Category Archives: relationships

Walk Through Walls by Marina Abramović

Walk Through Walls is Marina Abramović’s extraordinary story. I mean, of course it’s extraordinary–it warranted a book. And it did. Abramović gives the account of her tumultuous and abusive (my word, not hers) upbringing, replete with political upheaval and familial strife–inexcusable even given the PTSD and OCD that pervades the family dynamic.

Image result for Abramović walk through walls

image from amazon.com

I continue to be interested in reading about powerful women, women who live lives that are very different than the ones they grew up in, women who were able to imagine and create a way for themselves with the degree of freedom and autonomy that their art requires.

Recently, in an interview, I heard Patti Smith say that the artists path is a spiritual path, that pursuing it and making art is a spiritual experience. In that the making of art puts me in a meditative state, which is a spiritual experience, I agree.

Abramović writes honestly, even self critically, about the spiritual and emotional experiences of her life, and the relationships in which she engaged, and even contributed analysis on her painful patterns and what they might suggest. It was all very honest and real and shed some light into my own painful patterns and what can be done about them (hint: probably not a lot).

So many of the artists I’ve been reading about have traveled extensively and have sought esoteric (at least to a Westerners view) spiritual rituals for self growth and healing, engaging in shamanic treatments in Brazil, learning telepathy from Aboriginals in Australia, and completing months-long meditations in India.

Lately, I’ve wanted to have more meaningful interactions in my work. Abramović’s work empowers me to do so. Her art is really weird, and many might view it as sensationalistic, existing only for the sake of shock and awe, but in reading the book, I was quickly and easily persuaded that performance art is very much art. It’s complex and provocative and does all of the important things that more traditional art does.

For as much as her most intimate relationships brought her pain and betrayal, Abramović heals these wounds for herself and others (her audience and her students), time and time again. Perhaps I can find ways to do more of the same in the work that I do. At least I can try.

After reading the book and being inspired by her story, I felt more emboldened to live my life in a way that was more fully authentic to who I am. So currently I am working hard to change a few things about my life, bringing it more into accord with my essential self, trying to set things up in ways that are more conducive to my well being, and wearing these big sunglasses that fully protect my eyes on the top bottom and the sides. (I wore them yesterday while browsing a plant nursery, and it felt great, and zeros effs were given.)

I thought I marked more passages (I know it did!), but in the end, this is all I could find:

“Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do” (182).

“If animals live a long time together, they start loving each other. But people start hating each other” (290).

Why I Am Not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin

I read Why I Am Not a Feminist by Jessa Crispin when it was recommended by a colleague and when just hearing the title made my blood boil as I recalled countless bad Jezebel articles and dead end arguments on social media about feminism over the past few years. So, I read it.

Image result for Why I Am Not a Feminist

image from amazon.com

As expected, Crispin makes some good points, but also made my blood boil. It reads like being in an argument with the most gaslighting, narcissistic lover or family member you can’t escape. You bring up a problem. They put words in your mouth. They turn it around and accuse you of doing the thing that they were doing. Everything gets spun around. They deny saying the thing they just said. You feel like you’re taking crazy pills. Actually, that’s exactly what it’s like to read this book if you are me–a college-educated woman who has identified as a feminist since the halcyon days of undergraduate school.

The good aspects are that there are some smart and critical observations about social justice, and embracing an ideology like feminism, and life in general. She brings up important points and social events that we could probably all benefit from thinking about more critically and understanding in new ways. The bad points are that it is full of soundbites that lack real depth, and in that way it is also not very literary. It reads more like a Ted Talk, and she is constantly essentializing–to the degree that her insights are often inaccurate and/or misleading. There are straw man arguments throughout.

If you think the Crispin has miscategorized the term, and that feminism is still useful, then Crispin’s book will fall short as a manifesto.

Here are some lines that stood out to me (and a response):

  • “In order to make feminism palatable to everyone, they have to make sure no one is made uncomfortable by feminism’s goals” (8). I agree that this is a problem. Not all feminisms will be “palatable” to the masses and that’s ok/inevitable.

  • “If the goal is universality, then these feminists need to simplify the message to such a degree that the only people who would disagree with their pitch are religious freaks and hardcore misogynists” (10). This seemed to be the case with the Women’s March. The voices were so varied that everyone could easily feel good about participating. I didn’t (and don’t) think that’s a bad thing. There will be easy things and there will be hard things. The Women’s March was an easy thing.

  • “If you are surrounded by people who agree with you, you do not have to do much thinking…you do not have to work at constructing a unique identity. If you are surrounded by people who behave the same way you do, you do not have to question your own choices” (15). This is just a great reminder.

  • “What needs to be restored, and can be restored, is a feminist philosophy” (22). There never was a central “feminist philosophy.” Crispin does this throughout–essentializes or argues for or against things that were never “things” to begin with.

  • “There is a way a woman can deflect the worst effects of patriarchal control, and that is through money” (55). As a “Marxian feminist” this just stood out to me. This is a thing.

  • “Outrage culture” (106). I liked this phrasing. Social media and an “easy share” culture facilitates outrages culture, and there’s really no evidence that any of it is helpful.

  • “If you want to create a better world and a better existence for your people, you must participate in the imperfect world that exists now” (143). The whole “better world” narrative isn’t very convincing to me, but the participating part? That’s something with which I can agree. 

A Lotus Grows in the Mud by Goldie Hawn

I can’t remember where exactly, but Goldie Hawn’s book, A Lotus Grows in the Mud was recommended to me while I was reading some respectable piece of literature, and so I ordered it and set it aside for a month or so. I finally got the chance to read it over spring break, and it was surprisingly delightful–thanks in no small part, I’m sure, to “co-author” Wendy Holden.

Lotus Grows In The Mud

image from powells.com

Hawn has led a fascinating life, and her book really tries to get at some of the wisdom she’s gained in this life. And, you know what? Some of that wisdom was pretty darn inspiring and insightful.

Here’s what impressed me–Hawn follows her purpose, even when it is not obvious, even when she has doubt, even when others criticize her and roadblocks threaten her faith.

When I think about my purpose in life, I often have doubt and uncertainty. However, the predominant narrative one hears about one’s path is that it is easy and clear. But, that hasn’t been the case for me. I was an English major because I liked reading, but that seemed incidental. Now, I’ve made an entire career out this. I love practicing yoga because it is good for me, but a lot of times I phone it in, or have to talk myself into going, and sometimes I don’t go at all. I’m never the most flexible, most enlightened, or coolest person in the class. Still, I trained to teach yoga, and I’ve been teaching it since 2008. Most days when I enter into that classroom to teach, it feels really, really *right*. Same goes for the garden, for writing, for my friendships, for My Love.

So, I loved the message of her book. She was brave. She did hard things. It made me feel like I could be brave. I could do hard things–all while making a living and having Kurt Russell unexpectedly waltz in and save me in the final hour and then stay for the remainder of my decades. Yeah, I’ll have what she’s having.

In perfect timing, just as I finish this book, I see that Hawn is teaming up with Amy Schumer in a new film called Snatched. It looks lovely and hilarious, and I can’t wait to see it. I love seeing mother/daughter duos (that’s in the book too).

2016: the year in review

My 2016 “best nine” according to IG.

2016 was a whirlwind year. I loved. I worried. My heart shattered. I got sick. I figured some things out. I remembered “authentic self” stuff that has helped me re-engage with my values and interests. And so I got better at being me. I worried some more. I got better. I loved.

Now, as with most December 31sts, I feel quieter, more restful, more peaceful than celebratory, or loud, or exciting. These are long, cold days. As a species I think we’re supposed to be lying low, eating root vegetables, and conserving energy to get through winter. Still, in a little while, I’ll probably pull on my giant fuzzy snow boots and be with the smiling, happy people.

In 2015 I traveled. I felt blocked creatively, and so to occupy myself, I tried to say yes to all of the people I loved, and even liked, and ended up making a few long road trips and even made a solo detour on a trip to visit my best friend and ended up seeing more of the Oregon coast than I’d ever seen before and felt small next to the tsunami warnings and did wheel pose in the warm sand with my mom, whom I love so much.

I felt like my urgent travel mode was coming to an end in 2016, but I still ended up traveling a lot. I flew to Louisiana. In February, I road tripped back to Utah through Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado (in the snow!). Then I flew to Houston for a conference that ended up being a good bonding experience with my colleagues, even though I was also really emotionally raw during that trip. I made a quick trip home for my nephew’s birthday (a date I rarely get to make because of my work schedule). Later in the month, I attended another conference in Atlanta. The conference was great, but the trip felt a little solitary. When school finished up, I took off to the high mountains of Idaho, and then made my annual trip to Oregon, came back to Idaho, and then I did another quick trip to Utah.

Before school started, I road tripped to Phoenix by way of the Grand Canyon (a first for me!), Flagstaff and Sedona. In Phoenix I ate some of the best pizza of my life, drove on to the Saguaro National Park outside of Tucson, where I had last been 15 years earlier on my way to a school trip to Mexico. That trip, and the saguaros, left an indelible mark on my psyche, and my return to them did not disappoint. After having my face melted off by a lovely little jazz quartet, I went on to Las Vegas, where I ate at the Peppermill because it’s iconic, and I had recently seen Jerry Seinfeld interview George Wallace there for his show.

After school started, I did a quick long weekend in Seattle to visit the loveliest of people, where I felt the humid, highly oxygenated air wash over me, and after that I went back to Las Vegas for a nice little conference that also felt quite solitary, and after that I went to San Diego for another conference, but this time I also got to walk along the warm California beach and see some of the city and just detoured (quite) a bit in general.

So, there was a lot of travel, and I was grateful for the good company I was able to keep, and I felt highly motivated at times, editing, grading, book reviewing, and proposing all manor of scholarly work. I also rested. I ate tomatoes and zucchini that I grew myself. I knitted, and I read, and I put seeds out for the birds. There’s more of course, but for now, this is probably all I need to say about 2016.

Willfull Disregard by Lena Andersson

At last I’ve found a book that I really, really like. (!). It’s Willful Disregard by Lena Andersson, and I can’t remember how I found it, but I’m very glad that I did. I read it quickly because it’s a library book, and I’m at the end of summer semester, and so I’m busy grading, but also busy getting ready to hit the ground running, which is what I do every summer since adulthood and even now in order to escape my current city and state. (Gorgeous state. Currently insufferable.) So, I only had a week to read this thing.

image from amazon.com

When I first learn of the title, I knew Willful Disregard was going to be my kind of novel. It is funny and smart and good in exactly the way that title is funny and smart and good. It’s the kind of book that makes me glad to learn that the author (Lena Andersson) exists in the world. It gave me hope for humanity.

It’s funny, but it’s also devastating. It captures the analysis and the over analysis and the helplessness of unrequited love. It captures how long it takes. It captures the intense meaning read into every single event and adverb and sideways glance. You think you’re better and smarter than all of this, only to see (years later with the clarity of hindsight) that you were insane, that your precious friends and onlookers were gentle with your…willful disregard of all evidence and reality suggesting otherwise than your well laid plans, intentions, and interpretations.

And even if you have been strong enough or numb enough to have never fallen into this type of stupid, full-body kind of love, you’ll probably still enjoy the deep insights into humanity, the smart philosophizing, along with mocking pretension that Andersson offers up in this novel. It’s her fifth book and first translated into English. With any luck, we’ll get more from her.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

Oddly (or appropriately) enough, an ex-boyfriend recommended Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari. I like his work from Parks and Recreation, so I finally got around to reading it over the Christmas break. This is probably a useful read for anyone who didn’t settle down in their early twenties–which, at this point, is most of us. In my early twenties, I was getting all the degrees, forging deep friendships, and yes, “dating,” as well as staying in a few serious relationships. Mostly, I was writing and making art. I was not pursuing marriage.

image from amazon.com

I do not look back on the dating eras with any fondness. So, it was validating to read Ansari’s take on modern dating. In his book, he uses a very soft social science approach and couples it with his good humor. Pairing stand up with social science and commentary is actually pretty amusing, if not hard hitting. Oh, and when you’re reading it, feel free to skim through large swatches of some of the repetitive stuff through the middle.

Ansari’s parents are Indian and, like most Indian couples, have an arranged marriage. Like many people in arranged marriages, they report being very happy. Of course, on the contrary, in the US, we’re all looking for soul mates and have relatively low levels of happiness in marriage. Ansari’s exposure to both US and Indian cultural attitudes toward marriage gives him an interesting perspective.

Here are some of the main take aways from the book: technology has expanded our options for coupling, which means we have the potential to find a better match, but it also means we’re paralyzed by options; we’re not great at intellectualizing what we actually want in a partner (i.e. we think we know what we want, but we’re often wrong); the vast majority of men and women pretty much dislike dating and just want the relationship.

This last one was a surprise to me. I mean, I hate dating, sure. But, I would hate dating. I’m an introvert, which means I don’t love going out all the time. I don’t *love* people, which means I don’t particularly love meeting new people. I’m very sensitive, which means the sizing up, and the texting, and the strangers, and the whole process tends to be a bit too soul-violating for my constitution. And so in the end, when it comes to dating, I’m very much just like, “Forget it. Everyone please fuck off.”

But then, eventually, you find your person who gets it and gets you, and it’s all worth it. Until then, it sucks, and it surprised me that most other people also think it sucks. Before reading this book, I thought most people were out there playing the field, meeting new people, and having a great time doing the things I typically don’t enjoy doing. Evidently, most other people don’t enjoy it either.

Here are a few gems from the book:

On previous generations: “People were marrying neighbors who lived on the same street, in the same neighborhood, and even in the same building” (14).

Things have changed: “Until they got married…women were pretty much stuck at home under fairly strict adult supervision and lacked basic adult autonomy…For women in this era, it seemed that marriage was the easiest way of acquiring the basic freedoms of adulthood” (18).

On the prevalence of FOMI (fear of missing out): “…what I see at bars today, which is usually a bunch of people staring at their phones trying to find someone or something more exciting than where they are” (27).

On the influence of technology: “That’s the thing about the internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea [emphasis mine] that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it” (125).

This and most other social interactions: “I started to despise the bar scene. I had experienced every single version of these nights. I knew all the possible outcomes, and I knew the probabilities of those outcomes” (210).

On passionate vs. companionate love: “Passionate love always spikes early, then fades away, while companionate love is less intense but grows over time…It is love, just less intense and more stable. There is still passion, but it’s balanced with trust, stability, and an understanding of each other’s flaws” (215).

This basically sums it up: “We want a lifelong wingman/wingwoman who completes us and can handle the truth, to mix metaphors from three different Tom Cruise movies” (239).

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is a very Sundance-y Sundance movie, but it’s good! Sundance loves some great films, and this is one of them. First, this is indeed a movie about a dying girl. Because the title is so straightforward, I somehow thought it wouldn’t be so dark, but it was.

image from imdb.com

image from imdb.com

I also rewatched Mad Max: Fury Road this week (stay with me, it’s relevant!) and have continued to find meaning in the war boys’ concept of a “witness”—this idea of being witnessed in our acts of bravery, our acts of love, our acts of dying—all of it. It’s meaningful to me because I’ve always been so independent and only in the last few years have begun to understand the value of an invested witness.

I mention it because an important aspect of M&E&DG is that a very young man is witness to a dying girl. It’s something they stumble into, they resist, but, of course, it becomes meaningful in ways they couldn’t’ve anticipated or even previously comprehended. That kind of character growth and insight was lovely to watch, but it was also sophisticated enough that I think most audience members come away with deeper insights about what it means to connect more to “their people,” moving beyond assumptions and into really knowing another person.

One of the best moments in the film is when the cool history professor talks about how he lost his father at a young age. He said that even after his father’s death, he’s continues to learn about him. His father’s life continues to reveal itself. It started when his dad’s friends started sharing stories after his death. It continues all the time, in unimaginable ways, even decades later. I think the point here is that learning about our dead loved ones is part of what it means to be alive and self-aware.

As for me, I continue to learn about my own grandmothers. Both my great grandmother and her daughter (my mom’s mom) were a huge part of my early childhood. My great grandma even lived with us sometimes during the winter. She just stayed. She was Swedish. She was very quiet, and she loved me.  My grandma and great grandma died within two years of each other. They were a big part of my childhood, and then, in a relatively short period of time, they were both gone.

For awhile, it was sad, but okay, and this is the natural cycle of life. And then, I got really curious about them and asked my mom and aunties lots of questions about who my grandmothers were. I began to piece together my memories with their stories.  Over time, I can see how much the course of my life has been shaped by their influence. Decades later, I’ll remember idioms and wisdom about how to grow a garden, how to love one man. They suffered and loved for decades, and don’t we all? I am a witness to it all. There is meaning where meaninglessness wants to creep in. It reminds me that I am part of something bigger, family, culture, blood, brains. They are with me in memory and in my story, and that’s what I took away from M&E&DG.

brains

For most of my life I’ve felt relatively happy and well-adjusted—this despite a few run of the mill traumas and dysfunctions. Some of my beloved friends and close relatives, some with genius IQs and crazy good artistic abilities, have not always faired so well mentally. They struggle with addiction and various mental illnesses, i.e. depression, anxiety, a bit too much paranoia, et al. They are all wonderful and funny and great to be around and to talk to, except when they are not. They have brains they all contend with daily. I love them. They are wonderful people. The best people. Though, being around them, I’ve often wondered how I got so lucky to feel pretty good most of the time. Well, here’s the answer: I don’t.

This is a surprise to me because it’s a fairly recent discovery.  I’ve had a few dark periods in my adult life, but they were situational and could be measured in months. I was always able to improve with simple things like exercise and time. What I’m realizing, though, is that my sanity may have been a direct result of keeping my brain very very very busy. Basically, I’ve noticed that if I’m not keeping busy by practicing yoga, falling in love, playing the piano, or earning a PhD, my brain gets bored and tries to take itself to crazy town.

When I completed my PhD, I thought I was done with school forever. Now, I’m not so sure. After ten years of school, I wanted to develop other aspects of myself besides just my intellect. These days I have to practice piano, I practice yoga, I make art, and I volunteer with work that (sometimes) seems meaningful for my mental health. (Though several times in the past year I’ve been tempted to stop the volunteer thing.) Meaninglessness in everything is one of the tricks my brain plays on me, and so finding meaning in life is crucial to my happiness. Basically, I have to work at keeping this brain of mine happy. I love my brain, but I’m learning I have to give it what it needs or else it will punish me.

my (new to me) piano

my (new to me) piano

a little bit on gender and sexuality

Gender and sexuality. Am I right? In the last week or so, this has been a topic of conversation between me and a few friends.

First, you are just you. Then, you wonder who you are. You are a girl. Then, you start to perform gender and sexuality and this is some weird mash up of cultural expectations and your family’s quirks and maybe a little bit of your own genuine propensities. Then you read a little theory in college and rethink some of your “performance.”

Then you have some love and lust and heartbreak, and you look back on the experiences to see what can be gleaned, and you realize that your authentic gender and sexuality, and your performative gender and sexuality, and social expectations and stereotyping are so strong that who knows what’s up or what’s down (or what’s top or what’s bottom, for that matter).

Right now, I am all the things and wonder if this is true for most other people. I am feminine looking and acting. I’ve been told that I am very sweet, too quick to smile, too timid, too accommodating. I am also masculine looking and acting. I am thin, but proportionally broad shouldered and have an adam’s apple. I’ve been told that I am too blunt, too rude, and too aggressive. I’ve felt androgynous. For me, these elements shift, somewhat, with hormones and ideas and whomever I’m in love with at the moment, which is, if I’m honest, usually myself.

What I end up wanting (and getting) in a partner seems so impossibly specific that finding my unicorn sometimes seems impossible—a beautiful blend of masculine and feminine (more masculine, but feminine where it counts).  And inspiring! And creative! And hot for me!

What I really, really like in a partner seems, as I said, so impossibly specific, and yet I’ve found a few of them, and they loved me back, and they were all the things, and that was nice.

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed

I ordered Tiny Beautiful Things and my mom was visiting when I got it. So, she read it first and kept saying out loud, “You need to read this.” She even marked a few passages for me. I watched the movie adaptation of Wild about a month earlier, but could never get into the book. Tiny Beautiful Things was not hard to get into. It takes right off.

I started reading it after my mom went home. I’m not sure if there was one catalyst, or just all the things, but I was an emotional wreck during the few weeks it took me to read the book. I sent frantic texts to my long-suffering bff, and I droned on and on to my dear, long-suffering mother, and I even sobbed a little on the phone with Z, who either suffers most or least of all.

I read and quietly sobbed the duration of a long, cross-country flight. People on either side of my armrests humanely ignored me. The flight attendant retrieved a fistful of tissues for me. Clearly, I’m going through some stuff, and I think it was the potent cocktail of heartache, family, fear, love, effort, HUMANITY!, and Tiny Beautiful Things that created a big emotional purge.

Here are two quotes that meant something to me:

  • On partnering: “This is called intimacy. This is called fuck yes. When people do this with us, it’s an honor” (197).
  • On doing crazy things for love: “Love is our essential nutrient. Without it, life has little meaning. It’s the best thing we have to give and the most valuable thing we receive. Its’ worthy of all the hulabaloo” (219).

Is the book any good? I think it is good. It might be good like wine and ice cream are good: indulgent. I think there’s some useful stuff there. Cheryl Strayed turns herself inside out, revealing her most intimate and painful stories, and in doing so, we readers see the universality of our most painful and humiliating experiences, but also the universality of love, passion, of falling in love. In this book of advice, Strayed convinced me again that the heady passion between two people is rare and real and beautiful and possible and sacred, and I so, so need to believe that right now.