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Do you miss me?

Because blogging has felt increasingly uncomfortable for me for personal writing, I am going to attempt TinyLetter instead. It’s an e-newsletter platform and you can subscribe here. It will deliver my ‘personal writing’ posts directly to your email rather than on this blog.

This blog was always supposed to be a place for very honest writing.

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I am hoping with TinyLetter I can feel a little more free again, because I will know exactly who is in the room with me when I am talking. I will always keep this blue milk blog going, but the e-newsletter might be the place where I do more of my ‘thinking out loud’ style writing; the way I used to do on this blog.

A Map of the World
– Ted Kooser

One of the ancient maps of the world
is heart-shaped, carefully drawn
and once washed with bright colors,
though the colors have faded
as you might expect feelings to fade
from a fragile old heart, the brown map
of a life. But feeling is indelible,
and longing infinite, a starburst compass
pointing in all the directions
two lovers might go, a fresh breeze
swelling their sails, the future uncharted,
still far from the edge
where the sea pours into the stars.

Little moments of Spring

Neoliberalism and trauma

There’s much I appreciate in this interview with Yasmin Nair, but the way in which some are extrapolating from very specific criticisms Nair made of individualistic trauma conversations crowding out systemic approaches on panels, to criticisms of all feminist memoir writing is rubbish…

(I have written about this before here in an article).

MK: So it seems as though the image of the woman suffering or the child suffering, and the way that sort of grabs the media, seems to really often operate that way. So an example would be—hm—well, what’s your attitude toward feminist anti-rape-culture politics? Is that analogous?

YN: Well, hm… What is so troubling for me about all this discourse around rape culture is that it’s not just, you know, liberal feminists taking it up, but also, I think what’s most bothersome to me is how it’s also being used especially in radical queer circles. So it’s not only liberals who are doing this but people who I’d hoped would think better of it.

It just reduces everything to a set of circumstances completely beyond our control and understanding. And I think it also insists that everyone identify as a trauma victim in order to be considered, really, nowadays, a legitimate subject. I’m sure it’s linked in some ways to this proliferation of identities one can carve on the Web, but I think also in some ways the perfect neoliberal subject is becoming the traumatized subject, the subject of trauma. So despite excellent critiques by people like Ruth Leys—discussing the idea of trauma as a defining feature of the ideal neoliberal subject, including even those who might not actually identify as neoliberal subjects, like the queer radicals with whom I work—It just seems like trauma has become a requirement. I’ve been writing recently about how I am sick of being on panels where everybody starts to confess to their rape, or to their sexual trauma, and I just want to walk out on them! I just want to say, if you cannot think about critiquing policies and the state without having to assert how and why you have been a victim, then let’s end this conversation. Does everybody have to be a victim in order to gain sympathy, first of all? And what does it mean to have to constantly reconstitute yourself as a subject of trauma? What happens to people who don’t do it? Are they to be seen as traitors?

There’s this weird kind of culture of confession which is also something I write about: this constant imperative to confess, and this imperative to reveal oneself as the wounded subject, that I find very disturbing. Because I think it pretends to be a systemic analysis, because what it’s pretending to do is to say “Look, this matters because so many of us who work on this matter are in fact also traumatized.” That’s the rationale. But I want to say: is that only way to understand trauma in neoliberalism? Is it possible that only those who have experienced it are allowed to talk about it? There’s a kind of demand for authenticity in all of this that I find particularly vexing. And I know for a fact that many people who have a critique of trauma and of violence and of the state may well have been sexually abused, but just don’t talk about it. And does that make them less authentic?

It just all devolves. These discussions all devolve into these constant narratives, this kind of personalized narrativizing about the state. And I can see that as having emerged as a response to a time and a discourse where all of that was actually erased. I get that! I get the historical reasons why people have been encouraged to reveal their trauma, I totally get it. In the US, for instance, until recently, women in marriages could not be raped, legally speaking. So I get the historical reasons why all of this is important, but it makes for shitty organizing, and it makes for really shitty analysis. And it makes for a very insufficient and haphazard critique of capitalism.

In her 1983 book The Managed Heart, sociologist Arlie Hochschild first coined the phrase emotional labor to describe the work of flight attendants and bill collectors to consciously regulate their own feelings and attempt to shape the emotions of others to get their jobs done. Women and low-income workers were being asked to very subtly (and very deftly) fix up people’s feelings without being recognized or compensated for that very tricky part of their labor. Hochschild was also worried about the potential social and health side effects of asking people to manipulate their emotions for others for pay, day after day. How did this affect their well-being when they went home? Did it alienate them from their ability to gauge their authentic emotions when they clocked out and regained their autonomy? Are women judged differently for their emotional work than men are? How are the emotions of people of color judged more harshly at work than white workers’, and how is this leading to workplace inequality? Hochschild’s work anticipated the rich field of research on the booming low-wage, high-stress service sector many workers find themselves navigating today.

However, since 1983 there’s been a shift away from using this as a term to understand the workplace to using it colloquially to explain interpersonal relationships between men and women. In 2015, some were calling emotional labor “feminism’s next frontier.” Taking Hochschild’s phrase from our workplaces to our homes requires some clarity, at least in part so we don’t trivialize the actual emotional labor many workers (customer service agents, flight attendants, nurses, and adjunct professors) do on a daily basis in their jobs, sometimes without support or adequate training.

So what exactly is emotional labor? Emotional labor is simply the management of feelings (your own or someone else’s) to accomplish some goal—to leave a customer satisfied or to get someone to do something they might not otherwise want to, or to keep your household functioning. Note that there are many other kinds of labor that can produce these outcomes too (simply providing information to someone, for instance), but emotional labor concerns the work of emotion management—say, delivering bad news about a flight cancellation in a comforting way, so that disgruntled passengers hardly notice the news is bad. At home, this might mean giving solace to a crying child with warm words and a calm demeanor or intervening between your mom and your sister when a fight about Trump threatens to ruin Thanksgiving. And when there’s a partnership or friendship in which one person is the go-to emotional servant while the other disregards others’ feelings and well-being will-nilly, these people are rightfully called emotional vampires.

What isn’t emotional labor? Most things, actually.

From “Please stop calling everything that frustrates you emotional labor” by Haley Swenson in Slate.

Hunger

If we never have enough love, we have more than most.
We have lost dogs in our neighborhood and wild coyotes,
and sometimes we can’t tell them apart. Sometimes
we don’t want to. Once I brought home a coyote and told
my lover we had a new pet. Until it ate our chickens.
Until it ate our chickens, our ducks, and our cat. Sometimes
we make mistakes and call them coincidences. We hold open
the door then wonder how the stranger ended up in our home.
There is a woman on our block who thinks she is feeding bunnies,
but they are large rats without tails. Remember the farmer’s wife?
Remember the carving knife? We are all trying to change
what we fear into something beautiful. But even rats need to eat.
Even rats and coyotes and the bones on the trail could be the bones
on our plates. I ordered Cornish hen. I ordered duck. Sometimes
love hurts. Sometimes the lost dog doesn’t want to be found.

-Kelli Russell

On young mothers

More wonderful Ariel Gore from Rumpus:

I had my son at thirty-seven after having my daughter at nineteen, and I was partnered, although queer and not married so, again, not exactly getting invitations to the mom-party, but this time I was established as a writer. I’d been supporting my family as a writer and teacher and editor for years. I owned a little house. It was a hustle, but I had a level of stability I didn’t dream of when Maia was a baby.

And of course life is also a lot easier when people aren’t constantly making remarks about how your child should be taken away from you and put in an orphanage. No one has ever said that to me about my son. And I’m the same parent. I’m actually a worse parent now because I’m tired and my back hurts.

Rumpus: Ah, that gets to what I was probably asking with that previous question: when is very young motherhood a boon? What are the various factors that can stymie our creative growth and survival?

Gore: I’m all for young motherhood. The only problems were socially constructed. At nineteen, I was as ready to start my family as I’d ever be. I was as physically healthy as I’d ever be. I was getting gayer by the minute, so my biological clock had been ticking since age sixteen.

I wasn’t invited to the mom party or any other party, so I got to write. My first stories, like everyone’s, were just practice and experiment, so the baby wasn’t getting in the way of anything I didn’t have a sense of humor about.

Early motherhood didn’t ruin my life. I just did everything all at once—writer/mother/grown-up. I’m still clawing to dig myself out of the hole, but it’s good dirt and I have no regrets.