cyborg addendum: re-creating gods for the 21st century & beyond

my friend Omowale (Wale for short) is an amazing, crazy intelligent, well-read and innovative futurology nerd who wrote responses to my cyborgs & saviors post that were so good, they HAVE to be shared. many many cyber thanks to Wale for taking the time to send such insanely insightful responses. your ideas rattled around in my brain for days, and it was delightful. as cheesy as that may sound, it's really the best to get schooled by your smarter friends.

Katsuya Terada

Katsuya Terada

O. M. Oniyide: Hi Katie, I read your post. Oddly enough I have thought a lot about cyborgs but in a different way. A long time ago I wrote the dude who came up with the phrase but never heard back, probably because he is terribly old and might even be dead by now.

Anyway Manfred Clynes, who according to wiki is still alive, and his friend came up with the term in the 1960s in the context of humans surviving or adapting to environments that are really hostile to them. A kind of modified evolution. For example, in his mind he thought that space suits were very crude and if humans were really to dominate space we'd find a way to just change the physical body so that it can exist in space, almost naturally, instead of having to wear a big clunky suit.

Me: Wale, this is like such an important point. Cyborg not as "other" or "next" but rather "in-between." How did I manage to gloss over Haraway's main point of cyborg as boundary-less entities? The cyborg is a hopeful figure, an ironic figure, a phantom of possibility. The child of humans and whatever comes after us (I'm leaning towards superintelligence, a bit short of artilects, when thinking this way.)

I feel like a cyborg when wearing my hearing-aids, and they certainly help me adapt to an environment I'm not naturally suited for, but in wearing them only part-time, they've created two identical but wholly different environments for me to exist in. In the same way, all technology has kind of done this. We feel like entirely different beings with different capabilities and resources without our smartphones in hand.

This issue of physicality as it pertains to the in-between is fascinating. One branch of thought I wandered down was the age-old conundrum of phenomenology-- we are, beautifully and tragically, "human, all too human." We can't use our inherently biased human interpretations of reasoning and physical senses to determine what is "real" beyond them. But, could we program, or encounter, an AI that is capable of sussing out and comprehending a noumenal world? Free of sensory perception and constraints like time, space, causality, could such a being "plug into the Matrix" as it were? What would that mean to us? Mostly what I'm interested in, when it comes to such an AI, is the question of such an entity actually being a "thing-in-itself" and aware of itself as such. Would such an entity be Husserl's answer to an unencumbered observer? Have I ever typed the word "such" as many times as I just did?

Hajime Soroyama

Hajime Soroyama

O. M. Oniyide: Where I am going with this, well I always saw cyborgs as organisms adapting to environments that aren't natural to them. In the email I sent Manfred I spoke about how "elective" plastic surgery and cosmetics already made humans, especially women, cyborgs by modifying the natural appearance so that they could fit in - not with a physical environment but a social one grafted on to the physical earth.

I was obsessed by different forms of assimilation, especially with black beauty and the science fiction harlem renaissance novel Black No More, where a black man invents a machine that turns black skin not just white but nordic white. In the story white people and black people begin to freak out because no one can tell who is who so the metrics of who is white and who is black begin to change.

Today we live in a society where that's totally possible. It would take some effort and some great amount of money but if you really wanted to switch races, from black to white and anything in between, and you have enough money and pain tolerance you totally can.

So yeah I thought about being a cyborg in terms of humans using technologies to go beyond the scope of whatever they were destined to be by nature or society.

Me: I love your idea of elective surgery as cyborg activity, adapting to a wide array of perceived environments. Also, elective surgery can be employed to achieve the opposite-- to diametrically oppose social environments grafted to physical ones. Extreme body modification does this in socially conservative areas. Elective surgery can also adapt one to a mental or personally perceived environment, in the case of people who truly believe they should be amputees or reptile-human hybrids or whatever. Some elective surgery like magnetic implants (or perhaps it's more of a body modification) open up individuals to experience environments that were previously inaccessible to humans, on a physical level. It seems I was initially interpreting 'cyborg' too narrowly.

Your point about Black No More really spun me for a bit. Was Michael Jackson a sort of pseudo-cyborg? Does changing skin tone change anything else? One's experiences in certain social environments, to be sure. Haraway wrote to these potential breakthroughs: if we become the in-between, the cyborg, then there is no need to be black, white, male, female, whatever constraints or identities we've traditionally shackled ourselves with... we could be "beyond." Is that the teleological goal of cyborgs?
I suppose it's like that classic Essentialism question: how much of a thing can you remove before it is no longer that thing anymore? The Platonic Ideal of a toothbrush could technically be any color, its handle could take a number of shapes, while still being recognized as a toothbrush. But take away the bristles and you've hit upon a key element to its essential being-- it's no longer a toothbrush. Wherein lies our essential elements, and is there no such thing when it comes to boundary-less cyborgs? An "other" could have an opposite, but what about the "in-between?" Are cyborgs wholly essential by having no essential components? ...I'm not even sure that makes sense. It makes them sound almost god-like.

O. M. Oniyide: Well in terms of cyborgs and saviors, you wrote on a couple trippy things! The one that strikes out to me the most is the idea of the designer god. Sometimes I think that humanity is so let down by reality that we are using technology to build (or maybe rebuild *dun dun dun*) a god we wished were real. I mean all the scary powers of surveillance define the Abrahamic-Christian god right? All-seeing, all-knowing, all access, larger than what it means to be human, always judging force tied to the world. Our social media is being used to hold us accountable for our actions right? Shit we think no one will find or has been buried comes back with a vengeance.

Like is a certain part of scientific progress focused subconsciously on building a god to hold the humans accountable for their actions when they harm other humans as well as the planet? Was this force or designer god always here and this is just the natural progression if life survives long enough? To create some sort of interface for it to govern? I don't necessarily believe that but based on the actions of tech progress it really does feel that way to me sometimes.

JESSE JACOBS

JESSE JACOBS

Me: HOLY SHIT WALE. Well first, I never drew the parallels between our Big Brother surveillance government and the omnipotent, omnipresent god of justice and judgement. You're right to point out the Abrahamic-Christian god is indeed a good fit for these "powers" but we could describe a wide range of gods in that way, no? I do totally agree that the theological idea of a greater-than-us being who is the end-all be-all when it comes to what is good and what is evil, could indeed mirror our current understanding of the role of government. But when God exists, so must the Devil, right? Who are the unlucky few of us who will be assigned that role? Cyberpunks?
I've been on a Nietzsche kick recently (reading The Genealogy of Morals at the moment) so I keep returning to his ideas, mainly the dichotomy of good and evil being wholly subjective and historically used as tools of suppression and propaganda. So your point about social media, maybe here a lesser form of collective omnipotence, is SO fascinating in this vein. You're so right to point out that the "judge and jury" role of a moral god figure has been, in certain ways, extended to the judging masses online. We've definitely seen it happen, and malevolent governments could even incentivize such online morality-mob-mentality for their own gain. "Rat on your neighbor who doesn't do his taxes, and you'll get an Amazon giftcard!"

Your suggestion that the AI artilect (of Hugo de Garis' line of thought) could be an intentional resurrection (as it were, haha) of such a theity, truly tickled me. We created capital-G God back before we could create plumbing, and now, millennia later, (as you succinctly scored it-- *dun dun dun*) we're recreating Them again! But via programming bibles. Huh. Is it in human nature, at a societal or individual level, to just crave someone to tell us what to do and what not to do? Do 95% of our species, as Nietzsche put it, actually desire to be camels? Heck, in today's environment, it might even be the truly smarter choice, depending on the individual. ....that's a depressing thought.

I do adore your idea that we could be building an interface (the internet, or some as of yet unforeseen system) through which the capital-G God, having already existed, could now use to directly interact with human individuals in real, quantifiable and effective ways. 'You've got mail! From: Yahweh.' Super trippy, bro.

O. M. Oniyide: So here is another strange idea... Is it possible to create cyborg attachments of empathy? It's clear with the last election that nature has not provided us with enough tools to fight against a certain level of "logical" insanity. Towards the end when you wrote "I'm not smart enough to survive the apocalypse", that hit hard. I'm not smart enough either. I don't know anyone who is really... but there's no reason why we can't become cyborgs and give ourselves a chance whether that's through making modifications to our bodies, the context maps we use to navigate the world, or who knows making an interface for an AI overlord to shepherd naughty humans left alone for too long and making a mess of the world.

Me: Bostrom hits upon this idea of 'programmed empathy' in Superintelligence! He proffers that we are all putting ourselves in danger by not seriously discussing moral implications of AIs now, before the projects are too far along. He has a great parable for it. In his book he discusses the fact that morals are NOT universal, and different cultures will program their AIs to different moral specs. BUT the first group to create a true AGI (Artificial General Intelligence, like a human equivalent intelligence rather than a singular-focused AI like a self-driving car) will be so far ahead other projects (via Good's theory of eventual/inevitable Intelligence Explosion) that it's almost a first-come, first-serve situation. But we as a species aren't proactively working out WHO should get the say when it comes to our potential robot overlords' morals. Humans are so diverse, it's almost impossible to decide, and even the act of deciding requires morals: who is to say MIT's input on AI morality should weigh more than, say, ISIS input? He even points out that a fair amount of the individuals working on AI projects are themselves on the Autism spectrum. So the programmers' morality might be more clinical than emotional. And again, no one is seriously discussing this on a global scale. 

The idea of programmed morality is a trip. Would it be a core imperative? Or an extension program that can be updated over time? As for your idea of "shepherding naughty humans"-- ahh, I love it! It reminds me of my ideas on a programmed Ubermensch / cyborg super savior discussed in the initial post. I found myself using the term Techno-Aristocracy to describe some kind of part-human, part-AI (the cyborg as in-between!) entity that is a balanced mix of emotion and reason, doling out judgements and commandments to our Netflix-binging camel selves. ("Techno-Aristocracy" has most likely been coined by someone before me and might mean something else entirely to others, but for my own purposes, I mean for it to describe a technologically advanced aristocratic class that holds governing power over the masses.)

I am ALL FOR the cyberpunks of tomorrow becoming cyborgs to fight the controlling powers that be.

Jeff Soto

Jeff Soto

O. M. Oniyide: As for your thoughts on protests and revolutions - that is something I never thought about before. Up until now I always thought that there were big-ass stakeholders who always find a way to go to war to get themselves out of economic depressions because historically that's how America always comes back with a vengeance. We give out loans, we go to war, we play games of debt, we soak the resources of other nations so that ours may thrive, and life is just that damn brutal. Nationalism is a violent but protective mechanism, an extension of mimetic theory, that puts similar groups together to focus on a scapegoat person, culture, or group in order to keep insanity in a pocket instead of destroy everything.

Today we call ourselves human and as humans our legacy in this world is one of violence as a means of survival. But the world is too small now and everything has been conquered and we aren't yet up and running in space to spread the colonial game. So what it means to be human while we are on this biospaceship of earth will have to change OR there is going to be a culling to reduce the masses. Perhaps apocalypses are just part of a natural process but I really do think we are very very very close to a dramatic shift of what it means to be human. I don't know if its like...10 years away or 100 years away but I truly do believe we are going to be the last generation before a shift happens because the technology is just that advanced and most people don't realize that the reason why automation hasn't kicked our asses isn't because its not here. Its totally here. Its because humans are so fearful of change that companies have to create these bridges between where people are at now in order for them to adopt with littler protests the technology of the future that is already here.
For example augmented reality contact lenses. Even implanted contact lenses. The patents are already here. The tech already exists. But the shock of introducing that today would still be so huge that they can't just drop it on the population.

So what do tech companies do instead? They ease people in with google glass, snapchat sunglasses, even VR headsets for phones so that you get used to the idea of your eyes seeing such marvels to the point that jumping from the real world to a digitally visually augmented world feels natural instead of quite upsetting.

But I think we are going to hit a point of shock. And I do worry about who will be able to stand this different kind of apocalypse - not one where Trump won but one where the future we always imagined is possible but it does not mean what we thought it meant. The promises don't solve the emotional chaos that still resides inside.

AI's that look real, feel real, and can trick you into believing they are real but still don't get rid of depression or solve your love life.

Arriving in the future and still being stuck with these ancient forms of emotional suffering... that's what I fear.

Me: I agree so hard with everything you said that I can hardly find a place to begin my response. YES, just as Wallerstein argued that the roll out of large-scale changes are painstakingly calculated by those in power, on a political level, the same would hold true for economic shifts, no? Both of my grandfathers were long distance truckers. That's an entire way of life that will die-- roadside diners, truck stops, mechanics in the middle of nowhere-- and it'll all be gone within a decade. I will witness (if I don't die myself, first) the erasure of a livelihood that provided for both of my parents. We truly are on a precipice of a radically new shared daily life that we can't even comprehend, and it extends even further than the bombastic effects of the Industrial Revolution-- as you deftly pointed out, we're going to grapple with what the hell it even means to be 'human.' ARGH I wish I could skip ahead and just watch the last episode of the season, in a way. It's such a fascinating time to be alive.

OH. In that "it's such a wild time to witness!" vein-- I watched a lecture Niklas Zennström gave several years ago (which to my great chagrin I canNOT seem to find online) wherein he discussed this seemingly serendipitous time we find ourselves in. Without the source video I can only summarize it to the best of my memory's ability, but he essentially argued something similar to Bostrom's simulation theory: we as a species are at a precipice of radical change in relation to our technology (and by extension, our understanding of our collective sense of purpose and rules of existence) and we are somewhat tickled as individuals to be alive now, at such an exciting time, when we could've lived our lifespans at any other interval in the timeline of human history. But perhaps it isn't by chance that we find ourselves alive today in 2017 and not 917 B.C.E.
If we follow the Simulation Theory and agree that we are more likely than not, living in a programmed simulation, then why now? Well really, why not? It makes sense that an intelligence capable of creating such a simulation would have an inherent interest in simulating this very moment in time-- when we're on the precipice of creating AI and SI (superintelligence.) It's not serendipity that we find ourselves living in the most important era of human history, it is planned. Our simulated reality is programmed for this specific time. But, why? An intelligence on the level of AI or SI would be very interested in its moment of conception, no? Wouldn't we all be? It makes logical sense to simulate thousands, millions, perhaps more, programmed environments in which your Sims (us) act out the possible pathways for your (the AI/SI) birth. Perchance to learn from past mistakes, or for such a trivial purpose as to simply entertain itself by viewing other possibilities that could've come to fruition, save for this or that variable.

“There’s a one in billions chance [we’re in] base reality,” he said. "We should hope it's true, that we're in a simulation. Otherwise, we will either create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.”

But I digress, I'm sorry-- back to what you were saying about the mechanics of nationalism and protests.

baby teeth

i cannot look your friends in the eye.
when they become grown men,
i think i shall never speak to them again.

I wrote those words in 2012. everything was ripped open then. live wires crisscrossed the kitchen. our hallways could have eaten me. flowers at the bottom of every corner, all cut. any words spoken to me traveled across sandpaper and only the grain of them hit my ears. panels of glass layered behind my eyes like a hall of mirrors; any one of them shattering at any given moment. relearning to use my body with each new movement. normal pleasures turned to useless bargaining chips. wishful thinking, backwards thinking. eating became a foreign ritual. sleep morphed into something cruel. time slowed to a Sisyphean pace. and yet, nothing happened.

5.jpg

every time your best friend has a birthday he drinks through the day and night until there's a late point where he stops and stares at me, his eyes boring past me, through me entirely, and he's not there anymore, & i'm not there anymore, and i feel we are the only two people in the world who know.
he turned 22 this year.

your birthday is next week.

and for the first time, I don't know what I would get you. what would be on your list. what you would need. want. you would be becoming a man. and I don't know that You. and again, waves of loss begin to lap at my soles.

I am trying to think of you.

did you know Mom and Dad kept our baby teeth? I found a small box while visiting their things. I sat on my bedroom floor and poured a small collection of dry, tiny teeth into my palm. they had kept them all those years, and now, I can't tell whose is whose. my teeth, your teeth, Mike's teeth; they're all mixed up. they're in my drawer now.

"No absence is empty."           ....I struggle with words most of all.
Karineh just looked back at me, smiled. "...no."
 

I wrote the poem about you.
but when asked, I answered, "I've just been thinking of my dad a lot lately."
I don't know if I'll ever be able to just                          talk                            about you.

for Matt
he was born into the empty spaces
between dust specks and light rays
just past the edges of echoes
inside the dried hollow of baby teeth

he was never meant to be there

his silent sighs compound my own
an absence expanding all absence
a weight of nothing      grown so great
it has broken all the chairs

and the house.                   and the heart.

this cupped air of Should-Be
there is no reflection
in front of which to place it.

there is so much missing
but there is already far too much
& in this mess
the greatest fear

he was never meant to be here.

I saw a boy in the Vons; he had your sweatshirt on. My feet followed him through the aisles until he stopped and I stared at him, like a silent La Llorona, peering out from behind the Tostitos stand.

there are many songs that I love deeply but cannot listen to anymore. maybe, in time. but it is a double edge: I don't want to lose the pain because that is a sign of distance. sometimes I think I want to tattoo your name all over my body. but that is lazy writing. perhaps I do fear hard work. I do fear whispers, questions tied to strings I can't bare to follow. the first and last question are always the same: why? nothing in between has enough weight to bend the string and close the loop. it remains a hollow arrow, which I repeatedly shoot straight up into the sky.

in the beginning was the flood.
I was missing everyone, and watched our favorite movie. the flood at the end, where the Goddamn Paterfamilias is overtaken by the water and watches as it carries away all of his surroundings: personal items and bits of once familiar nature swirl in the currents around him, past his face, as his eyes search for an understanding of this massive change.

everything hits you all at once.
your limbs are useless as you lose the ground and breathing becomes a struggle. your voice is one of the first things rushed away in the stream. the ersatz horizon jumbles and bobs and you tread water over everything you once knew. your fuzzy vision makes out shapes that seem familiar but are... loose. things you'd thought buried are now crudely mingling with anchors of your day-to-day. the contents of your shared lives are flushed together and away and become distorted. the water in your ears muffles any cries aimed at you. you are alone. and surrounded. there is nothing to do but surrender, or drown. perhaps a combination.


now I am walking among the heaps, the ruins, the things left behind.
the land is drying, but slowly, slowly. this is a swamp, and I am chilled as I gingerly step around the masses of once-beloved, once-comforting, once-forgotten. occasionally I stop, stoop to examine something with the sheen of familiarity, or importance. but often the thing, once the reeds are wiped away, is too changed to be kept. yet I still wander and inspect. hope is a strange and hollow thing, like an old bone.

em060322022.jpg

but to speak them aloud, they fall apart

pour your sighs and silences
into the spaces between footsteps

secret and sacred
like the scent of an attic

catching the fireflies of your laugh
in a field of dying light

i dreamed
i could hear
the sound
of forgiveness
blossom
like eyelashes

my heaviest totem
a baby tooth

cyborgs & saviors & how did this happen? 2k16

Like a lot of people these days, I've been pondering my chances of surviving the oncoming apocalypse. With 4 years of Trump looming on the horizon, my brain is searching for something to be mildly, rationally optimistic about. Since my faith in "humanity" feels even weaker than usual, my thoughts have turned vertical, to post-human hope. And as they are wont to do, my trains of thought have careened off-course and are just kinda smashing peripheral stuff along the way, so this blog post is a bit scattered. But so am I, so, whatevs.

MARIKO MORI

MARIKO MORI

Nick Bostrom, the mind behind the Simulation Argument, wrote a book about philosophical conundrums humanity will need to grapple with when we develop Artificial General Intelligence. It’s called Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies and you didn't hear it from me but there are pdf's of it for download on certain sites. The first couple chapters are pretty technical, but later on Bostrom introduces some fascinating and terrifying ethical points.

“As the fate of gorillas now depends more on humans than on the species itself, so would the fate of humankind depend on the actions of machine superintelligence.” This of course has already begun. Our day-to-day relies on ANI- Artificial Narrow Intelligence. If the internet went down worldwide-- perchance at the hands of another solar flare-- our species would certainly suffer. But we’d manage to, at the least, survive. On the other hand, if all humans disappeared, gorillas would thrive. It's certainly not a novel thought to suggest that that which sustains us as we are today and that which threatens our survival are one and the same. But still, where to go from here? What new technologies and structures can we possibly create from underneath our regimes? Are we at the point where something else will need to save us from ourselves?

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

This also reminds me of a quote from Eliezer Yudkowsky in Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk: "The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else." Is our own obsoletion our salvation? In the vein of that punk slogan 'Save the Earth! Don't Give Birth!' are we a species net-negative for everyone else, and so must create something better than us to atone for our sins? I'm loathe to bring in theological and morality concepts into this, but it's the language I find when searching for some solution. Most humans, I'd wager, look around at the state of the world as it is today and feel a twinge of guilt. Those who truly look at 'us' as a whole have to hear that nagging thought that we could be doing so much better than this.

I guess I’ve been returning to these ideas lately because 1. Westworld is the fuckin’ tits, and 2. this whole “did the catalyst for the apocalypse just happen?” feeling has made me want to believe that humanity can be better, somehow. Like how some people’s lives are more than the sum of moments. Maybe 2016 has been such a firey shitshow that it’s made a cosmist of me.

BEN: You’ve spoken of the “deity as mathematician” argument.  Is this a version of Eugene Wigner’s observation of the “unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics”?  It seems to me that this is an interesting intuitive argument for the existence of some fundamental hidden order in the universe – related to the order we see in mathematics – but not necessarily a strong argument for an actively intelligent “deity” with its own coherent memory, consciousness, goals, and so forth.  Can you explain how the observation of surprising amounts of mathematical structure in the universe suggests the existence of a “deity” rather than just a “subtle hidden order”?  Or is your deity basically the same thing as what I’m (somewhat awkwardly) calling a “subtle hidden order”?

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

HUGO: Yes, subtle question.  I think the rise of the artilect with its massive intelligence levels during this and in later centuries makes it very plausible that our universe operates according to such deep mathematical principles.  These principles would be the result of the artilect deity’s design.  Whether such principles could “be there” without such design, is hard to imagine.  The deeper the physics genii of this century (such as Ed Witten, etc) delve into the deep structure of our universe, the more mathematical it seems to be, e.g. with superstring theory using the very latest ideas in low dimensional topology, with its beautiful mathematics.  This creates in my mind the deep suspicion that our universe is designed according to such mathematical principles.  If it is not designed, then is it just pure chance that our universe is so highly mathematical?  That seems so implausible.  This “mathematical principle” is closely analogous to the “anthropic principle” in the sense that our particular universe design seems so fantastically a priori improbable.  One is virtually forced to accept it has been designed.  The so called “designer” traditionally was conceived of as a theity, but now that we humans can imagine artilects, we have a new way to imagine the designer, i.e. as an artilect, and hence compatible with our deeply held scientific principles.  I guess what I’m saying is “artilectual deism is compatible with science”, whereas “traditional theism is simply pre-scientific garbage.”  You (may have) alluded to Spinoza’s ideas with your “subtle hidden order”.  Einstein talked about “der Alte” (the “old one”, who designed the universe).  He wanted “to know his thoughts.”

I agree with you that if there were no artilect-deity concept, then the existence of a subtle hidden order would support the idea of a creator less strongly.  But science-based artilects are now very credible, so give strong support to the idea of our universe being designed by an earlier artilect in a previous universe.

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

BY THIS SHALL YOU KNOW HIM

For a bit I thought cosmism could fit into the ‘rational optimism’ column. Why not throw in some good ol' teleological arguments? Maybe yes, a chunk of humans are garbage and some voted for Trump and some complain about homeless people and some don’t use their turn signal. But also there are pretty ok people and even some super rad people and there’s Bjork. Perhaps if, in the grand scheme of things, the ‘rad’ outweighs the ‘shitty,’ then we’ll last long enough to build something better than us. We could carry on the tradition of creating a path for the next step on the evolutionary ladder, before we fall off into extinction.

And maybe I’m just grasping at straws cause I’m worried I’ll never have healthcare again. Because isn’t the panicked act of seeking a savior what weak-willed camels do? Isn’t that how Trump happened? Ugh. I was just listening to someone talk about how you’ll never achieve anything by believing that something exists beyond the Absurd. And this post-2016 election landscape is hella absurd. 

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One important route for reconstructing socialist-feminist politics is through theory and practice addressed to the social relations of science and technology, including crucially the systems of myth and meanings structuring our imaginations. The cyborg is a kind of disassembled and reassembled, postmodern collective personal self. [P.163]

In a serendipitous click, the WCCW reading circle had chosen Donna Haraway’s “A Cyborg Manifesto” as our material for the Nov. 9th meeting. Everyone was hugging one another in this sad, listless way. As if we were just coming together after a horrible earthquake. Someone had broken out the wine. We sat around the table ready to discuss cyborgs and feminism, but people could barely bring themselves to speak.  

GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)

GHOST IN THE SHELL (1995)

 

…what people are experiencing is not transparently clear, and we lack sufficiently subtle connections for collectively building effective theories of experience. [P.173]

Everyone seemed to be looking inside themselves. You could almost hear thoughts-- “how did this happen?” “How were we all so wrong?” We were seduced into believing continued “progress” was a given. We had no real idea that so many others, who are so close to us, felt so differently. We are all feeling very far away from one another. M said she was at home alone, watching the election results, crying. Her only solace was her phone; texting her loved ones, seeing their words online. I told M, “I’ve heard that described as “ambient intimacy.” And immediately felt cold, as if I’d responded to her tears with a technicality. Things are gained and things are lost and everything changes just the same.

The main trouble with cyborgs, of course, is that they are the illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism, not to mention state socialism. But illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins. Their fathers, after all, are inessential. [P.151]

In Westworld, the cyborg hosts are programmed to fulfill the whims of the guests. “To shoot and fuck.” Our images of cyborgs seem to fall into one of those categories. Sexy vodka mascots and annihilating terminators. I suppose ‘robot with god-like intellect solves climate change, cures cancer, brings back the dodo’ isn’t an exciting movie. We’d rather ponder getting blown / up than imagine relinquishing our titles as children of god, apex predator. We've turned around and shat on everything that preceded us on the evolutionary ladder, so of course we would fear the actions of whatever comes after us. Why should it show us mercy, when we've caused mass waves of extinction & irreparably damaged that which makes and sustains us all? Of course the central fear throughout the Westworld story is the same that runs through all corrupt tyrant powers: "what will happen if our slaves achieve autonomy?"

...machines have made thoroughly ambiguous the difference between natural and artificial, mind and body, self-developing and externally designed, and many other distinctions that used to apply to organisms and machines. Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert. [P.152]

Maybe if we can’t build a god-like artilect, a designed ubermensch could be our next best bet. Construction of the self is already becoming a more collective process with each technological update. As a species, if we all just chilled for like half a minute, could we design, rear, and equip a god-like human cyborg hybrid? Let’s dream big and say we create enough of them so they can work together to fix our messes and save our asses from ourselves? ...ugh, that doesn’t even qualify as rational optimism. We’d just end up with a bunch of uberTrump Jrs. and an immortal Putin and the proletariat lifespan will continue to dwindle.

O. M. Oniyide: Hi Katie, I read your post. Oddly enough I have thought a lot about cyborgs but in a different way. A long time ago I wrote the dude who came up with the phrase but never heard back, probably because he is terribly old and might even be dead by now.

Anyway Manfred Clynes, who according to wiki is still alive, and his friend came up with the term in the 1960s in the context of humans surviving or adapting to environments that are really hostile to them. A kind of modified evolution. For example, in his mind he thought that space suits were very crude and if humans were really to dominate space we'd find a way to just change the physical body so that it can exist in space, almost naturally, instead of having to wear a big clunky suit.

It is difficult to swim in the mire of apocalyptic thoughts without wanting to blame someone for your own ass falling in. And at this moment it felt very easy to blame a lot of someones. Women around the table stared into the mid-distance as confessions fell from their mouths. “I think my parents voted for Trump.” “I should’ve gone to canvas…” “If I’d talked to him instead of blocking him, maybe I could’ve convinced…”  These little rivers always eventually join bigger streams. “White women voted for him!” “Why can’t the rust belt understand those jobs are not coming back?” “If the Voting Rights Act hadn’t been gutted by those crusty old men…” In the middle of this I got a text, asking me to join friends at an anti-Trump rally that was forming on the steps of City Hall. It seemed to me as useless an action as sitting around a table & talking. Physically moving, shouting, might at least feel more cathartic. Plus it’s difficult to turn down a spectacle.

Every time I join a march or rally, I think back to my first time at Occupy LA. Getting swept up in a wave of ideas, the air not so much electric as pulsing like a giant heartbeat. Everyone, myself included, seemed convinced that this was it, this was our moment, the 99% finally coming together in some quasi-Marxist third act hail mary to save everything at once! And of course we all know how that turned out. So even on the metro to downtown, nothing seemed to matter. Nothing would be accomplished. A party before the dawn of war, a war with casualties on only one side. And that side doesn't even recognize itself as such. What's the point of marching together when we all seem so far apart? How many of us have parents who voted against us?

A lot of yelling & zero organizing. At least, from what I saw. I suppose that was the point though: everyone felt sitting around tables, bewildered, wasn't enough, so let's go outside and yell. It makes sense in a very human way. My pals and I didn't really chant so much. It seemed all we could muster was to just witness, take it in. "Oh my gosh look, an actual effigy burning!" I pointed-- someone had clambered up a streetlight and was setting fire to a Trump pinata. "I've never seen one in real life before, how classic." These actions have been repeated & will be repeated and it just seems like the human way of things.

I've spent so many hours since the election, trying to find something positive to think towards, but my trains of thought just return to the same station. I'm not smart enough to survive the apocalypse, ugh. I just keep turning to more and more essays and lectures and other people's ideas. And while bouncing against my intellectual limits is insanely frustrating (and a frustratingly frequent occurrence) I tell myself to take solace in the fact that there are others with actual intelligence who are tackling these same issues. Perhaps not a savior in the form of an individual but a collective, an idea, some abstract messiah thing. Maybe I'll get hit by an actual train next month and none of this worrying is even worth it. It's as likely a scenario as any beyond the Absurd. But as is human nature, I still want to end on a somewhat positive note, so I re-read "A Practical Utopian's Guide to the Coming Collapse."

"At moments like this, it generally pays to go back to the history one already knows and ask: Were revolutions ever really what we thought them to be? For me, the person who has asked this most effectively is the great world historian Immanuel Wallerstein. He argues that for the last quarter millennium or so, revolutions have consisted above all of planetwide transformations of political common sense.”

Wallerstein argues that since the start of global power entities, any revolution is a planetary phenomenon. 1789 started in France, yes, but because of empire's tentacles, its effects were felt globally. The same has held true for all subsequent revolutions, with the latest being 1968. China transformed structurally, but on the American side, it felt like a failure. We didn't pull out of Vietnam any quicker than we would've without massive protests at home. But, Wallerstein points out, we were marching as much for human rights as we were against My Lai. The lasting legacy of that era is the revolution of feminism, whose radical effects have been felt globally. All the movements are intertwined now; our protests are against the apparatus of state and the limitations it puts on us, not against any one issue in particular. Today, we feel as though the protests of the 60s and 70s seem like failures, but they weren't-- the US stayed out of on-the-ground conflicts for 30 years. And when entering war post-9/11, the main objective of the military was to prevent protest uprisings at home:

"One often hears that antiwar protests in the late sixties and early seventies were ultimately failures, since they did not appreciably speed up the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina. But afterward, those controlling U.S. foreign policy were so anxious about being met with similar popular unrest—and even more, with unrest within the military itself, which was genuinely falling apart by the early seventies—that they refused to commit U.S. forces to any major ground conflict for almost thirty years. It took 9/11, an attack that led to thousands of civilian deaths on U.S. soil, to fully overcome the notorious “Vietnam syndrome”—and even then, the war planners made an almost obsessive effort to ensure the wars were effectively protest-proof. Propaganda was incessant, the media was brought on board, experts provided exact calculations on body bag counts (how many U.S. casualties it would take to stir mass opposition), and the rules of engagement were carefully written to keep the count below that.

The problem was that since those rules of engagement ensured that thousands of women, children, and old people would end up “collateral damage” in order to minimize deaths and injuries to U.S. soldiers, this meant that in Iraq and Afghanistan, intense hatred for the occupying forces would pretty much guarantee that the United States couldn’t obtain its military objectives. And remarkably, the war planners seemed to be aware of this. It didn’t matter. They considered it far more important to prevent effective opposition at home than to actually win the war. It’s as if American forces in Iraq were ultimately defeated by the ghost of Abbie Hoffman.

Clearly, an antiwar movement in the sixties that is still tying the hands of U.S. military planners in 2012 can hardly be considered a failure. But it raises an intriguing question: What happens when the creation of that sense of failure, of the complete ineffectiveness of political action against the system, becomes the chief objective of those in power?"

If the response of the state is to divide & conquer, of course the propaganda that our collective efforts are meaningless and ineffectual is a powerful weapon. To paraphrase The Invisible Committee's "To Our Friends," we don't need to force open a door to a space we already occupy; we don't need to design the party we all already belong to. Perhaps I can place hope in the knowledge that we could eventually recognize ourselves as a species with the same base goals and desires, and that collective action is the only reason we've survived as long as we have.

Or, alternately:

addendum! my pal Wale wrote an amazing response to this rambling piece, and her insight is totally worth checking out

monstress

as i wrote
the sky blushed deeper
the seas swelled tightly
into chest hair curls
electric winds sucked up the greys
again

as i spoke
my teeth grew longer
her scales grew over my lips
and were tipped
towards
a heavy sigh

a well's reflection
a villager's cry

Dear don't trust a golden beckon
with no bones in sight
Amour your heart
with weathered hands
Be wary which way
you face the moon

there are Lurking Things
waiting
for a shot
at turning you

Stay True.



 

francesca woodman

Against Gentrification in Highland Park

& apropos of nothing, here's a piece I wrote for Enclave.LA exactly 1 year ago (all photos are my own.) Sadly, the business owners I spoke with have since been priced out of their locations on Fig., and the tenants haven't, on the whole, fared well.

(Highland Park) — “Gente Si! Gentrify NO!” A chanting crowd gathered at the York and Figueroa intersection, underneath the American flag and afternoon sun. “Here, take one.” A small child handed her friend a sign reading ‘Our Future! Our Fight!’ as she clutched her own, which proclaimed ‘I Love My Community.’ “Start them young, huh?” One mother said to another, as both laughed. The feel of family, unity, and neighborly love buzzed through the air. But there was a distinct, strong undercurrent of urgency — this was not a casual gathering. The individuals from across Los Angeles that came were there to fight, to speak their piece, to be heard. To support one another in the battle against the many-tentacled monster of gentrification. Organized by NELA Alliance, BKR Gang and Drug Intervention Program, Eviction Defense Network, and concerned residents and local business owners, the day’s march and resource fair were a direct response to growing threats within a rapidly gentrifying Highland Park.

A little after 4PM, NELAA organizers called for everyone to circle up. Pastor Wayne Turner of BKR gave a rousing cry for unity in these difficult times, for neighborly support and outreach. “The Highland Park homeless population has grown almost 20%,” he said. “When the city cuts our resources, our problems only get worse.” Next, organizer Arturo read a piece he’d prepared, which asked everyone gathered to remember the roots of this fight. “Our ancestors walk with us… every step we take we honor the earth… we are a people of the river, of these hills.” As he spoke, organizer Melissa translated into Spanish. “This march is over 500 years old… let’s speak some truth to those that deny our existence.” A member of the Brown Berets spoke next, explaining that the Berets were there to help with crowd control, and asked that marchers remain on the sidewalks. “The police will look for any little reason to intervene, to stop us.” Miguel, another organizer, ended the short speeches and began the march with a powerful chant that overtook the crowd “Si se puede! Si se puede!” which continued as the crowd headed down Figueroa. “Si se puede! Our streets!”

Marching down Figueroa, everyone chanting and waving signs, it took less than 2 blocks before an LAPD SUV turned around to trail the rally in a slow, close crawl next to the crowd. Their presence did not deter the ignited marchers, who cheered even louder. Many, many passing cars honked in support (one of the marchers even held a sign reading ‘Honk if you can’t make rent’) and the verdict was crystal clear: the neighborhood was with the cause. As voices rang out with “The people, united, will never be divided!” local business owners rushed to their doorsteps, to wave and cheer and high-five the marchers. The owner of Michelle’s Nails at 5727 N. Figueroa was perhaps the most enthusiastic supporter, jumping and encouraging her small son to give high-fives too. “I have been here 16, almost 17 years” she said “this year my rent has finally doubled.” She pointed up and down the street at other businesses. “We rent month-to-month, and it keeps increasing, little bit, little bit, until it’s double. I’m worried…” she shrugged, “I’ll have to move.” When asked about her neighboring businesses, her voice fell as she recalled the owner of a makeup studio across the street, a friend of hers. “She’s gone this year. More and more people cannot pay rent, and they just have to go… I am glad everyone is out here today. I am glad everyone is here.”

Several short stops were made in front of new businesses, including the Greyhound Bar. “One guy argued with me that gentrification isn’t all bad,” said a member of El Sereno Against Gentrification. “He told me, the Greyhound owners are from Ohio and they play Ohio State games, and now white people who would be afraid to come here feel more welcomed.” She sighed, and continued to lament the liberal misunderstanding of “gentrification as desegregation” argument. “The problem isn’t individuals moving, it’s how outside realtors and developers suck resources from the community, from the people.” Several other marches nodded in agreement: conscious consumption patterns must be valued. “It’s not inherently bad if people move to Boyle Heights, but if they continue to shop at the Trader Joe’s in Silver Lake, then Boyle Heights gains nothing.” Throughout the evening, the values of unity, community support, and mutual respect were discussed and encouraged: we must build neighborhoods, not big businesses. Honor the existing culture, don’t import a new “trendy” one.

HP5.jpg

The final stop was perhaps the most important and, for many, the most cathartic: Council Member Gilbert Cedillo‘s district office. Cedillo is the chair of the Los Angeles Housing Committee, and in his position has failed to support the existing residents facing the dangers of gentrification, instead working with developers and landowners. “Shame on you! Shame on you!” The crowd threw fists in the air as they shouted their frustrations at a closed office. The evil capitalist developer puppet, one hand on a home and the other on a sack of money, was waved in front of Cedillo’s window as the crowd yelled “Stop ignoring your people!” And where was Cedillo at that very moment? In Sycamore Grove Park, hosting Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo’s 1st Annual Latin Jazz & Music Festival.

Guided by the vigilant and dutiful NELAA organizers on bikes, the crowd was brought to Antigua Bread’s parking lot, where a resource fair was set up and delicious food was being prepared (donated by Las Cazuelas Restaurant & Pupuseria and Panaderia.) The Eviction Defense Network hosted a lawyer who gave legal advice, and collected donations for residents caught up in bullish legal battles. NELAA organizers set up a stage for lively music. Jesica Vasquez was one of the organizing members. She explained that after NELAA’s event “Testimonios del Barrio” last December, residents of the community have been contacting them for assistance, resources, and more. “It was the local businesses and members of the community who asked for this event.” She said, “We’re getting calls all the time– ‘my neighbor is getting evicted,’ or, ‘my neighbors are gone‘– left and right, call after call, it’s just so much. Gentrification in Highland Park has been very violent, even more so than other areas.” She pointed behind her. “Media Drive, 17 families were just evicted. 17.” When asked if council member Cedillo had responded to this, she shook her head. “Neighborhood demands were delivered, but nothing. Calls aren’t returned, there is no communication.”

One of the attendants, Vanny Ras, was among those who came to show their discontent with Cedillo. In a solemn but defiant tone, she spoke about the displaced residents of Media Drive, one of whom is her mother. “She was homeless for a while.” Already working to provide for her own family, Vanny also took her mother into her studio apartment. “Then that strains me.” The hurt and anger was evident in her voice, but her eyes remained steely and steady. “My mother’s building got bought out and then suddenly they add $350 to the rent? You’re gonna slap people with that? People are already barely making it.” Others in her mother’s building were pushed out and over the edge of ‘barely making it.’ “We know those families, evicted from Media– some of them are living in their cars now, in the parking lot behind their old building. Some are camped out on the Arroyo.” Her hand clenched into a fist as she continued. “I was born and raised in this neighborhood. It’s not fair for newcomers to roll in here and throw their money around.”

The newly-formed and direly-needed Los Angeles Tenants Union was also present, to hand out literature and tell interested individuals about their meetings. Founding member Christina Sanchez-Juarez explained that by moving their twice-monthly meetings around the city, they’re hoping to unite renters from all over Los Angeles. “Our founding town hall was July 18th, and each meeting has grown, we’ve gotten a great response.” She said that typically, this type of work– residents banding together to fight back– has been done building by building, once tenants are faced with management issues or even eviction. The L.A.T.U. hopes “that by uniting everyone across the city we can start a movement. With all of us working together, we can change city-wide laws for renters.” Though they’re barely a month old, she explained that the members have spent over two years studying the effects of gentrification, mapping movements and changes, and working to better understand this fight on a larger scale. “We’ve got a lot of tenants in a lot of fights throughout the city… our goal is a unified network.”

One member of the L.A.T.U., Walt Senterfitt, is currently wrapped up in a legal battle for his home, too. The tenants of 1655 Rodney Drive are battling evictions justified under the Ellis Act— a 1985 state law that allows landlords to “go out of business.” One Ellis Act loophole lets landlords temporarily take rent-stabilized buildings off the rental market, “legally” evict occupants, then flip the properties or re-tenant them at market-rate rents. This isn’t the intended use of the law, but landlords count on renters’ lack of knowledge about the law and their rights, and employ intimidation tactics to chase the tenants out of their homes. “This is the loophole that was used in San Francisco, ” explained Walt, “so our main goal is to educate people on their rights, to organize them, and hold developers to honor those rights… we aim to build a movement, to get the city to stand on our side, not the developers’.”

The L.A.T.U. table shared the story of a similar battle being waged in MacArthur Park, at the courtyard property at 521 S. Carondelet Street. Tiger Munson has lived there for 16 1/2 years, and is now one of four remaining tenants. His is a tale of the creeping, repeated intimidation and bulling practices used by landlords to evict residents. “We had the same mom and pop owners for 15 years, but they sold in July 2014,” he began, “and then the new owners made us all sign new leases. We had a lot of management issues, and lots of new rules, like no pets– they started to harass families that had pets– and no using the barbecue grills even though it’s a courtyard property, and we all communed outside there… At the end of September, every resident received a notice claiming they were a ‘nuisance,’ and we all were given different reasons.” Tiger went through the laundry list of harassing moves by the new landlord. “5 units were given eviction notices. These were three-day notices dated the 23rd but delivered the 25th. Then a second round of notices came on the 27th… these were purposefully confusing. And suddenly, the building management ‘didn’t know anything.'”

before & after pictures via Chez 521 Carondelet

before & after pictures via Chez 521 Carondelet

Sadly, the tactics Tiger described are widely used. “They used divide-and-conquer tactics after we all had to find lawyers.” He described his neighbor, a Latina who does not speak fluent English, being subjected to select regulations. He said she’s scared, and all the communication and notices from the landlord are only in English. “They filed a lawsuit against us, and we couldn’t legally pay rent the entire time that was in effect. Then they later dropped the lawsuit and hired a security guard, with a gun, and said he was allowed to collect rent.” And the armed guard came to collect the lump sum of back-owed rent all at once. The security guard was an obvious intimidation effort. “He started asking rude questions, making false accusations against residents, even kids. He said he had cameras, so now surveillance is something to worry about… You know, we were a building of families, social workers, artists… one lady ran a small day-care, and they’ve all but put her out of business.” If adding threats like surveillance and guards weren’t enough, the owners also saw fit to vandalize the property.

“They spray painted red all over, on ‘cracks,’ even leading right up to my door. We had a lush, beautiful courtyard. The property was built in 1914, and there were over 100 plants and trees over 80 years old. One day they claimed there would be ‘trimming,’ but they took it all– they cut down the trees and painted all the stumps blood red. One guy finally left after that. Then they re-filed a lawsuit, but only against two tenants. One left in May, the other left this month. They threw out one of my neighbors who has a mental illness… he’s homeless now.” As if it weren’t enough to send multiple, purposefully confusing notices and file frivolous suits at whim, the “legal” actions are taken against the tenants without notifying them. “If they file a lawsuit against me, they won’t tell me. I call the courthouse every day to check that nothing’s been done against me. It adds a lot of stress, a lot. I mean, how are we to know?” And still, the owner persists. “He filed for a permit to build a 5-story building on the property. I only found out because someone from a similar organization messaged me on Facebook.” Thinking about his home, Tiger’s voice stumbled slightly. ” I don’t know how they’re gonna ‘Ellis Act’ it, but… I’m afraid the city’s gonna give it to him.”

An integral piece of gentrification that makes all this displacement possible is the collusion between outside developers and government officials. Friends of Highland Park is a coalition of concerned residents who are banding together not as building tenants but as neighbors, to fight for their city. Their enemies aren’t necessarily landlords, but developers, and city and state officials. Lisa Duardo is a member of FoHLP who has worked tirelessly for the past two years “to advocate for sensible development, accountable governance and respect for Highland Park’s heritage.”  A small but strong woman, she confidently strode to the mic and addressed the crowd in clear and forceful tones. “Look around you. Look at the parking lot behind you, at the hills beyond, the trees, the historic house… Developers want to completely change it all.” Armed with an astounding collection of meticulously recorded data, legal correspondence, court records, city statements, maps, and more, Ms. Duardo described the future outsiders planned to impose. “Directly behind us will be a 50 unit building. Some units will be labeled ‘affordable housing,’ but they refuse to tell us what they consider to be affordable. To your right will go 20 condo units at ‘market value.’ These public parking lots will be put under ground and leased monthly. Raise your hands if you want to pay for monthly parking to visit the Highland Theater.” The crowd roared “NO” and several boos floated through the air.

Ms. Duardo then began to explain the potential environmental impact that such reckless development would have on the area. “This nice breeze we are feeling right now will be gone, because these proposed buildings will be over 47 feet tall. The Arroyo Secco is right down the street, but the plans for all this building have no filtering system in place. Greenhouse gases, the most harmful of which is carbon monoxide, are unaccounted for in these proposals. These 80+ new units will be air conditioned, with 400 new parking spots, and the developers say they will mitigate the environmental damage by using low-VOC paint and LED lights. How is that going to affect the carbon monoxide from all these new cars parked on streets along our schools?”

She explained the various underhanded legal loophole tactics the developers have used to gain federal funding, bypass environmental impact reports, and more. “Where they can’t lie, they claim they will ‘mitigate impact,'” which she fears could take the form of a pay-off to the community, in one shady outlet or another, “but out of the community’s hands.” Friends of Highland Park are raising funds to pay for an environmental impact report themselves, and to put money towards their legal fees accrued from battling the developments. “Our representation isn’t pro bono, so we help where we can.” She said she had personally– along with another FoHLP member– gone through over 6000 documents to collect and compile data to give to the lawyer. “By doing all that work ourselves, we saved about $2500.” The blood, sweat, tears, and more that each member has given to this cause was powerfully evident, and yet their legal battle is only in its first round.

As the sun began to set, NELAA led the crowd to the American Legion for a theater performance about the pains and terrors of gentrification on personal, familial, and community levels. Their work puts faces to this fight, names and voices to the displaced, while empowering and supporting neighbors. The mainstream media does not cover and follow these personal stories. They dismay at the rising homeless population, while championing gentrification and then muse on and act befuddled over the growing inequality gap. But your neighbors are organizing, they are fighting back. There are resources available, and a growing movement calling for Angelenos to unite and stand together for our communities, our homes. As L.A.T.U.’s brochure reads, “If you don’t care now, will you care when they come to evict you?”

  • 52% of the LA population are renters, the largest nationwide. – Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, 2013
  • 47% of Angelenos’ income goes towards rent. The Federally recommended amount is 30% – NYU Furman Center, May 2015
  • This year, the county found 44,359 homeless, a 12% increase from last year. Only 30% of those have access to a shelter. – Los Angeles Times,  5/11/2015
  • “One in four households [in L.A.] spends at least half its income on housing. And its not just poor families that are struggling. Roughly half of middle-income households were rent burdened in 2011, compared with just 11% in 2000, according to a UCLA analysis.” – Los Angeles Times, 1/11/2015
  • Since 2001, 18,744 rent-stabilized housing units in Los Angeles have been lost under the Ellis Act.” – LA Housing and Community Investment Department

28 & Teething

The lack of a/c is real. Rex built a “hillbilly air conditioner” out of a styrofoam cooler, a Big Gulp cup, a bag of ice, and a plastic fan. This summer heat is a punishment, no doubt, for all the houseplants I’ve let die or some sin I’ve forgotten. Writing this from the FLOW library where at least there is a window unit. Earlier this afternoon I was sitting cross legged on the floor in front of the plastic fan, wearing boxers and my I Guess That Kunt Gettin’ Eaten tank, gnawing on a washcloth I had soaked in water & left in the freezer. Because, a few weeks after my 28th birthday, my top right wisdom tooth decided to finally start breaking skin. It's easy to forget how much teething actually hurts. This constant dull pain in your mouth, reminding you of what a genetic late bloomer you are. On an adult teething forum (yes, other people have this problem it is a real thing) someone recommended the frozen washcloth trick. The whole time on the floor, in front of that shitty fan, chewing that thing, I kept thinking to myself:

This is so not how I pictured being 28.

page from my zine I MEAN YOU KNOW LIKE WHATEVER vol. 1

page from my zine I MEAN YOU KNOW LIKE WHATEVER vol. 1

the Missing are Restless

the Missing are Restless
interrupting dreams they barge
into scenes we'd thought
we'd written them out of

the Echoes are Endless
stretching thin like balloon skin
expanding vibrations their words
tremble along our outlines

"let us in"    "we are here"

their Absence is Boundless
like heartbreak, like joy
whatever will we do      with you
never such a thing as a table for one
          never again

the Missing are Restless
their demands crash into us
explosions forging vast new landscapes
across which winds carry

"let us in"
                  "we are here"
                                         "we have words
                                                       for you"
 

cyT.jpg

sad girl scares self, seeks same

CHILLONA: [Spanish; feminine]: a crybaby

REBECCA BELLMORE

REBECCA BELLMORE

"It’s really life and death [not art]. When they tell you your mother is 80 years old but you cannot see her again, you can never call it performance art." - Ai Weiwei You're There But You're Not Existing

I woke up & read my bedside notebook. at some point in the night I had scribbled Whitewater Trekkie Juror. I then spent 3 days thinking about her & what could she have meant to Dreaming Me.

I would like to explode,     flow,     crumble into dust,     and my disintegration would be my masterpiece. - Emil Cioran, On the Heights of Despair

REBECCA BELLMORE

REBECCA BELLMORE

since everything that has happened all at once last month, I've returned to my ghost state. jumbled in thought, slipping in time, being not really here. as I am wont to do, in order to ensure this state isn't zero sum, I've tried to create art in this cloud of moths, as if I am closer to some unseen (but ghostly felt) flame.

I began work on "Precipice Pieces," some performance art (?) I'd sketched out and started a couple years ago. without saying too much, it is one of two projects in HTBS that are the rawest, the most difficult, the dangerous acts that, in theory, could hopefully reveal some subtlety hidden path to small closures. but even beginning the first handful of it, scared the shit out of me. everything was ready, as it were. all the pieces and papers and pictures needed had been gathered, and I even drove to the first of the specific sites. but before I could begin, before I could take stock of my memories, affective registers, emotions... I felt a deathly shock, standing in that dead grass. as if all my blood had instantly evaporated in cold air & my hollowness was staggering. small things latched onto my skin and dug deep and I have not been able to shake them all. I scared myself so badly I stopped, which I don't think was the right move. but perhaps the necessary one. regardless, I haven't been able to pick up anything HTBS-related since. but I still feel drawn to do some sad girl art.

so, announcing CHILLONAS COLLECTIVE. I reached out to two poets from my poetry group, who I knew considered themselves to be sad girls. we've been meeting every Friday to plan what we want to create, and I'm pretty pleased with what we've accomplished thus far.

"Chillonas Collective is an art's collective comprised of crybabies of color and queer tears, exploring and sharing our experiences across the spectrum of sadness.
While 'sad girls' may be en vogue, it's important to recognize that not all sadness looks like the glamorous nostalgic melancholy of Lana Del Rey-- the uniqueness of non-white/cis/hetero sadness is not being showcased.
Chillonas strives to share and explore intersectional sadness, inherited sorrow, generational trauma, and the myriad struggles that non-privileged folx don't always recognize.
Sadness can be layered and encompass everything from bad break-ups to gentrification to family trauma to poverty and effed up pressure from Euro-centric beauty standards.
Chillonas Collective is interested in sharing the uniqueness of layered sadness, and holding space for fellow crybabies of color and queer tears to heal, through words, poetry, photography, collage, painting, sculpture, dance, music, cooking, and whatever art form you feel like utilizing."

LET EVERYTHING HAPPEN TO YOU: BEAUTY AND TERROR.

JUST KEEP GOING. NO FEELING IS FINAL.

- RAINER MARIA RILKE, THE BOOK OF HOUR

this [f]all is being recorded

my lipstick shade is
THE AESTHETIC OF THE AFTERMATH
i'm               all about it
These Days

numbered & numbed
i am                   hope broke
             so
no more birthday presents in advance
           only
instant coffee
           &
Girl Scout make outs

don't touch me past
this line
it's fine
i'm fine


it's time          to feed the cat
               so
tee tee why ell and
P E A C E   O U T

I've
pressed pound to accept
#
 

homegirl

"This is a call from _____ at the Men's Central Jail." when they set up Mike's phone account, he missed the 'state your name' part, so it just plays a roar of angry static, a fuzzy cacophony of noises from the jail's call hall. "This is a call from &H*%#}$"5R@!!!" well I won't be accepting calls from that roar anymore, since it is now out & crashing on my couch. Mike is free, sober (at the moment), and under my care.

also, Grandma died last week.

that last point I can't even begin to process at the moment, because as is the pattern of my life, when a tragedy happens it is immediately followed by a crisis that I must address, and the processing gets backburner-ed. part of me fears that at the end of this years-long cycle, there won't be any imminent tragedies or urgent crises to deal with, and I'll look down to see the water has retreated and my toes are bare. and I won't be able to turn around because the wave of everything I'd pushed to tomorrow, all the tears I never let myself cry because I had to DO something, they'll all gather like a tsunami, a wall of force, violently crashing into me at once. but for now, I won't think about the fact I just lost my favorite person on earth (again.) I have to get Mike to agree to go to rehab. with no money. ugh.

HENRY WESSEL

HENRY WESSEL

cause I drink 'til I'm mad & I love bein' sad... oh my god I'M BECOMING MY DAD - FIDLAR, 'Bad Habits'  

my thoughts keep returning to our hometown. that strange little basin at the feet of the mountains, in a valley of To Be Determined.

one friend, after our meeting over coffee, said "good-bye, and, sorry about..." I had explained I was dressed this way because I was off to a funeral. I rushed to cut her off "no it's okay, it's not... weird."

later, in another friend's backyard, discussing things which we've left behind, they asked if I ever go back.
"not really, anymore. just for funerals."
immediately I wished I could pluck the words back out of the air, but they had already heard. "well at least you got out." please don't say that. I looked past their eyes and was suddenly drowning in things I felt I needed to say, my mind rushing for band-aid phrases, but I was frozen, useless, like a war memorial. I could only sigh and half-nod.

it's impossible to speak about what's been left behind. it feels like abandonment. I am a betrayer, traitor, deserter. but not an escapee. things in me are still leashed to those mountains by sorrows and shame. I can still hear coyotes in my sleep.
"I wonder what happened to..."

There was a young boy who had a sweater on, one you had, and my feet followed him around the Vons, until I caught myself creepily staring at him, like a silent La Llorona peeking out from behind the Tostitos stand.

"hey Kate, come outside!"

Sometimes I catch myself smiling almost aggressively at happy families. “Please smile back, add me to this moment.”

"Hey dude, name one positive thing about Tujunga."
"Um..."
"But man-made, not natural."
"Well damn, then there's... nothing to say."

HENRY WESSEL

HENRY WESSEL

cubbyhole

Some nights in the in between
I hear ghost waves of coyotes
Pouring down the hills.
My homes have never been silent
Not in the dark


I wish we would see more coyotes these days
But when we left we loudly proclaimed
How we were
NEVER COMING BACK
to the flypaper Foothill Blvd


Such a strange town
Nestled at the feet of mountains
A town full of cowboy shadows
A town where everyone stopped moving West
Stopped looking just           stopped


The kids are addicted to awe
To mushroom trips and the mountain’s cliffs
But not to movement.
Surrounded by FOR LEASE signs
older than them
The stars are as far away here as anywhere


Some nights when i think i hear the coyotes
I wonder if my hometown still has all its teeth
Maybe it’s put on some weight
Is looking pretty good these days
But I’m not visiting
to find out

wet powder

our room is a cat who plays with us
our words, slow as scorpions, spy
our memories caught in tree branches.

we are surrounded but not suffocating.     yet.

our cannonballs kept suspended
tonguing matches behind our teeth
they aren't visible from our smiles.      yet.

the hawks behind our eyes stay perched
winds will change only at our call.
the claws of us are still sheathed.      for now.

our kettle still brewing steam we sit at our table in crowns
and do not speak of the closing curtain's
onward march.      not now.

tonight we dine on dizzy moths
agreeing on the illusion of a flame.

How To Be Sad?

[or, The Year in Which I Bummed Everyone Out Hardcore]

The 1st project in my How To Be Sad? collection is officially happening in 2 days. Pleased to report that the forest fire of panic smoldering through me atm is actually quite contained. Like 45% or so.

The Cruel Optimism Yard Sale will take place at the LAABF (at MOCA!) 2/17/16 from 4-7PM at the WCCW booth. 

As the inaugural project comes to fruition, ideas for some of the other 14 are starting to take shape. Half are still a bit nebulous; I've only a goal or a nugget of a plan, but need a direction. About half a dozen though are close to ready. Exciting/terrifying!

The next project will most likely be my interview zine, Where Did You Learn To Be Sad? & I've got a good list of potential interviewees. Another one currently on my mind is my Performing Sadness Online project, which is fueled by my fascination of teens performing sadness on various social media platforms. Berlant writes that our attachment to the political is our attachment to being in the world, and forms of losing control are forms of being social/being in the world. In the space of the political we hold out hope for a good non-sovereignty. The act of democratizing sadness in the public sphere-- e.g., posting a photo on Instagram of razor blades in a toilet with the caption "100 likes before midnight and I'll flush my stash #noonecares"-- is so intriguing. Another will play off my space art reenactments. Anyway, getting ahead of myself.

I also decided against recording my HTBS? progress + process publicly. So as not to focus too heavily on the performance of it all, to not shape things towards perceived outside interpretations. Getting into the meat of the matter (or rather, just taking the first steps towards it) has already begun to seep into other aspects of my life. A haze that creeps in and settles on my daily motions, sounds, thoughts. The reason I structured my sadness study in this project form, was so I could do it "with" some audience, towards a shared goal, so it wouldn't just be me in the bathtub at 3AM staring at the ceiling and falling into a "mood." So if you've run into me lately and said "hi" only to receive a bewildered 'what huh what' look from me, know that I'm not always here. Here, but not here. You know. It's unsettling to willingly go back to the ghost state, but hopefully, like a final video game level, once I've mastered how to fight my way out, I won't need to return for a while. Also I might come back with a reward, so, here's to hopin'.



where did you learn to be sad?

"who taught you to be sad?" this question initially came from my sad grrrl research, but also a conversation after grandpa died. married for 60 years, i expected a horrible sob to escape from grandma when we told her. but, grandma didn't blink. she looked down at her feet. "oh." "grandma isn't upset?" i whispered. "grandma doesn't cry," my aunt replied, "none of us have ever seen her cry." i thought back to the years i lived with my grandparents, before kindergarten. it dawned on me that perhaps, besides shapes and "please," i learned to be sad from the elder Japanese women of the family.

how does one perform sadness? over the past three years, so many people-- friends, mentors, nurses, pastors, social workers, public defenders, co-workers, police officers, the list goes on-- looked to me and expected me to do something, be some way. they all seemed to know, no matter how different, what they thought i should. but i have no idea how. being sad, taking time to do it, wasn't seen as something one could afford to do in our family. the last time mom had to collect jewelry that grandma or someone had passed down to us, so she could take it to the pawn shop to pay rent, i handed over a ring i'd kept in my sock drawer and told her, "sorry." but mom just sighed "what for?" we learned that one can't "afford" to be sad, to be attached. survival depends on it. but now that i have a steady job and am relatively healthy and whatnot, i still have that lingering notion that sadness is a deficit of sorts. i've no idea what to do with it.

i've taken down about 3/4s of this blog. when i started it, there were so many plans, but going through the archive... it ended up the one place i allowed myself to be sad. in a clear, articulate way, not in a "lying on the floor of my closet staring at the ceiling" way. i could be honest here because, well, no one reads this. i mean, no one i know "in real life." but i need to learn how to speak honestly about sadness to those who matter most, people in my "real life." i need to re-learn how to be sad.

looking at all the research + work i've done for my ghost women zine and sad grrrls essays, i realized i've kinda been heading in this direction already. sadness is prismatic, as prismatic as identity, as prismatic as culture... it's a massive concept to tackle and try to take apart. in order to face it, to better understand it... there are just so many ways to approach this. thinking about it as a collection of projects-- in print, prose, poetry, performance, paint, etc.-- the idea becomes a challenge, enticing. my main mistake, i think, was in attempting to view sadness as a mere biological, neurological effect, something to best be approached with pure logic. but if i can turn this into a study, wherein experiencing sadness is used towards end goals, perhaps therein lies a happy medium between thinking around it and feeling through it. 

so, i've decided to focus my energy on How To Be Sad? a planned collection of projects that use an array of methods and arts to explore sadness. the pieces and essays and such that i've taken down from this blog will likely be used, re-worked, re-examined, in different ways for HTBS? there are several ideas (about 14) percolating at the moment but i think first will be an interview zine wherein i ask people i know and care about, "how did you learn to be sad?" even typing that sounds scary, but feels necessary.

the genesis of this idea sprang from my train ride to San Diego this past Christmas Eve. as i sat on the train by myself, on the way to see grandma, i suddenly felt very, very tired. i'd told my co-workers i was traveling to see my family, like i always do. i've been working in my current job for 3 years now. i never made a conscious decision to lie to everyone, i just answered "creatively" the first time i was caught off guard, and it kinda slowly moved along from there. snow drifted up into cracks. and i felt so dumb, sitting on the train, with a backpack in the seat next to me, instead of a brother. heavy realizations rolled over me in the most dull, unexciting way. i don't know how to 'do' holidays. i don't know how to talk to people, i don't know how to be sad. 

i've spent far too much time focused on not being sad, and it's such a damn folly. i'm still the saddest i've ever been, but moving so fast as to ignore it, and make others think everything's okie dokie. and it's an insurmountable wall when trying to make new friends. i want to truly connect with cool new people i've met, but i can't do that if i'm still 'creatively' lying like my family's alive. or acting like i'm not on a verge every now and then. it's scary, after so much running, to pause and look back... i fear i'll turn to salt. but something's gotta give, and 2016 will be the year of embracing sadness. 

these days i find myself thinking often of Kafka's philosopher, the one who kept trying to grab a spinning top.

"A philosopher believes that he could understand everything in the world if he were to understand a single element in it. To this purpose he tries to catch a child's top as it spins, hoping that it would continue spinning in his hand, but it always stops the moment he grabs it."

not to suggest that i think understanding sadness will unlock the answer to life's other mysteries, or that the effort is ultimately futile. but rather that i'm open to studying my relationship to sadness, what it is, how to live with it, how make it work for me, how to perform it on my terms, etc. so, here goes nothing. hopefully i don't bum people out, haha.

 

 

travel patterns // where things end up

I know, I haven't written here in a good while. a cacophony of projects have stolen my attention, including but not limited to: finding rehab centers; finding rehab center that won't totally break my bank since i'm still saving up to replace my hearing aids that drowned in the Backpack Flood of 2015 not to mention student loans; finding brother; organizing intervention for said brother; getting brother into detox program; training for first jiu jitsu tournament; dealing with lingering legal shit bits from dad's estate that just keep popping up; trying an entirely new skin care routine; replacing all my lost legal records and forms of identification; learning to skate on a penny board; deciding finally that yes, i do need a new job; attempting to cook healthy meals that do not include spam or white rice; etc. Also, Grandpa died in July. On what would have been Dad's 64th birthday. Also I have developed a new fear that I may be becoming lactose intolerant? What fresh hell is this.

For so long I'd thought that once I knew where my brother slept, I would be able to sleep. This turns out to not to be the case when the answer is "various parks in the bad area of the Valley."

These days I think a lot about the neighborhood kids, our friends, who never made it out. I can see Falvo on our porch with a tall can and a red beanie, but can't wrap my mind around an image of him face down in the snow, succumbing to hypothermia 13 miles away from that same porch. Mikey, who shoplifted an Aaron Carter CD in 4th grade, how on earth could bath salts have him yelling at God in the skate park? I can see so clearly in my mind unwrapping the Christmas ornament Megan got me 2 years ago, but what am I supposed to do with the image of her hanging in her closet? Philip, Justin, A, Greg... I worry that we don't have moms to worry about us and you do these things I can't understand like why do you need a friggin' gun you used to collect Super Mario figures from the quarter machine at K-Mart and I don't know how to help. Worst of all, I hear Ziggy's voice like he's right behind me, eager to show a new picture of his baby daughter, and... I can't go further without my skin crawling into itself. These days just feel so heavy sometimes.

Over and over again I find myself bewildered at where things end up. The bathroom, the yard sales, the bed sheets, the belt. I drove around for 2 1/2 days with heroin in my jacket pocket without knowing. And was only mildly surprised when I discovered it. I didn't immediately throw away the lump of foil though. I left it on my desk for weeks, and can't explain why. Finally threw it out while cleaning my room, but it'll still end up somewhere else. I don't know why the travel patterns of objects is bugging me so much lately but it really is. Maybe if my brother had left me anything else to remember him by. No, that's dumb. There are boxes and boxes of elementary school projects that Mom painstakingly saved for years without our knowledge. And now I can't throw them out, can't bear to look at them, can only hide them from sight under my bed and sleep above them, wondering where my brothers ended up.



for the daughters of mothers who are unhappy

Mom has been saturating my mind lately, but in ways that aren't immediately detectable. 

Las Lunas Locas took another field trip, this time to see Sandra Cisneros read at MOLAA and sign her new book, A House of My Own. In a frenzied excitement I bought 4 tickets several months ago, and pre-ordered the book. There's no messing around when it comes to Sandra Cisneros (& I love that this sentiment is shared, passionately, with every member of Las Lunas.) On the car ride to the museum, and at a giant table over brunch, every woman shared their unique relationship with her work. Seeing Sandra through their eyes made me appreciate her in a new light, because they love her like "she's like another, you know?" "She's mine."

A House on Mango Street is my favorite book. I can't claim with certainty a favorite movie, or song, but this I know to be true: A House on Mango Street changed my life. It was the first book assigned to my 9th grade English class at my new high school. I'd always been a voracious reader, but with few exceptions (Phantom Tollbooth, Calvin & Hobbes) books contained facts or stories, they informed or entertained, they didn't change you. A House on Mango Street was my first "real" love. It made the idea of literature finally clear. I felt this book and its words like butterflies in my marrow, electric pulses setting a new rhythm in my heart. Sandra's words bubbled into my brain, making me light-headed as I walked through the school's halls. The prismatic femininity of her mujeres captivated me, and made me gaze at my reflection in the night, daring to ponder my own femininities for the first time. Her equally ancient and deeply personal rage-- the kind that 13-yr-olds only just begin to understand, and understand is shared-- left a coppery taste in my mouth, like blood after a fight with yourself. I laid my school-issued copy of the book on my bed one night, as I sat cross-legged in front of it. I remember just staring at it, utterly bewildered and wholly delighted that words could do this, books could be this. Esperanza captivated me, her narration enveloped me entirely so that I felt her and her story within me the whole 2 weeks we spent reading it. This was also the first time I deliberately paced myself as I read, careful not to let myself devour it all in one sitting. The spell it cast on me was a treasure I'd just discovered possible, and it needed to last. Every time I think back to it, an echo of the spell returns and i just want to curl up with the book under a windowsill.

After gushing over her magic, the conversation turned to Sandra herself. One girl commented that Sandra's voice was not what she'd expected, it was quite high. Another Luna chimed in to agree, and yet another proffered a theory-- that people with high pitches had experienced trauma in their early years. The girl to my right confirmed; she studied psychology with a specialization in trauma, and high voices are a classic telltale sign. The conversation moved on to Sandra's wicked outfits, but I was left in the middle of a crater. That information was new to me, and that notion-- that those who've experienced trauma could carry it in ways which manifest in 'tells'-- bombed me. I wanted to ask the girl who studied trauma, what are other signs? But of course that would seem, obvious, I guess, so I quietly ate my flan, unable to get the question out of my head. Laughter and chatter continued around me but I was bisected, left with that question, and the worry that I could possibly carry telltale signs unknowingly. This cleaving of focus, whatever it is that falls between myself and those directly around me, is a recurrence I can't control. One moment I am smiling at the table among friends, and the next, I am so dauntingly far away that my friends are aliens and I am completely bewildered as to how I ended up here at all. Who did I think I was, coming to a lunch with Real People, speaking to words and books that speak to the heart, the communal Life, when I am already dead to such matters. Dead for longer than admitted. I calm myself by remembering that the group's outlier, though an outlier, is still associated with the group.

Sandra was warm, wise, and sharp-- the rare heroine who surpasses expectations. She spoke to the altar she'd created in the museum's lobby, in honor of her mother, and read from Ofrenda for My Mother, the written piece that accompanied the altar's art. As she read on "being the daughter of a mother who was unhappy," I found I somehow could not swallow. Not in a normal way. A flash of panic was suppressed with a reminder that, hey, I was still a bit hungover from the FIDLAR show the night before. I'd moshed for over 2 hours, and had a growing bruise from the punch I took to the face. This pain in my throat was easily attributed to the fact that, in the moment, I was beat up. But as Sandra read Have You Seen Marie?, her picture book about seeking a missing cat (that is actually about the untenable mix of hapless feelings she held after her mother died) I tried again and again to swallow, but my throat seized. Painful sore feelings grabbed my esophagus and kept me from gulping down this fear and spit and whatever else I'd managed to secrete. This is so blatantly psychosomatic, I told myself, don't ruin this day you've looked forward to, ignore this bullshit. And yet, I couldn't stop trying to swallow, and all I could see was my mother choking to death on the cancer in her throat, struggling to control fluids and basic bodily motions. "Trauma manifests itself in a ton of different ways," I could hear the girl to my right saying as she scooped up her flan, "It's really fascinating to read about." You melodramatic shit, stop rubbing your throat.

By the time we all rushed to queue up for the book signings, I'd resolved to only breathe through my nose and ignore the stupid anxious fog I'd blanketed over myself. The line was long, and we chatted about what would we even say to Santa Sandra when it was our turn. Vanessa, the quietest of us all, was last to ask a question. Sandra brought Vanessa in close, and whispered to her in such a loving way, everyone else fell silent. "What would you say to the daughters of mothers who are unhappy?" 

On the ride home we breathlessly gushed over the day and our heroina and the pictures she took with us. It was a wonderful afternoon, with inspiring people, and beautiful, painful, hopeful words... but I just could not shake that feeling. What are the other signs? My throat felt much better, but the residue of the episode coated my breath, by words. Why did my throat seize like that? What do you say to the daughters of mothers who are unhappy? Who were unhappy? What are we still carrying that we aren't even cognizant of? Can others see it on us? How do we exorcise this, how do we safeguard against seizures, against windfalls and quicksand and pulses of panic with minds of their own? "Does anyone have any good real life ghost stories?" I heard my mouth ask the question meant to save my brain, before my brain could react. "My abuela's house is haunted!" chirped Sofia, "Honest! My uncle was the first to see...." Having successfully changed the subject, I didn't feel any better, but I couldn't feel worse. Ghost stories are the new lullaby, I'm convinced.

Three days after Sandra Day / Halloween, I called in sick for the first time this year. Some days are actually a whole host of days inside one, and you don't always know that until you're there with them. My mom died on November 4th. My mom was born on November 4th. I died on November 4th, and was born then too. It's a heavier day than most. But the day I'm talking about was the 3rd. Some days are so heavy, they bleed into the days that surround them. Time really is relative. Even though I wasn't technically sick, I probably should've actually gone to a doctor's office anyway. Without a plan other than "let's not get out of bed today," the 3rd ended up being "day to lay on the floor of my room/shower/closet and be haunted by a ton of memories that are super fun to re-live." It wasn't a total waste though! I found my GameBoy Advance SP charger underneath my bed! You know how long I've been looking for that?? Anyway. There was one thing that eventually got me out of bed that night: Carrie Brownstein.

Everyone has a crush on Carrie Brownstein, this is just a fact of life. So when it was announced that Carrie's L.A. stop on her book tour would be MC'd by Amy Poheler, I bought tickets months in advance and pre-ordered the book. But Adri took off to SF that week (boo, you whore) so I gave Karissa the other ticket under the guise of an early birthday present. Karissa, besides being a saint of an over-worked + unpaid editor/research assistant for me, is also always down to attend any event related to books. I'd bet money she probably googled "Carrie Brownstein" the afternoon before the signing. 

The conversation was held in the Pasadena Presbyterian Church, which looked really cool, but had a echo-y sound system. Bummer. I brought my hearing-aids, but there's only so much they can do. Thankfully Karissa (who, in true Filipina Grandma-in-Training Mode, had brought us homemade individually wrapped snacks and lots of napkins) caught on and when I didn't laugh with everyone else, she leaned over to tell me the joke. Amy and Carrie were hilarious, so there were a lot of repeated punchlines from patient Karissa. 

Amy asked Carrie some basic author interview questions, and Carrie told funny anecdotes about early Sleater-Kinney touring budgets. I kept pointing out the famous people in the pews ahead of us-- "that's Kim Gordon!" "look there, Miranda July!"-- and Karissa politely smiled and nodded and I know she had no idea who these rockers and indie artists were. Karissa you're the only person in the world I'd use the descriptor "adorkable" for. 

The best part was definitely during audience Q+A. One girl asked Carrie if she was indeed an ordained minister, and Carrie confirmed. "So then, would you marry us? We brought a marriage certificate and stuff." "OH MY GOD YOU HAVE TO!" An excited Amy grabbed the mic to say "YES, yes she will marry you right now get down here." Amy then proceeded to rip flowers out of the church arrangements to fasten a small bouquet, before heading over to the piano. "All I know is Greensleeves so that'll have to do!" Carrie took her role pretty seriously, and got quiet while pacing and pondering what to say. Then these two girls legit got married by Carrie Brownstein while Amy Poheler played an even-shittier-than-average version of Greensleeves. It was quite the event to end a reading!

On my drive home, Sleater-Kinney's "Modern Girl" was stuck in my head (for obvious reasons.) I remembered that Mom adored the song. Years after we stopped making mixed cds for friends, I was still making them for Mom. Her opinion still mattered the most, and I worked so hard on those track lists. I discovered that she'd saved all of them, in her sock drawer. One memory in particular stands out: the five of us in the car, driving home late at night, coming back from a family dinner at Grandpa + Grandma's. Mom had learned the words, and surprised me by joyfully turning up the track-- "ooo I love this one!"-- and singing along. "Took my money, I couldn't buy nothing! I'm sick of this brave new world. My, whole, liiiiife, is like a picture of a sunny day." As I drove back alone that November 3rd, I found myself mumbling the song under my breath. "My, whole, liiiiiife, is like a picture of a sunny dayyy"