ways of seeing (marathon blog entry--even for me)

i once asked a kid what way the stations went when he changed the channels with a remote control. (he was about 4 years old.) the adults didn't understand the question, but the four year old knew automatically knew what i was talking about. "they lay over top of each other" was his answer. for me, they sit one over the other, like steps on a ladder. mostly this has to do with the fact that my teevee remote has up/down buttons. i'm sure if i got a new remote with right/left buttons my perception of this would change.

what i'm getting at is there are models of seeing. architects for instance might use an arterial model to design a house: big hallway with rooms branching off. gille deleuze, the french theorist, has suggested a postmodern way of seeing that uses the rhizome as a model. here's a definition from the internet for rhizome:

A modified plant stem which grows horizontally, under the surface of the soil. New growth then emerges from different points of the rhizome. Irises and some lawn grasses are rhizome plants.

the idea is, that rhizomes grow everywhichaway. they grow out of themselves, back into themselves, springing up new growth at any turn. so a house designed like a rhizome--somewhat like our old victorian on lischey--might not even have a hallway. if one takes this example to an extreme--the way that deleuze seems to want it--it might suggest that as you walk through a house, entering the room furthest from the kitchen, walking toward a door that actually heads away from the kitchen, you might walk through that door and find yourself...yep, in the kitchen. (if i was really on the ball i'd know the quantum physics name for this concept--you know, where you exit one side of a sphere just to enter at the opposite side...)

anyway. i'm seriously messing up here--mostly because i'm approaching this writing from the model of a rhizome... the point is that i see things according to shapes. i think most people do--they just might not be as aware of it as others. another simple way to address this--and one that gets me closer to what i actually want to talk about here is this: a christian might see salvation as "up." a buddhist might see their salvation equivalent as a bunch of twists with one big tendril sticking off somewhere.

okay. so check this out: one time back in drawing class, lo these many years ago, a girl said to me "wow, you really draw good. i wish i could do that." she asked me how i got good at art. she asked me if i had other talents. she asked me how come i seemed happy all the time.

i was sold. she was cute, smart, and she talked about my favorite subject. (me, of course). then, one day, she said "i'm happy all the time, too. i have jesus in my life." i said congradulations. she asked me if i had jesus in my life....etc. etc. i started to recognize the m.o.: she was "recruiting." she had probably gone to a workshop on how to get new members, converts, whatever for her church. i resented the hell out of this. i felt taken advantage of. it was as if i'd met a new friend at a bar, had shared some intimate thoughts, only to be asked--after a few hours--if i had good life insurance.

alright. i get on jags about "ways of seeing." currently, i'm on a jag--a big rhizomatic type jag--about how everybody is recruting everybody for their side and how this needs to stop. we're all using "activist" methods. alison is an activist, i'm an activist, the girl in my drawing class was an activist. the people/persons with all the "you're going to hell" comments on our blog here are more than likely activists.

(the reason i make this assumption is because alison and i enabled the "comment moderator" feature on blogspot. the comments are fowarded to a blogspot waystation, until we edit them. the latest "going to hell" post came just minutes after we set that up. the person sent one (for example) at 9:00 a.m. then, they sent the exact same post again at 9:01--more than likely because their first post didn't show up and they were confused. they were cutting and pasting the message. like a form letter. the sherlock holmes in me leads me to think that this is an activist project by a church somewhere to counteract what they see as liberal blogging.)

i respect this. i'm not crazy about it, but i respect it. i'm doing much the same thing with the bannedfromwalmart web site. alison does this in her women's studies classroom. everybody is recruiting...

okay. so let me get down to the brass tax (tacks?) here: my latest jag concerns this idealogical standoff, this (linear? rhizomatic?) impasse we've currently reached in our culture. something's got to give, folks.

i've spent three years--three years!--trying to figure out how to make art in this climate. I'd like to say here that i've officially become weary. maybe i've reached a point where i see all activist work as something of a rhizome itself. it isn't going to sort itself out. and then people talk about left and right, right and wrong, but i'm not certain that's going anywhere either. after all, a straight line can't go anywhere but further in opposite directions.


as i write this, a parade is passing the front of our house--something that starts in one place and ends at another. it's in honor of martin luther king day. are there any white people out there? no. charleston has some serious racial problems going on.


okay. a few month ago i found a pretty good word. that word is mandorla.

here's the definition of mandorla:

An ancient symbol, and the Italian word for "almond," Mandorla refers to the union of opposites. Two overlapping circles--representing the interdependence of different worlds or energies--form the Mandorla, a shape revered by multiple cultures. To step into the Mandorla is to move beyond "either-or" thinking - even beyond ideas of common ground or compromise - and stand in the tension of opposites long enough for something new to emerge. In the realm of the Mandorla, the whole truly yields something greater than the sum of its parts, opening doors of possibility, discovery, and creativity.

now, don't discount this word because of the new-agey references to "energies" or the nod to "multiple cultures." the real real thing in here for me is the idea that thinking goes "beyond ideas of common ground or compromise." that's pretty challenging.

using yet more visual language, what i see currently out in culture is a circular continuum: some folks i see as inhabiting a far far left or right point on a long curving line. they've moved into a territory that i consider the ideological equivilent of the opposite end of their own end of the line. in other words, i have conversations with leftish people that are as full of self-referential mumbo jumbo and are no less dogmatic than the rhetoric of the far far right/christian end of the line that i grew up with.

to put it yet another way, on one side of me i've got somebody saying that i'm going to hell because i support a woman's right to choose whether or not to have an abortion. on the other side, i have...well, i have alison saying that i'm "going to hell" for actually questioning this belief.
(that's unfair of me to use alison as an example there, but she knows--and you guys know--my penchant for hyperbole.) either way, though, i end up in hell.

as an artist, i've been trying to make work that reaches middle america. these are the people i care about. and by "middle america" (yet more visual terms) i don't just mean people in the "heartland" caught between new england and california. and i don't mean the people that inhabit one end of this line i've referred to. by "middle america" i mean a group of people that i've made a real effort to continue identifying with in my head. you see, i was raised to dislike*fags*. i told *nigger jokes* as a kid. i was raised to love jesus. i spent little or no time thinking about the actual nuts and bolts of being gay or black, or oppressed, about being incredibly wealthy or poverty stricken. i was normal--just like everybody else. that to me is middle america. let me tell you how far this actually goes:

until i was maybe eleven or twelve i thought that americans were "god's chosen people." in other words, i thought--even though i couldn't quite figure out how they'd gotten here--that the "israelites" we're the original americans and that the united states was the promised land. the reason for this, i now know, is because the "israelites" just kind of disappeared after the old testament. in the new testament, those people were described as "the jews" and pharisees and whatnot. those were the folks that killed jesus. bad jews! i didn't connect the two.

so, i don't tell jokes about black people anymore. i know that the old and new testament is one continuous story. i don't hate homosexuals. i continue to know almost next to nothing about judaism. i have, however, been willing to catalog these teachings in my head--and good thing, because, for better or worse, they appear to be there to stay, you know? (i still occasionally fear a white-bearded, mean-ass god on a throne ready to strike me down at a moment's notice). anyway, as a person who comes from there, i'm in the position to know just how hard it is to get away from that kind of thought.

here's an example about all this stuff at once, i.e. artwork, different ends of lines, my raisin', elitism, acitivism....

last night, alison and i went to see Brokeback Mountain. first of all, i'd like to say that it is one stunning movie. it had it all: soundtrack, cinematography, acting, script, screenplay, etc.etc. (i'm no movie reviewer). most importantly, though, i want to talk about the experience itself:

we went to an arthouse theater to see it. that automatically means that we saw it with "like-minded" people. my parents, for instance weren't there. as a matter of fact, i called my folks after the movie just to check in and they asked what i'd been doing...

m & d: what have you and alison been doing tonight?

a & w: went to a movie.

m & d: what'd ya see?

a & w (hesitatingly): brokeback mountain.

m: oh lord. that's that gay movie...
d: well, it's your dollar...

anyway, we sat in a theater filled with folks that didn't need to see the film as much as my parents. (or should i not say that, as it implies art is actually of an instructional/activist nature?) rows of women wanting to see heath ledger kiss another man, rows of mostly gay men wanting to see heath ledger kiss another man (i guess. if i were gay i'd have the hots for him).

if i really stop and consider this film--as i am doing right now--i recognize that i am wrecked. even before the movie started, i marveled at being surrounded by that many gay men in the actual theater. the place was full and they would touch each other as they passed by in the rows. can i do that? does that scare me?

the rows were amazingly segregated. women occupying most of one row, men the next. alison and i were one of the few mixed couples in the place. is that a good thing? why is it this way? does that mean more than i think?

the movie itself: without giving anything away for those who haven't seen it (although one of the outcomes is, sadly, totally predictable) i have to say that i was a little bit of everything in that movie. i was raised to be capable of violence like that. i am now a person who is capable of understanding the dilemmas faced by the protagonists.


i've gone on too long. i cannot write gracefully or succinctly about what i'm saying here. i can't tie all the threads of this long post together without some serious editing and a spell checker. what i want to get at is age old, though:

our promised land needs some understanding and empathy right now. and i don't mean just for two men who love each other and don't have a language or society that will allow them to express it. i mean for people that grew up like me, in a place that dangerously teeters between real love and violent fear.

there doesn't seem to be any way for me to know how many people there are like me out there. mostly that's because my kind of talk doesn't seem to be particularly welcomed by anyone right now. i am trying to live between real people that i actually know--one real person thinks that a gay scoutmaster is gonna bugger his child, another hates the boyscouts for their homophobic stance. i wonder sometimes if the people on both ends of this spectrum feel the way they do because they too are concerned with this middle place of understanding. that letting the other side in might encourage them to backslide into an old--or new--way of thinking?

shit. i give up. i would love to say more, but i just can't. i don't have the courage or the intellectual capacity to keep going right now--besides i'm tired of typing and i know you're tired of reading. hopefully, i'll be able to continue with all this in a more coherent fashion at a later date. until that time, i hope that we manage to go along and not hurt each other.


Walter said...

here's what happened: i posted this entry, then decided it didn't make any damn sense and erased it. just now i had alison read it, and she said it did make sense, so i've posted it again.

in the meantime, Kevin O'Mara posted a comment, which got emailed to us for "comment moderation." by the time we got the comment, there was no more blog entry. now the entry's back, so here's the comment:

Walter, I'm not sure that I understand everything that you're saying (or even have the capacity to understand it all) but I sure enjoy reading it.

Kevin O'Mara said...

And here I thought maybe I'd just eaten some rancid mayonnaise with my lunch and hallucinated the whole thing.

Kenneth said...

I'm more of a Jake Gyllenhaal guy.

Miss Meghann said...

Maybe Alison has a doppelganger of sorts -- wherein rather than "Introduction to Women's Studies," said anonymous poster is teaching "Introduction to Religious Ramblings and Lashing Outs." It is my assumption that aforementioned doppelganger is merely asking students to, for a grade, start their own activism project in Religious mockery.

Christy Payne said...

The quantum physics concept you were describing is that of periodic boundary conditions.

christiemckaskle said...

I love the self-revelation. And am so relieved that you guys set a boundary about what gets posted on your site. (Is "relieved" too strong a word? No, I guess it's not - it means I can quit wondering whether I should offer some unasked-for advice or just quit reading.) Name calling is not discourse and allowing it is not tolerance. A good example of changing the things you can. So I guess I'm an activist after the fact.

I'm not even sure everyone's an activist (altho of course I get what you're talking about). But at its best, communication/expression (whether making art or a self) is not about winning converts, but more about carrying out one's particular charge to show what Life like when expressed by, through, as each of us. Still, even in plants, life sometimes looks like a bunch of cells trying to change how each other functions. There's no denying that some ways of functioning contribute to the health of the organism and others just take the organism down after it's turned it into a ball of self-hate that at first looked like other-hate. I think of both cancer and homophobia in this way, although I'm not sure I'm putting it into words because I woke up way too early and have not had breakfast.

The Mom said...

Christie, that was beautifully said. And same to Walter. I do so appreciate seeing how your minds work, and how articulate you are in expressing that work. I feel very honored to know you, Christie, and have you in my life, Walter - and of course Alison!

Christie, that was a nice analogy (I'm not sure that's the correct term, as I never was really clear about them) of us as individual cells in a plant.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the outrageous anonymouses are taking a course in social psychology and are experimenting with how communities respond to different posts. It is interesting to see how virtual communities of people respond to outside comments. This reader will keep an eye out in the social psych literature to see what pops up. I do wonder, however, what IRB would approve such a survey :(

Anonymous Academic