Saturday, December 29, 2007

Mother might actually be crazy...

I grew up thinking often that my mother was crazy. I'd say it jokingly to friends in the hallway or add it in the sporadic places in my journal where rants would trail into ellipses. But I never thought terribly much about it, that is to say I didn't take the critique of her seriously, I mean don't all teenagers think their parents are crazy at one point or another? Was mine particularly off her rocker?

I'm starting to answer that question differently in light of recent events...The most recent is when she casually mentioned that I should call my relatives in Puerto Rico for Christmas. I was taken aback considering that I had been under the distinct impression that we had never really been in contact with them consistently and that we had lost contact completely with them when my grandparents passed away. Yet she dictated to me the phone numbers and addresses, claiming she had kept in contact with them all along, and that she didn't know why I had decided not to go to Puerto Rico as a kid. She also mentioned that she thought it was nice of my aunt to offer to help pay for college. Upon calling my relatives, I found out that they spoke English(mother had told me that I needed to learn spanish to speak with them), that they knew where my half brother on my father's side lives, that they have kept in contact with my mother enough to know about my other 5 year old half-brother, Daniel... They knew as much about my mother as I did practically and I knew nothing about them except what my mother had told me which is falling more and more under suspicion each day.

As I realize the extent to which I was isolated growing up (rarely being allowed to go to friends houses, being banned constantly monitored or banned from using the internet, and moving every two years without ever going anywhere, only just outside of my school district so that I would have to start a new school), I realize that most (if not all of the) things I know about myself, my family, and the world at large have come from someone manipulative who has spent majority of my life controlling my access to information.

These days I'm thinking its a distinct possibility that my mother actually does have problems. I'm starting to recognize how for years I have justified her demand for total control, her often illogical responses, her propensity for only telling the most miserable stories about life, and her far-reaching paranoia. I realize to what extent I have compromised my own sense of what is real when it contradicted what she would tell me was real...aways yielding to her version of events when she would convince me that what I remembered happening didn't happen or that what I didn't remember happening actually did.

I'm starting to have memories come back to me that have been buried in the recesses of my mind for a long time (such as the prison one I posted).

Using the same logic as in an algerbraic problem that you can't figure out, you can start plugging in numbers until your find one that works, if I plug-in the idea that my mother has a distorted sense of reality and has done whatever it took to make that reality believable to me, then all of the inconsistencies and contradictions start making a lot of sense.

I guess now I'm stuck trying to deal with the fact that what I have always assumed to be true on face value may in fact be part of an elaborate system of exaggerations, half-truths, and lies...

While I'm utterly confused for myself, more poignantly I'm concerned for her well-being and for Daniel's childhood...

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Memory: Prison Visit

Pressing my greasy forehead against the car window as we parked, I asked mom if I could go into the store this time. “But I’m only getting Jolly Ranchers. Besides, we’re running late,” her exasperated voice could not empathize with my boredom. I was spared this errand because the next one would take hours.

I was 10 or maybe 11 as I walked down the cracking concrete path that lead its way to the sterile building marked only by a rusting battleship anchor that had been recycled as a landmark. On base all buildings are dingy, steel over concrete masses, but the location of our Saturday morning ritual was particularly dismal and dreary. The waiting room fell eerily silent under the buzz of the imperceptibly blinking florescent light scheme.

I had a journal and a sketch pad with me to document the trip. It helped to have something to look at that wasn’t the pale blue tiles of a prison waiting room. It helped to listen to the soft scratching of my pencil against the paper grains, so that I could become absorbed, so that I could drowned out the obnoxious jolt of sound that marked each time someone entered or left the facility. “Put your things on the counter. No metal. No electronic or handheld devices. No…” the voice droned into the distance returning to the beginning each time we approached the counter as if a record needle had been caught on a track for the 16 months we had been visiting. Maybe this is the career for all the people who like telling you what not to do. Maybe mom should apply.

“I got it,” I whispered sheepishly, wanting her to stop, but afraid of the unremitting aura of authority she effused. This had become rote to her just as it had to me.

I quickly made my way through the metal detector, sure that I had worn my “Brig pants,” the only ones I owned that would not go off under the scrutiny of detector.

Entering the visitor’s room reminded me of entering a middle school cafeteria, except the men all had uniforms and sat in a panel at the other side of the table. Everything from the disgruntled public servant with an aggressive stance blocking the door way, to the musty frigidity of the concrete walls, to the abrasive light which cast shadows under his eyes, was familiar if discomforting. I tucked my hair in front of my shoulders as I sat down to ensure it wouldn’t get caught in between the bolts and the plastic backing.

There was nothing to say and so much to avoid. Why were my mother and I here? Why was he here? Couldn’t she have found a boyfriend who wasn’t in lockdown? Long before the term prison-industrial complex entered into my vocabulary, I wasn’t totally willing to believe that all these people actually belonged here. Glancing out the slit in the wall that served as a window, I drew the haphazard designs that the shadow of the barbed wire carved into the concrete. I wasn’t sure anyone could belong here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Top 5 confusing things on my radar

5. desire
Especially around Christmas, I realize how far and few in between my deires really are. Occasionally that translates into me wanting to want something or wanting to feel stronger about those things I do want. However, on other ocassions, I wonder if this whole Buddhist thing is a type of justification for my lack of desires, but then I have a sneaking suspicion that I'd be a better Buddhist if I could have more desires to aware of.

4. ritual
Again provoked by the incessant cultural hegemony of the holidays, I wonder what place ritual should have in my life. I grew up sans most of the rigamorole and tradition that most people come to associate with "home." It all seems quite artificial now, and I wonder if it ever wouldn't. I wonder if I'll ever derive the comfort and excitement from traditions that other people do...

3. asexuality
There's too much to summarize here.

2. transexuality
Transgenderism as a whole is intriguing and exciting on both an intellectual and emotional level. People who don't feel like traditional notions of gender apply to them (for whatever reason and to whatever degree) I get, and yet the whole connection between identity and body is puzzling. And there's something that doesn't sit right with me about feeling the need to have surgery in order to conform to a social construction.

1. higher education
Talk about love/hate relationships. I love reading, reflecting, discussion, and being surrounded y people who value the same thing that I do. I hate feeling disconnected from people who have not been through formal education. the longer I'm here, the more esoteric I become...I'm taking a break and deciding whether college is the place for me.

There's my semi-rant for the day...ohhh the joys of ambivalence.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Documentary: Radical Imagination

I just uploaded my first (short) documentary. It's an abstract exploration of what is means to be radical. Check it out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Asexuality and Desire

It’s always striking to me what people will do in the name of a desire they cannot describe. Our culture is filled with contradictory arguments that extol us to “follow your heart” while carefully demarcating where is and is not acceptable for our hearts to lead us. With such a densely woven web of external cues about what to desire, how to desire it, and how to act on those desires, self-reflection about the what’s, why’s, and how’s of desire falls to the wayside. When was the last time you stopped and actually assessed what you wanted for yourself?

I spent relatively little of my early life thinking about what I wanted. Instead, I focused the whole of my efforts on discerning what was expected of me and accomplishing it. When I began college, I got mixed-up with the campus pride group and the more time I spent around it, the more pressure I felt to “self-identify.” We’d commonly introduce ourselves by going around the room listing our sexual-orientation, gender identity, and pronoun preference. Each time it was my turn, I’d excuse myself just before it was my turn or I’d find a humorous way to distract the crowd. I didn’t want men; I didn’t want women; I wanted community and for people to stop expecting answers I had not found for myself. Most of all I wanted to know what I wanted but didn’t…

Eventually I found the term asexual online and it seemed to fit. I approached it with a characteristic skepticism and some apprehension at embracing any label most people had never herd of. Asexuality is not a refusal or desire, for me it was the first step in understanding personalized desire as distinct from (yet informed by) dominant social norms and expectations.

Coming to terms with my own asexuality meant realizing that a lot of commonly held notions and pervasive examples of how to configure my personal life weren’t going to work for me. While I had a vague impression that this was the case before, understanding myself as asexual accented the particular elements of that American dream that could never resonate with me. Having come to understand many nuances of what I don’t want, it is time for me to question what I actually do want. With each desire comes a whole new set of paradoxes and with each attempt to apply those desires to social circumstance comes a whole new set of complications.

I want to be close to people, but I don’t want to have sexual relationships. I want to experience intimacy with people, but I find it hard to trust them knowing that they will value a sexual partner more than a friend. I want commitment but not necessarily monogamy. I’m open to raising children, but only alone or with a collective. I want to have people I can be affectionate with but I don’t want to send the wrong messages.

The most exciting aspect of the asexual community is openness to desire without hedonistic excess that I have found (disappointingly) to be the hallmark of many movements that embrace desire. The openness I’m cultivating neither rejects nor embraces desires; it recognizes them, plays with them, makes informed decisions about whether and to what extent I need to act on them. Our seeking should be tempered by a willingness to examine ourselves, to identify and understand our motivations, not merely act out every impulse. Not to hold asexuals to a higher standard than sexuals, but don’t we owe it to ourselves to explore what we need as well as what we want?

Car Celibacy: A Year End Review

I was that kid who was forbidden to go anyplace or do anything until I could drive myself there. Upon turning 15, I discovered that freedom had a four-cylinder engine and all-season tires. Having a car seemed natural to me; I hadn’t seen buses sans the eerie black lettering that foretold of prison and schools as their destinations until I came to Marlboro.

Last winter, I decided that I wanted to understand a new way to live, and I renounced my most beloved possession. Though I had many motives, it’s hard to trace my rationale for the decision to live a year without the only thing I really own. There was some sense of adventure in it, and a lot of moral posturing. It was political: I was mildly concerned about the environment, whole-heartedly inspired by radical anti-capitalism, and righteously boycotting rampant inequality of petrostates. It was personal: I felt I needed to learn how to trust my own capacity to deal with whatever situations arose and embrace a more interdependent mindset. It was spiritual: there is a long-standing Buddhist tradition of giving things up in order to learn how to let them go.

On one level, I was glad to see the damn thing go. Every since winter began, I had been tallying up the hours I spent scraping ice off of my windshield and shoveling out snow wedged in my tailpipe. I was tired of being nervous about black ice or waiting to leave campus until the plows came. Car insurance was becoming a burden, and the fact that the car wasn’t working as well as it did when I bought it made me feel old.

It didn’t take me long to figure-out that not having a car is just as stressful as having a car ever was; I exchanged road maps and oil changes for transit schedules and bus fares. Being at Marlboro was pretty normal because I hardly ever had any reason to leave the hill, but when I left for summer, unsure of where I was heading, it became problematic.

After finding a job in Colorado, I hopped onto a dingy greyhound (I may have been engaging in money exchange but at least I wasn’t flying) for 56 hours to get there. It turned-out that I love long bus rides.

Not having a car gave me the opportunity to see more of the places, thoughts, and people between where I am and where I’m going. I met the first Spanish-speaking person I had ever encountered in America as I helped translate signs in the bus depo for her trip from New York to California. I met construction workers and prison guards, foreign-exchange students and recovering alcoholics. It helped me remember how different the texture people’s lives are. Moved by a renewed curiosity, I left the bus station in each major city where I had layovers to explore. Maryland. St. Louis. Cleveland. Chicago. Denver. After being left by the bus at a rest stop barefoot and without any of my belongings, I spent a day in New York City waiting for the next bus to Vermont. I managed to acquire new shoes, get over all of the stuff that I lost, and stumble upon a crowd of immigrants clad in green and yellow soccer jerseys jamming out at the largest Brazilian street festival in the United States.

Now that I’m back, it’s pretty easy to settle back into a routine. I regularly hitchhike to school and to Brattleboro. Sometimes people share personal stories about the struggles they face, about their families, about their dreams. I’ve had a homeless man brag about his new job and a middle-aged mother confess her worries about her teenager. I once was picked-up by a man in a van with a tie-dyed sarong draped over a dilapidated couch that substituted for a backseat and a waist-high cooler set-up as a coffee table. When I realized he had invited me into his home for a few miles, it was humbling.

I’ve had more than a hundred micro-conversations with acquaintances (student, faculty, and staff) who I got to know better in the 7 minute drive down South Road than in the year and a half of rushing around the hill. I’ve learned that Carol has gloves made of Jim’s dog’s hair and that people are more likely to pick me up when they’re running late than when they’re on time. Mostly, I’ve learned more about why I chose to come here.

I feel less in control of my life than ever, but I can see value in that. Trust had become a major theme as I feel more integrated into the Marlboro community and more connected to everywhere else.

As the end of the year approaches, I’m a subtle nostalgic is creeping over me for the days of wandering that helped prove to me that people are more generous than I ever thought. But I’m also excited. I’m excited to be able to go places on my own schedule, to take road trips on my own, and most of all, I’m excited to offer rides to people I don’t know. So remember: you haven’t experienced a snowy Vermont morning until you’ve ridden a few miles in a truck bed wearing only a windbreaker, and you don’t need everything that you thought you did.