I was recently involved with someone who deemed himself a gentleman, but arguably didn’t consistently act in that manner. The ambiguous feelings I had toward him have subsided. Time, and the recent horrific events in Santa Barbara, have brought some clarity. And more questions. I write this in the hope it invites further dialogue as it relates to the realm of male and female relationships, which mostly reflect on our relationships with ourselves.
My particular situation, which saw me ultimately acting without integrity (I comment-vomited on his new girl’s Instagram), had me questioning my own sanity, despite the hurt I felt at his hands. So what’s the tie between the “nice guy” and my “crazy girl” behavior?
The hidden gradations our society has for the roles of heterosexual men and women work against us and the gender-relations’ cause.
The alpha male. The slut. The girl-next-door. The stalker. The gentleman. The bachelor. These are the roles that limit our capacity to love in a whole way. These are the narratives we let ourselves believe in order to limit ourselves, to limit uncertainty and the discomfort of acknowledging our ever-changing identities.
Elliot Rodger’s mental state and his YouTube manifesto, describing his loneliness, his frustrations with being a virgin at 22 and at having never kissed a girl, are incredibly troubling. The mental-health issues aren’t things I’m going to get into, and in no way do I want to downplay their significance. It’s the idea that an entire community exists, one centered around picking up girls – frustrations with girls – “playing” girls, (not to mention the unspoken solidarity females can exhibit when complaining about men), that also troubles me. It’s an indication we may have lost our way.
An old roommate once summed it up nicely: We are all just looking for a profound love. The path to finding that love can make for bumps on the road, perhaps more for some than others. But these hiccups are simply leading us to a place where, not only do we love ourselves, we can be the best partner possible to someone else.
It reminds me of a favorite quote: God has put people in our lives so that we may be a blessing to them.
Binaries can help us make sense of our relationships, for a time, but they aren’t truths. If Elliot Rodger had been mentally able to take a leap of faith to look beyond the “narrative fallacy” of him being the nice guy, he may have found himself in another position. As a boyfriend. As a husband, and later as a father. Watching that video – I saw a boy who had decided something about himself years ago. The irony, of course, is that the girls he felt had rejected him are reconciling their own heteronormative relationship roles, and he used theirs (“sluts”) against them. And now there are six victims who won’t be able to love on this earth again.
We are more than these roles. In love, we take advantage of others and find ourselves taken advantage of. We act without integrity, and surprise ourselves with our restraint. We don’t need to pigeon-hole it, or why. If you’re stuck in a relationship-role box, I encourage you to question it. And never doubt how whole you were all along.
Have you ever had a moment so perfect that, when you realize its perfection, you become terrified you will wreck it? As if being content isn’t part of who we are, but a state we must struggle to maintain?
I had that feeling once. I was on a train leaving Paris, going to some dinky town in France (whether a provincial town in France can be called “dinky” is debatable). It was summer 2003, and I was studying abroad in Florence. We had the weekends to explore the European countryside. That Parisian weekend – which included a seedy Best Western, a surprising number of hair weaves (an Algerian neighborhood, perhaps?) and some memorable moments (the Notre Dame and hot chocolate pair surprisingly well) – we found ourselves back en route to our temporary Italian home. I laid down in the sleeper car, my best friend asleep in the small uncomfortable bunk next to me, and I listened to Moby’s “Porcelain” on my portable CD player.
I took a second to ponder if I should let myself listen to it. It’s too sacred, I thought. What if this time, this listen, ruins the times the song has served as the soundtrack to a beautiful memory, a memory I am so chained to I can’t take a risk ruining it? I took the chance.
The curtains in the cab were open; a curious, mysterious moon looked back at me, reflecting small columns of sun onto the French countryside. I put the track on repeat.
We want so much to believe that some things are above the crumbs we typically accept that it’s terrifying to think we might change, look at something differently, not be able to rely on that “thing” anymore – be it a song, a person, anything.
“tell the truth you never wanted me.”
This line has always hit me. The things we tell ourselves – the loaded hue of the glasses through which we see the world – the way we jump to conclusions to protect ourselves. The narratives we make up to tie life into a neat, perfected bow. Things can be so fragile and breakable. Not with force, but without it. On accident and by our own hand. Porcelain.
Moby’s LA architecture blog is one of my safest Internet places. I’m so glad he’s an LA transplant.
Related: A Castle for the King of Techno
“There’s a consequence for being over-prepared. ”
I remember reading this NY Times’ article awhile back on minimalism and feeling taken aback. I’ve always been good at throwing stuff away (the consequence of obsessively hoarding magazines as a teenager), but I had never taken time to consider the psychological aspects in regards to how I relate to my “stuff.”
I’m currently in the middle of moving my apartment around. And when I say moving around, I really mean that my roommate is moving out, and I find myself with a lot of space. Perhaps too much.
Was it Eleanor Roosevelt who said to “do one thing every day that scares you?”
I did it in college. I might have done it in high school. And here we are – nearly ten years later – and I’m still getting paid to write other people’s research papers.
2004: One of my senior-year college roommates offers me $50 cash to write her 10-page research paper on cleft palates. (She was an education major.) And while my parents were my only source of income at the time and their preferred method of payment involved my blue-and-yellow VisaBuxx card (the credit card you pre-load; Target market? Teens.), I didn’t do it for the money. I did it for the thrill.
It took me 24 hours. I stayed up. I took Adderall for the first and last time. I learned kind of a lot about cleft palates. I finished the paper, literally sick and tired, but found myself curled up in my Ikea bed around 10am after the all-nighter bloated with a strange pride. We gamed the system. We stuck it to the man. This is what it feels like to live!
My love affair with academic dishonesty flared up again this past week: Through a virtual-assistant web site, I started working for a girl – T – who needed some help with a short research paper for her business class. “Help” really meaning someone who would write the paper for her. I worked on it at work. At home. I became invested and engrossed. I emailed the final version to her with a little note: “I love doing this kind of work, so if you have more and would like to work outside the site, let me know!”
She took me up on the offer. It’s all a little mysterious, but from what I can gather, I now seem to be completing the course for her. And while I love the work and the set-up, it doesn’t mean I think it’s ok.
This is how I look at it semi-freakonomically. I think the argument against T and I’s arrangement is a) it’s dishonest, and 2) it isn’t good for the student. And what would we as a society do if a majority of our college graduates had actually employed a smaller minority of outside individuals to complete their collegiate work for them? Are the graduates fit to enter the workforce? It really begs the question – what does having a college degree in America today mean?
College can be just as much about learning to live with the institutions that govern our lives, figuring out how to maneuver around the red tape, as it can be about learning. For all I know, T is a hustler – she’s getting a degree to get ahead, not to apply the concept of marketing myopia to her employer’s mission statement. There’s an opportunity cost to doing her college coursework – what could she be doing instead? How do we know that that something is not more beneficial for her?
I do it because I miss the urgency. The high stakes. The deadlines. I’m lucky – at least in terms of collegiate work. I love learning, particularly through writing, putting pieces of a puzzle together and not having the luxury of over-thinking the whole thing. (It’s pretty rare that someone approaches you three weeks ahead of time with a paper to write.) I think I especially like the ability to put the work aside when I’m done. It’s the best way to get around the writer’s ultimate dilemma: that the success, or lack thereof, of something we produce says something about us fundamentally. This kind of work – it’s part of me, but not who I am.
At this point, I’m mostly worried that T will start spending money on me that she doesn’t have, the dependency issue. I’m also worried that maybe she does need to know some of this stuff. If I start getting indications that either is happening, I’ll have to take a second look at our arrangement.
For now, it’s one of those things in life that’s best approached as…it is what it is.
My friend and I went to see the French-language film Amour – which translates to “Love” in English, obvi – Friday night. Because, Oscars. And the poster makes it look like we’re dealing with the ultimately redemptive power of love in a time of sickness and old age. SCORE
Well, this isn’t The Notebook friends. Amour has the old-age part, but not the redemptive-power-of-love theme. The film – directed and penned by the very Austrian Michael Haneke (The White Ribbon, The Piano Teacher) – tells the story of the lives of a retired Parisian couple after the wife suffers a stroke. She has an aversion to hospitals, and after an unsuccessful operation to clear the blocked artery that caused her stroke, she asks her husband to take care of her from then on only in their home. Having little contact with the outside world, the couple is forced to turn to and look at only one another and how they have lived their relationship.
Our protagonist husband, ever dutiful, is the shaky rock (is that possible?) for his wife as her health declines. Sometimes she is mopey and demanding. Other times, she seems content just to be with him. They read together. They reminisce. She learns new things about him, perhaps listening to him for the first time. Over the course of the film, her right side succumbs to paralysis and she suffers another stroke that leaves her bedridden. One remarkable scene ends with our husband slapping his wife out of frustration when she won’t drink the water he must feed her. The film ends with her death, which has its own implications.
Amour was jarring, uncomfortable, minimalistic. It had no score and no music aside from that which was a part of the actual story. The most thought-provoking aspect of Amour, for me, was the idea that love perhaps doesn’t have its own definition; it is instead an amalgam of things – at times confusion, dependency, despondency, intimacy, friendship, devotion. It cannot be defined itself, but only analyzed moment-by-moment for us to have any grasp of it. Could it even be reduced to being a “habit?”
And what of death in Amour? Perhaps it is human nature that will have us believe we are dead the moment we are diagnosed with a terminal illness or sick. But our immobilized, “dying” wife is still very much alive while lying in bed – capable of fear, contentment, frustration, the ability to feel physical pain and to continue to interact with her husband. Haneke seems to be saying that the quality of our lives can deteriorate, but our lives can still change up until the moment we take our last breath.
It’s a brave and purposeful move to title a film Amour. Your audience comes to you with preconceived, idealistic notions. Haneke – himself an aging, married artist – is ready to break you of those notions, however uncomfortable you may be, and considering I’m still thinking about the effed-up movie two days later, he succeeded.
Verdict: A well-done film. Not for everyone. Thought-provoking, depressing and European. Some could see it as hopeful; its sparseness and characterization were too gritty for me to want to label it optimistic.
This past weekend a 26-year-old young man in Brooklyn committed suicide by hanging. His name was Aaron Swartz. You may not have heard of him, but this blog post, the Internet, techdom today – all owe him a great deal.
Aaron has been in the tech spotlight for over a decade. He is credited with developing RSS (that little feed you can add to your email client so that you see when a web site has been updated). He worked with Reddit. Recently, he was in the news – and was awaiting trial – for stealing a bunch of articles from JSTOR to put on the net for public access. Apparently not for financial gain.
I don’t understand the technical stuff – but essentially, while Swartz was a student at Harvard (ironically), he used MIT’s network to access JSTOR. He began downloading thousands of articles, changing his IP address each time JSTOR peeps started getting suspicious. He eventually ended up figuring out how to get past the system, put his laptop in a closet in some building at MIT – the same closet a homeless man used to store his belongings – and downloaded millions of articles from the humanities’ database. Parties had settled (JSTOR abandoned civil charges), and everything was wiped clean…until a federal prosecutor decided in 2011 that Aaron deserved further punishment (after MIT contacted the authorities). At the time of his death Aaron was facing up to 50 years in federal prison if convicted of the crimes committed against MIT.
None of the articles I’ve encountered had explicit answers as to how a potential conviction might have affected Aaron’s decision to take his life, but almost all mentioned it. While Aaron suffered from depression, Aaron’s family made specific mention of his legal issues in their public statement: “Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts US attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death.” As of today, 25,000 people have signed an online petition that asks the White House to remove the prosecuting attorney in Aaron’s case. (The charges have been dropped in light of Aaron’s death.)
If Twitter is anything to go by, the tech community is up-in-arms. But I realized today – the rest of the world has stayed pretty much silent. What gives?
We live in an exciting and malleable time, and sometimes I think we forget just how exciting it is. And what kind of implications there are. The Internet has changed everything – information is democratized, and we all have access to it. If knowledge is power, we’ve got a new playing field. Perhaps institutions that are typically in charge (governments, universities, corporations) aren’t too thrilled with it all, for understandable reasons. As a society, we’ve been taught to worry about technological progress, to fear the hacker. He has become different, the “Other.” He is not one of “us.” It’s kind of 1984.
I can’t pretend to know enough about the government’s or MIT’s side to make an educated judgment on what’s happened. I do know that from my perspective – someone who’s interested in tech but doesn’t understand it – there doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. It is often in those instances where there isn’t that middle ground that we should examine society’s narratives and dialogue surrounding the issues in question. If there isn’t a dialogue already, it’s time to start one; wherever we stand, get things out in the open and take the stigma and power out of uncomfortable issues. Right? Wrong? Let’s talk about it.
Bottom line: there is rarely something more tragic than losing someone who has so much left to give to the world. By all accounts, Aaron had only just begun.
Illuminating links to Aaron’s work and thoughts. How he read so many books in one year beats me-
National suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK(8255)
I’ve come to the realization that sometimes you’re just going to write shit.