A Cynical Queer Killjoy’s Mixed Feelings on the Rainbow Machine

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It’s June, which means that cynical, nerdy, political queer killjoys are spending the month rolling their eyes at the shiny whitewashed respectability spectacle of corporate-sponsored pride celebrations. I would know—I’m one of them.

But sometimes I fall off my high horse and remember: I didn’t start out thinking like this. Not even close.

When I sigh at the rainbow-themed sneakers and laptop ads popping up around the city, unimpressed with corporations’ willingness to co-opt symbols of a successful liberation movement now that it has been deemed more profitable than not.

But I also remember living in a time and place when public support of LGBT rights was more of a business liability than a strategy, and think of how much tweenage angst I could have avoided had I seen rainbow-plastered shoe stores then.

Read the rest on HuffPost

The Case Against Dreams

Since graduation, people have increasingly been asking me what my dream jobs, dream companies, and dreams for the future are. Which is leading me to realize that I no longer have any. And I say that in the most optimistic way possible.

Dreams are made of ideas alone, floating in a weightless world with no bodies to bump up against them and shake them off course. So they go in straight lines, mostly just up.

But try to follow a dream in a world of matter, and things get far more twisted. You’ll hit walls and laws and ceilings, and have to recalculate your route to dodge, climb, or break them. When your ideas spill onto the scene and cause reactions, they’ll fizzle and change colors and explode, until you can barely recognize what you started with. You’ll collect dirt and leave a trail of elaborate curlicues as you spin your way into places you never planned to see.

And at some point, you’re likely to find that you and the dream have left each other’s sights. You might scan your surroundings, looking for another nearby dream to start your next game of obstacle-tag. It’s a game that can keep you moving for a lifetime, if that’s your thing.

Lately though, I’ve become more inclined to let those naked ideas float by as I turn my sights downward for inspiration, following the landscape of reality itself.

People say that dreams are about imagination, but when I listen to most of their dreams, the scope of possibilities is far more square and narrow than anything reality could devise. In those dreams, you know that the good guys win, and the girl marries the boy and stays that way, and success comes in windfalls and stays that way, and matter is different from energy and stays that way, and everything happens for a reason.

Some people get so caught up in those limited dream-worlds that their imaginations shrink to that scope. And with imaginations so narrow, they can’t envision the full range of reality, even as it stands right in front of them.

If you want your brain to buzz with things you never dreamed possible, try really exploring reality. Run your fingers into the crevices you used to step over, and trace the wrinkled pathways all the way out to the fringes. Look close at the frayed and jagged edges. (Truth be told, it’s all rather broken and messed-up, but so are most things worth spending time with. So are most things I love.) Now stand on the edges, and look at it from far away.

Once, I dreamed I could just spread my arms and fly. So I started running and jumping and falling and building to try and get up there. Until I was just running and jumping and falling and building to get somewhereSo far, that has been remarkably more interesting.

just say no

Okay, this is a bit extreme.

How To Do College

As you may have heard, I recently finished doing college. As a person on the internet, I firmly believe that having just completed something makes me both qualified and obligated to give advice about it. So here are my top pieces of fairly generic wisdom for people beginning to do college:

You don’t have to stick with whatever you picked first.
Majors, social circles, extracurricular involvements, worldviews, haircuts, or whatever–there is definitely pressure to make your declaration as soon as you show up. But remember that for the most part, nothing is holding you to whatever questionable snap judgements you made during orientation. If something is not working out as well as you thought it would, you have plenty of time to get over the shame of being wrong and try something else instead.

Don’t waste time pretending you know stuff you don’t actually know.
Even if you get a few judgey looks sometimes. The less time you spend trying to seem smart or talented or cool, the more time you get to spend actually learning stuff.

Learn from what you don’t like.
Hopefully, your time in college will be filled with fabulous experiences, but you’ll also probably run into classes you find disastrous, books you find overrated, art you find vapid, policies you find oppressive, personalities you find insufferable, and ideas you find really wrong.

But even when you are entirely justified in your disdain (sometimes you are), that doesn’t mean you’re wasting your time–you can learn plenty by negative example.

Notice what you don’t like, but more importantly, figure out exactly why you don’t like it.* Be as thoughtful and specific as possible. From there you can decide how to adapt to it, critique it, fix it, avoid replicating it yourself, create something completely different from it, or make sure you spend the rest of your life doing the exact opposite of it.

*Tip: in some cases, this might end up teaching you as much about yourself as it does about the object of dislike.

Live life with approximately four regrets.
I mean “no regrets” is a little extreme, right? If you’re having any fun at all–and even if you’re not–you’re probably going to make some mistakes for which regret is the appropriate reaction.

Sure, some people say that mistakes are not regrets, just learning experiences. But your mistakes are probably going to have consequences that hurt other people whose pain isn’t cancelled out by your lesson of the day.

So I’ve semi-arbitrarily picked four as the correct number of times to really mess up. It’s pretty low, but not as low as some other numbers, such as three.

Show up.
Things happen when you show up. (Side note: I hope to one day get the first Nobel Prize in Attendance.)

You won’t do all of the things.
Get over it now. You don’t have to feel bad about it. Don’t waste one of your four regrets on the newspaper you didn’t join while you were busy 3D printing/srat partying/protesting/baking cookies/dancing/actually studying. Just try to do some of the things pretty well and/or enjoyably.

Never “find yourself.”
College isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about realizing that the “self” as a unitary, discrete, and stable entity is an artificial construct maintained for its convenience in a Western individualist liberal social order.

(Or maybe that was just my college.)

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Note: if anyone has some advice on how to do life after this, send it my way

Swimster The Tree-Climbing Fish

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
— allegedly Einstein; probably someone else who was no Einstein

Once upon a time there was a fish named Swimster. He had wide, fluttering fins that could push him far through the water with every stroke. He had a narrow body covered in slippery fins that could glide effortlessly through the gaps in the seaweed. He had strong gills to power him along. And more than anything, he dreamed of climbing the highest tree on the beach.

Now Swimster was under no delusions. He knew that most of the successful tree-climbers on the island had hands and claws and lungs. But he had heard stories of hard work and evolution, and had faith that with the right conditions, you can become what you’re not.

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So he decided to kick his evolution into gear by enrolling in a class at Ozzie the Orangoutang’s School of Tree-Climbing. As he paddled himself onto the shore for the first days of class, edging into the crowd of primates and amphibians, he tried not to notice their judging gazes fixating on his fins.

He flopped his way across the crowd to introduce himself to Ozzie, who greeted him with raised eyebrow-ridges. “Maybe this isn’t the right place for you,” she said, holding back her laughter behind an air of gentle concern. “Have you ever thought of trying a different hobby–perhaps, the swim team?”

The worst part was that she was right. Swimster knew he would make a better swimmer–he could swim fast and far without loosing a single gill-powered breath. But swimming was something he could do in his sleep, and he was looking for a different type of thrill. He wanted to move up, and not just around. He wanted to feel the roughness of the bark and the pull of gravity, and know that he could overcome them. He wanted to reach new heights and find himself in places he never dreamed possible.

So Swimster looked Ozzie in the eye (with his left eye) and declared, “I can do anything I put my mind to!” he said. She forced an uneasy smile. She wouldn’t say he was right, but she didn’t tell him to leave either.

She didn’t tell him much at all from that point on, but he showed up every day for drills regardless. And over and over, he would dig in his fins into the palm bark to power his way up the first few inches, before sliding down to rest in a nearby puddle.

With time, the inches slowly turned into feet, even if his fins never did. He trained without paying attention to the ambient snickers of his classmates above him. Or rather, he pretended not to pay attention, as he made it his mission to prove each of them wrong. They thought that they could take one look at his fins and determine his destiny? Well he would show them what it looked like at the top of a tree.

One day, he decided, it was the day that he would make the full climb. His now-calloused fins could pull him solidly half-way up the tree before even noticed the lack of oxygen. He prayed that evolution would kick in sometime soon to take care of the non-aquatic respiration thing. In the mean time, he clenched his gills soldiered on.

He was two thirds of the way up the tree, high enough to feel the hot sun and the dry air on his scales. As the surface of his fins got drier and drier, he just gritted his nonexistent teeth and told himself that dryness makes for a firmer grip. He did his best to quiet his quivering gills, and keep both of his side-facing eyes towards the highest branches as he declared with unflinching commitment, “I’m gonna make it to the top if it kills me.”

 

 

Ticklish Spots

“Laughter is a defense mechanism,” she warned me. 

I smiled, “Yeah, it’s my favorite one!”


Ticklish spots are located in the most vulnerable parts of your body. They’re highly sensitive locations, dense with receptors for touch and pain. If you’re a particularly ticklish individual, they’re often places of tension, where thick layers of fascia wrapped around the muscles have solidified, forming adhesions. They’re the places where you could feel excruciating pain if anyone were to dig in too deep.

But few will ever get that far. A light touch on the spot will send you into a bout of laughter, a playful grin on your face as you retract away and shake the hands off of you. You complicate the job for doctors and lovers and TSA agents, but you complicate it with a smile.

And through the discomfort, all you will do is laugh and shake them off–so long as no one comes in too close and presses too hard.

Sometimes you wonder what might happen if you were to let someone keep digging through the tight spots. You would laugh more and more until you couldn’t anymore. Eventually, as they’d comb through the knotted layers of flesh, it might break up some of that scar tissue, release some of that nagging tension, un-train your convulsive reflex.

But as the blood vessels tangled up in those knots would rupture, the blood flowing to the surface, dark bruises would reveal to the world just where you can be hurt. And the unmasked pain on your face would reveal just how much.

So you remind yourself that, tight and twisted as it may be, you built up that impenetrable wall of fascia for a reason. And maybe not all knots are meant to be unraveled.

Besides, laughing is cute and releases endorphins.

Dealing With Envy: a Flowchart

Sometimes you come across a person who seems to have exactly what you’re missing (e.g. shiny hair, shiny GPA, shiny job offer, shiny boyfriend, etc.)–that (non-gender-specific) bitch!

If you’re like most people, your default reaction is to A) Hate that person, B) Hate yourself, or C) Pretend to do A while actually doing B. But there are probably more productive (or less destructive) ways to deal. Here’s a flowchart of suggestions (click to see full-sized):

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Philosophy Majors Run Tech Support (Part 1)

Customer: My computer has started running way too slow and I don’t know why.

TC: How does one know what is “too slow?”

C: Well, when I tried to open my email client the other day, it stalled for–

TC: How can you be sure that it is the computer? Perhaps it is your expectations that are running too fast. Or your subjective perception of time that is running too slow.

And, of course, what defines the limits of appropriate speed? Perhaps this circumstance is an exercise in patience. Because what is true patience but the willingness to accept any arrangement of events in time as it appears, without pre-attachment to one possible arrangement over another?


C: I think I’ve been hacked, and I’m concerned about having my identity stolen. The other day when I was checking my bank–

TC: Identity theft? Do you see where you’ve been mistaken?

C: Um, well sometimes I use non-secure wi-fi, and–

TC: You believed that your identity was yours to take. That it was something fixed and distinct that you could outline and contain, never infliltrated by the other voices that cross it, never molding to its present surroundings, always distinguishable from the environment in which it grew.

Some say that property is theft. By that standard, the very act of claiming your identity as your property can only described as identity theft, stealing that persona away from the surrounding world which continuously recreates and reabsorbs it in the everyday microdynamics of social exchange.


C: I’ve heard this isn’t regular tech support, so I thought I’d ask: What’s the meaning of life?

TC: Um . . . *Checks manual* Have you tried turning it off and then on aga–wait, wrong page.