On being somewhat less of a man…

Something I wrote last month on Facebook. Photos, May 2011 and last weekend, for comparison purposes.

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I’ve been hesitant to share some of my real victories this year, because I have a number of friends who are fat activists, and it feels somewhat like a betrayal, in a strange way, to brag about the fact that I am now the healthiest I’ve been in my adult life. But the changes I made this year were not about becoming thin, or attaching my self-worth to a number on the scale, or the label on my clothes. That’s never been what I’m about, for as long as I remember having an opinion on the matter. I was mocked and ostracized throughout my childhood, by peers, friends and family alike, so nothing I’m doing now is being done to satisfy anyone else’s idea of what I should look like. I’m fat till the day I die, even if I shrink down to pure muscle and bone; it really is a state of mind, and fatness is inextricably a part of my life. And while I do love it when my friends tell me I look great, those compliments come with a bitter aftertaste, because every “you look great” that I get based on outward appearance actually FEELS a little bit like “you have more value as a person now, because you are no longer so disgusting to look at.” I still take the compliments in the spirit in which they’re intended, because most people still just don’t get it, as unfathomable as I used to find that.

That being said, the two years before this one were one of the worst periods of my life. A year ago I was in a deep depression, and basically trying to kill myself with food. I was not in the worst shape I’ve ever been in (that would be my late 20s, also a less-than-stellar period of my development), but things were not looking good, and I saw it as a foregone conclusion that I either change, or die young. Dying young is not a rational choice, when the choice is yours to make. Life is a gift, preceded and followed by nothing, and I wasted a good chunk of the first half of mine on bad ideas and self-loathing, for the most part. I remember that fact to motivate myself, because not only is this not a rehearsal, the show’s half done.

This spring, I lost my taste for self-loathing. I started looking at meat, and grease, and sugar, and other substances that have dogged me through the last thirty years or so, and just lost interest. I didn’t make a conscious choice to go vegan (and I’ll still grab a cookie or piece of cheese now and then, just to keep things flawed), but that’s where I ended up finding myself, mostly thanks to having a bunch of awesome friends (and a new girlfriend) who had gotten there first and made the transition more easy than anyone can imagine it being.

So this year has been a process of learning to trust myself not to let myself down, rediscovering things I love and discovering that I love them more than I even realized, and attaining a huge degree of clarity in terms of what I want, what I need, what I intend to do, and what I intend to accept. I’ve been lost in abstraction much of my life, always uncertain of the right course, no confidence in my own judgement and perceptions and talents. I’ve frequently gotten so caught up in seeing all sides of an issue that I found I was unable to take a firm position on anything without first issuing a hundred qualifiers, feeling frustrated as hell when people with incredibly bad ethics or logic made a far better case than I could, because they gave a simplified and problematic version of their position which *sounded* good. I watched others step forward and take life in their hands, in spite of seeing with a fair amount of confidence that they had no idea what they were doing, but they were doing it anyway. I hated them for years, resenting what I saw as their inauthenticity, and completely missing the joy with which they were doing their thing, however “wrongly” they may have been doing it. This, too, seems to be shrinking away from me.

And through it all this year, I shrank and shrank, putting no effort into it, just eating what I wanted and doing what I wanted. Today, I bought and put on the first size XL shirt that I’ve worn since my early 20s. This feels unexplainably good. Not because people no longer look at me with derision in their eyes, when they look at all, but because of what it represents: I can sit crosslegged on the ground. I can run across the street if the light turns yellow. I can pick up heavy things, walk them to the other side of the house, and put them down, without damaging the object, the house or myself, and without having to pause to put it down. It’s not about how I look, or how others see me. It’s about how my life is now, how I move, how my clothes fit. How when I go to a restaurant, I no longer have to walk up to the booth and say “hmmm…” and debate whether I should actually try to sit down, or just say “nope, we need a table” and save myself the potential humiliation of trying to squeeze myself in and not succeeding.

Fatness, in a society that normalizes skinny people and relentlessly shames you for it, takes over your entire life. It’s walking around now, and seeing the way people smile at me all the time, the extreme difference in the attitudes I get now vs. a year ago, that highlights that fact so starkly to me now. Not that people haven’t always liked me, once they get to know me – I’m a really nice guy. You learn to be nice when you’re fat, because NOBODY gives you the benefit of the doubt. Not even other fat people – our self-loathing translates to mutual loathing all too often. In elementary school, one of the worst bullies was the class’s other fat kid. Real Cartman type little shit. See? I still hate him. He had it just as bad as me, and I still hate him. Sometimes you don’t let go of shit that happens when you’re 8, I guess. And the hate is so endemic to our culture that when you’re its object, it gets so you don’t even notice it, until you are “lucky” enough to notice its absence.

I was sitting outside a high school a couple weeks ago, and watched a fat kid wipe out on the icy sidewalk. Time stood still. I knew what was gonna happen, and watched it unfold in slow motion. For starters, when you’re fat, it hurts more when you fall. So right off the bat, keep in mind that he’s feeling physical pain as this unfolds.

He first pushed himself up from flat on his back to kind of half sitting up, awkwardly holding himself there, cause his hands didn’t have good purchase on the ice (just like I did).

He quickly looked around, to see if anyone saw, if anyone was looking. Would he need to go through this with people watching, maybe snickering? The one thing a fat high school kid doesn’t expect is for someone to just come and help. He didn’t see me.

He then had to sort of fall back onto his elbows and then roll over to – thank the fat gods! – the chain link fence. This was a small blessing – he could pull himself up on the fence, and not have to try to stand up on a sheet of ice with nothing to brace himself against. That gets hard when you have a high centre of gravity, and it hurts like fuck – really, really hurts like FUCK – to put your own weight on your knees. Cursing starts to come very naturally around the age this kid is at.

Getting himself upright was not graceful. More like clawing his way out of a pit, with the fence his precarious handhold by which he had to lift most of his weight, because his foot had no friction to brace with. He got himself up, and sort of had to rock back into place. Just like I did.

Then he sort of brushed himself off, checked his leg, and started walking, slowly, the rest of the way into the school. His face was a mixture of seething anger and relief. From across the street and a couple of houses down, I could see his breathing. Keeping it steady, not too hard, so nobody knows you even had to strain yourself, nobody knows your back hurts so bad you want to scream… I watched him walk in, slowly, short steps, but not too short – if you step too short it looks funny, it attracts attention, but if you step too long you’ll go down again, and there’s no chainlink fence here…

You start looking forward to the day you can afford your own car, so you no longer have to navigate Winnipeg sidewalks in December. “Just go for a walk!” was one of the helpful pieces of advice I sometimes used to get from well-meaning people, some friends, some coworkers, some were just total strangers who felt entitled to give me health advice. Well, going for a walk, when you’re fat and especially when you’re fat and it’s winter, is not the simple affair you may think it is. It doesn’t take more than one or two incidents like the one above before you decide that walking is stupid and driving is definitely where it’s at.

In the moment, as I watched this all unfold in slow, slow, relativistically slow motion (I say relativistically because the experience somehow made me as young as that kid again, for a few minutes), my immediate urge was to hold perfectly still, not let him catch any hint that someone witnessed it. Like being a witness would necessarily make me one of THEM in his eyes. I didn’t instinctively trust that he would see me as a brother, for some reason. Because we’re all alone, no matter how many fat friends we may have. So I let him do it all alone.

I should have run out and helped him up. I should not have let him be alone. I, of all people, should have known how much it would have meant to have someone notice, and not use it as a source of their own amusement and nothing more. To use it as an opportunity to feel like someone, a stranger, saw him as something more than object of derision. That was a failure on my part.

So a relatively new friend of mine asked me awhile back if I was a fat activist. I said no, because I had never considered it something I might get involved with. For the last twenty years, I wasn’t even interested in any kind of activism, so my instinctive answer, brought by decades of inertia, cynicism and defeat, was no.

But now, my answer is yes. Because while I did not do any of the positive things I’ve done this year in order to attain that social acceptance, it appears that my own actions, which I pursued in the interest of extending my life as long as I possibly can and for no other reason, have bestowed that upon me, to some degree. This being the case, it needs to serve some purpose other than to feed my ego and turn me into a Beautiful Person. Cause the way most people use the word, a Beautiful person is the last thing I’d ever want to be.

Nope, I’m staying fat. I don’t look the part quite as much as I used to, and that appears to be a continuing trend, for the time being, and I’m feeling strong and positive and musical and connected, at last, to what really matters to me. That feels good. And the skinnier I get, the fatter I’m gonna stay. If people are more inclined to listen to me because of how I look, I’m going to do whatever I can think of to occupy the mind of that kid that I saw and was and am when I speak to them. Because he needs to know he’s not alone, as I allowed him to go on believing, as I used to believe. He needs to know that someone else sees that he’s beautiful. I can’t go back and do that now, but next time.


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Upcoming Linda Lovelace/Deep Throat biopic. Hmm.

The Atlantic has some very good analysis, and gives good historical context for the movie:

Rape victims sometimes describe the interrogation by police, hospital personnel, and the criminal courts as a second rape. I think that’s how Linda would respond to the sight of Seyfried performing oral sex on a popsicle (faux penis prop) positioned between Sarsgaard’s legs, and joking with Conan O’Brien on late night television about the additional “slurping noises” she recorded in the studio. Perhaps Epstein and Friedman can pull this off ethically, finding a way to tell Linda’s story without contributing to her exploitation. Maybe the Sundance audience will walk away with an understanding of rape culture, rather than just adding insult to the physical and emotional injuries she sustained. That would be a nice legacy to associate with the memory of Linda Lovelace, but don’t bet your lift ticket on it.

This paragraph, placed next to the seductive promo image of Seyfried as Lovelace, tells a compelling and problematic story of the movie’s creation and promotion. This is a Hollywood movie, being marketed to a Hollywood audience, and that audience is being promised titillation and playful sexy times, at the very least. As the Atlantic article points out, Lovelace once testified that anyone who watches Deep Throat is watching her being raped multiple times. How can they possibly market the movie with Amanda Seyfried giving simulated blowjobs on Conan, and then tell the story of a woman who was raped multiple times on camera, and then had to endure having those rapes watched and enjoyed by millions, out in public?

I’m not going to debate Rape Culture vs. Linda Syndrome with anyone – that is the reality that Linda Lovelace stood before the world and clearly stated with no ambiguity in her words. If we are decent, caring people (and if you don’t consider yourself that, please, stop reading this blog and go do whatever it is you do when you’re not doing whatever it is you’re doing here), we have to consider and respect that in how we talk about the phenomenon of Deep Throat, and those who were involved in its creation.

From the perspective of Linda Lovelace, what Seyfried and Skarsgard were gigglingly simulating on Conan was oral rape, not oral sex. One cannot help but wonder just how different this movie would look if she was alive.

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This is how fucked we are, apparently:



Anyone can get a $20 bill with very little effort (for the purposes of this brief thought experiment, assume that “Anyone” means a person with an average income and level of social privilege). Anyone, with a little more effort but not that much, can get an oven to 140 degrees, within a degree or two. This is a scientific experiment that Anyone can do, today.

According to the linked article, the results of Anyone’s experiment are a matter of national security. If that’s true, friends, we are FUCKED.

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A rather apt description… NSFAnyone.

clipser – Throbbing Gristle – Hamburger Lady

Click above if you’re one with a strong stomach. If you’re brave, play it on good speakers, and turn the lights down. It’s the most horrific three minutes you’re likely to hear (inb4 “that’s just bullshit I could do better with my ass lol”).

Hamburger Lady is a legendary track by a legendary group of “destroyers of civilization”, who are currently in the midst of a very small set of reunion tourdates. If you’re in Glasgow as I write this, I believe, you’ve still got a chance to see this historic group live. Now then.

Here is the backstory of the track, from the sleeve of “DOA: The Third and Final Report of Throbbing Gristle,” the album whence comes this track:

“…By far the worst is the hamburger lady, and because of shortage right now of ‘qualified technicians’, e.g. technicians who can work with her and keep their last meal down, Screwloose Lauritzen and I have been alternating nights with her, unrelievedly. If you put a 250-lb meatloaf in the oven and then burned it and then followed that by propping it up on a potty-chair to greet you at 11pm each night, you would have some description of these past two weeks. Which is to say the worst I seen since viet napalms. When somebody tells you that there is a level of pain beyond which the human mind cannot retain consciousness, please tell them to write me. In point of fact this lady has not slept more than 3-5 minutes at a stretch since she came to us – that was over two weeks ago and, thanks to medical advances, there is no end in sight; from the waist (waste?) up everything is burned off, ears, nose etc – lower half is untouched and that, I guess, is what keeps her alive. I took one guy in to help me change tubes and he did alright, that is alright till he came out, then he spotted one of the burn nurses (pleasant smiling zombies) eating a can of chile-mac at the desk, and that did it: he flashed on the carpet. It is fucking insane is what it is.”

-part of a letter sent by Al Ackerman from Portland, Oregon, U.S.A. 1978

A lot of TG’s material, in my opinion, is merely obsessed with shock value; the descriptions of Genesis P. Orridge & Cosey Fanni Tutti’s early COUM Transmissions performance art shows, so far as my admittedly unsophisticated art perceiver’s mind can tell, show nothing in the way of genuine social commentary or artistic value, other than an underlying nihilistic desire to break down all semblance of pro-social behavior. TG tracks like Slugbait continue in this vein, revelling in the death ov civilization.

But Hamburger Lady is a different matter entirely; where the psychopathic imagery of Slugbait is defanged by its very extremity, Hamburger Lady meditates on, and evokes, a horror that is all too insidious, and impossible to ignore, by vice of its very banality. People are burned in fires every day, and in the bad cases, their lives turn instantly from whatever regular boring existence they previously endured to an endless and unendurable pain… a pain which, due to a far-too-literal interpretation of an oath (“do no harm”) that all doctors take, medical professionals then set out to preserve and extend indefinitely, indeed, for all intents and purposes, to inflict upon the victim until they die – potentially not for years, or decades.

The protagonist of Slugbait, a killer who murders a young family and revels in the retelling of his actions, is an outsider. The protagonist of Hamburger Lady, a caregiver who sees to her “tubes” which presumably deliver medicines and pain drugs, is an agent of society’s care. The Slugbait killer’s spree, no matter how horrific, lasts only a matter of hours. The Hamburger Lady’s keeper, on the other hand, acts with society’s blessing to prolong her pain for as long as he possibly can.

Considered in the light of this policy of our modern, clean, civilized,
“enlightened” society, one does have to wonder whether the accusation
that TG were “destroyers” of civilization could really be considered a
criticism, as such. And in context, even TG’s more extreme material, no matter how repellent and useless on its own, does seem to serve an artistic purpose in the context of the overall body of work.

It is tempting, in light of the fact that Orridge and Ackerman were in the habit of trading “mail art,” to retreat into the notion that this narrative is merely an invention of an artistic mind, that the Hamburger Lady exists only in the dark corridors of Ackerman’s imagination. I don’t personally know whether he really spent any time working in a burn ward. But once you accept the premise of the song, such comfortable bliss is impossible to attain, because even if the story is fiction, stories just like it play out in real life, as you read this, in every city in the world. I deliver blood and blood products at my job, and on one of my routes, I ride an elevator, and sometimes it stops to let people on or off on a certain floor, and there’s a sign on the wall – “Burn Ward” with an arrow – that gives me chills every time. By the sign’s presence, I’m reminded of what’s taking place down that hall. The door closes and I soon go back to my boring job, subtextually grateful that my life is indeed so boring, because there are any number of ways that it could be interesting which I would not enjoy.

What inspired me to write this entry, though, was Boing Boing’s recent interview with the band, which led me via a google search to this fellow’s account of his first, and seemingly last, exposure to TG. His description of what happened by the end of Hamburger Lady is, true or not, an inspired piece of storytelling, and an illustration of how a horrible thing like this can get under your skin.

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If I had the machinery, I’d totally do this.

Ever go to, say, The Olive Garden at lunchtime, and there’s this gigantic parking lot which is nonetheless packed to the gills, because the Olive Garden is for some reason a mecca for people who eat lunch.

Anyways, as you troll up and down, searching for a spot, there’s always one or two assholes who have parked their giant-size Hot Wheels diagonally in two spots, because their tricked-out Honda Civic is so very, very precious that they cannot risk someone scratching it.

Now, if I owned a franchise where this happened on a regular basis, I’d have a towing company on the premises every day at noon to help themselves to any car that tried this. Since this never seems to happen, I know some people (no, it wasn’t me in my rusty 85 Tercel, no way, no how, never me, uh-uh) who drive 85 Tercels rusty old cars that purposely scrape their shitbox car along the edge of such egomobiles. I would never do such a thing, but it’s been known to happen, and I can’t say as I feel much sympathy for the owners of the tricked-out shitbox-in-waiting.

But leave it to the geniuses at XKCD to come up with this bit of brilliance. It would take a bit of engineering skill and heavy equipment to pull it off, but we can all dream, can’t we?

xkcd – A Webcomic – Parking

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I can dream…

…of being as serene as Hank the Hermit, brought to us courtesy of Again With The Comics, via the always-interesting Boing Boing.

(click for full size)

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On Selling Out

The subject: Iggy Pop’s car insurance adverts.

I encountered this by way of Michael Bérubé’s blog, and this BBC News article on the subject, and originally wrote what’s below as a response to the BBC website. By the time you (all two of you) read this, it may be on their page as a comment, depending on if they let words like “piss” and “arse” through their filters… anyways.

I’m in the jaded and apathetic camp as regards the concept of selling out. Indeed, this is the only rational position to take about it, because what we’re really talking about is nonconformity. Nonconformity is great, and I consider myself a nonconformist, but a lot of people seem to mistake ANTIconformity with NONconformity, when in fact anticonformity is indeed simply an inverted form of conformity.

That being said, I did find the “Get @ Life” shot of Iggy’s ads both jarring and oddly fascinating, and after reading this article, I figured out why: The “Circle A” is a venerable symbol of the anarchic, punk spirit of true personal and artistic freedom. It is, to people of a certain age and mindset, as sacred an icon as the virgin is to Catholics, a fact which is self-reflexively subverted by the fact that its original association was with pissing on the very idea of the sacred.

And that’s what we need to keep in mind here – the punks of Iggy’s era, particularly the Raw Power-Sex Pistols-CBGB late 70s, were a raw assault on all mainstream sensibility. When the Pistols rented that boat and blared God Save the Queen from the Thames for all of London to hear, they were going beyond the Do-Your-Own-Thing freedom of the 60s straight to the jugular, in hopes of tasting the blood of mainstream society’s fragile (and hypocritical) sensibilities.

Fast Forward to 2009, when Iggy Pop stands in front of the most nakedly cynical and hamfisted attempt to coopt punk, the “Get @ Life” graffiti bomb. Leaving aside the possible textual readings (Get at life, get anarchic life, get a haircut and a job and a “real” life), we have a man whose punk cred is (was?) unassailable standing in front of this banner, this clumsy attempt whose main offense is the abject stupidity of whoever came up with it, and Iggy is trying to SELL US SOMETHING. To people of a certain age and mindset, this is as deep an insult/assault to the sensibilities as was the famous boat ride of the Sex Pistols during the queen’s jubilee.

That assault on the sensibilities, friends, is punk. Don’t howl in protest, because you know I’m right. Iggy is laughing his ass off, I’m quite certain, because it’s been literally decades since he was able to raise more than a sigh of boredom by rolling around in peanut butter and broken glass. But to turn on us, to “sell out” and to do so with people who clearly have no clue? That is provocative, in an age that has become largely immune to artistic provocation.

I wish him well, and hope just as fervently as I did a week ago that I’ll be able to catch him live before he’s gone, because Iggy rules, and his picking up a few bucks while thumbing his arse at the people who would tell him what he’s allowed to do will never change that.

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