So Tell Me ... What's The Weather Like on YOUR Planet?

30 March, 2007


I know people who wonder why they're not bisexual. I know people who wonder why they don't like beer. I know people who wonder why all sorts of things don't happen to be in their personal makeup as it is currently constituted and understood.

Me, I wonder why I'm not a masochist.

I picked up Raven Kaldera's Dark Moon Rising when it came out (one of the few books on pagan sexuality that I've seen that was worth the money, by the way). And in the early sections on S/M he talks about seven uses for pain as magical/ritual technique: altered consciousness, energy raising, centering/returning to body, sacrifice (generally to the sort of god Who likes that sort of thing), strength ordeal, emotional catharsis, and to make a sadistic partner happy.

In my life, I use or have used pain for three of these: energy raising, centering, and catharsis. I wouldn't be surprised if there were some altered consciousness stuff in there; huge chunks of my life spiral around altered consciousness. I have not specifically been asked to do devotional stuff involving this, but I'm pretty sure Big Red wouldn't turn it down (and 'strength ordeal' is right up His alley, heh).

I seem to have this sort of thin conceptual line between this mostly magical and psychological practice stuff and my sexuality, which is ... well, really, unlike me. And I wonder sometimes if it's really there, if I can push through the barrier of the occasional rough-sex line to find the rest of it and integrate. I wonder sometimes if there's this sort of failsafe on it, because of the intensity of things, that I need to be utterly safe to even begin to consider going anywhere remotely like this. (And I know that a lot of conventional S/M stuff leaves me cold, because of the impersonality of the tools. Back to my wondering if I could get somewhere with a vibrator if I awakened it so that it was enough alive to register to me as sexual.)

But I look at it and know that not all of my pain tools come from a healthy place. There's nothing wrong with the tools of themselves, but the need for them is a sign of my psyche gone plotz. People talk about cutting sometimes, and there's this whole subculture around it now, which I find kind of freaky to be honest, but I understand the release and the damnit-back-in-the-body need that the pain can provide, even though my own scars have faded mostly into memory. I know the effectiveness of the tools, but they have only ever come to hand in response to the howling void.

I think there's something fundamentally freaky to me about using something that reacts to the void in sex. But of course, there's an edge there, which is why I'm wondering about this these days.

26 March, 2007

Marked Case

So in a stray conversation on usenet I happened to mention something my liege said, phrased as "My boyfriend mentioned ..."

This was promptly pounced upon as a matter of grave significance by one person, for the sole reason that he knew I'm married, and thus the mention of someone as my boyfriend must have great significance, there must be some specific reason that I referred to him as such rather than as some more distant, more anonymous term.

Had I said "My husband mentioned ..." I have grave doubts that I would have been interrogated as to my boyfriend's position on the matter, despite the fact that the same person is aware that I have more than one partner.

Someone on the polyamory community on livejournal commented that a response to "What'd you do this weekend?" of "I went to the movies with my boyfriend" is treated as strange and remarkable and serious oversharing because it's known that she's married.

Treating things as normal, like they are -- treating one's partners as partners in casual conversation just like everyone else does -- suddenly goes off in strange directions when someone figures that there's some Profound Significance to just mentioning a boyfriend just like everybody else. Because the rules have to be all different.


20 March, 2007

Courting Power

This thing, I need to write it; I don't know if it makes sense outside my head, so I'll loose it on the interwebs and see what comes of it. If I'm blithering, well, it won't be the first time.

People talk about power like it's a binary thing -- there is the having it and there is the not having it, and never the two shall meet. About antagonism, about this sense of war -- who has the power, who doesn't. And there are the inversions that some people try to pull, and all kinds of strange things, all of them coming from this binary, the haves and the have nots. Reductionism, the sort of stuff that I see BFP pointing out where some people define themselves as axiomatically without power due to their sex, and thus want a free pass on their oppressive behaviour on matters of ethnicity.

Power isn't black and white.

(Here's where I go off into crackpot territory. Probably religious crackpot territory, really.)

Power is a lover.

When I say "power" here, I mean the first power, the root one, the personal one. This is not the capacity to not be forced; there are people out there who embrace force and are willing to use it. This is not liberation from differential treatment; nobody has that, not even the ones who do not suffer under the standard panoply of unprivilege. This is not a position where one is exempt from suffering; that is the grave, or, if you trust certain religious systems, enlightenment.

This is the roots-down place of I-am, the place where one knows what one can do, what is needful to do it, and has the will to get to it. When I dig at my theology here, I say that this flows from knowing who I am -- it is identity in motion, knowing the shape of the space in the universe I would carve myself to fit in, starting to shove at what's in the way there. And even if I am bent by external forces, crippled by mental illness, forced into endless epicycles of navigating around the obstacles that the oppressor would put in the way of this, I-am in motion is where power rests. And, more theology here, power opens the gates of liberty: I am, I move, and the more I am and the more I move as myself, the freer I become, the freer it is possible for those I fight beside to be. We-are, we-move, we-become, we-breathe.

Power is a lover.

Power is not the sort of lover that can be seduced; it does not need to be tempted to us, led astray from its rightful path. There's no sense in believing that power is the rightful consort of somebody else or something that needs to be won.

But power will not just fall into our arms like a summer movie theatre romance. It wants us, but it wants to be courted, to be wooed, too; it will not just fling its arms around us and proclaim undying devotion. We have to want it, we have to stand up tall and be good and ready for that relationship or it will sit in the corner of the bar drinking its beer and watching us, waiting for us to notice the way it studies our every motion, traces each motion with that longing gaze. If it makes a pass, we have to look it in the eye and say "Yes".

Power is a lover.

I've been thinking a lot about power in the last few months, working out the details of what's called a power exchange relationship. I'm "supposed to be" the sub, the one who gives up the power, right? But I feel more centered and secure and powerful now than I did before I "gave that up". Because stepping into that space has become I-am in motion, I-am someone who has this space, this motion, this liberty, I-am-manifest, I-am-real, I-am-strong.

I saw the opportunity to take my power by the hand, squeeze its fingers and look it in the eye. We'd been dancing around each other for years, admitting attraction but somehow never able to move beyond those long glances down the bar and the quick look away. And I saw the space where I could take the moment, say, "Would you like to dance," and now it's something that I have more consistently, this space where I-am can move, not always there, but there nonetheless.

I gave up my power? No; I accepted its invitation. Power is a lover.

Who has the power in a relationship? I see people talk about this, in BDSM terms sometimes, in arguing about who has it better, the approacher or the approachee in popular romances (and what that means about gender politics), in dynamics between employer and employee, in all kinds of things. But the power isn't a binary; there's my power, there's your power, there's the way they stack up against each other in this context, which may not be the way they stack up against each other when other things are being measured, which may not be opposed at all in all situations.

Power is a lover. Even spurned power is still power, is still a lover, and sits in the sickness of its fucked-up relationship with its true love exerting its capability the ways in which it is allowed.

I-am in motion. There are times the shit of the world batters me into stillness, makes me forget, makes me too brutalised to take its hand, but it will wait for me to court it again, to look it in the eye, to say "Yes."

It will always wait for me, because power is a lover.

Tell Me A Story

Here's the big secret about me: I'm a storyteller by nature.

Some of my four and a half readers will say, "But wait, I knew that."

Dig into it, get at what it means.

Andrea Dworkin wrote (never thought you'd see me quote Dworkin, did you?): "But one's own life for the writer includes everything she can know, not just what happened to her in the ordinary sense. If I know about you--a gesture, an emotion, an event--I will use you if I need your gesture, your emotion, your event. What I take will seem to me to be mine, as if I know it from the inside, because my imagination will turn it over and tear it apart. Writers use themselves and they use other people." (I can't recall which book that's in; I'd give better cite if I had it.)

There's an illusion there -- that one knows how it is, how it was, the ability to construct scenario, take things apart, use the gesture, the emotion, the event. It is far too easy to get hubristic, to think that the experience of stolen pieces is the same as real experience. But to write, to tell story, is necessarily to do this.

Even if I tell you the story of me, of my life, I shape it. This piece here is too dull; it can be elided entirely, dismissed as irrelevant to the matter at hand. This bit is better with the details enhanced, lines drawn in bold colour, a tweak and a filter, and none of those were there in reality. I know that telling this part requires care with my audience, so I don't tell it at all, not unless I know that I have the right space for that story. All of these tools are things taken from somewhere other than the original space, making autobiography a matter of fiction.

I have had, for a while, a running joke about the Scriptwriters, the people who plot my life, out there somewhere. Because some things make no damn sense unless I see them as foreshadowing of something else, setting up some other event; until I find the connections, there is this strange lump in my sense of narrative, wondering what that was all about. Sometimes, finding the clarifying event later on is something of a relief; it lets me construct the narrative that bridges things together, makes them make sense.

Meaning is a strange, slippery thing, created entirely within the mind. The only narrative that connects these events is the one I compose, but finding the flow of the story matters nonetheless.

There are times I reach out from this internal solipsism and try to place myself in the context of other people's stories. One of my regular questions, regular searches in other people's eyes is "What am I to you?" "What do you see?" "Where am I in your story?" It bridges discontinuities, seeing the bit part that was a part of someone else's story, knowing that what I live is the part off the edge of the novel that makes the world real (have you ever noticed in some novels that nobody you meet exists outside the edge of the story? That drives me bonkers). It snugs in a sense of place, turning the isolation of autobiography into one of those shared-world anthologies, the way the stories weave together, braid through each other, make a thicker, richer narrative. It's something beyond feeding the cannibal mind of the storyteller, to hear someone else's story with the same characters; it's something about being real, about not warping the world to fit my story the way I want it, recognising the counterbalance of other stories out there, expanding out into the arching span of space. To live in a fanfic universe without becoming Mary Sue, I suppose.

Reaching to the God behind God, as Borges wrote, "De polvo y tiempo y sueño y agonía". (That I can cite; the poem is "Ajedrez", which translates to "Chess".)

17 March, 2007

Don't Sound Like These People

(Partially inspired by a conversation I was having with Trinity a few days ago.)

So a long time ago on a discussion group, I got into a conversation about casual sex. This is one of these things that has never held much appeal for me, though I'm not bothered by other people doing it (if those other people were among my partners we'd probably talk about safety concerns but aside from that it's not my business). I'm just not interested in people I don't know reasonably well, and hell, the one time I tried a friends-with-benefits setup (the most casual sex I've seriously contemplated) it wound up turning into a 24/7 D/S commitment.

The reason this conversation lasted more than an "Enh, whatever floats your boat, I'm not into that sort of thing" was the person who responded to me with something more or less resembling the following:

If you weren't brainwashed by a sex-negative culture, then you wouldn't hold that opinion. What you really need is to loosen up, sleep around a little, and see how your perspective changes. Or perhaps you've been damaged by some experience or your upbringing, and if you'd only heal a little, you'd come around.

What struck me about this at the time was that it reminded of certain types of religious proselytisation -- "If you weren't deluded by Satan, you'd understand that this was leading you into hell. Accept your sinfulness and begin to heal, and then you'll come around to Jesus."

What strikes me about this now is that it's a particularly popular attitude from a lot of ideologues: "If you only accepted my position, you'd understand why you're in the wrong. You only fail to agree with me now because you've been brainwashed by The Bad Guys, or because something They did to you hurt you in ways that you don't recognise. I have sympathy for your wounded soul: heal, take off your blinders, and come to Ideological Correctness."

So these days, whenever I come across these people who think that if I were only healthy and properly indoctrinated I'd be a rabble-rousing activist, or unkinked, or a high-powered executive, or bisexual, or Christian, or whatever else they fancy someone like me would only be if I accepted the Truth...

...I find myself thinking back to this petulant guy on a newsgroup who mostly came across as really wanting me to accept his belief that there was something wrong with me so that I would fuck him.

14 March, 2007

No Shoes

I have all this stuff I want to write about, and right now, I'm just angry with the world.

Angry with myself.

The depression is in one of those states where if I don't get one practical thing accomplished each day -- one bit of vacuuming, one load of laundry, one cycle of the dishwasher, whatever -- I will sink into this pit of utter conviction of my own worthlessness.

And getting the one thing done doesn't, as it does when the depression is breaking, start me towards a positive cycle of energetic progress -- the "I did this thing! I can now do that too!" cycle. It's just standing on the shore building levees out of sand castles to keep the tide from coming in. It works for a little while, but the only thing that keeps the tide from coming in further is the tide actually turning. Or serious construction. And I don't know how to build the sea wall.

And I'm sitting here going, "It's not like I'm trying to hold down a 9-5, I just need to keep this damn household running", and "It's not like anything I'd be doing is actually important" which is a good sign that I'm utterly fucked up, because 'what I'd be doing' is the creative work of my fiction, the religious work of my theology stuff, the small business that I'd start if I had the money to actually do it and do I want to do the research to see if I can get a small business loan or should I just scrimp and save up what I need for the equipment, the occasional trying to dig up a part-time job to bring in a little more money and mostly failing at that like I'm failing at everything else and ... well, there's the cycle, now, isn't it? I can't even say I'm genuinely good at this shit, either, I'm not one of those people who is a genuinely inspired homemaker.

I was talking with my husband the other day about depression, about sorting out where all this crap in my head came from, about wanting to lay it all out and find some way of fixing it. Medical treatment. And maybe, somewhere, getting a sound enough diagnosis that I can maybe try to find a reasonable level of expectation of what someone with my condition can be reasonably expected to be able to do.

It's popular to make comparisons to physical disabilities with depression -- someone on usenet pointed out that "can't we just compromise on what we used to do" with depression was like saying "I know we used to run marathons together, but now you've got a broken leg, can't we compromise and just run for ten minutes" -- but they're so much more nebulous and hard to pin down in some ways.

Okay, my brain is broken. Some level of depression, some level of probably-PTSD, some level of "Oh, by the way, my mother is almost certainly a Borderline and I worry that I may be too" that doesn't chart out nice and simple. But is my sense of my inability a coddling of my weakness, a cop-out and laziness, a way to duck out of my responsibility to be a Good Woman, a Responsible Adult, a Credit To The Family, to Not Waste My Intellect or whatever the fuck else I'm supposed to be doing with myself, or am I genuinely so fucking crazy that whatever I get accomplished is bonus? What is reasonable to expect of someone with my level of defective neurowhateverage?

It doesn't help that the stuff that I want to be doing isn't the stuff that gets the "Oh, you're gainfully employed" hits going. It's not like I'm going to be paid the big bucks or indeed much at all for theology research, writing novels, making pots, afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. Culturally speaking, that's the frivolous stuff, stuff that should be set aside for the good of someone or other, who it is varies -- humankind or the company or the family or something else. It's easy to blow it off as not enough to make me not-a-failure, even if I were actually getting it done, especially on days like this.

There's that joke-saying thing, "I used to be upset about having no shoes, until I met a man with no feet." I have no idea what my mental leg condition is whatsoever -- I don't know how to tell -- I don't know whether I'm bitching myself for being unable to walk because I have no shoes, an achey knee, or because I have no goddamn feet.

I'll write something interesting and worthwhile some other time. For now I'm angry at the world, and not capable of contributing anything of any fucking value to it.

07 March, 2007

Politics of Gardening

This is not really about things like buying local produce or farming organic or any of that stuff, except that it is, in an oblique kind of way.

I'm talking politics sort of in the space between "the art and science of governing" and "the often conflicting interrelationships between people" space. And dealing with my vegetables. There's snow on the ground here, but establishing a good society requires a certain amount of planning.

So I'm sitting here with my copy of Carrots Love Tomatoes and looking at the intricacies of things.

And among other things, I'm remembering the Three Sisters: corn, beans, and squash. The corn provides a trellis for the beans; the beans fix nitrogen for the corn, a heavy feeder; the squash deters animals and shades the soil to keep weeds down; the three plants together are, for humans, suppliers of a broad selection of necessary nutrients. I find something beautiful in this: the interrelationship between things, and the way people fit in to that relationship. There's a lot to be said for paying attention to these things, for learning what gets along and what doesn't, for finding the synergies, or the places that things don't work smoothly. People are like that too -- adding to the health of the people around us, or creating those intricate synergies of meshed needs, or thriving in environments that aren't pleasant for other people, or improving one thing and retarding another, or attracting certain things or repelling other things.

And I look at what I'm considering planting, and decide that I'll do two plots -- divided largely by 'things that get along well with corn' and 'things that get along well with tomatoes', because corn and tomatoes share parasites. The things I was considering divide up well that way, leaving two functional communities that can be rendered into different conditions -- some because of synergies, some because of dislikes, the aromatic herbs away from the cucumbers, these plants can get along in either community so I can organise it by space or some other thought. And I see that something I wasn't considering goes along well with tomatoes, and neither my husband or I is likely to eat it, but our loves are; we can look at the community of the garden and see what grows well, and we are not alone, isolate: other people will eat the asparagus.

I plot what I intend to try against what will work well together, and against my own uncertainty about my own capacities and capabilities; I don't know when depression will eat my brain or when my hip will go so I need my cane for a week and a half. I have ideas about minimizing labour, I plan raised bed work thanks to Eyebrows McGee Plays in Peoria's discussion of her garden last year, I look at the synergies in part because I know I am limited and want to take advantage of the natural flows of the world to grow and be healthy in proper interaction so that my limitations are not going to be overwhelming. There is no need to fight things into segregated order here, because they work well in combination.

There's politics, here, in knowing which party the onions fall into. And in knowing who will eat the asparagus. And in knowing what to plant to draw earthworms to the compost pile. And in knowing that apples tend not to self-pollinate all that well. It's all about navigating relationship and good governance: the shape of the needs of the community and what that demands.

04 March, 2007

Sticks and Stones

One of the concepts in my religion is that creation is an act of language. (Those folks who are familiar with more mainstream faiths may have heard of that one.) That language is a magic we share with the gods.

The net result of this is that our words create the world we live in.

(Link to Dan Savage's column in The Stranger.)

01 March, 2007

Learning from History; Repeating History

So it's popular in certain circles of my extended religious community to suggest to people that if they want good religious references, they should go read the history section.

And this is one of my big beefs with the reconstructionist end of the pagan community: that's not good enough.

It's all very well and good to say "This is a religion with homework" and come up with a booklist full of academic tomes for the would-be religious seeker to read through, but none of this will come up with a real religion.

Your academic tomes will tell you something about festival calendars in ancient days. They won't tell you what days those are in the calendar you're using. They may talk about the processions and events that ran down from the temples, the way the population responded to them, the oracles, the sacrifices, and none of this will say what you can do in your apartment overlooking the back alley, in your dorm room, or with your handful of co-religionists who have space to gather in someone's back yard.

It probably won't say what to do, what actions to take, not without a lot of work: not without digging down through what's there and finding specific rituals, specific ideas, specific celebrations, that are specifically laid out with enough clarity that someone can actually do them. And even then, someone has to decide which one to use: this ritual, that ritual, the other ritual, the one that we know was done but which we only have a fraction of, the near-complete one that was only used on certain days, and in any case, it needs a little patchwork.

I see a friend dealing with a thread in her community that insists that all true members of the faith need to raise, keep, and slaughter their own animals. Because that's the way the ancients lived, of course, and as good reconstructionists we must duplicate everything the way it was in a world prior to the invention of the motor. The ancients wouldn't have adapted their ways to incorporate industrialisation, specialisation, antibiotics, the internet ... or something. Maybe they don't assume that the ancients were too stupid to adapt their practices to what works, but are either unable to grasp the ways they can do that same adaption or consider it somehow hubristic to move beyond the history books.

What are the values of the ancients that their religions supported? You can get that in history books, if you dig a bit and think about it. What were their practices? Depending on which culture, you can get some of that. What did they celebrate, why, how? You can get that, sometimes. You can't always get what it means, and religion is a process of meaning.

You can't have a living religion if it's all about referring to the books. It can't be a resurrected zombie religion that mimics the ancient world where it can and rails hopelessly at the existence of the telephone the rest of the time if it's supposed to live. Living religion takes actually doing it, learning how it fits into the world and the way the world fits back, learning the particular rhythms of the dance between the human and the divine. Somewhere, someone has to put the books down and actually do it.

And when you're actually living it, pointing at the history books won't show anyone how to live now.