Cleaning Our Own House

Anyone bothering to keep half an eye open in the last 10–15 years knows that fascism has, again, come prowling around the door. Only it never really left to begin with, but for argument’s sake, let’s say there’s been a resurgence. And boy howdy, we did not see it coming.

Except, who is this “we”?

In the aftermath of the mockery of an election that took place in November 2016, one thing i have not seen very much of is white people calling other white people to task about oppression. It’s one thing to gesture at a screen, one thing to say “well, I’m not in DC!” and feel helpless, but we did hand Himself a lot of votes. White people pretty much handed an idiot the election and white women placed a platter under that dish. These were people that knew better. These were people given every advantage in education, employment, social capital who still pressed the button under that name.

I know far better than to believe that every supporter of Don the Con is a caricature of white trash. Completely intelligent, well educated, advantaged white people — my own people — turned out for the most irresponsible and dangerous candidate I have seen in my lifetime.

We need to do far, far better than we’ve been doing. We need to cut the crap, cut the white guilt. We do not need to post for a few weeks then let this subside. We do not need to throw up our hands and reblog another think piece about the death of the USA.

We need to do better. We need to clean our own house. We need to do that by looking at what we allow to happen: We need to look at how our men behave and how we co-sign that as women. We need to talk to ourselves as white people and figure out what we can do to improve and drag our “regressive” elements kicking and screaming into reality.

What we allow as white people:

Whiteness is the luxury of well-crafted illusions. As part and parcel of whiteness, we get to pretend we are part of “pure” racial and ethnic traditions (see tired St. Pat’s celebrations for one). We get to pretend that there is an endless table stocked with land, jobs, and resources and we get to sit at it (Manifest Destiny). We get to pretend we’re at once connected to a (sanitized) ethnic tradition, heirs to ideals of warriors and kings. At the same time we get to be blank slates, writing our stories afresh with each generation, each job, each move, with no one to judge us.

When the illusion is so complete, it becomes reality. White people are genuinely surprised to learn of the achievements of other ethnicities, the interiority of other races, the history, art, and passions of “others”. This is because we do not have to. We do not have to monitor a dominant group and adopt its mind into our own. We do not have to live under the stress of double consciousness — but we also lack the mental/emotional/cultural acuity that brings.

We do not have to learn, we do not have to question. We can “safely” go our entire lives unchallenged on anything. This ensures that as a whole, our intellectual and moral development stops unless individuals take it upon themselves to go beyond their comfort and learn. The problem here that that while individual white people can and do certainly make this journey, this is an “individual solution to a collective problem”. There is nothing in white culture that encourages this, and definitely nothing that demands it.

Therefore dismantling the effects of whiteness becomes, for the white person, a strange territory. This is talk of race, and race is “impolite”, don’cha know; not something white children should have to hear and not something white parents are prepared to unpack. I come from women that, while genuinely of good will to many different races, believed acknowledging that difference was rude. “Colorblindness” was a virtue while “white”, “black”, and so on were very nearly dirty words. I know I am not the only one here.

Here’s the thing, though. In my grandmother’s day, in my mother’s day, one could get away with not knowing history or discussing race because there were fewer channel to learn. It was possible, but feasible to avoid. In 2016, where many (not all, but many) people have a damned computer in their pockets, there is no more excuse. We have the tools to aggregate and search information like never before, and better synthesis new information from that. Not to mention the rest of the clear-thought toolkit: libraries, books, community events, so on and so forth. Integration, which continually stymied in large parts of the country, has still become natural to enough people. You can’t “not” know someone who is a different race than you. But as a whole, we still do not take it upon ourselves to learn.

We allow ourselves the luxury of pretending that all is ok. Racism was a nasty thing, but MLK, “I have a dream”, “contents of their character”, and bada-bing: we’re now colorless. Add Obama’s election to that list of middle class historical “refusionism”, and you have the magic words that we chant to avoid having to see the ghost at the feast. We let ourselves remain ignorant because it’s easier.

Dr Nell Irvin Painter says, “An essential problem here is the inadequacy of white identity. Everyone loves to talk about blackness, a fascinating thing. But bring up whiteness and fewer people want to talk about it. Whiteness is on a toggle switch between “bland nothingness” and “racist hatred” (“What is Whiteness?”) Whiteness is predicated on division, as Dr. Painter points out in her op-ed and her book “The History of White People”: white vs not-white, free vs slave, ‘true’ white vs muddled ethnicities. Whiteness is terrified of those boundaries breaking. This is understandable, as they are not based on science but instead aspiration which evaporates when critical thought is applied. Other races, other ideas, other perspectives are “pollutants”. We’re not only moral infants, blinking in placid ignorance of our actions, but we are also continuously frightened — what are we letting in? Who are we letting in? Will this change us? We have no blueprint for change, so this fear is, in a perverse sense, understandable. We maintain language, a nominal culture, a religious pattern, a deep root system of economic power — and it hasn’t been challenged — or we haven’t cared to see — until now.

“Much has been written about financial hardship turning afflicted white communities into breeding grounds for white supremacist politics, but what about when dissatisfaction has little to do with economic circumstance? It’s hard to know what can be done to combat this phenomenon, but surely we have to start by taking the link between online hatred and resentment of women and the rise of neofascism seriously.” — We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men by Abi Wilkinson

If young white men are disaffected, if they feel they lack an identity, a cause, a purpose….I have two things to say: One, welcome to the human condition. We must make our own purposes, construct our own identities. The world has always been this way, except at one point, a small percentage of you would have been gifted with that identity in terms of land or titles or something similar. But this was never the norm even for white men. You have always been in the soup with us.

My second point to tell these “disenfranchised” young men is that your answer is under your damn nose. Women, POC, LBGTQ — all manner of groups have been asking for help for generations. The internet has opened worlds of possibility for informing yourself, finding causes that need help, and pitching in. Even offline, there are problems in your communities that need fixing: children aren’t fed, schools are struggling, infrastructure needs repairing. Even on the microlevel, in your own individual towns — what precisely is stopping you from (to use a very loaded term) “manning up” and fixing what’s broken? Clean a park! Fix a car! Volunteer at a shelter! These are the sort of things people to because they are not only morally right, they give life purpose. Just because there is no red carpet doesn’t mean you are unneeded.

But that’s the rub, isn’t it? Anything less than adulation is taken as hatred. Instead of saying “how can I help?” or starting a project of their own, enough of these men and their willing female compatriots would rather (again, another loaded term) “bitch” online.

And white women put up with this. Some of us even encourage it. More of us simply tolerate it as the price of privilege. We laugh at the jokes, clean up after, hide the broken bottles — we make the excuses and the choices to enable a culture of abusive masculinity because we don’t want to be so liberated that we forfeit our place at the foot of the table. At least we are at the table, so the logic goes. So white women — old and young, educated and not — make the choices necessary to preserve whiteness above justice. We do it on the sidewalk, in the bar, in the voting booth, in our homes. What do we think we’re going to get?

What we can do:

I’ve been turning these ideas over with a friend for a while. In the course of her experience as a mixed race woman, she gets to have a bird’s eye view of race. White friends and acquaintances, especially in the raw days after the election was declared, vowed to her (possibly forgetting her identities) that they “better not catch” anyone using epithets or spray painting hate signs. They’d kick ass, they would. No one better try that around them.

She made an excellent observation about how these newly-fired-up white people often put their foot in their mouth. They all think they’re going to be the ones punching the nazi, and that’s not what we need right now. The white middle class wants to be heroes but once more, that would put us at the center of the narrative.

We are not Captain America, and no one needs us to be. We need to put aside these fantasies of heroism, which are really domination with a softer boot. We do not need to go on about how we’d show “those racists” if “they” tried something. We are those racists. We benefit directly from a system that is designed to oppress anyone not white, heteronormative, cisgendered, middle class, and earning X amount a year. We benefit from the pain of our own people as well — consider all those “People of Walmart”. Poor white trash. We call our own people garbage.

Uncomfortable yet? Good. We should be. Now what?

Many white people are aggrieved about the election, many are galvanized. This is a good start. But we need to learn how to do this for more than a few news cycles. We have to learn.

We have to not just pay lip service to learning. We have to dismantle whiteness outside and inside of ourselves. We have to understand the million little ways we are protected simply because of how we’re born, and how we subconsciously cleave to those roles.

We already know how to do this, we have been told over and over. Here’s a starting point from Mikki Kendall at xojane.com. You can find similar lists all over and they are all going to share certain points: read, speak out, examine yourself. Use the tools at your disposal and find more voices. Do not let your critique of whiteness begin and end with me. I’d like to add to their ideas. I don’t want to erase or duplicate the work of these other writers so take it upon yourself to read more widely than my article.

We have to take books off the shelves, subscribe to blogs, follow feeds that have POC authors. But we have to not talk back for a fortnight. Two weeks — keep your own counsel as you read and absorb, before you think of approaching a writer of color. This is to ensure that you have time to find your legs in the discourse, understand the basics, and avoid asking those writers to educate you — this is a self-driven process.

We have to talk openly amongst ourselves first, and not at other groups. We are not here to collect antiracist merit badges. We have to be honest about whiteness and how it affects us, and we have to share that with our own first.

We have to examine our motivations when we take actions — especially when we take actions. This is essential if anyone is going to take up the label of anti-racist, anti-sexist, etc. Political progressiveness is no guard against racism, sexism, or other forms of oppression. To subscribe to a theory is one thing, but how you embody (or do not) is another. If you subscribe to progressive politics, what are your principles and how can you use them on a daily basis to improve your corner of the world?

We have to sensibly decide what we can share, whether it’s money, time, or both, and give regularly. But quietly. Again, we are not here for merit badges. Sharing valuable resources is simply a moral good, even if it’s kicking 5 bucks to a writer that opened up your mind. Likes and RT’s are cheap, but time and money are, well, time and money.

Whether or not our country can come to its senses in the next few weeks, I have no idea. Regardless, we’re going to have to change how we operate as a country, and what we do with the vast amounts of social capital at our disposal. We can be better than we are.

Writing in the real world: Dating profiles

Let’s look at one of the most common practical applications of writing skills: Dating profiles!  How can you practice effective writing behaviors in this area and set yourself apart from the rest of the profiles?

Listen and find out 🙂

 

Here’s the takeaway!  Remember to be honest, up front, and relaxed.  Also, don’t worry about “guarantees” or “good” writing – think in terms of effectiveness.

  • Smile in your photos
    • Make sure they show you as a person
    • Use photos you don’t have to crop others out of (looks suspicious)
  • Fill out ya damn profile!
    • Who are you, anyway?
    • What are you looking for?  Dating, sex, both?
  • Argue in the positive:
    • Talk about what makes you special
    • What you can do for someone else
  • NEVER
    • Leave terse or lazy answers
    • Complain about the gender you’re pursuing or invoke stereotypes
  • BONUS!  For non-monogamous profiles
    • Explain your situation (open, poly, etc) in simple terms right away
    • Link to your spouse/partner’s profile right at the top
    • Weigh the risks vs. the benefits of using photos and be honest

What makes good sex writing?

sex writing featured image

Happy Valentine’s Day!  Let’s get a little intimate and talk about sex writing…..

There are plenty of guides to writing erotica, and there are plenty about the mechanics of sex blogging (but start with Hey Epiphora and Dangerous Lilly), but what about the details of sex writing?

How do you describe the ultimate in subjective experiences?  And of course, how can you make it fun to read and relatable?

 

Read More »

the Purecast!

Hey, I’m podcasting!  Here’s the first in hopefully many “episodes” of the Purecast!
 

Taking control of your day and being actively creative is hard work!  We all struggle with it at times, but there are some things you can do to deal.  (As inspired by Infomagical)
  • Use your tech like you would have 20 years ago – close things, turn them off, relegate them to tools.
  • Clean your desk at the end of the day – this gives closure and a sense of ease the next morning.
  • Write it down – making your own priorities and recording them helps you focus.  Also, recording your accomplishments makes you feel, well, accomplished!

Writing in the Real World: Theory and Academic Language

book-856151_640The internet has provided an excellent array of sources for learning about theories, as well as many platforms in which to write about them.  This is not just for the ivory tower any more.  But how can you successfully communicate your knowledge, your questions, your analyses in this medium? Most importantly, how can you avoid sounding like a jackass and alienating your audience?

You have to plan ahead…

  • Know your audience

Who will you be writing for?  Are these your peers?  Can you say for certain that they have all had similar educations and backgrounds to you? Are these people more advanced in your field than you are?  Are they just starting?  Is this not even an academic setting?

You have to interrogate yourself frequently when you write about heavy things like theory.  Even if you are in (say) a graduate classroom, not everyone there may have a mental storehouse similar to yours.  Will they understand what you are talking about?  Can you count on them to have at least a “cocktail party knowledge” of the subject you are taking on?  Or do you have to lay some groundwork before you can take them along on your theorizing?

For your writing to be effective, you must make it understandable to the largest portion of your audience that you can manage.  Do not get bogged down in buzzwords, jargon, or overly complex sentences.  By the same token, don’t fear the long sentence – when it is needed.

You cannot know for certain what every other person knows, nor can you run yourself ragged trying to imagine every counterargument and shore up all holes.  But you have to get a thumbnail picture, a profile, of who will be reading or listening to your work.  This will help you modify your language and sentence structure to not alientate your audience.  Guess if you must!  This is more than most academics are taught to do.

  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

When we are wrestling with theory, or any abstraction, it is tempting to run off at the pen.  But we must resist.  Condense your thought to the smallest, most plainspoken form.  Try to consciously revisit the groundwork I mentioned above as you explain The Complicated Thing.

Make sure your audience can readily understand the relationship between that groundwork and the theory – the foundation and the building.  After reading your text – will they be able to explain what they just read to others?

This recursiveness will also help people retain the information you are communicating.  Don’t simply repeat – reiterate.  Be creative with your stock of phrases and sentence/paragraph structure.

When you are not writing, read as widely as you can and look at how other people say things.  This is not to encourage plagarism but instead to help you furnish your mind.  Skilled writing does not magically appear, but instead grows after practice.  It bears fruit when nourished with the rich soil from other gardens.

  • Make outlines for everything

Imagine you are going on a road trip to somewhere you’ve never been, and you’ve been dreaming about it for a long time.  You’re taking a group of friends who also have not been there.  You are all going to stay for a while.  You know where you want to end up, but you have no idea how to get there or precisely what you would need on the way.  Wouldn’t you get a map and make a packing list?

Writing about theory is the same way.  You have the idea for your destination, but you have to get there first.  And you have to coordinate multiple peoples’ needs as they join you.

You need an outline. You can’t just start driving and expect everyone to be able to follow you the entire way.  This is simple consideration for your audience, and it helps you organize your thoughts as well.

At its heart, the outline is simply a list of arguments you want to make and points you want to prove in service of your position.  You put your thesis at the top (the main point you’re trying to make) and the steps you need to take to get there go below it.

Don’t worry about starting with the introduction or even writing everything in order.  If you’re using software, you can literally jump around from bullet to bullet and write the piece as it comes.  Worry about structure when you go to edit – this does not have to be perfect right away.  It just has to be written!

 

 

Strike the Match

candles-209157_640

Where are my men and women

Where is my sex and spice

Where is my sundering sound?

-Cleaning the Fridge, Waiting on Hold, c Me 2014

I do not feel inspired. I do not feel fertile with ideas. I do not feel creative and energetic. Is this burn out?

I’ve always managed to pull some energy, some enthusiasm, some can-do from the depths of my being. But right now I don’t feel it. I miss it like I miss the throb of desire when it won’t come.

There is no good word to describe this feeling. It is dry, it is weary, it is petty, it is grey. It is not unhappy, but neither is it enthused. Highs and lows aren’t so high and low. In some ways that’s good, but when one day is too much like another I can’t do anything. I want to feel that quickening.

I have files and folders of words I have done nothing with. But it’s been decided for me – this is the time. I need to strike my own match. I have to do something specifically for me.

And even now, that worries me – I feel I am too self centered. But in reality, I tend to neglect myself. My jobs, my approach to writing – these have all been service to others. And this fulfills something deep in me. I want to be useful, helpful, productive. I want to demystify writing and enchant the world people see. I want them to freely approach literature, grammar, idiom. I love this.

But my god, do I feel empty. It’s very difficult to turn this generosity towards myself and my writing. It’s very, very difficult to come up with workable ideas at all, let alone bring myself to draft them. I’m hibernating, and I’m sick of it. But I must do something – there is no “right time” for anything.

“Start now when it’s hardest. Start now when you feel so weighed down with emotions better left to glittery and not so glittery vampires and when you feel like you could sleep forever. Now is the time you need to wake up. Get up, get up! Don’t miss this moment. Create magics great and small, mundane and mystical.”

Copyright 2015 Deborah Castellano

Spring is slapping through the rot – I have to try – I have to do the thing I can’t.

-Cleaning the Fridge, Waiting on Hold, c Me 2014

Hamlet Challenge

I decided to try my hand at translating Hamlet’s soliloquy for fun….I tried to make it sound like Hammie was from 21st c Jersey.  I don’t think I should quit my day job 😉  Here’s what a real actor can do with it!

Jesus….Do I keep living? Should I stop? You gotta ask yourself these questions.  Is it better to keep going, to get up and face the bullshit of everyone around you, the obstacles, the sheer random crap that happens – should you fight back against that? Would that make it stop?  I mean, if I ended it, if I closed my eyes forever…If I said no to the pain, the problems that we all face….This is something I should want.  God, if I could just have the balls to kill myself. If I could “sleep” forever like some old poem. That’s it. If I slept like that, if I left the world behind, what would I see? What if something of me, of my personality survives? Think about that for a moment. What if?  I mean, ok, that’s scary shit. Those kind of thoughts are what make us so het up about living as long as we can!  Why else do we stand to have the snot kicked out of them by life? Why do we stand being fucked over, why do we stand heartbreak, injustice, asshole politicians….why do we put up with all of this if we’re not trying to hold onto something? All it takes is one well-placed blade and we can be away from all that crazy.

Who would go through this, and prolong it, if they weren’t trying to stay one step ahead of that darkness. It’s like a whole other place…the idea of whatever comes after. That big door, that blank screen. No one who goes in ever comes out. This scares me. I get why people would want to take the garbage they get here than bet it all on some unknown.  Guess that makes us cowards, huh? Any time some jackass gets up and talks a big deal, he’s always got the thought of that door in him, somewhere. That fear makes us start things and never finish, it makes us afraid to do things. Why race to the grave?
Hey – there’s Ophelia….
Babe…say a prayer for me, ok?

Teacher – early draft

Teacher

This poem begins with “he” because that’s how the world hinges.
We extend, we bend, we reach, but everything returns to “he”.

His. This is where the poem continues, in the possessive case.
His. They are all “he”, and all things are “his”, these men that teach.
Every man who acts in false heroic solitude, every “him”, who considers
Himself a god.

Every “him” that saw me as a prop, my body as a prize, my youth as food
For their starving souls.
If I was a witch, I would curse them with famine – every childhood, every new realization
They seize would bring them less than nothing.

They wanted to teach me. They all wanted to teach me.
Some thought they were protecting me.
Some thought they were warning me about the things men would do,
If I gave them half a chance.

But I gave them nothing. I just was.

They wanted to teach me, out of nowhere. Self-appointed.
Catcalls. Stares. Busy, grabbing hands. “Men are pigs”, they’d say as they sniffed at me.
“Men are animals”, they said as they stared at my tits. “Men will hurt you”, they said as they discussed my cunt, how tight it must be.

But what I do not understand is that everything is a struggle for them!
They are awash in a strange world!
They are lost in tales of old warriors and kings!
They didn’t know whether or not to hold a door, or call me pretty!

But they knew how to call me a whore.
They knew how to watch every move I made.
They knew how to make me cast my eyes down. They knew how to unnerve me.
They knew how to make me view everything through fear.
They knew how to watch me on dark nights. They knew how to talk about training me.
They knew how to move closer and closer, their breath hot on me.

They did not know how to ask me the time of day, but each one thought
He could teach me.

Notice how no woman violates you in preparation for living among other women.
Notice how no woman eagerly awaits the pain of your first fuck, proof you’re fresh,
The very idea of your pain and humiliation a punchline and bait.

Belated writeup on Transition

Thanks again to those that joined us for the June meeting of thePEN!   Our June topic, so timely for Pride month, was Transition.  My friend Robin Scott of RobinScottart.com cohosted to guide us through the interconnected galaxy of topics related to being trans.

We all had one of our best discussions yet at that meeting!  There were new faces, new voices, and we all delved into some very dense, creatively fertile territory.

Our prompt for the meeting was Imagine you wake up as another gender one day.  Take us through your internal monologue.  Simple, but it drew out some very thoughtful pieces.   If you’d like to give that a whirl, do feel free!  Drop me an email on my Contact page and I’ll be happy to give it a gander and some feedback 🙂

For those who missed the meeting or want to further educate themselves, here is a link to Zinnia Jones’ Gender Analysis playlist.  Zinnia Jones is a writer and blogger active in the Trans and Atheist/Secular communities.  Gender Analysis is an ongoing series that deconstructs stereotypes and lore related to trans identities, subjecting commonly held beliefs to, well, analysis.

Join us next month for a new theme related to Changing Skylines and Urbanization!