art, career, creativity, libraries, money, psychology, writing

Rediscovering myself

Or: maybe getting degrees in Art and Creative Writing, weren’t unfortunate mistakes.

It has been almost seven months since I last set foot in a Library as an employee. With that amount of time away, it has become fairly apparent to me that Librarianship is not my life’s work. It’s a way to stay housed, fed, and clothed. It’s also a way to earn enough money to work on my art, have time and reason to read literature, and have enough resources left-over for a computer.

But it’s not my life’s work. It was never meant to be. It finances my life’s work, the latter of which, I was meant to get back to after I finished my degree.

Today, I did something (else) personally significant. (The first thing was to get back to my art, which required breaking through an environmentalist barrier [or alternately, excuse] which may have only been significant, to me.)

I began again to read fiction. Specifically, I’ve had Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides facing me on my bookshelf for months. I stopped reading it at the point I realized that the main character’s intersexuality was being blamed on an episode of incest. Yeah, that could be…rather insulting. I guess it’s what happens when an author feels the need to explain every point of the story logically, even when they don’t understand the situation or the mechanisms pertaining to it.

(I should disclose that I don’t actually know that incest is not the vector that leads to intersexuality, but I strongly suspect it isn’t.)

I need to be sure not to mimic, that.

Anyhow…I started back in on this, trying not to judge it too harshly. It’s been going relatively well. Cal is a sensitive-enough narrator that it’s easy to empathize with him and put the author’s construction of the scenario out of my mind.

I’ve had a thing against fiction ever since the English Department tried to initiate me into multiple doctrines I disagreed with, in Undergrad work. I think they were trying to prop up their opinions/value systems/historical illusions/current delusions with the use of Fiction, while seeming to forget that Fiction is usually fabricated of what many authors would overtly call, “lies.” Having been raised to be an extremely conscientious and honest person, this was incompatible with my outlook and with my ethics.

Well, I found something else that was compatible with my ethics (wanting to sustain a comfortable living while not charging money), and that was Librarianship. Or, so I thought.

I didn’t quite realize how extremely political the situation I was getting myself into, was. It’s not like I don’t consider myself left-wing. I’m solidly left-wing. However, I see people behaving as though they are left-wing, even with multiple layers of hypocrisy (and doormat) riddled over the top of that, because (it seems) they want to feel as though they are “good” people. And they seem to think that their politics make them, “good.” It’s as if they can’t have a positive self-image unless they believe something about themselves that is not only unhealthy, altruistic and unrealistic, but at its root false and untenable.

That is, politics can help lead people to places of inauthenticity, and lack of self-esteem and fear of self-knowledge, can bind them there.

The sad thing is that in my journey through both undergraduate and graduate work, I’ve found myself bouncing back and forth between professors so conservative I’ve wanted to intentionally shift the ground under their feet, and professors (and some co-workers) so “liberal” that I had a hard time taking them seriously. Especially when I was living at my first University…I found it troubling when the University itself tried to be so “liberal” that staff made stupid decisions and seemed to dare anyone to challenge them (lest the challenger be seen as a conservative bigot; and not, for example, a concerned member of the primary University community, which should have been the students).

In any case: I did begin to read again, today. You could call it “recreational” reading, or you could call it study of the craft of literature. It’s probably both. I realized that if I did want to write fiction (and a lot of the ideas I have do suit themselves better to the provisional-belief model of fiction, rather than the cemented, well-thought-out, realistic [or, irresponsible] ideals of nonfiction), it would help to have some recent, real-life examples.

It would also help for those examples to be taken from published monographs, and not — for example — short stories of the type published in Literary Magazines. The latter are much less of a time and emotional investment, but they are also generally of lower quality than full-length books, due to the fact that many writers get their start in Literary Magazines. LitMags are designed more to show you the next new up-and-coming authors; not necessarily, finely-honed professional pieces.

I’m hoping that this time when I’ve gotten into fiction, I’ll be able to put out of my mind the politics of the authors. This is with the hope that I also will be able to put self-judgment out of my mind as I write my own work. A major reason I stopped writing: I had tried to analyze my own writing as I would analyze the writings of anyone else I had read…and I got a rather disturbing picture.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that my analysis was, “true,” or, “fact.” There are always multiple valid ways of interpreting the same text (though the interpretation often says more about the interpreter than the text s/he is interpreting — when both are the same, however…). It means that my then-self-destructive mind was able to weaponize it as something with which, to take me down.

Of course, back then, I was very young. I didn’t know how not to overthink things. I also wasn’t at the age where I could set self-judgment aside for the sake of expression. There’s a point one reaches in one’s life where one realizes that there are always going to be spots in one’s character that one dislikes. That doesn’t mean one should stop living. To do otherwise is perfectionism, and perfect is the enemy of good.

Seriously. That kind of sums up everything of the place I’m at, right now.

So, I’m back into reading, which should help me get back into writing. I’m also back into art; specifically, painting and drawing. I feel…like this is where I’m supposed to be. And it doesn’t have to be a holy calling, like I dreamed it was when I was a youth. It’s just what I’m good at, and what I’m drawn to. It’s what I actually want to do; what I would do if money were not an issue.

When my XML instructor mentioned practicing with XSLT during all of our down time, I knew it was not what I wanted. My free time has been pre-established as creative time. My priority is creativity, not coding.

I don’t want to get into a place where I have to spend my entire life circling around computers, cataloging, classification, indexing, abstracting, coding, technical writing, etc., all of which seem to center around obeying rules. I don’t want the need for money to cause me to forget who I am and stop me from creating.

I don’t want, that is, to become a non-creative person, or to be pushed into that lifestyle because I’m afraid to strike out on my own.

Right now…I’ve just given myself long enough (two weeks) without too much pressure, to see what I really want to do. Of course…I have two classes going. I’m thinking of dropping the nonessential one — the one that ends in three weeks — and foregoing the technical certificate I had planned on obtaining. We’ve been talking at my house about how the threat of death that could come at any time, causes one to think about what one really wants to do with the time they do have.

Apparently, that’s entirely appropriate. My thought is that I don’t want to go out of this world having spent all of my life doing schoolwork; constantly preparing, never putting my skills to use. Even when I’ve gotten the chance not to do schoolwork, I’ve chosen to do it.

But…in reality, I may be better off using my skills at Writing and Art to piece together a living, than becoming an Information Professional. Without a doubt, the return is less. But I might actually be happy in aligning my interests and my activities; as versus compromising my values for the sake of income which I then can’t enjoy, because I’m too busy with my current work and Professional Development to develop my own set of creative skills.

Language. Reading. Art. Writing. Stories. These are themes I see which…I’m relatively motivated around. They’re things I honestly take pleasure in, even with the psychological risks. I’ve realized that if I can boost myself to the point where I am not afraid to make things from my own experience, and to say what I think; to depict what I wish, regardless of whether there is historical precedent; I may be equipped to take this path on. And, possibly, succeed at it.

The only reason I took up a job in the Library (besides the fact that I didn’t want to be constantly told I didn’t belong; little did I know how much the social difficulties of still being constantly automatically slotted would impact me) is that I thought it might encourage me to read, which would encourage me to write.

I still have neither witnessed nor ever taken part in a successful Reader’s Advisory interview. (Not that I didn’t try.) That is…Fiction collections in the Library in which I used to work, are relatively opaque. They never became less so. The best bet I have of getting into the modern literary world, is just to start reading. Middlesex may be as good a place to start, as any.

In this period of release…I realize how fundamental it is to me, to write. I realize I gain intrinsic pleasure from writing, and from painting and drawing — at least, when I do it in my own way. That feeling: of doing something I want to do, that I honestly derive joy from, that I’m better off for after having participated in the work; is missing in my career. I wouldn’t know what I wanted to do, without having extended time away from work…and being able to choose my actions, in reality. I’m aware it’s a privilege that most don’t get.

But this isn’t over, yet. I just need to make my own way. I hear that, as intimidating as it is, it’s not unusual…

career, libraries, LIS, personal, psychology

Retrospective

Granted, I’m not entirely sure what’s going to come out of me as I write my first post in five days…just try to bear with me. One of the things that has been on my mind, is employment. Particularly, working in the private sector of the economy, as versus governmental infrastructure. (In the United States, Public Libraries are governmental institutions, as it is not possible to maintain a liberal democracy with an uneducated public.)

Or…being able to specialize and work in a job in which I know the answers to questions, as versus working in a public service position where all day, I’m asked questions I don’t immediately know the answers to. Maybe I just need to work on my phrasing, like, “Let me see if I can help you find an answer to that,” rather than, “I don’t know, but I’ll try” (which is how I feel, a lot of the time — even though, a lot of the time, I can help them find their answer).

Yes, it’s true: “librarians” don’t possess encyclopedic knowledge about the world. We just know how to navigate the world of information in order to find sources in which your questions might be able to be answered. (I put “librarians” in quotes because not everyone who works in a library is a Librarian — but everyone who works there is assumed to be, by many, many people. Kind of like some people assume the title of, “Public Servant,” to be a hierarchical statement, which it is not. The people at the DMV are not slaves. Neither am I.)

That also doesn’t mean we’ve read all the books. That’s one of those things I learned as a Library Aide (i.e. Shelver), from the professional Librarians.

And I’m kind of tired. I mean, seriously. I’ve only been in this position for nine months (2.5 of which have been on lockdown), and the amount of time I’ve spent having to draw off of my own resources because of system downtime and the like…it’s incredible.

Well — I have been on lockdown for over 70 days, which has caused me to realize how much stress I do have about going in to work. I’ve just been doing it because I’ve felt I had to. Like there was nothing better.

To be honest, a lot of getting into this field had to do with salary, emotional safety, and health benefits — along with the fact that writing, for pretty much all of my undergraduate years, had been one of my only constants (the other was my family). That, in turn, happened because during my freshman year — at a different University — I realized that being asked to write nothing for months, and then turn in a huge paper at the end of the quarter, wasn’t working for me.

I was also aware of being gender-different, somewhere in there, though I didn’t quite realize it until I met people who identified as transgender (and actually figured out what the “T” in “LGBT” meant, and that it was separate from issues of sexual attraction). I’m not sure when that was, exactly: I wasn’t keeping a journal, back then. It’s kind of like I can’t tell if I was actually required to write a 60-page paper at the end of the quarter, or if it just felt that way.


But there were so many things that threw me for a loop in early college. Not kidding. Sociology was one of them. And I did really love my Astronomy course. And my Japanese language classes.

The problem was the extremely high ratio of freshmen to everyone else on the campus (I went despite knowing there was a 60% freshmen turnover rate, which was my fault). There were also unresolved problems with infrastructure, culture, and the fact that at the time I graduated (from a different [commuter] University), pretty much all of my debt had been accrued while I was living in the dorms or apartments, from my first 5 quarters.

Still: living on my own was a really liberating experience, for me. I can’t say I now approve of everything I did, because I obviously was being impacted by an undiagnosed mental disorder at the time; but just to get away from my parents and everyone who knew me (well, most of them), that was instrumental in being able to figure out who I was. Because at the end of high school, I really didn’t know.

Looking back on it, I would have done better to go to Junior College first, and then transfer into a University program after I had better self-knowledge. And, you know, a plan. That wasn’t what happened, though.

Then there is the fact that through most of my College and University years…I’ve been going through without Advisement. I didn’t know how important it was at my first University (where it was not mandatory), and I don’t really remember much of it at my second University. Then, in Grad School…if I had not withdrawn and later returned, I might have had access to a student advisor. Junior College (which I returned to after Undergrad and before Grad School) is the place I remember having people who would actually try to help me figure out a life path.

As it was, no one signed me up for an advisor when I re-entered the system in Graduate work. I tried to get one and was told that the program I had been told about didn’t exist. There was also another feed I was supposed to be signed up for when I re-entered, which I only found out I was missing out on during my last semester when I tried to graduate.

Having worked in a Library for 10 years, I was also repeatedly told by my parents that I, “didn’t need an Internship,” when it was recommended by my school to take at least two or three before graduation. I do have experience, but all of it has been within the same County system, and all (aside from schoolwork, which had me branching out into an Archive) within Public Libraries.


So…you can see my path has been kind of fraught. Not to mention that my upper-division courses in Undergrad were focused on Fiction writing…which is known not to pay the bills. (I didn’t know it at the time I entered the major, however.) That is why I went into Librarianship, because Librarianship, at least, could earn a decent income, and I could double-task my reading. By that, I mean that working in a Public Library requires at least some reading, and writing your own fiction most definitely requires reading others’ work.

(Not that it really…is pressing on me to write a novel, anymore. Things might change if I went back to reading fiction. There’s just so much that I haven’t seen come out, which I could give life to. But if I don’t read it, I don’t notice the gaping holes in content.)

Earlier on, I also had my eye on San Francisco Public, which was one of the only places in the country, at the time, to cover Female-to-Male reconstructive chest surgery. Otherwise, it was a $7000 out-of-pocket expense. Regular health insurance wouldn’t cover it (though this was around a decade ago; some HMOs will cover this surgery, now).

I wasn’t sure it was what I wanted; and I’ve ended up not taking the option, as I’ve realized that what’s going on with me is more complicated than, “being a man.” I’m not really a man. I also knew — as someone with a disability requiring lifelong care (no, I don’t mean my gender issues) — that in an era before the Affordable Care Act, I actually needed health care. At the very least, I needed mental health and pharmacy coverage: the medication I was put on to treat one of my diagnoses (at its worst, it’s life-threatening if untreated), was extremely expensive.

Of course, the patent has expired and now we’re into generics for that one medication, so it is no longer a huge price gouge. But for a time, it was — or would have been, had I been kicked off of my medical coverage after I aged out of the system and had to reapply with a, “preexisting condition,” which the same HMO had diagnosed. At the time, it was legal to charge exorbitant rates if one needed health insurance and wasn’t totally healthy…which undermines the reason behind health insurance existing, but I digress.


During my college years, I did read: and I read a lot. The thing is…I hardly read a lot, on my own. I did it to fulfill assignments, and to learn; with the major exception being learning about Buddhism and Occultism in my University Library. (They actually had Gems from the Equinox!) The problem I can see here is that my reading choices reflect my own hangups and concerns about the state of the world. So…they aren’t the most enjoyable things to read. They are, however, oddly comforting. (Even A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking, gives me some respite: if the end of life is actually an end, that means I don’t have to deal with this world being messed up for an age or so, as doctrines of reincarnation, rebirth, or Hell, suggest.)

At this point I know that people getting killed off by disease, for example, has been a norm in enough of the rest of the times and peoples of the world, that I shouldn’t really be surprised if it becomes a norm, now. Also, heard about the end-Permian extinction (a.k.a. “The Great Dying”)? There was about 9x as much carbon dioxide (from vulcanism) in the air as there is today (if I recall correctly: from The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, by Stephen Brusatte). Most life on the planet died off. But as a biosphere, we made it through, somehow.

What’s going on now…dense population centers and ease of global transportation have made it easy for microorganisms to spread. Whereas before, an outbreak like COVID-19 may have occurred, the effects would have been localized. The virus causing the illness may have died out (it’s never a good idea for a being dependent on its hosts, to kill them off — did I read that in The Andromeda Strain, by Michael Crichton? And if so, was he talking about us?).

The conditions we have put in place, however, have enabled, “one weedy species,” to take hold, and instead of the disappearance of Panamanian Golden Frogs, it’s affecting our species directly, this time. (The quote is from The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert, page unknown. [Sorry, I decided not to mark up the book until later…])

I wonder if I do read a lot.


Well. I have, in the past. But obviously, not widely enough. It was in high school that I realized I didn’t know how to write female characters. That should have told me something; what it did tell me, I’m not sure. Perhaps, that I was not a woman.

But I believe, from this point looking back, that this development (or lack of one) was largely in relation to not having been exposed to effective, original, fully-developed woman characters with emotional range in the majority of the books I had to read as I was growing up (the major exception being the “Dragonriders of Pern” series by Anne McCaffrey, though I didn’t really see those characters as being gendered, and I didn’t have to read them).

I mean, yeah, we read Ellison and Hemingway and Golding. But name an influential female character in Invisible Man, or Lord of the Flies, or pretty much anything by Hemingway. They aren’t there.

Then there is Anne Rice, whom I may get titters at for having read when I was a teen. (She used to write erotica under the name, “A. N. Roquelaure”…it’s disturbing. Seriously. My University Library had some of it — I made the mistake of reading it.)

Now that I think of it, though: Akasha in The Vampire Lestat was a main player (even though she was likely literally insane). Same with Claudia, though I can’t recall ever actually having read Claudia’s story (I think it was contained in Interview with the Vampire, which I never read…it was kind of painful, being one of Rice’s earlier books). And there is Gabrielle (Lestat’s mother), who comes in as a deus ex machina at the end of Vampire Lestat.

Then there is Violin, which was more interesting to me. Nor have I read her “Mayfair Witches” series. Now that I look it up on Wikipedia, I wonder if I want to…ugh.

Also, the fact that she is a female author writing these things…I would suggest could contribute to the idea that women, you know, can have personalities. But there is the question of why so many of her main characters are male, as well: Louis, Lestat, Nicki, Armand, Marius.

Maybe she had the same problem I did; just having been exposed to so little material that writing female characters who matter, and have personalities and lives and power, and who don’t circle around men, becomes difficult. Also, as a lot of this stuff blends with history…the womens’ stories may just have been too painful to write (though I can see that angle coming in with the Mayfair Witches saga).

So I guess there is stuff out there…it may just not be anything “classical” (unless you’re looking at Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights and the like, which…seriously, I hated having to read. Almost as frustrating as getting to page 400-out-of-600-something in Moby Dick [after which, I gave up], but not quite).

Maybe I underestimate the amount I’ve read…maybe majoring in Creative Writing and being around a huge number of prolific readers, can do that to you?


The question I started out with at the beginning of this post was, “If I’m not going to be a Librarian, what am I going to be?” That is still not clear. What this post has clarified for me, though, is that maybe I actually do have a good shot at being a Librarian. Even if I have a side job for a while, working in a bead store or for a small fabric store. Just out of love.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have to set up my own database, but if I do, I’ve had practice at it, already. But what’s clear is that I’m getting a bit old to be consciously attempting to follow in my Dad’s footsteps. I don’t have to be a Web Developer if I don’t want to be. (He wasn’t even ever really a Web Developer — he just worked intensely with computer systems.)

There is a course that has come up, which I’m pretty sure will be useful for me; at least, if I continue in the role that I’m in now, or become a Public Services Librarian. It has to do with dealing with customers with active/untreated psychiatric disorders. (It happens very, very often in Public Libraries.) Essentially, this class will help with any role that puts me into the front line of contact with the public — or into managing front-line workers.

That would apply in a good number of places; and would keep me safer where it comes to dealing with the public. In self-defense they teach how to kill people who are attacking one, but not how to effectively de-escalate a situation which hasn’t yet reached that point (like, if you don’t want to kill them or hurt them or touch them). The latter, I have to learn somewhere else. Which…is ridiculous, but hey. Some people specialize in the latter. It probably isn’t martial arts masters.

Public Services Librarianship isn’t my final goal, but it may be an intermediate step. From here, I think I’d be happy in Technical Services: specifically, Cataloging and Information Retrieval (including Metadata Librarianship), or Collection Assessment and Development — which will probably go by different names, if not different job functionality, by that time.

Particularly, there has recently been a merge between Technical Services (which also includes Acquisitions), Information Technology, and Management Sections which has happened within my professional association. So…however things go in the future, it does look like what I’ve been dealing with and interested in, may actually be possible from within the same Section. Whether that will trickle down to the division of labor within American libraries, is yet to be seen…

culture, philosophy, portfolio, psychology

Sometimes I Wonder If This Means Anything

Recently, I’ve had the time to think about what it means to be a person who is nonbinary-identified, who otherwise appears to most to be a “woman.” That is, what is the difference between, “me” as “myself,” and “me” as, “woman,” when to the untrained eye, we’re indistinguishable?

Well, perhaps not indistinguishable, but a general sense of civil politeness dictates not to draw attention to that aspect of reality, as divergence is seen as a fault. The differences don’t show up until you’ve known me for a little while and notice that my behavior and thought process is, to a sensitive yet civil person, “slightly different”; to a person who expects conformity, “slightly off.”

When I don’t go out of my way to prove or show in any way that I’m not a woman, that is…when I’m talking about sewing and beadwork and librarianship…what is there to distinguish me from the backdrop? (By the way…this article is my own, not in any way representative of my profession.)

Activities assigned a gender by culture do not imply the gender identity of the person doing the activity

Because I participate in pastimes that have been culturally allotted to me because of my assumed gender, that doesn’t mean that assumption of my gender is correct. To skip ahead slightly, if cryptically: I identify as nonbinary because it liberates me from being trapped in the game.

How do I know I’m not a woman?

For one thing, I don’t.

I can’t compare my experience to experience I’ve never had.

For another thing, how does anyone else know if they’re a woman? Without referring to tautologies, that is, such as the most common assumption I seem to find: that sex = gender. That sex, in short, creates gender.

I would look at this from the other end, however, and ask one to consider the possibility that people are targeted for gendered psychological conditioning which differs on the basis of their known (or assumed) sex. That, over the long term, encourages (but does not cause) the development of societally-conforming gender expressions; even though this may cause quite a large amount of distress for the person being conditioned.

Accepting the identity of “woman”, in short, does damage to who I am at core, because I have internalized concepts of womanhood which are particularly damaging and oppressive to me as an apparently female person, who is interacted with, and expected to respond as, a woman (or “girl”) because of it. The response expected can differ widely from the reality.

But you know what? That’s sexism.

In particular, the level of societal violence (emotional, interrelational, and physical) directed at people who are, as I once openly was, “gender-nonconforming”, is something that severely negatively impacted my mental health. The fact that I knew it was being demanded I conform — to be something I wasn’t; to live someone else’s life who didn’t exist, to pretend I was her for everyone else — in order to stop the torture, didn’t help.

From the time I was about 19 or 20, once I knew about gender variance, and that it happened to more people than myself, I had been considering the option of physical gender transition. Right now there are only so many options for that, however; fewer still which will not result in additional societal violence.

As a person who doesn’t have a man’s identity, I won’t be able to transition to male and expect anything better than what I have now. In fact, I’d expect worse. There are differences I’d like to have in this body — unfortunately, the window of opportunity for that (for example, to have a larger frame, to have a flat chest without surgery, to be a fully functional male who didn’t have to take hormones) has either passed, or never existed. Some of the actual possibilities could only have been attained with intervention before or during puberty. In my case, that was in the 1990’s.

Wasn’t happening.

History

If I think on it, my gender nonconformity goes back through my childhood, at least to kindergarten. There were rules to being a (supposed) boy or (supposed) girl that first showed their faces, there. Like not playing actively if one were female, or being targeted for random unwanted kisses (from one particular boy) if one were female. I didn’t know and didn’t care, and that made me something of an outcast — though, of course, I thought the problem was everybody else, not myself.

That pattern has marked my existence since then, though I didn’t have an awareness of it until the sexual harassment kicked in fully at 14. I still have a hard time considering myself to be, “normal.” I have a hard time thinking things are good just because they’re popular, and with the idea of exposing myself to all kinds of media, when I know that some of that media is actively violent towards people like myself.

I think I was perhaps 16 or 17 before I started thinking maybe there was something to the harassment that was thrown at me, and that I could have been, as I was being labeled, a gender-nonconforming female who loved women (two culturally linked but separate things which were both taboo in the institution of high school; I’m uncertain I can say the actual word on this platform, as it is still hate speech). I tried to “reclaim” the label, by actively identifying with it. The theory was that if I built a positive identity around the term, it could no longer be used to hurt me.

That got me only so far, as externally-imposed slurs tend not to leave a lot of space open for identity development. However, it gave me space to break some of the walls of my box, unapologetically, and with minimal loss. Even at that time, I knew there was something wrong — but I didn’t know what it was. This was the period in which I first experienced clinical depression; but I only consented to pharmacological treatment for that after I realized that maybe the thing making me sad was something I couldn’t fix. I can’t fix the world by myself. But avoiding suicide gives me a little more time to try.

It wouldn’t be until I removed myself from that situation (taking my meds with me, of course) that I would learn that I had a choice over who I would be, and become.

Fast-forward: I’m likely around 19 years old, away from my parents — and the community that has seen me grow up — for the first time. I realize, from meeting some people, that it’s possible to alter one’s gender expression, and that I’m not stuck with the name and pronouns given to me at birth; or the roles placed on me by others.

The concept of identities being like clothing in a wardrobe is introduced to me. I realize I don’t have to be what others have told me I am; that I can change out of the leather jacket I’ve been carrying with me, into something that may be more suited. Something that may make me happier.

Woman/Not-Woman: Does It Matter?

It wouldn’t be until far later, in my 30’s, that someone would tell me that they kept hearing me say I was not a woman, but they never heard me say I was a man.

“Man”, never really fit, except within groups where I knew people knew what I meant by it, and within which I tempered the identity by acknowledging my female history. It wasn’t a portable identity, at least not if I paid attention to people complaining about “their” identities being, “watered down.” (Yes, there is exclusion right there; the idea that we couldn’t share the same word for ourselves because we were different. This was before the emergences of the genderqueer and nonbinary communities…and possibly the catalyst for their formation.) I wouldn’t learn that it would be tough for me as male, though, until I was about 25, and had tried living as one — with various interspersions of behavior that I considered distinctly, “unmanly.”

I don’t know where these ideas about men and women came from. But I suspect they’re learned.

The thing is: my society emphasizes two (and only two) genders. If a person isn’t one, the next step, often, is to believe that one then must be the other. However…that’s not where my journey took me. “Not-woman” is not the same thing as “man”. “Woman” is not the same thing as “not-man.” One is a positive assertion: many variations on one truth. The other is a negation: infinity-minus-one possible options for truth remaining.

I’m thinking that we’ve had a tendency to think the terms are equivalent, though (much as “not-woman” got linked with “lesbian” for me in high school), because of our particular historical and cultural locus. Most people repeat concepts in this sense without knowing where the concepts came from or why they think what they do, but ideas in this sense are inherited from the past, and sometimes they’re outdated to an embarrassing extent.

What I know is that trying to think of myself as a woman has done concrete psychological damage to me. Because I don’t fit. I’m not a woman — regardless of the shape of my body. Not-man and not-woman (at least, not as this current culture defines “man” and “woman”) leaves infinity-minus-two possible outcomes for me. Not all of them require medical transition or intentional alteration of presentation. Or, “masculinity.”

If one tries to think of oneself as something one is not, chances are that one is going to be riddled with senses of inadequacy. All the time.

When I try to think of myself as a woman, I expect myself to grapple from an inside position with messages about what women are and/or should be, which rarely ever fit. Which makes me angry, as I presume other “women” like “myself” also find those messages and concepts not to fit.

But is that the case? If so, the world really is a dystopia.

And then again, I see myself conforming for the sake of the approval of others. Trying to be someone who doesn’t exist, so I can stop being hurt and excluded. Only now, I’m the person hurting myself. No one else has to torture me: I’ve taken over that job. And I’m getting the perks of fitting in, knowing full well that the external torture and isolation and exclusion may resume if I let down my facade.

Other people then also expect me to conform to messages about what women are and should be — but they (almost) always do that, except when I let people know that my appearance does not infer my identity. On a baseline, people expect me to be able to relate on a level of commonality that I don’t share. Because right now, I’m a husk of a person. I’ve abandoned myself to take on a role that my heart isn’t in, for the purposes of pleasing others and smoothing social relations.

Boundaries. Somewhere in there, I’ve got to stand up for myself, or I’ll never be able to attain an authentic life. And my life isn’t for the pleasure of other people. It’s mine.

Somewhere in there, I got tired of this. Rebelling against compulsory “femininity” versus conforming to compulsory “femininity”; whereas if I thought of myself as male, even as a gentle one, I realized that what to do with this, isn’t even a question. If I discard the concept of “woman” as outside of myself; as meaningless in my domain; I no longer have to rebel, or conform. The concept no longer holds sway over me; my life is no longer led and controlled by the whims of other people. Let the people who don’t understand fall on their faces. Catering to their illusions isn’t my job.

Risk and Flow

It would not be true for me to say that relative levels of risk and emotional safety haven’t played a role in choosing between life options. At first, I began exploring things that were allotted to me because I appeared female, because I knew they might not be allotted to me anymore in the then-near future. I was trying to find anything good about my situation, before I might change it.

Yes, I’m talking about physical — chemical and surgical — transition. In my situation, the treatments were offered on a harm-reduction basis. It has not been unusual for people to attain things like hormones and surgeries illegally, out of desperation to escape their situations. If I was going to alter myself, it would be better to do it through a compassionate health care system than through the black market.

In effect, I was exercising what is known in sociology as, “agency.” Sociology is basically the study of power constraints on groups of people, and how ordinary people find ways to struggle and survive, despite them. In early college, I took up Sociology as my major, though I wouldn’t stay in it. I was told it was, “the study of groups of people.” That’s an oversimplification.

Sociology arose, most markedly to my mind, after WWII: as people tried to make sense of the Holocaust. Notes online, however, say it began much earlier due to the French and Industrial Revolutions. In my view, Sociology is the study of how power dynamics and methods of social control form among people and how culture is — at times — complicit in, or even driving, that.

Agency may be, in this discussion, said to encompass ways of individual or group existence alongside social control; defying it, without being destroyed by it.

So there are reasons — I would say at their base, coercive ones — for certain things to be considered either “men’s” or “women’s” work. Coercive, because one runs into barriers if they try to do work which has not been allotted to them by their social station.

I’m not a person who likes to fight. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how long staying neutral is, or can be, an option. These are not usual times. And, as I am learning, my voice can make a difference. This is still a democracy, after all.

There is something that just came to my mind…I’m not certain I’ll be able to communicate clearly enough to really explain it, especially as it has to do with what is known in the West as Philosophical Daoism (or Philosophical Taoism). I learned about this after having studied Chinese Buddhism. I was trying to figure out where the Buddhism ended and Daoism began. One could write books on this, though unfortunately I have pretty much no reading ability in any Chinese dialect, so research would be difficult (even if possible).

It has to do with the concept of water. Or, Water, if you prefer. The element.

Water always seeks the lowest point, the place where it can settle no further. It is stopped by barriers like dikes, and flows where it is given space to flow. But in floods, it can overwhelm and cross those dikes. In tsunamis and typhoons it can destroy towns. It’s a gentle thing that carves mountains. Crushes and splits stone. Comes down in drops and forms oceans.

It is also something which we depend on for life; without which, there would be no life.

I don’t aim to be a fighter. I aim to be like Water.

To know this is useful; to know this is also slightly frightening, because I know that I also will always have to deal with that drip, drip, drip…building up, building pressure, pushing against boundaries and walls, finding cracks, threatening to spill out. Always.

As for whether I’ve recently overflowed (I wonder if the Japanese term あふれる [afureru: to overflow; I don’t know the correct kanji] is related to this)…it’s hard to say. I hadn’t thought of the one recent instance in those terms until I wrote them, here.

There is also the difference between the “soft” martial arts and the “hard” martial arts, which may aid one in understanding what I mean. Hard martial arts, like karate, are force-against-force. In a battle between two martial artists each using force against force, considering all else equal, the bigger and stronger one will win. In a situation where one is going up against a stronger opponent…it doesn’t make sense to fight force-against-force. I’ve always had to be faster, smarter, choosing my battles. Choosing my questions, finding weaknesses, finding my strengths.

So even though I can’t say that my environment had no hand in shaping the person I am now, I can say is that what you see of me now is genuine — even if, under other circumstances, under different constraints, I may have grown in an entirely different direction.

That’s what it means to be full of potentialities.

That’s also what it means to be human.

“Women’s Work”

One of the difficulties of living in this transitional era is what to do with older identities, aspirations taught to us by our foremothers, made for eras which no longer exist. In my attempt to see if there were anything left for me in being female, I was in some respects immersed in pastimes which — in years gone by — I suspect must have been done by people who were stay-at-home mothers or homemakers, or otherwise supported monetarily from outside (as is the case with me and my parents). I can’t imagine their being able to survive any other way.

Implied in this is marriage to a person who can give one children, and financial support thereby. Also implied is the willingness to be impregnated, and to keep and care for the child(ren). It’s not a given that everyone wants that.

My relations with my own reproductive potential have never been easy. But neither have been my relations with anyone else’s. I’ve never given myself a chance to get pregnant. After having written the rest of this, I’m no longer surprised at having some level of discomfort around reproduction. But my dysphoria is minor, as I’m able to use birth control, in addition to abstinence — which may in fact have run on long enough to become celibacy.

Since I was in high school and realized that marriage to a man was likely not to be comfortable for me (given how few males I was attracted to at all, and the fact that the ones I was attracted to had a tendency to be gay or transgender), I’ve channeled my creative urges into the making of, “things”; objects; writings; not children. Instead of raising a child as my legacy, I’ve realized there are other methods of having an impact on society.

The issue — my main issue, at this point — is finding a way to stay alive while staying creative. To find a way of feeding both my desire to create, and my physical needs, at the same time. The system, as it’s set up…is there a method of independently supporting oneself while staying out of poverty, and still taking the time to do “women’s work”? I’m not certain. But then, I live in one of the most expensive places possible, in this country.

Then there is the fact that “women’s work” in the public sphere — nursing, teaching, clerical, childcare, librarianship — presuppose a level of social intelligence (and inclination to be social) that I just don’t have. The only one I can think of that doesn’t, that I know of, is housekeeping — but I’m not about to go there. Germ phobia, remember?

But that’s sexism, again.

I’m not entirely sure what to do about this. I’m a person who was raised to become a woman who is not; who has to enter territory long held by men in order to survive. That’s not easy for me.

む (Mu)

When I began writing this post, the idea of, “myself as a nonbinary person,” and, “myself as a woman,” were looking too close to call. The difference seemed like splitting hairs. To the extent that both nonbinary and woman identities are cultural constructions and not inherently existent in and of themselves, that’s still true. Hence, the question, “am I a woman?” could be answered in the single Zen term, む (or, “mu”).

The answer of “mu” to a koan, or riddle, means that the foundations of the question are formulated so that no right answer can be given. The example I’ve seen is the question: “have you stopped beating your wife?” when you have no wife; or you do have a wife, but you don’t beat her. The presuppositions of the question are faulty in such a way that to answer either, “yes, I have stopped beating my wife,” or, “no, I haven’t stopped beating my wife,” would be false.

Hence: む. Neither, “yes, I am a woman,” nor, “no, I am not a woman,” are wholly satisfactory, because the term, “woman,” is mutable and has no inherent reality. (Neither does, “man,” or, “nonbinary,” for that matter. They’re all terms which, on some level, most of us just loosely agree have similar-enough meanings to be able to get a rough idea of what the other person means when we say them.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean, in a different sense, that no women exist. But I like the opt-in model, based on authentic thinking and deep reflection; better than the mass-assignment model, based on surface appearances or biological statistics.

From the outside, it doesn’t matter on a large scale (likely to anyone except other nonbinary people) whether I’m called a woman or a nonbinary person — although I will get tripped up when I’m referred to as “that woman” (it has happened)! What matters to me most is how I think of myself, because that’s all I have direct control over. It’s much more important that I give myself permission to think freely about my own gender, than it is that other people agree with me about it or support me in it. (Though support is nice, when it’s asked for and given. When it’s not asked for…there may be a reason.)

At this point, however, I’ve realized things are much more complex than I’ve given them credit for.

To a greater or lesser extent, I believe that all of us have been subject to conditioning, based on the way we’ve looked; on our physicality, or on what little is known about us. But that’s not the total picture. There are patterns we have which aren’t immediately visible based on how we look, or which can be predicted by an image. Nevertheless, they are real. Going back over my history, showed me that.

My experiences as a child, youth, and young adult, are not something that everyone would have been vulnerable to in the same way. As an adult, I’m still not typical…even if my experience is more common or relatable than I imagine. And it is easy to imagine…easier, now…that I am actually truly “normal” even in my diversity. That people the world over have experienced what it’s like not to fit in, for one reason or another.

People are not always what they seem. I’m proof of that.

And that should give me hope.

writing

Intentionality. Considering my (future) content.

I’m unsure whether this is a good thing or not, but I’m reaching the point where I’m starting to get okay with not chronicling my life, publicly. Of course, doing so provides me with ample opportunity to hone my writing skills, which I can appreciate.

In my Creative Writing program we were taught to write every day — not necessarily fiction, but anything we could get out. This was generally done so that by the time we got a really good idea for a project, we would still be practiced and fresh, not having to start from zero.

I’ve reached this point with drawing already, not having had the resources of time, energy, confidence, and motivation, to devote to practice during the last two years of the MLIS. Then again, drawing is not as integral to me as is writing…and my drawings have a tendency to devolve into practicing writing in Japanese language.

(No, I don’t know why.)

However, in my program, there was never anything said about writing publicly on a daily basis. In fact, it’s better not to publish online, if one wants to go through a traditional publisher and grant them first publication rights. Or at least, that had been true, before certain high-profile publications like My Milk Toof and 50 Shades of Grey. And, of course, if you’re willing to self-publish…there’s always Amazon. But then again…you’re dealing with Amazon.

One of the reasons I came back here, as versus using another social media outlet, is the fact that I tend to write voluminously, to the point that I have handled documents (or tried to, anyway) which have been hundreds of pages long. (That was in my teens.) Although I haven’t quite gone to that extreme on social media, it’s easy for me to write with that sort of flow. It’s also out of place, on just about every social media outlet I’ve known.

Not to mention that I dislike having my words picked apart by proprietary technology on a proprietary platform (where I have no control over distribution and analysis and am not being compensated for my content). But that’s part of what makes the Internet great, right?

There is risk that goes into saying anything timely and meaningful. It’s not too much to ask for something in return (more than, for example, specifically targeted advertisements).

I’m thinking of being more intentional about my writing, though in what sense and how, I’m not entirely sure at this point. I do know that I want to build up a writing portfolio, which will not be really…effective, without having done research and reading to enhance and consider my own thoughts.

What I can and have done most recently have been responses to my reading, though it hasn’t been contextual enough (that is, I haven’t brought in enough of others’ work), to really be considered professional. I don’t know to a precise degree the legal ramifications of bringing in others’ works, outside of the academic protections of Fair Use.

If I am dealing with academic essays, that’s one thing. I know how that works. But book reviews? Public commentary? Something to be published with a side effect of personal gain? For that, I’m uncertain.

I also haven’t spent as much time on each article as I’ve needed to; most of my work online is a first or second draft. A third draft or further could be advisable for development from the initial impulses to a fully fleshed-out work — at least for short pieces. Long pieces require more than that, along with being able to track changes (so that, in a fiction piece for example, I’m not unintentionally factually contradicting myself at two different places in the storyline).

I haven’t done fiction in months, and what I have done, have been thinly veiled exercises in observation. I want and/or need to get back into it; I just have trepidation over the possibility of encouraging unhealthy patterns of thought. How would composition work with a relatively healthy brain — not one that runs away on its own assumptions?

This could be why writers work in, “twists,” just to encourage healthy doubt. I mean, even in their own minds.

But right now…I’m thinking of using my desire to write, in my search for better employment. I know we were told that it’s difficult to make a living as a writer, but as supplemental income, it might be worth a shot…

creative writing, creativity, design, organization

Resources divided by devotion: goals and priorities

The positive thing about having a blog (one of them) is having a record of what you were thinking before you went off on some flight-of-fancy/distraction and got lost. :) Right now I have a lot of things I want to do, and as always, time is limited. (Sometimes I feel like I should be five different people working all at once to fulfill all the goals I’ve set before myself…)

Sometimes this is a good thing — like when I talk about having long-term goals that I’m working towards (becoming a Librarian, learning Japanese language, learning Web Programming, etc…though it would be a lie to say I really find Web Programming personally interesting; it would more be, “good stuff to know,” not, “fun stuff to learn”). It means that I’m not stagnant, that I have directions to grow into. It also means that it’s okay not to have attained them yet: they’re long-term.

Then there are shorter-term goals…which aren’t really all that pressing, in my case (with the exception of exercise and hygiene), due to the fact that I still live with family (which, I’m finding, a lot of people in my generation do). The longer-term goals kind of automatically should be broken down into shorter-term goals and dispersed among them, but that’s something I haven’t mastered, yet. There’s also the issue of short-term goals being recurrent…meaning I probably should have some sort of schedule for them.

When I was still taking serious classes (from a University, that is), I started Bullet Journaling to try and organize all of this, because I had no choice. It’s not the most intuitive thing for me — I’d rather use an app — but it works. I’m not sure if I’m the type of person to decorate my pages, though. Most of what is valuable online about Bullet Journaling also seems to be looking at other peoples’ layouts…words seem kind of extraneous.

I should probably start out by listing all my long-term goals and all my short-term and recurrent goals. Then I could try and divide them among the weeks and months. Certain things like Japanese language practice and JavaScript practice would highly benefit from this type of order, because I have a habit of starting things and then not finishing them, or beginning and then leaving off for so long that I forget what I learned.

I’m not considering getting back into Japanese language at this moment. I have my reasons. I’m not going further into it than that.

As for the other stuff: beading, fiber arts, sewing, drawing, writing…it’s kind of hard to prioritize among these. Obviously, writing comes in as a big #1, where it comes to what I need to do to stay sane. But what else I really need to do, of these things…it’s not easy to tell. Drawing obviously goes with the writing, in case I want to author a graphic novel. That prioritizes drawing with pencil, fineliner, and marker; also reading graphic novels, and books on how to create graphic novels.

That is, of course, unless I write the thing as literature instead…though sometimes hard elements of the plot come through in my drawings, moreso than in my text. (I have a habit of expressing things I didn’t know I was feeling, through my art.)

Anyhow, the things I can think of that I’m interested in at the moment are lacemaking (how femme can you get, right), sewing, embroidery, and beadwork (including beaded micromacramé). Aside from that are painting (acrylic, watercolor, gouache), sculpture (air-dry clay, silversmithing), printmaking (linocuts), and knitting and crochet. I’ve basically given up on the latter two because they eat up too much of my time with repetitive work, but I have the stuff to restart if I want to. Which…I don’t.

There’s also working on the back end of a website and learning to be my own Full-Stack Developer, which is not what I want to be doing.

Graphic Design and Web Design are something else, though. Interaction Design combined with Graphic Design can be interesting, and I’m generally relatively motivated to work on that. The technical portion…I understand it brings in more money, but the more Computer Science-like and less Design- and Psychology-like it gets, the less interested I am, unfortunately?

The other thing that I can and should be doing is reading, though I know that now — where a person with a smartphone has multimedia at their fingertips — this is not the only reliable — or even all the time the best — way of transmitting information.

I should also note that Web Publishing is only really important for me if I do start up my own business or site online, say for publishing original works of fiction (though I would likely make more money going the traditional route), or selling jewelry. Right now, though…that’s not high on my list, and I say that mostly because I’m not at the level where I can even really consider it. There’s too much back-end work to do that I don’t yet understand…though I keep doing this, and I’ll get there. Long-range goals, right?

Of course, it also happens to be a moving goal…but maybe this is enough to keep me at my JavaScript course. I’m still waiting to get into JQuery and PHP (I need to do that self-starting thing, again) and I know that I’m at the very beginning stages of learning Web Programming. I probably shouldn’t get discouraged just because I didn’t learn it in University (there are going to be lots of things I didn’t learn in University).

If I look at it this way…if I’m going to write — using either a literary format or a sequential art one — it’s worth my time to read, to write, to draw, to learn to digitally edit images, to learn to run a website, and to learn to design and populate a website. Of course, this is missing sound and moving images…but I can only ask so much of myself.

And, okay: I did major in Creative Writing, but I don’t know how much that will actually help me in my life, as versus help me wreck my life by oversharing.

I guess that’s why people fictionalize things. :)

Beyond that…well, that is a lot to take on! Especially considering the content I want to express in my writing. I mean, it could keep me busy, all by itself.

Maybe I should relegate beadwork and fiber arts to second chair — beadwork (including micromacramé) coming before sewing, lacemaking, etc.? The big reason I even picked up lacemaking is that I could easily work it into my beadwork designs! And sewing…the main reason to do that is to gain some control over what I wear, and to self-soothe.

Right now I’ve got two projects in the works, which are just stalled. I need to get back into them, though I’m still in the process of cutting out one, while the other has not even been marked yet (though I have the pattern). The issue is that the fabric takes up a lot of space, and it’s easy to mark something wrong (or accidentally delete a mark). Plus, I need to clear off the craft table to use a sewing machine.

And beadwork just isn’t relaxing when you’re planning to sell! But like sewing, it gives me more control over what I wear. I didn’t realize that commonality before, but I do, now.

Then, there’s work…I mean, can I keep work, work, and deal with hobbies as hobbies? At least until I get up to the level of running my own website? What is the level of importance of making jewelry, in the scheme of things? If I had a well-paying and stable job, I wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. Maybe I should be putting my efforts more into getting and keeping that stable job, than into making a fall-back option…

…which could very well become my writing, or my work online.

Hmm. I think this is going to take more than one night of consideration…