Pissofftimist: Someone Who Hates Both Optimism and Pessimism

I’m not an optimist, and I’m not a pessimist.

I’m a creature that requires both light and dark to survive. I have a dual nature, one side that believes that Santa Clause reads my letters every year and the other that recoils from the sight of angels and little babies like a vampire recoils from a stake.

Is the glass half empty or half full? Doesn’t matter. If I’m thirsty, I’ll drink what’s there. If I’m very thirsty, I’ll complain that there isn’t more.

Sometimes I like to indulge in a little fluffy happiness, reading fairy tales or watching a Disney movie, but I can recognize that life is hardly all sunshine and roses. Sometimes I also like to indulge in dark things, like Emilie Autumn music, horror movies, and Edward Gorey storybooks.

The light and dark naturally balance themselves out, like night and day. They each have their place in the cycles of the year.

Which is why when I find myself confronted with that damned positivity movement, I want to vomit. Too much positivity is maddening, like being locked in a white room with bright lights. It’s more a form of torture than it is a form of therapy.

I don’t think positive psychology is bad. I certainly approve of a deeper approach to mental health besides responding to “illness.”

However, more and more I’m sensing that those who favor positive psychology want to ignore the “negative” altogether. Those who favor “strength-based approaches” want to pretend that weaknesses don’t exist.

It’s an artificial positivity that is annoying as fuck. The only way to sustain that kind of positivity is to either be so naïve that you’ve never experienced tragedy or to be in so much denial that you’re constipated on your own head.

Life doesn’t have to be about the opposition of two mindsets that on their own are unsustainable. I can appreciate the beauty of a tiger, but I also remember that it has teeth with which to chew me. Neither takes away from the reality of the other.

This all-or-nothing trend isn’t new, though. A hundred or so years ago, we were convinced everything was about sex. Jung criticized the idolization of Freud’s theory in his autobiography, musing that “the numinosum [e.g. worship of a theory] is dangerous because it lures men to extremes, so that modest truth is regarded as the truth and a minor mistake is equated with a fatal error” (Jung, 1963, p. 154).

Although we’ve since rejected the assumption that everything is motivated by suppressed sexual impulses, admitting that other motivations may come into play as well, it seems we have yet to learn from our actual mistake. We continue to unquestioningly embrace the next in-vogue school of thought as if it were a god.

I can only hope at some point we will swing back more towards the middle on positivity as well, preferably before we’ve turned it into a full-blown religion. In the meantime, I’m going to ward off the “100 days of happiness” dementors with a little intentional darkness.

Reference:

Jung, C. G. (1963). Memories, Dreams, Reflections. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Four Ways to Add Depth and Meaning to your Halloween Costume

It’s October, which for me means that the month-long celebration of one of my favorite holidays has officially begun. Time to pull out the scary movies, sinister decorations, and fake blood. Also time to start planning a costume…which can be a somewhat daunting task.

I’m already seeing articles popping up about racism, sexism, slut-shaming, cultural insensitivity or fat-shaming in costumes, and I find myself bracing just a little bit for the onslaught of negativity. They’re not necessarily wrong—ugly elements of society tend to find their way into our celebrations in a number of ways, especially when it involves costumes. It’s important to be able to recognize the unsavory elements and talk about what they reveal about society.

But when that’s all there is, after a while it just starts to make Halloween feel absolutely hopeless.

So, I want to take a positive approach to the Halloween costume conundrum. Rather than putting out yet another opinion of what people shouldn’t wear, I want to present some ideas of what to wear. I’ve come up with four ways to make a Halloween costume that is both fun and meaningful.

Dress as someone you admire:

Do you have a favorite figure in history or a fictional character who has been particularly important? Turn your costume into a tribute by dressing up as someone whose life has been an inspiration. Obviously it’s incredible whenever someone creates a detailed, historically accurate replica of a famous person, but even if you don’t feel like you have the time, money, or talent to create Susan B. Anthony or Thomas Edison look-a-likes, you can still create an abstract or symbolic costume of the people you admire.

Queen Christina from Take Back Halloween, an awesome site that gives you tips on how to create your own costumes!

Queen Christina from Take Back Halloween, an awesome site that gives you tips on how to create your own costumes!

Dress as your totem:

If you want to go in the direction of the animal kingdom, consider inhabiting the form of your totem animal for an evening. This is a great opportunity to connect with your spiritual or primal side during Halloween and can even become a kind of mental pilgrimage if you use your preparation time to research information about your animal. The best thing about this costume is that if you don’t like to do much of the costume creation yourself, you can usually find simple animal costumes at Halloween costume shops. Some face paint, ears, and a tale—you’re ready to go! Extra points if you dress as your shadow totem.

Black Cat Mask project from Martha Stewart

Black Cat Mask project from Martha Stewart

Dress as your own fears:

In a post I did on Halloween in 2012, I talked about the value of “dark” holidays in giving us permission to approach our fears and reduce them to conquerable representations. What better way to face your fear than to create a costume of it? This is one idea that could have multiple layers. Literal representations of things like spiders or rats may initially come to mind, but I encourage you to think a little deeper. Often our fear of something mirrors an area within ourselves with which we feel uncomfortable. A fear of spiders may actually be connected with a fear of losing control or a fear of showing your creativity to the world. Finding a way to symbolize more abstract fears can add a depth to your costume. The very act of creating the costume then becomes a therapeutic act in itself.

Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King's "It" (1990). Why is a bit of face paint to create a false expression such a scary idea to us?

Pennywise, the clown from Stephen King’s “It” (1990). What is it about clowns that is so terrifying? Perhaps it has something to do with a false identity?

Dress as yourself:

But not literally as yourself because that would be boring.

Dress as a stereotype or exaggeration of yourself.

Want to bring your activism into your celebrations? Use this time of year to push the boundaries of how society perceives stereotypes. This is the time of year when some of the more hurtful stereotypes make a grand appearance, garnering outrage from any number of groups. On the one hand, we could cry foul, recoil in horror, and allow the negative energy of thoughtless people to hurt, or we could use Halloween as a time to fight back.

A few years ago, I chose to go as a witch—a stereotype of my own spirituality. I chose to do so because I feel that I have more power over how that stereotype is used if I embrace it and turn it into an empowerment rather than feeling miffed and horrified at the way others choose to use that stereotype. By dressing as a stereotype of an aspect of myself, I opened doors for interesting conversations about why I chose my costume and what my identity means to me.

Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz" (1939)

Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wizard of Oz” (1939)

Dressing as yourself could also involve things that don’t fall into larger identity categories. For instance, you could create a costume that portrays minor flaws or personality quirks. Explore what they mean to you. Or go as a two-sided concept like your greatest strength and greatest weakness (which often seem to be the same thing, e.g. perfectionism/attention to detail). Your friends might get a chuckle in seeing you take a jab at yourself, but more importantly, they’ll see you taking ownership of who you are, which is a pretty fucking powerful message, whether that’s followed up with a desire to change or a desire to keep on going as you are.

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I would love to hear about or see pictures of what you choose to do for Halloween. I hope these suggestions give you something exciting to work towards to offset all of the messages that tell you what to avoid. This is one of those holidays that I see as holding tremendous power, and I would love to see mainstream society take a more mindful approach to how we celebrate—which, as I’ve experienced, doesn’t mean it ceases to be fantastically fun!

Facebook Sides with Abusers and Bigots

Facebook is being a fucking ass right now. In case you haven’t heard yet, they’ve begun shutting down people’s accounts for using chosen names or pseudonyms.

I first started hearing rumors about Facebook locking people out of their profiles, asking for identification in order to get back in, several months ago. At the time, they were very distant rumors. I assumed it was someone who had been harassing another person and was reported as a result.

But then I started hearing rumors about drag performers being told they had to use their real names, and I thought, “Well that’s dumb. They’ll get push-back and change their policy.”

I began to watch more closely as Sister Roma struck up an attempt to raise awareness and convince Facebook to change their policy to allow pseudonyms or alternate names. Sister Roma, and those fighting with her, made an excellent case for why Facebook should rescind the policy, but Facebook declared that they were going to stay with their jack-assed assumptions that people must use their legal name on their profile.

Why is that such a big deal?

There is quite a bit of prejudice inherent in demanding that drag performers or transgender individuals use their legal birth name. Refusing to acknowledge someone’s preferred name, like choosing to ignore their preferred pronouns, is a form of transphobia that attempts to steal identity away from the person. It’s an ironic move on Facebook’s part since they recently introduced more gender options for a person’s profile. It’s even more ironic since I haven’t heard of a single celebrity being locked out of their account for using a stage name rather than a birth name. So much for consistency.

But the transphobia and double standard isn’t all that’s at play here. This name policy holds huge repercussions for other groups as well, particularly survivors of abuse.

I found out the hard way that using my name on the Internet wasn’t a good idea. I was stalked both by former cult members and a random stranger who just decided I was a convenient target. I always thought that just keeping my information private would be enough, but when one of the stalkers (hint: it was the stranger) managed to find out where I lived and worked by using a combination of Facebook and the white pages, I decided that was the end of my “real name” days.

Many others hold similar reasons for using different names, whether it’s someone trying to get away from a toxic relationship, questioning cult members seeking answers, LGBT who aren’t out of the closet yet, political refugees who want to maintain contact with family and friends without putting those people in danger, or a blogger who doesn’t want to risk being threatened and driven out of her home by angry jerks like Anita Sarkeesian experienced.

According to Facebook, their name policy stems from their desire for others to know who they are connecting with, but I think they reveal their hand a little too well in the face of their opposition. Their interests do not lie with the LGBT community or with domestic violence survivors or with rape survivors or with anyone whose identity puts them at risk of harm if revealed. Their interests lie with the abusers, the haters, the stalkers, and the violators. Their interests lie with those who don’t give a flying fuck about other people’s privacy or autonomy.

Which makes Facebook an abuser in its own right, using the threat of isolation and the loss of access to personal information to coerce people and putting individuals in the line of violence with cold disregard, declaring that those who don’t like it must be the ones in the wrong.

 

In Defense of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

“New Girl” just released its third season on Netflix, and in between burying myself amidst my textbooks, I’ve been binging on the wonderfulness that is Zooey Deschanel…which has unfortunately also reminded me of a recently developed pet peeve.

Manic pixie dream girls.

Criticism of MPDG has been growing since the term’s birth in an article by Nathan Rabin. But it’s not the trope that bothers me. It’s the criticism. Every time a female character barely steps into the territory of being quirky or vivacious I feel like the critics come swarming like piranhas to a wounded cow in the Amazon. From Barbara Streisand in “What’s Up, Doc?” to Zooey Deschanel in…well everything she’s in, people hate the manic pixie dream girl, complaining that she doesn’t exist and that she’s a shallow character.

The criticism of MPDG has progressed from complaining about an under-developed character to hating the entirety of the character…something which I would blame on the term itself. Rather than highlighting the tendency for female characters to be written solely for the support or fulfillment of the male protagonist (dream girl), it highlights the personality (manic pixie).

But people really do have those personalities! I have one of those personalities. I am unabashedly quirky, bordering on downright weird. My love of life leans very much on the side of childlike wonder, particularly in the fall and winter. You don’t have to spend much time around me at all to figure out that I live in a magical little world of my own.

Although I admire what Rabin was trying to do when he invented the term, I find that those who use it most often are participating not in a feminist critique of lazy character-building but in a veiled form of misogyny. Like the “body-positive” movement that has a tendency to demean and ridicule thin women, criticism of MPDG has become an excuse to rag on any characteristic that someone finds annoying.

I want to see more female characters who have lives of their own that don’t revolve around a man. I would love to see an independent woman with her own desires and dreams in a movie, one who doesn’t need to fall in love in order to be fulfilled in the story line.

But I also love seeing manic pixie dream girls on television and in movies. It’s a nice validation of who I am. As much as I love my unique experience of life (and try to share it with anyone who doesn’t run away screaming), it gets lonely trying to live a magical life in a non-magical world. When I see a manic pixie dream girl, she restores my love of life!

I don’t think the two desires are mutually exclusive because the point of the MPDG trope was never to criticize a person, it was to criticize the way a person was used. As a feminist manic pixie, I demand my right to be represented in the stories of my culture in a way that recognizes my personality as a whole person who is real and complex in addition to being quirky and lively.

As Rabin says in his article in which he apologizes for creating MPDG, “Let’s all try to write better, more nuanced and multidimensional female characters: women with rich inner lives and complicated emotions and total autonomy, who might strum ukuleles or dance in the rain even when there are no men around to marvel at their free-spiritedness.”

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl "I'm not gonna change who I am"

Zooey Deschanel in New Girl “I’m not gonna change who I am. So you’re just gonna have to deal with it and respect it.”

Mental Road Maps and the Art of Reasoning

“You’re not wrong, but you are incorrect.”

This phrase, cheekily spoken by my friend, sums up about how I’ve been feeling the last few weeks as I’ve encountered a surprising number of logical fallacies in one of my textbooks.

Logic is important to me. I spent too much time learning to recognize illogic in my former beliefs and struggling to reconcile the cognitive dissonance of being told to believe two contradictory ideas to merely shrug my shoulders when I encounter it elsewhere.

I try not to harass people too much if their personal beliefs and conversations fail to match up logically…usually; however, I expect more from a textbook that is supposed to be teaching me the art of making ethical decisions.

Ultimately, it probably won’t make a big difference in the grand scheme of the universe for me to write this post. It’s not like my textbook authors will read my blog and think, “Oh, shit, she’s right! Logic is super important. Let’s recall all the books and rewrite them.”

However, there’s value in catharsis (which I didn’t need a textbook to tell me), and there’s also the chance that maybe someone will read this and take it to heart. Butterfly wings and hurricanes and all that, right?

So, what is logic? Why is it important?

Logic is the road that connects ideas together. It’s not so much a philosophy on its own (although there is a philosophical study on logic) as it is the glue that binds any type of reasoning together.

We all use it on a pretty daily basis without thinking about it. Every time you choose not to step in front of a car because you realize that it will likely hit you and injure you, you’re using logic.

Some logical lines of reasoning are so easy that you don’t really need to think them through because you’ve done so many times before. Metaphorically speaking, you don’t pull your GPS out every time you have to run to the grocery store because you already know the route.

However, what if you want to go on a longer mental road trip, so to speak? That’s where logical reasoning is very important. You could, for instance, drive from New York to Virginia on I-95. You will need to have a map, know where you’re trying to go, and pay attention to the route and signs along the way so that you don’t get lost, but you can get there because I-95 connects both states.

You could not, however, get to San Diego on I-95 because I-95 doesn’t go there.

Logic is the road you travel on.

It doesn’t tell you where you should go. It has absolutely no value judgment on your starting place or ending place. It merely tells you whether you can get from point A to point B.

Of course, this is a very simplistic illustration, but I hope you get the idea.

Logic is necessary for everything from building a hypothesis to designing a car to solving crimes. Being illogical doesn’t necessarily mean that the conclusion is wrong, but it does mean that the process is incorrect and that any conclusions drawn from that process are suspect. A doctor could, for instance, accidentally stumble upon the cure for a disease by making a couple of errors in the treatment, but that doesn’t mean he developed the cure any more than a child who guesses correctly on a math test has “solved” a problem.

And I hope we would all cringe to think of that doctor proceeding to teach his “cure” to students without actually figuring out or understanding what it was that worked so well.

So you see, logic is imperative, not only on an individual level to know that something makes sense, but also on a societal or educational level to ensure that valid principles are being passed on. Logic is the first reality check: “Is this possible?” “Does this make sense?” It has to pass before “Is this true?” or “Is this good?” can be answered.

 

 

Selfishness: The Character Flaw That is Also a Virtue

We live in a society that views selfishness as the ultimate character flaw. Labeling something as “selfish” doesn’t even need an explanation; we just know that it’s horrendous.

We also live in a society that has had to resort to encouraging self-care as a prescriptive thing, ordered by others before being sought out by ourselves, rather than an automatic one.

When I interviewed for grad school, I was asked about my self-care techniques. I’ve since found out that the school’s concern for student well-being wasn’t a formality. Almost every time I’m on the campus, I’m hearing or reading something about the importance of taking care of myself.

I’ve also noticed that even though I want everyone else to take care of themselves (and routinely scold my friends if I think they’re not), I have a backlash of shame at the idea of carving time out for myself. There are a million other things I should or could be doing, and taking even half an hour to do something fun or nurturing feels like a sin…and I’m not even really that busy right now!

Although selfishness isn’t an emotion, per se; I’ve determined that it needs to be the next step on my “negative emotions reclamation” journey. My ability to pay attention to myself and give my body, mind and spirit what they need in the coming years will depend on my ability to be comfortable with seeming selfish from time to time.

And really, if you think about it, why is being selfish such a horrible thing?

That question first crossed my mind a year ago when a friend of mine was called ‘selfish’ for choosing to be child-free. Of course, my initial reaction was to fire back that it was far more selfish to have children for the wrong reasons than to choose to not have children…but then, so what if the decision to be child-free was selfish? What harm did it cause?

I think when we think of selfishness within our society, we automatically get a picture of someone doing something for their own benefit to the detriment of others. Obviously, self-focus that does not care or bother to understand the effect on others is a problem. Too much selfishness, and you have the infamous narcissist, obsessively staring at his/her metaphoric reflection.

Narcissus by Caravaggio

Narcissus by Caravaggio public domain

But should it automatically follow that any amount of self-focus is negative?

In the case of choosing to be child-free, I’d say it’s the best “selfish decision” a person could make. There is no child who will suffer as a result of that choice. No one gets hurt.

And with regard to self-care, I don’t think it’s possible to care for the self without at least a little bit of self-focus and self-concern.

I took a moment to look up “selfish” in the dictionary. Unlike most of my reclaimed emotions, I was surprised to find that there didn’t seem to be a positive or neutral definition that was forgotten at the end of a list. I can’t think of an alternative word that implied a healthy amount of self-focus.

So I’m left with reclaiming selfishness.

I want to learn how to be selfish—meaning, I want to learn how to practice self-care without feeling like I’m doing something wrong, I want to be able to say “no, that doesn’t work for me” without having to provide a convincing altruistic or globally beneficial reason to make my choice seem more palatable, and I want to have the right to love myself as much as I feel I should love others.