Category Archives: Dystopia

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. It’s not the street itself, for the most part. It’s everybody on it. 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. I’ll be damned. 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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Filed under Dystopia, Personal

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

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

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

the cause ain’t lost if you’re still pursuing it

“Fear makes you do the wrong things.”
my next door neighbor

“Trust that you can cope.”
my closest friend

Buffalo had its “Ferguson”. There were protests.

I decided to go. My professional networks had been advocating for more police training for a long time, and this on top of an incident where a suicidal man was deliberately hit by a car and I was angry. The circumstances lined up so that I could go. I had no idea how it would go; this protest was by the police station. My friend had told me that the holding center only lets you call 716 numbers, which no one in my family has, so I flipped through my phone to find one. Listen, if you trust me enough to tell me the state of your heart, I’m going to trust you to be the messenger if I end up in jail. I promised my spouse I would not get arrested and seeing me sharpie phone numbers on my arm gave him pause. Always be prepared. I also promised I’d only stay out an hour.

I showed up, borrowed a sign from a UU acquaintance, put those biceps of mine to work holding it up. I’m only 5’2, so if I don’t hold it ~up~ no one will see it, but this piece of posterboard in the 19 degree wind was nothing compared to the usual 30 pound child in my arms. I believe that’s what they call “transferring skills”. Stood for awhile. Shouted a few things. Maybe 100 people showed up. I, uh, left once I felt I could no longer do the calculus on my risk of breaking the “don’t get arrested” promise. For me, that is the point that I stop risking. I bent the time promise and arrive home to put my kids to sleep. (No one got arrested, by the way.)

You know when you show up that all you’ll be is an extra body in the crowd, hoping that enough other extra bodies show up for the relevant people to notice. You don’t know if it will make a difference. If am seeing the same faces all the time, I know everyone else will recognize them too. I constantly fight the feeling that the sun rises and sets regardless of whatever I do during the day: so what? Threats of futility don’t stop me from fighting the larger fights most of the time. As Dessa raps, “probable lost cause but I got a thing for long shots.” I know that nothing changes unless someone does something. I am someone. So I do something, and hope for the best. Causes are not lost as long as you keep pursuing them. So I keep pursuing it.

It’s like gambling, but with your energy and mortality.

My family and my faith gives me the strength and support to be bold. I do my best and I hope it matters. The last four years have taught me I am a person of limits: energy, time, and resources. I spend them with as much discernment as possible, trying not to waste them. It can be hard to know, hard to let go of the need to control, to reduce the uncertainty until the only thing certain is the uninterrupted status quo. I cannot let that be to the extent of the limited power I currently have. Small candles sometimes burn down houses in my city. I think of that a lot. I will one day die. I think of that even more often. It is not so much a fear of death I have, but a fear of leaving the people who lean on me to fall to the ground. I do all I can. The fear of failure is real. The fear of futility is real. Fear can make you do the wrong things; fear can drive you towards the illusory safety of inaction. That is the wrong thing.

Try, try, try.

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Filed under Buffalo, Dystopia

The Good Things That Happen Today

The Lorax could point at me and say, “there she is, a Person Who Cares a Whole Awful Lot,” and it would be true. I would love to play off my tough, unruffled exterior, that is 100% an act that everyone kindly pretends they aren’t aware, as meaning I’m too centered to be bothered. Lies. All lies. In any case, today was notable in the good things:

– A gentleman came to work today. I work in homelessness alleviation, but we do strategic planning, not direct services. He came in needing a place to stay. I broke the bad news (we weren’t the place) and took a couple minutes to discuss options. I usually never see people again. He actually came back today to tell him that he found housing, and he’s good. It was a thoughtful thing to do, to let me know he’s alright.

– A colleague reached out to me to let me know that she used something I wrote. In her class! And they her students got a lot out of it! Wow! That was incredibly kind of her to let me know.

– I got to talk about homelessness on the radio (WBNY). That was fun!

– The inexpensive magnetic “paper” dolls I ordered for my daughter’s preschool came in early. They were a gift for all the kids as one of the teachers mentioned needing a couple, and I’m trying to teach my kids generosity so I got to model it. Being kind makes me feel whole.

– You can’t buckle a kid into a carseat in a winter’s coat, so I had the kids in fleeces, hats and mittens, and boots to snuggle blankets in the car. They get out of the car, and they, despite being horrifically inadequately dressed for the cold, they resist insistence they go to the house and run through the snow, in circles, giggling, as I chat with a neighbor. Their joy lit up the street, at least as far as my eyes saw it, during the encroaching dusk, prior to me shepherding them inside maybe 5-10 minutes later.

It is winter, and it is cold. I go from one source of shelter to the next. It can feel like hiding, but it is where life happens if you are lucky.

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Executive Order

All of you who voted for Trump: You got your “Muslim ban“. You got your ban on refugees. I’m enraged, to be honest. Your vote hurts living, breathing people, people who want the same things we do, and people who may have eventually become valued community members (or even my friends!) had we allowed them in. A couple years from now, I might have been in a line at Wegmans, making small talk with someone who escaped war in Syria. Instead, you voted for the guy who prefers them to “stay” and we all know what “staying” in a war zone means: strong risk of death. Your vote did that. Don’t you feel powerful?

Your vote gives me a country I recognize less and less – and my perspective was not even particularly rosy. Why are we consenting, embracing, and excelling at letting fear make us monsters?

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Filed under Dystopia