Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Stereotype Threat

Again, something inspired by a brief exchange on twitter, that 140 characters simply can not do justice to, but of course I'm going to end up springboarding off into thoughts that have been rattling around my head recently.

So last week I posted a mixtape that I entered in a contest. Even before I made it, I knew I had no chance of winning. So why did I do it? Firstly, because I just wanted to make a damn mixtape. It's autumn, I wanted a new set of songs to pop on my iPod by default. Secondly, why did I enter the contest, even knowing that I was never going to win it? Because my entry singlehandedly doubled the number of women who had entered.

The results were announced yesterday - of course the winners and all the runners up (a total of 5 DJs) were all men. I commented on this, in a desultory passing way, on twitter: "Oh, look a bunch of men won the Phantasy Sound mix competition. Big surprise there!" I mean, it's simply statistics, isn't it? A competition where 20 people enter and only 2 of them are women. The winner is male. That's pretty predictable, just from a mathematical standpoint, isn't it?

So then I am told that I was "bitter" and that I could stand to be more gracious about losing (like the men who entered and didn't win) or something. This is the problem with making the personal political. Some observers will see only the personal, and never even notice the political.

Am I disappointed that I didn't win? I KNEW BEFORE I ENTERED THAT I WOULD NOT WIN. FFS, it's the first (and probably only) DJ competition I will ever enter. I am disappointed that only 10% of the entrants were female. (And it would have been 5% had I not entered.) I am disappointed that NO female DJs were even given honourable mention. I would be JUST AS DISAPPOINTED if the two female entrants had not included me - perhaps even *more* disappointed, because I can easily write off my own failure, but I cannot write off the systematic exclusion of mine own gender.

This is probably a good time to mention that I've been reading Pink Brain Blue Brain by Lise Eliot, which is all about how actually measurably quite tiny differences in ability between the genders are reenforced by cultural stereotypes into the kind of differences that gender essentialists like to claim are innate. It's actually been completely eye-opening (well, not in the way you'd think, because, seriously, I'm quite aware that "Girls Suck At Maths" is total bullshit) but more in what actually reinforces those stereotypes, and what can help young people to escape them.

People of either gender are often reluctant to enter into territory which has already been extensively colonised by members of the other gender. I call this "first girl in the room" syndrome, when dealing with my own experiences of working up the courage to enter a territory which has been solely male up until that point (be that guitar shop, recording studio, DJ booth... IT Department...) Some women actually get off on that idea of being the loophole woman. I'm not actually one of them. I don't want *me* as an individual to get in; I want *women* in general to get more opportunities. Eliot talks about a tipping point of about 25% - when the proportion of women (or men) in a field gets above that point "stereotyping declines and people begin to be judged by their actual abilities." More women entering these things means simply a better numerical chance of one of them winning.

Eliot talks about so much more which interests me - reminding me *why* it is harmful to bandy about negative stereotypes, and why language *matters*. (Going back to the subject of previous blogs...) She talks about the stereotype threat and studies which prove this to be a very real and powerful thing. Women perform *worse* at tasks which are stereotypically held to be "male" specialties *when* they are reminded of the stereotype before doing the task. The example is this: when a control group of men and women are given a basic maths test without being told what it is for, they perform equally well. When another group of men and women are given the *same* test - but after reading something which states that men typically do better at the test than women - men's scores are higher than in the control group, and women's scores are worse. That's right. REMINDING women of a stereotype that "girls suck at this" actually can cause them to suck. In fact, if the stereotype is persistent enough, such as the "girls suck at maths" one, simply reminding women of their gender is enough to trigger the stereotype threat.

And jeez, what reminds one more of one's own gender than being the *only* person (or only one of two people) that *is* that gender. Or being a hypothetical third woman who was thinking of entering that contest, and saw those odds and then saw those results and just thought "Nah, I won't bother." *That* thought is what genuinely upsets and angers me. It isn't whether you win or lose, it's enabling a fair playing field in the first place.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Autumn Mix - Phantasychogeography

No whinging today, just sweet, sweet music.

This was supposed to be an entry in Phantasy Records' walking mixtape competition but, silly me, I read "mixtape" and automatically thought "90 minutes, Hi Bias Chrome" - oops, showing my age there.

So there's a short version for the contest and here is the longer, unedited full version, with more development and better transitions.

It was inspired by the long walks I used to take as a kid, from our sprawling farmhouse way out in the country, into the nearest city. The pastoral calm of the country, followed by motorik bus ride into the city, the bright lights and dazzle, slowly growing more frenetic and disorienting, and then the return journey back to calm.

Download the full version here

Laurie Spiegel - Improvisation On A "Concerto Generator"
Boards of Canada - In A Beautiful Place Out In The Country
Carl Sagan - A Glorious Dawn (ft. Stephen Hawking)
Mercury Rev - Senses On Fire
Hawkwind - Opa-Loka
The Hundred In The Hands - Young Aren't Young
Mrs Jynx - Second Over First
DMX Krew - New Star Broadcasting Station
Eurythmics - Here Comes The Rain Again
We Love - No Train No Plane
Delia Derbyshire - Liquid Energy (Bubbling Rhythm)
Glasser - Mirrorage
The Teardrop Explodes - Seven Views of Jerusalem
Scott Walker - Little Things That Keep Us Together
United States of America - The Garden of Earthly Delights
The Black Angels - Science Killer
Broadcast - The World Backwards
Sleigh Bells - Run The Heart
Chapterhouse - There's Still Life
The Charms - Did You Ever Wonder?
The Church - Under The Milky Way
Galaxie 500 - Listen Snow Is Falling

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Are You So Defensive?

TRIGGER WARNING: In the interest of safe-space, I must warn that there may be triggers in this post - for childhood abuse, relationship abuse, sexual assault and just general bullying. I've tried to be non-graphic because I am most emphatically *not* saying "I am a victim, pity me" - I'm saying "these are things that happened to me, this is why I *am* like this, please *understand* me."

These are my experiences, I am owning my feelings about them, though I may sometimes write in the second person, because it's easier for me to address some pretty upsetting stuff that way. If you were there and you saw it differently, please remember, this is about how it *felt* to me, not about how it might have *looked* to you.

This is a blog post about defensiveness.

About the kind of defensiveness which is so deep-level and so engrained that it can actually come across as paranoia or even aggressiveness.

I was talking in my last post about bullying, well, take a step further to abuse. Not just the sexual kind that many people assume when they hear the words "physical abuse" but the brutalisation kind. (Hell, I was once told by the person who beat my brother and me, regularly, through childhood, "you and your brother were not molested repeatedly by a relative, like I was, therefore, you were never abused!" Eventually, after a fuckload of counseling, they admitted that maybe we had.)

You can often tell when someone has been regularly beaten, because if you raise your hand unexpectedly, they will flinch and pull back, on a reflexive level. I actually noticed it in my brother - my 6'6" cornfed slab of American male - before I noticed it in myself. And the flinch reflex becomes psychological as well as physical. If you have become used to receiving blows, you come to expect blows.

When you have been conditioned to expect violence, you may start to anticipate it, all the time, at an unconscious level. Gestures which appear ambiguous or even friendly to others are interpreted as threatening to a person who has internalised what I'll call the Conditioned Expectation of Violence Reflex. (I'm sure there is a genuine psychological term for this, but I don't know it.) Gestures which seem unambiguously joking to a person without that reflex, but which *resemble* the violence a person has experienced, will not be read as jokes, but as ambiguous at best or, more likely, threatening by a person who has this conditioning.

Think about it. You may greet a close friend with horseplay - a friendly punch on the arm or a hearty backslap - and think nothing of it. Do this without warning, to a person with this "CEV Reflex" and they will recoil, perhaps even think that they have been attacked, even though you, and your non-conditioned friend observe nothing threatening, and react with only the pleasure of greeting a friend.

This behaviour, this conditioning and response, happens in the online world, as well.

I've spoken before about experiences I've had where people, with whom I had relationships IRL, used the internet to stalk and harass me. (And no, I don't want to go into lurid details, because I don't want to re-inhabit that mental space yet again, trust me, their behaviour met the legal definitions of those words.) The internet was not the sole cause or exercise of this behaviour; these people were perfectly capable of using phones, cars, mutual friends to accomplish the same goals of intimidation and control.

But what I want to talk about are the examples that were purely internet based, people who I never met, and had no other experience of, except online. These experiences mirrored and were reinforced by what I describe above, but they were a new thing to me. These experiences didn't *create* who I am, but they certainly *changed* my experiences of "online" and and reinforced my already existent CEV Reflex. This was the line, I think, that tipped me over from adventurous, ignore-the-haters cybernaut to angry, automatically defensive freak.

(Why do I attract so many hateful, awful people? The answer lies in the mirror, somewhere, but I'm clearly trying not to see it.)

I probably should have left ILX over the bullying that I received from a user I'll call "ex machina" and the moderator response to that bullying. It was a sustained, escalating campaign over several years, that even people who did not like me described as "ugly and excessive." I'm not entirely blameless. I was, at the time, going through the breakup of what is still my longest serious adult relationship. My defenses, energy, patience, and self esteem were all at rock bottom and stretched to breaking - in short, the perfect victim for a bully. If I ignored it, it got worse; if I protested, officially or unofficially, it escalated to a whole nother level. The official admin response was "we recognise that this is over the line, but we cannot or will not do anything about it" - mainly because he was a programmer who had already shown himself capable of dismantling the messageboard's server code at will.

Any time that I tried to take matters into mine own hands and return in any kind, certain moderators viewed this as my condoning or even *inviting* the bullying. When I finally lost my patience and fought back, one moderator changed the name of the thread to "watch ex machina and Masonic Boom masturbate over one another." (Except using our actual IRL names, something which was against ILX policy and itself a moderation-inducing offense.)

This felt, to be honest, as if someone was attempting to sexually assault me on a dancefloor, with me kicking and punching to try and get the guy off me, while my friends and even the bouncers stood around going "ha ha, isn't their foreplay cute?"

Yes, I went there, but actually, I *am* entitled to make the rape analogy at this point, because this exact scenario *has* actually happened to me. Although the violence involved was not comparable (my thumb was not dislocated from its socket by my attacker's "foreplay" online) the sense of *powerlessness* and the feeling of *betrayal* by the people who were supposed to stop this, those feelings are the same. I still remember these incidents, a decade after one, and over five years after the other.

The moderator is, amazingly, still a moderator, though funnily enough, ex machina got permanently banned a few years later, when he started going after mods instead of just weird girls.

My online life after that got weird. Now I know more about both assault and harassment, and their aftereffects, I know why I got so intense about setting weird boundaries, and only admitting people who were willing to follow them, or freaking out when my seemingly arbitrary boundaries were violated. It's one of the tests that women use to establish whether they are safe with someone or not. A person who violates your little boundaries (don't rudely push in on a conversation I'm having with friends) is much more likely to violate your big boundaries (don't try to rape me in the middle of the Betsey Trotwood.) If I cannot trust you with the silly little rules that don't matter (don't post about football or BB on my threads, only mention jazz if accompanied by a picture of a crush who likes jazz) then I cannot trust you with the big rules that do matter (don't use the internet to stalk, harass, bully and otherwise terrorise me.)

It started to happen again, a few months after I joined the Erol Forum. Up until that point, it hadn't been entirely smooth (there had been the usual yapping tools who get completely outraged that OMG, a fangurl is all in our stuff with her girl cooties!) but it had been... mostly harmless.

I now *know* enough to recognise it in the early stages - that kind of nerd entitlement. It's always the same kind of guy - above average intelligence, below average social skills, who has come, from nerd culture (or hey, from just general, you know... *culture* culture) to believe that Chicks are just things, like bonus hit points or videogame easter eggs, that you just automatically *unlock*, as a reward for performing certain tasks (like DJ-ing! or being-in-a-band!) rather than actual human beings with whom you have to negotiate relationships, like anyone else.

It always starts the same way, with some weird pigtail pulling incident where you think "WTF? is that dude *actually* making a clumsy pass at me, or is he just being, uuuhh, kinda creepy and weird?" It will never be anything as straightforward as a declaration or invitation like "hey, I like you, can we, like, skype or something?" It will be something odd, and ambiguous, so that he leaves himself maneuvering room to go all "WTF? are you KIDDING? Don't flatter yourself, bitch-whore-cunt from hell!" if you do not respond to the compliment, or weird "joke" or whatever it is. That's when the shit really starts. The "Kate is bad, throw rocks at her!" revenge threads are easily dealt with by moderators. The creepy messages on Twitter and MySpace - those you can actually block.

But it's the weird, under-the radar stuff that gets to you in the end. And that's where your CEV Reflex is your worst enemy, because when you stop feeling safe somewhere, you do start acting a bit weird, a bit defensive. And that's when they start trying to turn people against you with the whole "look how weirdly that creepy horrible bitch-whore-cunt girl that I hate is behaving" whispering. OF COURSE SHE IS ACTING ODDLY; YOU ARE SERIOUSLY CREEPING HER OUT. People who feel threatened often act defensively. Is that weird? No, it's human fucking nature.

And this is something I know from bitter experience. That state of defensiveness *does* make you act ostensibly "weird" to the casual observer. It reinforces the bully/abuser's insistence that *she* is the one with the problem, not him. (DJ Munchausen, my abusive ex, he was the king of that game.) Neutral people start doubting you, because they never notice the trigger, they only see the reaction. They see someone pat you on the back, and you freak out - totally bizarrely! - because they don't know that your abuser waited until you turned your back before pulling a Billy Shelf full of CDs over on top of you.

Someone who doesn't get your "edgy" "jokes" on a messageboard might not just be a humourless feminazi, they might actually have experienced those things you joke about, first hand. Someone who freaks out at stuff you just don't even sweat, they might not be acting aggressively, so much as defensively. And that defensiveness might not be quite so paranoid and delusional as it appears to you.

So where do we go from here? What do I do with this amazing insight that it's actually mine own *defensiveness* that drives the vicious circle that makes people hate me so much on messageboards? I wish I could wave a magic wand and make all the Entitled Nerds who make internet fora so unpleasant for women just... GROW UP. But hell, I can't even wave a magic wand and make myself just grow up this time. Even if there were a magic forum with no creepy entitled nerd to antagonise me, is mine own internalised defensiveness so deep it will trip me up every time?

How do I make this defensiveness and this deep-level anger that I'm carrying around - that poisons my experiences just as surely as bullies do - go away? Don't suggest therapy, the first time I was sent to therapy was 1981, the last time was 3 years ago (a cognitive therapist who diagnosed my problem as "abandonment issues" then promptly disappeared off the face of the earth - like, wait, WTF, is this part of the therapy, or are you fucking with my head?) I've done it so much, I know the tricks too well for it to work any more. Drugs are only ever a temporary solution, they treat the symptoms but not the disease. Exercise? Meditation? More and more and more art therapy? (This is how I can write a novel in a month, practically on demand - I have a faucet where I can just turn on the angst like a tap. I don't know if that's relief, or just "rehearsing the negative neural pathways" as a dear friend is fond of saying about rumination.)

This is the ultimate programmer's nightmare. You've identified the problem, you've even located the exact bug - but you find yourself utterly incapable of rewriting the code to fix it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Tangle Of Connections

Today I am going to attempt to string a bunch of one-link-leads-to-another thoughts together into a coherent post. Or maybe I'm just going to do an old style Weblog that's just a bunch of links to stuff that has made me think today. I've been complaining recently about lack of understanding or even stuff-with-intellectual-interest-to-me on various messageboards I've hung out on - well, in these posts I find a whole lot of places where the stuff I *am* interested in is talked about, often in great detail and depth.

It started with my usual morning "round of sites I check when I'm bored" (insomnia made me get to work half an hour early today so I've had lots of free time) and a completely random Jezebel article suggested a related article entitled Do Bullying Victims Have Bad Social Skills? Despite the rather "Department Of Stating The Obvious" conclusions (weird kids with poor social skills are more likely to be picked on, in other news, Pope still Catholic) there was a lot of interesting debate in the comments. (Such as the vicious new Post-Columbine Bullying tactics of officially persecuting the already persecuted.)

Obviously I've been thinking a lot lately about bullying and persecution (complexes?) due to recent events. It's a kind of vicious cycle, if you have poor social skills to start with (for any reason - perhaps Autistic Spectrum disorders, perhaps, as in my case, simply being moved from place to place, school to school so quickly I never got the chance to develop a secure grasp on local cultures, let alone develop social skills appropriate for them) you are more likely to be bullied. Once you have been bullied, you are more likely to become socially withdrawn, less likely to acquire any social skills, and what's more, prone to interpreting the behaviour of others as "making fun" or threatening because, hey, that's what you know, that's what you've come to expect.

But, like I said, the comments managed to get past the borderline "blame the victim" tone of the initial post. I was especially struck by a woman who talked about the mirroring of the behaviour she encountered as a kid, bullied for having Aspergers at school, in the behaviour of her colleagues at the psychiatric hospital where she now works. And her response to this is yes, teaching bullied kids social skills as a survival tactic is important, but so is teaching "normal" kids to be more understanding of difference with regard to neurodiversity.

Anyway, I started reading her linked blog because her comments were fascinating and she seemed very perceptive. It's really interesting to me reading about Autistic Spectrum disorders - firstly because that's where the idea of Neurodiversity popped up - that many of the mental things we think of as disabilities or illness are just natural differences in the way that the brain works. And that diversity isn't "better" or "worse" - it's just that. Difference. And secondly because, although I'm fairly certain I don't have Aspergers, I routinely score quite high on some tests for autism (because, you know - weird, smart, geeky, obsessive, poor social skills, excellent systems thinking) and I think I could probably stand to *learn* a great deal, in terms of coping strategies.

So she had a post about Inertia and Perseveration - and I did not recognise that odd word, perseveration, but when I read her description, I thought "Hello, old friend - THOUGHTWORMS." But her post seemed not so much the bad, OCD kind of thoughtworms, but more the calming, helpful repetitive behaviour that forms so much of my art and my music and offers me a respite from the more harrowing aspects of mine own mental illness. (But also the thought about how much of the process of learning a craft involves the same thing, albeit consciously? How many times, as a musician, have I played endlessly repeating scales? How many times, as an artist, have I drawn the same subject until I felt I got it *right*?) And then BOOM! There's a link to her own post about depression and rumination and the purposes it all seems to serve.

I've previously seen discussion of the article she linked to - it's a way older idea than Evolutionary Psychology, this idea that since depression is so common, it must *serve some purpose*. The more I read these experiences of Aspergers, the more I realised how the autism-like experiences I sometimes have are usually correlated to periods of deep depression. It's like the parts of my brain I use to ... I wouldn't say *empathise* with, but more *understand* people just shut down. Social rituals like simply going to the pub become confusing, meaningless, terrifying. I lose my sense of humour - or more specifically, I lose my ability to understand when other people are joking or threatening. I become intensely routinised, and my flexibility (which is, when I'm *not* depressed, usually quite good) and my ability to tolerate exceptions to those routines utterly disappears, leaving me anxious, tense, irritable, snappy.

In short, much of this paranoia, my inability to read people and their intentions, my utter loss of a sense of humour, it's all symptomatic of depression. Yeah, THAT's a surprise, right? Bipolar person in being depressed shocker, in other news, bears still shitting in woods.

But what brough me up sharp was something buried towards the very end of the article. I went off antidepressants earlier this year. They were no longer working for me, I did not want to up the dose because of the weird side effects I was experiencing, the only reason I continued to take them was to stave off the withdrawal and I had recently read a whole host of literature suggesting that on a statistical and an anecdotal level, medicating mental illness has exacerbated rather than ameliorated the problem.

In recent years, Thomson has cut back on antidepressant prescriptions, because, he says, he now believes that the drugs can sometimes interfere with genuine recovery, making it harder for people to resolve their social dilemmas. "I remember one patient who came in and said she needed to reduce her dosage," he says. "I asked her if the antidepressants were working, and she said something I'll never forget. 'Yes, they're working great,' she told me. 'I feel so much better. But I'm still married to the same alcoholic son of a bitch. It's just now he's tolerable.'"


People on antidepressants had a 76 percent chance of relapse within a year when the drugs were discontinued ... "The high relapse rate suggests that the drugs aren’t really solving anything," Thomson says. "In fact, they seem to be interfering with the solution, so that patients are discouraged from dealing with their problems. We end up having to keep people on the drugs forever. It was as if these people have a bodily infection, and modern psychiatry is just treating their fever."

So how does this resonate with the idea I've been told my whole life, that I have Bipolar Disorder, which is supposedly just this lifetime unsolvable problem that I have to medicate away with substances that destroy quite important parts of my psyche? What about this other idea that there is, actually, a qualitative difference between being Depressed as a chemical thing (which I know how to deal with) and being Deeply Unhappy, which is something I have to be not-medicated to inspire me to move and change and deal with?

Because I have not been steadily Unhappy and Miserable since my early teens like the Bipolar Script says. I have actually had some quite long periods of stability and contentment and even bursts of incredible creativity and productivity (or you could just cast them as "manic episodes" if you're so inclined) and many of those periods have been during times when I was not medicated, but my life met other criteria which are not being met now. And it would be a much better idea to try to change my life to meet those criteria again, rather than alter my brain to meet the current state of my life.

This is the problem with Diagnoses - that once you are in a box, it is very hard to get out of it. Once you have been framed so that you are Manic Depressive, you start to see yourself in that box. If you're bored and miserable and stressed and unhappy, it must just be because of the Manic Depression, not because there might actually be something in your life making you that way. In a way, it's almost like an excuse. Why should I try to alter my life when I have this convenient "blame this" box I can put everything in?

Anyway, enough with the navel gazing and back to the linking. I found a beautiful quote on The Alternate Lexicon, so perfect that I had to go and dig out the Aspects of Asperbers, the blog it came from. It's crisply and beautifully written, insightful glances into the inner workings of someone with Asperger's, framed with such perceptiveness that someone like me, who is not on the Spectrum, is able to understand and even *relate*. (And also, although it's specifically about Autistic Spectrum disorders, the polite yet insistent demand for mutual *understanding* could really apply to any aspect of neurodiversity.)

One of the most frustrating things about Asperger Syndrome is that I find I sometimes react to certain things in a way that is quite different from what is considered the norm. This is because my brain sometimes perceives things differently from other people, and often has different values and priorities. And so there are times when I can't understand why people are reacting the way they are, and times when people can't understand why I am reacting the way I am.

I think it's important to draw attention to the fact that this lack of understanding goes both ways. I find that when people on the autistic spectrum fail to understand someone's reaction, this is seen as 'lack of empathy' – but, when someone who is not on the autistic spectrum fails to understand the reaction of an autistic person, this is seen as a case of 'autistic people are a puzzle' and a justification for representing us as a jigsaw puzzle piece. These double standards are unhelpful. They place all responsibility for lack of understanding on the autistic person, and create a divide between those who are on the spectrum and those who aren't.

And now the blog has pretty much come round in a circle. Even if you didn't enjoy my whinging, I hope that you enjoyed the links.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Dreams Of Escape

So I'm not a happy bunny recently. You may have guessed that. Or maybe not. I did not realise, over the past few months, how much of my stream of anger and frustration and irritation had been directed at or brief bursts on twitter.

I dream of escape all the time. Even when immersed in work, I've got twitter open in one browser window and googlemaps/streetview open in the other, looking at some landscape of the mind and letting my imagination slip away, anywhere that isn't here. Pricing holidays. Pricing what it would cost not to go on holiday for a week, but on some kind of... sabbatical for several months, a year. And then what?

But didn't my recent holiday to St. Ives with my mum prove anything? Hasn't my entire life of just getting up and running away, another city, another continent, another school, another job, proved anything? The demons are in your head, not in a location, you take them with you. That's true, but although a place can't make you happy, a place, a situation, can make you *unhappy*.

But that's what it is, isn't it, the situation? I'm bored, lonely, depressed. Again.

The bored bit, that's easy to understand. I'm a spoiled brat, I have an overpaid job where I'm absolutely unchallenged, in a field I find morally repugnant. The depressed bit grows out of that, as explained so utterly perfectly in this blog. I could, perhaps, with a lot of effort, and a lot of strife and standing up for myself, enough of a sense of ownership and direction to make this *role* somewhat enjoyable. But the problem is, as always, in order to *do* my job, I have to not think about what it is I actually *do*. Like a vegetarian working in a slaughterhouse, an atheist working for the Catholic church - I have to accept again and again that the product of my work supports something that I believe to be deeply morally indefensible. And if I think too hard about it, the cognitive disconnect starts blowing large chunks out of my psyche.

So there I go, stumbling on, knowing that the way my brain works, the only way for me to enjoy the path is to look up, see the play, the systems, the whole map of the terrain kind of thinking that makes me love what I do (data analysis) - but if I look up, I see the blood everywhere, and the realisation that I can't go on doing this.

So instead, I just dream of escape.

When I quit my job, I'll rent out that millstone of a flat in South London whose mortgage keeps me tied here. I'll take my savings - and fuck, I accidentally have a lot of savings - and go live somewhere remote, somewhere cheap, and just paint paisley and record weird radiophonic burbles until the money runs out.

What is there to keep me in London? I mean, seriously? You know the old addage, "when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life itself." OK, hands up, I *am* tired of life itself. There was a time when the culture - the gigs, the art, the whole multicultural whirl of food and music and experiences to be had - outweighed the obvious massive irritations. (It is expensive, crowded, stressful, uncaring, alienating, the sheer volume of people, literally, in your face, your armpits, crushed up against your skin which makes you start to think of people not as human beings but simply as irritating obstacles to be overcome - you can see why London makes people cruel, unfeeling, manipulative.)

But none of those are the truth of why I loved London. I loved London for the *people*, for the friendships I formed and the connections I made. And where have they gone?

Some of them were just transients themselves, ex-pats and emmigrants, just passing through, went back to where they came from. London is not a place you come from so much as a vortex you pass through, that attracts the young and ambitious and creative with a magnetic force before spinning them around and flinging them off, elsewhere. And even my closest London-native friends are leaving, have left, bound, ironically, for the States. (Which makes me wonder, was it me they actually liked in the first place, or just the veneer that 15 years in that country gave me.)

And the others. The guilt. I am not a nice person. I am not an *easy* person to be friends with. I'm difficult and complicated and demanding, emotionally and intellectually. I *exhaust* people. I exhaust time and patience and goodwill. I'm like the unfixable project, a black hole, and no matter how much energy or effort you pour into being friends with me, yes there will be good times and worse times, but I will never, ever be *fixed*, I will never be *better*. Walking around the coast of Cornwall, you round a huge bay and then another mass of rock, and as you scramble desperately to the top of the headland, you look out and see... another headland, and another one beyond it, endlessly into the shimmering distance.

Burthallan Cliffs

Without the people, London is nothing. I'm tired of making new friends, only to lose them again when I fuck up, in the unfailing way I always do. I want to be a recluse. A real one, not just the crazy neighbour who scuttles away when next door's door opens. I want to be alone, just me and the sky and the sea and my understanding of god. Anyway. I don't even know what I'm saying any more. The end.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Hair Trigger

"Please don't confront me with my failures, I had not forgotten them" - Nico

I'm fairly aware of my faults. Sometimes only too painfully aware of them - and this is why I take negative criticism so harshly. Not because I have some internal image of myself as perfect which is shattered by criticism - but because I am constantly haunted (not necessarily in the "lie awake in the dark and weep for my sins" way, but close enough) by the knowledge of my own failures, my own flaws. I am often riddled with thoughtworms, whereby films of my own worst personal Waterloos play on endless repeat. If I take criticism poorly, it is not because I don't believe it - but because I overwhelmingly, unfailingly do.

Hence the blogging, the constant evaluation and reevaluation, the reframing, the attempts at owning my own experiences and reactions, trying to evaluate whether the constant stream of shit from both inside my head and the confirmations from the outside world are The Truth or distortion. Because the overwhelming bulk of my experiences, getting dumped by friends, sacked from jobs, kicked off communities, etc. points to a preponderance of evidence that actually, yes, I *am* as shit as the negative internal monologue says I am.

And no, this blog isn't any exception.

The things that truly rankle - declarations of "OMG, you have such a hair trigger!" and the old classic "but you *are* so angry" and "you do lose your temper, are you surprised people portray you as a ranter, (even when you're being reasonable)?"

Compare and contrast that with assessments I do accept ("I'm starting to understand why you get upset so often" and "I'm not surprised that [Kate] comes across as slightly embattled sometimes the amount of yapping tools she gets on her back.") and a clearer picture emerges.

"Hair trigger" - really? I admit I'm not a patient person, and I do not suffer fools gladly. I do actually think I've improved on this score - but given the sheer volume of shit that gets lobbed at me when I stick my head over the parapet, I don't feel like I ever get any credit for it from people who have never put their head over a parapet in their life (or indeed, never *had* to). It's like...

First time: Ignore it, let it slide
Second time: Get slightly annoyed
Third time: Would you mind not doing that?
Fourth time: Shout for the moderator
Fifth time: LOSE MY TEMPER

^^^^does this kind of pattern really mean that I have a "hair trigger"?

Weirdly enough, it's the little shit that builds up the most. The big stuff, the out in the open stuff is usually obvious enough to actually dismiss, but it's the little constant, under the radar things, the stuff you'd miss if you were skimming a thread. Then again, it's confirmation bias. If you're alert to something, you tend to find it. People notice their own names, their own viewpoints far more obviously and quickly, especially when confronted with a large, quickly moving source of information. Unfortunately, this also means it's easier to spot negative comments directed at you, or your kind, and much easier to ignore or miss negativity aimed at other people or groups you are not a part of. (And this works both ways.)

If you lose your temper, you lose. And this has *always* reflected more negatively on women than on men. If you're a man who occasionally loses your temper, that makes you a bad-ass, a maverick, a straight-talker, a sharp-shooter, a hip young gunslinger. If you're a woman who occasionally loses your temper, that's it. You are unreliable, hysterical, a "bitch", irrational, emotional, and it means that people never ever have to take you, or your opinions seriously again. Anything you say, no matter how reasonably or friendly, will be dismissed as "ranting."

Yes, yes, that's me relapsing on the old "oh noes, it's because I'm a woman" "excuse" but again, it's the kind of subtle difference in the way the genders are treated that women (who are the focus of this kind of thing) notice and men gloss over, or write off as excuse making. Good old double bind again, isn't it?

I'm aware also, that the unceasing negativity about myself, as fed by all these experiences, is a big part of the reason that people dislike me. Double bind.

Criticism which is revealed by its very mechanism to be paradoxical. It was the classic ILX moment, really, at the exact moment a concern troll was trying to tell me "OMG, I really HATE that you are always going on about how much people dislike you, you are SUCH a drama queen!" and in the time it takes to compose a reply, BAM! "you have been suggest banned" - which means that actually, I'm not such a paranoid, that 51 people in a row have clicked a button saying "we dislike you enough to want you removed from this site."

Even paranoids have enemies. Angry people sometimes have a justified reason to be angry. I don't know what this blog is even trying to accomplish. A defense? Throwing my hands up and going "you're right, I am shit!" ? It doesn't change anything.

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Semiotics of Swearing

WARNING: contains lots of rude bits and bad words, obviously. It is impossible to address the linguistics and implications of swearing without containing some examples.

I've always been fascinated by swearing, from a linguistic point of view. The dynamics of what words are forbidden, what words express our most primal (and often negative) instincts, what words are used to shock, and what our go-to insults and most-bad-thing words are. You can tell a lot about a society or a culture by their swearwords - both what they value and what they denigrate. Words interest me, especially in the totally text-based environs of an internet messageboard, words define, shape and reinforce our worlds. And words and their connotative meanings are bigger than you, despite what you may think your intentions are.

This comes, of course, from another internet forum kerfuffle. (It's the things that really get under people's skin - yours or someone else's - that are worth talking about.) Of course, I've learned the hard way that a lot of people dislike debate because they see any and all disagreement as conflict. I get accused of "ranting" when really I'm just rambling, often thinking out loud about stuff I find - you know - just *interesting*, even if I'm being quite calm and reasonable and thoughtful. I think it means that if I'm talking about emotive topics which produce discomfort or even anger in the reader, they project that feeling onto me or my writing. They're angry, so *I* must be ranting. Riiiiiight.

Update: I have been told that I have misrepresented the views expressed by some people on this thread by condensing several posts/viewpoints for the sake of summary, and by not explicitly stating that there was a variety of other views, some enlightened, some not so. This is a blog. This is not a newspaper, it is not a forum digest, it is not claiming to represent "the truuuuuuuuth!" - it is a a diary, a journal, a record of my *opinion* and *my* experience and interpretation of events. In the past, I would have linked to the thread itself, I have not done so in this case because 1) this post was not meant to be about the thread so much as the things it made me think about (you really don't have to look very far on the internet to find kids using homophobic language, whether "ironically" or not - anything from Facebook to 4chan, or even supposedly "Intelligent" dance music forums, for example, WATMM, will provide you hundreds of examples) and 2) I have since asked to have my account removed from the forum, and all my associated posts have been deleted, making the resulting thread now incomplete.

The argument started about the use of the word "faggot" on a supposedly "satirical" (read: that kind of little boy mocking piss-taking) website, probably intended in the same kind of spirit as Hipster Runoff or @tiestosuperfan. That is, the "satire" is only really obvious to those who are already so deep into the culture as to blur the line between satire and participation. To the outsider, it's either incomprehensible, or indistinguishable due to the narcissism of small difference.

I don't find that kind of humour funny - granted, as a middle aged woman, I am not its targeted audience. To me, the site just read as a sniggering "Let's call people faggots to show that calling people faggots is wrong" and the way its "offensive" content was quoted on the forum (the title of the thread itself being not about the other puerile but non-political blog entries, but the most eye-catching and controversial use of the word "faggot") just seemed to me a kind of childish gleefulness at getting to use the "bad words."

This lead to a discussion of humour and offensiveness, which started out getting at some interesting points, but was derailed by the typical "why are you offended?" and "people need to get off their high horses and stop being offended on other people's behalf." (my emphasis) as if it is only the offense taken that is the problem with Hate Speech. Some people get as far as "You shouldn't use these words because people will get offended" and then stop. This is only part of the story - and it's a part that is very easy to abuse, because it often leads to the kind of victim-blaming whereby one casts the people so "offended" as being to blame because they are "oversensitive", rather than actually accepting the responsibility that one is using terminology - and reinforcing the world-views behind that terminology - which degrades, denigrates, and excludes.

There are words that are loaded, and usages that are inherently bigoted, even if you, yourself, are not. An *action* can still be bigoted (racist, sexist, homophobic) even if you do not, personally, hold those beliefs. Claiming "I'm being ironic!" is not a "get out of the hegemony free" card.

You can see how much people are missing the point by their explanations - "why are we even having this conversation? We're all tolerant here! I mean, most of the time when we insult people by calling them fags, they're not even gay!" Yeah, this is the reason we're still having this conversation. If we lived in a culture where being gay or straight was as much a non-issue as having blue or brown eyes, then you wouldn't view calling someone "a fag" as an insult. We don't live in that world, we live in a world where people can still be criminally penalised or even executed for being gay. Even in the nice, "tolerant" west, we live in a *culture* where gay kids are still bullied about their sexuality to the point of suicide, as shown by recent, high-profile events.

The reason that it's not cute or funny to use "fag" or "gay" as an all purpose insult is NOT because "oh noes, gay people might get offended" - it's because every time you use the word "gay" as just another synonym for "bad" you are reinforcing that cognitive link between "homosexual" and "negative." You are contributing to a culture of homophobia by reinforcing those stereotypes.

And no, claiming this thin veneer of "irony" does not protect one as the writer. Firstly, as someone pointed out, it's Beavis and Butthead syndrome. That the people against whom the irony is most sharply pointed will not understand it as irony, they just see it as reinforcement or even celebration of their own idiocy. Secondly, there is not much difference between an ironic fist and a sincere fist for someone who is on the receiving end of the homophobic attitudes that this writer is perpetuating and reinforcing. Thirdly, that whole "I am so post-homophobic I can make fag jokes ironically" and the audience's response of "I'm so sophisticated I can eye-roll knowingly as I laugh - while we still get to keep the hilarious fag jokes" hides a kind of smug self delusion whereby one's own privilege goes unmentioned and unexamined.

It's no accident that "fag" and "gay" are the insults of choice anywhere that large amounts of young straight males congregate. Choice insults and swearwords cut straight to the heart of a community's worst insecurities. The homophobia expressed by groups of young males speaks directly of this crisis of masculinity (especially in communities where women have been excluded, by accident or design, such as many internet fora) expressed as a kind of "gay panic" or terror at not being seen as masculine enough. (See also feminist writing on Patriarchy: It Hurts Men, Too, as to the negative effects of over-policed gender binaries on males as well as females.)

Other communities have other deep-level insecurities, expressed by their insults-of-choice. A friend on the same thread commented that although he cringed at "gay", he still felt comfortable with a similar use of the word "retarded", even thought the use of "retarded" or "lame" as negatives is generally viewed as ableist, and therefore to be avoided. Among people who view themselves as intellectuals, the fear of being thought of as unintelligent manifests itself around insults aimed at portraying the other as stupid or ignorant. (I do this myself - my reflexive insult is to dismiss an irritant as "stupid" or "thick.") It is, however, a harmful and derogative category error to portray the mixture of the developmentally disabled and mentally ill commonly dismissed as "retarded" as simply a synonym for "unintelligent" or "non-intellectual." It reflects the Able person's fear and denigration of the Disabled under the guise of the intellectual's disdain for the ignorant.

Peel back the layers of any culture's "forbidden words" or "insults of choice" and you will find their deepest fears laid bare. Volumes have already been written about America's relationship with their worst-bad-thing word, "N*gg*r" - a word I cannot even bring myself to even type, let alone say, because, as a liberal, I fear being labelled as a racist or bigot myself as my "worst-bad-thing." I still don't entirely know what it means that the UK's worst-bad-thing word is "cunt" - if this speaks to a pervasive cultural misogyny, or more generally, to a deep-level terror of sex, or the body itself. (See also "bollocks" and "wanker.") The prevalence of scatological swearwords such as "crap" or "shit" can also represent a discomfort with the body, rather than simply its more base functions. Ironically, swearwords such as "hell" or "goddammit" or irreverently invoking the names of deities reflect the importance of religion within a culture, rather than point to a culture's irreligiousness.

If these concepts were not *important* they would lose the power to shock, which is one of the most crucial functions of a swearword - the shock, the rude jerk which the swearword produces mirrors and expresses the rude shock of the annoyance which triggers it. This is why swearwords intrigue me, *what* has the power to shock or "offend." But it is so important to look beyond that shock value, to realise *why* something is shocking, and assess whether that makes your 5-second LOL really worth it. Words do have power. Choose them wisely.

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