Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flatscreen

It is the mid-Nineties. The radio plays “Waterfalls” by TLC on a nearly-constant loop and everyone has seen the video, too. The twin force of radio play and MTV heavy rotation continues as though it will never come to an end. Record companies spend millions of dollars for four minutes of bottled lightning.

No one has yet heard of file sharing programs or iPods, social media or the possibility for making a fool of oneself on it. In sports, Michigan quarterback Scotty Dreisbach has implausibly thrown the game winning touchdown on a crucial fourth down play against Virginia. AOL offers a free clip of the winning catch of no more than fifteen seconds in duration, which takes two hours solid to download over a phone line.

In the days before the proliferation of digital cameras, smartphones, selfies, and photobombs, she used the tools available to her. The thick glass panel of a flat screen scanner was the surface she chose. She sat naked upon it, straddling sharp rectangular corners in hard plastic. I imagined the process must have been terribly uncomfortable, or at least require a kind of nimble flexibility. Had she laid it flat against the floor? That was the only way I could reckon she'd been able to pull it off.

The image produced, squished against the perfectly level surface, had stretched external genitalia to an extreme, making certain portions of the female reproductive system much larger than they were in reality. I wish I would have kept the file around for the sake of novelty, but it got lost while transferring from computer to computer. It only would have reminded me of her.

I was not the only one to receive a copy, which she offered like some persistent souls offer business cards, though I was one of her favorites. We spoke over the phone and online on a daily basis. She had even offered herself to me, someday. That would have required a lengthy car trip my parents would not have agreed to, and even if they had, my only other option would be relying upon a ride from the airport that I knew might never arrive. Amanda was not very responsible when it came to the passage of time and I knew I might need to wait helplessly with bags in hand for hours before anyone showed.

Her mother was exasperated with the fact that she had no female friends. A little later, I called the family residence following the birth of her child. Is Amanda the Mommy here? It was a corny line, the kind I rarely use, but I was trying to make nice. The mother always made a choice remark slightly after passing the phone along to her daughter, caustic remarks I overheard from time to time. I gathered the woman didn’t like me much and I could have cared less.

The only time I ever had a productive conversation with her was the time when Amanda took off to New England from Minnesota. Her mother feared the worst, but everything was proceeding as planned, secretly and stealthily. She and her boyfriend had never met in person before, but that was no detriment to this exercise in making it work in spite of consequences. Amanda was a take-charge sort of woman. He would be collected and relocated forcibly to the upper Midwest, whether or not it took a 15 hour drive, and especially whether her mother liked it or not.

Upon one particular call of that period, I noticed a dramatic difference. The mother was panicked, frightened beyond belief. It was a momentary contrite period in her life resulting from fear and anxiety. Only then did she address me with anything resembling good manners or basic courtesy.

Even the dysfunctional can occasionally stumble across the proper way of behaving themselves, especially when in shock. The woman kept me on the line for over an hour, begging me for any information I had to share. I knew the truth, but out of respect for my friend (and spite for the mother) I shared only the most cursory details. She was a parent in a state of grief, but I already resented her enough to keep her in suspense a little longer.

Amanda had no boundaries. What entered her brain exited her mouth. Her favorite subject was sex, but in particular her own sex life. This is how I knew about escapades with her near-husband on top of the dryer in the laundry room when no one else was at home. Her man was against condoms and she had a willful nonchalance and lazy non-compliance for any form of contraception. It wasn’t long before pregnancy resulted, a fate she accepted without any complaints, apparently intending to give birth to their first child and whichever kids followed.

She worked with alcoholics and drug addicts at a treatment center on the edge of town. I often wondered if she sought to heal herself by placing herself in the midst of patients with other addictive behaviors similar to her own. Hers resulted from incest, from the awkward persistence between older brothers who always wanted to sleep in the same bed as the younger children. I think that she enjoyed those past experience in a perverse kind of horribly conflicted way, the result of which became a bonafide sexual addiction. She was vocal about her sexuality in the way few women I encountered ever were.

I refused to believe at first that women like her really existed. Most girls I knew back then, my senior year of high school, were petrified at the mere thought of becoming pregnant. I wondered if most people really treated the conception and birth of children with such little thought or concern. I live now in a world of doulas, specialty services for expectant mothers, and classes that both father-to-be and mother-to-be can take simultaneously. Women do their research, then obsess about their diet and intake of almost everything, seeking to give the fetus the best possible chance for a good, healthy life.

Idealistic, legalistic motherhood was nowhere to be found with Amanda. She was almost Catholic in a weird way, almost fatalistic about another human life to be brought into the world. Her behavior grew ever more eccentric from then onward. The only major concern I could discern from her was a desire for her child to not be sexually molested at a young age as she was. Amanda swore she’d enjoyed it, which was either a colossal lie or proof that children can be oversexualized at ages before they fully understand the sensations produced and the intense emotions that go along with them.

One could make a case for both arguments. I, however, had my fill of it. I regret to say that I raised my voice in anger against her, believing I needed to make a clean break. The voice at the end of the line was not angry, it was instead confused and perplexed. I hung up the phone after an extended rant of which I am not especially proud. I can’t remember what I said, but it terminated our relationship quite neatly. I wonder how many children she has now and if she’s been married multiple times. I wonder about the safety of her children and wonder how many like her exist.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

You Like Me Too Much


Though you're gone away this morning
You'll be back again tonight
Telling me there'll be no next time
If I just don't treat you right

You'll never leave me and you know it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

You've tried before to leave me
But you haven't got the nerve
To walk out and make me lonely
Which is all that I deserve

You'll never leave me and you know it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you
I really do

And it's nice when you believe me
If you leave me
I will follow you and bring
You back where you belong

'Cause I couldn't really stand it
I'll admit that I was wrong
I wouldn't let you leave me 'cause it's true
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

'Cause you like me too much and I like you
I really do

And it's nice when you believe me
If you leave me
I will follow you and bring
You back where you belong

'Cause I couldn't really stand it
I'll admit that I was wrong
I wouldn't let you leave me 'cause it's true

'Cause you like me too much and I like you
'Cause you like me too much and I like you

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Case for Pornography



I bring this topic up with some reluctance. Speaking with such frankness makes me inclined to pick my words carefully, cautiously. I have to thread a needle delicately, to make my arguments air-tight and to have the labels and causes I've attached to myself over time line up neatly. Talking about pornography in any form is a loaded discourse that can easily cause division and raised voices.

I begin, as I have many times before, with my own story. Starting at the age of 11 or 12, my father introduced me to pornography. That sentence sounds horribly violating, but I assure you it was not. In fact, it was quite harmless. To him, I was participating in a rite of passage ritual long held by men. This is still how I see it today.

At first, he rented movies from the local video store that were termed erotic thrillers but were really barely concealed softcore pornography. Next, he purchased a copy of Playboy for my benefit, though he disguised this from my mother, who was likely to disapprove. His form of subterfuge was to conceal the issue between two sets of folded towels, then hand them over to me.

I swiftly took over from there, recognizing with time that there was an entire galaxy of images and videos awaiting. Since then, I've drifted away from the glossy, commercial stuff, insisting upon amateur content full of people who look like regular folks, because they are. I don't mean to sound that I'm patting myself on the back, because I think this progression is quite normal. In those days, with my testosterone ramped up, it didn't take much. In some ways, I miss those days because fantasy alone was more than enough.

When I became a feminist, I grew aware of the sex-positive/sex-negative debate that caused a great schism in the years before my birth. I cast my lot almost immediately with the sex-positive crowd, who gave rise to the notion that overt sexuality could be empowering, rather than victimizing. It is my opinion that ethics can exist within the naked form, while I acknowledge that certain genres, studios, and fetishes frequently reinforce sexist and even misanthropic stereotypes.

When I finally came to terms with my sexual orientation, a gay couple who were substantially older than me gave me access to their own modest library. It was an education of a sort I would have never received from my father or any other family member. I learned the vocabulary words, the lingo, and saw demonstrated before me a more-or-less accurate rendering of the truth. But even then I saw fantasies of control and dominance, which bordered on consensual and nonconsenual.

This struggle was uniquely my own. It is still consigned a little to the shadows, to be brought up in certain contexts among certain people inclined to understand. The heterosexual milieu was eager to teach me its secrets, but the homosexual part of me was entirely self-taught. There is money to be made in an endless procession of pretty faces, beautiful bodies, and entirely counterfeit lesbians. But where a minority view is concerned, capitalism is not quite as vociferous, though it may be soon, depending on how quickly queer identity is accepted as something beyond novelty or basic tolerance.

When I see overtly gay displays of affection or sexuality in commercials or on broadcast television, we will have reached a new height. But when that day arrives, we must guard against the link between making money and a very fundamental source of exploitation. I happen to believe that ethical capitalism is a contradiction in terms, but we can at least hold it accountable for its numerous flaws. This is what we do already.

Pornography has always been a release and a source of pleasure to me. I've been intelligent enough and informed enough to separate fantasy from reality. Whether other people are capable of the same is difficult to say. There's a lowest common denominator aspect to pornography and I wonder if others put as much effort into self-scrutiny as I do. And if they do not, can we successfully intervene with our own best intentions?

I see an awful lot of tap-dancing out there, when this subject is raised. On-one-hand, but on-another-hand. One of the most essential parts to us is our sexuality. In centuries past, we've sought to put the topic under strictest control, to shame and blame those who do not conform and to restrict altogether. We are less that way now, but the debate has not stopped. I know many young parents who panic at the notion that their child might be exposed to adult content and be unable to responsibly process the knowledge.

My father did not, and I think his was the appropriate response. He made his mistakes in other areas, but he was a reliable and factual source of sex education. In time-honored fashion, we spent many hours driving in cars for otherwise unnecessary trips. I asked questions freely and he provided answers. I doubt I will ever have a child of my own, but if I did, I would follow his example.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Quote of the Week



The Quakers have an excellent approach to thinking through difficult problems, where a number of intelligent and responsible people must work together. They meet as equals, and anyone who has an idea speaks up. There are no parliamentary procedures and no coercion from the Chair.

They continue the discussion until unanimity is reached. I want you guys to do that. Get in a room with no phones and leave orders that you are not to be disturbed. And sit there until you can deal with each other as individuals, not as spokesmen for either organization.-Hyman G. Rickover

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Video



Does he love me, I wanna know
How can I tell if he loves me so?

(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no, you'll be deceived
(Is it in his eyes?) Oh no, he'll make believe
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is, oh yeah)

(Or is it in his face?) Oh no, it's just his charm
(In his warm embrace?) Oh no, that's just his arm
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh oh, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Oh oh oh, kiss him and squeeze him tight
And find out what you wanna know
If it's love, if it really is
It's there in his kiss

(How 'bout the way he acts?) Oh no, that's not the way
And you're not listenin' to all I say
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh yeah, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Whoa oh oh, kiss him and squeeze him tight
And find out what you wanna know
If it's love, if it really is
It's there in his kiss

(How 'bout the way he acts?) Oh no, that's not the way
And you're not listenin' to all I say
If you wanna know if he loves you so
It's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh yeah, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)
Oh oh, it's in his kiss (that's where it is)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Sports Fans and Anti-Fans



I write on the cusp of game day, the sacred Saturdays where college football is played. In the state of Alabama, football consumes the energies of a small state (Population: 4.5 million) without its own professional sports franchise. It was easy at a young age to become caught up in the competitive, spirited, dramatic aspects of the game. Almost everyone I knew felt similarly passionate about the ups and down of their chosen college team. Half the state supports the Alabama Crimson Tide and the other half wears orange and blue, the colors of Auburn University.

To outsiders, it is difficult to explain how much of a massively big deal three hours are, the way the anticipation builds to a frenzy. It's an extremely communal activity and many across the state put on parties that usually begin in the hours before kickoff. The lucky buy tickets, meaning they have the right to add their cheers and yells to the thousands of others congregated together on the bleachers. For everyone else, television suffices, though many I know prefer the comfort of their own homes. To cite one example, there is no need to wait in the bottleneck that lasts forty-five minutes or more during halftime to use the facilities.

Major League Baseball, by contrast, plays well over one-hundred games a season, stretching from April to the end of September. Football games are only played once a week. The regular season, nowadays, has been slowly increased to twelve games, though the best teams play more than that. More than a dozen or so, and I doubt teams could field full rosters. The attrition rate for this contact sport, regardless of shoulder pads and helmets, would be something awful.

The tradition stretches back decades. Winning and losing may not be a matter of life and death, but it is something close. Should your team win, you gloat and celebrate. If your team loses, you descend into a communal state of grief. Combined with alcohol, as is often the case, happy drunks can quickly become angrily intoxicated, depending on who loses and who wins.

I was a very emotional child, picking up on the moods of the adults around me. When my team, The University of Alabama, lost a game, I would burst into tears and sob. At the age of eight, Alabama's chances at defeating Louisiana State (LSU) depended on a lengthy game-ending field goal that drifted just right, coming out a few feet short. This instantaneous display of choked sobs punctuated every loss until I was thirteen or fourteen. One cold, rainy day in December I remember running barefooted and crestfallen through the puddles of water that had collected in concrete gutters.

Distraught, tears streamed from my eyes as I splashed along, looking up enough to see sheets of water headed downhill, a few yards in front of me, having already made the journey halfway down a bluff. Alabama had lost to the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship Game in this same driving rainstorm and, as far as I was concerned, the world had ended. My childhood best friend pursued me with concern, though I wonder if he ever understood why I always was so distraught should the outcome of the game not turn out as desired.  

As an adult, it doesn’t take much to startle me: unexpected loud noises or visuals still make me jump. Fortunately for me, the worst had not yet arrived. My condition had never been diagnosed, so I was frequently unable to identify illness and separate it from self. At worst, I was an overly sensitive child. I romanticized the fact that I was different, thinking of myself as a virtuous, misunderstood loner.

Children in similar straits often display the same coping mechanism. That was how I handled the pain. I wish I’d have found someone my age who felt the same way I did. Though the feelings of angst and anguish I felt were especially tenacious and long-lived, they had not yet reached the status of crisis. Instead, I lived with them and tried to manage the best way I could.

I haven't cried at the results of a football game in years and I'm not sure I'm even capable of it anymore. Now I'm more inclined to rant at the screen or scream my displeasure alongside 100,000 others and millions more on television. I don't deceive myself. It's true that the stakes are far too high. I live in a country still dominated by racial separation, as recent events have proven, but curiously most of the players are black. Provided they can make tackles and score touchdowns, their race seemingly makes no difference.

Once they move on, their eligibility exhausted, they are no longer treated as special. They find that being an ex-football player means that you've become relegated to a nostalgia piece, no longer the target of mass adoration or frustration, depending on the performance from game to game.

African-Americans make up 13% of the population of our country, and probably 75% of college and professional football players. I visualize a Roman Colosseum full of gladiators from the lower ranks of society, being overseen by emperors and average citizens alike. I think of Ralph Ellison's battle royal, the opening passage of Invisible Man. I think of the way it takes sports or entertainment success for the lower classes to strike it rich, be they Irish or African.

I could be more critical. Like some, I might find it disturbing that men twice the age of the players on the field are vastly concerned with sprained ankles and esoteric statistics. But in a working-class state, I figure it's worth giving the mechanic or the plant worker something to look forward to besides a hum-drum existence. As college football fans know, two football teams from the state of Mississippi are now simultaneously in the top 10. This is unprecedented, because Mississippi teams have a long history of mediocrity and unfulfilled promise.

In the pecking order of Southern states, Mississippi usually rates below Alabama. It has no large city of its own to speak of, whereas Alabama has Birmingham. Those from Mississippi who move to Alabama often display their own peculiar and unique inferiority complex. For this reason, I support the University of Mississippi (usually referred to as Ole Miss) and Mississippi State, its own cross-state rival. Nothing would please me more than to see their gridiron success continue, though later in the season I will cheer for Alabama against Mississippi State, even if it goes down to defeat.

I've exchanged my tears for annoyance and worry. I remain sober when others consume adult beverages. When Auburn loses, I celebrate nearly as much as when my team wins. It amazes me how much feeling and intensity can be packed into a few short hours, the way that six days prior to the game builds upon itself with plots and sub-plots. I think that players should be paid, for the sole reason that it is obscene that players who come from poverty are manipulated by universities and college that make millions of dollars from their unpaid labor.

Lincoln noted the below about war, but he could have just as easily been speaking about football.

It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.

It is said, without much exaggeration, that football in the Deep South is a religion. Count me among the throngs who are believers. It is supremely important and vastly popular, enough that it has created a few hostile naysayers who are in active rebellion against the status quo. The rejected want nothing to do with it. What often goes unreported are the anti-fans, those who leave the Sports section unread, be it on paper or a computer screen and block out the loud cheering and the boos.

It is my opinion that their minority view speaks more to personal rejection than any substantive criticism of the game. I admit that I strongly dislike intoxicated hockey fans when I have to stand next to them on public transportation. They are often crude and offensive, their behavior shameful. Enough negative experiences like these are enough to turn some against sports forever. Every game I've personally attended back home is a microcosm of Alabama society, the good and the bad intertwined. We should take this as a life lesson, but lessons are for those willing to listen.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

National Domestic Violence Month

I've chosen today to highlight a particularly unfortunate instance of violence, the likes of which occur all too often. Posted directly from her Facebook page is my sister's direct evidence of a physically (and emotionally) violent ex-husband. I admire her courage in going public with her abuse and her abuser. My two sisters and myself have never shied away from placing our personal struggles in very public forums. Regular readers know I have often opted for brutal honesty. Now you know from whence I get it.

The intensity of the narrative speaks for itself in two damning pictures and a paragraph. Many men deny the severity or prevalence of domestic violence, relegating it to the margins. Feminists have long sought to drag these products of shame and embarrassment out of the shadows, even when they may cause their audience great discomfort or spark defensive debate. It didn't hit home for me until it happened to someone I love dearly. Abusive partners have probably existed as long as humanity itself, which makes it extremely difficult to prosecute and by turns eradicate the damage they cause.
______________

It's National Domestic Violence Awareness month. These are pictures taken the day after I was attacked by my ex-husband. The text message was him admitting to hurting me. No one in my life (myself included) knew that this person was capable of violence. I was so ashamed and embarrassed that I didn't tell anyone about the abuse until things got so bad that I feared for my life. I would encourage everyone to educate themselves on the signs of abuse as well as the characteristics of abusers in the hopes that we can protect ourselves and the people we love from violence. ‪#‎domesticviolenceawareness‬