About a week ago, a woman came through my line at Borders with platinum blonde hair, long lavender nails, and two deep purple bruises around her eyes.

And I said nothing, even though I assumed all the things I've been taught to assume--her husband's beating her, she's afraid for the kids, she's afraid for herself, some part of her believes he loves her. I treated her just like I would have treated any other customer, asked her whether she had her Borders Rewards card and whether she'd like a bag. Wished her a good day.

Maybe she really did fall down a flight of stairs. I hate making assumptions about people I don't know.

But maybe someone hit her and what she really wanted was for me to ask if everything was all right, if there was anything I could do. I know there have been times when I've sat on the Metro, lips tight, and wished someone would ask me if I was okay. And I've never had two black eyes, except when I opened a car door into my face when I was a kid. (I also fell going up stairs and left tooth marks in the wood floor at the top and closed my pinky in a door that year--it was not my most graceful period.)

Maybe everything was all right. Maybe she has some sort of weird skin disease that makes it look like she has two black eyes when she's really fine. Maybe. Maybe.

I will never know. I don't regret not asking her. It wasn't my place. But some fundamental human part of me wishes I had.

(Pudgeball kitten has decided that he loves All Things Shiny. His best friend at the moment is a crinkly foil Christmas ornament that he carries around with him and stashes in various places. Also: all of the tin foil has disappeared from the recycling and reappeared in corners around the apartment.)
There are a couple of things that mystify me about my country.

One of them is casserole.

The other one is how we manage constantly to maintain the most hypocritical attitude towards...everything. We'd like the world not to die, but we don't want to set concrete goals in order to provide for sustainability. We apparently don't want people from Mexico to cross the border, but our environmental choices are some of the main causes of Mexico's imminent uninhabitability. We get pissed off when other governments spy on and torture people, but we, y'know, spy on and torture people. We hold equality as one of our highest ideals, but we provide very few resources or education options to minorities and the poor. And I can't really figure out why.

Are we just oblivious? Do we think that we're better than everyone else? More deserving? Are we complacent? Do we not have enough charismatic leadership? Are we too preoccupied with concerns about war? Terrorism? Have we become too entrenched in our elitist meritocracy?

It's interesting. And it used to make me really angry, to the point where I couldn't even articulate my feelings, but recently it's gone so far beyond that as to be simply bemusing. The thing is, I think I could get behind a strong movement for change. But I know enough about myself to understand that I'm not the voice of that movement. I'm not charming or charismatic or science-y. I'm reasonably smart, but I know a lot about dead British poets and Medieval verse, not really the now.

Is that voice out there? Have you heard it? Is there anything but old men talking about nothing that changes anything and the slow heat of silence?

(P.S. Title from the gorgeous Apocalypse Lullaby by the Wailin' Jennys, which I will not post an .mp3 for because the blind monkeys at the RIAA might think it was costing them money and sue me for 8.5 gajillion dollars, and I have $15.33 to my name right now. No-go. :P)
I just finished reading J. M. Coetzee's Foe. It is superficially a retelling of the writing of Robinson Crusoe. That's interesting, but not the part I was interested in.

Because really, it's an exploration of the inherent darkness of writing, its seductiveness, the loss of fact in pursuit of truth, the loss of truth in the pursuit of a beginning, middle, and end. About how storytellers are always a little in love with their stories. About how authors warp and bend to fit their needs, starting with a stolen grain of truth and finishing with a masterpiece of fiction. About substance.

And I wonder: am I that author? Is writing inherently a process of theft, each one more clever than the last, until we are left with nothing but hollowed-out shells of the truths we have used?

My aunts constantly reinvent family stories. Each Christmas, they bring out the whole repertoire, each time making themselves the centerpieces of others' experiences. When I was young, my mother told me never to take what they said as truth without asking her first.

This fascinated me. Not that they lied, because I lied then and lie now, as does everyone. Not that they lied, then, but rather that they perceived their lies to be truth. That they could tell a different version of the same story each year. I began asking for the same stories, noting dissimilarities between each person's telling and the various tellings of a single person.

The project of documenting my family's inherently incomprehensible past thus became instead a project of understanding the mind of the storyteller.

What I post here is as true as I can make it. Yet I constantly resist the urge to invent myself, to tell stories that never happened, to embellish those that did. I don't want my sister to pull aside her children, ten years from now, to tell them not to trust me. And I live in a subtle but constant fear that one day I will not be able to know the difference between the stories I have lived and those I have lived only in my mind.
Last night, I was in what I think was the worst pain of my life, with menstrual cramps so bad that I literally couldn't breathe for ten or fifteen seconds at a time. The Boy, despite his dogged insistence that he wasn't tired and would stay up with me, passed out around four in the morning. I didn't have the heart to wake him, so I crept into a chair nearby and started making lists of things to distract myself from the fact that I could barely function.

My most important list consisted of ways I'm going to reduce my environmental impact. Yes, I get environmentally conscious when I'm suffering. Sue me.

Things I already do:

-ride a bike, walk, or take the bus everywhere
-re-use paper
-use as little water as possible
-drink tap water
-use a coffee mug instead of disposable cup (except from Cafe Soleil, where they use biodegradable "plastic" cups)
-buy local produce
-conserve electricity by using as little light as possible
-try to buy unpackaged (or sparingly packaged) food
-buy organic, fair-trade coffees and teas

Eco-friendly things to continue or start using:

-dishwashing liquid (continue)
-detergent (continue)
-general cleaning products (continue)
-pads/tampons (start)
-shaving cream (start)
-conditioner (continue)
-lotion (continue)
-sunscreen (start)
-sponges (start)
-natural-fiber toothbrush/hairbrush
-toothpaste (continue)
-unbleached toilet paper, paper towels, coffee filters, etc. (continue)
-my fertilizer-free garden! which I'll have next year! (start)

Eco-friendly things that I can't afford now but will when I'm not a poor college student:

-100% natural-fiber clothing
-recyclable/biodegradable shoes
-100% organic food, especially locally produced
I'd like to preface this by saying that I don't know anything about SGA or its fandom. And that this is therefore not really about the recent wank concerning racism in AUs. If you want to read about that, many of the posts have been collected in [livejournal.com profile] metafandom's most recent post. That series of posts, however, started to make me think about how we view race and racism, of how we think about what we say, how we contextualize our relationships with other people

What I'd like to address is not so much the issue of racism in fandom. Or anywhere, for that matter. I won't deny that it exists. In fact, I would argue that in many ways, it has become more subversive and more damaging as the institutions supporting it have been forced underground.

I won't deny that minorities in the United States have to deal, frankly, with a lot of shit. I know the statistics about high school drop-out rates and poverty rates and immigration. Minorities have trouble in this country.

I'm white.

Just putting that out there, because what I have to say has simultaneously nothing and everything to do with the color of my skin.

In a reply to a deleted post, which was in turn part of a discussion of the SGA fic that inspired this race discussion, [livejournal.com profile] scarletts_awry quoted the original poster (OP) as having said, "Well, I can't really comment on the racial aspect -- I'm a white girl, so I've never had to deal with that societal flaw."

Which is absolutely the crux of the race problem from several angles. First of all, the original poster felt that she could not comment on racism because of her own race. Secondly, the OP seemed to think that being white created a buffer between her and the world in which people are racist. Third, this comment implied that white people are somehow impervious to racism, and are never on the receiving end of racist comments or actions.

Each of these three points is one I've encountered over and over, and each one makes me wonder, every time, why racism is considered so separately from any other form of discrimination. I'd like to take the time to come up with an organized, elegant essay on the subject, but I'm tired. So, point-by-point rebuttal:

1. Racism is discrimination. And everyone knows what discrimination feels like. You have been ignored in a classroom because the teacher likes the kid in the back more; you have been passed over for a promotion because your boss doesn't like you; you've tried to sit with a certain group of people at lunch only to be summarily shunned as they return to their self-referential conversation, ignoring you. These are smaller instances of discrimination, to be sure, nothing like the deep and often subconscious discrimination of racism, but they provide at least some common ground, somewhere we can all meet and say Yeah, I know what you mean.

White people are therefore no less able or qualified to comment on racism than anyone else.

2. White people have to deal with racism. All the time. I have to deal with it on a daily basis here in Wisconsin, an intensely white state; I had to deal with it on a daily basis when I lived in Washington DC, which was majority black. These two opposite experiences gave me some interesting contrasts to work with

3. It is entirely possible for someone to be racist against a white person. I'm sure it doesn't happen as often as it happens to minorities, and I know I've had very specific experiences that don't represent those of most Americans. But believe me, I'm speaking from experience in saying that it is very possible to be discriminated against as a white woman. Racism is not a one-way thing. It's a web. It's a white person discriminating against a Hispanic person discriminating against a black person discriminating against an Asian person discriminating against a white person.

As a sort of addendum to that: "white" is a race. The United States does not consist of "white" and "race."

I suppose my real point, which could probably be substituted for everything else I've said here, is stop telling me that I feel guilty about racism and start understanding that I sympathize.
Proceed at your own risk. I just think things out better in written form, is all.

For some reason I've yet to decipher, I'm very sensitive to symbolism. I see it in everything, even where it doesn't exist, sometimes. I see a flag and it's a piece of cloth, it's a war, it's a place that raised me, it's something I swore allegiance to before I knew how to spell the word and stopped swearing allegiance to as soon as I figured out exactly what that meant. It drapes in the background of smiling pictures: politicians whose names cascade hierarchically down office walls.

But it's more than that, and less.

It's the interstates in a blizzard, the McDonald's that's the only food for miles, and love it or hate it, I was born here, and whether or not I like it, this is part of my soul. So I can't say I hate this country. I can't. It's a physical impossibility.

That's not to say I haven't said it in the past. When I was fourteen and fifteen, when I had never loved anything enough to understand hate, then I could say it and say it freely and listen to punk and breathe coffee until it oozed from my pores and Man, I fuckin hate this place.

I had no idea what that meant. I had no idea what words meant. I had no idea.

All that I have ever asked from this country is a place to sleep, some air to breathe, other people who speak my language and smile my smiles and get dressed up to go to the diner and eat lemon pie. All I have ever asked is for a corner to make my life here. And I am so small, there must be a corner somewhere.

All I have ever asked is to grow up to be someone. Without fear. Knowing that my life is not costing others, knowing that my breath is not stealing someone else's, knowing that my home does not come back to me having raped and burned and decimated.

And I can't know that. Because it's not true, because my life is costing others, because my home does come back to me with blood flaking from its fingernails.

I don't.... I don't have the callousness to deal with that, I suppose. Most of the time, I can ignore it, can turn inward to words and outward to the joyous expanse of the pseudo-world online. But sometimes I read something or see something and that house of cards flutters apart, kings and queens and jacks and jokers staring up at me, hands tucked warm into their robes. Sometimes it's just not right, and I wish I could just hate this place and be done with it. But then the lake reflects the sunlight or someone who couldn't have grown up anywhere but the midwest crashes into my life and I love this land so fully my chest hurts.

My words aren't working properly. At all. This is not quite and more than what I'd intended to say, and is probably far more than you'd ever wanted to know. I just. Sometimes, I just don't know.



May 2010



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