Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Definitions of poetry, continued

I had been meaning to collect these. This is Rimbaud, via John Gallaher:
I say that one must be a seer, make oneself a seer. The poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, and keeps only their quintessences. This is an unspeakable torture during which he needs all his faith and superhuman strength, and during which he becomes the great patient, the great criminal, the great accursed – and the great learned one! – among men. – For he arrives at the unknown! Because he has cultivated his own soul – which was rich to begin with – more than any other man! He reaches the unknown; and even if, crazed, he ends up by losing the understanding of his visions, at least he has seen them! Let him die charging through those unutterable, unnameable things: other horrible workers will come; they will begin from the horizons where he has succumbed!
I'm changing the title of my blogroll to "Other Horrible Workers."

Causes vs. Treatments

Recently I was telling someone the story of how I figured out (slowly) which foods make me sick. When I talked to doctors about the problems I was having (i.e., feeling terrible every time I ate), I found it odd that none of them suggested possible causes. Instead, they suggested possible treatments (almost invariably the suggested treatment was "eat more fiber," the standard recommendation if you have irritable bowel syndrome).

A year or so ago, [redacted] thought he had restless leg syndrome. He talked to a psychiatrist about the symptoms (insomnia coupled with an urge to move or kick his legs when he'd lie down in bed) and the doctor said yes, that sounds like restless leg syndrome and prescribed an anti-anxiety medication for it, to be taken before bedtime. It helped but only somewhat. [Redacted] had noticed that the RLS cropped up around the same time that he had started running, and thought they might be somehow connected. Eventually it dawned on him that it wasn't the running itself, but the fact that he used an inhaler before he ran (since running aggravates his asthma). Inhalers contain stimulants. He stopped hitting the inhaler, and the RLS went away.

"Restless leg syndrome" turned out to be the equivalent of my IBS "diagnosis." Be wary of diagnoses that include the word "syndrome." Your nebulous syndrome may have a direct cause.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From "Questions on Nature" by Adelard of Bath, written in the early twelfth century (via The Portable Medieval Reader, eds. James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin, Penguin):
A certain nephew of mine who had come along with the others, being more involved in the causes of things than able to explain them, asked me to relate something new from my Arab studies. When the others agreed I had the following discussion with him, which I know was profitable to its hearers, but I do not know if it was pleasant. For this generation has a gigantic vice, that it considers nothing discovered by moderns worthy of being accepted. Thus it is usual that if I should wish to make public my own discovery, I should attribute it to another, saying, "This person says it, not I." Therefore, lest I should be altogether unheard, I say that a certain lord discovered my ideas, not I. But enough of this. Now, since it is fitting that I should say something at the request of my friends, I wish to be more certain that it is rightly said by having you [Bishop Richard of Bayeux, to whom this work is dedicated] consider it. For nothing in the liberal arts is so well discussed that it can not shine more splendidly through you. Be present, then, in spirit! For in order to present things succinctly, I set down the chapter headings first. Then I shall reply to my nephew on the causes of things.
(What follows is a selection of those chapter headings.)
  • Why certain beasts chew the cud, and certain others not at all.
  • Why certain animals have a stomach, and others do not.
  • Why men are not born with horns or other weapons.
  • Why those who have good intelligence are lacking in memory and vice versa.
  • Why the nose is located above the mouth.
  • What opinions should be held concerning vision.
  • Why the fingers were made unequal.
  • Why women, if they are more frigid than men, are more wanton in desire.
  • Why men universally die.
  • If the sphere of the earth were perforated, where a stone thrown into it would fall.
  • How springs burst forth on a mountain top.
  • Whether there may be other true springs.
  • Whence the winds arise.
  • Whether the stars fall, as they seem to fall.
  • What food the stars eat, if they are animals.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What I learned from my half-assed project

Not all that much, though I found all the interviews interesting. (Obviously, my tiny sample size limits real conclusions.) But anyway:
  • I was willing to entertain the possibility that men get harassed too. Seems like they do sometimes, but mostly by other men. In other words, men are kind of a threat to everybody. Of course this is a power thing. Situations in which women have more power than men are relatively rare.
  • My current social group, which consists overwhelmingly of writers, is overwhelmingly white. I definitely don't think only white men are attractive, but it was hard to think of non-white people that I knew well enough to ask. This was not true of my crowds in high school or college, which were more diverse both superficially (along lines of race, income, etc.) and in terms of interests.
  • I'm still trying to decide whether I should bother answering the questions myself. (Beyond "Duh, frequently," etc.) I didn't ask women in the first place because I already know the answers.
  • Perhaps the most eye-opening insight for me was this comment from Sarang, in response to my questioning why nerdy introverted guys (often the people in the room I'm most inclined to pursue friendship or conversation with) are as likely as not to avoid me (emphases mine):
    There are various reasons one might want to avoid having to deal with friendly attractive women at work: (1) They might be trying to mock you. (2) They might be of the kind that are _into nerds_ -- which, for any sufficiently self-loathing nerd, is a turn-off (qua confirmation of one's own nerdiness). (3) It is bad to get into situations where you end up embarrassing yourself, by mistaking politeness for friendliness or friendliness for attraction. (4) Attractive people are alien and often irritating in the way they interact with the world. On average they tend to be entitled and show-offy compared with others. To the extent that you have no real intention of trying to sleep with someone, attractiveness is arguably a mild net negative.
    This makes so much sense I can't believe it never occurred to me. I also think "Mild net negative!" is a good thing to shout out when someone attractive walks in the room.
  • We now return to our regular programming.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Brief Interviews with Attractive Men, Part 5

This is probably the last one of these I'll post. Minimal insights coming shortly.

Matt Rasmussen

How often are you the recipient of unwanted sexual advances?

I’d have to say not very often at all. It happened more often in college and when I used to go out to bars more, although even then, it didn’t occur frequently. Also, I don’t work in an office setting and I spend most of my time at home, so I’m not “out and about” much except with friends and family.

To the larger question, I would propose that attractive men get hit on far less than attractive women. I think women can read men better than guys can read women. I’m not a real flirty person and it seems women (the few who might be attracted to me) pick up on the fact that I’m married and not interested. Most guys however aren’t really very skilled at reading the “not interested” signs, whatever they may be. I’m not buying into the guys-are-huge-idiots beer commercial psychology or the myth that beautiful, successful women have obviously flirted/slept their way to success, but the power of sex (whatever that might be, probably a Prince song) or attraction, whatever you want to call it, is used for many reasons. Things like beer ads and contemporary female country stars are easy to interpret, but an attractive co-worker’s glance is much more complex. Misinterpretation abounds. I’m sure this happens for both men and women, but men just seem to act on their misinterpretations more. Why? Maybe it’s the male-as-aggressor role from the traditional dating/courting system that survived the sexual revolution or the woman-as-object ideal present in a patriarchal society. Or maybe evolution is to blame here. Maybe its because men are big dumbasses who like beer and hot chicks and like… beer and stuff. I don’t know.

What do you do when someone you’re not interested in (sexually) is interested in you (sexually)? How do you deflect the attention, if you do?

This is difficult because I haven’t had to do it in a long time and because I think it varies from situation to situation. I mean, I don’t have a “go to” shut-down button because I don’t need one. Now, I would probably start talking about my wife and child and make sure in the future I didn’t give that person any signals that could be interpreted as sexual/romantic interest. This is very vague, I know. If none of this works, then I’d probably avoid the person as much as possible. If that didn’t work, I’d probably get a face transplant and change my name to Terry Paragraph and host a show on public access television called Topic Sentence.

Have you ever experienced anything you’d describe as harassment?

I’ve had my butt grabbed by both women and men (who hasn’t), but I can’t say that I’ve ever been the victim of sexual harassment. I’ve never felt intimidated or made to believe I would benefit somehow from a sexual encounter with somebody. I’ve been made uncomfortable before in a casual setting, but never in a professional situation.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist, because I’ve had male friends who have experienced what I’d consider sexual harassment. I doubt they’d describe it as that and there was never any physical harassment (that I know of). Most of it occurred via text message and email.

What is your advice for a woman who finds herself the recipient of unwanted sexual attention or advances?

Try to be as clear as possible that you are not interested while also being kind about it (if that’s possible). You think he “got it,” but he probably didn’t. Attention is a difficult thing to turn away, but if it is truly unwanted then you need to let him know. Be sure its clear that you are not interested, as many dudes will keep at it if you give them any hope at all. Don’t do the “I totally find you attractive, but I’m seeing someone else” thing just to let him down easy. This creates a tiny window he thinks he can crawl into. Also, if alcohol is involved, you need to be more direct. The more alcohol he has consumed, the more overt you need to be. If he’s drunk and hitting on you and won’t give up, you probably need to draw him a map to Fuckoffville (I believe it’s in Wisconsin).

Image via Hee Jin Kang

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Currently reading

It Is Especially Dangerous to Be Conscious of Oneself, a chapbook by Jeff Alessandrelli of Lincoln and, prior to that, Reno. I see shades of Rohrer and Ruefle ... here's the title poem:
Then we enter a low, ponderous country
where the clouds are a series of disparate thoughts
and the rain they insist on reasoning with
a celebration of their hectic musings.
The men are watering the streets anyways.
Luminous, just-fresh, the concrete sparkles;
gum stains and spit stains and every veritable crack.
Do they still call mirrors looking glasses anymore?
Those type of tempered thoughts.
Yo I'm lazy but I'm crazy too
You never know what I definitely might do
threatens the radio, mass-eyed and alert.
Up ahead the mirage is steady and punctual.
We're waiting for a war to begin
or a delectable sweet to eat after lunch.

Further adventures in objectification

Also while in Chicago, Kathy, Martin, John, and I tried to figure out who the hottest male writer of all time is. I think it comes down to a tie between Sir Walter Raleigh and Nathaniel Hawthorne, what do you think? Dashing!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Why hello there! I was gone for a bit, did you notice? Here are some pics from our trip out West.

Taco night, Part 1, with Josh and Sarah in Western Mass.

Somewhere in Ohio. (OH. My. God.)

Three blind mice in a weird taxidermy and curiosity shop in Andersonville.

Taco night, Part 2, with Kathy and Martin in Chicago.

When we arrived in Boulder on Friday evening, there was a sudden rain shower and then, no joke, an enormous double rainbow arched all the way across the sky. It's hard to tell in the picture, but it was huge and glowing crazy bright.

Katie and li'l Zoe at an art opening in Boulder.

Our apartment isn't all set up yet, but here be the wall of books.

What have y'all been up to?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Maneuver X: Still Hot

Miley takes a page from Tiffany's book:

This song is to the 00s what "I Want it That Way" was to the 90s: pop-fucking-perfection.

(I prefer the BSB for karaoke, it's more in my vocal range.)

See you in Denver.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Think We're Alone Now

When I was in second grade I thought pushing your hair up on one side with your hand was pretty much the sexiest, coolest thing a girl could do (followed closely by letting your shirt or jacket fall off one shoulder). I'm pretty sure this video is why:

While you're counting how many times Tiffany performs Maneuver X, keep your eyes peeled for the man whose dancing has dislodged his comb-over. Just one of many inclusions that make little to no sense.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Fun with symmetry

So after the discussion in the comments yesterday about symmetry, I was playing around with a site called PicHacks where you can upload a photo and get back left-symmetrical and right-symmetrical versions. It's hard to find a completely front-facing photo and to get it to split exactly down the center, but one photo came pretty close -- the right-side image looked pretty much like me but with a slightly wider nose (leading me to believe the line of symmetry was slightly off-center), but the left-side image is quite eerie:

I look like an Icelandic version of Sissy Spacek, no?

Or, according to my friend Kate, a gelfling:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Some notes on attraction, sex, and power

  • I knew someone would suggest that interviewing "attractive men" is sexist or objectifying. I considered this possibility but quickly dismissed it. Acknowledging attractiveness isn't objectifying, anymore than acknowledging race is racist. I don't believe in pretending we don't notice superficial facts about the way people look.
  • Attractiveness is subjective, but not entirely. If you ask a thousand people to rate a bunch of faces on a scale of 1 to 10, some of those faces will have higher average scores than others. If a face has an average score of 8, it's fair to say that most people would agree that face is attractive. (Of course all 8's are not the same.) I'm not doing a scientific study, so I didn't ask a thousand people to rate my friends' faces. I'm just guessing.
  • I absolutely do not think that "attractive" people are more likely to experience sexual harassment/assault.
  • My survey wasn't designed to investigate sexual harassment/assault. I was more broadly curious about noncriminal activity and day-to-day social navigation. Was that not clear?
  • As a woman, I feel that a) my looks are constantly being evaluated (most of the time I don't think about it, it's just background radiation), and b) social relationships I think of as perfectly platonic often turn out not to be (in other words a friend/acquaintance/colleague/etc. comes on to me). I would not categorize the vast majority of these situations as harassment, just variously awkward and uncomfortable.
  • I have no idea if these (socio-sexual?) situations arise because I'm a woman, attractive, both or neither (though I certainly have assumptions), hence the inclination to change one variable, for starters. I also thought the title (a play on Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, of course) was catchy. I also thought it would freak men out to have their looks foregrounded. One commenter who in the past theorized that I have more male readers than female readers because I'm "vulpine" ("In real life (i.e., physical, non-electronic), your vast audience of immature poetry blog trolls, myself included, would be thrilled to get the time of day from a smart pretty girl who probably smells nice") commented that the title of the series "implies that there is some accepted standard of human beauty." He also accused me of "looks-ism." What I take from this is that women are expected to be evaluated on the basis of their looks; men are not.
  • "In real life" I often pursue friendships with stereotypically nerdy, intellectual, introverted/non-aggressive men. They often seem like the most interesting people in, say, an office environment. (It's semi-hard for me to make friends at work because my "real life" interests are obscure and snobby.) Frequently, these "nerdy" men whose (platonic) company I find appealing are not "thrilled to get the time of day" from me. On the contrary they often studiously avoid eye contact and conversation or ignore me entirely. Not always, but it's a pattern. Why is that, I wonder? Do they think I'm going to make fun of them or something?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Brief Interviews with Attractive Men, Part 4

Brian Pera

How often are you the recipient of unwanted sexual advances?

Almost never. Part of it is that I don't really go out. Maybe that's not part of it, because whenever I have gone out I feel totally invisible. I don't even feel that weird heat a woman friend once told me happens between men and women when there's something there and something clicks or somebody turns "it" on. People, always women, tell me I'm attractive and that other people think so, like there are legions of them lusting after me out there, but I just never sense or see it and feel pretty alone out and about. Sometimes in the past, walking down the street with women, I was told that people were turning to stare at me, but I never noticed, and really almost everywhere I've been - here or abroad - I've gotten zero advances at all. I don't even know the difference between wanted and unwanted. I wouldn't mind sexual advances from a guy but can't remember ever getting anything remotely like them. Any unwanted sexual advances have been from women. Usually I kind of pick up on the fact that they're attracted to me in the way straight women can find themselves attracted to gay guys, and it makes me really uncomfortable, because I'd really just rather sit and watch Toddlers and Tiaras with them. I showed a film in Greece a few years ago, which wasn't a typical gay movie but was clearly made by a gay guy and dealt with things from his/my perspective, and it was a straight festival, and after the screening, outside the theater, something like five women surrounded me with looks on their faces that made me very depressed, because I thought, how sweet, where are the guys? And I also thought, okay so here is yet another example of my artistic intentions playing cupid with the wrong gender.

What do you do when someone you’re not interested in (sexually) is interested in you (sexually)? How do you deflect the attention, if you do?

I ignore it. A woman friend was sitting on the couch with me once last year. I was horizontal, on my side. She sat very close. Kind of against my groin. I was like, I guess I should have a boner, just to make her feel better. It was awkward. Nothing was spoken but I knew I was supposed to have a boner, and that what I wanted, men, was pretty irrelevant.

Have you ever experienced anything you’d describe as harassment?

When I was younger, probably about 19, I went to an antique store and the guy who worked there bent down to show me a cupboard, rubbing against my crotch. Another time, about fifteen years ago, I was in rural Arkansas and stopped at a crap antique store along the highway, and the guy was asking me all kinds of questions, and I thought, uh oh, and then another guy, who was clearly his partner, entered, and said they had more stuff out back, up the hill, in another house. I thought, this could be weird, but I went, because I've always been curious about weird and how far things will go before they're so weird they stop being ambiguous in any way. Also I thought, there might be something really good out there. When we got to the house it barely had existing walls and certainly had nothing in the way of antiques, unless you consider broken down crates antiques, and it was no longer ambiguous, and I thought, now we're in this strange, secret situation together, and I could probably write about this later. "Do you swing?" the guy abruptly asked me, as we were standing there. Only in Arkansas, I thought. I was a very curious person back then and often unwanted and wanted were sort of inter-related to me: It was all part of experience and getting beyond my hang-ups and figuring out what my limits truly were, and about seeing people when the world wasn't looking at them, so I sometimes ended up in situations like this. I also gradually realized that I pretty much never wanted sex, not really, so it was all eventually kind of unwanted in a way and I was just trying not to be as boring as I felt when I was growing up, using these experiences as stepping stones out of my upbringing. I wasn't interested in leaving a bread crumb trail to find my way back. Years ago, living in Memphis, a guy who often came in with his "girlfriend" where I worked showed up at my place down the street, and got pretty aggressive. I did get enough of that in my twenties, because I looked like fantasies some older men had of young, stupid, and innocent. In the back of my mind I always observed this from a cool distance, fascinated by their projections, because I was pretty much born 80 years old and far from innocent. More like deeply misanthropic. So these unwanted things were often followed through to their conclusions because I thought they told me a lot about how people wanted to view me.

What is your advice for a woman who finds herself the recipient of unwanted sexual attention or advances?

Oh who knows. I love to give advice but I have no clue. Sex and attraction are way too complicated for any platitudes I might come up with to make it seem like I have a handle on them. Sometimes I wonder what a woman would have done in that rural Arkansas antique store, or what I would have done had I been one.

Ed. note: Brian's unspoken advice seems to be to avoid antique stores.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Brief Interviews with Attractive Men, Part 3

Danny Telgarsky

How often are you the recipient of unwanted sexual advances?

I would say at least once a week, BUT, I think it's probably because I don't realize how much of a vibe I'm giving off when I communicate, I'm so used to flirting in my general day to day conversations that I hardly notice it anymore.

What do you do when someone you’re not interested in (sexually) is interested in you (sexually)? How do you deflect the attention, if you do?

I find that if the person is bold enough, I have a hard time deflecting, because A) I like the attention and B) I have a hard time with letting people down and hurting their feelings.

Have you ever experienced anything you’d describe as harassment?

It's hard to say that I've been harassed, given the nature of my last two answers, however, I have definitely had to put up with MEN coming on too strong; again, I like the attention, but for the most part I'm truly not interested in that avenue, and I do get annoyed, not because I'm offended, I just get pissed that the point of the flirtation is designed to make me uncomfortable for amusement (gay guys are relentless sometimes, too!).

What is your advice for a woman who finds herself the recipient of unwanted sexual attention or advances?

After the first unsuccessful shutdown, my advice would be to be as clear as possible without any room for error. Don't beat around the bush, don't be nice, don't spare anyone's feelings, kill it and move on. Tell the person that you absolutely aren't interested.

Brief Interviews with Attractive Men, Part 2

Jack Loftus

How often are you the recipient of unwanted sexual advances?

Rarely. I was grabbed in the butt in a bar once, but the girl (a complete stranger) was obviously intoxicated. I think I laughed. Girls do not whistle at me from their construction sites, nor do they give me elevator eyes when I enter the room. That said, I've caught a few female coworkers glancing down at my crotch area in the halls here at the office, in passing, but I always strike that off as typical avoiding-eye-contact New Englander behavior. It never really bothers me. I dress up for work, I take care of myself, etc...I suppose some deep, vain part of me wants a little of this attention? Guilty as charged.

What do you do when someone you’re not interested in (sexually) is interested in you (sexually)? How do you deflect the attention, if you do?

I'm pretty outgoing and polite by nature (thanks, mom and dad), so I treat them as I would any other acquaintance (i.e. non-friend). I involve them in a group conversation. I treat them with respect. If they get out of hand (not that I can remember that happening), I'd probably just walk away.

Have you ever experienced anything you’d describe as harassment?

I really can't say that I have, which is why I usually steer clear of dishing out advice during sexual harassment discussions.

What is your advice for a woman who finds herself the recipient of unwanted sexual attention or advances?

Fight the urge to say nothing. Fight the urge to blame yourself or to say "next time I'll complain" ("it was what I was wearing!"). All will happen. Ignore that little voice that says it'd be more trouble than it's worth to file a complaint with a boss or an authority. Close your eyes, count to ten and pick up that phone or walk into that office. You think you're the first person this asshole has harassed? Or the last? It's more selfish to stay silent.