Friday, January 29, 2021

Review retrospective: Greatest Guitar Songs

I am trying to order these chronologically, but that is rarely simple. Start and end dates are often far apart, and often my only clues to when something was happening are in the blog.

However, I know exactly when I got the idea to go over Rolling Stone's 100 Greatest Guitar Songs: April 5th, 2012. That was the day Jim Marshall, inventor of the Marshall stack died, and they were playing songs from that list on the radio to honor him. 

The reason it intrigued me was that was during the time period when I was memorizing My Chemical Romance, and they did have great guitar. The New Wave music I loved in the '80s was a lot more into synthesizer, and the punk rock that I started to love later did have guitars, but often less skillfully used, compensated for by the energy and attitude. 

I was starting to realize what guitars could do.

The list was very disappointing. 

Delving into the comments on that was not so disappointing. 

It took a long time. Based on blog posts, I had finished the original list and decided to go through the comments in April 2012, so that was not that long. I was listening to about ten songs a day, if I recall.

I then posted an update in October, and did not finish until the following August. That had gone from 100 songs to 179 notes of songs, albums, musicians and bands, sometimes not well specified.

Let me also point out that I wrote nine full blog posts about the project in August; "The trouble with internet comments" was just the first.

I also created a Spotify playlist, "Guitar Sampler", which tries to build a history, but then crams in my favorite bands at the end, completely legitimately. 

I was introduced to Magazine, Gang of Four, Richard Hell, Wolfmother, and Dinosaur Jr. I gained a greater appreciation of Lindsey Buckingham, David Bowie, and Django Reinhardt. I found some gaps, which I will spend some time on next week.

For this round of songs I wanted to focus on some songs and artists that were previously unknown to me.

Obviously I did already know Run-DMC and David Bowie, but I had not known these songs, and I was glad to find them. They gave me new insights.

I am sure I had heard of Satriani, but I don't think I had heard any of his work, and a song based on comic books? Sweet!

The rest were completely new to me, and pretty good to know.

Daily songs for 1/29/21 through 2/5/21:

“Through the Fire and Flames” by Dragonforce

“Been There All the Time” by Dinosaur Jr.

 “Surfing with the Alien” by Satriani

“Rock Box” by Run-DMC

“Shot By Both Sides” by Magazine

“Chick Magnet” by MXPX

“Jean Genie” by David Bowie

Thursday, January 28, 2021

The subtle misogyny of "Smile, Sweetie! You'll look so much prettier."

Saturday night I posted my first week of selfies. 

Like clockwork, a man commented on how I look better when I smile. 

I smacked that down, even though I am confident he meant no harm. My doing so could easily be construed as rude; I mean, it's really a compliment, right? 

I shall now -- for all of the men, not just this one -- explore the issues with that exchange so that there is an internet record that can be used for quick reference on the topic. It will come up again, just as it has happened before.

(I have the strangest urge to start every segment "First of all," but they won't all really be first, so I'm going to fight it.)

There is a lot of gendered socialization that it is easy not to think about. With a little effort you can notice patterns.

If you are not a member of the dominant gender, noticing is significantly easier.

I have noticed over the years that when I disagree with a man, it annoys him a lot more than when a man disagrees with him. Pointing that out is super-offensive.

Once annoyed, if he doesn't really know me so is not constrained by politeness (more often on Twitter), he will make some criticism of my looks, most likely about me being fat. If we have common connections where the rudeness of calling me fat could draw censure (more often on Facebook), he will probably make a dismissive comment about my "little" blog.

I am big, my blog is little. Both are seemingly insults, but also factual. 

My blog serves my purposes, and I am pretty happy with it. I know how to adjust if my goals change.

I have had a harder time being happy with my body, but so much of that has been because of the stigma on how disgusting and wrong fat is. That may be cloaked in concern about health, but that paradigm ignores a lot of other things that are both bad and good for health, focusing on what is considered attractive. Then it comes up more for women, for whom it is important to be attractive for men. 

I have to reject this system; it has caused me nothing but grief. 

I know I look better when I smile. It is worth considering how painful that comment could be for someone who is insecure about her teeth, but we're going to move past that for now to some other questions:

  • Why does being pretty matter?
  • Why should your opinion on my prettiness matter?

Other things that could make me look prettier include weight loss, cosmetics, better clothes, and being able to afford getting to my hair stylist. (I trimmed my own hair in desperation two days ago, and I bought the clearance box of hair dye to save $3.)

Those all (if even possible) have costs of at least time or money; sometimes both! And yet they are expected of women, even though women get paid less for all labor and are expected to do more of the unpaid labor. Then that's not enough, because we still need to look good. 

I reject that, and there are difficulties with that rejection.  

I am currently looking for a job. My appearance will factor into how others perceive me, how much they want to hire me, and what they will pay me.

That's only one potential area of conflict. Rejecting male expectations sometimes gets me unfriended on Facebook and on Twitter sometimes I have to block. 

(I don't worry about a lot of harassment there, because like my blog my Twitter presence is small, and I escape a lot of notice. There are advantages to that, especially without a lot of resources.)

However, it becomes much more dangerous in the real world. If I get that request for a smile and smack it down at a bus stop, I could end up injured, raped, or dead. No, not all men will do it, but the ones who will are not conveniently labeled. Women  have to guess which is which. They do it all they time.

I can't change that, but I don't owe you a smile.

Here's the funny thing with the last comment: I was smiling in 6 of the 7 pictures (masked in two, but I think you can still tell). Then there was one funny face with gritted teeth. 

(This next week will be mainly funny faces too, but that was already planned; it's not a reaction.)

One of the joys of this round of #365feministselfie (my third) is that I look so much happier. The last time I did it, life was grinding me down and I hated seeing it in my face over and over again. It was a relief when that year ended.

So when I got a similar comment the last time, I was indeed looking sad.

That commenter and I had talked about a lot of things; it might not have been unreasonable for him to message me, "Hey, you look sad. Is there anything I can do?"

Of course, that would be emotional labor; that's for chicks.

In fact, the sadness wasn't anything he could have helped with, really, and he may have known that. When someone is going through a hard time, for something that is physically and emotionally exhausting, hmm, what  could be a helpful thing to say?

"I like it better when you smile."

I am so sorry that with all of the other things I have to do, I have forgotten about pleasing you.

In Kate Manne's Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, she finds (I'm paraphrasing) the essence of misogyny to be the expectation of women being at men's disposal. It's not that every woman serves every man, but she should be providing some service to some man, which definitely includes stroking and stoking the ego. 

I assume this is why when men who have been creepily hitting on a woman find out she is married, they apologize to her husband. Her discomfort doesn't matter, but encroaching on his territory does. As long as she belongs to someone, right?

This probably also explains why a Marketing professor with 344K followers is blaming the Reddit/Gamestop thing on young men not having enough sex.

(A lot of "incels" do get sex, by the way. They just feel that the women they are getting it with are not sufficiently hot.)

There's always a reason it's women's fault.

You may be thinking "It isn't that deep!" but you don't control the depth. That is done by the existing framework. If we accomplish enough structural change to where there is true equality that takes the pressure off of your comments, then we'll see how it feels. Maybe my security will mean I won't mind your comments, and maybe your security will allow you to give better compliments about me as a real person instead of a contestant in a beauty pageant who needs your advice.

I am lucky to be in a place now where I am okay with myself, and I don't have to manage that much danger. Usually my question is not whether it is safe to say something, but whether it is worthwhile.

If I am telling you to do better, it is because I believe that you are capable of doing so.

It's really a compliment.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021


I felt I did the genogram "wrong", but I have to put that in quotes because those terms can be highly subjective. I did benefit from it, and those benefits probably make sense for the activity.

In addition, one of my results feels very important to go into before doing the next section.

I found this activity in The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma by James S. Gordon. This link is from his organization, the Center for Mind-Body Medicine:

I did mine in two sessions, because I didn't want to do a bunch of graphing that first night - find paper and all of that - but I thought I could at least get down what I knew about the stories and relationships in my journal. I went back and drew all of the names and lines and things later.

The first thing that was striking was how much I knew about so many people whom I have never knew, often from people who didn't know them. There weren't even deliberate attempts to capture the stories, but just things that came out in conversations about other things. 

The example in the book included a woman who needed to end a long marriage to a prestigious man where she was going to face a lot of resistance from family. In doing her genogram she realized that she had an aunt who would support her, and started there for building up her resources.

I don't think I learned a lot about myself or my relationships from this; maybe that knowledge was already there. That is why I say I may have done it wrong.

What I received instead was more about understanding other people. 

Writing in my journal that first night, I suddenly understood the dynamics of the women in my mother's family better. They all had a tendency to worry. I noticed it more with my mother and her oldest sister, but when I mentioned it to my uncles they assured me that they were all that way. 

As I wrote about them, it became clear that was something from their mother, but that it also made perfect sense. From the death of her mother in childbirth when she was five and the effects that had on her birth family, to the loss of two children and some serious illnesses, to having a late-in-life pregnancy during a war (while one of her sisters who had married a Jewish man was hiding from the Nazis), my grandmother knew too well all of the terrible things that could and often did happen. 

That sometimes comes out in stories that are told humorously, like how she would chase owls away from the house with a broom, because if an owl cries near your house it means someone will die. I heard that and thought, Wouldn't chasing the owl make it more likely to hoot? 

(She was born in Italy in 1896 and raised by nuns after her mother died. Her being superstitious is not a shock.)

You don't have to look too far behind the laughter to find the pain, and it doesn't mean her life was only fear, but it was a real thing. Her children could laugh at it, but they also (especially her daughters) picked up some of it, much like I thought I was not a worrier until I realized that it only in comparison to my mother.

The next time, when I did the charting, my feelings centered more on my father's side. I was struck by how strong my great-grandmother had to have been. 

She had to be strong because of my great-grandfather's severe alcoholism, but I saw that in a different light too. The losses that must have fueled it it all become clear, even though none of the information was new. I just saw it differently.

(It also reinforced strong indicators that alcohol and Harris family do not mix, but that had been clear for a while.)

The overall result for all of it was stronger compassion for my family. Everything makes sense for how I turned out, but it makes sense for them too, strengths and weaknesses.

It doesn't mean that there weren't choices, including wrong and hurtful choices, but I could still offer understanding. 

This was important. It worked out well that I had done the genogram before I started the expressive writing, because a lot of anger did come out. That anger was important, and we will spend more time on it, but then it was also important that I could understand and let go.

I wanted to cover that before I start covering my trauma, because as I go into some of these choices and the impact they had on me, there does not need to be any anger on my behalf. I am better now.

It has been a journey.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Expressive Writing

Twenty-eight books have played a part on this, and I still have one on request from the library. 

There were many where I didn't think the book was that great overall, but there was still something that stuck. Then, there will be other people whom that book helped a lot, so it's very individual.

I was mostly not impressed by David Kessler's Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief, but it did have a reference to expressive writing and James W. Pennebaker. That sounded like it was right up my alley. I read Opening Up by Writing It Down: How Expressive Writing Improves Health and Eases Emotional Pain.

Here is one pretty approachable article about the process, but you can find instructions in multiple places:

At its most basic level, you have multiple sessions of writing about some trauma in your life. It is free-form, unplanned writing for around 15 or 20 minutes.

In Pennebaker's experiments they had people also try writing about other things, some people talked into a tape recorder instead of writing, and they varied the length. I only remember segments of three consecutive days, but this article mentions four-day periods also. It can be very flexible.

I wanted to experiment a little bit too. My first idea was to see if there was a difference between handwriting and typing on a computer. That made a huge difference in that I can't even complete one fifteen minute session writing by hand. I scrapped that immediately and started fresh the next day.

I said it was very individual.

All of my segments were three consecutive days on the same topic, and then moving on to another topic for another three days the following week. I did that twice for three weeks in a row, but had not initially planned on doing the second round; I just came up with more material.

I did not always start on the same day, but I always kept the days consecutive. I did do both fifteen and twenty minute sessions, and did not notice a lot of difference for that. In some ways the twenty minute ones felt like more pressure, but for someone who worries about not getting everything out it could be liberating. 

I also experimented with different times of day, trying before bedtime (my usual writing time), afternoons, and in the mornings right after breakfast. After breakfast completely stressed me out because of the pressure to do other thing. There was not a big difference between afternoons and nights for me. I am sure it makes a difference to feel like you can have the uninterrupted time, varying based on your schedule.

For each week, I kept the session time, length, and method the same. Theoretically it was also always the same topic, but sometimes things come up.

The extreme adaptability is probably something that is very useful. Also, self-expression itself is quite valuable, and it gets discouraged a lot. 

One of the things that makes me feel best about recommending expressive writing is the relative safety. It's not just that it is something anyone can do on their own, but it also seems less likely to pull up things you are not ready to deal with. 

It's not that nothing comes up. Often toward the end of a session I would find myself writing something that did not seem pertinent to the topic, but there were connections and my subconscious knew it. Still, the writing is pulling from conscious thought of remembered things for limited time periods... it should be pretty gentle.

I was worried that it would not be that helpful for me because I have already written about so many of these things so much, but I wrote about them at the level that I was ready for then, and more deliberately, with a pretty clear idea of what I was going to write at those times.

The obvious question is then whether additional journal writing at this time would have gotten me to the same place, or whether just planning a time and a topic but not the words contributed something different. 

I believe the expressive writing was uniquely helpful. Following its format did give me some unexpected thoughts, and bringing those thoughts out is why I ended up having more to write about two months later.

It is also completely possible that it was a better fit for me because writing is so much a part of whom I am. The simplicity of the technique, though, seems like it should be something that can work well for many people. The results in blood pressure for the participating students by itself is enough of a reason to consider trying it.

Worth a shot.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Healing preview

I thought I should map out a rough idea of where posts are going for the next few weeks.

A lot of this will be familiar if you have been reading this blog for a long time and have an excellent memory for things you read about someone else's life. The combined unlikelihood of that makes some review necessary.

You may of course remember some things that resonated with you personally, but remembering all the pieces and how the fit together is less likely; you have your own issues. Even for me, I understand how they fit together differently now.

The parts that I have visited pretty regularly are events that happened when I was in first grade, ninth grade, and 11th grade. Normally I think of those in chronological order, but I decided to do a section of expressive writing for each of them, and I did them in reverse. 

I don't know that taking them in that order mattered so much, but it felt like the way to go, and intuition has been a big part of the entire journey... combined with a lot of reading.

The expressive writing (I will go over that term, I promise) first round happened in August of 2020. Another three life events that happened between about 3 and 6 years old took on greater importance, but again, those were things that I had written about before. It wasn't that I didn't know, but I knew them better.

As I write this now, it seems significant that I started doing this again shortly after getting Mom settled into memory care. It seems relevant, but I had been working on my emotional health for a while so it felt like a natural extension of what I was doing. 

That's the thing; there is always more to notice.

Therefore, it should not have been particularly surprising that in October I started another round of expressive writing, this time focusing on a deep depression I went through on my mission, and contributing factors that I had never noticed. 

That was followed by a big life shift in early high school that I did not recognize as a reaction to what happened in 9th grade at the time (but it very clearly was) as well as something pretty critical that happened in second grade. 

Overall, some of the writing took things farther out, and some of it filled in blanks. It turns out everything is connected and super-logical, though largely in a sad way.

This gives us six life event themes, I guess, but also several books as well as one really important technique with the expressive writing. 

I am also going to write about three other techniques. I don't believe a single one of them worked the way they were supposed to, but I nonetheless had valuable experiences with them. 

Here is an important caveat from one of my favorite books, A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis:

“What Richard Selzer, M.D. once wrote of surgery is true of therapy: only human love keeps this from being the act of two madmen.”

If it can be hard to find a therapist who is a good fit, surely there are also risks to becoming your own therapist. 

I cannot swear to what is a good idea for anyone else. I used a cycle of reading and intuition; that's intuition about what to read and what to use. There are techniques I have never tried that could be good, but they haven't felt like priorities. 

I can only relate what my experiences have been. When there were fears or safeguards in place, I will include that information in the posts.

For the record, my counseling referral never came through, and it might not even be that useful. I am not depressed now, and I understand why pretty well.

I still do not rule it out. There are some practices that can't be done on my own and would need a facilitator. There could be unrealized benefits from them. When writing about my 11th grade trauma, I discovered a gap in my memory. Would EMDR bring it out? I don't know. I also don't know if it is important, but I don't rule out that it might be.

That just reinforces my commitment to universal health care with mental health parity. For now, I am working with what I have.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Review retrospective: My Chemical Romance

I could have started this series earlier. One concern holding me back was stress over the inauguration. That deep sigh of relief was much needed.

There was also some personal conflict about My Chemical Romance and reluctance to write about them. I am kind of mad at them now.

I am not sure how mad I am; it could be more the label, maybe, but there's this ambiguity there. 

They really were important to me, though, and current feelings don't erase that.

Surprisingly, I have never officially reviewed them. I have written about them more than any other band. Some links will be included, but all of them would be impossible. 

Being captivated by them and listening to their guitar sounds is why I plunged into the Greatest Guitar songs and comments (the topic of next week's post). I spent hours writing hundreds of pages inspired by their music. They are how I found many other bands. It's also how I found other people as other fans befriended me on Twitter. 

They have been a big deal to me, and it would be dishonest to ignore that.

And they have had many, many songs of the day - including all of these I am sure - but here we go again:

"Welcome to the Black Parade" (2006)

This is how I learned about the band. It was the sound on the phone of someone I needed to call, way back in 2008. It was just two lines of "We'll carry on" but so solid, I had to ask about them. That was what led me to...

"I'm Not Okay (I Promise)" (2004)

I don't know why I didn't get into the band overall then, because at this point none of that music was new and I liked all three albums once I did listen. Still, for a long time it was just the two songs, especially this one. My finding them was actually around December 2008. By January 2009 - unemployed, alienated, and stressed out - I was singing this song all the time. 

It is one of my best karaoke songs. I don't even sing it that well on the first two verses, but by the bridge when I pull the band from my pony tail, bang my head to the beat, and then go through the fast transition, the very quiet "I'm okay... I'm o - " following by the shouting "KAY" and then the race to the end, yeah, then it's a good rendition. And if the head banging leaves me a bit dizzy, that is probably the point in the evening where I relate most to the people around me who have been drinking, because I have not. 

I broke a glass once.

"Sing" (2010)

I didn't listen to it until 2012, and then I was listening to all four albums, plus Frank Iero's previous band, Pencey Prep.

It's possible that I was really brought in more by "Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" from the same album, Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys, but "Sing" was the one with the video that inspired all of the writing.

There was a lot that went into that writing, including some personal heartache but also very much the murder of Trayvon Martin. As much as those things hurt, the music felt good. 

Even more important, it got me writing again after all the joy in writing and life had been squeezed out of me. 

And it is still out there, even if it was more for me.

"Summertime" (off of Danger Days, never released)

This song has a bridge that is hauntingly beautiful. I have literally had dreams where I have asked members of the band what made it so special (and got a very complex chart that my sleeping brain couldn't grasp at all, but I don't think my waking brain would have done any better).

"Bulletproof Heart" (2011)

Also off of Danger Days, I didn't remember it as having an official release, but Wikipedia shows it hitting 18 on the US Alternative charts, so it must have. 

Going along with things I don't understand about music and its effect on me... even though once I got the bass (which I still cannot be said to play) I started focusing on bass lines, for some reason this song (and also Fall Out Boy's "Thnks fr th Mmrs") makes me want to play guitar. Something about it; I don't know why.

"Fake Your Death" (2014)

I understand this song more in terms of Fall Out Boy, because it came out when I was listening to The Youngblood Chronicles and thinking about their hiatus and return. This song hits on some of the down sides to fame. Maybe some of that is more background that I know and hear in the song without it being explicitly there, but it also helped me understand MCR's hiatus better. (No, that's not what I'm mad about.)

I wrote more about that:

I love the piano in it, but also it is significant that for all of these songs that existed long before I needed them or knew of them, this was their first release where I was an existing fan, and it still came at a good time. 

"Disenchanted" (off of 2006's The Black Parade, never released).

This song is beautiful in its simplicity. It's like it's almost an afterthought, but still deeply evocative. Also there's a guillotine reference, and there have been so many of those lately politically, but it's also mournful. Taking their heads off is not going to help; we're going to have to find a better Way.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Music bloggery

I have been doing daily songs for about seven years. 

There was a definitely a holiday run around Valentine's Day 2012. Then (if I remember correctly) after doing some Halloween songs in 2013 I decided to keep going. I was reviewing bands then, so the daily songs gave me a way to highlight those bands, as well as exploring other themes, like Muppet Month or Opera-ctober. 

For a long time I tried to never repeat. This was easier before the first computer crash, when I lost the notes I had been keeping of which songs had been used. Still, I could often remember that certain songs had definitely been used. 

As various things started happening -- which definitely includes the dual fundraisers in June and Christmas in July and #RememberSeptember, but also various life and political events that demanded certain songs -- I did start repeating.

I feel like that has opened the door for review, and at a good time for doing it. Part of this transition is knowing what I have learned, and knowing what to keep. Also, I am still not quite ready to start doing new reviews yet.

My plan is to start reviewing old blog posts, for band reviews and for book reviews.

One of my lost files (which I have had to give up on recovering), was a spreadsheet that kept track of the bands I'd reviewed, including how many different bands there were. However, I only had the name, the number, and whether I'd seen them live.

Well, I also mostly kept track of whether the review happened because they followed me on Twitter, or if someone had recommended them, or because they were playing with a band I wanted to see for other reasons. I will remember some of those, and sometimes it will be mentioned in the review, but I may not always know.

However, I always felt there should be other information there and never quite figured out what other information. The best web link for them? Definitely. What other bands would be similar? Maybe. Where they are from? Often surprisingly complicated. Whether or not they were any good? Umm, if they weren't I tried to not say it that way, but it could be valuable information.

Now, though, now I am going to figure it out, and I am going to rebuild that spreadsheet.

I do have a new one that lists the bands I want to review and where I have kind of tracked numbers. Fortunately, I had remembered when I hit 600, and I was still reviewing then. Therefore, I can give you some numbers.

My last album review was for Chris Barron, whom I also interviewed.  That was in April 2020, before everything started falling apart. Since I had reviewed his music before, that did not change the total number of bands reviewed. That number was 651 with the Bowie Alumni.

Since then, eleven bands have followed me, and therefore must be reviewed. Some bands I know have new albums that I want to review. There's another 65 bands that I am interested in checking out for one reason or another. 

That sounds like a lot, but I was doing about 100 a year before. I don't know if I will get there again, but I am going to review these bands! Sooner or later! (Should I review English Beat?)

Since going through the reviews means I will be going through blog posts anyway, I will go through the various reading lists, and make some notes on which books were most interesting or most helpful, and what stands out.

The Friday blogs will be going over sections of my reviews. Some of that will be the actual bands reviewed, but there were other projects, like going through the material on "Greatest Guitar" songs or the Nothing Feels Good book. Some musicians held different significance. The posts will go over that review period, highlight key songs from it, and the daily songs will come from there. So that will be all repeats, but also all of the best and some really good stuff. 

After going through that, I will renew my commitment to including a wide variety of songs and finding new ones, but it will be a little more relaxed too. A good song can stand up to multiple plays.

Fair warning, that will take about four months.

Thursday posts may contain information on books or movies or other things that come up.

I may skip some weeks. Or, if there are too many songs, I may need to post about some review sections twice. If there are that many great songs, there are probably enough things to say to fill two posts.

I have accepted the uncertainty, and am excited for what is ahead, even knowing that there will be some complications.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Bloggery (and some bookery)

I have worked through feelings about the possibility of not being able to finish some things you start. It has not completely resolved the way that uncertainty can inhibit some goal setting. For example, even if I want more dancing in my life, I do not currently have a plan to incorporate it. 

Of course, you are never doing everything at once. If something goes on a break, that doesn't mean it wasn't important while it lasted, nor that it can't come back. In the moment you have to trust in what you do know, in your heart and your head.

Currently the answer for all of those political things I want to write about and keep stumbling on is to put them on hold. It stings, but I am also sure it is right. 

It is not because we finally upgraded our executive branch; there will be plenty to say about that. 

It is more the feeling that a lot of what I can say about that won't matter as much as what others will say, or what I could say about other things.

My skill set has been clarifying things for people who already pretty much get things right. It's nice, but not vital. 

I frequently see people who are getting things very wrong. Explanations and well-reasoned responses spring to mind so quickly, but I have given some of those explanations and they do not make a difference. That is not the best use of my time.

Here is some political advice from me (clearance, I guess): there is so much work to do in repairing harm that arguing with people who have chosen outrageous lies and white supremacy over the most basic decency is not going to be the best use of anyone's time. Focus your efforts on voter enfranchisement and advocacy and fighting income inequality. Focus on reading books by diverse authors and enjoying art by diverse artists. 

It has been very fashionable to say that the two main parties are the same, but that is demonstrably untrue. This administration can be worked with and that is wonderful. That's where we focus. Not winning over Trump voters. Not proving how reasonable we can be to conservatives. 

The thing is, for everything that I am passionate about -- permaculture for healing the earth, Universal Basic Income for giving people real choices about their work, health care -- there are people who know more about it. I can post what they write, with comments and endorsements, rather than writing blog posts. Since most of my social media contacts are liberals (Facebook) and progressives (Twitter), if I mainly post about things that make you face discomfort about your investment in white supremacy, I can annoy and edify everyone in 2021 without a single blog post. Dream big!

My feeling is that I need to finish my current rounds of economic and post 2016 election reading, which seems to be about 23 books. At that point, I hope I will be able to move further into understanding that theme I have in my head: De-corporatize. De-capitalize. De-colonize. That will start with reading some Fanon, Foucault, and Mbembe. After that, I don't know, but that's a fair sight down the road. It gives time for other things to resolve. 

Until then, I will be writing about emotional issues and healing. That is an area where I may know more than anyone else, at least on the topic of checking out library books and giving yourself homework from them, and in fact getting better from it. 

It's a plan.

But it's a plan that only takes in Monday through Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thursday. What will that hold?

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The return of the selfies?

The other thing I started feeling pretty sure of is that I need to do #365feministselfie again.

It did not seem like a great idea, if for no other reason than that I was so relieved to be done with it the last time. Frankly, I'm glad I didn't have to capture any images of myself on some of the days that came after.

It's quaint now to remember how terrible a year we thought 2019 was, until 2020. It makes me a little nervous about the relief we have felt getting into 2021.

If this next year is as hard or harder, do I really want to be broadcasting the images of how it is grinding me down? My full humanity includes my suffering, but I would rather share the good parts. It's more fun. I would rather have less suffering going forward.

I was thinking that maybe I could take photos daily, but then only post them weekly. Melissa McEwan was a big influence on me for #365feministselfie, and that was how she did it. 

There has also been a thought (which I will go into more tomorrow) that perhaps I should post more pet pictures and flower pictures and more things to spread brightness.

I was thinking about that, and then I got the bright idea that maybe instead of using my digital camera and having to upload daily, that maybe I should install Instagram on my phone and post there.

I cannot get the app installed on my phone. 

That may be my lack of skill with technology, but also I did not successfully log in to the Instagram page first, because I don't remember what password I used. I thought a simple password reset via the Instagram page on my PC (which I am pretty good at using) would resolve that, but the button for resetting the password is grayed out.

I suspect that with enough effort and asking around I could manage it, but I am not sufficiently invested. 

I also thought that perhaps I could use Facebook on my phone, just for selfies. I worried about turning into one of those people with their faces constantly in their phone, but I am pretty good at leaving my phone in my purse in the other room. It believed I could manage.

I know my Facebook password -- that wasn't the problem -- but I couldn't make that work on my phone either.

At that point I decided I was probably better off just using my old method. Now the pictures won't upload.

I started on my birthday, Sunday. That way, I will have completed 365 days right as I am turning 50. Wouldn't it make more sense to document that year? Maybe I will; who knows? For now I have two photos trapped on my camera. My computer refuses to recognize the various upload attempts.

I believe this is a cable problem. My computer is dying again, so I can't rule out other issues, but I am pretty sure it's the cable. I can test that more, but given the knowledge that this computer is on its last legs, and remember how devastating that hard drive crash three years ago was, current efforts are focusing on data backups.

So maybe the first selfies posted will happen a week at a time because that will be when I first manage an upload. I would be fine with that.

If that gets me into a weekly pattern, then theoretically if terrible things happen I will have a gap between showing it on my face and posting that face to the internet.

I hope there is joy too.

For all of us.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Moving into 2021: What I know

I kept going back to last Monday's post and how messy it felt. 

Ultimately it was trying to do too much. Most of it was about the things that I don't know yet and the frustration that comes with that. However, there was a section of information that I know very well mixed in with it; that was just in the wrong place.

Taking care of that felt good, but also it reminded me that there are things that I do know, and that can be a focus.

The surest thing I know about how I need to be different going forward is that I am still weird about taking credit for things and I need to get over that. 

No matter how much I have improved in being able to recognize my strengths and weaknesses, it's still weird to acknowledge those strengths to another person. That it just social conditioning. 

Well, it is also habit, but it is habit because of social conditioning. 

Another thing that has become pretty clear is that I have gotten many strong messages not to conform, which will be more important in other posts. For now, I need to give up worrying that if I say "Thank you" when someone tells me something good about me, that they will think I have a big head. If that was a real concern of theirs they would probably refrain from giving me the compliment or load it up with some kind of negation. 

In addition, if someone thanks me for something I did, I need to say "You're welcome" instead of trying to convince them that this thing I did for them didn't matter. What if that carries the message that they don't matter that much? Could stressing the lack of effort imply that they would not have been worth effort? I don't want to do that.

So, this is kind of for me, but may equally be for other people. Somehow we have gotten things twisted up where it is only allowed to know how you are bad, and not how you are good. That is especially for women, though not exclusively. 

Let my "nope" be resounding. NOPE!

I admit it is still weird for me when people say I am nice or kind or have a good heart, because sometimes I can feel so impatient and mean. There is still some value in generally not acting on that.

Possibly another thing that helps here is that I have done some exercises in forgiveness and meditation. I have also contacted a few people where I felt some guilt over things that I said or didn't say. 

It appears that I have not done a lot of harm over the course of my life. I'm sure there are things I didn't realize (I still participate in capitalism), but I have tried pretty consistently to be kind and ethical and responsible, and I am grateful for that. It takes some weight off.

There is still a lot of uncertainty and one thing that I think I know I should do, but for which I am encountering technical difficulty. 

That does give me some clarity about my next two blog posts.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

My 2020: Displaced

My first two posts in this series were (I thought) pretty well organized. Even though both covered a fair amount of ground, they were each about one thing.

Monday's post? Not so much. Last week's posts were about things that I do mostly understand now, and this week is about things that I am still figuring out.

Take me writing: I knew that I had a problem when a Twitter friend asked where to find my novels. I did show her, but I also tried to talk her out of reading them, which I believe I did successfully. She seemed willing to buy them, and I was like, "Oh, don't do that."

My saving grace is that I didn't actually say that they were bad, and I don't think that they are. I believe that they are mostly good, if not amazing. However, I don't know where they fit.

They are definitely not literary fiction, and I don't care about that because most of that has no appeal for me. There's a big market for YA, but my characters are aged a bit past that. If you are looking at an older market, my novels are probably too short. (Though they are not a bad length for YA, which is often short unless you have a magical savior narrative; those books can get pretty thick.)

There is a market for short erotic fiction, and that could especially work for the vampire series, but it would be highly inappropriate for the singles ward series, and not really appropriate for me. I totally could write very hot prose if I wanted to, I am sure, but that doesn't feel like the right fit.

(Not to mention that everything is through Amazon now, even some of the tools that previously were not, and I have some ethical concerns about that.)

So I am not quite sure where my books fit from a marketing perspective, and I find that also reflects my concerns about their writer.

After spending four years as a broke care giver, I actually did expect to have some issues adjusting. It was much more consuming than a regular job, and yes, I surrendered bits of my identity along the way. 

I mean, I am definitely still me, but parts of me had gone dormant. It hasn't been great for confidence.

I still believe things will turn out, but I am still frustrated that I don't know how. Realistically those first three months without a job were probably necessary. It worried me when my applications weren't getting any responses, but now that I have had some interviews I can see that I have been able to display some energy and personality that was not available earlier. 

If that delay had a purpose, maybe this one does as well, though not knowing what it is lets me second-guess everything I do.

What I have been able to remember, though, is that you can't always do everything at once, no matter how much of it is good, or could be.

If I am not reviewing music and interviewing people now, at least I have done it, and I am glad for those experiences. I hope I get there again.

I also look forward to having money again. If love of money is not the root of all evil (that is probably more the love of power, and love of money ties into that), lack of money can still be a great source of stress.

I would be very happy to not ever have that stress again.

But also...

Monday, January 11, 2021

My 2020: Reorientation

The ironic thing about learning that Mom is really into dancing now is that shortly before that happened I found myself thinking that I wanted to dance.

I'm sure it was part of a greater desire for fun, but it was strange that dancing was what came to mind; it had been such a long time. 

It's possible that giving up the music reviews was a factor, in that I missed connecting with music. However, maybe how long it had been since I'd danced was the point.

One of my great joys after I turned 14 was church dances, once a month at the Beaverton Stake Center. My last two terms of college I took Ballroom dancing, and loved it. I never saw the tape of my final (a tango), but I was told that I did something with my shoulder that embodied elegance and grace. That is one of the better compliments I have gotten.  Also, remember those ward talent shows where I performed stand up comedy? I also choreographed three different dance numbers. (There was almost a fourth, but we had creative differences.)

If even longtime readers don't know about my enjoyment of dancing, well, I had lost touch with it myself. Letting go of things that were for me had been a key feature of my life.

There are different factors that fit into that, but what I really need to write about is losing myself and depression. They were not the same thing, but they sure didn't help each other.

I have definitely been depressed. 

I've been reluctant to say that, feeling like it would be taking something away from those people who have brain chemistry working against them. Being sad isn't the same as being depressed, I know.

Now I worry that when we focus on brain chemistry and medication for that, we are not paying enough attention to the life circumstances that may be negatively affecting the brain chemistry. I worry that there are people being helped some by medication that could be helped even more by therapy, yes, but also things like living wages and fair housing and an equal and supportive society.

Yes, I see that medication is simpler.

After college I didn't have anyone to do ballroom dancing with. I could have gotten into line dancing, probably, but that was rife with country music. Sure, popular music had gone downhill, but I wasn't that desperate. Dancing just became less of an option, but there were still other things to do.

What mattered more over time was the increase in responsibility and decrease in support, which also was a big factor just as I as graduating from college.

So as money became worse and my mother needed more, this was over a pretty long time period, but it made a difference. It made a difference in how well I cared for myself, and how much leisure or recreation I could find, and it did in how I valued myself because of how I was prioritizing other needs over mine. It certainly did after the layoff, because how could I have a right to prioritize myself when I wasn't even earning money? Income is the surest sign of virtue in a capitalist society.

Here are some things that were important about that:

  • I knew I was doing the right thing in focusing on caring for my mother. It was impressed strongly on me at the start, there were many confirmations during, and the fact that no matter how hard it was that we never lost the house or went hungry... all of that confirmed for me that I was doing the right thing.
  • There were grace notes here and there that sustained me at different times. I noticed these things, and our survival, and I practiced gratitude for that.
  • I took lots of training and participated in a study about support for caregivers so I was very aware of the things to do and watch out for.
  • I will not deny that it took some effort, but I did work out respite with my sisters, and my cousins on my mother's side have been endlessly supportive emotionally, even if they have not been able to help physically.
  • I had good friends who remembered me and regularly checked on me.

Despite all of that, I was depressed. I had many things pressing down on me, and getting out from under them felt impossible. 

I wasn't able to pray it away, despite praying a lot. 

It is wonderful finding these parts of myself again, where I am laughing naturally, or singing again. I haven't broken into a dance number, but yeah, I kind of forgot that I used to sing a lot more.

I don't know if it would have been possible for me in my circumstances to do better. Like, could I have remembered to sing more, and to keep doing things for myself, with no other changes in circumstances, just me being more conscientious? I don't know. There is a limit to how much anyone can do.

Now, if we imagine that more equal and supportive world, with better health care and Universal Basic Income, I know I could have done better than that. Whether that would mean that I would still have a 401K or that I would not need one, I am not sure, but I could go for either. Could my A1C not have gone up two points? Because that would have been nice. Not having gone into foreclosure twice would have been awesome.

It is wonderful to find myself being kind of cheerful again, and terrible that what I needed to be cheerful was my mother out of the house. 

Knowing that I was doing the right thing, and that I am still trying to, is good and I would not be doing well without that, but nonetheless there has been damage to my health and credit rating but probably not so much my social life... there is a lot that needs to be rebuilt.

Part of that is even figuring out what I am supposed to be doing now, and can reasonably manage to do. 

For all of those years doing customer service and document processing, the dream was always to be a paid writer. I have written a lot, and the odds of earning money for it have gone way down. I am not even sure that I am good at it now, whereas I was relatively sure before. But beyond that, even if that's what I want to do, how do I get paid? Because I don't think I can bear working in a call center again.

Job hunting is a cruel and discouraging process.

The encouraging thing is I still like myself, at the end of it all. I was too exhausted to remember that for a while after, but I see that again.

What do I do with that, precisely? 

Having been led thus far, I have to believe that a way will appear.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

My 2020: Compensating

I tried posting yesterday; there is a long draft that may be two separate posts or something. 

Then today I thought there was no way I could post, because the already terrible state of the world increased, and even with signs of hope how could I think of anything else?

Funny thing about that, though, is that one of the big problems I have been needing to grapple with is that I can get really stalled on doing things if I am not sure I can finish them. 

That was a part of the issue I mentioned with distraction in the last post, where there are so many things that need addressing, and I won't be able to do it all, or even finish this one, and I get stuck on that.

Somehow, being overwhelmed by this world's rapid and psychotic pace may be a very appropriate topic for today.

My shrinking capacity for writing wasn't just a political/police brutality/global pandemic thing either. It started with taking care of Mom through changing needs. There was a time when there was a two hour block of television that she would watch pretty reliably. That gave me a chance to get things done. I used to be able to depend on her spending some time on housework every day. The quality was going down, but it still made her happy, and then she was less interested and also the quality went down to where I was starting to worry about bacteria spread. That not only took away one of her activities; it added to mine. 

I did feel that before, but everything got worse in 2020. That was probably the combination of her decline and the accursed presidency fanning the flames of the racism and white supremacy this country and its police force were built on and then politicizing the global pandemic so that people would willingly spread instead of fighting it, turning the modern Republican party into a more obvious death cult than it has ever been before, though really it's been in the works since at least Goldwater, if not Thurmond.

That all of those other things were still in place after Mom was moved into care probably did not help with my dealing with all of the built-up exhaustion and depression, but I was never just going to spring back, regardless.

(That's what I was trying to write about yesterday, but I am apparently not yet able to write concisely and helpfully about it.)

I definitely read more slowly than I wanted to in 2020. I blogged less. I stopped reviewing bands. Those were all losses. I did get a few interviews for the blog and I loved doing that, but I couldn't keep up with it either.

At the same time, I can look back and see that while doing less I was also making it more meaningful. 

I swear it wasn't deliberate. I combined a double fundraiser with the daily songs because I felt bad about Blues Fest being canceled, and I knew that there was more than one charity where funds were needed. 

Knowing there were far more than two charities needing help is what led to Christmas in July songs and highlighting service opportunities with that, and it was during that July that I started envisioning #RememberSeptember.

And then we sent a lot of people Christmas cards.

It was all merely responding to perceived needs, and that aggregating. The daily songs were the only thing I could stay really committed to, but they also became more.

Speaking of not being able to finish things, after Trump's inauguration I started reading things that I thought were relevant. I made a list. I was going to become so educated on how we got here, and then I was going to blog about these things and help other people understand and we were going to do better!

Initially, I think I started with about 31 books in mind. I have read at least 51 that I count for that, plus a lot of supplemental other sections that add up to at least another 51 books, and there are at least 16 more books not yet read that are specifically part of that list, plus some concepts to spend some more time on. 

I am not done learning. I blogged some things, but certainly not everything that I hoped and meant to.

However, Biden won, as did Warnock and Ossoff, and I don't think an armed mob breaking into the Capitol with a shocking lack of restraint by the police will be able to change that. We're not where I want us to be as a country, but I was not going to be the one to get us there, really. I know my posts help some people, but those people are usually already thinking pretty clearly.

I guess that gives a double lesson for this year. One (which I sort of already knew but maybe I still fight it sometimes) is that thinking you know how things are going to turn out is pretty delusional. There are so many possibilities, and so many other actors. That lack of clarity and control doesn't mean you don't have choices, and it means making good choices is even more important. It is still a source of frustration, at least for me.

The second lesson, then, is closely related, and that you need to let it go. If something would be a good thing to finish, it may very well be a good thing to start, even with no guarantees.

This is hard for the blogger who tends to envision content in 3- and 6-part series, but if the way I learn these things is in connected but separate books, then a blog post that focuses on one concept can still be a good thing, even if the posts on related concepts don't ever get written (or don't get written until several months later). 

In 2020 I have learned better how to accept my shortcomings, because there has been no hiding from them.

Monday, January 04, 2021

My 2020: the biggest change

I haven't posted here for a month and a half.

(Georgia! Vote Warnock and Ossoff!)

A big part of my silence (and I still have several half starts in my drafts folder to prove it) is that regardless of whatever felt important to write about, there were always new developments coming in. There were new new facets to the previously considered topics and completely new topics and there was very little that was not critically important.

2020 was just a lot, you know?

Also, realistically I was still recovering from care-giving and depression. I tried to perform like I was recovered too soon, especially because I had a hard time admitting my actual level of impairment.

Nonetheless, a lot happened. I am proud of a lot of it. I want to build on top of it. I am still sorting it out.

2020 actually started out fairly well for me. I was finally getting paid for caring for my mother. It was 22 hours a week pay for what was realistically more like... well it wasn't a full 168 hours per week, because she was pretty good about sleeping through the night, and we had worked out respite where I was getting out for at least 6 hours a week.

I'm not saying the compensation was great, but I was suddenly able to replace shoes that were falling apart, or to go see a movie (cruel joke oncoming, but until a little into March, that was great). It was a huge thing. 

Just before going out ground to a halt, I had a great night out with a friend. We went to dinner and the staff was offering us things off the menu, and free dessert, and then at the concert we had great seats and talked to one of the musicians after; it was really cool! And I paid for dinner because she has been buying me dinner for four years! Amazing.

Then things went full pandemic. Respite choices became severely limited, right along with ways to amuse and distract my mother. That probably did not cause the next devolution, even if it didn't help. There have been changes and downgrades all along this ride, but she did lose her attachment to this house and these family members, and even these pets, and then she needed a lot more stimulation. It was time to look at memory care.

Yes, "I" was memory care. What do I say? We put her into a home? This was a home too. It just didn't meet her needs anymore. 

That has been a hard thing. There are two things that make me extremely grateful.

One is that there was absolute clarity. As strongly as I knew that I need to stop job hunting and focus on caring for her in 2016, that is how much I knew that it was time to get her into care. Even a week before, someone asked me about that and it wasn't the right thing to do. Then it was. It happened that we found an opening that has been wonderful for her quickly.

Now, quickly means that we got her moved in about six weeks, with some questions and scrambling for solutions, but I know many people have had a harder time. We were blessed.

It turns out that me briefly getting paychecks was nice, but the most important part of that was having gotten Mom onto Medicaid, which was required for reimbursed care. It meant that we could afford a memory care facility, which otherwise would have been impossible. 

Seriously, at other times we had talked about the feasibility of me going back to work and using that income to pay for care; I have never had any job that would pay that much. Given their expenses, it's not that the price is wrong. This place is great and she is doing well there. But it is a growing need that will be out of the reach of many. We need better systems.

Speaking of those systems, one issue with writing about myself has been fear of doing more than hinting obliquely at any changes in income or household. I was filling out reams of paperwork trying to keep everyone safe and with a roof over our heads. It felt like any shift in balance would throw us to the wolves. I repeat, we need better systems.

So that has been the biggest change, and one that I could never have predicted. I had truly thought that the next change would be Mom's death. I had done research and made notes so that when that happened I would know what to do and be able to handle it. 

Somehow, I am no longer caring for her, and yet she is alive and happy. She is dancing all the time, because of exercise classes and happy hours, but we didn't even know that was her inclination. That was a change in her too, but it seems like a good one.

Another vision I'd had was that perhaps if we did move her into care, I would feel like I should visit all the time, so there would be a regular job and then visiting would be like a second one. Instead, we can't really visit, but it seems to be better that way. 

It will change again, too. There will be more things that hurt along the way. Still, after all the agonizing that there could be something never envisioned, and better... how did that even happen?

Of course that means I am no longer getting paid, and so I am trying to re-enter the workforce during a pandemic. It's a challenge, but we've survived a few of those.