Sunday, 31 May 2009

Gender Politics

I'm probably barking up the wrong tree with this, but I'm reading The Importance of Being Earnest, and a short while back I read The Great Gatsby, and I'm getting a similar picture from both about what seems to have been a Victorian feminine ideal.

I call it the witty idiot. It's an intelligent, presumably capable woman, trying very hard to pigeonhole herself into a position inappropriate for her. Presumably all young women would behave like little girls - such is the fashion - but when these women go girly and faux-innocent, what I find jarring the Victorian man apparently finds attractive. Oooh, it's a 20 year old pretending to be 9! How charming!

We needn't necessarily stray as far as the Victorian era. I get similarly irritated whenever I have the misfortune of being subjected to Gilmore Girls. It's the same idea. Unusually intelligent and mature women behaving and talking like little girls -ostensibly for the sake of wit and humour, but the performance is pursued so relentlessly and comprehensively I just don't buy that that's all it is. It emits the sour reek of infantilization.

Why do I even care? I'm a man. Well, first of all, this might be a good opportunity to come out of the closet: I am a raving feminist. I wonder how many of my friends know that. However, I suspect that there's something more than a desire for social change driving me here. It seems to me that the same way too many women seem to be just girls with curves, a whole lot of men are just boys with muscles. That's where I come in.

It takes - or should take - more to be a man than just self-sufficiency. What women seem to lack in independence and accountability, men appear to lack in active compassion. I don't know what I'm basing this equivalization on but I'm going to stick with it. It's almost as if one sex manages the doing and the other the caring. I suppose there's an evolutionary logic behind this, but that doesn't really make it any less pathetic. Being an adult - here's that word again - means being an active, involved human being. In order to be active you've got to be able to stand your ground; in order to be human you've got to be able to want to for reasons other than your own advancement.

I'm getting ahead of myself. What upsets me is how little room I allow compassion in determining my actions. This isn't to say I'm a boorish, unthinking thug. I've just recently described how timid and ridiculously inoffensive I tend to be around people. But I'm almost never motivated by love in my actions. It's always a decision - sometimes with an "ethical" rationale - but never engaging people or taking an action towards them because I love them. It's like I don't consider it a good enough reason. I don't have sufficient respect for love. I end up a deficient man.

In other news, remember that plastic bag scene in American Beauty? I had a moment like that today. With an actual plastic bag. I was a little transfixed by it; so much that I didn't even bother to pick it up like I usually do, loyal citizen and civil servant that I am. I do genuinely believe that from the right perspective anything in the world can be dazzlingly beautiful, but in truth the incident itself wasn't so deeply moving as it was amusingly reminiscent of that awesome, awesome flick. And it's a good excuse for a clip:


A curiously widespread phenomenon, considering what the word technically means. Or maybe it isn't technical, but what immediately comes to my mind when I hear the word is the feeling that most people share something that you don't.

I've been excruciatingly lonely for the last 6 or so years, ever since essentially deciding upon it as a sort of buffer against life. This loneliness had continued pretty much unabated and independent of the number of people, interactions and even full-on conversations I'd found myself around and in. I made a pact with myself fairly recently, to keep this fact in mind and stop freaking out every time my immediate loneliness is somehow more palpably demonstrated to me - I'm lonely, and have been for a long time, but apparently I can take it, and in any case I have discovered that there are no immediate measures I can take in order to remedy it.

And this pact worked, most of the time. I don't know that I'm rethinking it right now, but the fact is I am freaking out, and I suppose the least I can do is try to figure out why and what more precisely about.

I'm wondering, for one thing, whether my loneliness truly is of the same kind universally recognized and lamented. I mean to begin with, most people probably wouldn't describe their loneliness as excruciating, but that doesn't necessarily indicate anything beyond my occasionally somewhat melodramatic disposition. On the other hand, the "universally" lonely seem to get a little frantic whenever it gets quiet enough for them to hear their own loneliness, whereas with me it is almost never the quiet that does it - it's usually seeing other people seeming to share something which I do not have, which brings us back to where we started.

Okay. It's specifically this: Other people talk about that which is on their minds. I don't think it's contingent on their company being interested or even listening; it's how people can find other people boring. I can't know, but I'd hazard a guess that the only people who've found me boring have been those convinced I couldn't actually speak - and not because my conversation when it did happen was transcendentally scintillating - but because I'd never told anybody anything I wasn't quite comprehensively certain they wanted to hear.

I seem to have been asked quite a lot recently "what have you been doing lately?" - responding with "well, not much," when what I really meant was "not much that I expect you to understand or relate to," which is a rather pompous and unfair attitude to take towards people genuinely trying to be friendly.

I haven't been doing much recently, but a lot has been on my mind. I've been moving away from a religion I've followed with a consistently high level of ardour for 20 years; I've been moving so far left in my politics I'm no longer completely clear about this country's right to exist; I've been obsessing over Taoist spiritual ideas with an enthusiasm that continues to surprise me; I'm grappling painfully (and really for the first time) with notions of adulthood and responsibility and accountability (and functioning); I continue to be deeply concerned about the games I play with people instead of communicating with them; and all the while I froth over stupid stuff like movies and words (I've recently come to the conclusion that my fascination with the latter is more linguistic than literary).

There's been a bit of an influx of these recently - of the overwhelming, distressing stuff I mean - and I think what bothers me is that I don't even feel the urge to discuss this, or raise it, with anyone. I don't even feel the urge to bring it here; this was a dry, rational decision. I feel the lack but I don't feel the impulse to fix it. That's just bloody weird. I think it means I don't listen to myself enough.

This is where writing this blog approaches coming in useful. I assume there's an audience here and yet I don't make the slightest effort to be remotely understandable. My real life should be a little more like that. I guess my message to myself is to not be afraid of boring people and for fuck's sake not to try and be comprehensible. Because you guys are my oyster. You are my fucking oyster.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Virtual Judging

I've had the feeling all day that there's some kind of momentous realization I was about to reach if only I could get around to thinking about it properly. It made it kind of hard to really focus on anything else. Here's hoping this is it.

I noticed today that there's a lot of phantom judging going on in my life. Whenever I enter any borderline technically halfway social environment - this is especially noticeable at work, which "borderline technically halfway social" is actually an extremely accurate description of - I immediately assume that everybody there is judging me (in secret - in thought and feeling) and proceed to do my utmost to convince them that I'm judging them back. My method is a sort of technically inoffensive extreme nonchalance - a kind of "I am genuinely unaware of your existence." People have actually had occasion the past year to deny being offended by this, but I don't believe them, which is actually strangely arrogant, but what can I do. 'Tis the truth.

The point - presumably there is a point - is that neither of us actually gives a rat's arse. They have better things to do with their time than surreptitiously considering my faults and merits, and I am indeed aware of their existence - perhaps a little over-conscious of it in fact - but I have nothing against it, and I'm not holding up any standards they're not meeting. And yet, my life is completely dominated by the aura of judgement. What - as they say - the fuck?

But we're not at the momentous realization yet. We're merely noting with some befuddlement that I would choose to imagine into existence what by most people under most circumstances would be considered a disadvantageous situation.

The rationale, I suspect, is that if you see judgement where it doesn't exist, that saves you the trouble of ever having to actually meet it. The self-wrought atmosphere of hostility and fear prevents you from ever foolishly presenting any prey to the ravenous predators apparently surrounding you. You are entirely spared any actual substantive negative response.

And what does this actual substantive negative response constitute? My momentous realization is, or at least should be, that extremely little. I have told myself before that I am not the sum of people's reactions to me, but I seem to have neglected to appreciate how often and how comprehensively I make this mistake. I suppose most people do, but I don't think that to quite the same extent as I.

Where most people would be seriously shaken if somebody they knew came up to them and said they thought they were a bad person, I would be similarly shaken if in reaction to me someone expressed mild annoyance, boredom, confusion, embarrassment, or just suggested in any way that he had been slightly inconvenienced. I'm not kidding.

It's this idea that how people react to me is actually what defines me as a human being. That if they say something's wrong with me then it is. I seem for some reason to be convinced that they know something that I don't. I suppose that's my epiphany in a nutshell: they don't. If you are in disagreement with another over yourself, assume you're right until presented with an actual argument.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Practicality vs. Emotion

I'm not sure how much of this I've mentioned previously - though it probably doesn't matter, considering most likely you do not actually have all of this memorized - but for the past few years I have been living in a sort of state of enforced autism.

It started as an angry, confused reaction to the surrounding groups' behaviour scaring, hurting, and disappointing me, and continued for the same reasons, but under the guise of practicality. Where before I had sterilized my behaviour of emotion because it made me more vulnerable, an easier target, and people weren't worth it, I now stumbled through life like a soulless droid because I discovered that I could, it made everything much easier - at least in any immediate way - and seemed on the whole a more "practical" way of approaching things.

So yeah, I call bullshit. While being dead outside might make some specific things mildly easier, it doesn't justify itself in the long run, "practicality"-wise, simply for the fact that if it did, many, many more people would be doing it - and not just the neurologically inclined. No, the benefit of leading a diluted social existence is that it prevents you from having to actually deal with other human beings.

I am no longer stupid enough to think that personal vulnerability and people's foibles constitute a good enough reason to refrain from living life, but I'm still sufficiently emotionally stunted to feel they do most of the time. And I still use "practicality" as a rational pretext for this kind of diseased thinking. I mean, you can mathematize till the cows come home but who'd give a shit? Only the people who feel enough to care.

So that's what I'm trying to do lately. Let go a bit of the practical/rational/anal absolute fucking control over everything and have a little more faith in myself and what I'm doing and trust in people and my instincts.

The thing is, about this process, that it's very difficult to measure. Only today it occurred to me that this is in the very nature of what I'm trying to effect. It's not measured and calculated - it's done and you hope that it's done enough. Not every action has to be immediately hermetically sealed if you have faith in the general spirit of what you are trying to do.

What's occasioned this was an in retrospect rather amusing meeting with the psychologist where I tried to communicate my wish to move from a practically-minded approach to these meetings to a more emotionally-based one, all the while being frustrated by the fact that my emotionally-motivated blabbering (confusion, specifically) seemed to render the attempt impractical. It was he who suggested you can't take a practical approach to reducing practicalness. Good point. What I can practically do is instruct myself to just chill out a little. Have a little faith and don't feel that the onus is on you to complete everything you're immediately doing as flawlessly and completely as possible. You need to put your heart into it; not your sharpened critical faculties.

I'll be surprised if anybody understands the last bit of that last paragraph, but that's the third consecutive one I'm closing with gushings about faith. So, in the hope I get the message, I will conclude.

Have a vaguely related awesome song from an awesome movie:

Saturday, 23 May 2009

My Left Motherfucking Foot

This is a movie, by the way. That's not the clearest poster. How's this?

Yeah, not much better, I know.
It's true though. It is a great, exhilarating movie. I know I had a point here at some stage.

First of all to just give this film my blessing and recommendation. It's as awesome as they say it is and worth it even if you're strongly averse to schmaltzy stuff - so is Christy Brown.

I'm not even going to attempt a proper synopsis because hey why the hell should I, but what this movie's essentially about is a person whose life other people found it easy to compromise on, and his relentless, fierce battle for equal treatment - for dignity.

It is about the triumph of the human spirit, but what's interesting is that the film seems to suggest Brown's greatest adversity is not his neurological-physical condition (near-complete quadriplegia) - he can overcome that, in all meaningful ways - but other people's reluctance to accept him as an equal. People lower their expectations of him in what they perceive as an act of kindness, and he's relegated to the fringes - interacted with out of "kindness" rather than out of respect.

Christy Brown is in a constant battle for the survival of his dignity, and that leaves him very little time for anything else. He's a bitter, egoistic bastard, not to put too fine a point in it, and while some people apparently find this makes him harder to relate to, I was somewhat surprised to find that for me it doesn't, not remotely.

Christy Brown's life revolves around Christy Brown. This isn't because he's a bad person. He cares deeply about those he loves, and is incredibly strongly principled - it's just that his principles assert that he deserves more than the bones other people are willing to benevolently throw him. If he doesn't fight viciously for what's his, he will not get it.

And Brown's struggle is a heroic one - I do think that's the right word here. The same way a moral obligation towards others sometimes justifies self-sacrifice or the risk of it, your moral obligation towards yourself sometimes justifies "sacrificing" others, in terms of preventing them from having an easy time.

It is this equivalization that is mainly on my mind. The movie is actually about quite a few other things, but the notion that what you owe yourself morally overweighs that which you feel you owe others is one that, while I entertain, I never give much credence to. Not giving yourself the opportunity to live life fully and unabashedly is evil, callous, hateful behaviour of the worst kind. Being nice is so overrated.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Thinking, Waiting, and Fasting

I'm reading Siddhartha. Siddhartha says:

"Listen, Kamala, When you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, a goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes the goal. That is what Siddhartha has learned from the Samanas [wandering ascetics]. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Nothing is caused by demons; there are no demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait and fast."

An interesting idea. Possibly I will elaborate more when I'm finished with it. This has been on my mind anyway. I suppose if you're interested and have a little time on your hands I can point in the direction of wu wei.

Oh, and a one minute clip of The Simpsons reminded me of this song, which I've never listened to properly.

I'm not sure what that saxophone evokes for me, but it's all kinds of awesome.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Star Trek Rocks my World

If mainly for reminding me of how much I used to dig the original series. The movie was good – not amazing – but the kind of stuff that’s always pure pleasure for the fans (not all bitter, hostile trekkies fit into my definition of “fans”). I had already had an idea that the moviemakers were serious and knew what they were doing, but it was still a pleasant surprise to find that actually pretty much all of the actors were bloody good. I’m going to assume Kirk and Spock’s successfulness is common knowledge by now and give a special shout-out to Simon Pegg’s Scotty and Karl Urban’s Bones McCoy. Eric Bana was completely unrecognizable but otherwise a fairly unremarkable villain.

This is the second J. J. Abrams movie I’ve watched in the cinema (after M:I:3) and I’m having a kind of similar reaction; it seems that the same way Abrams makes cinematic television, he makes kind of televisual cinema. This sounds like a bigger put-down than it should. This movie feels like a long, good episode of Star Trek – kind of similarly to The Simpsons movie – and I think that’s great. Still, cinema has a potential that TV can never fully approach – here’s hoping that next movie (for which I wait incredibly eagerly) makes fuller use of the media in which it’s presented.

But the thing is, this isn’t really about cinema. I was a fan of Star Trek for different reasons than I am a fan of movies. It’s the excited, giggly type of fanhood – the type where you fawn over the characters and the mythology and become really stupidly happy whenever you get to come back to it.

I really dig this new “reboot” era. It’s awesome how so often along with rebooting a franchise a movie can also reboot your excitement. It’s a kind of bizarre and unreasonably enjoyable experience. The best example of this is still Casino Royale. There’s something almost mystical (humour me) about the way it taps into something really great from your past, and then proceeds to claim, convincingly, that it can do better. I know I’m getting carried away, but it seems to embody a kind of universal, deep message of hope: What was good about your past will be even better in your future.

What’s kind of taken for granted here is that your present and recent past really suck. This is probably usually the case for most people – I know it is for me. But there’s no reason at all why you shouldn’t be able to make your future like what you’ve enjoyed of the past – at least to insert that which you have enjoyed of the past into it. I, for instance, would like to see more Star Trek. That’s the main thing I’m trying to say here. It seems kind of bewildering to me that I could forget how much I used to enjoy this stuff. I am obviously not even remotely attuned to what makes me tick, in terms of planning. The past’s a treasure trove. Use it. Pop culture’s just the easy stuff. Most likely what you’ve enjoyed and liked and appreciated in the past you still will today. We don’t change that much.

Additionally, and entirely unrelatedly I suppose, I figured out what connects religiousity and Zionism. Religion had been my excuse for never seriously considering Zionism in any critical capacity.

Being Jewish (which requires a very active effort) has always seemed to me kind of idiotic if you're not even going to bother to be a part of the Jewish state. Being Jewish means refusing to be a full part of the country in which you live, by segregating yourself from it to one degree or another - from self-imposed ghettoes to refusing to marry into the general populace. It's always been separation for the sake of future self-determination. This separation, in turn, would be justified (could only be justified, as far as I could see) by the wish to keep to a very strict religious standard.

The religious standard has ceased to cut it, for me, in terms of a reason to be apart from the rest of the world, and following that comes the inevitable - at least to me - question of what is actually the point then of being Jewish? I'm not talking just about keeping a bunch of customs and celebrating religious holidays with the family - but also about the by any standards fanatic commitment to keeping the Jewish people going as a powerful and distinct "ethnic identity".

Most of the world seems to take it for granted this is a positive and important thing, but I can never understand why. More than any other ethnicity, Judaism (or Jewishness?) emphasizes in its members the quality of not being part of the general environment or the world - it's always in conflict with the temptation to become a fuller part of the world. And what's fucking wrong with this temptation? What does Jewishness have that could possibly approach it in aspiration?

I don't know, and yet I can't disregard it out of hand. I feel like I'm missing something. Are they only delusory comfort and laziness that are keeping me from breaking free from this imprisoning paradigm, or is there an actual, sensible reason to continue being a part of this, as I so far am? Why can't I see it?