How to Listen to People

How often do you meet someone who hears you?  Who listens and focuses on you long enough to grasp what it is that you are going through or trying to say?  And isn’t it a shock when you actually meet someone who stops and listens to what you have to say.  Who makes an effort to understand you, even if it is hard to do, and who tells you, silently, “you matter”?

If you find a person who listens to you, who really takes the time to pause and pay attention to what you are saying, who makes you feel as though you matter in the world, treasure that person as a gift from the heavens.  He or she is not a gift from the heavens, of course, but rather simply another human being in one place at one time.  Mortal.  Fragile.  Fallible.  But infinitely valuable and good.

And if you know someone who is mortal, fragile, and fallible, but infinitely valuable and good, then by all means tell them how much you appreciate them by listening to them.  Don’t interrupt, don’t judge, don’t advise.  Don’t tell stories about yourself that their experience brings to mind.  Don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to your mouth, but hold it, and pause, and say to yourself, “O, I am thinking x and wanting to say it.”  And then go back to listening to the person you are listening to.

You must go at it with your whole heart, with a genuine yearning to understand, to hear, to learn about the other person.  You must be patient with your impatience, and resist the urge to speak.  You must let go of your needs for the time being, and become present, awake, and attentive, to the person you love.  Because you love them you want to hear them.

You want to hear them.  But you haven’t yet had the patience to hear them, not really.   They have even complained, “you don’t listen to me!  You never listen to me!”  Stinging words.  But it is okay.  You are allowed to be imperfect. Forgive yourself, maybe by putting a hand on your heart and murmuring silently, “forgiven, forgiven.”  Recognize what you are feeling, accept what is and treat yourself with kindness.  Only by accepting and loving ourselves can we accept and love others.

Sometimes we are unable to listen, to hear others because we ourselves are so nervous, so relentlessly anxious that we can’t stop the chattering egotism of our own minds.   We can become so guarded, so continually on the watch for attack that we lose the ability to pause and listen curiously and patiently and compassionately to someone who needs us to hear them, and to whom we want to listen.  To listen is to love, to love ourselves and the person to whom we are listening.

Nervousness is just a habit.  If we can never completely unlearn it we can at least try to become aware of it as an habitual, emotional response to a thought, or an habitual, cognitive response to an emotion.   Emotions are okay.  They are real.  Sometimes they are responses to thoughts that may seem to be true but are not really quite right.  We don’t even need to figure out where the train of thoughts and emotions took off from or seems to be going.  We can simply acknowledge that we are “thinking” and, again and again, return to our breath and our hearts and the loving activity of listening.

Trump signs gag rule, harming women world-wide.

Are Pregnant Women Persons? The Assault on Women’s Subjectivity

 

Trump signs gag rule, harming women world-wide.
My uncle Lars (not his real name) was troubled for much of his life.   He had three daughters by two mothers.   Well after his daughters were grown, with children of their own, he impregnated a young Mexican woman–let’s call her Elena–and then had her imprisoned on charges that she was harming “his” fetus with substances.    I do not know whether or not Elena used drugs or alcohol while she was pregnant.   Uncle Lars alleged that she did, and managed have her locked up in a State prison for the duration of her pregnancy, directly in violation of her constitutional rights.

Read moreAre Pregnant Women Persons? The Assault on Women’s Subjectivity

CDC: No alcohol at all for the pre-pregnant

There is no end to the men, mostly, who seek to govern women’s bodies, who deny women freedom, agency, and power.  Now they want to prevent any woman who MIGHT become pregnant from drinking alcohol, even though there is no solid evidence to support such draconian prohibition.

 

Source: CDC: No alcohol at all for the pre-pregnant

Forced Reproduction and the Attack on Women’s Subjectivity

My uncle Lars (not his real name) was troubled for much of his life.   He had three daughters by two mothers.  Well after all of them had children of their own, he took up with a much younger woman, “Elena”,  and got her pregnant with a fetus that turned out to be male.  He would have a son and was determined to name him after himself.  Now, I do not know whether or not Elena used drugs, but he claimed that she did and managed to have her locked up in a State prison for the duration of her pregnancy.  Whether a blood test was administered or not I cannot say.  But I do believe that my uncle and the State violated her rights.
Why was he wrong?  Because taking a woman’s autonomy away from her on the grounds that she is endangering her fetus treats her as though she herself is nothing more than a vessel, an incubator, a thing, an object to be used and abused.  Such action pretends to protect the “unborn child,” the fetus, but actually serves the interests of those who take control of the expectant mother.   In this case, my uncle’s interests overwhelmed Elena’s, and the State sanctioned this takeover.  The fact that Elena was Mexican and poor, in addition to being female, made it harder for her to resist their assault.
In a well-known essay entitled, “Are Mother’s Persons?” (in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Berkeley, UC Press, 1993) Susan Bordo examines legal precedents and gendered attitudes toward the idea of a person as an embodied subject.  She argues that men are allotted constitutional rights to bodily integrity that women are denied in our country.
For example, in the case of McFall v. Shimp (1979), the court protected the bodily integrity of a man who refused to donate his bone marrow to his cousin, who would certainly die of aplastic anemia without it).  In fact, his cousin did die.  In a similar case, a Seattle woman who pressed the court to force the father of her leukemic child donate his bone marrow was denied.  The law sanctions these refusals on the grounds that a person is an embodied subject.  Thus, as Bordo explains, the law of the land insists that,
the body can never be regarded merely as a site of quantifiable processes that can be assessed objectively, but must be treated as invested with personal meaning, history, and value that are ultimately determinable only by the subject who lives ‘within’ it.  According to the doctrine of informed consent, even when it is ‘for the good’ of the patient, no one else–neither relative nor expert–may determine for the embodied subject what medical risks are worth taking, what procedures are minimally or excessively invasive, what pain is minor.

That is the theory of the embodied subject and informed consent.  In practice, this doctrine has not been applied equally.  Women, especially non-white, poor, or non-English-speaking women (women like Maribel), have been treated differently.  As Bordo puts it, “the pregnant poor woman (especially is she is of non-European descent) comes as close as a human being can get to being regarded, medially and legally, as “mere body.”

Again and again the court has forced women to give birth against their will, or have forced women to have Caesareans  in spite of their clearly stated, religious objections to the procedure.  Women, particularly women of color,  have been sterilized without their knowledge or consent.  Consider these cases:
1985:  Pamela Rae Stewart was charged with criminal neglect for failing to follow medical advice during her pregnancy.
1989: Jennifer Johnson, 23 years old, is sentenced to 15 years probation upon her conviction of delivering illegal drugs via the umbilical cord to her two babies.
1990  A Wyoming woman was charged by the police with the crime of drinking while pregnancy and prosecuted for felony child abuse.
1992: A 28 year-old homeless, pregnant, Native American woman, Martina Greywind, mother of six and addicted to paint fumes, is jailed for recklessly endangering her fetus by inhaling vapors.  She is also sentenced (ironically) to 9 months on a State prison farm.  She eventually won her release from jail and had an abortion.
A Massachusetts woman who miscarried after an automobile accident in which she was intoxicated was prosecuted for vehicular homicide of her fetus. (Bordo)
2008: A SC court overturns a conviction of Regina McKnight, who had already  served 8 years in prison on the grounds that she had “murdered” her stillborn infant by using cocaine during her pregnancy. Source: Alternet
Does the State go after fathers for their drug habits, smoking, alcoholism, reckless driving, physcial and psychological abuse of pregnant women?   No.
A recent study at the University of Bristol concludes that there is no evidence that a woman who drink moderately during their pregnancy endanger their fetuses.
Anti-abortion campaigns routinely ignore the personhood of the mother, arguing increasingly that the fetus, even at the zygote state, has more subjectivity than the woman in whose body it is lodged.  In other words, “as the personhood of the pregnant woman has been drained from her and her function as fetal incubator activated, the subjectivity of the fetus has been elevated” (Bordo).
In other words, it is not only women’s reproductive rights that are being challenged, but women’s status as subjects, embodied persons with inherent rights to say what can and cannot be done to them, that are being threatened by the anti-abortion crusaders.  These opponents of women’s autonomy have launched an assault against the personal integrity of women, whom they would reduce to fetal containers of beings whose rights exceed their own.
What makes pregnant women different than the kind of individuals that Locke, Hobbes, Descartes and others envisioned, is that women have the capacity to contain within the “other” within them.  When we are pregnant we are not singular, and certainly we have a responsibility as ethical human beings to nurture the beings we intend to bring into the world.  But we do not lose our bodily integrity and rights to self-determination the moment we become pregnant. 
 It is wrong to compel women to incubate a zygote or fetus that she does not wish to mother.  It is also wrong to force her, with force, imprisonment, or other coercive measures, to behave in a way that others do not consider acceptable during her pregnancy because that denies her right to self-determination.
To finish the story, a few years after the birth of Lars Jr., my uncle committed suicide.  No one knows where Elena took her son, who is my first cousin and the brother of my uncle’s three daughters. I don’t know why Lars killed himself, or whether Elena left him before he did so.  There is a tragic justice to her disappearance.  Why would she want to be associated with the family of a man who turned her into the police and had her jailed until she delivered “his” baby?  I hope she returns to us.  I would love to know her and welcome  my unknown cousin to the fold.

On Pantanjali, the Self, and why I practice and teach yoga

The aphorisms composed by the Hindu siddha guru Pantanjali, who flourished in India during the second century B.C.E., are among the oldest and most revered scriptures of yoga teachings. Yoga was originally a practice of meditation designed to awaken higher consciousness about the universe.  In the Sutras, Pantajali explains that the purpose of yoga is to “disarm the causes of suffering and to achieve integration” of the self with the universe (Yoga-Sutras of Pantanjali, translated by Chip Hartranft, Sutra 1-9). Ignorance of one’s true nature is the source of suffering (dukha), he says.  This ignorance (avidya—lit. “not seeing”) is an inability to understand that there is no such thing as a separate, individual self.

The concept of an isolated self, or ego, is a construction, produced by experiences and reinforced by cultural conditioning.  In other words, the “I” is the sum  of conditioned responses to experiences—good and bad—that reiterate the false impression that there is any other way to be.  One imagines that one’s self is always either an active agent or passive victim, the hurter or the stricken.  Resistant to change, the “I” dwells in the inertia or tamas, stuck in a polarized sense of a self that exists only through the experience of opposition, of “me” vs. “them”, “self” and “other,” as well as in false notions of the self as divided into similarly opposed arenas of “goodness” and “evil,” “acceptable” and “unacceptable.”

To move past this dukha, suffering, born of avidya, ignorance, we need to engage in action, Kriya.  But energetic effort is only useful if it is expended in the right direction, towards sadhana, realization.  Thus, for example, action taken in response to anger or guilt or self-righteousness will not take us where we want to go.  It leads into more suffering, not away from it.

In 2.12-16 Pantanjali considers the causes of suffering (samskara), which can either affect us immediately or lie dormant for a while.  A dormant or latent cause of suffering can be activated by a weaker, more trivial experience of unpleasantness, which allows the older “root” to erupt and overwhelm the mind and body.  Yoga helps us to break down this conditioned experience.

Moving through the postures (asanas) day after day, week after week, we experience the impermanence of all emotions, abilities, and states of being.  Some days I am strong.  Some days I am weak.   Most days the practice of yoga itself allows me to tune in to what I am experiencing.   When my mind and body, reason and emotions, are integrated, I recognize that my “self” or sense of an “I” is not fixed or even definable.   Rather the “I” is a pattern of consciousness that shifts and moves continuously, always in response to one thing or another.

The regular tuning into the body and the mind through practice allows me to distance myself from my habitual understanding of myself as a “self” existing in opposition to an ‘it” or an “other.”  Thus I recognize that we are all connected beings.  My experience of aversion, or opposition, to others itself is a fleeting body/mind energy, a pattern, an acquired habit of interpreting reality, and not necessarily a necessary way to be.

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Gelek Rimpoche

Tibetan Buddhist lama Rimpoche Nawang Gehlek relates a wisdom from seventh-century Indian pundits:

You can look carefully at suffering itself to see if it can be corrected or not.  If it can be corrected, put all your effort into correcting it.  If there’s nothing to be done about it, why be unhappy?  The unhappiness only adds more suffering to the suffering.

Like the Buddha, who lived approximately 400 years before him,  Pantanjali recognized that suffering is unavoidable.  Like the Buddha, he also believed that “suffering that has not yet arisen can be prevented.” What does this mean?  Hardship, pain, dukkha, is unavoidable, but we often add to our own suffering by shooting what the Buddha called the “second arrow.”

The Buddha once asked a student, “If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful?” The student replied, “It is.” The Buddha then asked, “If the person is struck by a second arrow, is that even more painful?” The student replied again, “It is.” The Buddha then explained, “In life, we cannot always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. The second arrow is optional.

The first arrow is the suffering itself, however it came about.  We experience a loss, someone is cruel or rude to us, we experience an injustice or a trauma.  We cannot control that, but we can control how we react to the first arrow.   If beat ourselves up about how we feel, if we blame ourselves for being weak, or indulgently feel very sorry for ourselves, we shoot the second arrow at ourselves.

We don’t have to do this.  Why do we do it?  Because we are conditioned to think of the self, the “I” as a fixed and determined entity.   If we simply accept the suffering, acknowledge that it is there without imagining that this particular experience of suffering somehow defines who the “I” is, we can prevent extra suffering.

The conscious, patient, focused practice of breathing and moving through asanas allows us temporarily to step aside from our punishing habits, the products of ignorance, avidya, and to glimpse what it feels like to refuse to send the second arrow.

I don’t agree with Pantanjali that the goal of yoga is to allow purusha to see itself (2.20), or to realize some absolute truth about existence.  My practice of yoga does not carry me further towards salvation or to the understanding that the “phenomenal world exists to reveal” (2.21) “fundamental qualities of nature” (2.19), which exist somehow somewhere else, in some abstract realm of purusha, perfect, “pure awareness” (Hartranft, 27).

No.  For me, yoga is both a means and an end, a dynamic method of awakening whereby we understand anguish (dukha), let go of its origins or causes, realize that dukha ends, and cultivate the path, the method of awakening itself.

As Stephen Batchelor, a former Zen and Buddhist monk who now leads a secular Buddhist group in England, writes,

The Buddha was not a mystic.  His awakening was not a shattering insight into a transcendent Truth that revealed to him the mysteries of God.  He did not claim to have had an experience that granted him the privileged, esoteric knowledge of how the universe ticks.”  Buddha did not found a religion.  He taught a practice for actively awakening, an ongoing, conscious effort to free ourselves from habitual impulses and irrational, false illusions.

This is how I understand yoga.  Yoga is an ongoing, conscious effort to awaken, not to any particular truth, but rather to free ourselves from the need for fixed truth.

My intention is not to proselytize or preach, but rather to guide people to find sthira and sukha, strength and ease, to “come home” (as Tara Brach likes to say) to whatever is actually going on in the body and mind by moving, breathing, stretching, and resting in various positions, asanas that stimulate awakening.

Patty’s Story, Or, Why Women Stay with their Abusers

When she got pregnant and wanted to keep the baby, the father of the child said he would have her beaten until she miscarried.   Terrified, she hid from him.  She eventually went back and stayed with him after the baby, a girl, was born.  She stayed for years, even after he began to hit her.  She was smart, educated, and never thought that she’d become one of “those women.” How did she join the substantial numbers of women in our country–one in every four–who have suffered domestic violence?

He was wealthy and powerful.  She was 20 and just out of school and landed a job working as his secretary.  He quickly became the center of her world.  He isolated her from her friends and family.  He owned the car she drove and the house she lived in.  He was her boss.  During the beginning of their relationship, she thought that his demands on her time were an expression of his love for her.  She did not recognize the patterns of emotional and financial abuse closing around her.

When their daughter was born, Patty wanted to file with the court to ensure that he would support the child. He talked her out of it.  He needed to control the situation completely.  She believed him when he said he would take care of her and her child, but her fear grew.

Four years later, the little girl discovered her father strangling her mother.  “Daddy!” she screamed.  He threw her mother onto a cement floor, knocking her out.

When their daughter began telling people in the neighborhood that her daddy hit her mommy, Patty tried to hush her.  She was afraid of what he would do to her if he found out.  But then she realized that she didn’t want her daughter to grow up thinking that it was normal and acceptable for men to treat women this way.  She enrolled in counseling sessions at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.  With the help of their legal services team, she began the long fight for her freedom.

He fired her.  He took the car.  He took the house.   She faced homeless and poverty, but she refused to live in fear any longer.  Patty found a job at a church, and later took another position in a law firm.  Thanks to her determination and the support she received from the Women’s Center and Shelter, she extricated herself from her abuser, and eventually bought her own house and her own car.

Why didn’t Patty leave earlier?  It’s simple.  He had terrified her.  Thank goodness she found help for herself.  Thank goodness for the fantastic people at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.

Domestic abusers like Patty’s boss and partner terrorize and erode their victims’ self-confidence in many ways without bruising their bodies.

  • They isolate them from friends and family by pretending to care for them more than anyone else ever could.
  • They threaten to withdraw their affection from the woman who has no other support system.
  • They dominate their lives by controlling their finances, by setting themselves up as the sole source of income, the sole source of food, shelter, and clothing.
  • They treat their victims like children, encouraging them to think that they are helpless or too stupid to take care of themselves.
  • They react jealously whenever their victim shows the slightest interest in other human beings, particularly other men.
  • They demand that their victims demonstrate their devotion continuously, with greater and greater displays of affection.
  • They belittle their victims through allegedly harmless “jokes,” negative innuendos, and put-downs.
  • They deliberately manipulate their victims with guilt trips in order to keep them under their thumbs.

The most telling sign of an abusive relationship is fear of your partner. If you find yourself walking on eggshells, worrying that the slightest mishap will set your partner off into a rage,  the chances are that your relationship is abusive.

If you believe that you are in an abusive relationship, please do not hesitate to reach out for help.  Immediately call the WC&S 24-hour hotline:  412-687-8005. Someone will help you.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233

Note: Patty recounted her story at the 2010 Spring Clothes Out Fundraiser for the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh.  You can read more about her in the Summer 2010 issue of Rosewood.

Immigration and violence against women

The latest battle around immigration will concern the citizenship rights of children born to “illegal” immigrants, today’s New York Times predicts.   It seems some loud-mouthed policymakers in Arizona and other states want to deny the right of some babies born in the US to be Americans.    While the obvious argument against this misguided, anti-immigration strategy is that it arises from a racist, xenophobic desire to keep hispanic, asian, and other people out, I want to discuss the ways in which we should understand it as yet another expression of misogyny and patriarchal politics.

Consider the site of this particular battle: pregnant women.  The current effort to deny citizenship to the offspring of certain children is a direct and bold effort to manipulate women’s reproduction.  White men, such as Russel Pearce, who achieved notoriety for introducing the legislation that makes it a crime to be an “illegal” immigrant in Arizona, want to harras, demonize and punish women for giving birth where and when he says they should not.  In an email quoted by Virilatino, Pearce fulminates:

“If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.”

The wacko vision is that women deliberately enter the country and “drop” their babies, which become “anchors” that will allow hordes of relatives to slip in and steal jobs from Northern Americans.  There are a number of different and perfectly innocent ways that an immigrant can be charged with “illegal” status, but Pearce and his nasty, misogynist cronies want to “target” all women who fall into this category as though they were a herd of deer or rabbits.  They’ve declared open season and armed their rifles.

As the law currently stands, in this country as well as in a number of other new world nations, the citizenship of a person is determined according to jus soli, a Latin term meaning “right of the soil.”   Meddling reactionaries want to change the law so that citizenship will be determined according to jus sanguinis, which literally means “law of blood.”  They want effectively to overturn the 14th Amendment, which says that it doesn’t matter who the mother is, or what the race, class, or ethnicity of the child is,  but only where that child is born, that confers citizenship.   This important protection was hard-won against racists who wanted to prevent the descendants of African slaves from becoming Americans.

In the battle against undocumented and “illegal” immigrant mothers and their children today, just like in the battle against African-American slaves and their children before the Dred Scott decision, women are considered to be little more than animals that men impregnate, control, and move around for their own benefits.   Why and how a woman has come into this country, or stayed here, or, more importantly, why and how she has become pregnant and then decided to go through with the pregnancy, do not interest the men and women who want to change the law.  Their overriding concern is to limit and control the reproduction of immigrants in order to protect the interests of what they call “natives” (and they don’t mean native Americans).  By Pearce’s own admission, the best way to do that is to “target the mother.”

Let us  return to the opening scene from today’s NYT article:

NOGALES, Ariz. — Of the 50 or so women bused to this border town on a recent morning to be deported back to Mexico, Inez Vasquez stood out. Eight months pregnant, she had tried to trudge north in her fragile state, even carrying scissors with her in case she gave birth in the desert and had to cut the umbilical cord.

“All I want is a better life,” she said after the Border Patrol found her hiding in bushes on the Arizona side of the border with her husband, her young son and her very pronounced abdomen.

Now imagine what Pearce and his gang want to do to this woman:

Writing and Pontificating

I woke up a lot earlier than I had meant to this morning and was driven out of bed by remorse and anxiety.  I knew that I had not quite gotten out what I had meant to say in my previous post, and wanted to address it.  It took me all day to figure out how to do it.

I simply deleted everything that I didn’t want to say, or, rather, that I didn’t want to be recorded as having written.

This must be a disease peculiar to writers and politicians and members of the clergy: the compulsion to pontificate and the equally powerful anxiety about being held to one’s utterances.   This is a desire to be seen and heard that ceaselessly fights with the worry that you will be seen and heard and everyone will see that you are imperfect.   And then there is the fear that they will stop listening to, or reading you, and you will no longer be able to pay the bills, and then they will think bad thoughts about you.   Sometimes there is the fear, for example, that they will  think that you are not a nice person.  Or  that your readers or auditors might find you  rude, or unkind, or uncouth, or clumsy, or left-handed, or insane.  But if you are an academic writer, especially,  the worst thing that they could possibly think about you is that you are not smart.

For two reasons:

Either:

Because smart is what you are selling in this business.  Smart characterizes the commodity. And certain of your colleagues in this business will no longer associate with you because your lack of smartness might make them look less smart.  Smart defined,  of course, not as “really well turned out” or “put together,” but rather as “hyper-intelligent,” “brilliant,” “creative,” “uniquely productive of intellectual commodities.”

Or:

Because you yourself are really invested in being perceived as smart due to some terrible insecurity.  I think it is called imposter syndrome.  It is the fear that they will see through the pose, the mask, the pretence of knowledge, scientia, truth,  revelation, salvation.  You don’t actually know what salvation or sapientia, sophia, wisdom, is, and you have a sneaking suspicion that you have been faking it all this time and they will find you out at last.  And then they will stop liking you.  And then you will be alone.

And then? And then you will have to find different friends, and these friends could be human or animal or plant or mineral.

I don’t know why I always end up careening into saccharine preachiness and the pedagogical mode.  I’m not really that comfortable with it.  I doubt myself all the time, and wish that I were more certain about things than I am.

Like most people, I want to come to a quick conclusion, a moral of the story, because I  am attached to binary oppositions: dumb and smart, black and white, male and female, right and wrong, sane and crazy, rational and emotional, right and left, conservatives and radicals, sacred and  profane, sight and blindness, sun and moon, light and darkness, up and down, west and east, north and south, climbing and falling, dry and wet, hot and cold, salty and sweet, outside and inside.  These are the coordinates with which we map our universe, our experience of reality.  I know in my heart that they are both against and for one another, that they are together, not really separate.  The truth is far more complicated, far muddier.

I know this because I feel it but can’t quite articulate what It is.

Well, some of us can, or pretend do.  I think the job, the duty that one takes on when one signs up to be a minister of the word in a church or a university is to pretend to know the truth.  Popular preachers and professors are good at explaining everything they know and how all of it all hangs together, and passing this off as CORRECT.  For they know as well as I do that we need to make a profit in order to survive in this particular economic system, and that therefore it pays to be the person who can deliver the package, THE TRUTH,  in easily digestible chunks.

Sometimes I don’t know what  I’m thinking or doing.  I don’t always take responsibility for my mistakes, and I should.  Look.  I’m trying.  Seriously.  But it is not clear to me than an apology is what is needed here, but rather something more like a tirade.  But I can’t really work myself up into the lather of it all, because I never quite believe what I’m saying. And, yes,  I find this smug posture of ambivalence and fascination with ambiguity and “greyness” and fuzziness incredibly annoying, too.

So, fine! Grand denial, radical refusal to get carried away, big deal.  Haven’t we seen this all before in Hamlet?  And Hamlet is an idiot.  And so is Romeo, and lots of the handsome, dashing types in Shakespeare.   The handsome, dashing type is usually an asshole, so pleased with himself.  But you can find the exact same attitude of superior put-upon-ness in the working classes, or in among any oppressed group.  They can display the same dramatic self-indulgence and refusal to take responsibility for the mess that we have all, together, gotten into. All this posturing, by women, by men…

I’m starting to pontificate again, and so it’s best to stop.

Being alone in Colorado

2 October 2010

My mother died on this day 30 years ago.

Being alone in Colorado during the day.

When I’m in Pittsburgh I’m immersed in noise.  City noise–boom boxes and explosive car radios, trash trucks, jack hammers, car alarms, planes, helicopters,  that incredibly irritating back-up sound that goes Beep, Beep, Beep, insanely, driving you insane; trucks driving or idling, for no apparent reason,  buses, motorcycles, leaf blowers, people walking down the street who converse by shouting at one another from either side of the road.  In the 19th century the steam engine was thought to be a kind of devil, roaring through the world and practically tearing people’s ears off.  But it seems to me that the devils of the 20th and early 21st centuries are machines powered by gasoline.

When I “relax” I turn on the television, usually quite loud so that I can hear it over the noise in my neighborhood, and when I go “out” to “relax” and have a drink, I go into a bar where there is usually a television blaring or music drowning out the silence that city people have apparently no ability to deal with.  And speaking of bars.  It’s annoying enough that there is a television to deal with, but what I don’t understand is why the t.v. always has to be tuned to golf or baseball or football?  Why can’t it be Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Six Feet Under or Battlestar Galactica?  Let it be CNN or even that republican machine, Fox News.  Are city bars only populated by sports fans?

But here, where I am now, I hear virtually nothing but the sound of my own breathing, the dogs, three of them, following me here and there, their panting, the cat meowing to be let in the door that he knows he doesn’t usually go through, the wind, if there is any, the very rare car passing by.  If I want to hear something, I can play something on my computer, through itunes.  There’s a t.v. here but nothing on.  Nothing means: nothing I care to watch or listen to. And the radio isn’t much better.  Colorado stations seem to feature NPR most hours of the week, but so much of that programming seems to have to do with authors excessively pleased with themselves, who really don’t have that much to say, in fact.  Or that idiotic program, Car Talk, with the brothers whose laughter is so obviously forced it grates.  They don’t laugh because they’re amused, but rather because they’re uncomfortable.  Or so it sounds.  Why would anyone want to listen to the sound of forced, uncomfortable laughter, when one could listen to silence in one’s car or house?

But how rare is it to “hear” silence, to be able to think for one’s self, in quietude?  We live in cacophony and wonder why it is that we are continually getting sick from “stress.”

I’m not lonely.  There are three dogs here–Bear, Blackjack, and Kea, in order of importance.  Bear is a good friend, even though he begs too much.  Blackjack snores in his sleep and I find the sound comforting.  Kea is always way more excited to see me that I think she will be.

I love being able to do exactly what I feel like doing.  I can walk, dance, cook, and drink. I drink as much wine as I feel like drinking.  I’ve been cooking a lot and finding that I have lost my taste for meat.  It is good to be alone; to be with myself for an extended period of time, in the quiet, without a schedule, without quantification, just being.  I go to be around 8:30 and get up at 5 or 6.  I live as I want to.  It is wonderful.

Being alone in Colorado at night.

I had to go to Hotchkiss this afternoon and didn’t turn back until after dark.   Halfway home I stopped along the road, turned off the engine and the lights, and got out to look at the sky.  A dog at a nearby farm was barking but it fell silent.  So many stars.   It had been a long time since I had seen the Milky Way.

It’s hard to comprehend how we could be “in there” when, from earth, it looks as though it is “up” or “out there.”   And when I remember that it is not a water-cloud, but a star-cloud, and that the opacity of “out there” is more or less how our “over here” looks to the beings on that side of the galaxy, it’s harder to grasp.

Is it like the relationship between Self and Other?  We dismiss or underestimate or simply forget about or try to kill the Other because it is other, because we can’t stand the difference in the color of their skin, or the way they eat, or walk, or express affection, or believe, or vote, or fish.  What we’re missing out on when we allow these differences between to divide us is that we are not “here” and “there” but, rather, together, bound up in the same web, the same world.  There’s a German word for this, mitsein.  It means “being with”  So, it is possible to say, in German, not only “ich bin,” I am, which is a pretty powerful thing to say, actually.  But it is  also possible to say “ich bin mit,” I am with.

As I got back on the road I thought about how insignificant I was, in my tiny little car, soft flesh clothed in an exoskeloton driving along on a capillary.  So often I think of myself as the center of the universe, a “me” an individual, isolated sun, and that what I am doing is of infinite importance, and must come before all other things.  The sky above seemed so vast, so much greater than this personal scenario, this whole world. But then I thought about the complexity beneath the tires on the road, and beneath and beside the road, all the birds and skunks and snakes and lizards and toads, and the insects that they eat, and the hives and burrows that the creatures build,  and the thread-like paths that ants leave, and the smaller ones, the mites, the tiny larvae, all busily going about and around And then I thought about smaller things that you can only see under microscopes, and all the organisms that make up dirt, in which the plants grow.  So I felt better.

And when I got home the three dogs were so happy to see me they danced. Blackjack ran around the yard with his enormous teddy bear in his mouth, and Kea wagged her whole back body at me, and Bear was love-dumb as always.  I laughed at them and said, “Hello, Friends!”

Arizona, Aliens, and Abortion

What do two laws recently signed by the Republican Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, have in common?  Both unreasonably invade the privacy rights of human beings.  Both laws treat some people as more “alien” and less human than others.

The most talked-about law, SB 1070, makes it a crime to be a woman (or a man) walking or breathing in Arizona without the right identity papers.   SB 1070 effectively legalizes racial profiling and definitively authorizes the police to require anyone–anyone at all–to show evidence that they are not “aliens.”  That word choice is sickeningly ironic, since fear and hatred  for people who don’t look, speak, and act the way that the dominant group thinks they should have inspired this legislation.  And it gets worse!  The law actually allows any Arizonan who thinks that the browner people in the State have not been sufficiently interrogated to bring a lawsuit.

The second law, SB 1305,  is being called a “mini-Stupak” and is the first in the nation to prohibit insurers in the state-run health care exchange “from providing coverage for abortions unless the coverage is offered as a separate optional rider for which an additional insurance premium is charged.”  Mcjoan, writing on the Daily Kos, notes that his bill

prevents insurers from offering abortion services, except under the most extreme circumstances, even if only private money were used to pay for those services. Most if not all women in the exchange would only be able to purchase coverage through an impractical, separate abortion “rider” or leave the exchange entirely and find coverage in the shrinking individual health insurance market. Since it’s unlikely that many insurers will offer abortion riders or that women will purchase them in anticipation of needing an abortion — in fact, “in the five states where abortion riders are currently required, no insurance company offers them” — the Arizona law will severely disadvantage poorer women who would likely have to pay out of pocket for abortion services.

Immigrants are often the poorest people.  This law makes it even harder for immigrant and other women of poor means to make their own choices about their reproductive health.  It effectively forces some women who have gotten pregnant to stay that way.

Let’s just forget about how economically foolish it is to pass a law that will result in the expansion of the very population that the xenophobic racists in the state would like to reduce, and consider the way that both laws invade the privacy of individuals.

Our legal tradition places an incredibly high value on bodily integrity.  Over 100 years ago, the US Supreme Court stated:

No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right to every individual to the possession and control of his [sic] own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by a clear and unquestionable authority of law.  As well said by Judge Cooley, “The right to one’s person may be said to be a right of complete immunity: to be let alone.”

[cit. Susan Bordo, “Are Mother’s Persons?” in Unbearable Weight(UC Press, 1993)]

The women and men who voted for the laws that Governor Brewer signed recently violate the basic right to “be left alone” that the Supreme Court acknowledged so long ago.

Anyone who looks like an “alien,” who doesn’t walk and talk in a way that pleases an Arizona officer of the law has now just lost the right to the possession and control of his or her own person and bodily integrity.  As Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ)  exclaimed,

This is a slide back on the rights of each and every American,…Arizona has become ‘a show me your papers’ state. I read the Arizona law, and it’s just replete with the type of broad descriptions that invite discrimination, that invite racial profiling, that invite violations of constitutional rights and civil rights.

The anti-choice legislation that Brewer signed makes it legal for insurance companies to  treat women as less than human than men, who do not need to sign any special riders for legal, medical procedures that can only be performed on men, such as a vasectomy, or treatments for testicular cancer.  Abortion is legal in the United States of America, and insurance companies should not be allowed to discriminate against women by treating procedures that only women undergo differently than procedures than only men undergo.

The Arizona legislation is designed to invade women’s privacy and to prevent women from exercising their constitutional right to terminate their pregnancies.

So are two anti-choice laws recently passed in Oklahoma.  The governor of that state, Brad Henry, a Democrat, vetoed both laws.  The legislature voted to override.  One of them requires a doctor or technician to set up an ultrasound monitor so the woman can see the fetus before she aborts it.  The doctor or technician must then describe its heart, limbs and organs.  No exceptions are made for rape and incest victims.  This legislation is designed to torment and punish a woman for exercising her constitutional right to choose.

The other law, as Governor  Henry explained, grants “a physician legal protection to mislead or misinform pregnant women in an effort to impose his or her personal beliefs on a patient.”  It protects doctors who withhold information about the disability or malformation of the fetus from suing after birth.

Let us not forget what the anti-choicers are after:  they want to force every women who gets pregnant, no matter how, to stay pregnant.

They want to the law to reflect their belief that women’s bodies are nothing more than incubators, and that a woman’s body, faith, rationality, psychological and/or physical well-being are secondary to the so-called “right to life” of a mass of cells.

This theologically driven agenda treats the fetus–or even a zygote–as a “human being” endowed with “rights” that override the rights of a living, breathing adult woman.   Susan Bordo refers to this way of thinking as the “subjectification of fetal being” that points out that it amounts to an attack on the personhood of women:

The nature of pregnancy is such …that to deprive the woman of control over her reproductive life–whether by means of involuntary or coerced sterilization, court-ordered cesarean, or forbidden abortion–is necessarily also to mount an assault on her personal integrity and autonomy (the essence of personhood in our culture) and to treat her merely as pregnant res extensa, material incubator of fetal subjectivity.

Anti-choicers who subscribe to this thinking deliberately disregard the beliefs, choice, health, and well-being of the mother while they elevate  the thing inside of her to the status of a “super subject” whose alleged rights supercede her own.

Anti-choicers treat the mother as the “alien” or the “thing” whose rights are less meaningful than the fetus inside. They  elevate their will and desires over the will and desires of those others.  In short, they regard pregnant women as “aliens” whose rights to breathe, walk, work, and make choices are non-existent in comparison to the rights of the narrow-minded people who  change the laws.

What have the people of Arizona have just shown us?  that it’s not just Mexicans, Latinos, and other darker-skinned people  whom they treat  as less than human “aliens,” but also women, especially mothers.