Monday, February 25, 2008

the shifting feeling

the shifting feeling
of my soul like so many marbles under my feet
chokeholds on undisclosed locations
every sound has one ear drowned in noise
every breath is less
for all the feeling I’ve done some remains
that I can’t wear
no matter the cold
no matter how old
some maps were resolute and suicidal
some just faded away without conviction
if the first pill to swallow is that I have left home
then the last should be
that this circus will burn

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Looking at Janet Jackson

Rich from Fourfour the very brilliant pop culture critic writes about ageism and sexism in Margeaux Watson’s EW review of Janet’s album. Watson says of the record the following:

If you thought the 41-year-old Jackson, not unlike Madonna and Prince, would drop the nympho shtick and embrace more age-appropriate songwriting and production instead of competing with the Beyoncés and Rihannas of'd be wrong. Fans rejected the childish, soft-core dirty talk of 20 Y.O. ,but rather than see that as a signal to grow up, Jackson scuttles the maturing process and regresses even further to the creepy, X-rated lyrics that weighed down 2004's Damita Jo. ''I misbehaved/And my punishment should fit my crime/Tie me to something/Take off all my clothes/Daddy, I want u to take ur time,'' she coos on the title track, an S&M fantasy that borders on a repressed incest memory, set to an R&B slow jam co-written and produced by Ne-Yo.

Rich says the review is so ageist and sexist that it is “hateful”. He says in part:
The Puritanism runs thick: Janet's "childish," not yet grown up and even regressing for including a song (one! ONE!) about S&M. Watson packs in the qualifications, as though she's trying to divert us from what she's really saying: at 41, Janet shouldn't be talking about sex. I'll up the explicitness and say: bullshit. First of all, don't fetishes tend to develop as a result of extended sexual maturation? I know it's not always the case, but still: in any facet of life, it seems that it takes time to cultivate taste, explore interests and build experience to make experimenting worthwhile. Frankly, I don't want to hear anyone under 40 tackling S&M-- leave the advanced stuff to the grown-ups, thanks. Secondly, I guess by labeling this "shtick," the implication is that Janet's being insincere…
Making this about age is straight-up intolerant. Hateful, even. But at least that makes the sentiment transparent: as is always the case with hate, the problem doesn't come from the hated, but the hater.

I found this exchange very fertile ground for my consideration; you know, like a good jump off point for thinking more about things I was already thinking about. Since reading Michael Warner’s phenomenal The Trouble w/ Normal I’ve been sort of awoken to the fact that gay sexuality has much to teach me about my sexuality. Listen Straights I know it's a trippy idea but it makes complete sense if you, you know, swish it around your mouth a little bit. Gay male adoration of straight female sexuality fascinates me mostly for being the antidote to the self-loathing I and most straight women I know suffer. Most straight women I know would love to think as highly of themselves and their pussypower as the average gay man thinks of both. Another way this works is that in being non-normative sexual beings gay men have basically enacted sexual agency under severe oppression in ways that makes me think we straight bitches should take a page. In reading M. Warner I woke up to the fact that as a subjugated sexual agent all the time I spend having normative sex is time I spend participating in my own subjugation; it’s precisely because my sex “belongs” on the inside and not out there on the periphery that it helps hold up the walls that entrap me. Gay sex and other non-normative sexual practice and condition wide ranging, though perceived as “confined” to the outside and peripheral, in reality routinely bulldoze those same walls that entrap me. One can see how reading that book made it patently clear where I should start paying attention... But to get to an idea central to how this Rich vs Margeaux disagreement plays out for me:

--Rich and Margeaux approach, consume and read Janet’s sexual maturity performance completely differently given their positions vis a vis it. Maybe Margeaux's a hater but maybe much more is going. To put it more polemically, maybe Rich isn't aware of what all else could be going on.

[Disclaimer: I'm doing this (suspect) binary between gay men and straight women here not because I don't recognize I'm leaving out tons of people but because that's the divide Rich and Margeaux represent in my thinking.]

There is a way that women are obviously represented by representative women like Janet—we know this. I think as subjugated sexual beings, we await narrative resolution in those representations. Unlike gay men who choose to project onto some Divas an idea of sexual power that is truly transformative because it's not rooted in experiences of its impossibility that would negate it or diminish it, ultimately, most straight women live real sexual lives that lack the benefits and realities of said power. Most women I know live a long time before sex is really good and even longer before sex is really theirs. And the ones who get to the promised land don't get to just stay there; they are ever vigilant of being overthrown and momentarily thrown back to the age of bad sex, entrapment, unagency. I think when we are honest with ourselves, straight women admit to being very defensive about all that--how could you not be? And we also admit to being very invested in the way our sex symbols are representing themselves and in the ways that they age their sex symbolality. I think we sit in panic that having barely gotten to a place where sex is good and we are in control we would have to rather quickly move into an arena where it could be rendered grotesque by (say) Janet. I think Janet's fetishes (to use Rich's apt phrase) may be hitting too close to the place our memories of a shitty sexual trajectory call home--and I don't mean S&M or violence or anything specific. I mean the simple fact of not evolving. Janet does the same thing over and over and over--it doesn't evolve and we, intuitively knowing that salvation for us sexually very much is about evolution and transformation and growth, we panic.

I can’t really explain how profoundly implicated I have been, how invested I have been for years, on the notion of whether or not Madonna (who is, very much, the icon "of my choosing") would get plastic surgery eventually. On the one hand, hey it’s not that deep that she got it, yada yada yada. On the other hand, I’d be lying if I said that was the happy ending I was looking for. It’s tough to be girls, it’s tough to be women, it's tough to love ourselves and our bodies. If any woman was in my eyes the superhero who could show the way to age and be okay with what it did to her face, to me, it was Madonna. The fact that she didn't means something to me I don't think it means to any dude, period.

This whole sexuality thing for us is a pained trajectory fraught with real humiliations and there’s a way in which the entire thing can be tacky so much of the time, hell, maybe we can’t stand to have Janet miss the mark. Straight women have been given so little in the way of experiences of sexual fluency, diversity, texture, risk, discovery and agency, maybe we have become unable to be generous towards our icons. Our icons rightly or wrongly become entrusted with illuminating what is usually a rather dark path for us. The experience of normative straight female sexuality in all that it denies us perhaps creates unfair expectations that someone like Janet would be trailblazing for us. I’m not sure that Janet is not trailblazing by the simple fact of Just Doing What The Fuck She Wants To Do--most likely she is. My point is more that when Rich thinks about What Is Janet Good For, what makes her great, he is not thinking about all the shit I think about when I ponder the same. Or maybe he is, but not in that implicated way I am thinking about it. That way maybe Margeaux is if not explicitly thinking about it, perhaps experiencing it.

Perhaps what’s most fascinating for me is the idea that in an ideal world, Rich would be right, and Margeaux would be wrong. In that ideal world where we roam free and fly the freak flag we wanna fly, Janet doesn’t owe anybody a resolution for the fact that well, they’ve really been "disciplined" into a coma of imagination and courage just being straight women in the world. In that ideal world, she is not the martyr for the straight female condition, after all. In that perfect world it would be one woman, one vagina, to be electoral about it. In the world we do live in though, it works different and in that world, to keep the metaphor alive, we may be dealing with a reality where Janet or Madonna are more like Supervaginas--their judgment can decide the fucking fate of the free world!

I really think that beyond the obvious point that we Straights are wound up pretty tight and get rattled easily about perceived sexual improprieties looming in the horizon (or even the notion that everybody has better sex than we do), there’s lots more at play in Rich and Margeaux's disconnect on the topic of Miss Janet… I am not sure where this whole train of thought of mine goes from here, or that it sustains scrutiny, actually. My own sexuality seems to be insistently dialoguing with notions of homosexuality/queer politics (which I imported wholesale from that Michael Warner book) and I am finding that to be the proper and most instructive breeding ground for its maturation. I think there’s much for me to learn here so I’m going to keep thinking about it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Mama, what is therapy?

My son asked me about therapy. If I went (which I do) and why do people go. Believe it or not, he saw it on Nickelodeon. His favorite cartoon Timmy Turner of the Fairly Odd Parents—another Nickelodeon genius cartoon—was in therapy. “Do you lay down on the long chair too?”. I told him I didn’t, that mine was the sort where you just sit on a regular chair. “And what do you talk about?”. I told him therapy is pretty much like the talks that he and I have about things in life, both the regular things and the tough things, things about feelings. He said “Like the time you slipped up and told me Elmo was real?”; I agreed yes, that could qualify. He mentioned another time, “you remember when you were really sick?”. And I did, this was maybe three years ago when I had a 10 day stomach virus and lost about as many pounds. “I remember you had a bucket where you threw up and it was almost like half full and the stuff was green and I remember Papa would not come help us. And I had a little cut on my big toe, remember?”. I did not remember the big toe cut, in fact I don’t remember much from that week plus of throwing up 10 lbs of water weight… He then said, “I hated him that day. We were alone and hurt and he did not come help us.”

My son has been acting all kinds of crazy lately. Energy is off, his mood is off. He is acting out. He is fucking up his grades, forgetting his work at school, forgetting his glasses at home. Forgetting what I asked him to do or taking forever to do it and getting a smart mouth when I get frustrated. All kinds of crazy and I was not understanding why he was doing this. And on and on we went the last few weeks and yesterday when he curled up and asked me about therapy and then said, “can we play therapy” and told me he had lots of things he wanted to talk about, I realized, even before he said it, that he had to talk to me about his Papa. And so we did. I talked to him for a very long time and then convinced him to call his father and tell him some of what he had told me, which he did. That talk was fine but my son’s voice was cracking and it often is. The places that hurt me are not just present places, they are long buried places and insofar as I feel like I relate to that little voice cracking, it sort of sends me in a spin. Any parts of my childhood that are evoked by my son’s life are not good signs for me. In fact that is what I live for and struggle against—to make sure his is as distinct from my experience as could possibly be. And for the most part, actually for the entirety, it is. Still, when he hurts and I can’t make it stop because it’s not me he needs, that hurts. And when he hurts and brings it to his father's attention and I hear in his sadness a world of aprehension, an utter lack of confidence in his rights vis a vis that love, it's like somebody cuts off my air supply. My baby, asking for love--what the fuck?

The feeling is strangely claustrophobic. This feeling of drowning or choking to death in front of this parenting that is imperfect, this world that is not as kind as it should be, this reality that fails to be as good my wonderful kid that’s in it. You try and keep perspective and you try and keep a longitudinal view and you know you are a great parent and hell if somebody fucks up, it usually ain’t you and your kid’s ultimately okay, but in the moment the thought is just “help!”. Help me make it okay, I have given everything that I have God knows, this is not for lack of trying very hard and putting every bit of what’s best that I have on the line every day, I have held nothing out—all for him to be happy and he is not happy—help!

In those moments you make lots of mistakes and I for one, tend to call his father. I call and I want to voice my son’s needs, articulated beyond his seven year old claims and questions, I want to communicate the urgency, I want to connect with that moment—all the things that he tells me because he trusts me but which in their frankness pierce really deeply—I want to pass that on. I think silly me, if his father heard it like I heard it then… But it’s not the case. His father’s barely finding his own way, he is drowning always, choking always. He’s up to here with his own trials and tribulations and remains forever concerned with defending himself, forever unable to face certain facts, adjust certain behaviors. Our son's needs, certainly his hurt feelings are to his father just another, perhaps the worse incarnation of the world, once more, passing judgment on him. It must be neutralized, danced around, placated. I believe he is mystified at his inability in some recess of his being; I believe that in some place deep down where he can be honest he wishes he could stop being a primarily selfish creature. Selfish people make lousy parents: both he and I know this too well.

Knowing all that I call and maybe that’s just pathetic and without reason. And what do I get? Chewed out for being melodramatic and long winded and wasting his time saying things he already knew because he “already talked to him last night.” I’m making a very rare concerned co-parent phonecall, and I am feeling very badly and I need support and he’s telling me—no, he is brushing me off because he “already knows” everything I’m trying to say?! I go off and I am that stereotypical voice of the righteous indignation of the single mother, my own cliche makes me cringe but it's way past me at this point. I go totally nuts. Really? Because I don’t think you already know how many times he forgot something somewhere the last two weeks, like a person under serious stress. I don’t think you already know how much of a hard time he’s getting from his teacher and then from his mother while he fails to get it together. I don’t think you know how these past weeks have ruined his beautiful grades he worked so hard to get. I don’t think you already know that every time you disappear he assumes it’s something he failed to do to keep you interested. I don’t think you already know all the things he wishes you all did together, I don’t think you already know what it sounds like when he says, looking at his friends’ father talking him to the game, “I wish I had a Dad like that.” I don’t think you already know that this last disappearing act evoked in him memories of other ones, and that he wanted to talk about them and that he remembers details. I don’t think you already know because I’m the one whose job it is to hear and see and know. I don’t think you know a motherfucking thing.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


From NY Times article on child development:

In his view, toddlers are not just small people. In fact, for all practical purposes, they’re not even small Homo sapiens.

Dr. Karp notes that in terms of brain development, a toddler is primitive, an emotion-driven, instinctive creature that has yet to develop the thinking skills that define modern humans. Logic and persuasion, common tools of modern parenting, “are meaningless to a Neanderthal,” Dr. Karp says.

The challenge for parents is learning how to communicate with the caveman in the crib. “All of us get more primitive when we get upset, that’s why they call it ‘going ape,’ ” Dr. Karp says. “But toddlers start out primitive, so when they get upset, they go Jurassic on you.”

Yeah man, I remember that.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Raw Vote Part One

This is not a coherent post. This is just me writing while I watch Super Tuesday unfold.

Right now Huckabee is addressing the people of AK and Hillary is said to have "beat the Kennedy famiily" by winning Massachusetts. She won New York, New Jersey and all kinds of other shit. The delegate count is still super tight.

I personally am California Dreaming. Hoping for a Latino vote miracle which seems improbably since they report that she is winning that by 60 per cent.

He is kicking it up a notch at carrying whites, white males, women, and Latinos are going 60 per cent con Hillary. Well....

In independents, get this, Obama is like 60 to 30. You tell me who will be the tougher candidate for Republicans to beat? Exactly, our guy.

Some thoughts that I am having is that it's looking like young people are not showing up in the numbers they've shown up to see him speak to vote for him. And this is not the election for that scenario to reprise itself.

I am thinking that for all the talk about a change the boomers hold the night by simply doing what they always do-show up to vote. Over 40 yr olds, over 60 yr olds.

Obama just won North Dakota caucus if you must know. Alabama and Georgia made us as proud as South Carolina. Go New South.

The Black Vote is present and I am proud of it.

A friend just asked me how I am feeling. It's 9:45 PM now and I told her: "I am not prepared to lose." That pretty much is how I am feeling: like the world has no room for things not to go our way. For instance, what would I tell my son?!!

Pulling slowly away from my belly button though, the drama of the Republicans with the front runner everyone loves to hate McCain--wow! Red states don't play: they are unforgiving.

Speaking of red states, Hillary's campaign sent out "spin" memos outlining how contrary to what had been claimed "by the Obama campaign" she can carry "red states"; the entire Red Punditry cracked up when they heard that shit and said some version, "yesh right, try to win AK in November."

In terms of RAW VOTE TODAY only a few hundred thousand votes separate Hillary and and Obama both being around 2 million plus votes, and only about 4 delegates; this is now 10:20.

The question of the day is--is wait, before that--CAN I STOP HEARING HILLARY CAMP TELL ME THAT THEY DID SO WELL WITH THE LATINO VOTE??

The question of the day is--wait, how much do I love Chris Matthews?

But really, the question of the day is WHO WILL WIN CALIFORNIA?

The whole aportioning of delegates thing is really stressing me out.


"There is something happening when Americans who are young in age and in spirit – who have never before participated in politics – turn out in numbers we've never seen because they know in their hearts that this time must be different.

There is something happening when people vote not just for the party they belong to but the hopes they hold in common – that whether we are rich or poor; black or white; Latino or Asian; whether we hail from Iowa or New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, we are ready to take this country in a fundamentally new direction. That is what's happening in America right now. Change is what's happening in America.

You can be the new majority who can lead this nation out of a long political darkness – Democrats, Independents and Republicans who are tired of the division and distraction that has clouded Washington; who know that we can disagree without being disagreeable; who understand that if we mobilize our voices to challenge the money and influence that's stood in our way and challenge ourselves to reach for something better, there's no problem we can't solve – no destiny we cannot fulfill.

Our new American majority can end the outrage of unaffordable, unavailable health care in our time. We can bring doctors and patients; workers and businesses, Democrats and Republicans together; and we can tell the drug and insurance industry that while they'll get a seat at the table, they don't get to buy every chair. Not this time. Not now. Our new majority can end the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas and put a middle-class tax cut into the pockets of the working Americans who deserve it.

We can stop sending our children to schools with corridors of shame and start putting them on a pathway to success. We can stop talking about how great teachers are and start rewarding them for their greatness. We can do this with our new majority.

We can harness the ingenuity of farmers and scientists; citizens and entrepreneurs to free this nation from the tyranny of oil and save our planet from a point of no return. And when I am President, we will end this war in Iraq and bring our troops home; we will finish the job against al Qaeda in Afghanistan; we will care for our veterans; we will restore our moral standing in the world; and we will never use 9/11 as a way to scare up votes, because it is not a tactic to win an election, it is a challenge that should unite America and the world against the common threats of the twenty-first century: terrorism and nuclear weapons; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease.

All of the candidates in this race share these goals. All have good ideas. And all are patriots who serve this country honorably.

But the reason our campaign has always been different is because it's not just about what I will do as President, it's also about what you, the people who love this country, can do to change it.

That's why TODAY belongs to you... the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope. For when we have faced down impossible odds; when we've been told that we're not ready, or that we shouldn't try, or that we can't, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people.

Yes we can.

It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation.

Yes we can.

It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail toward freedom through the darkest of nights.

Yes we can.

It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness.

Yes we can.

It was the call of workers who organized; women who reached for the ballot; a President who chose the moon as our new frontier; and a King who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the Promised Land.

Yes we can to justice and equality. Yes we can to opportunity and prosperity. Yes we can heal this nation. Yes we can repair this world. Yes we can.

And so TODAY we will remember that there is something happening in America; that we are not as divided as our politics suggests; that we are one people; we are one nation; and together, we will begin the next great chapter in America's story with three words that will ring from coast to coast; from sea to shining sea – Yes. We. Can."

Monday, February 04, 2008

A Declaration of Independence

I hold these truths to be self-evident that I will not be entrapped by tacit questionnings of my gender politics in this election. I’ve already ranted like a lunatic with all the fury I had at that silly Gloria Steinem column in the NY Times But this line of argumentation persists and insists and will not be denied. Today a friend sent me this rant from the Women’s Media Center and Stanley Fish’s je ne sais pas, Feminist Manifesto?, which includes the brilliant line
"The closest analogy is to anti-Semitism. But before you hit the comment button, I don’t mean that the two are alike either in their significance or in the damage they do. It’s just that they both feed on air and flourish independently of anything external to their obsessions. Anti-Semitism doesn’t need Jews and anti-Hillaryism doesn’t need Hillary, except as a figment of its collective imagination. However this campaign turns out, Hillary-hating, like rock ‘n’ roll, is here to stay."

Well cry me a motherfucking river. No seriously. The perversion of that paragraph almost has no bounds but I was floored by the hypocritical use of anti-Semitism. Was that a smart turn away from using racism as the most obvious term of analogy? Because if it was meant to be smart, it in fact was rather dumb. That said the two columns taken together triggered in me the need to stop dancing around this issues that rattles my cage so, and to engage. I don’t mean engage the arguments only as much as I mean to engage my own reasoning—find that place inside where my outrage is born. Most often and probably to more dramatic but not necessarily more productive effect, I tend to just voice my outrage like life depended on it. So here is some of what I am waging battle about.

Nobody talks about Hillary's power the same way nobody talks about white women's power whenever they feminist-monger us to death. This is an old (blood) sport and I find that engaging in it in this election is distracting from the point, for me at least, and very toxic. On an emotional level, the persistent inability to grant me the autonomy to say that I am not doing a "pick race over gender" thing when it comes to this election is profoundly dehumanizing. On an intellectual level I find it offensive. Of course, NOW, Women's Media Center, Gloria Steinem and all of Oprah's irate white female viewers can't really engage me on that point and they don't even need to do so to still call themselves feminists. And you know why? One way power is clearly made visible is by its having more options than the rest of us. Mainstream liberal America loves binary identity politics and hates those of us who complicate it--its most classic brand of feminism is no exception. But if I'm not their problem, shit they're not my problem either. And I'm talking about some, I'm not talking about genuinely powerful sisters in the struggle like these.

Alec Baldwin's blog
on Huff Post has the Obama equivalent of "Beat the Bitch" t-shirts in a newspaper clipping he found. I can't even imagine what other shit is going around this country when so recently nooses were making a tour of campuses and schools... I will not be so naive as to think that because the racist vituperation that surely is out there against Obama is so foul in fact that it cannot be worn on stickers, that it is somehow more benign or less pervasive than the sexism that plagues Hillary. Just the way people say his middle name Hussein like it's the F word fully suggests to me what time it is, as if history plain and simple wasn't enough.
And yet all of the above is the sort of neither here nor there. It is precisely the sort of make-me-cringe-break-my-heart shit I am trying to avoid and ours is a society whose fundamental treatment of women of color has been to put us through this sort of a ringer time and time again. I for one would not be able to live with myself as a black woman if I engaged this with any seriousness and as they say, believed the hype. This can be a argument beyond myself: every time a certain insular brand of white liberal feminism put us to the question we would flounder if we answered on the simplistic terms presented. With them it is always about, "What is wrong with you that you find no empathy with Hillary's plight as strong, stoic, misunderstood powerful female leader!? At long last have you no decency, ma’am?”

My question whenever the Hillary gender victimization is paraded is to wonder why blatant sexism of the sort she's subjected to is always more potent to the general public than say, the daily racism against youth of color which I feel is pretty much this country's way of life and which I feel acutely as a mother of a black/Latino boy. Lets go back to the point about how Women’s Media or NOW or Steinem can't engage me: what use should I have for a feminism that doesn't understand what it is like to bear a child that's not worth the same as another child? Youth of color in this country have a crippling deficit of possibilities both real and imagined and are overwhelmingly educated in pipelines to penitentiaries or to the military--disproportionately boys like mine. Just because nobody wears "Beat the Black Kids" t-shirts don't make it okay or less hurtful and painful an experience. It doesn't make it okay to deploy a peddler of trash like BET founder Bob Johnson to trash an icon like Obama for pure, crass, political gain. Oh but look at me, playing that shitty race card, right? This is what triggers the anger.

The failure has always been in realizing that we did not cast ourselves in the periphery of peripheries as women of color (and I could say, specifically as black women)--we were cast off. It is therefore not our job to imagine a community--or a feminism--that includes us. It's their job and when I say they, I mean white feminists of the sort I'm bitching about and their surrogates not say, the cool NY Feminists for Peace and countless others who really schooled me and helped me become a woman that could find her own way. While Hillary surely has my empathy while she suffers the violence of the nasty Beat the Bitch movement, she also inflicts her own brand of violence. It makes no sense for me to entertain any argumentation about the woes of Hillary's struggles with sexism that does not critically engage her (recent) willful acquiescence to a viewer who called into the debate to scapegoat immigrants, to say nothing of the debacles of Nevada-South Carolina that we saw. I think I would be a bad mother to my son if I didn't twist my insides, complicate my sentences and daily, daily, give myself headaches, to avoide the easy answers, to find a path of good conscience, to find an independent voice that is really free to choose, and really think this shit through; we cannot afford to be bamboozled.