Tag Archives: reality

what you do when no one is looking

13 Jun

In The Little Princess by F. H. Burnett, the main character – a young girl called Sara who starts life the daughter of an affluent Englishmen riding the boom of colonialism – falls from her position upon her father’s death and finds herself poor and friendless. Having just traded in her furs and silks for the rags of a scullery maid, Sara wonders whether she, who has been always told she is a good child, really is one. Is she truly kind and gracious, or was she merely so generous because with her wherewithal, it was easy for her to be?

Goodness, as it turns out, is very often a luxury item.

I am currently rather poor. I am lucky to have friends and roommates who can cover rent and keep me off the streets and step in when unavoidable costs carry a few too many zeroes for me to be able to handle them on my own, and who apparently even enjoy buying me coffee and lunch sometimes. I am incredibly lucky, as this allows me to allocate my income to necessities like food and medication and bus fare. It’s a precarious game, but I’m currently making my life work through the gift of social affluence.

But monetarily, I am dirt poor.

Reference scale: My ability to transport myself around L.A. can switch over the gain or loss of a single dollar.

Today, at the Springfield airport, a food vendor gave me incorrect change.

They’d given me a dollar more than I was due.

And while back in college, when what I did and did not need to pay for was different and the impact of cost scaled differently, I probably would have not hesitated to hand back that dollar, would have felt not a single qualm – today, I felt it.

I had been given a dollar. An extra dollar. That was one more bus ride I could pay for. One more granola bar. One unit closer to being able to buy a new pair of shorts, one that wasn’t years old and close to literally falling apart at the seams.

I wanted that dollar.

But that dollar was not mine.

Mentally, I went through the math again and yes, that dollar was definitely not my due. But it was just a dollar. I could walk away. No one would notice. It wasn’t like I was taking much.

But the dollar. wasn’t. mine.

And what’s more, the food vendor hadn’t given me any reason to want to take more from them. There was no karmic justice in me walking away with that dollar. The cashier had been professional, efficient, polite, even friendly. The vendor, as far as I know, wasn’t some chain with terrible corporate practices. They had done nothing to me that required restitution. Honestly, if the cashier had been some massive jerk, I maybe wouldn’t have felt so bad about contemplating walking away with that dollar. Yeah, they’d have to go through the cash register at the end of the day and try to figure out why their sales weren’t squaring up. Were off by a dollar. Just one dollar. So maybe they’d just made an addition mistake… maybe it was really there, and they’d just missed it… maybe if they just… checked again…

If I’d been somehow massively inconvenienced or wronged, maybe I could have justified inflicting those consequences for the sake of having that extra dollar. Maybe, very probably, I would have been fine with implementing that sort of system.

Or maybe I would have given the dollar back anyway. Because as much as I theoretically can support less-than-perfect actions, I carry around way too much guilt, or something, to really be able to carry out those actions myself.

Yeah. I gave the dollar back.

And while it is no great thing, giving a single dollar back to a vendor that gave you too much change – internally, for me, it still meant something.

It was an opportunity, to show myself, at least, that my goodness doesn’t just scale with my bank account. That I am honest, even when it’s very hard to afford to be. That my values last, even when they carry real cost. Even when I could have justified taking advantage of a minor slip to gain a little bit for myself.

It’s relieving, in a way. To know that at least in this small way I will actually act in reality how I’d say I would, were the scenario presented as a thought exercise. That I’d behave the way that elementary school-aged me reading The Little Princess would have told me that of course I was supposed to behave.

I like knowing that I am who I think I am, even when no one is looking.

Memorial

25 May

I’m never really sure how to respond to things like Memorial Day.

To start with, I am not a veteran. I have never been to war. I have never trained for war. I have not been close to war in any sort of meaningful way. Any opinion I have is from observations, not experience. Therefore, I am willing to forfeit any and all opinions I have on anything and everything having to do with war and veteran status as second to what an actual veteran has to say. It feels incredibly presumptuous, to even think that I could posit anything remotely relevant on the matter.

But, well, I’m a human who thinks about things. So I do. But always, always with the caveat of “I respect your experience before my opinion.”

Okay. Let’s begin. Me being conflicted about Memorial Day. Alrighty.

To start with, when I was little, I barely understood what Memorial Day was for, confusing it with “Labor Day” in my mind quite easily as “one of those vague grown-up holidays that I get a day off for YEAH WOO FREE MONDAY!” I mean, as far I could tell, celebrating both days pretty much meant playing in my backyard for a long time while the adults ate hot dogs. Sure, I’d have the small little spiel from my elementary school on the Friday before. “You all have Monday off because we’re honoring our veterans.” And I would nod politely and go back to thinking about how much math homework I had to do while honoring whatever “veteran” meant.

Eventually, I learned that particular vocabulary term but had no clearer feelings about the holiday. I was told I should appreciate that other men and women had gone off and shot others and been shot in the name of protecting my rights and freedoms that to me never felt particularly threatened. I lived in America, after all. For a really long time, war was something I only saw on a TV screen. It was quite easy for me to sit back and say that no, that out there surely was not necessary. I mean, I knew that my grandfather was a veteran, but he never talked about his time in a war that concluded before my parents even married. As a kid, I didn’t understand that the silence was probably testament enough. No, I didn’t yet understand the absence of recognition as a problem itself. So for me, to all intents and purposes, war was just a word. An easily judged word. Not anything like a reality.

I have grown up more, now. Those shades of black and white that made me so easy a pacifist before have been pushed and shoved and regretted and cried into something more smeary a grey.

But while my thoughts are more complex now, they are by no means more decisive.

There are many reasons war happens, but honestly, most of them boil down to humans having decided that the world and life in it are zero sum games so it’s us against whoever we’ve designated as “them,” boys. There aren’t enough rights or resources to go around, so let’s fight to get the most of them. Because we, whoever “we” are, deserve them most.

Sharing is not a thing humans do well. Humans are too good at fear to be able to really share all that rationally.

War is the product of imperfect action on a global scale.

It’s massively bad for everyone involved. But no one can stop while everyone else is still going. If you play the game that way, you wind up with the punnett square that gives you absolutely nothing.

So we all keep playing.

That is the reality. As terrible as war may be, it is undeniably still happening. Standing and screaming for it to stop without being able to offer any sort of real solution on how to do that is as useful as telling a choking person to just start breathing again. No, the upheavals are still racking the global body. War, for my foreseeable future, is something that’s going to stick around.

So the empathy behind my pacifism has decided to start dealing with the micro-scale.

Okay, let’s go back to talking about our veterans.

They are not the reason that war is happening. It is necessary to divorce how you – I – feel about “war the thing” from what I know about “war the people.”

Because now, it’s not just “oh yeah my grandfather fought in a war.” It’s “yeah, that kind, quiet man on skid row I brought a peanut butter and jelly sandwich to every week for three years is a veteran.”  It’s “wow, those boys in reserve uniform in line at the airport look even younger than my young-enough-to-still-be-making-bad-decisions cousin.” It’s “that woman I met on the beach with premature osteoporosis from chemical exposure in the Gulf War who after a badass life is going back to school to learn another trade she can do with her failing body and that’s fucking incredible.”

And it’s my friends, too.

A countable many, all in different branches of the military. They are some of the smartest, kindest, most capable people I know.

And now they’re in uniform, too.

The choice to go into the military and the actions performed therein can be stupid, ignorant, brave, heroic, smart, life-saving, death-causing. But as long as we keep choosing to play the zero-sum game of perpetual war, we need people who are willing to make them. Good or bad as it all may be.

“Proud” is a word that gets thrown around a lot on Memorial Day. I cannot be blanketly proud of a label. I can be proud of action. I can be proud, to an extent, of intention.

“Honor” is also a word that comes up a lot today. Again, I cannot blanketly honor so varied a group as humans, but I can respect. I can respect the hell out of the choices someone else has made that I have not, would not, because it’s what they needed to do, or what a country needed them to do. I can respect that they are also another human, trying their best. Or at least, that’s what I can hope they’re doing.

Hope is not a word that gets said a lot on Memorial Day. And that, I think, is what I wish were different.

War is not a hopeful thing. And it is my impression that with mementos like PTSD, lost friends, shit economic resources, massive and constant assumption about what your experience was, and all the other hangers-on of a life now ingrained in you that most of your country only understands as scenes on their TV, “veteran” is not a very hopeful status, either.

I’m not sure I can thank someone for accepting that.

More and more on Memorial Day, as a civilian, I instead feel the need to say sorry.

I’m sorry your lives and your deaths are our memorial to this zero-sum game.

And I am sorry for all the hardships you have accepted that you will get no memorial for.

When You Are Raised In An Outline

17 Feb

I was raised in an outline.

No, not under a rock. Yes, I was sheltered, but not quite in that sort of way. Rocks prevent you from seeing the sky or the grass or the wind or the stars or the storms or anything, frankly, that isn’t already under that rock with you.

No, I could see more than that. I knew what else there was. I saw the stars and the storm and the lust and the poverty and the decisions and the choices and the birth and the death and the lifestyle and the beliefs and the very different ways of breathing out there. From my own little prescriptive outline, I could see all these other formats. Most I considered mere variations on the theme and format my limbs were propped up against. While I made my points in A-B-C some other person with really the same main header even if they said it differently was arguing for it as I-II-III. It was all right. We were really writing the same essay. We just said our oh so neat and oh so powerful five paragraphs differently. But we each still had our patterns, our expectations of our personal rise and falls and the great shape that our lives and humanity were supposed to take.

Everything else, the remainder of non-outline chaotic confusion, I just assumed was a deviation. An outlier. Those were not-even-essays where the structure had gone horribly, horribly wrong. They clearly didn’t work. They babbled. Said nothing. Destroyed their own sentences or tripped up their points later. There was no way anyone could consider them valid. There was no structure. No logic. No empathy. No – anything. No, this could not be a sufficient response to what the world, I assumed, expected of us all. This, as my outline out-dolers had told me, was unacceptable.

Imagine my shock and utter confusion when I discovered that these rules and regulations, this structure, this expectation I had molded myself to and excelled at filling – that it was not the norm.

I was the outlier.

I was the deviation.

My expectations were wrong.

The world was easier to get by in than that. It was crueler, more inattentive, it cared not for courtesy or protocol or forethought for one’s fellow humans.

Get your words out on the page; it matters not how.

So many babbling idiots – I understood then why the world so often wrote in blood.

But still – my ink, it glistened so.

Why I Am Not Angry At Tess Munster

28 Jan

For all you folks just tuning in – for what amounts to about 50% of the time I’ve been alive, I struggled with an eating disorder. And by “an eating disorder,” I really mean several of them, because eating disorders are slippery, wily creatures that’ll change shape on you faster than you, the eating disordered person, can change shape yourself. They’re like viruses, in a way. They mutate at an incredibly fast rate, all in an attempt to stay alive and present and growing faster than your body and your medicine is able to kill it off. I’ve seen anorexia. I’ve seen orthorexia. I’ve seen bulimia. I’ve spent more of my adult life in treatment for those things than I’ve spent out of treatment. I’ve been inpatient, outpatient, residential, full time, part time. I’ve had so many fucking talks about nutrition, science-drawn, evidence-based nutrition, and science-drawn, evidence-based weight/height/body type scaling (no, don’t even talk to me about BMI, the Bullshit Mass Index), and really just what it means to be happy and healthy in general. Mind. Body. Spirit. Biochemistry. Whatever.

As someone who’s gone through all this body image and self-love and plain ol’ health crap and is willing to say she has a fair handle on what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” and what’s “really rather more than 50 shades of gray” area, I jump a little, whenever people start talking about weight and dieting and health and parameters. I will adamantly defend what I know to be reasonable views based on science and the individuality and stochasticity that is biology (which I have a degree in, if you’re in need of further credentialing). If necessary, I will readily jump at someone for their incorrect and unhealthy statements, whether they’re  tending towards the “too strict” or “too lax” end of the spectrum.

Tess Munster is a plus size model. At 5’5″ and a size 22, she is one of the largest models even in plus size to have ever been signed. Cool. History-making. Whatever. From what I’ve seen in general chatter scattered across the internet, the Tess Munster critics point at her and say, “Oh, we shouldn’t to celebrate her as a role model, because that’s clearly unhealthy.”

Ha. Aha ha. I’m sorry, but since the fuck when was modeling ever about healthy?

Models don’t get signed because they’re a paragon of health. They get signed because they look good in the clothes that need to be sold. There are tall, thin people out there who want to feel fashionable. There are short, wide people out there who want to feel fashionable. There are other humans who are 5’5″ and size 22, like, people, they exist, and they deserve a model to show off clothes on their body type just as much as people who are super tall and lanky. Modelings sells clothes. Modeling sells looks. Modeling does not sell lifestyle. Pretty sure that one’s Oprah. At core, modeling is about selling visual aesthetic, not health.

Over the course of anorexia recovery, I learned that the body’s default is to hang around the end of having more weight instead of less. Human bodies developed in order to be able to survive a famine. In most cases, it’s super fucking easy to gain weight. Your body won’t really put up much resistance to that. Gaining weight is natural*.

You know what’s not? Starving yourself for years, even decades on end so that you can get one more contract as a high-profile super model. Taking diet supplements, purging on the down low, exercising obsessively, forcing yourself to behave, to live so unnaturally that eventually you maybe don’t even notice your body whispering please stop. Because it doesn’t matter that you’re tired. It doesn’t matter that you nearly fell on the runway today out of sheer exhaustion and a little too robust a spell of dizziness from not having really eaten in the past three days. It doesn’t matter that you feel like shit. You look like heaven, and you’re getting paid like it. You have stripped and shed and shaved and shanked your body of its natural existence.

But ah yes, after that tanning day you have such a nice glow, don’t you.

Yes children, be like these not-overweight ones. The ones that are secretly, invisibly killing themselves to look good. They are good role models. Do not eat too much and let yourself go. See how unhealthy she is? Never mind that she doesn’t fuel her career with a mantra of self-hate. Never mind that at least she’s the happy one.

Because this game was never about happy. It was never about healthy.

It was only ever about what you looked like.

That’s all that modeling cares about.

That’s all that modeling is endorsing.

Stop pretending like it cares about more than it does as one more excuse for our systemic fat-shaming.

Leave these models to their lives and let us throw other role models at our children. Role models whose message, whose job is to teach children how to be, not just how to look.

And then when the children want clothes, when the teenagers want clothes, when the adults of every shape and size want clothes – let them see the magazines, the ones with people of their body type, whether that’s 6’5″ and toned to core or 5’5″ and a size 22, because both of these body types exist en masse and really just want to buy a fucking t-shirt that’ll look pretty good on them, because hey, these days, it’s damned dangerous to walk around naked.

————–

*”natural” in the sense of “biological default in the average case”

Magic at the Edges

25 Jan

Originally deposited this on my crazy ramblings tumblr, but decided to include it here too. It’s a pretty good narrative of what’s been a large lump of my current frustration.

I wait up for people I shouldn’t.

I flock to artists,

people who breathe stories

and know how to put the

soul back in your eyes.

People with hands and mouths and voices

that mean something.

I like brushing fingers with those.

There’s magic at the edges.

But ours is too pragmatic a world

if you cannot always live at the seams

and I befriend too a more practical sort

with data and trends and facts

and a reality that will crush any of the hope you had

because there is no god anymore.

Not these days.

But I glory in the realness of what they hold,

the light in their hands so tangible

and undyingly right to believe in.

Here is a world of truth, they say.

The magic is in finding it.

Art and reality make such beautiful children.

I wish I weren’t just harboring nightmares.

Monsters, distortions, twisted fact flinging fate

at you like you were dead to begin with.

Even darkness can have opaque eyes.

I wish that I could see again.

A Scientist’s Take on Big Hero 6

24 Nov

So, I finally saw Big Hero 6 last night with my roommates. It was a pretty cool movie! I laughed. I almost got somewhat teary. I laughed some more, because thanks Disney for the innuendo that you slip in for the adult section of the theatre. All in all, pretty enjoyable! Would watch again. But aside from the aesthetic experience of the movie… well… Guys, I went to one of the Nerd Schools. We were even listed in the credits under the “consultation thank you’s.” And having gone to a Nerd School, I’ve seen a whole lot of science (yeah, science!). I’ve seen whole lot of science labs. I’ve worked in them. And, well, because of that, I had some other thoughts on the movie, too. Let me share.

My reactions while watching movie:

1. Aw, that’s cool, you’ve got such a good lab group atmosphere, how cu- HOLY FUCK HONEY WHY ARE YOU WEARING NO PERSONAL PROTECTIVE EQUIPMENT DURING AN EXPLOSION YOU ARE COVERED IN RESIDUE YOU COULD HAVE CAUSTIC BURNS WHY ARE YOU NOT IMMEDIATELY A BIOHAZARD?!?!?! O.O

2. Oh no! Your PI died! That’s so sad! Well, I guess it’s cathartic that you all are just going back to WAIT SHIT YOU HAVE NO PI HOW IS YOUR LAB GOING TO GET FUNDING WHO’S GOING TO TAKE OVER ARE YOU GOING TO GET A NEW PI ARE YOU GOING TO HAVE TO CHANGE LABS WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOUR THESIS HOLY SHIT WHY ARE YOU NOT FREAKING OUT?!?!

3. Oh man! Your PI is alive! Except now he’s an evil man using science for destruction… Yeeeeaaaah, your lab is going to get so many “surprise inspections” now. Have fun having to be ridiiiculously transparent in every single little thing you do. Because you’re going to be under constant scrutiny now. That’s gonna make for a fun scientific career. Enjoy the bureaucratic down-the-neck-breathing!

4. Wait. Shit. Your PI is an EVIL FUCKING VILLAINYOU ARE NEVER GOING TO GET LAB FUNDING EVER AGAIN. WHICH MEANS YOU STILL CAN’T TAKE ON THAT NEW UNDERGRAD GENIUS. WHICH MEANS HIS TUTION WON’T PAY THREE OF YOUR STIPENDS FOR A YEAR. WHY ARE YOU NOT FREAKING OUT? FUUUUUCK.

*and that concludes the Miceala and Her Brain Show for today*

Yeah. I’ve maybe been applying to grad schools. Ahem.

Magick

2 May

 

Magic

I want a world where there are dragons.

I want a world with traveling circuses at night.

I want a world with flying carpets, mermaids, selkies –

where colds, flu, and heartache can be magicked away

with nothing more complicated than some herbs in a pot

and the right words, already written down in a book for you.

In this world of pragmatism,

it’s too hard to know the right words to say.

I want a world with beasts and beauties

requiring no photoshop to recognize,

where illusion makes you think about what life is

instead of trying to convince you the other way around.

I want unicorns,

phoenixes that can rise from ashes and second chances that really matter.

I want the impossible.

I want something more than indeterministic fate.

I want a way to cats-cradle the strings of the universe together

into something better than what it handed me to start with.

I want not the power but the plausible hope

of a world where your will could actually change things.

Where try hard enough and you can succeed,

instead of just the lie they feed you about that here.

I want a world with beautiful rules

and even more beautiful exceptions,

instead of just the shit stochastic

we all give our breath and brains and beatings to.

I want a world where words can fight fists

and win in the moment, there and then.

Words can already bruise people beyond belief

but at least with magic they could provide real safety too.

I want a world with fewer bruises.

I wish more people just hid flowers up their sleeves.

I want a world where more hearts could roar

when they hear that uttered, muttered phrase –

Here be dragons.

I want a world that will offer me greater possibility than this world has to offer

where the only magic that people can ever know –

love, hope, faith, dreaming, a kiss –

is more often that not mere slight of hand and even the best of pixie dust

will end up dead.