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Musings on the Bathroom Wall

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." --O. Wilde




November 14th, 2011

(no subject)

Should a consider it a matter of spontaneous confluence that the writer's block question a scant 2-3 days after my last post is "who pays on the first date?"
No matter.
For myself, i'm inclined to say "Who ever proposed the date is responsible for payment, but come with enough money in your wallet to cover your own costs anyway."
As the person who asked someone out, you have all the power to decide where you and your date are going and how much money you'll spend. That means you, unlike your date, are in a position to tailor the date to fit your own budget. You could go dutch, but not everyone is comfortable discussing budgetary concerns with someone they've just met, so i wouldn't do that unless you already know the person somewhat and you're going to keep expenses pretty low anyway.
That said, i also believe in being prepared to take care of yourself as much as you possibly can rather than depending on anyone to make things work for you. So unless someone has explicitly said "let me take you out, and oh by the way i'm paying, so don't even ask", i'll make sure i have at least a couple of twenties in my pocket, just in case. Even if someone does say that i'll probably still have some cash on me. I mean, stuff happens, right? Everyone has embarrassing moments.
That said, if i'm out with someone and they say "No no, i want to pay," i'm not going to argue with them much. It's their wallet, and i trust them to make decisions about what to do with the stuff in it. And of course a thank you is required anytime someone pays for something for you, whether it's them paying for the date they asked you on or them offering you a couple of coins for the meter as a friend.
As for that whole "man pays" tradition...screw that, it's a holdover from a time when dates were strictly heterosexual affairs and men almost always made 2-3 times as much as women and women were only expecting to work until they got married. It doesn't make sense in modern society. Regardless of gender, we as people all need to make sure we're taking care of ourselves and our own needs but open to receive the gifts others want to share with us. And paying for someone else on an outing is most definitely a gift.

November 10th, 2011

Recently, i've been given to understand that a dear friend of mine has been taking a lot of flak for being "unfeminine"--essentially, failing to live up to the behavioral expectations others have of women. Many times i've also heard friends i love and respect teased or told "we're revoking your man card" when they fail to live up to others' expectations of men. I could tell you that this is a source of ongoing frustration for me, but i'd be understating the truth.Grrr...Collapse )

September 23rd, 2011

Having just got home from youth dance weekendlast monday, i've been thinking a lot about various aspects of contra dancing and why i love it so much.*
Yeah, i know that not everyone is into any kind of partnered dancing at all. To each their own.
Don't know what contra dancing is? Look here and here (and just for good measure, try some crossover contra here), then come back.
Setting aside matters of lovely music for the moment(cuz, let's be honest, the music rocks, but we wouldn't dance if it weren't a great dance form)...To me, contra sits right at the apex between couples dancing and folk dancing, and borrows a lot of the best elements of each.
Like couples dancing, contra has a certain amount of improvisation and experimentation, and a heavy dollop of flirting. If we see a fun flourish, we steal it and start trying to work it in. If a dance doesn't have a neighbor swing, we may sneak one in somewhere. You tailor your choice of flourishes and wildness to fit the person you're dancing with, of course, but there's still a certain element of "Hey, cool, you can do that one? I love that one! Have you tried this one, too?" The choreography is an important element, but when you're dancing with someone really good, it's hard not to let those moments between the two of you overshadow everything else. And like a lot of (non-competitive) couples dancing (and some forms of folk dancing, admittedly), the focus is less on what looks pretty to watch and more on what's freaking fun to do. That doesn't mean that the moves don't look pretty; it just means that the pretty is a byproduct of the fun. The dance isn't a performance; it's a game we play together, and you can't fully understand the appeal without doing it yourself.
Like (other forms of) folk dancing, however, there's a very strong communal aspect to contra culture. The structure of contra guarantees that everyone in the line dances with everyone else, and we all work together to keep the set moving. It's hard not to get revved up by that moment when the whole hall is stomping or clapping in time and for one moment we're all united in the joy of dance. In choosing partners, we generally start from an assumption that everyone bears some responsibility for dancing with newcomers and helping them find their place in the community.** In fact, that's part of the beauty of the neighbor swing in a dance--it creates an opportunity to learn from dancers you haven't yet partnered, plus dancing with a rank beginner is a little less of a chore if you can get in a few swings with more advanced dancers while you're at it. Also, like other forms of folk dancing, we (well, ok, i) tend to assume that physical attraction has very little to do with choice of partner. If i dance with you, it doesn't mean i know you, and it doesn't mean i would ever ever consider dating you. It just means you have feet. Similarly, many of the best dancers i've met will flirt with anyone old enough to not be totally sketchy regardless of gender or appearance. It's a game, and part of the fun is making someone else crack up. As a result, it's a very easy community to get into, even if you don't come with a friend or significant other in tow; no need to bring your own partner, we have plenty to share.
The end result is a fantastic combination of paired and communal movement, as i shift back and forth between the closer, partnered, often flirtatious figures (swings, courtesy turns, gypsies) and the broader, more group-oriented figures (circles, contra corners, wavy lines), with some figures that combine elements of both (heys, mad robins). The end result is a place where i can flirt and play and not worry so much about every little suggestion coming back to bite me in the butt. The end result is a place where there's always more to learn and try, but i can do it right there instead of taking classes separately and then coming back to prove myself. The end result is a community where i can take myself exactly as seriously as i want and no more.
Every so often i consider dancing some other form as well--english country dancing, perhaps, or swing--but i'm a contra dancer at heart. It's far from perfect, but it's in my blood and i love it.

* Note: the following is based on my experiences of the contra community and those experiences related to me by friends. Naturally, everyone's experiences, boundaries, and expectations are a little different.
** OK, yes, there are some "hip, cool dancers" (read: really talented dance snobs) who book umpteen dances ahead and really only dance with those they deem good enough; they're fun to dance with, but they tend to piss me off. And yes, everyone has one or two other dancers they particularly avoid for one reason or another; having a few perennially awful/creepy/painful dancers you deliberately don't dance with doesn't detract from the overall communal vibe, and allows you to protect yourself.

January 17th, 2011

I'm sure lots of people have spent the day celebrating the life and work of dr. martin luther king, jr., a driving force behind the civil rights movement of the 1960's. Me, i've been sick with for the last several days with an awful chest cold and periodic migraines, but that's another matter entirely.

When this day rolls around, however, i often find myself thinking about how little of dr. king's life and message we choose to remember.Read more...Collapse )

November 7th, 2010

Artist on a soapbox

Very recently, i read Lizardbeth's latest cartoon. I happen to be rather a fan of her strip, Broken Plot Device. This is not in any way a rag against her, especially since what got my dander up wasn't so much her cartoon as her readers' comments. Have you read it? Go read it, and maybe the comments too, just so we're all on the same page.
OK, i've seen it. And?Collapse )

July 17th, 2010

My body, my habits, myself

I imagine most of those few who read these posts know that i'm just recently back from a couple of trips--one to Anthrocon, one to FGC Gathering. More on that in a later post, i expect. What i'm thinking about just now is something that came up after this year's sexuality and spirituality fishbowl.

At the end, a friend and i were talking about the way people deal with their sexuality in that late teens-early twenties period, and he was saying that he gets concerned when questions come up about shoulds and should nots--what you should do, how you should look, stuff like that. And that's when he said something that's really stuck with me, something that i wish more folks had been there to hear.

What he said was that he knows that there are a lot of ways that his life falls outside societal norms--things he does, things he likes, things he is that a good 3/4ths of the population dont like and won't find acceptable. But then he said that we figures that that last quarter probably includes all of the people he wants to sleep with anyway, so why worry?

So i've been thinking. When you're in your teens and twenties, it's really easy to get caught up in whether you're saying or doing all the right things to be attractive to everyone--shaving the right parts, being dominant or submissive or passive or aggressive at all the right times...it's scary, because when you run into the guys or girls or whatever that you want, you want to know that they'll want you.

But people have pretty wildly divergent ideas about what's attractive and being attractive to everyone in the world is only your job if you're a prostitute. Try that one on for size--being universally attractive is Not Your Job. You job is a little simpler than that.

Your job is to be completely who you are. Your job is to figure out what you can do to make yourself feel beautiful and wonderful and sexy, and do that. Your job is to be honest with your partner or partners about what they do that turns you on, and what they do that bothers you. And your job is to listen when your partner or partners tell you the same things, and to negotiate with them about things you do and they do so that everyone is getting at least some of what they want and everything that they need. And if you ever find yourself doing things for your partner(s) that feel like you're not being true to yourself, then your job is to tell him/her/them that and get out.

I feel very clear that if you're true to yourself, to your likes and dislikes and behaviors and desires (and make some effort to be presentable enough that the rest of us can stand to be in the same room with you), there will be one or more people who will want you the way you are. If you're not true to yourself, you'll never be able to really feel attractive, and people tend to respond to those "don't look at me" vibes by leaving you alone. If i do something special to make myself attractive to someone, something that doesn't feel like me, sooner or later i'm going to get sick of it and want to go back to being myself, so why not just let you be attracted or not attracted to the real me from the start?

And really, so long as the right person or people want you, and so long as everyone else can at least manage to be in your presence without problems, who cares about the rest?

April 15th, 2010

Musical Matchmaking

As a kid, i remember days in math class where the teacher had us play a cooperative game called Pico Fermi Bagel. The rules were that she had though of a 3-digit number, and we would use a series of guesses to figure out what her number was. It didn't take long to figure out that while you ultimately wanted a to get a Fermi fermi fermi (everything's correct and in the right place), the best thing you could hear at the begining was bagel (none of these digits appears in any form in my number). Sometimes being wrong tells you as much as being right.

What does that have to do with music? Well, have you ever heard someone say, "Oh, i don't like that stuff, it all sounds the same"?

I believe that when people say "it all sounds the same", they don't mean anything of the kind. Your ears and mind are highly sensitive instruments. You can tell the difference between one disco song and another, even if you hate disco. So believe that what you're really trying to say isn't "it all sounds the same", but "there's something here i don't like, and it happens consistently." For instance, it took me ages to figure out that what i dislike about most classical music isn't that it sounds the same, but that it doesn't have enough stuff in the lower register. And as a person who likes a huge range of music and often likes to share new stuff with friends, i'd just like to go on the record as saying that "it all sounds the same" is the most unhelpful statement *evar*.

Of course, i should balance that by saying that i still can't figure out my relationship to blues music. In small doses, i'm in ecstasy, but in large doses i get crabby and desperate for something else. Maybe i only like blues when it's mixed with some other kind of music? If so, why?

I encourage you to think about it for yourself a little, my darlings. Think about some kind of music you can't stand. What is it that you hear happening there? What parts of that are things you hear in other stuff that you do like? What's unique to that music? Where is it rubbing you the wrong way? Sometimes i've found that what i don't like is really only found in some forms of the music, like the characteristic heavy metal growl. And you never know when finding out why you hate fusion jazz might point you towards something new, like big band jazz or belgian folk tunes.

March 3rd, 2010

OK, so maybe the whole rest of the world figured this out before i did; i don't know. It just struck me when i realized it. And yes, i know that "reuning" isn't a word. But still.

So here's my thought: Every so often, i find myself back at the school i attended from 3rd grade thrigh high school graduation (equivalents--Carolina Friends doesn't have grades). Seeing as my sister in law works there and my niece attends and my mother is or has been on the board and has friends on staff, it's not that surprising. What i did always find surprising is that every time i run into my old teachers and schoolmates, i always seem to get depressed and moody afterwards.

I've come to the conclusion that it's not me, and it's not them; it's reunion, most particularly school reunion.

See, when you reconnect with someone, you generally want to them to see you and connect with you for who you are now--the great friends you have, the amazing projects you're working on, the new stuff you've gotten into...the you that you've grown into. A long lost friend, however, doesn't have that frame of reference. Their only connection to you is through who you were and what you used to do. To some extent, it's inevitable that they would expect you to be just the way you were, only older, even though most of us really aren't (especially the most interesting people, i think).

With school, this difference can be particularly striking, since school and growing into adulthood is all about change and development.

So whether you're proud of who you used to be or not, it's easy to find yourself sliding back into the pattern they knew, just because that's where the bond is. Were you not so crazy about who you were, so you want folks to see how much you've changed? Forget it. Unless the change is something nice and big and universally positive, like marrying someone amazing or becoming a millionaire, they're probably not going to see the growth all that much. Were those days sort of your peak, and things've gotten a little rough since? Sorry, but even if everyone else doesn't figure it out (and i expect that they will), going back to who you were will probably just serve to underline all the hopes and dreams that didn't make it and your dissatisfaction with your life. and if the friendship wasn't there all those years ago, i wouldn't look for it to develop now; we people aren't terribly good at letting go of old impressions.

So maybe reunions as a big group aren't such a great idea after all, except for those institutions who need an opportunity to drum up donations. Maybe we need to learn to let the past go a little more and focus on connecting to the folks we feel a bond with now.

The irony of someone as prone to regret and worry as i am saying something like that is not lost on me.

November 30th, 2009

Book Ramblings - Od Magic

Just finished the above novel by Patricia McKillip; wow, do i love the way she uses language.

"Air screamed and beat around him. He flung up his arms, fending off a flurry of fierce golden eyes and outstretched claws. The eyes, too, like Valoren's, stunned him breathless for an instant. Then his thoughts, outrunning his own body to escape the wizard, pulled him after them; in the next breath, he knew he was elsewhere, he had done something, but he was not certain what. The ground was flowing underneath him like water; the terrible eyes had vanished. Borne on the wind, or on the frantic rush of his own thoughts, a bird, a dead leaf, a wisp of smoke, whatever shape he had made for himself fled with him until the threat in his head diminished and he began to feel his own shape again."

To give you a basic overview, imagine a world with only one school of magic, and that settled cheek-by-jowl with the castle of a kingdom. Imagine that the school was started by a wizard who was since disappeared on extended sabbatical, and that the rulers, in her absence, have seen fit to decree that no magic can be practiced in the kingdom unless it's learned at that one school and sanctioned by the king. Now add a street magician who just wants a tiny corner to settle and practice illusions in peace and a lone, nomadic gardener with a special affinity for plants who doesn't know he's been learning anything but horticulture out in the woods and empty plains.

Ultimately, the author comes to much the same conclusion about magic that i've come to in a lot of areas of my life (not all, but many)--that when you draw too many barriers and try to limit your scope to what feels safe and easily controlled, you don't just limit power; you limit wonder and imagination and curiosity. Dreams and ideas need some room to play, out beyond the scope of knowledge. Maybe sometimes we need to let go of the need to have everything nice and neat and safe and just let our minds--and our people--out, like ferrets, to explore and see what they bring back. Maybe words are better as descriptors than as categories, and maybe sometimes you have to let go of words altogether and just experience. Maybe it's important that we have some ideas and memories for which there are no words.

Anyway, it's definitely worth a read.

August 22nd, 2009

Lately, it seems like everybody and his kid sister in the Quaker world has been getting excited about this Nonviolent Communication program (even though it seems to have been around for somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 years. Why, again, did it take so long to catch on among us?). So, being as i'm supposed to serve on Nurturing Committee for next year's AYF program at FGC Gathering, and being as i'm on the board for a dance organization that's dealt with a lot of disagreement and harsh words of late, and being as i often do staff work for one fur con (maybe two, nothing solid as yet) and a friend has talked me into doing security for another, i thought a little background in nonviolent communication (NVC) might help smooth the work a little.

Here's what i found...

Well, for starters, there's a lot of poetry by the author and by Ruth Bebermeyer, an old friend of the author. Skip it. It really doesn't add anything to the book, and if there's a message in any one poem that Rosenberg wants you to get, he'll give it to you in the text before or after.

The author's central point, however, and the process he outlines, are sound. Basically, Rosenberg argues that when we communicate, virtually anytime we communicate, at the heart we're all basically saying "this is what i feel, and this is what i want." Sometimes all you really want is for someone to hear you; sometimes you want something more. And if you can get in touch with those basic needs and emotions, both in yourself and in other people, it's a lot easier to have a peaceful conversation about how to solve any problem that may have come up. This may (and often will) involve not only expressing your own feelings and needs, but translating someone else's words into NVC and reflecting them back so that that person knows you've really heard them.

The theories and format are certainly well tested. Apparently originally developed as a way to ease the process of integrating US schools during the civil rights era, it's had lots of time to get tested and tweaked. Rosenberg himself is trained as a clinical psychologist and still practices as such, although he admits that he's done away with many of the traditional standards of therapeutic methodology in his own practice in favor of NVC. He's also a well-traveled and rather sought-after workshop leader on NVC, and is considered one of the foremost authorities on the subject. Throughout the book, Rosenberg talks relates many of his experiences teaching and using NVC with all sorts of challenging groups: warring street gangs, kids in juvenile detention, convicts in the prison system, hospitalized schizophrenics, war-torn isrealis and palestinians...If the system were going to crash and burn, i imagine it would have done it by now.

The communicational format he outlines isn't an easy one: you need to express A. What specifically someone else did, B. What you felt (without its being because of any particular action), C. What you want or need and D. What, specifically, you'd like someone else to do to help. Our language is built in such a way to infer causation very easily, but NVC asks me to associate what you did and what i felt only to the extent that one came after another. We live in a society where we're not trained to be in touch our feelings, most especially for men. That makes it hard to say exactly what i feel and very easy to toss in a few theories about what other people think or feel about me instead. We also live in a society where we're taught not to talk about what we want or need too much, especially when distressed; it's a sign of weakness or of selfishness. I think women tend to particularly struggle with this little bit of socialization.

Still, despite this, and despite a few minor philosophical differences, i think the author has really put his finger on something significant, something i have every hope will help in the kinds of volunteer work i do. I can't always give people what they want; no one can. But i know sometimes when i'm wanting something, all i really need is to know that i've been heard and understood, and that someone is taking my concerns into account when they make decisions that affect me. Who knows? Maybe if i can talk to the next person who feels they just *have* to have their cell phone with them in the art show, i can help them see that i understand and recognize their frustration and i care, even if i still can't oblige them, and that i do have good reasons for enforcing that rule. And maybe that might help us to resolve the matter just a bit more peacefully.

Hey, it's worth a try, right?
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