Family names, Kurt Vonnegut, figuring shit out.

I’ve been considering the idea of giving all my kids different last names. Resurrecting various maiden names or something, picking them the way people often pick middle names out of their whole pool of known family names.

I think it is mainly being married that has me thinking about names and name systems. It’s easy to skip that whole “married name” business, but if you want to give your kid some kind of awesome, non-patriarchal name you actually have to come up with a plan. That gets complicated really fast, even in the common, surface solutions like hyphenating last names or using the mother’s family name in an attempt to go matrilineal (by passing on her dad’s name). All of those schemes run into the usual problems if there is a break from monogamy, if anybody leaves a relationship, breeds with more than one person, or dies. The “team name” gets broken all the time, even if you are trying to play along. Even just making up a new last name doesn’t solve the question of what the grandkids would be called.

Family structures and systems are fucking intense. Where do they all come from? Which ones are good? Research questions.

This multiple last name idea has been wildly unpopular with everyone I’ve mentioned it to. Intensely unpopular. Instant frowning. Worst idea ever. I still kind of like it. Galen and I already have different last names and we manage to be a family team. Maybe it would be good, if we had kids, to remember that they were individual people and not just “ours.” Maybe a team name is just a manifestation of compulsory/wishful monogamy and maybe we can do better than that. It scales well across multiple generations, unlike, say, hyphenation. I’m lucky enough to know a lot of my ancestral family names, and it seems like maybe reusing them would be a fairly robust way to remember your lineage if you moved or were displaced. Or maybe it would just make it impossible to find each other again.

Lacking a unified last name, maybe we could give our household its own name, to make it easy to refer to. That happens sometimes with places populated by roommates. (I’m thinking of places I’ve known called The Husbandry, The Folk Museum, The Queens Den, The Triple Crush Palace…). That doesn’t solve anything about family members who don’t live in the same home, but it’s a start.

This is unresolved. I just found an old booksale purchase called World Revolution and Family Patterns that I’m hoping might contain some inspiration. I also found a Kurt Vonnegut quote via Bex that I have filed away.

12. … Even when Vonnegut dared to propose a utopian scheme, it was a happily dysfunctional one. In Slapstick, Wilbur Swain wins the presidency with a scheme to eliminate loneliness by issuing people complicated middle names (he becomes Wilbur Daffodil-11 Swain) which make them part of new extended families. He advises people to tell new relatives they hate, or members of other families asking for help: “Why don’t you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don’t you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?” Of course, this fails to prevent plagues, the breakdown of his government, and civil wars later in the story.

Complicated middle names: noted.

Unyeasted bread, quests.

Unyeasted breads have a deep, hearty, honest spirit with a certain substantial integrity. Dense and thick-crusted, they require a good bread knife for cutting and a certain endurance for chewing…

No matter how much I mentioned the dense, “bricklike” nature of some of these breads, still I received many letters from people wondering why the bread came out of the oven like a piece of building material. O.K., they are not to everyone’s taste, but some people really like this sort of thing: “How real,” they say, “How flavorful.”

— Edward Espe Brown in The Tassajara Bread Book, 25th Anniversary Edition

I’ve been finding a lot of inspiration in a particular kind of far-out food book. Not dietary inspiration; something like philosophical inspiration. Emotional inspiration? Attitude inspiration. The connecting thread seems to be authors who used to practice more extreme diets. Former vegans, former macrobiotics, former hippies. Some of these books have consistent ways of respecting radicalisms and moderations at the same time, finding another level of inclusion where you get the thorough, grounded ethics of radical thought without the isolating righteousness. I find myself re-reading bits of non-content like the introduction to a recipe, just for the tone or the attitude.

Does that Bread Book passage do any of that for anybody else? I know I’m reading the way I need to read.

This is helping me rename a personal communication quest that I’ve been naming and renaming for, I don’t know, fifteen years? My teenaged fixation was how to be honest and also nice (both in the sense of liked and in the sense of kind). Later it was how to have a critical analysis without alienating people who don’t. How to be compassionate without self-censorship. How to make space for differences without them being cast as disagreements or negativity. How to maintain boundaries without being judgmental. Consideration without passivity. Empathy without enabling. Belonging without conformity. How to make connections across differences. All of these draft mission statements have been discarded or modified, but I’m getting somewhere. I want to joke that it wouldn’t be hard to be both more honest and more kind than teenaged me, but that isn’t true. It has been hard!

Flipping through a chapter called Vegetarian Ethics and Humane Meat that kept me up late last night, I have totally failed to find a quotable section. I started just collecting words. “Much depends,” “life and death and life,” appreciation, reflection, mistakes, “not so easy,” “Plan B,” courage, “emotionally spent,” responsibility, “more directly involved,” experiments, clumsy, “I’m very curious,” “our memories diverge… isn’t memory funny?” Vocabulary for a big, thoughtful mess.

Who said that keeping up with fashion is the ultimate way to create anxiety? Connecting people in a big mess seems like the opposite to that. Seeking ways for many fashions to co-exist together is comforting and useful. So I guess that’s the communication quest for now. It must seem like this is too abstract to possibly be useful in my real life, but I bet I will refer to this in the next 24 hours, trying to explain a decision or action to someone. “It’s like the unyeasted bread! I know how to do this!”

Survivalism as if self-sufficiency is an illusion.

How do I protect [my disaster supplies] from the unprepared and desperate have-nots if I don’t already have a fort-knox style bunker?

Obviously the first priority will be to avoid conflict in the first place, if possible. The cause of conflict in your question was a shortage of supplies, and the potential aggressors are disorganized. So the easiest way to avoid conflict in that case is to make sure that there are enough essential supplies to go around for your neighbours. . . . That’s why I think that community sufficiency is much more important than just self-sufficiency.

— Aric McBay on Strategies for shortages, from In The Wake: A Collective Manual-in-progress for Outliving Civilization

I often feel self-conscious reading (and liking!) a certain type of anti-civilization literature. I’m trying to come up with a concise way to explain the appeal without just making a joke out of it (crazy survivalists!). Part of it is this struggle to take care of oneself in a cooperative way. The whole anti-civilization argument, at least from the people I’ve been checking out, comes from the premise that civilization makes cooperative self-care impossible, because the civilized are always destroying and overshooting their (our) landbase and depending on imperialism to survive. It’s that situation where one competitive person can ruin a whole group’s attempt to use cooperation and consensus.

So there are a whole lot of ideas in there about resisting a hierarchical, destructive culture without creating a new hierarchical culture in its place.

Interconnected quotations about interconnection.

‘Individualism’ is not to be mistaken for freedom to choose moral, political and cultural alternatives of one’s own making. Each person is expected to operate ‘individually’ but in more or less similar ways and similar directions. . . . ‘Individualism’ in the United States refers to privatization and the absence of communal forms of production, consumption and recreation.

— Michael Parenti quoted by Alfie Kohn in No Contest: The Case Against Competition

This is so similar to the quotation from yesterday, about how disabled people often define independence.

A disability activist perspective on independence, and on working less.

“Professionals tend to define independence in terms of self-care activities such as washing, dressing, toileting, cooking and eating without assistance. Disabled people, however, define independence differently, seeing it as the ability to be in control of and make decisions about one’s life, rather than doing things alone or without help.”

— Michael Oliver quoted by Sunny Taylor in The Right Not To Work: Power and Disability

I looked up Sunaura Taylor after enjoying her discussion with Judith Butler in the movie Examined Life. They talked about walking as it related to disability and gender issues, and about the politics of helping each other and asking for help. At one point they stopped into a thrift store to get a sweater for Sunaura, which was suddenly revealed as a Queer Eye make-over scene such as I have occasionally wished for. Queer shopping with politics intact; it was quite beautiful! I had a little thrill, there in the cinema.

Part of the thrill was seeing the two of them act out an interdependent version of shopping, with Judith helping Sunaura try things on and the store clerk adjusting her usual check out techniques. It was very clear that all of the people benefited from working together, and it was also clear that to accomplish that they had to work outside of usual store policies and etiquette expectations.

I have been finding affirmations of interdependence in a lot of different sources lately, and they really cheer me up. I’m hunting for ways to resist competition and hierarchy without resorting to competitive tactics, and in the meantime it is very encouraging just to watch people cooperate within structures that are set up to facilitate competition. Life affirming.

Taking a different angle on accepting all of us instead of competing to find the winners, here is another quotation from that essay. This is especially for Erin and anyone else who is into working less.

The right not to work is the right not to have your value determined by your productivity as a worker, by your employability or salary… What I mean by the right not to work is perhaps as much a shift in ideology or consciousness as it is a material shift. It is about our relation not only to labor but the significance of performing that labor, and to the idea that only through the performance of wage labor does the human being actually accrue value themselves. It is about cultivating a skeptical attitude regarding the significance of work, which should not be taken at face value as a sign of equality and enfranchisement, but should be analyzed more critically. Even in situations where enforcement of the ADA and government subsidies to corporations lead to the employment of the disabled, who tends to benefit, employers or employees?

One more, because I really like this question:

The minority of the impaired population that does have gainful employment are paid less than their able-bodied counterparts and are fired more often (and these statistics are more egregious for disabled minorities). To ensure that employers are able to squeeze surplus value out of disabled workers, thousands are forced into dead-end and segregated jobs and legally paid below minimum wage (for example, in the case of “sheltered workshops” for those with developmental disabilities). The condescension towards the workers in such environments is severe. Why should working be considered so essential that disabled people are allowed to be taken advantage of, and, moreover, expected to be grateful for such an “opportunity”?

Fertility awareness, old feelings, heart connection

Galen is taking charge of his fertility'

Galen is reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility. Partway through a chapter, he popped in to do a dance of excitement about how interesting he is finding fertility awareness. Ovaries! Mucus! Feedback cycles! DIY science! He asked whether it would have been cool to learn about cycle charting when I was thirteen or so, so I could have had a lifetime archive of data about my reproductive health. Wow, that caused a lot of feelings at once.

First, go team! It is useful and friendly for bio-guys to learn about female physiology, reproductive health, menstrual cycles and all that. I still tell people gleefully about the time last year that (male) Galen and our (male) friend Nathan were discussing their favourite features of the diva cup. (“Well it has marks so you can measure your blood.”) Doing their part to make the world safe for menstruators.

But also, awww, yes I do wish I’d known interesting ways to chart when I was starting out, or had any decent period information. It is amazing to me that after a solid eight or nine years of purposely investigating menstruation and cultivating positive attitudes and general insatiable curiosity, I still get ambushed by leftover sad feelings around menstrual cycles.

I don’t seem to have had an especially negative or ignorant upbringing compared to other people I know, but I managed to accumulate a fair amount of emotional trauma about periods just through a general lack of self-determination as a teenager. Dumb everyday stuff, like I was neither in charge of buying my own underwear nor in charge of how the laundry got done when I lived with my parents, so I was constantly frustrated and embarrassed (and often getting yelled at) about dealing with period laundry. It seems like surely I could have been responsible for either or both of those things if it had occurred to me— I don’t think my parents were that authoritarian— but strangely I remember arguing about wanting to do my own laundry my own way and being unable to work out any arrangement. Even now, I often find simple plans impossible to coordinate with my parents, for reasons I can rarely even remember. It’s deeply confusing. I think part of my lingering upset about menstrual cycles is actually due to the fact that I can’t recall any coherent explanations for past conflicts on the subject. Hmm.

Galen knows all this, at least superficially. I talk about vagina-related feelings with pretty much anyone who’s up for it. The most recent neighbourhood rock club was on the theme of songs to change your past and I picked a song that might have prevented me from going on the pill if I’d heard it while I was resigning myself to modern living through pharmacology. (In The Evening by Nina Nastasia and Jim White, because it makes me feel stubborn and that’s what I needed to be.)

I am sad that I ate all those chemicals, and that it seems to have done some damage to my cervical crypts (where the infamous eggwhite fertile mucus is produced). Sad sad sad. Angry too, to feel so misinformed. Disappointed that I didn’t listen to my own better judgment, and betrayed on behalf of the part of me with better judgment. I said most of that at rock club, but I’m not sure that is something people can relate to without a fair amount of relevant experience or other knowledge. Erin afterwards said she had a grieving process about the pill. Me too, going on it and again going off.

So Galen’s latest round of excitement about menstrual cycles is complicated. I was immediately glad to have company, and also immediately lonely, realizing I’m cut off from the possibility of feeling simple, impersonal excitement about uteruses and their ways. It was good to realize that he’s in the rather privileged position of not having personal emotional baggage about menstrual cycles. Once I managed to make him all sad about my damaged cervical crypts and assorted teen angst, we had a better connection there. It’s good to be on the same team.

So. For my future babies, I keep track of books like Cycle Savvy, in case they don’t want to talk with me about their personal strategies and feelings about periods.

Swallowing the toad

I’ve been catching up on some internetto that I neglected while I was on vacation, and while I was really busy before I went on vacation. So I was listening to an October podcast on 43 folders, where Merlin Mann interviews David Allen about procrastination.

It’s a great little interview, although I didn’t get any new ideas out of it (probably because I’ve read practically everything Merlin has every published on the internet… while avoiding work of course). But I did get really fascinated by the phrases and metaphors David used to describe the kind of personal epiphany where you stop being afraid of secret parts of yourself, and just get on with your life. He first describes the topic starting at 2:18.

The thing that is closest to your soul is the thing you’re gonna avoid the most. The thing that will tap into… the part of you that has not yet come to the fore but wants to be expressed but you’re so afraid of it— you will absolutely find every single thing in your life to avoid doing that.

And that one… there is no trick about that one. You just need to be aware of that.

(Aside: business people are so much more into self help than aging single women. I’m waiting for a Bridget Jones type franchise about a bumbling marketing manager with a heart of gold.)

This being-aware-of-your-fear thing is kind of an ongoing theme in our house. I’m really big on solving personal distress by looking for the scariest or most embarrassing course of action, since it is probably the thing I want to do the most. Lately, Galen has been into a similar thing— in his gentler way— of trying not to be afraid by accident. These both sound just like what David mentions.

I don’t have a name for these assorted processes, but I like to collect the metaphors people use to describe them. I say things like “it popped” or “pop the cork” a lot, or things like “cut to the chase”— aggressive shortcuts. Alternately, I talk about hunting and finding and getting to the bottom of things, about being thorough or honest. And then I have my hard-ass forms of encouragement like “grow up,” “suck it up” and “skip to the good part.”

The David uses some familiar words—

  • jump right to the real bottom line
  • show up
  • uncork
  • step up to the plate

It’s funny to me that a mental experience can spark common physical metaphors in different people. I’m a little weirded out by how kinetic— almost violent— most of these are. Pop, jump, cut.

So, simple contrast might be the main reason I like my favourite version so much. I found this description on a random mailing list archive: swallowing the toad. Evocative, yet gentle! It’s more like “take your medicine” than “smash your fear,” and I appreciate a peaceful option.

The post attributed the phrase to Jung, but I haven’t been able to find other references to this anywhere. Maybe it’s a blissful mistranslation? In any case, cheers to finding more toads.

Three indie thesis tips, while I get organized

I’ve talked to about four people since I declared ““thesis on!”:/2006/08/10/i-call-it-an-indie-thesis” and already I’m overwhelmed by notes. I’ve got this grand plan involving a wiki, but while I get the squirrels up to speed, here are three solid tips that have immediately become apparent.

3 tips for learning to write a thesis without going to school

  1. People love to talk about their own education. Sir Ken Robinson’s excellent, funny presentation about education from TED 2006 covers this, and so far it’s my experience as well. My friend Towagh just gave me about three hours worth of explanations and advice about Masters work, starting from “OK, a thesis… what’s that?” (Thanks, Towagh!)
  2. If you are going to have a three hour meeting over coffee, pick somewhere with a convenient restroom.
  3. A tip from Towagh that strikes me as hilarious: if you want to talk to a professor, even an imposing, famous professor, call up their Department and ask for their office hours. Do many non-students sneak into office hours? I’m a little suspicious that I should keep this tip under my hat, that I might encourage the one yahoo who will abuse Office Hours and ruin it for all of us. (You know, all of us who want to talk to professors about critical problems without enrolling in school.) It will be a sad day, when office hours have some type of warning sticker attached.

Got any thesis tips of your own? I’d love your comments. (And I should mention: I’d love them even if you’re from the future, and you’re reading this in 2012 and you presume the conversation is dead. I’m posting here while the site is still semi-secret, so don’t feel like a latecomer.)

A start: normal dying processes

I’ve heard a lot of stories of dying people needing to get a good sleep before they have enough energy to die, or of dying at contrived times like right before an annoying doctor is due to show up, or right after seeing a new baby relative.

I’m sure a lot of those stories are coincidence, but I’m intrigued by the idea that dying is an action the body takes, rather than an event that just happens when the body fails. Zoe pointed out the other day that many people think of death as a failure of medicine, rather than as a normal event in everyone’s life. To me, thinking of death as an active, biological process makes it seem more like a normal function (which I’m interested in, for now).

This morning I’ve been hunting for information about the normal dying process, and how it varies, and whether there are conflicting models for “normal” death responses the way I’m familiar with different, biased models of sexual response from working on my vagina website (and indeed, Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief seem to draw similar controversy to Masters and Johnson’s model of the human sexual response cycle).

Zen Hospice has a great overview of the physical changes a person goes through as they die, from a hospice perspective. I recognize all of those symptoms from the few people I’ve known at the end of their lives. I can see immediately why there are so many comparisons between giving birth, having orgasms, and dying: all involve extreme physical responses that start to seem normal when you know what to expect. Learning about the physical symptoms of dying feels a little like getting to know the birds in your neighbourhood or something: gaining context.

Graceful Exits:How Great Beings Die apparently deals with conscious dying and dying on purpose, such as the idea of elders wandering off alone into the woods to die. It sounds a bit flaky (i.e., possible use of ambiguous generalizations like “aboriginal cultures”), but still really compelling to me. I’m all for special skills, and this intro sort of makes dying sound like a superpower:

Then the person is left alone. He or she sits down, and within a matter of minutes is able to intentionally close down the body and die.

That would be both more and less useful than being able to cry on command.

But, from my scattered reading this morning, I gather that I should do some searching for literature about “deathing” and “timing of death” rather than the process of dying. It’s a bit weird that “dying” gets used more as adjective than as a form of the verb “to die.” When a person “dies” that describes the moment of death fairly precisely, but when a person “is dying” that could refer to almost any stage of life or illness or injury.

This is the kind of jargon I should figure out soon— it’s hard to organize notes when you don’t know the names for things (and stuff).