Reflections on a Lake

The water of the lake
reflects the low clouds above,
obscuring the view of the mountains
from the rowed trees below.
Unseen, toxins seep into the water
visible only through the gaze of time.

Visible only to the gaze of time,
the birds have flown over the water.
Once there were fish down there below
that fed the trees on the mountain.
Smoke rising from the hills above
reflects on the water of the lake.

Now empty, it waits for the skies to clear.

 

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How strange for me to sit here
on green grass in the shade.
Strangers pass by with a look of suspicion
because I am not in a public partition.

Acres and acres of green space,
in a landscape mostly paved,
just meant as unnoticed decoration
not for comfort or re-creation.

You are free
  if you can afford it.
There’s space, you see
for those who have bought it
The grass is green
cause we water it nightly
But back the fuck off
this is my fucking property.

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Perspective

I

She sees him, in his shabby clothes

Uncared-for hair adds to his uncared for air.

The clothing that wraps him he could well have been born in

In layers even though it’s so warm.

With his yellowed eyes he stares into space.

II

He sees her looking at the grungy old man

Projecting disgust, her form fills him with lust.

From here he can see how she’d move gracefully

He adjusts his suit as she walks by

and is eyes glide down her back.

III

He sits in the spot where he likes in the park to write letters to his daughters.

From his position he’d acquired a certain disposition, in regarding especially the human condition

To see what others did not.

And one of the things that he’d learned from the war, for which he’d got his education payed for,

was how to spot a predator.

He stares at the man in a suit too dark. Much too dark for the sun in the park.

 

 

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Unmissed

I’ve found, at times, on concrete paths,

letters written, for specific tasks.

Meaningless beyond their immediate usability.

Now mine, someone else’s lost memory.

Unmissed, they fill the city streets.

 

 

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Lost

I have not many regrets, or too many lost friends that I lament, though they have been lost. But so much time has gone, with nothing left over. 

I feel this is common. It’s a feeling coming in part probably from the constricting nature of life under capitalism, the need to feel productive that I think weighs artificially on many of us. But it’s also authentic, the drive to be something. I am conflicted between the appreciation for the direct experience of life uncontrasted with the recognition of inescapable absurdity on the one hand, but on the other hand with the unrealized potential of what I could be during my short ego performance.

When I reflect upon how I spent my early adulthood, there is much that I am proud of, in terms of the person I am and the company I keep. The attitudes and character that have developed around me. But I can’t help regret all the times spent doing nothing that could have been put to use furthering myself. And I have a particular idea of what that means, and it isn’t about success or wealth usually conceived. I’ve spent so much time playing video games that I could have spent playing music, and so much time reading comments online that could have been spent expanding my mind.

Expansion or contraction. Television, video games, porn, narrow narrow narrow. Activities which drag the mind down a dimly lit corridor. Too much time spent there and you grow unaccustomed to light and open spaces. I wish I had spent more time in the open, so that I would better understand it’s contours.

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Collective Insanity: Mass Murderers Mirror Society

Alright this post is about mass murder and rape culture, so trigger warning.


So, recently there was another premeditated mass shooting in California. The shooter  killed 7 people, including himself, in a posh neighbourhood near UC Santa Barbara. As is always the case when these things happen, media reports (which are all actually just re-posts of the same initial report) include remarks about the need to improve monitoring for signs of mental illness and how the shooter was lonely and had no friends. Since he was the son of a pseudo-celebrity, the news will be all over this for days to come. It will inspire much debate about mental health and gun control. In the U.S, this will generate polarizing rhetoric about gun laws. What won’t really be talked much aboutis that the root of tragedies like this and the recent stabbings in Calgary  are much deeper than the issue of gun control and much more pervasive than the mental health of a few individuals.

Yes, these guys probably suffer from mental illness. That’s somewhat true by definition of anyone that decides to go on murder frenzy. That behaviour is insane, therefore those people are insane. But obviously murder frenzies aren’t symptomatic of any particular kind of mental illness. After all, women, who are no less likely to suffer “serious psychological disorders” than men, yet women are never responsible for mass shootings. Or at least, hardly ever. While there have been a number of female serial killers, there seems to be hardly any women mass murderers. When women do kill a bunch of people, it’s often their family. Women are more likely than men to kill their own children. That’s pretty weird.

These phenomena are symptomatic of a sick culture. A patriarchal culture. It’s no statistical fluke that this kid in Santa Barbara was male, and it’s no surprise at all that his rampage was preceded by a lengthy YouTube rant about women rejecting him.


People have quite adeptly determined that this rant was the work of an insane person. But saying that someone has a “mental illness” does not characterize them or provide a sufficient basis for explaining any of their actions. It makes up one aspect of their multifaceted personality which exists necessarily within of a wider social fabric.
Fewer people seem to have noticed that, if you ignore the parts about killing everyone, this murderous rant could have come from basically any dude on the internet. It’s about feeling entitled to women, and feeling cheated when that entitlement is denied. The opening lines:

Well, this is my last video, it has all had to come to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will have my revenge against humanity, against all of you. For the last eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires all because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their affection, and sex and love to other men but never to me.

Whose fault is it? It’s women’s fault. Which women? All women. All women are the same, because they exist only as the objects of sexual gratification and desire for the male ego. That logic will seem familiar to anyone who has noticed the social phenomenon of The Game, or the preposterous extension of that logic by the bizarre and pathetic Red Pill community. The reduction of women to a single type defined primarily by their relation to male gratification is hardly a fringe phenomenon.

I’m 22 years old and I’m still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve been through college for two and a half years, more than that actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous.

It’s torture to be a virgin. Is that the manifestation of some internal brain malfunction, or is that the result of social conditioning in a culture where virginity is treated as the most highly valuable commodity in the sexual marketplace? Up until recently, federal funding in the U.S was available only to sex education programs that promoted abstinence-only-until-marriage. All over the country, people attend “purity balls” and sign purity vows. Women buy white wedding dresses to symbolize their purity. Men rent tuxedos.

Not long ago, women who accused a man of raping them would be examined to determine whether they had been virgins. Today we accept that even non-virgins can be raped, so rape trials focus less on whether the victim was a virgin and more on what she was wearing.

We treat virginity as a condition which is characteristic of its bearer. For men, virginity is a burden that must be shed. But for women, virginity is a symbol of morality and good conscience. This is the cultural myth of man as the conqueror, woman as the nurturer.  Only a virgin could be the mother of God. We internalize a dichotomy which reduces us to a single aspect of our personality. Internally fragmented, we’re all a little bit crazy.

Girls are brought up to think of their sexuality as a prize which they should only give to someone good enough. Boys are brought up to think of women’s sexuality as a prize for the taking. If they haven’t got it, then they must not be good enough. The gendered conception of virginity is asymmetric and paradoxical.

The obsession with virginity is at root an obsession with women as sexual objects. A man is a virgin who has never deflowered a woman, a woman is a virgin who has not yet been deflowered. Instead of treating the first sexual encounter a confusing experience from which we learn we’ve built it into a transcendent experience to which women are the gatekeepers and the gateway. To be denied the key is “torturous”.


What about virginity is torturous? There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly torturous about not having sex. People don’t have sex all the time. But we feel entitled to sex. We’re conditioned to feel that we need it, and to evaluate ourselves accordingly. Something which you need is something which you deserve.

We’re surrounded by messages telling us that we need to be having sex. And we could be, if only we get the right deodorant, or chew the right gum. If we have the right shoes. Mass marketing tells us what’s cool, and what’s cool is sexy. This imaging overwhelmingly portrays women’s bodies as the ultimate reward for being cool. Women’s bodies (and sometimes faces) appear in ads for women as a model of being to strive towards. Women’s bodies appear in ads for men as the reward for being cool. Everything reduced to consumption, the mental illness which makes one feel oppressed by their virginity is the mental illness of commodified sexuality. That’s a social illness, an illness that survives only in the mind of the many.

Sex is reduced to a thing in and of itself, not an act of intimate engagement between people. Sex is notches added to a belt. Sex is a rite of passage, and so it is hypersexualized women who factor into this story not as people, but as symbols of man’s natural right to get his rocks off.

You girls have never been attracted to me. I don’t know why you girls aren’t attracted to me, but I will punish you all for it. It’s an injustice, a crime, because… I don’t know what you don’t see in me. I’m the perfect guy and yet you throw yourselves at these obnoxious men instead of me, the supreme gentleman.

Is it only the deranged who feel that women owe them sex? Until quite recently within our culture it was considered impossible for a husband to rape his wife.  Men feel all the time that women to whom they have showed any degree of kindness have betrayed them by refusing to reciprocate with sex.  “May I buy you a drink?”


The supreme gentleman is owed sex. Some gentlemen get what they’re owed in red light districts around the world. Sex tourism is a big industry, and like most industries it favours men. Other men get what they’re owed by drugging women at parties. Are these men sick? Yes. But their sickness occurs within a specific social context which gives rise to their behaviour. Anyone can suffer from mental illness. But almost all rapists are men. Almost all mass murderers are men. Almost all prostitutes are women. Those are definitive symptoms of a sick culture. A sickness which hurts both men and women.

Somehow, it’s seen as a crime against men to point out the fact that most mass murderers are men, or that domestic violence is highly gendered. In 1989, 14 women were murdered at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal by a man who felt “feminists” had ruined his life and that women were stealing job that belonged to men — jobs that men deserved. In 1996, a memorial to those women and to “all women murdered by men” was put up in Vancouver. The monument was criticized in the press, I shit you not, for being offensive to men. Not all men kill women, and sometimes women kill men. Apparently we should be thankful that not all men kill women, since that somehow negates any suspicion that we might be witnessing a pattern. A pattern of violence. A pattern of male violence.

The artists who erected the memorial received death threats from anonymous men who felt the need to punish and terrify women for speaking out about violence against women. This is part of the pattern. Female bloggers and journalists regularly receive hundreds of horrific, depraved threats from men hiding behind anonymous internet handles. These threats are highly sexualized, usually describing unimaginably violent rape. This suppression is not directed only towards women who speak about patriarchy and misogyny. A woman makes herself a target by being a woman in a public place.


Elliot Rodger, the entitled rich kid who murdered seven people because women wouldn’t fuck him, followed through with his threats. Most of the faceless losers hurling vitriol at female writers don’t follow through with theirs. When that line is crossed, we’re ready to shake our heads at another tragedy brought about by mental illness. But what about all the other men? The one’s who are satisfied just by terrifying women? By reminding them that they not only don’t belong on the internet, they don’t deserve to feel safe on the street, or in their homes. The men who think sexualizing children is funny. Can we dismiss their behaviour by labeling it symptomatic of mental illness? How prevalent can mental illness become before it becomes social?

My inspiration for writing this came from reading one particular comment in the CBC article in which I first read of this shooting. This is not taken from some fringe subreddit. this is the opinion of a “regular person”.

CaretakerBC:

If the story is correct and the young man was frustrated by girl problems that is why I am a 100% supporter of legalizing prostitution. The Harper government would rather attack and punish ( Johns ) customers. Allow the ladies to provide a service in a safe environment and service those in need.

Fuck me. This whole tragedy could have been avoided if only some woman had provided the service (!!) of giving this man the sexual gratification he needed. Notice the logic of the killer reflected: if he got the sex he needed — that he was entitled to — this wouldn’t have happened. People often make jokes about how women who are high-strung or irritable need a good (male) fucking. Apparently men need a (female)  fucking when they’re about to go on a killing spree.

Prostitution is presented as a solution to male violence, rather than a symptom of it. Prostitution itself  is premised upon the assumption that men are entitled to the bodies of women. That if they can’t get it by seduction, then they can get it by transaction. Men with money on one side of the transaction, women who need money on the other. Supposedly if only we facilitated women making themselves more available for men as sexual objects, then Elliot Roger wouldn’t have had to murder all those people. If we want to reduce the epidemic pattern of male violence (particularly violence against women) then what we need, clearly, is more women for sale.

During the Rennaissance, cities across Europe legalized prostitution and opened state brothels, on the assumption that this would provide an occasion for men to lose steam and maybe distract them from  revolting against the capitalist subversion of society. Conveniently, this also allowed cities to profit from the activity of prostitutes, whom they were incapable of expelling despite the horrible, humiliating and disfiguring punishments. This happened to coincide with the enclosure of the commons and the beginning of women’s exclusion from trades and professions, which left many of them without other options. Interesting how society has tended to force women into prostitution before  considering condoning prostitution.

Many of the gender divisions and concepts which percolate in the the collective consciousness today were forged in that period. When we look back at those times, we don’t think that everyone in Europe was insane. We think that they had fucked up social institutions, backward and dogmatic philosophies, and oppressive power dynamics. When, a mere few centuries later, we look at the pattern of male violence, we only see isolated, unfortunate individuals. It seems to me we have a pathological inability to think holistically.

 

 

 

 

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The Albany Bulb — a Monument to Transition

Janus, the Roman god of transitions, had two faces: one looking forward into the future, the other backward into the past. The powerfully symbolic figure of Janus, who also presided over passages and doors, has persisted for millennia, representing some of the most significant phenomena of human experience:  time, change, and duality

Separated from the town of Albany by a highway on-ramp and a railway line, a small peninsula stretches west into the San Francisco Bay. This is the Albany Bulb, a place which has gone through a series of stark transitions, from marshland and bay, to a landfill, to it’s current incarnation as a unregulated park. It is a place largely free of arbitrary power and interference, and has become a haven for those looking for some reprieve from the continuous social restrictions of urban life. It has become a favourite place for local dog walkers who enjoy the freedom to have their charges off leash, and a place for urban artists to exert their creativity without need for permits or paranoia, showcasing a variety of artistic expression with no cost of admission. It is also home to a community of “homeless” people, who make their living on the social margins of a society begrudging of their unconventional existence. While meeting these uniquely human ends, the Bulb is also a marvelous example of reclamation through natural ecological succession, with a myriad of species gradually expanding the biodiversity of the system they have created. As with the eyes of Janus, the Bulb looks back on a past of reckless industrialism and forward to a future of emergent life and creativity. An embodiment of dualism and dichotomy, and a living symbol of the potential for regeneration and change, the Albany Bulb serves both as a visible reminder of our past blunders and an optimistic vision for our possible future, characterized by partnership rather than domination, harmony rather than dissonance.  At a time when accelerating ecological destruction and global climate change is being met by expanding industrialism,  it draws our attention to the liminality of the present, illuminating the various pathways open to us. It is a monument to transition.

A century ago, one looking out over where the Bulb now sits would have seen marshlands leading up to waters of the bay, with a bustling San Francisco in the distance. The creation of the Bulb would not begin until 1939, when the landscape was dynamited to make way for the Golden Gate Fields horse racing track. (Perhaps fittingly, the land upon which the race track now sits was once the site of the Giant Powder Company, which manufactured dynamite and which itself exploded four times between 1879 and 1892.) Debris from the dynamiting was shoved into the bay in order to build a parking lot for the race track. This tradition of using the great watershed as a dumping ground was carried on for decades, with the city of Albany electing to convert the area into a landfil for construction debris from 1963 until 1987 when lawsuits and public protest forced the dumping to stop in its tracks. The lagoon seen at the bottom of  the picture, which forms the westernmost edge, is a reminder of the dumping process and the immediacy with which it was halted and abandoned: the walls of the lagoon were constructed to form a sort of containment into which to dump the bulk of the debris, upon which some earth would be thrown. The diversity of plant and animal species which now cover this site which a mere twenty-six years ago was complete desolation is an inspiring testament to the power of the life process, and how limited in scope our human projects are in comparison. One human generation has seen this landfill transform itself into a nascent ecosystem.

BulbArt
The rebar, cement and bricks which constitute the preponderance of the Bulb’s mass are still clearly visible today, providing materials and canvasses for artists and sculptors as well as habitat for the abundance of small creatures who have colonized the site. Snakes and lizards who find the rubble particularly accommodating are regularly spotted basking on the painted stones.  Contributing to the reclamation is a large population of marmot-like rodents, who roam about the steel and rocks and climb the many trees, which have magnificently rooted themselves in the harsh terrain.  Of course, none of these species were the first settlers on the peninsula, and their existence there has been made possible by successive generations of hardy tenacious pioneers — plants such as the ice plant, scotch broom and Himalayan blackberries as well as brassica and acacias have been living and dying on the Bulb for generations.  Inconsiderate of the fact that they are considered noxious invaders by certain members of the human community, these industrious plants have uncomplainingly delivered nutrients and biomass to the soil while providing shelter and nourishment for the aforementioned critters, turning a pile of frivolous garbage into a burgeoning nascent ecosystem, now able to host less robust plants such as apples and palms. The lagoon has become home to crabs and mussels, who feed the various seabirds who live along the heavily impacted shoreline. ‘Reclamation’ and ‘restoration’ fall short as descriptions of what these species are accomplishing, as the landscape which they are transforming exists only as a byproduct of profound industrial disturbance. Here, there is nothing to restore as the peninsula itself is artificial; the area will effectively never be as it was before the disturbance. But from this loss a new ecosystem is pulling itself together, incorporating human and non-human elements, blending art with nature, garbage with life. Within this context the calls from some to destroy this place in order to preserve exclusively native vegetation and to remove the uncommissioned art ring especially hollow. What is native to a landfill?

BulbStatue2

On the Bulb, sculptures, flora and humans rightly claim squatter’s rights

Among the species exercising squatter’s rights to the Bulb are a variety of human beings. For decades, a varying number of people have lived here in tents and constructed shelters. Attempts to have them removed permanently have been unsuccessful and today a sort of uneasy stalemate holds, largely due to the efforts of Osha Neumann, a lawyer and the artist responsible for many of the immense sculptures lining the beach. Aside from the residents, many people come to the peninsula to take advantage of the beautiful sights provided by the transformed landscape. Many of these visitors bring their dogs, who run up and down the many paths, thrilled by the occasion to be off their leash. Others come to add their energy and talent to the transformation, constructing sculptures out of found materials, and decorating the hills and beaches with permanent and semi-permanent expressions of art and life which would assuredly not last twelve hours in any conventional park, but which here contribute to an atmosphere of whimsical autonomy. Some of these projects, such as Mad Mark’s heart-shaped castle are of truly wondrous scale.

Mad Mark’s Castle with its ever-changing paint-job. This is not my picture; it was borrowed from here.

Of all the human structures and endeavors, my favourite (and the main motivation for my initial visit) is the Bulb’s library.  The library was built several years ago by a local author and former resident of the Bulb named Jimbow the Hobo. Although Jimbow no longer lives there, I was fortunate enough to meet him one afternoon when he happened to be visiting his library and doing some maintenance.

The library, which was constructed of wood and was built partially around a living tree, contains hundreds of books ranging from poetry to politics, and provides a space for visitors to sit and read. It contains a beautiful stained-glass window which was given specially as a gift. Jimbow dedicates the library to the memory of a man named Freeman, a homeless person who was beaten to death years ago while under police custody in jail. Like the Bulb itself, the library is an embodiment of great positivity, emerging from a terrific act of violence.  Like the faces of Janus, both look forward while looking backward.

The god of transitions, Janus was also the god of beginnings, presiding over the transitions between periods of conflict and peace. Hopefully the Albany Bulb, too, can preside over such a transition. The Bulb emerged out of the imagined conflict between human beings and the natural world which characterizes the prevalent industrial culture which is our heritage. The Bulb shows us the extent to which life will endeavour to accommodate us in adjusting to our misbehaviour, and reminds us that the human societal complex is neither capable of nor required to direct the life process. The residents of the Bulb — the blackberries and the fennel; the people and the lizards — exist happily without the intervention of the state or the management of bureaucrats. The Bulb is not just a symbol for the potential transition to a peaceful coexistence — of humanity with non-human nature, of insiders with outsiders — but is the actuality of that process of transition. All it wants is to be left to its own devices. Of course, that peace is threatened by the bureaucratic micromanagers who insist that all parks be regulated, all plants be native, all art be commissioned, and all “homeless” be nonexistent. So far, they have been unsuccessful, and we see the prospective face of Janus.

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