Wednesday, March 5, 2014

When do we Build?





Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. (Or their opinion, or ze's opinion - I like ze.) 

And sometimes mine is that you shouldn't have voiced it just because you can. 

Sometimes mine is "you are correct but just for you, perhaps you should have added something to indicate that your opinion is actually an opinion and not a judgment". 

Sometimes my opinion is "no - that thing you are saying is NOT an opinion it's a judgment and you are basically framing it in such a way that it is an order when you are trying to make a claim that other people should not do that to you?"

I'm entitled to all those opinions too.

I know that western culture is bad at respecting humans as feeling things but I'm getting concerned that "anger" is not just acceptable as a framework (because it is) but is also the default and accusatory position. Anger is awesome for violent revolutions to break free - but it's HORRIBLE for building things. So part of my opinion is this - we can respect anger as valid- but when do we create the building part?

Spoken as an eternally angry person.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Brief History of Extra Curricular Events



I've had the very unusual experience of honestly and sincerely trying to apply to a traditional four year college at an age that isn't even close to the "non-traditional" student or the revered and respected "senior citizen finally getting to follow her dream."
I'm directly in the middle of "neither fish nor fowl" age group again. Out of space, out of time. I'm beginning to feel very sympathetic to the Doctor.
There are many things that you are asked to do when applying to college for real, and I had never done any of them. When I went through school I collected my extracurricular activities as a way to save myself - not prepare for the future. As an adult I did things I believed in. I don't think a single one of them was undertaken for anything other than belief in what it was, joy of doing what it did or simply that I wanted to get good or better at doing it. It was certainly not for professional work or networking. That remains a place where I still look around helplessly, while I am more than willing to network for other people or projects.
So when it came time to fill out the "extracurricular activities" I ran into a problem - those activities are listed there to let traditional  students express themselves and their interests after having been trapped in an extremely regimented and ritualized world. Colleges need to know them a little bit, to see what sparks them more than ticking off the grades in a checklist - where is their passion?
It's odd then to look at several decades of "extracurricular" choices. What they really want to know it what can you learn outside of class. And I realized that I wanted to write something to that, but I am already scared of being a  fish in a helmet. So I wrote it for here and not for there.


A Brief History of Extra Curricular Events - What I Really Learned. 



I’ve had a lot of extracurricular and work experience – listing it all is monotonous, but the essay questions are very focused, and it seems to me the best way to share the worth of them, is to list them with the major thing I learned from participating in each one of them. So it’s more than a list, but less than an epic.

·      Elementary school – I learned that if you come back in when school is over and sit in the back of the library, you can read all of the international fairy tale and folklore books without having to worry about the checkout limit.  Also, I learned that no one checked the library after school.






 ·      Demonstration Swordfighter – Marklanders historic recreation – It’s better to duck.









·      Junior High School Student Government Vice President -  I learned that people who bully you mercilessly and call you Fish Face will vote for you if you deal with hecklers directly and support you and your issue, but still call you Fish Face for the next 6 years.


 ·      Dungeons and Dragons – If you can’t get cast in a show because you don’t look exactly like someone’s idea of a character,  you can make up something like that character and play it anyway. Oh, and I learned mapping, math, writing, drawing, researching and about having friends that stick with you way past Junior High School.

    
 · AV Club – learn all the equipment. Be able to fix all the equipment. Be patient and polite with people who didn’t and couldn’t.
 ·      Alternative High School – 2-hour classes lead to much better in class discussions and really getting into a subject than 45 minute ones.  I miss the lit class. 


·      Playcrafters, Summer Stock, New York Renn Fair, and New Mercury Theater etc - If you want to be an actress, it’s good to learn to be a stage manager too.

  ·      Stage Crew – I still don’t know why there’s a rivalry between tech and actors, but they all work together in the end. Also learning how to organize keep and use a cue book set me up to be successful as a software PM. It was a literal direct transfer.

 ·      Debate Club – I learned how to take notes on the fly and formulate a coherent argument without getting angry. I use everything I learned there professionally and academically.


 ·      Literary Magazine – I learned how to bring a project in on time and what a blind review system looked like. I also learned how to hold a poker face while listening to some very earnest, very bad vampire poetry.

 ·      Founding Member Teaneck New Theater – The hardest thing about a brand new volunteer local theater company is finding and developing stage crew. Stage Crews once developed and bonded with each other are like sports teams.
 ·      Creator/Editor In Chief Gateways MagazineWhen you’re running something complex it’s good to have at least some experience with all the pieces of the job so that you are able to budget project time and understand the needs of your team. Also, when you’re running a magazine outside the educational system no one keeps a poker face when listening to very earnest, very bad vampire poetry.


 ·      Art Institute of Philadelphia – I learned how to appreciate modern art even if it’s not my taste. It’s good to study things you may not like.


 ·      Temple Sholom Board Member – A caring community that supports each other and works to be inclusive of many types of contributions to that community is an amazing and humbling thing when they’re trying to save something they love. That said, I also learned to never be a board member of a congregation that’s merging ever again. It hurts.


 ·      Temple Sholom Sisterhood President – I learned that when organizations are built on a model that has its youngest members starting to be active around 50 years old and is built to last into their 80’s, sometimes the changes outside in society disrupt the expectations of the people inside that organization. If you’re much younger than the group you lead it’s important to really listen first. What your member is saying and what you are hearing might not be the same thing. Also long running gaming groups and Sisterhood have a lot in common.
       



MC3 Student Senator – When you are the person who is two generations older than the people you are working with, you should remember what you learned back when you were the Sisterhood President. Karma.
·      MC3 – M-Cubed Student Embedded Business – most people do not know what a specification or an app is, even if they are asking you to make one or the other for them. This is fixable with time and patience.



 ·      MC3 Information Technology All Campus Committee  - when you are a non-traditional student on a committee that’s in your former professional field you can really appreciate the staff and faulty of your school. But it takes it little while to find the right voice because it’s an odd mix of three of your cultural identities. It’s also honestly the best and most effective tech committee I’ve sat on in my life.


 ·      Magic the Gathering Competitive Player it’s a skill based card game, but it’s also the thing that broke down social barriers and allowed me to have comfortable intergenerational friendships at school. There is no age in gaming.


 ·      Montco Gaming Club – Department Head for Collectible Card Games – Some things really are the same even after thirty years.





Monday, December 17, 2012

It's the Holidays - and Friends Help

I am buried and overwhelmed and wearing my Don Quixote hat these days when my general outlook is more Sancho Panza on a good day and Aldonza on a bad one.

But I have a friend named Liz. She's a new friend but I met her Doing Things. Things I mean to write about here but keep quiet when push comes to shove because the desire to hide has gotten larger than the desire to share. Doing Things is how I keep it from growing too big.

Liz and Nathan sent me a package in a plain brown wrapper. I have said before that you cannot stop The Taunting, but this year the windmills and the Don Quixote of it all made it very, very close. But here it is the Taunting in it's plain brown wrapper - it followed all the rules - I knew it was coming but I didn't know what it was, it had packages that needed to be opened in order. And shockingly and beautifully it had Poppets. A Poppet. You cannot lie to a Poppet.

One of the Red Poppets came over to help and check out the Paper Poppet. Like all good taunting Packages this one came with instructions. The Paper Poppet is so beautiful and so full of Poppet that it was decided that he was going to have to find a way to be. He has decided that he would like to be a Billboard on a rooftop in Poppetropolis or perhaps a wall mural in the side of a building but he thinks he would prefer the rooftop view.


The Paper Poppet carefully removed himself from his charge much to the delight of the local denziens. The Choco's appeared joyfully on the scene. Not only was it chocolate it was chocolate that they had never tried before! NewThings!


And then they noticed that they needed to call over their friends and shouted across to the circus where the Coffee Poppets had been working out logistics for a food stand.

Because there is very little that makes that particular social circle as happy as things that combine their two passions, and here it was!

In bar form for relatively easy transport!

Plans and recipes were being discussed with logistics being undertaken and plans made to return for the others  . . . which left Red alone until Merri wandered by with her red balloon.

Packages are very exciting. It's all the wondering; "What could it be" and the excitement of red yarn.





Merri helped Red with the package and they spent some time guessing because they knew that Liz is a Maker of Things, and that meant that the inside could be almost any Thing.

And when it was opened the Thing was the best kind of Thing - A Thing from a Friend that could live in Poppetropolis and also BE a Friend!

They have all informed me that her name is Scarlet.




Sunray is looking into a rental for her now.



Friday, July 27, 2012

Dance - Everyone's Watching

The introspection didn't start because of the numerous and plentiful articles and responses about "geek girls" and "girl gamers" and women in general. It started, like so many things start, with Madonna.

I have always admired Madonna, even when I wasn't fond of her music. I admired her ambition, sense of risk and willingness to go big or go home. I liked her tough girl art-chick persona in her early movies, Desperately Seeking Susan and Who's that Girl. I rooted for her even though I didn't buy her albums. They were occasionally fun to dance to, and since I was desperately trying to be an actor I knew all the words and could sing along because that's what you do. You learn ALL the things when you are an actor so that you can use them. Ironically, unironically, bitterly, joyously. You need to be able to feel all the things the way someone might feel them, even if you don't particularly. The first Madonna song I liked was "Like a Prayer" and I probably liked that song because it's true.

When the person I love calls my name it still feels a bit like a revelation - and like prayer sometimes it's intense, or sometimes it's a shock that you still notice or care, and sometimes its a reminder of transcendence. Sometimes it's home.

It's a funny thing about that lyric though. Like all callow youth and the default of all pop songs and everything Madonna it was interpreted by some of my peer group to be about sex, specifically about blowjobs, because of the chorus:


When you call my name it's like a little prayer 
I'm down on my knees, I wanna take you there 
In the midnight hour I can feel your power 
Just like a prayer you know I'll take you there 
[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/m/madonna/like+a+prayer_20086915.html ] 


But that interpretation was made by a bunch of oversexed hormonal theatrical twenty somethings who were busy either creating their own spirituality or vociferously rejecting oppressive theologies. I do not say that last bit with snark. It was the era of AIDS. We were surrounded by a group called the "me generation" in the press and the rising of the Moral Majority in our politics and school system. Everyone was either letting us wander along or preaching at/to us.  We were diesnfranchised in the most literal sense being taught that "you can't fight city hall". The biggest joke at my school ( once again most likely because it was true) was that we wrote a longform article on the apathy of our student body and no one read it because they didn't care. Literally, no one even picked up our school paper.

Here's the part of the song you have to ignore in order to concentrate on the sex as subtext in Like A Prayer


Life is a mystery, everyone must stand alone 
I hear you call my name 
And it feels like home


To accept that this song is only about relationships to other humans an not about something more; life, meaning, place, is to ignore that there's no relationship given, that there's no vision or contact with the subject of the song. It ignores that there might be a voice as metaphor that calls her name and the feeling is actually based in a religious feeling.

She wrote a song about her name being called. She made a video explicitly showing the conflicts of being called out by a suffering god and and and angry population and it was looked at not as a song truly about her personal expression/experience of the merging of the conflict/joy of that feeling and interacting with a suffering god in a world ignoring the god and abusing the symbols it was looked at as a publicity stunt to piss off religious people and a song about blowjobs. But that bit:

When you call my name


He said to him "Abraham"

It's like a little prayer

and he answered "Here I am."

Hinneni 

If I had put this allusion through it's paces at the diner after rehearsal while everyone was making blowjob jokes,  I wouldn't have been mocked but I would have been kind of looked at as a killjoy. And honestly at that time the idea that Madonna was genuinely interested in religion or spiritual fulfillment would have been taken as a joke.  If I had brought it up in a group of pagan women I would have been taken to task for a number of things, but one of them would have been why I thought that Madonna would want to express her experience and yearning and interaction of the divine with male symbols and patriarchy.

I am reminded of these situations by thinking about the discussions around women in leisure cultures now.

Most of my female pagan friends at the time admired her for owning her sexuality on her terms instead of exclusivley make defined ones. It's hard to remember now when all of her bits have been co-opted and digested and third wave feminism exists but what she was doing was self-defined.  In retrospect she might be the only mainstream popular act to do that because after her came the two terms to minimize discussion of sexuality or women in cultural consumption "Attention Whore" for those who incorporated their sexuality their persona and "White Knight" for any male who might defend pretty much any woman with a public persona. You can't discuss anything that uses sex and bodies in performance or marketing without having the labels thrown around for chilling effect.

It's still hard for women to admit their sexuality or discuss fluctuations in it without it falling into some pre-packaged trope. Madonna managed to be self defined until very, very recently. When she hit fifty the "cougar" became a sexual stereotype for women who were somewhere between milfs and crones. She and Dr. Ruth Westheimer were my early models for empowered women talking about sex on their terms to other women and whatever men cared to listen, but not for men. Really for them. For us, for little, evenutally growing up, me.

The other Madonna song I liked was "live to tell" .

Madonna is complicated, she's a social signifier, I was waiting, really to find out what would happen next. The two albums of hers I bought because I liked them and they actually spoke to me were Ray of Light and Music.

Most of those songs still speak to me. She's writing about subjects that mean something. By the time they came out while people were very confused and starting to spread crazy rumors about what Kabaalah was ( hint it's not it's own religion and SURPRISE Catholisicim has it's own Kabbalah ) no one by that time would be surprised that her work contained religion and sex intermingled, and even if they thought it was her shtick, most people actually assumed that she probably meant it, even if they now judged her for being crazy.

Of all of the Madonna songs that fill up the cultural soundtrack of my life the one that I hear in the back of my head when I'm very, very still is the one that has these lines:

"When you're trying hard to be your best, could you be a little less"

Does anyone even know that song? Is it one of the ones that get forgotten because it's uncomfortable?

I don't actually play the song through at all. Over the last several years it's made me cry. Mostly because it's true. It's actually the only song or article or anything addressing the topic that feels like what I feel. She wrote it when she was approaching 40.

When you open up your mouth to speak
Could you be a little weak?


But she's not 40 anymore, she's 50 and when she was at the superbowl some other, very brave self defined woman who I admire for all the same reasons I admire Madonna wrote how disappointing it was that she was not embracing her age and seemed to be trying to reach backwards or fight aging in her superbowl performances.

And I wrote back to that woman through the lightness of tweeting that

it's hard 4 someone like me 2 figure out how 2 age in a way that's true 2 self. It must be x1000 for Madonna



And that performer agreed enough to retweet - amplifying my struggle and empathy to ALL of her followers who are quite dedicated. And I found myself worrying a tiny bit if there was a cost to defending something as nebulous as that fact that maybe it's just Madonna's turn to look around for who she is and how to be and find out nothing that fits. She can be sexual, and maternal, and flawed, and perfect and performing because ALL of our age and gender presentations are a performance.

And everyone is watching but the roles are narrowed. How do we explore the space? When do we admit that the construct of a public persona is just as authentic as the personal persona?

The difference is in the size of the audience, but here in the age of the internet all of our performance is the size of internationally sold out stadiums. We are all at the risk of suddenly being judged by the same number of people that will judge Madonna, just for a shorter period of time.

But that's a big thing to risk. We might trip up.

Other things are bubbling up right now about being a female and being in the now. This is it for this one though

"Do you know what it feels like for a girl"

Do we even admit what if feels like when we are still considered "girls" when we're looking to define ourselves post childrearing. Madonna was 40. Girl is much more complicated for me than bitch. I want to both claim and supersede it so that I can be seen as a whole person in the communities I operate in. But if I don't claim "girl" all of my tribe become slightly less visible ( even if I occasionally disagree with large percentages of that tribe).

You know what my male friends don't do? They don't refer to themselves as "boys".

I"m not sure I have an answer, I'm sure that this isn't my last exploration of this theme.

I am sure I want to dance.

Hineni


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mourning Becomes Elastic -




In Design There Is Something Called the Rule of Three


The warnings about the use of the Rule of three in all things is very interesting to to me: 

"This rule, however, does not supply a general law, but universalises a particular, the invariable observance of which would produce a uniform and monotonous practice. But, however occasionally useful, it is neither accurate nor universal, the true mean of nature requiring compensation, which, in the case of warmth and coolness, is in about equal proportions, while, in regard to advancing and retiring colours, the true balance of effect is, approximately, three of the latter to one of the former; nevertheless, the proportions in both cases are to be governed by the predominance of light or shade, and the required effect of a picture, in which, and other species of antagonism, the scale of equivalents affords a guide."

Hold on to this thought - I'm going to tell three stories. They're all the same but different. They're long.  

I'm trying to make sense of a composition in nature. 
All these words are like mixing the pigment for something that might be art. 

The First Story; but not the Earliest


Earlier this year the Perfectly Normal Husband received a call from his former Work Spouse. Or perhaps it wasn't from her but someone who told him on her behalf.  I could imagine it would be difficult for her to call.

For those who are not familiar with the idea of a work spouse, here is an explanation: 

(Actually no, never mind. When I started researching the best link to illustrate the concept I found a whole bunch of psychobabble, judgementalisim, and WARNING DANGER WILL ROBINSON!!!! explanations of warning people of the opposite genders that their REAL SPOUSES are in EMOTIONALLY INVOLVED with people who are NOT THEM, which will of course lead to cheating, because two people can never be close to each other without there being sex involved. It used to be that two people of opposite genders could never be close to each other without their being sex involved but I am now given to understand through popular media that close same-sex relationships now are also assumed to be sexual in nature since maybe someone's suppressing something. 

Grrr. I can see what my next blog update will be about . . .)

Ok here's a better idea of what a workspouse really is. It's the co-worker who has your back in the team, looks out for your shared office priorities, cares about the same priorities that you have and works together with you to try to make sure they survive contact with the rest of the company. He/She/It is your go-to person, your foxhole buddy, your safe place to vent so you can survive the innanity that ALL modern workplaces throw at employees to quantify and dehumanize them. 

(The "spouse" part comes because of the shared trust and partnership, you know like the regular kinds of spouses, I guess since everyone gets hung up on sex as the defining issue in marriage they just forget that trust and partnership is really the only thing that makes marriages anything besides a piece of paper and there are forms of love that have no-goddamned-thing-to-do-with sex. What the hell is wrong with us?)

So the Perfectly Normal Husband's Work Spouse ( whom I met, and was thrilled that she was awesome) had left the company last year because she had an opportunity to work in a way that was less crisis/based time consuming so she could spend more time with her real life Spouse. She worked with a consulting company that was the independent audit of what the Perfectly Normal Husband takes care of which means she had to do a whole bunch of things at his company AND ALSO do the independent things for her own.  There is not a whole department for what the Perfectly Normal Husband does so it really was just him and her trying to make sure their work was properly executed. ( which is massively important financially and legally)When she left he lost an experienced comrade in arms. It would be like Fafhard and Grey Mouser having to split up. 

BUT he was happy for her, he knew how much she loved her husband and how wonderful it would be for her to just manage to have a life with a little less fluorescent lighting in it,  maybe even some actual sunlight ( their jobs would be great for vampires who don't want to get caught). 

Now, not quite a year later, too soon to have even found a new ally, he got the call. He had to go to a funeral. Not hers. In some ways much worse. Her husband had fallen down a couple of stairs and landed oddly, he immediately lost consciousness and was comatose by the time the ambulance arrived. She was home. The first call was I think from his office or something letting him know about the accident, It was only a few days later that he got the call about her husband's death. 

While I joke about being old here in the Dreamtime, in the Meatworld we are not that old. We are the age where people with chronic illnesses finally might give in, we are at the age where car accidents, military action, drug addiction, and complications in childbirth might take a peer away suddenly, but we have a dialog for that. As an age cohort we even a space for death through crime where there are ritualistic things we might say to each other, to ourselves.  Those things might not be true, or fair, or even within the ballpark of reality, but whether we agree with them or not, we know that they exist. And so we know that those deaths exist. 

One of the things we say to people who are not immediately part of the family is this: "How was the funeral." And the answer is very much like the answer when you ask "how was the wedding". People tell you about the flowers, the clergy, whether or not the service really reflected the life and beliefs of the participants or if it was just done for the sake of someone else. They talk about what was worn, if the speeches/sermons were appropriate, who showed up. 

Sometimes they talk about the subject of the event if it was open casket. 

But they rarely, if ever, talk about the truth. 

When I asked the Perfectly Normal Husband about the funeral the Answer more or less was this:

It was horrible. 

It was horrible because 4 days isn't long enough to go from planning what you're going to do that weekend to arranging a funeral. 4 days isn't long enough to have time to look up the stages of grief or even have time to move out of  WTF?!? to begin them.

Because while we might be prepared for individuals in our age group to die, we are not prepared for the reality that spouses can die with literally no warning. Those other things, there are either warnings or other people responsible.  You get more than a minute, or you have a cultural context for understanding it. 

So it was horrible, because it was fast - 24 hours and his Work Spouse's family only could have a few people get there suddenly on a weekday. And she was happy to see her sibling and then she was gracious and supportive for everyone else. And then at almost the end, when they started moving the casket that's when she couldn't stay in the minute-to-minute mode, or maybe that was the minute that it became real and her universe shattered. 

I don't know what happened. I haven't asked for details because it was obvious that the Perfectly Normal Husband was seriously affected by it, both because he cares for his former Work Spouse and knows what her husband meant to her, and because there was no barrier for him not to imagine it happening to me. 


I was told several times a day that I wasn't allowed to die for the first week afterwards. 



It went down to about once a day the next week.



For the next month I would only be commanded to maintain immortality about two or three times a week.


I think he just looks at me and thinks it real hard now.



I wouldn't agree to the terms, but everytime he disallowed my death, I felt his pain for his friend and the horrific empathy we all had for her. We are not at an age where we think about being widows and widowers when we're happy in our marriages.

We're at the age when we just realize what those relationships are,  and what they mean for the long haul. The idea of losing that when we feel like we just figured out how to have it?  Just the idea is devastating. The reality must be like living inside your own tsunami.

If I die suddenly before Perfectly Normal Husband, I hope someone calls him on the first Valentine's day, even if it's only a week later and tells him some stupid work thing that's funny or asinine or a real problem, and doesn't NOT call because he's in a tsunami. And if you're the one calling you don't have to mention the day, or me, or anything else. Call him because you were thinking of him because of that thing.

And if it's not me or him, but it happens to someone you know at an age you didn't really think of it happening at all, call that person. Do the same thing.

He had just tripped, there was nothing on the stairs - one minute he was there, the next minute he was not, three days later his body caught up. There are no rules for this.


The Second Story: This week


I've made a new friend. We generally see each other on Wednesday and play card games. I have not been doing well with social things lately but she is exactly the right kind of patient/impatient/irreverent to both understand and ignore the oddities.

This week on Wednesday she was returning from a funeral and she was shaken. She is not religious, but she is originally from a culturally shared ethnic/religious space with her co-worker who had asked her to attend the funeral.

The day before, my friend had been involved in negotiating a workplace problem where one subordinate was using a cultural/religious bias as a basis to intimidate and harass one of her direct reports.  The day before that funeral my friend was deeply unhappy about religion and culture and people. She doesn't have a really good place in her head for some of the multiplicity of being thinking and religious, but she's not a New Atheist either. She just doesn't understand. 


(Which is OK, because people like Ross Douthat seem to want to present themselves as thinking and religious when what they are really doing is being reactionary to something they find spiritually disturbing and dressing it up as religious belief instead of conservative social belief ( not the same thing as "family values"). I try to remember that when I hear someone "speaking for the atheists" the people who claim to represent my side of an argument rarely do, so I assume the people representing that side of the argument are also probably misrepresenting the group they are described as.)

Therefore my friend was not prepared.

She had intended to go to the funeral and support the co-worker, she had intended to leave immediately afterwards. The co-worker is her (our) age.

Earlier last week, the co-worker's husband hadn't been feeling well, a stomach flu or a nausea or something, he started running a fever and feeling very dizzy or some other symptom that was enough to send you to the hospital but you expect to be sent home with some sort of warning about not overreacting.  The co-worker was at work, she got the call from her husband that there actually was something wrong, he had some kind of kidney infection. The doctors were prepping a catheter to drain the kidney ( or do whatever the medically appropriate thing is since this is now a fourth-hand story) but when they went to make the incision, he had expired.

It was less than a half an hour between Co-worker speaking with him and the call from the most likely shell shocked doctors. She was still at the office. It was a matter of minutes. He didn't even feel sick the day before.

We don't have a script for sudden death from illness without warning. Not without a pre-exisiting condition, not without youth or age being a risk factor. Just the middle. Just a morning you wake up divvying up chores, talking about schedules and in an afternoon your life is changed, different. No choices were made or options given, no outside individuals. You were part of a pair now it's just you.

This story is filled with distractions that the first one didn't have, the Co-worker is an immigrant, she faced this with no family of her own in the country, only the family of her spouse. There are two small children under the age of 5. Part of me wonders if anyone will even allow her to grieve in this world of insisting that we make children our raison d'etre. Will she get to be a widow or will she only be seen as a mother?

Although she was surrounded by people she was alone, in her tusami with only the rythms of her cultural religion to give her a framework to survive. Her in-laws were not of that culture, my friend however disassociated from the religion, was.

Their religion ( which is not mine ) requires a liturgy to be said for the departed. My friend was shocked to find herself singing along. She was even more shocked to find that she was the only one who knew to sing with the sudden widow.  Like the Perfectly Normal Husband's Work Spouse, and like my own religion, the Co-Worker would normally have had this funeral within a shorter timeframe but it was delayed due to Easter observance for their cultural group. So perhaps the extra time is not a good thing.
The Co-Worker asked my friend to come with her to the burial service. How could she say no? She knew that she was the only person there who shared the same familiar signals, the thing that gives order to the chaos.

And then after the burial, the Co-Worker asked my friend to come to the meal afterwards. The one where it would be his family that lost their son, brother, cousin, nephew, father. She was the only one who lost her husband.  There's a horrible thing that happens when you become the surviving spouse, you have to take care of and reassure all of them, but except for your children, you are now no longer an extension of their living family, you're what's left after the person they've lost.

Sometimes that will be OK if you're close, if they love you on their own, or if they love you for the sake of your husband it will be OK. But it will be too soon, and there are small children that everyone can use to avoid the raw truth of it and so spouse of inappropriate age, sometimes you'll be there on your own, unless when you reach out your Co-Worker will risk her own spiritual equilibrium to be there for you. How could she say no?

It is impossible not to see yourself in that space, if you are that age.

When my friend came over she was still dressed in what she wore to the funeral.  We are new friends so we can have the deep conversations because we are still learning each other. There's very little shorthand yet.

But I know that her husband will be told, or at least thought at very loudly that he is not allowed to die.

Religion should do three things;

  • it should give you a baseline of ways to be in the world that you can measure against and agree or disagree with ( at least it will make you choose the way you are in the world as a conscious choice instead of an unthinking one, unthinking unchosen orthodoxy is a heresy), 
  • it should give you a comfort and community to support you through very bad things, 
  • it should give you a method to express and celebrate really good things. 


If it isn't doing those three things then it either isn't a religion at all, it's someone else's power trip or if it's doing those things for other people and it doesn't work for you then it might be a religion, but it's not yours. Not everyone needs or has a place for a religion in their life. No religion should be substituting for the hard work of deciding, surviving or celebrating ALL The Things.

But there can be something very, very profound in supporting someone who does have or needs the religion, allowing them to access it for the very bad things. Because a religion with people in it is about connection. And if you help your Co-Worker by remembering the liturgy, singing it properly and allowing her to connect, that only means you are a good person, you don't have to rethink anything about your own beliefs at all.

It's amazing what disrupting the pattern of life can show you though.

My friends problem at work between the two subordinates was proven not to be about religion, or even culture. All of the co-workers from both groups came to the third religion's service. Six or seven cultures filling the room, with only the clergy and Co-worker and my friend representing the religion of the service itself. My friend was able to put things in their place. Religion is used as an excuse for what people want to do, good and bad, when it's not doing the other three things. It doesn't mean that it has no value, it also doesn't mean that you need to have one just because sometimes there are places where it does.

But being distracted by the spiritual thing is one of the ways to avoid the reason you are picking at the question you don't want to ask; "What would I do if this happened to me?"

It's impossible not to feel the pain for her friend and the horrific empathy we all had for her. We are not at an age where we think about being widows and widowers when we're at the beginnings of our marriages.

We are all little more careful on the stairs, we will most likely be less inclined to think allergies make us nauseous.

The Third Story is Mine - it's the Earliest


There's no secret here in the Dreamtime that my last workplace was rough. 

There's no secret that I spend a lot of time thinking about human connection, art, work, life.

We spend so many hours at work, more really than we spend at home. That's why I was so happy that the Perfectly Normal Husband had a Work Spouse, because work is complicated, people are full of the same things they are full of at home and sometimes that makes their behavior more like a family and less like "professionals" because we are forced into so much time together. 

We cannot change who we are at the base. 

I had always assumed that workplaces ran on a level of dysfunction. I rarely speak about the woman who changed my mind. She was The Best Boss I Ever Had. About three years after she was my boss I had The Best Professional Mentor I Ever Had. He taught me how to maximize my strengths and compensate for my weaknesses in professional settings. She taught me how to be. 

This story is going to be short, I can't write it for very long. 

We worked in a highly regulated field, she had been burned by people who had held the position she was hiring for, I had been burned by bosses. When we met for our final interview we broke a whole bunch of rules.  She was an artist. She was very good. Mixed media. 

It's been seven years since I got the phone call from her. 

We encouraged each other. I took over her position when she left, she was inspired to leave because I let her know how valuable her skillset was. She gave me the greatest professional compliment in my life when she let me know that if I did start the business I was thinking of she would love to work for me. When I come to any kind of ethical professional crossroads it's her voice and her example that I use to get me through. 

When I saw the poppets I thought of her. That's deeper than the sentence. It's not seeing poppets "oh I'm thinking of Dolores" it's more like "Poppets are made out of the thing that makes Dolores".  She never let me let go of the art part - even though I didn't really think of myself as an artist, especially then. 

We were actually doing that thing we say we'll do but don't do very often, we stayed friends when we weren't working together anymore. We were looking to grow our friendship over a long period of time. 

The phone call after 4 years of post-job friendship was this. "I have Stage 4 lung cancer".  It was advanced, and misdiagnosed because she was in this odd not young, not old, not really middle aged place and she had never smoked. They thought it was asthma or allergies ( there goes those allergies again). They the capital They did not give her very long. Weeks, maybe a few months. 

She did things in her own way and managed to contain the cancer without radical medical intervention for the better part of year. 

The diagnosis was sudden, we had time though, time to sort, order, be honest, be there for each other. She and all her friends were able to prepare her husband for the time after her. Her son was able to move his wedding into the time for her to be there. She found a way to be at my wedding. 

Her husband sent us all a beautiful email. A photograph of her hand from the moment before she died.  It had a Buddhist symbol painted on it. She passed at home exactly the way she wanted to on her own terms. He called to invite us to her life celebration. They had planned it together.  It was hard but it was harder to not do things the way she wanted - she was quite commanding in her positivity. 

I only knew her husband through her. We don't share much of the same social circle although I would be happy to see him again or befriend him if that should change. But I didn't really have to worry much about him because he was surrounded by friends and loved ones who were looking out for him. He had his Work Spouse, his friends who upset their spiritual equilibrium to mourn with him in a way that gave his mourning shape and expression. 

While she was very, very important to me, I was a small part of the totality of her life. And that's the way it should be. So really my role was to share that part of her work life (10 years at that company and I was the one who represented it, the friend she had kept from that era). I had stories they didn't know, I knew about skills and talents that weren't as relevant. I was happy to share but I knew my loss wasn't the same as theirs. 

It felt selfish to grieve for her.


Which makes one wonder about the composition of grief. 


Because it is 7 years later. And I was asked to write a PSA about smoking. It is very, very difficult to say anything that has not been said before. I decided to take a secondhand smoke warning angle. Personal experience is highly prized in early college writing ( and overly encouraged) and I'd fought tooth and nail over each "write about yourself or your experience" exercise.  But I knew that I could personalize this. I lost a friend I did not have enough time with because of secondhand smoke exposure over her lifetime. 

This was a mistake. I've been crying like the grief was new every time I poked at it. I hear the grief like a drumbeat when I looked for things to use for the visual component of the PSA. I had to leave the room after we played the audio that I had recorded for the radio spot. 

I've missed her before, I feel her loss every now and then, it was in it's place. 

Now it is not. 

Perhaps the other two stories brought it into sharp relief  but the Work Spouse's husband was before the PSA made me look though our photos, and my new friends Co-Worker was the day after I'd finished it.

Dolores believed in patterns and spirituality and fate in a very different way than I do. She would be amused by my having to compose the story this way. 

If this blog were a sculpture it would be three women with figures at each woman's  base. It would be clear and evocative, you would have to move around it. 

If this blog were a dance, there would be three movement and a final composite of movement into a single image. 

It was impossible for me to imagine being in her husband's place, because the rituals and the support were there for him and at that funeral the loss was not the loss my friend and co-worker had to survive, it was the loss of my own friend and co-worker. 

But now as I'm realizing there isn't a Dolores-shaped-hole in my life, there's a space that Dolores was in that was apparently filled up with the "lack-of-Dolores" waiting for me to notice it and let me know that I wasn't done mourning. That maybe you never are. 

I hope you only feel this way with the level of loss of friend gone too soon, that the surprise is just because you haven't resolved the grief because you don't feel entitled to it. I hope it isn't multiplied with the shape and surprise of the loss of your partner. 

I hope her husband is doing OK. 



The Rule of Three


And to give the utmost force and solidity to your work, some part of the picture should be as light, and some as dark as possible : These two extremes are then to be harmonized and reconciled to each other." (Reynolds' Annot. on Du Fresnoy.)





Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Invisible



I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the nature of identity and the right to be unseen.This is an odd unsettled time. It requires me to put myself forward in ways that I’ve avoided for years. It’s not the first time I’ve confronted that issue in art or artistic ideas. The blog exists because of the conflict between the desire for public expression and my complete lack of desire to have everything in my life publicly traceable on the Internet.

Instead of “No one on the Internet knows you are a dog” it has changed and expanded to “ with about three minutes and two clues from the text of your status update I cannot only prove you are a dog, but identify your preferred brand of dog food”. Anonymity is something that created both the wild west atmosphere of the comments section but also a “safe” place to express what you were feeling, even if that feeling was or unpopular subjects for dinnertime conversation like pain, or loss of self. The expression had an outlet without the social fallout. The traceability of our digital selves has removed that outlet and instead created almost victorian propriety or completely unfiltered public sharing. But for those of us in the middle it's created a chilling effect on expression. Be careful what you trap in amber. Instead of being afraid of being socially shunned we are now afraid of things that might affect our employment, current or future.


We are being asked to allow ourselves to be traced over the web when we move from one site to another to “allow us to receive targeted ads for things that we like” so we won’t be “bothered” with things we might not, but what that really does is increase not only our own insular world of taste and thought but prevent us from discovering other aesthetics and thoughts. Google was once a system where you knew the algorithm had nothing to do with you, you would just see the best matches and the “most popular” sites. I am disturbed when I go to Google search and see that it keeps me signed in or that if I move my browsing to “private browsing” it offers fewer images. I am not interested in having my online identities associated with my given name, if I wanted that I would have used my given name as my online identifier. I do not want my politics associated with my business concerns or my art associated with the fact that I have a religion unless I choose to express it in the art itself. I know better – this is not social networking for me, this is commodification for them. Google’s president made it clear he’s looking to become an internet based bank, but he’s wrong about his target market and what they were looking for – engineers should not design for “social” because the reality is that society requires more than a little bit of polite fiction and real world information is a click away from a name and address – it takes nothing. We are now the largest small town in the history of humanity, and perhaps all the social network exploiters might want to remember that there is a reason that many people move out of small towns as soon as they possibly can.

I don’t want to be pressured for my identity everywhere I go, it disturbs me to see my name displayed on something I have not provided my name to. I am not interested in having the computer share every article I read. I have options I am technically savvy, I can cover most of my tracks and turn on my recordable clicks to support artists whose pages generate income that way, but the shock of seeing my name on a website asking me to comment because the server stored my facebook data in a Google enabled browser – not cool, it’s a borderline violation.

AND YET. . .

A long time ago when I ran the magazine I had a strict “no fantasy names” policy. I have never had a nickname in the Science Fiction or gaming community. As a point in fact Drinne is the only nickname that has ever stuck. My position then, as now is that I participate in things like gaming, acting and SF because they are entertainments and hobbies, I was not and am not escaping who I am when I do these things, I do not need to deny or recreate myself in order to enjoy them. In my perfect world they are simply part of the whole package of who I am.

The job I held for many years required invisibility; my one nickname became a way to safely stay engaged with my scattered community while I reclaimed the part of me that produced art. Art Drinne and Working Drinne could cross the streams but not in a directly accountable way. As a matter of fact using Drinne was the way that I could stick by my “no fake names” rule. It was a real nickname given to me by a dear friend and former roommate, which was only fair since I shorten everyone’s name given half a chance. It holds the singular honor of most successful nicknames since my mother doesn’t approve. Here in the Dreamtime I am Drinne, who is still me in the Meatworld. A compromise, and a practical one. Drinne is a name that I will actually answer to when called. I am me, half hidden on the internet.

And then connection became more difficult. The practices of hiding the edged bits, and the sharing and sometimes oversharing of self with others became too much, too intense. I became too open digitally, at the same time I was shutting down in the Meatworld. I felt like I was either hurting people or being hurt. I overcompensate by explaining everything creating the textbook definition of TLDR, and then when I realized that I had held back so hard and so long that I couldn’t write, or produce art, or reach out in either world, the blessings of Facebook came to light. The communication is shorter there, the conversations are more casual. More like phone calls “ hey how are you doing? Is the dog all right? Great! Did you read that story in the Washington Post?”

In person, I have to practice small talk when I’m out amongst people who don’t know me. The space to disagree has disintegrated and it’s hard to speak about important or deep things but reasoned debate is no longer fashionable, I wonder if it’s even possible. Which means the form of conversation that used to be our bread and butter became filled with landmines and hair triggers. I have just as many as anyone else. But now I begin to wonder if this is all my own excuse. The connections between Drinne and my full name are numerous now. I carefully apply when to reveal myself, when I think it’s important, but I’m beginning to question if my reasons for doing it are based in my desire for invisibility because other people are using the threat of connection to keep me “acceptable” for commodification. By insisting on access to my online presence, an employer is insisting on access and therefore control and censorship to my life outside the office. By attacking women on the Internet for any number of reasons there is a silencing effect on speaking out in my own voice on issues that matter to me. It is not that I am afraid of expressing these issues in person, but I’m not willing to be chum for the Internet haters online.

But that’s one other way to silence me, and I’ve been doing such a good job of being silent myself. It’s building up all the unsaid things, all the difficult things I don’t want to bother my friends with. I’m hoping it will find it’s way to art, but I’m worried that what will really happen is withdrawal.

In my classes this semester I have to engage with the mass media and I find that my incredible backlog of rage comes out there. For two classes a week it’s impossible to pretend that I’m not invested in the world, that the conditions of EVERYTHING don’t affect me. It’s undeniable, but to control it, I’m going to need to figure out why I choose to limit my identifiable expression here. I will have to share this blog with the class itself- another connection between the digital me and the physical. And I’ll poke at the experience with my analytic-stick and see what it does to me in my current state of anxiety. But I’m pretty sure as a fan of Spider Robinson’s story, Melancholy Elephants, that no matter what else happens I will be advocating for the right to be forgotten.