Archive for the 'women are human' Category

in which i succeed in naming three (3) emotions

I’m sad she’s dead, for the usual human and parasocial reasons.

I’m genuinely curious if also worried about what comes next.

And I’m angry, I am so so angry, about the British empire.

As a white Australian I exist because of what Britain saw as surplus population it could send to administer its stolen wealth. The ways in which my life was predetermined, the ways in which I was raised and educated to be a colonial bureaucrat, were callous and calculating and fundamentally genocidal, and have left me traumatized.

The thing about Elizabeth. The thing! That I managed to grope towards just now, is that she was a human sacrifice to empire. She had no choice and no escape. She had to do her duty.

And she did her duty flawlessly. She was incredible at it. A genuinely awe-inspiring triumph of will.

And she shouldn’t have done that. For two reasons. One (the most important) is because the Empire is a death cult that murdered millions on her watch. The other is that her performance of that duty is and always will be forced on the rest of us as the standard we will inevitably fail to meet.

I admire her. But I will not seek to emulate her. Her indulgence of powerful men and her racism were ruinous even in her immediate family, and catastrophic for the world. What she did so amazingly well is a thing that should never have been done.

Which loops back to sorrow. Those glimpses of the woman she could’ve been: the 18yo ambulance driver, the rider galloping her own racehorse.

What a fucking waste and betrayal of all her strength and integrity, to pour it out in the service of maintaining a corrupt status quo.

What a waste of mine.

putting the mans in mansfield park

The title is Jeremy’s excellent joke about Bridgerton, occasioned by my return to reading Austen (“Do you read novels?” “Yes! All six, every year.”) I began this time with Mansfield Park, long my least favorite for all the reasons it’s usually people’s least favorite; Fanny and Edmund are a bit dull. Reading it this time around, though, I was struck by how very much this book is not a romance novel or any kind of love story.

The title Mansfield Park could be arguably related to the judge whose famous verdict stated, “The state of slavery… is so odious… whatever inconvenience, therefore, may follow from the decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore, the black must be discharged” (White). The irony of such a title would no doubt have appealed to Austen.  Bertram’s country estate was supported by a slave driven economy.  By naming his estate Mansfield Park, Austen was delivering a quiet jab at slavery, an institution against which its namesake struck a blow thirty years earlier.

Austen and Antigua – Slavery in Her Time

The third act of Mansfield Park consists of Henry Crawford’s proposal to Fanny, and of the efforts of Sir Thomas, Mary and even Edmund to persuade Fanny to accept him. Henry is rich. His feelings for Fanny, once frivolous, have become sincere. She is a good influence on him. Fanny herself is poor. Henry is offering far more than she can reasonably expect to command on the open marriage market; there will never be another offer like it. Sir Thomas – her uncle, the slaveowner – is at pains to point this out to her; along with the fact that Fanny owes Sir Thomas for her care and education since she was nine years old. This would be an acceptable return on his investment.

Fanny says no. Being Fanny, she doesn’t say it with the panache of Lizzie Bennet rejecting Mr Collins or Darcy Proposal #1, but she does say no. Despite the awful powers arrayed against her, of family feeling, obligation, economics, reputation, and even (in Edmund’s case) real affection for her and concern for her interests, she holds to her inner truth, which is that she dislikes Henry and always will.

In a letter to her sister Cassandra, Jane said of Mansfield Park: “Now I shall try to write of something else, & it shall be a complete change of subject–ordination.” Edmund’s taking orders is part of the plot and the main driver of his conflict with Mary. His ambitions are modest, but through the church he hopes to have a small part in making the world a better place. Mary’s ambitions are vast and selfish; at her peak, she hopes for Edmund’s brother to die, so that she can marry an Edmund who stands to inherit his father’s baronetcy and estate.

But I wonder sometimes if Jane was hinting at the other meanings of ordination. Putting things in their proper order: Tom is the first son, and Edmund is the second. Plotting co-ordinates on a Cartesian plane: a place for everything, and everything in its place. Social order: no one getting ideas above their proper station. Austen never directly compares Fanny’s position to those of Sir Thomas’s slaves in Antigua, thank God, because that would be unconscionable. But Fanny’s constraints are real. She can’t have a fire in her room. She can’t choose to visit her family, and once there, she can’t choose to return to Mansfield Park.

Fanny has precisely two degrees of freedom. She can think, and she can feel. She thinks a lot. She’s a reader and a nature lover. Her eye for gardens and landscapes, which I skimmed over when I was younger, is a lot more resonant now that I have arrived at my own connection with my ecosystem and watershed.

And she feels, most notably, antipathy towards Henry. Her steadfastness in refusing him overturns the social order, which dictates that she has no choice but to accept such a superficially advantageous match. In refusing him, Fanny sets his material wealth at a lower value than her own integrity. It’s an affront in a society like hers (and ours) that prioritizes extractive capitalism – cruelty and greed – over every other consideration, including personhood and the sustainability of the planet itself.

Settler colonialism works by violently severing the connection between a person and their personhood, and between communities and their land. The potential energy released by that severance is captured and hoarded as wealth and inequity. In this year of our Lord 20 and 22 we still struggle to know the truths of our own secret heart, because the state would prefer that we didn’t transgress its preordained categories for us. Those of us who are settlers still live in alien countries on stolen land, the names of whose wild things are lost. We haven’t moved past Mansfield Park. We haven’t even started.

the riddle of the labyrinth, by margalit fox

Gender inflection is a hallmark of the Indo-European language family

the disordered cosmos, by chanda prescod-weinstein

It is unclear whether I am making it through because I have been assimilated or through the brute force of my own will and imagination.

more

After a pretty good run of books, including two history/biographies each of Imperial Rome, the First Fleet, the Donner Party and Hollywood in the seventies (spoiler: it’s settler colonialism all the way down), I have come to an annoying halt. You know when you pick up this book and that and you KNOW they’re good and if you were in another mood you would devour them, but today, eh? That.

Mostly, I think, it’s that I want to read more books exactly like Emma Southon’s Agrippina and A Fatal Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Imagine I, Claudius rewritten by Tamsyn Muir: hilarious, serious, queer and profane.

I want this kind of telling of my own history, but the closest I found were the biographies of Esther Johnston, my umpty-great grandmother the Jewish convict and First Lady of New South Wales (Esther), and of her contemporary – NOT friend – Elizabeth Macarthur (A Room Made of Leaves). Weirdly, both books end halfway through the story, with Esther’s triumphant closure being social acknowledgment by Elizabeth, while Elizabeth’s is feeling a sense of connection to her Paramatta farm despite knowing perfectly well that she had wrested the land from it’s traditional custodians.

I mean, those narrative choices make sense when you consider that Esther died an alcoholic widow and Elizabeth’s entire life was mythologized to justify the attempted genocide of the indigenous people. The true stories are kind of a bummer and don’t fit traditional (imperialist) Chosen One story structures. But this is where Emma Southon is so fucking good. Agrippina’s story is also embedded in histories of violent dispossession and oppression, but Southon embraces the ambiguity and complicity and tragedy. Plus there are jokes and swears.

The Donner Party books – The Indifferent Stars Above and The Best Land Under Heaven – came closer to scratching that itch if only because there is no way to frame that story as anything like a triumph. The worst you can do (and this has been done plenty) is to cast it as a weird aberration, a sort of Californian Dyatlov Pass incident, whereas in fact it’s the logical consequence of white Western expansionism, manifest destiny literally eating its young.

And that’s how you get the US state of California, superimposed (by force) on the Bear Flag Republic and the Mexican Californios and Spanish Alta California and before and throughout all of that a landscape of indigenous cultures and languages maybe as ancient and diverse as those in Papua New Guinea. I went on to read The Mighty Franks and Hollywood’s Eve, both of which have to reckon with the titanic legacy of Joan Didion, the ur-pioneer. And look, back in the 90s I venerated Didion like any other young white woman would-be new journalist, but when you read Roberto Lovato’s Unforgetting and are reminded of her callous line on El Salvador, “Terror is the given of the place,” that veneration turns a little sour. Given by whom, exactly?

Hollywood’s Eve makes a decent case for Eve Babitz – sensualist, humanist – as a counterpoint to Didion’s ironic analyst, but it’s weird and deeply Californian that each in the wake of profound personal tragedy has taken a hard right turn. I can’t think of a neat way to end this post. History, and especially history with white women in it, is just like this: frustrating, messy and inconclusive.

agrippina, by emma southon

Being a woman near power is lose-lose most of the time.

a charmed life, by liza campbell

both Sleeping and Snow attracted the attentions of princes with necrophiliac leanings.

in the dream house, by carmen maria machado

Afterward, I would mourn her as if she’d died, because something had: someone we had created together

How to read her coldness: She is preoccupied. She is unhappy. She is unhappy with you. You did something and now she’s unhappy, and you need to find out what it is so she will stop being unhappy. You talk to her. You are clear. You think you are clear. You say what you are thinking and you say it after thinking a lot, and yet when she repeats what you’ve said back to you nothing makes sense. Did you say that? Really? You can’t remember saying that or even thinking it, and yet she is letting you know that it was said, and you definitely meant it that way.

Your body is brilliant, even when you are not. It doesn’t just heal—it learns. It remembers. (All of this, of course, if the virus doesn’t kill you first.)

initiated, by amanda yates garcia

…there is no escape and nowhere to run. There is no outside capitalism anymore. Capitalism has contacted all of our tribes.

say nothing, by patrick radden keefe

Doctors found, paradoxically, that the people most prone to this type of anxiety were not the active combatants, who were out on the street and had a sense of agency, but the women and children stuck sheltering behind closed doors.

know my name, by chanel miller

You cannot write out of someone else’s dark place; you can only write out of your own.

catch and kill, by ronan farrow

“Is this the way the world works?” she wondered. “That men get away with this?”

an annotated bibliography of the inside of my head

You know those books that you can’t stop thinking about, won’t shut up about, and wish everyone around you would read? The ones that, if taken in aggregate, would tell people more about you than your resume?” Yeah, I do. Here are some of mine. (I’m going with the obscure ones. If you haven’t already read Dark Emu and The Body Keeps the Score, go, do.)

Nuclear Rites (1996) – Hugh Gusterson embedded himself as an anthropologist at Lawrence Livermore National Labs. He talks about bomb tests as rites of passage for the weapons scientists, and I find myself thinking about this whenever I think about douchebag VCs investing in horrorshows like Uber. A Cold War kid, I saw The Day After on TV and followed the news trickling out of the Chernobyl disaster. I couldn’t conceive of why anyone would build such fucking appalling weapons. This book helped me understand, at least a little.

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (1998) – I constantly quote Michael Frayn’s “In a good play, everyone is right.” This is a book-length version of the same idea. Her doctors had one framework for understanding Lia Lee’s epilepsy, and her Hmong family had another. However kind and well-intentioned Westerners think we are, when we tacitly assume the superiority of our version of the truth, children die.

Depression: A Public Feeling (2000) – This book introduced me to “political depression”, the idea that anxiety and grief are a wholly reasonable reaction to the destructive and hypercompetitive economies in which we are forced to live. The first chapters are a poetic memoir of one of the author’s depressive episodes, and I find myself reading them over and over. I’ll always be grateful that Ann Cvetkovich gave me a way of thinking about my relationship with my landscape of origin as a settler seeking to right the wrongs of the past.

The Language of Blood (2003) – A wrenching memoir that changed the way I think about transracial adoption and motherhood. If you like it, see also All You Can Ever Know.

Mother Nature (2005) – An anthropologist and primatologist considers the evidence for how best to raise children. A book of radical kindness. If you like it, see also A Primate’s Memoir.

Postwar (2006) I’ve called this the missing manual for Generation X. It provides the context for the political climate in which we were born – the fading of the postwar consensus and peace dividend, setting the stage for the attack on social institutions by Thatcher and Reagan, and the collapse of the social contract that brought us to where we are. You’re not going to like this book, exactly. It’s hard work and heartbreaking. Judt died before seeing his worst fears fulfilled, but if you want more, his student Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands is basically the prequel.

This House of Grief (2014) – Another dumb joke of mine is that Mad Max: Fury Road is a keenly observed documentary of my childhood. This book is, however, a keenly observed documentary of the middle-class Australia in which I grew up, its lonely and angry men, its frightened and angry women, and the horrors it inflicts on its children. In some ways it’s the distillation of everything I’ve talked about here: the slaughterhouse of empire, and ways in which it drains our private lives of meaning.

Horses in Company (2017) – Lucy Rees, who wrote some of my favorite pony books when I was a child, has spent the intervening thirty years catching up on new science around equine ethology. Much as alpha wolves and cocaine-addicted rats illustrate the stress of being an experimental subject rather than authentic wild animal behavior, the received wisdom about dominant and submissive horses reflects domestic animals under resource constraint. Rees argues that wild horses, who can eat the grass beneath their feet, live in the real-world version of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, and that in this state of nature they’re feminist matriarchal gestalt entities. I jest, but only a little. If we could take violence out of the way we interact with animals and children, maybe we could take it out of the way we interact with one another.

on bitterness

When I was pregnant I craved bitter greens, and this craving has never entirely left me. Last night I ate, with great focus, a plate of shaved brussels sprouts. Last week I told a colleague the story of how I broke my leg. I left part of it out; nevertheless, he said: “You sound bitter.” I am.

The evangelical church in which I spent my teens is highly critical of bitterness. So is society at large. I’m beginning to understand the ways in which this serves political ends. Bitterness is the perception of injustice. God knows we are treated unfairly, but God forbid we should be angry about it.

Burnout is cumulative, like concussion. After I was fired, I never wanted to work in the tech industry again. Now that I have returned (as if there were any other industry; as if academia, journalism, publishing, teaching weren’t equally soul-destructive) I can feel the limits of my capacity to endure, just as I feel the limited range of motion in my ankle. There are leaps of faith I could make in the past I won’t be able to make again, and not only because I am ageing. I have lost the faith that made such leaps possible.

In its place I have my bitterness: the astringency of medicinal herbs, that can heal, or poison. Knowledge that exists beyond the imagination of the church and society at large. Witchcraft.

the one with the politics

I’m gonna assume that if you stumbled across my tiny angry queer blog somehow and didn’t run away screaming, we’re not in violent disagreement about Right Versus Wrong or Should Babies Be In Prison or Are Black Or Indigenous Or Trans People Human or any of the other hotly disputed issues of the day. I started calling my members of Congress the day after the 2016 elections. I’ve written fistfuls of postcards. I got so active in my local Indivisible group, they eventually drafted me into leadership. My first order of business was partnering with SwingLeft to canvass in our local GOP-held Congressional district, CA-10.

CA-10 stretches from the foothills of Mt Diablo right across the Central Valley to the Sierra. It’s all of Stanislaus and a big chunk of San Joaquin counties. The big towns are Tracy and Turlock, Manteca and Modesto; the big industries are agriculture and being a bedroom community for Sili Valley. You can get from Tracy to San Jose in just under two hours on the Altamont Corridor Express. My first impressions of Tracy, back in January, were grim. Much of the town was carved out of cow-pastures in the 1990s, that nadir of domestic architecture where success equalled building a beige cube to occupy the maximum municipally permitted volume over its lot. My first day, I canvassed with a clipboard in a depressing mall on the suburban/rural border, complete with flashbacks to my adolescence as a supermarket cashier in same. It was rainy and cold. I talked to two Trump voters, one of them a woman. It was awful.

Things got a lot better when I started taking cronies from SF and knocking on doors. Even the Trump voters were pleasanter, and our fellow Dems are family. Tracy is much nicer in the sunshine, and it’s sunny most of the year. The very significant upside of those cow-pasture subdivisions is that the gardens are glorious. The most memorable was a little bungalow that had ripped out its lawn and replaced it with gorgeous native meadow plants – talk about life goals – but everyone had something amazing: vigorous bougainvillea or California poppies, jade plants spreading into whole jade trees, mature redwoods, tree ferns from my island home, and the wildlife to go with them: cheery, chatty murders of crows, raptors soaring on thermals, hummingbirds buzzing among the fuchsia, SO many butterflies.

I got fond of the drive out, through Crow Canyon with all its mustard plants, over the Altamont pass. (Less of the drive home through the traffic in the Maze.) I recruited enough folks that I had to drive a minivan to hold ’em all! Then I broke my leg. My good friend the esteemed Jack took over the minivan, and reports that almost 200 people showed up on Saturday – we used to get 20-30. I’m gonna miss the big finish in person, but today I signed up for texting all over the country. Man, has the technology ever moved along! It’s a far cry from Hillary HQ. I’m with Red2Blue, a class operation focused on cleaning lists and setting us up for success in future campaigns. We’re using Slack, GDocs and Relay. We survey. We sweep.

Some days, I can almost convince myself there are gonna be future campaigns.

But whether we win or not – and not seems likely; I’m not sure we can retake the Senate even if we retake the House – I’ll keep doing this. I should’ve been doing it all along. It’ll take more than electoral disasters or broken bones or rapidly collapsing democracies to stop me. I’ve been training for the resistance all my life.

celebrating pride month 20gayteen

Janelle Monáe
Angels in America
God’s Own Country
Nanette
Ocean’s 8

(Turns out my sister and I watched Nanette on the same night.)

farewell to the horse: a cultural history, by ulrich raulff

Against its nature, the terrified prey animal is turned into an incarnation of terror which drives the predator, man, to flee

The horse was born not in Troy, but in Alexandria: it is a phantom of the library

The connections forged between humans and horses nowadays are relationships based on love, communities of interest and sporting camaraderie.

the native language of equine history is Arabic.

Nobody would have noticed the waif-like boy who hung around the Paris horse market for days on end, in 1851 and the following year. Confident that he was unobserved, he scribbled away on the notepad he took everywhere with him, like a painter on his travels. Nobody recognized him as a young woman dressed as a man, pursuing her ambitious plan.

girls and horses are islands in the flowing river of time.

Somewhat like a precursor to cybernetics, only more direct: a neuro-navigation between interrelated natures. Two moving, loosely coupled systems, circumnavigating the lengthy route of thought, exchanging information directly via the short cut of touching nerves and tendons, thermal and metabolic systems. The act of riding means that command data is transferred in the form of physical data, in a direct exchange of sensory messages. Riding is the connection of two warm, breathing, pulsating bodies, mediated only by a saddle, a blanket or mere bare skin. Humans enter into similar informational connections when they dance together, wrestle or embrace.

the argonauts, by maggie nelson

How to explain, in a culture frantic for resolution, that sometimes the shit stays messy? I do not want the female gender that has been assigned to me at birth. Neither do I want the male gender that transsexual medicine can furnish and that the state will award me if I behave in the right way. I don’t want any of it.

funemployment funtensifies

It turns out that if you let me mooch off Mister Jeremy and spend my time however the hell I like for most of a year, it’ll be one quarter community organizing to resist the Trump agenda (weekly visits to local members of Congress plus get out the vote canvassing in our nearest GOP-held district), one quarter supporting under-represented minorities in the tech industry, one quarter writing gay science fiction, and one quarter snoogling horses. I don’t know why I’m surprised. I doubt anyone else is.

It’s possible my surprise Sabbatical is coming to an end, and I don’t know how to feel about that.

Can I even express my gratitude to my mister of eighteen years and one day for his fabulous awesometude and generosity, signs point to no. My advice for a happy marriage is to marry the kindest, smartest, most curious and emotionally intelligent person you have ever met, and then try to deserve them.

why i love yoz, part 36,422 in an ongoing series

“Of course if you had a robust praxis around intersectional feminism, you’d’ve already figured that out.”

“You’re so right.”

“No. I’m just lucky that your friendship-orientation is towards heinous bitches. I can be my true self.”