Larry Rosenberg, “Intimacy with Living and Dying” in Living in the Light of Death: On the art of being truly alive (Shambhala Publications, 2000)
….Similar thoughts as “The thing to understand, then, is that the practice of detachment has nothing to do with an easy withdrawal…” from the Intro to Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, the Sea
Can I say that I’m trying?
GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
»Just got back from viewing Steve McQueen’s ”SHAME”. What can I say: like the main character who’s journey catalogs a slew of emotions, I felt disgust, slight frustration, a bit of self-pity, sadness…. There were a few times I thought I might cry, but I didn’t. This film’s not about that. This film is a mirror. It hides NOTHING. It’s so clinically factual, it almost feels invasive. there is no sympathy, for anyone here, only the film’s soundtrack offers us a hint of solace. A sort of softening buffer from the low-angled blows. Sure, you could go just to see Michael Fassbender’s cock, but that fades away real quick once the film starts to unravel. Even during moments that felt ridiculous, and you could hear audible chuckles form the audience, it would always fall silent as quickly as it started, because it would come to our attention that we weren’t laughing at the characters portrayed, we were laughing at ourselves. Suddenly the film wasn’t about sex or class or race or money anymore, the film was about how ridiculous it is that we live in a world where people can reach such a point in the first place and have it be glamorized. Oftentimes I wondered while watching Brandon(Fassbender) roam the streets of NYC, searching desperately for sex, how much he looked like I did so many times—not necessarily searching for sex—but how desperate I have been searching for someone or something, who knows? Just roaming…and roaming..and roaming..trying to find a “signal”. And for what? What does it all mean in the end? Why go so far? Once you start asking those questions, you start to feel really ashamed and slightly annoyed and disgusted with yourself. —T.O.
Text via tobia
-Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’The ‘Rape’ In Photography
In an interview last year, Johnny Depp was asked what it was like to pose for the cover of Vanity Fair. “Well it just feels like you’re being raped somehow” he said, taking his reputation for eccentricity further.
Though hearing the word “rape” used in such a context may seem unnecessary, ignorant and even vulgar, Depp’s statement is food for thought when paralleled with Susan Sontag’s recent ideas on the nature of photography. In On Photography, Sontag judges that there is a similarity between photographing someone and violating them. She brings up the idea of a photograph as a tool of symbolic possession, a thought that stirs up discomfort among photography enthusiasts everywhere. Photography is supposed to be art, no? Beautiful, raw and truthful? It seems that Sontag would think this is sheer naivete; she is aware of the negative power involved with the photographic craft.
Her thoughts on photography and its power to violate, to overtake, to disarm, and to render a subject uncomfortable become even more interesting once applied to things like the paparazzi. Suddenly it all makes much more sense. The camera becomes an instrument of dominance.
In an essay responding to Sontag’s book, photographer Christian Molidor puts things concisely,
“Sontag discusses in the six essays not only the philosophical question of how reality may be perceived and knowledge gained, but she also reviews photography in its context: as a tool, an industry, an activity that “imposes a way of seeing” and therefore, actually alters reality. Sontag sees that photography, leveling everything, also beautifies. Let the subject be what it will - pollution, death, war … photography will tend to make it look aesthetically pleasing…
To take a photograph, Sontag writes, “is to appropriate the thing photographed.” This concept of getting-in-order-to-use-up is important in understanding photography’s function. The appropriation, the stealing without touching, the having a semblance of knowledge, she likens to perversion.”
Click the photo to read more of this article, one that I found to be quite interesting. It is difficult to deny that Sontag is on to something, and it becomes even more evident when placed in the framework of today’s celebrity culture.
Decode me into their non-communication
A soundtrack to my failure,
one syllable, one vowel
A stagnant flow of endings. Un-time unbound.
Merging to form the multi-none
A sickly dance of matter, malignantly benign.
Greeting the chasm - unbearable, sublime.” —Meshuggah. Dehumanization. Catch Thirtythree. (via anotherword)
“How to Date a White Boy” by LaTanya McQueen
There are those you nickname the Eminem boys. Backwards caps underneath mushroom haircuts. Hands guarding their crotch hidden behind designer jeans. They take long sips of Colt 45 as they talk to you about their poor, violent childhoods. Later, they’ll go back to the basements of their suburban homes that reek of blunt smoke. They blare gansta rap of the greats—Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls, Nate Dogg. You are their story for when they’re older, for when they’ve gotten their shit together and dropped the act. They’ve grown up, finished school and gotten careers, and are ready to settle down. You are their phase until the time comes for them to find the right girl—the one they’ll fall in love with. The one they’ll bring home to their parents. The one they’ll marry.
Then there are the other types. These are the ones that exoticize you. They are fascinated by your hair. Whether kinked out or relaxed to make it bone-straight, they always want to feel it. They say they’re down with seeing a black girl, but really they want you on the down low. They are intimidated when you sleep with them, believing you’ve had more lovers because all black women are sluts. In bed, they want you to do things you’re sure they’d never ask of a white girl. You wonder how far you’ll go. They want to tie you up. They call you a jezebel whore. They want to slap your ass while fucking you from behind.
Be careful that you don’t become a fetish. Be careful that you aren’t already one.
It’s always the old white men that are too forward. Rich or poor, they have no reserve. They hit on you at bus stations, while waiting in line at the grocery store, at cafes, in the park. Some are nice about it, starting off with asking you about your day or complimenting your smile, but it’s the others you worry about. There was that time when you worked at Jerry’s Sports Bar. It was late, towards closing, but this party of suits wouldn’t leave. One of them cornered you on your way back to the kitchen. He blocked you against the wall and leaned in. His hot breath was on your face and he was whispering how sexy you were, how he wanted to put his face in between your thighs. You didn’t move, couldn’t move. You weren’t sure what would happen but you thanked god that at least you were still in the bar and not in a back alley somehwhere. Someone would come. Someone would see the two of you and interrupt and it would be over. All you had to do was wait.
You were right because after a few seconds one of the bus boys came stumbling by. He made a ruckus with his bin of clattering plates. The noise startled you both and it gave you the chance to get away. You told your manager you had to go home and he saw your face and let you. You were a good employee so he didn’t mind this once.
When you returned to work the next day the suit was there waiting for you. He was wearing the same clothes from the night before. “I’ve been here hoping to see you,” he said. “I’m sorry about what happened. No hard feelings?” He held his wallet in his hands. He pulled out a couple of bills, folded the money and put it on the table in front of you both. Then he left without looking back.
You didn’t take the money, instead continuing the rest of your shift as if nothing had happened. Thirty minutes later you found out that another server, one with two kids, received a three-hundred dollar tip.
You talk to your Filipino friend and she relays to you the same problem. She works as a nurse and says that a lot of the men that come in hit on her. “The other week this man asked to be my sugar daddy.”
“Is that what he said?”
“No, he just said he wanted to take me out. Buy me things.”
“You’ve got to be kidding. What did you tell him?”
“I told him about my husband,” she said. “He told me he hoped that he treated me special.”
“God,” you say, not wanting to believe her.
“I’m not sure why it’s always the old ones,” she says. “I think it’s because I remind them of when they were in Vietnam,” she says. “Of some girl they probably cheated on their girlfriends with and left once the war ended.”
“So what the hell do I remind them of then?” you say, irritated. “Of a girl they raped in a field somewhere during the Civil Rights Movement?”
“Girl please,” she says, laughing.
Your Filipino friend is married to a white boy. In high school they fell in love and have been together ever since. Her husband is the kind of guy even white girls dreamt about—he was the football star, grew up in a rich family, a stable environment. Whereas when your friend turned sixteen her parents decided they wanted to return to the Philippines. They moved away, leaving her to grow up with her single older brother who spent every day resenting her being there. Although she’s married with the dream husband, she doesn’t have the dream. The two of them get into fights all the time, arguing over money. Since he’s always had it he believes he always will. Because she grew up poor she wants to save every penny. He comes homes with a new flat-screen television while she looks for change in their couch.
“He doesn’t get what it’s like,” she says. “To not come from privilege and to have to struggle. Everything to him has been easy.”
“You can’t blame him though for that,” you say. “It’s not like he could understand.”
“That’s not the only thing though. Sometimes I just wish though I’d married a man more like me.”
You want to tell your friend that her problems have more to do with class than race. You want to tell her to be happy that she got what she wanted. Of course, the truth is you’re jealous. Listening to her reminds you of how in high school you liked Mark Bradford. Sandy haired, blue-eyed Mark, who came to school every day dressed in polo shirts. His teeth looked cut from pearls. Now, looking back, you’re not sure why you liked him. Maybe it was because he reminded you of that Backstreet Boy you used to obsess over. Maybe it was because he came from a family of unlimited means, whereas your mother worked two jobs to afford your dinners of Hamburger Helper. Whatever the reason, you couldn’t help the way you felt, and you were crazy in love with him. Foolishly, you thought that if you could fit his mold he would like you too. So for a long time you did things to pretend, to make yourself believe you were something else. You wore colored contacts-blue/green/hazel, it didn’t matter. You grew out your hair and highlighted it. You avoided Ebonics or any kind of slang. You didn’t wear red, not even red lipstick, because your mother once referred to it as that “nigger color.”
At school the other black girls hated you. They called you stuck up behind your back and gossiped to bring you down. They rumored to the rest of the school that you were a slut and that you’d go down on any boy who asked. You ignored it at first, but in the bathroom one day they attacked you. One girl said you slept with her boyfriend and she smacked you hard. The sting of it sent you reeling. Another girl pulled on your hair. They called you a cunt and a bitch. They knocked you down and beat you until you were lying bleeding on the dirty linoleum floor. No one helped you. You stayed there until they were gone and then slowly forced yourself up.
Who are you kidding? you said, facing yourself in the mirror. You are black. Black black black black, you repeated over and over.
After that you had told yourself you’d only like black men, and ever since it’s all you’ve ever dated, but the problem is black men have it easy. They are like prized jewels. If he’s got a job, an education, then he’s got the pick of the litter when it comes to women. Black girls on the other hand are the rejects of the dating pool. You’re not sure why this is. There are the stereotypes—black women are loud, obnoxious, and bitter. Black women are ghetto gold-diggers.
However, you are not a black girl. You are a brown girl. There’s a difference. It means that you have options. Not many, just more. Not only that, you’re a brown girl that looks like you’re mixed with something else. People think you’re mixed, and they ask you all the time what you are. They make statements about how beautiful mixed children are. They cite names of celebrities of biracial parentage to validate this.
Then they’ll ask you what you are, sometimes even phrasing it like that. “What are you?” they’ll ask, their eyes wide with curiosity but no tact.
You used to tell them the truth. “I’m black,” you’d answer, suddenly ashamed.
“No, you have to be mixed with something,” they’d argue, and how does one respond to that? Tell them again that they’re wrong? That you of all people should know your ethnicity? They would disagree with you anyway, saying that you were probably mixed with something and just didn’t know it. Maybe not your parents but your grandparents.
“You’ve got some white blood in you somewhere,” they’ll say.
You find yourself apologizing each time. It gets old quickly, so the next time you lie. You try to make it believable, small, saying that your mother is biracial. The more people ask the bigger the lie becomes. You say that the father you never talk to is white, that he’s of Italian descent, and people believe you. It becomes easier to make up who you are then to have anyone believe the truth, even yourself.
It’s one of these stories that you tell to your first long-term boyfriend. The two of you meet in college at an Alpha Phi Alpha party. When you have sex he always wants to put his hands in your hair, and one night you suddenly realize—to him you are a commodity. He is thinking about your complexion and the light-skinned babies the two of you will make. He is thinking about how you’ll look to his homeboys. Or maybe this is only what you are thinking, but the thoughts are still there. They have been there from the start.
You try to convince yourself that he’s in love with you, even though he’s been sleeping with half the freshmen girls on the sly. You ignore it when your friends tell you they saw him flirting with that redheaded Economics major. You don’t confront him about any of it, but deep down you’re pissed and so you start fights. This is what eventually happens—he finally breaks up with you, telling you one day that he is tired of your shit. The two of you cause a scene on the campus quad as you call him an Uncle Tom and he rants about how all black girls like you are the same. A crowd gathers to watch. “You think you’re better than everyone else. That’s why no one wants you,” he yells before leaving.
Months pass before you see him again and find that he is dating someone else. A white girl. Her skin looks as smooth as silk, and she is blonde. She looks like she belongs in an ad for Switzerland. You imagine that in her spare time she likes to ski. You look at her and imagine her drinking Swiss Miss hot cocoa, eating decadent Swiss chocolates.
Your girlfriends will want to get drunk and commiserate. They’ll complain about how there are no single black men left. They’ll belch out statistics from magazine articles as explanation for their loneliness. Black men are in prison. They aren’t educated enough like their female counterparts, and the lucky few left don’t want black women.
You listen to them and smile and nod your head in agreement. “But what about other types of men?” you ask. They look at you curiously. “What other men are there?” they ask, and you want to laugh but realize they’re serious.
So you do what you think best—you go on a fuck-spree. For the next year it’s all you do. You go to bars early and stay until late, hoping for someone to take you home. You fuck this guy and that one. You are their exotic conquest. You are their Jungle Fever. You think that the farther you spread your legs the closer you’ll get to finding someone who’ll stick around, but no matter what you do or who you are to them, they still never call afterwards. A week goes by, and then another, and you find yourself in the same bar downing whiskey shots and looking for love.
You are close to drunk one night when you meet him. He is a skinny white boy with nervous hands. He accidentally spills his drink on you. Immediately, he’s asking for forgiveness. “Don’t worry, it’s alright,” you tell him. It was a vodka tonic and it won’t stain. You’ll just smell like the bar for the rest of the evening. Not that you don’t reek of alcohol anyways.
He’s standing close to you, so close that you can smell the musky scent of his cologne. His eyes are dark, brooding, and they stare at you with an intensity that makes you nervous. He is nervous too although you don’t realize it. You’re too focused on how you must seem to him that you don’t notice the awkward way he keeps shifting position.
“What’s a girl like you doing in a place like this?” he finally says.
“Really?” you force a smile. “That’s your line? That’s what you’ve got?”
“Yeah, well,” he laughs.
He is too young for you but you don’t care. He likes you from the start. He is full of questions—wanting to know what you do, what your hobbies are, where you grew up.
“I don’t want to talk.” You make your intentions clear, putting your hand on his inner thigh and squeezing. He blushes and stands.
His apartment is a short cab ride from the bar. You close your eyes and the next moment you are walking up the stairs with him, and the next after that you are with him in his bedroom. Fumbling, he unbuttons his shirt.
He is so pale. He’s ashamed of it, even to the point of making apologies.
“Why?” you say, kissing his chest. “Why are you sorry?”
You marvel at his skin, at the milky creaminess of it. You want to run your tongue over every part of him. You want to lick him clean. He is quiet and still as you take off your own clothes. His breathing is heavy and warm as he kisses you. Slowly. Softly.
You think that there’s no way anything’s going to come from this. You leave before morning and feel like a whore as you walk home alone. The only store open is the corner bodega on your block. You stop in and purchase a Diet Coke and some Alka-Seltzer, and a box of Hot Pockets. The cashier is a slow-eyed man who snickers as you pull out some change.
You eat both of the Hot Pockets while sitting in silence on your couch. You keep thinking about the way his body felt on top of yours. You think about how tentative he was with touching you, as if you were something delicate, as if he would ruin you with his fingers.
He calls the next morning, makes a joke about you sneaking away last night. He wants to see you again. “How about tonight?” he asks.
“Listen,” you start, but you’re not sure how to continue. He uses your hesitation to interrupt.
“Don’t,” he says. “I know you want to see me again as much as I want to see you. So just say yes.”
“Okay,” you say, and you give him your address so he can pick you up. You learn more about him. He is a software engineer and makes a decent living from it. He’s actually older than he looks, even older than you. He grew up in Iowa. His parents own a house surrounded by corn fields. He likes bands you’ve never heard of and is obsessed with hockey. You’ve never been to a game but for a date he brings you to one. You want to make a joke about white men with sticks and a black puck but instead you keep quiet. His face is flushed with excitement as he tries to explain the game, as if it’s something complicated you have to learn. You listen while eating your popcorn, and find yourself slowly getting into the game, even cheering for his team. When it’s over he asks you what you thought. You doubt you’ll become a die-hard fan but you tell him you had fun. He seems pleased.
Your friends find out you’re dating a white boy and they turn on you. They think you’re giving it a go because you’re lonely. They think you’ve lowered your standards.
“Listen,” you say. “This is happening and I don’t care what you think because I’m happy.”
They shut up then. “If you’re happy,” they agree, and the truth is, you are. You never thought your one-night-stand would become your love story, but here it is. He is the whitest white boy you’ve ever known and he sweeps you off your feet.
The day comes when he wants to meet your parents.
“Oh God,” you think, but what can you do but say you’ll go? You knew the day was coming. It was to be expected.
The whole evening you’re afraid of it becoming an updated, dirtier version of Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? You’re sitting next to him as he sheepishly grins each time he tries to feel you up from underneath the table. As his hands crawl up your thighs you try not to think about whether or not you should be offended when his parents offer up watermelon for dessert. You decide to eat your serving on a plate, cutting each seeded bite with a knife and fork while everyone else bites into the juicy chunks and smacks their lips while they’re at it, becoming the white counterparts of the stereotypes you’ve known.
You look ridiculous sitting there holding the utensils. Everyone at the table knows it. You know it, but you’re too proud to stop what you’re doing. You cut the pink flesh into smaller and smaller pieces and using your knife you try and pick out the seeds. His parents are close to finishing while you’ve barely even started. Finally, his mother turns to you, puts her hand on your arm, and says, “Sweetheart, it’s okay. Just bite into the damn thing already.”
It’s enough for you to slowly let down your guard.
“They’re good people,” he says to you afterwards. “They mean well.”
“I know,” you say, and you mean it.
“They like you.”
“What makes you think that?” You’re suspicious, but he says that neither of them would have went through so much trouble just for anyone. He tells you that you’re the first girl he’s ever brought home.
“Huh,” you say, not knowing how to respond, but you know he’s telling the truth.
After dinner the two of you sneak to someplace quiet, away from the background noise of his father’s football game on the television and the sounds of clattering plates as his mother cleans. He takes you to the basement where an inflatable mattress is set up. “My mother,” he starts and sighs. Tonight he’ll sleep here while you’ll take his bedroom upstairs. You’ll lie in his bed and stare at the remnants of his former life—old band posters taped the walls, trophies from high school soccer games. Looking around, you realize that in high school he would have never wanted you, and the fear comes up again. It’s been hiding deep inside yourself, but now as you look around you begin to fear that he’ll leave you, and so you’ll go through his drawers searching for clues that will give reason to your doubts. You look for pictures of past girlfriends, old letters, any mementos of a former love. You look for things about him that he’s never told you. You want to believe that you don’t know him, because how could he possibly know you? How could this white boy from Iowa know you in all the ways you’ve been wanting?
The truth is he does, and you know him. Not just the taste of his mouth and the feel of his body, but you know that he eats breakfast foods at all times of the day, that it would be the only thing he’d eat if he could. You know that he furrows his brows when he’s upset. You know that he likes to play the piano, and once upon a time was good enough to get a scholarship to a school in New York but his father convinced him out of pursuing it further. You know that when he isn’t visiting his parents that they sleep in separate bedrooms. You know that his biggest fear is unhappiness.
Tonight, you know that he loves you. It is there with the both of you standing on the basement steps where he tells you. He says it quickly. It is a spontaneous fluttering of emotion. “What?” you say, and he says it again. This time he whispers the words slowly, deliberately. He tells you that you don’t have to say anything back, just that he wanted you to know. Your heart swells with his sincerity. “I love you too,” you tell him, and you realize it’s the first time you’ve said the words and meant it.
By the time you’ve reached the bottom steps the two of you are on each other—clothes apart and limbs entangled. He can barely see your figure as you both feel your way through the dark, but if he could you know he wouldn’t look away. He’s in love with you, not just your body, or your hair or your skin. You feel like a teenager again, giddy and warm. You both go at it so hard that neither of you notice the air as it hisses out of the mattress. It’s only afterwards lying together, naked and sweating on the wooden floor with the plastic wrapped around your chafed thighs that you’re able to see what’s happened, but by now neither of you care so you go at it again.