actively taken advantage of my good luck where I thought it would be ethical to do so, and yes, I have or could have benefited from a lot of it even though I did not consciously seek to do so (which is "privilege," by the way), but I didn't create it. Hell, since there is nothing wrong with the opposite of a lot of those things, I am not even sure it should be called good luck in the first place.

I also didn't create any bad luck that has affected me. I've made bad things worse, I've been complicit in my own suffering, but a whole lot of the suck of my life has been shit that at its root I did not have any hand in causing or creating. To pull some examples both real and hypothetical, I was a zygote or something when I was programmed to be bipolar and sentenced to wear this particular meat envelope. I didn't create the bad luck that caused me to be born to a bipolar mother who loved me but still fucked my shit up. I also didn't create the bad luck that caused my mom to die of cancer and made me miserable about it. I am almost certainly not going to be the author of my cat's demise, even if I am likely to be the unwilling agent who delivers her to the final editorial appointment.

So unless you believe that people are rewarded or suffer for shit they did in another life that they do not even remember (in which case, dear god, no offense to you and your personal beliefs, but please, never ever talk to me about it) you cannot argue that I brought those things on myself by doing or failing to do something.

There's the old "nothing is good or bad but thinking makes it so" argument that states that chanting "this is chocolate" at shit pancakes will make them taste less like shit. Let me tell you, honest to god and all his brass-balled monkeys, that no amount of mantra-chanting will make that work for me.

Some people are what my husband calls "duck people." Unpleasant crap just rolls right off them. How lucky for them. Not everyone is like that. That doesn't mean people like me aren't trying hard enough to create better luck, or aren't trying hard enough to work with what we have. It doesn't mean we are making the wrong choices, or are looking at it wrong.

It means that we do not all start off on a level playing field. We also all have a different baseline abilty to cope, which can make two people on a very similar field unable to make the same goals.

We have talked about this.

We have talked about the cockamamie idea that all mental illness has built-in rewards that outweigh the suck of it, if you try hard enough to find them.

We have talked about the idea that mental illness flat-out sucks; that it's not an issue of choosing to look at it differently, and that people who are genuinely, you know, disabled by their disability are not just Doing It Wrong.

We have talked about how making lemons out of lemonade - or bearskin rugs out of bears - is a useful survival skill, but a resoundingly fucking shitty therapeutic approach.

You may be tough and persistent enough to make jam from the bitterest fruit, canny enough to trade a shit pancake into a Lamborghini, steely enough that adversity just sharpens you like a knife, but those awesome personality features are part of the lucky hand you were dealt. That is your luck, right there.

Telling me that I choose my luck is basically telling me that I chose what happened to me, or that I could choose to not be bothered by it. That may not be how any given person means it, or thinks they mean it, but this is how I, and a lot of people like me, hear it. And we are not wrong to hear it that way. Because a lot of people do think that is true and consciously or subconsciously they hold other people to it; whether that is out of malice or naiveté does not matter, because it is just as false and cuts just the same.

And still I truly wish I could still believe that I can choose my luck, because when I believed that, I felt a hell of a lot safer.

The irony of it is that I am actually a lot safer now that I no longer trust in luck, but instead take shit as it comes and on its own terms. It just doesn't feel safer, because that belief was the armor that stood between me and the knowledge that all the bad shit that happened to other people really could happen to me.

Bears.

Aug. 10th, 2009 04:58 am
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Lucian According to Whom?)
This entry is building on recent posts about being bipolar and mental illness in general, here, here, and here, but it stands independently. I wrote this a few weeks back. It's a bit late. Sorry.

Long ago, a particularly tactless email contact implied that all suffering is transitory, and that I was missing a wonderful opportunity for spiritual growth by letting my mother's painful death upset me. Unsurprisingly, I completely stopped talking to that person.

The difficulties of a person's life are a lot more than an opportunity to build character. Sure, one hopes to get something out of one's suffering, but nine out of ten times the last thing someone in dire pain wants to hear is that it will make them stronger. Somehow. In the future. But not right now. So just have fun with that pain, there, Sparky. The worse it is, the more virtuous you have the chance to be! All this hair-tearing and screaming until you are hoarse? It's secretly awesome! Really builds up the ol' lung power.

I don't have a problem with people telling me to hang in there, that it will get better again, as long as they are not trying to tell me that there's nothing wrong. I mean, I want to be reassured and all, but if you tell me that things will get better while simultaneously denying that things suck right now, I am going to assume that "better" means that things will still suck, because clearly your scale is off.

I truly do want to make something of the mess that is my life. Oh my god, do I ever. But I don't so much want to have other people telling me what to make of it, or telling me that it's really a fantastic life after all.

I think the best I will ever be able to say is that this is an okay life, I am in no hurry to throw it away, I know I am lucky and I have loads of advantages, I love my friends and my home, and I treasure the short time I am going to have here . . . but my life has its moments of pure unrefined suck that are actually not really related to the outside world and all the fantastic things in it, and those moments of suck need to be acknowledged, as does the fact that if it weren't for the bipolar part of me, I would be able to do a whole lot more with what I have. My uncomfortable truths, let me show you them.

Sure, some people will succeed at making good from bad, but many, many others fail. They don't fail because they fucked up their spiritual origami lesson and didn't learn to fold a paper crane out of the car wreck that killed their entire family. They fail because it is not always possible for a given person to turn a particular shitty thing into something beautiful. At least, not with the tools available to them at that time.

I would venture to say that you have a much better chance of making good out of bad if you actually understand how horrible, harmful, and frightening the badness really is.

To use a metaphor, let's talk about bears.

I think bears are wicked cool. Obviously, with a bite force measured at around 750 pounds, they are deadly. People like my erstwhile penpal above are the sort of people who will tell you "Hey, I bet you could learn all kinds of things from that bear if you made friends with it!" People who are so focused on you making that fucking lemonade that they will shove the lemons right up your ass.

Look, bears have their place, but if a bear is trying to eat me I am not going to try to "accept" its gustatory overtures and become its very special friend. I am going to try to kill the motherfucker. If I try to treat it like a bunny in the hopes that it will act like one, it will tear my arms off and eat me. If I treat it like a bear, I have much better odds of avoiding a particularly unpleasant demise.

And this mental illness is not just one bear. It's a succession of bears who want to fuck my shit up, and I have no guarantees that one of those bears doesn't have my name on it. Sure, some people can make friends with their own personal bears, and when that Tarzan shit really does happen, I think that is fucking awesome, but the fact that I can't, or haven't, made friends with my bears? That does not make me a lesser person. That does not mean I am weak or stupid. And it sure as fuck does not mean that at some point I turned up my nose at the chance to make friends with my bear. I tried to be friends with my bear for something like 29 years. What happened? It fucked my shit up.

What's that you say? Friends don't fuck your shit up? Why, I suppose you've just discovered my point!

Spending my life fighting bears instead of writing or painting or riding horses or traveling or learning to speak Latin has not been fun or particularly rewarding. It has not been worth the occasional bear trophy. It still sucks.

Looking on the bright side of a hostile bear is pretty hopeless. I am sure that a bear would be quick to point out the bright side of being eaten, but it's not one that is easy to appreciate from inside the bear.

"When life gives you bears, make bearskin rugs!" is perfectly sound advice. But it's not a therapeutic technique. It's not secret bear-fighting wisdom passed down through the ages. It's not always possible, and it doesn't always work, and the person who is best suited to evaluate the validity of the approach is not the person standing on the sidelines who has never fought a bear in his life, or who has been fighting different bears, or who already has the right weapons, or who can talk to wild animals.

The person best suited to deciding whether or not this particular bear has a bright side is the person fighting the bear.

We are the ones who have to face down bear after bear. Maybe it's best if we decide how wonderful those opportunities really are.

Bears.

Aug. 10th, 2009 04:58 am
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Lucian According to Whom?)
This entry is building on recent posts about being bipolar and mental illness in general, here, here, and here, but it stands independently. I wrote this a few weeks back. It's a bit late. Sorry.

Long ago, a particularly tactless email contact implied that all suffering is transitory, and that I was missing a wonderful opportunity for spiritual growth by letting my mother's painful death upset me. Unsurprisingly, I completely stopped talking to that person.

The difficulties of a person's life are a lot more than an opportunity to build character. Sure, one hopes to get something out of one's suffering, but nine out of ten times the last thing someone in dire pain wants to hear is that it will make them stronger. Somehow. In the future. But not right now. So just have fun with that pain, there, Sparky. The worse it is, the more virtuous you have the chance to be! All this hair-tearing and screaming until you are hoarse? It's secretly awesome! Really builds up the ol' lung power.

I don't have a problem with people telling me to hang in there, that it will get better again, as long as they are not trying to tell me that there's nothing wrong. I mean, I want to be reassured and all, but if you tell me that things will get better while simultaneously denying that things suck right now, I am going to assume that "better" means that things will still suck, because clearly your scale is off.

I truly do want to make something of the mess that is my life. Oh my god, do I ever. But I don't so much want to have other people telling me what to make of it, or telling me that it's really a fantastic life after all.

I think the best I will ever be able to say is that this is an okay life, I am in no hurry to throw it away, I know I am lucky and I have loads of advantages, I love my friends and my home, and I treasure the short time I am going to have here . . . but my life has its moments of pure unrefined suck that are actually not really related to the outside world and all the fantastic things in it, and those moments of suck need to be acknowledged, as does the fact that if it weren't for the bipolar part of me, I would be able to do a whole lot more with what I have. My uncomfortable truths, let me show you them.

Sure, some people will succeed at making good from bad, but many, many others fail. They don't fail because they fucked up their spiritual origami lesson and didn't learn to fold a paper crane out of the car wreck that killed their entire family. They fail because it is not always possible for a given person to turn a particular shitty thing into something beautiful. At least, not with the tools available to them at that time.

I would venture to say that you have a much better chance of making good out of bad if you actually understand how horrible, harmful, and frightening the badness really is.

To use a metaphor, let's talk about bears.

I think bears are wicked cool. Obviously, with a bite force measured at around 750 pounds, they are deadly. People like my erstwhile penpal above are the sort of people who will tell you "Hey, I bet you could learn all kinds of things from that bear if you made friends with it!" People who are so focused on you making that fucking lemonade that they will shove the lemons right up your ass.

Look, bears have their place, but if a bear is trying to eat me I am not going to try to "accept" its gustatory overtures and become its very special friend. I am going to try to kill the motherfucker. If I try to treat it like a bunny in the hopes that it will act like one, it will tear my arms off and eat me. If I treat it like a bear, I have much better odds of avoiding a particularly unpleasant demise.

And this mental illness is not just one bear. It's a succession of bears who want to fuck my shit up, and I have no guarantees that one of those bears doesn't have my name on it. Sure, some people can make friends with their own personal bears, and when that Tarzan shit really does happen, I think that is fucking awesome, but the fact that I can't, or haven't, made friends with my bears? That does not make me a lesser person. That does not mean I am weak or stupid. And it sure as fuck does not mean that at some point I turned up my nose at the chance to make friends with my bear. I tried to be friends with my bear for something like 29 years. What happened? It fucked my shit up.

What's that you say? Friends don't fuck your shit up? Why, I suppose you've just discovered my point!

Spending my life fighting bears instead of writing or painting or riding horses or traveling or learning to speak Latin has not been fun or particularly rewarding. It has not been worth the occasional bear trophy. It still sucks.

Looking on the bright side of a hostile bear is pretty hopeless. I am sure that a bear would be quick to point out the bright side of being eaten, but it's not one that is easy to appreciate from inside the bear.

"When life gives you bears, make bearskin rugs!" is perfectly sound advice. But it's not a therapeutic technique. It's not secret bear-fighting wisdom passed down through the ages. It's not always possible, and it doesn't always work, and the person who is best suited to evaluate the validity of the approach is not the person standing on the sidelines who has never fought a bear in his life, or who has been fighting different bears, or who already has the right weapons, or who can talk to wild animals.

The person best suited to deciding whether or not this particular bear has a bright side is the person fighting the bear.

We are the ones who have to face down bear after bear. Maybe it's best if we decide how wonderful those opportunities really are.
naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Give Blood)
I saw a link today to this website, where artist Vanessa Tiegs has made these incredible paintings with her blood – yes, menstrual blood – and was amazed by just how beautiful they are. I think the idea of painting with blood of any kind is fascinating, but most paintings of this type don't interest me, largely because they play into the problems I talk about below. These are easily the best of this type I have yet seen.

I agree with this post at Feministe. Fear of menstrual blood all too often stems from gut-level fear of the devouring, blood-drooling cooch . . . often with a stiff dose of misogyny to back that fear up when logic fails to support it. I personally don't see anything particularly disgusting about menstrual blood. As our waste products go, this is about the only one I would be willing to interact with on a voluntary basis. I get annoyed with it when it gets all over me or when it messes up clothing I have to salvage* or replace, yeah, but the substance itself is just blood.**

But there's only so much uterus-hugging fallopian free-love that I can bear, and I want to point out something that endlessly grinds on my nerves.

You want to love your uterus, your period, if the things that it does are meaningful to you on some greater level, I am completely in favor of that.

What annoys me to no end is the deep-rooted assumption that I, too, should love my period. Fuck that shit. My uterus has been trying to kill me or drive me mad since I was a teenager.*** Even the cradle of life metaphor fails on me. Even if I were sure I could have children, my potential fertility means nothing to me. Oh, sure, I could get all metaphorical about my nonexistent urge to create a human baby being channeled into other creative avenues, but my creative impulses just don't come from my pussy. Sorry.

For a lot of women, the process of coming to terms with or celebrating their periods is a revolutionary one that frees them from the hateful moral baggage our sick and twisted culture places on a simple biological process. I know that it was for me, for a very long time, but eventually I just got so sick of my uterus' antics that I stopped feeling good about it. It kept terrorizing me with its fits and starts and pains, its irregularity and humiliations. Embracing my period is not going to stop the cramps and bleeding. The cramps and bleeding are not a manifestation of my inner goddess and they don't make me more of a woman. My uterus is a wad of flesh, not the seat of my womanhood. I am not communing with the spirits of my foremothers when a sudden sneeze causes me to blow blood clots out of my snatch. That's not how that shit works.

I can't sit there with menstrual blood up to my elbows and say to myself, "Golly, Naamah, you sure are channeling the all-powerful goddess today!" No, I'm sitting there going, "I am bleeding for the sixty-seventh day in a row, I have no clean underwear, and the idiots who lived here before me carpeted the bathroom floor, which I have now bled on for the fifth time in three days. Who am I going to have to kill to make this stop?" Because even for someone with a blood kink? That shit gets old real fast.

It's fucking annoying to have the menstrual cycle lauded as this wonderful empowering thing when it is usually apparent from the language used that it's only the normal menstural cycle that is meant. The percentage of women who have "normal" cycles is tiny, and if you have a difficult uterus, the whole moon-goddess lunar cycle thing sounds a lot less like inspiration and a lot more like all the popular, attractive, well-groomed uteruses sitting on the far side of the lunch room laughing at the broody goth uterus who just got her lunch dumped for the third time that week.

And furthermore, Jesus, there are a hell of a lot of women out there who don't even have uteruses. The presence of absence of an organ, let alone the things it can do, does not define what a woman is.

In fact, I want to kick the whole woman-as-goddess body-process-as-religious-experience mumbo jumbo idea in the ribs, and it doesn't end with menstruation. No, you have to count pregnancy, too. Now, if you personally relate to pregnancy in a sacred way, I can completely see that. But I find the cultural exaltation of pregnancy morally troubling because it leaves women who can't have or don't want kids out in the cold, and it glorifies the biological method of achieving children above the others, which I think is wrong. Not to mention the political problems inherent in glorifying pregnancy in a culture where the choices to not have children or to terminate a pregnancy are viewed with distaste and horror.

I'm not real fond of how our culture only seems to value women's bodies if they are serving as sex objects or as a carpool for fetuses. The capacity and/or willingness of most of my gender to sexually satisfy men and bear their children has absolutely no effect on my own value, thank you very much.

This stuff that women do – like bleeding for a week without dying or, after a nine month drumroll, squeezing a live animal out of their vaginas – that stuff is amazing, but it is not wonderful and magical and uplifting for everyone who does it, and perpetuating the myth that it is or that it should be does nobody any favors.

I personally think the baby/vagina hat trick is amazing, just so you know, but if someone says that going through all the mess and pain was not very spiritually elevating, I am sure not going to argue that they were just looking at it wrong – the same as I would not argue if someone said that the whole process was powerful and revelatory. And if I say that I do not feel goddess-like or magical or powerful in the slightest when I am scrubbing blood out from under my fingernails while my underwear soaks in the sink, I expect folks to take me at my word, not assume I'm some sort of repressed spiritual rube who just can't appreciate what has been given to her.

I would like to see women define their own feelings about their own bodily processes. If that means more menstrual blood paintings, fantastic. My goal is not to stifle joy. But I would also like to see an acknowledgement that it's not joyful for everyone, see some art that talks about that, so that people who have less than ideal experiences with their bodies have a place to work with those experiences.

Bodies are wonderful, but not everything that bodies do is wonderful or a secret source of mojo. Some of it downright sucks. And in trying to divorce our bodies from all this moral cargo and normalize the female experience, we sometimes forget that we can be inconvenienced or annoyed by what our female bodies do without hating ourselves for being female.

The antidote to the idea that women are animals is not putting them on a pedestal like goddesses, exalting even their effluvia. These things don't make us gross or scary or dirty, no. Those things can even be beautiful and meaningful. I think that's a really great lesson to learn, and it's one that we desperately need to keep teaching. But these things don't make us into superwomen, either.

These things make us human. Isn't that the status we have been seeking? Isn't that what has been denied to us all this time?

I'm tired of these processes being used to "other" women, to set them either below or above "other people," i.e. men.

We are people. Not people "with a difference," but actual people.

Such a simple truth, and such a great shock and offense to so many.

* Hydrogen peroxide and cold water, scrub out from the opposite side of the stain. They should print this on every pad and tampon box and wrapper.

** Plus other stuff, yes, but visually, olfactorily, texture- and flavor-wise it can sometimes be indistinguishable from blood.

*** Do not under any circumstances offer me medical advice, okay? I've heard it, tried it, researched it all. Period. Ha ha.

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naamah_darling: The right-side canines of a wolf's skull; the upper canine is made of gold. (Default)
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