Don’t follow me on Instagram

Right now, in the flesh, I’m wearing a lot of makeup and constantly drawing the curtains. I’m fine, it’ll pass. But you can still catch me in a highly censored way on social media, that is, when I’m not busy ducking that too.

Twitter. Argh, Twitter. It feels like my native platform, though that dubious honor belongs to blogging. I will never hate Twitter. It would be like hating the pavement of the street your formerly favorite bars are on. Formerly favorite because they went from being really chill places to this place where everyone is now just panicked and screaming at each other all the time. It’s like your neighbors moved away and sold their house to a doomsday cult. Oh, and the neighbors that did not move away? They joined the cult too. You’re cognizant that there is, ALAS, always a chance that the doomsday cult is right. That’s Twitter right now. I’ll never hate it though, because some of the people there became my friends – real ones! They’ve been to my house and I’ve fed many of them!

When I moved to Buffalo, Twitter helped anchor me to the city in ways beyond just standing in my front yard waiting for my gregarious neighbors to talk to me could. Which, by the way, I do live in the City of Good Neighbors, that strategy will more or less work. At least until the population of gregarious neighbors declines because the renters become homeowners somewhere else. Then YOU have to be the gregarious neighbor. “Could you just crawl out of your ennui long enough to say hi to the kind people who live around you,” I ask myself, as I duck behind the curtains, again. There goes the neighborhood. I digress. The point is that social networks can take suggestions from stock brokers: diversify. Go meet people in different contexts.

So! Hey! Diversify! Let’s talk those other internet networks. I’m already on the amazing universal baby photo album that is known as Facebook (READ: I WANT TO SEE MORE PHOTOS OF YOUR GORGEOUS INFANTS), and that too comes with a bonus of existential political dread! Dread, just what I need on my already excessively-taxed emotional resources. So I take it in the way one takes medication with really terrible side effects: just enough and not a drop more. I’ll never fully hate Facebook. Listen: I got friends all over the world, and I get to know en mass what is going on. I can banter about grammar! A friend just had her adorable son yesterday. She lives on pretty much the direct opposite side of the world. Thanks to Facebook and the internet, I can tell you – he’s really, really cute. I can’t hold him, but those photos are better than no awareness at all.

I have an Instagram account. I think I started using it more or less when I found myself trapped under nursing or milk-drunk infants, snuggling their selves to blissful unconsciousness against my breasts and stomach. When I forget that I constantly subsisted on less than 4-5 hours of sleep, I miss those days. In any case, you’re trapped, and probably tired, but not really in a great position to sleep most of the time (because, if you were, you’d already be blissfully unconscious too), so why not mess around on the internet? As vast as the internet is, when you’re, let’s say, not working with a brain firing all its cylinders because of exhaustion… you run out of creative ways to find more. Also, you have this adorable little human and like a gazillion pictures of them. Why not mess around with them? And so that was my account. I rarely looked at other people’s photos.

I rarely used it as a social network until around the New Year. I do mostly like it. So I got friends there, and did you know that there are artists on Instagram? Did you know that pulling my phone out of my pocket is an even lower rent activity than meandering one block to the Western New York Artists Group gallery on my lunchbreak? Did you know that scrolling through my phone is 100% less likely to have one of my toddlers damage an original Burchfield than walking to the Burchfield-Penney will? (Related: shoutout to the Burchfield-Penney for having amazingly child-friendly policies. I can strap one kid into stroller and another onto a ergo carrier and show them art until I bore them to sleep. And make the docents laugh at my unconscious cargo.) What I’m trying to say is that even though I have stupid-easy access to a lot of art, the good capitalist in me always wants more and I appreciate the ability to do that. Thanks Instagram!

But you know what’s weird, to me, about Instagram? THE WHOLE PLATFORM IS LIKE AN ART GALLERY. It feels like a performance? I feel like I should be performing too? Seriously. The captions are so short, commenting is atypical, I feel like, since using it more, I am posting 75% of all non-hashtagged words on the website. Every social network has its norms, and I feel like I’m some elephant that’s charged through using it all wrong. I also don’t get the norms of meeting strangers? My inclination is… not to? I feel like more than any other platform, Instagram is the Durkheimian front stage. Listen: I know I ruined a semi-tolerable essay by bringing in dead French sociologists. It seems even more polished, presentation-wise, than any other medium. The creation thereof is hidden. The grit is usually hidden. Maybe that’s the purpose? Is it because we use our eyes? Is it the whole idea of a picture being worth a thousand words? Are you thinking you could have spared yourself this long essay with one photo? Maybe Instagram is your thing.

In more disclosure than you will usually get out of me, I have been thinking a lot about vulnerability and openness, and how much of one’s self you open to the world and for what purpose. There are reasons. I have what some friends have described as unreasonably tight boundaries. My desire for privacy has hindered my ability to write about personal experiences. In that pursuit, words are a precision tool. I can be as specific or vague as I wish. How do I show you my soul (Unitarian Universalist reflexive caveat: if there is such a thing) with a photo? My Instagram shows pictures in a lot of intimate-to-me settings: my home, my street, and the places I frequent. There are some of the people I love in them. Maybe this is a lack of skill, but there is more missing than even I meant.

My preferred expressive medium is words. I just want to string a few sentences together and dangle them in a way that hopefully gets the point across. It is also possible that I just am not a great photographer, I don’t have the eyes for color, and the sights most precious to me are mundane to everyone else. I am OK with that. I’m going to keep breaking the norms, because I am awkward and thus incredibly practiced at doing so. In all seriousness, I feel like the encroachment of “best practices” into social media contributes to why they can feel so sterile. At first I was thinking, “Eh, maybe I’m not great at this.” My next thought: maybe I should not be. Social media, as a social institution, seems to thrive on idea you are a brand, the way that you can use these tools of bulk interpersonal interaction to commodify yourself in hopes of being a commodity to even more people. Punch me. These mediums are so great for interaction and the expectations can feel like violence. It’s possible that feeling awkward in this post-modern era of social interaction is also a very normal thing for a human being to do. The world is changing so fast, all of the time. Relationships and interaction come in bulk now, of course that will be overwhelming. We want to be our best, of course we polish our presentation. This is just the public showing up in my pocket, the low-rent way to get the equivalent of going out dressed nicely. I suspect my Instagram burnout will be less fear of encroaching dystopia driving me away from other platforms and more fatigue of being in another place where I ought to look good.

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supremacy

Every now and then I imagine how it could be so different.

Word on the internet is that we have a military-heavier, social welfare-lighter budget. I’m dismayed with the HUD cuts. I’m dismayed with the arts cuts. I’m dismayed by the cuts to meals for children and elderly and things that stated, as a society, that we cared for one another. If budgets are moral documents, as the participatory budgeting folks insist, I am dismayed that our top moral is dominance. More money to towards death of other human beings – literally. We’ll be building more weapons. Couple that with how capitalism is a competitive system, and when you cut the things that would make being on the losing end less painful, you assert the supposed-morality of dominance. Supremacy becomes righteousness. We could be so different.

As a society, we could do more to prioritize being human. Arts, mercy, charity, kindness, stuff like that. I am Unitarian Universalist. We disagree about a lot but we hold sacred the inherent worth and the dignity of every person. Being is enough. Inherent worth does not require that one’s body or abilities meets the metrics of what is useful or that one has lived their lives perfectly however society chooses to define “perfectly”. Inherent worth does not require a certain faith, ethnicity, or cultural heritage. I live in a society that often acts directly against that, in that we’ve distributed the things required for living on a basis of this competitive system, which ensures that some will go without. There is nothing wrong with the pursuit of excellence but no one should forgo the means of survival when there are enough resources for everyone. There will always be people doing well and people doing badly under capitalism – shuffle the deck and see how it will go. The only thing that changes are your personal odds of landing in various parts of the deck – someone will always be at the bottom.

How you spend your time, energy, and treasure says a lot about your values. “Your” can be a person, group, country, or culture. I feel such sadness watching us devote so many of our resources to war. The military of my country inflicts so much death in the name of pro-active safety for us, and only us. It is wrong and I feel powerless. We do this to maintain our dominance meanwhile we dial back the support of some of the people within the country that dominance is suppose to befall on. It is not that we care about us, it’s about how much we valorize strength and the morality of winning.

Being human is sacred. We’re so bad at respecting that. We reflexively retreat to tribalism of whatever our favorite defining characteristic is. We’re struggling (to put it mildly) to make the space necessary to let different people just be, to let the fact that we’re all people be the overriding factor. We do not look at each other with eyes seeking affinity.

Supremacy is a cruel ideology. Things like immigration bans, turning away refugees, ending meals on wheels and the Community Development Block Grants in the name of more military spending and tax breaks for the rich make a lot of sense if your belief is in supremacy. Refugees are people who lost. Immigrants are people who lost. If you believe in the importance of winning, then turning your back on the suffering of others is easy to do. You win by eliminating your competition in supremacy, not by empathizing with them. At some point, the targets are just details. I see the bigger fight as a radical effort against the logic of supremacy and dominance. Making it normal for the so-called losers in our society to be dignified members of it, that undermines supremacy. The president of my country rose to power decrying “losers”. He’s so directly into supremacy. I see people of my ideological affinity tearing apart the details of what he does when most problems come down to this pathological need to win, win, win. Think about the prosperity gospels. Think about the rags to riches story. Think about the fact that so many people see civil rights as a zero sum game.

It is not even just rights – people see life itself as a zero-sum game, acting like others are inherently our competitors. We act like we’ve cheated death if someone else dies first, and if their death makes us believe in our own triumph, so be it. We act as if the grim reaper isn’t standing in the doorway, thumbing her way through a list that we just haven’t been called up yet. As humanity, we could decide to make death our common enemy, put down our weapons, and decide we want to sink our energy into the collective pursuit and preservation of the sacred: life of human beings. We don’t. We never have, at least not in a complete way that doesn’t talk about of both sides of our mouth. We could be so different. Yet, here we are.

I work in homelessness alleviation as a way to defy the norms of supremacy. I advocate anti-racist ideology to undermine supremacy. I do my best to practice generosity as way to erode the cultural ethos that states acquisition and dominance is the most important thing. I don’t have it right. I think I have it better though, than living by the capitalist ethics of power. I think about it constantly – how do we level power? And how do I show other people my vision of how we could be. I think the way that I do largely due to religion – both the Catholicism of my youth and the Unitarian Universalist humanism that I practice now. That’s hardly universal. People of faith are the most radical dissenters and ardent enforcers of supremacy. So how do I go about making this better until my name shows up at the top of the grim reaper’s to-do list?

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Filed under Dystopia, Social Justice Commentary

Getting Kicked Out of The Croatian Club

I want to tell you this story because it’s so Buffalo, and Buffalo is the unifying theme of my life right now. Buffalo isn’t my hometown. I grew up two hours away, meaning I have a very similar cultural background but none of the local history is woven in with my own personal history. People can care about that around here, meaning my experiences are slightly flavored with being an outsider. I am from Syracuse, so consider them salty. But “not my hometown” is different than “not my home”. I am here. My husband and kids are here. I am weaving my life around the web of networks that already existed.

My friend turned 30 and she chose to celebrate by having her friends ride the bus, the Giant, Centrally Planned Uber, if you will, to a bar crawl. All bars were notable places. I was just there for the ride. Riding the bus to a bar is the closest thing I’ve got to reliving my fading youth. Why not mark mortality that way? It was evening, I gave the kids strict instructions to listen to their father and off I went into the bitter cold. I’m absent-minded, so I didn’t bring gloves as a way to protect myself against the possibility of losing them. But it was cold. It was the cold that hurts your face. It was the cold that makes us all tough. It was the cold that gives the city the unifying cause of a common enemy. It was also the cold that should have been here in January, not March. I had a magic transfer where one bus is waiting after the other bus. I watched daylight dim behind steep-peaked doubles as the bus passed through the West Side. Stepped off a stop early and I meandered into a Local Beer Establishment, Community Beer Works. Since I skipped dinner I became tipsy on the single, excellent stout. An American Studies PhD student and I were friendly ranting at each other about all’s that is wrong with capitalism and it’s like I’m 24 again. I belong.

We’re off to the Croatian Club via the 5. The 5 was also the bus I took in Seattle to get to work and my home from downtown; the 5 is the name of the main highway in Seattle and the Skyway in Buffalo; 5 is the route that goes through New York. So many important transit routes, and my tongue ties up which coast it’s I-5 and which coast it’s Route 5 and does “the 5” mean the bus? Nobody else does this. Most people in Buffalo have always been in Buffalo. My bus-bar hop companions are exceptions. We exited the bus, detoured into a convenience store on the edge of Tonawanda, and eventually find the Croatian Club. To get in, you walk into a nondescript building and enter through what is, as far as I can tell, their pantry. We entered a room that’s empty except for the bartender and a man sitting at the bar. I figured one of us were a member if we were going. Nah. I figured that if not, the process must not be too arduous. Well. Did you know that to join the company of the only patron in the room, you have to be a Member, a process that involves $20, an application approved by the president, and Knowing A Guy? Presumably it doesn’t have to be a guy, per say, but no strangers allowed. Some pre-existing member of some gender must sponsor you. Rules meant to keep people like me out. Three years living here does not erase that I am not from here, that whether I wish to be or not, I am still a stranger. In any case, no, we didn’t know these rules. “This is a Private Club,” a very stern, if polite enough bartender told us as she asked us to leave. My companion attempted to bribe her with a generous tip, but no: nothing resembling impulsive planning will make us welcomed.

I discretely snapped a picture of the exchange between my friend and the bartender. This is all funny to me. Usually my sense of alienation and exclusion comes in circumstances where everyone says that all are invited and welcome. Their words betray being blissfully or willfully ignorant of social signalling or boundary-making, or that saying everyone loves each other doesn’t will it to be true. If you say, “Nah, this ain’t welcoming” you risk almost gaslit denials about how the problem isn’t the criticized, it’s the criticizer. Beyond that, I’m white. I am not accustomed to the explicit act of being excluded, the unapologetic and undeniable drawing of a boundary meant to keep me out. Usually it is a bit more, what’s the word… subtle. And class-informed. This is almost refreshing except it involves being expelled into the bitter, bitter cold. It seems the Croatian Club sided with the enemy in Buffalo’s existential fight. Whatever, Croatian Club, you won this round: boundary drawn.

A friend remembered that there is a bar around the corner on Tonawanda Street, Kate’s, and we stumbled into it. It was dark and fluorescent and the bar was crowded with people obviously familiar with each other. There was an older woman with long blond hair behind the bar, demanding all of our ID’s. We obliged, and bought drinks, astonished at how inexpensive they are. My whiskey set me back $3.50 plus tip. We described to the crowd, who seemed sincerely interested in who the heck us strangers are, what happened with the Croatian Club. They were surprised? I guess being barred isn’t a common experience? A woman who did not know we existed 15 minutes prior generously bought us a round, the universal language of welcome at bars. She later comes over, and we found out that she’s a cosmetologist who looks significantly younger than her actual age. She gave us her skincare secrets. We shared the cupcakes my friend made with everyone there. We chatted with each other and strangers. I had *another* drink purchased for me by a woman a decade my senior, and I buy one for her. My friends and I talked, and talked, and talked. I was drunk, happy, and felt at home.

I looked at my phone and dashed out to catch the last bus to Black Rock with a minute to spare. The transfer was well within what I consider “close” and I walked home, betting my feet moving quickly will 1) keep me warm and 2) hasten my arrival home. I was correct. I scampered through familiar streets at an unfamiliar hour of night. I admired the big church on my way and listen to the hum of the nearby highway. I noticed for the first-time that an often-passed house looks like it’s a style older than the rest. I admired the height of the houses on my street. I feared nothing but numbness. I was home.

We moved to Buffalo a week and a half more than three years ago into the apartment we live in now. I realized the other week, while I’m in my daze, that this place became home, this place became where I do not want to leave. I cannot pinpoint the moment. Was it when I started seriously thinking about my career long term and bounded it geographically? Was it when I chose to stop taking an aggressively adversarial approach with policy disagreements, realizing the conflict was part of a relationship I might have forever? Was it when I decided to trust my next-door neighbor with my deep, dark secrets? Was it the cumulative effect of choices that chipped away at ground until I sank in? The geography of my life mimicked the rootlessness of a young person chasing work. It appears I have found some solid ground. My claim to ownership in the area will be disputed by those who have been here longer, who know the right people, who feel integrated in a way that excludes me. Sure. Fine. Whatever. I find and make the places where I belong. I am here.

EDIT: I’d later find out that Kate’s is a biker bar? Sure. Why not.

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limits of my power

I keep asking myself, over and over again:
What can I do?
Who do I do it with?
What can I accomplish, with this increasingly diminished amount of energy?

And I look on the margins of what I already do to see if I can do more
And I look at what needs to be done and see if I have the competence to do it
And I try and fail, over and over again

If I ever figure this out, I will let you know.

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Filed under Dystopia, Social Justice Commentary

the same mistake

I tend to overestimate the amount of weight I can comfortably carry. As long as I can stand with the combination of children, backpack, or grocery bags on my body, I do. I decide the discomfort is temporarily tolerable. After all it’s just a block/few hundred feet/distance from the grocery store to my home. My assessment is accurate for the first few steps, but the last few will betray my limitations. Today: probably greater than 50% of my body weight after my one and half year-old son declared “Uppie!” and would not travel unless he were on my shoulders. This after I had purchased groceries banking on him not doing that. Kids these days. I dismounted him two houses away from my own. After getting to my porch, I dropped the grocery bags to the side and limply flopped into the Adirondack chair. I told the kids to play and took advantage of the fact it was refrigerator temperature outside while my muscles yelled at me. The acute pain subsided after a few minutes, and we did go inside after a few more.

“That was stupid,” I think to myself, but the other thought screams louder… I did, in fact, carry everything, including my son. It was hard but I was successful. I keep pushing the perceived limit until I find the real one, and I am finding that sometimes is the best way to get difficult things done, presuming I can cope with the consequences.

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Filed under Lessons Learned The Hard Way, Personal

Agnostic’s Prayer

When I was young, and Catholic, and learning the world was awful, I leaned into two things to be OK with it.
1) God is going to bring justice in the afterlife.
2) The belief that I could have some effect on far-off suffering by praying about it.

I prayed a lot. I remember praying about poverty, homelessness, Bosnia, Israel, Palestine, car accidents, people in my social networks, Africa, AIDS, people wrongfully convicted, various illnesses… I was really bothered by stuff as a kid.

As I became older, and significantly less Catholic, and significantly more aware of the abundance of suffering in the world (shout out to the adults in my life during childhood for doing a decent making sure I was sheltered from that in an age-appropriate way), I struggled to cope. Without heaven or an arbitrating higher power, it seemed that terrible things just happened, usually unanswered. And without a higher power who could bend the wills of people, there really was truly little to nothing I could do to affect a person’s suffering far away.

Then there was the whole realization that we all have free will. If this higher power existed in the manner the stories of my youth suggested it did, well it’s just sitting back and doing what exactly? Also what does an all powerful being care about me in particular, one of seven billion, in a universe so vast? Really? All of these sounded like pretty self-serving stories of a race of beings seeking to create meaning in a context of a lack of understanding of science and mechanics and how people operate. This was my descent into agnosticism.

So I came to a point where I believed petitioning a higher power was pointless because it seemed most likely that if one existed, we don’t understand it, and I’m not so sure it does exist.

…I did not stop praying. Old habits die hard, especially the stress crutches. Usually when I screwed something up. Usually when I felt inadequate. Usually when I felt like I was failing or needed to be better.

In that way, praying shifted from my efforts to right the world to my efforts to right myself, to take a minute to assess in what ways I am deficient and figure out ways to do better.

“God grant me the wisdom to figure this out.”
“God grant me the bravery to see this through.”
“God grant me the humility to admit I was wrong.”
“God grant me the patience to endure this tension.”
“God grant me the calm to get through this conflict.”
“God grant me the grace to forgive to those who’ve hurt me.”

Who’s this God that’s going to make me a better person? Uh. Hmmm. Well… Details, details.
I do not think I am actually talking to anyone so much as I am indirectly talking to myself. I am petitioning some nonexistent force for assistance to tap-into the nonexistent better version of myself. Nonexistent because I am, and always will be, just me. I belong to the universe, I effect the universe, and maybe this is one way of pausing and letting it affect me. Or I am just talking to myself.
Talking to one’s self is the domain of children but listen: they are on to something. This works.

I think my prayers are more effective now.

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Filed under Personal, Unitarian Universalism/Faith

Giving

Today is Valentine’s Day. So I gave some of my blood away. Seemed reasonable enough, and I’m fine. My blood is A+, which I choose to interpret as it being excellent. I’ve donated a lot, enough to only approximately have an idea how many times I’ve donated (12?) but I stopped in 2010 after having a few consecutive bad experiences. Then I lost enough weight to be ineligible, then I got pregnant a couple times. No more: I’ve increased in mass and am done increasing the human population. I squeaked by the hematocrit count by a tenth of whatever unit of measure they use, sat down in a room where the only people were the phlebotomists and me. Laid back, bled out, and drank a sampling of Apple and Eve Juice boxes (Ranked in descending order of delicious: Apple, Very Berry, Absolutely anything else consumable, Fruit Punch. 100% Juice but it replicates the taste of sugar water with Red#40) and smuggled some oreos and a starcrunch into my bag. Shout out to Unyts for getting me a free lunch voucher at the Buffalo General Cafeteria, though I can report the Cayuga Medical Center’s cafeteria has a much more diverse selection of vegetable burgers (because, you know, Ithaca).

I am comfortable in my life but not in the grander context of what I see going on. I am at a point where I am asking myself, reminding myself that my work and labor do not just have to be about what my obligations are, or to acquire money however I can. This is a time of relative personal abundance. I have more. The work I do is creative work, and I have energy at the end of the day to expend some labor towards bettering the world somehow. At least the days that I don’t just fall immediately asleep. I still have some of those. I’ve found moments to think and strategize. I have some skills. I have ideas. What am I going to do with those? What is it that I would like to see? In what ways can I be generous?

It feels right to give small pieces of myself those around me. Love is a verb. What is it that I’m doing to show love? How do I create a world that lets people know they are loved? How do I create a family atmosphere so my spouse, kids, and cats know they are loved?

Sometimes giving oneself means time, energy, and opportunity cost of being with loved ones. Other days, giving oneself is literal.

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Filed under Dystopia, Personal