Wednesday, July 30, 2008
After some attempts at focusing on a book, it became clear that observing the other passengers was the far superior alternative. Feeling slightly forlorn about how the world likes to play hooky with your hopes and dreams, and maybe attend to them another far-off day, M.Snowe was open to a distraction. The train wasn't overly crowded, so it was hard to focus on someone in a direct line of sight, for fear of being spotted as a voyeur. Resolutely glancing to both sides, one woman was absorbed at the ads above the windows, and the other, in the seat directly to the right, was reading from a rather heavy-looking textbook, with stark white edges. The book was open to somewhere in the middle of the roughly 800 pages, and though the actual text was a bit too far away to make out, the headings and the pictures and diagrams were clear.
The woman so engrossed in this book was studying psychology. The author and name of the book was indistinguishable, as the cover was firmly resting against her lap, but the headings on the open page referenced clinical signs of mood disorders, and the attributes and signals of their appearance in young adults and adolescents. Nothing too out of the ordinary, to be sure. But a diagram/picture on the page opposite M.Snowe was at once hilarious, saddening, and some form of divine kismet. It had to be kismet, because out of the 800-plus pages this woman could have turned to, here it was, staring M.Snowe in the face. There was the outline of a woman (decidedly a female form, due to the hair length, and slight outline of a bust). It was just a lavender shape--no actual face or features--kind of like a stick figure, or the sign on a bathroom door. This was the image slightly obscured, featured behind the actual diagram. The diagram consisted of three different-colored pastel circles. One was hovering by the woman-shaped left shoulder, the other on the right shoulder, and one below at the woman-shape's feet. Each circle was connected to the other with an arrow, pointing to the next circle, in a clockwise direction, forming a slightly drunken-looking triangle. Inside the first circle to the left shoulder of the woman, the word "shyness" appeared. Then, the arrow crossed over the woman's clavicle to the next circle, which simply said "loneliness." The arrow from that circle pointed to the bottom circle, at the shape's feet. One word was here: "depression."
Well, this diagram has a lot to say in three words, and M.Snowe thought it was making quite a few presumptions. Some people plot out the problems contained in this simplistic chart with more philosophical, metaphysical, or intellectual intricacy than a Joyce novel or Aristotelian text. M.Snowe's revelations upon glimpsing this chart induced more laughter than most would view as appropriate, and the woman looked over, momentarily quizzical, then turned her attention back to the book. M.Snowe thought to herself: "What a diagram! So, that's how it all works!...If only there was a chart that allowed us, the undefined, lavender, shadowy shapes riding on trains, to move counterclockwise, and achieve an opposite result." But perhaps M.Snowe just needs to be riding next to this woman on a different day, while reading a different page. And perhaps the editors of this book formulated this diagram for just this purpose (or momentary subway revelation): to make sure that we're not taking ourselves so seriously, and perhaps the grim ideas we entertain introspectively just need to be snappily simplified, preferably in pastel circles and drowsily looping arrows.
Saturday, July 26, 2008
From missing minor Things.
If nothing larger than a World's
Departure from a Hinge—
Or Sun's extinction, be observed —
'Twas not so large that I
Could lift my Forehead from my work
"First you need a good job. You need to be ambitious. You need to find a good apartment. You need to look good. Then you need to find someone, and they must also have all these things. Then, you need to get a raise, so that you can save enough for ...." --Random street talk.
Overhearing random conversations, it has become apparent that these aspects of life in the city seem to be paramount, and one hinges upon the next like cardboard paper dolls attached at the hand. Then, M.Snowe started thinking about hinges.
Hinges, by definition, are not autonomous--they can exist by themselves, but for them to perform their function, fulfill their humble nature--they rely upon other completely different, yet intertwined parts. Hinges are vital for opening and closing doors. They often are multiple--at least two or three to an object, used in tandem. They have fixed axises, and connect two solid objects together in order for the whole contraption to operate smoothly.
Making sure that you don't hinge your livelihood on someone/something else is compelling advice, to be sure. Unfortunately, like so many pieces of advice, the message provided is multitudes easier to convey than to actually put into practice. But how is it that the opposite of figurative hinging is also a negative? To be "unhinged" is perhaps even worse than to hinge--in that it implies you've lost touch, lost your sense of reality. Perhaps the truth is that when we hinge, we actually become unhinged.
How? Because, similar to door hinges, if someone/something does not perform the way we desire it to, (and we've hinged upon it), then we are stuck--stuck feeling low, stuck feeling unaccomplished, stuck feeling incomplete. Incompletion is perhaps the best description out of that bunch. There is a disturbance, and we can't go forward. For a world so obsessed with the Cult of the Individual, attached to ipods and blackberries and distracting devices that place us all inside digital bubbles--suddenly--we are only half of ourselves...and we're not sure how to cope. And so we get desperate. We try to patch things up.
As if my Brain had split —
I tried to match it — Seam by Seam —
But could not make it fit.
The thought behind, I strove to join
Unto the thought before —
But Sequence ravelled out of Sound
Like Balls — upon a Floor.
New York is full of hinges--the literal, and the figurative. Every door squeaks with a grim finality of overused determination, and every choice made seems to have more, larger hinges on it than the all doors to St. Patrick's cathedral combined--Some people are looking for money, others, success--and still others, a relationship or an apartment. And it seems that happiness and fulfillment hinge on an individually-defined amalgam of all these things. Our minds are cleaved in so many fractions of "needs," hinged one upon one another, pell-mell, with the hope of wholeness thrown in at some undetermined end, for good measure. As we hinge all the circumstances and conditional phrases together, we lose all sense of where to let the happiness reside in the partitioned, hinged mess of what we hope to be. It seems like Dickinson wasn't writing poems for the pastoral peoples of Massachusetts, but for the harried harpies of New York City, circa 2008. Do we have too many balls in the air, and (to rather ungraciously mix some metaphors), are all those balls hinged together into a hodge-podge of unnecessary and unattainable goals?
To be fair, we have been trained to see things linearly--cause and effect, actions and karma, one year after the next--all in sequence. There is always a precluding factor, and no one can really be sure whether it was the chicken or the egg. Everything is one giant matrix of "if, then" statements. No wonder we adhere to hinges, which normally only swing in one direction, and restrict the ability to take an alternate path. You can go one way, or another, and each has a different set of consequences.
But it's important to remember, as people with emotional and physical needs, some hinges are a good and necessary part of life--no one is asking you to disregard those who you love. In fact, it is the determination of which limited set of hinges you cannot live without that makes life worth living.
We met as Sparks — Diverging Flints
Sent various — scattered ways —
We parted as the Central Flint
Were cloven with an Adze —
Subsisting on the Light We bore
Before We felt the Dark —
A Flint unto this Day — perhaps —
But for that single Spark.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Once, a friend who was familiar with the packed streets of Hong Kong and other Asian cities made the offhand comment that New York was the best possible place to be "surrounded, packed wall to wall with people, and yet feel completely and utterly alone." Well, keeping all razor blades at a safe distance from your wrists--we regret to inform you that in some circumstances this can ring true. It is, however, a short-lived experience of loneliness, if that helps. Despite the best attempts to stay in a sorrowful or forlorn mood, the city is almost asking you to get out of yourself while you walk the street. The city is not like your life-long friend, offering condolences, but more like your pushy aunt or crazy neighbor--annoying you just enough so you're too pissed or distracted to remember just exactly what you were too pissed or distracted with five minutes ago. The subways stall, someone steps on the back of your shoe, a street advertiser for the comedy show around the corner heckles you. The question to be asked is whether life is lived when you're contemplating your life, or when you're telling off, under your breath, the guy who budged you in the coffee line. Once and a while, you'll meet a friendly stranger, or someone who actually gives to the poor, or helps out an elderly person. But those experiences are few and far between, and because they are so, they are often met with shock, contempt, or even a conniving sense that something must be "in it for them," when in fact the exact opposite is probably true. Amidst all this outer chaos, the coffee stains, and contemplation, you can never really be alone.
The city is also a great place to roam while trying to forget that you are, in fact, waiting for something. Now, not all the time--but in those instances when you have plans, or are walking from one place to the next. Some might say that the city is in fact a large, concrete distraction--but it's better and simultaneously worse than that. Waiting is, by definition the suspension of some hoped-for event. The hope might be the positive, anticipatory kind, or the egregious hope that comes with wanting something to be over quickly.
More waiting is done on a regular basis than the events themselves waited for, if they occur at all. Of course, the worst form of waiting is done when the hoped for event is sincerely wished yet completely and undeniably unlikely to ever occur. The funny part of such waiting is that we, as a species, still have the genetic predisposition towards a triumvirate of combined gumption, fortitude, and stupidity that makes us able to wait. Our tendency to accept the dilatory days, weeks, and years is an accomplishment, but one tinged with regret and futility. Once every now and then, we are given what could be described as the "Heideggerian Wake-Up Call"--We are smacked with the reality of the possibility that everything can and will be taken away. Perhaps someone dies, or nearly dies--and suddenly a new sense of purpose is added, like a sweetener to our life-drink, and everything we do is heightened, analyzed for it's purpose, disregarded for it's superficiality, etc. Heidegger judged death not as a single event, but an event of nearly unlimited moments. In other words, he believed that every passing moment was the equivalent of a "little" death, and that what lay in front of all people was not some unknown future of life, but nothing...a blank space that people hope contains future life, when in actuality, it contains a void. Heidegger's scholarship on "Being" is some of the more difficult out there, but it's well worth the trouble. Because once you realize that the blank space is blank, it instills a sense that what you are now, is all you can bank on, scarily enough. But people can't live their lives in a way that only acknowledges the present--at least most don't attempt to. But there has to be some less-precarious medium, where we are allowed to bank on a future while knowing that we must do our best to make the most of the present. It is the feeling that we are unable to steer the present or nearly-present that gets everybody in a twist, whether they are aware of it or not. So we've made Waiting a noble sport. And where better to play than New York?
Sunday, July 20, 2008
If you don't think this is a fair judgment of that noble Midwestern state, then you probably haven't read the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals' latest decision on the matter of abortion procedure within South Dakota, which is detailed in the SD House Bill 1166. Here is the list of requirements for a physician performing an abortion and a patient that is contemplating or has scheduled a abortion procedure:
The provisions of § 7 relevant to the preliminary injunction are as
follows (emphases added by the court):
- No abortion may be performed unless the physician first obtains a
voluntary and informed written consent of the pregnant woman upon
whom the physician intends to perform the abortion, unless the physician
determines that obtaining an informed consent is impossible due to a
medical emergency and further determines that delaying in performing
the procedure until an informed consent can be obtained from the
pregnant woman or her next of kin in accordance with chapter 34-12C
is impossible due to the medical emergency, which determinations shall
then be documented in the medical records of the patient. A consent to
an abortion is not voluntary and informed, unless, in addition to any
other information that must be disclosed under the common law doctrine,
the physician provides that pregnant woman with the following
(1) A statement in writing providing the following information:
(a) The name of the physician who will perform the abortion;
(b) That the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate,
unique, living human being;
(c) That the pregnant woman has an existing relationship with
that unborn human being and that the relationship enjoys
protection under the United States Constitution and under the
laws of South Dakota;
(d) That by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her
existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will
(e) A description of all known medical risks of the procedure and
statistically significant risk factors to which the pregnant woman
would be subjected, including:
(i) Depression and related psychological distress;
(ii) Increased risk of suicide ideation and suicide;
* * *
* * *
(2) A statement by telephone or in person, by the physician who is to
perform the abortion, or by the referring physician, or by an agent of
both, at least twenty-four hours before the abortion, providing the
(a) That medical assistance benefits may be available for prenatal
care, childbirth, and neonatal care;
(b) That the father of the unborn child is legally responsible to
provide financial support for her child following birth, and that
this legal obligation of the father exists in all instances, even in
instances in which the father has offered to pay for the abortion;
(c) The name, address, and telephone number of a pregnancy help
center in reasonable proximity of the abortion facility where the
abortion will be performed; . . .
* * *
[¶ 2] Prior to the pregnant woman signing a consent to the abortion, she
shall sign a written statement that indicates that the requirements of this
section have been complied with. Prior to the performance of the
abortion, the physician who is to perform the abortion shall receive a
copy of the written disclosure documents required by this section, and
shall certify in writing that all of the information described in those
subdivisions has been provided to the pregnant woman, that the
physician is, to the best of his or her ability, satisfied that the pregnant
woman has read the materials which are required to be disclosed, and
that the physician believes she understands the information imparted.
M.Snowe will make the following concessions, in order to show that she is trying to look at this legislation from multiple sides:
1. It is important that anyone undergoing any medical procedure understand what they are getting into, and most medical procedures do require written consent. Fine.
2. Sadly, there are people out there who need to be informed of certain options available to them that they would otherwise not have known about. Okay.
But here's the problem: Abortion is a unique procedure, in that it is a female-only procedure performed for a plethora of reasons, with implications not only medical but social, ethical, religious, etc. That is not to say that other procedures don't combine these larger considerations (such as stem-cell research or cochlear implants), but we are truly rubbing up against some of the largest questions we all must address sooner or later: what is life, how do we define it, and given our knowledge of it, what form of dominion or control can we claim upon it? These are heavy questions worth the debate that is given to them, despite the ultimate futility of ever reaching a conclusion (M.Snowe would be weary of someone who claims they've got the right answers).
But here's the problems with this bill:
It uses the idea of informed consent to legitimize overemphasis in hopes of "spooking" the women seeking an abortion. When someone goes in for, say a heart transplant surgery, they should be told by their surgeon about the method of the procedure, the possible risks, etc.--this is important. But the doctor is not required to explain what will happen to the patient's old heart, or to make a claim that you are violating nature by taking out what was given to you by your creator (or your parent's DNA). There is no informed consent clause about "your unique heart, and the possibility of forever losing a part of yourself oft connected with emotion in sonnets and romances." A woman knows that an abortion is the end of a pregnancy--that is why she is there. She does not need to be lectured with: "the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being."
Also, this statement is insanely inaccurate--like the example of the heart transplant, both a heart or a fetus separated in the early months from the body of the patient has no chance at being "whole" or living a "separate" life of it's own. You cannot count the life as a separate one at this point medically--you could conjecture that should the mother deliver the child, the intended life would be lived, but that is not the sense of this statement.
A sad attempt at scare tactics:
"That by having an abortion, her existing relationship and her existing constitutional rights with regards to that relationship will be terminated;"
This is what M.Snowe calls the "eye for a fetus" punishment scheme. It basically says, rather snarkily, that: "you better not abort, or we're going to abort one of your constitutional rights...though this right really isn't relevant, and we're not even sure if we understand what we're saying." Basically, the phrase means that once you abort the fetus, that fetus is no longer protected by the Constitution, and therefore neither are any rights you might try to claim for it. Well, not to be simplistic about this, but: Duh. Once something is inanimate, or no longer living, or no longer has the possibility of being a living person, it cannot be protected constitutionally. This sentence of the bill spirals and is intentionally cryptic--trying to "fool" people into thinking that they are missing out on some much-needed protection, when really, it is moot.
Depression and Suicide Warnings.
Number one: is this verifiable...quantifiable? Does anyone do any studies on the number of women out there who possibility considered abortion, then had a child and ended up with post-pardum depression, or committed suicide? M.Snowe finds that unlikely. This is another scare tactic--and so thinly veiled that M.Snowe can see the hanging noose and lone chair behind the curtain.
The possibility of pre- and post-natal care, and the legal requirement of child support from the father.
This rather horribly assumes the monetary greed/concerns of those women choosing to abort. It basically screams: "You're going to destroy your fetus because you don't want to deal with the monetary burden, but we're going to try and stop you, because greed and avarice is your motive and life force--we're surprised your fetus isn't made entirely of greenbacks." Not only is this incredibly condescending and distressing, the so-called "assistance" being offered is not even comforting, or truthful. Even if, on the off chance you took monetary needs into the consideration of abortion, the state of South Dakota offers no assurance that they will indeed deliver either health care, or the child support. The bill says care "may be available," and it says that fathers are "legally responsible" but never says they would help you track down the father, or help to make him fulfill his legal responsibility. But at least you could rest on your laurels, I suppose.
"...that the physician believes she understands the information imparted."
What the legislators really wanted to say:
"Dear Physician: you best make sure these women-folk know what they're getting into, those ignorant louts."
- Obviously, this assumes that women are incapable of understanding the most simple of terms, although, come to think of it, the bill did just say that a woman was terminating the life of something completely whole and separate, yet it cannot sustain life outside her womb. Maybe it is confusing...
Friday, July 18, 2008
But then, aren't the most times, events, and relationships kind of like that? Don't all our memories and even happy happenstances have, well, the twinge of something unpleasant? And usually, aren't the things we look for in life, that we hold in the highest regard, in fact brought down several notches once we experience them?
New York has lots of contradictions and perpendicularisms. The best restaurants in town leave their abandoned, rotting foie gras on the street corners that people step in with their $200 shoes, unawares, the next morning. But it's not just the businesses that operate in this way--the people too. The young girls with overlarge glasses ahead of you in the lunch line, complaining about their boyfriends and the lack of consideration they show---are the very same ones who snap at the server behind the counter for no reason. The crazy people are accepted as a fact of city life, whereas the perfectly sane and friendly tourists are the first victims to be considered in any new yorker's fantasy subway mutiny. Everyone is a hypocrite at some time, but it seems that NYC is the best place to find the most sharp examples--and they cut you through the skin, or at least make you laugh. The people that seem the most transparent, the easiest to read and understand--they can be the most elusive to get at when you really dig deep. NYC, unlike many other places, is an atmosphere that knows real estate and space is limited--people talk about the most private things, or make the most insane comments in front of a passing public without a second thought because privacy is at a minimum. And because we are thrown together in such tight quarters with such a variety of people, it is easy to assume a comfort level with people who you might not otherwise have established a repoire with in say, Tulsa, Oklahoma, or Bangor, Maine. The inter workings are closer spatially, but it feels like sometimes, the people standing next to you on the street and in the trains, are half a world away.
This is a quote in reference to the first Madame Bovary--not Emma, the protagonist of Flaubert's precise and beautifully articulated tome. But it could apply to almost all the characters, who needed more love, and sought it, but ended up ultimately unsatisfied.
Flaubert has a distinct flair for two things (among others, to be sure): catching the absolute necessity and simultaneous ridiculousness of human desire, and the ability to set a scene like no other writer M.Snowe has read in a long time. Being a Flaubert neophyte, with a slightly pronounced literary obsession with writers such as Henry James, Edith Wharton and Charlotte Bronte, it was both refreshing and unnerving to read about a woman who actually "gets some"--nineteenth-century style. But what all the tales of Emma's indiscretions show is that perhaps just maybe all those other sexually-frustrated/unfulfilled heroines from James and Bronte were lucky to stay out of the messiness of the carnal fray. But that's a bit unreasonable...
Some of Flaubert's images, the capsulizing of scenes was very similar to what others, like James, are known for executing. Flaubert apparently has a light/sun/fire fetish, and the effects of light on scenes and the people in them. The scene where Charles Bovary essentially "checks out" Emma, as she sits by the fire place in the kitchen, is , to pun, illuminating. But in direct juxtaposition to the light that shines and highlights certain features, the characters themselves are in a state of utter bewilderment by what they think they see, and how they interpret the scenes before them. We too as readers, observing the beauty of Flaubert's descriptions, are fooled into thinking that the beauty of the scene will reveal truths. But what we get is a messy, soap-opera-like saga of one not-so-nice woman's illicit trysts, and the men she bores of. One shouldn't be too hard on Emma Bovary, but if you come away pitying her too much, that isn't good either. Charles is perhaps the most tragic figure of the novel, in that at least his love, misguided as it was, never waned from it's subject. Emma's voracious need to feed her definition of love and desire controlls her entire being. She is a woman obsessed, forever "waiting for something to happen." She, "like shipwrecked sailors, turned despairing eyes on the solitude of her life, seeking a far off some white sail in the mists of the horizon." Well, Flaubert knew all too well that when someone strives for a far-off sail, they often come to meet an island of sirens, or other Homeric creatures of the deep leading them towards peril, when they would otherwise could have left well-enough alone. If M.Snowe was to summarize the novel in a sentence, it would be something about Emma's inability to leave well-enough alone. Interestingly, in a James or Wharton novel, the opposite might be true: the characters left well-enough alone, and suffered dearly for it. So is there a happy-medium author, in which some desires are fulfilled, and some foregone but not torturous to let go of? And if there was/is such a writer writing such books, would they really be that entertaining?
For the life of her, M.Snowe has decided that although it's nice to see a female protagonist of the 1800s actually engaging in some naughty behavior--because practically every novel of the time period has men doing the same--she'd rather read the books where the behavior is ardently striven for, but ultimately denied. Perhaps this allows the characters to have a more innocently tragic frame. But it's more than that. Emma soon discovers amidst her trysts that she "detests commonplace heroes and moderate sentiments, as there are in nature." Emma's desirous thirst for fulfillment leads her from one lover to the next, from one money loan to the next, and all to her and her family's destruction. Ambition is one thing, but blind pursuit of novelistically inspired happiness is quite another. The more you seek it, and the more you receive, the more you want. Your tolerance is expanded... and so you need more. The greatest "takeaway" of this story (if you're one of those people searching for morals) isn't that you shouldn't have extra-marital affairs--it's that you should understand the difference between what is possible in fiction and in reality--and be very weary when the lines are blurred. There's no mistaking that Flaubert does not want you to imitate Emma--she is self-consumed, an unloving mother, and a completely blinded pleasure-seeker. In that way, we must applaud her as at least a unique, stand-out personality in the long list of memorable 19th women characters. But that is where we part ways, Madame--unless we too want to be "eaten up with desires, with rage, with hate."
Monday, July 14, 2008
In terms of defensive maneuvers, here are some suggestions that the Alliance released in it's official statement on the "war on man-assault":
- Always consider clothing--if you dress like a man-whore, you are a man-whore.
- Women can and will jump you on the streets at any hour, despite the location--however, avoid lonely mall parking lots after a big sale, and around movie theaters after the late-night showing of the newest romantic-comedy.
- Always travel in groups--although this may increase the desire of women who are likely to assault, it will at least be advisable to adopt a "wildebeest mentality" and allow the weaker men to be picked off, while you stay safely in the middle of the pack
- If you do find yourself in an assault--make loud noises and aim to hit her in the spot where the sun don't....wait...you may just have to keep hitting, seeing as everything's internal.
- Always remember: it is not your fault. But you are the victim, and ultimately you will be held responsible for the greater part of reporting, reliving, and reciting the incident for the larger percentage of the time.
- People will feel sorry for you, and baby you, and tell you to move out of the neighborhood where the incident occurred. You might feel that the woman who assaulted you should leave, but you don't even know what she looks like, so our advice is to forget about it and suffer in silence.
What is the Alliance doing to combat this horrible epidemic of social chaos?
Here's their short list:
- anti-violence training workshops available for women (optional unless convicted of prior crimes)
- AA Programs (Assault Anonymous for females)
- regular and increased patrols around aforementioned congregation and incident areas
- male awareness campaigns, and self-defense classes
- workplace awareness programs ala sexual harassment model
- school-age workshops for young girls about respect for all bodies
This all seem a bit unrealistic? Good.
But, when can we live in a world where it also seems ludicrous for sexual assaults to be committed by males with female victims?
What gives one sex the rather dubious right to be expected to perpetrate such crimes? And for the other sex to just sit back and take it, or have little or no recourse when they don't?
post script on the "The United States Alliance of Police Department Precincts": M.Snowe made the organization up...