(sometimes withershins, widershins or widderschynnes) means to take a course opposite that of the sun, going counterclock-wise, lefthandwise, or to circle an object, by always keeping it on the left. It also means "in a direction opposite to the usual," which is how I choose to take it in using it as the title of this blog. We're all in the same world finding our own way.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

In Which Danny Goes on a Date

I feel like I rarely post about my personal life in too much detail here, probably because the majority of people reading this are friends who receive regular updates in person and thus it seems redundant and detractive to the semi-academic, semi-social justice, poetic vibe/theme that has permeated this blog.

That said, I went on a date this past weekend. I can't remember the last time I've been on a “date” that had the intention of being a date and wasn't some kind of confusing blend of potential interest and existing friendship. I went on a date with someone I barely know, with the intention of getting to know him better to see if we have any kind of chemistry or if maybe we should abort mission and head for the safety of newly minted friendship. For now, I'll call the gentleman in question Glitter.

I brought him flowers.
“Would you tell me, please,” said Alice, a little timidly, “why are you painting those roses?” -Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 
 I've never gotten someone flowers like this. Well, unless you count the time over the summer where I got a calla lilies at the Pike Place Market and then forgot them when I stayed the night at my friend Joe's and didn't remember them until I was an hour away on public transportation and told him to give them to his mom.

They were white roses. Or rather they were white roses when I purchased them. I took them home and painted the roses red. I never asked if he understood the literary nod to Lewis Carroll, but the playing card (Ace of Hearts, naturally) with the quote probably made it painfully obvious. Assuming there are future dates and my budget allows for it, I'm toying with the idea of continuing to give Glitter literary flowers.
Perhaps as a friend of Dorothy, I can acquire some poppies. And morbid though it may be, perhaps I can rustle up a small bouquet of the petals Ophelia names in her madness before drowning. A daffodil and a mirror might be too strong a message of Narcissus.

On second thought, maybe more flowers are a bad idea if they're all harbingers of doom and death in literature.

Even as I was painting these roses, I felt really insecure. I'm not sure how many people I texted for reassurance that this was a good idea, but I really needed people to say to me “Danny, you're being ridiculous. Stop thinking and just go with it.”

The afternoon was entirely too long.

Part of our date was going to the Vagina Memoirs, a monologue performance process on campus that gives women opportunity to speak truth to power and break silence. I should have seen it coming when Glitter sat down next to me in line and asked if the flowers were for the cast member and mutual friend who sort of introduced us.

Now, the obvious answer would have been to immediately say no, these are actually for you. But I froze. I was a little embarrassed to not have anticipated that any and every other bouquet of flowers in the concert hall that night was going to a Vagina Memoirs cast member.
So I waited a painful 15 minutes in line letting him believe the flowers were for someone else before I half-whispered (lines are loud) in his ear and told him that if he wanted to give flowers to our friend, he now had some since the roses were for him.

He held on to them for the entire first act before putting them under his seat during intermission. Part of me wanted to trade the flowers for my hand every time I caught sight of this out of the corner of my eye.

The Date

Violence: A Meditation

In a somewhat appropriate turn of events, I find myself reading the book, Rose: Love in Violent Times by Inga Muscio at about the same time as I have joined and increased my involvement in Western Men Against Violence (WMAV), a group for but not limited to male-identified campus community members to discuss violence and masculinity and any variety of related subjects.

This past week has also been a tribute to Truth with both the Naked Truth on Stereotypes (NT) and Vagina Memoirs performances rocked stage on campus.

Rarely do I find such influences coincide haphazardly.

Resoundingly, or so it seemed to me, one of the themes that this Truth seems to tackle is the fact that Silence is a violent form of non-action.

Silence wounds. Silence kills. Either directly or indirectly, silence represents a removal of autonomy and power, from the self or from others.

Violence isn't always active. It isn't always physical. It can be mental, physical, social, spiritual, pretty much any of the dimensions of health often cited in textbooks for being sources of pathalogical stress when something is wrong. Sometimes violence is absence of things like safety as Muscio so vividly describes in Chapter 3. Sometimes violence is the boxes we get put in by society the way the NT cast broke out of. And sometimes violence is healthy. Or rather, properly channeled aggression can be a viable outlet of all these violent energies we experience the way some of the guys in WMAV talk about sports.

But breaking silence isn't just shattering it with noise. Even the most beautiful music can be ignored and misinterpreted, and unfortunately the incoherency of noise tends to fare much worse.

So how do we counter all this violence? Extending by metaphor Newton's Second Law of Motion, for every force there is an equal force working in the inverse direction.

To quote the oft cited Audre Lord, “The master's house shall not dismantle the master's house.” So we can't combat violence with violence.

On the flip side, pacifism seems to me borderline to apathy the way most people describe it. The absence of fighting back contributes to violence as much as fighting violence with violence. Silence merely creates more space for the violent cacophony surrounding us.

Inaction is not a viable solution. Return fire only perpetuates violence.

The popular answer proclaims love as the answer to violence, but often I feel as if this answer leaves us lacking because few can describe what a praxis of love looks like. Even I'm left with vague but noble descriptions of choosing the higher good.

And if love is the answer to violence, it's not an easy answer. It's not an easy process. How long does it take a survivor to forgive their rapist? How many generations does it take two nations at war to truly find peace and prosperity in each other? Extreme examples though they may be, I think they are justified and speak to a deeper underlying problem with violence.

Violence isn't clean. It isn't cut and dried one way or the other. It isn't all bad. Birth is violent. Eating is violent. There are cycles and hierarchies of violence because violence doesn't merely operate on an individual level.

So we need a commUnity of love. We need warriors fighting a counter-war of love that supercedes and overrides the master narrative of violence in our world. We need Shambhala and Angels and Wizards and Fellowships and Families.

We need a fucking miracle. And it will be violent, this I must admit, but I don't think it will be earth-shattering violent. A paradigm shift, any paradigm shift is a violent redirection of energies. But we don't need to make the roof crash down to the floor to take the walls down.

It's a slow process, one that's easily corrupted and will take lifetimes to complete on the grand scale of existence, but it begins with breaking silence and admitting that there is violence to be fought.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Mirror Mirror, on the Wall...

“I am not a cow, or thistles for camels
to browse on. People who insult me
 are only polishing the mirror.”
 -Rumi, Polishing the Mirror trans. Coleman Barks

“Societies never know it, but the war of an artist with his society is a lover's war, and he does, at his best, what lovers do, which is to reveal the beloved to himself, and with that revelation, make freedom real.” -James Baldwin, The Creative Process

I want to research mirror neurons. Apparently they're a relatively hot topic in the body sciences right now. The basic idea is that if you watch somebody do something, the same neural pathways that are activated when you do that action are activated when you watch. You watch someone throw a ball, and in your brain you are throwing the ball, just without actual physical motion of your arm.

The idea keeps getting brought up in my kinesiology classes, because, well, it's a pretty cool concept. It's how we can learn to do something well just by watching it enough times and practicing through imitation. For kinesiologists, the appeal is obvious, we like bodies and are always focusing on how to better use them.

What I want to know though, is how sensitive are these mirror neurons? If our brains can extrapolate a human motion by watching floating dots on a screen move a certain way in relation to each other, how human does what we see have to be? Can we watch a cartoon or a stick figure and have their movements incite mirror neuron activity if it's human enough? Are they activated if we read about something instead of seeing it?

In another direction, what kind of credence does this give to the notion that violence begets violence?

Studies have already shown that smiling and being around smiling, happy people, tends to make you a happier person. Then if we see violent things like abuse and physical altercations, does that make us more violent or prone to violence? When I see someone kick a dog or smack a child, I feel bad. Is this because in my head these mirror neurons have me taking that same action? Perhaps I feel bad because in the act of watching, I am the one inflicting that pain. That's a scary thought to me. It means that I'm complicit in the violence around me because of my inaction in stopping it.

It reminds me of a line from the movie Shortbus where one of the main characters is gawking at the orgy happening before her and a person passing by comments “Voyeurism is a form of participation.” Maybe that's why watching porn feels good. Watching sex excites your brain similar to the way having sex does. That's also why it can feel dirty or inappropriate, because on some level you're experiencing something without doing it.

Mirror neurons seem to represent a kind of physical [visceral] empathy. When watching a slasher flick, how many people wince right as one of the characters gets stabbed and dies? Is this because we're feeling the knife?

Based on what little I know of them, the existence of mirror neurons suggests to me a hardwired drive toward community and social interaction. We get along because I feel your pain and I feel your happiness. My body is made to respond to those around me. I am shaped and inscribed by the environment around me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

As if I don't Post About Sexuality Often Enough

The more I think about it, the less I think I'm gay. As far as I can remember, I've avoided choosing that except as a matter of convenience. It's far easier as a man who pretty exclusively has sex with men to tell people I'm gay than to give them a three hour lecture on sexual fluidity and the false premise of identity construction when equating sexual acts with sexual identity. Or to use the language of straight-guy seduction porn, “No, bro, even if you have my dick in your mouth, that doesn't make you gay. It's just one guy helping another guy out.”

See, I don't know what gay is. If it's men who like having sex with men, then why is craigslist littered with ads for guys looking for “straight-acting” or “masc only.” It seems to me that this desire for straight-acting implicates that non-masculine, non-straight-acting people aren't “real” men. Which would mean “gay-acting” men aren't men. And if they aren't men and they're interested in having sex with men, then that definition of gay doesn't work.

There's complicated reasons for all this. General confusion on the differences between gender and sexuality for one. There are books written on how the effeminate male and homosexuality became linked. This idea that homosexuality is innately feminine and a lesser form of sexuality for that fact is essentialist, misogynistic bullshit.

And if it sounds like I'm verbally gay-bashing, I apologize. More than anything I'm bashing this idea of identity and self. Yes, social constructivism is just as problematic as social essentialism (formal academic language for nurture vs nature to use the oversimplified, binary-inducing idiom). In a queer praxis, it's a combination of a constructed performativity and essentialist innateness that form who we are, and creating identity categories or labels for everything only serves to grossly oversimplify and homogenize the beautiful, detailed complexities of the human experience.

I'm frustrated by identity politics because I'm trying to reconcile the social activist part of me that actively teaches and educates that identity is a rallying point for community building with this deep seated need to move beyond identity.

Personal and social identity are important to people and respecting those different identities is necessary for social change. It's why worldviews espousing that we're all human, that we're all the same, can't work. They at best ignore and at worst erase difference in ways that can be harmful, especially in situations of a privilege/oppression dynamic where there is a real and tangible unequal distribution of power/resources.

At the same time, at some point we need to move beyond identity to truly move forward, or at least find new language in this activism. Equality itself is problematic to me because it creates this binary of potential outcomes where either everything is treated the same or everything is separate but equal. How can I fight for equality when neither outcome really solves the problem?

As long as there are separate, differentiated identities, enforced and policed, it's that much harder to integrate. And for some communities, because of the history leading to differences and physical differences, integration isn't going to be possible as readily. Class and race and age (and to some degree gender) will never stop being problems in some form or another. But if this movement toward a more fluid view of sexuality is allowed to continue though, sexual identity through a postmodern context of situational plurality has the potential to transcend strict identity categories. Or at least that is what I'd like to see.

 Nirvana, Enlightenment and in some Western Christian teachings, attaining oneness with God through Christ, all require a sacrifice of the Ego. In spiritual teachings the world over we must let go of the Self in order to reach the next step, whatever that may be. If this holds true on the personal level, why not on the community level as well? I am not defined by my identity. My identity is defined by who I am as well as by the world around me. Why must my chosen community insist on defining itself through limiting, restrictive formations of identity that further enforce and marginalize themselves and others in society?

I don't have an answer. I don't have a solution. I just know I can't get behind gay. I also recognize that because of my sexual practices I'm never going to escape it. Which is maybe for the best, maybe people like me are the solution simply by being living examples that each of us is unlimited, that no matter what we're identified and labeled, no matter what we choose for ourselves or others choose for us, there is possibility for change.

Guess this means I'm officially PoMoSexual.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Boys'R'Us Kid

I don't want to get up.
I'm a college age kid.
There's a million boys here
at my school that I can sleep with
from Alex to Steve and Cory and Ben
It's the warmest bed I'm in!
Give in!
I don't want to get up
'cause baby if I did
I couldn't stay here in my bed.

Yeah... this is the kind of stuff my brain comes up with on the days when I stare at the clock wondering how long I can wait before I actually have to get up.