But First Let Me Take a Selfie: Capturing Life’s Moments

I took so many pictures when I was a young teen. I had boxes of photographs from disposable cameras with photos of things that I didn’t even remember.

But I struggle to remember to take pictures as an adult.

With cameras built into most cell phones, it should be easier to snap a picture of almost any moment in my life, yet the majority of the pictures on my phone consist of parking spaces I need to remember or images of that water stain I need to tell my landlord about. Pictures that are for practical purposes but have no emotional meaning for me.

The camera has become ubiquitous and thus invisible. Back when I had to go out and buy a disposable camera, I was aware that something special was coming up. Carrying it around with me while out with friends or on a vacation helped me remember to put the view finder up to my eye periodically and press the button.

Now, I rarely think about my camera.

Maybe that’s just me. I’m not a photographer. Photography requires a certain mindset, I mindset that steps out of a moment long enough to take a picture of it. Photography has always struck me as somewhat disruptive to inundating myself in what’s happening.

But I want it to be me. When I see pictures that others have taken, I love the way they take me back. I love the way they give me access to people and things I can’t physically return to.

I have a friend who takes tons of photos. And seeing our happy, sometimes drunk, but always smiling faces in the pictures reminds me of the magic of those moments in a way that memory alone can’t. Thanks to her, I have a stockpile of mementos of our time together, and I treasure them.

But were you to look through my photo albums, it would seem as though she were my only friend because I and my other friends never think to take pictures together with our ever-present, ever-ready cameras.

This past week, my partner and I were on vacation, and I made a concerted effort to remember to demand a few selfies with him throughout our site-seeing adventures. It’s the first step in my mid-year’s resolution to start documenting the people and times in my life more.

Life is fragile, and the blissful moments fly by so quickly. But pictures freeze those moments, just a little bit, providing a memory-portal to help me travel back for a visit.

New Moon in Cancer: Reflections on Relationships

The new moon this moon has knocked the air out of me emotionally, but it’s forced me to confront some things I have been avoiding for a while. I don’t have too much for this blog today, mostly some reflection thoughts. It seems like this moon has been all about the patterns of relationships, the patterns of my core being.

I’m realizing I am very bad at saying what I need. The more I struggle, the more I withdraw. I haven’t entirely recovered from the break up with my best friend several years ago, and I’ve internalized this very deep-seated message that when it comes down to it, no one will be there for me when I’m in pain.

I’ll go out of my way to be there for others. I’m loyal enough to be a puppy. And in suppressing my own needs, I often raise someone else’s up. It makes me a “good friend” or a “good girlfriend,” except the other side of the coin is that it’s motivated from fear. Fear of them not finding my own vulnerabilities lovable. Fear of losing their interest. Fear of being too “dramatic.”

But fear is not a good foundation for any relationship.

As this new moon has pealed back the layers of all my excuses, I’m left staring at the stark and somewhat unappealing truth.

I’m not very good at relationship.

I am scared to death to trust. I am scared to death to have demands or desires. I would often rather fade out of a relationship than take the chance of stirring up conflict.

And in light of that, how can I expect any relationship I have to be more than superficially deep when I cordon off the most vulnerable part of myself and hide behind a persona of empathy for someone else?

Even that realization tempts me to just withdraw more and content myself to a fate of solitude…if it hadn’t been for friends who called me on my shit, demanding/entreating that I show up and letting me know that they can see those parts that I think are so shameful and unlovable and still be there in the end. And it’s because of them that I’m using the new moon to look at how my other relationships could follow suit. What do I need to do to bring myself to them? How can I begin taking the chance of reaching out or taking a stand for my needs?

Some relationships will be easy to adjust. Others are a lifetime in the making and harder to break the out of their pattern.

I have a feeling this will be a messy process. I probably won’t show up with my vulnerability gracefully at first. Yesterday, I shocked myself when passive aggressive shit came flying out that I didn’t even know was sitting on the springboard of my tongue. But I’m going to do it and hope that the relationships that truly matter will love me in that mess the way some already have and that the ones that don’t matter will shed themselves quickly.

What are the relationship patterns that your new moon is showing to you right now?

Silly Girls, Orgasmic Sex is for Divas

Should it be news when a woman expects to enjoy sex?

Probably not in a world that isn’t completely fucked up…but actually, yeah, I think it should be news in today’s world.

It’s certainly turning heads that Nicki Minaj stated in her Cosmopolitan interview, “I demand to climax.”

Some are cheering her on. Some, however, think that she’s a “diva.” Because…apparently expecting sex to be pleasurable is such an unreasonable standard.

Sex. Orgasms. Celebrities. Who cares, right?

Well, I care. It’s a big deal.

The very fact that Nicki can create such a fuss over that statement and that she can get such backlash for holding that opinion reveals pretty strongly that even in our “advanced” society, female sexuality is still considered “for others.”

No man—absolutely none—needs to declare that he expects to climax every time he has sex. It’s a given. It’s expected that men will enjoy sex and that sex will lead to orgasm for men.

But women who expect the same…that’s shocking, unheard of, bitchy, demanding, diva-ish.

We live in a society where the female orgasm is extra. Movies and porn center themselves on male pleasure and ejaculation but hold no expectation of showing a woman climaxing. Women’s sexuality is used to sell everything from beer to cars to deodorant, yet women enjoying sex and climaxing during sex is no one’s first concern.

I’ve come to the conclusion that if we hope to change the way our culture views women, we need to change the way our culture views women’s sexuality, not by fighting for fewer displays of sexuality but rather by fighting for displays of sexuality that demonstrate clearly that a woman’s sexuality is for herself.

We need more women declaring that they enjoy sex…and that they only have sex that they can enjoy.

The traditional ways of fighting objectification too easily play into the mindset that a woman’s only reason for being sexual is for the male gaze, male pleasure, etc. It reinforces the myth that women don’t have desires of their own.

Women, and girls especially, need role models who demonstrate…not modesty, but agency in sexuality. We need media that shows sex being rooted in respect, consent, and mutual pleasure. Expecting orgasmic sex shouldn’t have to be a newsworthy story. It’s time for women to take back their right to their own sexuality and demand that sex is as pleasurable for them as it is for their partners.

Guest Post: Right Thing Wrong Reason

The following critical analysis of the recent SCOTUS decision regarding marriage equality is a guest post from my partner. As we celebrate a step in the right direction this July 4, this post serves as a gentle reminder that our rights cannot be bestowed upon us like a gift from the government. They can only be acknowledged and defended. In fighting for equality, perhaps such a fine point seems like a quibble over semantics, but it’s an important one because it is the difference between asking permission and demanding what is legitimately ours.

In Obergefell v. Hodges, love did indeed win. Gay rights movements across the nation were give a wonderful reason to celebrate – LGBTQ now enjoy equality under the law in regard to marriage. This outcome was absolutely required by the 14th Amendment. If government is going to do anything, it must conduct its business without such unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Yet while the SCOTUS made a monumentally necessary decision, it also provided an observable continuation of a dangerous definitional shift.

We reject anti-gay discrimination because it violates a basic democratic government principle codified in the 14th Amendment: government must treat its citizens equally under the law. And that is enough. We must protect equality because it is a cornerstone of democracy and liberty.

Women’s rights and aboriginal activist Lill Watson ingeniously reasoned, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Chinese activist Ai Weiwei, whose online presence has been all but eradicated by the Chinese government, echoed this sentiment: “If someone is not free, I am not free.”

Legal equality for all is prerequisite to personal freedom.

Many historical dictators and fascist regimes absolutely protected their own rights but impinged others’ daily, which resulted in the mere illusion of freedom. This reasoning is rampant in today’s and yesterday’s Conservative arguments. They repackage already discarded arguments from 1960s segregation in their efforts to discriminate against minority groups, all the while claiming their religious freedom is being encroached when they are not permitted to discriminate.

A case in point, this somewhat hilariously self-defeating attempt at claiming oppression from a Catholic group opposing marriage equality. 

Today’s politics would do well to remember Martin Niemöller’s famous and provocative poem:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The Bill of Rights is not meant to be an exhaustive list, as evidenced by the 9th Amendment. In its codification, its authors outlined the basis of what makes something an absolute, unalienable right. One should be as free as possible until that freedom abuts someone else’s freedom.

As John B. Finch famously argued in the 1800s, “Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.”

According to Thomas Jefferson, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

We cannot equate freedom of speech with requiring government to reserve air time, provide a speaking platform, or print pieces of paper validating everyone’s speaking ability. Government should not be required to provide churches in which religious persons can meet. Fundamental or unalienable rights require no government permission or action; they require a lack of government prohibition and interference.

Yet we’ve seen a foundational shift away from this definition of “fundamental right” from meaning an unalienable right with which government must not interfere to meaning a thing that government should give you. The SCOTUS highlighted this change by affirming a fundamental right to marry and be recognized by the government. The idea that government must not discriminate in its issuance of marriage licenses or associated benefits is not the problem. What is insidious is the equivocation on the definition of “fundamental right.” The language changes from protecting unalienable rights to handing out rights, like food, water, shelter, affirmation, and happiness.

Certainly, Obergefell v. Hodges is not the first time that a fundamental right to marriage has been articulated. The 1967 Loving v. Virginia Court quoted the 1942 Skinner v. Oklahoma Court, stating that marriage “is one of the basic civil rights of man.” Justice Kennedy merely employs this foundation to imply the existence of other positive rights, stating an anti-gay marriage law “demea[ns] the lives of homosexual persons [and] works a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians.”

This is a true statement; these things likely occur due to such discrimination. Yet this is not solid legal basis for rejecting a law. Each criminal or civil prohibition demeans and disrespects those who violate it, yet violators’ feelings should have no effect on our evaluation of a law’s constitutionality. To be clear, there is no constitutional right to feel good, be happy, be affirmed, or feel supported. The government cannot ensure or grant these things. There is, however, a constitutional right to be free to pursue these things (life, liberty, pursuit of happiness), subject only to the equal rights of others.

The natural progression of this shift has resulted in in the application of supposed unalienable rights to a redefined idea of personhood that includes corporations. The ramifications of this theory are piling up in the wake of Citizens United v. FEC and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Let’s be clear: the government can and should do all sorts of things, for various reasons. Yet what the government taxes, on what the government spends money, and how the government operates is only the SCOTUS’s business insomuch as it violates fundamental, unalienable rights. The SCOTUS might find a law to be bad or ineffective or failure-doomed, yet their job is to evaluate the law for constitutionality, not quality.

The SCOTUS has strayed from an understanding of basic rights that deals with individuals’ equality under the law. By equivocating their definitions, they have gradually and pervasively moved towards a quite different definition, one that redefines both liberties and to whom those liberties apply. They have redefined terms like “individual,” “freedom,” and “justice.” And liberal America has applauded and supported this evolution. Yet while liberal America intuitively knows it’s wrong to discriminate against LGBT, they largely fail to provide a legal foundation upon which to argue for fundamental rights. Claiming the moral high ground is only helpful as long as your group is in power. After having granted the government the power to decide moral issues for its people, this power becomes a tool to oppress even those who originally granted government that power. As race and gay rights activist Audre Lorde argued, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” 

A Short Treatise on Human Nature

I’m going to let you in on a little secret (that won’t be so secret once I tell the whole world about it, but such is the cost of blogging).

I don’t believe that humans are basically good.

In my current circles, saying such feels about as close to blasphemy that I can get to without belonging to a religion. In mental health and social work, the Rogerian view of basic human goodness is practically prerequisite.

But to me, trying to say that humans are basically good requires the same underlying philosophy as the more Christian view of original sin—a concept I also adamantly reject for somewhat obvious reasons.

So what do I believe about human nature?

I’ve been thinking over the answer to that question ever since I realized that Carl Rogers and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye. The short answer is that I believe humans are neutral, neither good nor bad. But that’s somewhat of a cop out.

People aren’t really concerned with what an infant’s natural state in the moral universe is; rather, they are searching for a way to explain human behavior and motivation. The view of human depravity explains why people do the shitty things they do, thus why they need limitations. The view of human goodness explains why people do good things, turn around their lives, have a change of heart, etc., thus why we shouldn’t give up on them.

So how do I understand human behavior? I wouldn’t even be able to do it justice in a book, much less a blog post. However, I will give an attempt at codifying where I find myself in my current views of humanity.

  • Humans are meaning makers: I think I sort of steal this thought from Gestalt psychology…but then Gestalt psychology probably stole it from someone else. People seek out patterns and look for meaning. Our brains are wired for it. Do we discover patterns or invent them? I don’t know. On some levels, I don’t think it matters. The point is that we look for ways of making sense and meaning out of the things we encounter throughout life. In the process, we tell ourselves stories about how the world works.
  • Humans are selfish: And this isn’t a bad thing (when balanced with the next point). We have an internal drive for survival, which means that we have a drive to seek out that which we perceive as good for us, “perceive” being the operative word. While I fully believe that each individual can be the best expert on themselves and what they need, I don’t think that every individual actually embodies that. Sometimes our compass gets fucked, and we end up pursuing that which hurts us.
  • Humans are social: Duh, right? But seriously, we are social animals. We need others to survive. We have an internal psychological and biological drive to bond. Hence, even though we are selfish beings, we are also not entirely selfish beings. The Age of Empathy does a great job of laying out the evolutionary imperative for us herd animals to have an emotional connection to each other and nicely counterbalances the typical capitalistic version of survival of the fittest.

It feels like there should be more bullet points, yet that’s pretty much the nutshell version of my view of human nature in this moment: basically neutral in the beginning, with a drive to survive and bond and an incredible capacity to make meaning. From this perspective, there’s room for people to be motivated to do good things and bad, prosocial and antisocial, self-caring and self-destructive.

I guess ultimately, I don’t disagree entirely with Rogers.  Give people a healthy environment, and they’ll probably turn out basically “good.” Give people a way to adjust their stories and relationships to self and others, and they can change, heal, grow, self-actualize, whatever.

I just don’t think that once they’ve been programmed with certain stories and views of themselves and others that it’s a mere process of removing them from a negative environment and giving them lots of love. Bad stories, survival mechanisms, and relationship patterns don’t just disappear because someone enters a new environment.

The modern love affair with unconditional positive regard (a concept I secretly believe is grossly misunderstood in our day and age) looks appealing in the same way that positivity looks appealing. Like positivity, though, it’s too simplified. Ultimately, it betrays the people it purportedly helps because it doesn’t actually provide them with the tools and resources they need to change.

 

Losing Access to One Emotion Causes the Whole System to Malfunction

I just saw Disney’s newest Pixar film, Inside Out, a movie which I had been waiting to see for months. If you’ve followed my series on reclaiming negative emotions, I’m sure you can understand why I was psyched out of my mind. If you’re familiar with the way that society tends to demonize shadow emotions, you’ll also understand why I was slightly apprehensive.

Spoiler Alert, by the way, for this post. I’m going to be discussing the significance of the plot.

I knew from the previews that Joy gets lost, and I suspected that it would be a movie about depression, where Sadness takes over running things because Joy is missing. I was equal parts hoping for some positive representations of what sadness does for people but also prepared for it to be all about having to find one’s joy again.

To my surprise and delight, that’s not the way that plot goes.

Joy does get lost, but she gets lost with Sadness after the two of them have a fight in head-quarters about whether Sadness can produce a core memory shortly after Riley has to move away from her home and friends.

Nobody likes Sadness, especially not Joy. Joy tolerates Anger, Disgust, and Fear because she recognizes they have a valuable job to do (yay that they weren’t demonized!). But she doesn’t see the point of Sadness. When they get lost together, she’s even willing at one point to leave Sadness behind in order to get herself back to headquarters because she sees herself as the most important emotion for Riley to have.

Meanwhile, back at headquarters, Anger, Fear, and Disgust are trying desperately to cover up the fact that two of the emotions have gotten lost, but it’s not their jobs to be either joyful or sad, so they mess it up. Big time. They end up planting an idea in her head that sets Riley off on a destructive and dangerous course.

The longer Joy and Sadness are gone, the more things fall apart inside Riley until the emotional control panel in her head begins to shut down and turn gray. With horror, Anger, Fear, and Disgust realize that they can’t make her feel anything anymore.

Eventually, it becomes apparent that Sadness has a really important role to play for Riley. Only Sadness can turn the control panel back on. Riley needs to grieve for her friends back in her former home and the fact that she feels completely lost in this new place.

Once Sadness is permitted to do her job, the other emotions are able to start doing their jobs again.

I was crying so hard at the end of the movie, not just because it was a tear-jerker. I was crying because it felt like someone finally understood the importance of emotions and had codified it so well in this children’s movie. All of the emotions are vital. But when we try to distance ourselves from one, we distance ourselves from all. When we try to cover up one with another (Anger is great at covering up sadness), we only make it worse. If we try to operate without one entirely, the whole system eventually begins shutting down.

Kali: Tears of Anger, Dance of Grief

A year and a half ago I made my unexpected acquaintance with Artemis and wrote a post about how intimidating, wild, and chaotic she was as a teacher. I laugh this week at how scary it felt to encounter her. She seems like a pussy cat compared to the new Goddess who came dancing into my spiritual practice—Kali.

19th Century lithograph of Kali by R. Varma. Public Domain.

19th Century lithograph of Kali by R. Varma. Public Domain.

Kali is most often depicted in her warrior stance. As far as chaos goes, Artemis might thrive in it, but I’m pretty sure Kali is the mother of it.

I’ve always admired Kali from a distance as a beautiful archetype of anger and destruction, but to actually work with her is not something I would have put on my bucket list.

Had she entered my life in all of her wrathful glory, I might have made like a Yip Yip and said “Nope!”

Instead, it was I who was lost in wrath. My inner activist was all riled up with righteous indignation over something this past week. I was in a royal rage, blindly throwing out shards of anger at anyone who happened to get in the way, which happened to be none of the people who actually deserved those shards.

Rather than joining in my anger, Kali came capering up in this goofy dance, tongue lolling out.

I thought, “Oh good. I need a Goddess of destruction right now”…as if she were a guard dog that I would send to chase down and maul my enemies.

Instead, what I got were hot tears swirling up in my eyes.

Tears did not fit with my anger! I fought them off vehemently, but they were determined to come. When they finally escaped, Kali was there, wrapping her arms around me to comfort me with all the tenderness of the most nurturing mother.

In a way, it felt like she was scolding me for my indiscriminate hostility.

She’s not the type of deity that requests the suppression of emotion. She recognizes that anger and destruction are vital energies, especially to the oppressed and wronged. But there is a difference between righteous wrath leading to the dismantling of that which harms and the blind frenzy of bloodthirsty rage.

Kali knows well how heroic anger can transform into villainy.

In her legend, she is the savior who comes to defeat the undefeatable demons, devouring them and drinking their blood. But at one point, she loses sight of her purpose and gets lost in the exhilaration of her destruction, requiring Shiva to step in to recall her to herself.

Accounts vary about how Shiva stopped her.

In the most common one, as her husband, he lays down at her feet. When she steps on him, she comes to her senses and stops her rampage.

In another, he comes as a baby. His cries break through her bloody trance, again ending the rampage as she stops to comfort and nurse the baby.

Both times, it’s her connection, love, and relationship to another that prevents her anger from destroying the whole world, which is a striking analogy of the importance of relationship within activism.

The activism conversation came after though. What was primary was Kali demonstrating her maternal side. Kali needed to remind me that anger is always accompanied by grief, and it’s the denial of that pain and grief that makes anger so monstrous.

Although the infant was technically Shiva, I secretly think that the infant was an aspect of Kali herself.

I believe that beneath the terrible Goddess of destruction is a small child scared, hurt, and longing for comfort.

Like Kali, I was blinded by my anger this week, pushing away the pain that was beneath it and losing my sense of connection and relationship both to myself and to those around me. She came to guide me to my own tears—tears that softened my frenzied heart so I could take the time to nurture myself.

Kali, though as uninvited as Artemis, came into my life at an opportune time. As I continue to explore the meaning of power (especially the reclamation of it) and become more comfortable with my own anger, she seems like an excellent guide to have along.

For more readings on Kali:

http://sites.lafayette.edu/rel101-sp12/2012/03/02/a-discussion-of-hindu-myths-or-why-kali-is-the-coolest-mythical-character-ever/

http://www.ancient.eu/Kali/

And for a gorgeous belly dance about Kali, check out this YouTube clip: