News! Updates! Things!

Friends, countrymen, randos from the internet, lend me your eyes to read this brief update on the life of Olivia.

As many of you probably know, November is National Novel Writing Month, a time during which crazy writers such as myself dedicate themselves to churning out 50,000 words in a single month. Because I will be trying to finish a full novel in a single month, I will have significantly less time for blogging starting now and lasting through December (I may also take a bit of recuperation time through the first week of December).

I may still post occasionally, but don’t expect the regular content that you’ve gotten used to. See you all on the other side!

I’d Rather Stay Blind

I am legally blind in my right eye. I have a birth defect, which means that I’ve never known what it’s like to see with both eyes, and corrective lenses don’t make any difference. For those interested, the condition is called a morning glory anomaly. Ever since I discovered this at the age of 5 (thanks kindergarten check up!), I’ve periodically toyed with the question of whether I would fix my eye if I could. If stem cell research progressed to the point where I could be grown an eye, or if I could be implanted with a cyber eye (tasteful of course), would I do it?

The first impulse is an unquestioning yes. Why wouldn’t I want to make my body better? What could possibly be bad about fixing something that is wrong with me? However especially as I’ve grown older and been exposed to more communities who see this kind of attitude as dismissing their value, I’ve had to question it. Is there something about fitting what we view as the normative or ideal human being good? Can we judge one human body “better” than another simply because our culture is set up to accommodate it? Is it always better to want improved senses?

I’m starting to think no.

There are some “enhancements” that are probably pointless. Sure, we could improve our eyesight to a ridiculous extent, but are our brains even capable of processing that much information? Is it really useful for us as human beings in the world we live in to have highly intensified eyesight all the time or would it simply be distracting and too hard to integrate into an ongoing picture of the world? The idea that more is always better or “enhanced” doesn’t make sense to me, because there are absolutely times when more just means “this doesn’t fit in your life” or “this isn’t healthy” or “this is just too much”.

In order for something to be an enhancement it has to be useful in some fashion: it has to serve some sort of purpose. Not every “more” or “better” actually helps us move towards our goals and purposes. If I wanted to, I could enhance my body to be constantly taller: I could constantly use stilts. Clearly this is objectively better. There’s a scale against which you can measure it: tallness, and you’re getting better at tallness (and reaching things and jumping over things and whatnot). But practically that sounds horrible and ineffective and not actually an improvement at all. There are likely limits to what it means to “enhance” a body: we need a goal to achieve to measure whether our body is functioning well.

There might be some hardcore transhumanists out there who disagree with that, and think that we can just infinitely improve our bodies and they will be objectively better, but that doesn’t seem a very nuanced approach. Most improvements affect other things in some way, lead to some negative effects, or just change how you interact with the world. We need to decide how we want to interact with the world before we can make it better. So there do seem to be potential drawbacks to “improvements” to the body, particularly to implications that if your body is not behaving at the highest standard of human functioning then it is not good enough or should be improved given the opportunity.

The idea of an endless seeking of perfection is harmful. The idea that my body is not good enough as it is is harmful to me. There may be some people who feel comfortable enough with themselves to make certain enhancements without feeling as if it’s a slippery slope into constant critique of what they have now, but I am not one of those people. Especially for many women who have spent their whole lives being told their bodies are not good enough and they need to be enhanced in some fashion, the idea that even our senses, our muscles, or our internal bits need to be upgraded could play into some fairly detrimental mindsets that imply we owe it either to ourselves or the world to be better.

So when I think about whether I should answer “yes” immediately to questions about improving or changing my body, particularly with technology, I want to weigh all the elements of the question that might play into my perfectionistic, eating disordered mind, or that would imply that I’m not good enough, or that would say that any imperfections must be corrected against the potential benefits I could get.

I’m still not entirely sure where that leaves me, especially when it comes to a part of my body that has always been this way and that has deeply affected how I behave, what I’ve been capable of, what I’ve cared about in such a way that it’s shaped my identity in many ways. Our eccentricities often become wrapped up in how we think of ourselves. This may or may not be a good thing, but the process of recreating identity takes time and emotional energy, and is another piece to be weighed in the puzzle of serious and/or invasive body modifications.

None of this is to suggest that there is something inherently wrong with making technological changes and enhancements to one’s body, but that there are likely emotional and identity filled repercussions that we haven’t examined fully yet. As someone who may have to face these kinds of questions in a serious way in my lifetime, I’d rather shift the dialogue to one of personal choice and quality of life rather than one of “better” or “worse” bodies, or natural and unnatural interventions.

#GamerGate, Non Gamers, and Bad Reputations

If you have any connections whatsoever to video games or the gaming world, or even if you have none of those but have been on the internet at all in the last month or so, you’ve probably heard about GamerGate. The underlying sexism in the gaming world has been bubbling up and coming out in the form of a lot of disgruntled menfolks harassing women for being involved in gaming, all under the guise of “journalistic ethics”.

I have very little to say about the particulars of this situation that haven’t already been said, as I am not a gamer and I know almost nothing about the gaming industry. Miri has a great round up post of articles written about the incident, which are more thorough than I could ever be. So why am I writing a blog post about this? Because so far all of the voices I have heard have been from within the gaming community, and as someone on the outside it’s very clear to me that Gamergaters are doing themselves no favors right now. Here’s the truth gaming community: every time I hear about GamerGate I want less and less to do with you. Despite having many gamer friends, an active interest in nerd culture, and the beginnings of an interest in gaming, I am now 100% not interested in being actively involved in the gaming community and it is entirely because of the harassment that women have received.

There are lots and lots of people out there who are getting their first picture of gaming and the type of people who game (beyond the stereotypes of movies  and media) from GamerGate and the incidents surrounding Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu. There are lots and lots of people who don’t do much gaming, don’t follow the media around gaming, and really haven’t given it a whole lot of thought…until now, when they’re reading articles about it, seeing vitriol posted on their social media, and hearing these names pop up again and again. You can bet that many people who wouldn’t have given gaming a second thought before now are going to be forming opinions about gamers due to this controversy.

This might be what you were looking for. Maybe you wanted the attention. Maybe you are still mentally five year olds who are convinced that any attention is good attention. If that’s the case, I want you to know something: Gamergaters are not coming off like the heroes here.

Throughout the articles that I’ve read about GamerGate, one of the common threads has been that gamers feel like victims: no one likes them, they’re stereotyped as lazy, fat, losers who live in their parents basements and eat Doritos all day, and the only place that they can be safe is in the gaming community. They cry out again and again that they just want the safe haven of games to be free from developers who get good reviews by sleeping with reviewers, from journalists who take sides or push “social justice” agendas on them, from women who want to criticize their games into nonexistence. Society has rejected them, and they just want their community to be their own.

Somewhere, buried in the confusion about purpose, GamerGate appears to be about the desire to be respected as a community. Update from the rest of the world: if you want society to treat you better and respect your community as a legitimate space for art, self-expression, and decent relationships, the way to do that is not by making rape and death threats to anyone who criticizes you. That actually makes you look even worse than the previous stereotypes, and will probably end with you feeling even more victimized because you’ve managed to earn the derision of society at large through horrible, abusive behavior. If you do want the respect of the world at large, you might have to act like adults, engage critically with other people, and be willing to talk through differences of opinion. Until you do that, gaming will continue to be stigmatized as childish and silly.

So if Gamergaters think that they’re improving their community or making headway into society by using their current tactics, they are dead wrong. What they’re actually doing is gaining themselves a fairly horrible reputation with everyone who wasn’t already a part of the community.

It’s quite possible that GamerGate had to happen, that this is the growing pains of a space that previously had been the haven for those who were hurt and lonely. It’s quite possible that the gaming community will come out of this much better, and will draw in new voices and perspectives, and gain respect. It’s possible. But from the outside it looks like the temper tantrum of a bunch of overgrown children who don’t want to let other people play in their sandbox, and if this outsider is anything like other outsiders, it is not endearing you to society at large. You thought you had a bad reputation before? You have made it so much worse for yourselves. Sometimes bad reputations are deserved, and right now you are making it clear to the world that yours definitely is. If what you want is respect, then you better start earning it.

Yours truly,

Everyone else

What Is It Like to Be A Procrastinator?

Sometimes people cancel plans on me last minute. It happens, and I can’t say that I’ve never done the same to other people. Yet every time someone sends me that text that says “I didn’t get everything done, I have to bail”, I am still convinced that they are sending me a message. It’s a message that says “I didn’t care enough about you to plan ahead. I made the choice to put off my work because I didn’t care whether or not I saw you.”

Now before you all go telling me how paranoid and obnoxious that is, I realize that procrastination is a problem for some people, people get busy, unexpected things pop up. Life happens. But as a compulsive type a planner, organizer, perfectionist, and working ahead-er, no matter how hard I try I can’t entirely understand how someone can accidentally not get something done. I am almost always a few days ahead on anything that needs to get done. I can’t forget about the work that I need to get done, even if I am forcibly trying to make myself relax because it doesn’t need to get done for a while. It’s hard, nearly to the point of impossibility, for me to imagine a life in which your brain doesn’t constantly butt in and remind you of all the things you’re not doing. It’s like trying to imagine a life in which your body forgets to remind you that you need to pee or eat. It’s utterly foreign.

In his essay “What Is It Like To Be A Bat”, Thomas Nagel suggests that we can never even speculate on what it might be like to be something like a bat because the experiences are so different from our own that even if we tried to imagine it we would simply be imagining what it is to be a human being a bat, and if we could imagine any further we’d no longer be human. Nagel suggests that as human beings we have enough of a common lexicon of emotions and senses to imagine the experiences of other humans.

But what about experiences like this, where we have never had a parallel experience, or in which we have a brain that fires differently from the vast majority of humanity? Can anyone out there who doesn’t have an eating disorder ever understand what I mean when I say that not eating just feels morally right? I have absolutely no template for what it’s like to just put something off, and the only reasons or explanations that I can think of involve a conscious choice to change priorities. While intellectually I can imagine other possibilities, there is no emotional resonance because I have never had the emotions or experiences of forgetting a task until the last minute (with the exception of things that I “forgot” because I so deeply don’t want to do them and choose to put them off for a little bit. Never until the day before they’re due. Never ever).

Empathy is a lot harder than we give it credit for. It’s easy enough to imagine ourselves in a given situation (put yourself in their shoes). But people don’t feel things in the same ways. Brains process things differently, we have different paradigms through which to interpret, and sometimes we just straight out care about different things. So where you may look at a lack of planning as being fun, flexible, and spontaneous, I look at it as a sign that you don’t want to see me ever. Beyond these specific and fairly trite examples we have deeper differences based on morality and upbringing, combined with our particular neuroses. It’s easy to suggest that we should be empathetic to those whose values, politics, and beliefs are radically different from our own, but if I can misinterpret and misunderstand the behaviors and motivations of even my closest friends, how much less do I have in common with those who come from a very different background and whose minds have formed utterly differently from my own? It may never be possible for me to fully empathize with those who are strongly religious because I have never had a religious experience in my life and have no template from which to draw those feelings.

It’s easy to assume that all humans have common experiences and emotions from which to draw understanding. In fact it’s often assumed that we do. But there are such a wide variety of ways that human beings can interact with the world that it would be more surprising if we did have parallels for everything someone else is feeling. Instead of empathizing with wildly foreign experiences, I’m going to try to experiment with simply accepting them as how they’re described. I may not understand them, but they are there and they will stay there whether or not I understand them. There’s a kind of wonder to it, just as there is wonder in imagining how a whale or a bat feels.

Suicide as Manipulation: Bad Relationship Tactics

Last night I was listening to Harmontown (a most ridiculous podcast composed of Dan Harmon venting with his friends about random things), and part of the podcast included Dan and his girlfriend Erin talking through a fight they had just had. At the end of it, Dan jokingly said “well of course we’re staying together because I’ll never leave her and if she leaves me I’ll kill myself.”

Now I realize that this is a joke and I realize that as a feminist (TM) I am not allowed to have a sense of humor, so here goes, I’m going to get offended about this: don’t make this joke. Please. Even in a light-hearted manner. More often than not, this kind of joke has something at the heart of it, which is the message “If you leave me, I won’t be ok. I’m so much more dependent on you than you are on me that you have to stay with me or what I do will be your fault,”

Something that is never, ever, in a million years, ok is to threaten suicide/self harm if your significant other doesn’t behave in a particular fashion (having sex with you, staying with you, saying “I love you”, etc). I understand that it might be true that you will hurt yourself in the event of a breakup. I understand that you might feel that your significant other is the only thing that’s keeping you sane and alive in a given moment. But these things are not appropriate to share with that person because whether or not you intend them to be they are manipulative. This is 100% not to say that you can never disclose that you are having urges for these behaviors, but if it’s framed in the “if you do x I will do y” kind of context, you are suddenly putting the responsibility for your safety on someone else’s shoulders and that is inappropriate. Particularly if your response to someone else bringing up issues is to threaten self-harm, your relationship is based on manipulative premises and that is emotionally abusive.

This is going to be a short post because most of what I’m saying is (hopefully) self-evident, but rarely have I heard people address this particular abusive behavior head on, or even reference the joke-version that actually comes up surprisingly often. In this case, I understand that it’s a joke, but even bringing up this possibility to your SO is a dangerous tactic to use if you want to continue to have a healthy relationship. It tells them that somewhere in your brain that’s a thought. It tells them that maybe, just maybe, it could happen. So while it’s not the same as actually making the threat, it’s definitely not something I’d suggest if you want to be a decent human being.

Marriage Is What Brings Us Together Today

It’s that time of life where everyone is getting married. My brother has had a wedding to attend nearly every weekend since summer began, and even my not-so-interested-in-marriage friends are starting to get engaged. And so comes the phenomenon of name changes, and with it the anxiety that I get when I see my friends choosing to give up an identity marker as part of their relationship. While conversation about name changing has died off somewhat in the feminist movement, it’s still easy to find articles arguing both sides of the issue: women should be allowed to have the choice, it’s not unfeminist to do what you want to, women need to demand that men change their names, what on earth do gay and lesbian marriages bring to this debate, and why is it that 90% of the country still thinks that women should change their names upon marriage?

There’s a lot of deeper issues that names tap into. In literature, philosophy, sociology, and politics, names have importance. They help us define something, give it identity, allow it a place in the world. Names ground things in history, they give us a shorthand way of understanding what something is (this is particularly true of minority identities: having a name for your identity goes a long way towards making you feel part of a community or towards having legitimacy). So while many people might say that a last name just isn’t that important, that’s simply not true. Practically speaking, changing your name requires rebuilding your name if you have a career or contacts, changing a whole lot of official forms and documents (passports, driver’s license, etc), and changing even the way you think of yourself. It takes work, and that work far too often becomes the woman’s work.

Mary Elizabeth Williams argues that she doesn’t think most of her friends who changed their names are “pawns of the patriarchy” or that they’ve given up something by changing their names. It’s true that there are absolutely circumstances where a name change can be an act of liberation (e.g. changing the last name given to you by an abusive father), but for most people who choose to do it simply to please their partner/family/society, it might be time to get a little more critical. I doubt anyone is suggesting that women shouldn’t be allowed to change their names, simply that there’s a place in the conversation to ask why it’s always women and to challenge women to question. Choice feminism is great, but even freely chosen actions can contribute to an overall milieu of sexism.

What strikes me most about these conversations is the fact that every reason to change your name feels like an excuse. Every reason or situation could be solved in some other fashion that doesn’t require a woman to join her identity to her husband’s but not the other way around. If a woman doesn’t like her last name or has uncomfortable memories with it, she doesn’t have to wait around for a marriage to change it: you can change your name at any point in time. In fact one of my close friends just recently did this, and she’s all the happier for it because it was a choice of her own identity rather than a switch away from a painful identity into another person’s identity. If you want a unified family, hyphenate or make a new last name. The only honest to god reason for wanting a woman to change her last name but not a man is sexism, whether it’s in the form of a man feeling a woman needs to commit or a family wanting to carry on their name or some other variation thereof.

Spoiler alert: nothing about a title or name should change how you feel about someone or your commitment to them. While names do have power, they don’t make or break a relationship. My mother didn’t change her maiden name. My parents have been together for ??? years, through some incredibly rough times. No one could ever accuse my mother of not being committed to her marriage and her family (and if you do I will personally rip you a new one). The only confusion that ever happened was that one of my Spanish teachers thought my parents were divorced. We all got a hearty laugh over that one. Sometimes my friends don’t know what to call her. It’s real tough for her to tell them “Kathleen”.

Stop expecting women to bear the burden of accomodation. I’ve heard a fair number of men say that it was important to them, to the integrity of the relationship, or to carrying on their family name for their wife to change her name.  Can I just suggest that if your husband has cited any of these reasons you question your choice of spouse since that’s a whole pile of double standard he’s throwing all over you? Anything that says “women should do this, but men don’t need to,” is pretty textbook sexism. It doesn’t mean that you’re wrong for wanting to do it or a bad person. It means you’re participating in a sexist system and that we all need to learn how to question it. If you honestly feel that your marriage will be better because your wife changes something about herself, question that. If you feel pressured to change your name in order to be a good wife, question that.

There is absolutely no objective reason that a woman should be expected to behave differently when adjusting to married life than a man should, so let’s stop pretending it’s all for family unity and get to the heart of the issue: sexism. I don’t think every woman who takes her husband’s name is deeply hurt or oppressed by that decision. But I do think letting lots of little things slide reminds us over and over that we’re in a culture that values men and men’s identities over women’s, and that I have a problem with.


I Did Something…Right?

One of the most common experiences that I’ve heard from people with mental illness and that I’ve experienced myself is the inability to trust your emotions. After enough times of realizing that your emotions were an overreaction or having people tell you that you weren’t reasonable, after spending time in therapy and having to check what you’re feeling against the facts over and over again because so often your emotions aren’t a reliable guide to reality, you start to discount everything you feel as irrational, unhelpful, and out of touch with reality. Of course a good therapist will still validate those emotions, but the underlying lesson for a lot of people with mental illness is “your emotions probably don’t make sense in this context”.

In many circumstances this is helpful. You learn to feel your emotions, but not necessarily to trust them as a guide to your situation. You learn tactics to manage them and bring them back in line with reality. But where it can backfire is when your emotions are appropriate. I recently started temping while also looking for work, moving, and trying to get my foot in the door of freelance writing. Finances are tight, I’m busy, and things are a little stressful. Anyone would feel a little bit anxious and a little bit worried in my situation. However my first instinct was to use skills to change these emotions, to feel worried that I was anxious because it clearly meant I was relapsing, to wonder how I could “fix” these emotions. It took me a few days to realize that my basic assumption was that my emotions were out of whack rather than an appropriate response to a stressful situation, motivating me to find work and keeping me on my toes for my first few days at a new job.

One of the hardest things about moving towards recovery is when things are actually normal. It’s confusing, and the overcompensation for being sick that you’ve gotten used to is suddenly unhelpful. Periodically checking in with yourself or support people to see if you’re discounting your emotions simply out of habit can be a good way to curb this tendency. Think about what you’d say to a friend if they were going through the same things. Would you reassure them that it’s ok to be stressed out or anxious? Would you tell them that the situation calls for those reactions? If so, try to do the same to yourself.

Perhaps the hardest thing about emotions that fit a situation is that it might be a good idea to just let them be. If you’re someone (like me) who hates being anxious and just wants to fix whatever might be causing anxiety, this is incredibly hard. Of course there are some things that you should probably fix if they’re causing you anxiety (being unemployed, a relationship that’s not going well, that weird bump on your thigh), but some things are simply situations that provoke anxiety and you have to live through them (starting a new job, going on first dates, being sick). And for those situations that are a simple part of life but that are new and confusing, you just have to ride out the hard emotions.

One helpful tactic for not getting overwhelmed in those situations is to remind yourself what those emotions are doing. In my case, I try to remind myself that the adrenaline rush of worry and stress helps me to stay focused and learn in the first week or so of my job so that I can get a solid grounding on what I’m supposed to do. It helps me take care to dress appropriately and behave appropriately and make a good first impression. Remembering that makes the stress less…well…stressful.

Part of the transition to health is learning what it feels like to have emotions that aren’t utterly painful and debilitating. It takes some adjustment, but it’s fairly exciting to know that you’ll survive the bad feels because they’re just a normal part of life. Hot damn. That’s cool.