Internet — information — criticism — poetry — connection — feminism — open source — open spaces — translation — digression — recursion — boats — wheelchairs — disability rights — ranting — the future — by Liz Henry
On my week off from work I spent a lot of time at Noisebridge. We have a little set-up there with coffee and tea supplies, coffee makers and so on, which people keep stocked with donations. As I sat there waiting for my tea to brew I cleaned up the shelves with a rag and straightened out all the supplies and cups. I had a sudden strong memory of Arrakis Co-op in Austin, where I lived briefly in 1986 after I got kicked out of the women’s co-ops on campus.
Arrakis was a beautiful but dusty and run-down little house in West Campus. (I think it was partly burned down at some point, and has now been rebuilt.) I just remember sitting in the kitchen there having tea with Jimi and Dennis as they talked with me about moving in. I was 17 years old, a little bit wild, instantly in love with the collective house’s feeling of comfortable chaos, its porch swing, and everyone’s laid back attitude. The main thing I remember about sitting there is being absolutely blown away by one thing, the 10 or so boxes of different kinds of tea. They had all these boxes of Celestial Seasonings tea. I had never seen that before in my life. Someone could have 10 different kinds of tea, in their house! The boxes had nice art on them and quotes from Emerson and funny little sayings and it was like HIPPIES had made a real THING… a business. You better believe I sat there and read all the boxes to see what they had to say. I couldn’t wait to move in and try all of the different kinds of tea one after the other. In fact I did, and I wrote them all down with my ratings so that I’d remember which ones were good.
Digressing further I remember having a similar hilarious epiphany a few months later while studying with my friend Abbey in 21st Street Co-op. She declared we needed a break and some ice cream so I followed her to the 7-11 where she bought an entire pint of Haagen Daas rum raisin ice cream. My mind was once again blown. It had never occurred to me that a person could just go buy a container of ice cream and personally eat all of it right then. I didn’t drive and I had never really helped my parents with shopping and when I bought food it was things like bread and cheese or a can of soup to get through the weekend. And we had “dessert” sometimes but it was occasional and a bit ceremonious, it wasn’t just like we had ice cream lying around at random. My realization was that $2.50 or whatever it was the ice cream cost was not completely impossible. I just went, OMG, it is not outside the realm of possibility that, not only could I have 10 kinds of tea someday, I could also, at any moment, if I have two dollars to spare, exercise my free will to indulge myself in a giant container of ice cream that is just for me. It was not so much about buying things but more about “things I could do that are amazingly luxurious”. And perhaps “joys of being a Grownup”.
I could wax rhapsodic in the same way about when my boss at the library would buy a bag of Milanos and put it on the table in the break room. Or the occasional Departmental Event or talk where some of us would horn in on the meager plates of brie and grapes like there was no tomorrow. These people at college were living the life!!
This has nothing to do with anything but the memory made me resolve to buy a whole lot of tea and put it at Noisebridge this week so that some young person might have that mildly pleasant experience of a random encounter with abundance. If someone ends up stuffing their pockets excitedly with the free tea packets, I completely understand.
I was at the SF MOMA last night for a party and noticed that an exhibit is running of Francesca Woodman‘s photos. Woodman was a fantastic photographer. Her photos often make me feel startled — caught — as if someone had been able to see into my head and had violently extracted several ghosts, or xrayed a thought, a dream or a fear. Her photos are usually of female figures, usually naked, in landscapes of houses and rooms, full of light and shadow.
They aren’t just houses – they’re like non-cartographical mappings of inner geographies of House, of Room, and of embodiment and gender. I see them and have the sense of being simultaneously trapped and freed, of being shudderingly aware of the trap of gender and patriarchy and of, somehow, escaping.
A few years ago I translated a book by Zulema Moret written about Francesca Woodman’s photos, Un ángel al borde del volcán ardiendo. I really enjoyed the project. Honestly, they aren’t the deepest poems in the world, but I liked the way they interacted with the photos & my memories of the photos, and they were fun and challenging to translate. They’re evocative and delicate. I have a copy somewhere — it was published in Buenos Aires — and am thinking of taking it to the exhibit to read while I look at the photos.
At the party we couldn’t wander through the museum, so I’m going to have to go back to see the exhibit! It’s very exciting! I had a weird feeling just being in the building with them . . . haunted by Francesca . . . as I ate my sushi canapes and chocolate cayenne cream puffs and played with legos, a little tipsy and very exhausted since I WALKED into this party. Yes, you heard me! Walked! . . . The lights and projections of lights, and flowers, and all the food, was very beautiful. We hung out with Jon Callas a lot (restfully nerdy and culturally similar to us) and Helena (dearhelenab?) who was very amusing in her role as Manic Pixie Dream Girl. And Ryan from Wired and several more people from Long Now who I know I’ve met at conferences. I was saying to someone I hoped they would put the constructed feminist language Láadan from 1982 onto their disk thingie of all languages (along with Klingon). Talked also to an Awkward AnarchoLibertarian whose name I forgot but who is an internet pundit. I have started explaining myself at parties either as a hacker poet, or as an Internet Pundit, or both. Neither are good explanations, so I have no elevator pitch for myself… Someone asked me, Web 2.0ishly at this party, “Poetry! So how do you market, I mean, CELEBRATE, your poetry and your work?” I thought over the last 20 years of my life and poeting along and publishing tiny zines and books in very small editions and shrugged… A celebration of obscurity?
Also at the party I nerved myself to go and (interrupting his endless conversation with Edward James Olmos the Battlestar Galactica guy) to fangirl all over Stewart Brand. Hiiiiiiii, um!!!!! I live on a houseboat toooooo and by the way my book coming out soon has an enormous long poem called Whole Earth Catalog that is homage and criticism of the last 45 years of your life’s work and our intertwined cultural histories of the Internet and communes and stuff! That’s all! I just wanted to say it! Have another canapé! BLUSH. He did a polite little double take and gave me his card and seemed quite kind. I wanted to ask Kevin Kelly if he liked my moon landing poem I gave him at foo camp, but I felt like it would be awkwardly putting him on the spot if he had never looked at it, so I just said hello and chatted to the other people as we stood around.
I survived the fancy Walking Party At a Museum by sitting down a lot and trying to lure people to sit with me to make things out of legos in the big bowls by the couches. Then would pop back up for a 5 or 10 minute Ordeal of Painful Verticality. Back at home, Danny gently massaged my calves and ankles till I fell asleep.
This morning I was listening to the awesomely cheerful and cheesy first (and eponymous) album by Book of Love. I have to say of all the joys of civilization, aside from bathtubs, my favorite thing might be singing in the car to loud music. The privacy means I can totally belt out “Starman” while mangling the lyrics without being drunk or having a karaoke machine, but also that I can call up various embarrassing pieces of music to play at top volume without annoying anyone else.
As I sang “Happy Day” this morning I realized that when I listen to heinous pop music sometimes I’m mentally editing it, interpolating way more meaning or different meaning into it. There’s a whole category of songs I have to do this for, ones that are great but then burst into a verse that’s way too specific, like the verse about jumping into someone’s pool in Honest Bob and the Factory-to-Incentive Dealers’ “I Will Deny” or completely wrong. Book of Love is usually not so much wrong as it is simple like a coloring book. So my enjoyment of the fingerpainted lyrics and sweepy new wave music is usually enhanced by a sort of internal Greasemonkey script that shovels in the equivalent of “Howl” and several highly compressed Ani di Franco songs. I don’t think about this, it’s just what happens in the infinite spaces in between the actual lyrics, like the time compression in a dream. They’re like a shape and it’s like I”m having a complicated form of synesthesia (which I actually do get if I have some focus and can close my eyes). This morning I ended up noticing and observing my interpolations because they were so absurd. Yes. It’s like I’m high all the time and I have to suppress it actively. But everyone does that, right? Anyway!!! It went something like this, but way longer:
What it was yes exactly i can’t describe it because nothing is describable omg but here let me give it a try (long complicated holo-poem abstraction)
Shined so bright flaming meteorites! but sort of fractal! phosphenes! some sort of magic fantasy world psychic power aura that reveals a giant glowing floating futuristic city in an alternate universe that’s infinitely complicated and sort of galaxies exploding and colliding
Hold on to the light light! why do we hold onto it? what? LION!
Safe from the night long thought about Novalis I don’t have time to explain
I can see
When you walk with me but not “you” like a romantic you because that is all wrong but more like The Universe and stuff
Time to begin again REVOLUTION!!!!!!! SWEEP IT ALL CLEAN! YEAH!!!
Lead us to a happier day Except leaderlessly in a totally egalitarian way anarchically because that would be the best happiness!!!!!!
Wake up you’re late for tomorrow
I’d like nothing to do well not really
I would dream
Dream about you YES, YOU, ANARCHY UTOPIA
Lead us LEADERLESSLY WITH EVERYONE “LEADING” OF COURSE
To a happier day HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY HAPPY NYANCAT OF THE FUTURE REVOLUTION!!!!
At every annual BlogHer conference I’ve given one (or several) talks and workshops. I’ve always gotten a lot of great feedback from my workshop sessions on coding and debugging, blog security and privacy, and other technical how-tos, as well as talking about politics, women’s history, feminism and identity, and how our writing online ties into the letters and diaries and activism from women in the past. Last year I spoke about what it’s like to be a small blogger who suddenly is on the crest of the wave of breaking news and talking with mainstream media. I also try to approach tech support for our bloggers and community as part of my personal feminist activism: tech support as empowerment!
Since I work for BlogHer full time, I’m on call as a speaker to fill in anywhere the organizers need me to, so I could end up anywhere. Still, I like to propose my own panels! I’m considering “A Server of Her Own” or “Feminist Hackers” . . .
If you’re thinking of coming to BlogHer ’12 in NYC next , what would you like me to speak about or teach? Any particular subjects or panels you’ve seen me run before, that you’d like to see happen again? Or, if you’re thinking of coming to speak, what kind of panel or workshop would you like to run *with* me?
Not that it’s all about me!
If you’re thinking about coming to BlogHer or putting in an idea or a talk proposal… read on!
BlogHer is an extremely friendly and open conference. 80% of our speakers each year are new speakers at the conference! It started with 300 women in San Jose years ago, and now I think our numbers at the annual conference are closer to 4000. Yes! Four thousand blogging women! (And sundry.) The parties are great — the people are the best thing though. Some people are nerdy, some are more writerly, some personal, some blogging on particular subjects, some very commercially oriented and many not at all. As with all the best conferences the sessions are good but the hallway and lobby conversations that happen informally are even better.
Most of my talking about OccupyWallStreet and my local Occupys has been on Twitter and Google+ rather than here on my blog. I drop in and start twittering what’s happening in a General Assembly or try to connect up the streams of what’s happening and report on a situation. But now I feel moved to post. This morning I woke up still full of beautiful dances I was watching online, links from a friend from various powwows around the country. This is a Men’s Fancy Dance,
This one is of a Grass Dance,
Bear with me. Okay meanwhile this long and deep conversation about racism in the Florence and the Machine video for “No Light, No Light” has been going on. Here’s an overview from Racialicious. A lot of bloggers spoke up to point out the giant bundle of racist belief systems that result in works like this being made and being viewed uncritically by many white people and people of color and that PoC are more likely to notice the outrageousness of it while white people don’t see it until it’s pointed out and maybe not even then. As usual, (see #RaceFails of time immemorial) the resulting backlash of white people getting defensive and then extra offensive feels worse and exposes more nonsense than the original cultural artifact that inspired the critique. That can be disheartening and in the middle of that alienation it’s refreshing to the deepest bits of me to see this video response from lebanesepoppyseed which was on the KBURD tumblr. Yay, rant on! I feel less alone in my rage and bafflement. (Bafflement is not quite the right word. Deep political and personal WTF that goes with alienation.) KBURD:
Short for “K but u rong doe”. Used when you know arguing is pointless but you need them to know they’re still wrong.
Person 1: women are partly responsible for getting raped
Person 2: kburd.
Ha! Yes. What a useful and amusing word.
But what does this have to do with powwows and dancing? Not much. But as I watched a bunch of videos and entered a happy click trance going between YouTube and Wikipedia and various Native American history sites I thought about knowledge and cultural contexts. I went to a powwow once in like 1982 and have read some books of stories and some histories of North America but I have no way to understand what I am seeing in these dances. And I have no particular knowledge of dance in general, at all other than having heard a friend once talk about some other dancer’s “placement”, after which I began to notice “placement” everywhere; so I realize there is a whole bundle of criteria that serious dancers would use to watch and understand and critique other dancers that I can’t tap into. I can’t see right off the bat very much of what it is that my friend (who is showing me the videos) sees and loves. So I can barely begin to appreciate these dancers — and I know that. I can see some guys dancing around in awesome looking outfits and get a vague feeling or mood and watch on that level. I can judge on the level of “I like how that dancer leaps”. But the art of it is on some level not visible to me. Reading the comments on the videos opens up a little bit of the context for me as people compliment a particular dancer. I watched a grass dance video about 6 times to be able to pick him out and to see even a glimmer of what they praised him for. Even that glimmer of vision makes me super happy as I see the depth of all the knowledge in the world and the way that epistemology is socially constructed and therefore more complicated than some sort of static objective Knowledge-Bit floating around in imaginary space. I get the feeling contemplating our inability to understand everything that’s like watching Cosmos and hearing Carl Sagan drone soothingly on about the emptiness between the stars. It’s not like abjectly going “oh I’m so ignorant” it’s appreciating the beauty of the immensity of what there is to know and love.
And that relates to everything about literary judgement and what people say about universality or scope of a story and they judge one kind of story to be profound and artistically wrought and then, lacking the tools to see a whole swath of the sky, declare that other things don’t reach those levels of complexity or universality or quality or goodness. It is incumbent on us to find out some depth about a thing, if we want to understand how to appreciate it, see its beauties, techniques, and craftedness, and judge its qualities. Education, it contributes so greatly to enjoyment! Context, people! This seems so obvious! But it isn’t, if you’ve not had some kind of double consciousness of truth and cultures and knowledge in general! Which people not in a dominant culture have more likelihood of thinking through and encountering! (Which…. rant…. you aren’t going to see if you don’t even accept that what is coming out of another person’s mouth is language, or thought, or makes any sense because you’ve already dehumanized them in your tiny racist white mind to the point where they’re a babbling mob howling about trivial unimportant things!) Why is this not obvious! I have to accept that it’s not. But then how to explain it.
The countless explanations are out there and then all the ignorant can hear is “KBURD” and a giant eyeroll and then they are back to whining about feeling excluded from where all the black kids are sitting at the cafeteria table and then I lose any semblance of patience and am KBURDing myself. But given that this idea about artistic or literary quality or judgement might be just a little bit accepted or accessible, then let me jump to critique and anger and #Occupy.
I got into an epic 3 days long and counting argument on Twitter about #ows with this dude “geekeasy”, Adam Katz. I know him a little from other political meetings and communities. One of my friends pointed him out getting into an argument about, I can’t even remember at this point; it had occupyoakland, I think the suggested name change of it to decolonize or liberate, the tipi that Running Wolf set up in Oscar Grant Plaza, a blog post by Andreana aka queer black feminist, and all sorts of stuff roiling around in there, but it seemed to be sparked by something he said about not wanting the General Assembly to have a progressive stack; ie, instead of just lining up to talk or getting your name on a list by raising your hand and being called on in order, the stack-keeper helping the facilitator would try to alternate between genders and races to make sure that the stack isn’t all white men standing up to speak because they are more likely to do so out of entitlement and more likely to be listened to out of white male privilege. So, i just went to link to an explanation of some examples of a progressive stack in action, but Christ on a cracker the top links are all to neonazis and MRA people and libertarian and the intersections thereof rejoicing that the progressive stack will unite all of them and all the other Folk of Reason against the coming Decolonization Mau-Mau, so, fuck. Okay. Yeah so. That’s a sampler of what happens when you even dare to suggest, Hey white dudes, how about you potentially wait 15 minutes to get your next chance to talk so that we can invite and make space for women and men of color to have a say? I swear to god it’s like asking a toddler to take a turn at a game and watching him lose his ever loving mind. Problem is he’s driving the fucking car!
Back to the discussion. What happened was, geekeasy was answering me and some friends and then increasingly other people jumping on into it, but answering us from a second twitter account, geekeasy2. I noticed that right off but then ignored it figuring he maybe had an account from his phone and one from a computer, and answered him there but like a day later realized he was still doing his “real” occupy twittering from his first account! As if all his increasingly amazingly racist stuff needed to be off in the corner so as not to pollute his main stream? As if the conversation we were deigning to have with him were somehow going to dilute his real message or bother his real followers or something? I don’t know. Along the way he said some epic and amazing things about black men’s privilege, black women’s privilege, “quotas” and affirmative action in every sphere, racism among PoC, racism against white men, continually quoted MLK to try and prove his point that everyone should be “colorblind”, somehow also it got all about black people when we were talking about Native American people in the beginning … I believe he may have told jay smooth (who talked with him for 2 days straight) that he was remarkably polite and articulate or something… holy hell!! It was like a hundred red alerts on the U.S.S. Enterprise were going off flashing because a bunch of us all hollered BINGO on our 4 dimensional hyper-bingo cards. Well, again, what does this have to do with “Art” and my watching a dozen Grass Dance videos last night, I am not sure I have the patience to keep outlining the connection and my kid wants breakfast now, but, it’s that I think, how can Adam judge whether someone else’s anger is justified or its meaning or background without him listening to or knowing that history and background? I am automatically really curious about his own personal situation and where he got to his thoughts, maybe his class rage is factoring into this big time, but then, go there and talk about that rather than invalidating the entire political thought process of a group of people you’re talking to. Like, he’s over there claiming that the lurkers support him in email, ie that he has talked with large numbers of white people who will leave the Occupy movement if there is a progressive stack, or if there is a serious meeting to change the name of Occupy Oakland, but he’s *saying that to people who are telling him they personally aren’t going to be part of the movement unless there *is* a progressive stack* without any seeming consciousness that he values his unseen white people not in the conversation more than he values the people of color he’s actually speaking with in that moment and that further, he expects the PoC he’s speaking with to also value those white people he invokes more than their own selves and feelings! It boggles the mind! My point though, is that he and so many white people feel free to judge the validity of women’s and people of color’s response, of our and their angry responses, of our humor, of our political experiences and beliefs, of our very capability of judgement and taking offense and finding other things acceptable, without even first listening to us or knowing anything about our experiences. And that, even aside from some sort of evenness in intrinsically making space for people to speak who might not otherwise get a chance to be heard, is the point, if white men would make structural changes in actual real life to pay attention to and value the opinions of people who aren’t them, they might get that depth of understanding necessary to develop some judgement! Why can’t they know that they don’t know, and take some time to look some shit up, like I just did automatically in googling for some history of Grass Dance, reading some comments from people talking to each other not to me about it, and making like 1 iota of effort! I realize that someone like Adam will instantly respond that that is why I need to listen to THEM more because omg what about the white menz, but my god! I spent my whole life being brought up to listen to them and judge everything else in the world according to their standards of importance and quality, and what an epic struggle to turn one’s attention elsewhere! The struggle of my whole life! And even then I still of course listen, especially to individuals who, like Adam, are in my community and directly up in my political arenas. And then they’re all like, Oh but we don’t get it, what is wrong, why aren’t there any (women in this hackerspace, women of color at this tech conference, etc etc) What can we do, please educate us on this subject and p.s. could you also do our Diversity Outreach unpaid and uncredited to get your friends to be tokenized and used and offended by us! And then when we fucking try to educate them even a tiny bit they’re all like Oh god reverse sexism/racism, my girlfriend says I’m not sexist, I have a black friend, Running Wolf said I get to have this tipi, You are oppressing me and now because you all dared suggest you get some of the time and I give up 1/10th of my privilege which I won’t even admit exists, I’m going to throw the internet’s biggest hissy fit for days on end so you will all pay attention to meeeeeee. (And even that is a bad framing that the point of things is for the benefit of white men to do their CR work for them. But, okay someone has to try.) At that point I am quite grateful to have the word to be able to simply say, “KBURD”. But then what? I mean I assume (with no real knowledge but in good faith) that geekeasy (in his non-geekeasy2 incarnation) does some useful and good and dedicated activist work. But then what do we do with his strangely split off alter ego, geekeasy2? We still have to live with these people after the revolution, if you know what I mean, so, damn, really, what now? Ally with the allies I guess and keep on fighting the good fight and leading by example. And this is what almost every day is like, in my head, during these months of #occupy #decolonize #liberate and all the conversations around it, so complicated and swirling, beautiful, inspiring, friend-making, and then, infuriating. It’s hard to blog because there is so MUCH of it. Is that how it is for you?
Peace out as I go make some eggs for my child and start my morning for real.