Sunday, June 29, 2008

We're howling forever

Last week I stumbled across Amy Stein's Photography blog. I love her Domesticated series in particular this picture:
Maybe it's because I've been listening to TV on the Radio's "Wolf Like Me" quite a bit recently, but says so much to me about the collision of the natural world and the man made world (in other words, I've been feeling a lot like a wolf howling at a false moon lately).

Check out Stein's Women with Guns series as well.

Rachel Papo, a photographer on Stein's blogroll, has amazing pictures of women serving in the Israeli army.

She writes
Almost fifteen years after my mandatory military duty ended, I went back to several Israeli army bases, using the medium of photography as a vehicle to re-enter this world. Serial No. 3817131 represents my effort to come to terms with the experiences of being a soldier from the perspective of an adult. My service had been a period of utter loneliness, mixed with apathy and pensiveness, and at the time I was too young to understand it all. Through the camera’s lens, I tried to reconstruct facets of my military life, hopeful to reconcile matters that had been left unresolved.

Perhaps because they are placed right next to each other, two of Papo's images stood out to me. Here is the first and here is the second. The first, is almost a glamor shot; a starling beautiful woman, stretch out in a chair with a look of peace on her face. The second, in stark contrast, is an image of a women tightly balled up and perhaps crying or about to cry. Her photos are amazing, often depicting shots of female soliders looking directly and intensly into the camera. At first it is jarring seeing sometimes small women holding weapons as large as themselves, but for me the setting (the army, the guns) quickly fell into the background of her series.

As Papo writes

Each image embodies traces of things that I recognize, illuminating fragments of my history, striking emotional cords that resonate within me. In some way, each is a self-portrait, depicting a young woman caught in transient moments of introspection and uncertainty, trying to make sense of a challenging daily routine.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Polyface Farm (you'll have to read Omnivore's Dilemma to know)

I've gotten really into Michael Pollen this past year. Future Farm House directed me to one of his talks which can be found at the Philadelphia Free Library Podcast, I heard him a couple times on NPR, his books kept coming up in conversation with friends, and I also really enjoyed the essay he wrote for the New York Time's Sunday Magazine several weeks ago.

Not sure what took me so long with all this exposure to Pollen, but I finally picked up Omnivore's Dilemma. I'm about one-fourth of the way through and enjoying it a lot so far. I don't know exactly what I expected (I mostly heard him speak about his follow-up book, In Defense of Food), but I'm loving the way Pollen weaves in history and science throughout his narrative.

While I was riding home from work the other day on the trolley, I read one particular passage that plucked something inside of me:

One might think that people would stop eating and drinking gargantuan portions as soon as they felt full, but it turns out hunger doesn't work that way. Researchers have found that people (and animals) presented with larger portions will eat up to 30 percent more than they would otherwise. Human appetite, it turns out, is surprising elastic, which makes excellent evolutionary sense: It behooved our hunter-gather ancestors to feast whenever the opportunity presented itself, allowing them to build up reserves of fat against future famine.

And also

The power of food science lies in its ability to break food down into their nutrient parts and then reassemble them in specific ways that, in effect, push our evolutionary buttons, fooling the omnivore's inherited food selection system. Add fat or sugar to anything and it's going to taste better on the tongue of an animal that natural selection has wired to seek out energy-dense foods. Animal studies proves the point: Rats presented with solutions of pure sucrose or tubs of lard---goodies they seldom encounter in nature---will gorge themselves sick. Whatever nutritional wisdom the rats are born with breaks down when faced with sugars and fats in unnatural concentrations...Food systems can cheat by exaggerating their energy density, tricking a sensory apparatus that evolved to deal with markedly less dense whole foods.

The feeling that welled up inside of me as I read this two paragraphs was: relief. It was not my fault that I want to eat all the time and I want to pick junk food (or even just bread and cheese) over lettuce. It is in my genes; it is how I am engineered.

In thinking about the powerful sense of relief I felt upon reading that human beings are hardwired to seek out energy-dense food, I realized that that relief is carried upon the back of a much larger feeling inside of me, namely, shame. When I eat certain foods or certain portions, I feel like I'm doing something "bad" or "wrong." The relief I felt depends upon the idea of shifting blame off of my conscious self and onto my genetics.

This blame-game is so deep inside of in my thinking that sometimes I can mistake it for relief, gratitude, or even a sense of accomplishment. All of these emotions can mask ideas that I have about what I do and don't deserve, ideas about my value as a person.

As a middle class American, what I eat does say something about me as a person and my political choices (I think Pollen would agree). As conscious decisions, based on my true value system about who I want to be, these choices are distinct from the voice inside of me that tells me "bread, bad; lettuce, good." My true value system tells me to make my eating choices balancing my realistic desires with what's best for the environment and also best for the animals involved. Valuing thinness over fatness, that's not my value system; it's ingrained in me, as my reaction to this Pollen passage demonstrated, but it's not mine.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Our powers combined

I've stayed pretty quiet about the Democrat nominating process this year, both here and out "in real life." The general quiet was for several reasons; first, I knew that I would support whoever actually won the nomination in the end and I would have been happy with either Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton; and second, as a I wrote a couple of times, the tone of the conversation around the nominating process and the candidates disturbed and saddened me, and honestly, I was afraid to get involved. I was afraid I might write something and then see it twisted somewhere else, and much, much more shamefully, I was afraid of making a mistake or offending people.

[Sidenote: If I write something that offends you, in this or any other post, let me know. We may never see eye to eye, but I want to make an effort to hear where you are coming from.]

I probably would have overcome my fear if I thought I had something new to bring to the table, but there were tons of voices of reason out there, setting the record straight better than I ever could.

There is a whole other, and larger, reason though, that I haven't been being that loud about the primaries and probably will continue to stay relatively quiet during the general election. Here I am November, 2004:

Please note, if it wasn't obvious to you, the John Kerry button.

I've written and deleted the next paragraph a couple of times, because I'm not sure how to say what I want to say here.

I was so shocked and sadden when Kerry lost the 2004 general election (and Bush won the popular vote). I had been involved in Kerry's campaign as a very low-level volunteer in Pittsburgh and I have to admit, that though many people weren't moved or motivated by Kerry, I was. But it wasn't because "my" candidate had lost that I felt devastated that night; it was because of the story that came out of that election. For weeks after Kerry lost, the story that dominated the airwaves was that the people that had voted for Bush (or rather, against Kerry?) had been motivated by "family values." LGBT groups were told that they had cost the democrats the election because they had "pushed" the "gay-marriage issue." In addition to being code for homophobic, I felt (knew?) family values also stood for "pro-life," "believes strongly in enforcing gender differences," and "transphobic" among other things.

What the 2004 election brought home to me was that people hated me and hated people like me. This was a significantly different realization from knowing that people disagreed with the things I thought and the way that I saw the world. When I saw the presidential election as a war of ideas, as in we all get together and vote for the person with the best ideas, it was easy to keep myself out of the equation or at least keep some distance. Sometimes republicans would win, sometimes democrats would win; it was a serious game, but still a game. When, however, I came to see the presidential election as an opportunity for a public referendum on whether or not, I and the people I love, are truly equal in the eyes of their fellow citizens, whether or not we are hated, I realized that it was my body and my future that was at stake (along with the bodies and futures of people I care about), not (just?) my ideas. Not a game.

It's hard for me to write or talk casually about the election. Maybe because it is so personally important to me, I should be using that to write and talk forceful about it, but I am so scared of feeling the way I felt in November 2004 all over again, hated, rejected, and in some degree of danger, that it's difficult for me to allow myself to become emotionally invested again.

[Sidenote: I know it's a result of my privilege that my belief in the political system took it's first serious hit in this regard when I was in my 20s. There are plenty of people in our nation and others whose general population and government has always treated them like an enemy.]

We all have a lot at stake in this election (for example: I think the encroachment on our civil liberties is a pretty serious thing for all of us as well as many many other issues [Iraq war, anyone?]), and it would be a huge mistake for us to ignore the lesson of 2004. To me, the lesson of 2004 isn't to avoid putting issues on the national stage that will arouse people's anger and hatred, but rather, that we must acknowledge that emotions play an integral part in people's political decision-making process (and I would argue in all of their decisions). Harnessing people's deep feelings is not a bad thing because it clouds judgment (does it? I've been able to be angry/loving/sad and right at the same time before...) or just a smart campaign move, to acknowledge the emotional stake we all have in the political process is to acknowledge our humanity. I don't know what a purely rational being would look like, but I have a feeling it would be a lot less benevolent than Data.

When I think of Barrack Obama, I often think of what is arguably the best line from one of his speeches, "In the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope." I think he has picked a pretty wonderful emotion to bring people out to the polls November 2009. Both because I have acknowledged that my emotions don't negate my ability to think rationally and because I believe that our emotional compasses can be used to guide us to the best in ourselves, I am not ashamed to say that I will be voting with my heart in November. (I just might not be blogging about it.)

Lauren (right) and Me, 2005
This post is the result of some discussions, I've had with my friend Lauren this past week and I've totally lifted some of her ideas. Thank you, Lauren.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Since I can't seem to write... are some other places you can go:

Please check out this NPR piece from The Bryant Park project where Rachel Martin interviews Ari Ne'eman, the president of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network. It's really interesting.

I've also been getting into The Trouble with Spikol, after reading a New York Times article featuring Spikol and seeing a link to her Youtube videos on Feministing.