01 September 2016

Compassion in the Face of Humiliation, or How I Saw an Uglier Side of Myself

I like the programme The West Wing. I like Aaron Sorkin's writing and his ideas, and the ridiculous (amazing) platonic ideal of dialogue presented. People don't talk like that, not really, but it's always fun to watch and hear. Like Shakespeare, only with more obvious snark and a highly liberal agenda.

Last night I was watching the episode, The Midterms (S.2, e.3), and there is a scene in it I have loved since the first time I saw it on YouTube. At a function for talk radio hosts, President Bartlett goes off script and disassembles a Dr Laura analogue down to the ground. It is a rapid-fire smackdown using chapter and verse of the Bible to counter her smug and superior justification for calling homosexuality an abomination ('I don't say so... The Bible says so.'); the President asks if he can sell his daughter into slavery, asks how his Chief of Staff, his brother, and his mother ought to be executed for working on the Sabbath, planting two different crops side by side, and wearing garments made of two different threads. He asks if football players can continue to play if they wear gloves (because they can't touch the skin of a dead pig lest they become unclean). Throughout this entire exchange, the part of me that loathes indoctrination, the part of me that rebels against the asinine justification for people to hate entire groups of people, while blithely ignoring anything they don't actually want to deal with, is always full of glee. However, this time, watching this scene, I felt different. I didn't feel joyful, or gleeful, or even my favourite glowing schadenfreude. Instead, what I felt was compassion. For the Dr Laura character.

The character herself is merely a vehicle -- a simple analogue for the writer to make a point. It is absolutely a rant against the religious right and their arbitrary adherence to a set of ancient rules based on preconceived and ignorant prejudices, and that is something I can appreciate both philosophically and intellectually. However, watching the look on the actress' face (and she was spot-on for having only a few lines) made me feel deep empathy for her. The President is not debating a topic here -- he is not trying to engage in a meeting of minds to win someone over to the side of (what he believes to be) righteousness. Instead, it is entirely an exercise in humiliation -- her humiliation. And on a human level, I empathised with her and wanted more than anything for the rant to stop, for her humiliation to be cut short. In the face of such an attack, I would not have been able to sit still and take it the way she does; I would have burst into tears and fled. Just the idea of such a public humiliation among an audience of strangers and colleagues, by a person of such immense power and influence, is unfathomable. The thought makes me sick.

This was not at all a comfortable experience for me. I like to think (mostly) well of myself. I like to think I have intelligent opinions based on facts in evidence and a morality that is inclusive rather than exclusive. I realised I had (until this point) always considered this scene as a one-sided affair to be lauded, and that the side I took was that of a person (a man) of power and influence using them like a club, as a bully, not to humble someone, not to engage as a human being, but simply to humiliate that person to make a point, was incredibly uncomfortable. Yes, the character and her real-world analogue are hatemongers and bullies themselves, but that doesn't make them inhuman -- it just makes them bad humans. But I'm the last person who should be making value judgements about humans -- I'm barely human myself these days. It also made me realise that while I like to think well of myself, I tend to isolate myself amongst like-minded individuals (a very human trait). I make judgements about the worth of a human rather than simply disagreeing with a point or an opinion or a stance on any particular topic. I stop seeing people and I only see politics -- and it allows me to make of them an Other. And once someone (or a group) is made the Other, they lose something, a part of their humanity, the right to basic dignity and respect simply for being another living, breathing creature, entitled to the same freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom of choice that I expect as my rights, not just my civil rights, but my human rights. For being part of a larger community.

The other realisation I had is that this is why I feel social media can be so toxic -- why I think our 24/7 linked in hooked up wired global platform isn't necessarily a good thing. Or at least, a thing that isn't inherently good or bad, but is more often used for the latter than the former. We have 'unfollow,' 'unfriend,' 'block,' options for anyone whose opinion we don't want to hear. It is a feature I availed myself of greatly when I still engaged on Facebook. The sort of rants the president gives are equal in their tactical offensive as many of the political pages that are only ever used to make mischief and start arguments. Minds are not changed, dialogue doesn't exist, there is no coming together. There is no community. There are just vast echo chambers where we can surround ourselves with the yes-men of our choosing, constantly finding validation amongst a homogeneous group (homogeneous based on whatever common thread created the group in the first place), and not ever actually challenging ourselves as humans to the betterment of our kind, locally OR globally.

This isn't to say that every single interaction on social media is essentially philosophical masturbation; just that the majority is and it's difficult to discern the valuable from the worthless. I have seen civil conversations (rarely, but it has happened) and perhaps minds have changed. But the minds that are changed are the ones who are open to hearing other ideas. And that usually is because they're already connected to Others in some way (even if it's once- or twice-removed). Human connexion is what we are missing. Looking someone in the eye, sharing physical space with them, acknowledging the commonality, the shared fragility, the need to come together rather than to be right about everything all the time.

Screaming at the top of my lungs, insisting that I am always in the right, tearing someone down to make a point... none of these are effective tactics to change minds or hearts. An offensive is met with a defensive response. Even if a person can see the logic behind the attack, the emotional element is very much a part of the equation, and emotions override reason more often than the other way around. Humiliating someone is not the way to change a mind. If anything it will only serve to galvanise the Other in opposition, and that way lies violence, the most irrational, emotional reaction of all.

28 July 2016

Should I Then Presume?

I cannot fight this battle alone, but the other soldiers have left the field. They have gone to fight other battles -- and not unimportant ones, because the downtrodden are always worth championing, and the cause will always be a siren song for those who seek justice and peace.

My own battle is for my heart and my mind. But my heart and my mind ache and bleed for others’. I want to cry and scream and make myself be seen as me -- only as myself, unique. But I want to hide, to bury myself in a cause, to bring others to the light, to save souls, and let the glory fall where it may.

I need comfort, but I want to give more than I take; my reserves are run dry, and I have nothing to offer the world. My perspective is skewed and my wit is dulled. My mind wanders and my heart wants too much. What have I to offer those who look to me for anything at all?

Nothingness. Both terror and solace, heaven and hell. To be one with the void -- but I fear the void. To rest, in dreamlessness, forever. But I fear to lose myself, the root of all that is me. Not my mind (that comes and goes) and not my heart (it beats too wildly for that which it cannot have), but something else, larger than the sum of parts, greater than a cohesive whole, without which, I will simply cease.

The cessation of the self, given up without a struggle, is both idyll and idle, something to contemplate, but not to achieve. I cannot enter that space which is nonspace, for I know that I cling too much to my corporeal, fragile existence.

Not to suggest violence, but simply letting myself go, dissolving and becoming part of a greater mystery.

And how should I begin?

25 July 2016

sum of the whole

I am afraid. I am tired.
(be bold, child.)
I am hurting. I am sad.
(heal. hope.)
I am broken. I am angry.
(be whole.)
I am aimless. I am restless.
(learn to be determined.)
I am timid. I am weak.
(time to be fierce.)
I am cold. I am drab.
(let the fire burn.)
I am mad. I am lost.
(find imagination.)

(let go of the weight of the world.)


Once upon a time, there was a jumping spider named Parallax.

Once upon a time, there was a young woman named Paraselene.

Once upon a time, there was an antique watch that never kept time right.

Once upon a time, there was a dog with white stripes on its tail.

Once upon a time, there was a cat with a secret name.

Once upon a time, there were stars in the sky.

Once upon a time, the oceans rose up and drowned a city.

Once upon a time, there was a ship with red sails and a silent crew.

Once upon a time, there was a river that ran through a haunted wood.

Once upon a time, rain fell on a cloudless day.

Once upon a time, the gargoyles spoke.

Once upon a time, the churchyard lay empty.

Once upon a time, there was a child without a name.

Once upon a time, there was a mystery...

14 July 2016

Why wish upon a star...

My lucky stars were all long dead
before ever I saw their light--
yet I prayed most every night
to those ghosts of flame.
What good can come of worshipping
gods who passed this world by
and departed before the mind formed,
before my eyes opened
and saw the expanse of sky?
There is naught left but the sundry
corporeal world, the toil and moil
of simply being that is this mortal coil,
the well of the soul long run dry.
My praying lips are parched
from too often drinking moonlight.

13 July 2016

I need a bigger box

I need a bigger box
for all the things I feel
all the time that crowd me,
hem me in, and indeed overwhelm.

I need a bigger box
to put away all the pains
that creep in on me
and rest upon my shoulders,
that curl up in my lap,
that drape themselves
around me like a shroud.

I need a bigger box
to fit all the miles of road
I have already put behind me,
and one for all the miles of road
I have still ahead.

I need a bigger box because
my current compartmentalisation
system is simply insufficient.

21 June 2016

My Valley of Unrest

How long has it been
since I left this place?
How many secrets have
come to rest here
since last my feet trod
this path,
how many more ways
of saying ‘no’ have
fallen from my lips?

I used to fear this place,
the place of denial,
the place of 'without.'
It hemmed me in,
when all around,
just out of reach,
was a lush and fertile plain
that stretched out to Beyond.

I said ‘yes’ here once,
and it almost unmade me.
How then can I say ‘yes’ again,
knowing, as I do, what
that one word can cost?

20 June 2016

puzzling pieces

Sometimes I wish I could take every feeling
and put them into an old-fashioned hat box
with a slot in the lid just wide enough to slip
them in. Then I could open the box and take
each feeling out, quietly, thoughtfully, one at
a time; examine its worth, assess its meaning,
ponder its implications, and figure exactly
where it fits in the jigsaw puzzle of my heart.

17 June 2016

Thank You

How do I thank someone
for doing something that
others find distasteful?
Or disrespectful? Monstrous,
even, in some ways? How do
I thank someone for finding
a boundary in my heart
(my body, my mind)
and pushing his hardest
against it, despite knowing
it could all end in disaster?
(It did not; there was rapture
and begging for more.)
How do I thank someone
for finding beauty in a part
of me that I always found
shameful or embarrassing?
How do I thank someone
for unlocking my heart
in a way I didn’t know
I needed until it cracked
wide open? How do I thank
someone for all these things,
when he himself rejected
everything we did together?
How do I tell him that I am alright?
More than alright--I am finally free.
How can he believe me when
all he sees is brokenness
and misery and dysfunction,
when what is really there
is openness and joy and synergy?
There is always give and take,
on every side of this equation,
and nothing would have happened
if consent had not been freely
(enthusiastically, joyfully) given.
So how do I say thank you, Sir,
when last we spoke,
you disavowed the heart
in you I loved so much?

16 June 2016

To F--- P---, on his birthday

Dear Sir,

I know I should not call you that anymore; I do not know if anyone else does these days. I miss you. It is as simple as that. I miss your smile, your laugh, your hugs, the warmth and happiness you brought into my life. I miss that sadistic gleam in your eye and the tell-tale giggle. That giggle was a harbinger of the most exquisite things. I shall not forgot that, ever, not the first night, not the last, not any of the ones in between.

I miss laughing with you. I laugh with others now, and I have found some of what I have sought in them, but you, Sir, you unlocked a part of me, helped find the beauty in the darkness, and held me through the tempest that our paths took us. Standing by your side, I was unafraid, unbound, and utterly undone. Even the time you made me cry was a beautiful and soulful experience. There was a willingness in me I had never acknowledged; a joy in my soul you loosed even as you broke me. Every fleeting sensation was pleasure and pain and starlight.

I am sorry, Sir, so very sorry, for any pain I caused you, any confusion, any contribution to your own personal crisis. I never thought, not for a minute--not for a second--it would end like it did. I always meant for you to shatter me; how it broke my heart to learn you were the one who was shattered instead.

I worry about you. I try not to--I want to trust you found what you sought. I want your life to be full of sunshine and beauty, comfort and truth, and that I may have taken you down a darker road, away from that light and life, worries me too. You deserve to be happy; we never really understood one another on that, I think. It was not a difference of opinion, I believe, so much as neither of us realising that we were seeking the same ends by different means.

My heart is ragged and frayed around the edges. It is held together with glue and hope and knotted bits of string. It is not new, nor has it been for a long time. But still you made it beat faster, just by being near me. You helped to suture wounds I did not realise were still gaping wide, and you salved hurts I couldn't see.

I will carry you with me wherever I go; my heart has been marked indelibly by your touch, both savage and tender. I chose to love you, despite how brief a time we had, despite the idea it was just for fun, just a lark, just a fling. I chose to open myself to the possibility of more, and though I did not get that more with you, my life is so much fuller for you having been in it. You have my thanks, forever, for that.

My hopes, my dreams, my love go with you, and starlight will follow in your wake. Happy birthday, dearheart.

Scars Linger

‘Memories fade but the scars still linger…’
-Tears for Fears

Once acid spilled, seeped
between my toes. Webbed
the flesh, melted it and
fused the pieces together.
Made knobbly bits of raised
burns that took ages to heal.
I remember how it felt
to walk when the skin
puckered and stretched,
tried to scab over
but needed to be cleaned
so often, scabs never formed.

Working a piece of soapstone
with the wrong tools
in art class at a public
school, and the wedge-shaped
carving knife slipped
and sliced the fleshy part
of my palm, extending
the heart line with a bright
red slash that bled into my
cupped hand, then washed away
in a splash of pink
in the stainless steel sink.
The skin tried to knit
back together right away
and kept pulling apart
whenever my hand moved.
Finally, all that was left was
a thin white line reaching
from the natural divot
in my palm all the way
to the side of my hand.

A round bulb of flesh
nestled against my sternum
just above my breasts
soft to touch, the evidence
of my stubbornness being
outdone by my body
rejecting a piercing
I kept forcing on it.

The part in my hair
on the left side,
brushing my pixie cut
forward from a cowlick
on the back of my head
exposes the thin cut
on my scalp where
my head collided
with a steel fence post
in a moment of
misperception. Hidden
by long, thick hair
for years, unremarked.

Three-quarters of an inch
of raised, pink flesh
a hand span from my pelvic
bone, just below the hairline
below the waistband of my
pants, where once I had
a mark distinctive to me,
that if someone saw just
my body, would know
was me instantly. Now it is just
a slash, and I had no say
in whether I wanted it removed.

Each scar on this pale and
fragile body, each cut made
in this thin skin, every hurt
that drew carmine drops,
and I can recall how I got
each one. The scars on
the inside of my right wrist,
on my left knee, right elbow,
chin, temple, collarbone,
at the nape of my neck.
I remember the needles,
the knives, the doctors,
the asphalt, the bicycle,
the bottle I dropped.
But somehow, I have
forgotten where
some of the scars
in my soul originated.

written 3 April 2016

Other Words (3/**)

I am not like you.
But we are alike
in our otherness,
aren’t we? You have
words that belong
to you; I have no words,
because I am not
other enough. I am
too much a part
of the sameness
of the ‘us,’ rather than
the ‘them.’ You exist
in a space separate.
I exist in a space in
between. But between
seems so far
from either place,
like a bubble outside
of time and space.
It is the void I fear.

written 8 April 2016
**third in a series, total number of parts unknown

Hidden Costs

The doctors told me
this was what was best
for me, and maybe they
were right. I can see
the benefits already, but
they did not tell me the costs--
not the true costs, anyway.
Six weeks of recovery, with
nothing but the demons
in my head to make
their unholy racket.
Six weeks of being unable
to silence their slander.
Huddled in my home, alone
and injured. Listening
to others discuss their successes--
or else their disappointment
at my choices. My body,
my pain, my parts, and now,
my scars. But like everything
else, it is always about how
my choices affect them.
Never about how
my choices affect me.

Written 19 April 2016

15 June 2016

My own private war

The thing about depression is that it is an agony without an externally visible cause. There is no scraped knee or spasming muscle or laceration of tissues to explain the pain of the existential crisis, and this is why it is so hard to believe it should be (and can be) acknowledged and parleyed with like any other hurt of the physical body.

I have this pain, you see,
(no, you cannot see--
there is nothing to see,
no broken bone,
nor grievous wound,
nor fever, nor spasming
muscle: not even a scratch)
this agony inside me.

No visible cause,
nothing to bind,
no obvious need
to splint or salve,
nothing to say,
‘This is why I hurt.’

And even when it lies
quiescent below
the surface of thought
it aches in the most
tender and secret
parts of my mind.

And I have no choice
in the matter: I must
rise each day to do
battle against
an unseen, unknowable,
intractable foe: crafty,
devious, cunning,
deceptive and deadly.

11 May 2016

Exorcism Pending

Hello ghost of my past -- I did not know
you haunt me still. I thought (foolishly)
you were banished -- laid to rest in a tomb
unknown to me; unmarked by memory;
worn by time; until the very bones that
held you up were ground to dust and ash
and blown away. But here you sit, perched
on my shoulder, filling me with the dread
that my past is not yet past enough, time
has not yet passed in its fullness for me
to be free of the chains you forged within
my heart of fire; how was I to know my very
soul would bind me up in you in ways
unforgivable; inescapable; incontrovertible;
incomprehensible? You shattered the forge;
you scattered its ashes. All that is left
in the dark, in the earth, is the ember of me
that must grow to a fury to set me free.