Sweet Sabbatical

Kate’s wonderful post on the somewhat lost art of getting absorbed in an activity — deliberately not multi-tasking (unitasking? monotasking?) — nudged me closer to a decision I’ve been putting off for a while. Toward the end of her post, Kate said

Also, if you don’t see me around here? It’s generally safe to assume it’s because I’m feeling the need to do more listening than talking. That’s all.

For the last several weeks, I’ve had this terrible feeling that I would have to  flounce from the internet altogether to retain my mental health. It’s not that I don’t love this blog, or that I don’t adore having a real audience for my writing,* or that I don’t have anything to say about what we talk about here. It’s just that I’ve been writing and moderating here for almost three years,** and I am tired.

I’m tired of high-speed, high-quality interactivity. I’m tired of multitasking. I’m tired of keeping track of commenters; much as I love you all, there are just so damn many of you these days. I’m tired of reading drive-by trolls whose sole purpose in life is to hurt me and anyone else who happens to be reading. What I’m not tired of, thank god, is reading and writing; I’m tired of talking. Bone tired. Kate’s post hit me between the eyes: I need to make more room in my life for being absorbed, for letting my mind stay with one thing for a while without wandering. If I don’t do something differently, disaster is imminent.

An artist's depiction of my current state of mind

So here’s what I’ve decided: I’m not gonna flounce off the internet. I’m not going to leave the blog and scorch the earth behind me. I’m just going to take a Shapely Sabbatical. You won’t see me around here for a while (except possibly with an occasional comment, link, or especially clever lemur). I have complete faith that my co-bloggers will soldier on just fine without me, and that you all will play nice and follow the ever-more-draconian comments policy we all know and love. And I trust that I can go on sabbatical, work on my dissertation and my poetry and my sanity, and come back to blogging when I’ve got the passion for it again.

Deal?

*It still floors me, in fact — I can write something, and then thousands of people will read it and pass it on! I have dreamed of having that kind of audience all my life, and it’s no less delightful even with my author photo as a cartoon and my nom de plume stolen from a Doty poem.

**I believe that’s thirty in Internet Years.

FYI: Clothing swap on Ning

If you haven’t been over to the SP Ning community in a while, you might be interested in the clothing swap thread Angie G just started. She noted the number of people who commented on Snarky’s recent post on wanting to get rid of clothes that don’t fit and thought that a swap might be the perfect solution. If you’re interested, pop on over to that thread (and please, everyone, abide by the honor system!). And if you are new to the Ning community, click here to register (you might have to wait a few hours for one of us to approve your membership, so please be patient).

Friday fluff: The forbidden tongue

Apparently, Randy Michaels, the CEO of Tribune Co. here in Chicago, has issued a list to the reporters on WGN, our local public radio station, containing words and phrases they must no longer speak on air. These are not dirty words, a la George Carlin, but words that sound like “newsspeak” (according to WGN news director Charlie Meyerson, who passed along the list to the article’s author). Presumably, this means sounding too much like a cliched newscaster and is not to be confused with cracking down on thoughtcrime. Some of the phrases listed probably do deserve to be retired as outworn cliches: giving 110%; mother of all (anything); senseless murder. Some of them, though, seem designed to make a reporter’s life a lot more difficult: how are you supposed to report one of those senseless murders without using the word “alleged”?

All this makes me feel a little dictatorial myself. I propose that we make a list of words and phrases that should be verboten in reporting about women’s issues, starting with the phrase “women’s issues.” Here’s a few to start our list:

  • Sex and The City references
  • reference to shoes when the article is not about shoes
  • spinster

What would you add?

Gobsmacked

According to the Vancouver Sun, there’s a new way to torture yourself through dieting. Literally:

The medical procedure involves stitching a small piece of polyethylene mesh onto a patient’s tongue, making it painful to ingest solid foods and forcing a low-calorie, liquid diet.

You pay a nice man named Dr Nikolas Chugay to spend 10 minutes to stitch a torture device into your mouth, and you pay him $3,000 for the privilege, and then you eat 750 calories a day for a month. And you lose weight! And also you forgo all pleasure in life because you are combining constant pain with a sub-torture level of sustenance!

According to the article, “Since last September, Chugay says 35 people have opted for the surgery.” That’s 35 people who hate themselves so profoundly that they paid a doctor $3,000 to sew a pain patch into their mouths.

Can someone please wake me when we’re in that post-feminist world full of jolly fat people that I keep hearing so much about? I’m going to go huddle in a closet with T-Rex till then.

“but who can distinguish one human voice amid such choruses of desire”

America lost a great voice this weekend: the poet Lucille Clifton died. She was 73 years old.

Clifton wrote wonderful, poignant, witty poems whose formal simplicity belies their emotional and political depth. She wrote of the realities of living in a large, black, female body in a racist, sexist culture; she survived cancer and wrote of the joys of the body in the face of mortality. I hope all Shapelings have run across the marvelous, body-loving “homage to my hips“:

these hips are big hips
they need space to
move around in.
they don’t fit into little
petty places. these hips
are free hips.
they don’t like to be held back.

Read the rest here.

From “scar” (in The Terrible Stories, which has a section on breast cancer):

we will learn
to live together.

i will call you
ribbon of hunger
and desire
empty pocket flap
edge of before and after.

You can find a longer collection of Clifton’s poems, as well as an introductory essay to her work, at the Poetry Foundation. Warning: tissues may be needed. Clifton’s poems touch on abortion, whiteness, hate crimes, war, menstruation, grief, and so many other “terrible stories;” yet they vibrate with such compassion and clarity of vision that it’s easy to forget how tough and nervy they are. Blessing the Boats, her selected poems from 2000, is an excellent entry point for new readers, and a powerful testament to the importance of Clifton’s voice to our culture.

I’ll let Lucille Clifton end this post herself, with a video of her reading in 2008.

Rest in peace, Lucille Clifton. Thank you for being one human voice.

With advocates like this, who needs hate radio?

It will surprise few people who pay attention to American politics that Sarah Palin is a world-class hypocrite. But her recent foray into the politics of language and disability have proved that her hypocrisy is dyed in the wool, an amazing contradiction of terms: openly disingenuous, profoundly committed to shallowness. She’s taken one of the easiest to understand (if not to implement) tactics of social justice activism — avoid using slurs — and turned it into an operatic denial of her last ounce of intellectual integrity.

Here’s the background: according to the WSJ, last August, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called a group of liberal activists “fucking retarded” to their faces. He has since apologized to the head of the Special Olympics and disability activists (who, not incidentally, have rarely been even named in the articles about the apology — but that’s another post altogether). Sarah Palin comes into this because she publicly called out Emanuel on Facebook:

Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.

A patriot in North Andover, Massachusetts, notified me of Rahm’s “retarded” slam. I join this gentleman, who is the father of a beautiful child born with Down Syndrome, in asking why the Special Olympics, National Down Syndrome Society and other groups condemning Rahm’s degrading scolding have been completely ignored by the White House. No comment from his boss, the president?

As my friend in North Andover says, “This isn’t about politics; it’s about decency. I am not speaking as a political figure but as a parent and as an everyday American wanting my child to grow up in a country free from mindless prejudice and discrimination, free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better… Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Mr. President, you can do better, and our country deserves better.

Notice, however, that Palin is not actually mad at Emanuel; she’s mad at President Obama. Why? Because he has said nothing about an incident that occurred without him, half a year ago, for which a public apology has been issued. Don’t get me wrong — it would be amazing if the Obama White House takes this opportunity to make a serious, public effort to commit further to the needs of PWD. But Palin’s immediate redirect from Emanuel to Obama smacks of… well, something other than a desire to “stop the r-word,” as a recent campaign enjoins us.

Sady at Tiger Beatdown brilliantly analyzed Palin’s political performance a few days ago, in a post I cannot recommend enough. Here’s Sady’s conclusion, which comes after examining her own reasons for eliminating certain slurs from her diction [ed. note: I snipped some of this quote after posting because I didn't realize how long it was till I hit "publish"]:

Because here is the thing: it is the ability to communicate concepts and define the reality of a situation from which the power of words is derived. When they become pure noise – divorced from reality, divorced from concepts, used at odds to the concepts and realities they should be defining – that’s when this all gets hairy. I can’t say “that’s so gay” because it makes me sick, because I know what it means. I started working to eliminate “retarded” from my vocabulary a while back, because I thought about it and now I know what it means. But it’s when someone like Sarah Palin can score points by saying that the word “retarded” is wrong, although her career is based on a politics that is measurably bad for a lot of disabled people (and, you know, everyone else) that I start to get worried.

[...]

There is no purpose, behind her Facebook post and her call-out of Emanuel, beyond continuing a program of obstructing a Democratic agenda and the current President. It’s precisely as duplicitous as the cries of “sexism” in the right during the primaries. Is there sexism in the Democratic Party, and in the treatment of Sarah Palin? Fuck yes, there is. Was Rahm’s use of the term ableist? Is there ableism in the left?  Was the response to the ableism handled poorly? Fuck yes, to every single one of those questions. But pointing that out when you know that your own party and/or political agenda isn’t going to prioritize social welfare programs which would help the disabled, when they’re trying to make universal access to healthcare impossible, when you don’t have a compassionate stance on the issues of unemployment and poverty to which disability is inexorably linked, when you are opposing abortion rights and charging victims for their rape kits, is just about the most disgusting corruption of these legitimate issues – these issues about which I care immensely – that I can imagine. Palin’s response isn’t about ableism, or about Rahm Emanuel; if it were, she would be talking about Rahm Emanuel and ableism, rather than sneakily using both subjects to get in a jab at Obama. Palin’s response is about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

But – again – if she knows how to use the language, she wins. Because she is able to sound, for a moment, like the people who are genuinely engaged in talking about disability, and the structure that punishes and hurts people with disabilities. Which is where language debate gets scary. Because if we put forward, for one second, a language debate that isn’t irrevocably tied to structure – if we focus on language apart from the actual change that needs to happen – everything we care about gets stolen and re-purposed in the service of something else. Words have power. For example, they can be used to tell a pretty enormous lie.

Bra-fucking-va, Sady. Sarah Palin has a personal stake in fighting ableist language. So do I. If Emanuel hadn’t apologized for calling people “fucking retarded,” you can bet I would be writing an angry post about it. But Sady is right: oppressive language is irrevocably tied to oppressive social structures. That’s why the language is oppressive in the first place. It’s awful to say something is “retarded” because the punch of the word is based on the equation of “disability” and “bad.” If people with disabilities weren’t systematically devalued in our culture, told that they’re less than human, that their bodies are grotesque and their minds pathetic, that they are a burden to able-bodied people and that having access to basic rights is an outrageous affront to hard-working small-business owners — to pick just a few of the abelist messages that are commonplace — then no one would say “retarded” anyway. Because it wouldn’t have any impact as an insult. Which is why Sarah Palin’s call for President Obama to fire Emanuel rather than, say, hold a summit with disability advocates, is clearly about political one-up-man-ship: it lets Palin look like she cares about PWD, in a broad sense (just like voting for Palin allowed certain right-winger to look like they cared about women in politics), without doing a goddamn thing with her political power and her cultural capital to make our culture less oppressive of them.

So clearly, Palin was already showing her ass and joining the race for Miss Hypocrite USA 2010. But it took a little help from professional evil man Rush Limbaugh to expose how miraculously mercenary she is. Rush Limbaugh, as I’m sure you all know, makes a living by being hateful. So when he got the chance, he upped the “retard” ante:

Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards. I mean these people, these liberal activists are kooks. They are looney tunes. And I’m not going to apologize for it, I’m just quoting Emanuel. It’s in the news. I think their big news is he’s out there calling Obama’s number one supporters f’ing retards. So now there’s going to be a meeting. There’s going to be a retard summit at the White House. Much like the beer summit between Obama and Gates and that cop in Cambridge.

So. No surprises here, just the usual hate. Limbaugh defends Emanuel because he’s bashing liberals via ableist language, and he goes the extra mile, calling an upcoming meeting with PWD a “retard summit.” If Rahm Emanuel should be personally fired by the President, Limbaugh should at least retract what he said, right? Or apologize to Palin herself, since she’s been a guest on his show? Surely if something is hurtful when it was reported in the WSJ six months after Rahm Emanuel said it, something more vicious is hurtful when Rush Limbaugh broadcasts it instantly to millions of listeners, right?

Sarah Palin, this morning on Fox News Sunday:

“They are kooks, so I agree with Rush Limbaugh,” she said, when read a quote of Limbaugh calling liberal groups “retards.” “Rush Limbaugh was using satire … . I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with ‘f-ing retards,’ and we did know that Rahm Emanuel, as has been reported, did say that. There is a big difference there.”

I’ll give you a moment.

Sarah Palin, who posted this on her Facebook page: Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking, thinks it’s fine when Rush Limbaugh did it because he was talking about “kooks” and did not say “fuck.” Sarah Palin, who claims to want her son Trig to grow up free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better, thinks it’s somehow not unacceptable or heartbreaking to call someone a “retard” if you don’t actually do it to their face.

Sarah Palin is the worst kind of “ally,” the kind who uses her own status as Super Special Ally to Oppressed Peoples to make herself look good and her enemies look bad without even pretending to care about the actual effect on the people who are actually oppressed. Sarah Palin, like the proverbial white person who has some friends who are black, is the able-bodied person who has some son with a cognitive disability. She’s not advocating for PWD; she’s not advocating for anyone but her own damn self and her right to be on TV every goddamn second.

Sarah Palin, basically, has become Michael Scott, except even more self-congratulatory and less kind.

And less fictional, god help us all.

Friday fluff: What Super Bowl?

So apparently there is some kind of football game going on this weekend? I know this for two reasons:

1. Feminist bloggers keep posting about Tim Tebow (boo) and Scott Fujita (yay).

2. My friend The Urban Gastronome has been posting mouthwatering “game day” recipes. MMMMMM CUPCAKES

Shapelings, are you watching the game? If so, is it because you follow football or because you like the yearly party? I am hoping that you are at a place with your own eating that you don’t need temporary permission to eat nachos or chili or what have you, because you already have a license to eat that whenever you want, no  matter what’s on the tube.

If you’re not watching, what are you doing this weekend instead? Personally, I’m planning on turning some ancient sheets into a bathmat, because our Ikea bathmat fucking MELTED onto our tiles recently. (Ah, steam heat.) Do you have a weekend project? Does it involve football or bathmats or nachos?

Fashion without hatred

There was a time, when I was a teenager and in my early twenties, when I used to think about fashion the way The Guardian‘s Tanya Gold details in a recent article: that it was a foolish realm of fantasy for people who would never give me the time of day.

The oddest thing rescued me from fashion. It was that I got fat. Never mind why; that is a story for another page. But I got so fat that even fashion wouldn’t pretend it could fix me. You can get so fat they don’t actually want you in their clothes. It is bad marketing; if very fat people wear their clothes, thinner people won’t buy them. There was no point rattling through the rails any more, seeking a satin redemption – nothing would fit my unfashionable bulk. I was consigned to M&S smock-land, across the River Styx. And it is lovely here; no heels, no stupid dresses-of-the-moment, certainly no thongs. Fashion has died for me, with an angry little hiss. Ah, peace.

I can look at the clothes on the catwalk now and laugh at their imbecility. They are not for me.

I can’t speak for Gold, but when I felt like this I wasn’t really angry at the gods of fashion, though I felt that “angry little hiss.” I was angry at myself for being insufficiently thin, insufficiently feminine. I was angry at my body for growing too much hair and too much flesh, at my feet for hurting in pointy shoes, at my hands for not being deft enough for perfectly applied eye makeup. This is not to say that I didn’t recognize the harmful practices the beauty industries — including the ones Gold describes, which so many of us have experienced — but my anger was still not borne out of a sense of being harmed psychologically, but of being rejected physically. Why bother, well, bothering when I was clearly never going to succeed? The idea of failing and succeeding at looking a certain, very specific way completely permeated my attitudes about fashion.

My dislike of fashion basically ended when I started taking baby steps toward accepting my body. The more I liked what I looked like, the more interested I got in adorning myself; getting dressed was no longer about correcting my supposed deficiencies but playing with my self-presentation. FJ and I spent some fantastic time in college hitting malls, thrift stores, army surplus stores, anywhere we could get our hands on clothes that spoke to us and fit our bodies, “too fat for fashion” though they may be. Eventually I moved to the Pacific Northwest, where feeling like a freak was as point of pride for many people, and the fashions reflected that. I dyed my hair bright red not out of rebellious angst (as I had done in high school), but because I loved having a dash of red near my face. I got glasses that stood out on my face instead of blending in. In other words, I built my own style, and even became known among my friends as having a strong fashion sense — words that my younger self would have furiously disbelieved. Fashion started to seem less like an enemy conspiracy and more like an artistic world that, like other art forms, has elite circles, everyday practitioners, and a lot of people in between.

In fact, despite the notorious anti-fat norms of most of the fashion world, it was an interest in fashion that led me to live body acceptance in my everyday life rather than just giving it lip service. I joined the Fatshionista community on LJ, got voraciously addicted to outfit posts, made several incredibly stylish and intelligent friends, and realized that the politics of fashion weren’t only something that happened to me without my consent when I put on clothes.

All of this is basically a long-ass way of introducing a wonderful response to Gold by a fashion blogger I think is just phenomenal, Tavi of Style Rookie. You may have heard of Tavi; she’s been getting a lot of press lately because she is a popular and charming style blogger who is also 13 freaking years old. 13! What were you doing when you were 13? Granted, I am 100% positive that if blogs had existed when I was 13, I would have had one — but I can guarantee you it would not be fashion-positive, much less fashion-forward. (It would have featured a lot of terrible poetry, is what it would have done). Here’s part of Tavi’s response to Gold’s lament:

Ms. Gold speaks about how she discovered fashion at 13 and then dressed in a way she knew she was supposed to dress. “How I enchanted. How I belonged. I thought I looked just like the effortlessly beautiful girls at school. Except I didn’t. And, very soon, I realised that I didn’t. All that weekend job money and childish angst and still I looked like me. That was the first seduction – and the first betrayal.” I don’t believe Ms. Gold “discovered” fashion; she discovered middle school and teenagerdom. She said that before that, she dressed as Andy Pandy and was happier.

I find the idea of dressing as Andy Pandy pretty awesome. It’s creative and it’s fun, and that sounds fashionable to me. What Tanya Gold and many others, including myself, hate is the everyone-has-to-look-the-same-and-also-sexy philosophy, which is NOT fashion.

This is by no means written with the intentions of a personal attack on Ms. Gold, but rather, a kind of response to this idea that I see coming up often. I think that the problem with fashion isn’t fashion, but how others decide to see it. The same “fashion” magazines that offer advice about pleasing men might decide that fashion isn’t for overweight people, but it’s Tanya Gold’s fault for believing it, and if she really wanted to have fun with clothes she could. Same goes for the idea that clothes HAVE to make you look sexy. Not if you don’t want to! Isn’t that amazing!

Don’t you wish this girl were your niece or your friend’s daughter? She’s seen through the sexyface plastic facade of fashion advertising — the part that uses the desire to conform to sell you things — to the part where people get to have fun with their own looks, and all before starting high school. Instead of desperately apprenticing herself to grownup sex appeal, as girls are pressured to do younger and younger, she creates an outfit (to pick just one recent example) as an homage to Edward Gorey.

T is for Tavi, whose hair is now blue as a Na'vi

My friend Coco perfectly summarized Tavi’s great appeal for feminist fashion-lovers: “What I love most about Tavi – and I’ll be heartbroken when it changes, as it will most certainly change – is the fact that she is still very much a child who is enjoying her childhood. She dresses like a 13 year old girl with fantastic and interesting style, as opposed to a miniature version of an adult woman. She rejects the notion that fashion is for making us sexier and rejects that being sexy is the objective in womanhood at all. In today’s culture where we make thongs for 8 year olds, and “boyfriend jeans” for toddlers, this is positively radical.”

I agree. While I have great sympathy for Tanya Gold’s rejection of the mandates of fashion, I think Tavi is a great face for personal creativity and self-respect in style. Fashion is not just about what gets pictured in “women’s magazines,” which are by definition handbooks in compulsory femininity. Style blogs are, I think, a great antidote to the orders “to buy a dress, and a bag and then perhaps some stupid, unnatural shoes and feel a kind of brief, bright burst of self-acceptance, which always evaporated as soon as I was home,” as Gold puts it. You don’t have to buy those things. You don’t have to be sexy. You don’t have to be pretty. You don’t have to look like everyone else — in fact, you don’t have to look like anyone else but your own damn self. You can wear a character from My Neighbor Totoro as a brooch and look like a million bucks. You get to decide what fashion means to you.