People Are Not Things

not thingsIf you want to know what I’m writing-aloud-in-reaction-to, read this post and then read these posts.

Full disclosure: I’m one of the governance group for the CAA and extended the invitation to Brad Houston to write for us. I still think this was a good idea and I think Brad wrote a decent piece.

However. Much as Brad would like to take exception to Jeremy’s use of “bloodless neutrality,” I would like to take exception to Brad’s use of “frenzied,” “hysterical,” and “breathless” along with the general tone which the use of these terms implies.

To put it bluntly, these are all belittling terms. Their use implies that the user does not take what they are describing seriously — unless, of course, they’re commenting on a footrace in which case ‘breathless’ might make perfect sense.

“Hysterical” is particularly a loaded term given that it has a long and ignominious history of use in dismissing health concerns, particularly mental health concerns, particularly women’s mental health concerns. “Hysteria” was long the dismissive diagnosis for conditions we might now understand as ranging from acute epilepsy to mild depression to severe postpartum depression to schizophrenia or various forms of dementia in women and men. Equally, it was used to medicalize conditions such as depression in unhelpful ways, turning a manageable condition into an incurable disease. Using it in this context to describe the attitude of those alarmed by the possible destruction of records documenting, among other things, possible abuse and sexual assault of ICE detainees is an unfortunate choice.

The other big problem is a systematic one. Taken together, Brad’s posts boil down to “It’s okay, the system will work it out.”

This is simply not correct. If we have had nothing else over the past eighteen months, we have had proof raining down on us day after day to demonstrate that the system will not work “it” out. Or, rather, the system will — but only to the benefit of itself. Inasmuch as the system “wants” or “needs” anything, it “wants” or “needs” to perpetuate itself. That’s it. That’s all it does. Think of Richard Dreyfus in Jaws: “All it does is swim. And eat. And make baby sharks.” Well, all systems do is perpetuate and ingest and make baby systems.

There was a lot of hopeful talk just after the election last year that “the Constitution will protect us” and “the Congress will balance it out” and, no. It won’t. The system is not some magical apparatus like something you might find in the back of McGonagall’s classroom at Hogwarts or sitting under the TARDIS console. The system is people. The system is only as good as the people in it and, frankly, most of the people in it? Are not great. And the ones who are great face incredible systemic obstacles in getting even the simplest of tasks done.

The problem here, I think, is one larger than this discussion of NARA policies; it has to do with the fact that aspirationalism is the American disease but that’s probably a different blog post. Aspirationalism urges us all to identify with “winners” — we could all win the lottery next week! we could all win those Super Bowl tickets in the office draw! we might all luck into a million dollars from a rich uncle! Yeah, we might — but the odds are so far against it as to make the prospect laughable. Is buying a lottery ticket a problem? Not unless you have a gambling problem. Is looking at the next ten years of your life and saying, ‘Gosh, when I’m forty, I’d really love to be able to buy a house’ a problem? No, in and of itself, that’s a reasonable goal. Is believing that you’re really one of the “winners” and if only all these other people weren’t here, you’d be up there with your very own gilt apartment a problem? Yeah, it is. That’s a huge fucking problem.

The aspect of that which has bearing here brings us back to the use of the term “bloodless neutrality.” Relying on the system to fix things not only leaves out the part where “the system” has no agency of its own for good or bad but also elides the part where the people caught in “the system” are, in fact, people. The entire issue has been made bloodless by walking it so far back from the initial issue — ICE wants to destroy records pertinent to serious misdimeanours on their part — that the individual caught in the system has become invisible.

We — and I speak as a processing archivist and historian here — think of records as so many boxes, so many cubic or linear feet, so many folders, with such and such a date range, to be filed in our catalogs under such and such subject headings. And this is all true while at the same time allowing us, if we choose and as I believe has happened here, to lose track of the fact that the record is, really, a person. Or people. Or a family. Or an academic department. Or a school. Any given archival or records management unit you choose is, in the end, going to be made up of individual people.

The people at risk here are people with far less agency and privilege than any of us currently in this discussion have. It may seem like a small thing to remember that an ICE detention record represents a 25-year-old man who was born in the Dominican Republic, grew up in Connecticut, and has finished three years at NYU, but, if you think about it for a minute, it really isn’t particularly small.

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“…were it not that I have bad dreams.”

So I don’t know about you, but I have bad dreams like whoa. (Yes, that’s my super-adult introduction to this first post in I don’t know how long. It’s called dodging the issue. Move on.)

Anyway. Nightmares. I’ve always been a vivid-verging-on-lucid dreamer and, what d’you know, serious depression and psych meds just make that even more vivid. I don’t get true night terrors, but I get repetitive cycles of nightmares that last over days — or weeks — and I get recurring nightmares either within or between cycles.

This means that I’m always looking out for stuffs that might help. Over the past two or three months, I seem to have found a little cadre of helpful things so here they are in case they might help you, too.

  • Melatonin. Obviously, a bottle of pills is a bottle of pills is a bottle of pills and I’m not suggesting you order this bottle from this place, but I’ve had the best luck with this brand in 3 and 5 mg dosages. It takes about an hour to kick in with me, which is about enough time to read a little and get the cats nicely settled in their optimum positions on the bed.
  • Sleep and Noise app. I have this on an Android device, but I think you can probably get a Mac version if need be. It costs you $3 for an extra ‘expansion’ of sounds and it is totally, totally worth it. Ocean Waves and Rocky Beach send me off into sweet, nightmare-free sleep every time.
  • Rain Sounds app. Again, I’ve got it on an Android.. Again, an extra couple of bucks for ‘expanded sound set.’ Again, totally worth it. There’s one with frogs singing that — no fooling — reminds me of where I grew up in Maine; I put that one on even if I just want to read for awhile. Both these apps are also great meditation backgrounds; they just go on and on and on— ’til you shut ’em off.
  • Insight Timer Meditation Timer. I don’t use this as much as I’d like to, but even the free version (again, on Android) has some wonderful guided meditations, including body scans (along those lines, check out this savasana meditation from Cora Wen) and heart-opening practices that really help calm me down and soothe me towards sleep. There’s also just the basic timer-with-bell if you just want that function; I also like that it tracks your sessions from day to day — but no-one go look at my numbers.
  • Yogi honey-lavendar tea. This stuff is the bomb. No nasty licorice taste, no valerian to have to sweeten over — just yumminess.
  • YellowBrickCinema. Can’t remember how I found these guys, but they have some awesome, multiple hour music and sound loops on Youtube that are great for getting to sleep, naps, meditation backgrounds, work backgrounds, whatever.
  • Meditation Relax Music. Pretty much what it says on the tin; I love the tracks of singing bowl tones.
  • Calm.com. This one has a ton of functionality — including an app that’s only for Apple devices so I haven’t tried it — but I mostly use it at work as a wallpaper. That is, I select an image, kill the music, and F-11 that sucker to full screen. It’s way better than any of the Microsoft options and it’s nice to look around from re-foldering and rest my eyes on color for a few minutes.

So there you have it. If you try any of them, I hope they help. If you have other suggestions, please tell me!

Does This Sound Like Fandom To You?

So here’s the thing. I write fan fiction. (If you don’t know what this is, go here.1)

I’ve been writing fanfic for years, really, starting with a long, long, desperately long and self-indulgent Star Wars…thing or things that just has so many disturbing overtones of my abusive ex that I kind of can’t deal with it; middling with Gundam Wing because I had a friend who was into it and then she turned out to be a duplicitous individual and that went south; and now I mostly write Supernatural fic although I read all sorts of fandoms and pairings.

At the minute, I exclusively write a pairing known in the fandom (for the sake of brevity) as Destiel.2 I’ve written almost 100 fanfics in this pairing. I love doing it. It’s fun, it’s harmless, other people enjoy them, and the pairing makes a very happy space in my head and, to be quite honest with you, I don’t have that many of those. I’m not saying it’s a philosophically unalloyed uber-good or anything; I’m saying it makes me happy and it’s fun and that’s why I do it.

I do not do it so a 15-year-old boy can get bullied so badly for not being a fan of Destiel that he becomes withdrawn, and his mother and teachers are worried about him.

I do not do it so that people can become so frustrated with a few — a very few — loud obnoxious voices in the pairing’s fandom that they are ready to dismiss all of us as antisocial nutbags.

I have found some of the kindest people I have met in this fandom. People who would never dream of insulting someone else based on what character he likes or doesn’t like. But over the last few months, I have also noticed this trend towards what I can only call extreme fandom bullying. Bullying that leads to people leaving a fandom they love, something that they found support or comfort or straight-up amusement in and that’s not right. I have heard stories about people having their Twitter accounts wiped or banned; I have heard about people being reported at ‘cons because they said they liked a ‘ship someone else did not; and I have heard more times than I want to about someone getting shit online for saying what they like.

I can’t answer the ‘What is the point?’ question about bullying. I have no idea what the point is meant to be or even if there is one. Why would you want to make someone else who enjoys the same things you do miserable? Yes, we all go back and forth over favorite characters, favorite episodes, favorite moments — but the point is to share, to appreciate, to enjoy, not to mock or belittle or abuse.

I can’t answer this question, but I can say, as a Destiel shipper, as a Supernatural fan, as a Doctor Who fan, as a general fandom person, that I think this is wrong. This is not how we should be engaging with each other over things that we love. Fandom is about loving something — maybe a little more than someone not in the fandom understands — but that’s what the rest of the fandom is here for: we understand. We know what it’s like to stay up all night watching a season on DVD because you just have to know what happens to your favorite character. We know what it’s like to need a box of tissues to mourn the death of someone who never existed. And we know what it’s like to cheer because your heroes finally get the good moment they deserve.

So I think this kind of bullying, harassing, cruel behavior has no place in Supernatural fandom or in any other fandom. I have my own ideas about what we could do to intervene; I think a good start might be something like a fandom ‘safe space,’ analogous to those created in the “real world” for at-risk folks. I also want to hear from you. This isn’t something that I — or anyone else — can fix on her own, so lets figure it out.  Have you been fan-bullied? fan-policed out of enjoying yourself? have you seen it happen to your friends? what do we need in order to stop it, lessen it, or support those to whom it has happened?

~~~

1. A few other terms that might come in handy: ‘slash’ indicates a pairing as in ‘Mulder/Scully.’ It’s just shorthand, don’t freak out. These days, folks mostly seem to run with mashups of character names: Johnlock (John Watson/Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock), Polivia (Peter Bishop/Oliva Dunham, Fringe), Thoki (Thor/Loki, Thor), Naudrey (Nathan Wuornos/Audrey Parker, Haven), etc. This habit can lead to unfortunateness; work out for yourself what the canon pairing in The Hunger Games ‘verse, Peeta and Katniss, comes to. A pairing may also be referred to as a ‘ship — short of ‘relationship.’ This has also been turned into a verb as in “I ship Peter/Olivia” or “I shipped that so hard.”

Back in the day when I started reading fic — the late ’90s — ‘slash’ almost always referred to male/male pairings. Use has changed and ‘slash’ refers to pretty much any pairing but I tend to regress and use it for m/m out of habit. ‘M/M’ is ‘male/male’; betcha can’t guess what ‘f/f’ is and if you don’t know what a fandom is, then why are you here?

2. For those not in the fandom, this translates to Dean Winchester/Castiel. If you need an explanation of what Supernatural is, go Google it and don’t say I didn’t warn you. (But take my advice and don’t do an image search until you’re fully prepared to face the consequences.)

There are plenty of other pairings in Supernatural, including Wincest (Dean Winchester/Sam Winchester); Sabriel (Sam Winchester/Gabriel); Wincestiel (Sam Winchester/Dean Winchester/Castiel); and Megstiel (Meg/Castiel) to name a few. Yes, they’re all a little silly sounding but, like all shorthand things, they’re also pretty fun. And we don’t have a Peeta/Katniss problem.