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Sailing Backwards To Christmas

"Stop eating the watermelon and play!"

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I've been thinking. Shocking, I know, but bear with me.

I've been using this blog, this name, this identity much, much less frequently over the last few months. I still need an outlet (oh sweet merciful Buddha in a bucket do I ever need an outlet!), but over time, you know, I think I've figured out why this place right here hasn't been it for a very long time.

The name I chose...that was an insult, once upon a time. Lizard. Not human. Lizard. I was declared an animal, less than human, not worthy to eat at the same table as others or even sleep indoors. I thought I was being so clever reclaiming that name. So smart. I thought maybe I'd finally won if I could choose when and where it was applied to me.

...But then I took it, and I used it for here, and the only things I ever seemed to put in here were entries cataloguing how unbelievably miserable and powerless I still was. Even after making my big statement, my big Fuck All Of Youse, I'm Still Fucking Here, nothing really changed; I was still somehow less than everyone else, a step below and a step behind. I accepted it without thinking twice...and I wrote it all in here.

There's a metric fuckton of misery here. It's bloody heavy. It takes up a hell of a lot of space.

And I don't want to share space with it any more.

I'll leave this blog up until LJ deletes it for being inactive, but I'm not going to use it any more.

I'm going to make a new one. New name, with none of these associations. New space, where all that garbage that ruined ten years of my life has never been. If you feel you want to follow me there, I'd love to have you. :)

My new name is only_the_trying.

Arrivals, Departures
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People arrive. They look through the crowd of those who are waiting, those who await them. They kiss them and say the trip exhausted them.
People leave. They say goodbye to those who are not leaving and hug the children.
There is a street for people who arrive and a street for people who leave.
There is a cafe called "Arrivals" and a cafe called "Departures".
There are people who arrive and people who leave.

But there is a station where those who arrive are those who are leaving
a station where those who arrive have never arrived, where those who have left never came back.
It is the largest station in the world.
This is the station they reach, from wherever they came.
They get here after days and nights
having crossed many countries
they reach it together with their children, even the little ones who were not to be part of this journey.
They took the children because for this kind of trip you do not leave without them.
Those who had some took gold because they believed gold might come in handy.
All of them took what they loved most because you do not leave your dearest possessions when
you set out for far-distant lands.
Each one brought his life along, since what you must take with you, above all, is your life.
And when they have gotten there
they think they've arrived in Hell
maybe. And yet they did not believe in it.
They did not believe you could take a train to Hell but since they were there they took their courage in their hands ready to face what's coming
together with their children, their wives, their aged parents
with family mementoes and family papers.

They do not know there is no arriving at this station.
They expect the worst - not the unthinkable.
And when the guards shout to line up five by five, the men on one side, women and children on the other, in a language they do not understand, the truncheon blows convey the message so they line up by fives ready for anything.
Mothers keep tight hold on their children - trembling at the thought they might be taken away - because the children are hungry and thirsty and disheveled by lack of sleep after crossing so many countries. At last they have reached their destination, they will be able to take care of them now.
And when the guards shout to leave their bundles, comforters, keepsakes on the platform, they do so since they are ready for the worst and do not wish to be taken aback by anything. They say "We shall see". They have already seen so much and they are weary from the journey.

The station is not a railway station. It is the end of the line. They stare, distressed by the surrounding desolation.
In the morning, the mist veils the marshes.
In the evening, floodlights reveal the white barbed wire with the sharpness of astrophotography. They believe this is where they are being taken, and are filled with fear.
At night they wait for the day with the small children heavy in their mothers' arms. They wait and wonder.
With the coming of daylight there is no more waiting. The columns start out at once. Women and children first, they are the most exhausted. After that the men. They are weary too but relieved that their women and children should go first.
For women and children are made to go first.
In the winter they are chilled to the bone. Particularly those who come from Herakleion, snow is new to them.
In the summer the sun blinds them when they step out of the cattle cars locked tight on departure.
Departure from France and Ukraine Albania Belgium Slovakia Italy Hungary Peloponnesos Holland Macedonia Austria Herzegovina from the shores of the Black Sea the shores of the Mediterranean the banks of the Vistula.
They would like to know where they are. They have no idea that this is the centre of Europe. They look for the station's name. This is a station that has no name.
A station that will remain nameless for them.
Some of them are travelling for the first time in their lives.
Some of them have travelled in all the countries of the world, businessmen. They were familiar with all manner of landscape, but they do not recognise this one.
They look. Later on they will be able to describe how it was.
All wish to remember the impression they had and how they felt they would never return.
This is a feeling one might have had earlier in one's life. They know you should not trust feelings.

Some came from Warsaw wearing large shawls and with tied-up bundles
some from Zagreb, the women their heads covered by scarves
some from the Danube wearing multicoloured woolen sweaters knitted through long night hours
some from Greece, they took with them black olives and loukoums
Some came from Monte Carlo
they were in the casino
they are still wearing tails and stiff shirt fronts mangled by the trip
paunchy and bald
fat bankers who played keep the bank
there are married couples who stepped out of the synagogue the bride all in white wrapped in her veil wrinkled from having slept on the floor of the cattle car
the bridegroom in black wearing a top hat his gloves soiled
parents and guests, women holding pearl embroidered handbags
all of them regretting they could not have stepped home to change into something less dainty.
The rabbi holds himself straight, heading the line. He has always been a model for the rest.
There are boarding school girls wearing identical pleated skirts, their hats trailing blue ribbons. They pull up their knee socks carefully as they clamber down, and walk neatly five by five, holding hands, unaware, as though on a regular Thursday school outing. After all, what can they do to boarding-school girls shepherded by their teacher? She tells them "Be good, children!" They don't have the slightest desire not to be good.
There are old people who used to get letters from their children in America. Their idea of foreign lands comes from postcards. Nothing ever looked like what they see here. Their children will never believe it.
There are intellectuals; doctors, architects, composers, poets. You can tell them by the way they walk, by their glasses. They too have seen a great deal in their lifetimes, studied much. Many made use of their imagination to write books, yet nothing they imagined ever came close to what they see now.
All the furriers of large cities are gathered here, as well as the men's and women's tailors and the manufacturers of ready-to-wear who had moved to Western Europe. They do not recognise in this place the land of their forebears.
There is the inexhaustible crowd of those who live in cities where each one occupies his own cell in the beehive. Looking at the endless lines you wonder how they ever fit into the stacked-up cubicles of a metropolis.
There is a mother who's boxing her five-year-old's ears because he won't hold her by the hand and she expects him to stay quietly by her side. You run the risk of getting lost if you're separated in a strange, crowded place. She hits her child, and we who know cannot forgive her for it. Yet, were she to smother him with kisses, it would all be the same in the end.
There are those who having journeyed for eighteen days lost their minds, murdering one another inside the boxcars and
those who suffocated during the trip when they were tightly packed together
they will not step out.
There's a little girl who hugs her doll against her chest, dolls can be smothered too.
There are two sisters wearing white coats. They went out for a stroll and never got back for dinner. Their parents still await their return anxiously.

Five by five they walk down the street of arrivals. It is actually the street of departures but no one knows it. This is a one way street.
They proceed in an orderly fashion so as not to be faulted for anything.
They reach a building and heave a sigh. They have reached their destination at last.
And when the soldiers bark their orders, shouting for the women to strip, they undress the children first, cautiously, not to wake them all at once. After days and nights of travel the little ones are edgy and cranky
then the women shed their own clothing in front of their children, nothing to be done
and when each is handed a towel they worry whether the shower will be warm because the children could catch cold
and when the men enter the shower room through another door, stark naked, the women hide the children against their bodies.
Perhaps at that moment all of them understand.

But understanding doesn't do any good since they cannot tell those waiting on the railway platform
those riding in the dark boxcars across many countries only to wind up here
those held in detention camps who fear leaving, wondering about the climate, the working conditions, being parted from their few possessions
those hiding in the mountains and forsets who have grown weary of concealment. Come what may they'll head home. Why should anyone come looking for them who have harmed no one
those who imagined they found a safe place for their children in a Catholic convent school where the sisters are so kind.

A band will be dressed in the girls' pleated skirts. The camp commandant wishes Viennese waltzes to be played every Sunday morning.
A blockhova will cut homey curtains from the holy vestments worn by the rabbi to celebrate the sabbath no matter what, in whatever place.
A kapo will masquerade by donning the bridegroom's morning coat and top hat, with her girlfriend wrapped in the bride's veil. They'll play "wedding" all night while the prisoners, dead tired, lie in their bunks. Kapos can have fun since they're not exhausted at the end of the day.
Black calamata olives and Turkish delight cubes will be sent to ailing German hausfrauen who couldn't care less for calamata olives, nor olives of any kind.
All day all night
every day every night the chimneys smoke, fed by this fuel dispatched from every part of Europe
standing at the mouth of the crematoria men sift through ashes to find gold melted from gold teeth. All those Jews have mouths full of gold, since there are so many of them it all adds up to tons and tons.
In the spring men and women sprinkle ashes on drained marshland ploughed for the first time. They fertilise the soil with human phosphates.
From bags tied around their bellies they draw human bone meal which they sow upon the furrows. By the end of the day their faces are covered with white dust blown back up by the wind. Sweat trickling down their faces over the white powder traces their wrinkles.
They need not fear running short of fertiliser, train after train gets here every day and every night, every hour of every day and every night.
This is the largest station in the world for arrivals and departures.

Only those who enter the camp find out what happened to the others. They cry at the thought of having parted from them at the station the day an officer ordered the young prisoners to line up separately
people are needed to drain the marshes and cover them with others' ashes.
They tell themselves it would have been far better never to have entered, never to have found out.

- Charlotte Delbo (prisoner 31561)
Translated from the French by Rosette C. Lamont

And Here I Thought I'd Outgrown Horsey Obsession...
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I have a new way to waste time. It's considerably less day-devouring than Farmville or assorted other FB games, and...yeah, I'm secretly kind of hoping I can unlock some kind of awesome slavering meat-crazed zombie horse of the apocalypse!

I live in hope.

Click this link if you want to help me, or make your own evil fabulous doom-horse. Because we all want one of those.

I'm officially known as Rubaiyyat there.

(no subject)
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This happy little video has made my whole day into sunshine, light, rainbows and fluffy kittens. Many, many fluffy little kittens.

The Politics Of Life And Death
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Surveying the GOP's latest efforts to usher forth a particular species of fiscal responsibility, I was recalled to a bit of personal history, which I try to not to think about. Like a lot of couples, the notice that our family would increase by a half was greeted with great joy. Before Samori, I was a rather aimless ronin; a young, 24-year-old college dropout whose greatest accomplishment was managing not to run off his beautiful and wise girlfriend of one year. But I had no real core, no grounding, no sense that big things were at stake. I was writing, but had wavering confidence in its prospects, and thus a wavering commitment to making those prospects manifest.

For most of my conscious life I had failed at the thing that mattered most (school). There was no reason to suspect I'd be any different professionally. Still, to paraphrase an old friend, there was nothing in my background that justified being a bad father. And upon news that that was what I'd be, I threw myself into the preparations. It was fine for me to be a fuck-up. It was not fine for me to bequeath more fuck-ups to the world. I didn't know it at the time, but this was the start of me getting a "core."

So I went at the thing. I moved up to Delaware, where Kenyatta was working at the time, threw myself into all the requisite manuals, took up the household chef role, and installed myself in her life in such a way that has endured. And in those months I found a purpose. The house was a castle. The job of a functioning adult was to protect the castle.

About six months in, Kenyatta started picking up weight at a rate that flummoxed and alarmed her doctors. Her whole body swelled like a water balloon, a description which we would only later find to be frighteningly apt. The docs diagnosed gestational diabetes, and we changed our diets accordingly. No dice. The weight gain continued, and all we got were puzzled looks and the assurance that after the pregnancy things would abate. Looking back on it now, I'm convinced they thought we were gorging on McDonald's and lying to our docs. People do it all the time.

After Samori was born, Kenyatta lost very little weight, and I imagine this verified the doctors' suspicions. She came home and had trouble breathing. On the second night, it got so bad that she couldn't lay down. My young and immature response was something akin to "Oh, it will pass." But Kenyatta's mother was there and insisted on taking her to the hospital, and in that moment probably saved her life.

The doctors took another look and came back with a very different diagnosis--congestive heart failure. It's been a long time, and we've had reason to forget parts of the experience. But my recollection is that Kenyatta's oxygen level dropped really low--like 23. That sounds too low, but whatever it was, it was cause for serious alarm. She was hospitalized for a week, during which time (again memory is sketchy) she lost about a third of her body weight, all of it fluid.

Peripartum cardiomyopathy, the disease that led to congestive heart failure, is rare and lethal. It kills women. And no one knows why. Kenyatta was lucky. She didn't need a new heart. She only needed her meds, and time. But luck has not obscured from us a set of essential and disturbing truths.

For reasons beyond me, childbirth--in the popular American mind--is swaddled in gossamer, gift-wrap, and icing. Beneath the pastel Hallmark cards and baby showers, behind the flowers, lies a truth encoded, still, in our wording, but given only minimal respect--the charge of shepherding life is labor. It's work. And you need only look to the immediate past, or you need only look around the world, or you need only come close to losing the love of your small, young life to understand a correlating truth--pregnancy is potentially lethal work.

Over the past few weeks, I've been studying the seminary movement in the South during the mid-19th century. In these all-female boarding schools, women found a security and friendship that would elude them for the rest of their lives. Their parting notes to each other are filled with foreboding hints of early death. It's not very hard to imagine why. As recently as the 1930s, the maternal death rate in this country was 900 per 100,000 births.

It's been some time since I read "What Hath God Wrought," but my recollection is that in the mid-19th century men actually lived longer than women. As a society, the Western world has obviously made significant strides in reducing maternal deaths. (In Afghanistan some 1,400 women die per 100,000 births.) This is excellent news. But it can not obscure perhaps the most specific and nameable species of male privilege--of all the things that may one day kill me, pregnancy is not among them.

This is the era of internet intellectuals, mostly dudes, who excel at analogizing easily accessible facts to buttress their points. It's a good skill to have, and one I employ myself. But it isn't wisdom. Like most people, I have deep problems with the termination of life--and that is what I believe abortion to be. Still a decade ago, I learned that those problems were abstract, and could not stand against something as tangible and imposing as death.

My embrace of a pro-choice stance is not built on analogizing Rick Santorum with Hitler. It is not built on what the pro-life movement is "like." It's built on set of disturbing and inelidable truths: My son is the joy of my life. But the work of ushering him into this world nearly killed his mother. The literalism of that last point can not be escaped.

Every day women choose to do the hard labor of a difficult pregnancy. Its courageous work, which inspires in me a degree of admiration exceeded only by my horror at the notion of the state turning that courage, that hard labor, into a mandate. Women die performing that labor in smaller numbers as we advance, but they die all the same. Men do not. That is a privilege.


YES. The editorial up there was written by a bloke named Ta-Nehisi Coates. He works for a US publication called the Atlantic, and I think the man gets it. He really gets it.

I've always known I was pro-choice, I've supported full and easy access to termination services for all women who want or need to use them for almost as long as I've been aware abortion was possible...but this? This up there? Is the best, most succinct explanation of my reasons why I could ever have given, and I didn't write a word of it.

Write it on the walls, people. Print it out and stick up posters on every building you can reach.

Is It Armageddon Yet?
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Sweet merciful Buddha in a bucket.

I think I'm going to be sick looking at that...and yeah, apparently it is to a more or less accurate scale.

Queensland old mate, this is really not your year, is it?

The Importance Of Being Toph
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Most of my f-list is not particularly fannish in nature. Of those that are, most of them probably don't share this particular love of mine. It's a kids show, meant for twelve year olds, and I saw it for the first time when I was already an adult. Still, I think maybe I should say this. It matters to me. Maybe it matters to more than me.

I've been doing a good, detailed rewatch of Avatar: The Last Airbender over the Christmas holidays, and it got me thinking about one character in particular. Ladies and gentlemen of the internets, I'd like you to meet Toph Bei Fong.

This is Toph. If you look at the picture carefully, you might be able to notice something unusual about her eyes...

Toph is blind. According to canon, she's completely, totally blind and always has been.

When they first introduced her, I wasn't sure what to think or how to feel about it. I recognised a lot of how I used to be as a kid when I looked at her. To a slightly lesser extent, I recognised almost as much of how I still am.

The aggression. The assumptions that people make where, because one part of your body doesn't seem to be in perfect working order, there has to be something wrong with your mind as well so you obviously can't hear or understand what they mean when they make snide comments behind your back. Being so used to having people assuming that you need help with everything that you snap and snarl and would rather fail outright that admit you actually do need help with something after all. The need to have something - often a secret something that the people who think they know you and think they know what you can do have no idea about! - where the limitations your body puts on you don't even come into it. Frustration at those limits, when they're so bloody arbitrary.

For me, the escape is writing. The only limits I have there are the ones I set for myself, in my own mind. For her, it's earth-bending - her blindness doesn't matter there, because she doesn't need to see.

When I talked about this with other fans of the show...I started to realise that a lot of other people with disabilities were seeing what I saw. More and more, they were saying the same things I was trying to say. Even the twelve year olds the show was meant for were finding things in her portrayal. Wanting to love her - for once having a character that they could really, seriously identify with - but at the same time being afraid of how the show would handle her, wanting so badly not to be disappointed. It would have hurt to see someone like me who in the end was only there to be rescued, or a one dimensional stock caricature of a villain, or to teach everyone else a nice neat lesson about diversity.

After all, even the real world fails there sometimes; with days or weeks or months to get to know us as people with disabilities, the rest of the world can still be so surprised at what they find. What would a show that runs in twenty-minute episodes do, after introducing such a prickly, fierce, bloody annoying character?

Then I watched it.

And I loved it.

Toph wasn't helpless. She wasn't evil. She wasn't stupid. She wasn't a gimmick. She wasn't there to teach anyone a feel-good lesson so they could tell everyone they were a better person. Her limitations existed, and were addressed, and were realistic as far as a show with flying bison can be, but they didn't define her any more than Sokka's inability to bend an element defined him. She was blind, and that was part of who she was - she wouldn't be Toph if she could see - but it made such a difference when it became clear that her blindness wasn't ALL she was; she was also snarky, and better schooled in manners than she let on, and proud, with a full complement of hopes and fears that didn't necessarily have anything to do with the fact that she couldn't see. It made such a difference to see a character with a disability who wasn't part of the window dressing or a tragic figure of mawkish pity straight out of Dickens' rejected manuscript pile. Someone who was actually affected by that disability - disability as a throw-away element that only seems to be there when it can add drama or angst...that annoys me no end, mostly because living every day with a disability Does Not Work That Way! - but was still a part of the ensemble cast, with her own strengths that the others needed.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've seen characters with disabilities on mainstream TV who weren't just there to say My name is Toph, and I'm blind. Did I mention I can't see?

Channel 31...perhaps they're a little different, but one of the problems with specialised programming like donation-funded channels run is that you already have to know it exists to be able to find it, or even to know it exists to be found. No one looks for a fishing show if they don't already have an interest in fishing.

Disability TV? Where's the market for that?

I wish she'd existed when I was twelve, because I think I would have wanted to be her. If this show had existed when I was twelve...I would have loved to see some of the characters that might have been born to follow where AtLA went in the ten years since.

Maybe in another ten years?

(no subject)
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It is now 2011. This may end up being the year where I accept I'm a second class citizen and just deal with it, but I hope not.

(no subject)
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Apropos of absolutely nothing, I think I need this film to exist. It would be the most amazing Disney production ever, no lie.

Questions, Questions
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Every conversation I seem to have with my family lately ends in a shouting match. Every single one.

I don't know why. Is it me? Am I just naturally infuriating? Too quick to blow up at people? Oversensitive to the nine zillionth degree?

The new medication I'm on is doing wonders for my headspace - oh Cymbalta, I love you - but it doesn't stop me getting frustrated at living in my parents' pockets, at being checked and double-checked for every piece of work (even when I can show it to them and prove beyond doubt that not only is it finished but I'm about a week ahead of the timeline I set for myself this semester, while they insist they're actually not interested in any proof I could offer because my reputation as a liar, procrastinator and all around shoddy student already precedes me enough to tell them what's going to happen), at being unable to make any headway whatsoever into building a new reputation for myself with anyone.

Sometimes I wonder if it'd be better to be on a different medication, one that numbed me entirely instead of just keeping me balanced so I don't go rocketing down into Suicidal-Thoughts Town or the Anxiety Foothills. That's supposed to be a risk with anti-depressants, and it's one of the things that scared me off them for ages before I finally gave them a go. I still don't want to be in a place where I can't feel anything, but in a way my fears about that don't really matter. As long as I couldn't get angry, the arguments would stop.

At least then they wouldn't make it sound like my expression of any negative emotion at all means the medication isn't working or I'm not trying.


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