Then I’m going to break it till it falls apart

31 07 2012

Crazy dreams, man.

We all have crazy dreams sometimes, but I have this thing about not waking up before I think I should wake up; thus, if something wakes me up at, say, 8:30 on a Saturday morning, there is no way I’ll think, Oh, I’m awake now, a little early, but that’s okay.

No. What I will think is, That is too goddamned early for a weekend morning, and will roll over and go back to sleep for another hour or so.

When that happens, when my second sleep lasts an hour or so or less, I have crazy dreams. Sure, I probably have crazy dreams in my regular sleep that I don’t remember because, duh, asleep, but these second-sleep dreams tend toward surrealism in a way my other dreams do not. They seem as if they might actually be happening, but there’s something. . . off about them; it’s as if the dream doesn’t have the time to accelerate into full-on unreal, and so gets stuck in this half-world of the weirdly real.

Disclaimer: I don’t pay much attention to my dreams beyond their entertainment value. I see dreams as a kind of vent for everything I’ve accumulated over the day, nothing more.

Anyway, this morning I woke around 6:30, a half hour before my alarm would go off; as per usual, I saw no reason not to eke out a few more moments of unconsciousness.

Which is how I found myself in the street on an office chair whooping around desks and chairs and flinging papers about and singing Echo & the Bunnymen as office workers around me danced and sang.

No, I don’t understand it either.

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“If we don’t stand for what we believe in, we fail.”

30 07 2012

Read this, Sean Flynn’s piece on the massacre at Utøya: “Is he coming? Is he? Oh God, I think he is.”

Two of Freddy Lie’s three daughters are on Utøya. Cathrine, who is 17, is there for the second time, and Elisabeth, who is a year younger, is at her first island camp. Sometimes Freddy thinks his girls joined the AUF just so they could go to Utøya, but that’s not completely true: Elisabeth believes she can change the world. She wants to help people, and especially she wants to help animals. Oh, yes, the animals. Very important. She would say, “The fur, it stays on the animals.” She is also a number-one picker, a top recruiter, for the AUF in the østfold southern district.

Freddy’s girls are worried about him. He drives a dump truck in Oslo Monday through Thursday, but he’s added a few Friday shifts lately. Cathrine and Elisabeth don’t know if he’s in the capital when the bomb explodes. They call his mobile. Freddy always answers. If they call me one hundred times, ninety-nine I take it. Freddy is at home, in Halden, a border town south of Oslo, but he’s left his phone in the car. He misses the call. On the island, his daughters start to panic. They are certain he has been blown up. By the time Freddy retrieves the mobile, just before five o’clock, there’s a message from his ex-wife. “Call Elisabeth.”

He dials her number. She is giddy with relief. Through a window in the cafeteria building, Elisabeth sees Cathrine walk by outside. Cathrine points a thumb up so her little sister can see it, but tentatively, more of a silent question than a statement. Elisabeth smiles, gives her sister a thumbs-up in return. Their father is safe in Halden.

Freddy and Elisabeth talk for sixteen minutes and forty seconds. Elisabeth complains about the rain, teases that she might want to come home if the sky keeps emptying on the island. If it’s still raining Saturday, Freddy teases back, he’ll bring her a survival suit, and maybe a pair of goggles, too.

He tells her not to worry. He’s safe.

You know what happens.

The police emergency lines in the North Buskerud district start ringing just before 5:30 p.m. on 22 July. There are only four officers on duty in the entire district, which is headquartered ten miles north of Utøya in the little city of Hønefoss, and the calls come faster than the operator can answer. The senior officer, a sergeant named Håkon Hval, has been watching news of the Oslo bombing and waiting for his shift to end. He picks up a line. “There’s a guy in a police uniform,” a hysterical voice tells him, “walking around Utøya shooting people.”

Håkon does not believe this. He has worked in North Buskerud for eight years, and he has never been to Utøya, because there’s never been any need. Also, police in Norway do not shoot people. This is a sick joke, he thinks. But the phones keep ringing. Phones are ringing in South Buskerud and Oslo, too. He realizes, very quickly, that this is not a joke.

The cinematic moment, in awful reality.

Boats are launched. Toril climbs into one with a man who steers out into the lake to fish kids from the water. Hege stays at the jetty, waiting for people to come ashore. Within minutes, she helps two girls, wet and shivering, onto the jetty. “A policeman is shooting,” they tell her. She begins to walk them up the path to the café at the top of the camp, then detours to her trailer to retrieve her cell phone. One of the girls spoke to her mother less than an hour before and told her she was safe on Utøya. She needs to call her back.

Boats bring more campers, dozens, then hundreds. The people at Utvika gather blankets for wet survivors. Hege loses track of how many kids borrow her phone. One is a girl, maybe 18 years old, with long black hair. She is nearly hysterical, and she wraps herself around Hege. She refuses to go to the café, refuses to leave the jetty, because she left her brother on the island and she won’t leave until she finds him. She uses Hege’s phone to call her brother, over and over, but he does not answer, and Hege does not leave her.

Toril and Hege were engaged; it’s not clear if they are any longer.

There are ten kids on South Point. Five are dead; the other five are wounded. One of them, a girl, is in the water, upright but limping. Adrian helps her out of the lake and sees a wound in her right leg. There is no blood, just a hole deep and round as a golf ball. They sit together. The blue lights are still flashing across the water, but the helicopter is gone. Adrian tweets: “Shot on Utøya. Many dead.”

He turns to the girl. “It would be really nice,” he says, “to have a cigarette now.”

“Yeah,” she says without looking at him.

“Do you think the shop is open?”

The girl laughs and Adrian laughs, and then they laugh about their water-wrinkled fingers and the cabaret scheduled for tomorrow night that probably won’t happen, and they keep laughing, because there is nothing else to do until someone finally gets them off Utøya.

He gets his cigarette, at the hospital.

He’s missing some muscle, and there are seventy or so fragments still embedded in his flesh that work their way up to his skin every now and again. “So there’s always a reminder,” he says, “that there are pieces of evil in me.”

He smoked a lot over the winter. He got hate mail from right-wingers, and once, down by the water behind the mall, a little thug told him, “You weren’t killed then, but someday I’ll make sure you are.” When he went out, he left notes in his apartment saying where he’d gone and who he was meeting in case that person turned out to be a lunatic assassin and the police had to search his apartment for clues. He also wrote a book, with a Norwegian journalist, about his hours on Utøya. It’s called Heart Against Stone, which is a reference to his desperate effort to quiet his pounding heart in the moments before Breivik tried to kill him. He often wonders why he is still alive, why the man with the gun didn’t put a bullet in his chest when he had a clear shot, and how he managed to miss the head of a still body at point-blank range. Adrian decided it was luck, and that perhaps all of life is endless luck.

Maybe that’s true. On the sixth day of his trial, Breivik explained exactly why he didn’t shoot Adrian when he had his first chance. “I thought,” he told the court, “that he looked right-wing.”

Of course, Breivik came back to shoot him, mangle him. Luck, good and bad.

Read it all, all of the way to the banal and beautiful and awful end.

h/t Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic Monthly





It’s too late baby

29 07 2012

I used to be straight—that’s important to acknowledge.

I wasn’t repressing or in denial or running away from myself; before the age of 40, I was straight. After  40, not so much.

When I lived in Albuquerque I used to take my dirty clothes to a laundry a couple of blocks away. I got to know one of the women who ran the joint (damn, what’s her name? I can picture her, long dark hair, broad face, broad shoulders), and we’d talk while my clothes tumbled and I think we may have even gone out for beers a few time. She was a lesbian, was surprised I was not a lesbian, and stated with some confidence that I must therefore be bi.

You’re bi; you are. You know it. She wasn’t bullying or unkind, and said it with a fair amount of humor, but she meant it, too. I allowed for the possibility—I had plenty o’ friends who were lesbian, had lived with lesbians, had even had crushes on women—but it was an intellectual allowance, nothing more. Even my crushes were more emotional than anything else; I didn’t swoon at the thought of these women, and I certainly didn’t want to get naked with them.

I swooned around men. Not all men, not even most men, but if there was any swooning to be done, it was in the presence of a man.

So how to explain the switch? And it did feel as if a switch had been flipped: one moment, straight, the next moment, Holy cow!

I’ve mentioned before my friend M. thought this switch might have been related to a recent burst of creativity: I was still a bit dazed at having completed a draft of my first novel (that would be The Unexpected Neighbor, link on the sidebar) when prior to writing it I didn’t know that I could write it, had been in New York for less than a year, and my life was kinda shitty but not in a shitty way (if you know what I mean, which I’m not sure I do).

Anyway.

She thought I was opening myself up in ways I hadn’t before, and that this new interest in women was all a part of that. I still don’t know that I accept that, but since I don’t have any better story, I figured I might as well use M’s.

That I don’t have a better story, however, does get in the way of coming out to the folks who knew me when I was straight. Stating that I’m bisexual to new friends isn’t a big deal—there’s nothing to explain—but how to explain to old friends that before I was this and now I’m that?

Perhaps the problem is that I feel the need to explain, but wouldn’t you? And if your friend told you that she was this and now she’s that, wouldn’t you want to know?

Actually, when I put it like that, it’s not a dilemma, not really: One of things friends do is hash over what’s going on with ourselves, so this would just be another ingredient in the hash.

No, the dilemma is in dealing with the skepticism that I was ever not bisexual, or that I’m saying I’m bisexual because I’m unwilling to come out all of the way as a lesbian.

I know, I know: tough shit, people will believe what they want to believe. But given that among my many agonies is that regarding what to tell those close to me about me, if I am to reveal something, then I want it understood that I am revealing something true about myself.

What is true may change, but it still matters, and the truth is, I used to be straight, and now I’m not. Don’t know why, don’t know how, but there it is.

There it is.





Come out, come out wherever you are

26 07 2012

I’m half-out as a bisexual.

Andrew Sullivan has been banging away at the fact that the late Sally Ride chose not to come out as a lesbian while she lived, and getting a fair amount of push-back from readers; he’s holding firm.

My first reaction to his original column was What a dick.

I read his column every day and link to it with some regularity, so I’m not unfamiliar with his habit of making everything about him. (It’s annoying, but it’s his blog, and, frankly, I’m probably even more guilty of the Me! Me! M-Fucking-E ME! approach to blogging. So.)

Anyway, that initial reaction was along the lines of He really doesn’t get how hard it is for women in male-dominated fields; sexism piled with homophobia might have been too much. I modified that reaction somewhat as I considered that she could have come out after she left the space program, could have come out in the past few years, and that maybe it would have been better had she been as out to the general public as she apparently was with intimates.

Still, I think Sullivan does discount both the dynamics of sexism and temperamental differences regarding revelations about one’s private life. He implies that she labored in the closet, and that now we know that her real lesson to young lesbans was and is: duck and cover.

But we don’t, in fact, know that this was her lesson. Just because she wasn’t out in a dramatically public way doesn’t have to mean that her “real” lesson was “hide away”. There is, after all, a difference between discretion and shame.

As unfair as I think Sullivan is in his autopsy of Ride’s relationship to her public persona—he didn’t know her, didn’t know her motives—I do nonetheless have to wonder about my own half-outing.

I could be cute, I suppose, and say that as a bisexual I could only be half-out, but what I really mean is that I’m out to some (all of my friends in New York & some of my colleagues, some of my non-New York friends), not to others (family, students), generally ambiguous in reference to any (hypothetical, sigh) partners, and will answer truthfully if asked directly by someone who I don’t think is crossing any lines in the query.

Who I don’t think is crossing any lines: This is the kicker, isn’t it? What if a student would ask? A boss? Would that person be crossing a line?

Or should I be the one who crosses the line by coming out to, say, my students and everyone I work with? I have no fear of discrimination at work, and no great worries of adverse reactions from my students, but I haven’t come out fully at the office or in the classroom* in part because I don’t think it’s any of their business. I like my privacy, and I don’t think openness in some areas of my life requires me to display every aspect of my life.

(*There’s also the matter of the appropriateness of revealing personal information in the classroom. I do offer bits from my life if they’re relevant to the subject at hand, so it’s not out of the question that my own sexuality would be relevant in some discussions; just coming out a propos of nothing—Hi, I’m your professor and I’m bisexual!—would manifestly not be the way to go.)

But—and here is where Sullivan and everyone else who argues for the urgency of coming out makes sense to me—by not saying anything, I allow others to draw false inferences of my sexuality, a falseness under which I may duck and cover and which has social implications. I am uneasy, still, with the inferences others may draw if I come out as bisexual, even as I am also uneasy with the assumption by others that I’m straight.

My reasons for not slamming that closet door behind me, then, has less to do with social opprobrium than my own fear of the personal reactions to a personal revelation. I don’t think anyone in my family would really care all that much, or, to be honest, really be surprised—any surprise might be that I’m bisexual and not a lesbian—nor do I think that the few friends who I haven’t told would care much, either; if they would, their distress would likely center on how long it took me to tell them, not what I told them.

And, of course, that it’s been a number of years since I’ve become bisexual only makes the conversation now even more awkward: Why didn’t you say something earlier?

Sigh.

I struggle with what to reveal and what to tuck away in so many things; unlike almost every other of those things, however, this one is not just about me.





Even kids with chickenpox

25 07 2012

You ever bite into a brat and look at it?

(A bratwurst, you perv! Bratwurst!)

Well, it’s a bad idea—no, not the bratwurst, not if you’re a meat-eater (which I no longer am, but once was)—but the looking.

You got that?

Okay, what I mean to say is that while a bratwurst, especially a beer-soaked brat slathered with whatever mess you want to slather on it and nestled in the only-to-be-found-in-southeastern-Wisconsin hard roll, is a damned fine meal, it is also a meal which one might want to close her eyes to enjoy.

Even the best wurst, after all, is sausage, and even the best sausage looks like. . . sausage.

All of this is to say that the spam this blog attracts is best not inspected too closely.

WordPress does a pretty good job of catching most of this canned internet sausage  in a filter, and it’s easy for me simply to shake out the spam en masse, but since every once in a great while a real comment is snared, I feel the need to inspect the filter before slamming it against the side of the computer to clear it.

And what do I find upon inspection? Ads for shoes/handbags/misc junk, generic compliments, generic suggestions, generic criticisms, comments in Cyrillic, comments in Greek, and these incredibly long and irritating comments on the global financial situation and, Zeus forbid, the gold standard.

Dull dull dull dull dull. I should be grateful I don’t attract trolls; while they can be amusing in their obvious trollishness, they are more often dull in their obnoxiousness. And these spam bits aren’t generally offensive—unlike some of the stuff I get in one of my email accounts, with subject lines containing come-ons for violent sex with teenagers.

(No, I don’t click through and yes, if I thought it were really child porn I would contact authorities. You would too, right?)

Still, if you’re going to splatter your junk all over the internet, why not show some pizzazz, a bit of flair? Why not slather that spam in some enticing mess to get me to bite?

Huh, I never thought I would miss the Nigerian dictators eager to share their millions with me.





All things weird and wonderful, 23

24 07 2012

Cousins!

Despite Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park being a wildlife refuge, poaching is still a problem. The snares, set by hunters in the region, are intended for antelope and other forms of game, however young apes are known to get accidentally caught in them. While adults are normally strong enough to get out of them, younger apes aren’t so luck and often die. That was what happened to a young infant named Ngwino, who was found too late by workers from Karisoke, and later died of snare-related wounds. Deep lacerations had sliced open her leg and gangrene had set in.  …

On Tuesday tracker John Ndayambaje spotted a trap very close to the Kuryama gorilla clan. He moved in to deactivate the snare, but a silverback named Vubu grunted, cautioning Ndayambaje to stay away. Instead two juveniles—Rwema, a male; and Dukore, a female; both about four years old—ran toward the trap. According to Ndayambaje, “Rwema jumped on the bent tree branch and broke it, while Dukore freed the noose.” The pair then spied another snare nearby—one the tracker himself had missed—and destroyed that trap as well. Vecellio believes this wasn’t the first time the young gorillas had performed such teamwork. “They were very confident,” she said. “They saw what they had to do, they did it, and then they left.”

Remember: gorillas are apes, not monkeys. APES, NOT MONKEYS!

Sorry, pet peeve.

Anyway. Clever critters.

h/t Charles Mudede, The Stranger





We might as well try: Here comes the future and you can’t run from it

24 07 2012

It is terrible not to know all that I want to know, a terribleness only counterbalanced by the pleasure of soaking up what others know.

This is as good a precis for this series as any:

If men have always been concerned with only one task—how to create a society fit to live in—the forces which inspired our distant ancestors are also present in us. Nothing is settled; everything can still be altered. What was done but turned out wrong, can be done again. The Golden Age, which blind superstition had placed behind [or ahead of] us, is in us.

—Claude Levi-Strauss, from Triste Tropiques

Yes, I know Levi-Strauss, but no, I haven’t read him, don’t know if I’ll ever make the time to read him.

But this bit, this bit was worth the time.

h/t John Nichols’s obit for Alexander Cockburn, The Nation