Facing Away

I finally did it.  I finally ditched the beast.  I deleted my facebook account.  Not went on hiatus.  Not deactivated.  Deleted.

Why?  There are a lot of reasons.  There was one in particular that acted as a tipping point-—each time I logged in, a box had appeared, a pop-up that would not allow me to interact with the page at all unless I interacted with it first.  It read something to the effect of: “Golly gee, now you can enable facebook notifications on your computer itself, so that even when you’re logged off the site, we can still bombard you with how many likes your last post got, or irrelevant events that are supposedly near you, even though we’re telling you about stuff in NYC, and you live in Boston without a car.”

There were two available responses to this pop-up.  One was “enable” (like fucking hell I would), and “not now.”  Not “not on your life you fucking info-sucking ticks,” not “yeah, I get that this thing exists, but I won’t use it, so don’t show it to me again, thanks.”  Another option wasn’t hidden in some tiny link text.  No.  Just “not now.”  As if to say, “we’ll wear you down, and eventually you’ll mis-click on the wrong button” or perhaps “we’ll give you an option to refuse for now, but it won’t always be this way.”  Considering their track record with Messenger, this latter approach would not surprise me.

Facebook also has this tendency to roll things out for a small portion of their users at a time.  Friends of mine would see features days or weeks before I ever did.  None of my friends reported seeing this pop-up, and it has me wondering just how widely this “feature” has been seen.  Was it because I used neither Messenger nor the facebook app, and instead only ever accessed their services through a browser?  Was this something they intended to roll out more broadly?

In the end, it had an effect.  The effect was me leaving.  Done, bye-bye, deletion.  The idea of incessant alerts on the machine I use as a tool to help improve my focus by selectively turning on or off various inputs and services according to time of day or scheduled activities was horrifying to say the least.  As someone with ADHD, and a tenuous ability to organize myself at best, there was just no way to reconcile accidentally clicking that button and then having to hunt through my machine like a Florida gardener passing back and forth over the same vegetable bed trying to eradicate air potato sprouts.

This aversion, along with my distaste for facebook’s unethical approach to research, the creation of divisive echo chambers with no room for real discussion, and their way of rewarding people for shallow repeated interactions, finally led me to cut the cord.  If you want me, you can find me here, or on Twitter.  Or out in my backyard, gardening, thankful that as a Boston resident, I no longer have to deal with air potato plants.

A Purposeful Post Redux

I’ve poked at keeping my thoughts online for not less than ten years, and through some tumultuous happenings, I’ve been bumped off the turnip wagon a fair number of times.  I’ve been debating preserving my old writings from older versions of my site, or just starting anew.  On the one hand, it provides me (and you) with a record of my old thoughts.  And my old writing styles (shudder).  On the other, there’s something to be said for an entirely fresh start.  I will have to continue to mull it over.

In the by and by, I want to talk about chickens instead.  Largely because I’ve been obsessed with them.  Almost as obsessed as I’ve been with okra.  Did you know that there is a gene among certain breeds of chicken that causes hyperpigmentation of the wee feathered things, the end result being an entirely black bird?  A few months ago, I learned of such a thing, and of course that suggested a story.  It always suggests a story.  So.  Black chickens.  A hen yard.  And a witch.  More than one witch.  And that’s all I’ve got to say about that…  mainly because I’m sitting on the idea like a broody hen, trying to hatch it.  I’m still not sure which way it’s growing.

If you are interested, one such breed is the Ayam Cemani.  Silkies and Kadaknaths also have this trait (though silkies are more often known to be white little poof-balls).  Bodies.  Even bird bodies.  They’re just weird.

(Incidentally, I decided to preserve the old blogs.  Expect the posts from 2016 & early 2017 one by one as transfer the markdown files individually)

Tiny Review: Catherynne Valente

I’ve been reading a lot lately.  I set a goal for myself to devour 120 books this year, 10 books per month, and I’ve been keeping solidly on track.  I’m even a little bit ahead.  

Among these readings have been quite a fair bit of work by Catherynne Valente.  A friend recommended Palimpsest to me perhaps a year, year and a half ago, and since reading it in May, I’ve tried to inhale Valente’s entire body of work.  This is no mean task.

I’ve also deeply approached Le Guin’s Steering the Craft for the first time, moving beyond the beginning exercises to come to a better technical understanding of my craft.

These two things go hand in hand, I think.   Laying side by side notions from Steering the Craft, especially on the topic of verb tense and my general disdain of “purple prose” I began thinking on why I found Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest and Six Gun Snow White so damned compelling. Valente’s prose is rich like a dessert, but her subject matter begs for it; she’s working with dreams and their peculiar juxtapositions, she’s working with myth and fairytale. Valente goes from easy past to present tense in Six Gun Snow White, and these are tricks Le Guin warns writers of.  They are deep water.  They are difficult to pull off.  And yet, coming from Valente’s pen, none of it feels distancing or awkward to me.  I think it’s because of the fairytale nature of the story, I think it is because instead of functioning like a passive filter between the reader and the story, it makes the reader aware of the third person voice narrating it, the engaging present tense of a story told around a campfire.  It suggests a narrator, a narrator that has characteristics the reader can discern based on cadence and word choice.

 I find Valente diabolically good, with a steady hand for prose that would be just terribly wrong in any other context. She has an ability to make angular words, sharp and jangly phonemes, fall right into place.  She has an ear for the rhythm of sentences that makes me-the-poetry-reader quiver in delight. I think that’s another thing with “purple prose”: most people using it seem tone-deaf to me, breaking cadences to get in a particularly ponderous bit of language, instead of sneaking them in when the rhythms ask nicely.  Valente seems to know those rhythms well, and her prose joins the dance.

So, if you’re looking to pick up something to read, I’d point you at these.  I honestly can’t think of better right now.

Childhood Lessons

Gender is the sharpest playground I know.  It is a space we move through, we play on it, with it, some of us have our favorite thing: monkey bars or seesaws or slides, male, female, both, neither, other.  Some of us don’t.  If you fall, you can be cut.  We play, and some of us come away with bruises.  It’s dizzying, though, the freedom.  It’s stunning what you can see just on the horizon as you swing higher and higher.  It has taught me something very valuable.  Don’t throw rocks.  Never throw rocks.  The world is dangerous enough as it is.

Bread

On 2nd St, north of Las Olas: an avocado
On 14th Ave, north of 1st, in an alley: a rose apple
In the empty lot on 15th by the park, across from the Greek Orthodox Church, 
          a little south of Sunrise, a glory of a mango.
I fed myself all summer on fruits fallen from these trees, 
on rosemary nicked from roadside planters,
on nasturtiums culled unknowing from prissy restaurant facings.
This city is a forest.  This city is a garden.  This city is a book
in a language I have learned to read from
the grackles.  I will turn the pages with fingers
stickied by mango pulp.  I will turn the pages slowly
so I don’t come to the end.
We know what happened to all the great forests,
and what goes on in gardens.

I don’t like the way it ends.

Pandora Opens the Box Again

When I moved to Fort Lauderdale, I would get restless at night.  I wanted to be out prowling beaches walking by noisy bars, not a part of the scene, but privy to it.  I left poems and objects, chalked writings along sidewalks.  In 2011, a friend linked my post about hanging the micropoems in the Himmarshee district, and the feedback he got from his friends was pretty negative.  Well, one comment was.  It’s lost under the avalanche of new content, but the remark left this impression, this distillation in my mind, whether or not that was the actual gist of the comment: that people thought I was only doing things like that “for attention,” and that art shouldn’t be done “for attention.”  That people thought I was trying to be “edgy” and “original.”

Now I’m in Tallahassee, having lived through one of the hardest years of my life in terms of depression and the loss of family and friends.  It’s been hard to “stay positive,” whatever that means.  It’s been hard to enjoy things the way I used to.  One of the things I’d lost is my poetry.  I had not written a poem in over a year, outside a smattering of micropoems.  Even my blog here tapered off.  I stopped dancing.  And gradually I found it more and more onerous to work on my weird little art projects or to write fiction.  Even practical projects began to drag.

My spouse-creature is away on business.  Here in this town, I am a recluse.  I don’t talk to many people.  I sleep through much of my day.  The thought of existing in this huge empty house alone for two weeks is terrifying.  Not in the sense of fear for my safety, but in the sense of I have no one to talk to.  It was strange, then, to wake up needing paper last night.  Strange to see the words trailing out of the meeting between graphite and paper.  It was even stranger that I was revisiting an old notion, Pandora in poem, wanting to sneak past the gates in parks and leave these texts scrawled on odd objects for other people.  Because people don’t do this unless they want attention.

I was about to censor myself, crumple up the page and make myself go back to bed.  That’s when I started crying.  I watched the tears plop onto the notebook paper, and thought about the texture of a wet page that’s dried, how it rumples, and if I could use that, make the ink of a poem run like eyeliner…

I finished the poem.  And I started prepping the surface of a box that will wear it.  I intend to leave it behind somewhere.  This morning, after waking up for a second time, I actually started reading The Art Abandonment Project by Micheal and Andrea Matus deMeng.  I’d marked on Goodreads I’d already started it, but I have this habit of not picking a book up until I’ve told someone I have already… it’s like a butler lie for my bookshelf.  I expected it to be… pretentious.  Michael deMeng talks about his motives in abandoning his art in various places, even writes about posting his experience of it on his Facebook page.  He talks of the exhilaration of not knowing what became of it, seeking to relive the feeling of his art abandonments in Oaxaca, or during his college days.  There was an angry part of me who thought, “Who would leave art somewhere and write about it unless they wanted the attention?  To self-aggrandize?”

But as I read I realized something.  Any creation of art is about attention.  Not so much the attention of “look at me, look at how great this is,” but the attention of a conversation.  The attention of sharing something.  With art and writing treated as commodities, people look at these objects in terms of money, utility.  Art is instead a kind of ritual magic, a way of stringing sentences together with objects or paint or juxtaposition.  There is something human about the kind of connection that it brings.  It stirs the imagination.  It makes us feel as though we’re part of a larger community when much of our every day experience is geared toward separating and isolating us.  At the same time, it acknowledges how large that community really is: one is surrendering something they worked on to strangers in a place large enough that there are a significant number of such strangers.

We’re human.  We do everything for attention.  For interaction.  For moments of connection.  We are social creatures.  When I posted in 2011 about hanging the poems from a tree on Himmarshee Street, I wanted to delight someone.  I wanted to claim ownership of the act to a group of people likely different from the people who would find it.  I wanted maybe to dare someone else to take the idea and bend it differently, to do something else with it.  I didn’t think I was being “original.”  There’s no such thing, and it was such a simple act, I was certain someone else had done it before, even if I hadn’t myself encountered it.  But most of all, in doing it I delighted myself, and relived that delight in documenting it.  It was fun.

Now, more than ever, these are the kinds of connections that make me feel like a human being.  So I will grab the junk I come across.  I will scribble poems on them.  I will juxtapose word and object, and leave it for someone to find.  Because I enjoy it.  Because someone else might enjoy it.  Because it’s a love letter to art.  And I’ve written precious few of those lately.

Ducks Aren’t Known for Wisdom

It’s raining.  I am sitting by the pond’s edge.  The ducks are perturbed, but they’re assholes, so I can’t say that I care what they think.  I’m back “home,” after spending three entire twenty-four hour periods in the middle of a cowfield which sprouted tents and toys and music and art for the course of one weekend.  Being back feels weird.

There are joggers circling the lake, even in the rain.  I make assumptions about them: “I could never talk to any of them about the current state of industrialized agriculture in our society, or the narrative implications of white middle-class American culture’s lack of a trickster figure.”  These may very well be silly assumptions, but I am afraid to test them.  I smile at a jogger.  She smiles back.  I am afraid of her running shoes.

There are people who live far away whom I can call if I fish my phone out of my pocket, and ask them, “What do you think of Marquez’ comparison of love to disease in Love in the Time of Cholera? With more and more people generating their own power for electric companies to buy back, what do you think will happen to solar power as it threatens the longterm viability of our current model of power generation and distribution?”  But I’m afraid to interrupt their work days.

There are people who live nearby who could maybe come over for coffee tonight and we could talk game design and politics, but mostly I’m scared I bore them.

The ducks are yelling at me, waddling halfway up to me before taking a step back, unsure.  Yes ducks, you’re right.  I know I’m the problem here.

A Spite Note to Tallahassee

Dear Tallahassee,

I do not like you. I understand you’re trying to win me over with your tawdry shows of azaleas and camellias, but I am unmoved. Everything is dusted in yellow, and my stepson breaks out in hives if he opens the front door.
You had your chance to win me last June.  You had your chance, and instead you folded me into unbike-able hills laced with roads that ramble aimlessly from one boarded up shopping plaza to another.  You tossed me into bizarre traffic patterns, into a town frothing with college sports, complete with wasted eighteen-year-olds throwing up on my lawn.

So now that your listless attempt at wooing me back has failed, you lean heavy on petty revenge, these mosquitoes and crisp evenings.  I will get by on hating you, portioning out my spite by the teaspoon.  I will smuggle in south Florida to feed my contempt fruit by fruit: mango, avocado, pineapple. 

And one day, Tallahassee, I will be free of your football cult, your vindictive chains of no U-turn signs, your thinly-veiled backwater mentality.  One day, Tallahassee, I will leave.

Ads & Expectation: A General Musing on Social Pressure and Narrative Advertisement

I used to feel the weight of it when I was younger: the expectation.  I was expected to become a mother.  I was expected to wear makeup.  I was expected to get married, change my name, be small and inoffensive.

I’m not the only one.  I can see there were other expectations, weights of different measure hung from other people’s hearts, about being powerful, small, strong, masculine, feminine… they’re never spoken directly.  But you can feel them.

And they used to weigh a lot on me, because they didn’t fit.  They didn’t match what I wanted out of things.  I fumbled my way toward something different.

By way of reflection, I took this complicated weight to my mother, to talk over it and coffee.  My mother is an odd creature, subject to her own weights and expectations, the prickly things she did and wishes she hadn’t, the litany of injuries she has to keep in mind as she moves through life for fear of a flare up.  I realize more and more as I get older that we are nothing like each other in the best of ways, and we are not so different as I had once thought.

“I never pushed you toward girliness,” she tells me.  And that is simultaneously true and not true.  She did not foist dolls on me, and there were mountains of blocks for me to play with as a child.  I had no foam swords so I made mine out of sticks.  But then there was make-up, all message-mixed, and she told me I didn’t need any, and that my not wearing it was why as a teen I never had a boyfriend.  She was always “putting on her face.”

“I never pressured you to have kids.”  And again, this is true and not.  She never contradicted me as an adult when I voiced I didn’t want any, but as a child, she corrected my “if I ever have kids” to “when.”

It was with this multifaceted perspective in hand that I started seeing baby ads on my Facebook feed.  Pregnancy test ads.  Baby college fund banking ads.  Because X months after you get married, that’s when kids happen.  Because even though I’ve listed myself as male, and currently my profile says I’m “other,” they mark me as female.  Even though, if they had smarter ways to sift through the data I’d provided them, or my friends have provided them, they’d have a more accurate representation of me, and they would tailor their ads to sterile tomboy women when marketing to me: yarn, crafts, camping gear, and power tools.  Green power tools.  Because pink is hideous (your mileage on pink may vary).

I realized that this expectation, this pressure, is mostly indirect.  It’s mostly a part of the cultural capital dropped in the laps of people in certain economic classes, wired into their offices through the magic of the InterTubez, flashed in front of their eyes through product placement during the entertainment they pay to see.  We are spun narratives about these things, and we take these narratives to be indicative of the majority of real lives, because they were designed to be taken that way.

I realized that despite the tools our digital age has provided various companies, they prefer to do business the usual way, and slice things into broad demographics.  They they don’t want to look into other ways of marketing.  The old way works well enough, doesn’t it?  But I can see the argument of circularity creep in: the feedback loop of target group optimization.

My mother?  She is in dialogue with this cultural inheritance as well.  She is struggling with her own contradictions to these narratives.

I guess I still feel these weights of expectation.  But now I better understand where they come from.  And I’ve developed better frameworks to shift them off to the side when I simply want something else.

A younger, more touchy me would have raged at the baby ads.  Now I have to laugh.  They’re a year and a bit too late.

An Engineering Problem

Crochet is an interesting beast.  I eschewed this art for many years because it smacked of femininity, and because my great aunt used to make these gods-awful crocheted toilet paper-cozies in shades of honey mustard and vomit, with a plastic cheapo doll body protruding from the top.  See, the cozy was supposed to be her dress skirt.  As a child it disturbed me, “What happened to her legs?!”  Nightmares of dismembered women in vomit colored dresses were soon to follow.

My grandmother knitted some.  Not much, but some.  Enough to gift me some knitting needles, to teach me to knit and purl, and set me about the task of making headbands in solid shades of scratchy acrylic.  Everything was red or ecru.  I came to loathe these colors.

Knitting and crocheting seemed time wasters for old ladies who had nothing better to do than make ugly doilies.  Most of the patterns I’d find in the yarn sections of craft stores confirmed this: bulky monstrosities in Christmas green rife with pompons and stupid ducks.  Who in their right mind would ever make these things?  Give them as gifts?  Be caught wearing them?

But stroll by the windows of any boutique clothing store, and there were sheer lace vests in rust or teal or sunflower, sweater coats of mohair in the same soft grey of a baby bird.  I’d go in knowing the price tag was absurd.  I’d look at the interlocking patterns of yarn, and wonder.  Someone designed this.  It was made.  I’d run my fingers over the material, knowing it was knit, knowing how the sleeves were stitched on, but marveling at the drape of the cloth, the absence of any other seams.

I grabbed a crochet hook one day, this clunky size Q, in order to make some plastic bags into a thing other than landfill stuffing.  I think hard about materials, about how to minimize waste.  My grandmother lived through the Great Depression, you know.  I’m a New Englander, after all.  I’m GREEN, dammit, look at the color of my hair!  After looking up a basic single crochet stitch and turning all the bags in the house into a series of strips tied in loops end to end, I managed to knot out a number of garden mats to save my knees while digging in the dirt.  So that’s crochet.  And I began thinking about mohair sweater coats vs. toilet paper cozies.

There are actually quite a few yarn shops in Tallahassee, it turns out.  The first one I crept into, I felt rather small and mouse-like.  This is not my usual thing, you see.  I tend to feel more comfy in a wood shop, even just dicking around.  It’s the drill press, the wood lathe, the table saw, you see.  I’ve known them intimately since childhood.  Yarn smacks of girliness.  And newness.  I hate being new and foolish and girly about things.  But when I started looking, I realized this was nothing like the yarn baskets my grandmother and great aunt kept.  The walls here were dominated by natural fibers in bold gashes of fuchsia, dandelion, aqua, and a thousand gorgeous shades of green.  I talked a while with the owner, learned the shop was closing permanently, and skittered out bearing three skeins of worsted wool yarn that meandered through the shade of spring’s best new leaves to royal purple and ended in magenta.  I had no idea what I was going to make with this.

Even still, I grew my collection: fragile airy crochet thread of unforgiving cotton, smooth balls of bamboo/silk mix, and ever more hanks of bright wool: sock weight, fingering, sport yarn, and abundant loose bulkies.  It was in my third shop, Wooly Bully, that I was able to pick up, feel and begin to identify yarns: this is mohair, this angora, here’s a cotton/acrylic blend.  It took a bit of help, but I was starting to understand it with both eyes and fingers.  It was in this shop, with the proprietor’s mother, that I was able to finally feel like myself, wondering aloud about tensile strength, bulk of finished product, asking questions about how to match texture to application.  I began thinking of these things in terms of engineering and materials science.  It became a beautiful question of geometry and the physical properties of my material.  All that fear of so-called girliness— which is actually a fear of perceived irrelevance and disdain from others— had evaporated.

After we’d discussed the use of odd fibers, raffia, hemp cord, stripped computer wire, she encouraged me to continue doing what seemed most natural: build the stash, play with textures, increase my knowledge that way.  Savage my test swatches.  Stress test them.  I can’t say it hurt that we started discussing yarn bombing and science fiction.

And I realized as I walked out of the shop that the last time I’d felt so at home with learning a skill was when I watched my father turn wood into cabinetry, wood into work benches, wood into objects I recognized day in and day out.  My father, who approached these things as an engineer.  I was suddenly interested in this beast.

But there’s one loose end still to attend to. I needed yarn the color of honey mustard and vomit.  To make a bag.  You know.  In case I ever find the missing legs of those TP cozy dolls.