Stupidity Tourist

November 27th, 2011

The setting: a bedroom-cum-music room at a birthday party.  Three other people- M (the host), L, L’s boyfriend- and myself are sitting around talking about our favorite comedians.  L’s husband has picked up one of the guitars strewn about the room and is lazily playing at Eagles riffs.  A joint is being passed around.

C appears at the door.  C is someone I’m apprehensive about due to her having made an offensive generalization about something Indian men all do at the gas station the last time I saw her at one of these parties.  I don’t know what the thing she thought they all did was; I didn’t stick around to hear the rest of her story.  She also has an offputting reluctance to make eye contact with me, even when I address her directly.  I don’t know if this is related to my reaction to the Indian men thing (I threw my drink in the yard and stormed off) or if it’s just general insecurity; I mention this just to convey that I don’t have high expectations for conversation with this woman going into the evening.

“Can I come in and hang out with the cool people smoking pot?” she asks.

“Of course you can come in,” L says.  “But don’t go thinking that we’re cool just because we’re smoking.”

“That has nothing to do with it,” I agree.  “There are so many other reasons we’re cool.”

“Oh…I don’t have anything against it,” C says.  “It’s just that I don’t smoke myself.  It makes me paranoid, and I am NOT a paranoid person.  I’m the person who talks people DOWN.”

I do not find the two to be mutually exclusive.  Sometimes the craziest person is the one in charge.

She comes in and clears herself a seat.  We get to talking about music on late night TV.  How accomplished Paul Shaffer is; how awesome The Roots are for that “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” dig at Bachmann last week.

“You know Letterman has new, young artists, and sometimes comedians, on every night that he promotes, and I just think that’s so awesome,” C says.  “He’s doing so much for music by doing that.”

I’m a little thrown off by her statement.  Sure, promoting music/comedy on late-night TV is great- but does she think it’s a new phenomenon?  Is she trying to clue us in to something that she thinks we don’t know, as though every late night show doesn’t do this every single night and always has?  “Talk shows- with musical guests?  You don’t say!”  Not to mention that David Crosby and Graham Nash, who were on last week, would be mighty surprised to find out they’re new artists. 

Oh, would that this were the only confounding statement she made during the night.

C’s husband calls to say he’s on his way.  C relates to him that she’s “hanging out with a bunch of people who are smoking pot, but I’m not,” which strikes me as an unnecessary detail.  It’s not lost on L, either.

“Don’t be telling him that!” she jokes to C after she hangs up.  “I’m a private person- I don’t need to let everyone know my business; what I’m doing at a party!”

“Oh, he doesn’t care,” C says.  “He’s a jazz musician.”  She pauses, then says: “It’s not like I told him who you were, your social security number or anything.  Or your citizenship status.”

Now this woman has me thoroughly confused.  Citizenship status?  That doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you just throw out regardless of who’s present; it seemed pointed.  Threatening, even.  Is she implying that someone here might be an illegal immigrant?  It must be L’s boyfriend, who is white but has a slight accent I can’t quite place; it has a slight lilt to it that recalls British influence (I’m later told it was a Colorado accent, which I didn’t know even existed.  UK, Colorado…I was pretty close).

“You know, your accent reminds me- this one time I was in New York, and I saw this Bahamian woman,” C begins, looking at L. 

Aha.  She thinks it’s L who isn’t American.  But here’s the thing: L does not have an accent.  There’s no logical reason to assume she’s from elsewhere.  She is, however, black and wears dreadlocks. 

That’s some deep-seated shit right there, when you make up an accent on someone to justify your suspicions that their citizenship status is questionable because they’re black and have dreads.

C continues: “…and she was yelling at someone in the street, ‘I AM NOT A N*****!  I AM NOT A N*****!’”

“Uh…wow,” L says.  It is at this point, in retrospect, where I wish I had just stepped in and shut C down.  Whatever more is going to come out of this woman’s mouth is not going to be good.  Whatever has ALREADY come out of her mouth is not good.  But I’m so utterly, completely baffled by where she’s going with this that all I can do is sit there with said utter baffledom twisting up my face.  I’m having a difficult time even conceiving of why she thinks this anecdote is appropriate for polite company, and am admittedly have a morbid curiosity to see where it goes; if she can turn it around into something worthwhile.  L’s boyfriend continues calmly playing guitar.

But lest I think I can’t possibly get any more confused by C’s train of thought, she attempts to explain:

“It’s just that, you know, I think people need a way to differentiate themselves.  People want something to make themselves stand out…”

WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS CRAZY BITCH SAYING?  Her words have NOTHING to do with ANYTHING.  Her own statements aren’t even related to each other, let alone the conversation we were previously enjoying, and are succeeding in nothing but being absolutely, unapologetically offensive.  Is she TRYING to be offensive, or is she really that goddamn stupid?  I’ve never seen someone be this un-self aware before, but nor have I ever seen someone be so intentionally inappropriate, so I honestly can’t tell.  I don’t want to be witnessing this, but I’m not going to walk out of there now: See you, L.  Have a good time with this.

“Wow,” L says again.  “This is so uncomfortable for me.  SO uncomfortable for me.”

“Oh!  I’m sorry- it’s just…your accent reminded me…I mean, I wasn’t talking about YOU-”

So it’s the latter: she really IS that goddamn stupid.

“No.  This isn’t about me,” L says.  “You’re talking to me- you MUST be talking to me; I’m the only black person here- but this isn’t about me.”  I am shaking my head in, again, utterly baffled agreement.  The boyfriend continues to play.

“I’m so sorry!  I think you’re really cool, and-“

“Oh, I am, sister.  I am the coolest goddamn person you’ll ever meet.” 

L gets up to leave, which I take as my opportunity to walk out on C as well.  C continues to plead.  L turns around, explains that she’s not mad at C- but she has to tell her these things, because if she doesn’t, no one else will. 

Is she right?  What would I have done if L hadn’t said anything herself?  I was half tongue-tied by the preposterous words C was speaking, and half expecting that L’s boyfriend would be the one to jump in and defend her.  I certainly didn’t expect that L would have to be the one to do it herself; that somehow by default it should be her calling someone on their racism when the others present knew damn well that C was being inappropriate.  White people will never stop being racist in the absence of minorities if other white people don’t take the initiative to shut them down, same as I think men should shut down sexism in other men instead of assuming a woman will be the one to handle it if she’s there, and if she’s not…well, no harm no foul.  (HARM AND FOUL INDEED, my friends.)  I understand the importance of true allies and not letting your principles be compromised by being part of the in crowd- so if L hadn’t jumped to her own defense, I wouldn’t have just let it go, right?  I’m a better ally than that…aren’t I?

L comes out of the bedroom and takes a seat on the couch in the living room next to me and the cat.  It feels wrong to just leave it at that, but I didn’t know what else to say.  Sorry for the stupid-ass white lady? 

“You alright?” I ask.

“Yes, I’M fine,” she says.  “That was just fucked up.”  I agree.  “But I’m fine.  I hope you know that.  And I do not want to talk about it any more.”  I nod, and we go on petting the cat in silence.

C comes down and joins us in the living room.  I kind of can’t believe this- if I were her, I would’ve cut my losses and taken my leave following that incident- but nothing she can do or say at this point is going to surprise me; her instincts do not seem to be calibrated well.  L and her boyfriend have one last piece of birthday cake and say their goodnights.

Once it’s down to the trusted crew at the end of the night, I tell M what had happened.

“Yeah, she felt really bad about it,” M says.  “It’s too bad, because poor C, she’s actually really sweet.  We went out back and she told me about it.  She just has no filter- she’s from Jersey, you know.  You gotta appreciate that sometimes, when someone is wholly untouched by all the PC-ness and just says what they think.”

“Yeah, I dunno about that.  I actually really think being PC is good, because I am not a fan of racist bullshit.  I can totally appreciate not having a filter, but that’s not what this was about.  She wasn’t filterless- she was brainless.  This was about her being totally clueless and ignorant.”

Filterless is great in people who are NOT racist assholes.  People who have thought enough about the world we live in to have some awareness of when their lack of filter might offend, but say it anyway- I’m okay with them.  But C didn’t have that level of awareness.  She really thought that when hanging out with this one black woman reminded her of this other time she saw a black woman, in a situation that involved offensive language, it would be a good opportunity to relate that story, apropos of nothing.  Mostly she just outed herself as someone who is actually so hung up on race that she can think of little else to talk about when hanging out with a black person, and who assumes in the absence of any evidence that those with dreads are not US-born.

So in conclusion, L’s a badass who’s built up some admirable self-preservation skills at the other rodeos she’s attended, C’s a crazy bitch who I will hope in vain to never run into at a party again, but the next time I inevitably do, I vow to be quicker on my feet.

I Want a New Drug

November 25th, 2011

imageSeeing Kyuss last week reinvigorated a long-standing dream of mine: LADY STONER ROCK POWER TRIO (no, Kyuss are not ladies, but their musical style is what re-inspired me).   Or a four-piece, maybe; I’m not opposed to that- but I need to find one guitarist before I can try for two.  This is what I aspire to and will make me feel like I’ve accomplished what I set out to do early on in my musical career. It’s the next step that will make me feel like I’m not just dabbling anymore, I’m actually doing it.  And I am doing it myself, without my boyfriend, which is totally fun and convenient but kind of a crutch.

I love my current band, don’t get me wrong-  I’m looking to augment it, not replace it.  It provides a lot of opportunity for exploration into different genres, as we’ve recently been expanding out to non-CCR stuff, especially blues/funk- but there are two things I’m not getting out of it: 1) fuzzy stoner metal and 2) girls.  Oh, and doing originals is a future goal, although I’m a shit writer, so this is less of an immediate concern for me.  I’m perfectly happy covering Pentagram and Clutch as a start, but it’d be nice to eventually work with someone who can come up with better chord progressions than I seem to be able to.

Some thoughts around this:

- I look at Craigslist frequently to see if anyone else is trying to do this and I can just jump on board, but so far, nothing.  Lots of people are looking for pro bassists for cover bands.  I am not pro and already have a cover band.

- Sometimes the idea that I’m too old for this creeps into my head.  WTF am I doing trying to start up a new metal project at my advanced age (HELLO SELF YOU ARE 31 THAT IS NOT OLD.  Women’s voices don’t even completely mature until 35!), and who do I expect would get on board with it?  But then I look around at all my friends who are musicians, and they’re not getting any younger either.  Not to mention that once you age out of the twentysomething crowd, you’re less likely to come up against rock star hopefuls who are still trying to make it big, so being able to attract a more seasoned crowd provides for less drama and conflict.  Older folk are more established in their lives and are doing it because it’s fun, not because they need the cash.  Also, my current guitarists are both 10 years older than me, so if they can keep doing it, fuck it, so can I. 

When I got my first bass at 17 I thought, “goddamn, I should’ve done this years ago.  Now I’m too old to be a beginner and I’m just going to embarrass myself.”  At SEVENTEEN.  Because, well, Stone Gossard was already a virtuoso by then (albeit on a different instrument, but this was immaterial), so I was behind and what my god, had I been DOING with my life?  Clearly I’ve been dealing with this “I don’t want to be seen as a beginner” thing for awhile, but alas, it turns out that you don’t begin a new hobby at the advanced level.  Although luckily, I do have the capacity to advance quickly when I set my mind to it.  Perhaps this is one of those times. 

Other things that make me feel validated: the guys in Wolfmother were 33 when they started getting noticed, and I’m not even aiming for their level of commercial success.  Also, the bassist/singer in Red Fang announced at Bumbershoot that it was his 38th birthday, which made me think “good, I have 7 more years to get to Bumbershoot.”  Yes, this is a totally arbitrary and useless way to set goals, but apparently it’s how my mind works: do something by the time that someone else has done it.  I get nowhere without deadlines, so I use the accomplishments of others to set them for myself.

- The “seasoned crowd” is kind of a double-edged sword, though.  I’m not a great bassist and have only been singing for a few years, unless you count choir in highschool, so I’m often intimidated by other musicians my age because I assume they have loads of experience on me and technique to die for.  Like maybe they, I dunno, know where all the notes are on the fretboard (this is something I really should work on remedying.  Goal for xmas break!).  Sometimes I have to remind myself that I can’t be the only one at this particular juncture of age and skill level; I just have to find the others.  And it’s not like I’m shamefully bad- I could probably hang with more advanced guitarists and it would give me a good challenge.  It’s pushing myself to take that step instead of assuming it’d never work that’s got me hung up.

- Because also, what if I take that step and place an ad and I hate everyone who answers it???  And they come all the way out to my house (or what if they can’t because they don’t have a car and we have to find somewhere in the city to practice when I already have this great place?) and they’re insane and now they know where I live, or they’re really bad and I have to tell them I’m not interested (I’ve never dated; I do not have this skill), or they’re good but have a horrible personality…it seems so much easier to answer someone else’s ad, even if auditioning is nerve-wracking, because if it turns out you don’t like the band, it’s easier to back out as the outsider.

- Or what if, god forbid, NO ONE answers the ad?

See how I’ve got myself spun up over the what-ifs?  I can come up with a ton of excuses, but obviously nobody but me is going to be able to make this happen for myself.  I just gotta suck it up and put together something I’m proud of, even if there are some glitches in the process.  Like QOTSA says, lose is more than hesitate.

Interesting couple of articles about the gendered abuse that female bloggers- particularly those concerned with politics and social justice- tend to endure on a regular basis:

Digby @ Hullabaloo, who makes a pretty strong case for the roots of this abuse being firmly entrenched in sexism, as evidenced by being told that "You wrote a lot better before you came out as a woman.”

A number of anecdotes in the New Statesman, including one where a trans woman was informed that she’d be much better off if she could just see things through a man’s eyes for once.

Sady @ Tiger Beatdown talks about feeling physically threatened and what a general pain in the ass it is to stay one step ahead of the people trying to keep her quiet.

I have thankfully not lost sleep over such comments, but I expect that’s less to do with the content I post than the fact that the only person who reads my blog is my mom, whose death threats I’ve found to be reliably empty.

Related: conversation this weekend about how differently men & women approach potentially dangerous situations.  The context was that for the umpteenth time, the Mister didn’t come home the night before and, while I assumed he had opted to stay over at the friend’s house where he’d spent the afternoon, he never explicitly communicated this to me.  I’ve all but entirely given up on trying to beat it into him that I’d really like to know if he’s planning to come home so that I know whether or not to be alarmed when he hasn’t shown up by the next morning.  I think at this point I’m just resigned to finding out that he’s dead in a ditch later the following day when the cops show up at the house.  My friend, on the other hand, is consistently incensed on my behalf every time this happens (perhaps my ability to remain calm is due to her taking on the anger for me) and says she’d freak out and start calling everyone who could possibly know where her husband was if he didn’t show up one night.  Her mind immediately goes to DEAD IN A DITCH and the whereabouts of her husband have to be ascertained before she’s able to bed down for the night.

Admittedly, this particular instance is less a matter of personal safety than just courtesy.  Even so, the women in attendance all agreed that they certainly worried about such things more than their men seemed to (further evidence: it was my mom and not my dad who had a minor conniption when I was snowed in alone last year and didn’t return a voice mail from her right away; she was convinced I’d gone out to the shed for firewood and slipped on the ice and hit my head), but when you start considering the differences in the way we approach our own personal safety, I have to wonder if some of the heightened awareness of our own vulnerability wrapped up in that is what informs women’s need to confirm that other people- men and women both- are not ditching it up dead-style.

Case in point- and this is my favorite one: my friend, in trying to explain to her husband why his daughter should be taught to be aware of her surroundings and avoid situations where she might find herself in danger, asked if he had any idea why women in a dark parking lot or garage get their keys out before getting to their car.

“Uh…to stab people?” he guessed.

(If you are a man reading this and haven’t caught on that stabbing people is not the right answer, I’ll clue you in: it’s because we’re the most vulnerable when we’re standing there distracted and fumbling around for keys.  Having them out allows us to get into the car immediately and then lock the doors behind us.)

We all had similar stories: we’re sure to lock the doors of our houses both when coming and going, especially when we’re home alone, whereas our menfolk are consistently lax in ensuring doors are secured or, in some cases, even completely shut.  We watch to make sure the garage door closes all the way.  We pay attention to who else is in the parking garage, in the parking lot, behind us on the sidewalk.  I try not to walk out to my car alone in the dark after class if I can avoid it.

When this mindset is communicated to men, though- who have often never given a second thought to who else is in the parking garage- they tend to interpret it as unhealthy fear or paranoia.

“Wow,” said my lone male classmate after a discussion of this sort last year, “Women apparently think all men are potential rapists.”  Which is a bit of a stretch.  We think they’re all muggers.  Only a handful of them are rapists.  Seriously, though, when you’re a woman and thus more likely to be the victim of sexual assault at the hands of a man, you tend to think about these things.  Guys just don’t seem to have been imbued with the “healthy fear” that keeps women hyper-aware of their surroundings and perhaps, in turn, more prone to being worried about others.

Does it suck that this is even a necessary thought?  Yessir.  I’m sure guys have some sense of danger as well, but it seems to kick in only in more extreme situations that any normal person of either gender would be afraid of- thugs in a dark alleyway, for example, or people with ski masks running at you wielding machetes- whereas women seem to have an extra layer of learned apprehension on top of that.  It’s a pain that this apprehension sometimes stops me from doing things or going places that I might not question if I was less of a statistical target.  I totally get where Kim is coming from in the clip below- I’d like to know I can safely do my laundry at midnight too, but my fear of guns is even healthier than my fear of being accosted, so I go the route of avoiding the situation altogether.  I’m certainly not going to squelch my self-preservation instinct to try to prove a point if the outcome of the point being disproven is, I dunno, death.  Just not willing to take that chance.  An ounce of prevention and all that, you know.


Back to the Music

November 1st, 2011

I rarely listen to anything new these days.  “New” in absolute terms, anyway- plenty is new to me, but 40 years old.  There’s so much good stuff that came out of the 60’s and 70’s, during the big bang of classic rock, that I’m continuing to unearth, mostly with the help of Pandora and Rhino’s boxed sets.  That’s not to say that nothing interesting is going on in modern music, but a lot of what I do like is heavily influenced by garage bands from when my parents were young, so that’s what I’ve chosen to study lately.

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of Spirit.  They’re a group that had moderate success in the late 60’s/early 70’s, most notably with Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus in 1970.  Rumor has it that they were an influence for Jimmy Page, although in the true form of mold-breakers who lift others to greatness yet rarely get their due, you wouldn’t recognize the names of any of the band members.  They easily span the divide between straight blues rock and experimental psychedelia, layering fuzzy leads and interesting vocal harmonies on top of drums that sound like a reined-in Ginger Baker.  “I Got a Line on You,” their first single to chart, immediately grabbed me and demanded to be brought to my band to cover- it’s simple without being boring, fun to play, and catchy as hell.


A muddy recording, but you get the idea.


Another oldie but goodie that I can’t get enough of lately is Joe Cocker.  Ever since our guitarist brought in his version of “The Letter” for us to work on, I’ve been on a Cocker kick.  He does an amazing job of turning every song he covers into something of his own- you know, the way covers are supposed to be; an interpretation of the original, not a direct copy.  I love the way people used to do that- nowadays you might see one or two covers on an album, but it used to be standard practice to record nearly entire albums of other peoples’ songs (see Vanilla Fudge); there were these R&B and rock standards that just got passed around and reinterpreted time and again.  The Beatles easily made a fortune on songwriting royalties alone from this.  Anyway, most everyone’s familiar with Cocker’s spastic version of “With a Little Help From My Friends,” but it’s his “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” and “Bye Bye, Blackbird” that really do it for me.  I can understand how he’s a little too intense for some people, but I love how he pours his everything into every single song.

Guitarist Leon Russell’s top hat = yes.


And then there’s Jeff Beck.  He’s long been lurking there in the back of the stacks of my records, featured on this one or that; I’ve always been aware of him as a shaping force in the blue-eyed soul era, but never paid much attention to him alone.  Then at the last record sale we went to, my dad pulled his “Truth” from a crate and handed it to me.  I figured I couldn’t go wrong for a dollar- and lo, it’s turned out to be my favorite purchase from this last sale.  I hadn’t realized that Rod Stewart was involved in the Beck oeuvre, and as his “Every Picture Tells a Story” was a staple in my playlist this summer, I was excited to hear his voice on the album.  This was pre-solo Stewart, even pre-Faces,  and he hasn’t quite developed the rasp he built his later career on.  The youthfulness of his voice by comparison to something like “Downtown Train” reminds me of the difference between Montrose-era Sammy Hagar and his work with Van Halen: you know it’s the same guy, but the roughness of the voice is in the style rather than the quality.  There’s a swagger that comes from young energy rather than experience- and I like the unpolished, gutsy sound of it.  Like the Cocker album, there are a few blues standards on this one (“You Shook Me,” “I Ain’t Superstitious”), and even a cover of Beck’s own “Shapes of Things” from his tenure in the Yardbirds, arranged with much more attention to a proto-heavy metal rhythm section and a focus on distortion.  It scarcely sounds like the same song- I may not have realized it was a cover if I didn’t recognize the lyrics.

I’m also a little envious of those haircuts.


In conclusion, get off my lawn.  You’re making my phonograph skip.

Last night I was accosted with a real-life example of exactly what I was talking about yesterday, what with the folks trying to establish their coolness by exclusion.  But this took it up a notch- the offender actually all but completely called out the subtext in his own words.

I was walking down the hall at school with a couple of classmates, and a guy passed us coming the other way. 

“Hey, dig the Guns n’ Roses shirt!” he said.  I thanked him and kept walking.

“I bet those two didn’t know what it was, huh?” he called after us.  I turned around and gave him an Eyebrow.

“Actually, I would expect that they probably do.”  One of my classmates, who I would say with 98% certainty knows exactly which band was represented on my shirt, snickered.


“Most likely, yes.”

“What was that about?” asked the other classmate.

“He was basically trying to point out how much cooler he was than you guys for knowing that my shirt was Guns n’ Roses.”

“What a weird thing to say.”


It IS a weird thing to say:  “Hey- those fools you’re with don’t get it, do they?  But *I* know where you’re coming from!”  If my shirt had been particularly obscure, this would have been rude enough; if you recognize and like it, just leave it at that.  Don’t drag others’ lack of knowledge into it.  But the really odd thing about it is that my shirt was the iconic cross and skulls from Appetite for Destruction:


I’m not saying that everyone knows it, but people who were aware of pop culture around 1989- which my classmates, who are of my own age group, likely were- probably have at least a vague familiarity with it.  So speaking out loud the assumption that they didn’t know it not only made him look like an ass because it was an assy thing to say, but also implied without any basis in fact that my classmates were kind of oblivious to pop culture.

Maybe this is just my own perception of the pervasiveness of GnR in mainstream rock, and most people my age really wouldn’t recognize the logo.  I should’ve polled my class.

Either way, he was an ass.

I’ve been considering, over the last few years of neglecting to journal at all, what it was that caused me to move away from writing.  It definitely wasn’t a conscious choice, and it wasn’t a writer’s block situation where I was trying to write and just couldn’t come up with anything- it was more of a completely apathy when it came to the idea of exploring ideas or expressing creativity through the written word.  I don’t think there’s any one explanation for it- my falling-off point neatly coincides with several life changes that could easily have influenced my move away from blogworld- but one thing that I keep coming back to is, as Facebook and Twitter really took off, how irritatingly transparent I was finding online communications.

While normally I wouldn’t find transparency in communication a bad thing, it wasn’t the actual content of our ever-shortened dispatches that bothered me so much as their subtext.  I wasn’t seeing the words for what they were, but rather what the writer intended to communicate about themselves.  It was all self-absorption and the chance to invoke some condescension, and my interpretation of the whole thing took on a very meta bent.  Talking about the local band you saw last night wasn’t about sharing music with friends: it was about being able to say “I saw them first.”  Posting inside jokes was really “I have friends!” (or, if you don’t get the joke, “aren’t you jealous you weren’t there?”) Talking about how awesome some obscure documentarian/string theorist/horticulturalist is really seeks to convey how awesome the poster is- extra points for portraying oneself as so familiar with the figure that no context is provided that acknowledges many people perhaps (if you’re doing this right, probably) don’t know who you’re talking about (what, you haven’t heard of her???   For shame!)   Political commentary was the worst; these opinions are so loaded that too often they just become “I’m smarter than you.”  Really, that’s what all of these have in common- they’re just trying to communicate that the poster is better than everyone else in some manner, whether it’s smarter, hipper, more zen, happier.  It’s about bolstering your own perceived importance by self-defining a matter from which others are excluded. 

And I found myself doing it too, which made me feel obnoxious and insecure: why else does someone post a one-sentence commentary on Facebook on the use of drug testing for welfare recipients than to feel superior to those who were coming out in favor of it?  These 140-character posts have become the bumper stickers of our time, conveying our opinions in concise, pithy statements that have no room for nuance or background.  Yes, they may spawn conversations, but the impetus for those conversations is this foul little contrived text-byte that was originally designed to essentially market the poster’s brand to everyone reading.  It wasn’t about connecting or informing- just self-promoting.

So I needed to move away from that for awhile.  I quit looking at Facebook altogether, because I’d completely lost the ability to take the posts there at face value- everything was subtext, and all the subtext was rooted in insecurity, and I was sick of watching people engage in that.  (Incidentally, I don’t know how much of this altered interpretation has to do with beginning my education in therapy, because I was getting sick of it before I went back to school, but it’s hard to deny that writing papers about underlying psychological issues has an influence here.)

Is it wrong for communication to happen this way?  Nah.  There’s always been a deeper meaning to what we actually say in words.  In person, body language is part of that.  Online, we lose the body language, and we compensate by it becoming about managing how others perceive you.  I’ve come to terms with that a bit and accepted that it’s possible there’s no form of human communication that doesn’t carry subtext (news stories on NPR, maybe?), my own communications included.  This post, for example, is really me saying that I’m self-aware enough to examine my own motivation for engaging in a specific creative pursuit, and aren’t I, as a deep-thinking long-form blog user, more evolved than all those fools who continue to baldly work out their insecurity issues in tweets?

Answer: not hardly, but that won’t stop me from being annoyed at the next person who posts “Damn, can’t make it to the <band that says something about your personality> show next week!  Grrr!”

Steven Pinker is doing a talk on campus today to promote his new book.  I don’t know a lot about the guy other than he seems to be a controversial figure, and doing a little research I can see why- he’s into cognitive science (love) but also evolutionary psychology, the broad idea of which (brains have evolved along with our bodies) I agree with, but the attendant premise that men and women have evolved differently and this explains any difference in intelligence between the genders- stuff like “men were the hunters, so they’ve developed better spatial differences”- I vehemently do not.  If this wasn’t one of the main principles of evo psych, I might be able to get behind it.  Apparently Pinker doesn’t eschew this controversial belief himself, as he supported Larry Summers’ supposition that innate differences are the reason men are better represented in math (although: did he really, or was he just interested in keeping his job at Harvard?).

(Speaking of which (and when am I not?), this looks like a good documentary about how media representation impacts women in the public sphere.  Need to get my hands on that somehow.)

I gather that beyond that, much of the criticism lobbed at Pinker has to do with his tendency to cherry-pick data that supports his theories instead of doing a true meta-review of the extant literature to inform his stance.  Which I suppose is probably a fairly common transgression in a society that values politics over science- or for anyone just looking for a shortcut.  Hell, I just wrote a paper last night where I stuck citations in to support the points I was making, and if there was any conflicting research, I didn’t use it- as they say, you can find a statistic to support any argument you’re making.  That said, I was 1) aware of the downfalls of this approach, and 2) wasn’t trying to advance any cohesive theory to the public.  There’s far too much data to sift through to do a comprehensive lit review for each supporting point in this dinky little paper- that’s what I rely on real scientists to do in their fancy, extensively-researched books.  So I think while the principle of the matter on my part is probably questionable, the circumstances for me are different.  I would hope that an academic such as himself would have a bit more integrity in the matter.  Yes, I absolutely hold us to different standards. 

Now I feel guilty for supporting my paper that way.  Thanks a lot for making me reconsider my approach, interwebs.  If only every paper out there was immediately integrated into a high-level meta-analysis one could reference instead of using individual, disparate research projects.

Back to Pinker.  Here’s a snippet from the overview of today’s talk:

Using more than a hundred graphs and maps, Steven Pinker shows that the conventional wisdom that we are living in a violent era is an illusion.

More than a hundred graphs and maps!  They may not be even tangentially related to the topic at hand, but quantity trumps quality!  I’m hoping he weaves in a map of the hiking trails in Mordor and perhaps a graph or two illustrating how the wholesale takeover of stationery shops by twee Anne Taintor knickknacks maps to our national economic hardship.  It’ll be great.


1. Apparently “most people” don’t believe that violence is on the decline.  I wasn’t aware this point was coming under fire, but the argument is that media makes it seem like the world is more violent than ever, when the opposite is the case.  I guess there’s s “commonly cited” statistic that the 20th century is the most violent one in our existence?

2. A period of “civilization” occurred during the Pax era when people began being ruled by central government instead of existing in what he refers to as a “natural” state.*  He explains this by way of governments wanting to clamp down on people killing each other as it was bad for them to lose citizens, much like it’s bad for a farmer to lose cows.  How they clamped down and whether there’s an alternative explanation for the decline of homicides (like perhaps the assistance of government in food distribution meant people didn’t have to kill each other over meat) is not explored.

3. “For all its notoriety, the death penalty is rarely applied in this country.”  Because applying it infrequently excuses the times it IS invoked. 

4. Graphs he most certainly does have.  Right now it’s a graph about the explosion of book publishing in England during the Enlightenment, because as literacy rises, violence goes down.  I don’t have any issue with how he’s presenting the data, though- he does represent the numbers he chooses to use non-misleadingly.  I love me some clean stats.

5. Another thought trend I wasn’t aware of: he says people tend to think genocide was at its highest during the 20th century.  I actually would’ve thought the opposite, despite the occurrence of the Holocaust; in fact, the very fact that we waged a world war in order to put that episode to an end speaks to our global intolerance of the practice.

6. Pacifying forces of the latter half of the 20th century are identified as democracy, international trade, and…oops, missed the last one.

7. The last decline of violence occurred during the Civil Rights Movement.  Lynchings were essentially brought to an end, and since then hate crimes and hostility toward ethnic minorities have decreased globally. 

8. An increased rate of vegetarianism in the US is cited along with a decrease in hunting in showing that violence against animals on the whole has decreased.  Or maybe hunting licenses cost too much, and the move away from meat is informed less by a concern for the animals as a concern for hormone-enhanced meat that is unhealthy for us to consume?  I’m just sayin’.  The reason why hunting and meat-eating has decreased is kind of important to this point, but he skipped it.

9. Motives for violence are identified as exploitation, individual/group dominance, revenge, and ideology

9. Counteracting the inclination toward violence: self-control, empathy, moral sense, reason

10. The historical developments that have supported these “angelic” traits:

- The Leviathan: a state & justice system with a monopoly on violence; they’ll take care of the fighting for us.

- Gentle Commerce: plunder is zero-sum, but trade is win-win.  As trade improves, other people become more valuable alive than dead.

- The Expanding Circle: we evolved to have empathy; it has gone from being applied to immediate family to greater populations, possibly as a result of increased cosmopolitanism and communication

- The Escalator of Reason: the rise of literacy, education, and public discourse encourages more universal and abstract thought; frames violence as a problem to be solved rather than a contest to be won

11. Conclusion: violence is bad, and our biggest problem is how to agree to unilaterally avoid violence, i.e. how to stop the arms race?

Sooo…the premise of the book is to disprove a belief I didn’t know was out there (although whether this is due to my own obliviousness or it really doesn’t exist, I don’t know), and the takeaway is that we kill less people now and this is good, but the next step is to figure out how to stop the practice of stockpiling nuclear warheads.  I suppose I appreciate that an empirical study has been done to support this, but…calling Captain Obvious.  Come in, Captain Obvious.

*Interesting that his book is titled “The Better Angels of Our Nature,” (a Lincoln quote) then, if “natural” man is far more inclined to kill off other humans than when he’s reined in by government.  “The Better Angels of Governed Humankind” might be more accurate.  I suppose the peaceful traits are still in our nature- they just have to be coaxed out by elected officials.  I knew there was a good reason we created the position of County Auditor.

Supposed to be working on a paper for my Trauma & Violence class.  Which I am, I am- but taking some time to blog and collect your thoughts is always good, no?  I mean, look at all the studies that conclusively state that interspersing our responsibilities with surfing and Facebooking make us 50 IQ points smarter?  That IS what they say, right?  I just get my news from the headlines, I don’t bother with the actual stories.  No time, gotta keep surfing to keep the dendrites forming.

Anyways, what I actually had on my mind was this thing I saw yesterday.  I was at a vintage flea market comprised mainly of rusty old household junk that people had dressed up with glitter and ribbons and were selling for $250.  No joke, this shit- and I mean shit- was way overpriced.  It was shabby chic taken to the extreme.  I got a lamp for $15 and some vintage fabric, but not a single item of décor or “couture” crafted from repurposed silverware, leaky old batteries and/or petrified food waste interested me.*  My crew and I mostly marveled at what a price you could apparently get for papier-mache cats and took note of the things we could easily make ourselves for a fraction of what was being charged.

Dollar store reindeer dipped in glitter and tables with the paint half-sanded off being peddled to the organically-shampooed masses.

Point is: a lot of this stuff- arguably most of it- was not only marked up an godly amount owing to the maribou hot-glued to it, but to the point where it was actually out of our price range.  So it kind of irked me when I came across this little bit of whimsy:


I guaran-fucking-tee you that no one there, who paid $15 to get in with their Baby Bjorn and $100 rainboots, and who is in the market for a scrap of $12 “vintage feed sack” fabric, is going back home to a trailer park.  It just smacked of our weird American tendency to use low socioeconomic status interchangeably as an indicator of credibility and as a reference for mockery.  Taken in the spirit it’s intended, the sign’s supposed to be funny: “Look out, ‘cause I’ve got my whole posse of Pabst-swilling dropouts behind me, and they’re ready to fight!  We are LOW CLASS AND PROUD!”  But something about the idea of that sentiment coming to rest on the well-appointed wall of someone who paid $20 for the privilege of displaying it doesn’t sit well with me; it turns the idea of trailer park inhabitants into a joke while simultaneously aligning oneself with them, yet the very nature of the thing- overpriced and marketed as “rustic”- distances the owner from that very population. 

It’s the environment in which this was being sold that got to me rather than the sentiment of the words. If this had been on a trivet in a dollar store it would’ve made sense; in that context it’s more of a reclaiming of the trailer-trash stereotype where that population is making light of their culture.  Sold to this group of people displaying all the hairstyles and brand-name handbags of an upper-middle class life, though, it becomes a joke at the expense of said trash; it misrepresents one’s actual status and appropriates someone else’s culture for the purpose of making a funny.

Next door at the weekly swap meet, where people with rotted teeth were hocking the contents of their dead relatives’ basements to pay for lunch, I picked up a patch for a dollar which reads, simply, “Bull-Shit.”  It pretty accurately summed up my sentiment.

*I think my dismay with the whole deal mostly came from the fact that despite being so close to Halloween, there were not nearly enough booths with skull-themed items.

‘Tis the Season

October 21st, 2011

God, it’s a ghost town ‘round these parts.  This blog is filled with virtual tumbleweeds.  Thankfully, the dearth of content is inversely proportionate to the amount of good stuff going on in the real world, so it’s not like I’m sitting around pickin’ my toes in Poughkeepsie AND not writing anything.

However.  Between a job that requires me to actually spend my time working instead of ordering muffins and then slacking off for 5 hours until I kick off early, school, and the band, I don’t really get to hang out with people who aren’t directly involved in one of those endeavors.  Even worse: no one gets to see all the new skulls & whatnot at my house.  I hardly decorate for other people- if I did, they’d all be massively disappointed- but I do like to revel in the décor with people who understand how much I love it, even if it ain’t their cuppa.  So: home blogging begins.  It’s Skulling Season, the time of year that I hit up every place I can think of that might have something skull- or Halloween-related, and buy as much crap as I can carry to be placed in my humble abode for my year-round pleasure.  I’m so excited about some of the stuff I’ve found this Skulling Season that I have to tell SOMEONE about it.

First: I’ve taken to purchasing flameless candles nearly whenever I come across them, which has started to become an expensive habit as they’re more ubiquitous now than when I started.  At the beginning, it was one or two at a time from Target.  Lately it’s more like an entire 20-piece set of them from Costco, and yesterday 9 of them that weren’t even particularly a bargain, but they were glittery, and that was more important than what Marshalls thought I should pay them for the privilege of owning them.  My intention was to cover the top of our piano with them, and unless I remove the other things to make more room, I do believe I’ve achieved said goal:


Not to worry, though.  I haven’t gone entirely fire-free.  I still have a good collection of real candles for surfaces not shared with feathers and various flammable knickknacks.  Here’s our organ with some of the good finds from this year.  It’s looking much like an Altar of Rock in this photo, which kind of inspires me to put a bunch of big metal crosses up on the wall above it.  Upside down ones, naturally.  Everybody worship satan!


A closeup of the unlit menagerie:


Here’s the greatest thing that’s come of the season so far.  We moved our dining room table into the living room so we’d use it more, and put the band stuff in the dining room instead since we only use that a couple times a week.  It’s been great, and it turns out that if the tangled mess of cables are relegated to a room where I don’t have to look at them and step over them all the time, my OCD isn’t activated, sending me into a cable-coiling rage.  Success in modern living.  Anyway, the table was begging for a herd of candles, and it just so happens that Target has a shitload of bleeding skull candles in different colors this year.  But put them directly onto the runner?  Nay, of course not.  Instead, I used the last of the wood from my old bed- certified “Don’t Throw That Away- It’s Good Wood!” if ever I saw it, and which also comprises my old raised garden bed enclosure as well as a breakfast nook bench (do I win the Reclaim Queen title?)- and fashioned it into a candle riser.  This has the dual purpose of keeping the wax from dripping onto the table runner as well as giving me a place to store my consistently large collection of half-read magazines while still leaving room to, you know, dine.  It’s a bit tall, but who wants to see who’s sitting across from you at the table anyhow?  If you liked the person at all, you’d sit next to them, not across from them.

Note also the cup of skull toothpicks, skull placemats, and skull napkins.



Some cheapo, unexpected awesome from Fred Meyer: look at the shadows these candle holders make.  I’m glad I happened to place them up against the wall or I might not have ever thought about the possibility of this happening.



Here’s my bowl o’skulls, the repository for all skulls and bones that don’t have a final resting place, AKA McMayhem’s Home For Wayward Skulls:


I want to macrame a holder for it so I can hang it from the ceiling.


You would be forgiven for considering this skull thing has perhaps gotten a bit out of hand…it is a kind of all-consuming at this point.


This popped up on my Facebook feed today:

YES, I’m a GIRL. I push doors that clearly say PULL. I laugh harder when I try to explain why I’m laughing. I walk into a room and forget why I was there. I trip over nothing. I count on my fingers. I hide the pain from my loved ones. I say it is a long story when it’s really not. I cry a lot more than you think I do. I care about people who don’t care about me. I try to do things before the microwave beeps, and while brushing my teeth! I listen to you even when you don’t listen to me. And a hug will always help. Yes, I’m a girl! Re-post if you’re proud to be one!

I’m all for being proud to be a woman, but for these reasons?  The ones that take the worst stereotypes- inability to follow simple directions, lack of math skills, tendency to bottle up one’s emotions- and uphold them as qualities that not only should be revered, but that come as the result of one’s gender?




If you want to take things that are stereotypically female and generally discounted as such despite there being no objective reason they should be- say, liking pink, or listening to Madonna, or being particularly chatty- and reclaim them as things that you have no shame in embodying, awesome.  But if all you have to offer in the way of female empowerment is “I’m clumsy, forgetful, and will let you walk all over me,” count me the fuck out of that revolution.

Here’s my version:

YES, I’m a GIRL woman. I push doors that clearly say PULL hold doors open for others, both men and women. I laugh harder when I try to explain why I’m laughing at funny shit. I walk into a room and forget why I was there, get what I need, and leave. I trip over nothing curbs when I’m carrying something big and my sight is blocked. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve found it appropriate to use my fingers to count. I hide the pain xmas gifts from my loved ones. I only say it is a long story when it’s really not it actually is. I cry a lot more than you think I do sometimes, when I’m legitimately upset about something, not because my ovaries hurt. I care about people who don’t care about me are worth caring about. I try to do things before the microwave beeps, and while brushing my teeth am efficient and combine tasks to get things done quicker. I might listen to you even when you don’t listen to me, but those who don’t return the favor will get a bill for my time. And a hug will always probably not help. Yes, I’m a girl woman, although none of these qualities really have anything to do with my sex organs. I don’t care if you repost or not.


In related news: after going to Sturgis, my girlfriend and I decided we’d like to try building a bike together- we have all the tools at our disposal and plenty of people around who’re willing to share their knowledge…except for her husband, it seems, who responded to the idea with a snort and the comment “you’ll probably build a chick bike.”

Which is an odd comment for two reasons:

1. Neither of us is girly in the least.  The idea that we’d suddenly, in the process of building this bike, start gravitating toward butterflies and hearts or some shit doesn’t even begin to make sense.

2. What would a “chick bike” even be?   It’s not like there are gendered parts- diamond-encrusted brake calipers to help women stop delicately and stylishly; more dainty shift levers for their tiny hands. “Oh, shit, honey, I accidentally used the icky brown male oil! Will you please bring me the pretty pink, estrogen-infused women’s 20W-50?”  Maybe the difference would be that it’s lowered to accommodate shorter people?  Except that he’s actually shorter than either of us, so he if anyone should know that’s not strictly for girls.

Is it a definitively girly custom paint job he’s referring to?  Because it’s not like you can look at any given bike and tell whether a man or a woman owns it, unless there’s some telling feature about the paint.  But so what if it DID have pink paint and butterflies?  How does that count against it in terms of craftsmanship or performance?

Seems more to me like a baseless comment coming from someone who feels threatened.  It certainly sounded to my ears like a brush-off designed to discourage us.  After all, if you teach women how to rebuild a carburetor, what possible purpose could a man continue to have in this world???

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