Thursday, December 26, 2013


            Yes, it's official:  I am leaving Facebook.  The reasons are most likely obvious.  Everyone I talk to about it sighs, nods their head knowingly, and says something like, "That's great.  Good for you.  I wish I would do that."  Note that there is never even a smidgen of sarcasm.
            We are tired of Facebook.  Granted.  But Facebook is certainly not the entire internet.  Why, for example, do I not feel a comparable need to leave any of the other online time-sucks, which include...
  • Google+
  • Twitter
  • StumbleUpon
  • Instagram/6tag
  • Tumblr (mostly for following other people; I don't blog there)
  • Anthropologie website (shopping; by which I mean lusting)
  • J. Crew website (ditto)
  • Kate Spade Saturday website (*sigh*)
  • Blogger (reading other people's blogs)
  • And bouncing around the internet, trying to stay roughly appraised of the happenings (and discussions) in pop-culture-land.
            So, first off, I should totally stop going to websites like Anthropologie and Boden and tormenting myself with all the shit 1) I can't afford, and 2) I don't need.  This one will never, ever be good for my sanity.  On the plus side, I just threw away years' worth of fashion magazines and catalogues because it finally felt like an organic, "I'm ready to be done with this now" kind of moment. On the down side...well, Anthropologie just keeps making gorgeous stuff!
            But there is something different about all the other social forums.  This may be just me, but for some reason, I feel  the distance in the other formats much more clearly.  In other words, no part of my brain (no part of which I'm conscious, at least) thinks I'm genuinely connecting with other human beings when I'm on Twitter or Instagram.  But every once in awhile I'll get a serious personal message from a friend on Facebook, and most of the people on there started out as friends.  Friends.  Not "Friends."  Remember those?  Friends were people I saw, on a regular basis, and formed genuine connections with.  People I may even hug when I see them.  I realize I may be in the minority on this, but I still follow a basic rule on Facebook:  I do not "friend" someone unless they are someone I would want to have coffee with.  I think my stand-offishness is weird to a lot of people, but "a lot of people" also insist that smiling pleasantly is a reasonable response to strangers asking me how I am.  (Hint:  They're wrong!)
            My point is, when I'm on Google+, Instagram, Twitter, etc., I am there thinking, "I am incredibly smart and talented.  I have a blog. I love my blog.  I think people should read my blog.  I want to read other blogs, and participate in their conversations.  How do I keep my readers, join in the discussion, and find more people who would enjoy my writing?"  I've even started just creating usernames like @leighandharriet, because frankly, Terra Leigh Bell — the human being, who goes by that name, reads lots of books, and agonizes over her hair color — that person is not on the internet.  Because — and I really don't mean to sound bitchy, just pointing out something that seems to get lost — the internet isn't exactly something I or any other material being can be on.  It's not a material object.  I can't stand on it.  Or in it.  I am a physical being with mass.  The internet, not so much.  It's a gigantic, almost spiritual entity created only by connections.  It exists in connections.  One could argue that, as humans are relational, we also exist in connections.  But throw a person in solitary confinement, and while you will certainly break them, you will still have a body in front of you.  Cut all the computers of the world off from each other...well, then I guess I could stand on a computer?
            Facebook, for me, elides these distinctions in a very uncomfortable way.  Sometimes I'm on Facebook as Terra Leigh Bell, Friend.  Here's how that looks:  I bop around, see if any friends have changed their relationship status (because I'm clearly SO connected to them if I find out they've gone through a breakup that way, right?), look at my funny friends' status updates, marvel at how little of anyone's humor I understand, click on friends' links to read several articles written by left-wingers ranting about how incredibly stupid everyone on the right is (and in the terribly-written, politically-simplified, ideologically-bent, gramatically-butchered process, convincing me that the authors are just as bad), get angry at the world, bounce back to a friend's page, say something friendly, and finally turn on some Beyoncé and go to to calm myself down and fantasize about the life I will never have (and would find fault with if ever I did).
            Then, sometimes I go to Facebook as Terra Leigh Bell, the Pseudo-Activist.  This is when I get on my high horse about the things I genuinely care about — animal rights, statism, religious bullshit, military bullshit, police bullshit, and women-specific issues — and go to Facebook just to post links and read other people's links, and "like" pages in the hopes that by clicking on my little laptop I will get all the captive sea mammals of the world miraculously released and left alone by our loathsome species.
            Tilikum is still in his nightmare, and probably will be until he dies.  I'm thinking more concrete action might be required.
            And then sometimes I go to Facebook as Terra Leigh Bell, the Writer's Agent.  It's a little hard to explain the difference here.  I think a lot of writers and artists have a hard time promoting themselves, and I do get that difficulty.  I guess the way I'd explain it is to say that I really stop being myself.  I start being my own agent.  Because I genuinely think I'm talented, and a good thinker and writer, and I REALLY want people to read my work, I'm pretty happy to post links to my blog, and talk about my forthcoming book from Babel/Salvage.  But I have to step out of myself a little bit to do this, and frankly, it feels icky to step out of myself in a forum where moments earlier I might have been pm-ing a friend about some serious parenting issues or arguing about the role of religion in feminism.  Those are personal matters with which I feel intimately and passionately connected.
            Promoting my blog requires me to step one or two paces away from myself, and for whatever reason, I am always one or two paces away on all other internet channels.  I'm not sure why.  Maybe it's a sign of something being wrong with me (though I doubt it).  Maybe I will hurt someone's feelings by saying this (though I also doubt that).  Whatever the reasons, I don't like the weird in-between space that is Facebook.  I don't like noticing that a friend has suddenly removed all photos of their (now former?) partner, and then looking at an ad for Amazon.  It makes me a little sick.
            For awhile, I thought I would stay on Facebook and just try to take those steps back there as well.  After all, it is a major mode of communication these days, for everything from a running group I recently joined, to doula and midwifery organizations.  And it's not that I don't want to be in touch with these people.  It's just that I want to actually be in touch with them.  As in, we see each other in the flesh occasionally.
            Recently, I had a bit of a realization:  the final evidence that Facebook is not functioning as a genuine social connection (for me at least).  I suddenly realized that I never talk about my boyfriend on Facebook.  Some of my friends that I don't see very often may not even realize I have a boyfriend.  And I suddenly noticed that I wasn't mentioning him on Facebook because it felt gross.  Like I was dragging this beautiful, precious thing in my life into some kind of advertising-mixed-with-aching-human-loneliness muck.  Which made me realize — Facebook is a muck of advertising-mixed-with-aching-human-loneliness.  Sometimes it's disguised as hipster irony, sometimes as intellectualized distance.  It's still aching, and it's still alienated as hell in the modern world, and why did I ever think Facebook didn't contribute to the alienation again?
            So for those of you who didn't know, yes, I have a boyfriend.  His name is Michael, and he's awesome.  He's also Jewish, and an Atheist, so Christmas was interesting.  And he is such a gorgeous gift in my life right now, I have no desire to drag him into that muck.
            And for those who follow my blog, thank you for reading, and I will continue to post links to new posts on Google+ and Twitter; feel free to follow me in either of those spots.  Also, you can subscribe right on the homepage (I think the link is in the right-hand margin).  It says "subscribe in a reader," but you can also just subscribe via e-mail.  The official Salvation from Facebook day is probably either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day.  I'll keep posting reminders until then.  I definitely don't want to lose readers (and so far, the vast majority of my traffic comes from Facebook, so this is something of a scary move for me), so I'll do whatever I can to take readers with me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Socrates' Defense

            For the first third of the movie, the parent ignores and turns away from their child because of a committment to work, high causes, etc.  For the latter part of the movie, said parent insists their child be kept away from them while they are in jail because (supposedly) it is too hard for the child to see them in such a place.  Though it is clear the adult in question is simply embarrassed and doesn't know how to deal with the nightmare of parenthood behind bars.
            Then, finally, the parent — a mother as it so happens — gets to have her big moment to put everyone who's judging her in their place:
            "A man leaves his family to go to jail to protect a principle, and they name a holiday after him.  A man leaves his children to go fight in a war, and they erect a monument to him.  A woman does the same thing, and she's a monster."
            Nothing but the Truth is by no means a great film, but it was overall an entertaining one.  The mother in question is a journalist named Rachel Armstrong, who goes to jail to protect a source.  The source, Armstrong says, was promised absolute confidentiality.  The federal government wants her source, as they revealed to Armstrong the identity of an undercover CIA agent.
            And Armstrong has a point when she uses the term "monster."  A woman is, strictly speaking, monstrous when she fails to conform to social definitions of femininity.  But I have to say that when I heard this speech, my first thought was, "Bullshit.  You're not a monster.  You're an asshole, just like the men you're describing."
            Which is all to say, I've never been impressed by the supposed overturning of norms that happens when women enact the more reprehensible traditionally masculine choices and behaviors.

            For clarity's sake, let me mention that the title of this dialogue, "Apology," is a transliteration, not a translation, of the Greek apologia.  Apologia means, in English, "defense," NOT "apology."  As Grube puts it, "There is certainly nothing apologetic about the speech."
            Socrates is defending himself against the accusations of various Athenians.  I have only just recently discovered, at ombhurbhuva, some of the political complexities behind Socrates' trial and execution.  I heartily suggest that anyone interested check out this article.  I'm just processing a lot of that information, so I'm not going to go into it too heavily here.
            What I am going to take issue with here is probably obvious from the above notes on Nothing but the Truth.  Incidentally, it is also something I seem to be alone on.  Namely, that I have issues with idealists.  Idealists, with kids.  Socrates, despite having numerous ways he could have gone about being acquitted, delivers a beligerent defense and, in the Meno, insists that he doesn't want to survive by running away anywhere else.  This, from man with a wife and children.
            On the one hand, I've been experimenting lately with trying to be an asshole.  Or, because I am nothing if not traditionally gendered, a bitch.  Being a bitch is super fun (all ex-boyfriends and pastors totally left that little detail out), and frankly, I'm just getting tired of being perfect.  So I've been pulling something of a Socrates/Lessing; risking, smashing, and/or abandoning human relationships, in an effort to be more radically true to the only compass I have some kind of direct access to.  Namely, my own.
            But there is a violence to idealism which I remain suspicious of.  An attitude which places the ideal human situation well over and above actual human beings.
            And I really start to squirm over this when kids are involved.  Children are just little humans — rather difficult ones, as it so happens, and not ones I'm prone to romanticize — but they are little humans brought into the world completely unvoluntarily.  Involuntary doesn't sound right, because it's not like we can say to a nonexistent being, "Would you like to exist?", get a negative, and drag them into the nightmare with us anyway.  The whole point is you can't ask a nonexistent being if it wants to exist.  And I absolutely do not accept the idea that existence is always obviously better than nonexistence.  We're into making lots more humans exist — we get all those nice warm fuzzies every time we look at a baby — because evolution doesn't give a shit about voluntariness and it is very good at rewarding us.  Nietzsche's abyss only makes sense when there is a something to worry about the abyss.  I'm pretty sure babies that haven't been born yet aren't hovering over some Germanic, post-Romantic, terror-filled pit, just hoping to be saved and brought into this charming pot of melting glaciers, surveillance cameras, and biological warfare.
            So you take a child — a creature which never wanted to be at all — call it into an existence of radical neediness and dependence...and then abandon it?  Are you kidding me?!
            Granted, I'm a nanny, studying to be a doula, hoping to become a midwife.  So, yeah, I'm prejudiced.  But the reason I'm prejudiced is that I spend time with kids.  In other words, I don't get the impression that Socrates has any fucking idea who or what his children are.  That's like, woman shit.
            Socrates spends his life insisting that he is trying to overturn old ways of thinking — questioning the status quo — and still maintains this gigantic blind spot.  It's a blind spot most humans share.  Few and far between are the parents who see their children as more than creatures that exist solely to adore and obey them.  And later, to be yelled at and punished when they fail to do so.
            Socrates has ideals.  He is committed to his ideals, and I can't blame him for that.  But he also has children.  And while he may have been able to rely on friends to raise and provide for his children for him — it seems in Meno and Phaedo that he is confident they will do so — I do not rest content.  Men bring children into this world.  It may feel more conceptual — their link to their offspring is, after all, at a remove — but someone who claims to respect and value concepts and ideas could and should know better.  He could and should have at least taken his children into account when he was having his moment of fame, his "big moment to put everyone who's judging him in their place."


            I feel it worth mentioning that the scene where Armstrong has her little speech fails because it is very hard for actors to convince me of nobilities I don't recognize in real life.  The actress concerned, Kate Beckinsale, is more convincing when she seems flustered and intimidated by the size and scope of the machine she has stepped into.  Her nervous gestures when talking to Pat Dubois, the federal prosecutor, layer on top of a frightened but determined attitude.  In those scenes, I absolutely believed her.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Two (Very Different) Poems

            As a poet, I consider it my god-given duty to bemoan how little Americans understand poetry.  So here:  "Bemoan!"  Next week, thoughts on Plato's Apology.  This week, I thought I'd post a couple of poems.
            Neither of the poems below is what I would call the finest of the respective poets — namely, Mary Oliver and Maya Angelou.  Nor are Oliver and Angelou my favorite poets.  They are, instead, poems that were very important for my development as a writer.
            The writer who first made me want to be a poet was William Shakespeare.  I say this not so much as a "Hey, aren't I classy?" but more to demonstrate just how out of step I was with contemporary writing and thought and...well, existence.  I read almost the complete works of Shakespeare sometime between the ages of 11 and 14, and understood little to none of it.  I just knew that every once in awhile I would stumble across a turn of phrase that sent my head spinning with its convoluted-yet-crystal-clear beauty.  Also, I knew that the main characters were largely sociopathic, fascinating, disturbed men, and I was already pretty clear on the fact that this was totally my type.
            Then, one day, for reasons I don't recall, I was at a bookstore and thought to myself, "Well, if I'm a poet, I should read some poetry."  I went over to the poetry section and chose one book — Maya Angelou's Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie — almost entirely because I recognized her name, though how I don't know.  The other was West Wind, by Mary Oliver, and I have absolutely no idea why I picked that one up.  I'd never heard of Oliver, and the phrase "Winner of the Pulitzer Prize" printed on the front meant nothing to a kid as sheltered as I was.
            The two poems below are the first poems in each book.  They are the first poems that I read by these poets, and they may very well qualify as the first 20th century poetry I ever read.  (Sidenote:  I was eighteen or nineteen at the time.)  I'm putting them here because...well, because for many different reasons, poetry has a reputation for being difficult.  And it can be.  And while I may enjoy slogging through difficult poetry, I certainly don't enjoy difficult literary theory or scientific research papers, so I sympathize with people who think poetry is somehow "beyond them."  But it's not.  It's just not.  Poets like Oliver seem pretty intent on proving that.

Seven White Butterflies
by Mary Oliver

                                    Seven white butterflies
                                    delicate in a hurry look
                                    how they bang the pages
                                          of their wings as they fly

                                    to the fields of mustard yellow
                                    and orange and plain
                                    gold all eternity
                                          is in the moment this is what

                                    Blake said Whitman said such
                                    wisdom in the agitated
                                    motions of the mind seven
                                          dancers floating

                                    even as worms toward
                                    paradise see how they banter
                                    and riot and rise
                                          to the trees flutter

                                    lob their white bodies into
                                    the invisible wind weightless
                                    lacy willing
                                          to deliver themselves unto

                                    the universe now each settles
                                    down on a yellow thumb on a 
                                    brassy stem now
                                          all seven are rapidly sipping

                                    from the golden towers who
                                    would have thought it could be so easy?

            The poem was something of an epiphany to me.  The sensuality took my breath away, and while I understood the references to Blake and Whitman, the poem changed them for me.  Before, poets like Blake and Whitman were part of a different world, a world that seemed both better than this world, and ferociously unavailable to full comprehension.  Oliver, in twenty-six lines, wrote a gorgeous poem that had as its stars seven insects — no lovers, no sailors, no fairies or mermaids or goddesses or other-male-fantasies — while she effortlessly tugged Blake and Whitman into supporting roles.  I had had absolutely no idea that poetry could be beautiful, and comprehensible.
            Angelou is, of course, an entirely different writer.  I'm not sure if she is more famous as a poet, or as an autobiographer, but either way she is one of our Black Classic writers.  Angelou has very much played a role as a spokesperson for African Americans, and in particular black women.  And while I knew Angelou was black — while her race and the radical difference between our life experiences was, it felt, written in blood in her books — I appreciated the violent shock I got from reading her poetry.

They Went Home
by Maya Angelou

                                         They went home and told their wives,
                                               that never once in all their lives,
                                               had they known a girl like me,
                                         But . . . They went home.

                                         They said my house was licking clean,
                                               no word I spoke was ever mean,
                                               I had an air of mystery,
                                         But . . . They went home.

                                         My praises were on all men's lips,
                                               they like my smile, my wit, my hips,
                                               they'd spend one night, or two or three.
                                         But . . .

            In retrospect it feels almost charmingly naïve, the way I took Angelou's poetry in.  I had read nothing like it before, and I was repeatedly flabbergasted at how frankly she wrote about sex and racism and violence and drugs and the beauty of black people's bodies.  But it registered as something like, "Wow!  I had no idea you could do that.  Huh.  I guess you can do that."

            As a final note, I, like every other vaguely-guilt-ridden upper class white person in the world, feel uncomfortable talking about, oh, what shall we call it?  Blackness?  Race?  Not-me-ness?  I'm not sure.  I feel uncomfortable drawing attention to a writer's race, because it is "rude" to do so.  It has only recently dawned on me, however, that this is due to the fact that I am white and, therefore, the somehow "neutral" race.  It's like, I'm normal, and it's rude of me to call attention to a black person's lack of normalcy.  I haven't found what feels like an organic, graceful way to address my own privilege and racism, but until I do I'm just going to start hammering at it, probably, ungracefully.