Jenna’s Arizona Bucket List, part 1

For the next 11 weeks, I will use this blog to post the top 100 places in Arizona I think that everyone should see and experience (myself included). I know that this has been done before, but this little experiment has a special meaning for me. I am an Arizona native, and for years I’ve struggled with this identity. You see, I love this beautiful state, its natural wildernesses and break-taking contrasts of topography, but I don’t always relate to the ideas around here nor all of the people.

That said, and even though I am a Native Arizonan, there are still dozens of places I’ve always wanted to visit but have yet to explore.

My goal is to post short write-ups on ten different places, attractions, features, etc. each week which that are uniquely “Arizonan.” At the end  of this little experiment I may go back and somehow compile a complete list. I’m starting with places and things where I have been but I’ll move into uncharted territory this summer.

I invite friends to follow along, come with me to try new things and send your feedback and ideas throughout the summer (and into September).

Let’s do like ADOT suggests on those obnoxious lighted freeway signs: Slow down, enjoy Arizona.

First Period

My first period came when I was at school. Actually, it was after school. I had stayed late because I was a member of the Hendrix Junior High School Science Club and we had just had a meeting. I was saying goodbye to this cute boy I liked—Jonathan. It was my dad’s weekend (my parents are divorced and he had visitation). I wearing black Levi’s cut-off shorts and a striped black and white t-shirt.
It was weird—I didn’t feel any different. I wondered if anyone else had noticed.
I didn’t even notice the blood, myself, until we got home to my dad’s tiny apartment and I went pee. Oh shit, there was some blood in my underpants. I kind of freaked. My dad didn’t have a washing machine.
A further, more immediate problem, was the fact that I had no materials to deal with this mess. That is, at my dad’s house, I had no menstrual pads, no tampons—nothing. My mom, even though she no longer had a uterus (hysterectomy, circa 1986) kept pads and tampons on hand under the bathroom sink. Most likely for me, but perhaps also for female guests who might be in need. It was a courtesy kinda thing to do.
Anyway, I would need to go back over to my mom’s house, probably, to resolve this, and that was something my dad did not like to do on his weekend.
In retrospect, I probably should have just swallowed my pride and asked him to drive me over to the nearby Walgreens. I could have proudly exclaimed to my dad—who would have been nice about it—I got my period! And I need pads!
But I was too bashful. And so I made up an excuse: I left my Halloween candy at mom’s. It was early November, Halloween had just happened, and I figured I could hide enough pads and tampons in my magic pumpkin to sneak back to dad’s and no one would be the wiser. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t tell him the truth.
I begged him to take me back to mom’s. He was totally annoyed and at first he said no. But then he seemed to catch on. Something about the urgency in my voice must have tipped him off: this wasn’t just about candy corn and Snickers. Reluctantly, he drove me back over to mom’s, but then stayed in the car with the engine running while I ran in to grab my haul.
As I bolted through the door, my mom saw me and stopped mid-cigarette. “I uh, forgot something,” I blurted. Her eyebrows popped up but she didn’t say anything.
On the way out again, as almost like an afterthought, I shouted over my shoulder to her: “Bye! Oh, by the way! I got my period!”
“Good for you!” she shouted back, as I ran back outside and jumped in my dad’s crappy car.
“Good for me? Good for me?” I thought and puzzled in the car. What the hell could she mean: Good for me? Wasn’t this supposed to signal the end of my innocence? End of my childhood? End of all things good, and pure and simple? Good for me?
She was fooling no one!
It turned out to be true. For most of my life in and after puberty, my period turned out to be one of THEE worst sources of pain and inconvenience of my entire young life. I mean, intense pain. I mean curl over on the edge of your bed doubled up and contemplate suicide pain. And not in a hyperbolic way. In a real, visceral way, where you actually start to think: well, if I die, at least I will never again have to go through this once a month, monthly kind of pain.
Yes, that is real for me. My period has actually made me want to destroy myself.
I talked to doctors. I tried almost every type of birth control (pill formula) under the sun because it was supposed to help me “regulate.” I’ve tried giant horse pills of naproxen sodium, Midol and ibudprophen, to not much relief. Even Oxycodone. But it was only temporary.
Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, when I donated my health oocytes a few times the hormone therapy I underwent eliminated my period pain for my later 20s.
But, as a young adult, for years I simply had to live with terrible, excrutiating cramps. I missed school and work over them. They would keep me up all night, curled in a ball, lcoked to the edge of my futon.
When I was 17, I convinced my mom she should let me try brith control for the first time. She acted suspicious about it. The irony about it is, me and my high school boyfriend were not having sex. I was THEE last girl in my group of friends to lose her cherry and when I did it was after graduation and with a condom.
But period remained a very big deal at my school—in junior high. Who just got hers, who was currently having hers, who might have missed one (oops)!. If you showed up to school in a particularly sour mood someone would say that you were “ragging.” Which would warrant some eye-rolling. But still—it was a serious put-down. You did not want to be accused of “ragging!” And you’d deny it if you really were.
My best friend once told me this anomaly anecdote—something weird that happened to her on the bus when she was riding home one day without any of our regular friends. Some girl from our school whom she’d never seen before sat down on the bus seat next to her. The girl had been friendly—really friendly, like, almost suspiciously friendly. She talked and talked. She seemed nervous for no good reason. But still, they seemed to be hitting it off, and Melanie was seduced by this girl’s easy friendship. Then, when the girl got up to leave for her stop, she noticed it. The girl had a giant blood mark all over the seat of her pants. Melanie said goodbye to the girl and acted like she hadn’t noticed. The girl didn’t say anything either, just exited the bus and cut a quick clip for home.
Only girls know, by the way, the special place on your pants that gets marked. It’s not like a target—smack in the middle of your booty. It’s like up and underneath, yes, right between the crease of your thighs. You kind of can’t notice too much—unless it spreads a lot, which blood mixed with other fluid tends to do.
There was another time after school I can recall. I was a latchkey kid in the 90s so me and my sister would just walk straight home. I never had any plans because I didn’t have any friends. But one day a fierce knock at the door took us my surprise. I looked through the peephole and it was my friend Andrea, clearly acting anxious outside. I let her in because we often walked too school together. It was weird to see her in the afternoon.
But she seemed upset—like almost on the brink of tears. She showed me how she’d bled through her shorts at afternoon choral practice. She was mortified. She was certain that EVERYONE knew. I tried to calm her down. I told her she could call her dad for a ride and I even lent her some pads and a pair of shorts. Still she was devastated. Tomorrow at school everyone would know.
I don’t remember if anyone said a word the next day. But the damage was done and a sort of lesson was learned.
I am also forced to remembers the two or three times I bled through. Once of the worst was when I bled through in Señor Kartchner’s Spanish 102 class. He was a real prick to me. We were doing an activity where he was calling on people to come read at the front of the room. I knew I was bleeding through my pants and when he called on me, I said politely: “No thank you I don’t want to do it.” But he then took it upon himself to heckle and ridicule me and insist that everyone HAD to do it. So I better get up. Lest I would fail.
I remember standing shakily and awkwardly up and trying to fold my book as a V and use it as a shield around my body. I could still hear one of the handsome cholos in my class whisper: “I bet she’s on her rag” as I shyly from my seat. And sure enough, there was a flood of scandalous whispers in the class because everyone could see my blood mark, even though I was trying to hide it. My face flushed as red as my pants. I hated Señor Kartchner forever after that. I got a C in his class, and that was THEE only C on my high school transcript.
There was so much fear, shame and humiliation around your period in junior high and high school. And frankly, it never goes away. You never see any indication that it’s going on with women in society on a daily, even though it frequently is.
We shouldn’t forget about periods.
She shouldn’t act like we can just wrap them up in gauze or plug them up with tampons and pads and they will just neatly and quietly go away. So many women have some kind of trauma related to this experience.
And it’s not like you can just will your body to NOT bleed (just like it’s not possible to will your own body to be or NOT be pregnant). It’s not fair.
No woman should be punished or shamed for her display of the rose mark, or the cherry fire, or the blood pants, or anything else you want to call it.
It comes and it goes. Just like the sunset. And there’s not a whole lot of damn anything you can do, but accept it.

10 Bands/Artists/Albums that I (Utterly) Cannot Live Without

Warning: this is a long one, so… you might want to go grab yourself some hot cocoa and buckle in for a minute or two.

  1. Wavves

It’s weird—I discovered the Wavves by accident. I was doing a really spotty job pretending to be a freelance DJ/television assistant/novelist while I lived in New York City. This was all circa 2005-2010. To be really honest, I was just a lazy grad student and I kinda sort supplanted my student loan income by occasionally being “guest” DJ alongside my friends who had regular gigs. Anyway, it occurred to me once, probably close to the time I wrapped up the whole NYC experience and packed a freight truck full of my life’s belongings back to Arizona that I should call a record company, tell them I was a DJ, and ask for stuff to play and give away. Hey, it worked when I was a hack college DJ, why shouldn’t it work as a 20-something hack NYC DJ? After several failed attempts, I finally convinced Matador Records that I was worth sending a promo kit of their newest artists’ released. I got an amazing stack of new music from The National, Kurt Vile and Wavves. I’ve come to love all three,  but I love Wavves the best. I think it’s because Wavves is that surf rock band I always wanted to grow up listening to but we didn’t have when I was a teen. Wavves is like what the Beach Boys are, to my mom. I friggin love this band, and it’s been amazing to watch them grow. I think it’s only fair I share my top three Wavves tracks. So here they are, in this order: 1. Idiot, 2. King of the Beach and 3. Afraid of Heights.

Desert island music? Oh, hell yeah!

  1. Nirvana

I was one of those grunge kids before grunge kids were cool. That’s right—I had Nevermind as soon as it came out. It was 1992, and I was 12 years old. I barely understood what rock ‘n’ roll was—but I knew enough. I knew that it gave me a tingly sensation right there in the middle of my teenage torso. I knew it made me want to get out of seat, and if not dance, then at least dash around like a maniac mock-copying what they did late at night on MTV, Head Bangers’ Ball. OK, so I got exposed to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” through the radio—we all did. But not everyone has a special memory like I do of an elementary school bus trip locking fingers (yes, fingers—not even holding hands, because, like, we were 12), with the cute boy I called my boyfriend, who also happened to love Nirvana, and was also listening to Nevermind as we drove through the desert all the way from Phoenix to San Diego to go to Sea World. Yes, listening to the cassette tapes—ON OUR WALKMANS!!

I begged my mom to take me to see Nirvana at the state fair when they played with Mudhoney and me and my little ‘tween and teenage brat junior high friends then ditched my mom, my sister, and my sister’s godmother and spent the whole time in the pit. Until we got kicked out. I nearly gave my mom a heart attack (this was the early 1990s, the era before cell phones).

When Kurt Cobain died, my junior high best friend and I lost it after D.A.R.E. And we cried all the way until I said goodbye to her as she got on the bus. Shortly after that, I went through a Nirvana backlash—a personal rebellion of sorts. Kids that I mentally deemed “poseurs” started wearing Nirvana shirts to school—like all over the place, and I couldn’t handle it. I had loved Nirvana first. I was the angsty kid first—the one who truly meant it. Like the Sallinger novel kid’s character thought, these other guys were phonies. I gave up on Nirvana all through high school and most of college.

Still, I couldn’t part with my cassettes and CDs, and slowly but surely I started listening again. It turns out that In Utero never gets old. It turns out that Cobain’s lyrics take on new, sometimes darker, sometimes brighter, meanings, the more you listen to them. So I could never be all out of Nirvana.

It took until they released that box set around 2003 and my editor at the small weekly entertainment magazine I was then working at offered to let me review it that I had to take a deep breath and plunge back into the abyss. And I’ll never deny them again. I’ll always love this band.

  1. Sonic Youth

As hard as I took it when Kim and Thurston broke up, I had to finally admit that it had nothing to do with me.

I think like a lot of coming-of-age females of my generation, the Kim/Thurston duo represented the unattainable, and that’s what made them so highly desirable and iconic. Who wouldn’t love a moppy haired glasses wearing dweeb who identified as a feminist, wrote cool ‘zines and could shred on the guitar? Thurston was the dream BF, and Kim represented what I always wished I had the balls to be—a rock star. So in my fantasy life, that could be me—a hot, confident indie mega-babe, with her nerdy prince rocker BF/husband, rocking their way to liberation, fighting fascism and taking us on a dream trip, too. Come to find out from Kim’s memoir, Girl in a Band, it wasn’t always fun and games, nor was it a love-fest the entire time. But so what? To me, these people were heroes. I love everything that they stood for. I even got into Two Dollar Guitar and once went to a film art show put on by Lee Renaldo’s wife, Leah Singer, in Seattle just because there was a Sonic Youth connection.

If it weren’t for this band, I wouldn’t know who the artists Mike Kelley or Richard Prince even were.

I owe a lot to this band for helping me find art, strength, creativity and passion, at several critical junctures in my life. Just for the record and since I’m on topic: I can probably never tire of Washing Machine or Dirty, I think Experimental Jet Set is entirely overrated. Free Kitten was cute, but I never knew whether or not I was supposed to take it seriously or not. I really liked X Girl when Kim was running it, and I wish I’d known more about Kim’s life when I was a teenager. I would have liked this band even more.

  1. The Concretes, but only with Victoria Bergsman as the singer

Like my accidental addiction to Wavves, I honestly cannot remember how I got into The Concretes. I am happy to say that I am fairly certain I discovered them on my own. But whether I heard them first in a bar, a record store, or something cheesy like Pandora, I really do not recall. What I do recall is the way The Concretes’ album Layyourbattleaxedown gently coaxed me through grad school as I was completing my MFA in Creative Writing, and then became so ingrained in my psyche that I find I can’t make a mix CD or own a personal music device without loading at least one, two or three songs—Oh, OK, at least half the album—onto it, and celebrating every musical note with joy. Lady December is one of the finest tribute songs ever written. Stop. Dianna Ross is equally a good tribute, but it also sums up girlhood in a way that is utterly, blissfully perfect. Chico is probably my favorite, most tenderest getting-over-broken-heart-song ever (I secretly hope and dream and pray it was written about a cat), and Miss You is thee best Rolling Stones cover, I think I have ever heard (a possible second-place I would give to The Sundays for Wild Horses).

I don’t know why Bergsman left the band. I tried to get into them without her, but it just wasn’t there. It’s something about her raw, quirky, sentimental yet not sappy voice that I can’t live without. I also tried getting into Taken with Trees, but I just couldn’t do it. The instrumentation of The Concretes, as a band, plus Bergsman’s angel-voice is the perfect combo. I think Taken by Trees to me feels… well… a little too much like a weak samba band. I don’t connect with it as much. But the old lineup with V.B. as singer could last me till the end of my days (I just hope my CDs and digital devices last that long).

  1. Neko Case

I once saw Neko Case and her band play the Williamsburg pool. She opened with “Favorite.” My eyes flooded with tears and I thought I was going to pass out because I believed that Neko Case had read my mind!!

Come to find out, no, she hadn’t read my mind (turns out she doesn’t even know me. Huh.) but her tarot card deck had TOLD her to lead with that song.

“Holy shit!” I thought when I found that out. “That is even BETTER!”

Whether or not Neko really is a psychic Wiccan (which I suspect. But in a good way), she can croon like nobody’s business, and I can’t imagine a single person with a cold heart so stony that he/she could not relate to her. She’s gorgeous and pure, just city enough and just hippie enough for me to relate to her. She’s not too angry, and she’s not too sad. But she, like all of my favorite artists out there, seems to know exactly what she stands for, and she doesn’t take no slack from anybody. As evidenced in her bone-chilling song “Make your Bed” off Canadian Amp. “Maybe Sparrow” seems really sweet and “Knock Loud” (Sook-Yin Lee) is a cool cover. Plus, Case shows she’s a gal who stays connected to her roots, even if she had a tough childhood with parents who were mess-ups.

Neko Case has written some of the tenderest, best versed, most emotive, crafty and intelligent songs of our generation. And I mean that honestly, and not just because I secretly really, really really want to meet her.

  1. Elliott Smith

Elliott Smith died before I could ever see him perform. It’s funny cuz I know a lot of kids from Phoenix who all have a similar story—they were on the way to see him play in Phoenix, circa sometimes around the year 2000, but his tour bus broke down in Vegas or LA or blah blah. I don’t know what I was doing at that time, but I probably did not live in Phoenix. Anyway, it’s weird, I always liked/loved his music and felt almost a personal connection to him. And, the thing I think is even weirder than that is that a lot of people would talk about him in this same way I was feeling—almost like they know him on a first name basis.

Without ever knowing, here are some things I am certain of: I am certain he was an introvert to an extreme. How do I know this? Duh. I didn’t need to watch a documentary or anything you get it from his music. This was a guy who was left alone a lot, and probably preferred it that way, and you know what? Not everyone has to be the life of the party. I think I related to this part of him as an artist so deeply because I have tried time and again, time after time, again and again to insert myself into one scene or another—tried again and again to BE the life of the party. And failed. Again and again. And I find myself alone in my own little room, wrapped deep in my own thoughts. And again and again, that is OK. The people I know who have loved Elliott Smith loved him in a deeply personal way, almost like an intimate friend, without ever knowing the guy. Somehow with his sheepish grin, his unkempt hair and his not-too-secret rocky brick path of drug use, a little part of A LOT of us could find a way to relate.

Plus, he’s the only songwriter I can really, truly, honestly name who can drop the F-bomb and make it sound pretty.

When he drops a line like: “Do you think I outta shake your mother-fuckin’ hand?” you are taken right to moment. You can actually see his shaky scary scarecrow nemesis staggering down some alley, and you just want to kill that guy on behalf of your friend Elliott Smith because for some reason that you can’t even explain he just hates him so bad.You just know he wronged your friend, you don’t know how, but you just know that other guy is bad news.

There’s a lot of reading between the lines with Elliott Smith. I once almost got in an argument with a dear friend of mine who is a bigger fan of his than I because I suggested a lot of his lyrics are code for drugs, and she did not like that. I stand by my original assessment; I just can’t think of many other meanings for so many needles and so many starry skies, and so many lyrics that overtly say things about “high on amphetamines.” Still, I think his music is pretty and enchanting. I don’t know all the demons he took down with him, and I hope to God I never know them all as up-close-and-personal as he did, but I still think he fought the good fight. And I sorta wish he was still around writing more good songs, even ones with curse words.

  1. Willie Nelson

Ha HA! I know is a curveball after reading most of my list. But let me explain. When I was a kid, I grew up in a house divided. My mom loved Elvis and the Beach Boys, and my dad was into country music—err, what was then “new country.” Almost 24 hours a day, we would have the Country Music Network on cable, and crooners such as George Strait, Dwight Yoakam, Merle Haggard, and 1980s Glen Campbell would flood through the house. For some tweens this would be seriously annoying. But I didn’t know any better. So I loved it! (P.S. once they got divorced my mom made a point of always, only playing the pop rock station in her car. I was quickly weened from Willie and fed a steady diet of Madonna, Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. I had music identity issues well into junior high…)

When I was 8 years old, KNIX (local Phoenix country station of that era) was my favorite station. And whenever we got in the car, I’d insist we listen to it. My parents actually bought me a cheap alarm clock radio from Walgreens so I could listen to Tania Tucker and the Judds in my room. (That was the late 1980s, and I still have it—it’s a little beat up but it’s still on the nightstand). So, basically, I grew up with Willie, and Willie is nostalgia music for me.

I remember following him through the heartbreak of his bad IRS years in the late 1980s. I remember Farm Aid—hell, I probably watched all of it with my dad on CMT, both of us with tears in our eyes, touched by Willie’s great generosity. (Come to find out as an adult that he was kind of forced by the IRS to record a few records and turn over almost 100% of the profit in order to get himself out of hot water. But I can forgive the guy. Everybody owes someone something).

Even though I think of him more as a pothead than a cowboy, and his blood might run a tad more Libertarian than my own, I still love the guy as an artist and an icon. I saw him some years back at Austin City Limits, and he was and is one of the best live performers I have ever seen—a real professional.

It wasn’t too long ago that during a cable doc about him that I caught the tale end of I got a tear in my eye for Willie. It occurred to me that when he dies, I will cry—and I will cry hard. He’s one of the last holding institutions of what was once a great country music era—the 1980s. And when Willie Nelson is gone, so too, I fear, will be the last vestiges, childhood comforts and some of the nostalgia of my youth.

  1. Dinosaur Jr.

Sure, I liked grunge in junior high. But then I went through a backlash (see the previous entry on Nirvana) and then in high school I thought I was really into punk and ska. Punk I still have a stomach for, but ska—blech. It must have been the hazy brain I had in high school for the guy I was dating and went to prom with. He was in a minor local ska band, for a hot minute.

Anyway, enough high school weekend nights spent spent “skanking” with white, suburban, wannabe Rude Boys, and then I grew out of in. In college I discovered indie and quickly got my earbuds massaged by such bands as Death Cab for Cutie, Yo La Tengo and Pavement. And I liked all of them a’ight. But it wasn’t until I moved to Seattle and actually lived and commuted entrenched in the misty climes of the Pacific Northwest—the place that grunge was culled from—did I truly begin to understand and appreciate the mysticism, longing, loneliness, silliness and occasional giddiness that comes with the territory.

See, Seattle has a troll. Not everyone knows this. But I knew this. He lives under the 99 overpass in what was once my neighborhood—Fremont. And I discovered this troll about the same time I was discovering a lot of things about myself and my life, and this was when I also truly got into Dinosaur Jr. Ironically, I was working at Urban Outfitters at the time. Not ironically as in “hipster irony is cool.” It is NOT cool. I’ve never thought doing ANYTHING solely for the sake of irony was cool, and I still don’t like it. To me, (and I was an English major) irony is one of the cheapest forms of comedy. So I didn’t want to get into Dino Jr. for that. No! It just so happened that I briefly had a crush on a coworker who was legit really into them. And he used to play them in the store a lot. And I would wonder around, hating my job, feeling lonely because no one would date me that year (spoiler alert: low self-esteem is a real bummer when you are trying to attract a date. And there is nothing ironic about that). Since my crush wasn’t into me, and I was weirdly getting into his music, I suddenly started to get the downer theme that a lot of the Pacific Northwest music has to it. “I don’t see you, I won’t call you. I don’t know enough to stall you…” Not to mention I was coming off of a serious break-up with someone I’d been very, very into but had never had the guts to really come out and say it. Ugh. I was feeling like a failure at love. Not to mention life! Here I’d finished a college degree, and all I could find for work was Urban Outfitters? “I’ll be grazin’ by your window/please come pat me on the head. Just want to find out what you’re… nice to me for…”

Then the icing on the cake was when my friend who happened to be an intern at Up! Records took me to see J. Mascis live at the Tractor. The guy WAS a Dinosaur! And man, the guy could shred. I was overwhelmed at the intense amount of emotional energy he put into a show, just sitting there with his guitar. I’ve seen Dinosaur Jr. three or four times now, all in different cities, and every single time he’s been unstoppable (I heard the dude is hardcore into meditation. He is another rocker on my list of “really, really, really want to meet this person”).

I moved away from Seattle because at the end of my brief stint there I really ended up hating the climate. And I sorta thought the people acted funny, too. But I think what I really just hated most was being alone. I’ve never done well as the lonely guy. But hey, at least I had the music of Dinosaur Jr. to relate to. And there is no irony in that.

  1. Bikini Kill/le Tigre/Julie Ruin/whatever the fuck that Kathleen Hanna does

I’m not a singer. I have a terrible voice. And yet, for some sick reason, I still like to get up and torture my friends with performances at karaoke. I can’t really explain that, except… no, wait, I can—Kathleen Hanna taught me when I was a teenager that if you need to express yourself, verbally, vocally or in poetry you have every right to do it and nobody should shut you up.

Given this secret, silent unspoken message that I somehow derived from her music at age 13 has sometimes gotten me in trouble. I’ve told some folks off when I maybe probably shouldn’t have. I don’t regret it. And some people would say that is stubborn, but those people do not know what it feels like to have been constantly shut up, ignored and dismissed throughout life for not being cool enough, not being smart enough, not having Guess jeans and not being elected class president.

True, I have some chips on my shoulder. But that’s because I was an ambitious kid. And I was a kid who faced a lot of rejection. And it’s not something I always share with people as an adult, even my close friends.

But what I like about this fact about me, and what I like about Bikini Kill, is that these things made me strong. It did take a long, long time to realize—that is true. But I am a strong person. Nigh! A strong WOMAN, and that is a valuable thing. I didn’t even know how strong until recently I looked over scores of poetry I’d written when I was, oh, ages 19-25. And there is some pretty damn good stuff in there!

The first time my cousin put a Bikini Kill record on at her house, I wasn’t sure I liked it. The singer sounded shrill, and pissed, at the same time. I was into Nirvana, my cousin, Shannon, had been into Guns & Roses for a while. So, frankly, when she put the record on, I was confused.

But I read the sleeve, and the lyrics matched a lot of things I’d been thinking and feeling. Feelings of being shot down, feelings of being squashed by boy-culture, confusion about sexuality, ideas about girl empowerment. That was brand new. The first time we listened, I was confused. But the second, third and fourth times we listened, I started to like it. Bikini Kill, like Elliott Smith, is another of my all-time faves that I never got to see perform live. But I DID get to see le Tigre a couple times as an adult, and all the old feelings came back, were reinforced, and then even expanded. I don’t think I’d truly know my place in the world as a volunteer, teacher, do-gooder, woman-lover, friend and activist if it weren’t for Bikini Kill. And for that I feel I owe a lot. Plus, turn on le Tigre at any dance party and you automatically WIN as DJ. So, you know, double-good.

  1. Patti Smith

When I read Just Kids about Smith’s friendship/soulmate-relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, I bawled my eyes out. Patti Smith had the same effect on me when I saw her perform live at Brooklyn Academy of Music in Dec. 2005. I have to admit that for me there are times when music becomes something of a religious experience. And Patti Smith is paramount in this regard.

I didn’t always love her. In college I was curious. I knew zero about her back story, but I knew that some of my older, intellectual friends seemed to dig her for her poetry. I gave Horses a listen and was instantly hooked. I can’t say the same about Easter, Land or Gung Ho, although over time they’ve grown on me.

I needed a wise older friend to explain to me why Rock N Roll Nigger was OK. Why was it OK for this white woman to be saying it? No—why was it OK for her to be scream/singing it? Why was it OK for her to be claiming to be one? At first, to my overly-sensitive politically correct tuned suburban white girl ears, everything about this was evil and wrong. But that’s because I was still an outsider to the outsider subculture. Still really just a fangirl to rock and roll, I had to go through some tough shit and trying times to get to really understand what that song, and many of Smith’s others, were really about.

Now that I understand the relationship with Maplethorpe and her thirst, drive and commitment to her art, the song, “Free Money” tears my soul apart. But I could never have gotten that song if I’d never been broke, suffering for art or lived through severe disappointment and desperation. Sure, “Money—it’s what I want”—it’s what EVERYONE wants. But it adds a depth of almost depravity when you actually need it so bad because your soulmate is almost dying of pneumonia and you can’t afford to hit the doctor’s office.

I discovered Smith’s love for William Blake and immediately I knew she was kin. An ex gave me a book of just her poems at a particularly devastatingly sad moment in our relationship and I ate it up like chocolate chips. I needed it. It was comfort food. We’ve since parted ways, but I’ll always have mad respect for the person because he knew that we’d share in her words some modicum of strength and recovery.

Just looking at M Train sitting on the floor of my office on top of my “to read” pile is making my eyes well-up, so I think it’s probably time to get to that. Patti Smith is not just a poet but a lover and a lover of peace, and I have more respect for her than any teacher or mentor that I’ve ever had face-to-face. Because she lives her art. And I take this as a strength, and more than a light suggestion. I’d really like to be more like the person I observe her to be in her art—pure, honest and true. And I think when I finish her book that may have to be my New Year’s resolution.

 

 

 

 

Ideas about the meaning of life (Part II)

First submitted to Philosophy of Religion course instructor, 2012:

Does true “knowledge” come only from our logical minds, or does it come from learned experience? Or, as according to Immanuel Kant, is knowledge limited to appearances (that which we can see and observe)?

I find most acceptable the idea that true knowledge comes mainly from what we can work out in our logical minds. The outlook that I find most engaging and plausible is the idea of rationalism, especially the thoughts put forth by Plato. In the mathematical world, facts can almost always be worked out in terms of absolutes. Things can be proven or disproved; ideas are not just theoretical. With this equation, we come to conclusions that provide very concrete proof. This “proof” is stronger than prediction in many cases.

However, I think that in human knowledge, there are different ways of knowing. And I accept that for each individual, “knowing” something often is a combination of blending proven facts (truths) and evidence, also with lived experience and perception. While I like the rationalist argument and think it supports human knowledge the strongest in terms of absolute truth, I also give credit to those known things gathered from lived experiences (empiricism), because often this “knowledge” is just as valid.

Another important topic in philosophy is finding a way to define and sum up the nature of mind and self, and what makes a person an individual. For many centuries, philosophers have asked the question of what makes us who we are. I believe fine line exists between mind and body and it’s sometimes difficult to identify which part has more control. Ultimately, as rational human beings, I would say that we are mostly guided by our minds. However, I see that most people recognize another individual by associating that person, the essence of that person, their personality, and everything that defines that person with his or her physical being. Therefore, when it comes to identity I mostly accept the Body Theory.  However, there is a romantic, spiritual part of me that believes that all people might have a soul that lives on, even after our human body dies away, and for that reason, I appreciate the Soul Theory, as well.

I would say that most people accept the Body Theory because we are used to identifying an individual by what they look like physically. In our minds, we tie actions, ideas, and achievements to a person’s form. The Illusion Theory I find to be hard to accept because while people do grow and change, this growth or change doesn’t mean we start all over again being an entirely different physical identity. It just means a shift or an evolution.

The Memory Theory, too, has flaws. Mainly because just because a person could, again, change or grow simply because he/she loses his/her memory, it doesn’t mean other, outside persons wouldn’t consider them the same person essentially because he/she still has the same physical body. Characteristics of that person would still physically be the same, even if the person’s memory was wiped completely clean. For this reason, I think the Body Theory is the most applicable to human experience; as the book says, “same body, same person.”

A third important conversation in philosophy is the debate over the existence of God. After an early life of religious instruction, much self-reflection and critical thinking on this topic, and after considerations raised by our book and readings from the class website, I still find that there is no definitive proof one way or the other whether God exists or not, and that embracing or rejecting the idea of a higher power is purely a personal process that is largely dependent on one’s upbringing, culture, life experiences and world view.

Personally, I believe in the possibility of an existence of a higher power because I believe that I have witnessed and experienced certain moments in life so great, or so otherwise inexplicable, that, to me there’s no other answer as to how or why they occurred. However, I don’t really believe in what thinkers such as William Paley (argument from design or intelligent design) or St. Thomas Aquinas (governance and order to the natural world by divinity) have put forth as “proof” that there must be a God, because in both of these cases I think the arguments are inherently too simplistic. They don’t PROVE anything, they just offer a quick and easy observation for the ways of nature. Without any single, solitary, physical, or observable proof, it is IMPOSSIBLE to prove the existence of God. Period.

On an outside note, I have recently been following the thoughts of Arizona State University professor and atheist Lawrence M. Krauss who has been active in the discussions about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, a discovery made by researchers of physics of what could be one of the “original” particles that led to the creation and formation of our universe. Many are calling this little particle the “God particle,” and claiming that its mere existence must solidly, scientifically prove that God, in fact, does NOT exist, because the finding of this particle supports the Big Bang theory.

While it’s a fun explanation to entertain, it isn’t a perfect answer. If the Big Bang theory is correct, then our Biblical explanation of the start of the world found in the Book of Genesis (Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve) must not be correct. Fine and sure; plenty of scholars have already argued this story’s implausibility all over the place. But how can these thinkers really accept as absolute truth that the mere existence of this particle fully disproves the existence of a greater power? In support of the idea of God, couldn’t someone else just come along and say: “Well, who created that particle?”

The big question of What’s it all about? can have a multitude of answers, depending on the individual. Personally, in my talks with friends, colleagues, students, and acquaintances, I have heard all kinds of different ideas for Why we are here. Some people believe that humans, as a part of nature, were solely designed just to procreate; to keep advancing our race and to assure perpetuation of our species. Other people believe that the meaning of life is to accrue as much capital and as much power as is necessary to be called “successful.” Still others are on a quest for “happiness;” and others still believe that the purpose of existence is to serve other people and make them happy and comfortable.

I can accept the things that other people have different priorities and values and different ideas about the “meaning” of life. I like a particular reading entitled “Feminist Philosophy and Visions of the Future.” To summarize: if we want to become a more ethically responsible, civil, advanced society, we need to collectively shift our values and our thinking to a set of ideas and practices that are more humane, egalitarian, eco-conscious, nurturing and supportive. This will mean putting an end to tyranny and oppression, and eventually putting an end to war and competitiveness. I’m not sure exactly how we’ll do this, but I think that it is the right direction for humans  to work towards in order to advance our race. It only holds us back when any people of the world are suffering, scared, abused, neglected or have to go without fulfillment of their basic needs.

Michel Foucault Overview

 (Part 1 of Sexual Personae Research, first submitted 03/05/2008)

Michel Foucault was an out-gay philosopher, theorist, activist and professor. He held an academic chair at the College de France and also taught at UC Berkeley. He was born in 1926 and died in 1984 of health complications that were AIDs-related.

Foucault is known as a structuralist, even though he rejected the label, and his writings are often associated with the postmodern movement. His writings on sexuality, mechanisms of control and his opinions and critiques on social institutions are widely read and examined in sociology courses, women’s studies classes, queer theory classes, as well as media arts and communications theory courses.

Foucault was concerned about the ways in which human sexuality was discussed in dialogues in the Western world, and also the ways in which it was policed and controlled – even in speaking about sex and sexuality.

In the first volume of History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge, (part of a trilogy, along with volumes The Use of Pleasure, Histoire de la sexualite, II: l’usage des plaisirs) and The Care of the Self ) Foucault examines how the Western world, since the 17th century, seized the discussion, freedom, exploration and education about sex and sexuality, and “closeted” it.

In An Introduction, Foucault discusses the ways that speech about sex and sexuality were controlled. He notes that to openly discuss sex, for most of the last three centuries, was an act of subversion. Foucault was also concerned about the ways that any sexual activity that occurred outside of prescribed norms was subjugated – relegated to the status of being bad, evil, dirty, taboo – not ordained. According to Foucault the purpose of this control over the knowledge and talk of sex and sexuality was policed and monitored as a mechanism of control to support the needs of building a capitalist state.

As Foucault explains, sex had to be controlled because free sex is the antithesis of being productive. Essentially, the capitalists and great profiteers needed the working public to cease in their diversions, and focus on the means of production. So sex became closed into a tiny, private space that had to be silenced in the public sphere. Foucault says that prior to the Victorian ages, sex had been out in the open: men, women and children talked about the functions of bodies freely in parlors and public spaces. With the change, sex was moved “into the parents’ bedroom,” Foucault says – and only one kind was recognized as holy, legal, normal and productive, that of the heterosexual married couple. Any acts that fell out of this sphere were marked as taboo.

Foucault goes further explaining that there had to be an authority for such censor, and that’s where the church comes in. The “wrong” or “bad” forms of sexual conduct were relegated to the realm of sin. And, he says, something that was ushered in as a way to manage sin around 1695/the early 17th century, was the church’s new strange obsession with the idea of confession. But to be acceptable, confession was not simply a personal acknowledgement of sin – a person had to do it verbally in front of a member of clergy. And the weird preoccupation was that the parishioner was encouraged to go into great detail. It is almost like the beginning of voyeurism in film or in art – the “sinner” would be encouraged to sit down with his or her priest and go into the minutest of details confessing their acts, but not only acts – the details of their fantasies, their daydreams, if they had an “impure thought” or a “dirty dream.” Dwelling on the details was almost a way of the church psychoanalyzing the person for his or her sexual sin, and also, immediately prescribing a way to correct that sin (do a dozen Hail Mary’s, or drink Holy Water, or recite The Lord’s Prayer).

This led to all sorts of ways that sexual feelings and desires suddenly became weighted with guilt. Foucault says this was a systematic method of controlling and suppressing desire – leading the populace to only participate in those behaviors that were approved by the church and approved by patriarchal social structures.

Foucault was a critical theorist whose ideas about the ways in which human sexuality is constructed, shaped and controlled have opened doors for provocative discussions about everything ranging from sex in art, to gender identification to sexual politics and control. However, some critics find it a weakness that so much of Foucault’s thoughts are based on experience, or patterns from history, instead of empirical research.

Scientia Sexualis

… is considered the Western approach to sex studies. 19th century discourses of sex transformed sex into a search of discovering the truth. Scientific discourse on sex regularize it, interpreting it without taking into consideration the human response to sex, but rather interpreting it as a means of reproduction, our experience of it not being much different from animals’ experience of it. It depicts sex from a distant, observatory perspective. 19the century discourses combined this scientific approach with matters of morality. Sexuality was viewed as an innate drive or natural force. Throughout the 19th century, sex has been incorporated into two distinct orders of knowledge: a biology of reproduction and a medicine of sex (Foucault) There was no union between these two orders. Foucault argues that this gap exemplifies “that the aim of such a discourse was not to state the truth but to prevent its very emergence.”

Sexual scientific theories of the time reinforced society’s existing oppression of women. They enforced gender separations, claiming that women were not as developed as men.  Many of the centuries sexologists, such as Havelock Ellis, considered women’s sexuality to be weaker than the man’s, and “less fulfilling” (Irvine, 7). Women were considered to be passion-less, and reproduction was considered the defining point of a woman’s sexuality. In Ellis book, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, he argued that differences the sexes were biological, with male sexuality being simple and aggressive, and women being mysterious and passive. Because women had a more intricate sexual anatomy consisting of her clitoris, vagina and internal organs, a female’s sexual response was more complex than a male’s. He argues that needed to be more aggressive in courting the female in order to conquer female reservations. This ideology will play into the creation of hard core cinema.

Moreover, the study of the differences of the genders led to an examination of sexual nature. 19th century views on sexuality relied on biological determination.  Therefore anything that strayed from the classical biological structure, like homosexuality, was considered aberration from the norm (Coleman, L Gooren, and Ross). All sexuality was categorized as either natural normal or deviated.

Discussion Questions:

How does Foucault conceive that those in power maintain this hold? How does the “repressive hypothesis” fit into his ideas about sexuality and its relationship to power?

How does Foucault see sexuality being yielded to maintain power and form alliances and divisions? How long, does Foucault hypothesize, has this system been in power?

What does Foucault mean when he speaks of sex and sexuality as social constructs?

Works Consulted

Foucault, Michel. The History of  Sexuality, Volume 1. “Part One: We ‘Other Victorians’” Random House, Inc. London. 1978. Vintage Books, New York 1990. p. 1-15.

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. “Part Two: The Repressive Hypothesis” Random House, Inc. London. 1978. Vintage Books, New York 1990. p. 15-35.

“The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1.” Sparknotes. Accessed Feb. 25, 2009.< http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/histofsex/study.html.>

What the BLEEP do we know?

To me, one of the most interesting philosophical conversations we can have as human beings is about knowledge. Does “knowledge” come only from our logical minds? Or can it also come from learned experience? Or, is knowledge limited to appearances and experiences (is there such thing as “absolute truth”)? (Kant).

I find most the acceptable explanation of “knowledge” to be that it comes from what we are able to work out in our logical minds. An outlook I find most engaging and plausible is the idea of rationalism, especially the thoughts put forth by Plato. In the mathematical world, facts can almost always be worked out in terms of absolutes. That means things can be proven or dis-proven as factual; true facts are not just theoretical. This certainty cancels out theory in many respects. But does theory have a value in our lives? Is it worth our time to speculate about things that are probable or possible, even if we can’t prove or dis-prove them, 100%?

I believe that within human knowledge, there are different ways of knowing. And I accept that for each individual, “knowing” something often is based on a combination of solid facts and evidence, plus perception, plus lived experience. While I like the rationalist argument about knowledge, and I think it supports my working definition of “knowledge” in the strongest way when it comes to absolute truth, I also give credit to those “known” things which are gathered from lived experiences (empiricism). To me, this “knowledge” is just as valid (and valuable!).

Another important topic in philosophy today is to examine the different ways to sum up the nature of the mind and the self, and to figure out how to define what makes an individual an individual. For many centuries, philosophers have asked this question: what makes me unique? What makes me separate and special from other human beings? I believe a fine line exists between mind and body which part has more control. As rational human beings, I’d say that most of us are mostly guided by our minds. But for some people, the strongest guide is their spirituality.

However, I see that most people recognize another individual by associating that person–the essence of that person–by what is tied to his/her body. When it comes to identity, I mostly accept the Body Theory (we are most connected and defined by our own physical, human vessel). However, there is a romantic, spiritual part of me that believes that all people might have a soul that lives on, even after our human body dies away, and for that reason, I appreciate the Soul Theory, as well.

I’d say most people accept the Body Theory because, culturally, we are used to identifying an individual by what they look like physically. In our minds, we tie actions, ideas, and achievements to a person’s form. The Illusion Theory I find to be hard to accept because while people do grow and change, this growth or change doesn’t mean we start all over again being an entirely different physical identity. It just means a shift or an evolution. The Memory Theory, too, has flaws. Mainly because just because a person could, again, change or grow simply because he/she loses his/her memory, it doesn’t mean other, outside persons wouldn’t consider them the same person essentially because he/she still has the same physical body. Characteristics of that person would still physically be the same, even if the person’s memory was wiped completely clean. For this reason, I think the Body Theory is the most applicable to human experience; as the book says, “same body, same person.”

A third important conversation in philosophy that was covered this semester is the debate over the existence of God. After an early life of religious instruction, much self-reflection and critical thinking on this topic, and after considerations raised by our book and readings from the class website, I still find that there is no definitive proof one way or the other whether God exists or not, and that embracing or rejecting the idea of a higher power is purely a personal process that is largely dependent on one’s upbringing, culture, life experiences and world view.

Personally, I believe in the possibility of an existence of a higher power because I believe that I have witnessed and experienced certain moments in life so great, or so otherwise inexplicable, that, to me, this must be the answer to how or why they occurred. However, I don’t really believe in what thinkers like William Paley (argument from design or intelligent design) or St. Thomas Aquinas (governance and order to the natural world by divinity) have put forth as “proof” that there must be a God, because in both of these cases I see the men’s arguments as inherently too simplistic. They don’t PROVE anything, they just offer a quick and easy observed explanation for the ways of nature. Without any single, solitary, physical, or observable proof, it’s impossible to quantifiably prove the existence of God. Even if you have a good theory. It’s simply impossible to prove this to another person. Period.

When considering the meaning of life, I think its interesting to see how various different cultures, and even people of different eras, have organized their times around their activities to show what was important to them or what were the major factors in their lives at different times and in different places. The big question of What is it all about? Can have a multitude of answers, depending on the individual. Personally, in my talks with friends, colleagues, students, and acquaintances, I have heard all kinds of different ideas for Why we are here. Some people believe that humans, as a part of nature, were solely designed just to procreate; to keep advancing our race and to assure perpetuation of our species. Other people, especially in our modern Capitalistic society, believe that the meaning of life is to accrue as much capital and as much power as is necessary to be termed “successful.” Still others in our society are on a quest for “happiness;” and other people yet believe that the essence of existence is to serve other people—to make others happy and comfortable.

On this question, again, I can accept the things that other people would define as their own, personal, meaning of life and life motivation. However, I agree with the book and the online reading, especially the reading “Feminist Philosophy and Visions of the Future,” that if we want to become a more ethically responsible, civil, advanced society, we need to, collectively shift our values and our thinking to a set of ideas and practices that are more humane, egalitarian, eco-conscious, nurturing and supportive. This will mean putting an end to tyranny and oppression, and potentially even war and competitiveness. I am not sure exactly how we will come to do this, but I think that it is the right direction for humans to embrace in order to work towards advancement and growth of our race. It only holds us back when any people of the world are suffering, scared, abused, neglected or have to go without their basic needs being fulfilled.

When I think about philosophy and the “meaning of life,” my personal values center around humanism. I like to think of myself as an accepting person. I really think our culture needs to value more flexibility in ways of knowing and relating to the physical world, and allowing openness to outlooks of spirituality. In general, I see a lot of open-mindedness and Socratic considerations going on, and I think that’s a good thing.

While I stated that I do embrace rationalism, and accept as absolute truth those things which can be mathematically and physically proven on earth, I also think it is important to embrace abstract theories of explaining phenomenon, and also to recognize different “ways of knowing.” The human mind and experience is just so interesting and so varied. I believe that no two people—even identical twins—can possibly have EXACTLY the same life experience here on earth. For that reason, it is important to make accommodations to hear EVERYONE’s viewpoint and to consider all the different perspectives and opinions that might exist on a given topic. This is what I teach my students when we discuss rhetoric and research-writing; to give equal thought and consideration, and oftentimes support, to all sides of the argument. This might seem daunting, or even at times, impossible, but I believe that recognizing all the players and all the different, diverse lived experiences that make up the human condition will help us become more advanced, consideration, sympathetic and humane as a race.

On an outside note, I have recently been following the thoughts of Arizona State University professor and atheist Lawrence M. Krauss who has been active in the discussions about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, a discovery made by researchers of physics of what could be one of the “original” particles that led to the creation and formation of our universe. Many are calling this little particle the “God particle,” and claiming that its mere existence must solidly, scientifically prove that God in fact does NOT exist, because the finding of this particle very strongly helps support the Big Bang theory. But the flaw with this reasoning is this: sure, if Big Bang is correct, then our Biblical explanation of the start of the world found in the Book of Genesis (Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve) must not be correct. Fine and sure, plenty of scholars have already argued the story’s implausibility all over the place in the past. But how can scientists really think that the mere existence of the particle really disproves the existence of a greater power? In support of the idea of God, couldn’t someone else just come along with this statement: “Sure, the Higgs Boson particle supports the theory of the Big Bang. But let’s go one step even further: Who created that particle?”

On Day-Jobs

The reason I haven’t been able to live up to my New Year’s Resolution (write and post new blog post each month) is sort of a cop-out. I can admit that. But I can not admit to is writer’s block. I just don’t believe it exists. Even if you are just writing out checks, writing your name on the wall, writing comments on someone’s terrible research paper, at least you are writing. Putting pen or pencil to paper; touching fingers to keyboard. That still counts as writing! Doesn’t it? (Um… I think).
I’ve been searching for the perfect creative project, and–to be honest–I feel a little stuck.
I have one longterm, academic paper I’ve been working on since last summer. And the problem with that one is not that is doesn’t currently hold my interest–it definitely does. It’s just that every time I touch it, it seems to grow. Now it is so unwieldy, I think it might have to be a book.
And that is a problem.
It’s a problem because now, in my adult life. Let I admit this? yes, I guess I do–I let: I am, now in my 30s, having time, as in leisure time/free time/beach time/jerk-off time/”me”-time grows scarcer and scarcer. Those moments in which I actually get to sit back and reflect on myself, and maybe even seconds in between I get to think about my writing, grow fewer and farther between.
This is a hard reality of growing up. (Oh, graduate school! And your long hours of contemplation! Getting to sleep in because I didn’t have to go to my day job while I was living it up in student-loan-land. Toiling for hours upon hour on equipment rented for free from my school. Toiling for hours and hours more editing and assembling my beautiful projects. Even if only I thought they were beautiful. Oh, beautiful grad school! How I miss you. You went by too fast).
What I’m driving at is this; even though I NEED it, and I somewhat enjoy it, my day job is getting in my way of producing creative content. And I am feeling frustrated and mad and frankly, empty. I’m feeling lately like I need positive reinforcement in order to keep working–in order to keep having ideas worth writing about.
I’ve slowed down. I haven’t met my goal of at least one blog post per month. And it’s not because I’m burnt out on writing. I fear, it’s because I am growing burnt out on my day-job. Which, ironically enough, is TEACHING WRITING.
So, forgive me, but tonight I am using my little WordPress blog here to be selfish and air my frustrations about not writing. While I continue to brainstorm and develop new ideas for the future, at least I can go to sleep together with this very small satisfaction:
At least for tonight, I’m writing about writing.